I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too(less)
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star.(less)
It’s not too often I come across a unique and original concept in urban fantasy, but move over denizens of the world of the paranormal and say hello to a brand new breed of fae. The first book introduced us to John Golden, the protagonist of this clever, snappy series with an interesting mix of UF and techno-geek elements. He’s a “debugger”, an individual with special talents hired by corporate clients to go inside their computer systems in order to eliminate the gremlins, sprites and other faery creatures wreaking havoc on their networks. Needless to say, I loved this concept. It sure gives a whole new perspective on computer bugs, glitches and viruses.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, not long after I found out about John Golden, I heard author Django Wexler tease the next installment of this series. Not only was book two going to have a gamer angle, it was going to be satirizing the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. That MMORPG is, of course, World of Warcraft.
In John Golden’s universe, it becomes “Heroes of Mazaroth”. On what was supposed to be a routine debugging mission for a financial company, our protagonist somehow finds himself trapped in the game’s fantasy realm, suckered into taking the place of a Dark Lord raid boss, doomed to be farmed by a never-ending army of player-adventurers forever and ever…unless John and his sister-in-a-Dell-Inspiron Sarah can change the story and find a way out of this epic mix-up.
Simply put, these John Golden books a whole lot of fun. You can tell the author had a good time writing these books. Wexler has been in IT and is a gamer, injecting his own sense of humor and perspective of these topics into this series in a way that he can’t in his epic fantasy. John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is filled to the brim with all the right stuff which makes the urban fantasy genre such a blast to read. The pop culture jokes, and geek and gamer humor had me laughing out loud throughout.
“I’d seen some weird fairies in my time—driver-eating ogres, hydras made out of HR spreadsheets, a whole tribe of elves that worshipped the MS Word paperclip as a god…”
Sarah Golden is also delightfully hilarious, as always. She’s such a wonderful character. A distinguishing and highly entertaining feature of these books, her footnotes provide a running commentary on John’s adventures and misadventures, and let’s face it: there is no one more uniquely suited to give us insight into someone’s personality than his her own sibling, am I right? Sarah’s remarks often poke fun at John endearingly, and other times they give us more information about the world of the Wildernet and its fae. Either way, it’s great. The first book John Golden: Freelance Debugger has a bit of backstory about why she no longer has a physical body, her consciousness instead residing in a laptop, and it’s definitely not to be missed. I hope future books will continue building upon Sarah’s character, and the awesome dynamic between her and John in general.
What can I say? I just loved this book. You don’t need to be an IT person to get this book and you certainly don’t need to be an online gamer. But if you’re familiar with playing MMORPGs and World of Warcraft, there will be a lot of Easter eggs that will have you smiling. Gaming has been a long-time passion of mine, especially when it comes to MMOs, and WoW and I have a long and interesting history. I’ve played it for years and still work it into my gaming repertoire now and then despite the mountain of other MMO titles I play, so maybe I’m a little biased but I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth as soon as I learned its premise. But it really is a fantastically entertaining book.
Though Heroes of Mazaroth can absolutely be read as a standalone, I recommend reading both books in this series. John Golden is awesome and you’re going to get a lot of great background into the world. These are also quick, bite-sized adventures that can be enjoyed in a single sitting.
And now if you’ll excuse me, Warlords of Draenor is on the horizon and after this book I have a hankering to do me some LFRs.(less)
I have a thing for heist books. That’s what Premonitions is and more, mashing up the best elements of urban fantasy, mystery-noir and dark psychological horror. Be prepared for lots of thrills along the way as things spiral rapidly out of control on a high-stakes job, leaving a rag-tag gang of professional thieves floundering in a situation none of them could have imagined in their worst nightmares.
This is the story of Karyn Ames’ crew, who thought they’d hit on the ultimate score when the notorious crime lord Enoch Sobell offers them two millions dollars to steal an ancient occult artifact – just some piece of dusty old bone. But as it turns out, that bone once belonged to something evil, vengeful, and not even of this earth. And it just so happens to be in the possession of a fanatical cult, who will stop at nothing to protect their precious treasure.
There are two main reasons why I love heist stories. One is that they are essentially a problem solving mission to acquire a quest item, with the characters using everything at their disposal to gain their goal, very often leading to some creative solutions. The second part of it is the characters themselves. After all, what’s a heist story without a diverse crew made of individuals with “special” talents? Premonitions shows us how it’s done.
First up, we have our leader, the one who heads up the crew and decides which jobs to take, and that’s Karyn Ames. But Karyn isn’t your typical mastermind who calls all the shots. She has a condition which allows her to hallucinate slices of the future – a useful power when you’re the one responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your crew, but it can also be overwhelming and debilitating when the visions get out of hand. To keep her hallucinations in check, Karyn relies on a very rare black market drug called Blind, which unfortunately is also very expensive. Without Blind, her visions can get very unsettling. It becomes difficult to tell the present from the tangled mess of near or even far future possibilities.
The author has done an incredible job here portraying Karyn’s struggle with her visions coming and going, as well as evoking powerful responses from me with the things she sees. Imagine experiencing scary moments like armed gunmen kicking your door in, not knowing if it’s really happening or if it’s something that will happen in the future (not like that’s any more comforting). Or having gruesome hallucinations of things like bullet holes spurting blood in the middle of your friends’ foreheads even as they are in front you talking like nothing is out of the ordinary. Jamie Schultz ends up capturing the disturbing nature of this very well, and I think it’s one of the best aspects of the book.
Karyn’s predicament with her condition makes her the most interesting character, but the rest of her crew are no slouches either. Anna is the second-in-command and best friend, ever competent and dependable. Then there’s Nail, who is most definitely the guy who brings the big guns. He’s the expert on ordnance and how to dish out the punishment. Finally, there’s Tommy, the eccentric and somewhat creepy practitioner of dark magic arts, probably because his line of work involves doing some pretty unsavory things. A mid-mission addition is Genevieve, liaison extraordinaire and a love interest for Anna, and pretty good at some of that sorcery herself. And of course we also have to talk about the client, the ruthless criminal overlord Enoch Sobell himself. Is he the crew’s ally or villain? Both or neither? There are so many surprises when it comes to this mercurial character, you’ll just have to read and find out more.
All told, there’s plenty of delicious twists and turns in this one, a treat for fans of the urban fantasy genre who are especially looking for a touch of something darker and more ominous, but without sacrificing the action and the fun. Premonitions ends up being a lot more than the sum of its parts, but it does stumble briefly on a couple of bewildering segments. Perhaps my only issue with the story is the jumble of factions involved in the main conflict, at times causing a few instances of confusion when it’s not clearly explained who’s going after who and which group has taken over which other group. In the end it’s not an issue that I found overwhelming, and I enjoyed the overall story in spite of it.
Ultimately, Premonitions ended up being a pretty damn good read. Considering how the book has been on my radar for a while, it didn’t disappoint. With this, the series is off to a great start and I’ll very likely pick up the next book because I think I’d like to know more about this world and its characters.(less)
I accepted The Vampires of Manhattan for review before I found out the book was actually the first of a sequel series to Melissa de la Cruz’s Young Adult Blue Bloods; fortunately, not having read those books did not seem to have a negative impact on my experience. Of course, there were a few moments where I sensed gaping holes in my knowledge of the background of the world, but on the whole my enjoyment of the storyline was unaffected. So if you’re unfamiliar with Blue Bloods and are uncertain as to whether or not you should check out this book, fear not! It’s perfectly fine to jump right in.
This might have something to do with the amount of time that has passed since the Blue Bloods series. Apparently, ten years have gone by, and the teenage protagonists are now all grown up, and while Blue Bloods may have been intended audience, The Vampires of Manhattan definitely feels more geared towards adults. Many of the characters have brand new lives, including Araminta Scott (formerly “Minty” but now known as “Ara”) who is now a Venator, an enforcer of sorts, specializing in paranormal activities and crimes. Mimi and Kingsley Martin, a married couple whose history is fraught with intense emotions have returned to New York following a particularly heated fight, after seven years of living in the Underworld. Oliver Hazard-Perry is now a vampire and has risen quickly in the Coven, preparing to take his place as its leader. With the help of his lover and human conduit Finn, they’re making sure the upcoming Four Hundred Ball will go off without a hitch.
