Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ink and Bone - Rachel Caine



Ink and Bone
The Great Library, Book One
Rachel Caine
New American Library

Alternate History/Fantasy

Jess Brightwell lives in London.  Not our London, but a London that’s a bit of the past, and a bit of the future.  In this reality, the Great Library of Alexandria was never burned.  It still stands, as a beacon of knowledge and learning.  There are Daughter Libraries all over the world, all controlled by the Great Library, and run by a highly-trained group of people.  It’s an honor to be a Scholar.  There are those who do the day-to-day running of the Libraries; there are others who conduct research; and there’s the High Guard, an entire dedicated security force whose job is it to make sure that the Libraries, the books, and the Scholars.

Jess’ childhood was a bit different than most who long to be Scholars.  His father was a dealer in antique books.  In this London, paper-and-ink books are extremely rare, and extremely illegal to possess.  The Great Library holds the original copies of all works, and is able to copy those works to ‘blank’ books upon request.  Owning a real book is a luxury and a crime.  And Jess’ father became rich by catering to those wealthy enough to meet his prices.  Now, he’d like to send Jess to study to become a Scholar.  Not because of Jess’ real love of books and knowledge, but so that Jess can be a spy placed inside the Library.

Joining the new class of hopefuls, who come from all over the world, Jess travels to Egypt by train.  There, they’re met by the Scholar who will be teaching them, and the High Guard member who will be making sure they make the grade, physically.  Some of the lessons border on the cruel.  The students must take part in a raid on a local house, looking for contraband books.  It’s a part of the job that isn’t pretty, but has to be done.  Some of the students will be dismissed because of poor (or merely, less than stellar) performance; some will be dismissed by a seemingly-random lottery system.  No matter how many students begin, there are only six places to be filled from this class. 

This alternate future is, in many respects, a sort of steampunk future.  It’s a catchall term by now, but it fits.  Scientific advancements exist side-by-side with steam engines and even a bit of magic.  Each of the students comes across as a real individual.  That’s a real feat in a story like this.  While Jess is clearly the central figure, we learn enough about the other core students to feel that they could be real people.  Over the course of this story, Jess has to make some serious decisions about exactly where his loyalties lie.  He also finds that everything is not quite as black-and-white as he thought:  In short, he grows up a lot.  It’s all handled in ways both subtle and overt.  There are at least two more books in this series, and I’m looking forward to them.


Rating: 8.5
July 2015

ISBN# 978-0-451-47239-7 (hardcover)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Planetfall - Emma Newman



Planetfall
Emma Newman
Roc

Thriller/SciFi

This is a science fiction novel for readers who don’t like ‘hard science fiction.’   Like the best science fiction, it’s very much character-driven; the entire story depends on the relationships among the people who inhabit the pages.  It’s also very much a thriller, with a central secret/mystery that drives the plot.  The fact that these characters are on a distant planet is really almost secondary to the rest of the plot.  Readers who enjoy mystery/thriller stories will be very pleased with this one.

The main character is Renata (Ren.) She’s part of a group of people who left Earth decades ago, in search of (among other things) a better place to live.  The Earth of this story is overcrowded, and run by huge outfits that merge the government with corporations.  The gulf between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.  It’s not really hard to see why they might have wanted to leave.  This group built a ship to take them to another planet.  Their leader was Suh, a woman who had the vision and the drive to make it all happen.  They called her the Pathfinder.  This group believed in her enough to leave their families and lives behind, in search of something more.

As we meet Ren, she and the rest have been living in a colony at the base of what they call “God’s city.”  It’s a construct they still don’t fully understand.  It seems to have been built by an unknown people, but it’s also clearly a living thing.  As the story begins, Mack, the de facto leader of the group, calls Ren in a panic.  Looking out from the colony, he sees someone moving across the countryside toward them.  This is huge.  During planetfall, some pods containing colonists were lost.  Although the main group searched for them, no survivors were ever found.  The young man, Sung-Soo, says that he’s the grandson of Suh.  His arrival, naturally, causes a huge stir within the colony.  Almost everyone welcomes him with open arms.  Ren and Mack, however, are more reserved.  They’re worried that Sung-Soo will discover the secret they’ve been hiding for years. 

