Tour’s Books Blog

October 20, 2010

Short Reviews: Paranormal UF and Mysteries

I’ve been reading through a large pile of books for various swaps and the Reading Challenge.  Remind me not to do reading Challenges in the future.  Damn.  It always happens when I get a work surge.

  • Title: Love In the Time of Dragons
  • Author:  Katie MacAlister
  • Type:  Paranormal – Lightening Dragon series #1
  • Genre:  Humorous paranormal involving resurrection and dragons
  • Sub-genre:  Another convoluted tale of the dragon and magic communities
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000 words for $7.99; discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available at any bookstore
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Katie MacAlister specializes in a kind of humor that would do George Burns and Gracie Allen proud – classic 1930’s zany, screwball comedy with sharp dialogue and often whacked out events balanced with serious, if sometimes underplayed consequences.  Sometimes she pulls it off better than she does others.  Here, she a good job of it, even if the storyline holds no real surprises.

Starting with Aisling Gray, MacAlister has been weaving tales of various dragon septs – clans if you will.  She plays things for laughs, but there is a darker background story slowly unfolding within the magical community that acts as a common thread tying the various series together. Tully Sullivan is a magical apprentice and has been for years.  Unfortunately, her skills are not developing at all.  Married to a man she doesn’t like with a son Brom, wise beyond his years and currently into mummifying dead animals, once a year she has a ‘spell’ she can’t recall and transmutes lead to gold.   This year, she had her little spell early and found herself unexpectedly in the care of people who claim to be dragons and claim she is one as well.  Tully thinks they’re nuts and just wants to get back to her son, but all these memories keep flooding back, memories from another age hundreds of years ago and a dragon named Baltic, a wervyn, or leader of a sept and a very arrogant dragon whom she apparently loved.  He is hated by all dragons who believe him guilty of murder and he’s thought to be dead.

The confusing story has many different threads, characters, and sub plots, but it’s mostly about Tully’s road to discovering who and what she really is and her slowly growing acceptance of Baltic and the fact that somehow, they both live again.  Many characters for the previous books in the related series – each sept seems to be getting its own book – play important roles here as well.  Brom is a precocious and rather shrewd 9 year old son and a very charming addition to the story.  The one problem is the mix of flashbacks and current time are not well delineated and as a result, confusing to the reader.  I found it annoying at times to be snapped back and forth so much.

Is Love In the Time if Dragons worth $7.99?  If you been following MacAlister’s series, yes, it’s better than the Silver Dragon books as far as I’m concerned.  If you haven’t been following the dragon series, you might find the story confusing.  Read her Aisling Gray and Silver Dragon books first.

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  • Title: Hard Magic
  • Author:  Laura Anne Gilman
  • Type:  Paranormal Urban Fantasy
  • Genre:  #1 in the new PUPI series; Young magicians break ground as forensic magician investigators
  • Sub-genre:  Using magic to solve magic related mysteries
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000+ words for $14.95 with 30% discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available at any bookstore
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book through online bookstore

This New York based, sharp edged urban fantasy features an unusual lead character and one not every reader will warm to.  Bonita Torres was the daughter of a lonejack father, Zaki, who gave her up to be fostered by a member of the Chicago Council, Joseph Cetala, orjust J to her.  The counciles were part of  the governing bodies of magicians, Cosa Nostradamus.  Lonejacks are not art of the community, they function outside of it.  Bonnie has enjoyed the benefits of the kind of education that wealth and position provide without losing she street roots and punk goth taste in clothes.  Bonnie loves and respects her mentor J like the substitute father he is, but resists his urge to shelter her, striking out on her own, but not disregarding his concerns.  In fact, I found the relationship between Bonnie and J handled very well with kind of insight and balance that few authors seem to strike.

Bonnie gets a mysterious call for a job interview.  Talents have trouble being around electrical things, especially electronics.  this makes getting a job a challenge as most require computer skills.  But Talent is based on sourcing and manipulating electrical energy, so just being around electrical things can be difficult.  I-pods, cell phones, laptops, computers, the everyday trapping of any office, have a bad habit of blowing up.  Elevators malfunction, lights blow out.  Bonnie is running out of options, so she goes to the mysterious interview to find four other people there, all of whom got the same mystery call and all of whom are Talents, each with a different gift, but well trained Talents.

The group walk into an office to find it already occupied – by a body.  Memorable way to conduct a job interview.  All 5 decide to take up the two Talents establishing PUPI (pronounced ‘puppy’).  The whole concept of forensic magic is new and untested.  The best part of the book is the whole group learning to work together and trust each other, the mystery part being obscured by  attacks on the whole group by Talents opposed to PUPI and its goals, seeing it as dangerous.  The mystery part – discovering the truth about the death in a council member’s family – plays second fiddle to the other activities.

What I didn’t care for, especially at the end, a magic attack on PUPI ends up killing an ordinary child of 12 who was unlucky enough to be fitted with braces when the Talents unleashed their power.  The person responsible is guilty of manslaughter – just like any drunk driver who kills, but I did NOT like how the whole thing was handled.  Once again, the morality of individuals with Talent places them as superior to the non-magical people, ones they call Nulls.  Like every other superiority complex, this one grates my nerves no end and dropped my estimation of the author for falling into that old trap, weeping and wailing of the guilty party aside.

Is Hard Magic worth $14.95 or the discount price around $10.20?  Yes and no.  It was good, but not THAT good.  It was a good read, but the ending annoyed me.  I know many publishers are choosing not to produce mass market size paperbacks and keeping to trade sized books at higher prices.  Too bad they often are only worth the mmpb price.  At $7.99 I would say buy, but at $10.20?  well, no, borrow, swap or buy used.

