Adult Paranormal Fiction

By | September 17, 2012

(Also see the Paranormal Romance Novels post.)

Peeves

Why do sequel blurbs lead off with phrases such as “her greatest challenge yet”, “she must confront dark secrets”, or “she uncovers a dark plot that may forever change the face of Y”?  Pish.  I appreciate a series in which the characters – antagonists as well as protagonists – aren’t emotionally and physically static, but it’s just not plausible to have a progressively harder to defeat sequence of bad guys.

Dystopian / Apocalyptic

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga does not have the readability of Kirkman’s graphic novel series by the same name or his Invincible graphic novel series.  Clunkers like “he dropped them like a bad habit” and the heroes escapes from the consequences of repeated stupid behavior caused CNP to stop reading partway in.

Mystery and Quest

Books by Seanan McGuire

Toby Daye Series

The series is best read in order to avoid spoilers – characters die – and to follow relationship arcs, characters’ emotional growth, and changes in powers.  The third book, An Artificial Night, I believe was the darkest – that’s not to say that there weren’t truly sad and/or bleak moments in the prior and subsequent volumes but rather that the others have more lighter balancing moments.  Also, while the abuse of teenage runaways and the subjugation of those from what are considered inferior races are currents present throughout the series, they are much more prominently featured in that third novel.  This series is also a must-read for fans of San Francisco Bay Area settings and for fans of European faerie tales.

  1. Rosemary and Rue (September 1, 2009)
  2. A Local Habitation (March 2, 2010)
  3. An Artificial Night (September 7, 2010)
  4. Late Eclipses (March 1, 2011)
  5. One Salt Sea (September 6, 2011)
  6. Ashes of Honor (September 4, 2012)
  7. Chimes at Midnight (September 3, 2013)
  8. The Winter Long (expected September 2014)
  9. A Red Rose Chain (expected September 2015)
  10. Once Broken Faith (expected September 2016)

(List courtesy of Wikipedia article on Seanan McGuire.)

One Salt Sea

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire is the fifth novel about Toby Daye and her efforts to keep fae and humans safe in the San Francisco Bay Area and the overlapping Kingdom of the Mists.  I appreciate that in the series the characters evolve emotionally and chronologically (though the fae mature much more slowly than humans).  The central quest theme is enhanced with relationships including a little romance.  Personally, Connor, one of Toby’s two love interests, is not my favorite character so I was glad to see a resolution of that triangle at the end of this novel (unlike the unending tension between Stephanie Plum, Morelli, and Ranger in the Stephanie Plum mysteries).  What’s not to like in a tale of fae hurtling down a steep San Francisco street on a wheelchair, commenting on the huge ice cream sundaes at Ghirardelli Square, researching poisons at Cal, and searching Muir Woods?

Ashes of Honor

In Ashes of Honor Toby Daye has moved into nicer digs in San Francisco courtesy of her liege, but she’s still getting herself in dirty situations.  The book opens with a run-in with a candela changeling.  (A candela is an Italian will-o’-the-wisp.)  She ends up at the Mission Police Station on 630 Valencia Street, San Francisco – may sound gritty, but the neighborhood is pretty gentrified… it’s definitely not Hunter’s Point.  Her new digs are .6 miles away (or a little longer with a detour by Tartine Bakery for some good eats) on 20th Street between Dolores and Church Streets at the south end of Mission Dolores Park.  The houses are two rooms wide and have ground level garages (not a Victorian original feature; very useful in any SF neighborhood; necessary when living adjacent to one of the most popular City parks) below one to three stories (excluding the multi-unit complex at the end of the block).  The brighter colors include dark sage green, lemon yellow, and dusty rose.  Most still retain some or all of their original architectural styling.  Not particularly opulent or colorful buildings by SF standards.

In Chapter 3 Etienne reminisces about afternoons and evenings spent in conversation and congenial debate in the coffee houses around UC Berkeley (University of California, Berkeley – or just ‘Cal’).  While there are several great coffee houses (as opposed to places to get a cup of coffee – including the original Peet’s on 2124 Vine Street in the Gourmet Ghetto) in Berkeley, if you want to hang out with Cal faculty and students, Caffe Strada and Cafe Milano on Bancroft Way (on the south side of campus) are the classics.  Get a jacuzzi mug of coffee and a window table and you’re set for some serious people watching.  Cal does indeed have a ‘Folklore Graduate Program’.

Chapter 4: The Celtic / Irish name Bridget means strong-willed.  Hmmm – the story says that ‘Bess’ is the traditional nickname for Bridget but, according to an online source (and the British monarchy), Bess is a nickname for Elizabeth and the nicknames for Bridget are Bridey and Brie.  (Lets hope that Brie in this context is pronounced differently than in an aged dairy one.)  There’s no Denny’s on Market Street (Denny’s doesn’t have the right kind of menu to be actually on Market Street), but there is one a couple of blocks off at 4th and Mission (near the Moscone Convention Center – where attendees of tech shows are perfectly happy to graze at Denny’s)  A better diner bet in the neighborhood is Mel’s Drive-In (‘Drive-In’ being only a figurative statement; of course this isn’t the original location).  During daylight hours the cafe at SF MOMA on 3rd Street is a much nicer option.

Chimes At Midnight

I particularly enjoyed this volume because Toby has emotionally progressed to not only entering into but successfully maintaining close personal relationships – she’s no longer a loner and she constructively and proactively gets help from her extended family… though she’s not perfect and still sometimes has a bit too much of a hero complex.

McGuire’s soundtrack included Ludo (ex. Love Me Dead), Delta Rae (including Cal grad Brittany Hölljes), Heather Dale and Counting Crows (Mr. Jones is one of my faves; another band with Bay Area connections).

p. 4 22 46 50 56 66 70 72 84 94 188 190 192 280 318 320

InCryptid Series

Though the novels may be read independently, start with the first in the series to avoid spoilers; there is no overlap with the Toby Daye series.  (The characters do grow in the series but due to the relatively short time span it’s mostly in the form of decisions made in response to epiphanies set up by months or even years of activity.)

Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon is the first InCryptid novel.  Any story that has a professional ballroom dancer / parkour practitioner working with Manhattan’s assimilated cryptid population to fend off human and not-so-human threats is off to a good start; throw in a religious sect of talking mice, gingerbread men, and an Alaskan therian (a waheela) with a penchant for wearing lacy ruffles and knocking heads.

Midnight Blue-Light Special

The series’ second novel, Midnight Blue-Light Special continues where the first left off.  Akin to Bob the Dog’s appearances in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, any scene with the Aeslin mice (an imaginary sect) elicits at least a chuckle – at points in the book my SO laughed out loud at the mice’s antics.  Likewise the forthrightly bloodthirsty Istas, the aforementioned waheela, is smile-provoking.  (‘Aeslin’ is a variation of ‘Aislin’, the Irish name meaning ‘vision’.)

Be forewarned that other than some brief references to Verity’s less than stellar competitive record and the benefits of her dance training, the second novel has no dancing.  Whereas the first novel was entirely from Verity’s perspective, in the second half of this novel shifts in voice for a few chapters from Verity to Sarah, Verity’s adopted cuckoo cousin.  (That’s ‘cuckoo’ in the sense of a cryptid breed rather than a judgement of her mental health.)

The title sounds like a cross between Kmart and an elite US counter-terrorism Special Forces Group disbanded in the 1980s.  According to the Urban Dictionary ‘blue light special’ also refers to the cops (for the blue light on the top of a police car), to the Blue Light District outside of Seattle which is known for “the most humongous and belligerent Dance parties”, and to transvestite prostitutes in Amsterdam (who have blue lights instead of the traditional red over their windows).  I’m guessing that the meaning lies closer to fighting for justice than cheap T-shirts on sale or Dutch trannie hookers.

