Flex – Ferrett Steinmetz

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Summary:

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.

Review:

What if magic (herein called ‘mancy) was unnatural. Not like, in the religious sense, but in a physics-defying-tearing-holdes-in-the-nature-of-reality sense. What if there was a yin-yang relationship where in you can get whatever you want, but almost certainly pay the price for it?

The system of Flex/Flux is one of the most unique magic systems I’ve read in ages: from how it originates, to how it can work, to the consequences. It very much feels like the author spent a great deal of time crafting this magic, then found a story to tell that was worthy of that story.

The story is of a man named Paul, a recent divorcee who is trying to learn how to live on his own again when a terrible “accident” horribly scars his daugther. He knows though it isn’t an ordinary accident and seeks revenge on the ‘mancer behind it. It does have a bit of a Breaking Bad vibe as in order to do so he has to start brewing Flex himself, but it isn’t the focus of the story and he definitely isn’t the Heisenberg. He’s always extremely conscientious of what he’s doing and tries to minimize the harm, but he also doesn’t really make excuses either. He knows what he’s doing and he knows the consequences if he screws up. The stakes for him are just too high to sit by and do nothing.

All and all, it’s one of the more original urban fantasty titles I’ve read in ages and it actually seems to be a stand-alone novel which is always a plus. If you’re looking for a new read, and want something different, give this a look.

I should note though that this is a bit on the mature side: language, some realistic violence (and its aftermath) and discussions of sex. It’s not overdone or shoe-horned in, but it is there for those who care about such things, and I don’t know if I’d give this book to the under 17-crowd

Verdict: Buy It

Available: March 3

 

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Vision in Silver (The Others #3) – Anne Bishop

21457243Summary:

The Others freed the  cassandra sangue  to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

Review:

By Jove, she found the plot! Let us rejoice for at the halfway point of this series (there will be five books total) Bishop has finally created a compelling plot to go along with her wonderful word and fantastic characters! Seriously, I’m so happy, I’m tempted to throw confetti! It was the missing piece to these books, and had this book not had a well-crafted story, I was seriously considering on giving up on it once and for all. Happily, I no longer need to.

Written in Red was essentially a character study. The plot was thin and had a laughable villain, and ultimately felt like little more than a framework from which to hang her world building and character development. A Murder of Crows tried to introduce a greater plot, but the story of humans trying to find ways to discredit and/or kill the Others felt generic at best, a fairly common trope, especially in worlds where humans are all too aware of the existence of preternatural types. It wasn’t bad by any means, but when you’re planning a five-book series, you still need something more. And here we have it: Humans First and Last, who first start being mentioned in the last book, start being developed, and show an intelligence beyond just the simple “kill all the Others.” A plot involving a policy officer and his ex-wife and their daughter that has been building since his introduction in the first book comes to fruition in a satisfying murder-mystery that ties into the main plot. We even see the cassandra sangue (including Meg!) deal with the struggles that come in a world that is essentially continually information overload for these girls. It’s well-rounded and interesting and finally feels like Bishop actually has a plan for what she wants to do in these books.

Of course, as always, these books are paced so we get to spend plenty of time with the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard, plus several of the few humans who are both not afraid of the Others, but treat with them the respect that we humans seek to give to each other, and as always it’s a pleasure to read.

I was definitely a bit weary going into this book knowing it’d be a make-or-break for me, but I come out of this book feeling more confident than ever that there is a real definitive direction to this series now. It may not make my best-of list, but it’s still an easy recommendation.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: March 3rd

 

Kindling the Moon (Arcadia Bell #1) – Jenn Bennett

9795263Summary:

Meet Arcadia Bell: bartender, renegade magician, fugitive from the law. . . .

Being the spawn of two infamous occultists (and alleged murderers) isn’t easy, but freewheeling magician Arcadia “Cady” Bell knows how to make the best of a crummy situation. After hiding out for seven years, she’s carved an incognito niche for herself slinging drinks at the demon-friendly Tambuku Tiki Lounge.

But she receives an ultimatum when unexpected surveillance footage of her notorious parents surfaces: either prove their innocence or surrender herself. Unfortunately, the only witness to the crimes was an elusive Æthyric demon, and Cady has no idea how to find it. She teams up with Lon Butler, an enigmatic demonologist with a special talent for sexual spells and an arcane library of priceless stolen grimoires. Their research soon escalates into a storm of conflict involving missing police evidence, the decadent Hellfire Club, a ruthless bounty hunter, and a powerful occult society that operates way outside the law. If Cady can’t clear her family name soon, she’ll be forced to sacrifice her own life . . . and no amount of running will save her this time.

Review:

Ah, Paranormal Romance, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. It has been a while, hasn’t it? And really, it’s not you, it’s me. You see, you’re kind of trope-y and more importantly, you have this annoying tendency to favor open-ended series. Not only do I still regret following Anita Blake as long as I did, I just read too much to want to make that kind of commitment anymore. And yet, I still picked you up. For one, Cady doesn’t have any ties to the the police or private investigation. Definite plus. The other big plus? Your kink is demons, and right now, mine is too! I love vampires as much as anyone, but it’s nice to mix it up once in a while.

