Category Archives: Review
By Richelle Mead
Release date: June 4, 2013
I don’t like a lot of things. This becomes apparent as I pick books to review. And in the interest of not being one big vicious downer, I try to choose books worth talking about. But still, sometimes I just like to complain.
Often. Just warning you.
I have read most of Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy books. I don’t own any of them. On reflection, I wondered why that was when I started reading Gameboard of the Gods. Her writing style is solid; her characters are very interesting. Sure she writes teen paranormal romance…but I haven’t tried to read any, so it’s not like I can say that ruined everything for me. (I work at a bookstore. We all hate teen paranormal romance. My one exception is Dia Reeves, and that’s because her stuff is crazy. In a good way.)
We follow two characters, Justin March and Mae Koskinen. Justin is a disgraced former government worker who made his living debunking religious groups. Mae Koskinen is a purebred Nordic super soldier. Both are emotionally damaged. Both are very compelling, likeable characters. Mae is tough and capable without being two dimensional. You know what type I mean: “Oh I am a Xena-clone warrior woman, hear me roar!” She’s not. Justin is a loveable rogue, and rather sleazy, but I didn’t feel dirty afterward, so that’s a good sign. He’s built up as extremely competent and observant. And now RUNA wants him back to solve a series of locked door murders with a potential supernatural bend. Which is good, because Justin wants to go back. And bad, because the supernatural doesn’t exist, does it?
In addition, I liked Tessa, Justin’s teenage ward. She provides the most identifiable voice. She isn’t from RUNA, and she doesn’t understand all the rules/technology. She’s believable, mostly likeable, and plays a larger role than the synopsis blurb mentions.
I liked the world too. Disease, genetic mutations, and anarchy have led to the fall of the world as we know it. But not everything is bleak and dystopic. RUNA, the Republic of United North America, is comprised of parts of Canada and the former United States. They have all sorts of shiny technology, clean streets, and no dominant religions. Justin’s job was to prove certain religions were dangerous or in violation of the law and then to shut them down. Therefore, there are lots of vague miscellaneous religions that don’t last very long, like Our Lady of the Key rather than Buddha, or Anansi, or Durga. A neighboring country, the southern part of the United States, has become a hostile theocracy. But Mead doesn’t really go into much detail.
There is the issue is a virus called Mephistopheles, or colloquially, Cain. It killed half of humanity, causing scarring, asthma, loss of fertility, and other fun things. Diverse genetic backgrounds offered more resistance; so much of the populace has grab bag ancestry. They’re referred to as plebians. The castals are groups of varying specificity that claim ethnic pureness. They have higher susceptibility to Cain, and special reservations. Their “pureness” is varying from the Nordics and their multiple Scandinavian backgrounds to “Nipponese.” Mead throws you in with little explanation of what some of the terms mean. I thought I’d had a typo with Gemmans, another word for people from RUNA. About a hundred pages in, things are explained. But that leaves you with the traditional sci-fi opening feeling of “WTF is going on?”
So the world is a playground. The people aren’t boring. Why don’t I love this?
It was fun. But flawed.
Perhaps these things won’t bother you, and you will freely enjoy the book. They bothered me a lot.
Justin is built up as some kind of genius. His exile is a silly punishment for the crime. And it doesn’t really make sense. Justin’s character is intelligent enough, but he doesn’t live up to the hype. For example, I guessed, in the first chapter, what was going on with his…passengers. He’s supposedly some kind of genius. Focusing on religions. Possibly being used by something supernatural. And he can’t guess who it is, despite having all that “genius” knowledge and free time for research. He had to pretty much be told at the end of the book.
So yeah, not that sharp.
This detail is very very small. Praetorian super soldiers like Mae don’t sleep. Ever. There is no explanation how they don’t go insane. But seriously, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause drastic personality shifts, insanity, death…
Final verdict: Fun book, if you can overlook some of these details. It’s been awhile since I read Mead’s other books, but I’m getting the feeling that I had similar issues.
