Tag Archives: vampire

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

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Friday Faceoff – All that is gold does not glitter…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is gold, so I’ve chosen Making Money – Book 36 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

 

This is the cover produced by Harper in September 2007. I look at it and recall the early wonderful, busy Discworld covers of Josh Kirby with a sigh of nostalgia. Oh well. Having said that, there is a sense of energy in the shower of money being scooped up by the top hat. I also like the hatching in the background, which gives a sense of depth to a fairly simple image.

 

This edition, produced in June 2008 by Corgi, is the cover of the book that I owned. I find the black background a bit grim, but I do like the image of the main protagonist, Moist von Lipwig. He is the epitome of a money-making capitalist. It is a testament to Pratchett’s success that his name is featured with the same size and impact normally reserved for the title.

 

Published in February 2014 by Transworld, this is another gloomy offering with a single spotlight on the pile of gold. Given that this is Discworld novel with a fair degree of humour, I find the gloom prevailing surprising.

 

This cover, produced by Pocket in February 2016, is my favourite. I very much like the background of the large, slightly distorted bank as he scampers down the front steps with money fluttering in his wake. There is a real sense of gleeful mischief depicted on this French cover missing from the others. But which one do you prefer?

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

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Williams is already a go-to author whom I love – her Copper Cat trilogy saw to that – see my review of The Copper Promise. But this time around, I think she’s excelled herself…

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.

For starters, this isn’t a straight swords and sorcery. The city of Ebora might be a faded version of its former self, driving Tormalin to seek his fortune elsewhere, but it isn’t the only place enduring sustained and catastrophic deterioration. Sarn and the other surrounding countries are still suffering the ravages of the last invasion by the lethal aliens, the Jure’lia. Wildlife and vegetation have been mutated wherever the huge spaceships have crashed, which also attracts the very dangerous parasite spirits that turns their unfortunate victims inside out if they so much brush against them. Where the huge maggots crashed through, they excrete a thick transparent sludge that hardens to an impervious block of varnish, trapping people inside like flies in an amber. In short, the world is still reeling from an apocalyptic attack several generations earlier.

As you must have gathered, William’s depiction of her ruined world made a deep impression – I’ve even dreamed about it. This could have been a completely bleak tale, but it’s not because the main protagonists, particularly the wonderful Lady de Grazon, ping off the page with a fine disregard for local customs as she insists on investigating every aspect of the alien wreckage, instead of trying to ignore it like most of the population. There is a fair amount of humour scattered through this story, which makes it far easier to read, though that doesn’t mean it’s innately funny – it isn’t.

Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. I also loved the young fell-witch, Noon, kept in a horrible prison called the Winnowry, where others like her who involuntarily summon fell-flame, are incarcerated – apparently so they can atone for their innate wickedness and to protect the rest of society from their fell-fire. Though the fact that their flaming energy is harvested and used to craft a number of exclusive, highly expensive artefacts is also a major factor.

Each one of the three protagonists have their own journey through the book which involves different aspects of this shattered place and unlike a number of epic fantasy tales, I didn’t find myself wanting to know more about one of them such that I skimmed through the others to get back to it. For this rich world sank its hooks into me and since I have finished reading it, I still find myself thinking of it. And I’ll be on the lookout for the sequel as I’m looking forward to revisiting this unusual world.

While I obtained the arc of The Ninth Rain from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review KINDLE Ebook American Monsters – Book 3 of the Demon Road series by Derek Landy

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This is the final instalment of this YA horror series, featuring Amber, a demon who shape-shifts when the going gets tough – see my reviews of Demon Road and Desolation. And the going is continually tough…

americanmonstersBigger, meaner, stronger. Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face. For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

Amber has teamed up with Milo and his magical car to fight a series of lethal opponents. However, they all rather pale against her struggle with her seriously unpleasant parents, who raised her for the sole purpose of eating her once she came into her demonic powers. I really like the fact that when she isn’t a tall, red-skinned demon she is a rather plump, nondescript-looking girl. And her prospective girlfriend is attracted to the human side of her, rather than her charismatically fearsome alter ego.

Once again, the story starts with a bang and doesn’t let up as we are whisked from one crisis to another. There are a range of unpleasant monsters and creeps in this story, the most memorable being the murderous clown fixated on killing sixteen-year-olds. The action is vividly portrayed, with plenty of gore and a number of key characters dying off – to an extent that I was a tad winded when one of them met his end…

I’ve enjoyed this series, but I’m not quite sure who it’s aimed at. There is an awful lot of violence and murder, with not quite enough emotional bonding for it to truly appeal to the teenage girls I know – and while the non-stop action would definitely tick the boys’ boxes, I can’t see them warming to a gay shape-shifting female who beats up several men who bad-mouth her in sexist terms. While it is marketed as YA, I’d recommend that you check it out before you allow your younger teens to read it. Many, no doubt, will be perfectly able to cope with the action, but it is very graphic and there are some horrific moments that could upset sensitive children with vivid imaginations.

