AGE OF ASH (Kithamar #1), by Daniel Abraham

I received this novel from Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

I’m quite familiar with Daniel Abraham’s fantasy production, having greatly enjoyed both The Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coin series, and of course I know that under the shared pen name of James S.A. Corey he’s the co-author, together with Ty Franck, of the successful SF series The Expanse, so that when the start of this new fantasy saga was announced I was more than eager to see for myself what it was about.

The city of Kithamar has a long history of power and prosperity, but also of violence and strife: as the novel starts, the uneasy peace between the two ethnic groups living in the city is shaken by the death of the former ruler and the ascendance of his successor – many wonder, given the troubled times, how long he will be able to remain in his place. But Age of Ash is not so much the tale of people in power, but rather of the city’s inhabitants: first we meet Alys, a very proficient member in a band of thieves, one of the most lucrative occupations among Kithamar’s underprivileged. The murder of her brother sends her on a very different path, however: searching for answers first and then for vengeance, Alys finds herself enmeshed with convoluted political maneuvers and the dark, ancient secret behind Kithamar’s rule – a secret that might claim her life.  Sammish is another member of the dsmr band, her skill in being inconspicuous a very valuable one for thieving, but a hindrance in her desire to be noticed by Alys on whom she has a crush: when Alys’ focus on vengeance becomes all-encompassing and takes her into the orbit of some shady characters, and once the mysterious Saffa – a woman searching desperately for her kidnapped child – opens Sammish’s eyes on the evil undercurrents of powers in Kithamar, the girl will have to deal with conflicting loyalties and a newfound awareness of the world she’s living in.  The third main POV comes from Andomaka, a noblewoman with great aspirations to power and the member of a weird religious cult holding the secret behind the workings of the power handout between rulers: she is strong, ambitious and ruthless, the true representative of the caste that has been governing Kithamar throughout the centuries.

The slow burn of Age of Ash might have proved discouraging if I had not been prepared: previous experience with Daniel Abraham’s novels taught me that he likes to carefully prepare the playing field and that the beginnings of his series require a little patience, which is always rewarded in the end. In this particular case, the “preliminary” work serves to create the image of a living, breathing city in all its colorful detail: shopkeepers and artisans plying their trade in the winding streets and alleys of Kithamar, urchins running underfoot and thieves moving like smoke in crowded areas; the various districts, looking like enclaves where the two ethnicities coexist in a delicate balance, giving way to the mansions of the more affluent citizens and of the nobility – these elements are pictured in such a vivid manner that after a while they feel three-dimensional, to the point that it’s almost possible to hear the sounds and perceive the smells. We are led through the city in its better times, like the harvest, which brings abundance of food and a festive atmosphere, when street revelries offer the chance for celebration and great thieving opportunities in the crowded passages; and we see it in the bitter cold of winter, when food is scarce and ice covers the ground and hangs from the roofs in big icicles, when the poorest have to choose between eating or warming their homes, a time when darkness and gloom prey heavily on everyone’s mind.

While I enjoyed such richness in the world-building, I found myself somewhat distanced from the characters, particularly where Alys is concerned: the single-minded focus on her quest leaves little space for any kind of emotional connection or feeling of sympathy. Even her grief at the loss of her brother shows this kind of hard edge (for want of a better definition) that turns it into something cold and soulless, devoid of any spark of humanity.  I ended up feeling greater empathy with Sammish, not least because she exhibits a greater capacity for emotional and psychological growth throughout the story and because what looks like childish infatuation morphs, in the end, into a willingness to help her friend and to do the right thing, not just for Alys but for the city as well. The unassuming girl who can move through crowds unnoticed shows more courage and heart, in the end, than the one who should be the main focus of the story, and this comparison did not help me at all in my reflections on Alys’ character: this is however only the first book in a series so I’m also suspending my judgment while waiting to see how the story progresses and what kind of surprises the author has in store for his readers.

