Sunday, August 31, 2008

“Just One Bite” by Kimberly Raye

FROM THE BOOKCOVER

THE STAKES HAVE NEVER BEEN HIGHER.

Lil Marchette, vampire extraordinaire and owner of Manhattan’s hottest hook-up service, is an expert at matching up the lonely and desperate (and sometimes dead). And thanks to the popular local reality dating show Manhattan’s Most Wanted, Lil has plenty of fresh blood to add to the mix–including the biggest, baddest vampire in the Big Apple. Vinnie Balducci, Brooklyn representative for the Snipers of Otherworldly Beings, is making Lil an offer she can’t refuse: find him the perfect woman or she’s going to be swimming with the fishes.

But Lil may not be the only one taking the plunge. The three hunky demon Prince brothers are poking around Lil’s office–hot on the trail of a rogue spirit trying to escape the land down under (not Australia) by possessing some poor, clueless human soul. Then Lil makes a startling discovery: The oblivious human vessel is none other than her loyal assistant, Evie. Between saving Evie from eternal damnation and saving herself from Vinnie’s lethal ultimatum, Lil is sure to be in for the most hellish ride of her afterlife.
Just One Bite is the fourth Dead End Dating excursion for Lil Marchette. These are admittedly frothy paranormal romantic comedies and just right for what ails you when the mood strikes. Having read all of the previous books and enjoyed them, I anticipated much the same this time around. And I did enjoy it. Sort of.

Lil’s character continues to be the same ditzy, 500 year old vampire that behaves like a shallow fashionista. A surfeit of popular culture, TV, fashion and celebrity references that would do People magazine proud are mixed with a liberal dose of witty banter and first person introspection. Lil manages to hookup the usual assortment of oddball characters with their perfect dates. And the central storyline of Evie's demon possession and eventual exorcism offers up some nice comedic moments.

Upon finishing this particular episode (note the TV-centric choice of episode), I felt as if I had viewed the standup routine of a favourite comedian one too many times. It started to lose its charm. Even knowing what to expect, I pined for some small growth and development in Lil’s character or at least a more imaginative and complex plot. Perhaps even introduction of some real angst beyond the horror of a ruined wardrobe. But alas things are what they are—leopards and spots and all that.

Moderation in all things as they say. Too much of a sweet thing lessens the enjoyment. Nevertheless Dead End Dating is as finely crafted as previous installments and Raye writes with a breezy entertaining style. If you are looking for a light romantic vampire comedy this would be a good choice. Familiarity with previous instalments is unnecessary. Fans of Mary Janice Davidson’s Queen Betsy series should also like this.

Read an excerpt here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

“The Bride of Casa Dracula” by Marta Acosta

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Milagro De Los Santos is having serious problems planning her wedding to fabulous Oswald Grant, M.D. Her future in-laws loathe her, her dog just died, and Oswald's family has a genetic anomaly that makes them crave blood. Then her extravagant best friend hijacks the role of wedding coordinator, and the secretive Vampire Council assigns conniving Cornelia Ducharme to guide the couple through the ancient vampire marriage rituals.

To top it all off, Milagro's career is on the skids. She's reduced to ghost-writing the memoirs of a loony little man who claims to be a shapeshifter. And why does Cornelia's decadent, way too attractive brother, Ian, always show up whenever Milagro is away from Oswald? When a series of accidents interferes with wedding plans, Oswald worries that Milagro is cracking under the pressure. Is she just paranoid, or is a hidden enemy trying to make sure Milagro doesn't wed the undead?
The Bride of Casa Dracula is the third book in the Casa Dracula series after Happy Hour at Casa Dracula (2006) and Midnight Brunch (2007) and the best of the series to date. This is the novel in which Milagro De Los Santos our vampire heroine comes into her own and blossoms as a fully realized, complex and courageous character.

Milagro has never been under so much pressure, planning for her wedding, kowtowing to the Councils’ contract demands and oaths of loyalty to become a full member of the secret vampire society as well as living up to the expectations of her fiancé Oswald and his family. Further there is a string of events making Milagro believe someone is out to get her, but making everyone else think she is becoming unhinged. Because we view events from Milagro’s perspective, we know she is being persecuted and share her frustration that everyone thinks she is crying wolf. And to top it all off, Milagro is thrown together with ex-lover and mystery bad-boy Ian Ducharme at inopportune moments. Having shared blood with Ian she is not unaware of a special chemistry that exists between them – this challenges her resolve and in a small way makes her question her choices.

Acosta beautifully weaves all of these elements and more into the central mystery with a deft touch. While we may guess at the outcome we are never certain.

Milagro life has been driven by a desire for family and acceptance which has been in conflict with her need to be herself without compromising her own ideals and identity. The Bride of Casa Dracula subtly allows Milagro to confront the path she is taking and reassess. In a scene with her new friend Joseph while discussing an unusual plant at his garden nursery, he says –
“Things are always best in climates that suit their nature. You can keep something alive, but you can’t force it to thrive.”
Clearly this observation is meant for Milagro and she has tough decisions to make—accepting the status quo versus taking the chance on a less certain future without fully comprehending her own nature and motivations. What does Milagro truly need to make her life fulfilling.

Among the many pleasures of the series are the touches of humour that lighten the mood. Milagro’s character has a bit of a smartass or sarcastic edge but it is appropriate to her character and never over the top. There are other nice light moments such as this witty banter between Milagro and her wedding planner friend Nancy.
“Have I not taught you anything! Honeydew is never ripe enough. Escrew honeydew.”
“Eschew,” I said.
Gesundheit.” She dropped into an armchair and swung her legs over the side.
Acosta’s world building continues to excel. While her vampires are often simply described as “people with a special genetic disorder” they are definitely not your traditional vampires. The series is sprinkled with enticing tidbits about her vampire culture, the origins and function of the council, their strange ancient language, and the mystery of Milago’s own special abilities resulting from drinking from two different lines of vampire blood. Particularly engaging is the custom of imbibing and describing the bouquet and taste of different types of animal blood, as if they were vintages of fine wine. This time around, shapeshifters are introduced, but as you might expect of Ms. Acosta there is nothing traditional about them.

This is the most emotionally satisfying of the series with a truly bittersweet ending. Milagro is an increasingly complex and compelling character and she is ready and waiting, as am I, for whatever adventures the future holds for her. If you only read one paranormal fantasy this season pick up The Bride of Casa Dracula, but better yet pick up the earlier books and read them in sequence. You’ll be glad you did.

Book Release Date: September 18, 2008

Read the first chapter.

View the book trailer…



Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Into the Flame” by Christina Dodd

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Roaming the Russian steppes a thousand years ago, a brutal warrior struck a terrifying deal. In exchange for being able to transform into a heartless predator, he promised his soul-and the souls of his descendents-to the devil.

Ruggedly handsome cop Doug Black is determined to find the birth family who left him with nothing but a terrifying inheritance: the ability to change into a savage golden cougar. His search leads him to a woman as dauntless and exotic as her name. Firebird Wilder is bitterly familiar with supernatural gifts, and flees on discovering his secret, leaving Doug alone once more. But no one can escape a wild cougar on the hunt. When he finds her, they both must decide which is more powerful-the love that binds them together...or the secrets that threaten to tear them apart.
This is the fourth and I believe final book in the Darkness Chosen series. The series is about the Wilder siblings—three brothers and a sister. Their family is a branch of the Varinski line of shapeshifters.

