Review: Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford

Review: Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys FordFish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Half Moon Bay #1
Pages: 204
Published by Dreamspinner Press on November 30th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Deacon Reid was born bad to the bone with no intention of changing. A lifetime of law-bending and living on the edge suits him just fine until his baby sister dies and he finds himself raising her little girl.
Staring down a family history of bad decisions and reaped consequences, Deacon cashes in everything he owns, purchases an auto shop in Half Moon Bay, and takes his niece, Zig, far away from the drug dens and murderous streets they grew up on. Zig deserves a better life than what he had, and Deacon is determined to give it to her.
Lang Harris is stunned when Zig, a little girl in combat boots and a purple tutu, blows into his bookstore, and then he s left speechless when her uncle, Deacon Reid, walks in hot on her heels. Lang always played it safe, but Deacon tempts him to step over the line just a little bit.
More than a little bit. And Lang is willing to be tempted.
Unfortunately, Zig isn t the only bit of chaos dropped into Half Moon Bay. Violence and death strike, leaving Deacon scrambling to fight off a killer before he loses not only Zig but Lang too. "

My Review:

I’m guaranteed to fall in love with any story where the cats are named Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. (If you like sword and sorcery and want to visit its most awesome progenitor, get thee to a bookstore and pick up Fritz Leiber’s fantastic stories of this ill assorted pair, starting with the parent of all sword and sorcery, Ill Met in Lankhmar, included in Swords and Deviltry)

Moving away from my squeeing digression, let’s go back to Fish Stick Fridays. Zig owns this story, and both of the men in it, even though it probably wasn’t intended as her book. Zig is eight, and an absolute magnet for chaos, with her marvelous bad attitude, a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, and her pink and purple tutus.

With Zig follows her uncle Deacon Reid. Deacon has come to Half Moon Bay on the Oregon coast with his niece Zig, his skills as a mechanic and motorcycle restorer, and a hope or a prayer that he and Zig can start a life together far away from the mean streets where Deacon spent time in jail and where his sister, Zig’s often addicted mother, finally took a one-way ticket out of the life she had destroyed for herself, leaving Zig in the foster care system until a judge was willing to take a chance on her ex-con brother.

Deacon bought the auto repair shop in Half Moon Bay sight unseen, praying for a fresh start helping people repair their understeer or oversteer problems on their trucks. The shop turns out to have been a good investment, but trouble follows them.

Deacon, who may look like the baddest of bad boys but is an absolute marshmallow on the inside, at least when it comes to Zig, is the picture of temptation to bookstore owner Lang Harris. Lang not only owns his own bookstore, he also owns a big chunk of real estate around town, and the two cats who seem to have stolen Zig’s heart – or vice versa. Once Zig met the cats, Lang was probably doomed.

As Deacon practically turns himself inside out being a terrific parent to Zig, Lang Harris finds himself tempted by this man who has blown into his life with the force of a hurricane – or the hurricane force powered by the dynamo little girl.

It’s 2015 or thereabouts, and that Deacon and Lang are gay doesn’t seem to be a big deal to anyone but the two of them. Attempting to create a relationship when neither of them has experience with much more than one-night stands is enough of a challenge, along with Deacon’s single-parent worrying about Zig becoming too attached to someone who might or might not become a permanent part of her life.

But the real fear is whether any of them have a chance at happy ever after – not because of the relationship, but because a series of near-fatal incidents has followed Deacon and Zig from their old haunts all the way to Half Moon Bay. There are too many possible suspects, from the bad guys that Deacon did occasional business with to the bad guys that Zig’s mother did occasional business with to the possessive psycho who carved Lang up before he got carted off to prison.

But someone is out to get either Deacon, Lang, Zig or the lot of them. Deacon finds himself forced to trust the local cops to keep them all safe, or at least to help them investigate the mess. Because one of these days, whoever is after them is going to get in a lucky shot. Unless Deacon gets there first.

