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.
Well now, this book was a pleasant surprise. Meet Talus, touted by the book's description as the world's first detective, which is indeed as marvelous as it sounds. The book has the feel of a Sherlock Holmes type mystery set in an icy Iron Age inspired fantasy world, but what really clinches this one that our "detective" is a bard! If you don't know, I have a serious soft spot for those traveling poets and teller-of-tales types.
Written in the tradition of the classics by Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, I found Talus and the Frozen King to be a very enjoyable whodunit complete with all the ingredients that makes a good mystery. Talus, a wanderer and collector of stories, is a clever man and not without his little quirks. Then, because every good detective needs a trusty friend and assistant, we have stalwart Bran, who is the Watson to his Sherlock. And just to tease this book even more, let's just say a true detective also needs an arch nemesis a la Moriarty, but that's all I'll say about that in this review!
I very much enjoy stories like this. Talus and the Frozen King is a quick read, tightly told with a clear direction and goal in mind, but the author still leaves plenty of room to develop the characters and define the world around them. The setup is admittedly simple but still very well done; after all, most of the activity is mainly confined to an island, where the king of the local settlement has been found murdered under bizarre circumstances. No one is above suspicion in this plot-driven mystery, not even the king's six grieving sons, the women who love them, or the tribe's shaman, who all have their reasons to see the old ruler dead.
As the reader, I was given the chance to engage in the very same process of deduction as Talus carries out his investigation, through interviewing suspects or gathering and interpreting the clues. In the interim, I also got to learn more about Talus and Bran individually, discovering the motivations that drive them as well as the details behind their unique relationship. It added an extra layer to this story, rendering the situation more than just another mystery to be solved, because along the way I grew to care about these characters and became invested in them.
Nothing is as it seems. Names are a continually added to the suspect list, then scratched off again as more clues come to light. As death strikes left and right, you can practically feel the urgency in the atmosphere as times begins to run out. Of course, you're not going to be getting a ton of information about the wider world out there due to the tight focus of the plot, but we still get plenty about the culture, traditions and myths of Creyak island and its people, and for such a relatively short novel, I think it packs a lot of emotion and tension.
There aren't a lot of books like this out there, that's for sure. While there's a strong element of fantasy in this one, at it's heart it really is a variety of your good old detective story. The prehistoric ice age setting garners huge points from me, and like I mentioned, so does our protagonist being an eccentric bard. I think both mystery and fantasy readers alike will feel right at home with this one. A very entertaining and fast read.(less)
New rule: if you are an urban fantasy starring a London policeman-turned-wizard named Peter Grant, then I MUST READ YOU. Let's just say I have waited a long time for this! After devouring the first three books last spring, I was left with a void that only this series' dry wit and magical action could provide, and now book four has finally made its way to the US.
Ben Aaronovitch does not hold back for Peter's latest adventure, which involves our favorite magician-constable working to solve yet another string of odd deaths happening around the city. The first red flag goes up when a chance car accident leads him to a murder victim, who may have a link to the mysterious "Faceless Man." That's the big baddie that Peter and his supervisor Nightingale have been hunting over the course of the last couple of books.
As such, Broken Homes probably wouldn't be the best jumping on point if you're new to the series, albeit the central plot within the bigger picture is still wildly entertaining. When it is discovered that the odd deaths are all connected to a controversial housing estate "designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate", Peter and his fellow investigators come up with an insane plan to get to the bottom of the mystery. What do they do? They move in and go under cover. Trouble ensues. And with that, tons of amusement for readers.
Here's why I think it would be a good idea to at least tackle the previous book first before reading this one: if you're not familiar with the overall story arc with the Faceless Man, the first half of the book will probably feel pretty slow. I personally was interested in the investigations because a lot of it had to do with uncovering the identity of the enemy and trying to capture him, but without that context I think a lot of the happenings will feel disjointed or only tenuously connected.
But as someone who has been following this series, I think it is clearly starting to come into its own. With that comes a greater appreciation for the little quirks only found in these books, like London's rivers personified as semi-divine spirits, Peter's esoteric interests into the city's architecture or even his frequent funny jabs at the Metropolitan Police. All this made even some of the more low-key bits of the book very fascinating and engaging -- such as the scene with the spring celebration, or descriptions of Peter's magical training sessions.
However, I have to say the second half of the book -- which includes the subsequent build-up to the climax -- and ending is simply phenomenal. As the main protagonist and narrator, I thought Peter would always be my favorite character in these books, but Nightingale may have just given him a run for his money. His anachronisms and total fail with modern technologies notwithstanding, the guy is awesome. You might think you know wizarding duels, but you don't -- not until you read about the one near the end of this book, with Nightingale versus the Russian Night Witch. I think I may have a crush.
Then, there's the climax and the shocking "twist". I put the quotations there because I'm not sure how truly surprising it is if you've been following the series and the characters. It was shocking yes, but it wasn't completely unexpected. The clues leading up to it weren't entirely subtle, though that might just be me. All the same, the excitement and snappy pace in these final chapters will make you ache for more, and leave you desperate to find out what happens next.
Sigh, which leads me back to this familiar place, of pining for the next book. The waiting does not get easier!(less)
Ian Tregillis has impressed me in the past with his books in the Milkweed Triptych, which was why I got excited when I discovered that he was working on a new novel about angels. And not just about any angels; Something More Than Night is a hard-boiled noir detective story with the following tagline: "a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler-inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas's vision of Heaven" and features fallen angels, metaphysics, and a bizarre future. If that description didn't pique your interest or at least make you do a double-take, seriously, check your pulse!
The story opens with a murder. The Archangel Gabriel is dead, his celestial remains falling to earth in a glorious light show in the starry sky, turning to snow as they drift into the mortal realm of the oblivious humans. No one notices the Seraphim's passing but Bayliss, a fallen angel who has made Earth his home for the last few hundred years. His mission is to find a mortal to take Gabriel's place is botched, however, when he accidentally knocks a hapless young woman under a street tram, causing her death and subsequent ascension to the ranks of the angelic Choir.
Now not only does poor Molly need to come to terms with being dead, she also has to learn all that it means to be an angel - not to mention figure out why her predecessor was killed. But Gabriel's death turns out to be no ordinary murder. Molly's investigations with Bayliss lead her to uncover a huge secret that the Archangel had been keeping before he died, involving Jericho's Trumpet and an eons-old conspiracy that can alter the fate of the cosmos.
I've only read the first two books in the Milkweed Triptych (with the third book on my list of must-buys, I assure you) but already Tregillis has cemented himself in my mind as a talented teller of stories and builder of worlds. I have found that his work is hard to pin down in terms of categorizing them; there really is no easy way to describe the unique way he mixes elements of speculative fiction with other genres. I am pleased to find is the same way with Something More Than Night, with its complex and often mind-bending plot and setting.
When it comes to the world he has created in this book, I can only boggle in amazement. There is the earthly one, which gradually makes itself apparent to the reader that we are in a different time, a future in which the earth has clearly seen better days. But then there is also the "heavenly" world called the Pleroma, which is not all clouds and Pearly Gates, but instead something that is both more mundane and extraordinary at the same time. Tregillis has managed to completely floor me with his descriptions of Magisteria (what his angels call home) made of memories and jumbled senses, transforming the abstract into words and physics that I think may take a bit of patience to wrap your head around, but it's worth it in the end. I am still just so in awe.
I also adore Ian Tregillis' writing style, which I've always figured was well suited for darker, more evocative stories, and as such I thought it was perfect for a book like this. Plus, I was just wowed by Bayliss' voice and mannerisms, which are straight out of a crime noir novel of the 30s or 40s. I think that was the most impressive of all, and it's obvious that great lengths were taken to make his character sound true to that particular era and genre. Admittedly, this makes Bayliss hard to understand at times, but I didn't mind slowing down to savor each and every one of his affectations or lines of dialogue.
Really, the only thing I felt was a bit off was the "twist". I like it when unexpected things happen in a book, but it's an entirely different matter when everything I thought I knew or was led to believe gets turned around on its head, and that took a little something away from me. Still, it's such a minor complaint seeing as how it was part and parcel of the story, and ultimately everything in the book came together so well. When it comes down to it, I'm pretty confident Something More Than Night will be unlike any book you've ever read. As always, Ian Tregillis blows me away with his talent and inventive ideas. For something totally original and different, check out this book and author.(less)
Wow, what a surprising and fantastic paranormal debut from E.L. Tettensor. With its dark mystery vibes and Victorian era inspired fantasy setting, this book was practically screaming my name when it was first brought to my attention, and even then I ended up with much more than I bargained for. That's definitely one way to make me a happy reader.