The characters are engaging; their motivations are believable, their dialog doesn’t get too angsty, and their behaviors and capabilities are logical – with the exception of the interrogation and torture scenes.  (My SO who has a lot more expertise in that area felt that McGuire should have skipped the details since they didn’t ring true.)  Related to the logic break, my main quibble with the story was its huge gap near the end: we get the buildup to the grand rescue – various characters commit to the cause, create a plan (though the details of the plan aren’t spelled out for the reader), and set off to execute that plan – but then the story switches back to the captive’s perspective which means that we don’t know what the rescue team is a blank until the tail end of the rescue.

Istas Quotes

(See the Food in Fiction post.)

“I am very pleased that we will be staying here.  It makes Ryan feel better, and increases the potential for carnage.”

“Yes.  I will listen to the man I have just met when he is making judgements regarding my safety and the safety of my mate.”  (Verity’s explanatory aside for the reader: “If it sound sarcastic, it isn’t; if it involves a threat of physical violence, it’s sincere, but unless it comes with claws, it’s probably friendly.  Like having a pet wolverine with rabies.”.)  …”Enjoy your hunt for things to hunt.  Save some carnage for the rest of us.”

In response to a query about the possibility of having been followed.  “I would have ripped and torn and broken the bodies of our pursuers, and it would have been glorious”…  “Istas gave her parasol a spin, and added, ‘I would have brought you their heads.  I think it would have made a suitable subterranean cavern-warming present.”

“The telepathic girl without a proper circulatory system says so, and as she has no reason to lie, I am choosing to believe the story which presents the highest odds of future carnage.”

‘Istas said, “I was unaware the telepathic girl possessed a temper.  This is pleasing.  Temperamental people are more likely to participate in carnage.”  “Sweetie, what have we talked about?” asked Ryan.  Now it was Istas’ turn to sigh.  “Humans are discomforted by excessive discussion of their squishy interiors.”  “Which means…?”  “No referencing carnage more than once in a single conversation.”‘

‘”This is dull,” Istas announced.  “Are we going to stand here and debate blame while Verity is slaughtered?  Vengeance carnage is often satisfying, but it takes longer to perform properly than the kind which does not require a death to begin.”  “That’s my girl,” said Ryan.  “A delicate flower.”  Istas snorted.’

Apparently Fictional References

Covenant of St. George

Johrlac / cuckoo

Madhura [in reference to a cryptid related to the Gingerbread Man] – From the Sanskrit ‘madhu’ meaning honey, sweet, or mead (alcohol) – but not, apparently, from the Hindu legend in which Madhu is a demon.

St. Catherine’s’ Hospital and St. Giles’s Hospital in NYC – The latter may be a reference to the Great Hospital, founded as St. Giles’s Hospital in 1249 in Norwich, England.  (St. Catherine’s Hospital was founded in 1845 in Dorcester, England as St. Catherine’s Institution.)

Port Hope (hotel)

True References

Barbie Dreamhouse – Remade by the Aeslin mice into what Verity refers to as the Barbie Nightmare House.

Goldschlager (shots) – A whiskey with very thin flakes of gold.

Gwen Stacy – Marvel character usually originally appearing Spider-Man’s love interest.  In a fictional incident sometimes considered to mark the end of the Silver Age of Comics, the Green Goblin pushes Gwen off of a bridge and Spider-Man attempts to save her by grabbing her heel with a web anchored to the bridge while he continues his battle with the Green Goblin.  After the fight Spider-Man finds that Gwen is dead, possibly due to a broken neck caused by the impact of the web tether meant to break her fall.

Hudson River, black Crown Vic [Victoria], old Department of Docks [and Police Station] on Pier A in Battery Park, Manhattan

Meatpacking District in Manhattan – On the west side, north of Greenwich Village.  250 slaughterhouses in 1900, most of which closed in the 1960s (only 35 remained in 2003); a period of rapid gentrification started in the late 1990s.

Riemann Hypothesis – concerned with non-trivial zeros.  …”considered by some mathematicians to be the most important unresolved problem in pure mathematics“.  A form of its companion, Goldbach’s conjecture, may be the equation used in the header of chapters 16 – 19 (the chapters voiced by Sarah, a student of pure mathematics; a dance pattern diagram is used in the headers of Verity’s chapters).

Tiger Balm – A heat rub invented in the 1870s by herbalist Aw Chu Kin in Rangoon, Burma.

Half-off Ragnarok

Though this novel takes place after the two featuring Verity, it may be read standalone or first… though it’s better read in sequence to avoid plot spoilers.  The scene shifts from Manhattan to Columbus, Ohio and from female voices (Verity and her ‘aunt’ Sarah) to Verity’s brother Alex.  Sarah is a supporting character though she’s still recovering from her brain scrambling at the end of Midnight Blue-Light Special.  Happily there are still Aeslin mice (a splinter colony of the colony revering Verity) and we are introduced to Crow, a church griffin, akin to a cross between a raven and a Maine Coon cat.  (Crow purrs when he’s happy, churrs (a sharp trilling sound made by some birds) when he’s annoyed, and squawks loudly when he’s very upset.)

As a researcher, Alex’s forays are to study the Midwestern cryptid and non-cryptid reptilian populations in order to better provide assistance to the sapient members of the population and benign guidance to the others.  His efforts are not entirely altruistic in that publicized (and likely sensationalized)
cryptid discoveries would give cause to the Covenant – hunters of cryptids and Alex’s family (which includes some cryptids) – to make the trek from Europe, resulting in murder and mayhem.  The novel opens with Alex and his assistant Dee, a Pliny gorgon, hunting fricken in the marshes north of town (Columbus, Ohio) to determine if the health of the fricken population is correlated to the local frog population.  Their concern is that if the fricken population increases because it is not adversely impacted by the environmental factors causing frog die-offs, then mainstream science will discover the fricken, a bird / amphibian hybrid, and the resulting publicity will lead scientists to start looking harder for more hybrids and will attract the attention of the Covenant.

Though this novel isn’t as dark as some of those in McGuire’s Toby Daye series, it makes a much stronger statement about the ecological damage caused by humans.  In addition to the aforementioned frog die-off, Alex’s fellow researcher and love interest Australian Shelby Tanner makes several pointed comments about damage in Australia.  She cites the execution of the Tasmanian wolf and the importation of species invasive in Australia’s closed ecosystem as examples – though in her telling the Covenant provided the impetus and means for the white settlers’ hunting the wolf to extinction and manticores were amongst the importations.

Alex’s voice worked for me – and I preferred his single voice to the shifting between Verity and Sarah’s in the prior novel in the series.  McGuire again provides a nice gender and species balance in the action; Shelby and Dee aren’t pretty plot accessories waiting to be rescued and Crow saves the day.  I’m looking forward to the next book in the series – hopefully Sarah and Artie’s story comes next.  (See http://seananmcguire.com/icshorts.php for short stories voiced by Alex and Verity’s younger sister Antimony and other family and friends.)

Aside: In a scene in the big cat house in the Zoo, Alex correctly notes that the big cats are obligate carnivores.  Misleadingly he comments that the cats don’t get fed live prey (i.e. fresh blood would not have come from the cats’ food).  Some US zoos are not only (on occasion) feeding their large predators live prey (calves, for example) but are using such feedings as money-making, educational events.  (Domestic cats are also obligate carnivores: unlike humans and most canines felines of any sort do not get nutritional value from plant proteins.  The most efficient diet for a cat is a mix of raw animal flesh, organs, and bones.  Optimally the protein should be from ‘fur or feathers’ – e.g. rabbit, rodent, or chicken.)

