Tour’s Books Blog

August 1, 2011

Three New Paranormals and a Paranormal Cozy

  • Title: Grave Dance
  • Author:  Kalayna Price
  • Type:  Paranormal UF/alternate reality
  • Genre:  A witch who is more than a witch and those who want her – or just want her dead
  • Sub-genre:  Serial killers, witchcraft and Fay queens make for a heady mix
  • My Grade: A(4.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 100,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Book 2 of the Alex Craft series was even better than Grave Witch, a real surprise.  All too often, the second book is a bit weak, but here the complex plot and world building just got better.

It’s been a month since the events in Grave Witch where Alex Craft discovered her father was fae and her a faykin (part Fae).  Shehas pretty much recovered from her adventures, and reconciled with the fact that Falin, the ‘man’ she took for a lover, is, in fact, the lover of the winter queen – and Queen’s Knight sworn to her service.  Learning she was more than half Fey, was a shock.  Finding out she can rip holes in the fabric between the planes is a lot scarier.  Death, or the soul collector she thinks of as Death, saves her life yet again, and this strange relationship that started years ago draws her to this man.

The problem with 15 minutes of fame is, it brings out the nuts – including a human who wants Alex to open a portal to the aether so his witches can feed off the energy to make charms – and make him even richer than he already is.   And then there’s the feet.  A lot of them.  And the Fey who lives in the swaps who wants them to be left alone because of the evil associated with them.   And who the hell keeps sending these constructs to attack her – constructs that have the souls of the dead?

Alex drags her friends into the hunt for answers – and several get kidnapped to the fae lands.  Right now the planes align so Alex must pass thru the Winter Queen’s court, and in doing so, and seeing Falin at the Queen’s side, causes almost as much pain as her new sensitivity to iron.   It also brings home the painful fact that Falin, regardless of his feelings for her, is bound as only a fae can be to a ruthless Queen who wants to control Alex.  As long as he is honor bound, he can never be hers and she can never fully trust him.

Alex’s growing powers attract the Winter Queen, who wants her to be a member of her court.  And it isn’t exactly an invitation.  Alex escapes the Winter Court and finds the Summer King and, much to her shock, a third fae kingdom.  She rescues her friend, but as always, at a price.  The denouement has layers of meaning for her budding relationship with Death.

Grave Dance is a very well done, complex urban fantasy.  The characters have depth and the relationships meaning.  After the Morelli/Ranger triangle in the Stephanie Plum books, I have almost zero tolerance for romantic triangles in any series, regardless of genre.  For whatever reason, it’s working here, at least so far.   Neither Falin nor Death are truly available or free to choose Alex.  Each is bound differently and Alex gets to see first hand what can go wrong between a witch and Death and how tightly bound to the Winter Queen Falin really is.   Alex’s father puts in a very brief appearance here, and it looks like he might come back into the story with the next book, as he is obviously no ally of the Winter Queen.

Is Grave Dance worth $7.99?  ABSOLUTELY!  The story and the characters just keep getting better and it’s one of the very few series I’ve read in this genre lately that has woven a rich, complex cast of characters with some really fine world building.  You MUST read Grave Witch first to fully enjoy this book and understand the evolution Alex’s character.  My only complaint – it does take a lot of time between books, so you’s best have a good memory to keep all the characters straight – or reread Grave Witch before you start.  Still I’d rather wait for quality like this than get a second rate book with less depth and complexity.  Brava Kalayna Price!

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  • Title: Black Night
  • Author:  Christina Henry
  • Type:  Paranormal – UF/angels and demons/alternate worlds
  • Genre:  A descendent of Lucifer finds her powers when drawn into power play with the Queen of Faerie
  • Sub-genre:  Playing games with Fey is dangerous
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased thru an online book store

Book 2 in the series that started with Black Wings (I wasn’t exactly thrilled by book 1) finds Lucifer’s granddaughter, Madeline Black, back at her old job shuttling souls to the door, a door beyond which Agents are not allowed to know what goes on.  She now has Gabriel living with her, but they are unable to act on their intense attraction due to his status as her bodyguard owned by her father Azazel.  Her boss, the annoying JB, actually turned not so annoying and even asked her out, but she couldn’t take any more complications in her.  Bad enough she died, had her heart ripped out by one of Lucifer’s banished offspring, and replaced by a piece sun called a heartstone.  It gave her powers, but power has its price.

As an Agent of Death, she is bound to see souls to the door, and urge them thru, but her family ties to Lucifer has drawn her away from her job and into the power struggle taking place on another plane – and spilling over onto this one.  As a child of Azazel and the granddaughter of Lucifer, she finds herself thrown into the games the Fallen play and the power struggle that literally keeps Hell off Earth.  Maddy discovers JB is the faerie queen’s son!  (And his name is Jonquil – no wonder he goes by JB!)

