Buy It: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) – Alison Goodman

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Summary:

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Review:

The Dark Days Club immediately got off to a good start by me for one very simple reason: Lady Helen liked being in Society. This is the first time in ages that I’ve picked up a YA historical fantasy and not have a girl bemoan her good luck at being born into the upper classes of Regency England. Rarely this desire is genuinely plot driven, but generally it seems to be more symptomatic of a modern writer imposing our modern views on a decidedly not modern time. Aside from the fact that marriage realistically was it for women back then, the truth was a lot of women look forward to getting married because the apron strings loosened and pressures eased. Once you were married, you had freedoms that you never had before (freedoms that even spinsters didn’t really get) and so it wasn’t so much a thing to look down on as a think to look forward to (albeit with trepidation in the event that you don’t like your intended, but that’s another story). But yeah, long story short: a heroine who likes who she is and where she is so much that down the road she considers giving up her family’s legacy to go back to it is genuinely refreshing. So well done there.

But I wouldn’t recommend it just for that, however. I like the character of Helen. She’s bright and curious, but not overly done (again, women of this time period weren’t all that well educated), she’s likable, not overly headstrong and she weighs the pros and cons before she makes a decision.

In short: she’s a character that feels strong but still of the time period and I really like that.

I also really liked the pacing of this book. Information was doled out at a great pace. Not so fast as to feel rushed or like an information dump and not so slow that you’re all but flipping pages waiting for something to happen. The story itself is interesting, I like that the legacy she wields has some rather nasty consequences and there’s even a nice bit of budding romance that I find rather believable.

All told, if you like YA fantasy, give this a look. You should enjoy yourself.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

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Borrow it: Spider’s Bite (Elemental Assassain #1)

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Summary:

They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction… especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s funny how having to write a review really makes you look at how you see a book. You can be reading along, going “this is kinda fun,” and then the second you have to verbalize your thoughts on the book you reliaze that you don’t really have much of anything to say.

And Spider’s Bite is one of those books for me.

On the face of it, there’s nothing bad about this book. The world building is solid (if not terribly unique), the plot moves along at a brisk pace and is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading, and there are some nice interactions between Gin and the people she surrounds herself with. So why am I left feeling kind of underwhelmed by it all?

After a lot of thinking, I think it comes down to Gin herself, and for two reasons: one, she talks a huge game about how she’s the best in the South. Does she feel that remarkable? Do anything so remarkable that you buy into her claims? Not really. Oh, there’s a person or two who hint that she doesn’t use her power to her full potential, but that’s about it. She’s a fairly generic Kick-Ass Woman that’s not uncommon to the genre.

The second reason, and the bigger issue for me, is that I don’t feel that there’s any moral complexity or ambiguity to the character. For all that she’s an assassin, Estep goes out of her way to say it’s okay to like her because she’s a Good Guy! She doesn’t kill innocents, kids, for pets, and she occasionally does pro-bono hits on pedophile rapists. She has hobbies, she cooks! See? Good Guy!

I found myself thinking about Alex Verus as I wound up reading the first book. If you haven’t read that series (and if you haven’t, shame on you), it’s about a character who spent his formative years of magical training being taught by bad guys, mostly unwillingly. Ten years after he escaped and did his best to stay out of both parts of magical society, the good guys still ldon’t trust him and the bad guys still treat him as if he’s one of them, and not unreasonably so. Unlike Gin, he’s not prone to violence (he’ll be the first one to say that he sucks at fighting and spends a lot of time running). But if you provoke him enough, if you just don’t leave him any other choices, he will go there. And you will probably end up dead, even if you are only 16 or 17. And he doesn’t feel bad that he did it, he was more pissed that they wouldn’t just leave him alone like he asked them too. He’s a character that’s trying to do the right thing, but doesn’t mind getting messy if his life (or the lives of his friends) depends on it, and characters react accordingly. He does get called out for his body count, he does get the side-eye from those he knows, he does lose friendships or have those friendships severely tested by his actions.

Gin?

Nope. No one has a problem with Gin. Everyone likes Gin! Even the detective who knows that Gin killed his partner (not knowing the why) still decides to get in her pants when she offers, because she’s sexy and charismatic! Now, the plot does unfold over a few days, so it’s not like there’s a ton of time for Gin to get introspective, but it feels when Gin talks about quitting it’s more so because her fallen mentor doesn’t want her to stay in the life, rather than her really ever having any qualms about what she’s doing or have ever realizing what an emotional toll a job like this is taking on her. It ultimately makes her feel a bit robotic to me.

At the end of the day, the book has over 22,000 reviews on GoodReads and holds a respectable 3.88 rating. Combine that with the fact that Estep just released book number 14 and it’s clear there’s a sizable fanbase for this series. While the character doesn’t quite work for me, maybe she’ll work for you.

