The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel – Kristi Charish

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Summary:

For the first time since we launched Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Random House Canada is thrilled to announce the debut of a new urban fantasy series. Kristi Charish’s The Voodoo Killings introduces Kincaid Strange, not your average voodoo practitioner…

For starters, she’s only 27. Then there’s the fact that she lives in rain-soaked Seattle, which is not exactly Haiti. And she’s broke. With raising zombies outlawed throughout the continental USA, Kincaid has to eke out a living running seances for university students with more money than brains who are desperate for guitar lessons with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker–who happens to be Kincaid’s on-again, off-again roommate.

Then a stray zombie turns up outside her neighbourhood bar: Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Not only is it dangerous for Kincaid to be caught with an unauthorized zombie, she soon realizes he’s tied to a spate of murders: someone is targeting the zombies and voodoo practitioners in Seattle’s infamous Underground City, a paranormal hub. When the police refuse to investigate, the City’s oldest and foremost zombie asks Kincaid to help. Raising ghosts and zombies is one thing, but finding a murderer? She’s broke, but she’s not stupid.

And then she becomes the target…As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, especially in Seattle.

Normally, I’m not much of a zombie person. Or at least, I’m not really much of a horror zombie kidn of person. The apocalypse (which usually comes with zombies) doesn’t interest me and beyond serving as a metaphor for death that is nipping at ones heels, they just aren’t that interesting of a normal paranormal creature to me.

Normally.

Kristi Charish’s Voodoo Killings has made me a fan, of at least her special brand of the classic creature.

Kincaid Strange lives in a world where zombies, ghosts and poltergeists are all quite real, and the latter common place enough that they even have their own enclave hidden beneath the streets of Seattle. Thanks to a police captain (that is the Mayor’s sister’s husband) that somehow believes that it’s your own damn fault if a ghost comes to visit, Kincaid’s primary means of living – raising zombies for things like will disputes and helping the police with preternatural crimes – was outlawed and now she’s stuck doing seances with the Kurt Cobain analogue of Nate Cade.

Then she’s called to do something about a zombie that randomly shows up outside the bar of a good friend and it all goes to pot from there.

If it sounds like their are vague similarities to Anita Blake (the zombies for wills, helping the police) there are, but that’s about the full extent of it. Kincaid isn’t a medium, she has no innate *need* to raise them like Anita does, and she’s very much on the outs with the police in this book, not only because of the outlaw on her craft but because one of the cops happens to also be an ex. Kincaid is very much her own woman and this world is very much its own place.

Like Charish’s other protagonist, Owl, Kincaid is a bit of loner in this book too, but that seems to be more by choice as opposed to just pissing everyone off  the way that Owl has a knack for. Still, the book has some rather interesting side characters from the aforementioned ghost Nate, to the century+ zombie of Lee Ling who runs the Seattle underground, to the aforementioned ex boyfriend where there’s some nice push and pull action between the pair and even a bit of jealousy. Ultimately, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends, she still feels a heck of a lot more human than a lot of urban fantasy protagonists can often come off as.

As far as Voodoo goes Charish kept her discussion of Voodoo to the actual Otherside – something that obviously none of us are going to have any experience with, so that it can be whatever she wants it to be. Voodoo/Vaundun is a real religion and it would have been easy to go with the obvious stereotypes, and she didn’t. It’s very much the kind of touch that I personally appreciate when people are putting their own spins on real-world religions and just a bit of an added bonus for me.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark on the design of this book. From the hand-drawn appearing title page, to the mirrored page numbers, mirrored author’s name and the snakes along each page, the team at Random House CA put a lot of love into this book and shows because rarely does a book get this much attention  for such small details. It’s fantastic.