I received the arc of American Monsters from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
7/10

Friday Faceoff – Who’s at the door?

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we got together in Proxy’s absence and decided to feature covers with a door or gate on them – so I’ve gone with the second book in Meg Cabot’s enjoyable vampire tale – Overbite. Though looking at it, I’m now wondering if I should have used this one for last week’s Lady in Red…

 

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This cover was released by Harper Collins back in July 2012. It is stylish, with plenty of eye appeal – though whether it effectively reflects the sheer fun and humour of this book is debatable…

 

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This is the German publication, produced by Blanvalet Verlag in June 2011. This version of Meena (presumably that is the mysterious woman depicted) is more demure – however we still have a door in the background…

 

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This is the Portuguese version, published by Galera Record in June 2011. I’m not sure if Meena is even dressed to go through the door! Still rather brooding and menacing, whereas the book is anything but…

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This Kindle version was produced by Harper Voyager in 2013 – she now looks like Little Red Riding Hood. However, I personally like this cover the best. There is a playful quality about the font, hinting that this book may be funny rather than horrific. Which is your favourite?

Review of Night Shift – Book 3 of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris

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I’ve really enjoyed this quirky series where Harris follows a small community, who have pitched up at this isolated crossroads in the middle of nowhere because they are all trying to keep a low profile. The first book, Midnight Crossroad – see my review here – immediately sucked me in and I have been on the lookout for the subsequent books in the series.

nightshiftAt Midnight’s local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves—only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town. Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There’s a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place. And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose—which just might happen—it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be…

Once again, the residents of Midnight have to pull together to discover what is going on. I really like the premise where Harris explores slices of each character as they fit into each story, slowly revealing more about their personalities and their histories. In this instalment, the main protagonist is Fiji, the witch. She is very appealing, with her kindness and good nature, her insecurity about her appearance and her unrequited love for another of the residents. In this story, we also learn more about her background and family, when her bitchy sister comes to stay. This provides some enjoyable humour and gives us a satisfyingly awful character to tut over – as while no one in Midnight is particularly cosy, neither are they utterly repellent.

The other character we learn a lot more about is the town’s vampire, Lemuel. He is an authority on paranormal lore, so has a nasty feeling about what is going on behind the suicides at Midnight – I’m not saying more as I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, but I won’t be giving away too much if I reveal that his worst fears are confirmed… Not a surprise as it wouldn’t be much of a story if they weren’t.

Harris weaves the community dynamic in amongst the dramatic happenings at Midnight, so once more we have an unfolding picture of the everyday alongside the havoc that has to be stopped. I really like this juxtaposition and find it makes this series a very satisfying read. However, I firmly advise that because of the ongoing character development, this isn’t a series to drop into halfway through. While you would certainly be able to pick up on the main drama easily enough, you wouldn’t get a proper feel for the continuing character reveal as we gradually get to know the residents of Midnight. This isn’t a demanding read, though technically more tricky to pull off than it at first appears and one I would recommend for a relaxing holiday read.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Nightmare Stacks – Book 7 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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I was delighted when I realised last month after reading the awesome The Annihilation Score – see my review here – that the next book in this outstanding series was due for release. And even more delighted when I managed to get hold of a NetGalley arc…

thenightmarestacksAlex Schwartz had a promising future – until he contracted an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret agency. His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. The thought of telling his parents that he’s lost his old job, let alone them finding out about his ‘condition’, is causing Alex more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses. His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student appearing in the local Goth Festival, who flirts with him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock. But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal . . .

First, a warning. For fans of Bob and Mo Howard, who are keen to catch up on them after their roller-coaster journey during the last two books – you’ll have to wait a bit longer to discover how they’re doing. This instalment is all about Alex, who we first met in The Rhesus Chart – see my review here. While Alex doesn’t have the dry wit of Bob, the storyline soon whisked me up and held me as we have the Charles Stross version of elves making a dramatic appearance and like his version of vampires, they are far more lethally compelling and unpleasant than Tolkien suggests.

