After discovering the Friday Face-off set of covers for Industrial Magic, it reminded me of this lovely series all over again – so I decided to feature a review of one of my favourite Otherworld characters that I posted back in January 2015…
BLURB: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For renowned medium Jaime Vegas there’s just one problem. Unlike her colleagues, Jaime is the real deal: and she knows that the house is truly haunted. Not by dead film stars, but by something even stranger and much more disturbing.
A tragic mystery lurks in the maze of gardens behind the house: trapped spirits that only Jaime can hear. As their whispers grow more frantic, Jaime – along with Alpha werewolf Jeremy Danvers – is forced to embark on an investigation into a shocking underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice.
REVIEW: This popular and trailblazing series, started back in 2001 with Bitten, features women caught up in the paranormal world one way or another. So while Bitten deals with Elena, a young journalist pitchforked into the middle of werewolf society – in No Humans Involved Jaime has to deal with the sudden appearance of ghosts in ‘I see dead people’ moments. Constantly… Fortunately, she does have coping strategies to prevent her going mad – one of them being that she is very well connected with a number of highly placed and powerful otherworldly characters. As this is the seventh book in the series, these characters have generally already appeared along the way. I really enjoy this feature of Armstrong’s writing – it is always a pleasure to get a different take on a protagonist in another story and she is very good at this technique.
It doesn’t hurt that Jaime, though undoubtedly glamorous and good looking, is also aware that the clock is ticking, her waistline isn’t getting any trimmer and the laughter lines are in danger of turning into crowsfeet… In other words, she reflects many of the anxieties women past a certain age can experience on a daily basis. Obviously, the fact she’s a celebrity means those concerns are heightened, but it is still something of a treat to read an urban fantasy romp that doesn’t feature a fit, perky young thing with all her vitality and good looks before her. I also love her self-deprecating humour. Of all Armstrong’s female heroines, Jaime holds a special place in my heart…
So in this murder mystery, does the story hold up around her? Oh yes. Armstrong quickly pulls us to the centre of this disturbing mystery by also giving us chilling slices in the perpetrator’s viewpoint, without revealing her identity– and it was also an enjoyable extra layer to discover that the baddie is also a woman… Meanwhile, Jaime is juggling the needs of the director, coping with professional jealousy from both her co-stars, while also trying to deal with her feelings about Jeremy Danvers, the Alpha werewolf who takes a vacation to meet her. Question is – does he also reciprocate her feelings? And is there really time for any sort of romance when there are trapped ghosts waiting for Jaime to help them?
I gobbled this book up in a couple of sittings when I should have been sleeping, but once I started reading I simply couldn’t stop. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and climactic, with a couple of surprises along the way. Great fun! And if you haven’t yet treated yourself to any of Armstrong’s keynote series – don’t start with this one, get hold of Bitten and feast on an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable world. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
We had the two older grandchildren staying over on Tuesday and Wednesday, while my daughter had a minor op. As ever, it was a treat to spend time with them – though there were some discussions about online lessons and the fact they still needed doing… We took them back on Wednesday evening, while Rebecca continued to recover. Fortunately, everything went smoothly for her.
It’s been a bitterly cold week with a vicious easterly scything through rather than around me as I step outside the door. So I’ve stayed indoors – I hate the cold and most of the week the temperature has been below freezing. At least it hasn’t been snowing here, thank goodness…
The photos this week are part of my beautiful spring flower bouquet from Himself – lovely sprays of scented narcissi – and then the hope of better days as the daffs in the garden have begun to emerge…
Last week I read:
SHORT STORY Lucky Thirteen – the Frontline series by Marko Kloos Rookie pilot Halley’s first drop ship command. A short story in the Terms of Enlistment universe. Although I enjoy reading short stories, these days I prefer longer fiction – but Himself strongly recommended this one. And since he’s got impeccable taste (after all, he fell in love with me…) this was a real treat.
AUDIOBOOK Troy – Book 3 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology by Stephen Fry The story of Troy speaks to all of us – the kidnapping of Helen, a queen celebrated for her beauty, sees the Greeks launch a thousand ships against the city of Troy, to which they will lay siege for ten whole years. It is a terrible war with casualties on all sides as well as strained relations between allies, whose consequences become tragedies.
In Troy you will find heroism and hatred, love and loss, revenge and regret, desire and despair. It is these human passions, written bloodily in the sands of a distant shore, that still speak to us today. I’ve loved this series – and listening to this latest retelling, narrated by Fry himself and largely based upon Homer’s Illiad, was a real treat. Though Fry’s not wrong about it being a terrible war…
Out of Nowhere – Book 1 of The Immortal Vagabond Healer series by Patrick LeClerc Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind army lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love. But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.
When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future. This fantasy was such an enjoyable ride. I particularly liked the fact that Sean is a paramedic and I’ll definitely be getting the second book in this intriguing and different adventure. Review to follow.
The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. This was another fantasy adventure with an engaging and different protagonist – this time a tough, streetwise teen living in a post-apocalyptic Edinburgh who can talk to ghosts finds herself trying to help a dead mother find her missing child. Review to follow.
