Monday, February 23, 2015

Cherry Bomb - Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin R. Kiernan)

Cherry Bomb

A Siobhan Quinn Novel
Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin R. Kiernan)

Urban Fantasy
Like RED DELICIOUS before it, this book comes with a pre-emptive warning from Quinn, who narrates in first-person.  To paraphrase: this is not a paranormal romance with gorgeous vampires who just want to be loved.  There will be blood, death, violence, and lots of bad language.

After the events of the last book, Quinn left Providence and her erstwhile employer Mr. B behind and struck out on her own.  She travelled to different places, took different jobs, and disliked the whole thing.  (I would dearly love to hear the story about the alligator women who worshipped Cthulhu, but, alas.)  Eventually, she landed in Manhattan, moved in with a woman with whom she had zero emotional connection, and let the time slip by.  Until the night a lovely girl called Selwyn approaches Quinn and says, “I know what you are.”
What Quinn is, is both a vampire and a werewolf, through an unlikely sequence of events.  What Quinn should be is more put off than intrigued, but, by her own admission, she was stupid and overlooked a lot of warning signs.  Like when she followed Selwyn, a dealer in “occult antiquities,” on a few deliveries, and got a good look at what those antiquities were.  Dark and dangerous items handed over to questionable and even clearly dangerous individuals.  But Quinn stays, and in very short order finds herself in the middle of an aeons-old conflict between the ghouls and the djinn.

Quinn isn’t kidding about her story.  It’s no romantic fairy tale.  It’s messy and bloody and murky and sometimes there is no clear-cut answer to the ‘why’ of it all.  Pretty realistic, actually.  Quinn is like that friend who simply won’t take good advice; won’t turn off the path that is clearly going to lead to destruction.  Part of that is because it’s simply her nature.  She’s not happy with what she is now, or what she knows now, and is maybe more than a little self-destructive.  Another side to her nature is the side that has a burning desire to see the right thing happen.  She says she’s no hero, but I think she’s wrong about that.

According to the author’s note at the end, this series of three books (I missed the first one) was a kind of experiment for her.  That experiment is now at an end, which makes me a little sad.  The author also claims that this experiment was not entirely a success.  As a reader, I disagree.  I think Quinn was a unique construct, but a strangely realistic one.  A supernatural creature grounded more deeply in reality than she ever was as a human being.  If this is, indeed, the end, then it was one fascinating ride.  Not always fun, sometimes horrifying, but absolutely a ride worth taking.
Rating: 8
February 2015
ISBN# 978-0-451-41655-7 (trade paperback)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Drifters - John L. Campbell

An Omega Days Novel
John L. Campbell

Note:  If you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, OMEGA DAYS and SHIP OF THE DEAD, this review contains many unavoidable spoilers.
At the end of the second book, Angie West was still tormented by thoughts of the fate of her family.  Angie and her husband, Dean, are both gun enthusiasts and survivalists.  Thus, they’re better prepared than most to deal with a zombie apocalypse.  They have a plan for any kind of crisis. The plan is to get to the ranch owned by Angie’s parents.  It’s isolated and defensible; there’s a bunker that’s stocked with food, water, and weapons.  Angie knows it's where Dean would have headed with their toddler daughter.  She has to know if they survived.

A few of her fellow survivors agree to accompany Angie on her search.  Privately, they feel it may be hopeless, but they can't let her go alone.  The freeways are choked with the abandoned and wrecked vehicles of panicked people fleeing cities; communications are down.  The only way to get in and out of the area in any kind of safety is to use the one helicopter (and pilot) available to them.  They land in an open area on a neighboring ranch, where they find Halsey, a ranch hand who has managed to survive alone since the outbreak.  Vladimir, the pilot, and Halsey agree to stay behind to guard the helicopter while the rest set off across the rugged terrain.

There are two timelines at work here: one for Angie and her group, beginning just after the events of the second book; and another for Dean and other characters, beginning just before the original outbreak.  The wise reader will take careful note of the date listed for each chapter.  While Dean is racing to get out of town without traumatizing his small daughter, other survivors are trying to make their own way.  For many, that means banding together with other people and finding someplace safe to hide for a while.  Little Emer, the leader of a motorcycle gang, has bigger plans.  He uses the crisis to set up a sort of fiefdom.  He styles himself as some sort of present-day Roman emperor and sends his people out to take what they need/want, no matter who gets hurt or killed.
In this installment, the scope of the story begins to widen a bit.  The events of the first book are a few months in the past by the time the two timelines converge, and human beings have become just as big a threat as the zombies.  Of course, everyone wants to survive, but different people have radically different ideas about how to accomplish that.  There’s still plenty of action, chases, and running gun battles, but this book contains some quiet moments, too.  Most of these are centered on Vladimir and Halsey, spending their evenings swapping stories while they wait for the search team to return.  These scenes are a nice contrast and allow the two characters and their unlikely friendship to develop naturally.