Darkwalker is the first book of the new Nicolas Lenoir series, starring the eponymous main character who was once a greatly esteemed and talented police inspector known for his tenacity and respect for justice. But now Lenoir is a shadow of who he once was, a jaded man who has grown dismissive of his work as well as the people around him, much to the annoyance of Sergeant Kody, who had thought being assigned to the legendary inspector would be the opportunity of a lifetime.
No one knows that behind that contemptuous demeanor and the apathy, Nicolas Lenoir is actually hiding a secret past. Something hunts him, a vindictive spirit known as the Darkwalker that will not stop once he has marked someone for death. Now a disturbing new case has brought the Darkwalker to Lenoir's neck of the woods, and the detective has to solve the mystery before the spirit of vengeance catches up to him...and time runs out for a young boy he cares for.
First, looking back at the notes I took for this review, I almost feel like I need to apologize to the book for brushing off its introduction as "slow". Granted, it took me longer than I expected to read the first sixty or so pages, not only because so little happens during this stage of setting up the story but also because I reacted so negatively to the main character's attitude. Simply put, Lenoir is a jerk. The way he treated Kody and looked down his nose on the case in the opening chapter made me want to punch him in the face. At this point, I almost started to dread the idea of reading further. But I shouldn't have doubted! Now that I'm done with the book, I could see that everything happened for a reason. I wouldn't have enjoyed this one so much if not for all the information that was given to me in the introduction, and likewise I would not have appreciated Lenoir for who he is at the end had not acted like such a curmudgeon at the beginning.
On that note, this story definitely includes one of those mystery plots that will have the reader flipping back the pages to a previous spot in the book, just to marvel at how the author had been dropping bits of clues and other details from the very start. I was still genuinely shocked at how things turned out; the answer came as unexpectedly to me as it did to the inspector.
Darkwalker also impresses me on the fantasy side of things. Lenoir works out of a city called Kennian, part of the Five Villages area, described as a rather backwater part of the book's world. The setting reminds me of turn-of-the-19th-century England, home to a population that largely does not acknowledge the existence of the paranormal, making the thing hunting Lenoir all the more creepy and unsettling. In addition, E.L. Tettensor has created a group of people and culture called the Adal, a society of pastoral nomads persecuted for their outsider status as well as the actions of a few bad apples. The subject of Adali magic plays a big role in the case, and Tettensor has also crafted a very thorough and rich history for her fictional race. I am overall very pleased with the amount of world building presented in this book.
Everything in the plot just came together so well. Once you reach the point where the story takes off, it doesn't slow down. After making it through the introductory chapters, I was quickly drawn in by the intrigue and mystery, especially when I was treated to a brief glimpse of the brilliant and passionate detective Lenoir used to be. I found I could not bear to put this book down during the final hundred pages, and stayed up into the wee hours of the night just to finish.
Of course, there is still the big question of Nicolas Lenoir's past, which did not go fully addressed. So I was so glad to see this would be a series, even though this book can certainly be read as a stand alone with no cliffhangers or glaring loose ends to worry about. I would love to see further exploration into his character and this world, or heck, even stories about Lenoir that take place in an earlier time. Regardless of what comes next, I'm really looking forward to book two!(less)
The Osiris Curse is an interesting novel. I think reading this one has made me develop a new appreciation for Pyr's Young Adult titles, as I've noticed they are typically more offbeat and original. Which is great for me, since I'm always on the lookout for YA books that do things a little differently!
I was also drawn to this book immediately because of its tagline: "Steampunk Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files", with plenty of action-adventure and ancient Egypt to boot. The Osiris Curse is actually the second book of the Tweed and Nightingale Adventures series, but nothing prevents it from being a good starting point even if you are new to these books, like I was.
The story is set in an alternate Victorian England, starring two teenagers who work for the secretive government agency called the Ministry in the Queen's service. Sebastian Tweed, whose history is a conundrum which I won't go into for fear of giving away any revelations from the first book, is dealing with some issues from his past, and his friend Octavia Nightingale is on the trail to find her missing mother.
This case ultimately leads them to something much bigger, when their investigations reveal that the brilliant scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla has been murdered, his blueprints for super weapons stolen. Tweed and Nightingale's hunt for the killers is just the beginning to an adventure of epic proportions, involving secret cults, travel to exotic places, and the discovery of a threat that could change the face of the world.
The plot is actually quite enjoyable in its simplicity and straight-forward nature, making me feel that in some ways The Osiris Curse reads like a middle-grade or early-teens novel. Nevertheless, I had a hard time trying to pin down the perfect target audience. The story itself is pure fun and fantastical adventure, which should appeal to younger readers who will like a fast-paced, action-filled journey across the globe and beyond. But at the same time, I was a little surprised to discover that the main characters are in their late teens, practically considered adults in that particular era, and their dialogue and mannerisms seem skewed towards the older side. Overcoming and resolving this disparity in my mind was perhaps the biggest challenge for me, and I think overall this might make it tougher for the book to "click" with everyone.
Still, Tweed and Nightingale themselves are very charming and likeable, their back-and-forth dialogue witty and fun to follow. There's also a hint of a budding romance forming between them, which is starting off on the right foot, very sweet and cute! The two of them are a good fit, their personalities playing off each other perfectly, creating interesting situations and dynamics.
What's interesting though, is that I didn't find out until after finishing the book that the author Paul Crilley spent a year writing for one of my favorite video games, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it made me see a couple aspects of the book in a whole different light. One of the main features in SWTOR involves your character's "light" or "dark" side alignment, determined based on your moral choices in game. These choices in turn add new dimensions to your personal class story, and I have to wonder if Crilley aimed for a similar effect in The Osiris Curse by making Tweed ponder some rather difficult moral questions. Regardless, they should make for some good discussion points for young readers.
If you ask me, this would probably be best enjoyed by children in the ages 10-12 range. Though it may occupy a narrow niche, I really do hope this book finds its audience; it's entertaining and good fun, with the promise of much more excitement to come for our two brave protagonists.(less)
If you ever get the opportunity to check out Drakenfeld, I highly recommend doing so! Go ahead and pick up the book, take your time to admire that striking, gorgeous cover, and give the first chapter a whirl. For myself, I was irrevocably hooked by the third page. It's hard not to be intrigued by the opening scene, when the descriptions of a brutal, torturous act of punishment is at once juxtaposed by the eponymous main character's deep regret and compassion, especially since he was the one who so doggedly hunted down the condemned in the first place.
Indeed, Lucan Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him. As an officer of the Sun Chamber, the independent organization tasked with maintaining the peace and stability of the various kingdoms in the Royal Vispasian Union, he has traveled far and wide and acted as lawkeeper in many places across the land. Yet when news of his father's death reaches him at the start of this story, Drakenfeld is recalled to his childhood home of Tryum.
Unfortunately, our protagonist has scarcely settled into his new post when tragedy befalls Tryum's royal family. The king's sister Lacanta has been found murdered, and Drakenfeld is called in to investigate the case. But with the princess' body found inside an empty locked temple just minutes after she was last seen alive by numerous witnesses, the baffling circumstances around her death seem quite impossible. Furthermore, the rumors that she was struck down by sorcery and witchcraft certainly aren't helping one bit.
First of all, I was absolutely delighted to find a book like this! I'll admit, despite hearing it described as a "fantasy mystery", I had my doubts in the beginning, namely in the "Mystery" part of that combination. After all, I've read a lot fantasy in the past which have been lumped into this category (specifically, a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal) but only because they happen to contain a few elements of the genre like noir or crime. Don't get me wrong; I've been known to enjoy those kinds of books a lot as well, but it was still very exciting, the moment when I was reading Drakenfeld and realized that I was holding an actual bonafide whodunit murder mystery in my hands.
It only gets better. The book's fantasy setting is one rich with politics, religion and culture, with an atmosphere reminiscent of Ancient Rome. Mark Charan Newton's writing style is wonderful, bringing the world of Drakenfeld to life in a way that gives it an almost classical, literary feel. As a lover of epic and historical fantasy, I was in my comfort zone, even as the meat of the mystery plot unfolded.
