“Skin Game” Review

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I’ve finally made it! After nearly a year of reading the Dresden series, I just finished the latest book, “Skin Game.” Now, just like every fan out there, I get to wait for the next installment (whenever that’ll be). Before I get into the plot, I’d just like to say thanks to anyone who’s been reading these posts. It’s been a fun series to explore and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes next. All that said, let’s get into the meat of “Skin Game.”

Harry gets roped into a heist scheme involving Nicodemus, leader of the Denarians, and a ragtag group of professional thieves both old and new. Despite his reluctance, he’s forced to go along with them or face punishment by Mab. But this heist is far from ordinary and will take Harry to the depths of the Underworld itself. Will he make it out in one piece and prevent Nicodemus from causing major trouble, or has Harry gotten in over his head?

I’ve said in the past that Nicodemus and the Denarians in general are my favorite baddies in the Dresden-verse. I can honestly say that this is possibly my favorite book involving them to date. Wrapping them into a heist plot also made for a fun time, as I’ve always enjoyed a good heist now and then. However, this does have at least one downside to it, which I’ll get to later. I WILL say that the pacing was a bit…slow for me for a while. I partially blame it on trying to start the book after coming off of being sick as well as how distracted I get when I’m visiting my fiance. But a lot of it also stems from the downside I hinted at.

I liked that many familiar faces return in this and get either development or at least some cool things to do. Characters like Michael and Karrin get in on the action and their relationships with Harry give off the warm fuzzies. There’s a chapter consisting of mostly dialogue between Harry and Michael that was easily one of the best moments in the entire series. It emphasized why a character like Michael is needed to balance out Harry. I also liked Grey, one of the hired “thieves” for the heist. He was interesting both in personality and in having shape-shifting abilities, and of course plays a crucial part in the book’s climax that I won’t spoil. The only characters I took issue with were Butters and Hannah, another thief. Through most of the book (barring the ending), Butters acts a bit like a vigilante and comes across annoying in his actions. I got where he was coming from and why he was doing the things he did, but it was pretty clear that he was being more of a detriment than a help. As for Hannah, I liked her…at first. She’s one of those “spunky” female characters who is tough but also doesn’t mind flirting with her male counterparts. For the majority of the book, I was interested in the little tidbits that popped up about her. But by the third act, I was tired of her “flirty, action heroine” shtick. It came off a little obnoxious, though this was luckily addressed by the climax.

Finally, we come to one of my biggest issues with the book: the first half. The book is exactly 600 pages long, and for over half of that, it spends over 350 pages planning out the heist. Now, I know part of the fun of a heist is the thought that goes into it, but in book form, it felt like it took forever to get to the plan’s execution. Thankfully, there are character moments (like the Michael one I mentioned, for example) that break up the planning bits, but by the 300-page mark, I was anxious to get to the action already. The second half WAS definitely worth it, though, and the little twists and turns that popped up before, during, and after the climax kept me fully invested. I just wish it had kicked in just a tad sooner.

Overall, “Skin Game” was a good if not great book. Bringing back Nicodemus and the Denarians was a welcome return, and the plot centering around a heist was a neat departure from the other Dresden stories. There were great strides made with a few characters (major AND minor), and Harry even gets a few moments in himself. I’m happy to finally be caught up and know the ins and outs of the series thus far. Maybe now I can keep my assurance to James Marsters and try the audio books while I wait for #16 to be released.

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“Cold Days” Review

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Well, I’m now two weeks into my trip and have finally finished the second last Dresden book in the series thus far. I’m hoping to start the final book at some point this week or next and may blog next week about this weekend’s Wizard World Comic Con in Fort Lauderdale that I’m going to. I get to meet and have a photo op with James Marsters aka my FAVE person on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” so you’ll no doubt be hearing all about that and more. Until then, let’s get into the plot of “Cold Days.”

Continuing off of the events from both “Changes” and “Ghost Story,” Harry finds himself quickly caught up in another diabolical plot involving the faeries from both the Summer and Winter Courts. As he meets back up with his friends, Harry uncovers more secrets about “his” island, Demonreach, that could spell doom for not only Chicago but the rest of the world. Will Harry and co. be able to prevent incoming disaster, or will it be too much for even them to handle?

