review: buried memory

Buried Memory by Adam J. Wright (2016)

I went back for a second helping of Adam J. Wright’s urban fantasy series, Harbinger P.I. and was not disappointed. Buried Memory is certainly an appropriate title that links all of the strands of the story’s plot. It’s about Alec’s buried memories and the physical representation of buried memories—the dead interred in their graves. While I will do my best not to spoil too much, be warned that you need to read this series in order. If you like urban fantasy novels that feature private investigators, give this series a try. The first book in the series is Lost Soul, and you can read my review here. As of this writing, both Lost Soul and Buried Memory are available for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, so if you’re on a budget but have this subscription, you can “read for free”.

Buried Memory picks up about two weeks after the beginning of Lost Soul, and so not much time has passed since the end of book one. First thing you want to know about this book—a lot happens, particularly in the second half of the book. If you like your fiction to be fast-paced with reveals you didn’t really see coming and that leave the main characters in a much different place from where they started the story, you’re going to like this book. Second thing you need to know is that while a lot happens in the book, the first half of the book may seem a little slow and like the plot doesn’t really know where it’s going. Trust me on this. You don’t want to stop reading. Keep going. You will not regret it and your patience and investment in the story will be rewarded. Continue reading

review: skin and bones

Skin and Bones by Susan Harris (2016)

Skin and Bones is the first book in Susan Harris’ urban fantasy series, The Ever Chace Chronicles. Before you have a chance to read the blurb teasing the story, the first thing appearing in the back cover copy is a pronouncement identifying the book as a “2017 RONE award nominee for best paranormal romance!”. Not going to lie—after I read the description of the story, the suggestion that this book is part of the paranormal romance genre was the gentle push I needed to download the book and give it a try. Do not be fooled like I was—this is not a romance novel. Yes, there is a love plot, but it’s definitely not the A plot. Paranormal suspense is probably a better descriptor of the book’s genre. This is not to say that, once my expectations were adjusted, I didn’t enjoy reading the book. I just didn’t get what I thought I was getting, and while that is sometimes a good thing (like when you get even more than what you were expecting or you get something you didn’t even know you wanted and it was totally awesome), Skin and Bones presented a few other challenges that were difficult for this reader to overcome. Continue reading

review: lost soul

Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright (2016)

Have you ever downloaded a sample of a book, gotten a couple of pages in, and decided to take a pass? Then, months later you give the sample another, dive in, and devour the book? Well, this is what happened to me with Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright. If you’ve seen the book and haven’t decided whether or not you should give it a try, my five cent recommendation is to take a chance and give it a read. If you like urban fantasy featuring a private detective-type main character, or if you are looking for a new series to read, then this book checks a lot of boxes. I’m disappointed this book isn’t available from my local library, but it was certainly worth the withdrawal from this month’s book budget.

The protagonist of Lost Soul is Alec Harbinger, a preternatural investigator banished from Chicago and sent to work in Dearmont, a tiny town in Maine. Alec works for the Society of Shadows, an organization that has its roots in 17th century England. His job is to investigate preternatural threats and solve them. The Society has offices in cities around the world, and though they don’t exactly hide what they do, the majority of the population doesn’t believe in the existence of the supernatural and looks skeptically upon Society investigators. This has the effect of making Alec an outsider, marginalizing him to the fringes of society, and placing him in the long line of protagonists similar to the archetypal hardboiled private eye.

As a character, Alec is fairly ordinary (or at least, that is how he seems right now). He’s not immortal, he doesn’t have any odd idiosyncrasies, he’s not super-flawed or morally grey, he’s not dark and tortured. He’s a likable guy. He’s normal within a world where the paranormal is real. In that way, he’s easy to relate to as a character. What drives him, what he wants most, is to protect unsuspecting people from falling prey to the supernatural creatures walking among them. He wants to do good, and yet he finds himself in opposition to the very Society he works for, which may or may not care about doing what is good and right. Alec resents being stationed in Dearmont and misses Chicago, and as the story begins to unfold, we learn that the reason for his reassignment stems from something that happened while he was in Paris, though it’s a while before the details are revealed (and I won’t spoil them here!). Suffice it to say, this bit of backstory sets up what I expect to become one of the through-lines of the series.

Alec doesn’t expect Dearmont to be a hotbed of supernatural activity, an assumption proven wrong early in the story. How refreshing is it to have a little town in Maine as the primary setting for this series? It’s almost to the point of being a cliche to find urban fantasy series set in New York, Los Angeles, London or even Chicago, and that gets to be imaginatively boring after a while (at least for me it does, and yes, I get that I’m talking about “urban” fantasy). I really appreciate Wright’s decision to set the story in an unconventional location on the map, and I’m hopeful that as the series progresses, the setting will provide a whole gamut of interesting characters and challenges that a big city setting can’t offer. Even though Wright didn’t choose a metropolis for the setting of his story, he is still working in the same tradition of hardboiled detective fiction familiar to readers of the genre, only he takes it down the path that anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work will recognize—a small town that on the outside looks idyllic and wholesome, but underneath the surface lurks the ugly underbelly of humanity.

But of course it’s not just about the protagonist. Overall, it’s a good supporting cast. Each character has potential in his/her own right, but each character also reflects different sides of Alec, showing us who he is and what he cares about. The Society has assigned Felicity Lake to be Alec’s assistant, and while she’s working for him, she can also complete the year of training necessary for her to become a preternatural investigator herself. She’s also there to spy on him for the Society. There’s also Mallory Bronson, who’s been friends with Alec for a few years. Mallory is a “Final Girl” (a term I was not familiar with until reading this book, but then, I don’t watch a lot of horror movies ). As a teenager, she was at a party where everyone was massacred by an assailant called Mister Scary. Now Mallory’s sole mission is to find him and end him, and she puts that mission above everything else in her life. We also meet Leon Smith, a young man Alec encounters as he tries to solve the case his first client in Dearmont brings his way. Leon is new money and good at anything involving computers (yes, he’s your requisite “tech” character). He’s bored and jumps at the chance to help Alec when he needs it. We’ve also got Alec’s absent father, Thomas, who I’m sure will pop up again in future books and seems to be one of the characters with whom Alec will be in conflict as the series continues.

Sheriff John Cantrell also looks to be a conflict character. What is up with the antagonistic law enforcement character that seems to be pervading every urban fantasy series I pick up? I am seeing that trope with greater prevalence these days and I’m bored with it. And yet I understand why this character keeps reappearing. One, it’s a way of adding conflict to the story and another kind of antagonist for the protagonist to have to deal with. This character generally ups the stakes for the protagonist and puts him/her into some sort of peril. Two, it follows in the hardboiled tradition of law enforcement being corrupt and underscores the need for the protagonist to continue doing his job and in doing so, protect the community, sometimes using any means necessary. So while I’m not a fan of this kind of character, I understand the reason for his/her existence, and in this series we’ve got Sheriff John Cantrell.

The more time I spend writing this review, the more I realize how much I liked this book. It marries two of my favorite genres—urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction. I definitely recommend reading Lost Soul, especially if you’re like me and have trouble finding new urban fantasy series you can enjoy and don’t feel the same as everything else in the genre.

Have you read Lost Soul? What did you think?

review: maggie get your gun

Maggie Get Your Gun by Kate Danley (2011)

This is the second book in Kate Danley’s Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. If you haven’t read the first book, Maggie for Hire, click here for a review and keep reading at your own risk. Spoilers ahead!  Did you want to know if you should still keep reading this series if you’ve only sampled the first book? Yes, you should.  Danley has written another fun and fast-paced adventure with a strong lead and supporting cast.