In Dodd’s world, the original Varinski patriarch made a deal with devil a thousand years ago and was awarded with the power of shapeshifting as a deadly predator, and for all his descendants as well. The curse ensures only male children are born to Varinski unions. The Varinskis are an evil clan - raping, pillaging and assassinating – giving the devil his due.

The Wilder’s father was the original leader of the modern Varinskis, but was redeemed through the love of a gypsy woman, changed his name and fled with her to the U.S. to escape the Varinksis clutches. A prophecy predicts that the curse can be broken when the four pieces of an ancient Varinski holy icon of the Madonna are restored.

Each of the preceding three novels in the series has told the story of one of the brothers finding the love of their life and locating one of the icons. Into the Flame tells Firebirds tale, the daughter, the miracle exception to the “male descendant’s only” rule.

There are many things I have liked about this series and this instalment remains true to form. The simple approach to using shapeshifting as a demonic curse rather then some extended complex supernatural culture. The romance angle of every sibling story is carefully constructed scene by scene, motivations and attractions feel true and believable which again is refreshing from the fated mated approach used in too many paranormal romances.

This being Firebirds story, it unravels the mystery of why she is the only female Varinski and nope, I’m not going to include any spoilers. The action barrels along heading for the anticipated final confrontation between the Wilders and the Varinskis and the attainment of the final icon.

My only reservation about Into the Flame is that I found the final battle somewhat anticlimactic and the action a bit sketchy. The scenes were not as fully described and realized as I have come to expect of Ms. Dodd.

It seems the règle du jour for paranormal romance is to have a HEA and you will not be disappointed here, however the elimination of a character or two might have added a bit more poignancy to this final chapter in the series.

Of course one has to ask, is this the final Darkness Chosen story? It seems some of the Wilder wives may have some secrets to explore in potential future excursions. This a solid and entertaining parnormal romance and satisfying conclusion to the series.

Read an excerpt here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“Wicked Hot” by Charlene Teglia

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
The struggle between good and evil is about to get . . . Wicked Hot

Edana is a succubus-a breathtakingly beautiful demon who offers men their most decadent fantasy in exchange for their souls. No one can get close to her without being destroyed..until she meets Eli and Dal. Both men are Nephilim, immortal warriors who bind and banish demons. Edana's mission is to arouse their lust and steal their souls before they can destroy her-she never expects to fall in love. Shared by two virile lovers and lost in a world of sensation, Edana begins to fall for one of the warriors, jeopardizing her mission. Only he has power to save her, but first she must give him power over her heart-and her destiny . . .
For a little bit of reading on the wild side, Charlene Teglia’s erotic paranormal romance is proof there is truth in advertising—Wicked Hot. Nic (yes that Nick) sends succubus Edana off to of all places, Forks Washington (Stephenie Meyer rolls her eyes) to retrieve the soul of a Nephilim. She has never failed an assignment.

Eli immediately recognizes her as a demon. Seeing through her scheme he immediately binds her to his command and spirits her off to his cabin in the woods where lo and behold he has a brother. Edana did not expect a two for one deal. Two virile male Nephilim and one sexy succubus alone in a cabin in the woods. What to do…what to do.

Wicked Hot is a thoroughly entertaining erotic romp in the hay. And there is the expected HEA (happily ever after). Edana’s gradual fall into grace and reach for redemption is nicely woven into the story.

This is a scorcher so put on your asbestos gloves before reading.

The book trailer…



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

“Seaborn” by Chris Howard

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
A world deep under the sea, a kingdom that has endured centuries—without the modern world knowing it exists. Those who dwell there are the Seaborn.

Kassandra: granddaughter of the King of the Seaborn, she has spent her life in exile on the surface. Though still learning to control her unique powers, she's ready to declare war on her murderous grandfather…

Corina: a California college student who loves to scuba dive, her mind and body have beem brutally taken over by an ancient Seaborn sorcerer—and she must fight to prevent his complete possession of her very being…

Aleximor: imprisoned 400 years ago by the Seaborn royalty, the sorcerer is now intent on a revenge that threatens to consume both young women and the world of the Seaborn.
Seaborn is the debut fantasy novel from author Chris Howard and I believe the first in a proposed series. For a first novel it is chock full of new and interesting ideas, however the execution left me unsatisfied from a number of perspectives.

Howard introduces us to his main characters through alternating POV’s, chapter to chapter. The first chapter begins with Kassandra. The narrative is crisp and evocative. It paints a fey mood, intriguing us about Kassandra’s nature without enlightening us. Drawing us in to learn more.
The water followed her home from the library, water in the air slipping over her skin as if afraid to touch her without permission. The sound of water played in her ears—a child’s laughter splashing, a creek burbling a mile down Atlantic Avenue—and the soft rain skipped in her footprints.
The second chapter features Corina where she reflects on her recent breakup with her boyfriend and is introspective about a tragic event in her life. In other words, personal details that effectively brings her character to life.

For me these initial chapters established some expectations. I loved the style and feel of the first chapter but it was quickly abandoned in place of more prosaic straight forward narrative. Corina’s introduction suggested the promise of a character driven story. However, we learn as much about Corina in this chapter as in the combined remaining chapters. Her physical body is usurped by the Seaborn sorceror Aleximor and her inner struggle and helplessness could have provided exceptional fodder for character enlightenment. For example, Stephenie Meyer built an entire novel around the concept in the recent The Host. Here Corina is relegated to a sidekick character once taken over by Aleximor.

Other key characters also receive only half-hearted efforts including her sisters, father and other family members. I found it difficult to care about them. Kassandra, as the wreath bearer is motivated and influenced by the multiple personalities embedded in her psyche. Who is the real Kassandra? Aleximor is also fairly one-dimensional, primarily motivated by revenge and old hatreds.

As epic fantasy Seaborn is imaginative and flush with mythological detail. The ocean dwelling Seaborn culture is fascinating. The action sequences well visualized. But I found it curious that Howard placed the story against a contemporary setting. It takes a fairly large suspension of disbelief to accept that the Seaborn could hide so effectively from modern technology given their significant presence and activities. These issues are never addressed. Set against a less technological age – perhaps more believable. In fact, the contemporary world stage used for the surface dwelling characters plays little meaningful role in the larger plot of Seaborn power and politics other then as a backdrop.

Nevertheless this is a fresh and entertaining read and I fully expect we will be hearing more from Chris Howard in the future. A sequel Sea Throne is expected out next year.

Read the first four chapters.

Listen to the first chapter as read by the author.



Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Musings - Ray Bradbury and Prunes

Apparently Ray Bradbury had a birthday last Friday (b.1920). He's 88. Loved this YouTube link from SFSignal (and Locus) which features him in a retro commercial from the 50's or 60's. I love that it mentions 2001 like it is the distant future.



Sunday, August 24, 2008

“The Scorpions Strike” by C.L. Talmadge

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Some people just need killing…

Will outspoken heroine Helen Andros and her newly reconciled father be the ones to die?

At the outset of Scorpions Strike, the two endure proscription and savage punishment by the powerful Temple of Kronos. Although both evade death for the time being, their struggles and dangers only grow worse.

