Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"The Witch is Dead" by Shirley Damsgaard

If you enjoy light reading, then the Ophelia & Abby mysteries by Damsgaard are just your cup of tea. I found this author a while back, and am amazed that she's already on her 5th book in this series! They're sort of a tea-cozy/paranormal read; Ophelia and her clan are witches, but most of the body count is staged off-page, nothing too graphic for the reader.

Since we last saw Ophelia, she has proceeded with her legal adoption of Tink, the young teen she rescued a book or two back. Tink, aka Titania, is a medium coming into her own power. Ophelia has been relying on her grandmother, Abby, to help her with Tink; both Ophelia and Abby are psychics, rather than mediums. Still, they have a medium or two in the family, so they do their best to help Tink control her powers and develop them.

Enter Aunt Dot, one of the best "old lady" characters to come along since Stephanie Plum's Grandma Mazur! Dot comes for a visit, and she's a pistol! Around 90 yrs old or so, she doesn't understand why Ophelia and Abby don't tell everyone about their abilities; she has nothing to hide. Then again, she does see and talk to the fairies, something that her Midwest relatives don't want her making public. Or does she really see the fairies? Seems Aunt Dot likes to have a glass or two of wine every day, wine that she and her sister make, wine that has a very "special" ingredient that really gives it a kick! Oh, and Aunt Dot knows all about the "adventures" that Ophelia has had so far and wants to have one of her own!

The mystery itself isn't bad, but it's really the characters that make these little books so enjoyable. I like Ophelia, Abby and Tink, plus some of the other regulars, such as the sheriff and Ophelia's best friend, Darci, but I absolutely LOVED Aunt Dot! I'm hoping to see her again in the next installment; she added some fabulous humor. If you like your mysteries light, and you enjoy a bit of the paranormal, then I would highly recommend picking up one of Damsgaard's books. You wouldn't even have to read these in strict order, but as usual, I'd recommend it!

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Hex and the City" by Simon Green

John Taylor, the man who can find anything, has been given a most unique case by Lady Luck herself: track down the origins of the Nightside. Some would say it's a fool's errand, and they might be right; John finds himself getting closer and closer to the answer, but is never quite there.

He has some new companions on this journey, characters not seen in the previous books. There's Sinner and his gal Pretty Poison, a most interesting pair. Sinner sold his soul to the Devil in order to know true love. Enter Pretty Poison, a succubus chosen by the Devil himself, who meets Sinner, marries him, and at the end of the 10-year contract, reveals her true nature. Sinner loves her anyway and refuses to stop loving her, thus getting himself kicked out of Hell (can't have anyone mooning away down there!) Heaven won't take him, seeing as how he sold his soul and all, so he walks the Nightside, fairly indestructible. Pretty Poison has left Hell to learn exactly why Sinner still loves her, given what she is. Again, they're an interesting pair. Also enlisted by John is Madman, a person who Saw the true workings of the world, a thing which, of course, has driven him insane. Worse for everyone else, Madman is able to change the world around him with his thoughts, so when he gets upset or scared, reality is fair game.

The quartet work their way to older and older denizens of the Nightside, asking the same question every time - where did the Nightside come from and why does it exist? Again, no one really has the definitive answer, but it becomes quite apparent that John's mysterious mother has something to do with it. It's also clear that the Authorities in charge don't want John to succeed in this particular mission and that they'll go to great lengths to stop him.

This was a very important entry in Green's Nightside series. If you've gotten into them thanks to my reviews, you know that John has had questions about his missing mother since the beginning. Well, some of those questions are answered in this book, including just who his mother is. Naw, I'm not going to tell you! That would be cheating! Suffice to say that it's a great reveal, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. Should be interesting to see how John handles his mom - she's not really the warm and cozy type!

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Burning Water" by Mercedes Lackey

"Dallas Police Detective Mark Valdez isn't just any cop - he's a psychic who knows that the cattle mutilations and torture murders he's been investigating are somehow tied together. He also knows that his meager psychic abilities aren't enough to identify the killers, much less stop them.

Luckily, Mark has an ace up his sleeve: an attractive young romance novelist who happens to be a practicing witch. And not just any witch, either - Diana Tregarde is a Guardian, charged with protecting the Earth and all its creatures.

Using modern science and ancient magics, Diana and Mark discover that they are tailing no ordinary serial killer but the awakened avatar of an Aztec god. Tezcatlipoca and his four beautiful handmaidens are preparing for a great sacrifice that will transform North America into a new Aztec realm.

Diana isn't sure her powers are strong enough to take on those of a risen Aztec god, but she has no choice. As a Guardian, she is sworn to protect mankind, even at the cost of her own life. Luckily, she does not stand alone. Mark Valdez is more than just a cop. And Tezcatlipoca is not the only Aztec god walking in the world."

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Well, as it turns out, this is a case where the "trailer" is better than the movie. The book isn't bad overall, but I wasn't as happy with it as I was hoping to be. Part of it may be that the work is somewhat dated, having first been published in 1989. I think a bigger part of it was the writing itself. While Lackey did a fairly good job on the plot, the writing of said plot left a lot to be desired. I felt at times as if I were reading a debut novel (which this might have been - I'm going to check into that later). There's a HUGE overuse of italics, so much so that it became distracting. I was reminded of the time I read "Phantom of the Opera"; I was laughing at times at how many exclamation points were used in just one paragraph!

Diana is a fairly likeable heroine, one I wouldn't mind reading more about. I was very glad to see that she was not "tough as nails" as one finds in so many books of this kind. I'm not entirely sure, but her development might have come off more pleasantly due to the fact that it's not told from her point of view, nor is she really the "main character" in this book; I would argue that Mark is the star. Since the two are working together from the get-go, it makes both of them more palatable as the fighters of evil. Neither one comes off looking like a superhero, something else that, at times, tends to ruin a book for me.

I would have liked to learn more about Diana's position as a Guardian, something that is alluded to in the blurb from the back of the book, but not really discussed in the meat of this book. There are two other titles in the Diana Tregarde trilogy, so perhaps Guardians are discussed more in-depth there. And yes, I'll be tracking down the books, but not so much for myself. My hubby really enjoyed this one, so I've been given the mission to find the other two for him to read!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"The Man with the Golden Torc" by Simon Green

(The cover pictured at left is the British artwork. If you're looking for a copy of the American artwork, do a Google image search under the book title)
Having been impressed with Green's other works (the Nightside series and a stand-alone title), I was excited to see us get this book, the start of a new series. YES! Always fun to be in from the start!

Edwin "Eddie" Drood is a field agent for the Drood family, a man that works undercover as "Shaman Bond", fighting the good fight and attempting to vanquish evil. The Drood family has been in the fighting biz for eons, as far back as Droods can remember. In fact, the Drood family is directly descended from the Druids. Each Drood child is fitted from birth with a golden torc, a sort of supernatural choker, a fantastic force field that each Drood can call on to make him or her almost invincible. Eddie is one of the few field agents living outside the family manor; he's been on his own for about the last 10 years, although he's still a Drood through and through.

One fateful night, after a somewhat difficult assignment, Eddie is summoned to the great Hall of the Droods. No reason is given, just that his presence is demanded. Eddie has a feeling that something is up, but no one says "no" the Matriarch, so off he goes. He's given a very special assignment, one that the Matriarch states she cannot trust anyone else with, for there's a good chance that there's a traitor in the Hall of the Droods.

Truer words were never spoken, as Eddie soon finds out. He is attacked by various factions on his way to Stonehenge. By the time he vanquishes the last of them, he is visited by his Uncle James and told that Eddie himself has been declared rogue - all Drood agents have orders to either bring him in or kill him. Eddie has no idea what he could have done to be declared rogue, and thus we have the meat of the book, Eddie attempting to contact various people who may have information about his status.

Of course, what good is an action-thriller without a ticking clock? During his huge fight on the freeway, Eddie was shot with an arrow by an elf, an arrow that somehow pierced his golden armor that is provided by the torc, a thing that is not supposed to be possible. The arrow contained "strange matter", something from another dimension, and it's slowly eating away at Eddie's body. He's running out of time to discover the Drood secrets and to save his life.

This was a fantastic start of what I'm hoping will be an awesome series. Eddie isn't perfect, but he's a good man at heart, so I found myself rooting for him quite a bit. Also, as the wild witch of the forest, Molly Metcalf, informs him, not all the bad guys are entirely bad. Eddie learns that his family isn't what he thought it was and there are some secrets too horrible to learn. I would definitely recommend this to dark-fantasy, action-adventure lovers out there. The best news is that there's a second book planned for June 2008!

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Caught Stealing" by Charlie Huston

OK, this guy totally gets my seal of approval for tight, suspenseful thrillers. If you've been keeping up with this blog, you'll remember his vampire books "Already Dead" and "No Dominion". I thought maybe it might be worth it to try some earlier stuff, and man, I was not disappointed in the least.

