Cupcakes and Magic? Yes please

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , on September 7, 2014 by crookedreviews

Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic

So I recently had a birthday and for that birthday I got a Kindle gift card. Among the many, many books I picked up was the Dowser series by Meghan Ciana Doidge. These books feature Jade Godfrey, half-witch and full time baker. She owns a cupcake shop in Vancouver called Cake in a Cup. Godfrey herself admits that this is an unimaginative but accurate name. Jade Godfrey, we learn, has a type of magic that basically means she’s a human dowsing rod. She can taste magic, tell what from sight if an item has any sort of magical signature in it and put these random items together into something a bit more coherent. This last bit, which she doesn’t start out really knowing about, makes her even more rare in her magical world. She’s an Alchemist. That is, she can make magical items, basically through force of will.

Jade is raised by her grandmother since her mom was sixteen when Jade was born. Her mom is apparently still something of a wild child, even twenty some odd years later. Jade was also raised alongside foster sister Sienna, who has the capability of binding things to her. Jade is pretty content just to run her cupcake shop and hunt down her little semi-magical trinkets. She doesn’t think too much about what she could be doing with her magic. She’s happy.

And then a vampire comes to her shop. He can’t get in because the wards of her shop, set by her grandmother, keep him out unless invited. But just having a vampire, who is apparently far too interested in her little trinkets in the window, is highly unusual and quite creepy. Turns out, in Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (the first book of the series), the vampire is hunting down a killer who has killed several werewolves. At first it was thought to be another vampire but once that was ruled out, the next suspect was Jade because at least one of her trinkets was found at the site of a murder.

Over all I enjoyed these books. They’re fun and I wanted to eat all of the cupcakes the author mentioned. And I’m not even a chocolate fan. However, this point kinda stuck in my craw a bit. These trinkets that Jade make are either hanging in her shop windows or they’re in her apartment. Jade herself doesn’t do much with them once she feels that they are complete. The only other person who has access to these trinkets is her foster sister Sienna. 

So right away Jade knows that these trinkets are at the scenes of the murders and that only a couple of people have access to them. She knows that she didn’t kill any werewolves so that leaves…duh duh DUUUUHN! Sienna. And yet it takes Jade a whole, relatively short book to realize that her sister is the killer. Now to be fair, Jade is not a PI or a cop as a lot of urban fantasy protagonists tend to be. She’s a baker. But Vancouver’s “Adept” community is so, so small that there are only so many people it could be.

Nothing bothers me more than a lead character who is willfully obtuse. I could figure out what was going on half way through the book (or earlier), so the character really should have as well. I would have liked to see Jade figure this out quickly and spend the second half of the book 1) struggling to coming to terms with the fact that her sister is a killer (because face it, that would be hard) and 2) a more thrilling hunt of said sister. What we get is a rather crunched hunt for Sienna with an ‘oh by the way, Jade is much more than we ever thought of’ tossed in almost haphazardly at the end. The final two books deal more with the first point.

Still, I enjoyed it well enough to pick up the other two books in the series, Trinkets, Treasures and Other Bloody Magic and Treasures, Demons and Other Black Magic. In the follow up books, Jade gets a bit better about not being totally oblivious to just about everything, but only just. Luckily she is a likable enough character and you really want to know just how she’s going to deal with her sister (who doesn’t get her comeuppance at the end of the first book) that you can overlook the moments of stupidity. Then again, no one really likes the ‘perfect’ character do they? It wouldn’t make for a fun or interesting story if your main character knew all protocol or knew the extent of their magic etc. Jade grows with each book and that’s the important part. So far there are three books. The author, Meghan Ciana Doidge, could stop there with the series or she could go on. There’s a hint that there could be at least a fourth book but I don’t know if anything is coming down the pike. I’d probably read it if there was.

At any rate, if you’re looking for something that is a bit on the lighter side and a quick read, you couldn’t go wrong with the Dowser series. Rating: B

By Special Request

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , on August 23, 2014 by crookedreviews

The Scriptlings by Sorin SuciuSo for the first time ever, I was recently contacted to review a book. That’s exciting. After a day or so thought I decide why not? Getting asked to review a book is awesome and not something that happens every day, though I did make it clear that no good review was guaranteed. I’ll give it a shot and speak my mind.

That being said…Did you like Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett? You did? Well good! Not only is Good Omens a personal favorite of mine, but the book I was asked to review is quite a bit in that vein.