Escape Rating A-: I’d say I want my own Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, but my own feline brood would strongly object. However, the way that Zig takes over their purry little hearts, as well as running the life of the two men who fall into her whirlwind orbit is definitely part of the charm of this story.

Lang and Deacon never hide who they are. It’s 2015 and they just don’t have to any more. Lang has plenty of his own issues, but they have to do with his knifed up history and his screwed up family – no one in town cares. A psychopathically possessive ex is an unfortunate possibility for any of us, at least in fiction.

It’s the relationship between Deacon and Zig that gives this story its heart and soul. Deacon never expected to become a parent, but he feels a strong obligation to do better by Zig than he did by her mother, his much younger sister. He does feel as if he could have saved her if he’d been around, but it wasn’t meant to be. So he is devoting his life to keeping Zig out of the foster care system and giving her the loving home that he and his sister never had with their own alcoholic mother. Part of the sweetness in the story is all about Deacon making things up as he goes along, and always fearing that he is doing the wrong thing. He wants the best for Zig, and is doing his damnedest to give her the love she needs, as well as the roots and boundaries she’ll require to grow up strong and happy. The loving push-pull of their relationship is a joy to watch.

The romance between Lang and Deacon takes a bit of a back seat to Deacon’s relationship with Zig, and that seems right. At this stage in their lives, making sure that Zig has a solid grounding in her new life is more important to Deacon than anything else – which is what makes him such a good father for his niece.

The suspense ratchets up to boiling over tension as the story goes on. At first, Deacon is sure that whoever is after them is after him. Lang, with the psychotic ex in his past and the scars to remember him by, is equally certain that whoever is shooting at them and trying to burn them out is after him. The police have too many suspects at first to sort out who might be gunning for whom, and why. It’s only as Zig feels safe with Deacon and Lang that anyone is able to get a handle on their would-be killer.

Zig learning to trust, knowing that the adults in her life will believe in her and back her up, both solves the mystery and lets us see just how far they have all come down the road of becoming a family – tutus and all.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-29-15

Sunday Post

It’s difficult to get back into the swing of things after being away for Thanksgiving. We had a blast at a friend’s new house in Houston! But it is also good to be back home. And LaZorra has been acting like a little kitty glue-stick. She’s absolutely welded herself to Galen’s side, and is very, very needy of whoever is in reach. I think she missed us. Even me, and she’s made it very clear to me on multiple occasions that I am the inferior house servant. She prefers her daddy for all things.

I did some reading on the plane to and from, and now I have to write it all up!

black friday book bonanza 2015Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaways Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Black Friday Book Bonanza

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace is Amy C.

cast in honor by michelle sagaraBlog Recap:

A Review: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
A- Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
A+ Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara
Thanksgiving Day 2015
Black Friday Book Bonanza
Guest Post: Zaytouneh and the question of what to do

pirateship down by suzanne johnsonComing Next Week:

Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford (review)
Empty Nest by Marty Wingate (blog tour review)
Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker (blog tour review)
The Martian by Andy Weir (guest review)
Pirateship Down by Suzanne Johnson (review)

Zaytouneh and the question of what to do

gataktdToday I am borrowing Marlene’s blog to write about a picture. Back in September, a boat carrying Syrian refugees landed in Lesbos, Greece — an occurrence that nowadays is surely not exceptional. Here is a picture of one of the refugees, along with his kitten.

The cat’s name is Zaytouneh, or Olive. If Google Translate is to be trusted, the guy might write his cat’s name like this: زيتون.

It should surprise nobody that a man who is running for his life will nonetheless pause a moment and reach for his cat. I am glad Zaytouneh made it, but he or she has a burden that may be a bit too much for one cat to bear. Consider this (translated) excerpt from a news article by the Greek source Protothema:

The picture has become viral on all social media, as it gives a different, more human dimension to this humanitarian tragedy.

Wait, what? The human being himself does not provide enough of a human dimension, and the cat therefore must carry the load? We live in strange times.

Also: what is his name? I don’t know.