My only complaint about this book is that right now this book has only been released in Canada, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t any plans for US distribution yet. I really hope that changes as this feels like another fresh entry into one of the most tropey fantasy sub-genres. Do yourself a favor and pick this up from Amazon.ca. Hopefully we can get demand up high enough so more can read this awesome book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now, at Canadian retailers only

P.S. Though not technically labeled as a series, the ending is absolutely setting up a second book. It makes me think that it will only actually become a series if sales justify it, so please take a look at this, I’d love to read more!

 

Night Watch (Watch #1) – Sergei Lukyanenko

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Summary:

Others. They walk among us. Observing.

Set in contemporary Moscow, where shape shifters, vampires, and street-sorcerers linger in the shadows, Night Watch is the first book of the hyper-imaginative fantasy pentalogy from best-selling Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko.

This epic saga chronicles the eternal war of the “Others,” an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of the Dark – the Night Watch – oversee nocturnal activity, while the agents of the Light keep watch over the day. For a thousand years both sides have maintained a precarious balance of power, but an ancient prophecy has decreed that a supreme Other will one day emerge, threatening to tip the scales. Now, that day has arrived. When a mid-level Night Watch agent named Anton stumbles upon a cursed young woman – an uninitiated Other with magnificent potential – both sides prepare for a battle that could lay waste to the entire city, possible the world. With language that throbs like darkly humorous hard-rock lyrics about blood and power, freedom and responsibility, Night Watch is a chilling, cutting-edge thriller, a pulse-pounding ride of fusion fiction that will leave you breathless for the next installment.

Review:

This is one of those books where the things that make it interesting also make it frustrating.

It is a refreshing change to read a story about a man who is not the hero and can never be the hero. It is also depressing when you are constantly being reminded that he is nothing but a pawn, knows it, hates it, and yet mostly accepts it because he sees little alternative.

There’s just something inherently depressing about this world; so much so that it makes it hard to keep a vested interest in the characters.

The book is not aided by a translation that, while assuredly faithful to the original as it can be, reads as very stilted as if the translator doesn’t understand that the meter and rhythms of the original language are only a hindrance here. There was nothing gained by refusing to soften the harshness of the style, is all.

Finally, the fact that this is not one story, but three shorts means that this feels like a loose collection of shorts that feel disconnected and only makes it that much harder to really ever gain any empathy for anyone.

This is one of those books you almost read out of academic interest because it feels so far removed from American urban fantasy. I’m not sad that I read it, but I also know I have no interest of looking at any of the other books in the series.

Verdict: Borrow it. This is very much a Your Mileage May Vary kind of book that’s hard to recommend at full price.

Available: Now

 

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1) – Carrie Vaughn

If there’s one way to get me to buy a book that I otherwise hadn’t gotten around to buying it’s this: have the author be signing at an event that I’m already at. This series has been on my radar for a while, and when I realized that Carrie was going to be at Wonder Con the day I was there, I finally bit the bullet and dove in, so let’s take a look.

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Summary:

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Review:

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is one of those books that’s fairly satisfying to read as you go along, but when I started to think about it, it just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Let’s break it down:

First off, the conceit that Kitty is a “raging success” feels incredibly paper thin. Here she is, on NPR, in Denver, with a show that airs at midnight in a world where vampires and werewolves aren’t out of the closet and she’s playing human. Why would this show attract anyone other than the local geeks? It’s inferred that all these people open to her because she’s easy to talk to, but being easy to talk to and suddenly talking about the problems you have as a vampire are two very different scenarios. And then even on top of that, it’s like within what a month or two she’s suddenly in syndication? Things just don’t work that fast! To be fair, this is where suspension of disbelief comes in, and it’s easy enough to do. I just hate it when books need hand waving to set up the world, and I feel like this is what that is.

Along those lines, this world and the people that live in it just feel underdeveloped. No one outside of the obvious bad guys has any real personality to speak of. I can’t tell you anything remarkable about the werewolf hunter other than he hunts vampires. Rick the vampire likes to slink in and out of the shadows. T.J. is a wolf that is supposedly her friend, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than chastise her for not falling in line with the demands of her Alpha. The vampire characters just feel generic vampire cutouts complete with the token “vampire still dressed in the wrong century” cliche. Kitty herself doesn’t even that rounded or developed. She’s mostly likable, but there’s literally nothing in this book that isn’t directly tied to the main plot so we have no time to flesh her out or have her grow.

