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

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

A Criminal Magic – Lee Kelly

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Summary:

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.

Review:

I’ve been in a reading funk lately. I know it happens to me now and then, but this seems a bit worse than normal with me finding it more difficult than normal to find something actually satisfying to read. I’ve been trying to combat this in a few ways: I’ve dropped down my challenge on Good Reads from 90 to 75 as a reminder to myself that sometimes quality is better than quantity. Just because I can read all the books doesn’t mean that I should.

The other way, of course, is to read awesome books, like this one.

A Criminal Magic is a historical fantasy set in the 1920s where the Prohibition isn’t against alcohol, it’s against the Sorcerer’s Shine, pure magic, distilled into a beverage that is a trip in a shot. It’s a fun concept for a world and it’s really well done with a magic system that both feels developed and feels like it has consequence and better still, the magic serves as a backdrop for ultimately an interesting character study about two newcomers to the underworld and how that life impacts them. You watch as Joan gets drawn deeper in, the promise of wealth and security like her family has never had being worth the risk even as Alex by it all having seen both sides of it – the money and the blood on the hands that come with it.

It’s a great, adult, moody piece and it’s not moralistic or preachy about the choices the characters make. The relationship between Alex and Joan is especially fascinating to watch develop. It’s a lovely slow burn so that when they do get together it feels like it’s been earned, and at the same point in time when the end of the book has come about, the resolution feels right based on the paths the characters had been taking to this point.

If you’re looking for that bit of fresh air, absolutely give this a look. It’s fantastic.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: now

Review: Angelus (The Books of Raziel #3) – Sabrina Benulis

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Summary:

The heart-pounding conclusion to the Books of Raziel trilogy, a gothic supernatural tale about a girl who discovers that she holds the keys to both Heaven and Hell—and that angels, demons, and all the creatures in between will stop at nothing to possess her and control the power she holds

“These angels can be vindictive and cruel, more human than you might expect and oozing supernatural abilities. . . . If you think you have the guts . . . pick it up.”—Boulder Examiner on Archon

The war begun by three powerful angel siblings—Raziel, Lucifel, and Israfel—has divided the kingdoms of both Heaven and Hell, and the destruction is spilling over into the human world.

The last hope for a crumbling world is the Archon—the human Angela Mathers who has the power to control the supernatural universe. Angela alone can successfully oppose Lucifel and open Raziel’s Book, to use its power for good. But to do so would mean murdering her best friend, a sacrifice Angela refuses to contemplate.

Angela sits on the throne of Hell, fulfilling a prophecy of ruin. But ruin does not always mean destruction—sometimes it means revolution. Time is running out for both Angela and the universe, and former enemies are eager to see her fail . . .

Review:

Before I get into the review proper, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do and gush about the book cover. I was fortunate enough to receive a finished copy from the publisher, and man, the photograph doesn’t really do it justice. The cover itself is almost completely matte, the grays are nice and saturated so the blood-red color of her hair and the hourglass all really stands out. The lettering also has the barest hint of a shine to it too that helps makes it stand out. All told, it’s quite eye-popping and probably one of my favorite covers in quite some time.

Of course, while a catchy cover can catch your eye, it doesn’t mean that the heart of the book itself can slack, and I don’t think it has. As before, Angelus picks up not too long after we left off and the End is basically here with Angela running out of time to open the Book of Raziel and save all mankind. She is still trapped in Hell at the beginning and the book is largely her journey to not only escape, but to see if there any way she can open the Book without Sophia, while of course trying to avoid being killed by Lucifel or the humans on earth who have been convinced that she is the new devil.

Again, as always the series places its emphasis on action more than anything else. We do get story dolled out, but it’s as Angela and her friends/allies dart from place to place. I still personally wish that there was more character development and I still feel like this would make an amazing television series where you could really bring all the great visuals to life.

The story does get wrapped up satisfactorily, and there’s a great (and grisly) end for one of our primary antagonists that did make me cheer, and I think fans of the series should be quite pleased with this ending.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: February 9