Apparently Fictional References

Church griffin (though griffin are real mythological cryptids and they do appear in the artwork in some Western European churches).

Fricken – basically frogs with feathered wings.

Garrinna – a “marsupial griffin” (see ‘Griffin’ in the True References section) devised by Seanan McGuire.

True References

(See the Reference section at the bottom of this post.)

Barnacle geese – North Atlantic islands.  Real – but with mythical origins.  A medium-sized goose with a black neck, head, and beak and a white eye mask.  Their origin legend says that the barnacle geese were born from driftwood.

Bexley, Ohio – a mature suburb of Columbus and traditional home to Ohio’s governors.

Bilberries are wild harvested in Europe and may have beneficial effects on eyesight.

Bunyip – Aboriginal (Australian).  Myth.  Fearsome water dweller.

Capybara – South American.  Real.  World’s largest rodent genus.

Cockatrice and basilisks are mythical petrifactors.  The former was usually depicted as a two-legged winged serpent with a bird-like beak; the latter had a similar head and body but lacked wings and was often depicted with more legs.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium – a top-ranked zoo heavily involved in conservation programs.

Lindworm – Scandinavian.  A mythical monstrous serpent or snake.  An early legend tells of a countess freed from a lindworm by Ragnar Lodbrok.

Ophion – Greek deity taking the form of a serpent; predated Zeus’s reign.

Ragnar Lodbrok – Norse.  A legendary Norse ruler who was most likely an amalgam of several people but whose sons were based on historical figures.

Spectacled (Indian) cobra – Indian.  Cobra most often appearing in Indian snake charmer performances.  6 – 8′ in length.

Synapsid – paleontological classification referring to mammal and mammal-like creatures, the latter of which (in the real world) are extinct.

Tailypo – Appalachia.  Myth.  A dog-like creature with sharp claws.

Thylacine (Tasmanian wolf) – Native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea.  Hunted to extinction in the 20th century.

Wadjet – Egyptian.  Myth.

Vegetable lamb (of Tartary) – Central Asia.  Myth.  A plant with lambs as its fruits.

Sparrow Hill Road

This network of stories mostly voiced by Rose Marshall, a hitcher and “the Ghost of Sparrow Hill Road”, is tangentially connected to the Price family via the conceit that Kevin and Evelyn Price are the collection’s editors and that they’ve included an addendum the Ghostroad edition of the Price Family Field Guide.  As Rose comments in the introduction, the book does not follow a standard chronological trajectory – though the forward jumps in time mostly progress linearly (ending in the near future relative to the book’s 2014 publication date), the non-sequential backward jumps are at the service of the narrative’s flow.  For ease of reading, each segment is prefaced with a date.  This is one of the most powerful stories that I’ve ever read – I laughed and cried… and I’d do it again.  John Waters’s latest memoir – Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America – and Car Talk episode #1414 with a listener-contributed “Ode to the Dart” make great companion reads / listens.

Games Creatures Play

Games Creatures Play is a collection of 15 paranormal short stories on the common theme of games, each by a different author including Charlaine Harris and Mercedes Lackey.  Seanan McGuire’s contribution, “Jammed”, gives fans of the InCryptid series the third short story featuring the youngest Price, Antimony.  Told in the first-person (by Antimony), the story concerns a threat to her roller derby team.  Though I felt that McGuire’s story was the highlight of the collection, Mercedes Lackey’s “False Knight on the Road” (a story that would have fit right in with McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road) and “The Gods’ Games” by Dana Cameron were also standouts.

Short stories

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open Lonely Sea” is less dark than most of the other stories in the collection Carniepunk – but still has its overtones of incest – as well as the ghost of the question of “Does a mermaid transition from performer into captive once she loses her memories of being a land dweller?”.  There’s not McGuire’s usual mythological depth to this story and the Alabama carnival / freak show setting didn’t do much for me – not as interesting a story as McGuire’s other works but much more interesting than most of the other stories in this collection – too much blood, tattoos, and angst.  (Note: PC term for ‘freak’ is ‘biological impossibility’.)

Books by Lisa Shearin

Raine Benares Series

Strong central female character with two love interests – though the triangle is only a side-plot for the most part – and lots of entertaining dialog and (mis)adventures.  Best to read the series in order to avoid plot spoilers and to follow the development of Raine’s relationships and Piras’s – keeping in mind that the series’ main timeline is measured in weeks rather than years.  This is a series that I much prefer on the printed page: I think that I’d have a much harder time accepting Raine’s take on the attractiveness of a blue-skinned goblin and the horrors of winged demons when presented with concrete visuals; my hazy mental images keep me in the story in a way that a movie cannot match.

Magic Lost, Trouble Found

In a fast start, Raine Benares goes from small-time seeker (and sometimes somewhat legally questionable finder) to companion to (and potential channeler of) world-changing power.  The rest of the novel concerns her battling goblins, strengthening old alliances and making new ones, and learning more about her companion.

Armed & Magical

The scene shifts to the Isle of Mid in the second book where Raine Benares is under the watchful eye of the Conclave and where her spellsinger sidekick Piaras can get formal training (basically at a magic college).  Elf and goblin nasties both are trying to get at the powerful artifact that she’s bound to and the results provide plenty of opportunity for witty banter and creative underdog fighting.  “Megalomaniac and entrepreneur” Raine says – to which the 900-year old goblin nasty responds “Merely trying to adapt to modern times”.  The story arc in this book comes to a timely resolution while nicely setting up the third book without the “to be concluded” feeling.

The Trouble With Demons

This volume offers a useful cautionary note on the dangers of mirrors – only on Mid the issue isn’t simply one of the deadly sin of vanity but rather the demons that may choose to use your mirror as a door.  Goblins and elves are still scheming but they take a back seat to the demons in this volume.  The ending is satisfying – but somewhat less so than the prior two volumes due to the black clouds on the horizon.

Bewitched & Betrayed

The infighting and intrigue in both the elven and goblin camps heats up in this volume as Raine scrambles after a bodiless evil goblin mage.  I particularly liked the creative problem resolution in this volume – logical within the framework of the physics of Raine’s world and very inventive.  Also believable was Talon’s teenage impetuousness as he comes into his powers with a swagger.  As with the prior volume, this one concludes with an heartening girl-talk on the Benares’s family ship the Fortune – it’s nice to have another woman injected into the picture to balance the testosterone-laden world in which Raine operates.

Con & Conjure

Raine’s relationship with her paladin heats up – though she still has deep affection for her goblin rouge and she still takes personal responsibility for protecting others… including those not necessarily deserving of such attention.  I appreciate Shearin’s balancing of Raine’s access to enemy annihilating powers with a strong aversion to using those powers due to loss of control and sanity that accompanies that usage; rather than defaulting to using the Saghred, Raine / Shearin comes up with some pretty creative methods to get out of trouble – as well as using the very traditional technique of ‘follow the money’.  Not so compelling was her angst over becoming the Rock’s bitch and anguish over killing killers – I expect some revulsion and remorse over killing… but it’s not like this was the first time – though her previous kills were generally of creatures or elven-like beings from other species.  Speaking of other species, I particularly liked the giant werecrab with pincers that can snip through forged metal and a shell dripping with strands of corrosive green slime.  I also enjoyed the sky dragon cameo; possibly Shearin’s sky dragon’s are a nod to Anne McCaffrey’s dragons on Pern?  This novel has a definite story arc but more so than in the prior volumes this one ends in a setup for the next volume, the final one in this overall storyline.