And speaking of the plot itself, there are many unresolved threads here – particularly where Andomaka’s actions and her connection with the religious cult are concerned – that will certainly be further explored in the next books: there is a lot of intrigue, with longtime ramifications, that simply begs to be developed more fully. The complex, creepy layers of Kithamar’s power management and its handling through the generations are barely touched here and I can hardly wait to see how the continuation of the story will deal with them, and with Andomaka’s plans, about which I can’t afford to say more because that way lie some massive spoilers.

The start of this new series is indeed a very promising one, and I can’t shake the feeling that this first installment barely scratched the surface of a story that holds many more surprises in store for me. Time, of course, will tell what they are…

My Rating:


Cover Reveal: DYER STREET PUNK WITCHES, by Phil Williams

So far I’ve been quite enjoying Phil Williams’ Ordshaw novels (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3), a series of Urban Fantasy books focused on the British city of Ordshaw where magic and mundane coexist and sometimes cross – not always with desirable results. Loosely connected to this series is also the Ikiri Duology (Link1, Link 2), an adventurous tale spanning several countries and delving on an ancient mystery.

Now I’ve received from Mr. Williams the welcome news of a new book set again in the city of Ordshaw but featuring new characters and adding the theme of crime thriller to the previous mix, and I’m quite thrilled at the prospect.

So, while I wait for the book to be published, I’m quite happy to share its cover and the blurb kindly provided by the author:

Kit hung up her brass knuckles, but she never stopped fighting. She abandoned the dark arts, but the shadows lingered. And now her past is back to haunt her. There’s a new witch in town, working with a ruthless gang to stamp out rivals – no matter how long ago they quit.

An old friend warns Kit that her neighbourhood is under attack. Kit herself is a target. Her former gang are scared stiff and her magic-wielding bandmates are long gone. She dreads reviving her destructive nature, and can’t dust off the spellbook – not after what happened last time. But what choice does she have?

Besides, she rarely gets to enjoy a good brawl anymore.

Decades older, a little wiser, and contrary as ever, Kit’s going to remind them all what a punk witch can do.

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? And I love the crumpled look of the cover, like that of an oftend-handled book, but I’m particularly drawn by the concept of punk witches. After all, who wouldn’t? 😉


THRONE OF LEAVES (Book of Never #8), by Ashley Capes

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

As I remarked in one of my previous posts for this series, the main character’s name, Never, seems to be closely linked to his destiny, that of never finding peace – both in his search for answers about the past and the uncanny abilities bestowed by his heritage, and in his life: the previous book ended with the threat posed by a god-like creature, the Burnished King, laying waste to the land in his quest for domination, and Throne of Leaves starts by showing the readers how the Stone Plague is devastating both people and the territories it encroaches on.

In his afterword, author Ashley Capes remarks about the oddity of such a narrative choice: while the previous installment in the series was completed in 2019, before the very real Covid pandemic hit, he describes here the made-up plague at the center of this story and considers the strangeness of the parallel between worrisome reality and equally disquieting fiction.  Sometimes reality and fantasy have a strange way of coexisting…

Back to Never’s adventures, there is something of a change in the way he’s perceived now: while before his weird powers and his appearance were met with awe and suspicion in equal measure, his recent actions have gained him the well-deserved qualification of “hero”, and if the awe is still present, he’s often welcomed and his help both sought after and appreciated.  It’s interesting to observe how he’s not totally comfortable with that, but at the same time he’s more inclined to open himself to friendships and to accept the fact that he’s not bound to be a loner, that he can find people to share his path – and its dangers – with.

This is particularly true in Throne of Leaves because Never’s ally Rikeva – a sort of warrior priestess gifted with abilities of her own – seems to be more than just a passing companion and possesses all the qualities to become a permanent comrade, or even something more.  While I’m always wary of emotional entanglements in the stories I read, I quite enjoyed the very slow burn of what might turn into a romantic liaison, and this might also prove to be a positive turn for a loner like Never. Moreover, Rikeva is a great character: strong, determined, courageous, but also compassionate and gifted with a delightful sense of humor which might very well compensate for Never’s deep seriousness.

