The third visit to Clare’s Shadowhunter world is just as intriguing as the first

*Mild spoilers*

One of Cassandra Clare’s greatest strengths is that she built a fictional world that never gets old. The Dark Artifices is her third series set in the world of Shadowhunters, but it’s every bit as fresh and intriguing as the original Mortal Instruments series.

Set entirely across the country from the New York Institute where we first met Shadowhunters, Lady Midnight takes place in California where the Institute is backed by the desert and fronted by the ocean and that body of water is just about the only thing that scares main character and heroine Emma Carstairs. I liked Emma from the start. She’s a fearsome fighter, a dedicated friend, and hellbent on discovering who murdered her parents. I liked the diversity of the Blackthorn children as well and how they were such a devoted family despite the loss of their parents and the struggles they faced. I must admit, though, that Julian didn’t really do much for me. He was a little too perfect, a little too intense. When he confessed his big secret to Emma and Mark, I didn’t really think it was much of a secret. Wasn’t it rather obvious to anyone reading the book that Arthur wasn’t the Blackthorn who was running the Institute? And I didn’t buy for one minute that Julian actually believed the others would hate him for lying to them. His lies kept the family together. No way anyone could hate him for that. I also thought it was hard to believe that Emma didn’t realize what had been going on for so long. For me, that plotline was a bit weak.

Speaking of Blackthorns, the one I was intrigued by and wanted more of was Mark. Half-fae, half Shadowhunter and forced to ride with The Hunt for incalculable years in Faerie, his reintroduction to his family and life in the mortal world was interesting. I wanted to see more of his thoughts and reactions. I hope there is a lot more of Mark in future Artifice books.

And what Clare fan didn’t love revisiting our favorite characters from The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices? Jem and Tessa, Jace and Clary, and the fabulous Magnus Bane. I hope they reappear in future books. Lady Midnight left a lot of unanswered questions and many, many paths for the characters to follow. I can’t wait to see where those paths lead.

The dumbing down of Damen, a spoiler-ridden review of Kings Rising

Packed with SPOILERS! Just an FYI….

Okay, I guess three days after finishing is enough processing time to attempt a cohesive review of Kings Rising.KR

C.S. Pacat’s first two books in her Captive Prince series are some of the best books I’ve ever read. The depth of the characters and their cruelty, the exotic customs of the societies Pacat created, the twists and deceptions, the scattered truths, and the intense sword’s edge on which the main characters balanced were all spellbinding. Those books were like nothing I had ever read. It was a very long wait between Captive Prince: Volume Two and Kings Rising, loads of anticipation, and I must admit that halfway through the series’ conclusion, it was just meh for me. I thought the story was dragging and dull to the midway point. Fortunately, the pace did pick up after that.

My biggest problem with this whole book was Damen. I felt that Damen’s character was somewhat lost in this third installation. He was so busy pining for Laurent that he was missing or misjudging what was happening around him. Damen, you are a King now so pull your head out of your ass and act like one! Damen’s naivety was irritating and so was the trust he put in others. How many times must this man be betrayed before he learns that people are not trustworthy? How many chances must he give people before he learns the lessons that Laurent has already mastered? Blind trust is what got him enslaved in the first place and, yet, he is repeating the pattern. I believe Nikandros said it best:

‘No. Listen Damianos. You trust blindly. You see the world in absolutes— if you believe someone a foe, nothing will dissuade you from arming up to fight. But when you give your affections . . . When you give a man your loyalty, your faith in him is unswerving. You would fight for him with your last breath, you would hear no word spoken against him, and you would go to the grave with his spear in your side.’ Pacat, C. S. (2016-02-02). Kings Rising: Book Three of the Captive Prince Trilogy (p. 75).

I guess I just expected Damen to be more suspicious of people in general after what he went through in the first book. I hated that he never seemed to wake up and figure out what was happening. Most of the time, Laurent had to clue him in and other times he was just hit over the head with something he’d completely missed. Example, the fact that the Regent sexually abused Laurent. How could Damen not get this? Look at all the young boys who are the Regent’s known victims. Think of how closed-off and uncertain Laurent is in bed. Think of the timeline of Laurent’s life with the Regent. And, hello!, drunk Laurent falls asleep murmuring ‘yes Uncle,’ but Damen still doesn’t get it? Argh!!!! And also, sending Kastor a warning that he was coming? Stupid, stupid, stupid. I guess he has truly learned nothing from his time in Laurent’s presence. It was almost as if Pacat had dumbed Damen down for this book.