Notable description: “Chigaru [the war-avoiding goblin prince] was still a crazy bastard, but he was also crazy like a fox.”  …  “Brilliant.  In an insane kind of way.”

All Spell Breaks Loose

All Spell Breaks Loose is a very satisfying conclusion to the story arc of Raine Barnes and the Saghred, a nearly omnipotent, soul-sucking rock.  This novel makes sense standalone but should most definitely be read after the five others in the series – especially Con & Conjure, the prequel to this one.  Rendering Raine magically powerless was brilliant – instead of the usual sequence of the hero acquiring new skills, more power, and/or new magical artifacts, this novel instead has Raine acquiring new allies and relying on her wits and intuition.  Her little ‘brother’, the up-and-coming spellsinger Piaras (a play on songbird Édith Piaf?), further matures into his powers and emotional maturity.  In interviews Lisa Shearin has indicated that there may be more stories to come involving her world of elves, goblins, and humans – let’s hope that the wait isn’t too long.

Books by Kim Harrison

The Hollows Series (Rachel Morgan)

Each book in this series has sufficient back-story to be read standalone but reading in chronological sequence avoids spoilers and does make more sense of the motivations of the minor characters.  The series features Rachel Morgan, a (mostly) white witch who’s a runner (bounty hunter) in a slightly parallel Cincinnati populated with humans and not-humans including Weres, vampires, demons, and pixies.

A Fistful of Charms

This third volume clocks in at just over 500 pages in the paperback version.  Rachel’s obvious adversaries in this outing are Weres but she’s also sorting through her feelings for Ivy, her vampire partner and friend, and Nick, her former human boyfriend who freaked out at the end of the first volume.  After being absent for the latter half of the second volume, Jenks, her pixie partner, is back.  The fight, chase, and strategy scenes are well-done and engaging – especially as they’re interspersed with homey scenes such as parties in the kitchen.  Not so entertaining (to me) is her continued self-doubt over relationships and Ivy’s angst.  Also, Jenks’ Tink-isms got tedious by the end of the novel.

The Undead Pool

Cincinnati in this twelfth volume in the series takes on the aura of Ilona Andrews’s post-apocalyptic Atlanta complete with strong females, magic waves, barely contained vampires, alpha weres, and wealthy conniving fae / elves – a compliment to both Kim Harrison and the Ilona Andrews writing duo.  That said, I much prefer Harrison’s insurance adjustor male alpha were(wolf) to most of the other alpha males in the genre and the strong female alpha role is refreshing.  This novel very briefly introduces a new female alpha werewolf to Rachel and David’s pack; I hope that we get to hear more from her in future volumes.  Speaking of future volumes, I wonder if the accepted wisdom that elves and demons can’t procreate will prove to be false, not apply to Rachel’s special case, or at least not apply while a demon harbors bit of the Goddess?  Mostly due to this story’s length (423 pages in hardback), I skipped to the end but then with more time I read the whole book.

Notable Quotes and Exclamations
  • Jenks: “Tink’s tampons”, “Tink’s little pink rosebuds”, “Tink’s a Disney whore”, and “Rachel is dumber [about love and sex] than Tink’s little pink dildo”.  “That’s dumber than tits on a man”, “Holy toad shit!”, and “I will never understand you lunkers.”  “…this [sex] is the best thing to happen to her since that boy band she liked got run over by a pack of migrating deer.”  [I didn’t quite get that last one.]
  • Newt (talking to Rachel): “You have had that elf as your familiar for over a year, and he’s not put the sparkly in your scrying mirror even once?”
  • Rachel: “…I was tired of looking like a pantser all the time.  I could plan stuff, too.”
  • Trent (using “one of Al’s favorite curses”): “Mother pus bucket”.
  • Mystics: “Death.  Singular thoughts ended.”

Books by Laura Resnick

Esther Diamond Series

The books in this series do not have to be read in order – though since the characters develop from one book to the next and since events are chronologically consistent, to avoid spoilers you may want to read them in order.

Disappearing Nightly

xx

Doppelgangster

Sexy Detective Lopez and sometimes-actress Esther Diamond have their attempts at a romantic date repeatedly thwarted by evildoing by / to the New York ‘wiseguys’ (the ‘gangsters’ of the book’s title).  There are dead bodies – but the only ones that I felt sorry for were the chickens.  The story does kind of cop out (hah!) by having the villainous mastermind meet his demise before explaining how he acquired the knowledge to create a doppelgangster.  Also not well-explained was the mechanism for accomplishing the ‘hits’ without physical access to the targets.  Moments of hand waving aside, the story is amusing and the protagonists are likeable.  The contemporary NYC setting is believable and most of the pop culture references should age reasonably well.

Paranormal terms

bilocated apparitional doppelgangerism (doppio, beta body, subtle body, fluidic body, fetch, Bardo-body, body double), soul possession, animation of physically altered corpses, strega, personal token magic (akin to voodoo or hooodoo).

Real terms

Mercury Retrograde, transubstantiation,

Gangster, Italian, and Jewish terms and phrases

“going to the mattresses”, famiglia, piece / rod / peacemaker (gun), babbo, schmendrick, stronzo,

Unsympathetic Magic

xx.

Vamparazzi

xx.

Polterheist

xx.

The Misfortune Cookie

The scene shifts from Manhattan’s Little Italy (these days more of veneer of Italian restaurants rather than an ethnic conclave) to its Chinatown – one of the largest in terms of population in the Western Hemisphere.  (The size debate on the Wikipedia Chinatown_Manhattan Talk page is rather entertaining.)  Resnick shares more of her cultural and social research (e.g. white is the color of death and ‘4’ is bad luck [‘8’ is good luck]) in this volume than in her previous Esther Diamond novels.  For example, over the last 50 years Manhattan’s Chinatown has absorbed not only chunks of Little Italy but also part of the formerly Jewish Lower East Side including the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the (Catholic) Church of the Transfiguration (which started life as a Lutheran church).  (Likewise in San Francisco formerly Italian and Hispanic churches now hold Cantonese services.)  Each chapter is prefaced with a relevant word such as ‘The Eight Immortals‘ written in Chinese characters (and defined in English).

The characters, dialog, and setting in this volume were, as usual, snappy and amusing; but the paranormal elements were a little thin (though the warded warren of a Chinatown curio shop brought back fond memories of the multistory SF Chinatown curio shops).  The backward progression of Esther and Lopez’s relationship was disappointing – especially since Esther was being such a shrew (a JAP?).  Okay, I got that she was upset at him but geez the woman can hold a grudge; lets hope that Esther has more perspective in the next volume.

Tour of the Fortune Cookie Factory Oakland – M – Th, 10am – 3pm, $1
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, 56 Ross Alley, San Francisco – 9am – midnight, $0 (it’s not a tour but rather a poke-your-head-in deal)

From About.com article on Chinese Funeral Traditions: “At the funeral, the family will burn joss paper to ensure their loved one has a safe journey to the netherworld. Fake paper money and miniature items like cars, houses, and televisions are burned. A eulogy may be given and, if the person was religious, prayers may also be said.”