Well, I take it back. There is some growth, but it’s not really her. It’s her Wolf. And yes, it’s referred to as Wolf in the book. Remember how Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Gray constantly referred to her Inner Goddess? It’s kind of like that. Not only does she call her Wolf, but sections in which she shifts are done by having her talk about herself in the third person. The unfortunate thing about this is that all the growth in the book seems to be done by her wolf. It’s the wolf that goes from submissive to angry and showing signs of eventually being Alpha. Even more unfortunately, not only does it feel like it robs Kitty of that growth, it makes it feel like it’s another entity entirely that Kitty has no agency over.

Case and point: the current Alpha of her pack is a real sleeze ball who sleeps with whatever females in the pack that he wants to, more or less because he can. Throughout the book the wolf basically rolls over and opens her legs and feels happy because…submissive? It’s like the book forgets that they aren’t wolves, they’re werewolves, which means there is a human aspect and there should be free will and agency. Not only does this rob Kitty of growth, but it just adds this creepy layer to her having sex with Carl that makes it feel dangerously close to rape.

All told, this book just didn’t work for me. The genre has been around long enough now that there are just better options out there whether you prefer something character driven, rich worlds, or more intriguing plots. Unlike some of the other series I’m giving a chance, right now I can safely say I won’t be picking up Kitty Goes to Washington.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

Succubus Blues (Georgina Kincaid #1)

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Summary:

When it comes to jobs in hell, being a succubus seems pretty glamorous. A girl can be anything she wants, the wardrobe is killer, and mortal men will do anything just for a touch. Granted, they often pay with their souls, but why get technical?

But Seattle succubus Georgina Kincaid’s life is far less exotic. At least there’s her day job at a local bookstore–free books; all the white chocolate mochas she can drink; and easy access to bestselling, sexy writer, Seth Mortensen, aka He Whom She Would Give Anything to Touch but Can’t.

But dreaming about Seth will have to wait. Something wicked is at work in Seattle’s demon underground. And for once, all of her hot charms and drop-dead one-liners won’t help because Georgina’s about to discover there are some creatures out there that both heaven and hell want to deny.

After Vampire Academy left me cold (sorry, Rose/Dimitri still kinda wigs me out) and after the major problems I had with Age of  X (and especially The Immortal Crown), I was a bit weary of picking this one up. Luckily, and perhaps because it is one of her older series, I didn’t have any of the issues I had with the other books.

Georgina is a very likable. She’s just the right amount of jaded that it doesn’t feel like it’s trendy or edgy, just naturally world-weary and the backstory of how she became a succubus has just the right note of tragedy. Her reasons for not dating seem genuine, and I think most bookworms can easily relate to the way that she’s in absolute love with Seth Mortensen’s books. I also like that she’s got no connection to police work, detective work or bartending which is always a bonus (okay, I’ll admit book store form of retail is almost a trope in of itself, but it doesn’t bother me as much here).

Really, all told this is quite a fun, basic, urban fantasy novel. My only real gripe is I picked out the bad guy from the moment they met. I was questioning whether you were supposed to, but considering a review for the last book in the series mentioned clue-by-fours, I’m going to go ahead and say that yes, yes you were. Thankfully, it didn’t ruin the fun by having it spoiled, and yet I don’t know that it was strictly necessary either.

As an aside: though there are one or two sex scenes, this book is pretty bloodless as far as violence goes. If you want a cleaner series, this is a good place to look.

All told, I’m not upset I broke my no additional UF series rule. I’ll give the next one a look and see where it goes from there.

Plus, as of 3/23, the book is on sale for $1.99 for Kindle. Hard to beat it at that price!

