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:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ship Of The Dead - John L. Campbell

Ship Of The Dead
An Omega Days Novel
John L. Campbell
Note:  If you haven’t read the first novel in this series, OMEGA DAYS, this review contains many unavoidable spoilers.  And you’ve also missed a really great read, introducing the characters and situation.

This book picks up roughly a month after the events in the first book.  The zombies (or drifters, or skinnies) are still everywhere.  The few humans left alive and well are under constant threat of attack.  Now that the survivors have come together to form one large group, the first order of business seems to be finding a place that’s safe and defensible over the long term. 
Looking around the island of Alameda, there’s one obvious choice: the USS Nimitz, run aground not too far off shore.  The ship, although stationary, is still surrounded by water.  The zombies are not going to drown trying to get to the ship, but they’re not going to be able to climb up and over the superstructure to get into the ship.  The ship contains a good supply of food and medicine, and there will be plenty of space for everyone.  The huge downside: it’s currently still occupied by its crew.  Who are now all zombies.  The plan, such as it is, is to board the ship, split into hunting parties, and clear out the place. 
If you’ve read the previous book, you’re familiar with the majority of the characters.  Each one continues to be a well-drawn individual, with history and hopes and personal foibles.  There’s realism, in that everyone is at risk at every moment.  There’s no telling who will make it and who won’t.  I was surprised at how quickly I came to care about (or not) each character.  The addition of Navy reservist and EMT Rosa is inspired.  New readers follow her path through the outbreak and into the present.  As a reservist, she knows a bit about the ship, but not nearly enough to make things easy.
The story is almost nonstop action, mixed with some great character development and group dynamics.  The plan that seemed pretty straightforward on dry land largely falls to pieces once they’re on the ship.  The place is far larger – and far more populated – than they realized.  Even walking down a hallway, trying to clear the rooms on either side is an exercise in terror.  When one slip means death, there’s just no room for error.  The story continues in January, and I’m truly looking forward to it.  Just make sure to block out some time when you start these books; you won’t want to stop reading.

Rating: 9
October 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-27264-0 (trade paperback)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Omega Days - John L. Campbell

Omega Days
John L. Campbell


 It’s the zombie apocalypse.  One minute, various people around the San Francisco area are going about their daily business; the next minute, they’re surrounded by the dead, the dying, and the newly risen.  Live people are now food – or at least, prey – for the relentless dead.  After infection and death, it takes only moments for a corpse to rise and turn on any living person in proximity. 

The characters we follow through the wasteland are a pretty good cross-section of humanity.  There’s Skye, who was moving into the dorms at UC Berkeley when the zombies came through and violently took her family.  There’s Xavier, a priest who is in the throes of questioning his dedication to (and fitness for) his calling.  Bud and Angie Franks, who star in a reality show about firearms and their use.  Evan Tucker, who fancies himself this generation’s Kerouac. All are trapped in a nightmare that no one saw coming and no one can stop.  The contagion is everywhere, and no one is immune.

The narrative shifts back and forth among the survivors, following each person/group as they try to navigate their way to some kind of safety.  Each character is written as a complex individual with a personal history.  They all act with varying and realistic degrees of bravery and integrity.  The infrastructure of society breaks down fairly quickly, leaving everyone to fend for themselves.  Some rise to the occasion, some look for any personal advantage. 

The action is nonstop and brutal.  If you’re squeamish, look elsewhere.  If you’re not, get ready to stay up late turning pages.  The sense of terror and isolation are very real.  We all unconsciously rely on the authorities – and the power grid – to a huge extent.  Part of the horror of this situation is the feeling of being set adrift in the world, to rely only on yourself and whatever survival skills you might have.  That feeling is absolutely palpable here.  I admit to turning on the news at one point, just to remind myself that this is not happening outside my door.  But I was so hooked, I never considered closing the book.  Several threads are left dangling at the end, so it’s good to know that there’s a second book out.  I’ve already started it.

Rating: 9
May 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-27263-3 (trade paperback)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Mythology Of GRIMM - Nathan Robert Brown

The Mythology Of Grimm
The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots
        of the Popular TV Show
Nathan Robert Brown           
Berkley Boulevard Books

Nonfiction/TV Tie-In


In just a few days, the fourth season of Grimm begins.  For those who have missed it, a Detective Nick Burkhardt works homicide cases with his partner, Hank, in the almost-too-green area of Portland, Oregon.  Starting four years ago, Nick realized that some of the crimes made absolutely no sense.  Unless you know about the Wesen.  Which Nick did not, really.  His Aunt lived long enough to pass along her books and equipment, but not a lot of practical advice.  Except for the fact that now, Nick is The Grimm and these crimes are his to work out.  And most of the Wesen are, traditionally, his to kill.

