Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys FordJacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #3
Pages: 352
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 5, 2019
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Stalker Kai Gracen knew his human upbringing would eventually clash with his elfin heritage, but not so soon. Between Ryder, a pain-in-his-neck Sidhe Lord coaxing him to join San Diego’s Southern Rise Court, and picking up bounties for SoCalGov, he has more than enough to deal with. With his loyalties divided between the humans who raised him and the Sidhe Lord he’s befriended and sworn to protect, Kai finds himself standing at a crossroads.

When a friend begs Kai to rescue a small group of elfin refugees fleeing the Dusk Court, he’s pulled into a dangerous mission with Ryder through San Diego’s understreets and the wilderness beyond. Things go from bad to downright treacherous when Kerrick, Ryder’s cousin, insists on joining them, staking a claim on Southern Rise and Kai.

Burdened by his painful past, Kai must stand with Ryder against Kerrick while facing down the very Court he fears and loathes. Dying while on a run is expected for a Stalker, but Kai wonders if embracing his elfin blood also means losing his heart, soul, and humanity along the way.

My Review:

All the cats are jacked in one way or another on Kai Gracen’s latest stalker run.

That probably made no sense unless you’ve read the previous books in this terrific series. Start with Black Dog Blues and then dance on over to Mad Lizard Mambo. If you like gritty urban fantasy you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve also just made a bunch of puns based on the titles. They are all music-based in one way or another, from Blues to Mambo to Jive – another name for jazz. Cat is also part of the story, as the elfin, are often referred to as cats – usually in Kai’s case, cat-bastard.

Because he is. Both the sidhe and the unsidhe have some feline characteristics, and Kai is literally a bastard. As a combination of sidhe, unsidhe and who knows what else, mixed in a somewhat magical, semi-scientific blender, he’s a chimera – he fits in nowhere.

That part-magic, semi-scientific bit is also a metaphor for this post-apocalyptic version of our own world. The apocalypse is in the not too distant past, and it’s very specific. Suddenly the “underhill” of fairy stories, of the sidhe and unsidhe of Irish mythology, crashed up into the everyday world of humans – and changed everything for all sides.

The blend is the world that Kai lives in. It’s not a world where magic has always existed, but once the event happened, humans discovered that they had magic. The sidhe and the unsidhe, those perennial antagonistic elven courts, found themselves forced to deal with a world that includes humans.

Everyone thinks they’re the apex predators. That battle is still being fought. There are plenty on all sides who think that if they just kill enough of the others that things can go back to the “good old days”.

Those good old days were never very good for Kai. Not only is he a mix of sidhe and unsidhe, but he was raised human, so he has a foot in all camps but a place of his own in none.

Not that Ryder, the Lord of the Southern Rise Court of the sidhe based in San Diego, doesn’t want to make a place for Kai in his court. And not that he doesn’t keep trying.

But then Ryder is the one sidhe that we’ve met who has figured out that there is no going back, that the only way for his people to thrive is to learn to deal with the world as it is and not as they wish it would be – or that they pretend that it ever was.

This adventure begins when all of those worlds and wishes collide with their usual explosiveness.

Ryder has decreed that his court will accept all elven, sidhe and unsidhe alike. His grandmother has sent one of his more ruthless and less trustworthy cousins to attempt to wrest control of the court from Ryder by any means necessary, so that it can go back to her traditional, repressive ways.

Kai needs Ryder to come with him on a Stalker run out into the great wide desert spaces between the cities and the courts, in order to rescue a mixed group of sidhe and unsidhe who are trying to make the dangerous border crossing.

Everyone, Kai, Ryder, the reader and everyone aboard this crazy train all know that the run is going to go pear-shaped. The only question is how many ways and in which directions.

And it’s a wildly awesome ride every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve loved Kai from the very beginning, all the way back to the original publication of Black Dog Blues in 2013. My only serious complaint about his series is that its too long between books. And I’m betting that’s a complaint that most authors would love to hear!

Kai Gracen’s world is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, which sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms. Post-apocalypse is usually SF, while urban fantasy is obviously fantasy. But this world is our world if magic didn’t so much develop naturally as crash land into it, hence the apocalypse.

While I haven’t read anything else quite like this, the DFZ of Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series as well as the Atlantis-influenced world of K. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence both have a similar feel. So if you liked Nice Dragons Finish Last and/or The Last Sun you’ll probably like Kai Gracen and vice-versa.

Kai makes an interesting hero (sometimes anti-hero) because he has a foot in all of the various camps but a true place in none. Just as his name implies, he is “neither fish nor fowl nor good read meat”, but some of each and comfortable with none. He has an equally jaundiced view of all of the contenders as groups, while still loving, liking or detesting individuals within them all.

And he’s all snark all the time, which makes him a whole lot of fun to follow!

The world of this series is getting built layer by layer. The deeper we get involved with Kai, the more bits of the world around him are unfolded. And so far, it’s been fascinating all the way down.

Many of Kai’s stories are also road stories, and Jacked Cat Jive is no exception. Kai is a Stalker, his job is to go out into the wild places and hunt down the monsters that plague everyone. But this particular run is supposed to be a rescue – and it kind of is.