Verdict: Buy it  if still on sale or if you’re a big UF fan. Otherwise, borrow it. It may be a bit too traditional for some to hold your interest.

Available: Now.

 

Review: The Rook (The Chequy Files #1) – Daniel O’Malley

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Summary:

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, The Rook is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

Review:

This book came to my attention when another blogger was promoting it on twitter when it went on sale on Kindle. One of the things she mentioned was the opening, and man, is the praise the opening gets incredibly justified. How can you not be intrigued when the first line of the book opens with an intriguing letter like that? It would be easy for such a strong start to be followed by a disappointing tale, but fortunately, that is not what happens here. Instead, we get an intriguing mystery – who is the one that wiped Myfanwy’s memories – wrapped up inside a fascinating world. Think of the Chequy as the government-sanctioned, super-well funded and organized version of the X-Files. Cool, right?

Also cool is that O’Malley spent a lot of time thinking of interesting powers for people in this world to have. Psychics are all but dismissed out of hand (save for a duck of all things) and you don’t even really see other staples like telekinesis, which is refreshing. Perhaps my favorite is the creepy Gestalt. Gestalt has four bodies (including a set of twins), and one brain that controls all four bodies. ONE. BRAIN. Creepy, but awesome.

The story also turns out to be an interesting study of nature vs. nuture. Myfanwy’s childhood resulted in a rather shy person, who, whilst a capable administrator is very timid. Myfanwy 2.0, by comparison, doesn’t have her former self’s inhibitions – in how she acts or how she uses her powers for that matter. It’s interesting learning about Myfanwy 1.0 from the letters and compare and contrast her against our protagonist, it’s fun.

This book has action, it has intrigue, it has giant fungi and all kinds of slime. If you enjoy contemporary paranormal/urban fantasy, you need to check this book out. Even if you don’t normally read urban fantasy , you should check this out. It’s different, refreshing and fun. Best of all, the sequel Stiletto is due out in June.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

Review: City of Light (Outcast #1) – Keri Arthur

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Summary:

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay….

As a déchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth.

Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe…

Review:

There’s no way around this: City of Light is a disappointment. The concept is cool, but it feels like that: just a concept, and a wasted one at that.

We meet no humans. We see no shifters other than Tiger actually shift. Tiger is supposedly a lure – a déchet bred to seduce the enemy – but all that seems to mean is that she is a walking sack of hormones who gets horny when someone with the right DNA walks by with no input from her own emotions at all. What this ultimately feels like is a world where Tiger has plot convenient powers because the plot demands them, leaving the actual differences between humans and shifters and the déchet as little more than a thinly veiled allegory about racism. Outside of one instance where Tiger shifted her form, there is no reason for her to be a shifter. Outside of her ability to become one with the shadows, there is no reason for her to be part vampire. She could have just been a witch or a psychic and it would have had the same impact on the story.

Also, can I say that her constantly referring to the ghosts as her “little ones” wound up being a bit more creepy than endearing?

The other thing that didn’t really work for me was the fact that the people that she is roped into helping ultimately all come off as complete and utter assholes. The cause may be a good one, but they’re basically blackmailing her throughout the book directly and indirectly into having her help. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if Tiger herself had more personality, but for me she just felt flat on the page.

I don’t think the book is a complete failure – the story was at least interesting enough that I read through to the end as opposed to just setting it aside – but the things that should have made this book stand out and shine just fell completely flat. The ending of this book is a complete and obvious set up for a sequel, and I have to say that I have no real desire to actually keep an eye out for it, let alone read it. I just don’t care.

Based on the early reviews upon Goodreads, this book seems to be developing a solid fanbase, but I am just not one of them. The only thing worse than a book devoid of any fresh ideas at all is one that has them but squanders them.

City of Light just did not work and I can’t recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 5

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

Top 10 of 2015

Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that I was writing 2014’s list. Then again, isn’t that how it always goes? Anyways.