To be fair, he is not obligated to provide it; he deserves his privacy. I hope he is doing OK, and I hope that if the cat is required to be a symbol of the “human dimension” of the refugees fleeing war and rack, that at least some people will see it and remember that it is not a pack of aliens who are fleeing Syria… but humans, like us, some of whom have favorite kittens.

What to do? I think we who live in the U.S. have at least one fundamental obligation: to not give in to fear; to not let fear cloud our sight; to then see that the refugees, as fellow humans, deserve our protection and aid. Not to beat the drums of war, but to consider that since we do have a military whose logistical abilities are the best in the world, we have a unique opportunity: our navy can ensure that refugees boats and rafts do not founder in the Mediterranean.

We can do that for them; we can try to carry instead of break.

We can do it for him. Or if need be, do it for Zaytouneh.

Black Friday Book Bonanza

black friday book bonanza 2015

Welcome to the Black Friday Book Bonanza, hosted by BookShelfery and the Caffeinated Book Reviewer!

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather let my fingers do the walking through the internet instead of waiting in those body-crushing crowds for Black Friday specials. I like my toesies firmly attached (all the better for the cats to nibble on them!) and there is much more available online than in any mall. I try to avoid the malls until after the holiday. I do occasionally like to shop, but I don’t like following people in parking lots like a vulture, hoping against hope that they are heading for a car and ready to leave the mall. Also hoping I can beat whatever fellow parking space searching is zooming in from the other direction.

My personal theory is that all shopping mall parking lots are designed on the Hotel California principle. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!”

I still want a car like George Jetson‘s, that compresses into a briefcase at the push of a button!

But until that day comes, there’s always internet shopping. No lines, no parking insanity, and you can shop in your jammies. And speaking of shopping in your jammies, I’m giving away a $10 Gift Card or a $10 book to the winner of this Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more great prizes, for yourself or to give as presents, be sure to take a look at the other stops on the hop!

Thanksgiving Day 2015

santa and turkey

For Thanksgiving Day I usually write something short and if possible funny. The cartoon above would probably be on point. Or sometimes Galen does a reading list. Not this year.

Instead, we have this:

first thanksgiving refugees

John Oliver on Last Week Tonight said something cogent about the results of that first Thanksgiving, comparing it to events going on right now:

john oliver refugees thanksgiving

As has happened so often since 9/11, we are again forgetting one of Ben Franklin’s most important comments:

franklin liberty vs security variation

Because Ben was right. So many people seem to be willing to give up who we are and what we stand for as a country because they have bought in to the fear that has been ginned up by certain political leaders and news outlets on the right of the political spectrum.

Even though Franklin D. Roosevelt turned out to be spectacularly wrong about the Japanese Internment Camps, in this he was absolutely right. (And the Internment Camps were a response to unreasoning and racist fear)

fdr fear

Remember this instead:

fear is a liar


Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle SagaraCast in Honor by Michelle Sagara
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #11
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on November 24th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In the aftermath of a vicious battle between darkness and light, the city of Elantra has emerged victorious. But Shadows continue to haunt every corner of its streets...
Elantra stands strong, but countless numbers of Hawks, the city's staunchest protectors, were lost in the brutal attack. Humans, Barrani, Aerians, Leontines—none of the races emerged unscathed from the defense of the city. Homes were lost, families were scattered…and the outcast Barrani Lord Nightshade is missing from his castle in the fiefs.
Yet as the chaos surrounding the battle begins to wane, Private Kaylin Neya's duties must resume, despite her grief. Called in to investigate a triple murder in a quiet part of town, Kaylin and her companions are soon embroiled in a case that is anything but routine. Evidence of the deadly Shadows that still threaten the city leads to hints of ancient, forgotten magics. And a visit to the Oracular Halls points directly to Ravellon—the heart of the Shadows and the darkness they contain.
But it is there that Lord Nightshade will be found—if he still survives.

My Review:

Elantra is a completely immersive world. It sucks you in the moment you start the first page. Then it spits you out at the end of the book, gasping at the shock of the return to the real. You find yourself figuratively pounding on its door, begging to be let back in, only to hear a sniggering voice whisper, “come back next year”, as you scream in frustration.