But then pentagrams start appearing all over the place, and the discovery of a dead teenage girl who appears to have been murdered by a vampire leads to unease in the community, putting the Blue Bloods and Venators on alert.
The Vampires of Manhattan is touted as “hipster horror” right there in the description, though after reading it I think it’s more accurate to call it “yuppie mystery” on account of the ultra-sophisticated, extremely wealthy lifestyles that some of the characters flaunt. The Four Hundred Ball is the lavish, no-expense-spared affair that is at the center of this novel, the point where all the plot threads will culminate in a startling, dramatic climax. However, the story is also balanced with an investigation into a murder, with Ara and her new wolfish partner Edon Marrok hard at work to find the killer.
Told through many points-of-view, the novel will capture your attention no matter who you are, though if you have an inclination towards mystery like I do, then Ara’s perspective will probably interest you the most. I liked it best when she and Edon were following up on clues, especially when the investigation leads them to the hoity-toity prep schools of the city. Oliver’s perspective provides us with a glimpse into the life of a high-powered elite. And those who enjoy the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous romance will eat up Mimi and Kingsley’s chapters.
The plot itself is not terribly complicated, but that probably works in the novel’s favor. Being a follow-up series that will likely serve as a jumping-on point for a lot of new readers, a twisty, heavy and convoluted story would not have gone over too well with me, personally. I thought the book was pretty perfect in its simplicity, and at the same time I also grew to connect with many of the characters who I had previously no knowledge about, which is a rather impressive feat for an author. I imagine those who have read Blue Bloods will be even more thrilled to catch up with these characters.
I’m glad I discovered this urban fantasy, which was a fast read and thoroughly entertaining for the genre. Despite not knowing a lot of the background behind the vampires, it worked for me – and feeling lost when it comes to a book’s world usually drives me nuts. It’s my first book by Melissa de la Cruz, and this has actually made me very interested in going back to check out Blue Bloods, or her other YA work. I would expect that readers who are already fans of Blue Bloods to enjoy this, but I was certainly a bit surprised — but in a good way — that I did too.(less)
To some, The Voices is going to be just another haunted house ghost story. To others, it will be one of the most terrifying books you’ll ever read. I’ll admit I came very close to not reading this, simply because the novel’s description made it sound much too scary. As a parent of a toddler, I had a feeling this one might cut to close for comfort and give me nightmares. But true to form, in the end I just couldn’t resist a good horror.
The year is 1976, the hottest summer in the United Kingdom since records began, and Christopher Norton and his wife Laura and baby girl Faye had just moved into their a grand old Victorian era home in the desirable neighborhood of Hampstead. A composer by trade, Christopher spends much of his time in his attic studio recording music, and before long he starts to hear strange voices on his tapes. Around the same time, Laura beings to notice knocking sounds from the baby monitor and baby Faye seemingly to babble at something unseen…
Haunted houses have long been a horror fan favorite, and whether you love it or hate it, they’re here to stay. The reason why certain tropes tend to stick around is because they’re so effective – if you can’t feel safe in your own home, then where can you? – and though I’ve read plenty of books and seen many more movies based around this idea, I don’t seem to be tired of it yet. It’s interesting because the narrative structure of The Voices actually reminds me so much of watching a movie, with regards to the use of familiar themes or the way particular events have a very cinematic quality to them. The book is also intensely atmospheric, heightening the creep factor and delicious sense of dread.
In truth, The Voices is a rather uncomplicated novel. But the author, being a clinical psychologist, knows just what to say to make you squirm. Tallis builds his story around a very believable, very flawed couple, giving them a depth of emotion not often found in characters in this genre. Christopher and Laura might not be parents of the year, but their thoughts and reactions towards the strange happenings in their house are so realistic you just can’t help but feel a connection. There were a couple scenes that really shook me up, because 1) they involved a baby, and 2) I know how awful it feels to worry for your child. There were things here straight out of my worst nightmare.
But the haunting is also just one single aspect of The Voices, a piece of a larger story with a complex web of relationship dynamics. I liked that there was more substance to this novel than just the horror elements, and in fact, my only complaint is that these minor plot threads weren’t more cohesive and connected to the overall picture. There were a lot of other things going on with Christopher and Laura’s lives outside their creepy old house, and while I got the feeling they were all relevant to the story, I just couldn’t figure out how. A little more direction would have probably made for a tidier conclusion, but I was still overall very impressed at the well-roundedness of the novel.
If you’re in the mood for a good ghost story or a classic haunting, The Voices is a very good choice. It’s one of the more memorable and chilling horror novels I’ve read of this type, and a genuinely freaked me out in more than a couple instances.(less)
To tell the truth, Dämoren didn’t start off high on my priority list of books to read when I received it for review, though it did hook my attention when I was told there would be wendigos (seriously, more books need wendigos). The cover, while very pretty, also did nothing to draw me in, showing a partial image of a bladed revolver. Hey, gunblades are neat and all -- but that also tells me very little.
Then a couple weeks ago, while trying to choose my next read, I was struck by a sudden surge of spontaneity and decided to pick up Dämoren and give the first few pages a shot. An hour later, I realized with a jolt that I was still reading, and that I was already almost a third of the way in. The weird thing about that hour, is that it honestly felt like a mere few minutes. Dämoren simply took me by surprise. I’ve read my fair share of stories about demon slayers and monster hunters, so admittedly I wasn’t expecting this first book of Seth Skorkowsky’s new urban fantasy/horror series to be that much different.
Once again, I am sorry to have underestimated the dark fiction of Ragnarok Pub. Rest assured Dämoren will satisfy all your needs in the action and thrills department, but what I was most impressed with was the world building and unique body of lore Skorkowsky has created, which offered a fresh new take on the angel/demon mythos.
Central to the novel is the concept of holy weapons. In the world of Dämoren, these weapons are sentient entities that if you’re not careful you may actually grow to care for them and even start thinking of them as characters themselves! Somehow the author has managed to imbue unmoving, unspeaking objects with personalities of their own. For when these holy weapons form a bond with a wielder, he or she becomes irrevocably aware that their weapons are alive and that they speak to their souls. No one knows how a holy weapon comes to be, but they are the only way to kill a demon. And the love a wielder feels for their weapon can be even more powerful than any attachment to another human being.
It is so with Matt Hollis, the main protagonist and owner of Dämoren, the name of his holy sword pistol. As a child, Matt was the only survivor of a wendigo attack on his family, making it out alive thanks to a man named Clay Mercer who killed the monsters and rescued the young boy. The former wielder of Dämoren, Clay had resigned from a secret order of demon hunters called the Valducan, and left his holy weapon to Matt after he died. But many years later, the Valducan leadership has taken an interest in Matt’s activities and asked him and Dämoren to rejoin their ranks, due to a sudden influx of coordinated monster attacks and attempts to destroy holy weapons. Unfortunately, this was not a decision welcomed by all, as some of the Valducan see Matt as corrupted. For while Matt had survived his childhood wendigo attack, he was also bitten by one of the creatures.
So, get this: In the world of this novel, all monsters – everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to lamia – are all essentially humans, but possessed by the souls of the different kinds of demons inhabiting them, giving rise to their physical and characteristic traits. A bite is how a demon “marks” a person, making them an available vessel to possess if or when their old body perishes. Now you can see why the other Valducans might be giving Matt the shifty eyes.
The book is just filled to the brim with cool ideas like these, not to mention the fact Matt’s special condition gives him some rather handy powers (blood compasses! Can you say awesome?) or the sheer variety of terrifying monsters, both new and familiar, that you’ll come face to face with within these pages. There’s certainly no shortage of action. I also classified this book as an urban fantasy, but in reality the plot will take you to many places across the globe, from the wilds of western Canada to the outskirt villages of Florence. So not only does it take place in variety of environments, Dämoren is a truly international adventure.
Although it will read perfectly fine as a self-contained novel, I was also happy to see that it is a “book one” implying that there will be more in the future. When the Valducan Order expands, one thing I'd love to see is more kickass female knights like Luiza. As one of the only two major female characters, I wasn't surprised that the role of "love interest" fell to her as well, but more to the point, I think the special relationship between a holy weapon and its owner is one of the most intriguing aspects of Dämoren and I would love to see this uncanny bond further explored with an even greater diversity of characters. Really looking forward to see what else Seth Skorkowsky has in store for us. (less)
Antigoddess is the second book I have read by Kendare Blake, after the fun times I had with Anna Dressed in Blood earlier this year. And as much as I appreciate a good ghost story, I have to say Antigoddess was more up my alley.
