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Menagerie by Rachel Vincent
The Reaping was an event that caught the United States by surprise. Families that had been harboring surrogates- inhuman children passing for human- met with disaster, and the surrogates were rounded up and taken away. After the Reaping, inhuman and mythical entities ceased to have rights and became possessions, curiosities, and some were caged for display in menageries.
Delilah’s mother wanted a good child, a quiet child, but was not prepared when…something….took her wailing baby away and replaced it with smiling Delilah. Delilah was raised never aware that things were not quite what they seem. When a trip to a traveling menagerie pulls a supernatural part of Delilah out in public, she is outed as less than human and sold to that same traveling menagerie.
‘Menagerie’ is a look at humanity in every light possible- the kind as well as the cruel. It is a book about grey areas, the actions and intentions and entities that do not fit well into the black and white. It is not always an easy book to read as supernatural and magical beings are brought as low as possible. But it shines, subtly beautiful in a way that will keep it churning in the back of your head long after you have finished reading.
Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones is the sort of fellow who gets things that need doing done. He worked for the organization Black Heir, chasing down illegal Aliens (of the in from space variety) and covering up any messes they might have caused. The kill first, never get to the questioning part rubbed him the wrong way, considering the fact that Ishmael himself is not quite human. So he left his Black Heir days behind to work for The Colonel and his Organization. And when the Colonel asks Ishmael to come to his familial home for Christmas, Ishmeal starts driving.
But The Colonel is missing when Ishmael arrives, and all is very much not well in the massive, old home, or with its strange and often estranged holiday guests.
Green has written a sinister game of Clue, expertly crafted in his usual way of playing with words to make them do things you are pretty sure they did not want to do. The prose, characters you are not sure you want to like but somehow get maybe attached here and there, and the shadowy world Green has created work to bring what could have been a tired old plot to grim and uncanny life. Recommended for Green fans, mystery fans, or folks who want to leave the hall light on at night. Just in case.
Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
There have been stories about fae creatures and children since we started telling stories. Those stories rarely end well for the children.
When a Gray Lord lets free one of the monsters in their closet, Charles’ trip to visit his old friend Joseph is dramatically altered. Joseph’s daughter-in-law Chelsea is hit by a fae compulsion while picking her children up from daycare- a compulsion to kill her children. Looking into the source of the fae compulsion opens a door into the darker, less-friendly side of the fae. A side where children are kidnapped, used for a year and a day, and then discarded. Charles and Anna need to locate the fae responsible before more children are targeted. Before more families are torn by anguish. Before the fae responsible comes back for the child that got away.
Dead Heat is heavy with an Old World sense of the fae, the danger to their magic. It is also a story wrapped carefully with a sense of the importance of family, across generations. Briggs pulls the reader through a fast-paced, emotionally involved story that will keep readers up well past their bed times, checking in on family- those of blood or choice. And checking to make sure they have some cold iron nearby. Just in case.
Strange Magic by James A. Hunter
Yancy Lazarus belongs in a blues club- smooth music, smooth liquor, smooth conversation. He fits the rambling gambler stereotype on the nose. There is the pesky part where he is wanted that may encourage his moving from club to club, town to town. And there is the small issue of his being able to tap into the Viz, the energy that runs through all things, that makes him a prime target for people looking for help as well as people looking to get rid of a potential threat. It’s not his fault he leaves a trail of some truly impressive collateral damage- if only people would just leave him alone and his sense of ethics and morals would let him leave other people alone.
Its a bad situation Yancy finds himself in, chased out of a seedy hotel by a determined monster, seemingly to blame for the murder of the families of tight-knit mobsters. It is a pretty good set up, whoever is responsible for it. And he really needs to sort out who is responsible, to stop a demon ripping its way through families, to untangle the he-said, she-said that has him tussling with separate gangs.
Yancy hates that he has gotten stuck with the nickname “the Fixer”, but sometimes that is the role he has no choice but to play.
Strange Magic is a pleasantly rough-around-the-edges urban fantasy with bite. It snaps and snarls and drags you along for the ride. Yancy’s narrative is a strange and fascinating place to find oneself, and will keep you flipping pages. So put a blues album on, pour some of the good stuff, and settle in to read.
A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Halloway
“…this visit is clearly not being spent with finding a husband in mind.”
Eveline made a sound a protest. “There was only the one corpse” (A Study in Silks, Holloway).
Eveline is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and appears to have inherited both his acute attentive curiosity as well as his inability to quite fit in with societies expectations of normal. While visiting her friend Imogen, right before the start of their Season, the body of a murdered servant girl is found in the house, and Evelina finds a letter thick with dark magic hidden on the body. Using that illicitly pilfered evidence, Evelina needs to solve the murder of the servant, lest Imogen’s brother be implicated in the crime.
Halloway has created a world that is a cunning mix of classic Sherlock Holmes and the modern steampunk movement, swirling in just enough magic to attract the attention of urban fantasy fans as well. It is a book that will read well across genres, appealing to a wide audience. Evelina is an enjoyable character, and the supporting cast all live strongly for the reader as well. Halloway has even tackled the great Holmes as well, and done him justice.
As a fan of just about every genre and style this book flirts with, I was quite the happy reader, and I look forward to more!
Forbidden Fruit by Anne Aguirre
“I see dead people. Okay, that’s a lie. I hear dead people—on an antique radio…” – ‘Forbidden Fruit’, Anne Aguirre
I have been a happy fan of the Corine Solomon books since I stumbled across a copy of Blue Diablo (book one). They are fantastic, and fun, and full of incredible characters. Shannon and Jesse are two of those very fantastic characters, and I was ecstatic to see Ms. Aguirre write a story set between two of the main books of the series dedicated to the two of them.
The two of them as they deal with some magically inflicted amnesia, some rather delightfully raunchy feelings for each other, and some intrusive demons.
If you have read the series, do NOT miss this delectable little tidbit. If you are unfamiliar with Ann Aquirre or the Corine Solomon books, go grab a copy of Blue Diablo. But…don’t start reading if you have somewhere to be the next day. Ms. Aguirre’s books are damn hard to put down.
Strange Fates by Marlene Perez
Nyx Fortuna is the son of Lady Fortuna, the only son of the House of Wyrd. His Aunts, the Fates murdered his mother and have been hunting him ever since. Before she died, Fortuna hid Nyx’s thread of Fate, leaving him out of the reach of his Aunt’s gold scissors. Immortal, and long since grown underwhelmed with his condition, Nyx has traveled to Minneapolis to confront his Aunts and settle the score.
He did not intend on meeting a girl in a bar, or getting stabbed by her (current) boyfriend. He has always done better as a loner, keeping things simple, keeping anyone he could start to care about away from the attention of his ruthless Aunts. But here, in the city they call home, things are about to get a bit complicated.
Urban fantasy with a decidedly Greek flourish, Strange Fates is a fun and fast read. Nyx is quite the likable protagonist, and the book happily avoids the urban fantasy trope of everyone falling into bed with each other. That is not to say there is no sexual tension, it is just masterfully managed. Strange Fates is rotten with water hags, harpies, sorcerers, and necromancers. Double crosses, bar fights, and part time jobs.
Fortune’s Son has a rather full plate.
Available March 5, 2013. Orbit/Hachette books
Dead Roads by Robin Riopelle
They are, perhaps, not your typical family- Lutie, her brothers Baz and Sol, their ghost-hiding mother and ghost-catching traiteur father. But when Lutie decides she wants to catch herself a ghost, just like her mother, and enlists her brother Baz who can sing so that both the living and the dead pay attention to help her, she shatters the casual strangeness of their lives.
Taken away from home by her mother, it takes many years and the death of their father for Lutie to run into her brothers again. An angry ghost stalks the rail yards of the west, drawing the attention of Sol who has taken up at least part of his father’s ghost-catching and settling trade. As stubborn as he is to try and fight it out alone, it will take all three siblings, who have grown into three independent and alienated adults, working together to settle this ghost and the demon riding its back.
Dead Roads is rich is bayou lore- it swelters with the south even when the story is staggering its way through cold Colorado nights. It is much more than a ghost story, and far richer than the usual far horror fantasy/fiction has to offer. Even as it is doing its best to make you jump at every little creek of your house in the night it rings with a respect for the dead- we don’t have casual ghost hunters here. Sol is a reluctant doctor to the dead, a wonderful parallel to his day job as an EMT. The family trade of traiteur is a duty, not a hobby, and the author communicates that well to the reader.