Helen, under a Temple death mark, learns the basics of energy manipulation from Maguari the Mist-Weaver and, for the first time, uses her green stone to heal others. Meanwhile, her father’s political enemies hound him relentlessly, and a treacherous enemy plots his demise.

The Green Stone of Healing epic fantasy series chronicles four generations of strong-willed female characters and how government backing for exclusionary religious practices leads to the obliteration of an island nation called Azgard.
The Scorpions Strike is the third book in C.L. Talmadge’s Green Stone of Healing series. Billed as a fantasy, the novel does slide into SFnal territory with mention of airships, Gridbooks, skimmers and scanners. The novel is the personal story of Helen Andros, a half-breed healer set against a broader tale of political intrigue and religious extremism.

Helen is the illegitimate daughter of the Lord Protector, the right hand of the King. The Lord Protector finds himself facing trial for adultery and heresy before The Temple of Kronos, the religious institution that dominates the lives of the people of Azgard. The Temple is led by a religious zealot Ezekiel Malachi whose control of church doctrine ensures matters of racial purity are strictly enforced. Even the King cannot intervene in the events that follow.

Physical punishments fall upon both father and daughter; he is flogged and she is beaten. Helen is stripped of her healer credentials and placed under a Death Mark proclamation, a church jihad that permits church assassins to seek and kill Helen. Only recently reconciled, the Lord Protector uses his wealth and title to whisk Helen away to his home and lands to protect her. Much of the story that follows relates the machinations of Malachi and repeated attempts on Helen’s life.

Azgard society is depicted as a harsh quasi-Victorian hybrid with rigid rules of etiquette, class distinction (racial and gender), treatment of women as chattels and medieval style punishments (there are various instances of floggings, hangings, and drawing and quarterings). Against this bleak backdrop, Helen who has led a difficult life struggles to make the best of her almost hopeless situation.

Whether it was intentional to reflect this Victorian sensibility or not, I found much of the narrative and dialogue to be overly awkward and stilted, especially in the larger scenes involving the trial and government session debates. Even with repeated forays to the books Glossary, I also found it difficult to follow conversations due to the constant shifting of character naming conventions which included a mixture of titles, given names and familial relationships. These factors initially made it difficult to identify and empathize with characters.

Fortunately whenever the scope of the scenes scaled down to personal interactions between fewer characters, the narrative became much more intimate and engaging. Although Helen is the heroine of the story, her role in the course of events is mostly passive. The best moments occur as she explores her newly found talents with her healing stone under the tutelage of her guardian entity Maguari and one could have wished for more of these fantastical interludes.

There are many events and back story elements alluded to throughout the novel that suggests that the book would be best appreciated having read earlier volumes. The Afterword forewarns that Helen’s difficulties become even more desperate in the next installment. For more information about the series visit the authors website at www.greenstoneofhealing.com.

Browse the book here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

“Nightwalker” by Jocelynn Drake

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
For centuries Mira has been a nightwalker—an unstoppable enforcer for a mysterious organization that manipulates earth-shaking events from the darkest shadows. But elemental mastery over fire sets her apart from others of her night-prowling breed . . . and may be all that prevents her doom.

The foe she now faces is human: the vampire hunter called Danaus, who has already destroyed so many undead. For Mira, the time has come to hunt . . . or be hunted.
Nightwalker is the debut novel from author Jocelynn Drake and the beginning of the Dark Days series. This dark urban fantasy is a polished action adventure. While Drake’s world building includes the usual supernatural elements encompassing vampires, weres, sorcerers and fae, she very much adds her own unique twists and interpretations. In her world the fae are known as the naturi and are a relentless blood thirsty enemy of vampires and mankind. They were locked away from the world by the vampires after an epic battle five centuries previously.

Mira is nightwalker (vampire) whose territory is Savannah Georgia. She confronts a vampire hunter, Danaus, who has been killing in her domain. She quickly learns he is not just an ordinary human hunter but something more, and has been drawing her out deliberately. He reveals to her that the few surviving naturi, are planning to unlock the portal and unleash the entire naturi forces on the world.

Danaus and Mira form an uneasy alliance, to track and eliminate the naturi threat. Their search takes them to Egypt and ultimately to England where they must also locate members of the original vampire Triad that created the portal seal.

We learn that Mira is unique—a firestarter; an ability she had when human and retained even after she was turned. This makes her feared in the vampire community and a powerful fighter. But Mira also displays a surprising degree of vulnerability for a 603 year old vampire. She calls her daytime human bodyguards her angels (perhaps not so ironically called Michael and Gabriel). She is compassionate about those she sees as her responsibility and is unafraid to show emotion in stressful situations.

As a result of their close proximity with one another, many of Danaus’ assumptions about the evil nature of vampires are challenged. Mira gains insight into her own origins that shake the foundations of many of her beliefs. Together we see the two characters evolve and we begin to anticipate that something more may come of their relationship. This character growth is a satisfying counterpoint to the action and intrigue. Their unusual relationship is perhaps typified by the following quote where Danaus and Mira are discussing their long-term chances of survival –
Mira: “We’ll find a way” I whispered. “I always do.”
Danuas leaned forward and brushed a kiss against my temple, sending a wave of peace deep into the marrow of my bones, helping to ease some of the pain.
Danaus: “And then we’ll kill each other as God intended.”
There is no shortage of scenes for action junkies. Numerous skirmishes with the naturi provide sufficient chills and thrills with a high BVR (bloody violence rating). Mira is often injured and the healing is not always easy and at times life threatening. It is refreshing to see a vampire nature that is not seemingly invulnerable, but at risk from lesser injuries.

The story concludes at a satisfying juncture but clearly it is the jumping off point for the sequel to come called Daywalker. Plenty of mystery remains around the character of Danaus and Mira’s new circumstances create anticipation for her next moves. Strong action and likeable characters make Nightwalker a pleasant find from a new writer.

Read the first seven chapters.

Friday, August 22, 2008

“Cry Wolf” by Patricia Briggs

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Anna never knew werewolves existed until the night she survived a violent attack…and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna’s inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf—a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all of the pack…
This is a really terrific story set in the Mercy Thompson universe. Anna was first introduced to us in a novella called Alpha and Omega that appeared in the On the Prowl (2007) anthology. This picks up immediately after the events of that story, but while it might be nice if you have previously read the novella, I don’t believe it is necessary to fully enjoy this new tale, in fact the cover blurb pretty much recaps the highlights of the original story.

Cry Wolf is a voyage of discovery for the abused Anna as she leaves her Chicago home with Charles, the Marroks’ son, for the pack home in the wilds of Montana. Briggs’ portrayal of Anna is pitch perfect. Anna is desperately trying to figure out what all of the changes in her life mean—her role as Charles mate, being an Omega werewolf and fitting into the new pack. The wild swing of her emotions and reactions is almost palpable as the story unfolds. Charles and Anna’s deepening relationship is wonderfully nuanced and above the traditional fated mates love story.

We also get to see and learn more about the secondary characters featured in the Mercy stories including Bran (the Marrok), Samuel and the pack in general. As always Briggs’ action sequences are suspenseful and plentiful. What starts out as a routine search and recover mission for a rogue werewolf, ends up leading Charles and Anna into a perilous adventure that threatens not only their lives but the future of the entire werewolf nation. The major plotlines are satisfyingly concluded without loose ends or major unanswered questions.

