Quick Reviews

March 24, 2010

Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

Magic to the Bone, the first in Devon Monk’s series, has an interesting system of magic. Each time magic is used, a physical and painful price, such as in the form of migraines and flu like symptoms, is taken from the user, unless it is offloaded to another person. However, Allie Beckstrom also loses memories. Allie works as a Hound, finding illegal casters by following their scent from their work. When she finds a boy suffering under the effects of an illegal offload, she finds her father’s signature on the spell, forcing her to see her father for the first time in years. Supposedly, magical signatures cannot be forged perfectly, so when Allie’s shows up at a murder site, she goes on the road with the help of the mysterious Zayvion.

Magic to the Bone was a good read. While I like Monk’s magical system, having the character forget everything and distrust everyone after every major event can become a little tedious. However, I do recommend the story. The characters are colorful and its universe is quite unique. Zayvion and Allie’s magical abilities hint at a more complex understanding of magic than the one for public use in the novel.

You Can’t Stop Me by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens

You Can’t Stop Me starts out with a bang and does not slow down. Just hours after stopping a presidential assassination attempt, J.C. Harrow returns home to find his wife and son murdered with his wife’s wedding ring missing. After time passes and the police cannot find their killer, Harrow vows to find him on his own. A few years later, Harrow becomes the host of a reality television show that solves crimes. When a connection is found between the murder of a law enforcement officer’s family and his own, Harrow puts together a team to find the murderer as part of the reality show. They find a number of similar murders, making the suspect a serial killer.

I could not put You Can’t Stop Me down. The story just took hold and would not let go. With little passages from the murderer’s point of view, you cannot help but wonder if Harrow and his team will catch him when he can watch their progress on television. Collins and Clemens have concocted a clever plot with likable characters. Even the killer’s history evokes some sympathy.

St. Patrick’s Day Review: Patrick, Son of Ireland by Stephen R. Lawhead

March 17, 2010

I’ve been waiting for St. Patrick’s Day to post my review of Stephen R. Lawhead’s Patrick, Son of Ireland. To begin with, Patrick is a fictional imagining of the life of St. Patrick and explanation of the four names he was given at various points. I’ve read several reviews where the story was picked apart and disliked because of the historical inaccuracies it has compared to what is known of Patrick’s life. Patrick is fiction, of course everything is not going to be true, otherwise it would be a biography. Keep this in mind when you read it. It is a great story that keeps you turning pages to see how Patrick survives the difficult situations in which he finds himself.

As a spoiled, young, Welsh nobleman’s son, Succat Morgannwg is enslaved by the Irish in a raid  when he was sixteen. Determined to return home, Succat somehow manages to keep his spirit alive throughout escape attempts and the resulting beatings. He even falls in love with an Irish woman, whose druid brother saves his life and brings him to live with the druids. Deciding to become a druid in order to get his freedom, he takes the druid teachings to heart, finding many similarities between them and the teachings of his grandfather, a priest. Succat’s journey’s take him war ravaged Gaul, imperial Rome, and finally back to Ireland, where he finds his destiny. Each portion of his life under the names Succat, Corthirthiac, Magonus, and Patricius is filled with wonder, loss, and learning.

I loved Stephen R. Lawhead’s take on St. Patrick’s life. His suffering and losses made me cry in sympathy and hope for his later happiness. Lawhead’s writing makes history seem to come to life. Along with Patrick, I recommend his King Raven trilogy:  Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck, set in Wales in the time of William the Conquerer, based on the Robin Hood legend.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! And happy reading! Don’t forget to wear green.

Review: Shalador’s Lady by Anne Bishop

March 8, 2010

Shalador’s Lady, the latest in Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series and sequel to last year’s The Shadow Queen, continues the story of Lady Cassidy’s rejuvenation of the land Dena Nehele. The Black Jewels series has a huge cast of strong characters living in a, sometimes tyrannical, matriarchal society.  Set in the aftermath of the cleansing of the corrupt Queens in Terreille, the surviving Warlord Princes asked for the help of a Kaeleer Queen to remind the people of the old ways. Disappointed in the plain, light jeweled Queen Cassidy, Prince Theran, who tries to see what others see, feels a connection to the selfish but vivacious Lady Kermilla who visits Cassidy in Dena Nehele. Deciding that Kermilla would make a better Queen, Theran begins to undermine Cassidy, despite the fact that she found the treasure of Grayhaven and has started to heal the land. Blind to Kermilla’s true nature and his friends revulsion of her, Theran’s actions cause Cassidy to move her court to the Shalador reserves. The land begins to fracture as the people choose sides.

I cannot say enough good things about the Black Jewels series. Anne Bishop’s writing just grabs you and immerses you into a brilliant universe with a vivid cast of characters. Daemon Sadi has become one of my all time favorite characters. In anticipation of the release of Shalador’s Lady, I re-read The Shadow Queen and ended up re-reading the original trilogy as well. Then after reading the new release, I went back and read The Invisible Ring again, which depicts the ancestors of the characters in the two newest books. It seems that every time I read one of the books in the series, I end up getting sucked into the universe and re-read all of them.

