Review: Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake

Usually when I receive an Advance Reader Copy of a book, it’s because I’ve signed up to receive one. In the case of Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake, however, I don’t remember doing that. That actually made me excited, though. Maybe I’m making a mark as a reviewer, finally?

Anyway, Nightwalker had the unfortunate luck to arrive in the mail on the same day as a huge ($150) order from Amazon. (I’d come into a couple of gift cards. I don’t usually have the cash on hand to order that many books from Amazon all at once.) What was that you say? Amazon sells things besides books? Pshaw!

Needless to say, it took me awhile to get on the ball to read this one. What spurred me to make the book a priority was the fact that Kim Harrison recommended it on both her mailing list and website. It was a pretty compelling read. Not ground-breaking spectacular, but good enough to keep me intrigued over the second half and through to the end.

Nightwalker seems, at first glance, to be your usual tale from a bloodsucker’s point of view. There were some interesting twists. Only one other author that I know of has done elves and vamps in the same story before (Kim Harrison herself, but in a completely different way). The first half or so of the book, though, isn’t all that remarkable. Don’t get me wrong. The storytelling is solid.

It was good. Just not remarkable. For the first half.

Once we’re over that mid-book-hump and truly get into the action, the story really started to pique my interest. I’ve seen many a tale of poor tortured vampires before, but not one of a vampire actually having been tortured. Then again maybe I just haven’t been reading the right vampire stories. I’d rather do horror or urban fantasy then paranormal romance any day of the week.

One thing I found particularly interesting was how characters who appeared to be enemies in the first half turned into allies in the second. And vice versa.  I’ll say no more about that so as not to spoil the ending. I will say that I’m pretty interested in what’s going to be happening next.

Overall, I’d have to give this book a pretty solid mid-rating. This author isn’t going to bump down any of my Top 10, but I’ll most likely be looking for the next installment of Mira and Danaus’ adventures. From a first novel point of view, I don’t think that’s a bad place to be at all.

Want to know more? Go to the author’s website.

[xrr rating=3.25/5]

Review: The Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

I have to say that this book came at a most convenient time. I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed April 15th. (Yes, American Tax Day. I figured I should get all the pain over with at the same time.) A couple of days later I was in pain, unhappy with my medication and the fact I could barely eat. Or talk. Or sleep. I was impatiently awaiting Jim Butcher’s Small Favor to arrive from Amazon (more on that later). I’d already finished all four of the novels I’d purchased ahead of time, knowing I’d have not much to do but read while I convalesced.

Twisted Citadel is the 2nd book in what, if I remember correctly, will be a trilogy. Middle books are like middle children. They’re usually unobtrusive, yet puzzling, and in the end they tend to leave you surprised and a little bit impatient with their behavior. Who am I kidding? I don’t have children and I was never a middle child. That’s just the way this particular book makes me feel.

I have to admit that I was skeptical as to how believable Ms. Douglass’ could be in melding together what everyone had thought were two different worlds and what was definitely two entirely different plots. The Serpent Bride didn’t entirely convince me that the feat would be possible; yet with Twisted Citadel I’m starting to believe a little bit more. Axis, Stardrifter, and the skraelings seem to be meshing well with Darkglass Mountain and Elcho Falling.

In case you’re confused, this trilogy (termed Darkglass Mountain) is an attempt to merge the world found in The Wayfarer’s Redemption (also called the Axis Trilogy) with those found in Threshold and The Hanging Wall. It can get confusing if you haven’t read all the books involved, which I must admit I have not. While the Axis books were fascinating to me, I haven’t picked up the two stand-alones.

The tragedy of Maximillian and Isabel’s star-crossed love infuriated me in the last book. I thought we had another Faraday on our hands, and I was ready to be furious. However, I enjoyed and heartily approve of the direction this pair took with their relationship at the end of Citadel. I’ll stop there so I don’t ruin the ending for anyone; except to say that such a rebellious and courageous action is proof of an exciting third volume to come.

Overall, I believe Citadel does exactly what it was intended to do. It moves the story forward, provides hours of not-to-be-put-down entertainment and makes the reader impatient for the next installment. At the end of the day, I think that’s what any author could consider a job well done.

[xrr rating=3.75/5]

Review: The Undead Kama Sutra by Mario Acevedo

The Undead Kama Sutra by Mario Acevedo will be on sale March 11th!

Recently I had the opportunity to read a review copy of Mario Acevedo’s new novel: The Undead Kama Sutra. This is the third book in a series about Felix Gomez, ex-soldier and current vampire PI. Following The Nymphos of Rocky Flats and X-Rated Bloodsuckers, Kama Sutra is a somewhat chaotic adventure. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I have not read the first two volumes in this series.

In this installment, Felix Gomez has traveled to the Florida Keys in search of the mysterious manuscript called The Undead Kama Sutra. This volume supposedly instructs the undead in giving their psychic and healing abilities a boost through various sexual positions. Felix thinks fellow vampire (and sexual Olympian) Carmen may have a clue to finding a few pages of the book. Distracted from his quest by the murder of an alien hidden within the body of an old friend, Felix begins to put together the pieces of the mystery: two plane crashes, three missing women, a golf resort, and the sinister retired Army Colonel Goodman.

Given the title, there’s a surprising lack of sex in this book. Felix seems to stumble from one dilemma to another without having a real plan for solving the mystery. He doesn’t appear to know how to be a hero, managing to get one woman killed and another kidnapped without having any idea of how to protect them. One could expect a vampire to be self-centered, but a supposedly higher being such as Felix shouldn’t be so damned ineffective.

There are a lot of details to Mr. Acevedo’s world. There are aliens, vampires, nymphomaniacs, and evil government officials. It’s an intriguing mix of genres. He makes a fine comment on the indifference and near outright malice of the American government toward it’s citizens. That aspect translates well to the real world. However the reader never has the opportunity to root for Felix. There’s too much else going on. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but neither does he go out of his way to make us love him either. Perhaps we were intended to fall in love with him in a previous volume.

The scene where Felix wastes his time wondering why one tryst only wanted a one-night stand when he merely wanted her for dinner anyway was a bit annoying. Did you forget, Mr. Gomez, that there are women missing? Or is your fragile vampire ego too important? That scene made for a great deal of frustration. I kept hoping for a spectacular finale in which Felix could heroically save the day with all his vampiric powers blazing. That didn’t happen. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, but that may just fuel my interest in purchasing the next volume.

I read this novel in less than a day, and may pick up the first two novels in the series to see if they’re more engrossing than this third installment. The lack of sex scenes, despite the title, was rather refreshing. This book is great fluff-reading;there’s not much there to force you to think. Acevedo didn’t make my list of must-have authors with this one, but this series would be great for those sick-in-bed-with-a-cold days.

[xrr rating=1.5/5]

Book Review: Punching In by Alex Frankel

The author of this book has previously written for Wired and The New York Times. When I received this book as an advance copy, I was thrilled at the chance to read it. I spent nearly a decade in the customer service trenches, as a manager of a fast food restaurant. And although Frankel steered clear of such low-wage jobs as those, I was still excited to see a learned interpretation of the life that many Americans lead.

Punching In CoverFor the past six years, I’ve been a member of corporate America and I have been offered a glass of the ‘company Kool-Aid’ many times in my career. I don’t see myself as a gullible person. I am a cynic, and therefore I was intrigued by the thought that someone had actually researched how companies reach out and turn their employees into dedicated converts.

I must admit that the glimpse into the different worlds was interesting, and I could tell from Frankel’s writing that he had overall enjoyed his foray into the behind-the-counter aspect of commerce. However, there was an overlay upon some points in the retelling of the author’s experiences that smelled patronizing to me.

In this book, Frankel has bared the backbone of our country: the customer service employees who are nearly overlooked in their unobtrusiveness every single day of the year. These are the people that get the small but important things done. They deserve more reverence than to be reduced to some high school science experiment. I’m willing to believe I’m being overly sensitive on that point, however, so I’ll let it go.

Overall, the narrative was mildly interesting and the language was elegant. However, I expected more insights into the different companies than were offered in these pages. Each company philosophy was presented only briefly and then the author went on to complain of how long and hard the hours were. All I could think was, well what did he expect? It just felt like there should be more to the story than that.

Final conclusion: An enjoyable read; and I’m suitably thankful that I was chosen to review this book. If you’re in HR or corporate management, I would recommend it.

[xrr rating=1.5/5]

Review: The Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass

Ever since the first Wayfarer Redemption trilogy, when Axis lied to, betrayed and abandoned Faraday, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the work of Sara Douglass. As in life, Ms. Douglass’ characters are rarely either wholly good or evil. From Axis, Starman and former StarGod, hero of the first three books* who did his own share of nasty things; to Gorgrael, Axis’ twisted half-brother and the original villain of the story, who while evil was clearly shaped by the desperate loneliness of being outcast and disfigured.

*The story is published differently in Ms. Douglass’ home of Australia than it is here in the US. As I am unfamiliar with the Aussie version of things, I refer only to the US versions. The original ‘trilogy’ of The Wayfarer’s Redemption, Enchanter, and Starman; followed by the subsequent ‘trilogy’ of Sinner, Pilgrim, and Crusader. All six books have been dubbed “The Wayfarer’s Redemption” series here in the US.

Continue reading “Review: The Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass”

Review: Kim Harrison For A Few Demons More

I apologize excessively for the delay in getting this review together. I’ve had a busy week at work; but not only that. I needed more than a few days to process this book, to roll it over in my mind like hard toffee and to, well, grieve.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers for books 1-4, though I will be marking spoilers for book 5. Please note that comments may also include spoilers and I cannot be responsible for the etiquette, or lack thereof, of my readers.

For A Few Demons More (further known here as FFDM) is, by no small measure, Ms. Harrison’s best novel yet. Of course, each subsequent work since Dead Witch Walking has improved. FFDM is the fifth book in the series that, while without an official title, has come to be called “The Hollows Series” or “The Rachel Morgan series”.

A History Of The Hollows

The Hollows-verse, as it has come to be called, resembles our own world very closely except for a few fine points. First, the ‘space race’ never existed. Both scientific research and money were instead devoted to genetic research. By the mid-1960’s, science had created cures for genetic diseases that we still haven’t in our own world. In 1966, a world-wide disaster called the Turn began.

A biological weapon escaped from a laboratory somewhere in the world and latched onto a weak spot in the DNA of a genetically engineered tomato. Before the slip was caught, the tomatoes had been shipped throughout the world and hundreds of thousands of humans perished. Eventually, people came to realize that certain kinds of people were getting nothing more than a mild case of flu, if any symptoms at all. Human curiosity and a charismatic Inderlander* finally outlined the truth.

Most of those ‘fairy tales’ we’d been told as children? They were real. Species that were completely unaffected by the virus: witches, pixies, fairies, and the undead. The weres, living vampires, and leprechauns developed a mild case of the flu. The elves, having interbred with humans a little too closely to bolster their sagging numbers, disappeared. Oops. I guess that plan backfired, huh?

Since a large number of humans perished, it was the Inderlanders (*The term for non-human species.) that held the world together while it was in the midst of it’s death throes. When the dust settled, the numbers were even. Rather than draw battle lines against creatures that could obliterate the rest of the population, humans instead took their retribution out on geneticists and other scientists. It was a Scientific Inquisition.

As such, genetic research is now outlawed and punishable by death. Subsequently, tomatoes are also shunned by humans and tomato-based products can only be obtained commercially through specialty stores. The only product to survive the purge was Cincinnati-style chili. I can understand that. It’s damn good, after all. I’d risk death to eat it, too.

Where Is The Hollows?

The Hollows is a slang term for an area located across the Ohio River from the city of Cincinnati. When the Turn ended, most humans flocked to the inner cities for a sense of safety. Naturally, most Inderlanders then moved to the suburbs and countryside, since real estate there became cheap in a big hurry. The Hollows is Cincinnati’s main Inderlander suburb. It’s also where our heroine, Rachel, resides.

The Main Players

Rachel Morgan:

  • Species: Witch
  • Born: 1981
  • Treated for an unnamed genetic disease as a child at a summer camp for sick children. This fact is kept a secret, as genetic research is illegal; and anyone having been subject to genetic medicine is either killed or shipped off to the arctic.
  • Resigned from the IS in book 1 and was one of the only people to have survived the death threat put out on her life for not buying off her contract.

Ivy Tamwood:

  • Species: Living Vampire and only remaining (living) heir to the Tamwood family.
  • Born: 1979
  • Subjected to a brutalization of her sense of love and self-worth as a teenager by family patriarch, and undead vamp, Piscary; when we first meet Ivy she is in the midst of a 3 year blood abstinence.
  • Quit the IS with Rachel and used most of her early inheritance to pay off her contract.
  • Resides with Rachel in a church in the Hollows, from which they operate their independent runner business: Vampiric Charms.

Jenks:

  • Species: Pixie
  • Born: unknown
  • Third member of Vampiric Charms
  • He, his wife Matalina, and their 30-odd children all live in Rachel’s garden behind the church.
  • Coming to the end of a pixie’s typical 20 year life span.

Kisten Felps:

  • Species: Living Vamp
  • Born: 1980
  • Ivy’s childhood companion (and once-upon a time, her lover as well).
  • Member of Piscary’s camarilla.
  • Manager of Pizza Piscary’s, a popular Inderland restaurant that serves pizza with real tomato-based sauce.

Trent Kalamack:

  • Species: Elf
  • Born: 1979
  • Councilman of Cincinnati & popular philanthropist.
  • Runs several successful legitimate businesses, as well as an illegal Brimstone ring, and an even more illegal network of genetic laboratories.
  • Has a goal of getting Rachel to work for him and has been manipulating her toward that end since the beginning.
  • Scheduled to marry Ellasbeth, another elf, during FFDM— not for love, but for political and genetic reasons.

Ceridwen Dulciate (Ceri):

  • Species: Elf
  • Born: Pre-Turn, over 1,000 year ago. Exact date unknown.
  • Rescued by Rachel from over 1,000 years of being a demon’s familiar.
  • Extremely well-versed in demon magic and able to twist demon curses, although she doesn’t have the correct enzymes to invoke them.
  • Currently living across the street from Rachel, with Mr. Keasley.

Mr. Keasley:

  • Species: witch
  • Born: unknown
  • Rachel’s mysterious neighbor from across the street.
  • Took in Ceri when she was rescued.
  • Suspicous of authority figures, and as such, keeps medical equipment in his home.

About FFDM

(Here be spoilers. Beware.)

Continue reading “Review: Kim Harrison For A Few Demons More”

Review: The Scent of Shadows – Vicki Pettersson

This is a book review for The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson.

The Scent of Shadows is The First Sign of the Zodiac. So it’s proclaimed on the cover of this newly released paperback. Yet this description only barely begins to hint at the depth of this tome of ‘dark fantasy’- categorized so by the author herself. The stage is set in Las Vegas, a city built on paradox, or so it seems. Not only is there the contrast of neon glowing excess to the stark barrenness of desert; but there is also the intertwined but parallel worlds of human and paranormal.

Joanna Archer should by all rights be dead. Attacked, raped, and left for dead in the desert when she was 16 years old, she’s grown to become a strong, yet brittle woman. A reluctant heiress by day and a photographer by night, she spends her time searching the streets of her beloved hometown of Las Vegas. Whether she’s searching for her attacker, who was never found, or for her own lost innocence, it’s hard to say at first.

Recruited by a homeless vagrant who is far more than he seems, Joanna is initiated into a world of paranormal ‘superheroes’. They are crusaders: living in this world but not truly of it. The group consists of the human embodiment of the twelve Zodiac signs. They have been tasked with the burden of both fighting off and protecting the world from the Shadow Signs, their polar opposites and a source of great evil.

Despite (or maybe because of) spending the first half of the book almost thoroughly confused, I was enraptured by this world. In fact, I finished it in just over a day and that was with a break of an entire evening. Why did I take a break from reading if the story captured me so? Simply because I didn’t want it to end so soon.

Every page of this novel drew me deeper. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, so even the normal sights and sounds of that city were new to me. You can tell that not only has the author spent a vast amount of time there, but she loves it as well. That, above all, is what shines through the pages. And there’s more.

Much more.

It’s taken me a couple of hours at least to being to process the underlying themes involved in this book. I’ve become accustomed to not having to think too hard when I read. Perhaps that’s a fault of my own, but Ms. Pettersson has certainly forced me to begin to do so again. Yes, there are all the action elements which make a good paranormal story: heightened speed and strength, unique abilities, flashy weapons, ‘magic’ storms, and portals to another world.

What makes this book so unique, I think, is the thought behind it. Without any paranormal elements at all, this is an intriguing read. Here we have a woman who was brutalized as a child, carrying all of the shame, frustration, rage, and determination to no longer be a victim that you would expect. She refuses to be seen as soft or too womanly, since those are traits she associates with weakness. Ironically enough, these are the same traits her beloved sister portrays. Seemingly abandoned by her mother, and neglected by her father, she’s rebuilt her world on a foundation of martial arts and a need for vengeance.

Further, this book seems to ask one question: What happens to a person when you take every identifying characteristic away? Can they survive as a whole, happy person? As said in the book, “And what a strange world it was when a woman had to lose herself in order to find herself.”

The mythology is a bit unclear, which is why I spent the first half of the book scratching my head and hoping for another scrap of information. However, I can also appreciate the depth of the history involved, and why the author chose not to provide a long dissertation on the back story. If you can stand the suspense and a little bit of confusion, you’ll enjoy being teased as the story unfolds. By the time you come to the action movie-worthy conclusion, you’ll know where everyone stands and be rooting for Joanna to kick some Shadowy ass.

In the interest of disclosure: This book was recommended to me (and a lot of other people) by Kim Harrison, the author of the upcoming For A Few Demons More via her Yahoo Group. This review is being posted in response to the Scent of Shadows contest hosted by Sara Howe. The second book in the series, The Taste of Night, is due out in April. Personally, I can’t wait.

[xrr rating=4/5]