Like the last two books, this one is ripe with spoilers thanks to the aftermath/consequences of them. One major consequence is set up in “Changes” and plays a big part here, not only to tie Harry to the faerie plot but also to further his character development and interactions with others. I thought it was well done and no doubt sets up an interesting angle for Harry to cope with in upcoming books. The plot itself comes together pretty nicely, though I felt it was a bit slow to kick off partially thanks to Harry meeting up with old friends and such early on. I’ve made it clear in the past that while I like elements of the faerie-verse in the series, they’re not my favorites in terms of baddies or threats. That said, this was one of the most interesting stories I’ve read involving them and I felt more invested overall.

As with most Dresden stories, several reoccurring characters get more development as well. Even though I’m still not overly fond of her, I both like and dislike the direction Molly’s being taken in, mainly thanks to a major twist near the end of the book. Also, it STILL drives me nuts that the dangling thread of her crush on Harry is still a thing because I just find it incredibly icky. Thankfully, I got more long overdue relationship development (if you can call it that) between Harry and Karrin. While I don’t feel like they’ll be going off into the sunset together (I swear, Jim Butcher reminds me of Joss Whedon sometimes), I did like that they continue to address how topsy-turvy their friendship is. There was even further development, or at least mystery, with Mac. He was always a character who we didn’t know much about to begin with, but I have to wonder if we’ll ever find out more about him or if it’ll be left up in the air, as this book seems to suggest the latter. It’s interesting to think about, but also drives me nuts at the same time.

One thing I’ve mentioned feeling extremely grateful about doing was reading “Side Jobs” after “Changes” as sort of filler/character pieces. I can safely say I’m even more glad for reading it before this book, because it’s referenced here in spades. Granted, you don’t HAVE to read it before this, but it was nice to go “Ah ha!” whenever those stories were mentioned. Otherwise, they come off as cute incidents from Harry’s past (at least until you read “Side Jobs” after the fact). And since I mentioned that big twist at the end of the book, I will say that I didn’t see it coming until the book prompted me to catch on. I thought it was really well done following the heels of yet another island battle, and one of the big points made in the book hearkens back to as far as the very beginning with “Storm Front.” I feel as though we haven’t seen the last of that particular point since it has major implications for the Dresden-verse.

Overall, “Cold Days” was a good book. While I’m a little biased against it as I prefer other creatures/baddies in this series over faeries, I liked that the majority of that world was represented here in a pretty coherent, tonally serious story. The character interactions continue to entertain me and I’m curious to see what’s in store for Harry next. The series has been shifting to increasingly darker stuff and I for one can’t wait for more. As I said above, stay tuned for a possible convention blog, and after that should be my final (for now) Dresden blog for “Skin Game.”

“Ghost Story” Review (Some Spoilers!)

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Well, here we are once more before I travel to Miami on Wednesday. I might not have finished reading every Dresden book, but I’m going to make sure the last two get read and blogged about at some point during my trip. I’ll also most likely have a blog about checking out Wizard World Comic Con in Fort Lauderdale as well. In the meantime, as mentioned above, today’s blog is (against every fiber of my being) going to have a spoiler or two. “Ghost Story” is just chalk full of stuff going on that I wanted to at least attempt to talk about it, unlike what I did with “Changes.” Fair warning, ’cause spoilers start from here on.

After the major cliffhanger in “Changes,” Harry finds himself in a limbo of sorts as a ghost. Given the option to return to Chicago in the hopes of helping his friends and tracking down his killer, he jumps at the chance and starts to learn how to function as a ghost. But when Morty, the spirit medium, is captured by evil forces, Harry must gather up his ragtag friends to save him. Will Harry be able to help everyone and get his just rewards, or will the vengeful spirits of Chicago destroy him once and for all?