Ren is a fascinating character.  She’s a scientist, she’s a colonist.  She’s a daughter who left her parents back on Earth.  She’s a mother who lost a young child.  She’s a friend; she’s a co-conspirator.  She’s deeply flawed.  She’s a woman who is clearly tormented by the secret she shares with Mack.  She’s someone who feels as if she could step off the page and into real life.  Her emotional life is very much at the heart of this novel.  Her journey is what we follow.  We might have made different choices, but we can see (once we know the truth) why she chose to act in the way that she did.  The story unfolds in a very organic way.  If you’re at all on the fence about scifi, please give this one a try.  You’ll be so glad you did!



Rating: 8
November 2015

ISBN# 978-0-425-28239-7 (trade paperback)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Magic Burns - Ilona Andrews


Magic Burns
A Kate Daniels Novel
Ilona Andrews
Ace Books

Urban Fantasy/Dark Fantasy

Not long after the events detailed in MAGIC BITES, the first book in this ongoing series, Kate Daniels is working steadily as the liaison between the Guild and the Order.  Not a bad gig for a magical mercenary.  But there are still moment of adrenaline rush, like hunting a magical arsonist in a parking garage that’s pitch black because of a power outage.  Kate and her partner, Jim, almost have the guy cornered when a crossbow bolt comes flying in from nowhere, killing him.  Kate can’t find the shooter, which puts her in a fairly bad mood.  Later that day, she hears that Robin Hood showed up again, shot Jim several times within seconds, then disappeared.
 
Jim will survive physically, but his pride may have taken a fatal blow.   The merry man not only got away clean; he got away with the Pack’s very detailed maps of the area.  It’s hard to evade a member of the shapeshifter Pack.  They can follow a scent trail.  But, when the quarry disappears – literally, vanishes into thin air – it makes it tough to follow him.  Curran, the local leader of the Pack, asks Kate to retrieve the maps.  From a crazy archer who can pop in and out of reality like he’s got a transporter.  No problem. 

While the first book in the series introduced this world and laid the groundwork, this one expands on it in a very entertaining way.  In this reality, magic phases in and out of the world.  When the magic is high, technical things don’t work well.  When the magic is low, tech comes back to life.  There are always swings, but now they’re coming closer and closer together.  Clearly, something huge is in the near future.

If you have any kind of background in Celtic mythology, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of this storyline.  If not, don’t worry; the author lays it all out without getting bogged down in background.  The issues and enemies here are things you don’t see too often in urban fantasy.   I was completely caught up in it, and flew through this story. Through all the danger and black humor, the characters continue to develop organically.  And, even with all the chaos, I admit that I was moved by the outcome of things.  I’m looking forward to more of this series, but trying to pace myself.  It’s not easy!    


Rating: 8.5
April 2008

ISBN# 978-0-441-01583-2  (paperback)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Caramel Crush - Jenn McKinlay


Caramel Crush
A Cupcake Bakery Mystery
Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery

Have you ever spent time close to someone who’s planning a big, fancy wedding?  After a while, the detailed planning and changing whims make it not much fun.  Especially if you’re best friends and business partners with both halves of the couple.  Angie DeLaura, the bride-to-be, won the coin toss, so Melanie is standing up with her and functioning as Maid of Honor.  Tate, the groom, and the other third of the partnership that runs Fairy Tale Cupcakes, just wants Angie to be happy.  And that’s about all the input he has.  Not too surprisingly, Angie is now a full-fledged bridezilla, complete with endless agonizing over every detail, ever-increasing demands for hand-holding at every single step, and terrifyingly regular temper explosions and crying jags.  All three have been best friends since junior high.  Melanie is happy for her buddies, but the wild swings between crying jags and ‘schmoopie’ lovey talk is starting to make her dizzy.

Enter the seemingly perfect antidote to all of that:  Diane Earnest, Mel’s college roommate, who now runs her own successful marketing firm.  Mel owes Diane a favor, as she delights in reminding her, so here’s what she’s going to need to do.  Diane just found out that her fiancé is marrying her for her money.  Diane, a Type A on turbo, is all about her business and her bank account.  She’s not going to be taken advantage of, by any man.  She wants Mel to bake a batch of cupcakes, decorate them with “love stinks” and other assorted ‘I’m dumping you’ phrases, and deliver them to Mike Bordow at his party supply business.  Diane wants Mel to be on the phone with her so she can hear his reaction to getting dumped.  None of this makes Mel feel good, but she does owe Diane from their time in college, so she agrees.