By Chuck Wendig
Release date: May 28, 2013
Angry Robot has been hit or miss for me, but Chuck Wendig is a hit. I guess it’s not really fair for me to single out a publisher, but they’re memorable. That is due to their tag system; the back of every book has a list of descriptions. File under Occult Underworld/Psychedelic Color Drugs/Not Your Mother’s Elektra-Complex. I made those ones up. But you get the gist. Also, this book doesn’t come out for another month, but we all need something to look forward to, right?
If you’ve read Wendig’s Miriam Black series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird), you know he can write. And you know the characters he writes aren’t really people you want to invite to your house. Wendig is gritty. His characters are damaged, not always likeable, and likely to make off with the good silver. I also want to add an “o” to the end of his name because how awesome would that be? But I digress. The Miriam Black series skirts the paranormal. For the most part, it’s the world as we know it, only with more trailer trash and serial killers than Ohio. (It’s OK, I can say that; I live in Ohio. No, I lied; it will never be OK. I live in Ohio.) In The Blue Blazes, Wendig finally takes the plunge and brings us Neverwhere‘s crackwhore stepsister with serious daddy issues. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Mookie Pearl is a thug, an estranged father, and a soldier in the Polish mob. He likes eating meat, beating the shit out of goblins, and doing the eponymous Blue. Blue is a drug mined from the Underworld, a literal chthonic nightmare situated under NYC. It makes the user stronger, faster, and open to seeing disturbing magical things, which also come from said Underworld. The most common are goblins: primitive, man-eating, and possessing disgusting spawning habits. There are more things in the depths too, things that drive mere mortals to gibbering insanity. It’s a Lovecraftian setup with nary a “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
And then comes Nora AKA Persephone: Mookie’s dear drug-dealing daughter who has daddy-issues. She’s started a rival setup and is heading toward war with Mookie’s Polish friends. Now Mookie isn’t a total monster, he really does care about Nora. But it would be very bad if his employers found out about their relationship. Then the boss-to-be approaches Mookie about a very special mission in the Underworld… Of course, things just go to subterranean hell from there.
I enjoyed the fantasy element a lot. Wendig made very entertaining characters and factions. The potential love interest grows a little bland at parts, but Mookie and Nora set a high bar. I’m also a sucker for well-meaning but utterly dysfunctional family stories. Mookie and Nora’s relationship is not good. And they both have very good reasons to be unhappy with each other. Lister and Werth also have extremely…unhealthy but compelling relationships with Mookie. I won’t go into spoilers, but I enjoyed their interaction too.
The street gangs get a little silly (roller derby rockabilly chicks that don’t use guns are cool in theory, but not using heavier weapons makes it hard to take them seriously). The Blue Blazes has a more distinct questing element than Miriam Black. Parts of the treasure hunt feel a little too convenient, but I can suspend disbelief because of the writing. Also because Wendig throws in fun crazy shit: construction worker-warriors, zombie-towns, delicious meats… It’s gritty, but fun. Maybe a bit more uplifting than the Miram Black books; which is weird because this definitely has more disturbing imagery.
The journal entries before each chapter are a nice bit of milieu. Very Lovecraftian. I don’t think the super bad things are quite as scary as they should be, but I took this more as a dark urban fantasy romp than a horror story. The ending is a little predictable, but still satisfying.
So if you need something dark, gritty, and fun, I recommend The Blue Blazes.
Edited by Paula Guran
Published March 19, 2013
I love short story anthologies, especially the kind that provide a sampling from several authors. I know going in that there are going to be some stinkers, but usually there are at least a few good ones, and if I’m lucky, there will be a new author to pick up. And the topic matter makes for great stories.
Weird Detectives has a lot of heavy-hitters. This guarantees good solid reads that won’t make you go “Oh God I spent $16.99 on this book, and now I can’t afford lunch, and it sucks!” Unfortunately, most of the things by the people we know best are reprints. In fact, everything in here is a reprint, but since some of the authors aren’t so well-known some of the stories were new to me. The only really new content is case summary. Each chapter has a case summary, if you will, outlining the who and the what of the crime.
For the authors you know, nothing really deviates from the expected. Neil Gaiman and Patricia Briggs are impressive as always. I prefer Jim Butcher’s novels to his short stories, but “Love Hurts” is decent read. Reprint or not it is a very good selection of stories. BUT, some of them are very old.