At the same time, it’s an opportunity for Kai to temporarily flee some of his own demons, while bringing one of Ryder’s along for the ride. Kai knows, and we know, that there’s going to be a betrayal somewhere along the way. That Ryder spends the trip hoping it will be otherwise does not make it so.

While I expected the betrayal, and while Ryder’s cousin Kerrick was a nasty piece of work from the second he stepped on the page, his constant reiteration of what he was going to do to/with Kai once he became Lord of the Court was not merely nasty but grating in its repetition.

Kerrick is looking for a slave, just one of the many reasons why he should never be Lord of the Court and why he needs to be sent packing at the first opportunity. The idea of forcing Kai is clearly part of his kink, particularly as Kai is still so messed up emotionally that he can’t even let himself give in to what he feels for Ryder – at least not yet.

Kai has taken a lot of damage and still needs a lot of healing. Watching that happen is one of the fascinating parts of his journey, and I can’t wait to see where the music takes him next!

If you want to read more about Kai and Ryder’s (mis)adventures there’s a blog tour for this book right now that includes all the pieces of a short story starring these fascinating characters along with a giveaway. I’m not part of the tour but I’m always happy to give this series more buzz!

Review: Wild Country by Anne Bishop

Review: Wild Country by Anne BishopWild Country (The Others, #7) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #7, World of the Others #2
Pages: 496
Published by Ace Books on March 5, 2019
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In this powerful and exciting fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, humans and the shape-shifting Others will see whether they can live side by side...without destroying one another.

There are ghost towns in the world—places where the humans were annihilated in retaliation for the slaughter of the shape-shifting Others.

One of those places is Bennett, a town at the northern end of the Elder Hills—a town surrounded by the wild country. Now efforts are being made to resettle Bennett as a community where humans and Others live and work together. A young female police officer has been hired as the deputy to a Wolfgard sheriff. A deadly type of Other wants to run a human-style saloon. And a couple with four foster children—one of whom is a blood prophet—hope to find acceptance.

But as they reopen the stores and the professional offices and start to make lives for themselves, the town of Bennett attracts the attention of other humans looking for profit. And the arrival of the Blackstone Clan, outlaws and gamblers all, will uncover secrets…or bury them.

My Review:

Having read the rest of the series, I’m still trying to figure out exactly where Bennett is in relation to the world we know. Lakeside is probably Buffalo NY. Lake Silence takes place in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, and I think that Hubbney is either Syracuse, Oneida, Utica or Schenectady NY. We don’t actually see maps.

Bennett is in the upper Midwest Region in this world, so it could be any small town. It’s certainly not Chicago, because that’s Shikago.

But the problem of where things are relative to where they are in our world is starting to feel relevant. Or, more to the point, the ways in which the World of the Others does and doesn’t match our world keeps getting both more interesting and more troubling at the same time.

One of the things that makes this world so interesting is the way that human nature really isn’t any damn different in spite of all of the different ways that this world developed than our own. At the same time, that’s also one of the issues that keeps tripping me up.

I can accept that human beings would be just as self-centered as individuals in this alternate of our own history, and would also have just as short of a collective memory as they clearly do in this series. That really, really short collective memory is the thing that keeps getting them in trouble, over and over and over.

But this is a world where humanity did not evolve as the apex predator. The Others, especially the Elders of the Others, are the apex predators, and always, always have been. There is also a well-known long history of those Elders slapping humanity back into the Stone Age whenever they stop taking care of the planet and forget that they are not the ones in charge of this world.

The part of me that loves science fiction is becoming increasingly perturbed by this. If humanity is not the apex species, wouldn’t it have evolved differently? That the human race in this story is so much like us in spite of the differences is part of what draws readers into the story, but it’s also starting to make less and less sense overall.

YMMV

The story in Wild Country takes place simultaneously with the events of Etched in Bone. I don’t think you have to have read that in order to get into this one, however. The story in Wild Country is the story of a group of humans and terra indigene (The Others) starting over in the abandoned town of Bennett, somewhere in the upper Midwest.

The terra indigene are there to see if they can control a town that will mostly be populated by humans. It’s an experiment. It’s also a favor to their allies in the nearby Intuit town of Prairie Gold.

The humans who are drawn to the place are either there to make a fresh start, or are there because this empty little village at the edge of nowhere provides them with an opportunity that does not exist in the settled places that remain after events in Marked in Flesh, where the Elders got tired of the neo-Nazi shenanigans of the Humans First and Last Movement and simply decimated the human population. Again.

And there are a few who think they can take advantage of the unsettled conditions that exist at the margins of every human frontier – forgetting entirely that the humans are not in charge and never will be.

And that the Elders cannot be conned.

Escape Rating B: I couldn’t resist reading this book as soon as I received the eARC, in spite of not being able to post the review for two months. So far, every book in this series has been like reading crack, once I start I can’t stop until I finish.

The narcotic seems to be wearing off.

I still enjoyed this book, but it didn’t grab me the way the previous books have. It also didn’t hold me the way that the previous ones did. It turned out to be interesting but not compelling.

I think part of the problem was that there isn’t really a central character. Or there are too many characters contending for the position. It felt like we’re supposed to see either Tolya Sanguinati, Virgil Wolfgard or human police officer Jana Paniccia as the POV, but perspective seems to pass around a bit too much for it to work completely and there are too many others, like Jesse Walker vying for a position. Just as we start to get invested in one character we’re on the move to another.