Lucifer decides Maddy is the perfect new Ambassador to the court of the capricious faerie queen.   Going with her will be her betrothed, Nathaniel.  This was a forced betrothal by Azazel and Maddy wants no part of it or Nathaniel, but she finds she must call on him when she and Gabriele get attacked and he needs healing.  In addition to Samiel, the son of the demon Ramuell she killed in book 1, is hunting her.  Something is on the streets on Chicago stalking werewolves and killing them in a gruesome fashion.  A tentative friendship of sorts gets formed between Maddy and the pack Alpha and Maddy discovers  that suddenly there are dozens of unauthorized gates all over the city.  The portals are masked, even the makers signature hidden.    Then her lifelong protector, gargoyle Beezel, goes missing.  She’s sure he was taken through the portal in the alley where she and Gabriel discovered the dead werewolf.

With Gabriel missing, Maddy reluctant calls on Nathaniel again and they head through the portal.  Turns out rescuing Beezel is the easy part.  Getting out will be a whole lot harder and will take them through the court of the faerie queen. Much of the last third of the book is set in faerie and Maddy gets more self-assured quickly – and more aware of the games these immortals play when she must enter a maze that will likely mean her death in order to free Gabriel from a renegade demon lord.

Christina Henry pulls this one off much better than book 1.  The story moves very fast and Maddy does triumph in the end, but as always, at a price.  The reader is left wondering just how much Lucifer knew about events as he twists the outcome to get Maddy to see that what he wants from her is the only way she can get what she wants, Gabriel.  She even solves the mystery of who killed the werewolves, and that was an interesting second ending.

Is Black Night worth $7.99?  Yes – but be warned, the author has too much story for the length of the book, so there a sense of it being rushed – like a 2 hour movie shown in a 1 hour time slot.  The dialogue is snappy enough to give it body, but the plethora of characters that play important minor roles get short shrift and the pacing is too fast.   Lead characters are generally better drawn, Maddy and Gabriel’s attraction real and apparently more doomed than ever unless she bends to Lucifer’s wishes.  Lucifer, in a cameo at the end, is subtle and almost kindly, but manipulative and willing to use any one and anything.  Beezle is the perfect comic relief.  The story line needed about 100 more pages to flesh it out, make the pace and the plot play out better in order to make the big scenes in the faerie queen’s court work and Maddy’s sudden acumen in game playing believable.  Still, a worthwhile read.

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  • Title: Kitty’s Big Trouble
  • Author:  Carrie Vaughn
  • Type:  Paranormal – UF
  • Genre:  Kitty and crew hit San Francisco
  • Sub-genre:  Cheesy play off John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China
  • My Grade: D+ to C- (2.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased thru an online book store

I’m dammed if I know how the reviewers of this book on Amazon missed the play on John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, one of Kurt Russell’s many off-beat characters in a real tongue in cheek movie.  Ms Vaughn even salutes it in the book title, Kitty’s Big Trouble and sets the book in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Maybe I’m just showing my age and a propensity for watching movies that send up the Kung-fu and horror genres.  OK, let’s forget for a moment that Carrie Vaughn watched this movie and liked it so much, she used it to plot her book, it’s still the amusing charm of Russell’s swaggering trucker fumbling thru a war battle of demons and Gods in a culture he is completely clueless about that’s missing.  In fact, it’s missing pretty much everything.

Kitty starts getting interested in the possibilities of famous werewolves in history.  A sound argument is made that Gen. William T. Sherman was turned werewolf before his infamous march to the sea.  This gets Kitty interested in other historic figures, such as Wyatt Earp.  From here, the improbable story line jumps the tracks and will entice only the most dedicated fans of Kitty.

Lemony Snicket has nothing on Kitty with it comes to improbable events.  After a totally unexpected encounter with an old vamp wearing a Roman talisman of some kind when investigating Dodge City and Wyatt Earp, Anastasia calls Kitty for help out in San Francisco.  She sounds so desperate, Kitty, Ben, and Cormac drive out.  (I will ignore the whole parolee issues she glosses over.)  Seems that talisman they found belongs to an ancient vampire looking of a piece of magical equipment so he can duplicate than and form a new, nearly invincible vampire army.  Anastasia needs Kitty, Ben, and Cormac to help her find and guard the item to keep it from his hands.

Anastasia leads then to a shop owner in Chinatown who has inherited the guardian duties to the artifact’s room.  In the magical tunnels below San Francisco’s Chinatown, the story just gets so improbable it’s just silly.  They chase and get chased, find themselves with Chinese deities living in magic rooms, and fighting with a vamp that is unlike any vamp they’ve ever met before – and obviously hated by Anastasia.  Cue the Monkey god and some kung-fu action.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Was Kitty’s Big Trouble worth $7.99?  Nope, not for me.  The story just didn’t hold up.  It wasn’t even good tongue-in-cheek farce like John Carpenter’s movie.  Even worse, sounds like the next book will be set in England and by some miracle, Cormac – a paroled felon, will be going.  The mind boggles.  I liked Kitty best when she deals with the here and now.  This excursion into sheer cosmic silliness simply didn’t work for me.
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  • Title: Ghost a la Mode
  • Author:  Sue Ann Jaffarian
  • Type:  Cozy mystery
  • Genre:  paranormal; “I see dead people”
  • Sub-genre:  Getting haunted by a pushy ghost relative can bring a lot of problems
  • My Grade: B+ to A- (4.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $10-$12
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  thru an online book swapping site

Emma Whitecastle is at a crossroads.  She’s forty-ish and soon to be divorced from her college sweetheart – a man who is a serial cheater who succeeded in knocking up a bimbo just a few years older than their daughter.  A former child star, Grant Whitecastle is still in their house while she and the soon to be in college daughter live with her parents.  He’s fighting the divorce settlement, and surprised to find Emma won’t back down.

Getting her fighting spirit and independence back apparently comes at a price.  When Emma’s Aunt Kitty dies and she goes to stay with her cousin, with whom she has always had a very close relationship, during the funeral.  Then Aunt Kitty’s ghost appears with that of another woman, one dressed pioneer style.  She refuses to believe she’s seeing Aunt Kitty and the woman who is her great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth “Ish” Reynolds, a woman hung by vigilantes for murdering her  husband a hundred years ago in Julian, California, an old gold mining town east of San Diego.

Emma and her friend Tracey had gone to see a medium, she was just along for a ride, but the medium insisted a ghost wanted her, Ish Reynolds.  She wanted her name cleared.  Then Emma started hearing voices, getting cravings for apple pie, and now seeing ghosts.  It’s all too much.  Ish has been waiting for generations to find a relative to help her clear her name.  Looks like she might have to go on waiting, but eventually after a talk with her dad, Emma gets a drawn into the idea ghosts are real.  A second appointment with Milo Ravenscroft sort of convinces Emma there are ghosts and she can see them – or at least she can see Ish, who’s nickname “Granny Apples’ came from her excellent apple pies.

With time on her hands while Grant has their daughter on vacation in Europe before college starts, Emma makes reservations in a restored hotel in Julien and starts looking into the circumstances of Grannie’s death.  Two things happen in Julien.  First, when Emma visits the cemetery, she sees ghosts – lots of ghosts – and some talk with her.  A frantic call to Milo lets her know this is a very rare and unusual thing.  Next, Grannie Apples leads her to where the homestead used to be.  It’s now the Bowers Ranch and it turns out the Reynolds aren’t exactly welcome.  Phil Bowers makes that real clear when he hunts her down in town to find out what she was doing on his land.  The fact that her soon to be ex-husband is now an obnoxious TV talk show host with less class than Jerry Springer, does nothing to aid her cause.

The next big surprise is the discovery of another Reynolds relative, one who wants the Bowers land – which certainly explains the bad attitude of Phil Bowers.  Emma wants nothing to do with this slippery distant cousin, but the ghosts of Julien are a lot more helpful than the living in her efforts to clear Grannie’s name.  She also finds herself becoming a target.  It all keeps coming back to that small find of gold by Grannie’s husband just before he was beaten and killed.  Emma finds herself with an unexpected ally in Phil Bowers’ Aunt Susan and he slowly starts to believe she might not be trying for either his land or some kind of sensational story for her ex-husband’s TV show.

Her telling him about seeing ghosts undoes some of that, until they warn her NOT to get in her car and show her running off a mountain road.  The mechanics find nothing wrong – until a test drive bothers the 3 rattle snakes under the driver’s seat and the car crashes into a tree.  Phil starts believing and the arrival of Milo and Tracey help Emma stay calm.  well, except for her unexpected attraction to Phil Bowers, who turns out to be quite the kisser.

Ms Jaffarian develops both her characters and plot at a believable pace and fleshes them out so well they feel real, rather than the all too frequent 2 dimensional cardboard cutouts.  She also made the real historic town of Julien come alive.  While paranormal mysteries are thick on the ground, this one stands out for the quality of the writing and plot development.  The only other book by this author that I’ve read was Murder in Vein, an urban fantasy set in southern California as well.  There too, her writing style was impressive – so impressive I pre-ordered the next book in that series due this fall.

Is Ghost a la Mode worth the discount price of $10-$12?  For any fan of paranormal cozies, or well written cozies in general, yes!  I do wish publishers would put these books out in mass market size and pricing.  They would sell a lot better and gather a bigger audience.  That $10 price tag is a very real psychological barrier for buyers, including me.

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