Anna is a unique werewolf and very different from shapeshifter Mercy. It will be interesting to see how she fits into future plans and appearances in the Mercy Thompson universe. Recommended.

Read the first chapter of Cry Wolf.

Read an excerpt from Alpha and Omega.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Science Fiction of Vin Diesel

There has been surprisingly little buzz about the new Vin Diesel science fiction movie Babylon A.D. but from the trailer it looks like a gritty cyberpunk actioner. Even with all of the other big summer blockbusters this year there hasn't been any pure science fiction. It's been a bit of a drought and this release even at the end of the summer (release date August 29) is welcome.

Babylon A.D. is based on the novel Babylon Babies by French science fiction writer Maurice G. Dantec. He now lives and works in Quebec.It appears to be the only one of his novels that has been translated into English. Amazon gives it a 4.5 star rating.



Two of my favourite scifi films also star Vin Diesel portraying one of the screens more memorable scifi characters - Riddick.

The first Riddick film was Pitch Black (2000) a modern classic, and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) a flawed but excellent film.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Releases for September

Here is a partial list of forthcoming Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal books coming out in September. Hope to have reviews for some of these titles in the near future.


Science Fiction
Check out the Locus page for forthcoming titles. Coverage through March of 2009.


Fantasy, Paranormal & Urban Fantasy
ANTHOLOGIES
  • Everlasting Bad Boys (novellas by Shelly Laurenston, Cynthia Eden, Noelle Mack)
NOVELS
  • An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe
  • Crate & Peril by J. D. Warren
  • Dark Hunger by Sara Reinke
  • Deadly Redemption by Kathleen Korbel
  • Dragon Actually by G. A. Aiken
  • Fallen by Claire Delacroix
  • I Want You to Want Me by Kathy Love
  • Jinx by Jennifer Estep
  • Kiss of a Dark Moon by Sharie Kohler
  • Knight's Fork by Rowena Cherry
  • Michael Angelo by Diane Merlin
  • Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
  • Prey by Melina Morel
  • Succubus Dreams by Richelle Mead
  • The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The House of the Stag by Kage Baker
  • The Night Serpent by Anna Leonard
  • The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
SERIES NOVELS
For those of you that like to follow series I have split off series novels separately from standalones.
  • Bite The Bullet by L. A. Banks (Crimson Moon #2)
  • Break of Dawn by Chris Marie Green (Vampire Babylon #3)
  • Dark Curse by Christine Feehan (Dark Series #17)
  • Faefever by Karen Marie Moning (Fever Series #3)
  • Hands of Flame by C. E. Murphy (Negotiator #3)
  • Heart Fate by Robin D. Owens (Heart Series #7)
  • Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh (Psy/Changeling #6)
  • Insatiable Desire by Rita Herron (Demonborn #1)
  • King of Sword and Sky by C. L. Wilson (Tairen Soul #2)
  • Noah by Jacquelyn Frank (Nightwalkers #5)
  • One Bite with a Stranger by Christine Warren (Others #1, formerly Fantasy Fix)
  • Steelflower by Lilith Saintcrow (Steelflower Chronicles #1)
  • The Bride of Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta (Casa Dracula #3)
  • The Crossing by Joy Nash (Immortals #6)
  • The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks (Genesis of Shannara #3)
  • The Phoenix Endangered by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory (Enduring Flame #2)
  • The Riven Kingdom by Karen Miller (Godspeaker #2)
  • The Rogue Hunter by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #10)
  • The Scourge Of God by S.M. Stirling (Sunrise Lands #2)
  • The Storm by Jean Johnson (Sons of Destiny #6)
  • The Wyrmling Horde by David Farland (Runelords #7)

Monday, August 18, 2008

“My Wicked Enemy” by Carolyn Jewel

FROM THE BOOKCOVER
A desire that can't be controlled...Carson Philips is a witch on the run. For years, the notorious mage, Alvaro Magellan, has held her as his psychological prisoner. But once Carson gets a glimpse of the true extent of his evil, she flees Magellan's mansion--stealing a stone talisman of unimaginable power on the way. Her only hope for survival is a demon who ignites a voracious hunger in her she can't deny, a longing she can't resist...

A hunger that can't be sated...Nikodemus is a warlord with a mission: Kill Magellan and his green-eyed witch at any cost. But when he meets the desperate Carson, the pull of her magic takes his breathe away. He's not sure he can trust this tantalizing woman--she is his enemy--and less sure he can keep his hands off her. But Magellan will stop at nothing to reclaim what belongs to him. Can Nikodemus stop him before his desire for Carson destroys them both?
My Wicked Enemy opens with a great scene of Carson fleeing from Alvaro Magellan her former employer, guardian and powerful mage. The portrayal of her sense of paranoia, dislocation, fear and confusion is intense. From there Jewel quickly introduces us and lays down the rules to her supernatural world consisting of Fiend and Mage/Witch adversaries in contemporary San Francisco. The Mages (bad guys) strive to build their power base by magically capturing Fiends (good guys) making them Mageheld.

Carson has been victimized (her witchcraft has been crippled) by Magellan and joins forces with Nikodemus a warlord fiend for protection and to assist the fiends in their conflict with the Mages. There are many excellently crafted action scenes; however skirmishes with the same group of malevolent mages were a bit repetitive (a minor quibble).

Nikodemus is a strong and likable character. His responses and reactions to his changing circumstance and unusual relationship with Carson feel authentic and natural. Carson’s personality on the other hand is overtly naïve and seems to get subsumed by Nikodemus reflecting only those changes manifesting from her growing abilities. We are left with a strong notion of who Carson is by what she can do and what she has been influenced by, but no clear idea of who Carson is as a person. Hopefully Carson will discover herself in future installments.

My Wicked Enemy is the beginning of a new series followed closely by next years His Wicked Witch. Even with a somewhat uneven start I believe the series has great potential.

Read the first chapter.



Sunday, August 17, 2008

Official True Blood Trailer

HBO has released an official trailer for the upcoming True Blood series based on the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire stories by Charlaine Harris. It looks much improved over the leaked pilot from earlier in the summer.



Saturday, August 16, 2008

“The Devil You Know” by Jenna Black

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
The beautiful. The bad. The Possessed.

Some people worship them. Some people fear them. And some people—like Morgan Kingsley—go up against them toe-to-toe, flesh to flesh, and power against power. An exorcist by trade, Morgan is one of the few humans with an aura stronger than her possessor, even though her demon can tease her body senseless. She’s also a woman who has just discovered a shocking truth: everything she once believed about her past, her identity, may have been a lie.

With a family secret exploding around her and a full-scale demon war igniting, Morgan is a key player in an unsettled world. Then a rogue sociopathic demon enters her life with a bang. His name is The Hunter. And since she is the prey, Morgan has only one choice: to hunt The Hunter down—no matter what heartbreaking truths she uncovers along the way…
The Devil You Know is the second novel in The Morgan Kingsley series and takes place only a few weeks after the events of The Devil Inside (2007). The demon prince Dougal and his minions are still seeking the possessed host for King Lugh. This places Morgan and everyone she knows and cares about at risk.

Morgan’s journey in this excellent supernatural thriller is a roll call of difficult and unpleasant choices, challenging many of her bedrock assumptions about friends, family and demon possession. Morgan is a complex character; vulnerable and courageous, with a dash of self-deprecating humour.