Maggie Get Your Gun picks up about two weeks after the end of Maggie for Hire.  Life has gotten back to what relatively passes for normal for Maggie—she’s still working as a magical tracker for hire, and she’s now back to doing it in partnership with her father.  Except, at the beginning of the story, Maggie’s father is out of the office on a long weekend getaway trip with Maggie’s mother.  Left alone to hold down the fort, Maggie decides to take on the case brought to her by a new client, Isaac Smith, who tells her that he knows her father.  Smith wants to hire Maggie to retrieve a lady’s hair comb that he left behind on Earth in a place near Las Vegas called Calico Ghost Town.  Maggie senses that Smith isn’t telling her the full story, but when Smith offers to pay her a hefty sum to locate the comb and bring it back to the Other Side, she agrees to the take the case.  With her father out of town and not answering his phone, Maggie decides to enlist Killian, the elf, as backup.  The pair travels to Calico Ghost Town and once they retrieve the hair comb, they discover that it does have magical properties—namely, rising the dead from their graves and turning them into mummies.  Once Maggie realizes that she has been effectively hired to smuggle the comb across the border between worlds (a crime that world walkers like Maggie often become entangled in and for which she could lose her license to move between worlds) she decides to confront Smith and force him to reveal his true reasons for wanting the comb.

I am still very much a fan of Maggie as a character.  She is smart, strong, and funny.  One of the things we learn about Maggie in this book is that she’s always been afraid of ghosts, a fear she’ll have to overcome in order to defeat the primary antagonist of the story.  We also learn that she worries about falling into the trap of becoming a smuggler, which is portrayed as being the common fate and downfall of many world walkers. These are a couple of the insights we get into her character during this adventure.  Not many, and there is not a significant amount of development or growth for her character, but there is enough to keep her interesting and me wanting to continue to follow her through more investigations.

Like in Maggie for Hire, the supporting cast adds depth to the story and is one of the series’ strengths.  Maggie’s twin sister, Mindy, returns, as do her mother and father, Killian, Pipistrelle (the brownie who now protects Mindy and doubles as her housekeeper), and Xiaoming.  Though Maggie herself doesn’t show a lot of change in this story, there is development in her relationships with the supporting characters.  By the end of the story, her relationships with her father and Killian change, and Mindy has also demonstrated that she’s a little bit different than she was before.  In Maggie Get Your Gun, what you have is a family that fights together to save the world, helped along by some friends they make along the way.  If you are a fan of Supernatural and like the family dynamic of that show (Sam and Dean, along with their chosen family—Bobby, Castiel, Jo and Ellen, Jodie) then I think you will like this book because it has that sort of feel to it (I also think that if you’re a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, you’ll also like this series).  In addition to Maggie’s friends and family, the Big Bad of the series so far—Vaclav, the vampire that wants Maggie dead—also makes a return in this book.  For this reason, I recommend that the books definitely be read in order for maximum enjoyment.  This isn’t the kind of series where you can skip around or skip books and not be confused about what’s going on.

I enjoyed this book and will continue to read more of this series.  Maggie’s first-person narrative style is engaging and holds my interest and attention, and yet another strength of the narrative style is that unlike so many first-person stories I have sampled lately, there isn’t endless narration with no real conversation or interaction with the other characters in the story.  We’re not just alone in Maggie’s head while she tells us what happened and what everyone else did.  Maggie is telling the story, but the supporting characters are right there with her, acting and reacting.  And for my friends with a book budget—this one wasn’t available from my library but it was worth every dollar.  If you haven’t tried this series, you should, and if you read the first book, keep reading! I definitely will.

Have you read Maggie Get Your Gun or any other books by Kate Danley? What did you think?

review: the grendel affair

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin (2013)

Have you seen The Librarians or Bones? The Grendel Affair feels a lot like those shows, but with supernatural elements. This is the first book in Shearin’s SPI Files series and it could easily be viewed as a kind of pilot episode for the series itself. We are introduced to the main characters that will make up the crime-solving team whose purpose is to protect humanity from the supernatural baddies stalking the underbelly of the world. Like you would expect, we don’t get to know to know too much about any one character, but by the end of the story, there’s the expectation that as this series unfolds, more will be revealed about each member of the team and the supporting cast. But as with any pilot episode—and more to the point, any first book in a series—the characters have to grab you, drag you into their world, and make you want to stay there with them. I’m not convinced that this particular Scooby gang succeeds.

Let’s start with the main protagonist. The story is told through the first-person point of view of Makenna “Mac” Fraser. Mac is relatively new to SPI (Supernatural Protections & Investigations) and the talent that makes her unique as well as placing a perpetual target on her back is her ability to see beneath the glamours, veils and disguises that supernaturals are able to draw over their features and make themselves appear to be human. This ability makes Mac a Seer, a rarity in the world Shearin is building and as such a highly valuable asset to the SPI team. Given that she’s still new to the team, though, Mac is still learning how to navigate the ins and outs of her new job, and though her talent isn’t new, putting it to use is. She’s not an uninitiated innocent that doesn’t know about the hidden world of the supernatural, but she is at a starting point in the series where she has a lot to learn and tons of room for character development and growth. The problem with Mac, at least in this first book, is that she’s not compelling enough. Yes, she has her struggles in terms of fitting into this new world of SPI, but other than the fact that she’s a Seer and the promise that this will likely put her life in danger again and again, there weren’t any glimpses or teases that there’s anything interesting lurking in her backstory. Mac is normal. Maybe too normal.

Which brings me to the supporting cast. Mac’s partner is Ian Byrne, formerly an NYPD detective. She’s not really sure if Ian really likes her or sees her as an equal member of the team, and worries that he thinks of her as someone to babysit. From early on in the novel, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding Ian, as Mac runs into someone she doesn’t know but who clearly knows her and asks her to send his regards to her partner, whom she identifies by name. Then near the middle of the book, Ian relates the event from his past that caused him to leave the NYPD and start working for SPI, adding another layer of interest to his character. Ian doesn’t have any supernatural talents, but he knows how to strategize and soldier. He’s a protector (and yes, maybe that’s why I’m so drawn in by him as a character) but he’s also clearly not a plain vanilla character. Another key member of the supporting cast is Vivienne Sagadraco, the founder of SPI and director of the New York office. Like her name is intended to suggest, Sagadraco is a dragon (cue references to the “dragon lady”) and as the plot develops, it becomes clear that she, too, has a compelling backstory that will come back to haunt her present and impact the team as a whole. It’s also clear that Sagadraco could become the mentor-type figure for Mac, supportive but authoritative, cautious but encouraging. Then there’s Sagadraco’s right-hand man, Alain Moreau, a vampire who is also the lead counsel for SPI (cue references to the “blood-sucking” lawyer). He doesn’t have a big role in the story, but when he does appear it’s with the sense that at some point in this series, he will be featured more prominently and that Moreau is definitely much much more than he seems. Rounding out the cast are Yasha, a werewolf; Calvin, a human who agent who is good in battle; and Kenji, the computer/tech wizard. The problem that Ian and Sagadraco pose is that they are far more interesting than Mac, the perceived protagonist. I can imagine myself picking up the second book in this series just to see how the characters develop, but at the same time it’s not a book I’m going to rush to download or add to my to be read list.