It took a little to get moving, and there was some disjointed movement from POV to POV as the book started, but that did not take from my interest in the story or my desire to see what was going to happen next. I think my biggest concern was the sheer amount of French worked into the dialog- not just a word here and there but oft times full sentences. It did add to the atmosphere, but at the cost of comprehension. As a reader it pulled me from the story as I struggled to work out what was being said. Again, not enough to deter me from reading, but enough for me to notice and become frustrated now and again.
Overall, a fantastic, atmospheric read. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and watching them move through a wonderfully unique and delightfully creepy plot. Recommended.
Spellcrossed by Barbara Ashford
In the time since Rowan said goodbye to her at the Crossroads Theater Maggie has had a fascinating time adjusting to the new Board of Directors and the view of the theater from Rowan’s shoes as she plans and runs the theater season. But Rowan is a hard act to follow, and between missing him and trying to be him, Maggie is tying her own life in knots.
When Rowan reappears late one night, a battered human he recovered from the Borderlands between the human and Faerie worlds in tow, Maggie’s world is again turned upside-down. And again it will take Faerie magic and human hearts and hands to put things back together.
I don’t usually listen to music while reading, but Ashford’s Spellcast and Spellcrossed have had me digging through old Cassettes and CDs, looking for the musicals I grew up listening to and performing in. Spellcrossed is again thick and vibrant with a love and knowledge of the theater. It is a magnificent stage on which to set a suburban fantasy- containing a magic that is unique and fascinating, and at the same time familiar enough to catch us tightly and hold us close.
It is a romance between a human and something Other, where the Otherness is not glossed over, adding extra interest and tension to the writing. It is a book that exults in human imperfections, the beautiful way they all manage to fit together into something magnificent.
This one hit hard and perfect. It is a book about bonds and family. I lost a sister less than a year ago, a sister who was draped in the merry trappings of the theater. Ashford’s skillful, heart-felt writing wrung smiles and tears from me in equal measure. It was my little bit of healing, courtesy of the Crossroads Theater. I invite you all to give Spellcrossed, and its predecessor Spellcast, a read and take away from it everything you can.
A Series of Ordinary Adventures by Stevie Carroll
They are the people you pass on the street, sit next to on the bus. They are the heroes of personal triumphs, victims of personal tragedy. This is a book of little things- small casts, snippets of lives- but the way Carroll writes them makes them so very grand. The fantastic is woven so adeptly into the mundane that you don’t even know it is there until you meet the Minotaur at the center of the Labyrinth, shatter a luck curse, hatch a fairy egg, or deal with the Devil at midnight.
It is that atmosphere that drew me in and kept me reading. Carroll’s deft hand at lending magical and frightening things a rather nonchalant air makes each story stand out from regular literary fantasy fare. Stories range from heart warming to horrifying, but whatever atmosphere Carroll is weaving, his adept web of words caught my attention and held me until the end.
There were a few stories that particularly got me as I was reading, either causing a rash of goose flesh to march up and down my arms or prompting me to seek out my cat for some impromptu (and probably unwelcome on the feline end of things) cuddling.
‘Breaking the Silence’ is about a close coterie of school boys who owe their successes in life to the bully they only half remember and an incident in a dusty attic of the school house. It is an absolutely, believably, horrifying piece. ‘The Woman Who Hatched A Fairy’s Egg’ may be my favorite in the collection. It is a story about self and belonging and confidence and love. And an egg found on the front step is the catalyst for it all. Simply a beautiful story. I am genuinely just very fond of ‘Mr. Singh Confronts the Minotaur’. It was well- written, fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Shady deals with the Devil are a staple of myth/folklore-based writing, and it was wonderful to see it represented in Carroll’s collection in ‘Seven For the Devil’. As usual, the deal does not go as planned for the mortals in the mix, and the protagonist scrambles to set things right. What set this story apart from others with the same theme is the protagonist- a genuinely likable person who makes human decisions- and the friend he continues to seek out, who happens to be a rocker-turned-preacher.
Grab a copy. Curl up somewhere comfortable. Enjoy your trip through familiar places turned strange in wonderful ways.
Candlemark & Gleam is running a Kickstarter for the collection. It is a wonderful way to get a copy and support both the publisher and the author.