One of the reasons that Lake Silence worked so well is that it did focus on a singular, sympathetic character. That’s missing here.

I found the whole setting up of the town to be complex, intricate and downright fascinating, but I also seem to be on a kick where complicated political stories are really working for me at the moment. There is a LOT of minutiae involved (driving Tolya Sanguinati bananas) and it doesn’t exactly make for a fast read. Interesting, but not quick.

And then there’s the Blackstone Clan invasion, along with the knot wrapped around one of the few family members to escape them. Abigail has been hiding in plain sight in Prairie Gold, but moving to Bennett has exposed all of her secrets just at the point where her nightmare of a family comes back into her life.

The invasion of the Blackstones provides a lot of danger and dramatic tension at the climax of the story, but their kind of evil didn’t feel like it fit into this world. Or possibly it’s that Abigail’s particular talent didn’t feel as well-thought-out as the other human talents we have seen.

All in all, an interesting outing in the series that kept me entertained but didn’t live up to its predecessors. Which doesn’t mean that I won’t be back for any future forays into The World of the Others – because I certainly will.

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents (Agent of Hel, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #1
Pages: 356
Published by Roc on October 2, 2012
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Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn…

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.  

Guest review by Amy:

What kind of a mom would name her demon-spawn child “Daisy?”  Really?  But here’s Daisy as a plucky young adult with…erm…anger-management issues. Oh, and a tail. She’s the daughter of a human woman, and…well, a demon. Literally making the case for never, ever getting around a Ouija board ever again. Her dad, if Daisy just calls on him, can, in fact, bring on the Apocalypse. It doesn’t make for a close daddy-daughter relationship.

But she’s got her mom, who’s quirky and adorable, and she’s got a job working for the police department as a part-time file clerk, her friends, even a crush (on a fellow cop, who also happens to be a werewolf).  Oh, and a second job as liaison to the local goddess, Hel, who kind of runs things in the local eldritch community. Certainly grounds for an interesting life, but early in our story, a frat boy from a nearby college dies under suspicious circumstances.

Escape Rating: A+. I’m a huge fan of Carey’s Kushiel universe, which are delicious epic fantasy reads. Jacqueline Carey shows us she’s not a one-trick pony with Dark Currents. This story moves along rather a lot faster than her Kushiel works (aside from Kushiel’s Dart, which was over much too soon for my tastes), and we’re shown a solid cast of characters, all of whom seem to have a pretty good grasp on who they are in the grand scheme of things.

One of the things I like about this book (as with my prior review of MaryJanice Davidson’s Derik’s Bane) was that our supernatural beings aren’t…inhuman. Even the ones most-divergent from humans (faeries, naiads, a mermaid, a frost giant) have concerns and cares and lives that – while necessarily different from ours because of their nature – aren’t so far different from us that we can’t understand their motives. They’re just trying to get along with the overwhelming force of humanity around them, that’s all. Even the ghouls and vampires, as creepy as they are, make sense, and become characters you can understand and even like, in a way.

Daisy is a snark-o-matic, and her nature adds to this, along with her occasional frustration with being who she is. I had lots of giggles reading this tale, thanks to a generous sprinkling of puns and silly one-liners.

I tagged this as a suspense novel, and it is The core story here is a whodunit that crosses between the mortal and immortal realms. Daisy must stand astride that line, and dispense the justice she is empowered to hand out by her boss Hel, while making sure that any involved mortals get the treatment they deserve from her other boss, the police chief. But this book is more than that.

There’s a taste of romance here, too. Daisy tells us right up front about her long-time crush (a werewolf, who ends up partnering with her to solve the case), and we meet two other men who express interest in her, one a very intelligent, very dapper ancient ghoul, and one a mortal, with a fake Jamaican accent. All three are fascinating men, and I spent quite a while wondering which one she’d center on–if any, since there was also that flirtation with the very feminine lamia who used to babysit her, back-when. She says she’s straight, but this one does something for her even with the millenia-sized age gap.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and can’t wait to read (and maybe review for you here – Marlene? Can I?) the other two books in this series. My only downer in the book came right at the end, when Daisy ended up dating a different one of her crushes than I would have, in her shoes. I can’t tell you which, now, that’d ruin the whole thing for you, wouldn’t it? Go read for yourself!

Marlene’s Note: The next book, for those following along at home, is Autumn Bones. And YES, you certainly may review it for me here. In fact, that’s pretty please would you review it for me here. With bells on. I also love the Kushiel series. And I cite her Banewreacker/Godslayer duology fairly often as a classic in the “history is written by the victors/good and evil depend on which side of the fence you’re on” fantasy.

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. EdwardsThe Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Tarot Sequence #1
Pages: 363
Published by Pyr on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?

My Review:

As I read The Last Sun, it kept teasing me with all the books it reminded me of – including one that I can’t quite remember. It’s on the tip of my tongue? The edge of my fingers? The corner of my mind? I can’t quite find the right metaphor – or the book – and it’s driving me bananas!

But while I was going bananas, I was also enjoying the hell out of The Last Sun – so much so that I kept wondering what took me so long. This is urban fantasy, just the way I like it. Or at least one of the ways I like it.