Furthermore, I wanted Damen to get angry. When it appeared that Laurent had left him to be slaughtered at Charcy, when Laurent reveals that he’s known Damen’s identity from the beginning, I wanted Damen to be something other than hurt. I wanted him to be furious. I wanted him to react to Laurent’s cold, calculated manipulation as a sovereign would instead of a besotted victim of unrequited love. Instead, he just rolls over and gives in to all of Laurent’s demands. Even as Laurent’s venomous words cut Damen just as deeply as the whipping he endured on the Vere prince’s command, Damen just keeps being endlessly concerned about Laurent.

I thought the story also got lost a bit in the middle with their wagon-burdened trek through Akielos, and Laurent’s saving the day by impersonating Charls. It all seemed unnecessary and overcomplicated. At times, it was disjointed as if there should have been more but wasn’t. I think the best thing to come out of the middle portion of the book were the exchanges between Jokaste and Laurent, two vipers sizing each other up and striking with words. Oh yeah, and the other best part: Laurent finally shows that there is emotion and love under that ice cold exterior. The frigid prince experiences some global warming!

I was not expecting Damen to turn himself in. Frankly, I was kind of hoping he would sneak in and gut the Regent like a fish, but, instead Damen foolishly believes that Guion will keep his word and testify against the Regent. Seriously, D, stop trusting people whom you know have no morals! However, Damen does finally, FINALLY figure something out on his own, and we find out why Paschal is in Laurent’s service. And then came my final disappointment in Damen: his inability to kill Kastor! Why would you trust a man who sold you into slavery to your worst enemy? Who murdered your father and then tried to frame you for it? Nikandros was right, but instead of a spear, it’s Kastor’s knife in your side. And also, as you later state, you know the wound isn’t fatal so don’t just lie there helplessly! Get up, retrieve your sword, and finish it!

Despite my frustration, I do understand why it had to be Laurent who killed Kastor, why that symmetry between the two characters had to be established. Because Damen, who has been so brutally betrayed, still has love in his heart for Kastor, so Laurent killing Kastor is a stabilizer. It makes them equal. Each has now killed the other’s brother. Frankly, it was a brilliant move on Pacat’s part.

After this review, you probably think I hated the book. I didn’t. Even though the execution of the story wasn’t quite what I had hoped for and even though I didn’t think Kings Rising was as good as the first two books, I still love these two characters. I never thought they could have a happily ever after, but they got one, and that makes me very happy. And leaves me wanting more. A nice little epilogue of how they rule one kingdom, united and together. Perhaps Makedon can even bring more griva to toast his new best friend. I look forward to the short stories Pacat has promised because she, like myself, is not ready to give up this wonderful world and these fantastic characters that she created.

Read “Barn Find” for the photos

Barn Find Road Trip

3 Guys,

14 Days,

1,000 lost collector cars discovered

And 35 pictures of the author’s vehicle

Author Tom Cotter and two friends set out for a two-week drive through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to see how many rusting relics of the glory days of the automotive industry they can find. Turns out, they can find plenty. Over 1,500 cars discovered along backroads, inside old gas stations, hidden in bamboo fields, and tucked behind houses in overgrown backyards. I liked the accounts of the people they met along the way, the stories of the men who are saving, restoring and collecting these vehicular gems. Though, I must say it makes me sad to see fields of cars that have been abandoned and neglected by collectors who have too many projects. At one time, they saved these cars from the crushers and the scrappers only to “unsave” them through years of exposure and neglect. Sell these cars to someone else who does have the time so they can be saved before it is too late!

Cotter and friends dislike chain restaurants and, therefore, the readers are treated to local dining and brewery tips along the way. I liked that the author gave these places some ink so that they too can prosper from his road trip. But what I didn’t care for was the excessive amount of photos of the author’s own car, his 1939 Ford Woody which he drove on the trip. While it is great that Cotter’s own barn find participates in the mission to find other forgotten vehicles, I didn’t need to see 35 photos (not including pictures where the Woody is just in the background) of that one particular car. About two photos would have sufficed and would have freed up space to include at least 33 pictures of other cars they found along the way.

Overall, it isn’t a bad read, and the photos of the cars (other than the Woody) are worth it.

J.R. Ward’s latest book doesn’t suck

Now there’s a blog title I never thought I’d write. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I think the last five installments in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series have gone from bad to worse to deplorable to not worth reading, so when I heard that Ward was going to start a spinoff series called the Black Dagger Legacy that would go back to the original Black Dagger brothers, I was all kinds of skeptical. I mean, seriously Ward, do you even remember your original characters? But since I am a total masochist, I picked up Blood Kiss and started reading…and was pleasantly and shockingly surprised.