But perhaps my biggest attraction to this book is the character of Lucan Drakenfeld himself. In a genre that has seen the rise of many anti-heroes and other darker, morally-ambiguous characters in recent years, I was actually a little taken aback to encounter someone like Drakenfeld. Put simply, our narrator is a good person. Not perfect, no; but he values life and law in equal measure. His code of honor, as I said, was something I was able to determine very early on, from his attitude towards crime and punishment in the opening scene. A genuine belief in the adherence to regulations combined with a respect for personal freedoms made him an intriguing character whom I knew I was going to love. Coming down from reading a lot of epic fantasy starring thieves, mercenaries and assassins as of late also made meeting Drakenfeld a refreshing change.
This is the first book I've ever read by Mark Charan Newton, but it certainly won't be my last. With its perfect blend of fantasy and mystery and an excellent cast of characters, Drakenfeld gave me one of the more unique reading experiences I've had this year, and I think those who enjoy both those genres will really like this one. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, definitely check this one out.(less)
I'd like to start this review off with some background information. So for the past year, I've been playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing survival horror game called The Secret World. The developers' description of it as a "dark fantasy" MMO is quite apt, due to its paranormal setting and the creepy mysteries-of-the-unexplained nature of the story and quests, heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. So that's why when a fellow gamer asked me for a book recommendation that has the same kind of vibe, my mind immediately went to Peter Clines' 14.
At the time, I hadn't read the book myself but I'd heard good things and knew from its description and others' reviews that it could be thematically and atmospherically similar to what my friend was looking for. A group of tenants living in a strange apartment building where bizarre things like strange light fixtures, wonky room temperatures, and mutant green cockroaches with extra legs are an everyday occurrence? The book definitely has that creepy-paranormal feel going for me.
Anyway, little did I know, in so many ways this book turned out even more like The Secret World than I could have possibly imagined. Those familiar with the game will know that there are certain types of quests called "Investigation Missions" that require the player to find facts and solve puzzles. That's pretty much how I saw this book. The main character Nate and his fellow neighbors gather to examine all the oddities they've found in their own apartments, and together they try to solve the mystery of the old Los Angeles brownstone they call home.
Overall this was a fantastic read, quite different in tone and subject compared to the author's other books that I've read and very much enjoyed, mainly the Ex-Heroes series. But the things I loved, such as Clines' light style and funny dialogue, are still all there. I've noticed he is excellent when it comes to writing about large ensemble casts. In the case of Ex-Heroes, it was his engaging and unique band of superheroes; in 14, it's the diverse group of tenants living in the strange Kavach Building. Clines gives them all distinct personalities even if at times they are a little cliched, and the conversations that result are always natural, witty and entertaining.
In terms of the story, I think some might find it slow to take off, particularly at the beginning and especially if you're expecting something more along the lines of pure horror. There are certainly horror elements in this book, but for the most part there's nothing too frightening. Is 14 scary? No, not really; there's nothing that would give me trouble sleeping anyway. But creepy and a bit unsettling? Definitely. This eeriness strengthens throughout the course of the novel with each new discovery of weirdness in Nate's building, every one of them adding to the atmosphere.
Beyond that, it's going to be hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away. I can't say I was a big fan of the ending, but after all that build-up everything does come to a head in a big, meaningful, almost overwhelming way. That, I can guarantee.
In general, 14 is a tough book to categorize, but think a mix of science fiction and fantasy with a dash of horror, with emphasis on mystery, paranormal, and topics relating to unexplained phenomena. It's a lot like the show Lost in this regard, but with a heavier dose of humor. A fun read all around, which held my attention from the first page to the last.(less)
Angry Robot may be one of my favorite speculative fiction publishers, but when it comes to their Mystery/Crime imprint Exhibit A, I have to say I'm pretty much clueless. Naturally, I was curious about their books, and Letters From a Murderer immediately caught my eye. After all, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres after science fiction and fantasy, and Jack the Ripper is the subject of another great book I read recently, and for that reason my interest in Ripper stories was still very much piqued.
However, there is one notable aspect about this Ripper story -- it takes place in New York, 1891. This was around the time when the string of brutal murders in Whitechapel and east London seemed to have stopped, leading authorities to speculate that the killer must have died, gotten arrested, or moved on. So when the book opens with a prostitute in New York found murdered in a similar way, uncomfortable questions are raised about whether or not the Ripper might have crossed the Atlantic.
While I know it's not exactly new, this idea is something I've personally never encountered before in a Jack the Ripper related novel. There are whole new dynamics at work here, admidst the complexities of the city's criminal underworld as well as dark secrets in the main character Finley Jameson's past. As one of the original English pathologists on the Ripper case, Jameson is teamed up with New York detective Joseph Argenti, and together they try to catch the murderer before he can claim more victims. The "Letters" in the book's title have a two meanings, referring to the messages the killer sends to the press taunting the police, as well as the symbols found carved onto the victims' bodies.
I enjoyed this, even though I'll admit I didn't fully appreciate the cleverness of the story until well into the book, when the major "twist" was revealed to shake things up. Before this, the book held my interest but did not exceed my expectations; the plot held a lot of the usual elements I would expect from a novel of this genre and type. In this historical mystery, the "history" takes more of a backseat as this is a mystery-thriller first and foremost, complete with gang violence and corruption, conspiracies and lies. Some of the characters fell into familiar archetypes, like the mob boss Tierney (evil and insane) or Jameson's assistant Lawrence (the troubled but brilliant intellectual). On the other hand, this can be seen as a postive if you prefer books that are reminiscent of classics like Sherlock Homes, as this one definitely has that vibe.
The best part, however, is something I can't really talk about much in my review for fear of spoilers, but the aforementioned dark secrets in Jameson's past have a lot to do with it. Suddenly, everything that came before in the novel held more significance and meaning, including the details I thought were just par for the course in Jameson and Argenti's investigation. For a book that I didn't think was going to surprise me, it sure threw me for a loop there, keeping me guessing and wondering and beating myself up for not realizing before that this was where the author was going.
Alas, that little side plot in the story was over all too quickly, but the remainder of the book set a much more rigorous pace, with an exciting mix of suspense and mystery as our investigators have to try and solve the puzzle and deal with Tierney's men at the same time. I thought everything unfolded naturally and came together very well at the end, and fans of crime fiction or historical mysteries will probably find lots to like about this one, especially if you have an interest in Sherlock-Holmes-style books or Jack the Ripper stories.(less)
Interestingly enough, well before this book came into my life, I'd happened to be browsing through the many publishing-related newsletters in my email inbox one day when a deliciously creepy animated gif banner in one of them caught my eye. In fact, it was an announcement for this very title, bearing the tag line:
"Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London. Now a new killer is stalking the streets, the victims' bodies are dismembered and their heads are missing...the killer likes to keep them."
It gets even more intriguing than that. The book's blurb also describes it as a supernatural thriller, and given my penchant for historical horror novels (particularly those featuring a paranormal angle) I just couldn't resist. So you can imagine my excitement when I received Mayhem for review from Jo Fletcher Books, and remembering that banner with its promise of a hunt for a serial killer in Victorian London, I needed little convincing to start this right away.
Still, Mayhem isn't really a story about Jack the Ripper. Between 1888 and 1891 there were a series of murders in or around the Whitechapel area, and the modus operandi of some of these were different enough that investigators theorized that they could have been committed by another person other than Jack. The idea of a separate "Torso Killer" in these "Thames Mysteries" is what forms the basis for this book, and in Sarah Pinborough's version of the events, he takes his victims' heads as trophies.
Though Jack the Ripper doesn't take center stage in Mayhem, his name and his crimes are referred to frequently, and his terrifying hold over East London is part and parcel to the creation of the setting. Establishing that there's the possibility of not just one but two killers stalking the streets creates this sense of dread that is pervasive throughout the novel. Because of the way the plot is set up, even when nothing suspenseful was happening on the page, the book always had me steeling myself in apprehension for something horrible to come along -- that's what a good horror novel does to me.
The supernatural aspect also helps in this regard; as I've said before in my past reviews, I like a touch of that in my horror. In Mayhem, it adds a whole new dimension to the story, making it a lot better than if this had been just a straight-up hunt for an ordinary mundane killer.
In spite of this, much in this book is rooted in reality. The author did her research, and even included events like the true instance of a reporter's dog used in finding a severed leg during the Whitehall Mystery. Also, a couple of the book's chief characters, like those involved with the investigations, were actual historical figures -- the police detective Henry Moore and the British physician Thomas Bond, for example. The latter comes closest to being our main protagonist, with his chapters being the only ones written in the first person, while the others are in the third person. Initially, I found this point-of-view switching to be quite bizarre, but ultimately it worked for me.