As the dark secrets of her past unfold and Morgan learns more about her pivotal role in the demon world power-struggle, all of her relationships undergo change. She reconnects with her brother Andrew after he emerges from his coma, learns new devastating truths about her parents, and her feelings about and for Lugh are in turmoil. Morgan reconciles with her boyfriend Brian and shares the truth with unexpected consequences.

There are many taut and well choreographed action scenes as Morgan and her protectors defend against The Hunter’s attacks and go on the offensive. Several romantic interludes offer a nice counterpoint to all the action and provide a satisfying balance to Morgan’s emotional life.

In her world building, Jenna Black has created one of the creepiest and most insidious organizations featured in a paranormal thriller – The Spirit Society. This public face and facilitator for introducing demons into willing hosts is portrayed in a low key but chilling manner. Much more is learned of the society this time around, deepening the suspense and setting the stage for future adventures.

This is a great series. Get the earlier book and read it first if you haven’t already. The next installment The Devil’s Due is out in November.

Read the first chapter.

Listen to a scene from the book…



Friday, August 15, 2008

“The Last Angel” by Natasha Rhodes

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
An angel is found murdered on the streets of Sunset Boulevard. To the media gossip mongers, it’s the biggest story ever. To the Hunters, an underground monster-fighting hit-squad, it’s just another case of ‘whodunnit’. To Kayla Steele, their youngest and newest member, it means a last, desperate chance to bring her murdered fiancé back from the dead, and to others with a far darker purpose it is the means to destroy the human race. If the Hunters are to stop the onset of Armageddon they must join forces with their most hated enemies, the werewolves…
This is the second novel in the Kayla Steele series after Dante’s Girl (2007). Like its’ predecessor, it contains lot’s of non-stop action and twisting plot points. In fact you almost need to keep a scorecard because of the constantly shifting points of view and diverse storylines from chapter to chapter. Ms. Rhodes packs a lot into the 400 plus pages - all of it entertaining. But also like the previous book it fails to resolve previous story arcs or the new ones introduced including that of the ‘Angel’ in the title.

One of the things I like about Rhodes writing is the sly sense of humour. Of the evil vampire Harlequin –
“Harlequin sat in the darkness, brooding. He liked to brood. It was one of his favorite pastimes, next to killing people and enslaving the odd civilization.”
And Cyan, also one of the vampires and Karrel’s ex-lover thinks about Harlequin –
“It was just a pity that he couldn’t stand her. Other then that, they were perfect for each other.”
Kayla is also refreshing as a flawed, normal working-class girl who as the heroine has stumbled into the supernatural world and must survive without any powers or special abilities. She grudgingly accepts this world, but retains a healthy dose of skepticism even knowing what she does. Her pursuit of the truth about Karrel’s death and the possibility of his resurrection remains her personal mission. Karrel and Kayla converge but only in the Epilogue which is perhaps the most evocative chapter in the book.

As stated earlier, everything is left hanging at the end with tons of unanswered questions. I am OK with that in a series if I believe there will be a big payoff in a future installment. Please Ms. Rhodes don’t disappoint.

If you are the type of reader that needs things to be resolved this book is not for you. Definitely read Dante’s Girl before tackling this and perhaps even wait for the next volume in the series and read them altogether.

Normally I don’t comment on proofing and editing but Ms. Rhodes should definitely take her publisher to task for the sloppy proofing of her novel. A couple of typos you can let slide but it becomes aggravating when you notice problems even when you aren’t looking for them (see if you can spot them on Pgs 50, 202, 318, 370 to mention just a few).

Download and read the first chapter.

The fact that I read The Last Vampire and The Last Angel by two totally different authors back to back is completely coincidental and apropos of well…nothing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

“The Last Vampire” by Patricia Rosemoor & Marc Paoletti

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Spawned of alchemy and blood, he was the last of a brutal, ancient line. Now he has just been reborn.

Deep in a Texas cave, the military unearths a five-hundred-year-old corpse, its desiccated flesh teeming with mysterious DNA that can transform mortals into beings of unimaginable power.

Captain Scott Boulder, leader of a Black Ops unit that has been endowed with these superhuman abilities, is among the first to benefit from the find. But when, with the help of a voodoo priestess, the creature is conjured to life, unleashing an ancient evil bent on reinstating its poisonous kind on earth, Scott knows he must return the monster to the grave. But this is no ordinary vampire. Once a brutal torturer in the Spanish Inquisition, it can bend the laws of science and magic in horrifying new ways.

Powerless to fight this evil alone, Scott grudgingly seeks the aid of reclusive anthropologist Leah Maguire, an expert in the mystical rituals of the past. To keep humanity from entering a new Dark Age, Scott and Leah will battle unspeakable horrors and will sacrifice everything they hold dear–perhaps even their own humanity–to destroy the last vampire.

Only a few chapters into The Last Vampire I found that I had to force myself to continue reading, which is never a good sign. It was not any one particular thing but a collection of factors. The writing is very stiff and unimaginative - almost plodding. A relationship develops very slowly between Scott and Leah but there is no demonstrated chemistry. Leah moans (and moans) in her inner dialogue about the earlier loss of her family to the very vampire they are hunting. This is I suppose meant to build empathy with her character but there are no significant scenes presented to show us why we should care about her lost family or her angst. Similar problems abound with Scott’s inner dialogue about his family and brother.

The premise of an elite black ops fighting force, comprised of men genetically modified by vampire DNA is interesting, however the story which is billed as a thriller lacks thrills. An early aircraft hijacking rescue and a later attack on the vampire are lacklustre. There are also too many holes in the portrayal of military procedure and practice to provide any real credibility. Similar to TV shows that feature huge organizations as a backdrop but you never see more then one office or a few people on screen at a time because there isn’t the budget–the world building lacks appropriate scope.

Other off-kilter things include the setting in New Orleans which seems to have been selected merely because one of the bad guys (a woman) is a voodoo priestess. But why would the military operate a covert elite military operation out of New Orleans using a vampire mummy found in Texas other then to justify the use of voodoo as a plot device?

On a return visit to the cave where the vampire was imprisoned, Leah and Scott recognize the markings used to restrain the vampire and from them identify the location of the church that was home base to whoever put the protections in place (why a priest from a New Orleans parish imprisoned a vampire in a cave in Texas is never explained). If it was so easy to do this why didn’t the military figure that out the first time around and investigate?

It is even revealed that Andre, the vampire of the title was sired by none other then Vlad Tepes or Dracula. I cringed. Depiction of the vampiric powers and voodoo is also pretty much cliché. As a final observation, I find that the cover blurb above is actually more exciting then the books itself. Apparently there is a sequel planned but if this is the start of a new series, I can’t recommend it.

Read the Prologue and Chapter 1.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

“Pleasure Unbound” by Larissa Ione

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
In a place where ecstasy can cost you your life . . .

She's a demon-slayer who hungers for sensual pleasure-but fears it will always be denied her. Until Tayla Mancuso lands in a hospital run by demons in disguise, and the head doctor, Eidolon, makes her body burn with unslakable desire. But to prove her ultimate loyalty to her peers, she must betray the surgeon who saved her life.

Two lovers will dare to risk all.