Funny story, though: When I first added this book to my reading list, I only saw the cover and thought it was going to be a story about angels. Damn feather threw me off. It wasn’t until I read the description that I realized I was wrong, but that it was actually about something even better! Not angels, but gods. Greek gods. The mythology buff in me was tickled pink. And that feather on the cover which originally misled me turned out to be a symbol for something much more sinister…
At the heart of this novel and series is an ancient conflict stemming from the events of the Trojan War. So before reading this, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Greek Mythology 101. Or rent Troy. It’s all good! In any case, you don’t have to be an expert on all the details to enjoy this, as Blake uses her prerogative to do some very cool and unique things to the legend and the characters involved. For one, the gods themselves are dying – and in the most bizarre ways. We learn of their plight through mainly Athena and Hermes’ perspectives, the former experiencing impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a cancer. This is making all the gods a little desperate, and some are driven to insanity.
Even from the very start, we’re presented a mystery. What do the gods have to do with a teenage girl named Cassandra from Kincade, New York? Granted, she appears to have some freaky psychic powers, but the character perspectives going back and forth between Athena and Cassandra cannot be any more different. The latter’s chapters show life in your typical small town high school, while Athena and Hermes’ chapters (at least in the beginning) have an almost abstract, dream-like quality to them which I really enjoyed. While the characters’ connections are revealed early on, the plot doesn’t explode until gods and mortals meet. And then the revelations are even more mind-blowing and unexpected.
The book’s greatest strength is its characters. I suppose if you’re a god you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I liked how Blake gave her gods all different and interesting identities – from Athena’s stern demeanor to Apollo’s loyalty or Hermes’ fun-loving personality and fondness for pop culture.
Most obvious weakness? This had the feel of “first book of a series” all over it. In other words, it read like one big long introduction. Voracious readers of YA fiction will probably know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably won’t find this all that surprising. It’s not hard to guess whether a book will have a satisfying ending or leave things wide open for the sequel; once it became clear that there was no way any of the conflicts would be settled by the end the novel, I admit my interest waned a little as that “let’s just bring on book two” attitude settled in.
That said, I am on board for book two. It’ll probably be one of my higher-priority sequels too, because let’s face it – how often does a book with a good Greek mythology angle come along?(less)
Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it's always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it's also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the "that's not something I see every day" category.
The unique properties of "Live Ink" is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard's newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person's life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.
Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike -- or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa's approach has always involved "binding" the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn't realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.
It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa's enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I'd seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa's history is doled out sparingly so you don't get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.
However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There's also not much about the "etheric" world where a lot of Isa's interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don't get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it's a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!
At the time of reading, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn't hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read.(less)
Despite reading my fair share of comics and graphic novels, I usually leave the reviewing of them to Wendy and Tiara. Theirs are always really good, whereas I wouldn't even have any idea where to begin! So, you're going to have to bear with me here. This will be my first ever comic review for the site, but I'm also really excited because it is for none other than Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden's Cemetery Girl from Jo Fletcher books. Come to think of it, it's a first for JFB too. This title is the first ever graphic novel published by them, and I was pretty thrilled when they sent me a copy.
The summary of it is as follows: the body of a young nameless woman, presumed dead, is dumped from the trunk of a car into a cemetery. But oh, actually she was still very much alive! In the rough landing, she hits her head and wakes up with no memory of who she was, or anything about her past. All she knows is that someone tried to kill her. Lost and alone, the girl decides to take shelter in a mausoleum, and as the days pass the place eventually becomes home. Combining the names from different tombstones and from the cemetery itself, the girl comes up with a new identity: Calexa Rose Dunhill.
The main plot of Cemetery Girl really gets going when Calexa witnesses a murder but is unable to go to the police, fearing that it would draw attention to herself, especially since her unknown would-be killer is still somewhere out there. But there's a bigger mystery arc here too, invoking questions like, Who is Calexa, really? Who's out to get her and why? On top of that, she seems to have developed a strange ability to see things, ever since waking up not-dead from her brutal attack. Basically, this volume contains a wonderful self-contained story, but you can also tell that the best has yet to come.
Anyway, you might think, oh what's the big deal, Mogsy! Just review a graphic novel like you would a regular novel! But I don't know. Being presented with a story visually, particularly in sequential art form, really changes things for me, especially since I have had experience penciling comic art in the past. In comics, there's of course the added factor of how well the art meshes with the writing. So when it comes to questions I ask myself while writing a review, I have to reference them to the effectiveness of the illustrations as well. You gotta check this out, though: http://www.jofletcherbooks.com/2013/1...
From this awesome panel alone, you can tell that Kramer's art and Rudoni's colors definitely "click" with the tone of the story. Cemeteries are a tricky setting to pull off in art, since they are places of such emotion. You could say getting the atmosphere just right here is very important, since that's where most of the story takes place. I think the artwork does the setting justice though, and the night time and stormy scenes are especially well done. The art in general is quite easy on the eyes.
As for the story, I felt it fit nicely with the format. With graphic novels, you could arguably get away with rushing the pace a little. Still, even as the days fly by for Calexa (Night one, Night two, Night twenty-six, Night sixty-eight, etc.), the story never loses sight of its goals. Sometimes, just a panel or two and a few lines of dialogue are enough to convey the more complex feelings, not to mention the writing makes use of quite a few silences as well, to good effect. I was most impressed by the way both writers and artists were able to develop the minor characters, like the cemetery caretaker or old Lucinda, and make them stand out for the reader.
Can graphic novels can have a "young adult" feel? If so, then Cemetery Girl definitely has a bit of that. Most likely this is due to the apparent age of the protagonist, not to mention the story also involves a group of trouble-making teens. The plot is relatively straightforward and character development may on the lighter side, but for a first volume this was extremely well done. Quite promising, too. Like I said, there are still many questions that need answering, and I find myself eager for news of the next volume! (less)
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise.(less)
Hooray! From now on, whenever someone asks me if I have read any Ilona Andrews, no longer do I have to look down shame-facedly at my shoes and admit, “No, but I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear!”
Of course, when it comes to the authors’ books and the question of where to start, for me it had to be the quintessential Kate Daniels series. In a world where technology has progressed too much and too fast, the volatile forces of magic have struck back with a vengeance. While magic feeds on technology, everything is unpredictable – machinery, vehicles or electrically powered objects can fail at any time, making it a pretty screwed up world of ruined streets lined with shells of crumbling skyscrapers.
And that’s not all. The way it works, magic rises and falls with no warning, and when the precarious balance between the magical and the technological is thrown out of whack, weird things happen – peculiar magical effects and paranormal monsters wreaking havoc on the world, and what have you. In the middle of it all, a tenacious and headstrong mercenary makes her living attempting to clean up all the resulting messes of this magical apocalypse. Kate’s just another human with a bit of magic blood in her, trying to make ends meet in this crazy messed up milieu, while dodging vampires, shapeshifters, and other nasties. But when her guardian is brutally murdered, Kate’s making it her personal mission to hunt down the one responsible.
So, wow, great setting and premise for an urban fantasy, amirite? But I do have a confession to make. I honestly couldn’t make heads or tails of this world from the explanation provided by the book as I was reading. Afterwards, I had to cheat and had to look up on wikis and other reviews to understand how the whole magic vs. technology process actually worked because what I was given didn’t feel like it was enough at all. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the story? Not really. Technically, you don’t need to understand how and why everything in this world is the way it is, but in some ways, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a movie that had already started. I got by okay, but if you don’t like feeling like that, then this first book might be a struggle.
As for the main character herself, I liked her. Kate Daniels is smart, resourceful, a bit of a wisecracker and comes in at a hundred percent on the kickass meter – admittedly, much like a lot of other female protagonists in the urban fantasy genre. There’s really not much else I can say, but that’s not really a negative. While I can’t pin down anything that would make her stand out in particular from the rest, archetypal UF characters like Kate are what make this genre great and so fun to read.