If you’ve been reading this series (list of titles below, all very much worth a read) for any time at all, it will not surprise you at all to know that, when Mel arrives at the party supply office/warehouse, she discovers a dead body.  It’s Mike, and it looks like someone already dumped him, into a ball pit, after bashing him over the head.  Of course, as the angry ex-fiancée, Diane is the primary suspect.  Diane invokes The Favor again, and convinces Mel to try to find the real killer, and get her off the homicidal hook.  It honestly doesn’t take that much convincing.  Mel is on the case.

In this installment, Mel, Angie, and Tate all matured quite a bit.  I lost my patience with Angie quite a long time before Mel did, and I was grateful that this author doesn’t find that kind of behavior in any way cute.  Mel, to her credit, deals with it as only a lifelong friend could.  It’s a huge relief to everyone involved, and a great opportunity to further develop the cast of characters.  The mystery is interesting, since, as it turns out, there might be several people who wanted Mike dead, for different reasons.  The outcome of the whole thing makes sense and is quite satisfying.  The story ends on a kind of cliffhanger for a secondary character, so I hope the next installment isn’t too far in the future.

Rating: 8
April 2017

ISBN# 978-0-399-58381-0 (paperback)


The series so far:


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Vanilla Beaned - Jenn McKinlay


Vanilla Beaned
A Cupcake Bakery Mystery
Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery

It’s a bittersweet truth that, many times, business partnerships function best during the startup period.  At that point, each partner has the same mind-set.  Everyone is working day and night; hustling to make the business a success.  Once there is a measure of success, the partners may have very different ideas about where to take the business (if anywhere) from there. 

In this case, Melanie (Mel) Cooper is thrilled with the success of Fairy Tale Cupcakes.  Her partners, Angie and Tate (who are now real-life partners, too) are eager to capitalize on this success by opening franchises.  Mel is opposed; she wants to be hands-on, not a long-distance owner.  The recipes and baking methods are largely hers.  She’s very worried about quality control, among other issues.

Angie and Tate have the majority vote, but they want to convince Mel, not force her.  They’ve decided on Las Vegas as the location of their first franchise.  It’s close enough to Scottsdale to feel not-quite-long-distance; but still far enough away, and in a high-traffic town.  Their prospective franchisee is Holly, an almost-former showgirl.   Mel’s knee-jerk reaction is to turn her down immediately.  But, after spending some time with Holly, she sees the woman beneath the showgirl.  She has a young daughter now, she’s going through a divorce, and she’s ready for her life to take a new direction.  She’s also a gifted baker, even creating some new cupcake flavors.

Since they’re in Vegas, the group decides to check out possible franchise locations.  At the first location, opening the front door sets off an explosion that seriously injures both the realtor and the local lawyer who had accompanied them.  It’s definitely a shock, and most likely an accident, and maybe even some kind of warning from the universe.  Later, at the second prospective shop, a car leaps the curb and crashes through the front window.  The driver, wearing a helmet, manages to flee the scene.  That’s more than definitely a purposeful act.    Holly breaks down and admits that she’s being terrorized by a stalker.

 This latest installment (see list below) puts the three main players in direct danger.  Since their personal relationships have been strained lately, the danger serves to pull them all together again.  A common enemy will do that.  It’s nice to see them all on the same page again.  The action is fast-paced and the pages seem to fly by on their own.  Holly turned out to be quite an interesting and likeable character.  She’s a good addition to the cast, and I hope we get to see more of her.  As always, don’t miss the recipes at the end of the novel.  I haven’t found a bad one yet.  


Rating: 7
April 2016

ISBN# 978-0-425-25894-1 (paperback)


Previous titles:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Friday Night Bites - Chloe Neill


Friday Night Bites
Chicagoland Vampires
Chloe Neill
New American Library

Paranormal

Note: If you haven’t read the first book in this series, SOME GIRLS BITE, this review contains unavoidable spoilers.