ABC = American-born Chinese; FOB = fresh off the boat

Books by Karen Chance

The timeline and worlds in Karen Chance’s Cassandra (Cassie) Palmer and Dorina (Dory) Basarab Series overlap but since the former is set in Las Vegas and the latter in New York and since its supporting characters rather than the female protagonists who appear in both series, each series may be read independently.  Within each series it’s best to read the novels chronologically.  Per Karen Chance’s timeline, after the third Cassie novel read the novella “Buying Trouble” in the collection On the Prowl (which features Dory’s roommate Claire) and then alternate novels in Dory’s series with those in Cassie’s.

Cassandra Palmer Series

Best to read this series in order – though with time traveling it isn’t exactly reading in chronological order.

Hunt the Moon

Volume 5 Hunt the Moon

Tempt the Stars

There’s very little vampire action in this story as the action is centered around Cassandra’s efforts to rescue Pritkin, her close friend, coach, and it-remains-to-be-seen half-demon / half-human from his father’s world – a hell (not) on earth.  I enjoy the characters, the many worlds are interesting, and I appreciate the historical and mythological tie-ins; but it’s getting a bit tiresome for Cassandra to be kept so unaware of her powers and her role.  I hope that the witches get more page space in the next volume.

Dorina Basarab Series

Fury’s Kiss is the third full-length novel featuring Dory / Dorina, a 500-year old dhampir, and the humans, fey, vampires, and sentient beings of various other species in her life.  Dory has a fixation with guns and knives – but the story is not about her using her weapons but rather about her resourcefulness, perseverance, grit, and instincts – augmented by her physical prowesses.  She definitely has relationship issues but she has to spend a lot more time ‘doing’ than ‘stewing’ so the story doesn’t veer into whiny angst.  As noted below, a few of the cultural references – new and old since the main characters are over 400 years old – are puzzling and some of the world’s logic is a bit off, but those are minor quibbles in a fast-paced story with interesting, likable, complex characters.  Sentient beings die but mostly at the hands of minor characters and the antagonist; Dory and her supporters are only depicted killing in self-defense or when on the offensive to defend others.  That said, at some points the story verges on being akin to a Japanese manga with serious fighting scenes interspersed with the comedic – such as the slapstick scene in which the hapless Ray tries to douse the burn in his hindquarters.  This novel brings a resolution to and growth in her relationships with three of the main people in her life: Mircea, her vampire father; Louis-Cesare, her vampire lover; and, most interestingly and significantly, Dorina, her vampire self.  Though it’s not clearly stated, this novel could serve as the end of this series.

Louis-Cesare, Dory’s 400+-year old vampire maybe-lover is said to be the illegitimate son of Georges Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham – whom Karen Chance fortunately clarifies was the mister turned into a Duke by James I since Louis-Cesare’s Duke of Buckingham wasn’t the first to be given that title (in 1623).  (He was the first in his century with the second creation of that dukedom; the first creation was in 1444.)  Georges Villiers was said to have been “the handsomest-bodied man in all of England” and was rumored to have been the lover of James I, displacing Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.

In describing the decadent S&M party scene that opens Chapter 22, Karen Chance refers to the performers “executing flowing, sensual acrobatics in body sequins and some not-so-strategically-placed feathers” as “The birds in the Aerie”.  I didn’t get the reference to a capital ‘A’ Aerie; presumably she’s not referring to the 1971 John Denver album by that name.

In Chance’s world, a “plain old vamp” can leech blood molecules through the skin via touch; a master [vampire] can leech without physical contact.  Methinks that’s too big a leap from the physically plausible.

Books by Jayne Ann Krentz

See the Castle Krentz Quick post for reviews of books by Jayne Ann Krentz under her married name (Jayne Ann Krentz), her given (maiden) name Jayne Castle, and and her pen name Amanda Quick.  Her Krentz novels are in the murder mystery / thriller / romance genres with a contemporary setting – often the wine country north of San Francisco.  Many of the lead characters in her contemporary novels have psychical abilities and in the remaining one or both of the leads are strong intuitives.   Her Jayne Castle novels are set in the future on another planet with emigrants from Earth with psychical abilities and her Amanda Quick novels are Regency romance / mystery / thrillers, usually with paranormal (psychical) elements.

Books by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson Series

Best to read the series in order to understand the evolution of the characters.

Night Broken

Night Broken is less dark than some of the preceding novels in the series – fortunately – but it is more emo – unfortunately – with Mercy (a skin walker) trying to keep her (husband’s) werewolf pack from fracturing over hubby’s (human) manipulative ex-wife.  Some hot (figuratively and literally) marital sex.  Some monster violence.  Good mythological foundation (most notably Guayota).  Shi Sei Kai Kan is a real martial arts style (and practiced by Mercy).  Medea, Mercy’s unfazed-by-just-about-anything feline companion gets a good amount of comic relief time.  The cover is misleading and somewhat offputting: Mercy’s breasts are so full, high, and tight they look plastic – and yet in the novel Mercy unfavorably compares herself to the curvy and girly ex-wife.  Middle of the pack for Briggs’ novels.

Books by Shanna Swendson

Enchanted, Inc. – Katie Chandler Series

Enchanted, Inc. was a sleeper: it read much better than the mildly interesting back cover blurb which includes “Suddenly, average Katie is very special indeed” and “a crush on the sexy, shy, ultrapowerful head of the R&D department”.  Part of the problem was likely that Ballantine Books’ Marketing Department didn’t know to categorize this novel – romance? paranormal action / superhero? working girl? (No, not that type of working girl, a twenty-something woman from a rural town – in Texas in the case of Katie – trying to make it (or at least survive) in business in NYC.)  Most fortunately this first volume in the series was much more about a person who happens to be of the female persuasion finding an employer who appreciated her hard-earned marketing and business process savvy than a ‘shucks y’all girl’ getting promoted from secretary to wife of an alpha-male executive.  The plot makes good use of its NYC setting – but the story would be equally plausible in SF, LA, Boston, or Austin.  Because Katie’s love life evolves during the course of the series, to avoid spoilers read the series in order – or at least start with volume 1 in order to get the full effect of the magical constructs Swendson places over the ‘mundane’ world.  The individual components of this story are familiar – but they are configured with enough humor and unique and unexpected twists to hook both paranormal and romance readers.

Books by Kelly Meding

xx Series

Three Days to Dead
As Lie the Dead
Another Kind of Dead
Wrong Side of Dead

xx Series

Trance
Changeling

Books by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews‘ is the pseudonym for husband-and-wife writing team Gordon and Ilona (Andrews?).

Kate McDaniels Series

Setting: Atlanta and Savannah Georgia; Time: slightly in the future; Paranormal elements: no limits in the first two books, vampires are mindless, shapechangers who adhere to the Code are fully intelligent, and there are humans with powers (e.g. witches) and those without

Magic Bites was a sufficiently good to encourage me to read on in the series.  I liked most of the main characters – though the female protagonist’s (Kate McDaniels) “everyone who gets close to me dies so I won’t let them get close” schtick could get old – especially since her male counterpart (Curran) evidences similar issues.  The good guys are strong but not overwhelmingly or unreasonably so.  The sentence construction is occasionally clunky, the dialog doesn’t always ring true – you’ve got a problem if you’re compelled to announce that characters are using street talk (in the second book), and some of the descriptive passages don’t make sense.  For example, …”saw a dead girl on the floor.  She lay on her side, her legs spread obscenely, her arms stretched forward.”.  Maybe it’s just me but I got stuck trying to picture how the spread legs could look obscene if the dead girl was on her side.