Story-wise, Throne of Leaves continues in the series’ tradition of leading Never through a quest where he needs to unlock mysteries and face various dangers: once again I’m reminded of strategy computer games (even though I’m no gamer at all) where the players must complete increasingly difficult levels before reaching the goal. Here Never does so by also revisiting previous locations where other adventures took place and – more important – reconnecting with old acquaintances and friends he met along the way. This proved to be one of my favorite sections of the book because I enjoyed the appearance of some familiar faces, and also because it was nice to see Never appreciate the reunion:

[…] halfway through the meal he’d found himself wishing time would pass slower. 

A moment of peace and joy that, together with the reminders of past adventures, made me think Never’s journey might be nearing a closing circle – but of course it was a totally wrong impression because the very last sentence of the book hints at an even greater danger looming over the horizon. Something that will certainly be explored in the continuation of this series…

My Rating:


YOU SEXY THING, by Cat Rambo

With such an intriguing title and the information that one of the story’s characters is a sentient bio-ship, it was inevitable that You Sexy Thing would end up on my TBR, and that I would have fun with it. It’s a quick read, and maybe a little on the light side as far as background and characterization are concerned, but since many elements in the story seem to indicate this novel might be a series starter, I will take this book as an introduction and keep hoping that some stronger developments will come along in the following installments.

Niko Larsen and her team now manage the Last chance restaurant on the remote Twice Far space station, but they once used to be soldiers enrolled by the Holy Hive Mind, a political/military conglomerate focused on expansion (think of a somewhat milder version of Star Trek’s Borg): to stay out of the HHM’s clutches, Niko and her people must demonstrate that their venture is an artistically successful one, and therefore the promised arrival of famous food critic Lolola drives them to excel in their culinary offerings, so that they might be granted a prized Nikkelin Orb to show their value as a renowned eating establishment.  Even the best-laid plans are subject to unforeseen events, though, and a set of peculiar circumstances sees our heroes trapped aboard the sentient ship You Sexy Thing, bound for a prison planet with no possibility of changing course. What ensues is a series of madcap adventures including a detour toward a pirate enclave and the arrival of a stasis-bound princess whose care has been entrusted to Niko by an unknown sender.

The various narrative threads that form the novel’s structure might seem a little confusing, but fortunately they combine into an engaging plot that remains interesting from start to finish. If the characters are not explored in real depth, their interactions are quite fun and their mutual relationships offer many intriguing angles that, in turn, help to better focus on this variegated universe. Niko Larsen (and later on princess Atlanta) are the only humans in the group, since the rest of the crew is of alien origin: Dabry, once Niko’s XO and now the restaurant’s chef, is a four-armed humanoid; the  twins Thorn and Talon can morph into lion’s form and are possessed of the same unquenchable energy as feline puppies; Gio is an evolved apelike creature who can communicate only through hand gestures; Milly is the pastry chef and looks like an avian; Skidoo (my absolute favorite!) is a squid-like being and – last but not least – Lassite is a reptilian mystic with the ability to perceive the future.  What makes these alien creatures interesting is that they are quite believably alien in mindset and behavior, not only in appearance, and what’s more important is that they have created a family-like bond whose basis might have been born in the mind link that bound them  during their military service, but is now the product of many shared experiences and the affection and care that those experiences consolidated among them. 

Of course once the group is onboard the You Sexy Thing, another character comes to the fore – the ship itself: as a bio-ship, the Thing possess the ability to adapt and change its environment according to the passengers’ requirements, and it’s also able to interact with them, but we soon understand that the previous owners did not take many steps in expanding the Thing’s capabilities.  Thanks to the time spent with Niko’s crew – starting with Dabry and his culinary performances – the Thing understands there is more to its existence than it was able to perceive before, and the ship initiates a process of growth and transformation that is a true joy to behold.

[…] they had interacted with [the Thing] as though it were another person, there in the room with them. All of its owners had treated it simply like a thing, and before the ship had always thought that was the norm. Now it knew there was a different way.