Shearin has chosen New York City as the setting for her series, and no offense to the New Yorkers out there, but once again I find myself rolling my eyes and shaking my head at this choice. Though popular culture wants me to believe it, NYC really isn’t the only city in the world. At the same time, I do have to admit that the choice of New York City is a good one for this particular story. In order to “save the day” Mac and Ian must stop the antagonist of the story from revealing the existence of the supernatural community before the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Aside from the setting, there isn’t a great deal of world-building in the first book in this series, but again, I’m willing to chalk that up to this being the equivalent of the pilot episode of a new series. The point here is that thus far, there’s nothing unique or new about the world Shearin presents, which means you’ll feel at home if you’re a frequent reader of urban fantasy but that there’s also the potential for being bored. For new readers of the genre, it is a good entry point that isn’t so complex that you’ll be put off or alienated.

Is The Grendel Affair a satisfying read? Yes, but I’m not sure I would take the next step and say that it was hard for me to put down or that I was fully engaged throughout the story. It was average, not by any means the worst of the category but not an exemplar, either. Considering that I’ve always got my eye on my book budget and want to make the most of my book dollars, I’m not inclined to read the next book in this series any time soon. If you’re looking for urban fantasy that is similar to what you’d find in the cozy mystery genre, this one might be for you; however, if like your urban fantasy to be populated by characters with haunting backstories and a world that is a bit more dangerous and threatening, then take a pass on this one.

Have you read The Grendel Affair or any other books by Lisa Shearin? What did you think?

review: maggie for hire

Maggie for Hire by Kate Danley (2011)

Looking for a new urban fantasy series featuring a female protagonist as the main character? May I suggest Maggie for Hire, the first book in Kate Danley’s Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. Even for this slow reader it was a quick read, and I’ve already added the second book in the series to my to-be-read list—which, if you come here regularly, you know is my litmus test for the first book in a series. Here’s what you’ll get if you give this series a try: an engaging protagonist surrounded by a strong supporting cast, operating in a world that is familiar enough to be comfortable but also different enough to offer some surprises. I happened to get the first book in the series for free, and I don’t see that they are available from my local library, but they are reasonably priced and I will buy them without a moment of buyer’s remorse.

The story is told from Maggie’s first person point-of-view (POV), and the setting is Los Angeles. Maggie is a magical tracker, the equivalent to your garden variety bounty hunter. She tracks down skips who are from the Other Side. These Other Siders are not human, and they have either overstayed their visa permitting them to travel through an official portal to Earth, or they have travelled to Earth through an unofficial portal. When we first meet Maggie, she is fighting a vampire. Just before she stakes him, the vampire delivers an ominous warning—that Maggie has a bounty on her head. This opening is merely that—a prelude to the real catalyst of the story, which comes in the form of Killian, an elf who has been sent by the Queen of the Elves to ask Maggie for help. She agrees to help Killian, and the adventure begins.

I don’t know about you, but an unappealing main character will make me put a book down and abandon it faster than any other element of the story. Maggie MacKay shares similarities with other protagonists you’ll find in this genre, but the good news is that she’s not a carbon copy of another character, derivative and unoriginal. Maggie is an engaging narrator, amusing and sassy, real in the way the best fictional characters always are. Something we learn about Maggie right away is that her father was from the Other Side and her mother is from Earth. Her father was a powerful “world walker,” someone who could open a portal between Earth and the Other Side by simply ripping a hole in the fabric of the border separating the two. Maggie has inherited this gift, and it’s because of this ability that she’s able to do the job she does. The other thing that is different about Maggie is that she’s not the stereotypical twenty-something whose world as she’d always known it is about to fundamentally change. This isn’t to say there aren’t some revelations awaiting Maggie as the story progresses—there are—but Maggie isn’t the character whose about to be initiated and introduced into a whole new world she’s never known existed before, and for me, that makes her all the more interesting. What also makes her intriguing is that because she can easily walk between both worlds, and because her mother is human and her father is Other, she is the kind of character that struggles to know where she fits, where she belongs. Is it on the Other Side? Or is it on Earth? Is it both, or neither? How does someone who can straddle both worlds, negotiate both worlds, find her place to call home?

When I’m reading urban fantasy, the second element that must be done well is the supporting cast. Danley succeeds in surrounding Maggie with a strong group of characters that have the potential to be interesting in their own right as well as how their relationships with Maggie develop and change. Killian, the 6-foot-4 elf, is both sidekick and love interest (and honestly, I can’t help imagining Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time – wily and capable, but definitely riding in the passenger seat instead of driving this train). Father Killarney and Sister Magdalena are both mentor figures and the wise/scholar type characters of the story, fully aware of the Other Siders and how to battle and defeat those that are malevolent. Maggie’s family is also part of the supporting cast. Her mother lives on the Other Side and is a seer, and yes as you’d expect that means she can see into the future. Maggie has a twin sister, Mindy, who appears to be a plain vanilla, non-magical human. She lives on Earth and in Los Angeles with her husband. Maggie and Mindy are close enough that Mindy keeps a room for Maggie to sleep in when she’s on Earth, but it remains to be seen how that relationship will be further developed in the future. For now, though, Mindy has been set up as a kind of confidant. Then, perhaps most typical in this particular genre, there’s the missing father. Years ago, Maggie was working a job with her father, and when it came time for both of them to jump through a portal and travel from Earth to the Other Side, she made it through but he didn’t. You’ve read enough books in this genre to know that he’s not going to stay missing, right?

This book was a pleasant surprise. So many times after reading the back cover copy of a book, I think to myself, yes, this book has potential and might be exactly what I’m looking for, and it’s disappointing when all that potential goes to waste. That didn’t happen with Maggie for Hire. Actually, in the days after I finished it, I realized just how much I liked it and that it stood out among its peers, which is not always an easy thing to do in this genre. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series, Maggie Get Your Gun, and in fact it’s near the top of my to-be-read list. Whether you’re new to the urban fantasy genre or a long-time fan, I recommend giving this book a read if you haven’t yet stumbled upon it.

Have you read Maggie for Hire or any other books by Kate Danley? What did you think?

review: wrong side of hell

Wrong Side of Hell by Sonya Bateman (2016)

I read a lot of books that are the first in a series, and Wrong Side of Hell by Sonya Bateman is the next addition to that particular section on my bookshelves. When I read the first book in a series, I’m looking for the author to satisfy a few specific requirements and convince me that continuing to read the series is going to be worth an investment of my time and my book budget (this is always an important factor for me, because I’m a woman who does have a book budget and though I love my public library, there are so many titles that are simply not available; I’m always disappointed when I spend my money on a book and end up with buyer’s remorse). I won’t bury the lede here—I really enjoyed Wrong Side of Hell and am looking forward to reading the second book in Bateman’s The DeathSpeaker Codex series. Let me tell you why.

