To cap off January, how about a post full of page-turners? This month I’ve been looking at my recent history of writing book reviews, and quite frankly found myself f lacking. In my first post of the year for 2024, I did a painful self-accounting and made a New Year’s Resolution to do better.
In my second post I started to make good on that promise with reviews of three recommended nonfiction titles featuring widely different subject matter. But fiction is my wheelhouse, and it’s the core business of Weird Sisters Publishing. So I’m closing out January 2024 on The Weird Blog with fiction reviews.
But not just fiction. As promised above, it’s a post full of page-turners.
A Pair of High-Octane Thrillers
Because I write science fiction mysteries about police topics and dogs, I’m always on the hunt for other books that check some of those boxes. I’ve written about an earlier series of Jodi Burnett’s K-9 mysteries in a previous post. The books I’ll review here are a spin-off from her Tin Star K-9 Series, but they take us into another area of law enforcement.
I’m talking about the US Marshal Thriller Series, which center on the character Dirk Sterling. Although I gave both of them 4 stars out of 5, I still recommend them as highly entertaining books. They definitely belong in a post full of page-turners. I’ll let my reviews tell the rest of the story.
Extraction (Book One)
I devoured this book in one day, which is unusual for me. Thing is, Jodi Burnett gets better at writing page-turners with every book. This is a new series that spins off from a previous series, the “Tin Star K-9” books. That’s where readers like me got our first introduction to Marshal Dirk Sterling and his previous partner.
I easily settled back into a semi-familiar milieu, set partially in the Rockies (Montana is the home base), but the action ranges far and wide. Burnett takes us into the minds of several people: Sterling, his colleagues, the radicalized subject whose murderous “US tour” the Marshals are trying to stop, and the subject’s daughter.
My one complaint, and it’s common to most of Burnett’s work, is that the characters tend to be kind of polarized to either good or evil. Their motives are not excessively complex or multilayered. This means that although they have complex problems, and they are definitely not mere “cardboard cutouts,” they do come across as somewhat more flat than real people.
To some extent, that comes with the “thriller” territory and the fast-paced intensity where nuance often isn’t even possible. But if you love the thrill of the hunt, and the twists and turns of a deadly cat-and-mouse type story, you’ll find this book both entertaining and near-impossible to put down.
Corruption (Book Two)
I have been a faithful reader of Jodi Burnett’s books for several years. She really knows how to keep a reader compulsively turning pages. Dirk Sterling is back, still trying to get past his attraction to his new boss, settle into a comfortable relationship with his new partner, and navigate a friendship with the lonely widow of his previous partner, while hunting down a ruthless gangster/pornographer.
In this series Burnett has created a collection of interesting characters with a range of challenges. We met some of them in a previous series, and old friends from other books make cameo appearances sometimes, which is fun.
She’s clearly done her law enforcement research. The plot twists usually feel natural because they’re well set up, although sometimes they happen somewhat conveniently. I often wish she’d give us a bit more nuance. The “bad guys” are irredeemably evil, while the “good guys” are always upright and superlative. This makes things in the world of her novels feel kinda black-and-white.
That said, I still recommend this book as this is a fast-paced tale of twists and turns, and an entertaining and engaging read.
Now let’s Move to Fantasy
If you’ve been following the award nominations – or if you’re an audiobook reader who’s discovered his wonderful renditions of other people’s novels – you may have some ideas about Travis Baldree and his new fantasy series about an entrepreneurial orc named Viv.
I was captivated immediately by Carson Lowmiller’s cover art. If you have discovered these books, you know they belong in a post full of page-turners – and you won’t be surprised I gave both of them five stars. If you have not discovered them yet, you’re in for a treat.
Legends & Lattes (Book One? Dare we Hope?)
Travis Baldree, already a much-loved audiobook reader, has turned his hand to writing his own fiction, and the world is richer for it. “Legends & Lattes” is a delightful feast of a book, gloriously humorous and deeply rooted in traditions that generations of fantasy fans have learned to navigate and love.
Viv is an orc, a seasoned veteran of the legendary mercenary group Rackham’s Ravens, but now she’s opening a new chapter in her life. The subtitle calls this “a novel of high fantasy and low stakes,” but that depends on whose stakes are in the game. Second careers are challenging. And Viv is taking a road that is very much the “one less traveled.”
We’re used to fantasy stories where the towns are gritty, the manners are rough, and everyone’s out to cheat others. Viv’s adopted town of Thune has plenty of that, but this is a book about taking chances, making choices with one’s heart, and creating a space where it’s possible to bring out the best in oneself and others.
“Legends & Lattes” is an extraordinarily promising debut novel. If Baldree can keep up this quality, pacing, and humor, I’m a fan for life.
Bookshops & Bonedust (A Prequel)
We dip back into our favorite Orc’s past for a glimpse of a younger Viv, and more than a few glimpses of the potential to become the mature version we learned to love in the first version. In this book, her story of life with Rackham’s Ravens is just beginning . . . with a sudden, painful detour.
Her youthful enthusiasm and unwisdom could’ve gotten her killed, instead of just sidelined with a painful injury. But from young Viv’s point of view, she’s been stuck in the backwater coastal town of Murk, the next-worst thing to being buried alive.
Viv being Viv, however, that doesn’t hold her back for long. Travis Baldree delivers another humorous tale of friendship, adventure, and finding the best in oneself while bringing out the best in those around us. “Bookshops & Bonedust” absolutely brings all the same values and entertainment as “Legends & Lattes,” in a new setting with a mostly-new cast, then ties the two neatly together.
Highly recommended! If you love good fantasy, don’t miss this book!
About the Author
While she’s not always writing reviews for a post full of page-turners, author Jan S. Gephardt does always try to write page-turners. She’s currently in final edits on Bone of Contention, the third novel in her XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live, and solve crimes, on a space station in a star system far, far away.
Many thanks to Amazon for consistently high-quality cover image files! Here are direct URLs to the sources for Extraction, Corruption, Legends & Lattes, and Bookshops & Bonedust. I also want to gratefully acknowledge Designer Erin Phillips and Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the “Feed an Author” quote-design.