First of all, there’s the whole Atlantis crossed with Amber thing going on. Rune St. John, the last scion of the Sun Court, is a descendant of Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis. This foundation on which this urban fantasy world rests is that Atlantis was real, and that its people – at least some of them – managed to escape its destruction.

Which doesn’t seem to be all that long ago. The Atlantis World War is still within living memory. Admittedly, the living memory of the extremely long-lived Atlanteans. But there are some in Rune’s generation who were born on the homeland, even if they don’t remember it all that well.

I also threw in Amber – specifically Roger Zelazny’s Amber – not for its hypothesis of Amber as the “one true world” but for its use of the Trumps of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. The difference seems to be that in Amber the Trumps take on the aspect of the princes of Amber, where in The Last Sun the princes – and their entire courts – take on the aspect of the Trumps.

But the worlds are certainly equally as cutthroat and Machiavellian, and the courts are equally as decadent. Rune is the last Sun because his family was wiped out by a raid sanctioned and carried out by all of the other Houses. We meet Rune and his companion/bodyguard Brand as they are part of another sanctioned raid, this time conducted against the House of The Lovers.

You’ll need to check Wikipedia or something for a brief rundown of the Major Arcana of the Tarot – because it matters – a lot – in this story.

Like much of urban fantasy, The Last Sun is an exploration of this alternate contemporary Earth wrapped around a mystery and suffused with magic.

Rune Saint John operates as a private enquiry agent, sometime detective, sometime bodyguard, barely keeping his head above water financially – and every other way. His mentor/benefactor, The Tower (see what I mean about the Major Arcana?) hires him to find out what happened to Addam Saint Nicholas, one of the heirs of Justice. Addam has disappeared, but no one seems to be looking for him – not even his mother.

But then, Justice isn’t about protection. It’s about retribution. If something has happened to him, his mother will avenge him. Which is rather cold comfort – if you’re the person who isn’t dead, at least not dead yet.

The case, of course, is much more than it initially seems. The deeper that Rune digs into Addam’s family, friends and especially business associates, the more it seems that there’s something rotten at the heart.

Not Addam’s heart, but somebody’s heart. The question is who? Or, as Rune initially believes, what? When he discovers the what, he learns that too many things that were believed to be myths really aren’t. And everyone who believes that Rune isn’t anything but an example of a failed house learns that he is much more than he appears to be. Whether Rune manages to absorb that lesson for himself has yet to be seen.

Escape Rating A: I was just planning to read a couple more chapters last night. Instead, I lost all track of time and space and finished the book just before 3 in the morning. And WOW what a wild ride.

I found the initial premise interesting, but once I got really into the case, I was sucked in and stayed sucked.

Urban fantasy often rests on its portrayal of flawed, scarred protagonists who are as much antiheroes as they are heroes. Rune certainly fits right in beside the best of them. Something about Rune reminds me of the early Harry Dresden, and it’s not just that fire is the go-to spell for both of them.

Harry also begins his story at the thin edge of survival. He’s also been abused, and he’s also certainly been a victim. He has the capacity for great power, but he’s denigrated and underestimated at every turn – until he finally comes into his own. He’s also mostly unlucky in love. As is Rune, but with a difference. While Harry’s rather salacious male gaze of women starts to wear for many readers, Rune isn’t interested in women. All of his generally frustrated sexual attention is focused on men.

He’s just not mentally healthy enough to really get into a relationship with anyone at this stage of his journey. And the reasons for his shaky mental health are awful in their causes and reasonable in their results. In this, Rune reminds me an awful lot of Kai Gracen in Black Dog Blues.

But what makes Rune such an interesting character to follow is that he’s both an insider and an outsider at the same time. As the last scion of the Sun Court, he is literally the embodiment of that aspect of the Major Arcana – or he will be once he grows into his power. The Arcana are the highest of the high in New Atlantis – and in the rest of the world. If he lives long enough, Rune will be one of the great powers of his world.

But his house is impoverished and in disgrace. Rune himself is gossip-rag fodder at every turn. And he’s sunk so low that he actually has to work for a living – something that no scion of the Arcana is supposed to do. Or at least not supposed to HAVE to do.

So he’s seen the top, and he’s now on the bottom. But with his background and his legacy, he’s not really a part of either world.

And his life has made him all too aware of how often the ones who are closest to you are the ones who strike you down – usually from behind. Which makes him both an object lesson on how the mighty can fall and the messenger of the bad news that someone else has been betrayed by their nearest and dearest.

As Addam Saint Nicholas discovers. Once he’s found. And that’s just the beginning of the adventure.

The only good thing about having waited to read this book is that I have a much shorter wait for book 2 in the series. The Hanged Man is scheduled to come out in September. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and if there’s a book for each of them, and the books are as good as this first one, I will be one very happy reader!

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. Green

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. GreenDeath Shall Come by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #4
Pages: 185
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Ishmael Jones is faced with a dead body and a missing mummy in this highly entertaining, genre-blending mystery.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb ...

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world's largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan's latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy.

When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy's curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them ... and why?

My Review:

One of the overall themes that runs through the Ishmael Jones series is misdirection. The villain(s) at least so far, use myths, legends and primal fears to direct their potential victims (and sometimes Ishmael) away from themselves and towards pretty much anything else.

Sort of like the way I am currently misdirecting the kitten from all the interesting things on top of my desk that she can break by putting her battery-operated toy on the floor and hoping it distracts her from knocking my tea over and chewing my phone.

By the way, it’s not working on the cat. And it usually doesn’t work on Ishmael Jones, either.

In previous books in this series, the creepy misdirection has either been ghosts (The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) or family monsters like the Hound of the Baskervilles (Very Important Corpses).

Having explored two branches of horror that Ishmael absolutely does not believe in, the phantom of misdirection is Death Shall Come isn’t a phantom – it’s a mummy!

Penny Belcourt, Ishmael’s human partner, loves mummy stories. Actually, so does Ishmael, but he prefers the Karloff classics and she liked the Brendan Fraser romantics. Both recognize that reanimated corpses do not walk among us – not even among the looted and stolen collection of Egyptian artifacts at Cardavan House.

Which does not mean that someone isn’t perfectly willing to exploit the fear of that possibility for their own evil ends. The question, as always, is who is the monster among them. What kind of monster are they?

And can Ishmael and Penny stop them before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: I pick up this series whenever I feel that my snark-o-meter needs filling – because this author’s work is always snarktastic to the max.

Ishmael Jones is one of the Men in Black. He’s also one of the aliens that the Men in Black usually monitor, but in this particular case, the organization that he works for – oh so cryptically named “The Organization” – does not know, at least as far as Ishmael knows, that he is not exactly from around here.

What they do know is that he has secrets to keep – and so do they. So when his boss asks him to come to the remote family pile and pretend to be an Egyptologist, Ishmael goes along with the game. His Colonel will “owe him one” and Ishmael knows that someday he’ll need to collect.

The setup is very reminiscent of an English country house mystery, as are all of the books in the series so far. But this isn’t cozy, it’s way more like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Ishmael can’t prevent all of the deaths, but he can try to keep the numbers from reducing to that “none”.

Sometimes he’s more successful than others.

Part of the fun of the series is the way that the standard horror tropes get turned on their heads. Ishmael does not believe in the supernatural – but that doesn’t mean that the people he is attempting to protect don’t. They get spooked pretty easily, and he usually spends a fair bit of time trying to keep them together for their own good – and he usually fails. He also usually has something snarky to say about it.

Early in the series, I said that Ishmael reminds me of Captain Jack Harkness in the Doctor Who and Torchwood series(es) . And that’s still true. Both in the sense of their immortality and in the sense that they both have holes in their memories, and that sometimes things that no one wants to meet jump out at them from one of those holes.

In the end, that’s what flips this series from mystery/horror to science fiction. Mummies don’t walk, but strange, weird and dangerous things do fall out of the sky. Ishmael should know – after all, he’s one of them.

Read this series with the lights on, and not right before bedtime. I made the mistake of reading this right before I went to sleep, and it gave me really, really weird dreams. But not scary enough to scare me off from coming back Into the Thinnest of Air the next time my snark-o-meter needs a re-charge.

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1) by Charlaine Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, urban fantasy, Western
Series: Gunnie Rose #1
Pages: 336
Published by Pocket Books on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, and the Midnight Crossroad trilogy adapted for NBC’s Midnight, Texas, has written a taut new thriller—the first in the Gunnie Rose series—centered on a young gunslinging mercenary, Lizbeth Rose.

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life.

As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression, they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.

My Review:

There was a Red Dead Redemption soundtrack playing through the house this weekend as I was reading An Easy Death. And while Red Dead Redemption isn’t exactly the weird West that the book portrays, those homages to old-school Western TV music certainly created the right mood.

This first book in the Gunnie Rose series takes place in a dystopian, post-Apocalyptic alternate history weird, wild West. Yes, that’s kind of a mouthful. But it all fits.

The Apocalypse that this book is post of was definitely a turning point in history. As it would have been. First, the Great Depression happened. As it did. Second, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his first term as President in 1932. So far, so good.

But that’s where history goes off the rails. Everything up until 1932 happened the way it happened in our history – with one notable exception. The Romanovs, the Russian Imperial family, managed to escape the 1917 Revolution. Or, at least the Tsarevich and his sisters did, eventually settling in California at the invitation of the Hearst family.

However, in 1932, history goes completely off the rails when FDR is assassinated before he can take office. Then another influenza epidemic carries off his vice-president. And the U.S. fractures into pieces.

In the ensuing economic chaos, most of the original 13 colonies petition Britain to take them back. Canada and Mexico gobble up nearby territory. And the Romanovs establish the Holy Russian Empire in California.

Some places strike out on their own, like Gunnie Rose’s own Texoma, a semi-lawful (and semi-lawless) amalgam of Texas and Oklahoma sandwiched between Mexico and New America.

That’s where our story begins. Gunnie Rose is a member of a mercenary company that takes refugees from Mexico to New America. Mexico is throwing the gringos out. (Sound twistedly familiar?)

When her entire company is killed on a run gone wrong, Gunnie rescues the human cargo, takes the survivors to their original destination, and avenges her dead friends. Now she’s out of work.

And that’s where things get really, really interesting.

Two Russians show up on her doorstep, wanting to hire her for a manhunt. They’re looking for the last known descendant of Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. They need his blood to keep the Tsar alive.

Rasputin, after all, really did have a treatment for the Romanov family curse – hemophilia. The Russians in this story know that cure was in his blood, just as the curse was in the Tsar’s blood.

What they don’t know is that the man they are hunting is dead – because Gunnie Rose killed him. And that he was her father. That’s not the first lie of either commission or omission that the Gunnie tells her new clients, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Escape Rating A-: This is a fantastic setup for a series. There’s so much that has gone wrong, and the way that the wrongness has taken hold makes so much sense. It reminds me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – not for the steampunk, but for its focus on its kickass heroine, and for the way that its alternative history proceeds logically from its massive fork in the historical road.

The story has a “perils of Pauline” aspect, in that the gunnie is always jumping out of the frying pan and into yet another fire. The journey she undertakes is fraught with danger, some that she anticipates and some she can’t – because her employers are keeping just as many secrets from her as she is from them – and theirs are more dangerous.

But the “life and death on the road” aspects of the story allow the reader to become immersed slowly rather than have the entire misshapen history shoved at us at once. Gunnie and her employers are from different countries and different stations of life, so the things that they expect are vastly different than the ones that she does. That’s why they’ve hired her, because she is the expert on the things and places that they need to visit.

Admittedly, it also seems like Gunnie has way more common sense than they do. Life among the upper crust does not prepare one for dealing with common folks, especially common folks that are rightfully scared of you – if they don’t think you’re the devil incarnate.

There is magic in this world, and Gunnie’s employers are Russian wizards, whom most people outside the HRE (Holy Russian Empire) call “grigoris”. Grigoris are feared and hated, because they can do fearful and dangerous things, as well as powerful and healing things.

This is a world that I could talk about forever, because the way that history has forked and the results of the fork are endlessly fascinating. The more you read, the more you get sucked into this world, just as Gunnie gets sucked into her employers’ quest.

When the story ends, we readers feel just as “spit out” of the world as Gunnie does from the grigoris plots and counterplots. And we’re just as eager to get back in.

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Pages: 160
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.

My Review:

Although Nevada and Rogan’s wedding is the setting – or the excuse – for this story, this is definitely NOT Nevada’s story, unlike the rest of the Hidden Legacy series so far.

This is Nevada’s sister Catalina’s story, which makes this novella a kind of bridge book in the series, as the focus switches from Nevada, who has found her happy ever after with Connor Rogan. Future books need to feature other characters, and it looks like we’re going to be treated to watch every member of the Baylor family come into their own and find their HEA, starting with Catalina.

The setup of this variation on our world began in the awesome Burn for Me. Diamond Fire is not meant to be read as a standalone, it is an integral part of the series and I think that too much is left to previous knowledge. After all, why would you care about Nevada and Rogan if you hadn’t watched their struggle?

Also, the house rivalries, politics and downright internecine warfare probably only make sense if you start at the beginning. This series is so awesome that it is no hardship whatsoever.

But this is Catalina’s story through and through, and it is not a romance. I think there’s going to be one on the horizon for her, eventually, but Catalina has to learn to love herself and accept her gift before she can manage to love anyone else.

That’s more true for her than most, because Catalina’s gift is love. Not real love, but obsessive love. Love-potion-type-love along with stalker-level obsession. Their world doesn’t have a name for her gift, but we’d call her a siren. When she lets her gift loose, anyone she focuses on is compelled to love her to the exclusion of all else.

Which means that Catalina is never sure whether someone likes her for herself, or because she wanted them to. The only people who seem to be immune are her family – but then, they love her anyway.

The story in Diamond Fire is all about Catalina protecting her sister from too many distractions while she’s playing bridezilla (just a bit) and to keep Nevada from using her invasive gift, truthseeking, to break the minds of her in-laws in order to find out just who wants to sabotage her wedding.

Instead, it’s up to Catalina to not just follow the more mundane clues, but to convince whoever those clues lead to to tell her everything she needs to know – by whatever means necessary – and whether she wants to know or not.

Catalina’s afraid that she’ll end up with a trail of mindless love slaves following her around – and that she’ll like it that way. But she’ll do anything for Nevada – no matter what dark places it leads her to.

There might even be something shiny and sparkly at the end.

Escape Rating B+: This is short, and in the end sweet – but not without plenty of interesting angst in the middle.

It is not a starting point for this series – so start with Burn for Me. Or wait for the first book in the Catalina trilogy that’s coming out in 2019. Just don’t start here. The world of the Primes, while it bears a superficial resemblance to our 21st century, certainly has some hidden depths that are not explained in this novella.

Instead, this one falls much more on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy divide. Catalina is the amateur detective, and she has a case to solve. Someone stole the heirloom tiara that Nevada is supposed to wear down the aisle at her wedding. The tiara isn’t worth much – relatively for this uber-rich family – but it is important. Also well-known, so it’s not an item that can be fenced.

It seems like the only people who would have any motive for the theft are Nevada’s in-laws. Because of their psychic powers, they are also the only people who could have done it. And they are all in attendance for the wedding – however resentfully or reluctantly.

So Catalina has to do what detectives do, sort through all of the possible suspects, suss out their possible motives, and eventually figure out whodunit – not that the result isn’t a complete surprise. And not that she doesn’t uncover a whole lot of other crap that the family wishes had remained unknown. But that’s what House Baylor Investigations has always done – discover the truth – even when it hurts.

But the point of the story is on Catalina coming out of Nevada’s very tall (metaphorically speaking) shadow. And it’s the making of her. She learns that she can trust herself, and that’s one of the hardest lessons of all.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews, we’re giving away one paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2Nnhq6v

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/12/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) by Darynda Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Pages: 310
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.Or a diagram of some kind.A flow chart would have been nice.

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she's been having about an entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can't she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?

With scorching-hot tension and high-octane humor, First Grave on the Right is your signpost to paranormal suspense of the highest order.

My Review:

This was a temptation I just couldn’t resist, in more ways than one.

The Charley Davidson series has been recommended to me multiple times, but I tend to have an approach/avoidance thing with books that too many people try to get me to read. Not that they’re not usually right, but sometimes I just don’t want to follow the crowd, or at least not right away.

But the thirteenth and final book in this series Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, is coming out in January. So I don’t think it’s exactly a coincidence that the publisher put the WHOLE SERIES up on NetGalley this week, hoping to generate some pre-finale buzz.

It worked for me. I can never resist “collecting the set” so here I am, fresh from finishing First Grave on the Right. And now I know what all the fuss was about.

Charley Davidson is a Grim Reaper. Actually she’s THE Grim Reaper, or at least the current incarnation thereof. It’s not just that she sees dead people, but that her job is to help them figure out why they haven’t crossed over, help them take care of their unfinished business, then lead them towards the light. Which happens to be, well, herself.

She sees dead people, and dead people see her as that light they’re supposed to go to. They pass through her on their way to heaven. As long as she manages to stay out of there herself.

Which doesn’t seem to be easy. Charley has a knack for getting herself into not just trouble, but downright dangerous trouble. Because she doesn’t just see dead people, she also interviews them for her Uncle Bob the police detective. His closure rate for homicides is off the charts – just like her dad’s was before him. (Don’t worry, Dad merely retired. Charley still sees him the usual way.)

In addition to helping both the cops and the dead people, Charley is also a private investigator. While that helps to give her a cover explanation for why the Albuquerque PD uses her as a consultant, she also has a dangerous sideline – she helps abused women get away from their abusers – some of whom go after her.

The case in Charley’s first recorded outing is a real doozy. Three lawyers appear in her office, all dead. All partners. All shot the same night. While some might call that a coincidence, and considering all the jokes about lawyers, some might call it a “good start”, Charley knows instantly that this bunch has unfinished business.

They need to see justice done in their multiple murders. And they need to get an innocent man off of death row. That their need for justice turns out to involve taking down the kingpin of a human trafficking ring is all in Charley’s day’s work.

That she has either a supernatural or extra-dimensional stalker who is invading her dreams and her waking life with irresistible sexual magnetism is either icing on Charley’s cake, or the beginning of her worst nightmare.

Or, with Charley’s luck, both.

Escape Rating B: There is a lot to love about this series opener. So far, at least, the Charley Davidson series sits right on that borderline between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Charley’s cases, for the most part, fall into urban fantasy. She not only sees and talks to dead people, but she uses their help to solve her cases, which also involve dead people. Sometimes they are the dead people, and sometimes they become the dead people.

There’s also a “romantic” element, for certain definitions of romance. I have to admit that this was where things didn’t quite work for me. This grim reaper has an equally grim stalker who has been intervening in Charley’s life on a regular basis – whenever she’s been in really, really, really big trouble. I repeat the really to emphasize that this being only shows up when Charley is in imminent danger of becoming her own client – because Charley seems to be in some kind of trouble all the time.

Because her stalker has amped up his “game”, he’s been showing up in Charley’s dreams and her waking life for the past month, taunting her with hints that he knows more about her past than she realizes, and ramping her libido up to the max just by appearing in the vicinity.

It’s not working as romance for me. I enjoy watching the chase, and this feels all about the catch. And the identity of her “mystery being” went a bit over the top. At least for moi. He felt more stalkerish than romantic.

Thjs may not have been helped by my sense that all of the men in this story are either Charley’s relatives or dead or douchecanoes, and sometimes two out of three. The ONLY good guys seem to be her Dad and her Uncle. While some of the terrible behavior can be attributed more to their reaction to Charley’s grim sideline than to simply her female existence, it would still have felt more balanced to me if at least some of the men were decent eggs.

None of this detracted from the book being terrifically fun to read. Charley is a very likeable character, particularly if you like your snark-o-meter set to high, which I do. I not only love the t-shirt quotes that serve as chapter openers, I know where nearly all of them come from!

The mystery that Charley needs to solve is as twisted and convoluted as anyone could wish. Her methods of combining info from her dead clients with standard PI techniques both ground the series in the real and give it the right touch of woowoo to put it firmly in urban fantasy territory.

But speaking of woowoo, this book reminded me of a couple of other paranormal-ish/urban fantasy-type series, and not the ones that people usually mention. While this series does have some of the madcap elements of Stephanie Plum, Charley seems to be way more competent than Stephanie, who was always much more lucky than good. Charley is both lucky and good, and that seems more reasonable over a long (13 book) haul. Stephanie is so hapless that she should be dead ten times over by now. Charley’s enemies are darker and deadlier, but Charley seems to have a better grasp on what she’s supposed to be doing – not that she still wouldn’t like an instruction manual.

Instead, what this series reminds me of most is the Anita Blake series – only the first few books before it got to be all about notching Anita’s bedpost as often as possible. Once upon a time, Anita was a kick-ass urban fantasy heroine who solved cases and righteously put bad guys away – or underground. Charley has some of that part of Anita in her. But this series also reminds me of Karen Robards’ Dr. Charlotte Stone series (start with The Last Victim), where her much-damaged psychologist not only sees dead people, but falls in love with one. Charlie Stone and Charley Davidson would have a lot to talk about.

I’ll be back with Second Grave on the Left the next time the mood strikes!

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. GreenVery Important Corpses (Ishmael Jones, #3) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: horror, mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #3
Pages: 201
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ishmael Jones travels to the Scottish Highlands on a mysterious dual mission in this intriguing, genre-blending mystery. The Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed."

My Review:

Once upon a time, a tour guide told me that “sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage.” In other words, if you stand around Loch Ness and drink enough Scotch, you’ll definitely improve your odds of seeing Nessie. Or possibly two or three Nessies, depending on how many bottles you need to find the monster in the lake.

Alternatively, as Penny Belcourt discovers in this third book in the Ishmael Jones series, (after The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) all she has to do is go with Ishmael to one of his assignments for the mysterious “Organization” and she’s bound to see A monster if not THE monster.

Whether that’s an actual monster, or just the monster that lurks inside entirely too many of the “people” that the Organization sends Ishmael to deal with, is generally a toss up. It certainly pays to be prepared for either eventuality – and every other they can think of. In their line of work, paranoia isn’t a psychological condition – it’s more of a survival trait.

And if there’s one thing Ishmael Jones is good at, it’s survival. He’s been successfully surviving, and hiding in not so plain sight, since his space ship crashed in 1963 and turned him into a reasonable facsimile of a human male in his mid-20s. Just with a few useful and additional skills as well as an unchanging face and body. Ishmael has been 25 or thereabouts for over 50 years now, and it’s getting harder to hide.

Hence his work for the Organization, which keeps his secrets in exchange for his cleaning up and keeping some of theirs.

That’s what brings Ishmael – and Penny – to Coronach House on the shore of Loch Ness. One of those super-secret cabals that conspiracy wonks love to foam at the mouth about is secretly meeting at this secure and remote house, and that security has been compromised. The first Organization agent sent to figure out what’s gone wrong is dead, and Ishmael is sent to solve the mystery, clean up the mess, and make sure that someone gets the message that messing with the Organization shortens the life expectancy.

But the Organization never sends Ishmael to any easy jobs. That’s certainly the case here – especially as the body count rises and the level of wanton destruction that accompanies each body ramps up from merely vicious to downright cataclysmic.

And as usual, the people that Ishmael is supposed to protect all think that they really don’t have to listen to him. And of course they do, at least if they want to live. Not that they all manage that, either.

There are puzzles within puzzles, and wheels within wheels, as the murderer, whoever or whatever they might be, does his, her or its level best to keep Ishmael so horrified and occupied that he doesn’t have time to put the clues together until it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the books in this series so far, Very Important Corpses was a whole lot of creepy fun. It is very definitely horror-adjacent, which makes it just the right book to review for Halloween.

One of the things that I really like about this series is the way that the horror elements are used as set decoration and distraction – and that Ishmael generally knows that’s their purpose. He’s aware that the increasing level of creepy is designed to put him off his game, and he’s determined not to be sucked in by it.

There is a hidden world in this series, a hidden world that Ishmael is definitely a part of, but he knows what’s possible and what actually isn’t – even if his range of what’s possible veers into fairly weird waters. He believes in aliens because he is one. He believes in alien tech because he’s seen it.

He doesn’t believe in ghosts. Or ancestral monsters like the one that is supposed to haunt Coronach House. And in spite of being garden-variety human, AND seeming rather open-minded about these things, Penny doesn’t believe in them either. She just asks the questions about them that Ishmael refuses to ask.

One of the things I love about this author is that the snark-o-meter is always set to high, and this book was no exception. One of the things I’ve been wondering about was whether that trademark snark would also include this author’s usual throwaway references to the other worlds he has created. While those first two books didn’t, this one does. Not in a way that will keep anyone from getting into this book, but just enough to make a reader already familiar smile in recognition.

At the beginning this series reminded me a lot of Torchwood, with Ishmael as Captain Jack. This particular entry in the series reminded me of a very specific episode of Torchwood, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, where someone from Captain Jack’s past shows up and we get a glimpse of who and what he was before Torchwood. That same thing happens in Very Important Corpses, where someone from Ishmael’s past turns up, and we learn a bit more about what he’s been up to in those 50 plus years.

And just as it was in Torchwood, Ishmael’s old frenemy is not exactly what he appears to be. While I didn’t figure out exactly what he was, that he wasn’t exactly on the up and up was clear fairly early on.

But it didn’t stop my compulsive turning of the pages, not one little bit. As long as I kept the lights on.