Frozen Stiff Drink – Book 6 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney A winter blizzard barrels toward Wharton County with a vengeance. Madam Zenya predicted the raging storm would change the course of Kellan’s life, but the famed seer never could’ve prepared him for all the collateral damage.
Nana D disappears after visiting a patient at Willow Trees, leaving behind a trail of confusion. When the patient turns up dead, and second body is discovered beneath the snowbanks, Kellan must face his worst fears. What tragedy has befallen his beloved grandmother? I’ve been following this enjoyable contemporary cosy murder mystery series. And once again, hapless Kellan trips over another body in upsetting circumstances. This time, not even the weather is behaving itself. Cudney is very good at producing an endless supply of plausible suspects and I stayed up way later than I should to discover what happened next. Review to follow.
It was the premise of this one that caught my eye. Having been a huge fan of the TV series MASH back in the 1970s, seeing references to Hawkeye and Hot Lips stopped me in my tracks. And then it was a no-brainer to pick this one up.
BLURB:Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.
The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life. At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul.
Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret…
REVIEW: This is definitely a quirky, unusual fantasy book, set within a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital where Petra Robichaud works as a surgeon. The catch is that the MASH unit is located near a tarpit in Limbo and the war is a never-ending one. A fair number of the patients they are treating are immortal, which poses its own problems, apparently. If you don’t get to them quickly, bones set at wrong angles and massive injuries can have organs healing into peculiar shapes, or unable to function exactly as they were intended. Such is the life of a surgeon dealing with immortals, among other types of soldiers…
She shares her tent with a depressed werewolf, who is missing his family horribly and a perpetually annoyed vampire, who gets very fed up when he emerges from his coffin to discover his cuff links have been used to fix a tear in the canvas. As in the old TV show, while the overall setting has the capacity to be utterly grim, the madcap humour the medics use to keep themselves sane is used within this book. Fox has re-issued this one to feature more on the humour – and I think her instincts were spot on. I couldn’t have got to the end if it had been a miserable ansty read, all about Petra’s personal tragedy.
As it is, we learn what makes her quite so grouchy about two-thirds through what is essentially a romance. Though the ongoing story of the war and the big game-changer that suddenly makes it far more critical to be on the winning side does play a major part in the ongoing narrative. Overall, I enjoyed the originality of the story and I thought that most of the time, the developing love story was handled well, though towards the end it did get just a tad mushy for my taste. But bear in mind, I generally enjoy my romances as a side dish, rather than the main course. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of The Monster MASH from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This book is set in the world of The Laundry Files and is a spinoff. I love this series – see my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex. So you don’t need to have read any of the former books, as the character cast is completely different – though the scenario where an ancient monster is currently in charge at No. 10 Downing Street, still applies…
BLURB: In a world where magic has gone mainstream, a policewoman and a group of petty criminals are pulled into a heist to find a forbidden book of spells that should never be opened.
A new adventure begins in the world of the Laundry Files.
REVIEW: I’d wanted to get right up to date with The Laundry Files series, thinking that this book was also set within that world and that I’d need to know what was going on. In the event I didn’t – but that meant I read two of Stross’ books back to back, which is something I generally avoid doing.
Therefore, I found it a tad difficult to initially get into this one – the world is a bit bleak and grungy and the protagonists, although sympathetic and well written, were clearly very much the underdogs. While there was humour, it came from the snark between the Imp’s ragtag band of misfits – which I didn’t initially find as appealing as Bob Howard’s magnificently dry delivery. However, they did grow on me and as the first major action scene unspooled, there were some very funny moments in amongst all the tension and danger, which I thoroughly appreciated.
Eve is a difficult character to initially bond with – she is an assistant to one of most truly horrible antagonists I’ve met for quite a while. And therefore, has to also become unpleasant – so I didn’t appreciate how much of a victim she actually was until well into the book. There was a particular bonding moment when I had a lump in my throat when reading about a scene with her parents – it was beautifully handled.
In amongst Rupert Bigge’s scramble to the top and Imp and his little gang trying to eke a living while illegally squatting in what used to be his old family home – there are also some lovely touches of magic. The time-travelling scenes back to Whitechapel Road, back in the Victorian era were genuinely creepy and vividly depicted. I loved the way the narrative played out and very much hope we get to see more of Imp, Game Boy, Del, Doc and Wendy – and of course, Eve – in future adventures. This is a cracking start to a new series that is set in contemporary Britain, where the monsters are in charge…
Highly recommended for SFF fans, who enjoy their urban fantasy with a sardonic twist and something a bit different. You don’t need to read The Laundry Files to enjoy this one. While I obtained an arc of Dead Lies Dreaming via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Dead Lies Dreaming – a Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross – release date 29th October 2020
BLURB: In a world where magic has gone mainstream, a policewoman and a group of petty criminals are pulled into a heist to find a forbidden book of spells that should never be opened.