I think Shalador’s Lady is a good addition to the series, though it is not my favorite. Unlike the emotional delving in The Shadow Queen, this one focuses more on the action side of things in Terreille. The SaDiablo family sections are not as big either, which I missed since they are my favorites. I did like the return of Surreal and Ranon, who always add a lively air to things. And of course I loved seeing Gray become the man he was meant to be.

I highly recommend any and all of Anne Bishop’s novels, including the Black Jewels series, the Ephemera series, and the Tir Alainn trilogy.

Review: Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison

February 25, 2010

Black Magic Sanction, the 8th installment of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, is an action packed thrill ride. The witches’ ruling coven who shunned Rachel Morgan, a witch with the ability to kindle demon magic due to a childhood illness, decides to get rid of her any way possible. The attacks put Rachel’s friends and partners in danger. To make matters worse, Trent Kalamack offers to help her as long as she signs a contract to work for him–forever. As the student of the demon Algaliarept, Rachel is becoming more easy with twisting curses. With the help of Ivy, Jenks and his brood of pixies, Glenn, the former ghost Pierce, Al, the witch Lee (who can also kindle demon magic), and even her ex-boyfriend Nick, Rachel fights for survival and tries to find a way for everyone to just leave her alone.

I absolutely loved Black Magic Sanction. It may be my favorite of the series. There were so many developments, not all good–I even cried at one point. The cast of characters are always growing and becoming more complex. No one is completely good or evil. Rachel is learning to trust, forgive, and not judge so quickly, everything is not black and white. Al plays a big part in the novel, giving deeper insight into his character. I really like Al now, even though he is a demon who tries to snatch people to sell in the ever-after. Rachel even tries to learn why (and if she should) she distrust Trent, my favorite character of the series.

The ending was perfect. It showed how much Rachel has grown. I cannot wait until the next in the series to see the interaction between the characters now that Rachel is learning to trust and understands others (namely Al and Trent) more.

For those new to the series, amazon.com and bn.com have the first, Dead Witch Walking, available for free as an ebook. Kim Harrison also writes the Madison Avery young adult series. The first, Once Dead, Twice Shy, has already been published with the second, Early to Death, Early to Rise, coming out May 25th. Under the name Dawn Cook, she writes the Truth series (the first two have lovely new covers), beginning with First Truth, and Princess series, beginning with The Decoy Princess, both of which I highly recommend.

I’ve been to three of Kim Harrison’s author signings. If you ever get a chance to attend one, you’ll have a great time. Kim Harrison is an extremely nice and funny lady. Plus you’ll get some goodies, too, maybe even a t-shirt. Last year she gave away tomato seeds (with the Angel name to tie into the series).

Review: Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco

February 23, 2010

Unshapely Things by Mark Del France begins with a running start and does not slow down throughout. The first in the series, Unshapely Things sets up an inventive alternative universe where the fey live in the open with humans. A string of murdered fairy prostitutes in the Weird, all with their hearts cut out, brings Connor Grey, a druid, on the case as a consultant for the Boston PD. Connor, once a high profile member of the Ward Guild, now lives on disability checks and an occasional check from the Boston PD. A black mass blocks his access to his essence due to an accident caused during his time with the Guild. Grey works to solve the murders and prevent more with his limited abilities and the help of Detective Murdock, a flit who goes by Joe, druidess Briallen, as well as others in the colorful cast of characters.

I liked the fact that Connor is not the typical sorcerer/elf/vampire/etc. Having a druid as the main protagonist makes for an intriguing read. I particularly liked Joe/Stinkwort, a flit who reminds me of Jenks from Kim Harrison’s Hollow series. Though Unshapely Things is similar to the Hollow series and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, it does manage to set itself apart. With a unique universe, cast of characters, races, and racial politics, Mark Del Franco’s series has found a place on many readers’ shelves. I cannot wait to read more about Connor Grey and maybe the cause of the black mass in his mind.

Mark Del Franco currently has four Connor Grey books in publication, along with the first in a new series, Skin Deep.

Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

February 8, 2010

While Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, the first in the Sevenwaters series, has been out for years now, I have only recently got around to reading it. After finishing the story, I could not believe I had been missing out on such a great series for so long. If you have not read it yet, I recommend giving it a try.

Daughter of the Forest is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Six Swans.” Sorcha is the seventh child of an Irish lord around the 8th century. Her mother died after giving birth to her, leaving Lord Colum devastated with the constant reminder of his loss in his seven children, especially Sorcha who looks just like her mother. Sorcha and her six brothers grow up taking care of and relying on each other. Each have their own special gift that makes them unique. However, their lives are disrupted with the appearances of a new stepmother who happens to be a sorceress. She turns the family against each other. When they finally join together to fight her influence, she casts a spell on the six brothers, turning them into swans. It is up to Sorcha to break the spell through her silence and pain, making thread and shirts of a thorny plant. She has a destiny, set up by the fairy folk, that takes her far away to the land of her people’s enemy on a difficult path fraught with danger and loss.

I loved that Juliet Marillier took a fairy tale and made it into a full fleshed tale with historical context. The land and the family’s connection to it were beautifully depicted. Sorcha’s sacrifices were heartbreaking, making me wince and cry in sympathy. The Briton, Red (Lord Hugh), was a perfect match for Sorcha. He was compassionate and protective when his people would have had him abandon Sorcha. I also recommend The Dark Mirror for those who enjoy Daughter of the Forest.

Review: Shadows Past by Lorna Freeman

January 26, 2010

The long awaited 3rd installment of Lorna Freeman’s Borderlands series, Shadows Past, is well worth the years long delay (though, even if it had been terrible, I would have loved it for giving me my Borderlands fix). The story picks up where The King’s Own left off with Rabbit and the royal party celebrating Rabbit’s name day in Freston. Rabbit has become reluctant to use his powers after the fight with the demon. To make matters worse, Lord Idwal of Mearden, the lord Hilga eso Flavan jilted for Rafe ibn Chause, has sent a offer for Rabbit to marry his daughter.

King Jusson decides to travel to Mearden to meet with Idwal and his family. However Mearden is not what they expected. They find a Border-like castle filled with depictions of the people with its own enchanted forest. They also meet a messenger sent by the Qarant and the new Turalian ambassador, someone from Captain Suiden’s past, who has a wizard as an advisor. Nothing is as it seems as secrets from the past are revealed. Rabbit learns the details of his parents’ flight to the Border, Suiden’s past, Jusson’s relationship to his mother, the late queen, and even a few of Ryson’s secrets. Rabbit begins to feel the strain of living up to everyones’ expectations. Even his aspects are doing as the will, appearing when not summoned and refusing to go away.

Ryson’s revelation was one of the biggest surprises to me. It seems that he is not just a reformed lackey. Suiden and Jusson’s secrets were the most heartbreaking, revealing how and why they became the men they are. The conversation between Jusson and Rabbit in the last chapter was one my favorite parts in the entire book. I was also glad that Suiden, Javes, and Rabbit’s troop are back after missing them for most of The King’s Own.

Covenants is still my favorite in the series, but Shadows Past has the same elements that made the first such a great read. There are foiled assassination attempts, magic, mystery, and even a little seduction. The Borderlands universe is a complex world filled with rich characters, settings, and imagery. The next novel, The Reckoning Flames, is set up nicely with another adventure to be had and more secrets to be uncovered, including what exactly Moraina saw in her farseeing. If you loved the previous novels in the series, you will not be disappointed with Shadows Past. I only wish that it was longer. Hopefully there will not be such a long wait for the next installment.

Shadows Past Update

January 19, 2010

Shadows Past by Lorna Freeman has been released early at http://www.barnesandnoble.com. Right now they are offering member prices on everything and there is another 10% off coupon you can apply (the coupon code is M3X9B8L). Click on Shadows Past to be linked to the website.

Review: The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg

January 13, 2010

Carol Berg’s new novel, The Spirit Lens, is set in an entirely new universe, a renaissance world where science is overtaking magic, than her previous novels. Failed magic student and now librarian of the collegia, Portio de Savin-Duplais, is summoned to the countryside by his fifteenth cousin, the King of Sabria. Phillipe, who disdains magic, charges Portio to be his agente confide along with his fop of a brother-in-law, Ilario, to solve a magical attempt on his life and the disappearance of the previous investigator. He believes another attempt will occur in 64 days on the anniversary of the previous attempt, which is also the anniversary of his son’s death. Many believe his wife was behind the attempt due to her love of magic and goal to speak to the dead. The assassin was found with a lens that allows the viewer to see glimpses of the world beyond. He also bears the marks of a victim of blood transference, a vile and illegal practice.

Portio is drawn in to court life where intrigue is a way of life. Along with the help of Ilario, he seeks the aid of the only master mage that is not of the blood, Dante, who turns Portio’s views of magic and the world upside down. Portio learns more about himself as he strives to solve the mystery. The Spirit Lens has magic, suspense, intrigue, horror, action, and even a little romance. Portio, Ilario, and Dante are complexly drawn figures with even more unexplored depths to come in the series. I highly recommend this tale.

Carol Berg is hard at work on the sequel, The Soul Mirror, set to be released in 2011. I also recommend her Lighthouse Duet, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, her Rai-Kirah trilogy beginning with Transformation, and her stand alone novel Song of the Beast.

Happy 75th Birthday Elvis!

January 8, 2010

Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. I’m a big fan of his work. I’ll even admit to loving his films, even the really cheesy ones. Jailhouse Rock has always been my favorite. Elvis had his ups and downs in his life but remained an amazing performer through it all. You can even watch his ’68 Comeback Special and Aloha from Hawaii performances on DVD now.

I recommend the two part biography by Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, if you want to learn more about Elvis.

In honor of his birthday, I am posting one of my drawings of Elvis. Happy Birthday Elvis!