Unlike all the other nobodies (Autumn anybody?) Ward introduced into her initial series, I actually liked Paradise and Craeg (yes, she still does the misspelled name thing). Paradise was interesting in that she was a young product of the Glymera who had no interest in being a perfect little wifey to some pedigreed male peacock. Craeg was interesting because of his tragic past and his future goals regarding that past tragedy. In fact, most of the training class was intriguing, and I cannot wait for Axe’s book, and I kept wondering which if any of them may end up with Saxton as Ward has said on her blog that he would get his HEA in a forthcoming book. Axe would certainly be a hell of an entertaining mate for the pristine male. I guess we’ll just have to see.

But I digress…

As promised, original characters made appearances. Butch and Marissa are front and center in this one, and their relationship is on the rocks. At first, I found it hard to believe that the couple went from total bliss at the end of their book to barely speaking in this one, but as the plot developed, I thought we finally got to know the real Marissa. She was very strong and had some real growth as a character. Sometimes, the way Ward writes the shellans makes them seem like wallflowers who do nothing but wait for their males to come home from the fighting. This was definitely not the case in Blood Kiss.

And now for some things that didn’t improve…

Lassiter. What the hell is the point of this guy? He has these moments of true purpose and guidance (BDB books 6 and 10) which are few and far between and the rest of the time he is this comedic idiot who is so unfunny it is almost painful to read. The banter between him and the brothers is stale and repetitive and has been for the last five books involving the Brotherhood. Ward either needs to get to his purpose or get him out of the series.

The Brotherhood. A group of seriously manly warriors who fight the vampire race’s mortal enemies. Remember them? No? Neither does Ward because they are still acting like a bunch of recently castrated steers every time they spend more than two minutes away from their shellans. So annoying. What happened to the brotherly camaraderie? The scenes of the guys just chilling together? The bromance? Hell, even the team lesser fighting? Remember when two or more brothers had scenes together that did not involve all their shellans? Can we please get back to that? Butch and V have a nice little scene in Blood Kiss (emphasis on little) which triggered memories of how much page time and dialogue those two used to share, and I miss it and want more of it. That’s what made the initial series so good, so if you, Ward, are getting back to the original brothers, how about getting back to what made them brothers to begin with?

No mention of Qhuinn and Blay. Seriously??? Every other character from the BDB series gets mentioned in Blood Kiss: John and Xhex, Manny and Payne, the Shadows, Rehvenge and his lady, the butler, Nobody, oops, I mean Autumn, but not our favorite redhead and hothead? They seriously better get some ink in this series. They sure as hell never get enough in the original series!

But despite all that, this book was good. Not great, but certainly better than the crap Ward has been churning out in recent years. And as much as I wish I could snuff it out like a candle flame, there is this teeny, tiny flare of hope buried deep in my heart that this spinoff may return to the Brotherhood and the Ward writing that I once loved. And I can honestly say for the first time in a very long time that I am looking forward to the next Ward book. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!

The Lion of Sabray tells Lone Survivor from the POV of an Afghani hero

25110926As I was reading Lone Survivor, the amazing story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s survival of Operation Redwing, I wondered about the incredible, brave, and heroic Afghani who risked his own life and his own village to save the wounded American. So, I was very pleased when I learned that the story of Mohammed Gulab would be told in The Lion of Sabray. As Luttrell did for Lone Survivor, Gulab teamed with Patrick Robinson to share his account, and it does not disappoint.

Gulab is indeed a lion. Fierce, protective, and willing to fight to defend himself, his home, and those who Allah puts in his care, such as a severely wounded Texan found half dead on Gulab’s mountain. The story of this incredible Afghani’s life before, during, and after his encounter with Luttrell is shocking and fascinating. From a pre-teen machine gunner to a mujahideen field commander, Gulab is a warrior, a survivor, and a protector of Sabray.

Though Gulab does not speak a word of English, Robinson, through a translator, perfectly captures the voice, presence, and faithfulness of a man who, by the age of eight, was training for war, and who later risked everything to defy the Taliban and save the life of a fellow warrior. Robinson clearly explains the Pastunwali code of honor that Gulab lives by and reveals recently declassified facts about Luttrell’s rescue that could not be included in Lone Survivor. He also makes one thing perfectly clear: Marcus Luttrell would not be alive today without the fierce determination and unflagging faith of the Lion of Sabray.

By saving the life of a complete stranger, a man many of Gulab’s own countrymen would label an enemy, Gulab made himself an enemy of the Taliban and a target of their vengeance. He lost the home his family had known for generations, the timber that served as his biggest source of income, and the security of his village. Since his valiant rescue of Luttrell, Gulab has been attacked by terrorists and shot in his own home. I hope this heroic man and his family find peace and security and may someday return home to Sabray.

