Daily Archives: June 8, 2016

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Annihiliation Score – Book 6 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

Standard

Dr. Mo O’Brien is an intelligence agent at the top secret government agency known as ‘the Laundry’. When occult powers threaten the realm, they’ll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses. But the Laundry is recovering from a devastating attack and when average citizens all over the country start to develop supernatural powers, the police are called in to help. theannihiliationscoreMo is appointed as official police liaison, but in between dealing with police bureaucracy, superpowered members of the public and disgruntled politicians, Mo discovers to her horror that she can no longer rely on her marriage, nor on the weapon that has been at her side for eight years of undercover work, the possessed violin known as ‘Lecter’. Also, a mysterious figure known as Dr Freudstein has started sending threatening messages to the police, but who is he and what is he planning?

I recently caught up with this excellent series when I got hold of The Rhesus Chart – see my review here – and this book is very much its companion piece. This extract from the Laundry Files is told in Mo’s viewpoint, rather than Bob’s, the usual protagonist who features in these adventures. Mo is Bob’s wife, who is sent out to regularly confront the grisly and terrible creatures with her bone violin. The sticker on the violin case THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS isn’t a joke… So it was treat to actually have her first person viewpoint.

I’ve read a few reviews complaining about what a bitch she is – but she’s teetering on the edge of full PTSD, while wrestling for control of her soul and psyche with the violin she uses as a weapon. If Stross had presented her as a softer-edged character, full of concerns about her husband’s woes while all this grief was piling up at her door, the book would have gone flying across the room. Of course, she’s taken up with her own concerns – I think Stross has done a first class job of writing her. The only grizzle I have is the rather constant harping on about middle-aged women turning invisible – given she’s beautiful (Bob has told us she is and I’ve no reason to doubt him) and only in her early forties, she shouldn’t be turning into wallpaper given the strength and charisma she displays in other situations. It grated because, while it can be a problem for women who have spent their vital years running around after spoilt children and a demanding spouse, Mo clearly doesn’t fall into that category so it struck a false note.

However, it’s a relatively minor niggle in a tour de force. Mo’s spiky tetchiness pings off the pages as she finds herself attending meetings and trying to defend her fledgling department’s performance. Being mired in office politics and powerpoint presentations while trying to save the world from the outbreak of superhero powers manifesting within the general population seems an all too realistic probability. I also really enjoyed the discussions about the uniforms they are supposed to be wearing. While Mo doesn’t have the sardonic, world-weary humour Bob regularly displays, there was plenty in this book that had me quietly grinning.

But her gritted desperation as she battles to hold it all together without Bob’s support is palpable. I found her timed crying jags very poignant – especially as there isn’t an ounce of self pity on display. The storyline worked well within the series, though I’m aware there is a steady heightening of the stakes and I do wonder how it plays out and whether they all survive intact. This particular crisis was brought to a satisfying end, though I have found myself pondering this book quite a bit since I finished reading it – always a strong sign I’ve read something special. This is a great addition and, for me, one of the best books in the series to date.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Standard

Having all the depth of a pavement puddle, my attention was caught by the intriguing title and enigmatic cover to this urban fantasy – would I enjoy it?

lastcallatthenightshadeloungeCollege grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore.

I was a tad concerned that it would lurch into horror, but I needn’t have worried. There is nothing in this fast-paced, enjoyable paranormal adventure to keep me awake, apart from the fact that I didn’t want to put it down… The idea of using cocktails to focus and strengthen the inherent life magic running through the body is a really nifty one and Krueger uses it with deftness in this appealing story.

I enjoyed The Devil’s Water Dictionary, which is the almanac that demon-fighting bartenders use to mix up their magic elixirs, and extracts appear throughout the story. It gives recipes for a variety of cocktails, as well as potted histories of how these have been used in the past – think of the asides J.K. Rowling added about long-dead witches and wizards in the Harry Potter series. This is a more intense version. Did I skim any of these extracts? Yep, near the end, when the action was hotting up and I was keen to know what was happening to Bailey and her companions. But afterwards I flipped back to read those extracts again, because I enjoyed them.

One of the other main strengths of this story is Bailey Chen, the driven, geeky heroine who seems to have hit something of a dead end, when she is offered a job at the rundown Nightshade Lounge and stumbles upon what really goes on there. She is clever, courageous and good in a crisis, but she is also arrogant, judgemental, with poor people skills and I found her immensely appealing. She is supported by a cast of quirky characters, who are all rather eccentric and a convincing villain. I was also pleased to see that her parents turn out to be pleasant and make a real effort to try to help her do the right thing for her own happiness – in YA/New Adult books, I do get a tad fed up with authority figures being psychotically unpleasant.

In short, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, with plenty of action, appealing characters and a nicely original twist on the usual urban fantasy trope. If your taste runs to urban fantasy adventures that aren’t unduly gory or steamy, then consider tracking this one down – it will make an ideal summer read. The ebook arc copy of Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10