I have to say, I’m glad I picked you up. One, there’s no beating around the bush here. No will she go with suitor A or suitor B or will it take five or ten books to actually get there. Nope! Cady gets herself a man right in the first book, and they consummate the relationship in the first book and it is hot. Oh, and another plus? Lon is a father! Someone with an actual kid! And when his son gets injured as a result of decisions Cady made, he actually gets mad! I mean, they do patch it up (and it’s not unreasonable that they did) but still, holy crap, and honest reaction to that kind of situation! I also dig that Cady actually spends some time with the son for all of its awkwardness. It feels real and grounded in a part of the genre that is often anything but. It’s refreshing!

I also like the world she’s started to build here. It’s well thought out, and the concept of the Earthbound – essentially weak demons stuck in human form – is a neat one and we actually get to see how her magic works in a way that doesn’t feel wedged in just to show it off. It has nice balance. It even has a nice tie-in to the main plot! Solid all around.

Also, and I just discovered this in my research for this review: this is a closed ended series. Four books, people. Four. Only four. Huzzah! Look, my dislike of open-ended series goes beyond simple time commitment: series with no definitive ends in sight tend to drift and lose their focus. At best, the series only drifts. At worst, you start seeing signs of author burnout and that just never ends well.

This is one of those genres that you either like or you dislike: it’s a genre that practically demands you don’t reinvent the wheel. And for the differences in this book, it’s still the same genre: you still have the spunky heroine. You still have the simmering tension and longing looks. You still have the danger that she gets herself into, and sometimes gets herself out of and sometimes she gets rescued out of. It’s a very fresh coat of paint, but the basics are all there. If you don’t like the genre, you may not like it. But if you’re like me and have been side-eying the genre for a while, then this is an excellent way to get back in to it.

P.S. Don’t let the cover art turn you off. It’s cheap looking, the kind that gets foisted off on untested authors, and the book is definitely better than its cover.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales – Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth

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Summary:

A rare discovery in the world of fairy tales – now for the first time in English. With this volume, the holy trinity of fairy tales – the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen – becomes a quartet. In the 1850s, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth traversed the forests, lowlands, and mountains of northern Bavaria to record fairy tales, gaining the admiration of even the Brothers Grimm. Most of Schönwerth’s work was lost – until a few years ago, when thirty boxes of manu­scripts were uncovered in a German municipal archive. Now, for the first time, Schönwerth’s lost fairy tales are available in English. Violent, dark, and full of action, and upending the relationship between damsels in distress and their dragon-slaying heroes, these more than seventy stories bring us closer than ever to the unadorned oral tradition in which fairy tales are rooted, revolutionizing our understanding of a hallowed genre.

Review:

Even if I’ve gone on the record stating I’m not really a fan of reimagined fairy tales, I’ve never held any grudge against the original tales themselves. Like so many others, I grew up on the sanitized versions of them and as an adult would occasionally go and check out the unedited thing. So when this popped up, my curiosity was piqued. So was it worth the look? Let’s check it out.

The book is very well organized. After a forward there is a nicely detailed introduction that goes into the history of this collection. That is followed by a nice suggested follow-up reading list that serious fans of the genre are apt to appreciate. The bulk of the book are the stories themselves divided into themes, followed by some short notes on each individual story and, perhaps most intriguing for the die-hard fan, an appendix denoting the source of each tale, the town where it was collected from, and the “tale type” meaning that if you think a tale sounds familiar to another you can go look it up. It’s rather neat.

While I completely appreciate and understand the logic of setting up the book this way, it does have the unfortunate effect of highlighting the weakness of a collection like this: the repetitious nature of some of these stories. Because they’re grouped by type, you can skip to your favorite kind of tale. On the down side, it starts getting impossible to shake off the feeling you’ve read this before, be it due to the fourth tale in a block of a man agreeing to  “give up something you don’t know is in your home” (aka their wife is pregnant and hasn’t told him yet) or yet another tale of a trio of giants that need to be slain. It is understandable: if you really break down fairytales there are only so many base sources that time and a game of telephone slowly shaped into different versions. That doesn’t make it easier to get through, however, and that’s a shame. The last three sections are have some genuinely unique stories that felt real fresh to me. Some, like Pearl Tears and Flour for Snow are almost Christian allegories. Learning to Steal is a story of a boy proving that thieving is a craft unto itself while Don’t Get Mad is a story of someone outwitting a scammer and finally The Sun Takes an Oath is an attempt to explain why the Sun and the Moon never appear in the sky at once. There’s some great stuff, it’d just have been nice to get to it much sooner.

So at the end of it, it begs the question: who is the book for? The amount of care that went into the book, and all of the notes at the front and the end suggest that the publisher is likely targeting serious fans of the genre and I think that’s a good aim. A lot of these fairy tales are a bit too samey-samey for the casual fan and a more casual crowd would probably just prefer sticking to the known classics. Still, the last part of the book is absolutely worth a read and the references would probably make this a must-have for the serious fan.

While I can’t say I was a huge fan of the book myself, I am still glad I picked this up, and I think the intended audience will be well pleased for having done so. The rest of us can probably check it out of the library, skip around the first half and read the stories of the last half and be content.