Where the book falters a little, however, is in the presentation of the antagonists: the pirate overlord comes across almost like a caricature, his focus on revenge and torture is presented in such a way as to create a dissonance with the story’s previous tone, while the insistence on the “evilness” of the character seems to deprive it of any realistic connotation.  On this subject I have to admit that the choice of inserting a character’s death as part of the pirate’s “dastardly plot” introduced a jarring note in what had so far been an adventurous/humorous narrative mood: this death brings serious consequences for the group and adds a more dramatic layer to the story, but I’m still struggling to envision it as an organic part of the plot.

The novel’s world building needs some stronger foundations as well: apart from learning about the existence of the Holy Hive Mind, of a large Empire (to which princess Atlanta is one of the designated heirs), of the pirate conglomerate and of the space bound society of the Free Traders, we don’t know much about this universe and I for one would have loved to learn a few more details – that’s where my hope that there will be other books about Niko & Co. makes me look more favorably on this novel.

Still, to close on a positive note, I have to say that I liked very much all mentions of cooking and food: story-wise they are part of the bonding process of the group in their new life, and of the group with the Thing, but on a personal level I enjoyed them because I do love to cook and to experiment with new recipes – one of the reasons I felt a great connection with Dabry and his fascination with ingredients 🙂

In the end, I had fun with You Sexy Thing and that’s what I was looking for when I picked it up, but still I would have liked to find more in this story: should the author decide to write more adventures featuring Niko Larsen, her crew and the adorable Thing, she will certainly find me there glad to follow them.

My Rating:


TOP TEN TUESDAY: 2021 releases I was excited to read but didn’t get to

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  

It’s a sad fact that there are more great books around than we can manage to read, and we often find ourselves mourning the missed opportunities that had to left out of our crowded TBRs.

So here is a collection of my “wanted” posters 😀 for books that were published in 2021 but I could not manage to read: a few of them I saw showcased on fellow bloggers’ sites and duly took note of them, and in some cases they are actually sitting in my reading queue – hopefully I will get to them in 2022.

Created with GIMP

There is one bright exception here, though: I finished reading Leviathan Falls a couple of days ago, so I might as well believe that I have a good start on my backlog of amazing books.

And which books are littering your “road not taken” for past year?


EMPIRE OF THE VAMPIRE (Empire of the Vampire #1), by Jay Kristoff

I have learned to appreciate Jay Kristoff’s works with the SF series Illuminae Files, written together with Amie Kaufman, and later on with his dark fantasy series The Nevernight Chronicles, so you can imagine my excitement at the publication of this new book, where I was sure he would successfully combine his writing skills with one of my favorite themes in the genre – vampires. This first volume in what promises to be an amazing trilogy proved to be everything I was expecting and more, and also a fascinating read that kept me turning the pages despite the darkness permeating it – on this subject I have to acknowledge that reading The Nevernight Chronicles some time ago was a good preparation for what awaited me in Empire of the Vampire, where such darkness does not come only from the story itself, but is an integral part of its background.

The premise of the saga is that, some thirty years prior to the beginning of the story, sunlight was obliterated by daysdeath, a mysterious obscuring of the skies that turned the world into a permanently crepuscular landscape, allowing the vampires to safely come out of their hiding places and start feeding on humans, constantly encroaching on their lands and moving ever onward in what looked like an unstoppable tide.  The only true defense against vampires is represented by Silversaints, a holy order of warrior priests whose peculiar abilities allow them to battle the bloodsuckers on an almost even ground: Gabriel de Léon, the novel’s main character, is one of these Silversaints – actually the last of them – and when we meet him he’s the prisoner of a vampire queen who wants to chronicle his story before reaping her vengeance on him for all her brethren lost to his sword.

What follows is a tale told through several different timelines: the present, where Gabriel relates his story to a vampire chronicler; the far past, showing the Silversaint’s childhood and the dramatic events that brought him to the brotherhood; Gabriel’s formative years, as he learns his skills and encounters the people who most matter in his life; and the more recent times, when he embarks on a dangerous quest that might bring the end of the vampires’ reign of bloody terror.  The various timelines are not presented in a linear way, with jumps from one to another that might look erratic (and here I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek shows of displeasure from the chronicler in his desire for a more orderly recounting) but instead create a sense of foreboding by hinting at some big tragedy that impacted Gabriel’s personality in a profound way.