Merit has been a vampire, and a member of Cadogan House, for a short few months.  Due to recent events – including those that led to her being turned without her permission – she’s proven her skill and worth to Ethan, the Master of the House.  He’s named her Sentinel.  That means she’s part of the security team that protects the House.  Vampires came out to the public fairly recently, via a worldwide press conference.  The initial hysteria has mostly died down, but there are still plenty of mixed feelings about the vampires living among us.

When Cadogan House gets an anonymous tip that a journalist is planning an in-depth series of articles about the vampires, it’s not quite a surprise.  The downside is that this reporter is apparently planning to make so-called vampire “raves” public.  A rave is a gathering of vampires and willing humans.  The vamps take the blood the humans are willingly giving, but sometimes take more than they should.  And they offer nothing in return, despite the many and varied promises they make to the hapless humans.  These gatherings are considered illegal and immoral by most vamps.  If this knowledge becomes public, there will most likely be another round of fear, Congressional hearings, laws, and possibly the modern equivalent of villagers with pitchforks and torches.

Turns out, Merit knows the reporter in question.  He’s the brother of her childhood friend and high school sweetheart; the youngest son of a fabulously wealthy family that Merit has known all her life.  This gives her the perfect opening.  Ethan wants Merit to mend bridges with her (also very wealthy) family.  Her name and connections will give him entrée to the right parties and, thus, the right (rich, powerful, political) people.  They can investigate the family, the reporter, and possibly head off this potential PR disaster.  Of course, as with most disasters, this one is much more than it appears to be. 

I did read the first novel before this one, but I think that readers starting here will get the background information they need.  There’s a lot of continuation of characters and situations that made me glad I read the first book, though, so proceed at your own risk.  What seems like a pretty straightforward plot of protecting the House quickly becomes much more thorny and interesting.  It’s fun to watch Merit interact with her family and people from her childhood.  She was always more interested in literature than in cotillions, so she’s almost as much of a fish out of water as Ethan.  When she inevitably confronts her former boyfriend, the depth of hurt she feels is palpable.  Merit does a lot of growing up in this installment.  Not much of it is fun, but it’s all necessary.  There are many more installments in this series, and I’m so glad about that!


Rating: 8.5
October 2009

ISBN# 978-0-451-22793-5 (trade paperback)

Monday, May 08, 2017

K Street - M. A. Lawson


K Street
A Kay Hamilton Novel
M.A. Lawson
Blue Ridge Press

Thriller

Kay Hamilton is ready to quit her job.  It’s not that it’s a bad job, exactly.  It’s that she’s just not sure whose interests the Callahan Group represents.  Rumor has it that the Group works for the President, but unofficially, so there’s no trail back to the White House.  Kay, late of the DEA, doesn’t quite believe it; but she can’t brush it off, either.  With no straight answers coming her way, she’s on her way into the office to tell Thomas Callahan that it’s been nice, but she’s leaving. 

As she enters the office that early evening, she walks into a fire fight.  Several heavily-armed men are in the process of removing the safe from Callahan’s office wall.  Callahan and two of his employees have been shot.  Callahan is clinging to life.  The other two weren’t so lucky.  Since she was forced to defend herself – and in the process killed one of the intruders – the DC Police are more than a little eager to discuss every detail.  Kay is not about to start spilling information (what little information she has) to a random detective.  Once she makes her way to the hospital to check in on Callahan, he manages to utter a single name.  It’s not much, but it’s a starting point. 

This is the third novel in this series.  I haven’t read the first two, and I had no problem picking up here.  There’s enough background sketched in to give me a good idea of who Kay is as a character; and about her recent history.  The story starts with the heist, from the point-of-view of the armed men.  To say it hits the ground running is an understatement.  When we switch back to Kay’s point of view, the investigation moves very quickly as she backtracks through the last couple of days’ events.  As it turns out, a whole lot happened, including several murders.  Clearly, someone very powerful (and dangerous) is involved in all this.

The narrative continues to switch points-of-view throughout the book.  Far from being distracting or confusing, this allows the reader to follow the characters and gain a full picture of what’s going on and why.  Everyone has his/her own motives here; some are obviously going to conflict.  Kay is the star, but there’s plenty of attention given to the rest of the cast.  Even the secondary characters feel like real people on the periphery of something big.  This is one of those fun, fast-paced thrillers that keep me up way too late.  And I don’t regret it one bit.



Rating: 8
January 2017

ISBN# 978-0-399-57584-2 (hardcover)