"Caught Stealing" is a book about exactly that - a theft of grand proportions. Our hero, Henry "Hank" Thompson, knows nothing about it when the book opens, only that he's been beaten up by some pros for no known reason. Not only that, but it soon leads to him losing a kidney, something that is just going to make his life that much worse in the next week or so.

Hank has been asked by his neighbor Russ to cat-sit. Hank isn't great with animals but Bud, the cat, seems to be pretty mellow and Russ begs very well. Shortly after that, while at his bartending job, Hank is attacked by some Russians who comment on his mixology abilities. Then it's the trip to the hospital to take out said kidney, followed by more visits from various bad guys, including a dirty cop. The only thing that Hank knows is that he found something in the bottom of Bud's cat carrier, an envelope which felt like it had a key in it. Being the cautious and very paranoid sort, Hank didn't open the envelope. But for much of the book, he also can't remember where the envelope is - seems he might have given it to a friend of his at the bar when he was rip-roaring drunk. Yeah, not very smart after losing a kidney, but Hank's been having a very rough time; giving up booze isn't easy when you're being stalked and beaten by thugs for reasons unknown to you.

Eventually Hank finds out why everyone is after this key. Not only that, but his life continues a downward spiral, something that doesn't look to have any good way out. Hank has to fight for his life and make some tough choices, when all he really wants to do is watch a damn baseball game.

Like I said, Huston is an awesome writer, one I'm eternally grateful to find. He keeps the story simple but action-packed. His hero, Hank, is fantastically flawed, yet still a good-enough guy that you root for him to overcome all obstacles. Even better? This is the first in a trilogy about Hank, so I have two more books to read. YES!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Thursday Next: First Among Sequels" by Jasper Fforde

If you have ever found yourself reading a book and wishing you could meet one of the characters, then the Thursday Next series by Fforde is your kind of book. It's a crazy alternative world where literary characters literally jump from book to book and into the "Outworld" (the "real" world) with the greatest of ease. There's a Well of Lost Plots to be mined for material, the Cheshire Cat holds a very important job, and an army of Danverclones are on the move, ready to suppress any dissent. A most extraordinary place, indeed!

"The Eyre Affair" is the book that started it all, and I highly recommend reading it (as well as the others in the series). The works build on themselves, although this entry is late enough in the game and has enough expository in it to pick it up by itself. I was thrilled to hang out with Thursday again, all three of her this time! Yes, our beloved Thursday has to take on Thursday5 as a Jurisfiction trainee, as well as Thursday1-4, another trainee who no one likes (her books were all full of sex and violence, while 5's were very flower-child-like. Guess which books were more popular?)

It's way too complicated to explain the plot here. What I will tell you is that these books require a very open mind. You should find them in Science Fiction, possibly Fantasy, and for good reason. Again, Thursday regularly enters the Book World and mingles with literary characters, who act like real people. It can be a bit confusing at times, but Fforde's writing is fabulous - sharp, very witty, and very, very funny. Where else can you read about characters like Jack Schitt and his wife, Anne Wirthlass-Schitt? See what I mean? FABULOUS!

Fall into these great books today!

"Maxed Out" by James D. Scurlock

Before we begin, no, this is not the "Super-Size Me" guy, although it's easy to see how one could think that. That was Morgan Spurlock; the names are eerily similar, aren't they? In any case, Scurlock also investigates what he feels are evils done to the common man, in this case by the financial industry (there's a documentary film of the same name; the book is intended as a companion piece).

The book is both frightening and hopeful. The set-up is pretty simple: each chapter details an individual/family going through a rough time with some sort of financial institution (Scurlock seems to have an especial hatred for the credit card industry, something I'm sure most of us can relate to). The stories are all similar in the sense that the people having the problems never truly believed they'd get to this point. People who are in danger of foreclosure having weekly yard sales in the hopes of garnering just a bit of extra cash, spouses who are trying to come to grips with not only mounting debt but the lies they've told to cover up the problem, and college kids maxed out on credit cards they obtained despite their lack of earnings. The tales of suicide are the most difficult to read; I've been in debt (and still am) but I cannot imagine things getting so bad that I would consider killing myself as a solution. Yet Scurlock states that people this financially bad off do just that and on a frighteningly regular basis.