The premise of cycles of magic and tech is interesting – so long as you don’t think about it too hard.  For example, when magic is up and tech (for the most part) doesn’t work, then all of the computers that run the power plants and other utilities would stop.  (Generators would not be an option since batteries and gas-powered engines (such as those in automobiles) don’t work when magic is up.)  Now lets say that when tech comes back up that the computers don’t have to reboot but rather continue as though tech never went down.  The problem is that time has progressed and databases and security systems don’t deal well with time skips.  And then we have issues such as the biological processes occurring in nuclear power plants and chip fab lines – or with a hand wave do all forms of tech whether biological or not freeze when magic comes up?  People drive gas-powered cars during tech; if a car traveling at 50 mph during tech were to freeze, the car’s living occupants would continue to travel at 50 mph into the dashboard and windshield – with no air bags to cushion the blow; if instead of freezing the car’s engine dies, then the driver will lose the ability to steer or brake the car – and still no air bags upon impact.

The werehyena alpha’s name is ‘Aunt B’, presumably a reference to ‘Aunt Bee‘ in the 1960s American TV sitcom The Andy Griffith Show.  The head of the local vampire-related group (The People – consisting of necromancers (the ‘Masters of the Dead’ and the vampires that they pilot – kind of like drones) is Nataraja – which is derived from the Sanskrit words for the Lord of the Dance.

A ‘upir’ is also spelled ‘upyr’ and could be related to the West Slavic Pomeranian ‘upier’.  The term is the Czech and Slovak word for ‘vampire’.

Location references in Atlanta: There’s no Unicorn Lane (maybe it’s a rename of West Peachtree St NW?) but there is a club called The Drunken Unicorn.

Building references in Atlanta: Bank of America Plaza, SunTrust skyscraper, One Atlantic Center, the Peachtree Plaza, Coca-Cola building, the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, Lenox Pointe (now Champion Heights), GLG Grande, Promenade II, One Atlantic Center, .

Magic Burns Kate and Curran have a reasonably slowly developing relationship.  Hints at blood magic during sex issues; guess that’s why she was okay dating a human (Maximillian Crest) in the first book.  I wonder how she deals with menstrual blood.  And what about sex during her menses?  And what about her other bodily fluids?  The Bran character reminds me of the somewhat spoiled god character who appeared in a couple of episodes of the original Star Trek series.

References: Honeycomb Gap used to be Southside Park with neighboring Blair Village, Gilbert Heights, Plunket Town, the Ford Motor plant (?), and Joshua Junkyards.

Sisters of the Crow – Morrigan and ravens in Celtic (Irish) mythology. Also Badb.  “Morrigan’s Hound”, a large, black dog – a hellhound?

Irish (Celtic) gods fought the Fomorians, Greek gods the Titans, and Viking gods fought Frost Giants.

Items on Red’s monisto included a Kennedy (American) half-dollar, an American quarter, a twenty-peso (Mexican) coin, a Georgia peach (American) quarter, a mall carousel (Atlantan) token, a Chinese coin with a square center hole, a miniature “Axe Grinder III” CD (in reference to the second tier in the video game Guitar Hero?), “a rough disk with a loop in the center”, a “Republica NC Philipinas” coin, a triangular charm with an Egyptian hieroglyphic, a square bronze charm with a rune, a Jefferson (American) nickel.

Kate feels “what my Russian father called toska” – a debilitating longing.  Top of a list of twenty “awesomely untranslatable” words.

“Rambo boyfriend”.  The Princess Bride.  Pelican Point restaurant in Eulonia, GA.

Saiman is the grandson of a Frost Giant.

Magic Strikes – xx

Magic Bleeds – Not as many baffling descriptions in this novel as in some of the others in the series.  While the books could be read out of order, given the relationship development and the references to events in past novels and clues that have meaning only in future novels, they’re better read in sequence – at least the ones featuring Kate and Curran.  The mythology in this novel is mostly courtesy of Jewish and Babylonian origin.  (Babylonia is present-day Iraq.)  There’s a scene in a Temple replete with golems – which put me in mind of Prague – and mezuzah (verses from Deuteronomy in the Torah attached to the doorframe).  A ‘red shirt’ character named ‘Ori‘ (Hebrew for “my light”) provides the tip-off.  (Hebrews and Babylonians are both Semitic people.)  Kate’s telling of the creation of the first vampire posits Roland’s favorite and youngest son Abe as the catalyst.  After failing to overthrow Roland, Abe and his people flee; Roland’s kingdom falls with the rise of tech; Abe’s grandson Esau tries to steal a garment that allows the wearer to capture any animal; Roland kills Esau but keeps the body alive and finds that he can control the now-empty mind; and Roland sends Esau back into Abe’s kingdom wearing the garment.  Roland tries to use Esau to kill Esau’s younger brother Jacob but fails because Jacob was wearing an ivory collar; Roland then consigns the vampire Esau to an ancestral burial cave; eventually “a brave man finally put it [Esau] out of its misery”.

Kate tussles with both the local head (a knight-protector) of the Order and Saiman (a mixture of Norse god, frost giant, and human) over issues of humanity, speciesism, and polite behavior norms.  The cat and human courtship rituals add a nice levity to the proceedings.  As in the other novels, Kate’s body survives a lot of damage and Dr. Dolittle always manages to quickly patch her up in conveniently times periods of magic.  (Dolittle is a nod to the fictional Doctor Dolittle, an animal doctor who’s practice was enhanced by his ability to speak several animal languages.  In this series the good doctor is a shapeshifter who’s animal form is a honey badger – essentially an over-sized polecat or weasel – native to Africa and India.)

Maxine’s telepathy works during tech.

Book references: Gone With the Wind, The Princess Bride, xx

Marduk – ‘Bull of Heaven’, the sun god of the later Babylonian period

Kate’s mule’s name is Marigold; there’s a hybrid marigold known as the Mule Marigold.

‘Rabbi Melissa Snowdoll’ – what’s up with that name?

Rejected names for Grendel, Kate’s oversized poodle / Black Dog, include Samson (of Biblical lore), Erik (Phantom of the Opera), and Fezzik (the Turkish wrestler in The Princess Bride).  (The Princess Bride comes up later in the story as the book that Kate reads to Curran.)

Kate’s aunt is Erra and her father Roland is Ishum from the Babylonian legend.  The short blurb in Wikipedia on Ishum makes him out to be mostly benevolent and an attendant of Erra (who as the god of pestilence and mayhem is definitely not benevolent).

Nergal

Mary (Typhoid Mary)

Magic Rises

Saiman to Curran (aka Lennart, a Swedish variation of Leonard) and Kate “I finally realized the source of your mutual attraction.”  “You both think violence is foreplay.”