So I present you with The Scriptlings by Sorin Suciu. This is an urban fantasy novel set in Toronto, Canada. Now, to give a bit of a fair warning there is some toilet-y humor to this book. The Magicians in this book all take new names when they begin their study, all of them happen to be…well unconventional is probably the best term. The lead characters are: Master Loo (British slang for toilet), Master Sewer, Merkin (If you don’t know what this is, I’m not telling you but be real careful if you Google) and Buggeroff (the first thing the poor lad said following an evening of getting spectacularly drunk).

When I read the blurb about this book on Smashwords, I started grinning. I knew immediately that I would enjoy this book and I was right. Hint: Take advantage of the footnotes. They add to the humor.

So, our story starts out with ‘heroine’ Merkin being grounded (magic stifled) by her Master (Master Dung) due to her insubordination. Now partly this is due to Merkin being not a very good person (seriously, I wouldn’t have minded if she’d been grievously injured or worse) and part of it is Master Dung being a complete and total asshole. So, Merkin being tired of Dung (and really who isn’t?), she figures out a way to get her magic back and ends up killing Master Dung.

What she doesn’t realize is that killing Master Dung notifies one of his former Scriptlings (this world’s term for a novice or learning magician) and knocks her out for about two days. When she comes to, she gets talked into a corner by Master Sewer. In exchange for him not turning her into the authorities for murder, she will become his Scriptling. And by the laws of magicians, he gets to keep Master Dung’s estate since Sewer is Dung’s eldest Scriptling.

Elsewhere in Toronto, young Simon is working a dead end job despite his degree in computer science when one day he gets an interesting email about a job offer. It seems tailored just for him (it is but he doesn’t know this yet) so he decides to check it out after just a teeny bit of deliberation. For his trouble, he gets killed. :-O And then he wakes up. You see, Simon was 100% non-magical which made him the perfect tabula rasa for Master Loo’s most ongoing experiment: giving Magic to those who have none. Unfortunately, this requires killing the subject.

Except this time (this time, meaning he’s killed quite a few people) it works! Simon comes back to life and ends up with the self-chosen Magician name of Buggeroff. Simon was a good choice of subject because apparently magic is quite a bit like software coding, only using Latin, Russian and Sumerian. I think this is quite the unique take on magic in fantasy novels. A very nice touch.

The stories of Buggeroff and Merkin start out separate and twine together nicely over the course of the novel. It was a refreshingly new take on urban fantasy and the potentially apocalyptic story line.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I think that if you like Good Omens or even some Douglas Adams, then you will like this book. Rating: B+ 

The Palace Job

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by crookedreviews

The Palace Job by Patrick WeekesSo I rarely go for straight up fantasy novels. I really prefer urban fantasy as my addiction of choice. I like to see how writers like Jim Butcher, Richard Kadrey and Simon R. Green mix the fantastical with the ‘real’ world. That being said, I really enjoyed this book The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. It is pretty straight up fantasy but I did question whether it was some really far future, post-apocalypse thing as French was at one point referred to as an ‘old language’. To be fair, French is a fairly old language by even our standards but the way it was referred to in the book made me the old as in a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away rather than Middle Ages sort of old.

At any rate, we start off the book with our main characters Loch and her trusty sidekick Kail (I think that was how it was spelled, though it would be funny if it were spelled like the veggie) locked up in the most impossible to escape prison of the time. Its Alcatraz, you could say. This prison is located directly beneath the floating city of Heaven’s Spire and it is, in fact, the job of the prisoners to clean the crystals that keep the city afloat.

Loch and Kail ended up there for illegally attempting to enter Heaven’s Spire (for a sort of reference, Heaven’s Spire is a bit like Elysium, only the wealthiest get to live there and visiting is damn near impossible). They were set up to get arrested and Loch is only trying to regain something that rightfully belongs to her, an Elven scroll that will allow her and Kail to live comfortably. They had fought in a war (for the winning side) and had been declared killed in action. Rather hard to hold down a job when you’re dead.

Loch plans a brilliant escape with the help of Kail and another inmate. Once that is done, Loch continues to plot the heist she had originally planned on, with new people that she could trust. Of course, being escaped convicts, they do get the law coming down after them. Justicar Pyvic is considered a very neutral and trustworthy Justicar (my take on Justicars is that they’re rather like Judge Dredd, sort of a police/judge rolled into one but I could be wrong). Unfortunately. he has the bungling warden of the prison along for the ride and the man just keeps letting their quarry escape.