Overall, I enjoyed the book enough to keep reading and wouldn’t dismiss the notion of giving the second book a look. That said, I have several other urban fantasy series on my plate so it won’t be a priority.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available Now

Hounded (Iron Druid #1) – Kevin Hearne

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Summary:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Review:

So both Seven Black Diamonds and Black City Saint had the fae. Both Black City Saint and Hounded have an Oberon. I gotta say, all this over-lap is more than a little trippy. But you know, it’s okay.

Hounded is awesome.

On my list of Urban Fantasy series to try this year (The Elemental Assassin is also on this list), I was not disappointed. While the short I read last year left me on the fence, this book obliterated any doubts I had about this series. The premise is just a blast: a 2100 year-old Druid that all the Irish gods (and a few non-Irish ones to boot) like to talk to and use in various ways (fighting, sexy times, you name it) whether or not he’s quite aware of the broader plot at hand.

The writing here is nice and light and frothy. No matter how bloody the fighting gets (and it does get bloody), the story never takes it self too seriously. It’s not so joking as to undermine the gravity of the story, but it’s very much that vibe of using humor to take the edge off, to stop it from being too dark. The aforementioned Oberon (his wolfhound) really helps in that respect as does the fact that his attorneys are literally vampires and werewolves.

The other thing that helps is that everyone is full of personality. The humans (gotta love the Widow MacDonagh, whom I’d love to have a drink with sometime), the goddesses, the witches. No one here is left to be a cut-out, except for maybe the cops that are touching the story at a glance.

Even though this is very much episodic Urban Fantasy it just feels fresh and fun – exactly what I was seeking and it may be just what you need as a palette cleanser as well.

The eighth book was just released this year. I look forward to making a dent in this series.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Film Review: The Witch plus bonus Deadpool mini-review

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The Witch is a supernatural thriller set in 17th century America.

Not horror. Thriller. Thriller.

Those going into the movie expecting horror will be disappointed. Honestly, some of the scariest moments in the movie are actually in the trailer. I was fine with this, but not everyone will be, and if your expectations aren’t in check, you will come out disappointed.

Story-wise, this is a story about a descent into madness. Through tragedy (the loss of an infant child) and hardship (the failure of crops), a family slowly starts disintegrate as hopelessness mounts. What’s causing this? Is it a witch? If it is, is that witch Thomalsin?

Let’s be clear: this is an art house movie, and all that that entails. It’s gorgeous to look at, the music is chilling to the bone, the acting is wonderful and it’s got mood up the wazoo. It just doesn’t have a lot of action. Or violence. Or gore. The movie doesn’t need it, but if you’re expecting a traditional experience, you may be left wanting. I do think the ads are misleading and it’s leaving some disappointed as a result.

This isn’t for everyone, but if you like mood pieces and period films, you’ll love this.

Verdict: It is hit or miss for people, so maybe go at a bargain matinee if art house isn’t normally your thing.

Bonus mini-review of Deadpool

Deadpool is a traditional superhero origin story movie without the moralizing that normally comes with the genre. I don’t know how well it’ll hold up in the long run, but it was fun for what it was. If you think you’ll like it, you probably will. Just know that it has a potty mouth and is pretty violet – definitely more so than The Witch.

Review: Black City Saint (Black City Saint #1) – Richard A. Knaack

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Summary:

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm

Review:

So in the last week I reviewed a historical fantasy set during Prohibition a YA fantasy (supposedly) about the Fey. So this time, I’d thought I’d mix things up and review a fantasy about the Fey set during Prohibition!

Man, I wish I could take credit for the timing on this, but funny how “to be read lists” just work out that way.

So anyway. Black City Saint is a book with interesting ideas and lackluster presentation. Nick Medea was once known as St. George (not really a spoiler since it’s more or less told you at the start of Chapter 2) – yes, the St. George that slew the dragon. It just so happens that the dragon was quite real and guarding the Gate that separates the Fae realm from our our own. So through a bit of magic, he’s now immortal and is tasked with making sure the Fae stay out – especially the particularly nasty Oberon – from trying to take things over which would eventually spell the end of mankind.

It’s a cool idea, but the execution left something to be desired. The book is written in a first person point of view but it sounds very stiff. While it does make sense for the book to be in this point of view, it comes off as if Knaack just isn’t comfortable with it and as a result, neither are the readers.

I should also mention that this is one of those books that’s mostly action, with Nick dashing from set piece to set piece. It was kind of nice seeing Chicago being used as more of a character, because the actual characters fell a little flat, all of them pretty much much having only one trait to them. Nick was devoted to his duties. He had some Feirie-realm helpers that seemed almost slavishly devoted to Nick. Detective Cortez was the One Straight Cop Amongst An Endless Sea of Corrupt Ones and the current reincarnation of Cleolinda was pretty much an annoying damsel-in-distress (I lost track of how many times she said  variations of”You’re not leaving me here!) for the majority of the book until she suddenly took a few levels in badass towards the very end.