Eidolon cannot resist this fiery, dangerous woman who fills him with both rage and passion. Not only is she his avowed enemy, but she could very well be the hunter who has been preying upon his people. Torn between his need for the truth and his quest to find his perfect mate before a horrific transformation claims him forever, Eidolon will dare the unthinkable-and let Tayla possess him, body and soul...
The enjoyment of science fiction, fantasy or paranormal is due in part to one’s ability to suspend their disbelief. Diving into Pleasure Unbound I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. If there was such a thing as gonzo paranormal romance this would be it. Gonzo is defined in many dictionaries as something that is exaggerated, bizarre or unconventional. Pleasure Unbound definitely qualifies.

Yes the world building here contains an assortment of demons, vampires, shapeshifters and slayers as you would find in many paranormal universes and even the standard setup of three brothers-Eidolon, Shade and Wraith. Eidolon is destined to find his mate in this story as are the other brothers in subsequent installments. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Here the brothers are demon doctors and healers and work in a secret underground demon hospital nursing the diverse breeds of demons that are injured or sick; some at the hands of the slayers and others through their own benign or malign behaviours. The opening scenes in the hospital ER read like a Dante’s Inferno version of an episode of ER. Dialogue is delivered straight and ranges from discussion of demon treatments, to murder, sex, torture and dating.

Tayla is a demon slayer, human, who learns she is half-demon (and a very nasty one at that) and has believed all demons to be evil. She discovers there are exceptions; mainly through her observations and interactions with Eidolon. She also has a tragic past. But by and large most of the demons species and portrayals are brutish and evil. Eidolon is going through his 100 year change. He is Seminus sex demon or incubus and if he doesn’t find a mate before the change he may become an insatiable murdering rapist and murderer. At times the scenes are written to show the characters redeeming values and empathy but it is a very uneasy mix and mostly seems out of place. There is lots of sex, violence and action, but not much in the way of believable romance. It is difficult to realistically like any of these characters.

As a gonzo paranormal adventure it works, as a paranormal romance, not so much. This is Book 1 in the Demonica series to be followed by Shadow Lover.

Read the first chapter.

Monday, August 11, 2008

“Sea Witch” by Virginia Kantra

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Her spell cannot be broken...

From the water…
For years, Margred has gone without the touch of another. Now, her need has driven her beyond her world to sate her desire. For she is a Selkie-a legendary being of the sea, able to shapeshift into seductive human form. Finally, she has found the one man she wants…

From the land…

A burned out veteran of big city streets, Caleb Hunter was only too happy to take a job as police chief on the peaceful Maine island of World's End. Nothing ever happens in this tiny community bounded by the sea. Until he meets a woman who's everything he's ever dreamed of. And more…

To each other…
Their passion is undeniable. Irresistible. But when a murderer begins targeting women in World's End, Caleb must face the terrible possibility that the killings are somehow connected to the mysterious Margred - and that the power of their love may change the fate of human kind …
This is Book 1 in The Children of the Sea series. Sea Witch is a very poignant and personal story, subtlety told and sure. The immortal Margred, a selkie arrives on the beach at World’s End taking human form and seeking a quick physical relationship and sets her sights on Caleb, the town Sheriff. Caleb has been wrestling his own personal demons after a tour in Iraq, finding refuge in his small hometown.

After a single night of passion on the beach Maggie leaves. Caleb unaware of her selkie nature doesn’t expect her to return but waits hopefully nevertheless. Maggie finds the boredom and indifference of her existence has been tweaked and returns to explore the possibilities that Caleb offers. However on arriving she is attacked by a demon and her pelt destroyed robbing her of her immortality and her ability to shift back to her selkie form.

Caleb’s reality is seriously undermined when Maggie reveals her true nature and at first refuses to believe. This is further compounded when he is told that his mother and older brother Dylan, that abandoned his father, sister and himself years before are selkie’s as well. Despite both their lives being turned upside down, Maggie and Caleb’s bond grows and they tackle the growing challenges together.

A heartfelt romance with never a false note, this fantasy, simply told is a pleasure to read. Recommended.

Read the first chapter.

Sea Fever which is Caleb's selkie brother Dylan’s story is out this month and Sea Lord, Caleb’s sister Lucy’s story is due out next year.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

“Touch of Darkness” by C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES

It’s good advice—and Kate always thought she did. But everything has changed: there’s a new force at the head of the Thrall collective. A force brilliant enough and ruthless enough to hide its sinister plan behind humanitarian work—building and funding halfway houses to ease the victims of drugs and the Thrall back into society.

And then Kate discovers that another part of the plan is rescinding the rules of fair play by which the Thrall have always dealt with humans. Kate is no longer Not Prey. Now she is just like everyone else: Prey.

Uncovering the plot is a start, but stopping it is another thing entirely. Kate must not only call on all of her own resources, but all of those that belong to her werewolf boyfriend Tom. But the Thrall collective has a brand new way of getting to Kate: a very personal series of attacks designed to tear her from Tom. Kate has to decide: save her relationship with Tom, or save the future from the Thrall?
This is the final volume in the Thrall trilogy following Touch of Evil (2006) and Touch of Madness (2007). I’ve been hooked since the first volume. Kate is one of my favourite characters amongst the legion of empowered paranormal heroines in numerous series. Unlike other heroines, it’s not her job to fight demons, vampires or other supernatural critters, but she does when circumstances don’t permit any other options.

The Thrall are a fascinating conception, while superficially like vampires, they are actually a hive-mind parasite. They have become the good guys in the eyes of the public and Kate in opposing them is viewed unsympathetically. The only other supernatural creatures in this world the authors have created are the werewolves who are the enemies of the Thrall.

Kate’s apartment building is demolished; her wedding postponed and in jeopardy and her life is coming apart, when she learns the full extent of the threat against her from an old Thrall enemy who in true ultimate evil fashions tells her –
“I will destroy everything and everyone who matters to you as completely as I destroyed the building. I have stripped you of your home and your belongings: next it will be your friends, your family, and your relationship with him. I will destroy your life while you watch helplessly. And when it is over and you have absolutely nothing, then I will take your life.”
Plenty of plot twists and turns keep you guessing whether Kate will survive the forces aligned against her. Her friends and allies rally and there are numerous confrontations and excellent action sequences. This backdrop is used effectively to explore through adversity the growing and maturing relationship between Kate and Tom. After all at heart this is still a romance. Yes there is a HEA. Touch of Darkness is a great read and satisfying conclusion to an excellent paranormal romance series. Best read in order, so pick up the earlier volumes.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

2008 Hugo Award Results

And the winners are...

  • Novel: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
  • Novella: "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
  • Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; F&SF Sept. 2007)
  • Short Story: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
  • Non-fiction Book: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
  • Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Stardust Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
  • Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
  • Professional Editor, Long Form: David Hartwell
  • Professional Editor, Short Form: Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF)
  • Professional Artist: Stephan Martiniere
  • Semiprozine: Locus, edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
  • Fanzine: File 770
  • Fan Writer: John Scalzi
  • Fan Artist: Brad Foster
  • Campbell Award: Mary Robinette Kowal

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Worldcon - Denvention 3

Thought I would put in a brief plug for the 66th World Science Fiction Convention and provide a few links for those interested in finding out about what’s happening.
THE HUGOS
The Hugo Awards event is tonight. Good luck to all the nominees. Cheryl Morgan (of Emerald City) will be blogging live from the event here starting at 7:30 Denver time.

