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)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Extra Sensory Deception - Allison Kingsley

Extra Sensory Deception

A Raven’s Nest Bookstore Mystery

Allison Kingsley

Berkley Prime Crime




There’s a rarity in tiny Finn’s Harbor, Maine: a rodeo is in town.  Clara Quinn and her cousin, Stephanie, find out about it early.  Clara’s new boyfriend, Rick, knows one of the calf ropers, and is passing out posters to put in business windows.  The poster features a rodeo cowboy and triggers a vision for Clara’s Quinn Sense almost immediately.  The vision says the clown is in terrible danger.  Rick is taking Clara to the first night of the rodeo to meet his buddy, Wes, but Clara is distracted by the vision.  She’s trying to decide if warning the clown will make her sound crazy or dangerous.  (Probably, yes.)


The rodeo turns out to be more fun than Clara expected.  Sadly, by the time it’s over, a young woman is dead.  Lisa, an assistant to the promoter, has been strangled with a custom-made rodeo rope.  That rope belongs to Wes, and they were seen arguing earlier.  Naturally, Wes is the prime suspect and Clara decides to ask some questions to put Rick’s mind at ease.


There’s a sense of being a step or two removed from the actual mystery here, since the reader never meets Lisa, and only meets Wes once, and briefly, at that.  Clara and Stephanie go about the routine of asking questions, but don’t come up with much, really.  The mystery plot seems a bit meandering this time around, until a second death shifts things into gear.  Clara and Stephanie are a lot more realistic when they’re just being cousins who run a bookstore instead of amateur sleuths.  That said, the main characters are fun to watch.  The bookstore gets a new mascot in this outing, and the cousins make plans for the future of their business.


Rating: 6

August 2014

ISBN# 978-0-425-27138-4 (paperback)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ill-Gotten Panes - Jennifer McAndrews

Ill-Gotten Panes
A Stained-Glass Mystery
Jennifer McAndrews
Berkley Prime Crime
Not long ago, Georgia Kelly was living her dream in the big city.  She had a great job as an accountant in an investment banking firm.  Until her firm was caught up in scandal and the job disappeared, along with a lot of her confidence.  Continuing with this roll, her boyfriend “invited” her to move out of their shared apartment.  Georgia did the only thing she could: she retreated to her grandfather Pete’s home in tiny Wenwood, New York.  From there, she’s planning to do a bit of healing and find a way to start again.
Living in a small town is not really to her taste, and she misses the fast pace of the big city terribly.  But there’s action in small towns, too.  A developer is trying to turn the brickworks (the town’s claim to fame and former employer of most of the town) into a marina to cater to tourists.  Financially, it seems a sound decision, but a lot of townspeople have a very emotional attachment to the brickworks and oppose the project.  Opinions are heated, and Georgia stumbles into a big argument between Mr. Edgers, who runs the local hardware store, and the developer.  Later, Mr. Edgers is found dead in his store.  He’d been hit over the head with a Wenwood brick.  Unfortunately, Pete was also heard arguing with Mr. Edgers just before his death, and becomes a prime suspect. 
While the circumstances seem familiar – heroine relocates from big city to small town – the author makes them feel new.  In this case, Georgia is homesick for the city.  And the inhabitants of the small town are somewhat less than welcoming to her, even though she spent part of her childhood there.  It’s a refreshingly not-rosy twist on small town life.  That said, the inhabitants seem to have good reasons for their actions and attitudes.  They’re individuals who are reacting (some better than others) to a murder in their midst.
The mystery is well plotted with some interesting twists.  The local history is unavoidably tied up in the murder and the reasons for it.  Since the book is written in first-person, it’s fun to follow Georgia on her investigation and ‘listen in’ on her real opinions.   She’s intelligent, witty, and doing her best to act like a grown-up, even in the presence of her grandfather.  Not always an easy feat.  Their relationship seems absolutely realistic.  Obviously, there’s more to come, but this is a very solid start to a mystery series.
Rating: 7
July 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26795-0 (paperback)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Blood Song - Anthony Ryan