All told, this book has some interesting ideas let down by some so-so presentation. If you like action oriented books and the concept intrigues you, you might want to give it a look. If you need emotional engagement to get into a book, keep looking.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: March 1

Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Marr

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Summary:

This riveting fantasy marks Melissa Marr’s return to the world of faery courts that made her Wicked Lovely series an international phenomenon.

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has always shielded her, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them…and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there. The combination of ethereal fae powers, tumultuous romance, and a bloodthirsty faery queen will have longtime fans and new readers at the edge of their seats.

Review:

You know. This isn’t a bad book. It’s a bland book.

The Queen of Blood and Rage is an Evil Queen because actions in the first chapter of the book tell us soon. The Black Diamonds are killers/terrorists against the humans because we are introduced to two of them in media res of a mission. Lilywhite is…well, that’s a spoiler but I imagine most people will figure out who Lilywhite is within a few chapters.

But really though? This book is all talk.

Talk. Talk. Talk. A few comments about “toxins” and how the humans have ruined the earth (for a world that is supposedly in some kind of post-Apocalypse you really can’t tell) and talk.

The Seven Black Diamonds never go on any missions together. Backstory is conveniently dumped upon us in the form of a letter and action towards the end of the book is pretty predictable for this sort of thing.

I also feel like there’s just not much character development. The biggest defining characteristic of any of them is that Lilywhite has these rules that she likes to chant that remind me of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition only they seem more like mantras than anything a criminal family would actually live by (I don’t think criminal bosses would really think that choices matter). For that matter, I’m still not sure why she had to the daughter of a crime boss. She could have been a more general socialite and it wouldn’t have had much of a change on the story.

I don’t know. It’s better than most YA faery stuff I’ve read, but I would still recommend Thorn Jack over this in a heartbeat if age-level didn’t matter to you. Ultimately, this book was good enough to keep me going to the end, and I did read it in a day, but it’s the very definition of a forgettable tale.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: March 1

Touch the Dark (Cassie Palmer #1) – Karen Chance

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Summary:

Cassandra Palmer can see the future and communicate with spirits—talents that make her attractive to the dead and the undead. The ghosts of the dead aren’t usually dangerous; they just like to talk…a lot.The undead are another matter.

Like any sensible girl, Cassie tries to avoid vampires. But when the bloodsucking mafioso she escaped three years ago finds Cassie again with vengeance on his mind, she’s forced to turn to the vampire Senate for protection.

The undead senators won’t help her for nothing, and Cassie finds herself working with one of their most powerful members, a dangerously seductive master vampire—and the price he demands may be more than Cassie is willing to pay….

Review:

2015  really rekindled my love of Urban Fantasy and when I finished catching up on the Alex Verus series I knew that I wanted to find another 1 or 2 series to read my way through in 2016. I was planning on starting with Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles but when I was browsing my local Barnes and Nobles the other day, I spotted Reap the Wind on the shelves and decided to give this series a chance first instead.

At first blush, Touch the Dead immediately feels like an Anita Blake-inspired world. The structure of vampire politics, the plethora of vampires that somehow manage to incorporate skin-tight leather into old school styles and so on. It felt like a bit of a homecoming. My concern was whether the book could do something with its familiar trappings, and it’s a bit touch and go at first. There’s a lot of exposition dumping at the start of the book, and almost all the most powerful figures are famous in human history as well. Although this does provide for one of the most amusing explanations of Shakespeare-was-not-really-Shakespeare out there, it feels clunky and unnecessary. The Consul would have been just as powerful and intimidating, even if she hadn’t been Cleopatra.

Then the book began to warm me over. It doesn’t play coy with what Cassandra’s heritage is, nor does it threaten to drag out sexual tension across a number of books. There are some really sexy scenes here too, something I never thought Hamilton did terribly well.

Cassandra’s powers are interesting and provided they don’t get used to deus-ex-machina her way out of everything could provide for some interesting story fodder down the road. Plus, the whole sexuality element of her powers leads to a pretty funny reveal towards the end of the book and that Cassie is allowed to actually have her sexuality with zero bull attached to it is refreshing.

While I’m not entirely sure if there is going to be enough story to give me enough momentum to keep reading is a bit up in the air.I noticed that in reading synopsis for future books it sounds like they will be dragging out a certain plot line over a number of books which does make me weary.

Still, I do think this series has enough promise to at least give book two a go: it worked out well for Alex Verus so why not Cassie Palmer too?

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now