As you can tell, this book centers around Harry living life as a ghost and the upsides and downsides of it. Plot-wise, I thought this one was pretty solid. It didn’t feel like it meandered too much away from the main story and, despite my own slow pace at reading it, it didn’t feel like a drag. I enjoyed lots of aspects about Harry adjusting to his ghost “life” He gets help from numerous people/spirits to become just as good of a ghost as he was a living wizard. I liked how he also took more time to reflect on his mistakes and tried to plan his battles more wisely. There are even parts that show glimpses of Harry’s past that I appreciated, if only because it put me further into his mindset. I feel like, even after getting to “know” Harry throughout this series, this book showed he still has a few surprises in him.

Another thing I liked was the progression, for better or worse, of his friends as they’ve moved on without him. The book tries to cover major ones such as Murphy, Molly and Thomas, and it made me all the more happy I read “Side Jobs” first as a lead-in to their changed mindsets (specifically Murphy’s). It was a good if heartbreaking change of pace for these characters, and I’ll admit that while I didn’t feel overly bad for Molly’s plight, I did like her a bit more here for her much more raw attitude. We also learn a little bit more about her brother, Daniel, and even see Butters stepping into more of an action role. Given that there’s a time displacement between Harry’s death and the present, it was nice to see Butcher didn’t cop out on giving the characters some development and changed attitudes.

Speaking of characters, there was one new character I really liked despite his small-ish role in the book: Sir Stuart. He’s a long-dead soldier who convenes with Morty and protects him from danger. I just really liked the guy’s personality and his attitude toward fighting evil, as well as him taking up a bit of a mentor role to Harry during his initial time as a ghost. While something drastic happens to him later that kinda diminishes his persona a bit, I found him to be the most interesting of the new characters shown here (although Fitz the gang member was fine too).

Once again, though, I have minor nitpicks. To be specific, I have ONE nitpick, and it has to do with a major twist involving Harry’s killer that I refuse to give away. I’ll just say this: While I appreciated how it tied back into “Changes”, I also felt a little let down by it. Now, I wasn’t expecting anything complicated, but I felt it was a bit of a disservice to Harry after everything we’d been through with him. It’s not a horrible twist, but the choice to make it what it was just left me feeling lukewarm.

Overall, “Ghost Story” was a great book. I might have had issues with “Changes,” but this book followed through on what that book accomplished in an engaging way. The character and story development here were well done, and the callbacks to other stories and past events in Harry’s life were a nice touch. As usual, if you haven’t read the series up to this point, you really should to get the full experience and allow yourself to appreciate what both “Changes” and “Ghost Story” have set in motion. I’m just excited to move on to “Cold Days” and “Skin Game” to see just where Butcher takes this story next (and be caught up, of course). I can’t promise when I’ll blog next, but I WILL be concluding this series within the next two months. Stay tuned!

“Side Jobs” Review

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Once again, I apologize for being late on this one. I had hoped to have most if not all of the Dresden series read before I go on my trip by the 16th, but that just hasn’t happened. I will be reading “Ghost Story” and hopefully blogging about it before I leave, however. With that aside, let’s talk about the anthology book, “Side Jobs.”

Now, given that this is a collection of short stories set throughout the series, I don’t want to run down each and every little one or this blog would be majorly long. Instead, I’d like to talk about some of my favorites and least favorites presented here. There are a total of 11 stories of varied length and, for me at least, most of them are good. Whether they’re filling a gap between stories or acting as further character development, all of them have something to offer. However, the first two stories, “Restoration of Faith” and “Vignette”, were easily the weakest to me. The former was one of Butcher’s earliest (as in teenage years) writings and it shows. I did like a few details in it (like what Harry was doing long before becoming the wizard we see in “Storm Front” and him meeting Murphy), but overall it was clearly the weakest story of the bunch. “Vignette” was a bit stronger, being a story about Harry and Bob trying to settle on an advertisement for Harry’s detective agency, but it was meant to be a pamphlet-sized short story and it definitely is. It was basically fluff, albeit decently written fluff.

As for some of the stories I liked, I’m going to change things up and make a small list. That list changed as I read through each story, and while I did enjoy the werewolf-centric “Something Borrowed” (more Billy and Georgia AND Buffy references? Yes, please!) and the reappearance of some nasty Black Court vampires in “It’s My Birthday, Too”, these next three are my top faves:

3) “The Warrior” – This story takes place after the events of “Small Favor” and brings Michael and his family into center-stage when pictures of them are sent to Harry. Michael is eventually forced into action when his daughter is kidnapped and teams up with Harry to find out why. After all that happens in “Small Favor,” it was nice to see Michael again and enjoy his interactions with Harry. When he meets the kidnapper near the end, the moments following it were very well-written and poignant to his character. The story itself overall was pretty strong and there’s a nice message at the end to drive the whole thing home.

2) “Love Hurts” – Prepare for bias! This story takes place before “Changes” and features Harry and Murphy teaming up to stop someone who’s been forcing people to fall in love. I love this story for two main reasons: A) It takes place at a carnival, which is always a fun setting to picture, and B) Murphy and Harry get a little taste of the love spell and get to indulge in their feelings. I’ve loved the prospect of these two getting together (even if it never actually happens), and this was the closest I got so far of that being possible. The story itself was good overall and I just loved how much it highlighted what a good police team Harry and Murphy make.

And finally, 1) “Aftermath” – This story takes place in the aftermath of the cliffhanger from “Changes” and is written in Murphy’s point of view. New factions of baddies are trying to muscle in on the Red Court’s territory, and Murphy, along with Billy, ends up investigating a series of disappearances that could be related to said baddies. Of course, I love it for Murphy’s perspective alone, but it’s also a pretty fleshed-out story to boot. It gives a bit more insight into Billy’s life than even “Something Borrowed” did and also gives us an idea of how Murphy would handle situations mostly on her own that normally Harry would be involved in. I’m glad I read this first before going into “Ghost Story,” if only because it made for a great filler piece between that and “Changes.”

Overall, “Side Jobs” is definitely a book fans will appreciate. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, the majority of them were well-written and had interesting scenarios. I’m glad I read it, though I’m looking forward to jumping right back into the series next week.

“Changes” Review

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First off, I’d like to apologize for not having a blog up last week. I spent the majority of that time trying to read today’s book and also grab old episodes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” following Jon’s departure. Having finished “Changes” finally, I still plan to try to keep reading more in the series, though I’ll be taking a slight detour by going into “Side Jobs” next. With that said, just what is this book about?

Harry’s life is thrown into disarray once again when his former girlfriend, Susan, returns to Chicago with some life-changing news. In light of this, he also discovers that the Red Court is hoping to negotiate peace with the White Council. But Harry suspects they have something up their sleeve when Duchess Arianna, who has it out for him, is the one trying to negotiate. Will Harry be able to put the Red Court down for good, or will he lose everything he cares about in the process?

As you all know, I’ve striven to make these reviews as spoiler-free as possible. The bad side to that is I can’t talk about a lot of major revelations/twists. Well, “Changes” is an apt title for this book, because many, many, MANY major things happen. I know from here on out it might be impossible NOT to spoil and I’ll warn you if that’s the case. I WILL say that I both liked and disliked this book for various reasons, some that I can talk about.

Susan’s role in the book and the news she brings Harry didn’t sit well with me throughout the story but especially in the beginning. I always liked Susan, but her re-introduction here felt…soap opera-y to me. She is involved with the Red Court plot and that was well done, but it was that initial dramatic entrance that left a bad taste in my mouth. I kinda wish Butcher hadn’t gone for the cliches and just had her strictly involved in the Red Court stuff. As for her exit from the book… There was strong reasoning behind it, but I ultimately felt unsatisfied overall with how her character was treated in this.

One thing I mentioned to my fiance was how despite being a “middle of Harry’s story” book, this one felt more like the end to his story. It was distracting at first, as his life is impacted severely and there were a few “cameos” of people who have helped him in the past. However, it was easy to get past, and I was glad the story kept up the tension and action. I’d complained about the last book that it was too slow to start, but this one ramps up from the very start and doesn’t let up hardly at all. That’s not to say the story felt rushed, though. It just had a ton of events going on throughout.

Since I can read these weeks at a time versus waiting for a new book to come out, I’ll mention that the ending to this book, while tying up a lot of things, does contain basically a cliffhanger (and a tease on top of that that irritated me personally). This cliffhanger is a major event for Dresden that I’ve been assured plays a big part in the next book, “Ghost Story.” This was one where I liked the context of it, but at the same time disliked that a cliffhanger was used. I can’t begin to imagine how readers felt having to wait a year or so before the next book to see what happens.

Overall, “Changes” is a good book despite my gripes with some of the plot developments in it. This book is/was a game-changer and I’m interested to see where the second half of the series goes. If you’ve been even remotely reading the series before this book, it’s definitely one that you can’t afford to miss.

“Turn Coat” Review

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As I mentioned last week, this week’s blog is about “Turn Coat”, the 11th book in the “Dresden Files” series. To prepare myself and take a short break before the apparently crazy read I’m in for with the next book, “Changes”, next week will definitely be a non-Dresden update. Until then, let’s break down what this book has to offer.

Warden Morgan shows up at Harry’s apartment one day looking for sanctuary. He soon finds out that Morgan is a fugitive of the Council, having been accused of murdering one of the Senior Council’s members. But when Harry resolves to find the truth, he gets more than he bargained for when both the White Court and a powerful, shape-shifting skinwalker join the fray to hunt down Morgan. Even with the help of his closest allies, will Harry be able to solve the case and find the culprit, or will the Council ultimately fall into chaos?

 I’ll just say it now: I’m biased against this book. Yes, against it. I never liked Morgan as a character from day 1, and even by the book’s end my mind hadn’t changed much about that. Considering how much of the book revolves around him, I found a good chunk of it kind of a slog to get through. That wasn’t helped by the slow-ish pacing, but I’ll get to that later. It’s not technically a bad book, but I can safely say at this point that it’s far from being among my favorites.

There are a few things I did like about the book. There’s more progression with both the mysterious island Harry recently visited as well as the developing Black Council plot. This all comes into play during the book’s third act, which is by far my favorite part. The third act in general has, in order: a big, climatic battle on the island which also showcases some of the Senior Council members’ abilities, a wizard trial where the killer is unmasked, and some important aftermath details that I’m sure will definitely come into play later. For a book that started slow and gradually picked up, this whole chunk of it was definitely the highlight. Also, while the book had various baddies pop up here and there, my favorite was definitely the skinwalker. He was both scary and threatening with how strong and cunning he was, and I’ve always loved the idea of an ability to change into anything. There are some good battle scenes with him, though I prefer the one on the island.

I also liked some of the character developments that took place. Thomas, for example, spends most of the book MIA but comes back by the end in a dramatic fashion. I’m sure the repercussions of his disappearance may have an effect on a future story or two. Jim Butcher also gets the werewolves, lead by Billy, involved again and finally starts making more use of them in battle scenarios (Billy in particular gets the most development here for standing up to Dresden). But the most important developments come from both Harry and Morgan, both separately and toward each other. They mutually gain a bit more respect and understanding of each other, and Harry also learns to be more strategic when creating a plan. And, despite my gripes with Morgan, this is the book where he has the most growth and likability than any other in the series. Even if by the end he didn’t feel completely redeemed to me, I still appreciate that his character finally got some much-needed depth.

Now we come to the negative stuff. I already mentioned how the book started slow for me, though this still could be partially due to my bias against Morgan. However, I just felt the beginning 10 or so chapters didn’t have a whole lot going on. I know it’s mainly a mystery and has to take time to build up, but even for that it felt a little sluggish. Molly as usual returns to assist Dresden, and while I found her character tolerable through most of the story, there was one scene near the third act that I couldn’t stand. I understood the reasoning for it and some of the things she mentions come into play later, but it felt like a step back for her character.