I think I approach urban fantasy as a whole with a similar attitude. Arguably, there are a handful of requisite tropes in this genre that will probably never go out of style, and you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way. These days, I’m happy enough diving into a good UF, and if it happens to do something wildly different and amazing, that’s just gravy. Magic Bites probably isn’t exceptional when it comes to characters and its light-on-plot story, but it does have a pretty cool setting (if only it was explained better).
Regardless, I love tackling books like this especially after a string of heavier reads, because sometimes you just want to sit back and relax with a light, entertaining read, and I have to say it filled that need perfectly. To be honest, you really can’t screw up with me when it comes to this genre, unless you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong – and I didn’t doubt for second that a series like Kate Daniels, which has been going strong for so many years, would have garnered so many fans if it hadn’t been delivering the right stuff.
So yep, you’ll see me continuing on with this series for sure.(less)
Score one to this book for having a protagonist who is a bookseller. And bonus points for her being a vampire too. The title of this novel is actually in reference to the bookstore she runs, a quaint little place on a college campus called Night Owls which is open to 3am every night. Now why can't there be something that awesome around where I live? I'd spend all my insomnia-ridden nights there with a big mug of tea and a good book.
Meet Valerie McTeague, sleeping the sleep of the dead by day, providing the students of Edgewood a study haven by night. No more hunting Jackals for her; she's done with that life and has left it all behind, settling into a quiet routine with the help of her human servant Chaz.
But unfortunately for Val, that life isn't done with her. Trouble lands on her doorstep in the form of Elly Garrett, who has a magical book the Jackals want. However, the book manages to transfer its information into the mind of Justin, a Night Owls employee who gets more than he bargained for when he unwittingly trips the wards on the old tome. The werewolf-like shapeshifting Jackals have already killed Elly's mentor, so you can be sure nothing would stop them from killing Justin too. Val and Chaz have no choice but to seek help from the warlock Cavale, who also happens to be Elly's estranged brother.
Overall, Night Owls has a plot that is both clever and brisk, full of windy twists and turns and yet someone all those story threads manage to come together in the end. That said, the flow felt a bit disjointed until I grew more accustomed to the structure and style of storytelling. We have several perspectives in play here and with Val being a vampire, the book almost has this day-night cycle feel going on as one of our main protagonists always has to sleep away the daylight hours. You won't get a lot of rehashing as the main narrative is always picked up by the next POV right where the last one ends, so if you don't keep up you'll feel like you're missing something.
Happily, the book firmly establishes its rhythm once the characters are united and find their synergy. The story picks up considerably at this point, and the different relationships made it even better. There are clearly some serious issues between foster siblings Elly and Cavale, which causes a lot of tension in spite of the obvious love they have for each other. Something also seems to be brewing between Elly and Justin, a future romance perhaps? And unless my eyes deceive me, Val and Chaz seem to have something to work out too, in their complicated vampire-Renfield relationship.
In the end, I liked this one. Because I read so much urban fantasy though, I can't help but be a bit picky. When it comes to this genre, I don't often find myself blown away by "Book 1s", but a lot of my favorite series have started out by hooking me with the first book and only wowing me later on. This book has that feel, and as such it's definitely one I'll want to stick with.
Admittedly, you're probably not going to find anything too new in Night Owls at this early stage, but if the story description interests you and if you enjoy the genre it should settle quite comfortably. An action-filled plot, a "Scooby Gang" type ensemble cast, and a world full of supernatural creatures and beings should make the UF fan feel right at home. All things considered, it has everything to make it a promising start to a new series -- great world, great characters, and most importantly, a great story with lots of potential for more!(less)
I'm a tough sell when it comes to novellas. Even tougher when it comes to urban fantasy. Don't get me wrong; I love this genre, but the truth is there's also a lot of books and series out there. These days, ideas in urban fantasy have to be special and different enough in order to stand out and hook me.
But as soon as I read the description for this book, which is about a character whose job as a "freelance debugger" involves getting fairies out of computers, I knew it had me. Speaking as someone who is often convinced she has problems way worse than fairies mucking about in her PC, I think I need this John Golden guy in my life.
Django Wexler is also the perfect person to write this. That might come as a surprise if you've only read his epic fantasy, but I've discovered that he's also an amazingly versatile author. And as a former programmer and someone clearly used to being called upon for impromptu IT work, he definitely knows his way around computers and networks. He's taken that knowledge and mashed it up with elements from urban fantasy, creating a world where the land of the fae exists as part of a "Wildernet", and its denizens wreck havoc on our servers and systems by infesting them with their nasty "burrows".
I think the first thing most readers will notice is "Hey, there's a bunch of footnotes in this!" Wexler has decided to do something different here by using footnotes for humorous effect, having John Golden's business partner Sarah fill us in with her commentary in the form of annotations. Sarah is an interesting character, with her being a ... well, I think I'll just leave that little bit out as a surprise for now! In any case, I personally appreciated the footnotes as part of the book's unique flavor, though they did trip me up a little at the beginning. Ultimately though, it's worth your time to read Sarah's snarktastic comments, since they often add to the narrative or give you more details about the world. Not to mention she's downright hilarious.
I would recommend this to everyone. It's the perfect urban fantasy for computer geeks, with its IT jokes and references, but it's also fun for those who are not. Take me, for example. I wouldn't say I'm hopeless with computers, but at the same time what I don't know could fill an Olympic-size pool, and yet I still loved this book! It's quick, it's entertaining, and I have to say I got a real kick out of its geeky pop culture references and humor.
Can't wait for more, especially since Wexler has teased that the next book will have a gamer angle. I know his other fantasy series will likely take precedence, but I really hope he'll keep finding time to write John Golden stories. A premise this amazing simply demands further exploration!(less)
This is the second novel I’ve read by Gail Z. Martin and I have to say, her books have a way of wrapping around the reader like a well-loved, comfortable sweater. Prior to Deadly Curiosities, I’ve read the first book of her Ascendant Kingdoms series Ice Forged, and as traditional fantasies go, it wasn’t groundbreaking but still offered enough new with the old to give me that nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Similarly, I felt good about being in familiar urban fantasy territory with her new book Deadly Curiosities, at the same time delighting in some of the things that made it unique.
The book stars Cassidy Kincaide, owner of an upscale antique/curio store called Trifles & Folly in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Being able to touch an object and know its history is a special psychic gift that runs in her family – an ability that comes in handy in her line of work. It’s the perfect front for Cassidy and the Alliance’s real work: to seek out supernatural and possibly dangerous items and weed them out of the general public before they can harm anyone. However, when reports that a number of mundane antiques are suddenly turning into “Spookies”, it’s up to Cassidy and her coworkers to find out what dark force is changing all these previously harmless things into haunted objects.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this book for me was the setting. No joke, I wanted to drop everything right there and then and move to Charleston. I have read urban fantasies set in a number of different places, from big cities to sleepy towns, and very few have made me feel a pull this intense. Martin captured the atmosphere perfectly, combining the fictional paranormal elements with the rich history and culture of the city, as well as the hospitality and charm of its people. I wanted to shop the antique shops, visit the museums, stay at the bed and breakfasts, even do the nighttime ghost tours and the whole shebang. Well, minus the evil demons, of course.
In the past I’ve also noticed that authors who go from writing epic fantasy to urban fantasy often stumble with pacing. There is definitely less of an issue with Deadly Curiosities. However, I did feel that sections in the middle lagged a bit, and several characters central to the strike team at the end were introduced much later than I would have preferred. Still, this was probably my one and only complaint. On the whole, this was a great story and I especially enjoyed the first part of the novel, which hooked right away with the introduction to the central premise. I also love the smooth, natural and modern voices of Cassidy and the crew. Gail Z. Martin is a natural at writing urban fantasy; you would think she’s been doing this right from the start.
One interesting thing to note though, is that unlike every other urban fantasy series out there, there is a conspicuous lack of a romantic side plot for our protagonist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual reader. Those who like a bit of romance with their UF might be disappointed, while others who are neutral or don’t mind something different might find it refreshing. Personally, I don’t think you can force a love story; it either works or it doesn’t. I would rather read an urban fantasy sans romance than one with a romance awkwardly shoehorned in just for the sake of having one, so I say good for Martin! (But for a second, I did get worried – I thought perhaps Cassidy would end up falling for Sorren, her silent business partner at Trifles & Folly. He’s also a 500-year-old vampire. So in this case, I guess you can say I was doubly glad it did not happen. The world has enough vampire romances.)
I am, however, a little tempted to hunt down Gail Z. Martin’s other Deadly Curiosity Adventure stories, from her series that spans over 500 years starring Sorren. That’s what a good book does – make you want more. I do hope she has plans to continue expanding Cassidy’s story as well, because this was a lot of fun. I would return to Charleston and Trifies & Folly in a heartbeat. (less)
Vampires, werewolves, and even faeries and ghouls populate the urban fantasy genre in abundance, but it's not often that I stumble across a series centered around ghosts. Even rarer still to find a one that's told from the perspective of a ghost, which is why I was initially drawn to this book.
Only the Good Die Young is the first of a brand new series by Chris Marie Green featuring protagonist Jensen Murphy, a twenty-three year old woman who was murdered in Elfin Woods sometime in the 1980s. Her death was so traumatic that not only did she lose all her memories of that night, her spirit was also trapped in a time loop and became an imprint until a psychic medium named Amanda Lee came along and snapped her out of it. Ever since then, Amanda Lee has been helping Jensen get up to speed on all that has happened in the last thirty years (unsurprisingly, our protagonist's mind is totally blown by this whole internet thing).
The psychic has been keeping secrets, however. It turns out that one of the reasons she rescued Jensen was so that she could have access to a ghostly assistant, in the hopes that her spirit abilities could help identify the killer of one of Amanda Lee's dearest friends who was murdered a few years ago. The main suspect was the victim's ex-boyfriend. Convinced that he did it, Amanda Lee now wants Jensen to haunt the guy and scare the bejeezus out of him so badly that he will eventually break down and confess his crime.
Putting it that way, the plot sounds rather goofy, I know. I'm actually still coming down from the surprise of how light this book ended up being, since I was admittedly expecting something a lot darker given the brutal circumstances around Jensen's death (someone in a creepy mask, wielding an axe, alone in the woods, etc.) Not that this book is all sunshine and rainbows either, but it definitely contains a lot less horror and bleakness, and instead a lot more humor and energy than I'd anticipated. For a ghost book, that is.
I have to say this one took its time to grow on me. I was so unimpressed by the main characters at the beginning, turned off by Jensen's yielding nature and especially by Amanda Lee's judgmental and cynical ways. Because someone designed a violent video game, he must be guilty of murder? People only adopt children from third world countries because doing it is a symbol of status? Oh my, get as far away as you can from this woman, Jensen, just get away as soon as you can. The fact that she just kept hanging around this Amanda Lee person made it difficult for me to continue reading.
But then, something happened. As Jensen also noted about herself, she grew a backbone. She stuck up for herself, found some new friends to hang out with. And how fun these new friends are! I loved the "ghost budders" Randy, Twyla, Scott and Louis, who teach Jensen what it is to be a ghost and what she can do. Ghosts in this series have some pretty cool powers, actually. They can induce hallucinations, imitate sounds and throw their voices around. They can enter dreams and sift through your memories. These abilities take a lot out of a ghost though, because they are made up of pure energy. To recharge, they have to draw from a source of electricity in order to juice up again. Some really neat ideas in here, and the imagery of Jensen and her fellow ghosts sitting on a power line is pretty funny!
Amanda Lee also didn't turn out to be so bad after all. Of all the characters, she was probably the most invested in the outcome of the mystery, even more so than Jensen. As her character became more and more defined, it grew easier to see where she's coming from even if I didn't agree with her methods. At the end of this, the identity of her friend's murderer comes to light, and the answer may shock you! I certainly didn't see it coming.
So yes, I liked this book a lot more once it got going; certainly my feelings about it were more positive by the end, and I'm glad the plot ultimately sorted itself out. Still, there's a bigger murder mystery to be solved here, that of Jensen's, of course. Somehow, I have a feeling her story is going to be a part of a much bigger arc. Now that I'm fully on board, I'm looking forward to finding out.
I wish I could say this book just wasn't for me because I'm not into YA paranormal romance, but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I quite enjoy this genre. Nothing beats a good love story for giving me all the warm and fuzzy feels, and the best ones do just that. On the flip side, however, there are books like Sweet Evil that somehow manage to diminish the mood by pushing all the wrong buttons. There were a couple things about it that I found off-putting, though I'm aware it's a matter of personal taste and that others might not feel the same way.
Unfortunately, the characters Anna and Kai too closely resemble a couple of my biggest pet peeves. Pet peeve the first: a weepy, insecure female protagonist. I have no problems with Anna being the living embodiment of goodness (in fact, I admire her all the more for it) but naivete and innocence does not have to translate to neediness, ceaseless pining, crying or completely falling to pieces over a guy. Especially when the guy in question has done so little to deserve such obsession. So many times I just wanted to shake her and ask her where she has misplaced her self-respect.
Which brings me to pet peeve the second: male love interests that are pure scum, just wrapped in a pretty package. Take away Kaidan's good looks and hot accent and all you'll have left is arrogance and patronizing smugness. I'm not even taking into account his (literal!) life's work to sleep with as many women as possible. Seeing as he is the half-human son of the Demon of Lust, I'll just let that one slide as an ingrained part of his nature. Still, regardless of whether he can help it or not, most sane people tend to find that sort of behavior repellent. So what does that say about Anna, who falls head over heels for this guy anyway?
All right, with that out of the way, now I can tell you about the things in the book that DID work for me. Sweet Evil offers an interesting take on angels and demons and how they interact with us mere mortals here on earth. It's a deliciously sordid affair involving the demons of sins/vices taking over the bodies of men in order to have children with human women, resulting in the half-demon sons and daughters called Nephilim. The intricate system and hierarchy of fallen angels described in this book shows that much care and effort was put into world building, proving Sweet Evil is not just about the romance, and that there is actually quite a lot of substance behind the story as well.
In spite of this, the plot flounders in many places for being too convenient and coincidental for my tastes, as in it's very obviously done for the sole purpose of forcing the characters right where the author wants them to be. Otherwise, you know there would be no story. For example, Anna's demon father who has been behind bars for the last sixteen years suddenly has a parole hearing coming up, well-timed to be just right after Anna meets him for the first time. And then, of course, there is Anna's mom Patti. What mother in her right mind would allow her teenage daughter to go on a road trip alone with a seventeen-year-old boy (son of the Demon of Lust, no less), just the two of them driving across the country and staying in hotels by themselves, to visit a total stranger in a penitentiary? That's just a little too hard to swallow.
I will give the story this, though: at no point did I want to stop reading. That I was going to see this whole thing through was always a foregone conclusion, despite the character flaws and the hitches and holes in the plot. I was entertained, even if I felt little sympathy for either Anna or Kaidan. Like I said, I had some pretty idiosyncratic reasons for why this book ultimately didn't work for me, but I can also see how other readers with a penchant for the young adult genre and paranormal romances may find plenty to like. (less)
Luna Masterson is an odd girl who sees demons. Reed Taylor is an odd guy who hangs around with an angel. And when girl meets guy, things get pretty crazy. This is probably THE thing I love best when it comes Mercedes M. Yardley's stories, the fact that when she gets two people together, you know you're not going to get just any old boring relationship!
I must say I learned that lesson well with Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, Yardley's not-quite-horror-not-quite-romance love story novella that I read last year. What amazed me most about that book was her treatment of her two outcast characters, the way she gave them each a purpose and emotional depth even though as serial killers they are far from deserving of any admiration or sympathy. The characters in Nameless are perhaps not quite so extreme, but I likewise experienced some of those same vibes from Luna and Reed Taylor -- two very unique individuals who find in each other a kindred spirit...so to speak. I had a feeling I was going to be in for something special, and I was right.
So how does a girl deal with being able to see things that nobody else can? Luna's never had many friends, and the only people close to her are her brother Seth and 1-year-old niece Lydia. Perhaps this is why she comes across to me as socially awkward, sometimes doing and saying strange things or acting like she can't make up her mind. At the same time, I had to admire the brave and positive face she puts on. The way she takes the "Luna the Lunatic" comments in stride or shrugs off the weird looks she gets when she's talking with the demons only she can see, all that just makes me want to cheer her on. So as to whether or not you'll form a connection to her character, I think it can go either way.