If I’m trying out a new series and a new author, the most important thing the author must do is give me a compelling protagonist. I have to like the protagonist and I must want to continue following him or her through the story. Bateman offers Gideon Black as the protagonist. He’s twenty-six years old and lives out of the back of his van, which he parks in the garage attached to his gym. Gideon works as a body mover—meaning, he’s the person who gets a phone call requesting that he pick up a corpse and deliver the dead from the places where they died to what Gideon calls their next stop—be that a funeral home or a morgue. He works primarily during the night and sleeps during the day. When we first meet him, the person he seems to be closest to is Abe, who we come to learn is the mentor figure in his life and who works as an NYPD homicide detective. What makes Gideon compelling? Well, he’s your typical loner and he overcame an early life filled with adversity. But he’s just a guy, working in the city, doing a job few would be willing to do to make ends meet. He’s drifting through life, but of course, that changes dramatically when he saves a young woman from a group of men intent on killing her. Why else am I willing to follow him through the book that amounts to his origin story? He’s resourceful, compassionate, and knows that sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. Considering this is just the first introduction to Gideon Black, Bateman has given me enough reasons to want to see how he will evolve as he settles into his new normal now that the veil of innocent ignorance has been ripped from his eyes.

In addition to a compelling protagonist, I also need the supporting cast of characters to be sketched out and developed to the point that I can see how each character will fit into the protagonist’s life as he navigates his new world but also are interesting in their own right. Sometimes what I find is that I like the protagonist well enough, but the supporting cast are annoyances to be tolerated or are somehow obstacles to get through. Again, Bateman succeeds here in not giving me a reason to stop at the end of the first book in the series. The supporting cast is a strong one. First there is Sadie, a werewolf who is initially drawn to Gideon because of a talisman in his possession. She is his first source of information into this new world he has been thrust into and at least at the beginning serves as his first guide. Second there is Taeral, a Fae cut off from his home world of Arcadia. Taeral stands as Gideon’s protector and a reluctant teacher, and in many ways he is established as Gideon’s opposite. From his “normal” life, there is Viv, the medical examiner with whom Gideon has worked to solve murders in the past, as well as the aforementioned Abe, Gideon’s mentor and an NYPD homicide detective. Rather than existing as carbon copies of a particular character type, all of the characters are distinct in their identities, at least this is the case in book one. Taeral is probably the character I’m most intrigued by, and I will be interested to see how he is developed as well as how his relationship with Gideon unfolds as the series continues.

The third aspect I’m going to be analyzing when I’m reading the first book in a series is the world building. Bateman doesn’t diverge here in terms of what you might expect from an urban fantasy novel. We have the unknowing human world moving alongside the hidden supernatural world. Bateman locates her world in New York City, and well that’s fine if a bit unoriginal. One thing that does standout about this world in regard to the supernatural is that in this book, the Others (as Bateman calls them) exist on the fringes of society. They are not the wealthy, powerful individuals passing as human as you frequently see in other urban fantasy worlds. Instead, the Others in this world are hunted by the Milus Dei—a secret faction of humans intent upon eradicating the Others from the planet. Of course, this secret society of hunters is not original either, and to be honest, I’m at capacity when it comes to the conventional trope of secret societies hunting paranormal beings. The one reason I wasn’t turned off by the appearance of this trope is that at least it was introduced in the first book of the series. Meaning, I expect to see Milus Dei as a recurring antagonist, instead of being brought in out of nowhere during the middle of the series. Also, from my perspective at the end of the first book of the series, I am setup to cheer on the eventual overthrow and destruction of Milus Dei, but of course, we’ll have to see where Bateman takes it. Overall, though, the world building is enough to keep me interested and there’s nothing that makes me want to stop reading.

Indeed, the book ends in such a way that I want to keep reading the further adventures of Gideon Black. Once I finished the book, I added the next book, Fields of Blood, to my to-be-read list. I’m glad I stumbled upon this book, and it was worth my time and money. If you enjoy urban fantasy and have been looking for a new series to read, I recommend reading Wrong Side of Hell.

Have you read Wrong Side of Hell or any other books by Sonya Bateman? What did you think?

review: cursed city

Cursed City by William Massa (2016)

Do you ever get into reading slumps?  You know, those periods when you search and search for something to read (even though you have tons of books already on your bookshelf just waiting for your attention) but nothing ever really sparks your interest? When you read sample after sample and give up before you get to the end? When you force yourself to finish the book you took a chance on even though it doesn’t fully capture you and demand you keep turning the pages? Well, this is where I have been for the last few weeks.  I have started several books but haven’t finished one, and I’ve spent way more hours scrolling through my options on Amazon than is good for me.  At last, I opted for Cursed City and I read it from start to finish in one day. While I feel terribly accomplished in that I actually met my reading goal for the week (to read just one book), I’m not enthusing about the book itself. Continue reading

review: dead things

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (2013)

I stumbled upon Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore when I was trying to find new authors to read.  I decided to give this one a try and it’s been on my e-reader for a couple of months.  Dead Things exists within the urban fantasy genre, and if you don’t know what that means you’re not alone.  In basic terms, urban fantasy gives you a world and setting that looks very much like our own but that setting is occupied by all the things that go bump in the night–vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and lots of other supernatural creatures.  The setting for Dead Things is Los Angeles, and in some ways it has the feel of fantasy noir.  Blackmoore doesn’t create a dark paranormal underbelly beneath the sun-drenched glitter of Los Angeles, but there is the potential to see his vision of Los Angeles evolve into that kind of world that you might expect from fantasy noir.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the book in a different format I’m experimenting with for my reviews.

Is it part of a series?  Yes.  Dead Things is the first book in Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series.  The next book in the series is Broken Souls and the third book, Hungry Ghosts was just released last week (February 2017).  One note that might help in case you are interested in starting the series–there is a fourth book called City of Souls that takes place within the world of Eric Carter, but from everything I can find, it does not feature Eric Carter.

What is it about?  Eric Carter is a mage and necromancer who receives news that his sister, Lucy, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, has been brutally murdered.  He returns to Los Angeles to find the person responsible for her death and exact vengeance.  Complicating his return to Los Angeles is the fact that he is a man going home again after fifteen years of being on his own and out of contact with everyone who had been in his life before.  As the hunt for his sister’s murderer unfolds, Eric is also trying to decide if coming back home (and staying home) is a good idea, if it’s possible to reconnect with the people he left behind, and reconciling the man he is now with the person he was when he left everything behind.

Tell me more about the main character.  Eric Carter is the kind of protagonist you would expect to find in a noir-ish urban fantasy novel.  He is the isolated loner who has lived a nomadic life since he left Los Angeles, never settling down in one place and never thinking of any one place as home.  He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know, street-smart, quick-thinking and smart-talking.  He is a powerful necromancer, which means he can see and speak to the Dead, and though it takes a while for him to reveal this aspect of his character, it is the Dead that he helps and to some extent, saves.  He considers himself to be one of the speakers for the dead, and he gets vengeance and retribution for them (and yes, some would call it justice).  He is their champion and he understands them, a lot more than he understands the living.  He also feels incredible guilt for leaving his sister and his friends behind when he left Los Angeles fifteen years ago.  Dealing with that guilt and finding a way to make things right are two of the primary motivators for his character.  In some ways, he’s like a lot of other male protagonists you find in this genre, but like the world of Los Angeles that Blackmoore presents, he has the potential to be more than average.  In truth, he is only at the beginning of his journey, and though he has developed and undergone important changes by the time the story ends, there is lots of room for more growth and change.