There is quite a bit of Simon R. Green-esque dry humor in this book, which I love but there is also just some upfront ‘blue’ language. Kail, in particular, is a fan of the your mom jokes. He knows at least one in every language and absolutely must taunt his opponent with one before engaging. There’s a ‘unicorn’ who continually tries to hook up with virgins (once she’s had them and they’re no longer virgins, she’s no longer interested).  This is like Ocean’s 11 meets fairy tales. It is quite entertaining and there’s another book coming out in a month or two. :) I think this wouldn’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Rating: solid B.

Property of a Lady Faire

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2014 by crookedreviews

 

Property of a Lady Faire

Property of a Lady Faire

Spoilers be here. Faire (see what I did there?) warning since this is a relatively new book. Property of a Lady Faire is the latest in Simon R. Green’s Secret History novels. We start out with plucky hero Edwin Drood running from the guardians of the Vatican’s secret vaults. The guardians look like nuns and priest to begin with and then, with how he wrote it, turned in to Ringwraiths (or similar). Eddie was charged with replacing a book that the Droods felt the Vatican shouldn’t have access to. It would just upset them.

With his mission on the brink of success, Eddie uses the Merlin Glass to escape to Soho in London where he has another job. Something or someone is selling secrets from the Wulfshead Club. Since the Wulfshead is rather Vegas like in that whatever is done or said there, stays there, the management is understandable upset. And they want to get to the bottom of it. So they call Eddie in under the guise of his alter ego, Shaman Bond.

Shaman schmoozes among the clients, listening to what is and isn’t being said and is right in time for shit to go down (naturally, as he is the star of the book). People start disappearing and Eddie uses a bit of his golden torc to See that there is something wrong with the many, many televisions in the Club. Something is reaching through and snatching people because what is better than listening to secrets? Getting them directly from the source (or sources as they’re snatching damn near all the patrons).

Eddie gets mad and confronts the possessed tellys (that’s British slang for TVs, fellow Yanks). He makes it quite clear that everyone is to be returned to the club unharmed and this insidious surveillance removed or he will get very upset. Suddenly, violently and all over the place. That all said and done, everyone is returned and we find out that the government is behind the whole thing (the representative being old pal Alan Diment who really doesn’t like Eddie or the Droods).

The Club management thanks Eddie, tells him that they owe him a favor and drop him off directly on the grounds of Drood Hall. This is something that shouldn’t be able to happen so Eddie (and the family) are necessarily worried. They’ve had a lot of attacks on the Hall recently after all. So Eddie ambles on up to the Hall, collecting Molly on the way and goes to meet the family council. He doesn’t really want to, he rather hates the bureaucracy, but his grandmother left him something in her will (of course, she did die several books ago but there are traditions to be maintained apparently).

Among other things, the Matriarch appointed her sister (the gardener) as Matriarch because she feels the family needs a Matriarch and she leaves Eddie a box. This box is rather like a mini monolith from 2001/2010 in that they haven’t been able to open or scan it. Its set so only Eddie can open it and he doesn’t really want it, not the least because the Matriarch’s will specifically stated that it is something that will make him undisputed head of the family (I can’t wait to see what this turns out to be). Eddie basically tells the lot of them to shove off (again) and leaves with the box in tow (he may not want it but he doesn’t want any of them to have it either).

Business done, he and Molly go to visit his grandfather, the Regent of Shadows. They want to know why he killed Molly’s parents (who, from what I understand, were not good people at all). Unfortunately, they’re too late. Someone has taken down his organization, every last one of them, including the Regent himself. Which really should have been impossible since he had Kayleigh’s Eye physically implanted in his chest.

The thing that did that (referred to as the Voice by Eddie because they have no way of telling what it is beyond the voice they’re hearing) wants Eddie to retrieve the Lazarus Stone or else Eddie’s parents are dead. Again. Well, for realsies this time. Neither Eddie nor Molly know what the hell a Lazarus Stone is so Eddie goes the only place he can…back to Drood Hall to talk to the Drood in Cell13.

This Drood (Laurence) used to be the family Armourer before Jack. He did something to himself that affected his brain. He now knows everything in the old and new Drood libraries, not to mention every new thing that happens within Drood Hall. He doesn’t appear to age any longer and the family all agreed (including poor Laurence) that he was too much of a danger to the family to be allowed to roam free so they built him a very specialized prison cell.