References
  • The Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge crosses the Savannah River south into Savannah, Georgia 15 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Sea shanty ‘Old Storm Along’ is a nod to the African American sea shanties of the 1830s and ’40s about the seaman Captain Alfred Bulltop Stormalong.
  • The Carpathians are a mountain range running through several European countries including Romania, Poland, and Slovakia.  The range includes Prislop Pass in northern Romania – the pass to Russia, Ukraine, or Moldova from Romania or Hurgary.
  • Jarek Kral (a takeoff of Janko Král’, a nineteenth century radical Slovakian romantic poet and activist?), alpha of the Obluda (Northern Polish surname; Czech word for ‘monster’) of the Carpathians wolf pack, and his daughter Desandra.
  • Belve Ravennati = Italian for wild beast or animal (‘belva’) inhabitant of Ravenna, a town in northeastern Italy)… hence the moniker ‘Wild Beasts of Ravenna’ for the fictional Italian Pack.
  • The Volkodavi Pack from Ukraine – a volkodav is a wolfhound: a dog bred to hunt wolves or a (non-contemporary) wolf-dog hybrid.
  • Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Aegean en-route to the Port of Gagra in Abkhazia on the border between Russia and Georgia on the Black Sea (controlled by a local werejackal pack).  Gagra was established as Triglite, a Greek colony in Colchis.  It is 30 miles southeast of Sochi, Russia, also on the coast of the Black Sea.  Saiman continues on to Tuapse (Russian sea port just north of Sochi), Odessa (Ukrainian seaport; the country’s third largest city), and Istanbul (Turkey).
  • Lorelei Wilson – ugh, obvious name – Alaskan father is alpha of Ice Fury Pack in Alaska and mother is Belgian.
  • Ancient Assyria, Colchis; Babylon, Egypt; Mesopotamia; Cimmeria, Scyth; Assur;
  • Story of Paris and Helen.  Golden Fleece and Jason and the Argonauts – in Colchis.  Astamur.  Ancient Georgia: Suliko’s family danced the kartuli.
  • Djigit = skilled rider or fierce warrior; manticore; lamassu; ochokochi; Agulshap; atsany; gyzmal (were-beast);
  • Weapons: scorpio (Roman crossbow akin to a machine gun), “…European, bastard swords, rapiers, sabers”; falcata, Greek kopis, Roman gladius, hand-and-a-half, German messer, falchion, claymore; “blood grove” – makes the sword lighter rather than for channeling blood;
  • Megobari family – Hugh d’Ambray, preceptor of the Iron Dogs; Masters of the Dead;
  • Hugh uses a quote from The Princess Bride, Kate’s favorite book.
  • Bravinski-Dhoni test (blood virus assimilation)
  • Symbolism of blackberries?
  • Red deer, tur (mountain antelopes), gazelles, mouflon (wild sheep), and wild goats.  Molosser dog “like someone took a Saint Bernard and gave it a German shepherd’s muzzle and coat”.
  • Ancient Rome: emperors assumed the purple cloak while victorious generals wore laurel wreaths.
  • Abzamuk, sonst nichts, citrullo (Italian), parazeet (Russian parasite), viridok (Russian bastard), Volodja – Russian shortening of ‘Vladimir’, plokhoe mesto (Russian bad place), ne ponimayu (Russian),

Must Love Hellhounds

Must Love Hellhounds – a collection of four novellas by Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Meljean Brook.  I picked up the collection for Andrews’ novella ‘Magic Mourns’ which fills in how Kate’s friend from the Order (and closeted beastkin), Andrea Nash finally gets in bed with werbouda Raphael Merdrano (and kicks a little supernatural butt… and provides apples for Kate’s pie).  The pacing worked really well for the novella length – and though it featured regular characters from Andrews’s Kate McDaniels series it could easily be read prior to the other stories in the series.  Harris’ ‘The Britlingens Go to Hell’ surprised me for being completely removed from the Earthbound setting and characters of her well-known Sookie Stackhouse ‘Southern Vampire’ series.  Instead the setting is another world and the two main characters are female bodyguards sure in themselves and their capabilities to protect clients with a combination of might, acuity, and superior weapons.  Throw in a side character from Greek myth, one American whose mysteries have catapulted her into folklore status, and a male lead with very special, ummm, attributes and you’ve got an amusing story worth a read.

Gunmetal Magic – Most of the book centers on beastkin Andrea Nash and her on-again, off-again lover Raphael Medrano, male alpha of Clan Hyena.  Kate Daniels and Curran are featured in the novella “Magic Gifts” which occurs in the same time frame as the main story.  The mythology in the main story is Egyptian, and it’s Norse in the novella.  I prefer Kate to Andrea as a lead female protagonist but I give the edge to Raphael over Curran in the supporting male protagonist role.  That said, giving Kate somewhat of a breather was probably beneficial to the longevity of the series.  This volume suffers the of the same slips in logic as the previous volumes.

‘Dagfinn Heyerdahl’ – ‘Heyerdahl’ is presumably a nod to famous Norwegian ethnographer, adventurer, and author Thor Heyerdahl (who wrote The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas). Dagfinn: “From the Old Norse name Dagfinnr, which was composed of the elements dagr “day” and Finnr “Sámi, person from Finland”.”

“Lorna Sterling”, Andrea’s favorite bodice-ripper romance novelist, is a fictional character.  Aspercreme is a real product (used for relieving joint pain).

x

Books by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right

Unlike many freshman novels, First Grave on the Right is consistently engaging – though slightly derivative upon reflection.  Charley Davidson, the lead character, is a mouthy grim reaper with past experiences often referred to in a manner akin to a mid-series volume.  Her cheekiness (“Denial was not just a river in Egypt”) – and the punny chapter subtitles – balance the sad emotions surrounding unexpected death; hopefully later volumes (six and counting as of August 2014) move beyond abusive husbands and fathers and child trafficking.  Perhaps later volumes will also address the logical flaw of a single grim reaper to take care of all the world’s lingering souls; only one reaper for all of Albuquerque and its immediate environs I can accept (especially with a local police detective uncle) but I can’t see Charley also covering Santa Fe let alone Pyongyang.  I also don’t see why people who’ve accepted that Charley talks with ghosts and shepherds them to the light go all bug-eyed at the notion that Charley has seen Death.  Is Jones’s version of New Mexico one without Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to help understand Death’s personality?  The incubus-style sex scenes were unsatisfying – especially in light of Charley’s questionable credibility as an accurate observer given her anticipation of those bug-eyed responses.  I was also not thrilled by the love triangle setup.

Second Grave on the Left

A little more detective work, a little less mouth, and a reduction in the number of the plot threads would have helped Darynda Jones’s sophomore novel, Second Grave on the Left.  If you enjoyed the early Stephanie Plum novels and don’t mind the addition of paranormal elements, then you’ll enjoy Charley Davidson’s stories.  Speaking of paranormal, I hope that in future volumes Jones approaches the ghosts capabilities in a more consistent and logical fashion.  For example, if a ghost and a human can occupy the same space, then the ghost shouldn’t be able to use physical force against a human.  If a ghost can move inanimate objects such as grains of sugar, then a ghost can move a pen across paper or press keys on a keyboard.  And still to be explained is why the only grim reaper on Earth is located in Albuquerque, NM; what’re ghosts in other places with business to finish before they cross supposed to do?

References: ‘criss-cross-applesauced’ is a US regional variation of sitting cross-legged.

Books by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files

Between his novice effort, Storm Front, and Cold Days, the fourteenth in his series ‘The Dresden Files’, Jim Butcher has learned how to create a more believable character and story.  In the former, wizard Harry Dresden’s physical strength is consistent: he’s strong one minute and the next he’s getting beat up by a female friend.  The verdict?  Read the series in reverse chronological order – unless you really want to avoid spoilers.

Books by MaryJanice Davidson

Undead Series

Undead and Unsure is the twelfth in the Undead series.  As the heroine, Betsy, Queen of the Undead, matures and becomes less annoying, most of her companions become more so.  This story didn’t pull me in sufficiently to keep me from skipping ahead (generally I much more enjoy a story if I know how it’s going to end) – but once I read the downbeat ending I was hard-pressed to go back and read thoroughly.