The author really excels at setting the scene.  We get glimpses into the lives of the survivors and what their lives were like before the world collapses.  We also see bits of the lives of a few zombies – who and what they were before they turned.  It humanizes them and gives the story more emotional punch.  As always, there’s no telling who is going to survive and who will not.  Some deaths seem fated, but others come as a shock.  Along the way, there are some new developments.  A few of the zombies are changing, becoming more aware; presenting a much more dangerous foe to the living.  There are some loose threads left at the end.  I hope that means more in this series, and soon.
Rating: 8 ½
January 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27265-7 (trade paperback)

Monday, February 09, 2015

Deadeye - William C. Dietz

The Mutant Files, Book 1
William C. Dietz
In post-plague Los Angeles, the face of crime may have changed, but there are still people dedicated to stopping it.  The plague happened in 2038, before Cassandra Lee was born.  She followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the police force.  Now she’s part of the elite Special Investigative Section, charged with tracking down the worst of the worst.  The plague, started by an act of bio-terrorism, has effectively separated humanity.   At the time, millions died.  Those who contracted the plague but survived were mutated in various ways.  Some of them are still carriers.  The norms and the mutants live apart, in newly-defined territories.  Since there’s no way to identity a carrier, when the populations must interact, they use specialized face masks and nose filters.
The new landscape of society has given rise to new hate groups – or old hate groups with new targets.  The Church Of Human Purity is dedicated to making sure than norms and mutants remain forever separated.  Bishop Screed has built an empire on the idea.  His great wealth gives him influence in the city.  When his daughter, Amanda, is kidnapped off the street, he puts pressure on the mayor and the police force.  Lee knows that mutant groups do kidnap norm women for use in creating norm (or norm-appearing) offspring.  That means that Amanda will have been removed from Los Angeles and taken into the red zone.  At best.
A norm in the red zone is an anomaly.  The mutants aren’t going to be likely to cooperate with Lee.  To that end, Lee now has a new partner: Deputy Ras Omo.  As a mutant, Omo will be able to talk to people Lee wouldn’t.  He knows the red zone and how to get around in it.  Lee is less than interested in working with a partner, but recognizes the necessity.  To Lee, finding the girl means time taken away from her obsession: finding a serial killer who specializes in cops.  He’s known as the Bonebreaker, and Lee is determined to find him, even though she’s not technically on the case.  She’s too close to it.  The Bonebreaker killed Lee’s father.

This is the first volume in a great new series.  The world-building is impeccable.  The Los Angeles here is still recognizable, but it’s clearly been altered in fundamental ways.  It’s now part of a state known as Pacifica.  To the east, starting roughly at Arizona, is the Republic of Texas, run by mutants.  The red zone is located in between the two.  Each location is a function of the individuals who live there.  It all fits together and it all makes sense.

The story unfolds in layers.  There are some great subplots that give the story and the world depth.  Lee is known as a loner who isn’t much liked, but is very well-respected for her ability to get results.  She closes cases.  Not always by arrests, but she closes them.  Most of the story is told from her point of view, but every once in a while, we get a bit of someone else’s.  It’s a great technique that gives the reader a glimpse into the inner minds and motivations of others.  It provides a richer and more complex view of this world. 

This novel is a great intro for someone unsure about “scifi” in general.  This story is driven by the characters.  Lee and Omo are both carefully drawn individuals.  They each have a history, a career, a family, a past.  The setting may be futuristic, but anyone who loves a good story, a good mystery, a good chase, will enjoy this novel.  The mystery plot is solid, there’s enough action to satisfy readers coming from the author’s military scifi novels, and the characters are realistic.  The author ties up the main story here, but leaves some very interesting loose ends for future novels.  I’m very much looking forward to them.

Rating: 8
February 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27333-3 (paperback)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Feta Attraction - Susannah Hardy

Feta Attraction
A Greek To Me Mystery
Susannah Hardy
Berkley Prime Crime
“When you marry a gay man, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he leaves you.”  That opening line tells readers a lot about Georgie Nikolopatus.  What it doesn’t tell us is that she’s devoted her life to running the Bonaparte House, a historical house and restaurant owned by her mother-in-law, Sophie.  The husband in question, Spiro, is uninterested in working; as a restauranteur, or as anything else.  It doesn’t tell readers that Georgie and Spiro managed to produce a daughter who is now grown and living in Greece. 