Here are the nominees for Best Novel:
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
  • Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
  • Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan./Feb. 2007)
  • The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace)




Friday, August 8, 2008

“Breaking Dawn” by Stephenie Meyer

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give, how could you not give it? If it was someone you truly loved?

To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, a tumultuous year of temptation, loss, and strife have led her to the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or to pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fates of two tribes hangs.

Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating, and unfathomable, consequences. Just when the frayed strands of Bella's life-first discovered in Twilight, then scattered and torn in New Moon and Eclipse-seem ready to heal and knit together, could they be destroyed... forever?

The astonishing, breathlessly anticipated conclusion to the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn illuminates the secrets and mysteries of this spellbinding romantic epic that has entranced millions.
In preparing to write a review of Breaking Dawn, I realized how difficult it would be to compose a review unaffected by the massive hype surrounding this final book in the Twilight Saga. Having read the previous volumes as they came out prior to it becoming another cultural phenomenon, one could wish that it had remained one of those undiscovered secrets unblemished by the media spotlight. But no such luck. So as I am sure this book will be reviewed in exhaustive detail elsewhere, I will simply offer up a few personal impressions and observations in no particular order.
  1. The book is overly long.
  2. The major plot elements and their resolution suggest that Meyer was writing this to respond to the demands and expectations of her massive legion of fans. It may very well have been an entirely different (and better) book otherwise and a part of me wishes it was.
  3. Jacob is the best written character and strongest personality in the series.
  4. Bella’s exploration of her new vampire existence is nicely portrayed.
  5. I kept thinking Sopranos every time the Volturi came on stage. Caius was like Christopher saying to Tony - “Can we whack ‘em now boss?”
  6. Unexpectedly few plot twists or surprises, with one exception, again revolving around Jacob. For the most part this is a very linear, full-speed ahead and damn the torpedoes plot.
  7. Considering Edwards agonizing over Bella’s vampire conversion and concern about her soul throughout the initial books, there was very little angst about this evident in the finale.
  8. Humorous elements I liked included Jacobs collection of blonde jokes that he used to antagonize Rosalie and Emmet has the funniest line when taunting Bella about her love life with “Did Edward tell you how many houses Rose and I smashed?”
  9. Winner of the vampire powers race – Bella.
  10. As you might expect everybody gets their HEA and in fact the final chapter title is “The Happily Ever After”.
Perhaps there are still a few individuals out there unfamiliar with the books asking “what’s all the fuss about?” so by all means check out the series starting from the beginning and pay no attention to all the publicity. Is it that deserving - no, is it a worthwhile YA reading experience - yes.

Here’s a vid of Stephenie Meyer talking about the final book and the Twilight craze.



Thursday, August 7, 2008

“Bound by Shadow” by Anna Windsor

FROM THE BOOK COVER:
Falling for a demon can be hazardous to your heart.

Riana Dumain is a fully trained Sybil, a warrior priestess battling evil whose practical magic keeps her grounded in earthly science–and desires. She knows that gorgeous NYPD detective Creed Lowell is dangerous, and possibly a foot soldier of the evil Legion cult, using his badge and drop-dead looks to consolidate demonic power.

Creed’s low-profile Occult Crimes Unit pulls Riana and her two sister Sybils into the case of a politician’s son, murdered in a ritualistic sacrifice. Soon, Riana’s instincts prove true. Creed, the hottest half-human she’s ever known, a demon in bed and out, is guarding a trapdoor to hell. And unless Riana can find a way to tame her mystery man’s treacherous inner self (and her heart), all of Manhattan may be enveloped by darkness.
This is Book 1 in the Dark Crescent Sisterhood series. This series pretty much hews to the standard paranormal template. Three empowered sisters fighting the supernatural bad guys. Sister one finds love (and then some) with supernatural bad boy. Action (of both kinds if you know what I mean) and adventure ensues. From the setup at the end of the story and the preview of the next book included, the sequel gives the next sister her amorous opportunity and the Sibyls more bad guys to kick butt.

Poking fun aside, Bound by Shadow is a breezy entertaining read. Windsor has created her own unique preternatural world with the Sibyls, which form triads composed of Earth, Air and Fire abilities. They fight the Legion composed of human bad guys and demon minions and yes they are bent on world domination. The Sybil rituals, fighting skills and back story are quite inventive and the setting for their home base in a Brownstone opposite Central Park in NYC is like a witch’s equivalent of an MI5 headquarters.

With solid story telling and likable characters, the Dark Crescent Sisterhood series is likely to be enjoyed by most readers of paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

Book 2, Bound by Flame is available now and Book 3, Bound by Light will be out later this month.








Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Bad Blood" by L.A. Banks

FROM THE BOOK COVER:
Sasha Trudeau knows all about working beneath the shadows, back-alley deals, and things that go bump in the night. She also knows that the world is unaware of the existence of the paranormal - and that the government would like to keep it that way.

As a highly trained Special Ops soldier, Sasha and her team are an elite group of individuals who are survivors of werewolf attacks, now trained to be loyal to only to each other and their government. But when she returns from a solo mission, she finds that her team has mysteriously gone missing. Shocking government conspiracies, double-dealing vampires, and a host of stunning revelations about who - and what - she really is are only just the beginning...
Bad Blood is the first book in a new paranormal series called the Crimson Moon from L.A. Banks. It seems to be styled in the vein of a covert ops military thriller. A team of soldiers with supernatural abilities (in this case werewolves) protects the unwary public and nation from the preternatural monsters. Or is it about weaponizing supernatural abilities in humans to fight all enemies supernatural and foreign. Pages and pages of info dumps about the state of supernatural affairs, creatures and politics left me dizzy and confused.

We don’t actually get to see a fully functioning team go on a mission together and the two minor missions described yield little except an excuse to garner some information for Sasha which she subsequently learns elsewhere anyway, and for her to be introduced some characters that she could have met anywhere without the pretense. The rest of her team goes on a separate mission ultimately resulting in the disbanding/demise of the team.

We learn that the team members don’t fully understand what they are although their superiors do. The why is part of the story but still confusing and unnecessarily convoluted. In order to solve these and other mysteries Sasha sets up a shadow team, unknown to her bosses, to investigate. Maybe subsequent books in the series will involve the covert ops shadow team. But then why spend all the time setting up the one in this novel and then dissolving it?

Overall way too much info dumping and back storying (is that even a word?). The story would have benefited from smoother integration of the details (or spread across more novels-why reveal everything at once) as well as showing through action or scenes some of the events rather then by just talking about them. For the most part it seemed rushed and unpolished.

However there are some absolutely wonderful scenes that had me saying out loud “why couldn’t the rest of the book have been like this?” These scenes revolve around Sasha’s discovery that she is a special breed of werewolf called a shadow wolf. Shadow wolves have particular abilities and skills called shadow dancing (sounds corny but it really isn’t when you read it). The sequences where this is revealed to her by her soon to become paramour Max Hunter are a sheer joy. Exuberant and delightful, the passages jump off the page. Obviously Banks cares very much about this aspect of her world and characters and the book is almost recommended for these alone despite the other flaws. Let’s hope there is greater focus on this in the next volume called Bite the Bullet which arrives in October. Perhaps wait to see what the reviews are like for the next book before diving into this new series. It has potential, but there is just too much crammed in too quickly in this first installment.