The Wesen appear human, usually, but in times of stress or fear or being seen by the Grimm, their true forms are revealed.  There are many types of Wesen, for instance, Nick formed a very unlikely friendship with a Blutbad.  (This book contains an entire glossary of Wesen Terms since they do tend to fly by quickly in conversation.)  Some live among humans, others can’t quite manage that.
For those who watch the show and would love to get an opportunity to really go through the books and weapons in the trailer, hold onto your socks.  There’s information here about the weaponry that has already been used, and about pieced we’ve only looked and wondered at.  Sprinkled through the pages are “Tasty Morsels,” serving as kind of fun facts.  If you wonder about all the fascination background that must be in those books, this one starts out with a bio of the Original Grimms, their time, and those who came after them to add to or argue about the original stories.

The meat (if you’ll excuse the expression) of the book is the work of the Original Grimms and how they’re still relevant here today.  The author makes an essentially chronological exam of the cases Nick has worked (not all, clearly, although that would be great) using the formula: brief intro, re-telling of the pertinent tale (using modern English and expressions) then looking at how well it fits into the original tale.  Sometimes, it won’t fit the original.  It may be that circumstances of a case fit with a later iteration of a tale, giving Nick and his friends a place to start.  And making them, quite literally, fairy tale detectives!
Rating: 9
October 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-27102-5 (trade paperback)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Perdition - Ann Aguirre

The Dred Chronicles, Book 1
Ann Aguirre

Science Fiction/Thriller
Welcome to Perdition.  At one time, Perdition was a deep space ore refinery.  Then the Conglomerate decided that it would make a fine floating prison.  They stripped the place and left. This is where they send the worst of the worst.  An automated ship docks at irregular intervals and leaves new prisoners and various supplies.  There are no cells, no guards, no maintenance, nothing.  It’s every man for himself.  Of course, alliances tend to form.  There are six major ‘territories,’ each ruled by a convict.  There is no such thing as parole or release from Perdition.  There’s nothing to do but fight and try to consolidate power. 

As a woman, it’s tough to just survive in Perdition.  The Dred Queen manages her territory with the help of her spymaster, Tam, and her enormous bodyguard Einar.  Her reputation is fairly new, and she has to live up to her ‘legend’ every day.  Part of it is the chains she wraps around her arms and legs; they’re not just decorative, they’re quite handy in a fight.  It’s exhausting, but the only way to survive.  When a new supply ship docks, Dred is there with her people to try to grab supplies, and to look over the new fish, hoping to add to her numbers.

Jael steps off the transport and into chaos.  There’s fighting over the supplies, of course.  And, since no one has anything at all to lose, the fights are deadly.  Then he sees Dred and her people.  Jael is used to being discounted and generally ignored as an expendable grunt.  When the woman takes a (professional) interest in him, he’s surprised.  But he’s got nowhere else to go, so why not throw in with her?  Like every inmate, (including Dred) Jael is hiding something.  He’s not quite human.
The author does a masterful job of setting the scene.  Everything takes place in a space vessel.  I could see the grimy, gray walls; see the flickering of the unmaintained lights; tried not to imagine the smell that ship must contain.  Even though the ship is huge, it’s still a confined space and slightly claustrophobic for all that.  All of this sets the background for a story that’s part spy thriller, part personal quest, and a whole lot of action.  If you’re sensitive to gore or violence or the language that comes with it, this is not a book for you.  For the rest of us, this is a great find:  A story that’s part spy thriller, part scifi adventure, and part action movie.
The character development is amazing, too.  Bottom line: all these people are criminals of one stripe or another.  Mostly, they’re violent killers.  The author manages to craft identities and backstories for each of the characters that, at least, give us an understanding, if not an empathy for, that person.  Even though they’re all “bad,” there are some who are much more bad/crazy/dangerous than others.  In the world the author has created, it’s easy to understand the sliding scale of human behavior.  Being sentenced to Perdition without hope is one thing; reading about it is another. I’m already planning a return trip.
Rating: 8
September 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25844-8  (paperback)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Some Girls Bite - Chloe Neill

Some Girls Bite
Chicagoland Vampires
Chloe Neill
One minute, Merit was a grad student working on her thesis in romantic medieval literature.  The next, she’s lying on the ground, bleeding, the victim of a vampire attack.  That initial attack would have killed her if not for Ethan Sullivan, Master of Cadogan House.  He was there, and he completed Merit’s transformation on an emergency basis and without her permission.  Of course, Merit knew about vampires and the Houses.  They announced themselves to the world less than a year ago, in a press conference.  She just never wanted to be one of them.