I’ve picked a few stories to highlight, and they’re spoiler free!
“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks surprised me. I’d seen his Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, and decided to pass on that one. I’m very picky about Asian-themed lit. It’s either not very good or tends to play to stereotypes. His writing took a moment to get used to; the style was punchier than most Heian era tales. That put me off initially – it felt too anachronistic. The protagonist sounds like he’d be more at home in the Maltese Falcon than the Tale of Genji. It’s a little jarring.
As monsters went, youkai ran the gamut from “mildly annoying” to “slurp your intestines like hot noodles.” By the time you knew which sort you were dealing with, it was usually too late. (pg 371)
But a few pages into the story I was able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I don’t know if I’ll buy his collection of Yamada stories, but I liked his writing.
“Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry piqued my interest. He’s on my to-read list. This one doesn’t involve zombies and it’s a rather predictable private eye tale, but I enjoyed his voice and style. Definitely going to pick up more of his stuff.
“Imposters” by Sarah Monette held some very interesting post-modern magic and not a little social commentary. It’s Capgras Syndrome in reverse, which in these cases happens to be very terminal. The character dynamic was very compelling, but it felt a little preachy at the end.
“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear was not what I expected. The first time I read it, I was surprised, and not certain if I liked it. But after a reread I’ve decided that I do. It involves virgins, monsters, and a rather improper students/teacher relationship that has severe consequences. Elizabeth Bear recently put out a short story anthology Shoggoths in Bloom. This is printed in that as well ( and where I saw it first), and it is an excellent compilation.
“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris was a pleasant reread. Yes, I know, everyone knows Charlaine Harris and I was trying to highlight some of the less famous, but still good stories. I’m hypercritical and have been editing my words, but here I’ll be blunt. I don’t like the Sookie Stackhouse series; it’s a revolving door dating service for an only somewhat likeable but not very compelling psychic waitress. There, I said it. Bring on the fire and pitchforks. But while we’re waiting, I will admit, Charlaine Harris can write (despite my feelings about that series). Dahlia is a far more interesting character than Sookie, and she’s set in the same universe. A familiar character makes a cameo. So even if you don’t like Sookie, Dahlia is worth a read.
Overall, this is a great collection worth owning. BUT, you should definitely check to see if you’ve already read/purchased these stories elsewhere. Prime Books posted a copy of the table of contents here.
With his days occupied with duties as Captain of the Guard, and nights consumed with upholding his reputation as a rake, Lord Sebastian Hastings’s schedule is filled. There’s no extra time to be anyone’s bodyguard, but the royal family’s safety is a task he sees to personally.
Prince Colton Townsend has loved Sebastian for as long as he can remember, but he’s done pining for a man who has vowed never to remarry. So he consoles himself with the second love of his life—horses. Stable building and horse racing consume his every thought, at least until he’s stuck with Sebastian dogging his every step.
While looking over the prospects at an auction, Colton is trying to ignore his sexy, pesky bodyguard when he feels compelled to take on a bully to protect an abused horse. Sebastian is dragged into the fray, and their good deed sparks a string of nasty rumors.
There’s only one way to quell the political storm: marry. But instead of solving everything, Colton realizes his new husband is a bundle of secrets, none of which he’ll give up easily. Unless Colton makes one, last-ditch effort that could break his heart for good.
Warning: Contains an obnoxious filly, a love-struck prince, a meddling king, a matchmaking duke, vicious rumors and hunky ex Special Forces soldiers.
J.L. Langley was one of the first m/m writers I encountered, and is still an autobuy for me. She’s not terribly prolific, so it’s always a reason for celebration when one of her books comes out.
My Regelence Rake has been a long time coming—the previous book in the series, The Englor Affair, was published in 2008. I wish I could say that it was worth the wait, but of the three books in the series (begun with My Fair Captain) My Regelence Rake is easily the weakest.
Don’t get me wrong—if you like Ms. Langley’s writing, and I do, hence the autobuy status—MRR is still a fun romp through what is a cleverly built futurescape. The conceit of these books is that there are planets in the far future (the date of January 12th, 4831, opens the book) which have chosen to replicate the era of Waterloo, the Prince Regent, and Jane Austen. One of these planets is Regelence, where same-sex marriages are the norm, and young males as protected and hedged ´round with rules as young girls were in the original. (The other is Englor, and the second book takes place there; while it is also Regency in culture, same-sex marriages are not the norm, and the situation creates a different type of tension.)
The planet is ruled by King Steven and his Consort, Raleigh; they have five boys, each of whom (at least so far) gets his own novel in the series. My Regelence Rake tells the story of Colton, who is in love with Sebastian, Viscount Wentworth, the rake of the title, who has demons of his own to battle—although he is and always has been in love with Colton, he has a Past that makes him feel that he is not good enough for the young prince. Circumstances throw them together, of course, and between Sebastian being assigned as Colton’s bodyguard and the mystery of Sebastian’s past, the two find themselves in various predicaments.
Although there are plots and subplots in each of the books, they are linked by a common thread—another mystery, involving the intergalactic navy that protects the planets in the union of whatever part of the galaxy, and betrayals and kidnappings and all sorts of fun stuff.
In fact, I think that that was what disappointed me the most about this book. The other two played more with the intergalactic stuff, and that world-building and the interplay between the sci-fi elements and the Regency-like cultures made the stories fun. This book sacrifices that interplay to focus on the social constructs of Regelence culture. But the “historical” elements of the planetary societies are the barest minimum, basically what everyone “knows” about the period: Tattersall’s, private clubs, gambling, balls. Nothing in depth, nothing that smacks of any real research, so while it might appeal to those with a Regency jones, it falls short of feeling real. The main plot is situational, based on Sebastian’s Past and his involvement with Colton; while there are occasional references to the intergalactic naval mystery, they don’t affect the story one way or another.
Another problem I had was with the relationship between Sebastian and Colton. Part of what I enjoyed in the first two books was the culture clash between Nate—a starship captain—and the prince Aidan, and Simon—officer of the more conventional Regency planet of Englor and heir to that throne—and first-time-away-from-home Payton. Here there is no such culture clash; it’s more of the traditional romance with difficulties thrown in, and there’s nothing of the sense of wonder and exploration and edginess that made the encounters in the previous two books so entertaining… and hot. MRR is still pretty hot, but not up to the level of the first two books.
My Regelence Rake is still an entertaining book by anyone’s standards. If it had been the first book in the series, though, I might not have read the others. As it is, I have hopes for the other two brothers in the royal family of Regelence and really look forward to reading those. Hopefully in sooner than four years, though.
When you read a lot, you begin to notice the little trends that occur. At the moment one of those trends is the single gay man unexpectedly becoming a father. Usually when this happens, it is because the guy is helping someone else become a parent and has to take responsibility after a tragedy occurred. Other times, it is because a sibling has pasted and the main character has to now raise his niece or nephew. One Small Thing takes a totally different path however. In this story main character, Rue Murray, ends up having a one night stand. When the girl ends up pregnant, with no desire to be a mother, Rue doesn’t hesitate to step up to the plate. I liked this new turn as it gives this new trend a fresh spin. The authors did a wonderful job showcasing the uncertainty and fear that Rue goes through during this time in his life, which allowed the story to come across realistically.
The other main character in this story is Erik Van Nuys. Erik is a science fiction writer who suffers from a variety of phobias. These phobias have caused a number of problems in his life. When he’s forced to move into a new apartment, he becomes Rue’s new neighbor, which leads to more than he can handle. I really loved Erik. The way he works around his issues made me laugh, especially after he starts babysitting little Alice. Another area which will keep the reader entertained is watching Erik as he shifts from straight science fiction to gay romance science fiction.
Erik and Rue are two vastly different characters. That the authors kept this in mind and allowed the men to move from total strangers to friends, and then to lovers, made their relationship more believable. Due to their differences, however, the men have many stumbling blocks to overcome and when misunderstandings occur it looks as if those differences may just end up keeping them apart. I liked watching as these two become, along with baby Alice, a family. The authors brought the connection between these two across wonderfully, as well as showed the men’s growing maturity as they dealt with being parents.
Piper Vaughn and M.J. O’Shea make a great writing duo. Their books are always entertaining and keep the reader’s attention. After reading one of their stories I always find myself looking for more. If you have yet to try one of their stories I would say give One Small Thing a try, you won’t be sorry.
Seizing It, is a terrific story that’s centers on two interesting characters, Kit Hall and Dale Miller. Kit is the receptionist at a veterinary clinic. Much to his family’s dismay the young man as become withdrawn from others because of his epilepsy. The fact that he has also been dealing with an abusive ex hasn’t helped matters much. Having known people who have suffered from epilepsy, as well as those in abusive relationships, it was easy to see the author had done her research. This made the story more realistic and made for a better all around story.
Dale is the new vet taking over the clinic where Kit works. The way that these two first meet is intense and makes for some oops moments later in the story. There is a chemistry between the two men that’s hard to miss. But in order for them to have a relationship Dale has a lot of hurdles to over come where Kit is concerned. With his history, it is easy to see why Kit behaves the way he does, and I like that Dale knows just what to do to help the young man.
Between the actions of Kit and Dale, as well as the many wonderful secondary characters, readers will enjoy this fast paced story that will grabs their attention from page one. Seizing It, was my introduction to author Chris T. Kat, and this story made me a fan of the author. I can’t wait to see what the she plans on next.
Lynn Lorenz authors several different series, each one polar opposite of the others. Her series, Rougaroux Social Club, centers on a pack of werewolves located in the Louisiana bayou. The pack dynamics are slightly different than want we usually see, which gives the series a fresh feel for those that like to eat these types of stories up. The newest addition to this series is titled Bayou’s End, and is the story of Peter Graham and BillyTrosclair.
Those that read the first story may remember these two. Peter is the young artist who made several unsuccessful passes at Ted, the pack alpha’s mate, before hooking up with a visiting art instructor. Billy is one of the alpha’s deputies and is currently in charge while Ted and Scott are out of town on a much needed vacation.
After leaving his ex, Peter goes looking for Ted, hoping the private detective would be willing to help him. What he finds in St. Jerome is more than what he ever expected. The first meeting between Peter and Billy is intense and one of Peter’s secrets is revealed right away. I did not see this little twist coming and liked that it made the connection between Peter and Billy that much stronger. I was also surprised by the way Peter was treated by his ex, who I wanted to smack. Unfortunately, Peter is one of those characters that trouble just loves to follow. This of course makes things a little difficult for Billy who is trying to juggle his pack duties, his work duties, and now the duties of being a new mate.
Although the passion between these two burns up the pages, the author does not make everything easy for them. There continues to be discord among pack members concerning same sex mating’s. This leads to a few twists and turns that soon pull Peter into the cross hairs. While the way Peter’s problems were resolved surprised me, I did like the way in which the author wrapped everything up.
Readers may want to keep in mind that this story touches briefly on the subjects of date rape and physical abuse. While the author does not throw these subjects up constantly they are important to the background story.
Ms. Lorenz has a new addition to this series coming out soon, and I for one can’t wait.
by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Source: Purchased (reading for bookclub)
I really enjoyed this book. It was simply lovely. It is a historical fiction but books and discussing books bring the characters together. Because it is told through a series of letters between the characters it reminds me a lot of 84 Charing Cross Road, which I also loved, but there is more history and meat to this story. WWII recently ended, Guernsey (part of the Channel Islands across from London) had been occupied during the war, and the people on the island created a literary society to have a reason to assemble and avoid trouble from the Germans. Juliet, the main character and an author, receives a letter from one of the islanders asking for a bookshop recommendation, her name and address was in one of the books he now owns. This opens up a friendship between the society members and Juliet, who asks they write to her to tell her their experiences during the war. You really get to know the characters, and they are strong, determined, amazing and funny and feel very real. There is not a huge amount of action but instead is a quiet, reflective type of book.
Besides being interesting history and character driven, they share a love of books that I can so understand!