What about the supporting cast?  Tough question.  In this novel, the supporting cast is comprised of Alex, the man who was his best friend and who looked after Eric’s sister after he left home.  Vivian is Eric’s ex-girlfriend, who has become a doctor in the time that he’s been away and moved on to someone else.  There is Tabitha, a waitress who works in the bar Alex owns and is a potential love interest.  The two non-human characters are Darius–who seems to be some kind of genie or djinn perhaps–who owns a bar whose doors move and within which time moves at a different rate than that of the outside world, and Santa Muerte, a goddess who wants Eric to be her right hand assassin.  I don’t want to spoil how the story ends but there will definitely be changes to this supporting cast in the next book.  Eric’s interactions with the supporting characters say just as much about him as they do about the secondary characters themselves, particularly Alex and Vivian, the latter of which is drawn realistically, I think, but at the same time she grated on my goodwill as a reader.

What is the narrative style?  I think this is an important aspect of the book to highlight because before reading Dead Things I started a different book that I put down after fifty pages because it was told in the narrative style I dislike the most–that being multiple point-of-view (and when I say multiple I mean from the perspective of three or more characters).  Blackmoore takes the more traditional route in terms of narrative style and it will be familiar and comfortable to readers of the genre, choosing to tell the story solely from Eric’s first-person point of view.  Another notable aspect of the narrative style is that it is told in the present tense which may feel different to readers who haven’t encountered this before, though I will say it is a style that seems to be growing in popularity.

Should I invest my time?  Another tough question.  One of the things that instantly came to mind while reading this book is that it has the same feel as the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey (also set in Los Angeles, also noir-ish, also told in that present tense, first person narrative style).  The Sandman Slim series is one of my favorites, and though I think the Eric Carter series could be as good, it’s not there yet. I don’t know what the next book in this series will bring.  For me, the first book in a series should make me want to read the next book, if not right away then at least inspire me to immediately add it to my to-be-read list.  I didn’t have that feeling at the end of Dead Things, and admittedly part of this may be due to the way the book ends, which is clearly setting up for the next installment.  I think that if you like this genre, you should at least give the first book in this series a try and decide if you want more.  Personally, there are so many books on my to-read list for the year that I don’t see myself adding Broken Souls to my reading list any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. I’m just not convinced I want to go back for more.

review: black wings

Black Wings by Christina Henry (2010)

I have another first-in-series book to write about, this time Black Wings by Christina Henry.  It fits into the urban fantasy genre and takes place in one of my favorite cities–Chicago (I wonder if the protagonist and Harry Dresden have run into each other). This series follows the story of Madeline “Maddy” Black, who is an Agent of death (if you’re a Supernatural fan, think of her as a Reaper).  Maddy’s job is to escort souls of the newly departed to the Door, which presumably leads them to the afterlife.  Being an Agent gives her a set of black wings and the ability to fly, but it’s not a paying job and she does her best to get by.  As you would expect from the first book in an urban fantasy series, Maddy’s life is about to change drastically.

Since this is the first book in a series, Henry has some world-building to do.  The best place to start is Maddy’s job as an Agent.  In this world, death is treated as a bureaucracy, where Agents receive schedules each week telling them where and when to collect souls and have supervisors to answer to if they don’t meet their quotas–that is, convincing souls to choose to walk through the Door. Souls that refuse are cursed to walk the earth forever as ghosts.  Maddy’s boss is J.B. Bennett, who loves rules and paperwork and accountability.  Maddy does not like him, but she does have to deal with him and it appears that he will be one of the supporting characters as the series progresses.  Another aspect of this world is that it is populated with fallen angels.  We learn this early in the story that Maddy’s father, whom she has never known or met, is one of these fallen angels and that as his only human child, he values her greatly.  These fallen angels also have begotten nephilim–the monster children born of their human consorts.  Maddy’s father, as well as the foremost of fallen angels–Lucifer–will also be part of the supporting cast, playing roles somewhere between antagonist and ally.  There are also gargoyles in this world.  Beezle has been both friend and family to Maddy for years, and he fills the role of protector but also comic relief and confidant.  Rounding out the supporting cast is Gabriel Angeloscuro.  He, too, plays the role of protector but he is also the primary love interest (which is a subplot of the novel and doesn’t ever overtake the main plot of the story).  Gabriel is also the character who will help Maddy navigate this new world that she learns she is a part of but knows nothing about.  It is clear, from the way the book ends, that he will also perhaps be used as a pawn by those who want something from Maddy, and that he may become her greatest weakness.

Unlike Harry Dresden, Maddy is not a private detective by trade, and unlike Cat Crawfield she is not on a mission to save innocents by destroying vampires one at a time.  Maddy is simply a woman trying to do her job and make ends meet.  She becomes an accidental detective of sorts, pulled into tracking down a killer for reasons that start out being more personal than professional.  In this way, she is a likable and relatable character, thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, trying to figure things out as she goes along, and making mistakes along the way.  The story is told entirely from her first-person point of view, and it works in this story because we only know what she knows and we’re stumbling through the story trying to figure out the puzzle just like she is.  Her development from the start of the book to the end is believable, and there is plenty room for more change and growth as the series continues.  The book really feels like it’s an origin story, that she is only at the start of her journey in becoming who she will be several books down the line.  I find that I am pulled into her character’s potential and want to see what else is in store for her.

There are some elements of the book that will be familiar to readers of the genre. Maddy has daddy issues (with good reason), she is a loner and mostly alone in the world when we first meet her, she is beset by foes that are much more powerful and knowledgeable than she is and who play by a completely different set of rules that she has yet to learn or even understand.  In this way the book adheres to the conventions of urban fantasy.  Still, it’s different enough that it isn’t a mere derivative of a more popular, better constructed series.  There was enough to like in this book for me want to read the next book in the series, Black Night.  My final verdict is that if you are looking for a new author to sample or a new series to try, add Black Wings to your to-read list.  I would also say that if you are a fan of Supernatural, this book may appeal to you as well.  It has that same feel to me and I think it has the potential to build an intricate world and mythology in the same way that the show has and payoff your investment in the characters and the larger story that Henry is telling.  Again, this is the first book in the series and I’ll have to wait and see what happens in the second book, but for now, I am looking forward to Maddy’s next adventure.

review: destined for an early grave

Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2009)

Destined for an Early Grave is the fourth book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones as the protagonists.  I’m going to do my best not to spoil too much of what happens in this book, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series, beware.  I strongly recommend reading the books in this series in order; if urban fantasy is one of your preferred genres, then start with the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave.  Everyone else, read on.

To begin, a lot happens in this book.  I’m going to try to avoid revealing too much because I really don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read the book.  Frost does an excellent job of building the tension throughout the book until it reaches its moment of crisis and the action heads into the final showdown.  Oh, and there are really two moments of crisis–one for the plot that is the continuing love story between Cat and Bones, and the other for action/suspense plot that involves Cat and her new enemy, Gregor, the novel’s antagonist.  Frost’s ability to manage both plot lines, get me invested in both and keep me caring about both, is refreshing because I find that the more I read and try to review here on my blog, the more books I find that can barely manage one plot, much less multiples.  I say this because if you are looking for books that are well-written, this series has a lot to offer and I have not yet been disappointed by one of Frost’s books.

