Random (but not really)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fantasy, Young Adult

This category is obviously a little bit of everything, since I wanted to put all the YA into a single group. I love YA because I can pick up a YA book and know it’s not going to have boinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with boinking, I just prefer to skip it, but sometimes there is important conversation in the boinking, so I have to skim, and, well. Yeah.

But the other thing I love about YA is that it is usually really really good.  If teenagers are done well, they are complex people who have issues that many of us adults have forgotten. It’s a good reminder for when we lose patience with them, that being a teenager is difficult. (No, I’m being serious. Fluctuating hormones combined with increasing responsibilities and a decreasing certainty about the world can be terrifying.)

But that’s not why I picked out these stories. These were picked out because they are simply good tales.

Michelle’s Best Of

 

Hush Money (2010) Susan Bischoff  (Talent Chronicles)

I stumbled across the short story Impulse Control (2011) and immediately wanted to know more about the world and the characters within.

This isn’t the only story about kids with special powers getting locked up by a government who fears them, which I think says something about our faith in the government. We fear that which we do not understand (I’m sure someone famous said that) and value our security more than we do our freedom. Which is terribly disheartening. Which make these stories a warning, but that’s not why I’m recommending them.

What this story has is intelligent teenagers who recognize the threat to themselves, yet are still teens and likely to do foolish things, but it’s the stupidity of lack of knowledge and inexperience. And on top of that, these kids are dealing with a new situation—they have no one to advise them, they (and perhaps their parents) simply have to work it out as they go along.

I think what I liked best about Joss is that her father did everything possible to make her safe—training her how to fight etc—but she also recognizes her limitations.

This series is two books and a novella, and I’m sorry it never got any more than that.

 

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (2010) Lish McBride (Necromancer)

Sam dropped out of college and is now stuck working at a fast food joint.

My name is Samhain Corvus LaCroix, and I am a fry cook. I tried to take some pride where I could. If I was going to be a dropout loser, then I was going to be the best dropout loser. That pride came with some complications because it always depressed me to spot anyone, short of a manager, working fast food over the age of eighteen. I didn’t look in any mirrors until I got home and out of my uniform. It was better that way.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s attacked after work and doesn’t even have the slightest idea why.

First, I kinda love that she has Sam working food service because he’s dropped out of college. Because that’s something a lot of teens don’t consider. Even better, she has fast food pretty spot on, so there’s no romanticizing it.

Second, I love the world she has created here, and that Sam is a necromancer, which is not something you come across often in supernatural fantasy. I also think it’s important that people die in the story, because Sam and his friends take risks and get into danger, so it’s not surprising that someone might die. It’s not that I like it when characters die, I just think that it’s both ridiculous and unrealistic when everyone walks away uninjured from a big fight or dangerous situation.

There are two books and a short story in this series, and she has another series that I like, Firebug (2014), but I haven’t read the second story in that series yet.

 

Sabriel (1995) Garth Nix (Sabriel)

This is a story set in a world that is almost, but not quite ours, around a time that would approximate the 1930s.

Sabriel is the daughter of a Charter necromancer. Her father’s job is to keep dead spirits and place and to return the dead who have arisen or been forced back into a semblance of life. It is a difficult job, but an important one. Although her father sent her outside of the Old Kingdom for her education, he still made sure to educate her as a Charter necromancer, as she would be his heir when he died.

Yes, the main character is a necromancer. She has control over the dead and can step into the rivers of the afterlife. She’s awesome. She is scared, but she does what she needs to anyway, which is probably one of the best lessons any kid can learn.

But it’s also an adventure story: Sabriel has to find out what happened to her father, and right what is wrong.

Plus, she has a ridiculous cat-creature named Mogget.

Mogget didn’t answer, but sat at her feet, and made a movement that looked very much like he was going to be sick. Sabriel recoiled, disgusted, then halted, as a small metallic object fell from Mogget’s mouth and bounced on the floor. “Almost forgot,” said Mogget. “You’ll need this if I’m to come with you.”

Mogget is probably my favorite character in the series.

There are three books in this series, and all are good, although I think Sabriel is the best. He also has a short story collection, Across the Wall (2005), that is very good. There are other series, but they felt slightly younger to me, and I never got into them.

 

The Hounds of the Mórrigan (1985) Pat O’Shea

This is another book that I picked up because of its cover, and I immediately fell in love.

It’s a tale set in our world (although not necessarily our current world) that is full of Irish myth and folklore.

Pidge and his younger sister must keep the Morrigan from obtaining the serpent Olc-Glas, and travel to do this, receiving help from the creatures they come across, while they are chased by the Morrigan’s hounds.

On of the things I especially liked is how the machinations of the Morrigan are shown.

Whenever the Sergeant and the Manager met after that day, hostility lay like a force field between them. This was very sad, as they both loved growing roses more than anything else in the world and they could have been friends for many long and happy years.

That is a terribly simple, but also a terribly sad passage.

This book is long out of print, and unavailable as an ebook, so if you come across it, snatch it up.

 

ShadowshaperShadowshaper (2015) Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper Cypher)

There is an unseen world just below our own, a world of ghosts and spirits that some families have the ability to see and even control.

Sierra Santiago is prepared to spend her summer break painting murals, but strange things keep happening, and she soon discovers the world of spirits her family knows, but never told her.

This is also a story about being a teenage girl.

Further down Gates Ave, a couple of guys were throwing dice in front of the Coltrane Projects. “Why you frownin’, girl?” one of them called out as Sierra walked past. “Smile for us!”

Sierra knew the guy. It was Little Ricky; they’d played together when they were small. He’d been one of those boys that all the girls were crazy about, with big dreamy eyes and a gentle way about him. A few years ago, Sierra would have been giddy with excitement to have his attention. Now he was just another stoopgoon harassing every passing skirt.

“I ain’t in the mood, jackass,” Sierra muttered, hugging herself. She was still shaky from the horrible night and she knew any sign of weakness would encourage them.

The guys let out a chorus of ohs and pounded one another. “I’m just saying, Sarcastula,” Ricky called after her. “C’mon back when you in the mood …”

I am constantly impressed by how well Daniel José Older gets women and teenage girls. There are probably a handful of male writers that do this extremely well, and he is one. It means (to me) that he actually has listened to the women around him, to be able to write scenes like the one above, about what girls and women experience all the time (although the threat is downplayed there, which I’m fine with. I know it’s there, as does he).

But more importantly, the story is fun and often funny, because despite everything, teens do know joy, perhaps better than their elders.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study.”

There are currently two books and two short stories in this series. (And I already mentioned the Bone Street Rumba series, which I adore.)

 

The Thief (1996) Megan Whalen Turner (The Queen’s Thief)

This is a fantasy set in a somewhat medieval world. Gen is a thief who is spending time in the king’s dungeon for stealing the king’s seal. But the king finally decides he has use for such a thief and sets Gen, the king’s magus, and the mage’s apprentice out to capture… something.

“There’s something I want you to steal. Do this for me, and I’ll see that you don’t go back to prison. Fail to do this for me, and I will still make sure that you don’t go back to prison.”

This is a fabulous book. I have always had a soft-spot for rogues (in literature—in real life, far less so) so I found Gen vastly entertaining. He’s snarky and comments upon everything—sometimes he even keeps his comments to himself.

He is also far smarter than the magus give him credit for, so it is a delight to finally learn what Gen’s actual goal had been.

The other character I loved was Sophos, the mage’s apprentice.

Sophos turned red, and I wondered about the circulation of his blood; maybe his body kept an extra supply of it in his head, ready for blushing.

Sophos is sweet and innocent and lovely.

There are currently five books in this series, and I recommend reading them in order. None is a cliffhanger, but to be honest, once you read this first, you’ll want to read the second. She also writes short stories, and her collection Instead of Three Wishes (2006), is quite good, and I’d actually read at least one of the stories in a different anthology.

 

Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988) Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Steampunk or Gaslamp, however you name it, is Regency or Victorian England, but with magic. Of course, it’s not always England, but it’s our past where magic or steam have taken the place of technology.

Kate and Cecelia are cousins, and when Kate goes to London for her first season, she and Cecelia write letters back and forth of their various adventures.

Aunt Elizabeth and I called at the vicarage yesterday and spent a stimulating afternoon listening to the Reverend Fitzwilliam discoursing on the Vanities of Society and the Emptiness of Worldly Pleasures. Aunt Elizabeth hung on every word, and we are to return and take tea on Thursday. I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it.

Aunt Charlotte was enthralled by the chance to survey the boxes in our circle. From the overture to the finale, for the benefit of Georgy’s education, she pointed out all the people of whom she could not approve. She tried several times to get my attention so that I, too, could profit from this instruction, but I kept my eyes stubbornly on the stage.

I’ve read several different books where the story is told by letters written back and forth by the main characters. It seems like a lovely way to write a story, and the epistolary books I’ve read have all been good.

There are three books in the series, the second of which I find the weakest of the trilogy. It’s not bad, I just didn’t like it as well as the first, possibly because of the different format.

 

Thirteenth Child (2009) Patricia C. Wrede (Frontier Magic)

Effie is the thirteenth child, while her twin brother Lan is a seventh son of a seventh son, making him a natural magician, while Effie is assumed by her extended family to be, at best, bad luck, if not downright evil.

Luckily, her parents are having none of that, and so move the family to the Frontier, just inside the Great Barrier, where their father will teach.

“I heard there are great beasts, the size of a house, that can stamp you flat as paper!” Cousin Bernie said.

“Those are mammoths,” Robbie told him. He’d been doing extra reading on the North Plains ever since he found out we’d be living there, and he enjoyed showing off his new knowledge to the rest of us. “They used to be all over North Columbia, but when the first settlers came from the Old Continent, they killed all the ones in the East.

What do I love about this story? Let me count the ways. First, there is the world building, which is fabulous. It is recognizably North America, and even some of the founding fathers are the same, but the world is also something entirely foreign, and that familiarity seems to emphasize that strangeness.

Second, are the characters. Each character is unique and easy to keep apart with, perhaps, the exception of some of Effie’s siblings, but that’s because we almost never see then (some were almost grown when Effie and Lan were born). There are some characters, like Miss Ochiba and Wash, that I absolutely adore. Additionally, there are no bad guys in this tale, just people who see things differently from each other.

And then of course there is the story, which is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

There are three books in this series. The first can be read alone, and there aren’t really cliff hangers, but once I read the first I immediately needed to read the rest of the story.

Another quick note about this story—I especially like the cover of this book, because it doesn’t give you any idea the story is about a girl. If you want boys to read a story about a girl, not putting a girl on the cover is probably the best way to do it. Considering the next two covers, I have to think that was deliberate on someone’s part, and I appreciate it.

Written by Michelle at 9:30 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fantasy, Straight Up

When I was younger, my two primary reading genres were mysteries and fantasy, almost all of which was epic fantasy. The problem for me was that genre was overtaken giant tomes that are parts of multi-book series that never seemed to be concluded, no matter what the authors might promise. (It’s a trilogy! No, sorry, five books. No, wrong again. Perhaps it’ll end at eight.) That, combined with the fact that these books often ended in cliffhangers, and story arcs that never seem be to resolved, I just got fed up and switched to books with single book story arcs—books that weren’t five inches thick.

That doesn’t mean I abandoned straight-up fantasy. There are, after all, authors that can tell a story in a single book, or even two books.  Or series that are loosely related, but don’t require going back and reading the previous books to enjoy the newest. That is mostly what this list is. I do have some epic fantasy—the books I love and turn to for comfort. I’ve actually left one of those books, The Hobbit, off this list, because everyone knows The Hobbit. What I want is for you to read books that are less well-known, but just as marvelous.

Best of Index

 

The Phoenix Guards (1991) Steven Brust (The Khaavren Romances)

I went back and forth on which Steven Brust book or series to choose, because they are all wonderful. But The Phoenix Guards is so delightful and over-the-top I had to go with it.

I’ve seen it described as the best English translation of The Three Musketeers, and although that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it’s also a perfect description of what you’ll get.

Khaavren is a young man heading to the capitol to make his fortune in the guards. Along the way he meets up with three strangers, all of which end up becoming his friends and fellow guard members.

Let me be clear, you need to be in the mood for these books. They are completely over the top, and if you’re just wanting a quick, fun romp, then you’ll want Jhereg (1983), which is fantasy noir at its best. In fact, you might be surprised to see that both series were written by the same author, because they are so completely different.

Take one of my favorite passages.

Tazendra, who had been watching the one called Uttrik as he removed his doublet, drew his sword, and began taking practice thrusts with it, said, “Good Khaavren.”

“Well?”

“I do not think this gentleman will give you much sport.”

“You think not?”

“Well, you perceive how, in practicing, he strikes only at the air.”

“That is not unusual, when preparing for a contest.”

“No, and yet he seems to miss with every third stroke.”

It’s hilarious and over-the-top and utterly delightful. But unless I’m in the mood for it, an entire book of that can get be a bit much. So be forewarned before deciding to start this book.

There are three books in this series, and three books in the following series about Khaavren’s son. Then, set in the same land with overlapping characters is the Vlad Taltos series, starting with  Jhereg which is noir crime fiction, but in a fantasy world. There are also several stand-alone novels which have nothing to do with these series or each other. Steven Brust is a man of great imagination.

 

Pawn of the Prophecy (1982) David Eddings (The Belgariad)

When I started college, I got out of the habit of reading, what with studying and partying and working and all the other things a college student does. But then at a Christmas gift exchange someone gave me their copies of The Belgariad, and suddenly I started making time for reading again.

This is epic fantasy. It’s the story of a young boy, Garion, who thinks he’s nothing more than a farm boy, but then events teach him otherwise.

And he meets some marvelous people.

“…I am from Boktor in Drasnia. I am a juggler and an acrobat.”

“And also a thief and a spy,” Barak rumbled good-naturedly.

“We all have our faults,” Silk admitted blandly…

And he has adventures, some of which are marvelous, and some of which are terrible.

The revenge he had wanted so desperately for the past several months was dreadfully complete, but the taste of it was bitter, bitter.

Then his knees buckled and he sank to the earth and wept like a broken-hearted child.

But mostly it’s just a lovely immersive story that takes me far away.

The Belgariad consists of five books, and the following series, the Mallorean, consists of five books. There are also two stand-alone books, Belgarath and Polgara, that tell the histories of those characters.

 

lord-john-private-matterLord John and the Private Matter (2003) Diana Gabaldon (Lord John)

Everyone knows Diana Gabaldon for her Outlander series. Thing is, I dislike time travel stories even more than I dislike dystopias. So Outlander is Right Out. But several years ago I came across a Lord John story, and very much enjoyed it, so when I discovered she’d written several Lord John stories and a couple of novels, I read more.

Lord John is actually a character from Outlander, so this is set in the same world and the same time, however, there is absolutely no fantasy in these stories, thought there is a good dash of mystery thrown in. But mostly these are historical tales about an officer in the British Army

An officer who happens to be gay, at a time when sodomy was a serious crime in England, and even more serious in the Army.

An army that is completely foreign to the modern reader.
Commissions were normally purchased, and many officers had never seen a soldier nor held a weapon prior to taking up their office.

The first story finds Lord John concerned when he notices that the man his cousin is to marry has the pox. Unfortunately, because of his inclinations, he fears that calling out the man would lead to questions as to why he was looking, so he says nothing but is determined to end the betrothal without ruining his cousin.

There is so much I love about these books, starting with the well-researched bits about gay society in historical London.

But what I like best is Lord John, who is, above all, a good and honorable man.

(L)ove that sacrificed honor was less honest than simple lust, and degraded those who professed to glory in it.

“While there is anyone alive with a claim upon my protection, my life is not my own.”

And I also love the delightful bits that appear throughout the stories.

“A witch?” Grey repeated, and felt an odd frission run down his back, as though someone had touched his nape with a cold finger. “What did this witch look like?”

The child stared back at him, uncomprehending.

“Like a witch,” he said.

“A succubus is a she-demon,” the old lady said, precisely. ”It comes to men in dreams, and has congress with them, in order to extract from them their seed.”

The princess’s eyes went perfectly round. She hadn’t known, Grey observed.

“Why?” she asked. “What does she do with it?”

For obvious reasons, these stories aren’t for everyone, but I love them, and often turn to them when I need some comfort reading.

There are five Lord John books, one of which is a collection of three novellas, and one of which is a short(ish) story.

 

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (1984) Barry Hughart

I bought a beautiful reprint of this book—and then realized it was huge and I’d never actually sit down with the giant time and read, so I was delighted when I found the ebook on sale.

The complication consists of three books: Bridge of Birds (1984), The Story of the Stone (1988), Eight Skilled Gentlemen (1991).

The subtitle of the first book, is a story of China that Never Was, and that is a perfect description for what you get.

A strange malady has struck the children of the village of Ku-fu. As the silkworms the village depends upon for survival are discovered dead, the children of the village fall into a strange coma and cannot be awakened. Number Ten Ox (Yu Lu), an orphan, sets out to find someone who can cure the children. This places him on the path of adventure where he meets master Li Kao.

Very much the trickster, and utterly delightful.

‘Take a large bowl,’ I said. ‘Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei— which means “dry cup”— and drink to the dregs.’ Procopius stared at me. ‘And I will be wise?’ he asked. ‘Better,’ I said. ‘You will be Chinese.’”

I also love the bits of folklore that are strewn throughout the story.

Old P’i-pao-ku, “Leatherbag Bone,” was Mrs. Wu’s grandmother, and she was waiting at the confectioner’s to get hard sugar decorations of the five poisonous insects (centipede, scorpion, lizard, toad, snake) to spread over the top of her wu tu po po cake, which she would purposely make as inedible as possible without being actually deadly. Every family member eats a slice on the fifth day of the fifth moon, and sickness demons stare at people capable of eating stuff like that and go elsewhere.

It’s a delightful story, and a wonderful escape.

 

SwordspointSwordspoint (1987) Ellen Kushner

Swordspoint is another book that I have read more times than I can count. When I’m feeling particularly low, this always makes me feel better.

It is not truly a fantasy, for there is nothing magical about it at all, but it doesn’t occur in any historical place that existed, rather a time and place Ellen Kushner created.

And it is utterly marvelous. Take the opening.

The blood lies on the snow of a formal winter garden, now trampled and muddy. A man lies dead, the snow filling in the hollows of his eyes, while another man is twisted up, grunting, sweating frog-ponds on the frozen earth, waiting for someone to come and help him. The hero of this little tableau has just vaulted the garden wall and is running like mad into the darkness while the darkness lasts.

It is the story of Richard the swordsman and Alec the student. Alec is an extremely difficult character, and there are many many times one wonders why Richard puts up with him. But he does, and despite the oddness, it is clear these two are meant for each other.

There are other stories set in this world as well, including The Privilege of the Sword (2006), which is a YA about Alec’s niece, who is sent to live with him. Once you’ve read Swordspoint, you’ll see why that won’t go anything at all like she expects. She has also written Thomas the Rhymer (1990), which is a retelling of the folktale.

Although there is sword-fighting in Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword, this isn’t an action / adventure story, but, as it is still utterly marvelous and one of my favorite books. There is also an audio version, that is an ensemble recording arranged with help by Neil Gaiman.

 

The Eye of the Hunter(1992) Dennis L. McKiernan (Mithgar)

Dennis McKiernan said he wrote his first book when he was laid up and couldn’t find a book he wanted to read, so ended up writing his own tales, which started with The Dark Tide(1984).

The Mithgar stories are interwoven and connected, but no series within contains more than three books, and most are stand-alone books, all of which can be read in any order.

There are characters that occur across the series, primarily long-lived elves, but for the most part each book or series is a story arc of something important that happened in the history of Mithgar.

Eye of the Hunter is a very good starting point. It’s a single book (albeit a long book) that ranges all over Mithgar as the heroes attempt to find and destroy an evil baron.

If that doesn’t strike your fancy, then you could try Voyage of the Fox Rider (1993), which is about a fox-rider searching for her lost mate. Or you could pick up the anthology Tales of Mithgar (1994).

These books remind me of going to the bookstore, scanning the shelves, and delightedly finding a new book. Sometimes the books weren’t very good, but often they were just what I was in the mood for, which is what these books were.

 

Guards! Guards!(1989) Terry Pratchett (Discworld)

On the off chance that you have not read any Terry Pratchett, this is me putting you on notice.

You must read Discworld books.

But don’t start with the first book. Or the second. Those two books have my least-favorite character, Rincewind. If I’d come across those books first (instead of later books) I might never have read the rest of the series, and that would be a terrible loss.

There are several characters that appear in multiple books, and you should probably read the books in those story arcs in order. But you don’t have to. Those arcs are the Witches, starting with Equal Rites (1987); DEATH, starting with Mort (1987); the Ankh-Morpork books, starting with The Truth(2000). And the kid’s books. And the YA books.

But best of all, there are the Night Watch books, starting with  Guards! Guards!

These books are hilarious, but they are also chock-full of biting social commentary.

They avoided one another’s faces, for fear of what they might see mirrored there. Each man thought: one of the others is bound to say something soon, some protest, and then I’ll murmur agreement, not actually say anything, I’m not as stupid as that, but definitely murmur very firmly, so that the others will be in no doubt that I thoroughly disapprove, because at a time like this it behooves all decent men to stand up and be almost heard…
But no-one said anything. The cowards, each man thought.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of okay for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. These were the kinds of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years time, when a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socio-economic unfairness.

It wasn’t just that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.

But don’t think it’s all social commentary. Mostly its all hilarious.

(T)here were two good signs of a good alchemist: the Athletic and the Intellectual. A good alchemist of the first sort was someone who could leap over the bench and be on the far side of a safely thick wall in three seconds, and a good alchemist of the second sort was someone who knew exactly when to do this.

AND there is The Librarian.

Very senior librarians…once they have proved themselves worthy by performing some valiant act of librarianship, are accepted into a secret order and are taught the raw arts of survival beyond the Shelves We Know. The Librarian was highly skilled in all of them, but what he was attempting now wouldn’t just get him thrown out of the Order but probably out of life itself.

OOK.

 

The Initiate Brother (1991) Sean Russell

I keep waiting for this book and its sequel Gatherer of Clouds (1992), to go on sale as ebooks, but not joy so far. Which is too bad because I would really love to re-read these.

The books have strong overtones of China and Japan, the land is quite clearly neither. A young monk makes his way in the world, and becomes an advisor of a great lord.

The story is full of religious and political intrigue, and a tiny bit of romance, but mostly a marvelous story.

He has also written several other fantasies, most of which are duologies or a trilogy. One duology, World Without End (1994) and Sea Without a Shore (1996), I particularly love because its main character is a naturalist on a sea voyage—much like Charles Darwin did in our world.

These are not sword & sorcery books, but they are marvelous.

 

Thieves’ World

If you’re looking for something horrible to make your life seem better by comparison, then Thieves World is the series you are looking for.

Here is a bit that I’ve always loved. A tourism document from the Sanctuary Chamber of Commerce.

Sanctuary Vacation Capital of the Rankan Empire Every year tourists flock to Sanctuary by the tens, drawn by the rumors of adventure and excitement which flourish in every dark corner of the empire. They are never disappointed that they chose Sanctuary. Our city is everything it is rumored to be— and more! Many visitors never leave and those that do can testify that the lives to which they return seem dull in comparison with the heart-stopping action they found in this personable town.

Social Status— Let’s face it: everybody likes to feel superior to somebody. Well, nowhere is superiority as easy to come by as it is in Sanctuary. A Rankan citizen of moderate means is a wealthy man by Sanctuary standards, and will be treated as such by its inhabitants. Envious eyes will follow your passing and people will note your movements and customs with flattering attentiveness. Even if your funds are less than adequate in your own opinion, it is still easy to feel that you are better off than the average citizen of Sanctuary— if only on a moral scale. We can guarantee, without reservation, that however low your opinion of yourself might be, there will be somebody in Sanctuary you will be superior to.

A Word About Crime— You have probably heard rumors of the high crime rate in Sanctuary. We admit to having had our problems in the past, but that’s behind us now. One need only look at the huge crowds that gather to watch the daily hangings and impalements to realize that the support of the citizens of Sanctuary for law and order is at an all-time high. As a result of the new governor’s anticrime program, we are pleased to announce that last year the rate of reported crime, per day, in Sanctuary was not greater than that of cities twice our size.

 

Written by Michelle at 9:15 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Urban Fantasy

I am pretty sure that my definition or urban fantasy differs from everyone else’s. And I’m also thinking that I’m the only one who defines supernatural fantasy in the way I do. So perhaps I should clarify what I mean by urban versus supernatural fantasy.

Supernatural fantasy takes place in our world, or what used to be our world, and has violence, boinking, or both.

Urban fantasy takes place in our world, generally the preternatural is hidden from most of the world, and there is rarely boinking or explicit on-the-page violence. That doesn’t mean urban fantasy is all sweetness and light—Charles de Lint frequently looks at the problems of abuse—but the characters rarely see a fight as the solution.

It is, of course, more than that. I tend to classify based on how I feel about a book, but the sex and violence are the most common indicators.

Best of Index

 

lychfordWitches of Lychford (2015) Paul Cornell (Witches of Lychford)

Lychford lies between the borders of worlds, and there have always been three to maintain those borders. Currently the only guardian is an old woman who has problems of her own to deal with. The other two characters are the local reverend and the owner of the new age store.

First and foremost, I love Judith.

The telemarketers who called her up now seemed either desperate or resigned to the point of a mindless drone, until Judith, who had time on her hands and ice in her heart, engaged them in dark conversations that always got her removed from their lists.

There are very few fantasy books with older women as main characters. Sure there are crochety, ageless wizards, but old women tend to be background or supporting characters. So Judith is a delight.

“Oh, look at you two, like unicorns at your first orgy,” said Judith, for all the world as if that were a thing people said.

Second, these are shorts, not novels, and I love short stories and novellas.  They’re perfect for when I don’t know what I want to read. It’s an escape without a huge commitment.

There are currently three stories in this series, and the way the third ended it seems like there is more planned.

The best part of the stories, however, are the dialog. There is a constant back-and forth between the three women that is fun. And for that to have been done by a male writer is something I very much appreciate, since, as I’ve mentioned before, men don’t often write women that feel and sound like women deep down. They’ve got the shallow bits, but I don’t often feel like they really understand  what the experience of being female in the modern world is really like.

 

Dreams Underfoot (1993) Charles de Lint (Newford)

Charles de Lint is hands-down my favorite short story author. And the best of those stories are set in Newford. Chances are, if you’ve read a high-quality fantasy anthology, you’ve come across his work. He is in 19 of the (many) anthologies I own and have read, and I don’t think I have ever been seriously disappointed.

Dreams Underfoot is his first collection, and although you can start at any point, this was my introduction to Charles de Lint. You could also pick up any of his novels—he has both adult novels and kids novels and young adult novels, any of which (with the possible exception of Widdershins) can be read without any prior knowledge of these characters. Because, after all, he is master of telling you a complete story in few words.

His stories are, I think, best summed up in this quote from the story “Pal O’ Mine” (which can be found in The Very Best of Charles de Lint).

Gina always believed there was magic in the world. “But it doesn’t work the way it does in fairy tales,” she told me. “It doesn’t save us. We have to save ourselves.”

That’s always an important theme. We have to save ourselves if we can. Which brings me to something important to mention: his stories aren’t typically fun little romps. His characters are frequently mended people who were badly broken in the past, or people seeking help in mending themselves. He has dealt repeatedly with the themes of rape and homelessness and abuse. Yet even with these stories there is always hope.

His stories try to remind you that there is magic in the world, even if you don’t see faeries or goblins (from Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box).

Sometimes people need fairies and fancies to wake them up to what they already have. They look so hard for the little face in the thistle, the wrinkled man who lives in a tree. But then they start to focus on the thistle itself, the feathery purples of its bloom, the sharp points of its thorns. They reach out and touch the rough bark of the tree, drink in the green of its leaves, taste of its fruit. And they’re transformed. They’re in their own world, fully and completely, sometimes for the first time since they were a child, and they’re finally appreciating what it has to offer them.

Even when he takes on popular themes and ideas, he does it in his own way, such as his story Sisters, about a vampire.

I figure if the people writing the books and making the movies actually do have any firsthand experience with vampires, they’re sugar-coating the information so that people don’t freak out. If you’re going to accept that they exist in the first place, it’s much more comforting to believe that you’re safe in the daylight, or that a cross or a fistful of garlic will keep them at bay.

About the only thing they do get right is that it takes a vamp to make a vamp. You do have to die from the bite and then rise again three days later. It’s as easy as that. It’s also the best time to kill a vamp—they’re kind of like ragdolls, all loose and muddy-brained, for the first few hours.

Oh, and you do have to invite us into your house. If it’s a public place, we can go in the same as anyone else.

What’s that? No, that wasn’t a slip of the tongue. I’m one, too. So while I like the TV show as much as the next person, and I know it’s fiction, blond cheerleader types still make me twitch a little.

I know that not everyone loves short stories, and urban fantasy isn’t for everyone, but I adore his characters and his stories and would like everyone to at least give him a try. If you click on his name, there are a list of many many options you might be interested in trying.

 

Good Omens (1990) Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

I find it unlikely that any fan of fantasy has not read Good Omens, but I still wanted to mention it because it is one of my favorites.

Every bit of this story is hilarious and wonderful and marvelous and a delight. Even the “footnotes” are wonderful.

(24) So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life…
25 And the Lord spake unto the Angel that guarded the eastern gate, saying Where is the flaming sword which was given unto thee?
26 And the Angel said, I had it here only a moment ago, I must have put it down some where, forget my own head next.
27 And the Lord did not ask him again.

The story is neither Neil Gaiman nor Terry Pratchett, but a beautiful combination of both, with their sense of humor feeding off one another.

…courting couples had come to listen to the splish and gurgle of the river in the Sussex sunset. He’d done that with Maud, his missus, before they were married. They’d come here to spoon, and on one memorable occasion, fork.

If you haven’t read much fantasy, or any Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, then I highly recommend picking up Good Omens. Especially if you need a good laugh.

 

American Gods (2001) Neil Gaiman

This is another story that many many people have already read (heck, my MOM has read American Gods) and there was recently a film of it.

But if perchance you haven’t read it, you really should do so.

Shadow stared, impressed in spite of himself, at the hundreds of full-sized creatures who circled on the platform of the carousel. Real creatures, imaginary creatures, and transformations of the two: each creature was different—he saw mermaid and merman, centaur and unicorn, elephants (one huge, one tiny), bulldog, frog and phoenix, zebra, tiger, manticore and basilisk, swans pulling a carriage, a white ox, a fox, twin walruses, even a sea serpent, all of them brightly colored and more than real.

It is full of mythology and folklore and stories of America. In some ways, it belongs more with supernatural fantasy because there is sex and violence, but those things are written in a way that almost feels like the sex and violence of mythology and folklore—something from which we are a step removed.

What should I believe? thought Shadow, and the voice came back to him from somewhere deep beneath the world, in a bass rumble: Believe everything.

 

A Fistful of Sky (2004) Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I picked this book off the shelves solely because I liked the cover. (Take THAT Avon.) And I instantly fell in love.

Gypsum comes from a family of magicians, hidden from the regular population and living lives as normal people. Gypsum, however, has always felt different from the other members of her family, and the fact that her magic has not yet manifest doesn’t help, leaving her to believe she might be wholly without magic.

Gypsum also has an extremely complicated family.

Mama said, as she always did when things like that happened, that in her family, it was customary to let the kids fight it out. Dad said maybe that was why she hadn’t spoken with her two older sisters since they were teenagers.

But despite that, she loves her family and they love her. They might not understand her, but they do want what is best for her.

This story is not just of her coming to discover her magic, and to accept what that magic turns out to be, but also of learning to accept herself.

Like I said, it’s one of my favorite books and I wish everyone would read it—especially teenage girls.

She has written several other books, and also short stories. And her short stories are marvelous. Take this one, The Devil You Know. Here is the first paragraph:

When Dominic Cross was nine, he watched a monster his father summoned from the netherworld escape its ensorcelled circle, kill both his parents, and devour them.

The demon then decides to adopt the boy and see to his magical training.

That has nothing, of course, to do with this story, but gives you an idea of how she thinks up and writes the unexpected.

 

Child of a Rainless Year (2005) Jane Lindskold

Jane Lindskold is another author who writes stories that unfold. This is a story of discovery and learning and beauty. It is also a story about a middle-aged woman, a teacher.

Not your typical main character for a fantasy book.

As I walked back to the House I felt thoroughly sad that I was now so old and so unattractive that I could be found alone in a man’s house early in the morning and not even raise an eyebrow.

This story is full of passages that catch my fancy, popping up at unexpected times, sticking in my brain.

(L)ike so many who look at themselves too often in mirrors, she thought that this reverse image, seen rigidly straight on as we are so rarely seen by others, was her truest self.

“Here we face an old dilemma. How much must we give up of our traditional ways in order to thrive in the modern world? New Mexico is a poor state with a low population, yet we are rich in heritage. Do we sacrifice that heritage for the benefit of our children? What must we give up to attract teachers and doctors?

Sometimes we need beauty and grandeur to inspire us to be the best we can be— to remind us of what humans are capable of when they turn their minds to something beyond the purely practical. We have the capacity for art, for beauty. I think we should use it.”

The story is very unlike most fantasy I’ve read, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend another book by her, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls which might be more SF than fantasy, but which is also a unique and fascinating story.

 

legionLegion (2012) Brandon Sanderson (Legion)

I know that Brandon Sanderson is a huge name in SFF, but as I’ve mostly quit reading epic fantasy, I had found little of his to interest me, until I came across Legion, a novella that isn’t quite fantasy, but isn’t straight-up fiction either.

Stephen Leeds is a genius, however, to deal with his photographic memory and the other issues that cropped up with it, he has created a variety of characters that only he can see and interact with, who take the volumes of information he ingests, and return it to him in a manageable form.

“Stan is mostly harmless. He gives us weather forecasts, that sort of thing.”

“I . . . see,” she said. “Stan’s another one of your special friends?”

I chuckled. “No. Stan’s not real.”

“I thought you said none of them were.”

“Well, true. They’re my hallucinations. But Stan is something special. Only Tobias hears him. Tobias is a schizophrenic.”

She blinked in surprise. “Your hallucination . . .”

“Yes?”

“Your hallucination has hallucinations.”

They also provide companionship. Of a sort. But mostly they help him solve mysteries and find things. In the first story, he is asked to find a man who has stolen a prototype of a camera he has created, from the company for which he works.

I love both the idea for these stories, and the implementation. How a man who created aspects to hold information would also have created personalities for them, and how for him they would take up physical space.

There are two books in this series, and I wish there were more. Maybe soon.

Written by Michelle at 1:43 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Supernatural Fantasy, Male Protagonist

This is list going to be much shorter, not because I dislike male protagonists, but because I slightly tend to prefer reading about female characters.

Interestingly, for the female characters, the term hero could easily have been used when describing those women, for these books, several of the characters are far more complicated. They aren’t bad guys, but they’re not always good guys either. These books with male leads are more likely to have a noir feel than my favorite books with female protagonists.

Which makes me wonder—who do I have so few ethically complicated female characters on my favorites list? Hmmm.

Best of Index

 

The-devil-you-knowThe Devil You Know (2006) Mike Carey (Felix Castor)

Felix Castor is an exorcist, a job that has been in demand since the dead starting coming back in the late 90s.

(T)he Bible is strangely coy on the subject of the were-kind, hedges its bets on demons, and draws a big fat blank on ghosts, so the Christians and the Jews didn’t really seem to be any better placed than the rest of us to call the toss.

But he’s refused all jobs after his last job–one he was doing for free, for a friend–went terribly horribly wrong.

This is a super-dark series that is not for everyone. It’s rather like The Nightside series, in that it is over-the-top awful, with things so ridiculous they become almost silly.

On the door frame there were a good half-dozen wards against the dead, ranging from a sprig of silver birch bound with white thread to a crudely drawn magic circle with the word ekpiptein written across it in Greek script. That translates as “bugger off until you’re wanted, you bodiless bastards.” Greek is a very concise language.

However, Felix really is quite a bastard, and when bad things happen to him, you pretty much feel like perhaps he deserves them.  This is a five book series that is completed. As I said, it is extremely dark, and not for everyone, but is one that I very much do like.

 

Night Watch (1998/2006) Sergei Lukyanenko translated by Andrew Bromfield (Night Watch)

There exists, just beyond the reach of most people, an impossible world, the Twilight, where seemingly normal people can do supernatural things using power from that world. This series is Russian and the primary location is Moscow, although the main character, Anton, frequently travels.

I’m not even sure how many times I’ve re-read this series anymore. But probably a dozen times (including listening to the audio books). Anton isn’t an anti-hero, but he is complex, and constantly involved in things beyond his understanding.

One of the reasons I love this series is that I find the Russian character fascinating, both in how it is similar and yet different to western European and American character.

One of the quirks of people who’ve managed to find their place in life is that they believe that’s the way things ought to be. Everything simply works out the way it ought to. And if someone feels shortchanged by life, then he has only himself to blame. He must be either lazy and stupid.

In a war the most dangerous thing is to understand the enemy. To understand is to forgive.

You know what they say? A Siberian isn’t someone who doesn’t feel the cold, he’s someone who’s warmly dressed!

It also contains one of my favorite scenes, a lovely bit that really didn’t have much of anything to do with the plot, but delights me every time I read it.

I followed the old woman into the “large room”… The walls were covered in black-and-white photographs… I realized that the blindingly beautiful young woman with the white teeth, wearing a flying helmet, was my elderly lady.

“I bombed the Fritzes,” the lady said modestly as she sat down at a round table covered with a maroon velvet tablecloth with tassels. “Look, Kalinin himself presented me with that medal…”

Absolutely dumbfounded, I took a seat facing the former flyer.

Each book is split into three sections, each a complete story arc, and all three relating to each other. The second book is about the Day Watch, and so there is little of Anton in the first to stories, but it is still very good and well-worth your time. There are six books in the series, and, strangely, I haven’t got around to reading the 6th, because it was only recently published, and I’m not sure I want the end of the series. Well, also because then I want to re-read the entire series from start to finish, and there are other books I do want to read.

 

Half-Resurrection-BluesHalf-Resurrection Blues (2015) Daniel José Older (Bone Street Rumba)

There is a world of the dead that very few are aware, and the Council of the Dead works very hard to keep things that way. But there are some people who can see the dead, and even converse with them. And then there are people like Carlos, who died and was somehow brought most (but not all) the way back.

There are many many things I love about Daniel José Older’s books. First, he writes kick-ass female characters. This isn’t something a lot of male authors always do especially well, so I like to star it when I come across it. It’s not just that the female characters are complex and interesting, it’s that he’s actually listened to women, and these characters reflect that.

Secondly, as a white woman from West (by God) Virginia, I love characters who are different from me. I am well-familiar with rural poverty, and being a woman, and being white, so it’s a joy to read characters who are so very different from me. And I don’t mean people that can do magic, or elves or vampires. I mean characters whose life experience is utterly different from mine.

It’s still the wrong century for two brown men to be driving a pickup truck with mysteriously tarped cargo towards lower Manhattan.

(A)nother little guy is definitely Indian/ Pakistani or maybe Puerto Rican. Or half-black. Whatever he is, he gets randomly searched every time he’s within twenty feet of an airport.

But I especially love the bits that remind me that we’re not so very different.

The eight-year-old giggles every time her abuelo picks up a card. Her laughter rises to a joyous cackle and she crows, “Uno!” The old man fusses with his mustache, furrows his brow, and then picks a card. And then another. “Chingada madre,” he mutters as the laughter continues unabated across the table. “Mierda.” Finally, he puts down one with a sigh and the girl gets real serious, scrunches up her face, and draws a card, then slams it down, yells, “Uno!” again, and resumes laughing.

That is, truly, one of my favorite scenes. It makes me giddy with delight every time I read it.

I am having a very difficult time deciding which book to recommend you to read first.  Half-Resurrection Blues (2015) is Carlo’s book, and the start of the series and is fabulous. Salsa Nocturna (2012) is an anthology with Carlos stories, but also stories about other characters, including Gordo, who I absolutely adore.

If I walk onto a playground, and I swear to you I’m never the instigator, it’s like some memo goes out: Drop whatever game you’re playing and come chase the fat guy. Family events and holidays? Forget it. I don’t really mind because I hate small talk, and if there’s one thing about kids, they give it to you straight: “Tío Gordo, why you so big?”

And I get real serious looking. “Because I eat so many children,” I say.

Then they run off screaming and, usually, I give chase until I start wheezing.

So which should you read first? I suppose it depends upon whether you prefer short stories or novels. You definitely need to read both, since there are events and characters in Salsa Nocturna that appear in the third book. There are currently three books in this series, plus the anthology. The story arc started in the third book is complete, so I don’t know if there is going to be another book. Though I hope so, because I do love these books and characters.

[NOTE: The Shadowshaper series will be mentioned in another post. Don’t worry, I didn’t skip it.]

 

Nightlife (2006) Rob Thurman (Cal Leandros)

Cal Leandros is part monster. He’s known this forever. Luckily, his brother Niko knows he is also part human, and does his best to remind Cal of that.

I utterly adore this series. I’ve said before that it’s a love story between two brothers, as they save each other time and again.

I started into the depths of the carnival, not bothering to check to see if he was following. He was. It wasn’t something I had to see or hear to know. Niko watched my back. Always. The mountains would fall and the oceans dry to dust before that ever changed.

But never the less, they are brothers.

“I’m a man? Yeah? Do I get a bar mitzvah?”

“The bris comes first. Do you want to borrow my tanto? I sharpened it this past weekend.”

“You should try literature that contains words of more than two syllables, little brother. You might just learn something.”

“‘Voluptuous’ has more than two syllables.” Turning the book right side up, I scanned the page. “So does ‘nymphomaniac,’” I added.

To be clear, this is a very dark series. The first book opens with Cal being stabbed by Niko. And the monsters who sired Cal are truly horrible, although much of the horror is left to your imagination.

There are ten books in this series and I’ll be honest, I still haven’t finished the last book. I’m pretty sure it’s the final book and, well, I just haven’t been able to.  One last thing—I think the covers for these books are absolutely perfect. They are well-done and completely fit the tone and feeling of the books.

Also, I like her Trixa series, and was sorry there weren’t more books.

ADDENDUM the FIRST:
Apparently do NOT read the last book in the Cal Leandros series. It looks like the final book was canceled, and thar the last book published contains a GIANT cliffhanger. So, I guess I shan’t read that last book.

Written by Michelle at 8:34 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Supernatural Fantasy, Female Protagonists

After mysteries, the second genre I read was fantasy, when my dad gave me a copy of The Hobbit. I would read it at least once a year when I was younger. As I got older, my interests shifted away from epic fantasy, and I’ve generally gravitated towards series where each book contains a completed story arc. That doesn’t mean there can’t be questions that are left unanswered for several book, just no cliffhangers. I’ve found that supernatural fantasy generally fits this bill, and as I have slight preference for female characters, this list is going to be longer than the next.

This group is also going to be a little more complicated. There have been a lot of series that I’ve liked initially and then dropped because I either lost interest or something irritated me. This list is series that I have re-read and/or also listened to on audio and would like to re-read again in the future.

You can feel free to mention an author you think should be here, and if I’ve read them, we can discuss why I don’t love them or why I stopped reading (if I should take a series back up, I’ll be glad to hear that).

Best of Index

 

Gunmetal Magic (2012) Ilona Andrews (World of Kate Daniels)

Years ago magic reappeared in the world and ravaged technology—dropping planes from the sky and buildings where they stood. Those who survived have learned to live in a world with where either magic or technology works (but not both at the same time).

Note that I didn’t put the Kate Daniels series here. The thing is, I like the series, and I always want to know what happens next, but I don’t always love the series. The books stick in my memory, which is one prerequisite for making this list, but they don’t necessarily blow me away, the way other books have.

Which is why Gunmetal Magic, a stand-alone that’s not about Kate, made this list instead of the main series. I really like Andrea, and I often find her both more sensible and more reasonable than Kate. It’s not that Kate isn’t an interesting character, I just sometimes find her a bit much. Andrea, in the meantime, is someone who has hidden her heritage as a bouda (were-hyena) from The Order—the group that keeps peace in a magic ravaged world when the police can’t—because of her childhood.

Andrea has a really awful past, which makes her relationships with Raphael extremely complicated, but it also makes her a fascinating character, prone to make the kinds of mistakes Kate doesn’t. Raphael and Andrea both have weaknesses that I sometimes find lacking in Kate and Curran.

She’s also far more human than Kate, whose powers often irritate me, because sometimes she can do things with ease, while other times they are a struggle. This is unrelated to her learning how to use her powers. It’s how during The Final Battle in a book Kate does less well with things than she did earlier in that book or in an earlier book. It’s not blatant, it’s just that you know that at some point Kate is going to get her ass kicked, and then she’ll come back and win. It’s not wrong, it’s just… bothersome?

That said, there are so many things I love about this series, primarily the dialog.

Ave, Andrea! Ianitori te salutant!

…Kate was forcing Ascanio and Julie, her ward, to learn Latin, because a lot of magic texts were written in it and apparently it was an essential part of their education.

I looked up and nodded at Ascanio. “Get your gear.”

He grabbed his knife. “Where are we going?”

“To the library.”
His enthusiasm visibly deflated and he emitted a tragic sigh. “But ‘library’ and ‘kick-ass’ are two concepts that don’t usually go together.”

“That’s the nature of the business. Five percent of the time you are killing monsters. The rest of the time, we’re digging through the dirt for a tiny piece of the perpetrator’s pubic hair.”

I also love the story-telling. So, I highly recommend the short stories. Ilona Andrews is good at short stories, which is something I highly appreciate—the ability to tell a tale in a limited space.

I tried listening to Gunmetal Magic as an audio book, but we had to turn it off. I’m not sure precisely what it was, but I hated the narration. So try Gunmetal Magic or one of the many shorter stories to see what you think. It is a riveting series.

They also have several other series out, but I found them a little more uneven than the Kate Daniels series. Also, with the exception of Gunmetal Magic, a lot of the books in this series have utterly awful covers.

This series currently has ten books, the tenth of which is scheduled to come out in May 2018. This book and the Kate Daniels series has boinking, but it takes Kate and Curran a ridiculously long time to work out their differences and misunderstandings, which is possibly something else that makes me rate the series a little lower than it might otherwise deserve.

 

Moon Called (2006) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson)

The fae outed themselves to the world years earlier, so now vampires and werewolves are all but an open secret, hiding from the public for fear of social and political reactions.

And so the lesser fae, the weak and attractive, revealed themselves at the command of the Gray Lords. The great and terrible, the powerful or powerfully ugly, stayed hidden, awaiting the reaction of the world to the more palatable among them. Here, said the Gray Lord’s spin doctors who had been McBride’s lawyers, here are a hidden people: the gentle brownie who taught kindergarten because she loved children; the young man, a selkie, who risked his life to save the victims of a boating accident.

Mercy Thompson, however, is a shifter—unlike werewolves she changes easily into her coyote self, but she also doesn’t have the magic healing ability that comes with being a were. Having been raised by Bran, the head of all the werewolves in the US, she is familiar with both her own weakness, and how to deal with werewolves. Which is good, because Bran has the Alpha of the tri-cities pack watching over her.

The Marrok, the leader of the North American werewolves, insists that all of the wolves wear a collar when they run in the cities, with tags that identify them as someone’s pet. He also insists the names on the tags be something innocuous like Fred or Spot, no Killers or Fangs.

There is so much I adore about Mercy. First, she’s a VW mechanic. Which is not a typical job for a heroine. Second, she has worked hard for the skills she has.

I’m in good shape, and I have a purple belt from the dojo just over the railroad track from my garage, but I’m no match for a werewolf.

There are several male characters in this series. Adam, the head of the local pack. Samuel, Bran’s son, and then various members of the local pack, fae Mercy knows, and the average citizens whose cars she fixes. It is these secondary characters that, for me, have kept the series so strong. I adore Warren, one of Mercy’s best friends, and his story alone was enough to keep me reading, but I do very much like Mercy’s discovery of her heritage and the skills she does have as the series progresses.

The veil of civilization fell away from me rather easily, I thought, taking the empty cup and twisting it back on the thermos. All it had taken was the sight of that bruise, and I was ready to do murder.

In general, this series is not dark, but in a couple of books it does go into some very dark, very hard to read places. It’s well-worth reading, but it is hard.

Another thing I especially like is that when Mercy does something stupid and gets herself hurt, she is actually hurt, and requires time and hospitalization to heal. I think that makes the sacrifices she chooses to make all the more important, since she knows she’ll suffer for each injury in a way the werewolves around her will not.

There is boinking in this book, but not a lot. Also, once Mercy finally settles down, the relationship becomes a strength, which is important, because at times Mercy needs that extra strength.

There is also a short-story anthology of stories set in Mercy Thompson’s world, Shifting Shadows, which has a lot of stories of secondary characters. Also, if you click on the Patricia Briggs link above, there is a listing of all the stories in chronological order, so you can see where the various books and stories fit into the timeline.

I don’t adore the narrator of this series, but I found her fine to listen to. This series currently has ten books and is ongoing. I also highly recommend reading the parallel series, Alpha & Omega, which features Bran’s younger son, Charles, and his mate, but there are also appearances by Asil, who is possibly my favorite secondary character in that series.

 

Halfway to the Grave (2007) Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress)

Vampires and ghouls exist, but the public doesn’t know this. Cat, however, does, being as she is a half-vampire who has made it her life goal to kill every vampires she comes across.

Couple things—this is very much a boinking series. All her books are boinking books. But her characters are so well done and fascinating I don’t even mind all the boinking. And with this series, Cat and Bones are very quickly a devoted couple, and once they eventually get past their misunderstandings, their relationship becomes a strength to them, rather than an ongoing problem in each book.

She has also had spin-off series that take characters she has introduced here and give them their own stories, because those characters grew beyond the limitations of Cat’s story. And there are series set in the same world, several of which I’ve read.

I haven’t re-read this series in a while. I keep meaning to, but then think, “Am I in the mood for all this boinking?” and the answer is generally no. Even if it is well-done boinking. Also, I don’t yet have all these as ebooks (since I originally bought the series as mass market paperbacks.

This series is completed, although Kat and Bones appear occasional in other stories.

 

Skinwalker (2009) Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock)

This is currently one of my favorite series. I haven’t re-read the books in several years, but I recently got caught up on listening to all the audio books (I very much like the narrator for this series).

Vampires were outed to the world when Marilyn Monroe tried to turn President Kennedy. Since they vamps have tried to integrate into the modern world, and people like Jane Yellowrock have come to take care of vamps that don’t follow the rules.

But Jane has her own secrets—she has the ability to shift to any animal of a similar mass whose DNA she has access too, such as a tooth or bone. And inside her she has the soul of another creature: Beast.

First off, Beast is often my favorite character in the book, although it is a close thing, because I find all the characters well done.

I looked at woman. She looked at me. At necklace on my neck. Jane’s necklace.

“Jane?” she whispered. “Oh my God. Jane.”

I hacked. Not God. Not Jane. Beast.

Beast perked up at the description of the food. Gator. Human killed gator? Human man is good hunter! Hungry for gator. And the picture she sent me was a whole gator, snout, teeth, feet, claws, tail, skin, and all, crusty with batter. I chuckled and sent her a more likely mental picture. Inside she huffed with disappointment.

There are currently 11 books in this series, and it is on-going with the 12th book scheduled to be published in May of 2018. Although some books are weaker than others, I’ve enjoyed them and always look forward to the next book, generally reading it as soon as its published.

One of the things I particularly like about this series is how Jane slowly develops friendships. She was raised in an orphanage of sorts, and so doesn’t always have the best people skills, so it’s a joy when she finally develops close friendships and the love that goes with them (I don’t mean boinking love, I mean the love you have for good friends who have stood by you).

I’m about to say something that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s really not. Some of the problems that Jane gets into are not the kind of problems that could be resolved quickly. I like that the resolution of these things takes several books. That does not mean these issues are cliff-hangers; I mean that some issues aren’t easily resolved, and it might take a weeks or even years and a lot of work to fix them. Although it’s hard to see Jane deal with these problems for so long, it’s nice to see characters actually working out their issues.

Faith Hunter is also very good with short stories, so I highly recommend looking for one of the collections, since that will give you an idea of the writing and characters, but except for the stories, you don’t want to start this series in the middle. You do need to start at the beginning and work forward.

Two last notes—I do very much enjoy the narrator, and I love the amount of effort that was put into these covers. The initial covers were trying very hard, and although they didn’t always get things right, they put in the effort. Jane is always in an active pose, submissive to no one, and when they do use a Native American model when they can find one. (They can’t always, but I’m willing to forgive that, since I know authors get little say in their covers.)

 

bloodoftheearthBlood of the Earth (2016) Faith Hunter (Soulwood)

This is a spin-off of the Jane Yellowrock series, featuring a young Southern woman raised in a religious commune who is attempting to both make her way in the world while figuring out who she is.

Initially I was unsure about this spin-off, but quickly fell in love with it.

I set the shotgun on the table and got out three pottery mugs. I wasn’t using John’s maw-maw’s good china for outsiders whom I might have to shoot later. That seemed deceitful.

She also has powers that might have gotten her killed as a child—an ability to commune with the nature, specifically the land upon which she lives, but also with trees and such.

(O)ne tree, a dogwood, had taken root and another had tried to and died. The ground was covered in pine needles, and when I pushed a hand through to the soil, it was to discover that the lone tree was afraid, fearfearfear leaking through every rootlet and stem and reddening leaf. It had been afraid since its partner tree had died, thinking it the last tree on the face of the Earth.

This book has a character from Jane’s books, Rick le Fleur, who is complicated in his own right. It’s interesting that although he was never a favorite, I do find him rather fascinating in this series.

The same narrator reads this series as Jane’s series, and I very much like her. I also like the covers. Nell is not a fighter, and the covers reflect that. But she is also neither passive nor a victim, something that is difficult to get across.

This series currently has three published books and another book scheduled for publication in December 2017. So far, there has not been any boinking in this series.

 

The Rook (2012) Daniel O’Malley

Apparently, Daniel O’Malley is the token male on this list of books with female protagonists.

This is an extremely difficulty book to describe, so I’ll just give you a quote from the start of the book.

Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is a result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body’s past. After all, I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary.

The complicated answer could take a little more time.

Do you know the name of the body you are in? It’s Myfanwy. Myfanwy Alice Thomas. I would say that it’s my name, but you’ve got the body now, so I suppose you’ll be using it.

I think you can best describe this is a fantasy spy thriller. Except that the spy is a forensic accountant. And there are humans with special abilities, who are snagged by the government as soon as those abilities appear.

(T)he most effective psychics are the ones who never realize they’re psychic and instead manage to live excellent lives by consistently making the right decisions. Their powers effectively guide them through the shoals of life without their knowing.

I really liked this book and its sequel, and am sorry there doesn’t seem to be another book forthcoming. The writing is sharp and the dialog is snarky and the story is just plain fun.

 

Tempest Rising (2009) Nicole Peeler (Jane True)

Jane True lives in a small New England town with her father, and is an outcast for something that happened years previously. At the start of the story, supernatural creatures are unknown to Jane because they carefully hide themselves from the world. Obviously, she soon leans of the supernatural.

There are several things I particularly like about this series. First, is the use of the varied creatures of folk lore and fairy tales. There is so much material out there, it was a delight to read about more than vampires and werewolves.

Second, Jane True feels like an actual, normal, human woman. Take this passage, that still amuses me.

…I wiped my nose on his shirt. I was snotty from crying and he was already filthy. It wasn’t ideal but he was holding me so tight I couldn’t move my arms.

“Did you just wipe your nose on me?” he asked, finally. His voice was tight with various emotions, but “oh no you didn’t” had clawed its way to the top of the list.

“Maybe,” I mumbled, peering up at him.

That still cracks me up, because it’s so something that happens in real life but never gets mentioned in books.

This is a boinking book, but the series also has a HEA story arc. There are six books in this completed series, so although there is a cliffhanger in the next-to-last book, that’s not an issue anymore.

 

Kitty’s Greatest Hits (2011) Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville)

Kitty was attacked and savaged by a werewolf and her life hasn’t been the same since. She belongs to a pack that rules her life as much as her parents had, so her one escape is her radio show: Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

On her radio talk show she discusses weres and vampires and other things with callers. Outsiders think it’s tongue-in-cheek, but really it’s Kitty’s way of saving herself.

If vampires ever spend less time playing theatrics and living down to their stereotypes, they might actually take over the world someday.

This series is more complex than you might expect, and like other supernatural series I like so well, takes a good look at just how the mundane world would deal with supernatural creatures, and the rights of supernatural creatures.

This series also has my favorite vampire ever.

“All the jokes about blood and the Eucharist aside— I can’t walk into a church anymore. I can’t go to Mass. And I can’t kill myself because that’s wrong. Catholic doctrine teaches that my soul is lost, that I’m a blot on God’s creation. But Kitty— that’s not what I feel. Just because my heart has stopped beating doesn’t mean I’ve lost my soul, does it?”

She wrote a short story about Rick the vampire, “Conquistador de la Noche” and it is one of my favorite short stories. You can find it in her short story collection, along with another favorite vampire short story, “Defining Shadows”, which appeared in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Guran.

There is boinking in this series, but once Kitty falls in love, her relationship and marriage are a stability and a strength to her, which is something I really like.

Written by Michelle at 10:24 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Monday, October 23, 2017

My Favorite Supernatural Mysteries

Since the first genre I ever read was mystery, I adore supernatural mysteries. It doesn’t matter if they are private detectives or police, I love mysteries with a supernatural twist. Funny thing is that I don’t even try to solve the mysteries—and I can read good mysteries over and over—it’s something about the process that fascinates me.

Of course, I also love that mysteries are almost always wrapped up in a single book. They rarely have cliffhangers, which may also be why they are a favorite. Below are some of my favorite mysteries, and the reasons why I love them so much. Clicking on a book title will take you to Amazon. Clicking on the author name will take you to my page for that author, with my reviews and the series in order.

These series are listed alphabetically by author, because it would be extremely difficult for me to order them as favorites.

Best of Index

 

Midnight Riot (2011) by Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London)

The Rivers of London series occurs in our world, but the supernatural is hidden from most people. Peter Grant accidentally becomes an apprentice wizard and the second full time member of the unit that polices the supernatural.

First, I utterly adore Peter. He is a tremendous geek. He gets caught up in minutiae and constantly goes off on tangents. For example, he loves architecture, and is constantly commenting on various buildings.

It’s a bland box of a building built in the 1970s; it was considered to be so lacking in architectural merit that there was talk of listing it so that it could be preserved for posterity as an awful warning.

He also loves Dr Who and various other geek things, and blithely makes hilarious asides.

So Newton, like all good seventeenth-century intellectuals, wrote in Latin because that was the international language of science, philosophy and, I found out later, upmarket pornography.

The characters are marvelous here, full of minorities and women like you’d expect in the normal population. But the minorities aren’t there to be minorities to tick a box, they are there because any group is going to have members of a minority, so of course there are minorities in this book.

Like most police mysteries, the main story arc is completed within each book, but like reality, there are on-going questions that aren’t answers, and might never be answered.

In addition to the books, this series also has an on-going comic, and this spring a free audio book was released. My theory is that the author has more material than he can use in a single book, and is spinning those stories off into comics and short stories. This series also has, hands-down, my favorite narrator. I can quite literally listen to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith over and over and have to stop myself from doing so, because there are a lot more books out there for me to listen to.

 

London Falling (2013) Paul Cornell (Shadow Police)

This is a series that occurs in our world, where the supernatural is hidden from most of the population. It’s also very dark and a lot of bad things happen.

That said, it’s a current ongoing favorite because the mysteries are so very good, the characters are complicated, and despite the darkness, there are many things that make me laugh.

“Might as well look as if we’re together,” said Sefton, under his breath, as he pressed the tea bag against the side of his cup to try and force out a bit of flavor. “Seeing we’re the only black guys in here.”

“The New Age,” agreed Costain, “does not recruit in line with best practice.

“It’ll take weeks of grunt work and potentially lead nowhere,” said Quill. “Excellent: that sounds like police work to me. Anyone got anything else?”

But as I said, be aware that a LOT of horrible things happen in this series. The worst part is that although they come as a complete shock when they occur, you should theoretically have seen them coming. But of course you don’t because normal people wouldn’t expect such awful things.

This series also has one of the biggest shocks I have ever been given by a book. I literally had to re-read the passage several times because I couldn’t believe it went there.

This is dark and frequently horrible, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s also incredibly good and I’m awaiting the next book in the series, and hope it’s as good as the previous three. If you like to listen to books, I really like the narrator for this series.

 

Something from the Nightside (2003) Simon R. Green (Nightside)

The Nightside is a London where it is always 3 AM and your most secret and terrible desires can be fulfilled. It’s also a place from which John Taylor fled after multiple attempts on his life. So at the start of the series he’s working as a detective in normal London. But obviously that doesn’t last long and he returns to the Nightside.

One of the things I particularly like about John Taylor is that he achieves things through his reputation rather than blunt force and trauma. In fact, his reputation usually keeps him from having to resort to other tactics.

“You here to cause trouble?” (the enforcer) said, in a voice so deep he must have had a third testicle tucked away in there somewhere.

“Almost certainly,” I said.

“Right, lads! said the enforcer, glancing back over his shoulder to address the rest of the street. “Pick up your feet, we are out of here. This is Dead Boy and John bloody Taylor, and we are not being paid nearly enough to take on the likes of them. Everybody round to Greasy Joan’s cafe, where we will wait out whatever appalling things are about to happen.”

There is a huge element of horror to this series, but it is so over the top and ridiculous that it has never bothered me. That might also be because there is much silliness as well.

Next door to the brothel was a dark and spooky little shop selling reliquaries–the bones of saints, fragments of the True Cross, and the like. Special offer that week was apparently the skull of John the Baptist. Next to it was a smaller skull, labelled JOHN THE BAPTIST AS A CHILD.

Plus, most things are left to your imagination.

I used my special gift to find the channel control signal and used it to tune every single television screen to the same appalling show. I’d found it accidentally one night while channel hopping (never a good idea in the Nightside, where we get not only the whole world’s output, but also transmissions from other worlds and other dimensions), and I actually had to go and hide behind the sofa till it was over. The John Waters Celebrity Perversion Hour is the single most upsetting pornography ever produced, and now it was blasting out of dozens of screens simultaneously.

This is a 12-book series with an associated short-story collection. The series is completed, including the story arc that left you with one book that had an incomplete conclusion. But since the series is done, the single cliffhanger isn’t bad at all.  The short story collection would be a good way to see if this is your cup of tea. Simon Green is very good with short stories, which is something I particularly appreciate.

This series is not for everyone, and I wouldn’t recommend reading one book right after another, as some things can get repetitive, but it’s a fun series, and frequently made me laugh out loud. I’ve listened to some of this as audio book, and they are fine. Not my favorites, but not so awful I had to stop listening.

 

hard-spellHard Spell (2011) Justin Gustainis (Occult Crimes Unit)

This is a police procedural set in an alternate Scranton OH, where supernatural beings are out and common, and the police have to deal with crimes in that community just like they would with any other minority community.

Cops on the Supe Squad spend as much time investigating crimes committed against supes as we do on crimes with a supe perpetrator, and the supe community knows that. If a cop is fair in his dealing with them, the supes remember.

Except that there are other things to consider, which is one of the things I enjoy about this series.

“That doesn’t apply to supernaturals, of course.”

“How come?” Karl asked.

“Because the distinctions aren’t as clear. For instance, do you consider a vampire who kills people a serial killer, or just hungry?”

There are only three books in this series, which is too bad, because I find it a lot of fun. It does tend towards gruesome, and does have some of THE worst covers, but I love the take on supernatural policing.

 

 

The-Grendel-AffairThe Grendel Affair (2013) Lisa Shearin (SPI Files)

Makenna Fraser is a Seer who has come to work for SPI (Supernatural Protection & Investigations). She grew up in a rural town where the supernatural were an open secret, so she is used to the strange—although New York has a greater variety of strange than did her home town.

To tell you the truth, our job was a lot easier when John and Suzie Q. Public didn’t know they were lucky to make it to the office every morning without getting pecked to pieces. Though that was only during the Werepigeon Infestation of 2003. Before my time, but definitely one for the agency history books.

One of my favorite things about this series is that Mac’s powers don’t give her many abilities beyond that of being able to see through all glamours, which means that she is at greater danger than her colleagues, especially since Seers are so rare and seem to have been targeted by an unknown bad guy.

She is also well-aware of her limitations, which I love even more.

I was smart enough to know and accept that I could be trained by the best and still never qualify as a badass. My goal was simply to make it to work each day and home every night.

I adore her self-awareness.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Mac doesn’t get into situations. She comes from a law-enforcement family, so she has had the instinct to protect drilled into her, so she’s not a wimp. But it means that when something happens she has to deal with the consequences—long term.

This is a fun romp of a series with some romance, but it is not the main theme, and her romance is NOT with her partner. If you like to listen to your books, I like the narrator for this series—she does a good job with the rural accent, which I appreciate. I also love the covers of these books.  Mac and Ian are always shown in action and Mac wears reasonable clothes. I LOVE that.

 


Snake Agent (2005) Liz Williams (Detective Inspector Chen)

Snake Agent and the rest of the series are set in Singapore Three where Detective Inspector Chen is a snake agent, or police officer in charge of supernatural issues, whose wife is from Hell, a fact he fears has caused trouble with his patron goddess. In the first story Chen meets up with his eventual partner for the series, an agent from Hell.

The trouble with Hell, Zhu Irzh reflected bitterly, was not so much the palpable miasma of evil (with which he was, after all, ingrained) but the bureaucracy.

I love the characters in this series: Chen, Zhu Irzh, the Badger. All fascinate me, as does the world where the existence of Heaven and Hell are taken for granted. To be clear, this is not a Western Hell. It is an Eastern Hell, which makes it all the more fascinating for me. Take this bit from a later book:

His mother, the shrill, quarrelsome Mrs Roche, had long since passed into one of the more pleasant neighborhoods of Hell, if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms. She sometimes telephoned, a tinny, distant voice in her son’s ear, demanding to know why he was still unwed.

I adore that.

This is a lovely series of five books, each a self-contained story and mystery. The original covers are some of my all-time favorites. Utterly gorgeous.

Written by Michelle at 11:50 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Michelle’s Favorite Books

Things have been dark recently, and I know I’ve been searching for an escape, so I thought I’d give you geeks some lists of some of my favorite escapes.

I’m starting with fantasy, and we’ll see if I want to do more beyond that. In the mean time, I’ll link back to the various posts here.

As always, if you click through one of my links to amazon and buy a book, I’ll get a few pieces of pennies that will eventually add up to MORE BOOKS.

Supernatural Mysteries:
Ben Aaronovitch , Paul Cornell, Simon R. Green, Justin Gustainis, Lisa Shearin, Liz Williams

Supernatural Fantasy, Female Protagonists:
Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jeaniene Frost, Faith Hunter, Daniel O’Malley, Nicole Peeler, Carrie Vaughn

Supernatural Fantasy, Male Protagonists:
Mike Carey, Sergei Lukyanenko, Daniel José Older, Rob Thurman

Urban Fantasy:
Paul Cornell, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jane Lindskold, Terry Pratchett, Brandon Sanderson

Fantasy, Straight Up:
Steven Brust, David Eddings, Diana Gabaldon, Barry Hughart, Ellen Kushner, Dennis L. McKiernan, Terry Pratchett, Sean Russell, Thieves’ World

Fantasy, Young Adult:
Susan Bischoff, Lish McBride, Garth Nix, Pat O’Shea, Daniel José Older, Megan Whalen Turner, Caroline Stevermer, Patricia C. Wrede

Mysteries:
Police: John Burdett, Andrea Camilleri, Arnaldur Indridason, Ian Rankin
Historical: Michelle Diener, Tracy/Teresa Grant, Anna Lee Huber, Kate Ross

Written by Michelle at 11:48 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Traveling WV: Droop Mountain

The unincorporated town of Droop is named for Droop Mountain, where a Civil War battle took place in 1863. The Droop Mountain State Park has preserved these sites and is both an historical site and a state park with hiking trails.

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There was plenty of color, and the drive down 219 was gorgeous.

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Written by Michelle at 9:40 am      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,State Park / Forest  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Traveling WV: Babcock

Unsurprisingly, we were too early for good fall color.

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We looked. We could see no signs of a trail.

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Little bit of color!

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The path to cabin 8.

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Written by Michelle at 8:39 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,State Park / Forest,West Virginia  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Traveling WV: Berkeley Springs

There was also supposed to be good color at Berkeley Springs, which was also a lie.

However, I love Berkeley Springs and love watching the air bubble up from the bottom of the springs.

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Written by Michelle at 10:09 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,State Park / Forest,West Virginia  
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