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” (pg 11)
Ultimately, Juliet decides to write a book about Guernsey and the Society and goes there to interview everyone properly. It is so interesting to see how much you can learn about people from their correspondence. It is happy, sad, romantic, funny and heart-warming. It had me laughing and crying, for both happy and sad and horrifying reasons. It discusses WWII and the atrocities the people faced and lived to tell about or not. It does take a little work to get to know all of the characters because there are a lot of them. I spoke to one of my friends who compiled a list of characters and who they are to keep her straight as she reads. I just plowed on through and figured out who characters were as I went. I was a little confused a time or two, but it didn’t really matter. Things are revealed as you dig through the letters, so you have to have patience and an open mind going in. But it really is worth it if you like historical fiction, ever read and enjoyed Griffin and Sabine (though this is without magic) or 84 Charing Cross Road. Read it!! For me, it is a 5 star book and a keeper.
by Clint Morey
Book received from the author
Jaidee is a thriller/mystery about a PI who normally exposes philandering spouses but gets caught up in the sex trade handled by the mob. Josh busts a husband found with an underage prostitute which causes him to get involved with Jaidee (a 14 year old) and soon finds them both fighting for their lives. Unfortunately, Jaidee has entertained some powerful movers and shakers and they don’t want her to be able to ID them. The cops place her in a home to help her start a new life, but when Josh finds out about a hit on her life, he extracts Jaidee just in time, which brings him and his friends to the center of the bulls eye. There is a mole in the police department and Josh isn’t sure who he can trust.
This was a mystery/thriller with practically non-stop action. Just when you think you can relax, something new happens. You know who the bad guy is pretty quickly as the POV alternates between Josh and his crew and the bad guys and their machinations. We don’t know who the mole in the police department is and it was a little bit of a shocker and super tension filled when they are revealed. Love that.
Morey really worked the setting, Las Vegas was a perfect place for this novel as he utilizes construction sites, rollercoasters, wind tunnels, casinos and wedding chapels. But, no Elvis impersonators were hurt during the book in case you were worried.
Jaidee is a strong character, funny, a bit misguided but loving and sweet. I am excited to see how she develops as the series continues. She and Josh have a funny back and forth dialogue and you can tell that these characters will be able to help heal the hurt that exists in both of them. Morey really hits the idea of what a family is, both in a positive and a way to manipulate. It really made me think about who I consider family, blood relative or not, and what I would do for them. This was an enjoyable and tense book filled with intrigue, politicians and the mob. Good stuff! I give it 4 stars.
by MelJean Brook
I really enjoyed this book. I absolutely loved the world-building. Sure, there are a few things about the world I could pick apart that don’t stand up to close scrutiny, but they ultimately didn’t matter too much to me. I am so impressed, especially if you like Steampunk and Paranormal Romance. This is my third Steampunk book and I enjoy the clockwork, steam and victorian sensibilities. It mixes the PR/UF up a bit for some fun settings and inventions.
It starts in England, just after the Horde invasion. The Iron Duke had destroyed the Horde’s control tower (they injected the English citizen’s with nanoagents called bugs to control them). So the duke has gone from a pirate to a Duke for saving everyone from Horde control. Enter Mina, she is a police inspector and genetically half Horde. It doesn’t make her popular. When a body is dumped on the Iron Duke’s front steps, she is called in to figure out 1) who the man is and then 2) why. It becomes an adventure story as she and the duke travel via dirigible, ship and steam powered coach all over the world. They also fall for each other, fighting it the whole time.
So, there really are a lot of romance elements, lots of smexing and stuff but Brook really creates a wild world to work from. There are zombies (injected bugs gone bad), kraken, huge sharks, fire bombs and people who were never injected with bugs hating on the ones that were. It really is freaking awesome.
Mina and the duke (Rhys) have issues. There is almost a rape type event (does that seem standard in some of the UF/PR lately?!), lots of clockwork mechanisms, a missing brother and swashbuckling. I really, really enjoyed the whole thing. I even enjoyed the back and forth between our main characters fighting each other before they settle into love.
I will say that I think I need to mix up what I am reading lately. I am starting to see way too many trends and getting a little jaded about it…so while yes, this is PR, and it contains those types of trends, the rape thing, the fight each other, the “I’m not good enough” and “I will bring him and my own family down if we stay together” and the kick-ass heroine used to taking care of herself and having a hard time letting someone else help…lol – it is still amazing. I loved this world and thought the mains and side characters were fantastic and I will be reading the next book! I give it 4 stars.