I’m still sitting in that shock of return stage. I was desperate to see how it ended, and now I’m completely bummed that I finished and I’m stuck waiting until next year.

The Elantra series is an urban fantasy set in an epic or high fantasy type world. While our protagonist Kaylin is human and mortal just like us, most of the people she works with and/or cares about are either not one, not the other, or not both. Elantra is ruled by a Dragon Emperor who really is a dragon. And immortal. And believes that the city is his hoard, which he will defend to the death. Usually the challenger’s.

One of Kaylin’s best friends is also a dragon. Bellusdeo, rescued from the realms of Shadow, is the only female dragon in existence. She is the hope of her race, and she hates it. Because everyone is trying to protect this immortal warrior, when all she wants to do is be of use, including being the warrior that she is born to be.

There’s an irony in Kaylin and Bellusdeo’s friendship. Not just because both are female, but because they are both surprisingly in the same boat. People keep trying to protect them against their will, when all they both want is to protect and serve everyone else. That Bellusdeo doesn’t need protection and Kaylin is basically a squishy human doesn’t make a difference. They both often end up fighting some well-meaning soul who is attempting to keep them safely on a pedestal that neither of them has any interest in mounting in the slightest.

Many of Kaylin’s friends are Barrani, this world’s quasi-equivalent of the more political and tricksy variety of elves. One reason the Barrani like Kaylin so much is that she is a chaos and trouble magnet. Immortality often gets boring, and being around Kaylin is guaranteed to be anything but.

Her sergeant at the Courts of Law is a Leontine, and yes, he’s a lion. Some of her friends are Aerians, who do not seem to be immortal but do, as the name states, fly. Her house is sentient, and occasionally rather fierce.

But Kaylin herself is very human and very young. She is either in her late teens or at most very early 20s, and only a year or so has elapsed since the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow. Kaylin is still learning, but at her sometimes slow and often recalcitrant human pace, which frustrates the Dragons and Barrani no end.

The story is always told from Kaylin’s first person perspective. We know what she knows, we hear the explanations she is always begging for, and when she is lost, so are we. Kaylin is lost a lot, because circumstances have conspired so that she is always in the middle of big magic that she does not understand, but is often the only person who can fix it, even with her imperfect understanding and sometimes complete lack of knowledge.

The story in Cast in Honor is that something magical is swallowing the City of Elantra, and if it isn’t stopped, the world will come to an end. It’s up to Kaylin and her friends to figure out what is going wrong, and stop it, before it is too late. No matter what the cost. Or who.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraEscape Rating A+: This is a series that you wallow in. The world of Elantra is incredibly complex, and is not really familiar. It has its own magic system, its own history, and definitely its own bogeymen. Even though Kaylin starts out the series not well-informed about the wider world, she certainly remembers her own history, even the parts she would rather forget. Kaylin attracts both natural and supernatural trouble, seemingly just by breathing, and a lot happens to her in each book. If the combination of urban fantasy tropes with high fantasy magic and scope appeal to you, start with Cast in Shadow or the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, to learn about Kaylin’s world as she does.

I wish I had the time to re-read the entire series before every annual addition. It’s that good.

This particular entry had Kaylin staving off the end of the world as she knows it, yet again. And it still seems completely logical that all this chaos happens around Kaylin. Also that she usually doesn’t figure out either what to do or what she did until sometime after the fact, but it still works.

Magic was visited upon her when she was 13, and her life hasn’t been the same since. In some ways that are good, and in some ways that are bad, but always in ways that the immortals around her find completely not boring, if occasionally extremely frustrating.

Underlying the mystery of how to save the world and why it needs saving, at least this time, is something deeper. Kaylin finds a young girl not unlike the person that she was at the same age. And Kaylin wants to prevent young Kattea from making the same mistakes that she did, even though their situations are not the same. In the end, Kaylin is able to let go of some of her regrets by letting Kattea find her own way.

But a bigger part of the story here is a meditation on loneliness, and what it means to be lonely. Kaylin is no longer lonely, and no longer alone. By chance, by design, by circumstances often beyond her control, Kaylin has created a family of choice around herself that she sometimes loves, sometimes frustrates her beyond measure, but always keeps her tied to the real world.

Through the characters in this novel, particularly the very unusual Gilbert and his unexpected relationship with Kattea, Kaylin is forced to look at what loneliness is, and how terrible it can be to be both immortal and lonely. It turns out we all need a hand to hold onto – even when we don’t have real hands.

Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Telling Tales (Joe Grey #17) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Joe Grey #17
Pages: 373
Published by William Morrow on November 22nd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's Website

Even the bright seaside village of Molena Point has been hit hard by the economic downturn, bringing a rash of foreclosures in which many residents are abandoning their family pets. While feline P. I. Joe Grey's human friends join together to care for the starving cats, a fire leaves a twelve-year-old boy homeless. The body of his alcoholic guardian is discovered in the smoldering ruins, causing Joe to wonder if escape was really impossible for the elderly woman or if something more sinisteroccurred.
Meanwhile, Debbie Kraft descends uninvited on the Damens' home with her two children, claiming that her ex-husband has left her with no money and nowhere else to go. But when Joe learns that the victim of the fire was Debbie's estranged mother and that Debbie is not broke at all but carrying plenty of cash, his fur is on end with suspicion.
As Debbie's abandoned tomcat follows her all the way down the coast from Oregon with his own clues to add to the mix, Joe learns that Debbie's Realtor ex-husband may be involved in a number of intricate real estate scams. Furthermore, his sales partner may be missing, and while Joe and his pals prowl through the dead woman's house, they discover that her reclusive neighbor has disappeared as well.
But it's not until Debbie's tomcat arrives that Joe and his feline detective pals find the biggest clue of all: a grave that the cops have missed. And as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, tortoiseshell Kit sees her own dreams coming true in the handsome new cat with whom she might share her life's adventures.

My Review:

catswold portal by shirley rousseau murphyOnce upon a time (1992) there was an epic fantasy titled The Catswold Portal, written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. I remember it as being a lovely little story, all the better for the possibility that some cats could switch between human form and feline form, and that some cats could have human speech and human intelligence.

While there is no direct link, at least so far, it is pretty clear that at least some of the ideas from The Catswold Portal found their way into the author’s Joe Grey mystery series. Because Joe Grey and his feline friends Dulcie, Kit and now Misto and Pan, all have human-level intelligence. Old Misto also tells fabulous tales of times long ago, and may possibly link back to Portal at some point.

But in the meantime we have a marvelous small-town mystery series where the best detectives in the town of Molena Point are Joe Grey and Dulcie. Joe Grey lives with Clyde Damen and his new wife Ryan Flannery, and Dulcie lives with Wilda, former parole officer and current librarian. Kit lives with a slightly fey older couple, the Greenlaws. Misto has found a home with the town vet, John Firetti. All of their humans know that the cats are much more than they appear. Joe Grey’s very first adventure, where he discovers his newfound talents, is in the marvelous Cat on the Edge.

When Joe Grey started ordering deliveries from the local deli and charging them to his housemate, the truth was bound to come out.

But Joe Grey, along with the rest of the increasing number of hyper-intelligent felines, have found a way to put their innate and insatiable curiosity to good use. They help the local police department solve crimes. The cats phone in reports to 911, providing information that they have gathered. Sometimes they get their info by sitting under a table and looking like they are sleeping, and other times they have to break and enter, or even dig for a vital clue.

In this 17th entry in the series, we find the feline private investigators attempting to unknot what at first seems like a series of unrelated incidents. A fire kills an alcoholic old woman. The old woman’s daughter returns to Molena Point, supposedly destitute, with two children and a suspicious story about her ex-husband. Said ex-husband’s business partner seems to be missing, as does the best friend of an older woman down on her luck and living in her car.

And nearly everyone in this strange chain of events is missing a cat, or has abandoned a cat, or both. And it’s the cats who figure out how all these missing persons and their crimes tie together, from discovering that the destitute woman is carrying wads of cash to finding the two missing women buried under a decrepit house. Even though they are all afraid that they are leaving too many clues behind about their collective identity as the police department’s two best and most mysterious snitches, their curiosity won’t let them rest until justice is finally done.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up after attempting to read a book so bad that I still want brain bleach days later. I knew that Joe Grey and his pals would be an antidote for the reading that ailed me, and they certainly were.

The Joe Grey series combines the joys of a small town mystery series with the unique aspect that the private detectives are really cats. This is not like the late Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series, where Qwill believes that Koko and occasionally Yum Yum are pointing out clues to him. Whatever Qwill thinks Koko is telling him, it is always Qwill who solves the crime.

Joe Grey, along with his friends Dulcie, Kit, Misto and Misto’s son Pan, are the detectives. One of the fun things about this series is that while the cats have human intelligence and speech, they still seem like cats. Joe Grey in particular speaks the things that we think our cats are thinking. His attitude’s feel like a cat’s attitudes – he loves his comfort and his crab salad, and thinks that humans talk too much around the things they are really thinking, and don’t say the things they really should say. Joe Grey also has the occasional existential crisis, he can’t help but use the gift he’s been given, and yet he worries about the way it has changed him and his friends.

Dulcie has learned how to use computers from her librarian housemate, and has taken up writing poetry. She loves who she is and doesn’t worry about who she used to be.

But they all worry about getting caught. Seeing a cat talking on the telephone would blow most human’s minds, and would certainly blow the cats’ collective cover. Their need to figure out a way to tell the police what is really going on and explain how the key evidence was found, especially when it is in a place that no human could find it, often takes up some of the mental powers.

Like all small town mystery series, part of the fun is in seeing how all of our friends are doing over the books. When we first met Joe Grey and his human housemate Clyde, Clyde was a bachelor who occasionally got himself involved with the wrong woman. In this book, Clyde and Ryan are celebrating their first wedding anniversary, if Joe Grey can ever manage to tie up the string of crimes that keep sending the town into crisis after crisis.

While the cats do solve the crimes and the mysteries, this particular story, set in the midst of the recent recession, has a lot to say about the human costs of the real estate crash, not just the criminal scam that is the center of the case, but also the way that so many families, when they lost everything, either abandoned or were forced to leave behind their pets, especially cats, as they moved into shelters or apartments that would not take pets. Those stories are heartbreaking, but the little town of Molena Point is doing the best it can for all its residents, including their stray cats.

Who knows? One of them might be the next Joe Grey!

Review: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Review: The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan GriffithThe Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1) by Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Crown & Key #1
Pages: 320
Published by Del Rey on June 2nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

They are the realm’s last, best defense against supernatural evil. But they’re going to need a lot more silver.
As fog descends, obscuring the gas lamps of Victorian London, werewolves prowl the shadows of back alleys. But they have infiltrated the inner circles of upper-crust society as well. Only a handful of specially gifted practitioners are equipped to battle the beasts. Among them are the roguish Simon Archer, who conceals his powers as a spell-casting scribe behind the smooth veneer of a dashing playboy; his layabout mentor, Nick Barker, who prefers a good pub to thrilling heroics; and the self-possessed alchemist Kate Anstruther, who is equally at home in a ballroom as she is on a battlefield.
After a lycanthrope targets Kate’s vulnerable younger sister, the three join forces with fierce Scottish monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane—but quickly discover they’re dealing with a threat far greater than anything they ever imagined.

My Review:

In my week of bouncing off of everything, I finally looked for an urban fantasy, because they always reset my reading slumps. I found The Shadow Revolution in my towering TBR stack and it definitely fit the bill!