De Léon is a brilliantly crafted character who breaks all the narrative “rules” required by the figure of the proverbial hero, since in his youth he’s both bold and reckless and tends to rush headlong into risky situations, more often than not making them worse; and in his maturity we can see him as cynical, world-weary and quite sarcastic of the mystique surrounding his person: 

“You weep like a child over a dead horse, but shoot an innocent woman in the back and leave God-fearing men to be slaughtered by foulbloods. […]  What kind of hero are you?”

“Who the f* told you I was a hero?”

The story of his life is also the story of an individual who, through heartache and dreadful loss, comes to a sort of found family that gives him a firm purpose in life, and a faith in the power for good he can wield agains the encroaching tide of the vampires, but it’s also the story of how certain events bring him to disillusionment and the loss of that all-encompassing faith, turning him into the “fallen hero” we meet at the start of the novel.  The older Gabriel possesses all the characteristics of a man we might despise: he drinks, he swears profusely, he does not care about the collateral damage his actions might bring about, he’s an addict – and here I digress by saying that sanctum, the substance he’s in constant need of, is something strictly linked to his nature and not a drug of choice (for want of a better definition), but I’m wary of saying more because it’s one of those details best discovered by reading the book. And yet, despite all these nasty traits, Gabriel comes across as a very relatable character, because we are able to see all the agony and grief he suffers in the course of his life and in the end we develop a bond with this man and come to care deeply for him – not least because we see how family is important to him, both the one he was born into and the one(s) he builds in the course of his life, creating ties of love and brotherhood that help him keep his humanity burning bright.

Gabriel is not alone here, however, and he’s surrounded by a number of equally well-defined characters that enrich the story and offer different points of view for the reader on this world and the way it has changed from a “normal” one since daysdeath abruptly fell on it. And of course there are the vampires: besides being the blood-craving creatures we can expect from the myth created around them, Kristoff’s vampires are particularly cruel, even sadistic, all their previous humanity burned away by their virtual immortality and the need for blood. Still, these creatures go even beyond such already ruthless limits, often showing a perverse pleasure in inflicting demeaning kinds of torture on their slaves, in an outward show of the inner hideousness that at times even translates into their appearance.

Empire of the Vampire is a grim, bloody book where hope rarely makes its appearance, where the heavily filtered sunlight struggles to battle the darkness and the coldness of the land, and yet it’s also a compelling story where courage and love, faith and determination can sometimes bring a light and make it all more tolerable.  It’s also a fascinating tale that will keep you turning the pages and leave you wanting for more once you reach the end of this first volume. And no darkness will banish my hope that the next one might not be too far down the road…

My Rating:



Bookish tags are one of my guilty pleasures, and I’ve always found it impossible to resist their lure: in this particular case, instead of finding an intriguing challenge while browsing, I’ve been directly tagged by fellow blogger Lynn: how could I resist such an invitation? 😉

So here it goes – let’s start with the questions!

Exercise more : This is a book that is a real chunkster, in fact you will need help to even pick this book up:

BOOKBURNERS – Volume 1 (Various Authors)

From the first time I’ve seen the synopsis for this collection of stories from various authors I’ve been curious to read it: a series of novels about a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad, defined as a cross between Supernatural and The Da Vinci Code, does sound like a good premise, doesn’t it?  What kept me from starting it, so far, has been the page count which amounts to 700, give or take a few, and that always made me think twice before committing. But maybe 2022 will be the year I finally take the plunge…

Lose weight : A book that is not a chunkster; a short story or novella.  A book you could probably read in one sitting:

PENRIC AND THE SHAMAN (Penric and Desdemona #2), by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ve read only the first novella in this series by one of my favorite authors (probably I mentioned her Vorkosigan Saga once of twice in recent times… 😀 ), but never moved beyond that: it’s high time I do something about it, before Miles sends some ImpSec operatives after me!