Verdict: Buy It for the serious fan, Borrow It for the casual fan.

Available: 2/24/2015

 

Half Bad – Sally Green

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Summary:


Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

Half Bad is an international sensation and the start of a brilliant trilogy: a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive.

Review:

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately. Enchantress started out with some promise, but devolved into a clichéd tale with a main character that was smart except when the plot needed her to be stupid. Paladin of Souls was a lovely book that didn’t grab me and Born Human was a complete disappointment. I have a few more days before I have to start reading some ARCs again and was scanning my shelves looking that I was almost certain would grab and hold my interest.

Half Bad was sitting on my desk and had been raised my curiosity so I picked it up.

I wasn’t disappointed.

When this book first came out, I vaguely remember it being a bit polarizing: there’s a lot of love for the book, but also a decent number of vocal detractors. To my pleasant surprise, I rather enjoyed this book and finished it in maybe three hours of time. It’s been while since I’ve done that for a full novel that I enjoyed because I’ll admit that when I’m not liking a book, I’ll skim. This was instead just a quick, enjoyable read.

And as I was reading this book, another book came to mind: Marie Lu’s Prodigy. Hear me out on this: Prodigy is supposed to be a tale of a girl who becomes a villain, but when you read it, her story is one where she has no one to blame but herself for where she ends up at at the end of book: the world didn’t conspire against her, she just continually made poor choices.

Compare that to Nathan here: hated since birth, he’s all but lived on borrowed time his entire life, forever under the surveillance of the White Council who seem to be striking out laws aimed solely at him. And it isn’t paranoia either: as he approaches his 17th birthday, the day that marks his ascension into his adult powers, he’s given a choice: kill your father (whom, despite people comparing him to Voldemort much more strikes me as Sylar from Heroes) or we kill you. Obviously, he does not die, but still. Here’s a kid whose life is such that if he went villain it’d be to the absolute surprise of no one: the White Council, in their attempts to use Nathan, has all but pushed him into becoming a Black Witch by the awful way they’ve treated him. And yet, he hasn’t gone Anakin Skywalker, he isn’t trying to embrace his Black heritage. Literally all he wants is to be given his Gift and be left alone. It’s rather admirable, actually, though I absolutely would have no qualms if he DID go all Black Witch on their ass because they kind of deserve it.

If I have one gripe about this book, it’s that the limited point of view means we never see the world of the White Witches from any perspective other than Nathan’s. How bad are they treating him, versus how badly do they treat the rest of the White Witches as a whole? It does seem like we’ll be getting some of that in Half Wild but still, it does too conveniently paint the White Witches as bad guys in an overly simplistic way. I also think there was some room for nature-vs-nuture debate here that didn’t get touched, but you can’t have everything and I admit that it wouldn’t have fit the narrative here.

Over all, I thought this was a fun read that set out what it accomplished to do. It may have taken me a while to pick this up, but I’m glad I did.

Verdict: Buy It

Born Human – A.J. Salem

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Summary:

After nearly unleashing hell on Earth, Gemma Pope is focused on one thing only – living a normal teenage life. But when a troop of tanks roll into Harrisport and a group of white coats start tinkering with a second chamber with intentions of prying it open, Gemma is forced to decide if she wants back in the game. Can Gemma let sleeping dogs lie and brush off more than one past betrayal?

Born Human is the thrilling sequel to Almost Demon and the second book in The Sigil Cycle series

Review:

Son, I am disappoint.

The first book was a fun little paranormal YA romp. This book had some promise, but two problems common to indie titles completely derailed this book.

First, the book is just too short. The estimated page length for this book was all of 173 pages. The first book was 310. You really do miss those extra 140 pages. Those pages let the story breathe, gave her place to develop characters. This book it goes from event to event to event, and that’s it. Don’t both reading this if you didn’t already <i>Almost Demon</i> because you’ll be completely lost. It seems the plan is for seven books, but I’m not entirely sure there’s enough plot to sustain a series of that length. Not every series needs to be that long, and I much rather a series be a really well developed trilogy than a stretched out septet.

The other major problem? This book is not properly edited. There were formatting markers left in. She used italics for telepathic conversations and I found at least one instance where she forgot to italicize. Conversations didn’t properly introduce characters, so it was difficult to tell who Gemma was talking to, and in bits of dialogue the pronoun for the person speaking would inevitably be capitalized. It was odd and incredibly distracting. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: this book was not ready to be published. I’m forgiving of a few minor copy errors here and there, but it’s just too much here.

As for the story, it’s fine. Gemma finds out that no matter how much she might wish ignoring the problems would make them go away, they don’t, and soon enough it’s back to summoning demons, this time to try and prevent the start of the apocalypse. There’s a twist at the end that isn’t really a twist if you’ve read enough books in the genre.

I enjoy the first one and was looking forward to this one. I don’t think I’ll be proceeding from this point. Technical issues aside, I really didn’t like how breakneck this book was, and I suspect that won’t be changing going forward.

I’m really am bummed that this had to be this way. I really do love finding and sharing great indie titles and this just isn’t one.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now