Laurence is definitely more than a little batshit and he tugs Molly and Eddie around by the nose a bit but eventually tells them that the Lazarus Stone is a bit of the stone that was rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb so Jesus could raise him from the dead. Supposedly. In the end, the best explanation we have as to what this thing can do is that its some sort of mechanism (possibly alien in origin) that has to do with time travel. He also hints that Eddie’s late grandfather, the Regent, last had the stone. This they already know so with Droods bearing down on them thanks to all sorts of alarms, they run off to the Armoury to talk to Jack (one of my personal favorite characters in this series).

Jack eventually tells Eddie that his brother James had the stone and gave it to a woman he actually loved, a courtesan of Frankensteinian make called the Lady Faire. She was apparently made to be everyone’s perfect sexual object (men, women, other). She had many lovers and more ex-lovers and James knew that she’d never be his and yet love makes you do silly things.

The rest of the book is Eddie and Molly facing increasing odds as they try to figure out a way to 1) find the Lady Faire and 2) get close enough to her to take this. Of course, things aren’t that straight forward and there is a bit of a twist toward the end that is quite good (made me grin really). I loved this book and I was really temped to immediately start reading it again. In fact, I may just have to go back and reread it right now. Highly recommended, rating: A+.

Skin Game-Jim Butcher

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2014 by crookedreviews
Skin Game

Skin Game cover courtesy of Jim Butcher’s own website: http://www.jim-butcher.com. Visit it!

Oh Jim. Jimmy Jim, Jimmy Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim!* You have done it again. Absolute brilliance. Parkour! In case you needed to be told specifically, there be SPOILERS here.

Lucky old me got to meet Mr. Butcher (ish) at a signing just days after Skin Game came out and I got my copy signed! *fangirlsquee!* I hadn’t quite finished it by the time that I got to the signing but I did shortly thereafter and I have to say, I was not disappointed. Holy cow what a great book.

So we start out with Harry on his island/prison working out to keep in shape. He’s doing his own version of parkour among the creatures that are locked away in there. While shouting PARKOUR at the top of his lungs. Like ya do. His workout is cut short by the appearance of Queen Mab.

She has an assignment for Harry as the Winter Knight. She owes someone a favor. A very large favor. And that person has called in his chit because he has a very tricky assignment to be done and he needs Harry for part of it. Harry is suspicious and he’s right to be. The person Mab wants him to work for: Nicodemus  of the Knights of the Blackened Denarius.

At first, Harry refuses but Mab tells him that dire consequences would be fall him and the whole of the mortal world. Convinced but not happy, Harry and Mab meet with Nicodemus. After the meeting, Harry realizes that Mab wants Harry to be, well, Harry. Harry, who is known for fighting to thwart Nicodemus (among others) and just generally thumbing his nose at those who should make him cower.

Harry agrees to this whole scheme so long as he can bring in one person that he trusts to watch his back. Nicodemus is desperate enough to agree and Harry pulls in Karin Murphy to help. They aren’t the only players and soon enough they’re meeting with a number others who all have special, magical sneak thief talents. We get reintroduced to Binder from Turn Coat, along with several new people including a warlock that the White Council had been after for years.

We also get to see Michael and Maggie and Mouse. Special appearance by Hades himself and Butters. Oh magnificent Butters. I’ve always loved him but he was magnificent in this book. I do hope we get to see Thomas in the next book. Miss him.

I won’t go into too much detail since this book is in print but it is a brilliant, brilliant book. One of my all time favorite Dresden Files. I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. And, well, all the Dresden Files books really. Rating: A++

Magic Bites

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , on June 1, 2014 by crookedreviews

urban_fantasy_book_magic_bitesAaaaaaaaaah finally. New job, less time to do things like blog. Ah well, I have plenty of books to review. :) Let’s start with Ilona Andrew’s Magic Bites. This is book one of the Kate Daniels series. In this we are introduced to mercenary Kate Daniels. The book starts with her “fresh” off a case (covered in nasty goo and sewage is not fresh by any means) when she gets word that her old guardian has died. Been murdered actually.

Knowing that he was far too good at being a Knight for the Order of Merciful Aid, Kate knows it had to be a really bad situation. So she knows that she really needs to find who killed him. To do this, she heads down to Atlanta via ley line (convenient and quick but dangerous way to travel). She gets the okay from the Order of Merciful Aid to look into the guy’s death but with the understanding that she’s on her own. They’re not going to provide her back up (despite them really wanting to get revenge as well) but they won’t get in the way either.

Naturally things go wrong from the off. The Masters of the Dead (those who control the empty shell vampires) want her to find the murderer because a number of their vampires have also been brutally murdered (literally torn apart). And of course their natural enemies, the were/shifters, also want the murderer…but neither side wants to cooperate with the other. They’ll cooperate somewhat with Kate but never with each other. In fact, they currently think each other is to blame…with Kate right in the middle. So a bit of a cliche sitch right there but the good writing more than makes up for it.