But my biggest gripe aside from the heavy involvement of Morgan was the relationship between Harry and Anastasia. I don’t know if Jim Butcher intended for us to get attached to them or not, but I felt like they needed at least one more book before the events that occur in this one. I did like the role she ultimately played in the plot, but throughout the book and by the end, I just didn’t feel invested in what happens with them. With Susan, even before she was turned into a vampire, she was established and given a couple books to endear her to us. Here, the idea of Anastasia being a love interest for Harry gets some nods in the previous book, but only really plays out in this one. I just feel like it was a waste of potential.

Overall, “Turn Coat” was full of ups and downs for me personally. The third act was definitely worth getting to, but because of the slow-ish pace and major involvement of Morgan, it’s not a book I would revisit any time soon. At the very least, this book sets up some interesting details that may play out in other stories. Just be warned that the good stuff doesn’t really kick in till late into it.

“Small Favor” Review

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Well, after a nice little break, we’re back to another Dresden review! As it has become a standard, this book has a lot going on in terms of plot and especially foreshadowing for future books. The other five books as well as “Side Jobs” will get their due time, but for now, let’s take a look at “Small Favor.”

Harry gets reluctantly commissioned by the Winter Court to act as an Emissary in the wake of the disappearance of Marcone. With the help of his friends, he soon discovers an old threat has returned and taken Marcone as part of an elaborate scheme. And once Ivy aka the Archive gets involved as a mediator, Harry soon realizes just how elaborate that scheme is. It’s up to Harry with the help of the Knights of the Cross to stop it before the whole world suffers.

I’ll start this review off by saying that I really liked this book. While the beginning was kind of a slow start, the plot had me hooked by the time Harry gets entangled with the Winter Court. There’s an interesting use of fairy tale-like creatures involved on behalf of the Summer Court (still quarreling with Winter in a way) that I liked and, of course, I was happy to see Michael back kicking butt. The reveal of Marcone’s kidnappers just made the plot all the more interesting for me, and how they tied into the Winter Court didn’t feel forced to me. While not perfect (the fairy tale thing is resolved very neatly), I was thoroughly invested in the plot and character interactions

Many of my favorite characters were present in this one. Aside from Marcone having a brief presence and Michael getting a big part to play, Murphy, Ivy, Captain Luccio and Thomas also return to help out. The book expands more on Ivy as a character and as the Archive, and I’m curious to see if the events of this book will impact her character in future ones. Thomas and Murphy get some great interactions with Harry, of course, and Murphy also gets some quality time with Kincaid (not THAT kind of quality time). While I still like the idea of her getting with Harry eventually, it was nice to see her “relationship” with Kincaid for once. Luccio also gets an expanded role both in character development and giving Harry a possible new relationship to explore. I both like and dislike this for reasons that are pointed out even in the book itself, but we’ll see how it plays out.

One thing I was happy about was the progression with Molly’s character. In this book, it’s made clear that she’s not a battle-ready wizard like Harry and ends up using her skills for useful things like healing and creating veils. It sends her into the background most of the time, but I found her character easier to start liking as a result. And thank GOD my complaints from previous books were addressed, because there are no blatant references to Molly’s sex appeal.

Like I said, there’s also a lot of foreshadowing in the book, most notably in the ending. Several things get brought up that could easily be made into a plotline for a future story. Interestingly enough, I wanted to know more about each and every thing they brought up, and I hope they all get focused on.

It’s hard for me to talk about this book without spoiling some major things, but one thing does happen that is sure to have major repercussions on one character’s role in the future. It sucks, but at the same time I’m interested in how Butcher will handle it. I was also worried about the final fight in the book as another character seemed to be taken down like a chump, but considering this character’s nature and abilities, I won’t be the least surprised to see him pop back up in good form another time. Honestly, other than the fairy tale thing being resolved a little too cleanly, I don’t really have complaints about this one. I just enjoyed it that much.

Overall, “Small Favor” is a great addition to the series and, as the 10th title, it sets up a lot of stuff for the remaining five books and beyond. I’m liking where the series is going and the characters just get more and more interesting to follow. If you haven’t been reading the series in order by this point, this is definitely NOT a book you can come into without some prior knowledge. But, if you’re like me and you have, this is very much worth the read. It’s easily one of my favorites of the series now.