That line does explain, quite succinctly, why Georgie isn’t too worried when Spiro disappears for a few days without a word to anyone.  He’s done this before, often.  Since he’s not any help, either in the kitchen or on the business side of things, his comings and goings don’t affect the day-to-day business.  When she starts getting anonymous emails along the lines of ‘bring it to me or you’ll be sorry,’ she doesn’t make the connection.  Finally, it becomes clear that Spiro has not disappeared under his own power; someone has him and is holding him for ransom.  That ransom is the ‘treasure’ long believed to be secreted inside the old house.  The problem is, no one has ever found it.

Once Georgie figures out the basics of what’s going on with Spiro, she makes one illogical decision after another.  She doesn’t call the police, ostensibly because she doesn’t want to upset her mother-in-law.  (There’s also the little wrinkle that the guy who runs the competing restaurant, and is courting Sophie, is found dead.  By Georgie and a friend.)  Despite her lack of any kind of investigative experience, Georgie decides to handle the whole thing on her own.  This naturally results in both hijinks and further complications.
What saves the story is that Georgie narrates it in first person.  She’s stressed and making decisions on the fly, trying to solve the immediate problem without worrying about what comes next.  The reader sees the flaws in this, but it’s easy to sympathize with her position.  Along the way, Georgie introduces the readers to a cast of characters that could make for a very solid series.  It’s a small town, but a tourist, town, meaning lots of traffic in and out; and lots of potential for future mysteries.  In the end, Georgie won me over, and I’ll be back for her next mystery.
Rating: 6
January 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27165-0 (paperback)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Chocolate Book Bandit - JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Book Bandit
A Chocoholic Mystery
JoAnna Carl

In many small towns, there are more by-appointment positions than there are people to fill them.  There’s the library board, the building board, the board to oversee this and that.  What usually happens is that the people who are willing to serve finish a term in one job and move over to another position.  Lee Woodyard has just finished one civic obligation and is thinking about taking a spot on the library board.  From what other members tell her, there’s not much to it.
All of the board members arrive for their monthly meeting except for Abigail Montgomery.  This is odd, since she’s one of the most dedicated members.  There’s some new business, including a new library director, an outside hire, Henry Cassidy.  He goes by “Butch,” naturally.  The meeting is interrupted by a shriek from the librarian on duty: she’s found Abigail, crumpled at the bottom of the basement stairs.  After checking out the scene, the police determine that it wasn’t an accident.  The stakes are raised further when there’s a second murder in the library.
This is the latest in the long-running series (THE CHOCOLATE JEWEL CASE, THE CHOCOLATE BRIDAL BASH, THE CHOCOLATE SNOWMAN MURDERS)  that centers on Lee, who works at her Aunt Nettie’s gourmet chocolate shop in a northern tourist town.  In this case, the suspects list contains anyone who was in the library during the meeting.  From there, it’s essentially an elimination game.  There’s a bit of a melancholy feel to this installment, from a subplot concerning Lee and her husband, to a now-retired high school teacher who is a legend in town, to the librarian who discovered Abigail.  Some gentle humor serves to leaven the feeling, though.

It’s quite easy to dip in and out of this series, and new readers will have no problem starting here.  The cast is quite large, but the author skillfully moves the non-participants to a safe distance, and sketches in the backgrounds of the main players.  Longtime readers will recognize names and incidents from the past; new readers won’t be lost.  With fun chocolate trivia sprinkled through the story, this is the perfect nibble for a cold winter night.

Rating: 6
November 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-46754-6 (paperback)

