[Advance Book Review] Charming by Elliott James

Advance Book Review:

Charming by Elliott James

Book 1 of the Pax Arcana

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

“I know John Charming is an unfortunate name.

Believe me, I’ve heard them all. No, I’ve never been turned into a frog. No, I haven’t slain many dragons lately. How could I? They’ve been hibernating close to the Earth’s core for over a thousand years. No, I don’t have any unusual shoe fetishes, glass slipper or otherwise. No my kisses won’t bring women out of any comas, though I hope they might perk them up a little.

But make no mistake: the reason there are so many stories about “prince” Charming is that there was never one man – the Charmings were an entire family line standing between humanity and all others for generation after generation, and in the old days it was common to give any monster killer in a story royal status. That is a heavy burden, but I carried my name proudly for as long as I was able. And I am still that man. No matter what else is in my DNA, no matter what my old order says, no matter what titles have been stripped from me or how long I am force to run and hide…I am still that man.

I think.”

– Excerpt on page 3 of Charming, or also known as the-first-sign-I-was-falling-in-love-with-John-Charming,-and-Elliott-James’-narrative-voice.


Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this is paranormal romance. Charming by Elliott James is an urban fantasy adventure with a hardcore main character, plenty of action, and a fun James-Bond-esque romantic subplot. John Charming is a fugitive, hiding from his family of secret society monster hunters and trying to keep a low profile working at a local bar when a leggy blond walks into his bar, smelling like something non-human and followed by a hungry vampire. Suddenly, John is forced to stay in town to investigate a series of murders, and way too many people know his real name.

John Charming’s witty narrative voice reminds me of all my favorite male detective leads (think Harry Dresden, Jack Winter…) while putting his own, unique stamp on the page. More that that, It blows my mind when a story convinces me that its protagonist is old. I can count the number of so-called looking-like-they’re-in-their-twenties immortals in Urban Fantasy who actually come across as “immortal” on the fingers of one hand – and Elliott James pulls it off in John Charming.  It doesn’t hurt that John has a tragic, tortured past and plenty of reasons to angst (in a fun-to-read way) over his demons.

The romance is lightly woven into the book, even as its integral to the final plot implosion at the end of the novel. You don’t get a lot of it, but it’s pretty darn great to see how Elliot James handles the romantic elements between Sig and Charming, and each scene sticks out – for those of you reading or those who will-have-read the book when you see this review, isn’t the chili bowl scene the best? It’s dramatic without being melodramatic, and in this genre, that’s a breath of fresh air.

And then the world-building, oh the world-building. It’s enough to make me fall in love the book all over again. Amidst the usual cast of oblivious humans, murderous vampires, and grim-eyed monster-hunters, you get the backdrop of an ancient elven eugenics program, secret societies of knights bound against their will to police the supernatural, and creatures from all sorts of cultures from around the world. I loved it.

Charming takes its time laying out the details and rules of this world, but I don’t begrudge a single minute spent on it, thanks to the protagonist badass attitude and delightfully sarcastic voice. Mileage may vary, though. From my quick glance at the chatter on goodreads, it looks like the battle lines for the stars are drawn over whether there’s too much worlddumping, or just that perfect, delicious amount.

You might also have noticed that Kevin Hearne, author of a series about an immortal druid on the run from pissed off Celtic deities, did the blurb on the cover.  And if you’re a fan of Hearne’s books, good news! You’ll immediately spot some of the surface parallels – a long-lived main character hunted by his own people as he tries to make his own, lone-wolf way in the world. And if you aren’t a fan of Hearne’s Iron Druid series, even better news!  In Charming, James pulls off a lot of what I didn’t like in the Iron Druid (frenetic romance, youthful voice, rushed action) , and makes it work in the fugitive-hero storyline. The action and romance is a fun, rollicking ride without ever going off the rails into crazyland.

This debut novel just might be the next big voice of urban fantasy.

Review copy courtesy of  Orbit Books/Hachette Book Group & Netgalley.

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[Book Review] Dreams and magic realism, Russian-style

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia

Moscow But Dreaming

Confession time: If I find a novel set in Russia, it’ll find its way onto my shelf or computer. Sometimes reluctantly, sometime with a healthy dose of skepticism, sometimes with a sign of resignation. So I’m pretty delighted to share this review and say that this collection of fantasy short stories set in Russia are a darn great read that feeds both the slavophile in me, but also the part of me that loves a good yarn.

Moscow-born American author Ekaterina Sedia infuses her collection of 21 pieces, two of which are original to the anthology, with a dark, lyrical style and a resonant Russian je ne sais quoi. Continue reading

[Book Review] Another nifty series starter from Rachel Caine

Devil’s Bargain by Rachel Caine

(The Red Letter Days series, book #1)


I prefer this cover. The other one (below) gives me the cheekbone shot of a goth teen angsting after, I can only presume, her equally morose and dramatic love interest.  

Oh man. Each book I read by Rachel Caine reminds me just why I love this author so very much. The dialogue flows naturally with just the right amount of wit and freshness, the plot and action doesn’t let up, and the mystery and tension just keeps on coming.


For our main lead, we get Jazz-don’t-call-me-Jasmine, who’s hit rock bottom, but is still digging – her world was rocked when Ben, her partner, was convicted of murder. One part denial, two parts wishful thinking, she’s desperate to find proof of his innocence, unable to come to terms with the fact that she might have been so terribly wrong about him. In the meantime, she’s dumped into a whirlwind mystery of red envelopes and strange assignments.

Ex-decorated ex-homicide detective Jazz Callender’s career is over – her partner is in jail for murder, her reputation in tatters, and her one achievement for the week is finding a good bar with cheap drinks.  So when a guy in a leather getup hands her a check for a hundred thousand dollars in a red envelope, she can’t figure out whether she’s being set up or the butt of some twisted joke.

But the offer’s legit – all she has to do is partner with a gorgeous stranger, set up a private detective agency on retainer for a law firm funded by the mysterious Cross Society, and accept any assignments they send her way.

Simple enough, right? Continue reading

[Book Review] Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Meg’s Review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #14)

This review will not contain plot spoilers for Cold Days. However, all other Dresden stories are fair game!

Cold Days

As this is a fairly family-friendly blog, I won’t write what I thought during those last chapters of Cold Days. Suffice to say, the phrase started with a “holy” and ended with just about every single four letter word in existence.

Jim Butcher appears to be playing the longest con in literary history. Typically, books in a series only refer back to three books back — five, max — because, I would assume, that’s about how much authors can handle. If you’ve got a dozen books in play, with fifty different subplots running around, things just get ungodly messy. Best to keep things nice and neat and nebulous. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Harry Dresden around the world

Left to right: Turkish, Hungarian, German, Polish, Dutch

November 27 marks the upcoming release of Jim Butcher’s latest book from his Harry Dresden series, so in preparation of getting my hands on Cold Days, I found myself comparing translations of the novel title with theothercanary – Russian, Spanish, French… Before long, we were hooked. For me, though, it wasn’t just about the translations. It was the translation of cover art between one country and the other. Last week’s post talked about four English-language publishers and the covers they brought to the table. In this post, I’m gonna do some speculative globetrotting.

What does a cover and title say about the reader? Most foreign publishers end up doing some variation on the original or branded cover (whether for legal reasons or otherwise). Above, I pulled together five covers from five different translations of Storm Front (above), all of which did their own tweak on McGrath’s U.S. cover.

But publishers don’t always stick with the original – or even stay within the style of the original (examples right). I love speculating about what cover decisions say about the publisher, its target demographic, and the reader.

Below, I’ve pulled out some covers published in three (very dissimilar)  countries. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Vote in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012!

Canaries, it is that wonderful time of year. Lights are twinkling in trees, your favorite series are coming out in brand new box sets in time for the present-giving season, and a top ten list of 2012 is being compiled for everything from best fashion to the best new characters on fall TV. And most importantly for us, the round-up for the best of 2012 books is just beginning. And you have a chance to take part in the festivities by voting in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012.

What started as a behemoth list of every book published this year has become 10 books in each of the 20 different categories, from fiction to cookbooks. One neat facet of this year’s layout is that a small right-hand navigation bar tells you if any of the books on your Goodreads shelves appear in the lists  – making it easy for you to pop in and vote for your favorites. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Cover Art in the World of Harry Dresden

Cold Days by Jim Butcher comes out November 27, and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty stoked. It’s the 14th book in Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series following wizard Harry Dresden, the only openly practicing wizard in Chicago (and probably the U.S.). Of course, over the course of the last 13 books, Harry’s done a whole lot more than that – he’s pissed off a whole lot of powerful people (and non-people), faced off against the wizard council, squared off against demons, dodged death, and lodged himself quite firmly on my to-read list forever.

Book 14When we last saw him in Ghost Story – but, no, this post isn’t about that.

This post is about my own favorite thing to do outside of reading and blogging. It’s about browsing through covers and seeing how they change between editions.

Here is what I’ve found:


I see these covers in most every bookstore. They’re from Roc, a Penguin Group imprint and Butcher’s main publisher. Christian McGrath’s art creates a moody atmosphere that becomes more and more ingrained in Harry Dresden’s story as the poor guy continues to get mauled in increasingly creative physical and emotional ways over the course of the 13-book plot-line. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Urban Fantasy across the 50 States

Last month Epic Reads posted something rather epic (as they usually do) with a United States of YA map, showcasing a Young Adult book by settings for each U.S. state. The moment I saw that, my mind went to my favorite subgenre. Urban Fantasy.

Thus the U.F.A. list was born! (Thank you to all the readers on Goodreads and this blog for your suggestions!) Continue reading

[Book Review] Recreating the world, one story at a time

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

My quest to read something by Elizabeth Bear started a little over a year ago, and it’s been riddled with false starts. First, I ended up grabbing Trading in Danger (by Elizabeth Moon). Then Dust was nowhere to be found. Then I got All the Windwracked Stars (isn’t that a stunning cover?) but couldn’t find the time to read it. Seeing Shoggoth’s in Bloom up for grab was serendipity, and I went into this collection to get a sense of what Elizabeth Bear can do – in small, bite-size pieces.

I got that, and more. This collection brings together 19 short stories by Elizabeth Bear, including two Hugo winners, “Tideline” and “Shoggoths in Bloom,” plus one never-before-published piece original to the collection, “The Death of Terrestrial Radio.” With one exception, the stories average around a few-to-twenty pages and cover a truly mind-boggling range of genres and styles. We get an urban fantasy with a ritual gone wrong, historic fiction written through letters between John Adams’ wife and Thomas Jefferson about running for office during a time of suffrage, a lovely elegy in prose about a dragons and a museum curator, a folktale about a blacksmith’s commission, and a story about the slow death of the fishing industry. Each story is powerful, heart-rending, and memorable in its own way. Continue reading

Indie Book Review: Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

An Amber Farrell Novel, Bite Back #1

“For Amber Farrell, post-military life as a PI has its ups and downs: She’s been hit by a truck. She’s being sued by a client. Denver’s newest drug lord just put out a contract on her. The sinister Athanate want her to come in for a friendly chat. And it’s only Tuesday.”

Now we’re talking. Occasionally, we get a pitch in our inbox that we just can’t resist. And Henwick’s urban fantasy novel blurb brought it home. It also left me quaking on my canary perch: Book, please, please, don’t go the vampire-werewolf-cookie-cutter plot route.

Good news! Continue reading