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)