Before we get into it, once again here are the criteria I use:

1. Must have been reviewed in 2015 (so older titles qualify)

2. Only one book per author or series

3. Must have been rated as a “Buy It” by me.

Without further ado, let us begin !

Honorable Mention:

Alex Verus Series – by Benedict Jacka

I really wanted to put at least one of these books on my list as it is now one of my all-time favorite Urban Fantasy series. I debated breaking my own rules to put this on the list, but then I realized that this series is unique in that the sum is really greater than the individual parts, with each book I love it just a little bit more. These are quick easy reads with a protagonist that is much more gray than UF heroes/heroines are allowed to be with a great supporting cast including women who only grow stronger as the books pass. I know that the first book can seem derivative, but stick it out and give the series a chance. It may just grow on you the way it’s grown on me.

10.

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Read the review here

A mash-up of historical fantasy, secondary world fantasy, with a dash of science-fiction, The Philosopher Kings poses some great philosophical questions within its text that invites the reader to ponder over just as the characters do. I do think the appeal is too niche to really place it higher on this list, but for those who like philosophy or are looking for something a bit heavier, this is a book well worth checking out.

9.

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Read the review here

Yes, I know I just reviewed this the other day, and this would be the spot I was having trouble deciding what book to put here. The Lost Sun is Young Adult fantasy with Nordic flair and engrossing story of friendship and destiny and is well worth checking out.

8.

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Read the review here

A lush dark fantasy that builds up a wonderful atmosphere of tension that leaves you as unsettled as the heroine as she tries to navigate this world that she suddenly finds herself thrust into. Though not strictly Gothic horror, it has that lovely sense to it. If you like dark fae, give this book a look.

7.

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Read the review here

Urban Fantasy that has a) a completely average male as a lead, b) has no trace of the paranormal nor c) romance make this grounded tale a wonderful and unique read within the genre. If you’ve got a friend that you’re trying to lure into reading Urban Fantasy, this is an excellent series to start with.

6.

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Read the review here

The winning formula for this series is simple: take all your Urban Fantasy tropes and give them a twist. Vampires aren’t the main bad-guys, Charish mouths off and people get pissed at her. That kind of thing. A very fun ride and worth a read if you like the old favorites but want to see a hint of something new.

5.

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Read the review here

A secondary world epic fantasy that combines lush world building and one of the strongest, most sex-positive female characters I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t read on, anyone who reads epic fantasy should give this book a look. It’s reputation is well earned. Plus, the refreshed covers are simply stunning.

4.

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Read the review here

A historical fantasy that is audacious enough to make Lucifer the hero of our tale – and does so in a manner that is absolutely respectful to the religion in the process. Any and all fantasy writers that want to take on Christianity should use this as a guide on how to do it right. I’m thrilled it’s seeing a stateside release in 2016.

3.

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Read the review here

Combining characters you love and a sense of wonder as you travel the Zodiac’s galaxy, this is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Fans of YA and sci-fi/fantasy blends should absolutely read this.

2.

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Another piece of YA sci-fi, the complex themes and the beautiful writing make me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better served on adult shelves. Complex themes, a bittersweet ending and a delicate balanced lesbian relationship make this a must read. Oh, and Talis is everything.

1.

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Read the review here

The most audacious book I’ve quite possibly read, even taking on J for the complexity of its story telling. The best part is that there is as much substance to it as there is style. One of the rare books that absolutely deserves the hype it’s received.

~

So there we have it! I’d never guess I’d have three YA sci-fi titles as my top three this year, which makes it all the more awesome that I do. I think that niche of the genre really came alive this year and gives me hope that it’ll continue to mature and producer a richer cannon of books that stray away from the typical YA tropes. Aside from that, I don’t feel like 2015 was quite as strong a year for me as 2014 was, but as always, if you look, you will always find some gems.

So tell me, what were your favorites?