Destined for an Early Grave pushes the world-building Frost has been developing in a new direction, making sure that it doesn’t stagnate or get boring.  It’s one of the things that makes it important to read the books in order (more on that later).  At the end of the previous book in this series, At Grave’s End, Cat has quit her job with the secret department within Homeland Security that is headed by her uncle, Don.  There’s a sense that Cat and Bones’ relationship is moving into a new phase, and Cat herself is starting a new chapter in her life.  The change means that the framework of the last two books–with Cat commanding a team of secret government operatives to save innocent lives from vampire predators–has given way to the Cat becoming more entrenched in Bones’ world, the world of vampires and the rules and customs of vampire society.  The change of framework works, especially in the way that it allows the vampire characters that have been introduced in earlier books to be further developed.  We get more information about Spade, Mencheres, and Vlad, and no doubt this is done as a way of setting up those characters for to be featured in their own stories (and I’ll admit right now that I read the first two books in the Night Prince series featuring Vlad before starting the Night Huntress.  That was a mistake in that I think readers will better enjoy the Night Prince series if you’ve read the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World books first.).  While Cat understands the rules and ways of the human world and protecting humans, it becomes clear as the story unfolds that Cat has been straddling the two worlds, not fully in one and not fully in the other.  By the end of the novel, she is firmly in the vampire world, and having to learn the rules of that society is a painful process that impacts many of her relationships.  The change in the framework was needed in order for the series and the characters to continue to grow and evolve and gives a new momentum to what I’m sure will follow in the next books in the series.

One of the things I really enjoy about the way Frost’s structures the love plot is that she finds ways to continue to build tension and conflict between Cat and Bones without it feeling forced or manipulative or conventional.  While it’s clear at the end of book three that they are solidly a couple, they still have things in their relationship to figure out.  Evolving their relationship so that they are an “us” by the end of the novel is something that drives the love plot and “the path to true love never runs smooth” convention is at work here but it’s done in a way that only makes me care about the characters even more, and it also functions to further develop Cat and Bones as characters.  They both have to give and compromise and recognize the other’s flaws and accept them.  Although the story is told completely through Cat’s first person perspective, Frost does a really good job in delivering Bones’ emotions and thoughts through the dialogue.  I am not as close to him as a reader as I am to Cat because of the narrative structure, but he’s not distant either.  I get a deep sense of his struggles right along with Cat’s so that it doesn’t just feel like Cat’s story and Cat’s journey.  In my opinion, so much of what makes a series success is the characters and character development.  Cat and Bones are not the same characters they were at the start of the series, and I expect they will continue to develop and grow.  Thus far, Frost hasn’t caused them to do anything that feels out of character for either of them, and the more I read, the more I want to read and see what happens to them next.

Like I said above, I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, particularly if you are interested in reading the books that feature Vlad (Once Burned, Twice Tempted, Bound By Flames, Into the Fire).  He is definitely a supporting character in this book, but Frost does a lot of work in terms of developing his character.  I can remember Cat and Bones making appearances in the first two books of the Night Prince series and I would have appreciated those appearances more if I’d read in chronological order in terms of publication.  Take the recommendation for whatever it’s worth.

Ultimately, I find this series to be highly satisfying and I always get what I came for and then some. I read them typically in one day and once I start I can’t stop.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, First Drop of Crimson, which features Spade, one of Bones’ best friends.  If you’re a reader who enjoys strong, well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot and subplots, and watching an imaginary world come to life, these books deliver in every way.  Definitely one of my recommended reads of 2016.

review: hunted

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (2013)

Hunted is the sixth book in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series, which features Atticus O’Sullivan, a two-thousand year old Druid.  If you haven’t yet discovered this series, I highly recommend it.  The first book in the series is Hounded.  There are spoilers below for readers who have not completed book five, Trapped.  You have been forewarned.

Hunted picks up right where Trapped left off.  If you need a reminder, goddesses Diana and Artemis are intent upon killing Atticus for ripping five Dryads from their trees in order to flee the wrath of Bacchus.  All of the Old Ways that would grant Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon to flee to the alternate plane of Tír na nÓg have been blocked, and the trio are left to run–yes, run–across Europe as they are hunted by the goddesses.  Oh, and don’t forget that Loki has arisen and Ragnarok is on the eve of beginning. There is also still the matter of Theophilus, a Roman vampire who is directly responsible for the near extinction of Druids and wants Atticus and Granuaile dead.  There is also an enemy within the Tuatha Dé Danann who is intent upon ending Atticus.  Which is all to say there are a lot of enemies to run from and there is a lot going on in this book.  There are also two major deaths in Hunted, and though I have no intention of naming names, those events add an extra punch to the book and only raises the stakes even higher.  If you hadn’t felt it by the time Trapped ended, Hunted definitely leaves you with a sense that war is looming and worrying about whether all of our favorite characters will make it out alive.

From the first book in this series, one of its strengths have been Atticus’ voice as a first-person narrator.  He is two-thousand years old and yet up on all the current lingo and pop culture references of the day, while at the same time he can quote passages from Shakespeare and Dante at will and make them applicable to his current situation in a way that makes those writers accessible to the typical reader.  His view on life and the human condition, particularly during the more philosophical passages of his narrative, are what give the series depth and have made it resonate with me as a reader; they are also likely some of the reasons why I’m so invested in Atticus, his adventures, and how all of this is going to play out.  The internal by-play between him and Oberon, his Irish wolfhound, adds another rich layer to the narrative, and I laughed out loud when Oberon made a direct reference to one of my favorite films (and books, for that matter) of all time, The Princess Bride.  All of this makes it even more notable when Hearne elects to diverge from Atticus’ first person narrative and allow us to see some of the action through Granuaile’s first person point-of-view.  Granuaile’s voice is significantly different from Atticus’.  More serious in tone, I think, and though she communicates her rapturous joy with being a new Druid connected to the Gaia and the earth, there’s a certain gravity in her narrative tone that is missing from Atticus’.  I have not yet figured out the meaning of this–or if there is a reason at all–other than that Hearne wants to show how becoming a Druid and being in all of these life and death situations with Atticus on top of standing on the brink of war right beside has changed her.  Atticus himself makes note of this change at one point in the book, just in case we missed its importance, and this is an aspect of Granuaile’s character development that also bears keeping on our eyes on as we enter the final three books of this series.  Of course, I really wanted to read this through my literary gaze, the emergence of Granuaile’s voice in the narrative is quite possible connected to her transformation into a Druid as well as her importance to the events unfolding and a signal that she, too, has a role to play in what is to come.

The book’s title is a strong theme that carries throughout the novel, and it is not only Atticus who reflects on the feeling of being hunted, but so does Granuaile.  Although the Olympians are hardly friends by the end of the book (more like frenemies), there appears to be no end to the number of people who want to help Atticus into the hereafter.  Even in the book’s climactic showdown, Atticus is in the position of being the hunted.  Though I must admit that I didn’t recognize the showdown for what it was. When I got to the Epilogue, I thought to myself, wait, that was the end?  It felt anticlimactic, especially when compared to the previous novels in the series, but again I attribute this to the fact that it is the end of the second movement of the series.  The showdown scene provides plenty of information but nothing that truly illuminates one of the challenges looming on the horizon–that being who among the Tuatha Dé Danann is plotting against Atticus? I can’t help wondering if I’m the only reader who anticipates a really surprising ugly betrayal in Atticus’ near future?

As is always the case when I finish a book in this series, I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.  From everything I’ve read, this is going to be a nine-book series, and I will be sad when it is finished but plan to enjoy what is left and all that is to come.  I can only say that I’m expecting an epic conclusion and sincerely hope Hearne doesn’t let me down (yes, I’m looking at you Dead Ever After).  The next book in the series, Shattered, is already on my bookshelf and given what happens at the very end of the book–the surprise introduction of a character I never would have imagined popping up–I am positive it will be quite entertaining.

review: white night

Note: This is the ninth book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Spoilers will inevitably follow.  You may want to look away now if you haven’t read the first eight books in this series.