But if there was one thing that really touched me, it was Luna's devotion and love for her niece. When Lydia is kidnapped by the worst sort of demon, Luna's anger and desperation felt so raw and close to the surface that it was practically palpable. As the mother of a Sweet Baby Girl myself, at times it was almost gut-wrenchingly difficult to read about Luna's distressing search for Lydia, simply because every one of her fears was like a piercing knife to my heart. In my opinion, this part of the book was done very well. Not only did it make Luna feel more real for me, it also made me care about this story and want to see it through.
The overarching plot is quite good too, even if at times it felt a bit rushed. If books had remote controls, imagine that someone has pressed the fast forward button through some of the scenes in this novel. Perhaps the book could have been a little longer, giving me more information and letting some of the major happenings sink in. The way Luna's narration sometimes zipped from one event to the next didn't give me enough time to digest some of the things that went on, especially when it came to her meeting and subsequent relationship with Reed Taylor. Regardless, their love story was an interesting one to say the least! I think the impact of the story would have been even stronger if there had been more time to let those feelings deepen.
But in the end I was very happy with the way things turned out. Well, okay, maybe a little gutted by the ending, but still happy! Yardley's brand of storytelling and writing style is tremendously addictive and her characters are a treat, I'd looked forward to reading more of her work ever since I got my first taste. Nameless left me very impressed, especially as a full-length novel debut for the author and the first installment of a planned trilogy. I can't wait to see what's coming next.(less)
Why do people read Horror? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I’ll tell you why I do. Few other genres give me that adrenaline rush. I love that growing sensation of dread as the suspense builds, the sound in my ears of my heart pounding faster and faster, that tingling feeling that runs up my arms and spine. I enjoy that in a good horror/thriller novel, and sometimes I go deliberately looking for a good scare.
That’s what initially drew me to The Three. To understand why, you also have to know that for years now, I have been struggling with a fear of flying. I can get on a plane, but not without experiencing a lot of anxiety. Hearing or seeing news about plane crashes fills me with crippling panic and visceral terror.
And well, you know what they say about fear and fascination going hand in hand? Yeah. When I saw the description for this book, I just knew I HAD to read it.
The Three is about four plane crashes that changed the world. They all happened within hours, on the same day, on four different continents. Terrorism and environmental factors are ruled out. In three out of the four catastrophic incidents, a single child survivor is found in amidst the wreckage. Reeling from the news of the disasters, the world struggles to come to terms with this. It shouldn’t be possible. No one could have survived those terrible crashes. People are calling “The Three” a miracle, while others are also coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Some fanatical rapture cults are even calling this the End of Days, claiming that the children represent three out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Reports of the children’s behavior becoming increasingly disturbing aren’t helping matters, nor are the rumors of strange things happening around them.
Ah, so it’s not just about plane crashes either. There’s also creepy children! It’s like this book was specially designed to push all my right buttons! And I know what you’re thinking now, because I also thought the same thing: “Three children? Wait, what about the fourth plane crash?” Just one of the many questions running through my head when I read the book’s description, giving me the heebie jeebies as I played at speculation. It is why I like the UK cover a lot too, once I got a closer look at it.
In addition to being an epistolary novel, The Three is also a book within a book, called "From Crash to Conspiracy" authored by the fictional investigative journalist Elspeth Martins. As its title indicates, Elspeth’s book documents the series of tumultuous events over the period of several months following the day of the four air disasters. Told through a collection of interview narratives, book and website excerpts, news articles, voice transcripts, emails, chat history, other forms of correspondence, etc. the book is a disturbing look how quickly fear and panic can make a society spiral out of control. The format proved remarkably ideal for this novel, considering the number of character perspectives involved on an international scale. Stylistically, Sarah Lotz’s decision to tell the story this way also adds an additional layer to the creep factor, due to the implication that some of her narrators are unreliable, including the “author” (Elspeth) herself, whose professionalism is questioned in places where she is accused of cherry picking quotes or misrepresenting a viewpoint in favor of her own biases or for the purpose of creating sensationalism.
That said, I normally chafe at ambiguity in my stories. But somehow, The Three makes it work. The way the book is structured, we catch glimpses of the lives of the three children through the eyes of their respective guardians – all of whom have lost someone in one of the plane crashes. There will be mystery and some uncertainty. Did the strange things they report really happen, or are they nothing more than a symptom of shock, guilt and grief? The multiple and varied narratives will keep you guessing and make you desperate to read on for answers, even if the developments are downright spine-chilling. The character Paul Craddock’s (the uncle of one of The Three) first “dictophone chapter” shook me up so badly I almost couldn’t bring myself to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night because it meant having to walk through the house in the dark. Curse this novel for being so engrossing that it made me stay up until 3am reading!
If it had been my goal to find a novel that truly scares me, clearly it appears I might have been a little too successful. Granted, I was probably more affected because I am a flight-phobic person; if there is a downside to reading this one as someone scared of flying, it’s that this book will feed your fears. But the upside? THIS BOOK WILL FEED YOUR FEARS. Classic horror paradox; sometimes it’s fun to be scared. I can’t think of the last time I came across a horror novel that unnerved me so deeply. Without a doubt, The Three is one of my top reads this year and deserves to be a huge success.(less)
Quirky and energetic, The Grendel Affair is the first book which kicks off the new SPI Files series by Lisa Shearin, featuring a mash-up of police/government agent procedural elements with urban fantasy. Think The X-Files meets Men in Black -- except instead of aliens, Supernatural Protection & Investigations is in charge of tracking paranormal creatures and keeping the public safe from them. Unfortunately, they also don't have those handy flashy neuralyzers thingies to help hide the truth of their existence from the general populace.
The book follows Makenna Fraser, a southern seer who moves to New York City to persue her dreams of becoming a world famous journalist. However, not long after starting her first job as a trashy tabloid reporter, she is recruited by the NY branch of SPI for her special ability to see through any kind of glamour, veil, spell or shield that a supernatural baddie can come up with.
Mac's duties generally don't require her to be on the front lines, but a sudden string of murders by something not human puts SPI on high alert. From then on it's all hands on deck, especially when the murders are linked to a bigger plot to expose supernaturals to the world on the night of the biggest party of the year -- New Year's Eve in Time Square. Thousands more will die if the SPI doesn't stop their adversary in time, and the only person who can see through the disguises of the killer creatures is Mac.
First of all, can I give a big yay for Grendel? Yes, we're talking the Grendel of Beowulf fame. The monsters that SPI goes after in this book are creatures like Grendel, probably even his descendents, and that is just way too cool. In a series that also features the usual fare of urban fantasy creatures like vampires, werewolves, ghouls and goblins, it's a nice as well to see a touch of inspiration from Old English literature and mythology.
Other than that, this book is what you would expect and quite typical of the genre, complete with an action-filled mystery plot, a budding office romance, and clever snappy dialogue but without a lot of the snark. Mac is an interesting character, not being an outwardly kickass or sassy kind of protagonist but she is still very endearing in her reluctant-heroine awkwardness...to say nothing of her cookie-gobbling ways and the fact she carries a fake handgun loaded with tequila. Also, I enjoy the fact that her business partner and fellow SPI agent Ian Byrne is not the kind of arrogant, cheeky-posing-as-charming love interest I generally have the tendency to dislike on sight. These two are both down-to-earth and will be very good together, I can already tell.
It's true that those who read a lot of urban fantasy probably won't find anything too new about the overall premise or story in this book, but The Grendel Affair is still a very solid introduction to the SPI Files as well as a promising beginning to the series. Those looking for a fun read will not be disappointed.(less)
Some books start off with a shaky opening but then end up getting better as the story gains momentum, but other times there are books like Unwept that go the opposite way. These books manage to capture my attention right off the bat and get me invested with an interesting premise, but then they stumble and lose me about halfway through. The magic fizzles out and I can’t get it back.
I have my inklings as to why this might have been the case with Unwept. Thing is, I love being teased with a bit of mystery. And this book did that very well, starting off by painting a baffling yet very intriguing picture. A girl named Ellis Harkington comes to herself in the middle of a train ride accompanied by a nurse and baby, but has no memory of how she got there or any of her life before this moment. She arrives at a remote seaside town named Gamin where everyone seems to know her better than she knows herself, but she can’t even recognize any of their faces. A group of young men and women called the Nightbirds — who claims to be a literary society – welcome her back into the fold with open arms, and yet for a literary society they don’t seem all that interested in books…
Then there are the nightmares. Ellis dreams of clouds of moths and visitations from a strange soldier with a paisley-shaped mark on his face. There’s also talk of terrible things happening all over town, like a devastating fire, missing people, and the discovery of mutilated bodies pointing to a ruthless killer on the loose. And why are there no children in town? There this real sense of unease and foreboding. The atmosphere is practically humming with anticipation. The stage is set for something great, and you know deep down in your gut that this book has got to be building up to something huge.
