After the misstep that was the 6th book in the series, Frost Burned is a return to form for Briggs. It's non-stop kinetic, very easy to read.
Briggs accomplishes this blistering pace partly by depriving her characters of agency. She builds this incredibly intricate network of non-human societies--werewolf, fae, vampire, and others--but her protagonists are just people that things happen to: in this case, [SPOILERS FOLLOW******] first the pack is taken by rogue government agents, then they're set free by disaffected government agents, then Mercy is attacked by fae assassins, and finally she's forced to fight a big bad vampire. It'd be nice to see the good guys take the initiative more. A lot more.
A homicidal sociopath from Great Depression-era Chicago uses a magical time-traveling house to bounce around the 20th century murdering "shining girls", young women of exceptional potential. One of his intended victims survives his horrific attack and devotes herself to hunting down the killer.
Beukes's research really stood out: clothes, transportation, language and body language, characters' era-specific problems and issues, it all rang true to me. She touches on racial issues in the 30s and 40s, the Commie witch-hunts of the 50s, backroom abortions in the 70s, all without getting bogged down on one specific issue.
She writes characters well. Even bit players came to life. I could feel the ripple effects of one victim's murder on her parents, sister, friends, community.
As a time travel story, The Shining Girls falls flat. It's undeveloped. What could have been a clever, intricately woven exercise (like [book:Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency|365], for example) was simplistic. The author's sad attempts at full-circle time-travel flair (like Bartek's presence at the snowball fight at the end of the book) were pretty much stapled on.
I pulled Breed off the library shelf based solely on the excellent black and red cover: two creepy minimalist lines suggesting the headless profile of a pregnant woman. (That's abstractly headless, not decapitated-headless...) I should really know better than to pick up an unresearched book like that.
Breed is aimless, meandering, and lacking tension. Point-of-view characters are introduced and forgotten. One minor character has an inspired but unrevealed idea, makes some mysterious preparations, and then...talks firmly to another character several chapters later. Apparently that was the big plan.
Breed is full of lame faux-scares. A MAN-SHAPE APPEARS OUT OF THE FOG AND STRIDES TOWARD HIM but it's just a pedestrian out for a foggy stroll. OMG HE HEARS FOOTSTEPS ON THE STAIRS BEHIND HIM and it's his sister who wants him to come back to the dinner table. [eyeroll]
All Breed really has going for it is its brevity and that awesome cover.
Kindt's pretty, limp illustration does not convey action well, but the story structure is intricate and sharp. After finishing the book I immediately started over again and started noticing a lot of wonderfully subtle details that I'd missed the first time through, symbols that keep appearing, a key character in the background of the amnesia flight, things like that. Pretty cool.
We follow a single recruit from the day he enlists, through the long scary trek into space, the shock (and rediscovered libido) of being in a powerful new body, the rigors and camaraderie of boot camp, and the horrors of battle and pain of losing friends. It's Starship Troopers (the movie not the book) with an elderly green twist.
The science in Old Man's War is squishy-soft. His soldiers have all kinds of wacky superpowers which simply get chalked up to "genetic engineering" or "nanos". These aliens look like crabs, those are like birds, and that one is an inch tall. There was no particular reasoning behind the morphologies, they just wanted to be different and weird. So they were. I did enjoy that one planet was populated by green slime, right out of Dungeons & Dragons.
Overall it reads like a very good amateur novel. Battles and tactics were pretty simple and the protagonist enjoyed Rambo-style luck as bad aliens stood around waiting to be shot. But that didn't keep it from zipping right along and leaving me with a few chuckles along the way.