White Night by Jim Butcher (2007)

Well hello, Harry Dresden! It’s been a long time but I have not forgotten how much I love your adventures and shenanigans.  A lot happens in White Night, book nine (of fifteen) in the Dresden Files.  Reading this book has really made me feel like it is the start of the second movement, to borrow a musical term, of the Dresden Files and Harry’s journey. Although the previous book, Proven Guilty, does a lot to further entrench Harry within the world of the White Council–the group of wizards that police users of magic to ensure that they do not break the Laws of Magic–and establish a new direction for the series, specifically that the White Council is at war with the Red Court of vampires, that book felt like it was the warm-up act, the prologue to set the table and help you get to know all of the characters on the board of this new game that will (or at least seem to) dictate the course of the books that will follow.  Enter White Night and all of the events that take place in the book.

On the surface, the basic plot revolves around a group of magical users who are part of the broader supernatural community but don’t possess as much power as others.  In other words, they are the weaker class of individuals in this world, and they are being preyed upon.  Murphy brings the case of an apparent suicide to Harry, who investigates and discovers it’s not really a suicide, and there’s a larger plot at work.  Because the series straddles the line between urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction (and there’s a moment where Harry refers to himself and another character as being ‘hardboiled’ and it’s great), the basic plot–discovering who is behind the murders of these magical users–is solved about two-thirds of the way into the book.  The last third of the book, then, involves chasing down the culprits but also revealing how their nefarious deeds are part of an even bigger story arc that is directly related to the White Council’s war with the Red Court of vampires, a power struggle within the White Court of vampires, and the internal threat to the White Council that Harry is sure exists but hasn’t yet figured out who the traitor is.  Beyond the plot, the supporting cast once again rallies to Harry’s aid, and like I mentioned in my review of Dead Beat, shows just how far Harry has traveled from being the loner that he was at the start of this series.  It’s been a few books but we do get treated to an appearance by Gentleman Johnnie Marcone in this book, and a mystery that had surrounded him earlier gets revealed.  The story is fast-paced and I had a really hard time putting the book down.

One striking aspect of the book is the depth of Harry’s thoughts and ruminations.  His ex-girlfriend, Elaine, reappears in his life, and he has an extended meditation on pain–why it exists, why it’s vital to the human existence, how it shapes us into who we are.  He also has similar meditations upon the nature of anger, how it can be constructive and turn into passion, as well as the nature of existence, and if a person can or cannot change.  Before our eyes, Harry is going through a kind of metamorphosis in this book.  He has been teaching his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, about magic and demanding that she think about if she should or should not use magic, why she should or should not take a certain action.  In doing so, Harry himself is becoming more of a thinker but also more thoughtful about his own actions, what motivates him, and the consequences of his actions.  Make no mistake, there is a lot of action in this book, but there’s also quite a bit of internal monologue, and it is also complicated by the presence of Lasciel–the representation of the demon within the coin that Harry touched and then buried in his basement at the end of Dead Beat. It isn’t that she is part of Harry’s conscience, and yet, she is a part of him, and her presence has impacted him and the way he views himself.

Butcher also does something different (and clever) within this book that he hasn’t done before.  At the start of this book Harry mentions to Murphy that he had been in New Mexico not long ago, helping to train new wizards to become Wardens for the White Council.  During that trip, two teenagers are kidnapped, and it has obviously left a mark on Harry.  It’s not until almost the exact middle of the story (a la The Great Gatsby) that we get to see what happened during that time in New Mexico and why it haunts Harry.  As a result of action happening in the present time of the story, Harry’s mind goes back to that moment in the past, and he narrates the events of that day over several pages before we are returned to the present.  It explains a lot about Harry’s feelings toward his adversaries, the anger that he feels, and what drives him.  It underscores the anger that he feels when women and children are harmed and his determination to mete out punishment to those who commit such crimes and atrocities. It’s a brilliant addition to the book and done really well.

The crisis and showdown of the book are also done well, bringing the unexpected even while reminding us that although Harry may be changing, he’s also still the same.  Still a badass and a smartass and still the man who will fight to the very end, where there’s no more magic to draw upon and his physical strength is exhausted.  The revelation portion of the book is a bit more extended than usual, but then I think it has to be.  We get glimpses of what Thomas, Harry’s half brother has been up to since he moved out of Harry’s basement apartment, we get some closure to part of Marcone’s story even as he is being established as a new player within the supernatural world, we find that Ramirez, one of the Wardens, is going to be a solid ally for Harry in the future, and the presence of Lasciel is dealt with, though one cannot be sure if it has been completely resolved.  Throughout the denouement, the interior monologues that Harry has been having through the book come to some sort of conclusion.  Or perhaps what I’m trying to say is that he achieves a kind of acceptance and maybe even peace, as though something in him is settling and yet maybe at the same time hardening his resolve.  His journey is definitely not over, but there’s a sense that somehow it’s going to be different going forward. Different, how, remains to be determined.

This is a great series and this was a great addition to it.  One thing I noticed that I wonder about is that so many of Harry’s allies have names starting with the letter “m”–Murphy, Mouse, Mister, Molly, Michael, Mac, even Marcone to an extent.  I wonder if that is purposeful.  Also, the women in Harry’s life that he should definitely be wary of have names starting with an “l”–Leanna (his godmother), Lasciel, Lara Raith of the White Court.  I don’t know if this is intentional or not but it’s just one more thing to make me think as I’m reading.  I typically read one of these books a year because they are so dense, full of action and emotion and depth, but this is one of the series I’m trying to catch up on in 2016 so look for a review of the next book in the series, Small Favor, in the coming weeks.

review: one foot in the grave

One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2008)

One Foot in the Grave is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series.  It’s official. Catherine “Cat” Crawfield is now part of my favorite first-person narrators in an urban fantasy series (if you haven’t been paying attention, she joins Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan in that club).  If you haven’t read the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave, you might want to stop reading and go and find that book at your favorite bookstore. The book starts about four years after the end of the events in Halfway to the Grave. I have to admit that one of the reasons the first book didn’t get a review here is that I was a little unhappy with the ending.  Not unsatisfied or upset, just unhappy with how things all played out with Cat and Bones, the vampire who loves her.  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because by the end of this book all is well with Cat and Bones.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  It’s four years later, and Cat is still working for Don and his secret “Homeland Security” group that’s part of the FBI.  Tate returns from the first book and he’s now Cat’s second in command.  Frost wastes no time in getting to the catalyst for the plot–Don has sent Cat to kill a vampire named Liam Flannery.  Cat goes in alone, and she soon discovers that Liam is actually Ian–the man who turned Bones into a vampire more than two hundred years ago.  Knowing this, Cat lets Ian go but tells Don and her team of vampire hunters that he got away.  Well, the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is appropriate here, since Ian becomes the primary antagonist of the novel.  At the end of the first book, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the plot development of Cat becoming a vampire hunter with a badge and the structure of the secret government organization in which she finds herself.  It’s still not my favorite part of the series, but it serves its purpose, and I see why Frost chose it.  It allows her to build a supporting cast around Cat and Bones and offers another way to build dramatic tension.  Cat finds herself not only at odds with Don but also Tate in this novel, and her relationship with each man helps to further develop her character.  Still, I have to say that if the time ever comes when Cat is an independent again, I’ll only be too happy.  Although she’s become the part of this organization, she has retained her independence and she doesn’t let the fact that Don is her boss dictate her actions or her choices.  There are several moments in the book where Frost delves into gender stereotypes, roles and dynamics and it helps to further define Cat as a strong female character while also illuminating that these issues continue to be pervasive in society.  Cat makes mistakes, but Frost doesn’t ever really take away her ability to make her own choices, and I love that.