Read an excerpt from the novel here.

Visit the Crimson Moon website.

Fans of paranormal spy/military thrillers might enjoy Savannah Russe’s Darkwing Chronicles or Jennifer Rardin’s Jaz Parks series while you wait.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

“Underground” by Kat Richardson

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until she died—for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker—walking the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she's discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of "strange" cases.

In the cold of winter, Pioneer Square's homeless are turning up dead and mutilated, and zombies have been seen roaming the underground—the city buried beneath modern Seattle. When Harper's friend Quinton believes he may be implicated in the deaths, he persuades her to investigate their mysterious cause.

Harper and Quinton discover in the city’s past a pattern to the deaths that points to an inhuman killer stalking the modern citizens of the Underground and raising the dead in its wake. But when Harper turns to the city’s vampire denizens for help, they want nothing to do with her or with the investigation.

For this creature is no vampire. Someone has unleashed a monster of ancient legend upon the Underground, and Harper must deal with both the living and the dead to find the creature and put a stop to it…unless it stops her first.
Underground is the third book in the Greywalker series following Greywalker (2006) and Poltergeist (2007). It is one of my favourite urban fantasy series, highly original and bursting with unique interpretations of supernatural creatures and events and that is something special in a very crowded paranormal book marketplace. It stands apart.

Seattle always features prominently in the Greywalker books, but is particularly central to this story supplying a rich historical background and gritty and mysterious settings. It is very atmospheric, laden with foreboding and chills (literally and figuratively).

A strong opening line in the Prologue sets the stage -
“If ghosts and monsters had someone else to harass, my life would have been a lot quieter, like it was before I died.”
What more can you ask? Harper Blaine continues to learn and explore her control and understanding of her abilities within the “grey” and she appears more confident and proactive then in the past. And her skills are definitely needed to solve and confront the supernatural creature that is the core of the mystery she needs to solve.

Quinton a key, but minor character in previous installments, plays a significant role here and is shaping up to be a major and welcome influence in Harper’s life. They work well together and jointly share many of the well choreographed action sequences which are tense, taught and intelligent.

Underground is a great detective story and as with many good mysteries introduces an interesting red herring that reappears at end of book—a teaser perhaps that may or may not be important in the next book. The novel can be read as a standalone, but may be even better appreciated if you have read the previous books, not so much to be familiar with the various minor characters, but to fully enjoy the back story of the “grey”, Richardson’s unique vision of the co-existing paranormal realm and Harper Blaine, one of the genres most interesting and fascinating heroines. The series and this book should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

Read the Prologue and Chapter 1.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

“The Wild Road” by Marjorie Liu

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Lannes Hannelore is one of a dying race born to protect mankind against demonic forces. And while those who look upon him see a beautiful man, this illusion is nothing but a prison. His existence is one of pure isolation, hiding in plain sight, with brief solace found in simple pleasures: stretching his wings on a stormy night, long late drives on empty highways, the deep soul of sad songs. But when Lannes finds a young woman covered in blood—desperate and alone, with no memory or past—he will be drawn into a mystery that makes him question all he knows. And though it goes against his nature and everything he fears, Lannes will risk his heart, his secrets, and his very soul, in order to save someone who could be the love of his life...or the end of it.
The Wild Road is Marjorie Liu’s eighth installment in her solidly entertaining Dirk & Steele series of paranormal thriller/romances. Each of the books in this series is a paranormal gem and this one is no exception. A trademark of the series is that the central characters are thrust into jeopardy from which they must extricate themselves. Their shared danger allows them to build a relationship and draws them together. It also draws the attention of agents of the Dirk & Steele detective agency, which is a front for a covert supernatural organization that brings together those with “special abilities”, to protect both humanity and preternatural creatures.

Most of these preternatural creatures are unaware of others like themselves or are loners or isolated. Even those that are aware such a community exists must hide their nature for their own protection. Lannes Hannelore is a gargoyle, brother to Charles who was featured in Dark Dreamers (Dirk & Steele #4). The young woman he rescues, has amnesia, but not the usual sort. Her memories have literally been ripped away-destroyed and she is under attack psychically and otherwise.

With the assistance of Dirk & Steele agents, they search out the source and along the way uncover a decades old mystery with connections to the genesis of Dirk & Steele. The romance aspects of the story are seamlessly and naturally integrated into the action and are among the many fine attributes of a Marjorie Liu novel. I found myself turning over the last page all too quickly. Each Dirk & Steele novel stands on its’ own without need for prior knowledge of any back story, although I do recommend you pick up earlier volumes. You won’t be sorry. Recommended.

Read the first chapter.

Once you have read the book you may want to return and visit this link which has a cut scene from the novel.

Friday, August 1, 2008

“Ink and Steel” by Elizabeth Bear

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Kit Marley, poet, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a subtle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley's role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen's enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England's only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death...
Ink and Steel is a delicious historical fantasy part of a duology called The Stratford Man which concludes with Hell and Earth to be published in August. It is also a prequel to the excellent Blood and Iron (2006) and Whiskey and Water (2007) which are set in contemporary times. All of these books together are part of series called the Promethean Age that Campbell Award-winner Elizabeth Bear suggests on her website might encompass 12 volumes when complete.

This book took nearly three times longer to read then many other fantasy novels of comparable length and that is not a complaint but a measure of the sheer richness of the prose and the attention it deserves to savour its full impact. Not a paragraph is to be missed. As one might expect from a novel that features fictional interpretations of William (“Will”) Shakespeare and Christopher (“Kit”) Marlowe, the style and dialogue Bear has adopted is not dissimilar to a Shakespearean play. I found myself reaching for my dictionary frequently and more then once wishing I had a more classical education to fully appreciate the undoubtedly intensive research behind the story. In fact, Bear mentions in the brief Author’s Note that in the second book there is in her own words –
“A complete Author’s Note and Acknowledgements-enumerating the narrative’s extensive historical and linguistic malfeasances…”
I particularly enjoyed all of the scenes set in faerie and the echoing of the political machinations of the fairie court to those of Elizabeth’s mortal court and the various factions of the Prometheans. The exploration of Will’s relationship with his wife Annie is deftly handled and I found as the novel progressed that I wanted more and in fact a perhaps temporary HEA (Happily Ever After) is granted in the concluding “scenes”.

The London of the time is richly detailed and portrayed in surprisingly harsh but matter-of-fact way which I suppose it was for those living then. Kit and Will’s relationships between friends, enemies, lovers and each other are explored through conversations, letters, verse and considerable action bringing these complex characters to vivid life as they together seek to remain faithful Queen’s men and sustain Glorianna’s rule. Also delightful are the many references to Shakespeare’s plays woven into the story- how they were formulated and for what purpose and the true role of a “playwright” among the Prometheans.

Despite the fact that the novel is only the first half of a duology, it concludes in a very satisfying manner and sets the stage for what will surely be a rousing conclusion in the next volume. Be prepared to set some significant time aside to appreciate this above average historical fantasy and its’ concluding volume. Highly recommended.

Read excerpts for the Prologue, Act I, scene I, Act I, scene ii, and Act I, scene iii.