Eat healthy : A book that is good for you.  This is a book that made you feel so happy that you wanted to give it a big hug:

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers

It’s no mystery that I prefer stories where conflicts spice up the plot, but now and then we all need a breath of fresh air, a ray of hope – particularly when troubled times are upon us – and the first Wayfarers novel from Becky Chambers provided exactly that, a sense of family and deep caring for each other that made the crew of the titular ship and their interactions a real joy to behold.

Fulfill your ambitions : A book that has a lot going on.  Plenty of different threads, points of views and action but everything eventually comes together in a very satisfactory fashion:

THE ILLUMINAE FILES trilogy, by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

ILLUMINAE, by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

This space opera series combines a great number of intriguing elements: nasty corporations that don’t flinch at genocide to further their goals; a ship filled with refugees on the run for their lives; a very advanced A.I. whose decisions can have horrible consequences and whose personality is a mix of high intelligence and childish naiveté; and a group of young protagonists whose courage and inventiveness made me change my attitude toward YA characters. And much, much more – all combined into an electrifying story…

Spend more time with the family : A series of books that you love and that has developed more than you ever anticipated:

THE EXPANSE, by James S.A. Corey

I stumbled on the first volume of this series, Leviathan Wakes, by accident and now, some 10 years later, this amazing space opera saga reached its end with book 9: this is one of the cases in which I’ve waited with increasing expectations the publishing of each new book, while the crew of the Rocinante transformed from “mere” characters into people I perceived as real and three-dimensional. And now that the TV show inspired by the series has also reached its final season, I know I will miss this story and and its protagonists, but I also know it’s been a fantastic journey.

Tick off an item from your bucket list : Reduce the tbr.  Choose a book from Mount TBR that you would like to read this year:

Not one, but rather two:

RUIN and WRATH, books #3 and #4 in John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen

I discovered John Gwynne’s works through the first volume of his second saga Of Blood and Bone, and after enjoying it immensely I decided to backtrack to his previous series, The Faithful and the Fallen, but there has been a long hiatus between the second book and the next one in line – my fault, I am far too easily distracted! – and I need to complete the task because there is a new series out and it deserves my undivided attention.

Save money : A book that was an absolute bargain – you would have to be crazy in fact not to have bought this book:

To be truthful, I cannot think of any book to mention since to me books don’t represent an expense, but rather an investment – and one whose value often increases with time…

Get Organised : A book with a glossary, maps, useful words, lists of people – this book is one helpful book, it wants you to know ALL the things and it’s not afraid to use footnotes and other devices to help you do so:

The best example would (of course!) be Tolkien’s THE LORD of THE RINGS – one book to rule them all…

Enough said 😉

Start a new hobby : A book that is outside your comfort zone.  Perhaps everyone was raving about this book, maybe it was over-hyped, you hesitated to pick it up in fact, but when you did – you loved it:

BECOMING SUPERMAN, by J.M. Strackzynski

As I wrote in my review, I rarely read biographies, but I was intrigued by this one because of my admiration for the writing skills of the author, the creator of the SF series Babylon 5 (for me, the best EVER) and wanted to know more about him: what I discovered was the tale of a terrible childhood and the way in which stories and imagination kept JMS sane throughout it all, turning him into one of the best creative minds I ever encountered.

What are your good intentions for 2022? Don’t be shy, let us know! 😉


THE LATE SHOW (Renée Ballard #01), by Michael Connelly

In my continuing exploration of Michael Connelly’s vast body of work I was intrigued by this book, whose main character is Detective Renée Ballard, and as I started to read I wondered whether she might end up being Harry Bosch’s successor: The Late Show was published in 2017, a good number of years after my latest Bosch book – 2001 – where the more famous detective is portrayed as middle aged, so it only stands to reason that, narratively speaking, as the years go by he might not be as active and energetic as in the stories I’m reading now, and a need for passing over his legacy might become unavoidable for his creator.  What’s interesting – and refreshing – here is that Ballard is not a female version of Bosch: of course she’s a dedicated investigator nurturing a strong sense of justice, but the similarities end here, and I’ve both enjoyed and welcomed Connelly’s decision to craft her character.