According to vampire laws and customs, in a few days, Merit will have to literally kneel to her Master and swear her eternal loyalty to him and the house.  All of that might be fine for someone in medieval lit, but Merit is definitely a modern and independent woman.  Then there’s the matter of the first vampire attack on her.  Clearly, that vampire intended her to die, messy.  That’s not the vampire way of doing things in these modern times.  Or so they claim.  One woman has already been murdered; a Cadogan House medallion left near her corpse.  Clumsy killer, clumsy set-up, or a vampire trying to break free of the House system?  Merit’s obviously in a great position to look into things, and would love to find out just who cursed her into this new and unwanted life.

This is the first book in a series, and it is amazingly complete.  Merit is refreshingly realistic about her status.  She’s nearly 28, a graduate student living an independent life and mostly mocking the ‘mysterious vampires’ and other occult-related things.  Now she’s forced to become one of them.  She has no romantic illusions about her change in circumstances.  She knows she’ll watch her friends and family die; she’ll have to ingest blood to survive; and she’ll never see the sun again.  None of that seems like fun to her.  Not to mention the swearing of her loyalty oath to her new liege.  Merit’s family situation is nicely complicated, too.  Her father is wealthy and powerful, her grandfather is a hard-working cop.  She identifies so much more with her granddad.

Merit’s roommate, Mallory, is an ad exec with a serious interest in all things occult.  When she’s drawn into the occult world, she’s thrilled at first, but tries to see it all through Merit’s (definitely not thrilled) eyes.  She’s a good friend, and stands by Merit, even as her life hits a patch of ice.  The whodunit part of the story is pushed into the background for a good deal of the time; this is Mallory’s origin story.  The mystery is wrapped up quite quickly at the end, but there’s some very interesting motivation for the crimes, which will clearly be a running thread in upcoming books.  This could be read as a standalone, but it’s such a unique universe peopled with such compelling characters, I won’t be able to stop here.  I bet you won’t, either.

Rating: 9
March 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-46905-2 (paperback)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Broken Souls - Stephen Blackmoore

Broken Souls
Stephen Blackmoore
DAW Books

 Paranormal Noir Thriller

 Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t read DEAD THINGS, this review contains serious and unavoidable spoilers.  Also, you really need to read DEAD THINGS.  Really.

When last we left Eric Carter, necromancer, he’d bound himself to Santa Muerte.  He had good reason, and she had the juice to help him with his current problems.  But she wants something in return.  She hasn’t told him what that something is, but when you’re dealing with an Aztec death goddess, you know it’s not going to be pretty.  To that end, Eric is trying everything to rescind his arrangement with her.  Failing that (and he is not surprised he’s failing that) he’s adding another magic-laced tattoo to help him hide from her.  As much as you can hide from a goddess.
He’s also got a meeting set with Harvey Kettleman, who is pretty much the top mage.  When mages need help, they need Kettleman.  The meeting doesn’t go so well, though, because while Eric is talking to Kettleman, he catches sight of Kettleman’s ghost.  And this ghost is not right.  It’s phasing in and out, and looks like it’s bisected somehow.  Not-Kettleman immediately tries to kill Carter with a very old obsidian knife, and it’s a close thing.  Turns out, it’s someone else wearing Kettleman’s skin.  The knife is clearly involved somehow, which leads Carter to another powerful magic user, the Bruja.  Something strange (stranger than usual) is going on, and Carter is running out of resources.  He’s also gained one: Alex Kim, his best friend, has reappeared in ghost form.  But he can’t be the ghost of Alex.  Because Carter killed him.

Stephen Blackmoore’s books are high-adrenaline while also looking at what might make the world – and the world beyond the veil – tick.  Carter is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who does what’s necessary, even when it’s ugly.  And it gets ugly quite a lot in his line of work.  This is a sort of L.A. noir spliced with urban fantasy, and the result is as gritty and action-packed as you would expect.  Every action has a consequence, and most of them are fairly dire. These books are exciting, but dark.  If you want up-lifting, look elsewhere.

This novel continues Carter’s story, and develops a personal arc for him that is both wider and deeper than in the previous novel.  There’s something happening to Carter and his magic.  He’s got a lot more power at his fingertips, but there’s a price to pay for everything.  It’s pretty clear the changes are related to past events, but the exact nature of the difference is not clear, even to Carter himself.  That journey is fascinating and will continue in future books.  Which will be must-reads for me.  I’m only sorry I’ll have to wait to see what happens next.

Rating: 9
August 2014
ISBN# 978-0-7564-0942-5 (paperback)