Tuesday, December 13, 2011

K23 Detectives by Noah Murphy

All I can say about the "K23 Detective" series is way cool! If you like Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" or Simon Green's "Nightside" or "Hawk & Fisher" books, I guarantee you'll love Noah Murphy's world.

Book one is A Clear and Feathered Danger. Where we meet the main central characters for first time, and upon meeting them, we are captivated. We meet Quintanelle Fillion, an elven mage who wants to make it in the wide world... or at least in New Delta. She's smart, and a bit lost at first, as well as very overwhelmed by the number of creatures and people she needs to deal with -- not as easy as it sounds when you have a rather racist and sheltered upbringing. She applies to go to work for Alfonso Deegan, a detective who is the owner of K23 Detectives. He is happily married and is a bit of a perfectionist. He's also a little grouchy :)  His associates include Mordridakon, a dragon (who is insatiable in a few different ways), and Trogg the Genius, the world's smartest ogre.

Once introductions are made, A Clear and Feathered Danger gets right to the meat of the story. The Avian Syndicate is a criminal syndicate in New Delta made up entirely of large birds (or bird-like creatures). They want something, but they can't steal it. So, they do the next best thing: The kidnap a goblin shaman to help them achieve their goal.

This is a very fast-paced story. Once the action starts, it doesn't stop. Occasionally it slows a bit, but not much, and usually to turn a corner. Along the way, we learn a bit about the politics of New Delta and how the Avian Syndicate came to be. Alfonso is smart, savvy and the kind of detective you want on your side. New Delta is not a city I want to live in -- ever -- but it is really fun to visit.

Book 2 is What Lies Within. With the addition of Eluna, the K23 Detectives are ready for some corporate espionage. What starts out as a murder of a private detective and a blackmail scheme becomes something much darker and much more dangerous.

After the first romp, you should be prepared for the fast pace... at least you'd better be because this is one rollercoaster of a ride. Politics, blackmail, murder and other shenanigans are sure to keep your attention. I honestly had to re-read several passages because I wasn't sure how Alfonso got to the answers he got to! It all makes sense in the end, but its a quick, twisty story that will leave you looking for more.

The third (and last, so far) in the series is The Impending Darkness. This book reminded me more of the "Nightside" books than anything. Again, a very fast pace, tight storyline and an ending that left me wishing that there was another book ready right now.

This time around, we follow Deegan and Co. to the twin cities of Brocenback and Alkhan. The rulers of othe cities want to marry and join the two cities. A lot of the people really don't want that. And, just to keep things a bit off balance, the followers of the forbidden deity of destruction and disorder, have resurfaced.

All in all, I highly recommend these books. They're well-written, logical and the world is quite different from most that are out there. There's a dystopian edge to the stories, as well as a very cyberpunk feel. Something for everyone whether you like sci-fi or fantasy, and especially if you like Harry Dresden :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fighting the Devil

In Fighting the Devil, Jeannie Walker tells the story of the death of her ex-husband (Jerry Sternadel) and the murder investigation. This is a sometimes difficult book to read. Ms. Walker doesn't sugar-coat any of it. From the descriptions of her rather tempestuous marriage to the raw emotions of her children and the very odd actions of Jerry's second wife, this is a roller-coaster of a book.

Jerry Sternadel is a sometimes sweet, other times very hard, man. Jeannie Walker married him, had two children with him, and eventually divorced him. But, she still loved him. That she didn't always like him didn't matter -- and even though she divorced him, she loved him. For all that Jerry was a difficult man to live with, he didn't deserve what he got.

Fighting the Devil is a well-written book. Its also sometimes very difficult to read. The descriptions of what happened to Jerry Sternadel are very vivid, as are the descriptions of what Jeannie Walker's life with him was like. The emotions are strong, raw and honest. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes the books of Ann Rule and Joseph Wambaugh, or to those who read and liked In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This is a true story. And its a story that needs to be read by everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes"

This is a wonderful book! I started reading on Friday, and finished on Saturday evening. Really hard to put down.

Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes is a telling of the Jack the Ripper history with Sherlock Holmes (and Dr. Watson). The history is accurate, the main suspect is one of the many suspects in the Ripper case and the Sherlock Holmes narrative is not slavishly written as if Arthur Conan Doyle had written it. Bernard Schaffer has his own voice, and it is a good one.

We are introduced to each of the victims and get to know them a little immediately before their demise. This is much like most of the books I've read on the subject. The story surrounding the suspect is changed from his personal history, but that's okay. He isn't one of the suspects that most people even think about any more -- most interest in him was in the 1960's. His fictionalize history is much more interesting anyway.

The 'Sherlock Holmes' in this story is very different from any of the Conan Doyle stories. This story takes place after the last Conan Doyle story. Holmes is deep into his addiction to cocaine and heroine and is definitely not the well-spoken character of days gone by. He is nasty and mean or whiny and self-pitying by turns. Dr. Watson is cast as something of a saint... for a little while. His patience has worn thin, however, and by the time he announces his engagement, which news is summarily brushed off as unimportant, he is ready to let Holmes out of his life. Or so it seems.

Bernard Schaffer did a wonderful job with a story that I've been wondering about since reading the Conan Doyle stories as a teen and watching Basil Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles one Saturday afternoon. This mystery of murder and evil and madness was one that ONLY Sherlock Holmes could solve. After all, he WAS the premiere detective of the age!

I look forward to more books by Mr. Schaffer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"LIttle Brother" by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow really has a story to tell and a lesson to impart, and it does it well.

Marcus is a normal 17-year-old high school student in San Francisco. The country is still recovering from the shock of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, but like most teens, Marcus has bounced back a bit more quickly than his parents. One day, he decides to skip school. He plans on meeting with some friends when the unthinkable happens: A terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the chaos following the attack, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and held as possible terrorists.

This book speculates on what could happen if one agency is given too much power. Its also a paean to civil disobedience and what happens when seemingly clueless kids are pushed too far. I really liked this book. The central characters are well written, and the premise is chillingly possible. My only problem with this book is that once you get away from the central characters, especially when you get to the adults, they are a tad flat. Possibly this was done on purpose to further isolate Marcus and his friends, I don’t know. They aren’t zombies by any stretch, just not as fully realized as the central players.

I fully recommend Little Brother, it is smart, witty, well-written and timely.

 (I first read Little Brother a few months ago. This review is based on a re-read.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Witch Hunt by Devin O'Branagan

I read Witch Hunt by Devin O'Branagan this past week. All I can really say is "Wow!"

Ms. O'Branagan turned a deft hand to the difficult subjects of prejudice, fear and hatred and crafted a very fine novel. In real life, this story has been lived again and again in many different forms, we are living it yet again here in the States in the fight for equal rights for the LGBT population. My hat is off to you, Ms. O'Branagan. If the powers that be listen to me, this will be an important book for everyone, not just me.

Witch Hunt is the story of the Hawthorne family. They are witches. They survived the witch hunts of the past in the forms of the Inquisition and Salem among others. They've fought and worked hard and are now an influential family in the town of Montvue in Colorado. This is also the story of Preacher Cody, who survived Afghanistan and found God. And in Montvue, Colorado, has found his calling: He has been called to once again try to rid the world of witches.

I cannot recommend this book enough. The historical portions are accurate and the present day scenes are chilling. In the political climate that we are currently living in, the present day scenes are almost too real. This book scared me, and it should. The idea of anyone choosing how anyone else should live and believe is frightening. The lessons of the past have not been learned and they need to be. We, as a people, are too quick to forget the bad things and that is wrong. We need to remember them so that we don't repeat them over and over again. The Inquisition and the Witch Trials of Salem aren't dead history. They were repeated in the Red Scare of McCarthyism and in today's demonizing of gays, Muslims and women's health care. We need to remember.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Twitter and the Reader and the Authors

If you're on Twitter, you may have noted tips to authors on how to best utilize the tweeting experience. Guess what? Twitter is great for us readers, too :)

When I first started, I followed a few friends that I knew were on. Then I got adventurous and looked for a few 'famous' people and followed them. I really didn't say much, but it was fun kind of eaves-dropping on the rich and famous. Then I started following some of the authors I read. And it all exploded into a really neat experience.

It started really with only two authors. And I started conversations with them -- letting them know I enjoyed their last book, or something along those lines, and following their conversations with other writers, who I would then follow, which led me to even more -- many of whom I'd never heard of before. Talking with these men and women led me to looking for their books and, in many cases, purchasing one or two. Which, in turn, led to more "Wow! I really loved your book!" which every author likes to hear.

Through Twitter, I have found a lot of self-published writers who are very good and probably somewhat underappreciated. I have re-found writers that I had forgotten about and re-entered the worlds they have created. In short, I am in book heaven.

So, to all the authors out there: Twitter works. It does help to sell your books -- at least to me :) I love being able to chat a little with you. That little bit of conversation is sometimes all it takes for me to say to myself "I think I'll try his or her book" just to see what they're like. I may not always like them as much as someone else might, but I'm at least trying to get away from my 'comfort zone' of known authors. To be honest, though, I would say that of the books I've bought because I'm following the author on Twitter, I have only disliked one. No, I'm not going to say which one... It was well written, but just not what I was looking for. I will probably pick it up again and try at another time and may end up loving it.

So, for all you authors out there who talk to me, thank you. Thank you for the conversation and for the books and the leads to other books and writers. You have all made me one very happy bookaholic.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

American on Purpose

I just got done reading American on purpose by Craig Ferguson and I highly recommend that everyone read it :) It is funny and sad and a couple of times a bit tragic, but well written and, well, there really isn't anything to dislike about it.

So, what's it about? Well, its about growing up in Scotland and wanting more than anything to come to America. Its about all the things that can go wrong in a life, but also that things can and do get better. It isn't really about how Craig Ferguson got famous. It seemed to me that it was more about how Craig Ferguson became himself.

Read it. You'll love it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reviewing the Reviewer

On April 14, the NY Times ran a review of the HBO mini-series, "A Game of Thrones"  (Which is based on George R.R. Martin's novel). A lot of people took exception to it, most notably this part:

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
I was one of them. As I read this (and re-read it) I found myself wondering how she could be living in such a large city and not run into a single woman who read fantasy. Especially since there are so many who WRITE fantasy! Yes, epic fantasy as well as other forms. Then I got angry. The only way I would be interested in epic fantasy is because there was sex in it?? Errrrr, no. I'm one of those who likes a story and plot, and if the sex fits in, so be it.

Apparently, she took a lot of flack over that review and decided to explain it HERE.

Oh, my.  Personally, I think she should have let sleeping dogs lie. Definitely did not make things better. Now, I certainly don't agree with the idjits who threatened her -- that is totally uncalled for and certainly not civilized. But to write a piece of total snark to explain one's self is not all that civilized either.

Going back, once I got over my puzzlement and anger, I re-read the entire "review" and came to a couple of conclusions. First, this wasn't a review of the mini-series. It was a review (and indictment) of the fantasy genre. The entire "review" read as though she were reviewing fantasy, and epic fantasy specifically and it certainly came up wanting in her book.  The second thing that crossed my mind was "This person doesn't like fantasy. Nor does she understand it, and she doesn't want to."

That's what the original review and the later "explanation" told me. She doesn't like fantasy and doesn't care who knows it. She reviewed a mini-series that she would not watch and because of that dislike of the genre in general, she couldn't really give it a decent review -- because she doesn't understand fantasy (and epic fantasy).

Now, I'm not saying that a reviewer has to necessarily LIKE the genres of films and books they review, but they should certainly (a) keep an open mind and (b) at least understand it a little bit. To make sweeping statements about possible viewers as she did in the original review was very wrong. Last time I looked, I didn't have the dangly bits and I really, truly enjoy George R.R. Martin's wonderful books, and so do quite a few other female type people. So to call this "boy fiction" is really unfair. I would think that by now she would have learned to not make generalizations. Well, probably since the fall-out from her original review, she may re-think the use of stereotypes.

I'm still rather dumbfounded though that she doesn't know a single female who reads fantasy.... Hmmmm.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How do you say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye to a loving friend you've never met? Diana Wynne Jones and Brian Jacques were friends of mine, but I never met them. Never said hello or gave them a welcoming hug, but they were friends nonetheless.

I remember when I first met Brian Jacques. It was in 1988. My younger son was 10 years old and we found a book called "Redwall". It was mis-shelved in the adult fantasy section of the library and the idea of warrior woodland creatures and a fantastical abbey in the forest was just too delectible to leave there. So we checked it out. Over the next two weeks at bedtime, there we were, my son in his pajamas and me sitting on the edge of his bed, learning to know Brian Jacques and his wonderful world.

A lot of years have passed, and my son has children of his own, but I haven't let that stop me. On February 5 of this year I was checking to see if, by chance, there was a new Redwall adventure for me to read. There is! It won't be released until May, but there's a whole new adventure for me! Then, minutes later, I learned of the passing of Brian Jacques. I grieve for the silencing of Mossflower Wood and the stilling of the great bells at Redwall Abbey. Its a sad thing when a never-met friend passes. But its also a wonderful thing that he touched our lives.

Not quite two months later, as I thought of books to buy for a grandchild, I was stunned to hear that another old friend had passed on. The creative and lovely Diana Wynne Jones, who gave us so much is also gone from our lives. The magic she brought into our world is immortal as long as we read her books. My first introduction to her imagination came with "Howl's Moving Castle" that my son brought home and we read together. Oh, the excitement and wonder of it all! And both of us enjoyed immensely the stories of magic in our own slightly changed world happening in the Chrestomanci stories. To take something familiar and change it just a bit to make it magical and wondrous was such a gift. I am so glad that Ms. Jones wrote such books and gave us such sights to see with our mind's eyes.

The world was honored by the presence of two such wonderful people, and we who heard their stories were forever changed by them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Drama: Can We Get Over It?

Was reading a review over at Big Al's Books and Pals that ended up being a huge thing because (a) the author was less than able to handle a less than perfect review and (b) the assumption that somehow her performance would rub off on all "indie" authors.

First, the author (Ms. Howett) is not an "indie" author. She's self-published. There is a difference. Second, why on earth would it be assumed that us readers would believe that all writers are the same?

As a very voracious reader, I have jumped into the ebook 'revolution' with both feet and my eyes wide open. Because the price of self-published books tends to be less than traditionally published books, I have no problem taking chances. I would have to say that 90% of the ebooks I buy are by authors I had never heard of before. Of those, I have been disappointed about 5% of the time. Most of my disappointment comes because the authors are also their own marketing department. They don't market their product well. This is what I see as the downside of self-pubs. If I am looking for a cozy mystery, I am generally disappointed if it turns out to be a Christian treatise. That is purely a marketing problem.

The rest of the disappointment comes because there are so few who will review these books. Big Al's is one of the few. There are honest reviews there. Its hard to sort out the honest reviews from the family reviews at places like amazon.com and I really prefer the honesty.

I don't believe Ms. Howett did much harm to any other self-publishing author. She mainly hurt herself. I think she may have done some harm, though, in that there may well be some would-be reviewers who may now take indie and self-pub authors of their list of people to deal with. Which is a huge shame. We as readers need independent reviewers. We rely on them for the honesty. The fear of someone blowing up at them for being honest may be enough to keep them away from doing what we readers need.

With or without independent reviewers I, for one, will continue to read books by self-published writers. I may not always care for the books, but it is a lot of fun looking for the diamonds hidden among the cubic zirconia. But its a whole lot better to have some roadmaps, and those are offered by the reviewers.

I would ask that independent reviewers please don't let the actions of a minority keep you from doing what we, the reader, needs. Thank you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vampires and Werewolves and Demons, oh my!

These days, its almost impossible to pick up a paranormal romance or urban fantasy without encountering vampires and/or werewolves.  Is there an end in sight? What with the Sookie Stackhouse ‘Southern Vampire’ series by Charlaine Harris and the ‘Vampire Diaries’ series by L. J. Smith; both of which have spawned cable TV programs; as well as the ‘Twilight’ books by Stephanie Meyer, which are the basis for a series of movies, it’s hard to see an end to vamps at least.  Werewolves (and other shape-changers) seem to be very much tied in with the vampires (with a few notable exceptions), so it seems that their marketability seems to be inextricably connected with the vampires.

So, where does that leave a reader who wants something different, but still wants to read paranormal romance and/or urban fantasy? 

There are a couple of choices.  Eileen Wilks writes about werewolves (among other magical creatures), but she does so in a way that’s fresh.  The first full-length novel in her ‘World of the Lupi’ books is Tempting Danger.  Lily Yu is a police detective (later with the FBI Magical Crimes Division) who is a ‘sensitive’in addition to being a good detective and an all-around wonderful character.  Rule Turner is a werewolf “prince”.  He and Lily are inextricably bound together. Joining them are Cullen Seabourne, a werewolf sorcerer; Cynna Weaver, a “finder”; and Grandmother, Lily Yu’s grandmother -- who knows more about a lot of things than she lets on.  All in all, a very fresh, modern take on werewolves (and other paranormal creatures).

Second, for a very much darker urban fantasy world, there’s Karen Marie Moning’s ‘Fever’ series.  The series follows Mackayla (“Mac”) Lane as she travels to an Ireland being taken over by darker and darker forces as she searches for her sister’s killer and for the mysterious Sinsar Dubh.  Who is Jericho Barrons and what does he really want?? This series is very bleak and dark (but very well written), so if you’re looking for something not quite so intense, I’d not recommend it.  I will, however, say that I love Ms. Moning’s style. Her character development is superb and while the picture she paints with her words is very dark, it is also very compelling.

Third, Anne Bishop has written some very intriguing books ('Black Jewels' series). They don't really fall into the categories I'm talking about, but they do have some of the characteristics of both urban fantasy and paranormal romance. They also have some of the characteristics of high fantasy. So, a little something for everyone here :)

I think I'll end this for now.  In a couple of days, I'll have some more authors (and series) that either shy away from the vamps and weres, or that deal with them in more imaginative ways.

Review: "Deadly Remains" by Katherine Bayless

If you are as tired of vampires and werewolves in urban fantasy and paranormal romance as I am, have I got a book for you!  “Deadly Remains” by Katherine Bayless is a breath of fresh air.

Lire (pronounced ‘Lear’) is a ‘touch clairvoyant.’ That means she can read anything that she touches... rocks, tables, people.... She started a company, along with a ‘normal’ (Jack) to use her powers in a way that is constructive and allows her to interact with people (but not touch unless wearing gloves). She ‘reads’ antiques for their true provenance, etc.  She also works with the police on occasion.  This story, like many in the genre, takes place in the Pacific Northwest.

This book is very well-written.  Lire is a well-rounded, three-dimensional character.  As the book progresses, she firms up, fills in and becomes a very pleasing addition to the UF/PNR realm.  She has her quirks -- She’s a caffeine freak. She has a ‘teddy bear’ named Red. She’s “well off” financially.  In this first book, she gets called upon by a police department to help with a murder investigation.  Our introduction to her is at the police station, in a room with Det. Vince Vanelli. Who really doesn’t like clairvoyants. Or anyone else with a gift.  What happens from this point on is a wonderful dance of darkness and light. Lire and Vanelli carefully circling each other, and working their way through a very well-thought-out murder mystery.

Throughout this story we meet all kinds of magical and mystical creatures and people: Djinn are the most memorable.  If you are actually looking for vampires and werewolves, you’ll have to make do with mention only, they are not a presence in this book. 

The only problem I had with this book was the name of the detective. When I first saw it, all I could think of was (a) vanilla = baking cookies or (b) Milli Vanilli.... I got over it, but it took a little bit.

I am looking forward to more by Ms. Bayless.  She has written a credible mystery, and has done so in a genre thick with vampires and were-creatures without using them. I’m going to be rather impatiently awaiting the next entry in what I hope is a lengthy series.