Renée Ballard is a LAPD detective who has been sent to the night shift (sarcastically nicknamed “the late show”) after her accusations of sexual harassment by a superior officers have come to nothing, also thanks to the guilty silence of her former partner. So Renée is now relegated to the graveyard shift, her cases destined to be assigned to the daytime detectives for the real work: the assignment is a career-ender and the place where the unwanted troublemakers are buried and forgotten. Still, Renée wants to do her job as best as she can, and so one night she’s faced with three cases, a credit card fraud, the savage beating of a transgender hooker and a nightclub shooting that left five victims on the ground: unable to let go what look like intriguing clues, she keeps on investigating even when the brass – in the person of Lt. Olivas, the man who harassed her – make it clear she must stay away from the cases.  Renée’s determination to do what’s right for the victims brings her dangerously close to being reprimanded – or worse – but she still keeps on going, finding herself in mortal danger and uncovering a thread of corruption inside the police department.

I liked Renée Ballard very much, both for her strengths and her frailties: a tragedy in her early life left her scarred but not broken and she’s unwilling to give in to the frustrations of a dead-end job by doing her very best day after day. What I found intriguing is the way she practically lives a homeless life, spending her free time on the beach together with her dog Lola and periodically visiting her grandmother for “laundry duty”: this choice ends up giving her a great deal of freedom, which seems to be her greater need in life. Moreover, despite the way she’s been treated she has not given in to bitter resentment and actively cares for the victims, granting them the dignity that’s often denied them when the job turns many law enforcers into jaded and cynical individuals: this is particularly true in Renée’s dealings with the transgender victim, who she’s not ready to cruelly dismiss as some of her colleagues do. And last but not least, her interactions with Lt. Olivas, even in the face of the sarcasm he wields, from the position of strength of the male privilege he wears as armor, are professionally dignified and made me respect her even more – particularly during a fantastic exchange near the end of the book.

Story-wise, The Late Show is pure Connelly magic: the three cases are interwoven through a good use of suspense, adrenaline-infused action scenes and a few quite unexpected twists and turns: one in particular caught me totally by surprise, since all clues seemed to point in a very definite direction, so that when the revelation came along I had to recover my jaw from the floor because nothing would have made me suspect that particular character.  But that’s part and parcel of this author’s trademark writing…

The usual Los Angeles background is present here as in the other novels – the hillside homes and the seediest areas, the ‘in’ nigthclubs and the streets where hookers ply their trade – but in here there is a very welcome addition coming from the beaches where Ballard goes in her off hours surfing on a paddle board (in reminiscence of the childhood she spent in Hawaii) and spending time with her dog – a delightful side character herself.

Ballard is a wonderful and successful addition to Michael Connelly’s creations and the proof that he does not fall prey to formulaic writing and character design: even though I’ve barely made a dent in his vast bibliography, it’s clear that I can expect the unexpected with each new book I approach, and I look forward to meeting again his new creature, particularly because I’ve learned that she will be back in the Bosch series by pairing with the author’s famous detective in a book some twelve titles down the road from where I stand now. It will be more than interesting to see these two work together…

My Rating:


2021 Best Reads

The new year just started, but that’s no reason to forget what I read last year and see how well my bookish choices fared: in my case, 2021 was indeed a very good year (to quote an old Sinatra song only an ancient crone like me remembers… 😀 ), with a preponderance of high ratings for the books I picked up. 

Focusing on the best of the best – i.e. the 5-star ratings – I divided them between SF, Fantasy and New Discoveries, where I listed authors I read for the very first time and whose books I greatly enjoyed, prompting me to look for their other works in the future.




An amazing list, indeed… And that only for titles that earned a 5-star rating, because there are equally worthy ones in my 4- and 4,5-star reads, but in that case the list would have been far too long.

What about you? What were your best and most engaging reads last year?