I really enjoyed this break with the normal London setting, as Leeds is where Alex finds himself entangled in the latest incursion from another dimension in this smart fantasy/science fiction mash-up. Although I did miss Bob’s dry, world-weary commentary, there are still some lovely touches of humour – particularly enjoyable is Alex’s meal with his parents as they reel under the combined onslaught of his apparent demotion, Cassie’s oddness and his sister’s bombshell.

But the tone is a lot darker and those odd splashes of humour were very welcome in the final act, where there is chaos and mayhem in full measure. The battle scenes are full of drama and I found myself unable to put the book down as I needed to know what would happen next – I wasn’t sure that Alex would survive, for starters, as Stross is perfectly capable of mowing down a major character.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though for me, it didn’t have the emotional punch of The Annihilation Score which is my all-time favourite in this series, so far. However, there is plenty of compelling action and those elven warriors rampaging across the English countryside on lethal battle steeds, wielding magical weaponry will stay with me for a while.
9/10

Review of The Passage – Book 1 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

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Before tackling Cronin’s final book in this trilogy, The City of Mirrors – see my review here – I decided to scoop up The Passage from my teetering TBR pile to ensure I gave the book a fair chance.

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is.
Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row.
He’s wrong.
FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.
It is.

thepassageAnd there you have the blurb. Very short and terse – which is exactly what this book is not… Coming in at 766 pages and with a punchy, yet often lyrical prose style, this book sprawls across a number of characters in a variety of situations as we see the world unravel due to a scientific investigation going disastrously wrong. Yep. One of those. We’ve all read the scenario. Some arrogant idiot in a white lab coat decides he knows better than everyone else and plays God – and what do you know? It goes wrong… Such stories tend to be long on the gory chaos that ensues and short of characterisation, because – let’s face it, most of the poor souls die anyway, and often not in a good way.

This one is different. Really. Oh yes, there is gory chaos, alright. The world really does go to Hell in a handcart. But Cronin has an uncanny knack of managing to get right to the heart of someone’s character in an amazingly short space of time. His depiction of Amy’s teenage mother near the start of the book is heartbreakingly familiar – and made me really, really care about her. It is that skill he has, for creating characters full of flaws, contradictions, odd motivations – and managing to create lost little Amy without lapsing into sentimentality, which kept me turning the pages.

I’m not a huge fan of horror, or any kind of gory chaos for that matter. I get plenty of nightmares all on my own, without any help from someone else’s apocalyptic vision – it’s part of the reason I don’t sleep all that much. And if I’d appreciated just how bad it was all going to get and just how much mayhem was going to be occur, I probably would have passed on this one. But, once I got started I found I really wanted to know what was going to happen next to Amy and Sara and Peter and Michael and… a whole lot more. Yes, I cared about them all. Cronin wheeled each one on in swift succession and I don’t recall minding about the switches at all. The only really jarring moment came at page 260 when the first section ends and we jump forward 97 years. But I didn’t even really mind about that one, either – because I’d just about had enough of all the gory chaos, by then.

And the reason I’m telling you this? Because I loathe constant jumps from one character to another. I find being yanked about from one viewpoint to another thoroughly messes with my enjoyment of the overall story and makes me care a whole lot less about any of them. But Cronin breaks the rules, switching characters several times in a single page – something I regularly tell my creative writing students is a complete no-no – and pulls it off. If you enjoy apocalyptic science fiction or fantasy, then this is a must-read. And if you don’t generally enjoy all that end of the world stuff, but appreciate well-written books with plenty of adventure and action in them, give it a go. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything before quite like it.
10/10

Review of The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

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This is an ambitious genre mash-up – historical noir with a vampire theme entangled in a modern day murder investigation – does Alexander manage to pull it off?

secretsoflifeanddeath1585. When Edward Kelley and his master, Dr John Dee, discover a dark secret at the heart of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s illness, they fear the cure will prove more terrifying than death…

2013. When Jackdaw Hammond learns of a young women found dead on a train, her body covered in arcane symbols, she must finish what Kelley and Dee started, or die trying…

This book opens conventionally – with a university lecturer in some arcane studies called in to look at the symbols drawn all over the dead body of a teenage girl found on a train. But before this contemporary plot has a chance to get going, we are yanked back to 1585 where Edward Kelley and John Dee have travelled to Transylvanian forests on a mission to help a young Countess recover from a wasting disease. Their task is hampered by the fact they are Protestants travelling in a devout Catholic country – and they are further singled out by accusations of sorcery.