A new adventure begins in the world of the Laundry Files.
Dead Lies Dreaming presents a nightmarish vision of a Britain sliding unknowingly towards occult cataclysm . . .
I am horribly behind with my arcs – and have only just finished the previous book in the Laundry Files adventures. It isn’t often in a long-running fantasy series that the hammer finally falls and the unthinkable comes to pass – but it has this time around. I’m fascinated to discover where Stross takes this next…If you are interested in reading more about The Laundry Files, which is truly a unique series unlike anything else I’ve read, here are my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex,The Rhesus Chart, The Annihilation Score, and The Nightmare Stacks.
I’ve known Jean as a wonderful book blogger for some years now – check out her site Jean Lee’s World and my interview with her, and you’ll know that she is an inspired writer with a quirky take on life. I read and loved her fantasy novel, Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN – see my review. I also had the pleasure of reading an early draft of this one, so was a bit flummoxed to realise that I hadn’t then bought a copy and read the finished article – surely I must have done that? Must have been in the parallel universe I keep sliding into…
BLURB: Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down. Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts. It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…
REVIEW: Lee’s punchy immersive style doesn’t take any prisoners. This one grabs you by the collar and hauls you right into the middle of the story and you’d better pay attention, or you’ll miss something vital. But that’s just fine – because I want to pay attention. Her prose sends shivers up my spine and has me alert and scenting danger, along with Sumac. I immediately care about him, even though I’m not totally sure what he is. And as for that sheriff with the squirrel-tail moustache…
Each tense exchange in this story is an event and the narrative tension only pauses to ensure no one is following. The action scenes are well described and the sensory writing means I can smell, taste and feel this freezing scenario on the outskirts of a town set in the Wild West, where the other side are also shapeshifters on the hunt…
I blew through this one in a single sitting and emerged, blinking owlishly to discover that I’m not some muscle-caked shapeshifter desperate to save the children – but a middle-aged woman who just finished a cracking story. Recommended for fans of gritty fantasy where you experience the world. 10/10
BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
NOVELLA Silver in the Wood – Book 1 of The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh BLURB: There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.
When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.
This is a lovely, otherworldly read with a strong poetic cadence that chimes well with the magical protagonist, Tobias. I loved his persona and the slow unwinding of the story – though I’m still torn, as I would have preferred to have read a fuller account, which would have probably been a novel, about the events leading up to the instant that we are first plunged into this tale. Highly recommended for fans who enjoy magical, woodland tales. 8/10
SHORT STORY The Hedgeway by Vivian Tuffnell BLURB: Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet. A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window. Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared? Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not. (This is a longer short story of around 17,000 words)
I was immediately drawn into this atmospheric short story, which is a poignant ghost story with a tragic backstory. The main characters are engaging and with the vivid, accomplished writing, I was in the neglected, rambling old house alongside the young people as they attempted to rescue it from becoming a ruin and turning it back into a home. I read this one in a single sitting and emerged blinking and slightly disorientated – as you do when you’ve been immersed in a world. A short satisfying read that isn’t too creepy or horrific, but with a definite tingle factor. 9/10
I picked this up when it was free, after one of my book blogging buddies recommended it – through I can’t recall who! Grovelly apologies and if you know you recently featured this one, nudge my elbow and I’ll namecheck you!
BLURB: For Jack Shepherd, tiger shape-shifter and former soldier, life is heading for a dead end. Dead End, Florida, to be exact. When he learns that he inherited a combination pawn shop/private investigation agency from his favorite uncle, Jack’s first job is to solve his uncle’s murder. Because sometimes it takes a tiger’s eye to see the truth.
REVIEW: This is a spinoff series – something I didn’t gather until well into the story – and it didn’t remotely impact on my enjoyment, as Day does a solidly good job of providing bonding moments with the main protagonist. As you may have gathered, this is a paranormal urban fantasy whodunit, though the shapeshifter isn’t the main protagonist featured in the blurb, instead, it’s a sparky young woman called Tess. Like many people in Dead End, she isn’t exactly normal, either, but she does her best to overcome her issues by not touching people if she can avoid it.
I really like Tess, who comes across as warm-hearted and amusing – there are a number of laugh-aloud moments in this book, despite it being a murder mystery. While the investigation is the engine that powers this narrative, there is a lot more going on in the story. Jack’s homecoming is a major feature, for starters. And Tess’s reaction to him… It probably won’t hugely shock you if I mention there is a powerful physical attraction between them, which helps them become a solid team when trying to figure out who is the killer.
To be honest, the murder mystery didn’t take much unravelling. There weren’t all that many suspects and I’d more or less figured out who the main miscreants were just as Tess and Jack got there. But while there are stories where that would be a dealbreaker, this wasn’t one of them. Day writes with a warmth and energy that drew me into this small isolated community, so that I enjoyed the days when the tour bus visited the pawn shop, just as much as Jack facing down the creepy bloke stalking Tess in the middle of the night. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal fantasy. 8/10
Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?
On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?
REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.
It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.
But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story. 9/10