Well. It didn’t really happen. At least, not for me. You must understand, this book had me wrapped around its finger and I was completely under its control and prepared to fall head over heels in love with it. I cannot give enough praise to the first half of this novel; it was fantastically well written and constructed to give the reader a perfect foundation. I simply adored the first 150 pages or so. But not long after that, the plot started fraying at the edges.
Unfortunately, being plied with all that escalation with ultimately not much payoff has a way of making me feel a bit grumpy. I’m also disheartened by the lost potential of this story. The book could only maintain the suspense for so long before I started questioning where it was trying to go and what it was trying to say. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being led on a wild goose chase. Not long after that, I finally had to admit to myself that I really had no idea what was going on. By the time some answers were forthcoming, I don’t know if I felt as invested or engaged in the outcome anymore. The revelations were certainly eye-opening, but it’s a classic case of “too little too late.” I just can’t decide if the disappointment hurt more or less because the story had such a strong and promising start.
Unwept is also the first book of a series, and – unsurprisingly, perhaps – it has the stamp of a “Book One” all over it. Don’t expect any satisfying or clear-cut answers. Instead of growing and expanding, the story seemed to shrink back in on itself. There is mystery at the beginning, and there will still be mystery at the end, and probably more blanks and question marks than you started out with. It’s hard to tell now, but I think I might have had a more positive reaction to the book if I had known to rein in my expectations a little.
In the end, I don’t think Unwept is a bad book. The sheer enjoyment I got out of the first part of it is a testament to that. It’s also such a quick read that if you’re even remotely interested in the description, I would say it is well worth your time, as the average reader can probably knock it out in one or two sittings. It has a fascinating premise, and I have no doubt it’ll work for a lot of readers. I just personally wish I been better prepared for its peculiar pacing.(less)
I think reading this book gave me a better insight into coulrophobia. I mean, clowns are kinda creepy I guess. But I’ve also always found it hard to look at them and not see beyond just some guy in colorful clothes and makeup. Supernatural clowns on the other hand, are a whole other matter. Especially when they are someone’s nightmare literally come to life.
But in spite of what the title and cover initially led me to believe, this is not a horror novel. Night Terrors would probably fit more comfortably in the urban fantasy and paranormal section. That said, it’s also darkly comedic and not just a little bit unhinged. Think buddy cop movie meets Tim Burton, quirky and fun but also a little macabre.
The book’s protagonist is Audra Hawthorne, an officer of the Shadow Watch, the supernatural agency dedicated to patrolling the border between our world and the dream realm. Their units are generally organized into pairs made up of an Ideator and their Incubus – in other words, the dreamer and the living manifestation of their worst nightmare. For Audra, dreams of the psychotic clown Jinx has terrorized her ever since she was a child, but now they are partners working together to keep both Earth and Nod safe from rogue Incubi.
Because they are essentially the products of our dreams, Incubi come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll see some pretty wild dream-folk in this book, like Candy, the Incubus made completely out of – you guessed it – chocolate and other yummy sweets (rumored to have been dreamt up by a dentist’s son) or the Deathmobile, a nightmare hearse. I really enjoyed the originality of these crazy manifestations and the idea that our mortal realm exists in parallel with the zany world of Nod.
And yet, I didn’t feel as excited about this book as I thought. The awesome premise aside, the plot was mediocre not to mention formulaic with all the usual elements of an urban fantasy thrown in. As a detective story it was rather predictable, which is disappointing especially given all the other cool ideas in here. And while I appreciated the contrast between the level-headed Audra versus the insane and unpredictable Jinx, I found a lot of the action to be over-the-top and mostly exaggerated slapstick. On the one hand, I loved the delightfully creepy way Jinx was portrayed. But personally, that kind of humor just isn’t my style.
I’ll also admit I might be just a bit picky with my urban fantasy. On the whole, Night Terrors is a pretty good book, if nothing else a quick and entertaining read with a few rather neat, never-seen-before ideas. The story itself didn’t take off for me, mostly because the style isn’t my cup of tea, but I actually think it could click with most people.(less)
Having wanted to read a book by this author for a while, I initially debated either tackling 7 Wonders or the Empire State series, but then I found out about his upcoming title Hang Wire. After reading the description, I decided right then and there that I wanted it to be my first Adam Christopher novel.
Immortal gods, pagan rites, a serial killer on the loose...is there anything this book doesn't have? And what's this, a circus too? If anything, it was this last one that sold me. Hang Wire looked to me like an unconventional urban fantasy that is also a fusion of paranormal, horror and mystery. There's even some mythology thrown in to stir things up even more, in what is arguably already a quirky mix.
In present day San Francisco, a blogger named Ted goes out to dinner with his group of journalist friends to celebrate his birthday, only to have a fortune cookie blow up in his face. Physically unharmed, Ted nonetheless starts experiencing odd things ever since the incident. Recently, the city has also been held in fear by a killer known as Hang Wire, who brutally strangles his victims before stringing them up in public places.
Meanwhile, the circus is in town with a new high wire act plus a Celtic dance group whose performances have been garnering lots of praise. But tension is mounting behind the scenes, especially with rumors that the carnival is cursed, and the frequent fights breaking out between the creepy circus manager and the workers are putting everyone on edge. There's an ancient evil lurking, and as it turns out, everything has to do with a handful of gods who walk among us. And one of them is a scruffy but devastatingly handsome beach bum named Bob, who gives free ballroom dancing lessons at the aqua park by the sea...
Right, I don't think I need to go further to let you know just how bizarre this book is. But then, I liked it. I didn't think I would at first, simply because of the sheer amount of information the story throws at you right off the bat. As you can see from my brief summary, there's a lot happening in this book, and while trying to figure out what's going on, things can feel a tad overwhelming. Not to mention, the numerous time jumps near the beginning can add to the sense of disjointedness.
I was loaded up with so many questions at first. Most of them involve the circus manager Joel. Who is he and why are we seeing him in all these places across the country, and at these very different times? He's obviously hunting something, but what is this strange power allowing him to know exactly where to be? Where is it coming from? A lot of these questions were answered to my satisfaction at the end, but there were still many points that I felt could have been expanded. I bring this up because for a book with so many threads and topics, the world building is surprisingly on the light side. I enjoyed what I saw, but also felt like there should have been more.
However, I am amazed at Adam Christopher's creativity and the vision for this novel. I especially loved the mysticism and the darkness. Take the Hang Wire killer, for example. This was one of many developments in the overarching story line, but admittedly it was also the horror and mystery of it that eventually grabbed my attention and drew me in. And in fantasy, you usually see circuses depicted as magical places filled with whimsy and wonder, but here the circus is a cursed, creepy place suffused with pure evil where the carnival attractions themselves hunger for blood. I found it all deeply enticing.
So then, my first Adam Christopher novel turned out to be quite the offbeat experience, but I wasn't disappointed. All in all, this was a highly original read packed with all kinds of strange and fantastical elements, and that's how I like it. There may be a lot to take in at first, but everything comes together eventually, once the story gets going and builds momentum. (less)
One of the most common things you'll hear about books these days is that everything seems to be a series. I know I myself have talked about series burnout on more than a few occasions and expressed a desire to see more stand-alones. However! Every once in a while the news of an unexpected sequel will make me jump up and down for joy! And this is most definitely one of those times.
Murder can be seen as the follow-up to Mayhem, the chilling paranormal horror novel by Sarah Pinborough that was published last year from Jo Fletcher Books. Sort-of-but-not-really about Jack the Ripper, the book and its clever combination of historical fact and fiction intermixed with supernatural elements quickly vaulted it onto my list of all-time favorites.