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  • Title: Dead and Kicking
  • Author:  Wendy Roberts
  • Type:  Paranormal Mystery
  • Genre:  #3 in the Ghost Dusters series; Death in the family and letting go
  • Sub-genre:  Malevolent ghost and old crimes nearly cost more lives
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000+ words for $6.99
  • Where Available:  book available at any bookstore
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book through online bookstore

I have to confess, I simply cannot like this series.  I tried.  Twice.  Twice I had it with the lead character in the first 100 pages.  I cannot connect with Sadie Novack, even more so here than in the first book, The Remains of the Dead.  Sadie just manages to push too many of my buttons and the third person voice of the author waters things down enough I find the sum total boring and colorless, even when it’s actually pretty good.

Dead and Kicking opens with the funeral of Sadie’s father, unexpectedly dead from a heart attack.  It gets complicated by live-in boyfriend Zack, who seems to have found someone else.  And here is my problem.  Sadie.  I’ve had my fill of immature, emotionally stunted, self involved, heroines.  Combine that with often lifeless prose, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  This should have been a terrific read.  After a hundred pages or so, all I could think was, “There’s 90 minutes of my life wasted on mediocrity.”  Very disappointing.

Sadie is dealing with a lot of different problems.  Her dad’s ghost she not yet ready to let go, her sister’s insistence she tell their mother about her ability, Zack’s desertion,  her physical attraction to another man – or men, and a truly evil spirit that doesn’t want to leave.  Zack, a former cops who had a prescription drug addiction that cost him his job, is pulled back into drugs an alcohol by Paula, his new girlfriend that he leaves Sadie for.  Somehow Paula and her friend Carol are tied to the house Sadie is cleaning out when she finds a baby’s remains in a box.  So Paula, a nurse, lures Zack to her side, drags him back into drugs and alcohol to keep him there, AND she’s involved somehow with what’s going on with the house.  See, if this was a full paranormal, she’d have horns and pointy tail – maybe like red and pitchforks.  The whole mess never quite made it for me, possibly because I got bored and annoyed with the characters and the writing.

I made myself read most of the book and skimmed the rest.  Tedious, trite, dull, and lifeless – not to mention the whole ‘romance’ between Zack and Sadie seems doomed.  Zack was one of the saving graces in Remains of the Dead, but here, his lack of character was very disappointing.  Even so, he figures things out and saves Sadie again.  then her dad saves her.  Isn’t it time she saved herself or gave up her nosiness?

Was Dead and Kicking worth $6.99?  Well, I guess that depends on how tolerant you are of the many foibles of the writer, the plot and characters.  I’ve reached overload on the whole ‘torn between lovers’ deal and blame Janet Evanovich and Patricia Briggs.  Jeeze, could we please have a real mystery and no stupid endings?  Is it any wonder I embraced Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri with both arms?  Maybe Ms Roberts could take some writing classes from him.  It could only help.

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  • Title: Rosemary and Rue
  • Author: Seanan McGuire
  • Type:  Paranormal Urban Fantasy
  • Genre:  #1 in the October Daye series; A changeling – half fae-half human, is drawn back into the fae world when a Countess she owes is murdered
  • Sub-genre:  Magic, mystery, and double-crosses in Fae world hidden in modern San Francisco
  • My Grade: B- (3.7*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000+ words for $7.99 with discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available at any bookstore
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book through online bookstore

Rosemary and Rue was the much heralded first book in the October Daye series.  Certainly, it was an original story with noir edge and heroine who is as tormented by her short comings as any noir PI in the mystery genre.  The opening is good with October being changed into a koi for fourteen years, losing her human husband and mostly human daughter who reject her when she finally reappears.  Now she avoids all thing Faerie working nights at a 24 hour market and practicing the fine art of denial about her Fae blood.  All that changes when increasingly anxious phone messages get left for her by Evening Winterrose, one of two Pureblood Fae Toby ever trusted, along with her liege, Duke Sylvester.  Eve’s last message lays a curse on Toby to find the one coming for her – but the last of the message are the sounds on Eve’s murder, a murder committed by cold iron.

Now whether or not Toby wants to be an investigator again, she must find Eve’s killer and recover the object she was guarding or the curse will kill her.  Skills rusty, and never good enough to go against the Pureblood Fae and their strange games lasting ages, Toby quickly finds trouble – and a secret so dangerous she can hide it only one place, with her enemy – Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe, cat shifter fae.  Tybalt might toy with, possibly kill her, but once given, his word is inviolate.  It also seems he’s one of the few people not trying to kill her – and nearly succeeding.

Like any good mystery, the story twists and turns, but the world building is not so complex, the unraveling of Eve’s murder is often secondary to Toby’s finding her way back into the Fae community, unwillingly, but surprisingly missed by many – and outright hated by a few.  Told in the first person, the story moves quickly, but does get bogged down now and then in the whole world building.  With so many characters, so many different species or breeds or whatever, each needing definition in context, the core story has to fight to stay in the forefront.  The other issue, why do the heroes always try to TALK to the villain?  Are they really that anxious to give killers a chance to beat them?  Please, authors, stop it!

Is Rosemary and Rue worth $7.99?  Yes.  It would have been a better book with more clarity by editing some of the various species out of the tale to focus on Toby and the murder of Eve and the mania that drove the killer.  (I did know who did it, but that was OK.)  I look forward to more of October Daye.

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