Reports from news articles about the killings are also interspersed between the narratives, which not only establishes the timeline but also provides historical context. A work of fiction this may be, but the book never lets you forget that the Whitechapel murders, their victims and their grisly circumstances (especially in the case of Mary Jane Kelly) had really occurred, that at least one insane and very real killer had actually once terrorized London's East End, and I think that's what unsettled me the most as I was reading.
This was a very dark tale, chilling and disturbing without being overblown or excessive. The atmosphere of tension is subtle and builds gradually, but things peaked for me during that terrible scene at the dinner table involving Dr. Bond's revelation. I didn't realize until then that I was just like him -- bracing myself for the inevitable macabre conclusion. This is highly recommended for those who like historical mysteries and crime fiction, particularly if you don't mind a little paranormal thrown into the mix. (less)
The book starts off with a suspicious death -- supermodel Lula Landry is found lifeless and broken in the snow, seemingly to have committed suicide by...moreThe book starts off with a suspicious death -- supermodel Lula Landry is found lifeless and broken in the snow, seemingly to have committed suicide by leaping off her balcony. Three months later, her brother John Bristow walks into the office of private investigator Cormoran Strike and tells him to look into the case, refusing to believe his sister took her own life.
The story that follows is what you would typically expect from a crime novel, with elements that are reminiscent of the classics. The reader will follow Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin as they chase down witnesses, take statements, and poke around for clues, and watch the pieces fall into place. This isn't my usual genre, and it was refreshing and fun to read something like this, knowing to keep alert for all the details because you never know which tidbits will eventually help solve the mystery.
J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith is again at her best when she's developing her characters, because in a book like this where the story is enjoyable yet does not contain anything terribly original, that's what really shines. Like many people, I was fond of the Harry Potter books growing up, but I was never really all that obsessed with them. In truth, after reading this and The Casual Vacancy, I actually think I prefer Rowling more when she's writing for adults. There's a raw quality and uninhibitedness there that makes the characters and their situations feel more substantial, and I find that a lot more satisfying.
Who can blame her for writing under a pen name, though; I always thought many reviewers were unfair to The Casual Vacancy, those hoping to find in it the same magic they'd experienced from her Harry Potter books, and instead became upset when hit with a dark, depressing and VERY mature-themed story. Personally, I went into that book pretending I'd never even heard of J.K. Rowling and ended up loving it. And so that's the same way I tackled The Cuckoo's Calling. As it is, it's quite a good crime/detective mystery novel, and does the job. She plays it quite "safe" with the plot, with no big twists or any unexpected developments in this typical whodunit story, but then that's also how I generally prefer my mystery novels. I was happy enough that it unfolded logically, and had a resolution that actually made sense. (less)
A Study in Silks was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Part steampunk historical mystery and part fantasy paranormal romance, I was initially dr...moreA Study in Silks was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Part steampunk historical mystery and part fantasy paranormal romance, I was initially drawn to the story's setting as well as its description of the main character Evelina Cooper as being the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes.
Eveline, however, is not solely defined by her famous uncle, and I liked how Emma Jane Holloway has given her character an exceptional background with which to distinguish herself. Thanks to her Granny Holmes, Evelina was plucked from a childhood of growing up with a traveling circus to be dropped into a world of lords and ladies, and here she must learn to live a life caught between two worlds.
But Sherlock Holmes' work has clearly also rubbed off on her, given how eagerly she aspires to follow in his footsteps. When a young servant girl is killed at the home of her best friend, Evelina does what she can for the investigation, going as far as to use her gift of the Blood, which allows her to communicate with minor spirits and recruit them to her aid.
At first glance, one would suppose there's a lot happening in this novel. In fact, one of the most noticeable features of the paperback when it arrived was how remarkably hefty it was. Coming in at more than 500 pages, it's much longer than I would have expected from a book of this genre and type, and my first assumption was that there would be a lot of world building.
In this, I suppose I was half correct. The setting is ambitious, definitely, in this world of steam barons, demons and devas, clockwork animals and automatons. A little too ambitious, maybe, seeing as I was left wishing more attention could have been given to both the steampunk and magical aspect, putting them in further context. I'd have loved to know more about the deva spirits, for example, beyond simply knowng that Evelina has the power to snare them in her mechanical toys and make them do her bidding.
The fact that A Study in Silks falls more heavily on the "paranormal romance" side of things might have something to do with this. Quite honestly, more emphasis in the story is given to providing juicy details about which character is fancying whom, rather than towards world building and setting up a murder mystery. In truth, if Sherlock Holmes were real he'd probably have a conniption fit over Evelina's methods. While I love her character, I don't actually think our heroine makes a good detective, as she often lets her emotional ties get in the way of her objectivity.
My take: The mystery plot spices it up well, but mainly check this book out if you like historical romance with a little fantasy thrown in, and extra bonus if you are a fan of delicious love triangles, which in itself provides a bit of suspense here. The book is definitely not without its merits, especially if you think you might enjoy the look into its elegant world of Victorian steampunk high society, complete with formal balls and debutantes.
What would you do if the world was going to end in a little less than three months?
Being a wimp, I’d probably hide in the basement closet with a comfo...moreWhat would you do if the world was going to end in a little less than three months?
Being a wimp, I’d probably hide in the basement closet with a comforter over my head, praying that it’s all a bad dream. Most likely I’d be depressed and wouldn’t be able to go about my everyday life like everything was normal. I definitely wouldn’t be like Hank Palace, the main character of this novel, because even with an asteroid hurtling through space towards earth threatening to wipe out all life on the planet, he’s still out there patrolling the streets trying to be the best damn policeman he can be.
Not that Hank’s even a policeman anymore; he’s been relieved of his duty, after what’s left of law enforcement in the country went through some major restructuring. In the time between Countdown City and the previous book The Last Policeman, things have gotten worse. Even the last vestiges of institution and pockets of civilization are starting to break down, with electricity gone now and water about to be next.
Hank, though, is still on the job, taking on a missing-persons case to find the husband of Martha Cavatone, the woman who used to be his babysitter. Much like he was in the last book, he becomes rabidly obsessed with the case, but is this merely due to his personal connection to Martha? Or it this just Hank’s own version of hiding in the basement under the covers? I get the feeling that beneath his focused exterior, he’s just as crazy with panic as everyone else. To me, this made him a very interesting breed of unreliable narrator.
Once again, I’m just floored by Winter’s interpretation of a pre-apocalyptic America. While I’ve read tons of apocalyptic novels, most of these take place after the destructive event has already happened, or they take place just before. Very rarely do you see a book like this where everyone knows the end is coming, but the catch is that it’s not coming for a while yet, and the world has to suffer through this plodding march towards doom like watching a slow death.
In circumstances like these, anything can happen, really. But the author makes it so realistic, showing a wide variety of human reactions to the killer asteroid. There’s Hank, who immerses himself in work, and there are also people like his sister, who still believes there’s hope and joins a commune. As you’d expect, there are also those who just lose it and commit suicide (thus giving us the basis of the first book) as well as a significant portion of the population that goes “Bucket List” (which forms an interesting theory for this book). As Hank notes, cases that seemed mundane under normal circumstances take on a whole different meaning in these new times, because there’s no such thing as “normal circumstances” anymore.
A police procedural set against a backdrop like this takes on a brand new twist – and I think this is the key to why I enjoyed this sequel more than its predecessor. The Last Policeman had a good story, but I felt the details of the case Hank worked on in that book had very little to do with the social climate or the situation with the asteroid. This book, however, has those elements all over his missing-persons investigation. It made the impending armageddon an integral part of the case rather than just the background. Clock’s ticking and it’s getting real now, and this book really makes you feel it.
Odd Thomas came highly recommended to me by many people, and which I found to be an interesting take on the "I see dead people" story. The eponymous p...moreOdd Thomas came highly recommended to me by many people, and which I found to be an interesting take on the "I see dead people" story. The eponymous protagonist is a 20-year-old short order cook whose unique ability to see and understand ghosts allows him to help the local police force solve crimes. Occasionally, he can even help prevent them before they happen. So when a mysterious visitor arrives in Pico Mundo trailing a pack of bodachs (wraith-like harbingers of death and destruction), Odd decides to investigate, and uncovers evidence that a terrible catastrophe is about to happen in his town.