There are no real revelations in the book, yet I would still recommend it to anyone who has had or still has debt they're trying to deal with. Why? Well, this work won't tell you how to get yourself back on the road to financial security, but it does give you a sort of support system while you're going through it. I know I felt better reading about people who were dealing with situations much the same as mine, a sort of "misery loves company" feeling, if nothing else. And while Scurlock rails against pretty much everyone in the financial world, he does make one excellent point, one that I think really needs to be considered. A lot of the debt that is being OK'd by lenders and credit card companies is done based on a person's FICO score, not on their earnings and ability to pay, which is the way it used to be done. Granted, there were a lot of people turned down in the old days who might have been a bit risky but would have done a great job paying off a loan, but these days it's almost a free-for-all; dogs can obtain credit cards, as can the dead. Sadly, the credit card industry still preys on college students, especially freshman, a dangerous combination. Imagine being away from home for the first time, living on "your own", AND having a piece of plastic to make purchases. Who wouldn't be tempted to go a little crazy?

I hope that if nothing else "Maxed Out" gets the right people talking about how to get Americans out of debt and back on the saving track. I doubt change will happen anytime soon, though. Face it, as individuals we are encouraged to spend, spend, spend. And as a country? Well, I think our deficit speaks for itself.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

"On the Prowl"

Yahoo! Another collection of short stories/novellas by some of my fave authors!

Patricia Briggs writes the Mercy Thompson series (with another book in that series coming out January '08), one of my new discoveries. Her entry is "Alpha and Omega", an interesting tale of werewolves. Anna, a relatively new werewolf, is reading her evening paper when she recognizes a picture of a boy who has gone missing. She knows that he isn't really missing; he's dead. He was turned into a werewolf against his will, something she knows all too well. Realizing that her pack alpha may have finally gone too far, she calls the Marrok, the leader of all the werewolves. He sends his son, Charles, to Chicago to investigate. Anna is nervous, and tries her best to stay out of the way. Charles grows more upset the longer he's around her as he realizes how much she has been beaten down by her pack. She thinks she's a submissive but he knows how wrong that is - she is actually an Omega, one of the most powerful types of werewolf next to an alpha. An Omega can calm a pack in almost an instant, something that leads Charles to suspect that Anna was specifically chosen to be turned, even though she had no say in the matter. Now he must find out why her Alpha needs an Omega in his pack....

Eileen Wilks also writes a series involving werewolves, called lupi. Her story "Inhuman" is very interesting and again, quite good. Kai is magically gifted but doesn't let on to her friends exactly what her gift is. They believe she's an empath, which is mostly true. Actually, she's a telepath. Not only that but she can take the thoughts of others and manipulate them if she's not careful. It's not that she actually knows what they're thinking; she sees the colors of their auras and can decipher from those what's going on with a person. She knows her neighbor, Nathan, is also gifted in some way; she's just not sure what his gift is. Turns out, he may not even be human! When Nathan shows up at her door one night needing a bullet dug out of his shoulder, Kai will learn his secret. She's also learn a few things about herself...

Karen Chance has started a nice little dark fantasy series involving witches, vampires, and the like. "Buying Trouble" is a great little tale of Claire, a null - someone who can actually absorb and interfere with magic. Nulls are far and few between these days, mostly because they've been hunted to the point of extinction; a null must be sacrificed to create a "null-bomb", a sort of reverse grenade for the magical crowd. Claire works at an auction house and has the night of her life when she realizes that she is actually one of the items up for auction. Her slimy cousin Sebastian wants her out of the way so that he can collect his inheritance without needing to share. There's also the tidy sum he'll get for selling her to highest bidder in the mage crowd. Enter Heidar, a Light Fey who also wants Claire, for reasons not entirely known to her. In one of the best chaotic fight scenes I've read in a while, Claire and Heidar are suddenly thrust into Fairie, a place that brings several surprises to both of them....

Finally, there's "Mona Lisa Betwining" by Sunny. I haven't read anything by this author, and I have to say, this will probably be the last time I read her. This story was a little too Laurell K. Hamilton for me, what with a sort of demon curse thing making a hormonal nutcase of the lead character, Mona Lisa. Sorry, but I'm not into that sort of writing anymore. I think I would also have had to read the author's books before this story to truly make sense of it, something the other three entries didn't suffer from. I don't mind if an author's submission is going to tie-in to his/her series work, but make it general enough for the people who haven't been with you from the start.

Overall, "On the Prowl" was a nice anthology of the supernatural. Just enough romance to be pleasing, plenty of plot in the first three stories, and some interesting characters who may be showing up again very soon.