Can I take a minute to talk about Bones? I love his character, which is one of the reasons I was so unhappy with the ending of Halfway to the Grove, because I just can’t imagine this series without him or without him and Cat being together.  How do I love him, let me count the ways. Bones is a master vampire, and one of the things we learn about him in this book is that he can fly (a la Eric Northman), he’s a strategic thinker, he’s supportive of Cat’s choices even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with them, and he will always do what he has to do to keep Cat safe and happy. And he has a sense of humor (indeed, in many ways he’s also the source of comic relief in this series).  He’s a great example of an alpha male character that is totally likable while at the same time being practically invincible–his weakness, of course, being Cat.  I highlight his character because so many male protagonists in paranormal romance novels fall flat because they are derivative and conventional.  Bones stands out, and he’s the perfect complementary character for Cat and the two of them are one of the reasons this series is worth reading.

The final showdown of the novel is surprising if not a little anti-climactic.  Although the antagonist is foiled in the end, achieving the goal that Cat has pursued for half of the novel ends up slipping through her grasp at the moment when she is sure to be victorious. Again, this is because she makes a conscious choice to let go of the pursuit in favor of something she wants more.  It’s a part of the book that I admire because as someone who likes to write, it highlights the need to identify what your protagonist wants most.  Cat has to decide what she wants most, and though there is a resolution to this part of the story, it’s definitely open-ended and promises to come back up again in future books in this series.  I can’t help wondering if there will be a time jump to start book three, At Grave’s End, or if it will pick up relatively soon after book two ends, because a lot of things happen at the end of the book that will have far-reaching consequences.

If you haven’t tried the Night Huntress series, I highly recommend it, and I’m definitely going to go and find book three in my favorite bookstore.

 

review: deadly descendant

Deadly Descendant by Jenna Black (2012)

Deadly Descendant is the second book in Jenna Black’s Nikki Glass/Immortal Huntress urban fantasy series.  I recommend reading these books in order, starting with the first in the series, Dark Descendant.  I’ll do my best not to spoil things that happen in the first book, but beware that spoilers may follow. Depending upon your point of view on serial fiction, one thing to know about this series if you’re considering giving it a try is that there are only going to be four full-length novels and one short novella.  I read on the author’s web page that the final novel in the series is going to be Divine Descendant, which is currently scheduled for a May 2016 release.  The world of Nikki Glass can be a little complicated so here’s a brief summary of what you need to know before you decide if you want to embark on the journey–Nikki is a private investigator living in Washington, D.C..  She is a descendant of the Greek goddess Artemis, and through events revealed in book one, she becomes immortal.  The books not only follow Nikki’s journey as she navigates this new world of immortals that she didn’t know existed before, but also work within the framework of a mystery/detective story, where Nikki and her supporting cast have to solve a series of murders and bring the murderer to justice.

The main plot of Deadly Descendant revolves around a group of murders that appear to be perpetrated by another immortal who seems to use a pack of wild dogs to kill his victims.  To be honest, there is a lot going on in this story in terms of exploring some overarching thematic questions.  One includes the question of what should be the fate of the murderer once he/she is apprehended? Anderson, the leader of the group of immortals that has taken Nikki into their community and is helping her learn about the new world she’s been thrust into as an immortal descendant of mythological gods and goddesses, has the power to destroy other immortals, something that other immortals do not have. One of the through-lines of the plot is whether or not Anderson should destroy the murderer, whether the culprit should be turned over to the Olympians–a sect of immortals descended specifically from the Greek gods, who view themselves being superior and able to act with impunity and whose philosophy is diametrically opposed to Anderson’s and his small group of followers–for them to carry out whatever justice they see fit, or if some other punishment is fitting. It’s an interesting question, and both Nikki and Anderson have very strong opinions about the “right” course of action to take, and it is another way in which we find Nikki viewing the world in black and white and refusing to see the shades of grey (more on that later).

Beyond the primary plot of the story are two subplots that give Black further opportunities to explore some larger thematic concerns.  One is the question of revenge and vengeance and the other is a look at the era of slavery in Civil War America.  The narrative is told through Nikki’s first-person point of view, so everything that the other characters reveal is filtered through her own consciousness, biases, and values.  In terms of vengeance, this comes into play with the character of Emma who is Anderson’s wife.  She has been a victim of violence, and throughout the story we’re invited to see how that violence has changed her and think about if it is her experiences or the core of who she is that causes her to seek vengeance, regardless of the costs that such vengeance would require.  For me, it’s difficult to draw a line with Emma’s character because on the one hand you empathize with her but on the other you can’t help thinking she’s going too far.  It’s not easy to dismiss her actions or her behavior, but it’s also not easy to accept.  She’s a character who exists in the grey, maybe even tending toward the darkness, and yet you can’t help wondering if her experiences have pushed her there and if there’s any other way she could be expected react.  In addition to the question of vengeance, Black explores the institution of slavery during the Civil War in the character of Jamaal.  During the story we learn that he was a slave and the son of his master, and as he recounts his history, Black offers a perspective on his experiences that once again make the reader think.  They show how Jamaal, like Emma, has been shaped by his experiences and all that he has endured, and when looked at side by side, readers are forced to think about how Jamaal and Emma have reacted to oppression and violence and draw whatever conclusions they will.

Another aspect of the novel that I find interesting is Nikki’s character.  She is a complicated character, and like I said above, she tends to see the world and people in black and white.  She is convinced that she knows what the “right” thing to do is when it comes to how to handle the murderer, and she refuses to see Anderson’s point of view or consider why he might hold a different opinion.  This same refusal to see the perspectives of others pops up near the end of the book with Blake, who happens to be dating Nikki’s sister.  Again, Nikki feels that she knows what’s best, and though she listens to what Blake has to say, she doesn’t ever really try to empathize or even walk a mile in his shoes.  This particular character trait isn’t the same as being conflicted–I think it’s rare that Nikki is actually conflicted.  Still, it makes her more complicated because at the same that she thinks she knows what’s best for others or what course of action they should take, she is resolutely against anyone else–Anderson, Jamaal, or her sister–giving her any advice on her own life.  Or maybe this actually just fits in perfectly with her character.  It’s arrogance, and yet it doesn’t make me like Nikki any less.  I like her as a character, but at the same time she is emotionally unavailable to the people in her life.  She doesn’t let herself make connections and these are things I can relate to.  I can even understand why she is this way, but…there’s just a part of me that wants her to learn how to bend, how to compromise, how to see someone else’s point of view, and understand that not everything is black and white, good or evil, and that no one is wholly good or evil.

I think I’m way over the 1000 word limit I try to set for myself with these book reviews, but that’s because this book is a lot more than just an empty urban fantasy/detective story.  There’s a lot to think about and I applaud Black for the effort.  I have no idea how this series ends but I’m definitely going to keep reading it. The next installment in the series is the novella, Pros and Cons, which takes place chronologically between books 2 and 3 in the series.

Have you read the Nikki Glass/Immortal Huntress series?  If so, what do you think?