Kate Daniels is not an investigator. She’s a mercenary. She tracks things down and kills them. Occasionally she bodyguards.  So it isn’t quite out of character for her to be stumbling along trying to fix things and actually doing a bit of bungling from the off. The nice thing about the lead character not being an investigator of some sort (PI, cop, fed etc) is that its harder to for you the reader to figure out the main villain is before the denouement. I love that in a book. I’m the kind of person who figured out the “twist” ending in The Sixth Sense less than half way through the movie. I’m always slightly disappointed if its easy to figure out the big bad in any fantasy book from the get go.

This is a pretty good book to get into the series with but I don’t necessarily think that you need to read it first. Personally, I like reading a book series in order as it tends to make things easier but not always. It introduces you to the main players in this series well enough and gives you a good mystery to boot. The one thing I couldn’t really wrap my head around at this point in the whole series is the Kate/Curran relationship.

I mean, sure, there’s a lot to be said for pure physical/sexual attraction (and boy does Kate fight that every step of the way) but Curran is overbearing as all hell. If a guy in real life treated me the way that Curran treats Kate (or any other woman for that matter), he’d be out on his ass long before sex ever came in the picture. Sure, a strong and confident man is sexy as hell (to me at least) but this guy expects to get his way. In everything. That’s not cool. He doesn’t deserve a woman just because he’s the Beast Lord. That’s creepy and, well, rapey.

Their relationship changes over the course of the series and Curran gets a bit better but he’s still a character I’d like to hit over the head with something and just yell “REALLY?!” right in his face. At any rate, I enjoyed this book (260ish pages in three hours? Yup, liked it). I recommend the series. Rating: A+

Kate Daniels

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by crookedreviews

Kate Daniels seriesA while ago I read this anthology called Dark and Stormy Knights. In it was this short story featuring a mercenary named Kate Daniels. The story was called A Questionable Client and Kate was hired to protect a very wealthy person from some Russian magic users. I really enjoyed this story but I didn’t know if this was a one off short like a lot of what ends up in these urban fantasy anthologies or if it was part of a series.

It turns out that it was sort of a prequel short story for the Kate Daniels series by husband and wife writers Ilona Andrews. I’d never checked this series out before and I’m rather glad I did. Kate Daniels et al exist in a world where magic and technology exist in waves. When magic is up, no technology works. This means anything from an automatic gun (why, I don’t know) to electric lights and vehicles (phones occasionally work though no one knows why). When technology is up, nothing magic works (cars that run on magic, fey lanterns, wards, spells). Because of the unpredictability of these switch offs, things like planes and tall buildings are no-nos. Magic eats tall buildings apparently.

This is a sort of post-magical-apocalypse world where magic users, shifters and other magical creatures exist. In this world, vampires are blank puppets run by so called Masters of the Dead (which I take to mean necromancers).  There are more types of shifters than just werewolves. Take for example one of the main characters, the Beast Lord. He is a were-lion which is apparently quite rare. The Beast Lord (Curran) controls all the shifters in the Atlanta area (anywhere from 3-1200 at any given time) to keep them from going ‘loupe’ (feral) so that humans don’t kill them.

The main character of the series is, obviously, Kate Daniels, who starts out as a mercenary and ends up as a liaison between the Mercenary Guild and the Order of Merciful Aid (they’ll help anyone but they could end up killing the client if they deem him/her/it a danger to humanity). She was raised to be a killer and she’s good at it. She’s got a goal she’s working toward and she will do it eventually.

Kate is one of those bad ass chicks that stays bad ass the whole time, even when she eventually decides that yes she does have a thing for Beast Lord Curran. She doesn’t just roll over and play the damsel in distress, which I love. A lot of these so called strong female characters out there will be strong…until a man gets in the picture. Then all of a sudden she can’t figure out when end of the sword to use (hint: its the pointy end). To be fair, she does have to get rescued by Curran from time to time BUT more often than not its because she saved his bacon first and is so near death that she can’t save herself.

I really enjoyed this series and plan on doing a more in depth review of each book. There is action, there is snark and there is just enough romance to make things interesting without it being all about the sex (which doesn’t happen until book 3-4 by the way). I highly, highly recommend these books as I burned though all of them in about a week. I’m hoping I can pick up the other short stories without buying the anthologies that they’re a part of, but we’ll see. Rating: A+

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