A Fantasy Medley 3 – edited by Yanni Kuzina

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Summary:

In “Goddess at the Crossroads,” Kevin Hearne shares a thrillingly memorable episode from the past of his popular Iron Druid Chronicles hero Atticus O’Sullivan, revealing how one night’s dark encounter with the cult of Hecate served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s witches in the Scottish play.

With “Ashes,” Laura Bickle revisits Detroit arson investigator and powerful spirit medium Anya Kalinczyk as she, her five-foot-long salamander familiar Sparky, and Hades’ Charon pursue a destructive fire elemental named the Nain Rouge through the city’s festival in his dubious honor.

“The Death of Aiguillon” finds Aliette de Bodard exploring an episode sixty years prior to the start of her latest novel, The House of Shattered Wings, in which the survivors of an ongoing magical conflict in Paris eke out a grim existence, and one woman’s wish for a better life is granted at a terrible price.

And in “One Hundred Ablutions,” Jacqueline Carey, author of the much-beloved Kushiel’s Legacy series, tells the tale of Dala—a young woman chosen by her people’s overlords to be an exalted slave among slaves—and of the twining in her life of ritual, rebellion, and redemption.

Review:

Throughout the past year I’ve really started to grow an appreciation for anthologies. I think they can be a great way to be introduced to new authors and get glances at worlds you might want to further explore on your own. So when I got wind through Jacqueline Carey’s Twitter that she was participating in this new project, I got all excited.

Then I had sticker shock.

$20 for a trade paperback or $45 for a limited edition hard copy  signed by all four authors. There are apparently no current plans for an eBook version. On the face of it, it’s like, what’s the big deal. Small runs are expensive. Which is true. But this anthology totals 152 pages. Total. Each story averages somewhere around 35-37 pages. They are genuinely short stories, the kind you usally pay for at $0.99-$1.99 for on Kindle when the big publishers release them.

Not going to lie. That’s steep and makes it a tough sell. So the question becomes: is this book worth it?

While only you can put a dollar amount on that value, I can at least tell you what I thought of the stories and my own personal belief. Let’s get to it.

“Goddess at the Crossroads” is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. No more. No less. Atticus sits at a campfire and tells of how he met William Shakespeare and how he directly influenced the creation of Macbeth and the supposed curse that follows The Scottish Play. It’s fun, but it’s pure froth that’s easily forgettable. It’s a slice of life story basically. Existing fans won’t really learn much new about the hero and I’m not sure how much of a good introduction to the series it would be for newbies like myself. That says, the story does stand on its own pretty well, which is always appreciated in this kind of collection.

“Ashes” – I think was the best of the shorts from existing series. Fans of Anya will delight in the continuation of her story, while keeping it rather newbie friendly. I came out of this genuinely wanting to take another work at the series that the story was set in. I can’t speak to authorial intent, but if I were an author and I were invited to participate in anthology, this is what I’d aim for: a treat for my loyal readers that has the potential to earn me new ones at the same time.

“The Death of Aiguillon” – one of the reason for my sticker shock was that I didn’t like The House of Shattered Wings so much so I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. The world is very dense with history and mythology of how things came to be, and de Bodard leaves you to figure it out. I hate when books over-explain their worlds, but she doesn’t even try. She presents it as “here it is, figure it out,” and it’s just not enticing enough to try when the characters are all so chilly and distant and there’s so many characters and so much maneuvering that you need a flow chart to keep it all straight. Needless to say, the first novel wasn’t newbie friendly and this isn’t any easier a read. There is a nicely human sentiment at the core, but it’s just too dense for its own good. 

“One Hundred Ablutions” is the one that I was most excited for when I first heard the announcement. The prose is definitely lush without being dense as is her namesake, and this book looks at slavery through the lens of essentially a bird in a gilded cage. She may be well fed. She may have great quarters. She may get to be treated with a rarefied air amongst her other Kerens, but she’s still very much a slave. Like so many of Carey’s works though, I think it needed a little more time to develop. As it stands, it’s not bad, but it’s not her most memorable work either.