Blood Song
A Raven’s Shadow Novel
Anthony Ryan

On the first page, we meet Vaelin Al Sorna, aged thirty or so, hated enemy of the Emperor and condemned to a terrible death for his crimes.  The scribe accompanying him wants to hear the real story of the man now known as Hope Killer, and Vaelin obliges, beginning with his memory of being taken to, and left at, the gates of the Order by his father.  His father then turns away and rides off into the mist.  Vaelin is all of ten years old.  From that point on, his life, his body, and his mind are tempered by the brothers.  The Sixth Order produces warriors for the Faith.  Of course there are other boys in his group.  They room together, train together, and eat together.  They die together, too.  Or alone, depending on the circumstances.  The training is brutal; not everyone lives to see the end of it.  That is a simple and accepted fact.
The Order is all the family that brothers have.  No matter where they came from originally, they are taught that they have no father, no connection but the Order.  As time goes on, most of the brothers trade stories of their pasts.  These pasts are quite varied.  Some come from nothing, some, like Vaelin, come from nobility.  Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to the King; a fact that earns him respect and hostility in equal measure.  As he grows, he discovers certain truths about both his father and his late mother.  These truths will change him.
As much as he’s like to remain on the fringes of things and just do his duty as a brother, he is inexorably drawn into the maze of politics that stretches across the Realm and across the world.  Partly because of his name, and partly because destiny seems to have a plan for him.  In fact, he sometimes hears what he calls his ‘blood song,’ a sense that he doesn’t quite understand, but a sense that has saved him from danger and even death.   While on his physical journey through life, he’s also, almost unconsciously, making a mental journey as well.
This is a huge, epic fantasy novel for those who like their fantasy grounded in dust and blood.  (Not so much for those who like fantasy with pixies and sparkles.)  Vaelin’s world is brutal, and it breeds people who can be equally brutal.  The cast list is huge, and the author does the reader a great favor by including the “Dramatis Personae” in an appendix.  The Realm spans many countries with varied geographies and peoples.  The author manages to create each place and person in vivid detail.  Even those characters that only appear for a few pages seem absolutely realistic.
The scope of this book is huge, both geographically and story-wise.  There are countless people, each with his/her own objective.  There are factions inside faction; plots within plots inside of intrigues. Yet it seems right that everything leads Vaelin to where he should be. There are scenes of cruelty survival, battle, betrayal, wonder, friendship, savagery, and even love.  The action is intense and quite grisly.  The battle scenes felt horribly real.   The last few pages of his story made me sad as I could only be for characters that I had come to care for.  If you enjoy fantasy with an edge, Anthony Ryan is the author to read.  (Bonus: the next book, TOWER LORD, is out how in hardcover)

Rating: 9
June 2014
ISBN# 978-125-26828-5 (paperback)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dead Things - Stephen Blackmoore

Dead Things
Stephen Blackmoore
DAW Books
Paranormal Noir Thriller

Fifteen years ago, Eric Carter left Los Angeles following the grisly deaths of his parents.  They were both magic users, and that gave them power, and people with power inevitably make enemies.  Eric knows who killed his parents.  The last thing he did before he left was to take care of that person.  He left his kid sister, Lucy, behind in the care of family friend Alex Kim.  Alex has a bit of magic; Lucy has virtually none.  Since she has no magic, Eric figured she’d be safe.  He figured wrong. 

Each person manifests a different aspect of magic, with a different degree of skill and power.  Eric is a necromancer.  He works with the dead and death magic and he’s good at it.  He’s made a decent living travelling to whatever place/person needs his particular skills.  Until Alex calls with the news. Lucy is dead; brutally murdered. You might think Eric would just know, but it doesn’t work that way.  He has to go back now.  He has to see the death scene, see what’s left of his sister.  Because she can certainly tell him who killed her.  And Eric will take out that person without mercy.  That is, if he can stay alive long enough to do the job.
Eric is a tough guy who makes hard choices and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.  A lot of his magic needs human blood to work.  A lot of spells separate body parts from bodies.  Eric works both sides of the veil.  Turns out, most of the dead are not happy about it.  He uses what (and sometimes who) he needs to get results.  In all of the darkness, he’s trying to toe the line.  He’s not looking to damn himself, but that might have happened last week or last year, or it might happen with the next spell.  Liquor helps sometimes, but not often enough.
Eric tells the story in first person, and he doesn’t mince words.  Even he seems surprised by the events in the final pages of the book.  The cast of characters is surprisingly large and consists of everything from humans to gods.  This is a gritty, bloody, violent, fast story.  It gets ugly and it gets unhappy.  And if you’re up for it, it’s quite a ride.  The follow-up novel is due in August and is already on my must-read list.
Rating: 9
February 2013
ISBN# 978-0-4561-0774-2   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Cakes Of Wrath - Jacklyn Brady

