Very helpful … THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING & PR by David Meerman Scott

As someone who recently transitioned from journalism into marketing and public relations for a community college, I have a hard time imagining a book that was more spot on for me in terms of taking my skill set and helping me understand some of the best ways to apply them in helping people learn about what my college has to offer.

Some of the tips in the book were items I was already doing, but there were many others that I haven’t begun to take advantage of, and Scott’s methods and the examples he offers has me excited to try them out. As I read, there were a lot of ideas that I immediately recognized would help me in my role, and I could easily envision ways in which we could successfully apply them to our mission. Even better, these are all easy, affordable ideas, so I don’t need to ask my bosses for a huge investment to show quick results.

I had already been doing a good job of providing solid content marketing on behalf of my college, but I really believe this book will help me take things to the next level. I plan on keeping this book in my Kindle for easy, regular reference.

Setting alone isn’t enough … MERCHANT OF DREAMS by Anne Lyle

It’s probably not surprising that MERCHANT OF DREAMS has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS. Once again, the setting is the Night’s Masque series’ greatest strength — this time taking us to Venice, a beautiful yet treacherous city with interesting customs and dangerous players. Anne Lyle has created a unique setting with plenty of opportunity for intrigue and excitement.

Unfortunately, however, I’ve always been more interested in characters and their development, and that’s where I haven’t been able to really dive into this series. Mal Catlyn was something of a cipher in the opening book, and while there’s a bit more development here, he comes across as fairly bland, with his primary traits being his loyalty to country and his willingness to have sex with just about anything — men, women, non-humans, whatever.

Ned Faulkner is fairly well developed in this book, but is crafted to be a fairly shallow character who only thinks about having sex with Mal or Gabriel. Gabriel himself is actually shown to be fairly useful, but I’m fairly neutral on all the core characters except for Coby. Combine that with a plot about defending England’s trade interests, and I’m disappointed to admit that I probably won’t read the third and final book in this series.

Not my favorite Reacher novel … ECHO BURNING by Lee Child

I imagine that a big part of the fun for Lee Child in writing the Jack Reacher books is the ability to set the story anywhere in the U.S. We’ve already seen him set stories in a variety of settings, and in ECHO BURNING he comes to Southwest Texas, to a town called Echo near the Mexican border, where he gets involved with a woman who asks him to kill her husband.

To be honest, this has been my least favorite Reacher book so far, as the femme fatale and the setting did very little for me. Living in Texas, I just wasn’t as intrigued by the setting as I had been in previous books, and the mystery of who actually kills Carmen’s husband wasn’t as gripping as previous Reacher adventures.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a decent read — Reacher’s unique perspective is enough to carry the book without allowing things to get dull, it just didn’t match (for me) the same intrigue as previous books. Maybe it was the fact that Carmen, the woman Reacher is trying to help, is a difficult character to pinpoint, as she lies throughout much of the book. Personally, I probably would have let her fend for herself, and that made it difficult for me to care too much about Reacher’s efforts to help her.

The book ends with an interesting, memorable action sequence that I really enjoyed and was clearly the best part of the book.

A weird ending but a fun ride … RUNNING BLIND by Lee Child

In RUNNING BLIND, Jack Reacher gets dragged into an FBI investigation when he is suspected in a series of murders of female military personnel who had accused others of sexual harassment or assault. While the FBI profilers can’t be entirely certain that Reacher isn’t their man, Reacher knows he’s not the killer they’re looking for, and he reluctantly agrees to help them after they threaten his girlfriend with legal entanglements.

It’s a bit of a deviation from the first three Reacher books, as Reacher spends a bit less time crushing skulls and instead spends most of the book either disinterested in the crimes and disgusted by the FBI’s behavior/incompetence, or, at the end, puzzling out the solution to the crime.

I usually don’t spend much time during a mystery trying to figure out the solution in advance, but I came to the same solution as Reacher a couple hundred pages in advance — the only question for me was whether it was a red herring, as the solution itself is pretty far out there and takes quite a suspension of belief. I’d say it’s not the best solution Lee Child has ever come up with, but the book itself was a fun ride, and really, that’s what I read these Reacher books for anyway.

Prior to RUNNING BLIND, we’ve gotten glimpses of Reacher’s quirks, but this seems to be the first book where those quirks begin to be weaknesses in some ways, as Child explores Reacher’s irrational discomfort with being gifted a home. It’s an important and interesting aspect to a character who seems superhuman in so many other ways.

Things don’t get easier for FitzChivalry Farseer … A Review of Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Sometimes when people wish to pay a compliment to an especially captivating actor, they say that they could listen to that person read the phone book and still come away thoroughly entertained. I’m not sure exactly what the equivalent is for an author, but I certainly feel this way about Robin Hobb’s books about Fitz and the Fool, whether they be the Farseer Trilogy, the Tawny Man Trilogy or this new chapter, the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Hobb has an unparalleled ability to shine a light on the quiet and routine moments and somehow make them fascinating just because they’re told in the voice of a character we deeply love, who we would happily listen to as they read a phone book. There are many quiet moments in this book, as the first 80-90 percent is largely character-centered, and through much of the book I couldn’t tell you what the overall story was, other than chronicling the continuing life of FitzChivalry Farseer.

The relationship between Molly and Fitz continues to fascinate, filling many of the quiet moments with enough magic to delight fans of the series such as myself, but it’s the introduction of Bee, a new POV character, that represents a major change from what we’ve realized before. Had I known before I picked up FOOL’S ASSASSIN that Hobb would introduce a new POV character, I would have been concerned — after all, these books have always been Fitz’s story, and I’ve never loved Hobb’s other series the way I’ve loved these books as told by Fitz. But Bee, the newcomer to this tale, holds her own as a viewpoint character, infusing a new energy in a series that has already included six novels told from Fitz’s point of view. The story benefits from Bee’s younger perspective, and once again demonstrates Hobb’s ability to describe the world from a child’s perspective. Bee’s voice lends new energy to the story, and she has already become my second-favorite Hobb POV character.

Upon completing FOOL’S ASSASSIN, it’s clear this is only the first chapter in a story that still has a long ways to go before the puzzle pieces come together. The book comes to a stopping point that leaves the reader eager for more, but it certainly takes its time in getting there. If you’re reading FOOL’S ASSASSIN seeking a self-contained story with an obvious plot arc, it simply isn’t there. The story’s character arc is all about the relationship between Fitz and Bee — the rest of the plotting simply comes to us in small pieces, and unless I totally missed something, we’ve only just begun to understand the path our protagonists will be carried on.

I’m sure that will frustrate some, but as for me, I’m just happy to be back inside Fitz’s head for another three books. When I finished the final book in the Farseer trilogy, as Fitz told us that he and Nighteyes dream of carving their dragons, I remember how awestruck I was — it was the best ending to a book that I’d ever read (or have since). Even though it was late, I got in my car and drove for almost an hour until I got to my girlfriend’s house and told her all about the series and the way it ended, just because I needed to explain it to someone and I didn’t want to be alone after reading a story that I already knew had changed my life.

This book has a similar moment, one certain to break the hearts of all who have followed FitzChivalry Farseer for seven books now. These character-centric moments, this unflinching examination of life — they are what make Robin Hobb so unique. She quietly draws you into this world, and while she doesn’t have George R.R. Martin’s reputation for killing the majority of her characters, she has proven unflinching in throwing tragedy after tragedy Fitz’s way. Be warned — it doesn’t get any easier for Fitz in FOOL’S ASSASSIN.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.