Archive for January, 2016

Vendetta

January 21, 2016 - 8:11 am No Comments

Deadly Curiosities Book 2
Author: Gail Z Martin
Publisher: Solaris
Page Count: 327pp
Release date: 29th Dec 2015
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Trifles and Folly isn’t your average antique store. Cassidy Kincaide, the current owner of Trifles and Folly has had the store in her family for over three hundred years, in haunted Charleston South Carolina. In the first book she discovers the store’s real purpose, and her destiny. It’s her job to keep magical curios and antiques safe from the public. Sometimes a jewellery box is just that, and sometimes it houses a blood-sucking demon. Either way, it’s a dangerous job, but someone has to do it, and it appears that someone is Cassidy and her employee Teag. She also works with her silent partner Sorren, a six hundred year old vampire with a few powers of his own. Think a quaint, old fashioned version of Warehouse 13.
To help her with her job, Cassidy’s talent is psychometry, the ability to read objects through touch.
When Cassidy touches the latest acquisition, the emotions are rife. Martin is expert at filling in the gaps and creating the mystery to progress the story through Cassidy’s visions; sights, sounds, feelings, atmosphere. It’s all here. And each artefact is a little glimpse into history, and a case for the Trifles team to solve. Cassidy is literally plunged into the past as the person who owned the object narrates their death and the circumstances surrounding it; moving and engaging stuff.
Emerging, shaking and upset from her vision, Cassidy tells Teag the bad news. There is a ghost attached to the jewellery box. But that’s not the bad news. It’s the wraith that eats ghosts, now in the most haunted city in North America that’s the problem. And something even bigger is on its way.
Cassidy has an interesting cast of characters to assist her in her endeavours. Teag himself is a Weaver, who can weave magic into fabric or find out anything by weaving information on the web. Lucinda is a Voudon mambo (root worker) who can offer protection through herbs and channel Baron Samedi. Valerie is a medium who runs the local ghost tour, Chuck, a retired Supernatural Black Ops Agent, Bo, the ghost of her dead dog and Father Anne, a tattooed and powerful priest who frees spirits helping them into the next world. Amidst the urban fantasy Fayre, the adventure, intrigue and humour, there is darkness galore and even a Lovecraftian vein. We also get to know Sorren a little better, and that knowledge is poignant.
Martin doesn’t shy away from the darker history of the South, being open and honest about slavery and the like. Her cast of characters is also wonderfully diverse including sexuality, race and colour. Martin is also adept at handling exposition and back story through conversation with other characters that feels natural.
There’s a lot of battles and blood in this novel and a few losses along the way, which makes the final showdown with the ‘big bad’ all the more dramatic and fraught with tension. Cassidy, Sorren, Teag and the rest of the team fight well together, but their adversary is strong. Will they survive intact? That’s not for me to tell. What I will say though, is its one helluva finale and this book had me gripped from start to finish.
Great characters, brilliant back story, emotional resonance, big bad monsters and a multitude of magic. This blockbuster of a book has it all. Highly recommended.

Weapons of Choice

January 20, 2016 - 1:30 pm No Comments

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1
Axis of Time series book 1
John Birmingham
Ballantine
434pp (eBook edition)
2004
reviewed by Chris Amies

This is a time travel story in which a naval experiment gone wrong catapults a group of military vessels and their crews back from the year 2021 into the Pacific War of the 1940s. A multinational force, its crew including women commanders and people of various ethnic backgrounds, runs straight into the white, male world of the US Navy as it heads for Midway Atoll. Fighting ensues. Weapons of Choice put me in mind of ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ (a Navy experiment makes ships disappear and reappear at random) and a clunky 1980 film called ‘The Final Countdown’ where an American aircraft carrier from the (then) present day goes back to 1941.

What is John Birmingham doing here if not painting himself into a corner? If you drop modern ships into the Pacific Theatre you are going to change history; doing for the Navy what Dean McLaughlin’s “Hawk among the Sparrows” did for the Air Force, only better, because McLaughlin’s supersonic jet fighter was unable to get a fix on the small slow wood-and-fabric aeroplanes of World War 1, whereas here the Multinational Force, armed with long-range missiles and guns like the fearsome MetalStorm, are quite capable of putting holes in a 1940s-vintage battleship without being able to see it. This Will Change Matters, surely, and the more so once the Navy of 1942 realises the Multinational Force isn’t the enemy.

The 21st century has been at war for many years: the War on Terror has spread and widened and what the MNF is doing in that part of the Pacific involves the politics of the nation we know as Indonesia. Everyone has a smartphone-like terminal linked to the ship’s computers, and with it they can show the natives of the 1940s what happens in The Future. So what happens to their future now that the people in the past know all about it? And is the ‘1942’ we see here even ours?

I liked the characterisation in this novel. Some characters make their way through the culture shock better than others, and the shock isn’t always what you expect (for example the 1940s sailors rely on street-fighting skills for hand to hand combat while their 21st century counterparts were trained in much deadlier methods). Subverting cliche, many of them adjust better than expected once they realise the kind of people they are dealing with. There are a few tips of the hat – to SM Stirling’s “Draka”, and Harry Turtledove’s “Worldwar” series where World War 2 is interrupted by intelligent alien lizards. Certain other historical characters get a look in also, which is partly where the book falls down – too many strands to follow, it is too long and would have benefitted from better editing – which the author has admitted elsewhere. Shortening descriptive passages and not bothering with the corridors-of-power bits would make for a tighter read.


Chris Amies Writer and translator

The Accidental Vampire

January 18, 2016 - 9:19 pm No Comments

Argeneau Vampires Book 7
Author: Lynsay Sands
Publisher: Gollancz
Release date: 9th Feb 2012 (1st published 2007)
Page count: 361pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

It’s no fun being a vampire. At least for ‘Elvi’ Ellen Stone Black aged 62. Waking from a car accident in Mexico Elvi (short for Elvira) finds herself in a hotel with her teeth buried in best friend Mabel’s neck.
With no idea how she got there, and no idea why she’s a vampire, she returns to her hometown Port Henry, now a glamorous looking, apparent 25-year old.
Thankfully the town accepts her readily, eager to get to know their new celebrity vampire, apart from the local priest that is. So now she has to follow the rules; avoid garlic and crosses, sleep during the day and keep out of the sunlight, not eat food, drink blood, wear black gowns and sleep in a coffin. But it’s all such a bother. And the fact that lots of her elderly friends are dying doesn’t help. Mabel and other close friend Teddy Brunswick are well aware of this issue, so think it’s a great idea to put an ad in the singles column for a male vampire for Elvi, without telling her.
Mabel vets the applicants, choosing six ‘vampires’ to visit the town and stay over at Elvi and Mabel’s B&B for a week.
Six soon becomes four as a sad wannabe and a wannabe vampire hunter are revealed.
So, who’s left?
First off is Victor Argeneau, council enforcer and DJ Benoit his cohort and driver. But they’re not searching for love or life mates. They’re trying to find out what sort of idiot would put an ad in a singles mag. So Victor is horrified when it’s revealed not only is Elvi biting mortals (at the Birthday Bite bash) but the whole town knows about vampires. Both circumstances are against the rules and its Victor’s job to bring Elvi to the council for justice. It’s a damn shame then that he feels instantly attracted to her.
And that is where the fun begins. Posing as a potential suitor, Victor joins the genuine suitors, pompous Brit Edward, flirty Italian Alessandro and charming German Harper at the B&B for a week to get to know Elvi.
It’s a learning curve for Elvi too, who discovers she can eat and drink, and can sleep in a bed. The bit where she desperately drags her male harem to the local supermarket on a “cheesecake emergency’ is priceless and hilarious. Whilst Sands is normally witty, this is the funniest book I have read in the series so far, especially the bed buying scene and DJ’s treatment of Mabel and her very grouchy reaction to him. Structurally it is also one of the strongest in the series.
Definitely a read in a day page turner. Class stuff.

A Spark of Magic

January 18, 2016 - 12:53 pm No Comments

A Spark of Magic by J L Clayton
Published 1st May 2014 by Outskirts Press Inc
302 pages

I was lucky to be given this book by the Author.
Charlie is your typical teenage girl who through no fault of her own move homes a lot. Her parents never explain to her why they move, they just pack up and leave.
She expected this move to be no different, but what she didn’t expect was being involved in a love triangle with two of the hottest boys in school. Jace a family friend’s son and Tru, the son of a Cherokee shopkeeper who she met on her first day in town.
Not only has Charlie got to deal with her feelings for them both, she is also being stalked by an unknown force. Enter Crispin, a powerful sorcerer, also known as a traveller. Why he is infatuated with her we don’t really know.
Throughout this book there is a paranormal undertone building up to something bigger. The way the book is written keeps you enthralled and you will want to carry on reading to find out what happens next. Whilst reading this book you will find yourself taking one of the boys sides. Me I was team Tru.
This book has everything and you will have some unanswered questions. To solve this you will just have to read book 2.

Yvonne Davies:

Let me introduce myself. My name is Yvonne or Vonnie to my friends. I work full-time in the Civil Service and am a mom of 2 teenagers who both read and a retired greyhound.
I am originally from Birmingham but now live in Bridlington, which is on the coast of East Yorkshire. In fact I can walk to the beach in 5 minutes.
I have known Theresa for quite few years as in a former life she was my supervisor. We spent many a day talking books.
I will read most books but my favourite genres are Fantasy, paranormal and sci-fi. I do the majority of my reading on my kindle and am addicted to downloading free books.
This is the 1st time reviewing books and I thank Theresa for giving me the chance.

The Dragon Engine

January 17, 2016 - 4:50 pm No Comments

The Dragon Engine
Blood Dragon Empire series book 1
Author: Andy Remic
Publisher: Angry Robot
591pp (eBook edition)
Release date: 3rd Sept 2015
reviewed by Chris Amies

“The Dragon Engine” tells the story of a group of humans who embark on a quest to possibly save the life of one of their number. And to claim the treasure of the supposedly lost Dwarf kingdoms while they’re at it. It begins, as such stories may, with a feast and the swearing of mighty oaths. In fact a lot of swearing generally. This is far less well-mannered fantasy than we have been used to in the past; the word Grimdark has been used and we are now habituated to such grim, bloody-slogging nightmare (or those people who read/watch it are) from Mr Martin’s Game of Thrones.
On the one side of this savage tale you have the band of fast friends who have, they thought, put their soldiering days behind them and taken to the pleasures of love, food and drink, but who come out of retirement for this quest. Our viewpoint character here is Beetrax, a huge axeman, uncouth and violent but who has hidden depths and capacities. On the other you have their enemy: a thoroughly nasty culture living underground and who are ruled by a dyarchy – so called because each ruler wants the other to die? Separation of church and state has led to on one side a king who might not be that nice but does believe that people shouldn’t be tortured to death; his opposite number is Skalg, Cardinal of the Church of Hate, who has no such qualms and is a colossal pervert, brutal both sexually and otherwise. Insurrection is in the air which means that by the time our heroes get there the situation is going to be even more complicated.
This is an impressively bloody novel, with no quarter given or asked from the many vicious fights and nasty situations our characters get into. The language is equally foul and indeed certain words crop up so often it’s beginning to look a lot like Tourette’s.
As well as the opposing titans already mentioned the other characters are well drawn, the relationships between the adventurers giving them a plausible back story. This is a novel which in many ways plays with fantasy tropes – dragons, dwarfs, stew (why is it always stew? as Diana Wynne Jones asked in ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’: but it always is) and while using them goes beyond them. There are indeed dragons and what became of them, and the Dragon Engine of the title, is the engine (as it were) of the novel.
This is volume 1 of a new series which going on the evidence here will be worth keeping up with. I write this as someone who doesn’t really do Fantasy unless its characters can take time out for a latte (i.e. the Urban subtype) but go on, Andy Remic, do go on, you have convinced me. Not that the world depicted is one I would like to live in – not given the likelihood of sudden brutal death or worse – but in its sweaty, bloody self it is worth a visit.

Chris Amies Writer and translator

Reviewer biography: Chris Amies

Chris Amies was born in the suburbs south of London and lived for many years in Hammersmith, which district still appears in much of his fiction. He is the author of one published novel, one non-sfiction book (about pubs) and 25 short stories though the number is increasing, and has reviewed fiction for the BSFA and Tangent Online. He is currently preparing a collection of his older published works and recently diversified into anthology editing and full-length translations from French. His website is at chrisamies.com