Books by Kelley Armstrong

Otherworld Series

The series starts with Bitten and concludes thirteen volumes (and several novellas and short stories) later with Thirteen.  (See the Teen Friendly Fiction post for comments on Armstrong’s teen series Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising.)  My interest in the stories varied greatly depending on the narrator: werewolf Elena was too angsty and witch Paige too wimpy, teen-to-adult witch / sorcerer / demon Savannah was mostly likeable (her occasional bouts of teen drama including overly innocent dithering over her crush were annoying), and Vegas performer / necromancer Jamie and witch / demon Eve (Savannah’s mother) were pretty kick-ass.  The big difference was that Jamie and Eve are both capable, confident women comfortable with themselves and their romantic interests, and neither has unresolved childhood traumas.  Chaos demon Hope has some romance issues but is otherwise much closer to Jamie and Eve than to Elena and Paige.  The series is best read in order (see Armstrong’s Web site for a complete story order, including some Web-only stories)… but skip or skim those with less than stellar narration.

Thirteen includes cameo appearances by many living (and undead) characters from the previous twelve volumes.  Fortunately for this concluding volume, Savannah is the primary narrator and Eve, Jamie, and Hope all have big secondary roles.

Books by Jacqueline Carey

Dark Currents Series

Dark Currents: Agent of Hel is Jacqueline Carey’s latest (published in 2012).

Miscellaneous

Tiger Magic

Tiger Magic by Jennifer Ashley reminded me of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey: escaped shape-shifting result of a military experiment with no knowledge of how or why he was bioengineered tries to build a family while avoiding recapture by the military.  Both novels provide some gripping moments but Santa Olivia wins by several whiskers.  The lack of a plausible scientific explanation for the experiment that produced the hero and military commando who unquestioningly follows all orders are what makes Tiger Magic more of a dip-and-skip read.  In part because the locale of Santa Olivia (a town on the Mexican side of the border) is fictional and because the timeline is parallel to ours, Carey has more leeway in creating a logical backstory.  Tiger Magic is set in contemporary time in the real Austin (Texas) – but rather than leverage the colorful characters and lively music scene of Sixth Street most of the action takes place in a nondescript, quiet suburb with no particular driver behind the (characters’) choice of that location.  I also think that Jennifer Ashley would have better served by not including fae in her world.  Seanan McGuire’s very compelling Toby Daye series is populated with a wide variety of species including fae but there’s a single origin story (akin to that of Adam and Eve) and their evolution occurs in the usual biological fashion through procreation.  In contrast, Ashley’s shape shifters are magical creations of the fae on the one hand and the result of a science experiment on the other creating a fatal logical dissonance.

The Fangover

The Fangover by Erin McCarthy and Kathy Love …

Collections

Blood Lite

Blood Lite edited by Kevin J. Anderson is a collection of 21 short stories with paranormal elements (primarily though not exclusively vampires) and dark humor.  The collection is uneven with some stories that are LOL and others that forgot the humor part in going for gory twists and still others that could have used some judicious editing (e.g. The Sound of Blunder in which the initially passably funny banter between the main characters quickly became annoying).  Hell in a Handbasket by Lucien Soulban was notable for its depiction of practical jokes between Heaven and Hell – including “the Unholy Venison”, Furfur, and “the Kool Kat of Hell”, Vassago.  Kelley Armstrong’s The Ungrateful Dead (which opens the collection) proves once again that Armstrong’s non-werewolf, non-pure-witch short stories are much more entertaining than her novels – more lip and less angst.  Charlaine Harris likewise benefits from the short form in her An Evening With Al Gore which takes eco-terrorism into new realms.  The collection closes with Day Off, a typically strong story by Jim Butcher depicting the thwarted attempts of his regular character Harry Dresden to spend a peaceful day with his love interest.

Kicking It

I enjoyed Kicking It (edited by Faith Hunter and Kalayna Price) much more than some of the other paranormal collections that I’ve read recently – there wasn’t a sour note in the bunch and I equally (or in some cases even more) enjoyed the stories by new-to-me authors.  (It’s really hard to write a short story around the central character of a popular series that appeals to both fans of the series and the totally unfamiliar.  Some of the authors in this collection get around the problem by featuring their series’ supporting characters and by shifting to a different setting.  For example Rachel Caine takes Luc and Lindsey (part of the supporting cast to vampires Merit and Ethan) from Chicago to New York.  Killer (sometimes figuratively as well as literally) boots are the shoes included in most but not all of the nine stories; the shoes are pivotal in either a good or bad fashion to most of the stories; and the shoe-wearer isn’t necessarily a woman.  Two of the stories harken to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes.  The best quote is in Snakeskin by Rob Thurman: “I didn’t have bad-hair days.  I had unique-hair days.”  Another story nicely weaves together Iktomi, Kokopelli, and Dhakhan.  And Ruby Red by Kalayna Price has the characters meeting up at the No Bull Vegetarian Diner.

Hot For the Holidays

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Links

Adult Mystery” post

Romance Novels” post

References

Religion

Ancient Semitic religion – including a list of Babylonian deities

Canaanite religion – including a list of deities

Symbols

Imperial Chinese symbols – blue dragon, white tiger, black tortoise, red phoenix

Media

Paranormal movies: The Wolf Man (1924 and 1941 versions), The Wolfman (remake of 1941 version), Wolfman (1979), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964), Cat People (1942 original and 1982 remake), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), Doom of the Cat Men (a movie made within the movie The Bad and the Beautiful).

Mythology, Folklore, Fairy Tales

Flying Dutchman, Mad Peg

Larunda or Larentina – a nymph or minor goddess made mute by Jupiter and impregnated by Mercury.

Not Fully Human

General Terms

cryptid, cryptozoologist

shapeshifter, therian (or therianthrope)

Specific Terms

bogeyman – also spelled boogeyman, boogieman, bogieman.  English with corollaries in many other cultures.  A humanoid entity verbally used by parents as a threat to coerce their children into better behavior.

brownie – also called a brounie or urisk. From Scottish and English mythology. Per Wikipedia, they are related to the Scandinavian tomte, the Slavic domovoi and the German Heinzelmännchen.  Often depicted as quite small with round torsos and stick-like arms and legs.

caladrius / dhalion – Roman / Greek.  A snow-white bird which in some stories extracts a person’s illness and then flies away dispersing the illness (presumably in a sufficiently dilute fashion that the illness does not strike another person).

dhampir – also called dhampire, dhamphir, dhampyr, or dhampyre.  From Balkan folklore.  Half-human, half-vampire; presents as human.

dwarf – also called duergar, brownmen, bogles, or dwerrow.  From Germanic, Norse, and English mythology.  Short, powerful, and earthy.

The Gingerbread Man – American.

gorgon – Greek.  A female body with snakes for hair.  Traditionally someone who sees her face is turned to stone.

lamia – depending on the description she is human above the waist and serpent below, is cursed to eat children, and cannot close her eyes (but in some stories can remove her eyes in order to rest).

manananggal – Philippines.  A vampire-like creature which prefers fetal blood.  Usually depicted as female; can sprout wings (from its back) to fly, and can separate its torso from its legs.

manticore – Persia.  Generally has the body of a lion, the head of a man (with three rows of sharp teeth), and the tail of a dragon or scorpion.  Sometimes also has wings.

tohil, coatl – Mesoamerican.  Feathered serpent.

waheela – Alaskan / Canadian wolflike cryptid.  Similar to Shurka Warakin (American) and Amarok / Amaroq (Inuit).  Used in contemporary stories as a wolf or wolf-bear therian.

Watchers – also called Irin; some of their number are fallen angels (‘the Fallen’ – including Lucifer, the Morning Star).  Angels good and bad first referenced in Aramaic texts such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Enoch.

Related

Also see the paranormal entries under Romance Novels and Teen Friendly Fiction.


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