Gardner’s ‘Fast Horse’ is a fast, informative read

6909729There have been dozens of books written about Billy the Kid, so why pick up To Hell on a Fast Horse? Because of Mark Lee Gardner’s meticulous research which, in my opinion, gives far more substance to this subject than so many others written about the famous outlaw and the sheriff who hunted him down. The last 80 or so pages are all source notes because Gardner seems to have combed through every newspaper, journal, personal diary, and interview that ever mentioned William Bonney, Pat Garrett, and anyone in New Mexico who had ever known, set eyes on, or spoken to either of the famous men.

Gardner does not paint The Kid as some kind of romantic hero the way many accounts of the outlaw are written. One doesn’t read this book without understanding that The Kid aka Antrim aka Bonney was a coldblooded killer who stole horses, cattle, and lives. He was charming, lovable, and deadly. And, thanks to Garrett, dead at 21.

Garrett was the most interesting part of Gardner’s book for me. In all the books I’ve read on the subject, few commented on Garrett other than to brand him a killer for the way he killed The Kid. But as Gardner puts it, you can’t have one without the other. Whether he wanted it to or not, Garrett’s killing of the infamous Billy defined him for the rest of his life. Friends of Billy (and the outlaw had plenty) labeled Garrett a murderer and a coward for killing the outlaw without warning. Citizens who’d lived in fear of Bonney’s blazing guns called Garrett a hero. Many awarded him with money for removing a terrible threat from their community. But Garrett was no golden boy either. He had a lifelong addiction to gambling which placed his wife and eight children in a constant cycle of being flush then poor and forced Garrett to spend most of his time separated from his family while trying to earn money through mining schemes, horseracing, and outlaw hunting. His life after killing The Kid was a slow downward slide until he himself was murdered. Unfortunately, there were no Pat Garretts  around to hunt down his own killers.

Gardner collects a wealth of information and shares it in a way that is informative and engaging. Just as he did with Shot All to Hell, Gardner takes a popular subject that has been frequently rehashed and makes it fresh and new. A must read for fans of the American West and American history.

Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

“Welcome to the world of deception and shifting allegiances that is Iraq, Golf Company. Only a fool would take a person at his word and at face value in this place.”

Donovan Campbell’s account of his time in Iraq leading a Marine platoon is one of the most honest and open war memoirs I have ever read. Campbell isn’t from a family of servicemen; he doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe the military life. He served because he thought it was the right thing to do. This strongly comes across in the pages of Joker One. Campbell’s compassion for his men is tangible. The reader can feel the weight of the responsibility on Campbell’s shoulders, knowing that the lives of his men are truly in his hands, that the decisions he makes could be the difference between his platoon going home in one piece or not going home at all.joker one

Campbell shows the human side of deployment and war. The longing for home and family, the camaraderie among soldiers, the knowledge that one would die for his brothers, the overwhelming loss and guilt when a Marine makes the ultimate sacrifice, the grin-and-bear-it attitude that one must have when taking orders from some high-up in dress blues with no knowledge of combat and its many dangers, and the struggles a young leader faces in a combat zone.

He discusses how our rules of engagement, meant to endear us to the locals, left us looking weak and vulnerable to the Iraqi people and caused casualties that could have been prevented.

“Knowing that we would not shoot unarmed individuals, the insurgents could thus use our rules of engagement against us by fighting from one house until they were overwhelmed, then leaving their weapons and retreating—unarmed and thus relatively safely mixed with the civilian populace at large—to the next house and the next fighting position. There they would take up arms again and repeat the process.”

I honestly can’t fathom how our men, knowing this, still put on their gear and went out into the streets of Ramadi every day. It’s like their own damn government would rather they die than offend the Iraqis, many of whom were helping the insurgents and causing (directly or indirectly) American casualties.

“Instead, despite our daily kindness, despite the relief projects, the money, the aid that we had already poured into the hospitals, despite the fact that we routinely altered our missions to make ourselves less safe in order to avoid offending them, the citizens of Ramadi had come out of their houses and actively tried to kill us. Multiple intelligence sources later told us that hundreds, if not thousands, of males ranging from teenagers to fifty-year-olds had grabbed their family’s assault rifles, and, using the chaos caused by the hard-core insurgents as cover, they had taken potshots at U.S. forces as we passed by.”

I could easily launch into a tirade about how much this pisses me off and why do we even bother to help a people who have no interest in freedom or democracy, and why should Americans spill blood for them, but since this is a book blog and not a soap box, I will just say that you need to read this book, which left me openly crying on an airplane full of onlookers. Campbell’s story of his platoon and his time in Iraq shows what our men go through in a war zone and what they continue to go through when their deployment ends. Joker One will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading.