[Book Review] Not your grandmother’s San Diego: Dogs, dragons, and shady dealings

Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford

Wowza. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed an urban fantasy novel that packed this kind of punch.

Here’s the setup. Kai is a Stalker, a freelance mercenary who hunts down deadly magical beasties for a bounty, in a California where our world and the fae world merged and magic and technology exists side by side. When a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego to set up his own Court, Kai is strong-armed into doing a job for him. It’s supposed to be a simple escort run up the coast, but becomes something so much more as Kai’s secrets, sidhe politics, and family feuds collide.

Looks like Black Dog Blues was Ford’s first foray into fantasy, and it’s a gorgeous, action-packed piece of work. This book hits all the right notes for me. An alternative modern day world that combines high tech with magic, a main character with terrible secrets and a brutal past he’s trying to escape, fast-paced action, dangerous and deadly monsters, vicious plotting, magic, smart dialogue, clever characters, an array of possible romantic entanglements, and some painful questions of identity, family and humanity. Continue reading

[Book Review] In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker

In the Company of Thieves

I don’t usually do short story anthologies. But let’s face it. If Kage Baker had done a phone book, I’d still read it. From her delightful riff on fantasy with The Anvil of the World, to her epic fantasy in House of the Stag, to her brilliant time-travel Company series, I’ve pretty much loved everything Kage Baker has ever done.

In The Company of Thieves, we get a collection of five previously published short stories and one original to the anthology, written posthumously and based off of the late Kage Baker’s writing notes. In this, Kathleen Bartholomew, Kage Baker’s sister, joins the ranks of the many writers who have continue their late family members’ legacies: Christopher Tolkien, Todd McCaffrey, Brandon Sanderson at the request of Robert Jordan’s wife, Brian Herbert…

It’s a bittersweet experience, reading posthumous publications of a favorite author written by someone else, and it always leaves me feeling both desperately grateful and bereft. Still, this collection brings Kage Baker’s lyrical style, dark humor, and lovely prose. I adore how her characters come to fully fledged life, no matter what style she uses, and how they stick around, long after I put the book away.

Because the stories in this anthology tie-in directly to Baker’s time traveling Company series you can, but probably shouldn’t, read them as standalones. But if you are already familiar with her science fiction, you’ll get a whole lot more out of the collection.

Book for review provided by Tachyon Publications.

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[Book Review] There’s a zombie inside us all, and it wants out

Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite (Parasitology, #1)

Talk about a perfect Halloween read! I sat down on October 31st to read this, and just blazed through it. Next time I looked up, it was hours later, long after dark, and I had zombies on my brain. Zombies. Zommbbbiiiieeeees!

Enter Sally, a survivor of a horrific crash who wakes up with no memory of her life before the car accident. (YES! Amnesia plots are my favorite.) She’s a miracle survivor, so for the last six years, as she’s slowly re-learned who her family is, who she is, and even how to speak, she’s been a bit of a natural science experiment for the company whose medical breakthrough (a living tapeworm-like implant that fixes your body) made her survival possible.

But the company (and the government for whom her father works) are keeping secrets, and as people start collapsing from a mysterious sleeping sickness – and saying her name! – Sal finds herself caught right in the middle of it.

I’m no zombie fan. Never. But this wasn’t really a zombie story. It was a speculative (medical?) suspense thriller full of corporate machinations, amnesia, and…a side-plot of zombie apocalypse. Mira Grant is a master of suspense, putting me on the edge of my seat in anticipation that just built and built as Sal navigates her life, her turbulent relationship with who people tell her she used to be, and all the medical tests she has to take. The take on zombies is also novel and intriguing. It’s medicine run amok, humans overreaching, the guilty in denial, and a moral question of whether the zombie cure is worse than murder. Continue reading

[Book Review] The Cobweb Bride, and the most innacurate blurb ever

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

“Covered in white cobwebs of a thousand snow spiders she lies in the darkness… Her skin is cold as snow… Her eyes frozen… Her gaze, fiercely alive…

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war… A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father … Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court…. Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living…”

– excerpt from official book blurb

Well, hmm. I got good news for you, canaries. This blurb is complete nonsense. This isn’t a story about frozen ladies. There are no expeditions to search for a bride. No endless war with dead bodies. No murdered lovers. And, best of all, no ellipses. In fact, the only bit of blurb accuracy is the black knight with daddy issues.

Turns out, The Cobweb Bride is a high-style drama about what happens when Death goes on a strike, refusing to take up souls until his missing bride is found and brought to him. Until then, all dying stops. In a pitched battle, men are slain and rise again. In a sickbed in a small village, an old woman’s death rattle doesn’t end. In a palace, an assassin plunges a knife into his victim’s heart – and nothing happens. Continue reading

[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)

devilsbargain

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] Beautiful Creatures and Awkward Audiobooks

Meg’s Review of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Audiobook read by Kevin T. Collins (with special appearance by Eve Bianco)

I haven’t read any teen paranormal romance since I attempted Twilight, which all but killed my faith in the genre and scarred my brain for life. But I’m a sucker for any book being made into a movie, so I picked up Beautiful Creatures during a nifty sale at Audible. I figured that if it sucked, at least it would only be $5 of suck.

Much to my surprise, I really liked this first installment of the four-book series. Partially, I think my enjoyment was at the deft move by writers Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl to make the narrator a teenaged boy rather than a girl. It inherently dropped the angst factor by about 75%. They also split the love story, with the majority of it revolving around the star-crossed lovers of Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes, but there was also the added love story of a boy mourning the loss of his mother that gave the book considerable, and quite unexpected, depth. Continue reading