I enjoyed this book, but also wished it gave me reason to like it more. There were many high points, such as the interesting cast of characters and the suspenseful themes which were nothing short of top-notch. And yet, there were also many areas in which I felt the book fell flat. I never managed to get truly engaged with the story, because every time things started heating up, they would slow down again or I felt the plot would suddenly veer off into another direction, thus negating any sort momentum. So often the narrative seemed to be building towards something, but then never quite gets there.
But I think the thing that bugged me the most was the ending, which I found very predictable. Still, being predictable alone wouldn't have bothered me so much, if Dean Koontz also didn't go to such great lengths throughout the entire book trying to convince me that "No, no, this isn't going to go the way you think, I promise!" and then essentially going "PSYCH! It WAS exactly what you think!" right at the very end. I found the storytelling very transparent and not very subtle at all. Still, like I said I enjoyed this well enough, and would be open to checking out the rest of the series.(less)
Something about this second book just didn't do it for me, despite the action and the twists and turns in the plot. In this sequel, Sandman Slim is pa...moreSomething about this second book just didn't do it for me, despite the action and the twists and turns in the plot. In this sequel, Sandman Slim is paid big bucks to be a bodyguard to Lucifer, who has come to Hollywood to make a movie of his life. The vampires and porn stars and zombies make this book sound wicked and glamorous as all hell, but to be honest, I had to really struggle to stay focused on the story.
Stark's background, which actually is actually quite original and unique for urban fantasy, had so enthralled me in the first book, but it's also not quite enough to hold a story together if it has a weak foundation in the first place. It didn't matter in the end how much action and badassery was thrown my way, it was all distraction and didn't really disguise the rather light plot. There's quite a bit of set-up for some major things happening later in this series, though, so I'll keep going and hope I'll have a better time with the next book. (less)
4.5 stars. Wow, I really liked this book -- everything from the story and the characters and the writing down to its stark yet elegant cover which fir...more4.5 stars. Wow, I really liked this book -- everything from the story and the characters and the writing down to its stark yet elegant cover which first drew my eye to its spot sitting on a store bookshelf. I blame my background in the biological sciences, since it seems I can't help but be intrigued by anything that looks like it has anatomical drawings on it.
As indicated by its title, the novel is told in the form of a memoir from the venerable Lady Trent, leading research and expert on the matter of dragons. But in the time her story takes place, she was known simply as Isabella Camherst, a newly married 19-year-old lady of Scirland in a society where women were still mostly restricted from taking up the scholarly pursuits. This book is an account of how her love for dragons and science manifested at a very young age, and how a serendipitous opportunity to join an expedition to study dragons changed her life.
How interesting could this book be, I initially thought to myself. Is this whole thing going to be about some fictional old lady waxing nostalgic about her life researching dragons? I think a part of me expected nothing but a collection of anecdotes. I also might have had it in my head that this was going to read like a fantasy version of something like Jane Goodall's Through a Window, except with dragons instead of chimpanzees.
In the end, none of what I thought came even close, because there actually was a plot, and a pretty good one at that. I was surprised to see there was a thread of mystery woven into the story: something strange is afoot in the host village Isabella and her companions are staying in, and on top of that, the native species of rock-wyrm has become prone to attack humans, which isn't their usual behavior. These are the questions that Isabella has to answer while their expedition is in the Vystrani Mountains.
Of course, there ended up being the anecdotes I'd been expecting too, but they mostly came near the beginning. I didn't like these as much as I liked the main story about the expedition, but they did give pretty good insight into Isabella's character and personality. I didn't care much for some of her childhood experiences because often she came across as too much of a brat, but I did love the story of how she met her husband Jacob. It was such a sweet, awkwardly romantic scene that I swear my eyes practically started watering up along with Isabella's when she burst into tears of happiness.
My favorite thing about the book, however, was its overall concept. I didn't think I was going to take to the writing style, what with the stuffy narration from the get-go, but it actually came across in a very natural way that was nowhere near as distracting as I'd expected. What struck me is that you could also easily contrast the young, impetuous and excitable Isabella in the memoir to the older, more mellow and experienced Lady Trent who is "writing", and still get the sense she retained all that determination and humor in her personality. I thought it was a cool way of presenting the novel, and Marie Brennan pulled it off perfectly.
Also, I've seen fantasy deal with the subject of dragons in many ways; sometimes they're the monsters for the heroes to kill, sometimes they're intelligent and have the ability to speak, forming partnerships with humans or even taking human shape, etc. However, I personally liked how this book tackled the matter by painting dragons as simply another kind of wild animal species, as well as the main character's biologist/naturalist perspective to want to observe and study them. Like I said, perhaps it's due to my own educational history and interest, but this aspect of the book really appealed to me.
This was just a great read all around, the experience made even better for me because it was such an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. To summarize: A very good book featuring an interesting concept, engrossing plot, and a refreshingly strong female protagonist.
Thank goodness I knew beforehand that the Vlad Taltos books aren't written in order of the timeline, or else I would have been really confused. This i...moreThank goodness I knew beforehand that the Vlad Taltos books aren't written in order of the timeline, or else I would have been really confused. This is the second book in the series to be published, but actually takes place before the first book, to the time when Vlad first meets his wife Cawti.
I really liked Cawti's character in Jhereg, and I was excited to find out she was going to have a much bigger role in this novel, based on its synopsis. So I was slightly let down when a third of the book breezed by and she still hadn't shown up; I think I was waiting with bated breath the whole time for that to happen. Eventually, amidst the Jhereg war that Vlad has started with rival Laris, she does make her appearance along with her partner-in-crime Norathar.
It was the high point for me, even though from the previous book we were told Vlad met Cawti while the latter was trying to assassinate him, so I knew what to expect. Despite that, it didn't diminish the scene in any way. A quote Vlad made from Jhereg still resonates with me, about how couples typically fall in love first then get married and spend the rest of their lives trying to kill each other, while with the two of them had it the other way around. I still chuckle when I think of it.
Still, the process of the two of them falling in love was really awkward, but somehow due to the book's style I suspect it was meant to be. It happened so quickly, with hardly any build up at all -- it seemed to me Vlad and Cawti literally jumped into bed after "Hello". Readers looking for elements of romance would be sorely disappointed, but then again Vlad doesn't seem like the type to be sentimental!
The story of the Jhereg war that started all this was very entertaining, at least, though there's a lot more the mystery angle in this book than the last. The breakneck pace of these novels means that sometimes the clues and the conclusions they lead to are sometimes hard to follow, especially since there are so much history and so many names thrown around. I think Yendi would have been more suspenseful if it hadn't been a "prequel" and we didn't already know how certain events played out, but this was another good read all in all, fast and fun.(less)
Dan Brown is outside my usual genre, but I've read all his books and found a few of them to be highly entertaining in the past, especially Angels &...moreDan Brown is outside my usual genre, but I've read all his books and found a few of them to be highly entertaining in the past, especially Angels & Demons and of course The Da Vinci Code. Still, I almost gave this new Robert Langdon book a pass. I was just way too disappointed in the train wreck that was The Lost Symbol, and to be honest, I probably wouldn't have picked up Inferno if not for the connection to Dante and his Divine Comedy.
Those who are no strangers to Dan Brown would not be surprised that this book starts off the same way as all his other books. Somebody dies in the first chapter, setting off a chain of events which would lead to global catastrophe unless Robert Langdon can solve the mystery and neutralize the threat by plundering his vast knowledge of "symbology" and art history.
But there is an extra bit of intrigue this time, as we appear to be thrust into the middle of an action plot that's already begun, with Langdon waking up a hospital room in Florence with a bullet wound to the head, a biohazard cylinder stitched into a secret compartment of his jacket, and no memory of anything he's done for the past couple of days.
Anyway, I didn't have much trouble rating this book, because even though I thought it was much much MUCH better than The Lost Symbol, I still didn't like it as much as Angels & Demons or The Da Vinci Code. First, there didn't seem to be as many of those puzzles and riddles that made the first two books so fun to read, and what was there felt half-hearted with answers so obvious that I couldn't help but think, is he even trying anymore? Second, there were moments where I had to check that I was actually reading the right book. You know, 'cause I thought I'd signed on for the new Dan Brown novel, not a guidebook for Italy.
Don't get me wrong, I like it when I learn interesting tidbits of trivia-type information even when I'm reading fiction, which I think was what made The Da Vinci Code such an enjoyable experience for so many people, including myself. I felt that those details about the art, the symbols, and the history in that book were worked in very naturally and more importantly in a way that kept the novel a page-turner. It was able to provide you with the information you needed without disrupting the flow of the story.
That wasn't so much the case in Inferno. Sections of the book's plot generally conform to the following basic pattern: 1) Langdon and whoever is helping him hurry off on a desperate quest to solve the latest puzzle, and 2) on the way, Langdon's or some other character's mind drifts off into a flashback sequence or some history lesson about Dante, architecture or art. This part usually goes on and on and on for quite some time before 3) something snaps them back to the present matter at hand, and Langdon or whoever repeats a clue for the umpteenth time to remind themselves (and presumably the reader) that they're supposed to be solving a damn mystery to, you know, maybe save the friggin' world here?
Some parts were way too drawn out because of this, and after a while it's like ENOUGH with the lengthy expositions and the info dumps already, you're totally killing my reading groove! I think Robert Langdon would be the world's most irritating conversationalist ever, because every casual exchange with him seems to end up with a tedious analogy or tangent about some art history factoid.
Still, I don't want to sound too harsh because other than that, the story was actually quite entertaining, in the usual Dan Brown kind of way. Admittedly it doesn't really get rolling until about after the halfway point since there's so much build up and explaining of things before that, but you can go in hoping for the thrills and the suspenseful plot twists you wanted and come out without being too disappointed. I don't expect much in terms of writing or character development when it comes to books like Inferno, but it definitely satisfied what it was supposed to by being a very fun read.(less)
Huge fan of Brandon Sanderson here, which is why I was all over this book even though I knew it would take place outside of his...moreFrom The BiblioSanctum.
Huge fan of Brandon Sanderson here, which is why I was all over this book even though I knew it would take place outside of his Cosmere universe and be a little different from his usual epics. I admit I was mostly curious as to what reading a young adult fantasy novel by him would feel like, since I've never read any of his Alcatraz series books for teens.
On the surface, it didn't feel too different, thanks to Sanderson's unique brand of world-building and magic system creation. The Rithmatist is about 16-year-old Joel Saxon who goes to school at the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of just a handful of Rithmatist schools in the United Isles of America. He is somewhat of an outsider at the school; unlike a lot of his fellow students who are the sons and daughters of politicians, the rich, or other people of influence, his mother is a cleaning lady at the academy, and his father, who died eight years ago in a springrail accident, was its resident chalkmaker. Neither is Joel a Rithmatist, though he desperately wishes to be one.
Rithmatists are a chosen group of magic users who can make chalk-drawn lines, circles and figures called Chalklings come to life and take on unique properties. They are trained at schools like Armedius, then sent on to the wilds of Nebrask where they defend humanity against hordes of dangerous and blood thirsty Wild Chalklings that threaten to overrun the territory. When several Rithmatists students go missing, Joel is assigned to be an assistant to Professor Fitch, the Rithmatist expert tasked to investigate the disappearances.
My first thought while reading this was that the writing is less subtle than I'm used to when reading Sanderson's adult books. Instead of the letting details of the magic system trickle through as you make your way through the plot, there were a couple of pretty big info dumps near the beginning where one character explains Rithmatics to another.
Even then, I didn't find the magic system or the world building to be as robust as it could be, though of course I'm not expecting Sanderson to go on in detail about such things in a young adult novel compared to the the way he does it in a 1000+ page fantasy epic. Still, I found myself asking a lot of questions about Rithmatics; it just felt like a magic system I could poke a lot of holes in without thinking too hard about it.
Rithmatics by itself sounds like a lot of fun, though. Is there something wrong with me that when I think about Rithmatist battles with their defense strategies and Chalklings, my mind immediately went to Pokemon? Or, okay, let's say Magic: The Gathering, or Starcraft, or really any kind of game which involves a fundamental set of rules, strategic gameplay, a combination of chance and skill, and limits that force a player to think quickly and creatively when trying to defeat their opponent.
For Rithmatists, the decision comes down to whether to spend the time drawing a strong defense, or mounting a fast and powerful offense. Despite my skepticism, it really is quite cool. The technical aspects like circles, lines, and ratios didn't interest me so much, but the idea of Chalklings attracted me more speaking from an artist's point of view, since I suspect passion and talent for drawing Chalkings will end up playing into their effectiveness. Obviously, I'm looking forward to seeing more on Chalking theory. Also, I have to mention I really liked the art and diagrams which preceded each new chapter in this book.
Basically, as YA fiction goes, this was amazing. It's like Brandon Sanderson took the crash course on how to write a good YA novel and threw in the works, complete with the teenage protagonist attending a school of magic in an alternate-reality-steampunky kind of world (with a whacked-out archipelago version of the United States and a Europe that has been taken over by invaders from Asia called the JoSeun).
There are even wonky things happening in this book like the lead investigator of a murder case simply taking a 16-year-old at his word, and of course the requisite potential for a romance along with the feel-good Karate Kid-like ending. Still, I loved it all. The last chapter and final scene was just so great, and I'm glad to see there will be future books in this series. Sanderson's flair for fantasy and writing about magic is as usual unparalleled and something you absolutely won't find anywhere else.(less)
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning f...morePosted at The BiblioSanctum
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning for Harry Dresden in light of the new direction the Dresden Files series has taken in the last few books, someone else has recently dethroned him as my favorite leading man in urban fantasy fiction. Peter Grant is my master now!
I'm really enjoying this series. I probably didn't like this book as much as the two preceding it, but then again, Rivers of London was excellent and the sequel Moon Over Soho was even better, so I knew that was going to be hard to top.
The story begins with a strange murder in the London Underground, and as usual, strange murders always lead to a call to The Folly, home of the Metropolitan Police's two-man paranormal investigative unit. And thus Peter is dragged into a messy case involving a dead American exchange student who is also the son of a rich and powerful U.S. Senator. Added to that is The Folly's ongoing manhunt for "The Faceless Man", the rogue wizard who wreaked havoc and almost got Peter killed in the last book.
Actually, I'd thought this book would take up that thread directly, following through on the mystery behind who The Faceless Man is and ending that story arc, but apparently not. It seems the author has plans instead to expand that particular plot line over the course of future books, an indication that the scope of this series will be getting bigger and bigger. I'm not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, I'm glad there are ambitious plans for these novels, but on the other, a part of me still prefers the one-contained-mystery-per-book-at-a-time kind of format.
Already, this book feels like there's a lot more happening in it than the others. With the exception of a couple scenes, the story didn't feel as suspenseful because the mystery was "diluted" amidst all that was going on. Maybe that's also why its chapters were organized into what happened by days of the week this time, to help keep track of all the events over time. There seems to be a lot more exposition as well, and sadly -- at least it feels this way to me -- less history about London and less of Peter experimenting with magic using science, which were the two things I'd loved best about the first two books. Actually, there's just not as much magic, period.
Despite that, there were some things I really liked about this book, not the least of all Lesley's bigger role in this series. I wasn't happy at all about what happened to her in the first book, and good to know she wasn't just some shallow, throwaway plot device never to have a more important purpose again. There are also a few scenes which I felt were done extremely well, especially a particular one near the end in the eerie confines of the underground tunnels. Very imaginative and atmospheric.
Anyway, I'm glad that I'm all caught up now, but unfortunately that also means it's going to be a long and difficult wait for the end of July, which is when the next book comes out.(less)
I don't know what it is about the Peter Grant series, but this is only the second installment and already I am completed addicted. I've not been a fan...moreI don't know what it is about the Peter Grant series, but this is only the second installment and already I am completed addicted. I've not been a fan of urban fantasy for very long, but over the years I have come to appreciate the particular brand of "fun and fluffiness" that's so characteristic of books like this. They're reliable entertainment -- I know even before I crack the cover that I'll have a good time, and I'm hardly ever disappointed.
As it happens, Moon Over Soho was even better than I expected, because I found I could hardly put it down once I started. The story begins just several months after the events of the first book Rivers of London/Midnight Riot, but police constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant is already called upon to investigate a series of curious deaths around the Soho area in the West End of London. It appears a troubling number of jazz musicians have been keeling over dead after their gigs, apparently from "natural" causes such as aneurysms or heart failure, but the discovery of thaumaturgical residue on the bodies makes Peter suspect magical foul play.
I was also surprised to see that a seemingly minor event from the last book, one I'd thought was originally thrown in at the end for some perverse comic relief, actually turned out to be the basis for another major plot thread in this novel. The details are a little disturbing and really much too outrageous to try to explain, so let's just leave it at that. I'd rather not spoil it, anyhow.
That said, while the adventures of Peter and his dry sardonic British wit (especially in his zinging of everything from the bureaucracy of the London Metropolitan Police to post-modern architecture) continue to delight and make me laugh out loud, there is definitely a darker, more sinister tone to this book. Not only are a few of the crime scene scenarios somewhat disturbing, there were also a few parts where I actually found myself downright creeped out -- but in the good, spine-tingling-edge-of-your-seat kind of way.
There are also a couple of traditions I'm glad to see this book continuing. The first is the ever phenomenal characterization of London as a charming, vibrant and multicultural city. The author likes to inject random and interesting facts about London's description, history, and people in the course of his storytelling, and all that attention to detail truly brings this magnificent city to life in these books.
The second is the "science" behind the magic. The magical systems and how they work in this series are still not very clear, and here the reader is almost as lost as Peter when it comes to trying to figure it out. Peter, however, persists in experimenting with his powers using logic and scientific theory, and even though some of his results and "explanations" make things even more confusing and harder to understand, I do like his unique approach and am interested to see how the series' concept of magic will continue to develop in future books.
Speaking of which, contrary to the first book which in my opinion wrapped up quite nicely, Moon Over Soho has the distinct feel of a "Part I". This series is definitely building into something bigger, and I can't wait to get my hands on the third book so I can find out what happens.
3.5 stars. This was a book I picked up for a couple of bucks in the Kindle store earlier in the week. I was immediately intrigued after taking a look...more3.5 stars. This was a book I picked up for a couple of bucks in the Kindle store earlier in the week. I was immediately intrigued after taking a look at the synopsis and seeing what it was about, and who can argue with that price, right? Anyway, now that I've read it, the next thing I'm going to say will probably make this review sound a little harsh, but know that it is not my intention because the book was actually quite good. Truth is, though, the blurb made the book sound a lot more interesting than it really is.
At its heart, The Last Policeman is a police procedural following new detective Hank Palace's investigations into a suspicious death by hanging. But there's a twist, because all the while there is a killer asteroid hurtling towards the earth, set to end all life on the planet when it impacts in six months. As you can already guess, there have been a lot of suicides since the news broke, which is why Hank seems to be the only person taking this case seriously.
The book is a fascinating interpretation of what the country would be like if everyone knew the end was coming. I find it's actually handled quite realistically; I mean, in a world of billions, it only makes sense that some portion of the population might give up, while others go crazy. Still others might become ambivalent to everything around them, quit work, start living dangerously or hit their bucket list to do everything they've ever wanted to do before the world ends. Humans are so unpredictable. They will react to different situations in very different ways. So really, it's not so unbelievable that there will also be folks like Hank Palace who just want to get on with their lives and give a hundred percent at their jobs like it was any other day.
For me, it was this pre-apocalyptic scenario that made the book so entertaining, not the actual detective story itself. The fun was reading about the general social climate of the country, the descriptions of how society is slowly breaking down, little pockets of order and civility holding on while everything else crumbles around them. People are now thrown in jail for life without trial for even the most minor of offenses. Churches are packed, cell phone coverage is spotty, commodities like gas, alcohol and certain food products are hard to come by. All this creates a context for the "whodunit" story that slowly unfolds, but at a certain point the setting became bigger than the mystery. Ironically, the world became more important to me than actually finding out about "whodunit".
That's not to say that the case itself wasn't interesting to follow. It's your classic mystery plot, well laid out and suspenseful, but quite honestly, without the background of doomsday and all that, I'm not sure that there's anything really that special about it. The book certainly wouldn't have held my attention as much as it did. I just wished there was more of the science-fiction aspect involved in the investigation of the case, with the scenario of the asteroid playing more into the mystery plot. As it is, I didn't get much of that until the very end, practically at the epilogue. The insufficient connection to the sci-fi angle left me somewhat underwhelmed.
Still, the book leaves enough potential for development. It was a very quick and easy read, which made me surprised when I found out that it is actually the first book of what I think is going to be a trilogy. It basically ends with a promise of much more to come. I'm definitely going to pick up the sequel because I'm dying to find out what happens, and something also tells me that the next book will have more of that sci-fi and apocalypse aspect in the mix.
Much appreciation and thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC copy of Seduction, which is probably one of the most haunting...moreMuch appreciation and thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC copy of Seduction, which is probably one of the most haunting and evocative books I've ever read. The expected publication date for this title is May 7, 2013.
As a big fan of the fantasy and historical fiction genres, I have to say I love it whenever I come across authors who experiment with ways to incorporate elements from both in their stories. Seduction definitely fits the bill. The book is not your typical historical novel in that much of it actually takes place in the present. Its plot also contains a pretty hefty paranormal component.
Events in the book unfold through a couple different storylines. In the present day, mythologist Jac L'Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey--where famed novelist Victor Hugo once lived for several years during his time as a political exile--in the hopes of studying the island's Celtic history with her old friend Theo Gaspard. Interspersed through her story are chapters from Hugo's secret diary in which he chronicles his grief at the death of his daughter in a drowning accident, as well as his subsequent obsession with contacting her spirit by participating in hundreds of séances. These separate narratives are interwoven to form an intricate tale of mystery and suspense, linking together these characters and perspectives separated by more than a century and a half.
What I love best about this novel is its unique and unusual blend of aspects from so many genres. Seduction is the latest in a series of books called The Reincarnationist, which centers around topics related to paranormal phenomena as well as spiritual themes like past lives and the idea of an immortal soul. At its heart, the book can be considered a mystery novel, with the aforementioned historical fiction and fantasy elements. But it also has a bit of horror in it too. Quite a few scenes unsettled me and sent chills down my spine, especially the ones involving Victor Hugo's séances and his encounters with a malevolent spirit implied to be the devil himself, called the Shadow of the Sepulcher. There's a spooky vibe throughout the whole book for sure, which are enhanced by the rich details the author gives of the old architecture and the ethereal beauty of the sea and caves on Jersey.
So much seems to be going on in this novel. Maybe too much. Granted, it all comes together in the end, but the book started slow while it attempted to establish all the characters and the setting. It also made for a rather scattered reading experience trying to keep track of what's going on in the present as well as in the past, and things only get even more muddied with Jac's visions and the addition of a third side storyline partway through the novel.
Not to mention, Jac's character has a pretty complicated history to think about as well. The book touches upon her psychological disorders and troubles with hallucinations, which is what led her to befriend Theo when they were teenagers being treated at a Swiss clinic together, but there is also so much about her past that doesn't seem to be explored much. To be fair, my guess is that a lot of this was probably covered in The Book of Lost Fragrances, the book that came before this one, in which Jac is also the main character. However, I did have to wonder if we really needed so much about her pining for her past lover. All the references to him and what they shared, heartbreaking as they were, felt a bit superfluous, since none of that had to do with the story at all.
In any case, despite all that, Seduction can definitely be read as a standalone. If you're like me, you might even be tempted to pick up the previous book, to find out more about Jac L'Etoile who makes her living as a TV mythologist, but actually comes from a long line of famous French perfumers. In fact, her character's experience with making perfumes and identifying scents is what probably gave me a whole other level of appreciation for this book.
Like I said, M.J. Rose is fantastic with the details she puts into describing the setting, but truly it's her description of scents and odors as a main storytelling device that really struck me. I've never thought much about smells in the books I read, until this one came along. It's very effective when used here, too. Since olfactory triggers can often make the mind conjure up very clear imagery and activate vivid memories, this makes it perfect for Seduction which deals so much with remembering and reliving past lives. Overall, I felt this novel was very cleverly written and put together, and that's just one of many reasons.(less)
Before I begin, I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a Netgalley advanced copy of this kooky little book which certainly doesn't hide i...moreBefore I begin, I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a Netgalley advanced copy of this kooky little book which certainly doesn't hide its intentions to provide pure and unadulterated comedic entertainment. It's quite cheekily successful at it too, if I may say so myself! This book will be available on April 29, 2013.