Urban fantasy generally borrows from both mystery and fantasy. In the case of The Shadow Revolution, it borrows from mystery, fantasy, steampunk and horror. Both urban fantasy and steampunk can sometimes have a very light touch, with elves in Minneapolis (The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull) or the Knights of the Round Table in Victorian London (The Gaslight Chronicles by Cindy Spencer Pape).

Except for the frequent line of snark, there is nothing light about The Shadow Revolution. It draws its inspiration from gaslight horror, and things are often darkest just before they turn completely black.

I called it gaslight horror because the settings are frequently the scariest in Victorian London, Bedlam and the neighborhoods around St. Giles. Also because while there are werewolves, the most frightening monsters in this story are the all too human mad scientist and his homunculi, part human, part machine survivors of his torturous experimentation. The homunculi are much more frightening than the werewolves. The werewolves, good or evil, are who they are born to be. The homunculi are what we could become at the hands of an evil person who loves to experiment for its own sake and doesn’t care who he hurts. In fact, he enjoys his victims’ pain, especially their pain at losing their humanity.

Then again, he’s clearly lost his a LONG time ago.

The story here is the coming together of forces to fight the tide of evil sweeping over this steam-powered Victorian London. We have three warriors, with vastly different skills, band together for their own sometimes selfish motives.

Simon Archer is a scribe, what we would call a wizard or a mage. While he hides behind a fashionable, rakish exterior, he has tattooed his greatest spells on the canvas of his skin, to be called upon when his need is most dire. Malcolm McFarlane is the tank. He is a pure warrior who always has guns up his sleeves and cannons for fists. That his father was tasked with murdering Simon’s father, and failed, does not make their relationship an easy one.

In the midst of what would otherwise be testosterone overload, we have the expert alchemist Kate Anstruther. In an era when women were supposed to be merely decorative and ornamental, Kate runs her missing father’s vast estate and continues with (and improves) his experiments in alchemy. Kate’s father and Simon’s father also have history, but not of the deadly variety, at least as far as they know. Their fathers worked together on something that enables instantaneous matter transportation, and the forces of evil want the device and its power. Many of those forces have an axe to grind against Simon or Kate or both. The hunt for the device has been long in the making, and the dark side wants someone to pay for their frustration in their search.

When the forces of evil target Kate’s willful younger sister Imogen as the way to get both the device and the revenge they crave, Kate, Simon and Malcolm are forced to use their powers to the fullest to get the girl back. At any cost.

Escape Rating A: While the point of view we see most often is Simon’s (I think the cover picture is intended to be Simon) we do get inside the heads of Kate and Malcolm enough to see everyone’s point of view. This story is filled with thrills and very, very definitely chills as the action and danger never let up for an instant, not even when the story ends.

One of the things I liked about this story was the way that it brings together all the characters. Everyone has history with everyone else, and everyone gets past it in order to fight the good fight.

My favorite character is Kate Anstruther. It is always refreshing to see a woman who has no compunctions about displaying that she is the equal of the men in the fight. Where Simon uses his spells, and Malcolm his brute strength, Kate comes into battle with a sword and a bandolier filled with potions. And while both men make the token attempt to protect her, when she refuses to be protected they back off and respect her right to fight alongside them.

Two characters drove me slightly crazy. A lot of what happens happens because Kate’s sister Imogen is an idiot. She’s also a very young woman, and to say someone is a young idiot is so often an oxymoron. Also the only mess Imogen might have expected to get into was to be seduced into marriage with a wastrel. No one expected werewolves and black magic until they burst onto the scene, and by then it was much too late for Imogen, she had already been ensorcelled in some way. That Kate doesn’t recognize Imogen’s condition even after her first disappearance and recovery surprised me. It was so easy to see that Imogen was compromised that her sister should have been the first to figure things out, instead of the last.