I should probably mention too that Mayhem works perfectly well as a stand-alone, but that I was also thrilled when I found out about Murder for reasons beyond the fact I am such a fan of its forerunner. Sarah Pinborough clearly had a lot more in store for Dr. Thomas Bond, the protagonist in these books. It should be noted that the real Dr. Thomas Bond was a very important figure in British crime history, best known for his work as the police surgeon on a lot of the Whitechapel murder investigations between 1887-1891. I’ve always believed that the best horror stories are rooted in reality, and being aware of the shocking turns in Bond’s career and later years also made me really excited to see what the author would do next.
Once again, Sarah Pinborough succeeds in bringing life and depth to her characters, several of whom were figures from history. A lot of the gruesome events described in this novel also actually happened, even the line in the description about bodies of children being pulled from the Thames (see the Victorian England baby farm murders). Pinborough flawlessly weaves a thread of supernatural into the story, but even then things can sometimes get too real. I think that’s why historical horrors are often so effective at terrifying me!
So now I’ll try my best to explain why I simply adored this book without giving away any spoilers for Mayhem: First, I love how these books aren’t about any one killer or murder case. Rather, all that serves as a backdrop in order to focus on something a lot more otherworldly and evil. Malevolence has settled upon London, and Dr. Thomas Bond is inextricably linked to it. Try as he might, he can’t escape the pull of the past. Because of this, Bond becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator, and having been familiar with his steadfast pragmatism up until this point, his downward spiral only makes the situation even more disconcerting. Like in Mayhem, Bond’s chapters are the only ones written in the first person, while others are in the third person. This point-of-view switching allows us to see a fuller picture, and it works even better here since our main protagonist’s credibility has been severely compromised.
Ms. Pinborough doesn’t hold anything back. Despite the kind of person Bond becomes, I felt for him; I really did. But clearly the author knows what needs to happen, and she carries out the plot with a cold eye and sees it all through mercilessly. And honestly? It made for an amazing book. There were some truly unexpected turns in the plot. At times, I couldn’t even believe it. You’ll be appalled and filled with hatred. Your heart will break. And you’ll also marvel at the amazing things the author has accomplished here with character development.
This book was just so good. Dark, disturbing, and full of tension -- just the way I like my horror. It was not a fast-paced book, and yet...the story had this way of worming into my mind. This is definitely the kind of book you'll find yourself thinking about even when you’re not reading, and hoping that it won’t be long until you can pick it up again.(less)
A couple of recent experiences have made me extremely wary of spin-offs, so it was probably a good thing I didn’t know House of the Rising Sun was one until I was already well into it. I’ve never read Kristen Painter before this, and I’d definitely wanted to give this series a fair shot. So perhaps it’s to her credit that I didn’t even know this was a spin-off novel until I read the author interview at the back of the book – not once did I feel lost or in over my head even if I hadn’t read her House of Comarré series. Right away, I liked how this book was the perfect jumping-on point for a new reader, which is a quality I think all spin-offs should strive for.
Augustine, who was a side character in House of Comarré gets to star in his own series here, returning to his hometown of New Orleans after some time away. He’s playing fast and loose, having very few responsibilities and getting to enjoy the attentions of human women who find his Fae heritage irresistible. He also gets free room and board whenever he wants in a luxurious Garden District mansion, thanks to his adoptive mother Olivia Goodwin, the retired movie star. It’s a good life! Little wonder then why he’s so fiercely reluctant when asked to be Guardian of the city. But when the vampire gangs start attacking innocent tourists and those he loves, Augustine finds he might not have a choice.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s biological daughter Harlow gets into a massive amount of trouble, having been convicted of cyber-hacking. Completely broke and unable to pay the exorbitant fine, she decides on the lesser of two evils and hits up her mom for help rather than go to jail, even though the two have been estranged for years.
What struck me early on was that neither Augustine nor Harlow seemed to be capable of taking responsibility of their own actions. Augustine wasn’t too bad – though it was a bit off-putting the way he figured he could get away with doing something wrong with no repercussions. When threatened with the Guardianship, all he could think about was how it would affect his cushy life. Guess what, Augustine, punishment usually goes hand in hand with breaking the rules! There’s really no sense in resenting it.
Ultimately Augustine redeemed himself in my eyes, stepping up to fulfill his role. On the other hand, Harlow’s attitude left a bad taste in my mouth and did not really fade until the very end. It was revealed early on that her estrangement from her mother was due to Olivia refusing to divulge the identity of Harlow’s father. That’s a fixation Harlow NEVER allows us to forget. Hearing her go on about it, you’d think every single one of her life’s misfortunes could be traced back to Olivia withholding her father’s name. Harlow's introductory scene even involved her wishing daddy would come bail her out of trouble, if only she'd known who he was, and that she’d never have been duped into a cybercrime if only he'd been in her life in the first place. Somehow, I just don't buy that. Plus, Olivia was not as bad a mother as Harlow made her sound. Characters tend to play a huge role in my enjoyment of a novel, so it was unfortunate that Harlow started off so self-absorbed and entitled, and her inability to admit "Hey, I screwed up, and it was my own fault" really grated on me.
But how I adored the Kristen Painter’s portrayal of New Orleans in this series! If she’d had wanted the atmosphere of a never-ending party, she certainly nailed it. It’s the perfect setting when it comes to a haven for fae, vampires, witches and other supernatural creatures. I loved the scene of Nokturnos, a noisy and boisterous night of festivities where everyone just wants to have fun. Can’t really blame Augustine for being so happy-go-lucky when the mood’s just so positively infectious, and world building is simply phenomenal.
Apart from the hiccups with the characters, I actually quite enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I thought the last page came far too soon, and wish ending hadn’t been so rushed. These characters have a lot of potential to grow, with Augustine having won me over already, and Harlow is well on her way to becoming a more sympathetic character. I’ll admit it – I’m raring to find out more. All in all, House of the Rising Sun is a promising start, and I look forward to the next book.(less)
The fascinating concept behind this book was what first drew me in and made me decide to take a chance on it. Featuring a kickass nineteenth-century female demon hunter on a journey across the globe to track down and kill some very unconventional monsters, Netherworld appeared to have everything I was looking for and sounded very promising.
The book follows Lady Diana Furnaval, a young widow who has inherited much more than her husband's estates after his death. Lord William Furnaval turns out to have been one of the last guardians of the mysterious gateways that lead into Netherworld, the place where demons and other malevolent spirits make their homes. With him gone, it is up to Diana to take up the mantle to secure these portals, though she is determined to take things one step further and close them forever.
Diana's personal mission takes her to gateways located in faraway places. In China, she meets and befriends a young Cantonese sailor named Yi-kin, who accompanies her and her cat on their demon hunting adventures. Retracing her husband's final journey, she also uncovers some disturbing information about his death which leads her to believe there is much more to the story.
After reading this book, my general impression is that Lisa Morton is definitely familiar with the ingredients which make up an effective and compelling tale. And yet, while all the elements were in place, the actual storytelling felt disorganized and inconsistent, with the pacing feeling very rushed in certain places. For instance, I had a hard time getting into this book because the several of the opening chapters felt so disconnected and unfeeling, especially with the quick play-by-play explanation of the circumstances behind Lord William Furnaval's death, as well as the portion taken from his journal.
To its credit, the book falls back into an easier groove after this point, though the ending once again runs into issues with uneven pacing. The climax and conclusion felt glossed over, and overall the story had so many plot points and ideas that it was difficult not to wish for things to slow down a little, just to catch my breath and enjoy the different places and people Diana encounters. The book isn't that long to begin with, and yet we go from Transylvania to India to China to America to England and to Ireland, and in each place we only get to stay long enough for the characters to kill a few demons and close a gateway.
There's just so much more that could have been explored, and given how the author seems quite fond of providing historical details of the different locales Diana visits, I don't know why she didn't seize the opportunity to flesh them out. After all, I love how the story delves into legends and lore outside of the Western tradition. In particular, I enjoyed the inclusion of Chinese vampires or jiangshi (called goong-si in this novel because it uses the Cantonese dialect) and it's clear Lisa Morton did a lot of research into them to ensure her descriptions and translations are as accurate as possible. It's always interesting whenever I see an unconventional take on supernatural monsters, and in this case we're looking at them through the lens of other cultures.
Overall, I think I expected more from this book. The story itself was admittedly quite enjoyable, though the haphazard pacing and execution of ideas took a lot of the fun out of it. Here and there, I have to give it major points for moments of ingenuity, but in the end this just wasn't my cup of tea.(less)