The basic premise behind Club Monstrosity is the question, What if all the monsters and paranormal creatures that have ever been featured in our favorite books and movies are actually real and living in secret amongst us? Our protagonist Natalie is one such monster -- a Frankenstein's Monster, in fact -- living in New York City. Twice a week, she gets together with other monsters in her Monstofelldosis Anonymous support group in a church basement to talk about all the difficulties faced by your average everyday misunderstood monster, just trying to make it in the big city.
Within their little circle are characters like Dracula AKA Drake the vampire, Kai the Egyptian princess mummy, Alec the fun-loving werewolf, Dr. Jekyll and his brother/other self Mr. Hyde, and Linda the swamp creature. Perhaps unsurprisingly, meeting topics typically revolve around trying to blend in as normal people and not freak out the populace -- that is until one day when their usual group leader Bob the Blob goes missing and Ellis the Invisible Man turns up dead, killed by an angry mob in the same way his character meets his end in the H. G. Wells classic. Suddenly, Natalie and the other monsters find themselves hunted, targeted by a killer bent on taking out their kind by using their own "stories" against them.
Books like these are my go-to for a fun-filled, laugh-inducing read. They may fall short on character development and descriptions (for example, this one seems particularly fond of using the adjective "stupid" a lot) but they make up for that with action and humor. Right from the start, the book boldly plays up the monster tropes and references with plenty of pop culture jokes, often putting the characters in deliciously ironic situations. Natalie the Frankenstein's monster, for example, works at the city morgue as an autopsy assistant. I mean, that's pretty awesome and just the right amount of twisted at the same time.
Whether it's fairy tale re-tellings or in this case providing a satirical take on our beloved literary and movie monsters, I always enjoy it when I see authors attempting different and imaginative spins on classic concepts. All in all, this was a funny and entertaining murder mystery starring a motley crew of eccentric characters, with even a romance thrown in for those who enjoy a cute little love story. Recommended for paranormal fiction fans who are looking to take a break with something fun, easy and light-hearted.(less)
Note: This book is AKA Midnight Riot in the US. Review originally posted at The BiblioSanctum.
I didn't even get past a quarter of the way through thi...moreNote: This book is AKA Midnight Riot in the US. Review originally posted at The BiblioSanctum.
I didn't even get past a quarter of the way through this book before I thought to myself, "Okay, this one is totally going on my 'favorites' shelf." In a word, it was fun. So, so fun. I really can't think of any other book in recent memory that has made me laugh out loud so much.
It definitely helps if you're a fan of the kind of paranormal action-adventures by Jim Butcher or similar authors, but somehow, I think even non-readers of the urban fantasy genre would enjoy this book. First of all, I don't even know if "urban fantasy" would most accurately describe it, as there is also so much of the book that sets it apart and makes it an original and refreshing read.
I suppose it's best to describe Rivers of London as a police procedural mixed with a heavy dose of the supernatural, topped with a dash of dark comedy, mystery and action. The book features Peter Grant, a London Metropolitan Police constable fresh out of probationary hoping to be assigned a decent permanent post, until one day while working on a case he finds himself encountering a ghost. His impromptu interview with the dead witness brings him to the attention of detective Thomas Nightingale, who is also a wizard and the only member of the Met's little-known paranormal investigative unit. Peter becomes Nightingale's apprentice, and soon the two are running all over the city trying to solve a series of murders involving exploding faces.
The book is also almost like a love letter to London. Rich descriptions of the city's history, landmarks and architecture fill its pages, instilling everything with feeling and practically making the setting itself a character all its own. And I haven't even gotten around to talking about all of the rivers in and around London being personified as semi-divine spirits, which I feel is probably one of the most unique and defining concepts in the novel.
As the main protagonist and narrator, Peter Grant pretty much single-handedly made this book amazing for me. I love his dry British wit. I love the unruffled way he approaches weird X-Files moments like ghosts and exploding faces with nothing more than a shrug and a c'est la vie. I love the fact that he is inherently a "good guy" who wants to be a policeman for the right reasons. I love that he tries to approach magic with a scientific mind.
It is that last point about Peter that really resonated with me, because I'd like to think I would react much the same way in his shoes. Also, it is the "science-y" bits in Rivers of London that in my opinion roots the story more to reality than a lot of other books in the genre. That said, sometimes the magic system still has that unfinished, not-entirely-developed feel to it, but I imagine this will be further explored in subsequent novels in the series. Speaking of which, I'm off to find the sequel.(less)
So every once in a while, I'll come across a book that's just so extraordinary and bizarr...more3.5 Stars This review originally posted at The BiblioSanctum.
So every once in a while, I'll come across a book that's just so extraordinary and bizarre that I find myself struggling for the right words to describe it. I both love and hate it when this happens. Love, because chances are it's probably something really unique, and as a reader it's always a joy to find a book that surprises me. Hate, because chances also are I would also be completely torn as to how to rate it.
Man in the Empty Suit is one of these books. Even now I find it hard to sort out my feelings for it. The intellectual theorist in me has her mind blown and wants to praise this book for daring to be different and a little strange, for having the guts to spit into the face of time travel paradoxes and say, "I just don't give a damn." The casual reader in me, however, feels there's something integral missing from the experience.
The book's description about its time traveling protagonist was what initially caught my attention. Every year, our narrator travels to a dilapidated New York City hotel in 2071 (the 100th anniversary of his birth) to party it up with all the versions of his past and future selves. And every year, it's the same -- until the year he turns 39 and becomes "The Suit", named for the dapper outfit he wears to the celebration. This time, the unexpected happens. He discovers "The Body", the 40-year-old version of himself, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Clearly, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong here.
From that brief summary, I figured I was going to be in for an easy, light and humorous read, but it turned out this book wasn't what I thought it would be at all. Sure, it has its funny moments, and while its relatively short length means that it shouldn't take you longer than a few days to complete, this book was also more cerebral than I expected. I remember telling a friend of mine that if you're the sort of person who likes debating brain-melting plot holes and time paradoxes in movies like Looper, then this book might be for you. Or, you know, maybe not. On the other hand, it probably has just as much potential to utterly frustrate you and make you want to tear out your hair.
I think on some level, even when things seemed to make sense, I had to accept while reading this that ultimately the story would go where it wanted, and that the author had purposefully taken certain time travel tropes and turned them all on its head. Some of the paradoxes went far beyond what I was willing to ponder, but I was also more than happy to sit back and go with it. I've been told many times by friends that that's probably the best attitude to adopt if you want to enjoy time travel stories. That definitely applies here.
Still, something prevented me from embracing this book completely. I believe it was the lack of context the story provided. I felt like I was thrown into the narrator's world without any explanation as to who he is or where he came from or when he came from or how he got there and what is going on. The book's NYC in the future is a very strange place indeed, but we have no idea why it is that way, why everything in the city seems rundown and abandoned, why its citizens live the way they do. There were just so many questions, so many gaps left unfilled. We don't even get to know the time traveler's real name.
I suppose in the bigger scheme of things, none of that stuff matters or is central to the plot. This book is about our main character trying to puzzle out the murder of his future self at his party and not about his time traveling adventures (though, more about his various trips through time would have been interesting), or how he built his time-traveling raft in the first place. I totally get that. Still, knowing more of the details would have gone a long way for me to ground myself to the story.
That was the main thing that bothered me. Otherwise, this book probably deserves a lot more attention than it has gotten, more praise than I have given it. Like I said, it was very difficult for me to rate this, and I have to wonder how much of that is due to its esoteric nature. However, in spite of everything, I have to say I admire and love the way Mr. Ferrell played with the time travel idea in a fun, clever and different way, and yet somehow still made it all work. Very impressive.(less)
Whoa, this was dark. And also fun. It's got that whole "I don't give a fuck" attitude emanating off of it in droves, and you know what? I actually kin...moreWhoa, this was dark. And also fun. It's got that whole "I don't give a fuck" attitude emanating off of it in droves, and you know what? I actually kinda liked that.
I've read more urban fantasy in the recent months than I have in years. I like the genre; I admit it's grown on me. But sometimes, I just need an urban fantasy fix that doesn't involve any messy paranormal romances with werewolves, vampires, or faeries, you know what I mean? Sandman Slim was the perfect break from that, with its gritty story about demons and fallen angels and a main character who, like in most urban fantasy books starring a male protagonist, is hilarious and always armed with a treasure trove of pop culture references and creative metaphors.
Stark is also so angsty and full of rage that I'm actually kind of worried if I'd be able to take it if he remains this curmudgeon-y for the rest of the series. I am still picking up the next book though, no doubt about it.(less)