Simon’s mentor Nick Barker provides some fascinating insights on sorcery in steampunk London and on both courage and cowardice, sometimes at the same time. It’s clear that Simon looks up to Nick, who has helped him learn his craft. But once the stakes are raised, Nick lets Simon down. Where Simon has always wanted to use his craft to help set things right, Nick has been trying to get Simon to stay in the shadows and hide from both fellow practitioners and whatever evil is brewing. It was a very different way of seeing someone’s mentor fall. Usually they die, like Merlin and Gandalf and Dumbledore. This failure is more a failure of courage, as Nick just leaves the fight behind.

I wonder if he’ll be back?

This one will keep readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Also frequently shaking with the creeps. Those homunculi are very scary, but not, in the end, as scary as the man who creates them.

undying legion by clay griffith and susan griffithThank goodness this is a trilogy and part two, The Undying Legion, is available. So, for that matter is part three, The Conquering Dark. I can’t wait to see where this story goes, and how dark things get before they finally find the light.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-22-15

Sunday Post

This was a rest and recuperation week, after two trips two weeks in a row. Most of my schedule fell apart, as nothing I originally planned to read ended up appealing much, if at all. C’est la vie.

gratitude-hop 2015-300x225There are no winners this week, but there is plenty of time to get in on the Gratitude Giveaways Hop. And this weekend we have the Black Friday Book Bonanza! That means two chances to win either a $10 gift card or $10 book from me, plus tons of fabulous bookish prizes at the other stops on each hop.

The Black Friday Book Bonanza, and all the other stuff about Black Friday, tells us that Thanksgiving is coming this week. This will be the first Thanksgiving in a few years that we haven’t spent it in Canada, where it is not Thanksgiving but somehow is still Black Friday. That still seems weird to me. While the reasons it is called “Black Friday” have more to do with Christmas shopping and retailers hopefulness than the Thanksgiving holiday itself, it is still the Friday after Thanksgiving here. That lots of stores in Canada have Black Friday sales without having had a Thanksgiving Thursday just seems strange.

But speaking of Thanksgiving, the fear-mongering about accepting refugees from Syria has reminded me that one of the things I always have to be thankful for is that all four of my grandparents made it to the U.S. ahead of the Nazis. The members of my family who did not emigrate to the U.S. or Canada before the war died in the camps. There were quotas and immigration restrictions and significant amounts of anti-Semitism, but arriving in the U.S. beat dying at the hands of the Nazis. It is impossible for me not to see the parallels between that situation and the current fear-mongering and hate-baiting against Syrian refugees today.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaways Hop
The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace

devoted in death by jd robbBlog Recap:

A- Review: Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb
A- Review: Hell Squad: Reed, Roth, Noah by Anna Hackett
B Review: The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace + Giveaway
B Review: Wildfire on the Skagit by M.L. Buchman
C Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Stacking the Shelves (161)




black friday book bonanza 2015Coming Next Week:

The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith (review)
Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara (review)
Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (review)
Black Friday Book Bonanza

Stacking the Shelves (161)

Stacking the Shelves

This was not a good week, bookish-wise. I had a couple of days where absolutely nothing I was planning to read looked remotely appealing, and I bounced around Goodreads and Amazon and my TBR pile trying to find something that would capture my attention. My inability to settle on a book is definitely reflected in my Amazon purchases this week. I bounced off a LOT.

For Review:
At Blade’s Edge (Goddess with a Blade #4) by Lauren Dane
Coming Back (Ink & Chrome #3) by Lauren Dane
A Copper Ridge Christmas (Copper Ridge #4) by Maisey Yates
Intimate by Kate Douglas
Night Study (Soulfinders #2) by Maria V. Snyder
Under the Spotlight (In the Zone #4) by Kate Willoughby

Purchased from Amazon:
Cat Bearing Gifts (Joe Grey #18) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Cat Telling Tales (Joe Grey #17) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Kilted Cowboys (MacLeod Sisters #2) by Jamie Salisbury
Mark of the Black Arrow (Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane #1) by Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck
The Rising (Alchemy Wars #2) by Ian Tregillis
Tartan Deadlines (MacLeod Sisters #1) by Jamie Salisbury
Where Love Takes Us (Heartfelt #1) by Jamie Salisbury