The Cakes Of Wrath
A Piece Of Cake Mystery
Jacklyn Brady
Berkley Prime Crime
Part of running a business is networking with the businesses around yours.  So says Miss Frankie, who is Rita Lucero’s former mother-in-law and silent partner at Zydeco Cakes.  Rita isn’t really excited about joining the Magnolia Square Business Alliance, but Miss Frankie won’t be denied.  And that’s how Rita ended up spending hours in a meeting after a full day at the bakery.  Not that the entire meeting was a bore.  The first order of business concerns Destiny.  Moose and Destiny own the Chopper Shop.  Destiny says she has a deep desire to be involved in the alliance but has so far missed every meeting.  Given the stories she’s heard about Destiny (drugs, rehab, and romantic indiscretions) missing meetings seems like small potatoes.  Destiny finally arrives and demands to be put on the ballot for president, causing upset, arguing, motioning and voting.  Once the meeting is finally over, Rita and Moose are chatting on the street when a van speeds toward them, clearly intending to hit them.  The van misses Rita, but Moose doesn’t.  In his zeal to protect Rita, he tackles her pretty hard, sending her to the ER.
Returning to work the next day, bruised and sore but determined to carry on, Rita stashes her prescribed pain medication in her private office.  Later that afternoon, somewhat to her surprise, Destiny arrives, as promised, to help organize a weekend cleanup effort.  Showing up at all is a positive.  Unfortunately, Destiny is clearly high on something and Rita tells her to go home.  Destiny says she’ll soon be making a lot of people sorry; the implication being that Rita just made that list.  After she leaves, Rita discovers that her pills are missing from her office.  It doesn’t take Poirot to solve this crime.  The following morning, Rita walks to the Chopper Shop, hoping to have a serious talk.  What she finds instead is Destiny, dead, clutching Rita’s prescription bottle in one cold hand.  The resulting investigation puts Rita squarely in the crosshairs of a narcotics detective.

It would have been easy for the author to make Destiny a cartoon floozy who does drugs, but she wisely avoids that.  Instead, as the story unfolds and the reader finds out more about Destiny, it becomes easier to sympathize with her, even while disagreeing with her life decisions.  And her husband, Moose, a large man with many tattoos who owns the Chopper Shop, becomes a realistic person instead of a stock character.  This installment, the fourth in the series (A SHEETCAKE NAMED DESIRE, CAKE ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and ARSENIC AND OLD CAKE) introduces many of the surrounding business owners, providing a much better picture of the neighborhood.  This opens up many more avenues for interactions and mystery plots.
If you haven’t read previous books, this is a fine place to start.  There are many returning characters, and each is introduced succinctly, with just enough background for context.  This is one of the strongest stories of the series thus far. A very suspicious detective, sure that Rita is the culprit, provides a very realistic reason for Rita to continue her investigation despite several injuries that could have put her out of commission.  I’ll admit, I had the real baddie pegged before Rita, but I wasn’t concussed at least once!  This is a great cozy series.  And, if you’re so inclined, there are several great recipes provided, too.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25826-2 (paperback)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tempest In A Teapot - Amanda Cooper

Tempest In A Teapot
A Teapot Collection Mystery
Amanda Cooper
Berkley Prime Crime
Once upon a time, Sophie Taylor had a restaurant in Manhattan.  Unfortunately, like so many other restaurants every year, hers did not have a happy ending.  The failure stings, but she knows what her next move will be.  She’ll return to Gracious Grove, the lovely small town in New York that was the site of all her best summer memories.  Her grandmother is there, running Auntie Rose’s Victorian Teahouse, just as she has done for the past forty years, with great success. 
In fact, the town boasts two tearooms.  The second, located just next door, is The Belle Epoch.  It was once an inn as well, but as she’s aged, owner Thelma Mae Earnshaw has mostly stopped renting to guests, concentrating on her tearoom, with mixed success.  Thelma Mae and Rose share a history that goes back over sixty years; a friendship fractured when a boy chose Rose over Thelma.  Thelma never really got over it. 
When Sophie arrives, she finds, like most adults, that much has changed and much has stayed the same.  Her best friend, Cissy, is engaged to Francis Whittaker, son and heir to the wealthy doyenne Vivienne Whittaker.  Their engagement party is taking place at The Belle Epoch (Thelma Mae is Cissy’s grandmother) and attended by the highest of Gracious Grove society. But the party is interrupted by a scream.  Sophie races over to help, only to discover Vivienne, on the floor, clearly in her death throes.  The cause of death is quickly established: poison.  Someone at the tea party must be a murderer.
Sophie is an interesting character; she’s someone who tried for her big dream and failed, but is more than willing to get back up and try something else.  True, she’s lucky to have her Nana and the tearoom to fall back on, but it’s clear that her grandmother is equally happy to have her there.  The two women (and assistant, Laverne) relate to each other as only real friends can.  The reader meets the various residents through Sophie’s adult eyes, comparing them to her memories.  It makes sense that Sophie would want to help her friend, Cissy, who is trying to console her fiancé after the death of his mother.  And Sophie manages to do a lot of nosing around without looking too suspicious by using social gatherings and casual run-ins to ask questions.
The story is told in third person, and it involves some changes in point-of-view.  This device can be confusing, but here, it’s used to great effect.  There’s no better way to know what Thelma Mae is really thinking, for instance, than to switch pov and listen in on her thoughts.  This device fills in a lot of gaps, and also creates great depth in what might otherwise come across as a ‘cranky old lady’ stock character.  The plot here is has layers that sometimes go missing in cozy mysteries.  And it contains a scene that may have whiskers, but is one of my favorites: the scene that gathers together all the suspects to get at the truth.  (Blame Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, et al, for my love of those scenes.) Full of interesting, realistic characters, this is a very strong start to a new series.
Rating: 8
June 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26523-9  (paperback)