So all that said. Do I think it worth the $20 now? Would I now go and buy it?

No.

I really enjoyed two, only kind of liked one, and didn’t like one. To me, that’s just not enough.

As for you, I’ll make my recommendation this way: if you’re a completionist and really love one (or more) of the authors listed, it would be a great add to your collection. Everyone else can skip it either until an e-book version comes out (I’d recommend it at $10) or until the stories get reprinted down the road. As it stands, however, I just don’t think there’s enough meant on this books bones to warrant the price tag.

Verdict: Skip it. Should a price drop or a reduced-price eBook ever come along, upgrade this to a Borrow It.

Available 12/31/2015 through Subterranean Press.

Chosen (Alex Verus #4) – Benedict Jacka

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Summary:

I don’t publicly advertise that I’m a mage, but I don’t exactly hide it either, and one of the odd things I’ve learnt over the years is just how much you can get away with if you’re blatant enough. Hide something behind smoke and mirrors and make people work to find it, and they’ll tear the place down looking for what’s there.

Alex Verus is a diviner who can see probable futures—a talent that’s gotten him out of many a tough scrape. But this time, he may be in over his head. Alex was once apprenticed to a Dark mage, and in his service he did a lot of things he isn’t proud of.

As rumors swirl that his old master is coming back, Alex comes face to face with his misdeeds in the form of a young adept whose only goal is to get revenge. Alex has changed his life for the better, but he’s afraid of what his friends—including his apprentice, Luna—will think of his past. But if they’re going to put themselves at risk, they need to know exactly what kind of man they’re fighting for…

Review:

Have you ever had one of those moments where you weren’t sure if you were liking something, and then all of the sudden realized you were looking at it wrong and then just got it?

I had one of those moments while reading Chosen the fourth book in the Alex Verus’ series.

See, here’s the thing: said adept from the summary? He’s just not interesting. He’s entire characterization is basically:

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Only it was a sister who died and the adept manages to recruit a bunch of other kids into a kind of vigilante army that fights the dark mages nominally because the system’s broke, but in actuality just because he wants revenge.

And it makes for a very dull opponent and I was wondering when the book was going to get to it.

But then I realized, it’s also kind of not the point.

Chosen is really all about Alex and his backstory. What he did as an apprentice, and what he is now, and trying to reconcile the past with his present and the fact that you can’t always just make the bad stuff in your past disappear by not thinking about it.

One aspect of this series that I’ve always loved is that Jacka has very purposefully made Verus not a fighter. He’s not a battle mage, knows he’s not a battle mage and tries to avoid a fight whenever possible. It’s not that he’s a coward, it’s just the odds are perpetually against him, here so more than ever because of the numbers in this game. At his core, Alex is a decent guy and understandably doesn’t want to risk his friends, yet also knows he can’t just keep running. So he comes up with a plan that is brutal and effective. And what makes him so interesting as a character is that at the end of it all, he doesn’t regret the decision he makes, he regrets that he was forced to make that decision in the first place, forced to dig up that past he was so desperately trying to move beyond. It’s the kind of decision that really does put him squarely into anti-hero category without him necessarily being just an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. And that character study – the decisions he makes in this book – are what makes this book worth reading. There is plenty of action who like that kind of thing, though I found it a bit repetitive (get found, fight, run, repeat) after a while.

Alex Verus remains such an interesting character because at his core he is a decent guy who made some very poor decisions as a kid, and though he has been trying to overcome them, the fact remains that he doesn’t think like a good guy. He spent too much time with the Dark Mages as a vulnerable teenager and that training did leave a mark on him and that means that he’s willing to cross a line that most urban fantasy protagonists would never be allowed to cross.

Without question this is a series that quickly grew on me and is probably becoming one of my favorite of all time favorites. I look forward to reading Hidden and strongly recommend checking out the series if you haven’t already.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now