Friday, January 02, 2015

Spell Booked - Joyce and Jim Lavene

Spell Booked
A Retired Witches Mystery
Joyce and John Lavene
Berkley Prime Crime
It’s not easy getting older.  Eyesight is less sharp, hearing range is reduced, reflexes slow.  For a witch, even magic can wane.  Maybe not if you’re a very powerful witch.  But, for run-of-the-mill, average practicing witches, magic power begins to fade with age.  Caution must be used even when casting the simplest of spells, because it’s so easy for the magic to go wrong.  After decades together, the three witches in Molly’s coven must admit the sad but inevitable truth: the time to retire from magic is close at hand. 
But before they retire, they need to bring in new witches, to pass on their spell book and their magic.  Unfortunately, none of the three have children with magic.  They do have their eye on a possible recruit, though.  Dorothy Lane, an unassuming librarian in town, clearly has magic.  Just as clearly, she doesn’t know it.  While witches are everywhere, they hide that part of themselves from those without magic.  Even spouses and children.  Hard experience has shown this to be the safest way.  So, the ladies must contrive to meet Dorothy, broach the subject of witches, then convince her she has magic.  Oh, and ask her to join their coven.  Not too tall an order.
Olivia, an air witch, is probably the most free-spirited of the women.  She never married, but she still loves men.  In fact, when a young male witch arrives at their shop, Smuggler’s Arcane, Olivia is flirting with him in no time.  The two then leave together.  That night, Molly awakes with a start.  A ghost light is floating in her room.  The phone rings.  Olivia is dead.  Found in an alley with her throat cut, long before her time.  Molly’s husband, Joe, will be the investigating detective on the case, so she can keep her ears and eyes open.  But that doesn’t seem like doing enough, especially when they realize that Olivia’s home has been ransacked and their spell book is gone.  Both Molly and Elsie are determined to catch the killer and thief, using all that remains of their talents.
This is the first entry in a new series, and it is delightful.  These authors have a wonderful way with weaving the supernatural into what otherwise might be a regular cozy mystery so that both elements are the better for it.  Molly, Elsie, and Olivia are clearly life-long friends.  Their easy banter and familiarity with one another’s history attests to it.  They each have lives outside of magic, but have used their shop as a touchstone for themselves and other practitioners in the area.  The idea of keeping this secret from her husband has always bothered Molly, and she will reach a point where she must decide which is more important: secrecy or safety.
Magic can exciting, and it can be scary, and it’s both here.  These ladies were not powerful witches, even in youth.  They’re up against someone who is far stronger, and obviously willing to get his hands dirty. The murder happens quite early, so the focus of the plot is on solving the crime without ‘outing’ witches.  The plot has a satisfying number of twists, turns, and diversions.  The supporting cast is a varied group of individuals, many of whom I hope to see again in future volumes.  There’s a thread or two left dangling at the end of this, promising much more to come.  If you enjoy cozy mysteries written on the paranormal side, you should love this one.  (Also see their Missing Pieces Mysteries.)
Rating: 8
December 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26825-4 (paperback)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Walking In The Midst Of Fire - Thomas E. Sniegoski

Walking In The Midst Of Fire
A Remy Chandler Novel
Thomas E. Sniegoski
Urban Fantasy
Remy Chandler, PI, was once Remiel, a warrior angel.  A Seraphim.  After the battle with the Morningstar, Remiel felt tarnished and disillusioned.  He removed himself to earth, and spent millennia living as a man.  Recent events forced him to re-examine his purpose and reconcile his ‘mortal’ life – with friends, a business, and a dog – with his essential angelic nature.  Those same events nearly cost Remy’s friend, detective Steve Mulvehill his sanity.  It is Steve who tells Remy that, around that time, someone from the Vatican had come looking for him.

To Remy, this means nothing but potential trouble.  In his many years on earth, he’s had dealings with individuals from the Vatican.  The envoy, Constantin Malastesta, is a member of a group called the Keepers.  They safeguard various relics and supernatural objects, in order to ensure the safety of humanity.  They’d like Remy to use his investigative skills (and his angelic powers) to do work for them.  They don’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer.
After promising to think about it, Remy is startled to find an old friend in one of his favorite churches.  The friend, Montagin, has news for Remy.  Not the least of which is that his old commanding officer, General Aszrus, is living a fairly mortal life on earth.  Days later, Montagin reappears in a panic.  The General is dead; his heart torn out of his body.  Angels can survive a lot, but there is a limit.  Inspecting the scene, Remy immediately determines that the General was killed somewhere else; then his body was deposited in his own study for maximum shock value.  The shock is great.  Who or what could have killed this angel?  And why would anyone/anything risk it?  Those answers put all of creation in peril.
As usual, there’s so much more to this story.  The author fills in another bit of Remy’s history, this time from the time of the plague in Europe.  And there’s someone else who has been around for almost as long as Remy.  A man called Simeon, forcibly raised from the dead by a young and inexperienced Nazarene, as a test of sorts.  Both of them were shocked at the outcome.  Simeon wants to return to his peace, but failing that, he’ll settle for making the rest of humanity suffer.  By all rights, he should be a one-note character, but that is not the case.  The author’s skill is such that the reader can feel the unending pain and frustration that gradually warps Simeon into the person he becomes. 
The investigation into the General’s death eventually leads Remy to confront how other angels choose to live on earth.  It’s a personal and complicated process, and it’s clear that each angel is an individual, making choices, leading to sometimes devastating consequences.  The mythology continues to expand and deepen, and the world-building is so solid that it all just seems to flow.  Longtime readers will enjoy seeing some returning characters, and there are some interesting additions here.  For those who are just discovering this series, this installment is a fine place to start.  Some new arcs are beginning here, so knowledge of all that has gone before isn’t absolutely necessary.  See the list below for previous titles.  The closing pages make it quite clear that there’s much more to the story.  That’s great news for fans.

Rating: 9
August 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-46546-7 (paperback)

Previous Remy Chandler Novels: