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[Review] The Stubborn Dead by Natasha Hoar

The Stubborn Dead
Natasha Hoar

Cover Copy: Rachel Miller thought her next job was a run-of-the-mill haunting. As a member of the Order of Rescue Mediums it’s her duty to release trapped spirits from the earthly realm. But when called to client Sylvia Elkeles’s house, she finds a wraith who doesn’t act like he should.

The Order considers the wraith an extreme threat and Rachel may be forced to use a barbaric ritual to free him—a ritual that comes with a heavy personal price. If she fails to humanely release the wraith, she’ll have her supernatural abilities bound.

When Janus Ostara—local supernatural mob boss—shows up demanding her attention, and Sylvia keeps secrets that may place Rachel in mortal danger, she doesn’t need her abilities to know something darkly sinister is at play.

Between uncovering Sylvia’s disturbing motives, and avoiding Janus, Rachel has enough on her hands without dealing with a wraith who may not realize he’s supposed to be dead…

20,000 words

My Thoughts: I bought this book after reading The Ravenous Dead. Natasha Hoar somehow sucked me into this world of wraiths and reapers where her heroine, Rachel Miller, must kick ass to save everyone from the monsters.

Rachel Miller is a Rescue Medium. That means she can see ghosts, talk to them, fight them, and send them to the other side. She has a handy-dandy weapon for dealing with ghostly monsters– her tattoo. It charges with energy, and once fully charged, snaps the ghost’s connection to earth and sends it home. In doing so, the tattoo activates four beings that can hear Rachel, but don’t speak to her. Once they are released from the tattoo, they do the heavy work and then disappear. It’s kinda cool. The action and worldbuilding are what made me pick up the book.

Rachel finds herself fighting a kind of wraith she’s never encountered before, an ancient species called the rodach, long thought to be extinct. There’s something odd about the woman who called her into the case, and for some reason, the fae leader of a mob-like organization wants Rachel to join their ranks. Everthing goes to crap when Rachel is ordered to free the human from the rodach or kill him trying. She has forty-eight hours or she’ll be stripped of her powers. Rachel can’t bring herself to kill him, so it’s a fight for his life.

I read the first two books of the series out of order, but I was pleased to find the first wasn’t as info dumpy as the second. I like The Stubborn Dead much better.

The dialogue can at times be almost of the “As you know, Bob” variety with its dispensing of information. I would still like to be shown a lot of this information or have kept to a bare minimum. We don’t really need to know the history of every creature. We just need to know enough for this story. The rest can be tucked away for another story.

I kind of like the short length. I feel like I’m getting a whole story in something I can read in an afternoon.  Plus, they’re short books (20,000-27,000 words) at a good price ($2-$3).

Love the cover art. Well done, Carina Press!

Rating: B
Series: Lost Souls #1
Publisher: Carina Press, 2012
Acquired: Purchased

Get it– Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

At this time, The Stubborn Dead is not available at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.

[Review] THE MAGE IN BLACK by Jaye Wells

THE MAGE IN BLACK is book # 2 in the Sabina Kane series, in this week of celebrating Jaye Wells’s exciting debut series.

Cover Copy: Sabina Kane doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to family. After all, her own grandmother, leader of the vampire race, wants her dead. So when she arrives in New York to meet her mage relatives, the reunion puts the fun in dysfunctional. Not only is mage culture completely bizarre, but everyone seems to think she’s some kind of “Chosen” who’ll unite the dark races. Sabina doesn’t care who chose her, she’s not into destiny.

But the mages aren’t Sabina’s only problem. In New York’s Black Light District, she has run-ins with fighting demons, hostile werewolves and an opportunistic old flame. Sabina thought she’d take a bite out of the Big Apple, but it looks like it wants to bite back.

My Thoughts: At the end of book 1 (RED-HEADED STEPCHILD) Sabina Kane, half-vampire half-mage, has just pissed off her grandmother/boss/head of the vampires, Lavinia, and learned she has a twin sister, who’s been living with the mages all her life. Now, needing allies, a job, and a place to live, Sabina leaves Los Angeles (vampire territory) for New York (home to mages and others) to spend some time getting to know this new sister.

Sabina inadvertently “poaches” in werewolf territory and ends up having to fight the Alpha to pay the blood debt. This fight results in her demon signing up for the demon MMA and in Sabina reuniting with an old flame. For some reason, attempts on Sabina’s life ensue.

This is where the story fell apart for me. Sabina doesn’t really want anything. She presumably wants to spend time with her sister, but when roadblocks pop up, Sabina lets them stand there and finds something else to do. I also have to think that as wants/motivations go, this is not a very strong one. This story needed some mystery or quest to carry the book from start to finish in addition to all the complications already present in the story. It’s not quite enough to wonder who is trying to kill Sabina (I saw the culprit coming a mile away), especially when Sabina is not actively trying to find the culprit herself. She’s leaving that up to the mages. This felt out of character for her.

I would have liked for Sabina to spend more time with Maisie. I felt like I was supposed to care about Maisie more, but ultimately I didn’t know her well enough to care.

I also kind of wanted the love triangle to be stronger. It felt forced to me. I guess I felt that Sabina had barely explored a relationship with Adam before she was falling back into the arms of Slade for a one-night stand. Plus, the events that lead to Sabina having alone time with Slade while Adam was “conveniently” on a mission out of town felt contrived.

Despite all this, there are some great fight scenes, the demons were very entertaining, and we learn an awful lot about mage culture and magic systems. As always, Jaye Wells’s has a wonderful sense of humour. If Jaye Wells wrote a cereal box, I would read it just for her fabulous humour.

Definitely looking forward to GREEN-EYED DEMON.

Rating: B
Series: Sabina Kane series
Publisher: Orbit Books
Acquired: Purchase

Get it — Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

[Review] BLOODED by Amanda Carlson

Blooded by Amanda CarlsonCover Copy: Jessica McClain was born the only female in an all male race. The only problem is-she’s no wolf. Called a curse, a witch and the Daughter of Evil by the superstitious wolves, Jessica decides to fight for her freedom, at age nineteen, the only way she can-in the ring.
When she’s brutally attacked right after her fight, is it enough to finally earn her freedom off Compound, or will she be forced to endure the hatred even longer . . .
Word Count 19,400

My Thoughts: BLOODED by Amanda Carlson is a short story introduction to her world of werewolves and the human girl trying to break free of the Pack.

Jessica is the daughter of the Pack’s Alpha leader, and as such, she has to prove her worth to pack. But being a female means she’s only human, born without any of the advantages her twin brother got as a full werewolf. In this short story, we learn how much Jessica wants to get out of the Pack before the Pack kills her. The Pack believes in a prophecy that might be about Jessica, and they’ll risk their lives with the Alpha to make sure it doesn’t come to fruition.

Carlson gives us a lot action in these four chapters. The words read like an MMA fight, first in the ring and then– if you can believe this, because I couldn’t– in the lake. I did not expect an all out brawl in the water. Talk about high octane reading!

Although I did find the dialogue could be “As you know, Bob” and the inner monologue could be repetative at times, I think these are typical for a first novel, and I expect to see less of this in subsequent stories.

If you love werewolves and lots of action, Amanda Carlson’s new series is sure to please.

The first book in the series, FULL BLOODED will be released in September. I recommend reading this novella, BLOODED, first.

Rating: B+
Series: Jessica McClain
Publisher: Orbit Books
Acquired: NetGalley

Get it– Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

[Review] EVIL WAYS by Justin Gustainis

[Editor’s note: Although Harry filed this review as a “D Review”, after considering his review, and that he has many good things to say about the book, and that he recognizes his opinion may have been just a bad mood, I’m filing this review as a “B Review”. That seems more fair.]

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: Evil Ways
Author: Justin Gustainis
Series: Quincey Morris Investigation Series, Book2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 336
Publisher: Solaris

Blurb:

Quincey Morris and Libby Chastain investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted down and killed—and Libby may be next on the list. Meanwhile, the FBI is stymied by a series of child murders around the country, in which the victims’ organs are being removed for use in occult rituals. Quincey and Libby don’t want to get involved, but they may have no choice. From Iraq to Idaho, the trail of clues leads straight to Walter Grobius, a crazed billionaire who plans the biggest black magic ritual of all time. If he isn’t stopped, all Hell will break loose—for real.

Verdict: It took me quite awhile to get to this novel and considering how many positive reviews it gathered, I think I ended up reading the novel wrong, because at large “Evil Ways” didn’t exactly work for me. Perhaps I am on a different vibe right about now or perhaps my tastes have changed in the stretch of a year, but after reading and loving “Black Magic Woman” I waited for something bigger and better as the perfect scenario for a series should be.

Plot-wise I got everything I needed. Compared to the first book in the series “Evil Ways” excels in dynamics and stretches through the better part of the USA and even offers some scenes of heist action in Baghdad. The use of magic is extensive and ranges from summoning to blood sacrifices, wards and astral projection. The variety and degree of explanation behind each act is satisfying for me as a fan of the occult and creates a solid believability. Satan also makes a very gruesome cameo appearance, which always acts as a plus and sex just lounges in between the pages. Gustainis also gives the readers every man’s dream: a woman wielding big guns with the intention of using them.

So what was the problem, if everything so far is all I could ever dream of? Gustainis has wonderful ideas and has woven them into a believable enough plot, but what doesn’t work for me in this installment is the actual writing. Spreading the story through different points of view is great and we can see what happens on both sides of the whole apocalypse-in-the-making, but the stark in-your-face approach to representing the impending doom fails to build tension. In “Black Magic Woman” I loved, when the author didn’t beat around the bush and slapped the reader with the facts as they were with no poetic detours and you felt like a part of a much messed up episode of CSI. However now that the supernatural elements have been pumped up “Evil Ways” should have, at least to me, dripped dread and the book didn’t. The famous bat scene was awesome yes, but it didn’t make me fear that the characters wouldn’t get out. Same goes for the grand summoning of Satan. As the final ceremony transpired I didn’t feel any immediate danger for the character or for the world at that.

This being said, the second thing that didn’t work for me happened to be dialogue. I enjoy wise cracking as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t buy the idea that two people no matter how comfortable with each other would mock bicker, wise crack and throw punch lines and funny expressions, when Libby is being chased by enemies unknown and the apocalypse on the rise. Comic relief via dialogue is a powerful tool and the final use at the very end of the novel is just perfect, but in almost every conversation, it becomes tiring and destroys the reader’s belief in the credibility of the story.

Negative aspects aside, there are quite a few good things to complement Mister Gustainis upon, such as his bravery regarding sex. Few ever dared to throw in orgies that have demons in and incorporate bestiality moments, a scene that stunned me as a matter of fact and was one of the few moments that created a very sinister atmosphere of decadence and dread in the novel. Also the scene, where Colleen had to play it cheap hooker in order to get the info she needed for the case to move on underlines how dire the situation is, even though it’s very un-FBI thing to do.

I am also very pleased with the world building angle. Gustainis has done some very heavy research to get down the principles of magic right and authentic as much as the complex system allows such a task to be performed. You won’t notice any deviation from the previous installment in the series, just a sort of expanding what has already been established in rules and possibilities. As much as I am a fan of the Japanese “I have a nuclear power plant rivaling load of energy” I find it refreshing to see that magic through most of the novel is very hard to get going and produce immediate effects, which usually takes up a lot of work that once interrupted can result into a catastrophe of some degree.

As a whole, “Evil Ways” is a good concept with an execution that didn’t manage to stir much of a reaction out of me. I am not sure I am in the capacity to recommend or warn off people as the experience as a whole was bittersweet and confusing. I still can’t make up my kind about “Evil Ways”, but there are enough reviews to show you a different perspective.

Different Opinions:
Darque Reviews
SciFiGuy.ca
Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews
Monsters and Critics
Fatally Yours
Love Vampires

[review] DEADER STILL by Anton Strout

deaderstill-1

DEADER STILL
Simon Canderous Series, Book 2
Anton Strout
Penguin/Ace, 2009

Plot Summary: It’s been 737 days since the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ last vampire incursion, but that streak appears to have ended when a boat full of dead lawyers is found in the Hudson River. Using the power of psychometry—the ability to divine the history of an object by touching it—agent Simon Canderous discovers that the booze cruise was crashed by something that sucked all the blood out of the litigators. Now, his workday may never end—until his life does. [Amazon].

Creature Feature: Humans with powers, zombies, vampires.

Originality: Although the police/detective style of Urban Fantasy may not be original, Strout’s take on it certainly is.  It’s humorous without being schlocky, irreverent without being insulting and poignant at times as well.  I also admit that I love the goofy names for the courses on the D.E.A. pamphlets too.

Characterization: Simon is definitely tested as his relationships with his past, girlfriend, partner and standing within the Department of Extraordinary affairs are all strained in one way or another.  But even with wounded pride, ego or psyche, he forges ahead to do what he thinks is right to protect the city of New York and those he care about most.

Believability: Mr. Strout uses a geek-centric vernacular, setting (Comic Con) and the city of New York to set the stage for the mystery of what or who killed all of those lawyers on their ill-fated cruise.  These elements are used well in delivering humor, creepiness factor and most of all, believability to the story.

Storytelling: Mr. Strout uses a lot of atmospheric detail by way of dialogue and using key locations in New York as the backdrop for the story.  He pokes at life, bureaucracy and relationships with a witty stick.   His prose is smart, economical and funny.  I found it unique and refreshing.

Badass Factor: Many of Simon Canderous’ friends and foes alike are pretty badass, including his girlfriend Jane.  Simon, himself, isn’t really badass.  He is just a guy with psychometric power and a bat who wants to set things right and that makes you want to root for him.

Too Stupid To Live Moments: It is that aforementioned need to set things right that sometimes has him barreling into situations with little or no backup but he somehow manages to survive but not always unscathed.

Notable Quotes: I like this how this exchange highlights Mina’s flavor of crazy.

“Pay well, does it?” she said.  “Playing Sanford and Son?”

“I make my rent,” I said with a dismissive shrug.

This allows you to pay rent?” she said, not believing me.  She shook the shark as she spoke and the tiny garbage fell out of its mouth.    Its jaws snapped shut.

“Please put that down,” I requested, not wanting to sound too desperate.

“Sure, Candy,” she said all rainbows and sunshine now.  I wondered if I had been this bipolar back then as well.  “No problem.”

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy.  Deader Still is a fun, interesting and witty read.  It is something a little different with a male protagonist, tongue in cheek attitude and interesting mystery.  I would definitely recommend reading Dead to Me first.

Anton’s Website

League of Reluctant Adults

Lisa Trevethan

[review] ROAD TRIP OF THE LIVING DEAD by Mark Henry

henry_roadtrip2ROAD TRIP OF THE LIVING DEAD
Amanda Feral-Celebrity Ghoul, Book 2
Mark Henry
2009, Kensington

Plot Summary: Celebrity party girl Amanda Feral is back from the dead, and hungrier than ever for a good time. With her zombie gal pal Wendy and vampy gay sidekick Gil, this stone cold fox is dressed to kill, on the prowl, and ready to take a big juicy bite out of Seattle’s supernatural nightlife. But what’s a zombie chick to do when her ‘Mommie Dearest’ gets sick? If you’re Amanda Feral, you can either ignore the wicked old witch – or bury the past by visiting Ethel before she kicks it. Amanda’s not thrilled about the idea of crossing three states just to be criticized. But Wendy, who’s always looking for fresh meat, is up for the adventure. And Gil, who just launched his ‘luxury’ resurrection business, needs to disappear because a pissed-off client is out for his blood. First, they pack their stiletto pumps and plasma into a skeevy rattrap on wheels that used to be a Winnebago. Then, with a little help from a Korean-ghost hood ornament, a masochist named Fishhook, and a slew of ‘moderately accurate’ psychics, they hit the highway – their way. Of course, they’ll have to navigate past some neo-Nazi skinheads, a horny dust devil, a hunky werewolf cop (who could pass for an underwear model) and an unsightly horde of supermarket shoppers. But for this glamorous gang of ghouls this trip is about to take a dangerous detour that could give road kill a brand new meaning. [Amazon]

Creature Feature: Zombies, vampires, werewolves and ghosts.

Characterization:  In Road Trip, we get some deeper insight into Amanda’s past and see a bit beyond her steely facade to someone who has obviously had some hard knocks in life.  But she is determined to lock those moments away and rise above by using her intellect to solve life’s puzzles and her snarky attitude as a protective mechanism.

Originality:  Non-shambling, fashion forward, gainfully employed zombies?  I think that is pretty original.  I am also a fan of the footnotes and insets.  Because this is a memoir, I think they lend an Amanda-as-confidante and tour guide quality to the narrative.

Storytelling:  Mr. Henry excels at setting and description using all of the senses to punctuate the funny, gross and scary moments.  The plot meandered a bit but this is a much more character driven than plot driven series and the characters are certainly interesting enough.

Badass Factor:  With a taste for flesh and an unhingeable jaw, Amanda is inherently badass although not indiscriminate about her meals.  She usually hunts derelicts and the indigent unless cornered and needs to kill in self defense.

TSTL Moments (Too Stupid to Live):  Amanda is too aware of her surroundings and too savvy to really have TSTL moments.  Usually the mayhem is brought upon her by her friends or circumstance.

Notable Quotes:  There are too many for me to pick just one, so I picked one of my favorite chapter quotes instead.

Chapter 13 Road Games and Gamey Discussion

Genuinely weird celebrities are rarely among the undead.  You’d imagine Tim Burton might be hiding a zombie secret, or his wife, Helena Bonham Carter, for that matter.  Not so, or at least, not yet.

Celebrity Gas Chamber with Lola LeGrave

Buy/Borrow/By-pass:  Buy.  Mr. Henry is writing some of the most unique and satirical work in the genre.  Road Trip of the Living Dead is a detour from the usual fare that will have you simultaneously laughing and cringeing all the way from Washington to South Dakota.  Installment number three, Battle of the Network Zombies, is scheduled for release in March, 2010.

Mark Henry’s Website

Mark Henry’s Blog

League of Reluctant Adults

Lisa Trevethan

[review] WHITE WITCH, BLACK CURSE by Kim Harrison

wwbcWHITE WITCH, BLACK CURSE

The Rachel Morgan Series, Book 7

Kim Harrison

Copyright 2009, Eos Publishing

Plot Summary: Some wounds take time to heal . . . and some scars never fade.

Rachel Morgan, kick-ass witch and bounty hunter, has taken her fair share of hits, and has broken lines she swore she would never cross. But when her lover was murdered, it left a deeper wound than Rachel ever imagined, and now she won’t rest until his death is solved . . . and avenged. Whatever the cost.

Yet the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and when a new predator moves to the apex of the Inderlander food chain, Rachel’s past comes back to haunt her.

Literally. From Amazon

Creature Feature: witches, vampires, werewolves, demons, pixies, fairies, gargoyles

Worldbuilding: Set in an alternate Cincinnati, Harrison’s myriad of supernatural races are out in the open and living amongst humans. Each race has their own well thought out mythology and quirks that lend themselves to the believability and originality of the world.

**Reviewer’s Note**

This book could have been called Revelations.  There are quite a few things that are revealed in this book and because we are a spoiler-free blog, it is making it extremely hard to review this book  in a plain spoken, cohesive manner.  Please forgive any cryptic allusions and feel free to come back to this post and talk about your thoughts on the book once you’ve had a chance to read it.

Storytelling:  Harrison’s ability to pull you into her world never ceases to amaze me.  A scene where Rachel recalls  a pivotal event was so heartbreaking and beautiful, it left me in tears.  Unfortunately, I had issues with several major plot points in this book that I  have included in a spoilers portion in white text.

**Spoilers [I wasn’t really happy with the way Rachel’s brother Robbie’s character was developed.  He seemed to be a supportive older brother in the beginning but when things got bad for Rachel he not only didn’t support her but convinced her mother to move out to California with him.

I also didn’t like the way her relationship with Marshal ended.  He was saying in one sentence that nobody can tell him what to do and that he is own man and leaving her due to community pressure in the next.  I know the story dictated that her relationship with him did not continue but it just seemed contrary to his nature for him to leave her the way he did.

Lastly, I was disappointed in the identity and condition of Kisten’s killer.  We waited a long time to find out and it wasn’t anyone important to the storyline and because of the condition they found this person in, the whole thing is done.  Rachel and Ivy will never really have closure.] End Spoilers**

Badass Factor:  Rachel’s nature pretty much consists of grabbing her splat gun and busting in spells a blazin’.  Usually because someone she cares about is in trouble or because she simply feels the driving need to do the right thing at any cost.  She is sometimes afraid to confront the bad guys but it never really stops her.  Rachel’s tenacity is what makes her badass in my opinion.  Mia and Holly’s ability make them bad ass opponents as well.

TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) Moments:  While it was necessary, it wasn’t the smartest thing for Rachel to go back after the antagonist(s) while she was still physically compromised from their previous encounter.  But she did it for the right reasons.  I do have to give her credit that she does weigh the consequences of more of her actions now and shows evolution but is often still ruled by emotion.

Notable Quotes:

Jenks flew ahead to get the elevator, holding it by hovering at the sensor.  Ivy wheeled me in and around.  The doors shut, and the tragic wisdom of the children’s wing was gone.  I took a breath, and my throat tightened.

“I didn’t think you would understand them,” Ivy said softly.  “They really like you.”

“Understand them?” I said raggedly, my throat still holding that lump.  “I am them.”

Buy/Borrow/By-pass:   Buy. Kim Harrison is a master storyteller and even though I had some issues with the directions some of the plot threads took, I still love her writing.  There were many tense, tender and revealing moments in the book.  Even this far in the series, her characters are still learning, growing and revealing themselves.

Lisa Trevethan