The book continues with a dual narrative – the modern day story being told in the viewpoint of Jack or Felix, the university lecturer, interspersed by the torrid time Edward Kelley and John Dee have in a particularly savage corner of Europe. There has been a fashion for dual narratives recently, and when done well, it isn’t hard to see why. The author can present the reader with two apparently unrelated plotlines that eventually come together in an interesting, hopefully memorable conclusion that creates a really satisfying read. My standout dual narrative read is Katherine Webb’s A Half-Forgotten Song, see my review here.

However, if the pacing isn’t absolutely nailed – or too many readers already know of your historical characters – then readers will skim either one or other of the plotlines. Himself nearly abandoned the book, complaining that he found the historical interlude dragged too much, while in other reviews I’ve read complaints about how slowly the contemporary plot develops.

I think there is certainly a potential problem if readers already know a fair amount about Elizabeth Bathory – the plot construction and pacing assumes readers don’t. However my own knowledge was sketchy and I am a sucker for well written historical adventures, anyhow. As for the contemporary plotline – Alexander’s pacing is more leisurely than a typical urban fantasy novel, and I suspect a number of readers picked it up thinking that was what they were getting – and this book is attempting to do something else. So to some extent, both narratives are slightly compromised by reader expectation not being fully met – which isn’t necessarily Alexander’s fault.

I enjoyed the historical adventure more than the contemporary strand until about halfway through when the pace picked up and the story developed a twist I hadn’t expected. At that stage, I sat back and went along for the ride, thoroughly enjoying the experience. I won’t claim it is a unique take on the vampire story – in many ways it goes right back to the roots of the legend, but if you are not thoroughly jaded by yet another adventure, this one does have a slightly unusual angle that certainly caught my interest. And sustained it sufficiently to go immediately looking for the sequel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone.

If you like enjoyable dual narratives and are up for vampires with an intriguing take on the whole blood imbibing subject, then give this ambitious debut novel a go – I think Alexander is One To Watch.
8/10

A Review of A Rush of Wings by Adrian Phoenix

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This urban fantasy/crime whodunit is one of the plethora of vampire books that are currently flooding our bookshops. However, if you pick this one up expecting the chirpy humour pervading the likes of Undead and Unemployed, you are likely to be disappointed. Or not – depending on your taste. This book is gothic in feel and writing style, complete with plush prose and full-on emotional tone.

Dante is talented, beautiful and the star of the rock band, Inferno. He is rumoured to be the owner of the hot New Orleans nightspot, Club Hell. F.B.I. Special Agent Heather Wallace has been tracking a sadistic serial murderer known as the Cross Country Killer, and the trail has led her to New Orleans, Club Hell and Dante. But the attractive musician refuses to co-operate and claims to be “nightkind” – in other words, a vampire. Digging into his past for answers reveals little. A juvenile record a mile long; no social security number; no known birth date. In and out of foster homes for most of his life before being taken in by Lucien DeNoir, who guards mysteries of his own.

What Heather does know is that something links Dante to the killer – and she’s pretty sure that makes him the CCK’s next target. Heather must unravel the truth about this complicated, vulnerable young man – who, she begins to believe may indeed be a vampire – in order to finally bring a killer to justice. But Dante’s past holds a shocking secret and once it is revealed, not even Heather will be able to protect him from his destiny.

This debut novel from Adrian Phoenix is ambitious in its scope – and at times her inexperience shows. First, the good news. Phoenix successfully manages to establish the heightened atmosphere and emotional tone that she is aiming for, by a writing style rich in imagery and description – mostly without holding up the pace, which clips along at a reasonable rate. That, in itself, is an achievement in my opinion. The main protagonists are suitably complex and well-drawn and the various plot twists are mostly convincing. I also liked her original and somewhat startling take on God and where he fits into the world she has created. It will certainly raise a few eyebrows, but does work nicely within the development of DeNoir – who for my money, was a lot more riveting a character than Dante.

But there are problems with this book, particularly the first half. Written in multiple POV, there are a number of characters – alongside Dante – who also have hidden pasts and major secrets. Add to that the fact that three of them also have code names – and a third of the way into the story, I was seriously confused and debating whether to finish it. It does become clearer as the book continues, but I do think that initial muddle is seriously off-putting.

The other major issue I have is that the book starts with a bang and continues at full tilt. Phoenix writes with the brakes off – and while it is a treat in small doses, reading the book for any length of time is a bit like eating three ice-cream sundaes in a row. And if you have youngsters in the house, you might not want to leave it lying around. In common with many books in this sub-genre, the language, sex and violence are extremely graphic.

Having said that, I found the book a gripping and enjoyable read, once I got past the point of confusion. The final twist was pleasing in that I didn’t see it coming and I look forward to reading Phoenix’s next offering.
6/10