Read Recently — early 2013 (Mostly February)

Fair Game: an alpha and omega novel by Patricia Briggs

A serial killer in the Boston area is killing werewolves; Charles and Anna are sent in to cooperate with the FBI. Upon reviewing old cases, though, they realize that the killer has not only been killing werewolves all along during a long career, he has also been killing fae; weaker or half-breed ones. When a girl is kidnapped from her apartment by an invisible abductor, it becomes apparent that the killer or killers have a fae on their side. Charles and Anna form an unlikely alliance of werewolves, witches and fae (the girl’s father, in particular, is an old and powerful fae), along with the cops, FBI, and CANTRIP (CNTRP–the Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors; a new agency created to deal with the Fae and the Werewolves) to try to rescue the girl before she is tortured, raped and murdered.

In the B plot, Charles has been spending too much time as his father’s enforcer, having had to punish and/or kill (mostly kill) too many werewolves whose Alphas won’t discipline them since the werewolves came out of the broom closet. Those deaths are weighing on him; he thinks he is being haunted by their ghosts (this might actually be true; Charles has a magical heritage and could in fact be being haunted, or it could be all in his head) and is very close to breaking down. Anna is hoping to find a way to help him recover.

Possible trigger warning: while no one in this book is raped or tortured in front of us, the actions of the serial killer(s) do involve both of those, and those are discussed by the characters. If you find watching Criminal Minds to be triggering (and I certainly find it to be a bit much, sometimes) than you should skip this one. Otherwise, recommended.

Keep the Change: a clueless tipper’s quest to become the guru of the gratuity by Steve Dublanica

After his success with Waiter Rant, everyone assumed Dublanica was the man to go to for information about tipping, and he was startled to realize that he knew very little about it. So he went on a cross-country tour, investigating various jobs and how they expected and/or wanted to be tipped. This included a trip to Vegas, where he learned about tipping strippers, hookers, and the dealer. Amusingly written and informative. If you’ve ever wondered about tipping, this is highly recommended.

Shadow Fall: Shadow Chasers book three by Seressia Glass

Kira Solomon has, on the one hand, been having a good time career-wise, since she has been helping the local museum set up a ground-breaking exhibit on the Egyptian book of the Dead (not only is Kira an archaelogist and Egyptologist, but she’s also had direct experience with the Egyptian afterlife). On the personal level, her relationship with Khefar, the immortal Nubian warrior who is her partner both in fighting the forces of Shadow and personally (he is the only person who can touch her without setting off her extrasense and possibly dying) is also going well, except for what she is not telling him–that her father may have been a creature of Shadow, and thus her bloodline is tainted. Also, she is having nightmares in which Set himself calls her granddaughter, and then murders her (hey, it’s that kind of family). And then, people in the Atlanta paranormal community start falling into mysterious comas, including one of Kira’s best friends.

Unlike some series’, this one still has legs. Still well-written, still got good, strong characters and a background slightly different from so many others (including a preponderance of characters of colour). But as it got towards the end I found myself thinking that as this series goes on, I’m probably going to let it go on without me . . . and I can’t explain why without spoiling it. You should not, however, let my mood stop you from following it if you’re interested. Moderately recommended.

One Salt Sea: an October Daye novel by Seanan McGuire

Toby begins her latest adventure by learning how to fight with swords. Her Liege lord, Duke Sylvester, is trying to get her to take her knightly duty seriously. In addition to the sword training, he insists that she take on a squire. Then the Luidaeg, an ancient, frightening fae who has been helping Toby for the last several books suddenly calls in her debt. She wants Toby to stop a war between the local sea fae and the land. Since the war, if it occurs, will involve all of Toby’s friends and indeed, Toby herself (not to mention that she is currently dating a selkie), and faerie wars are bloody precisely because of their rarity, so Toby is motivated. Even though she is going to have to go undersea at some point, and that will involve some sort of transformation, and back when the series started, Toby was transformed against her will into a Koi and spent 14 years in a pond, so she’s got some issues around transformation, and water.

The issue is complicated, because the two sons of the leaders of the sea faction have been kidnapped, and the sea is blaming the land. Toby believes that her local queen, who hates her, is innocent, but someone did kidnap the kids . . . and when Toby finds out who she finds herself with a whole different issue.

So far, McGuire hasn’t put a foot wrong on this series, and this book continues her winning streak. All the characters we’ve liked in the rest of the series are here and true to themselves. Toby does, and I’m sure this will surprise you, succeed in her quest, but she pays a high price. Emotionally wrenching, but excellent, and highly recommended.

The Bible Repairman and other stories by Tim Powers

Short stories by an American master of dark fantasy. In the title story, a man with the title job is called on to take a job he doesn’t want to do. As pre-payment for the job, the ghost of his long-dead daughter is returned to him. In “A Soul In A Bottle”, a fan meets one of his favourite writers, who asks a favour of him . . . even though she’s been dead since 1969. In “The Hour of Babel”, a man revisits the place where, decades before, his life changed forever, as something unknown moved though space and time, changing both. In “Parallel Lines”, a woman’s dead twin starts sending messages back from the otherworld through automatic writing . . . but what do the messages mean, and who are they for? In “A Journey of Only Two Paces”, a lawyer takes on one last duty for a client. And, “A Time To Cast Away Stones” is technically a sequel to The Stress of her Regard. After Byron’s death, one of his acquaintances goes on with the struggle to free Greece, with strange new allies.

Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin

The Weird West is getting kind of crowded.

In 1876 Wyoming, Cavalry Captain Jonas Hollister (formerly Major Hollister, until he punched George Custer in the face) takes a night patrol out to investigate an alleged massacre, only to lose all his men to an attack by vampires (here is where the book starts to go off track; these are a kind of uber-vampires called “Archaics” (why? We never learn). They are different from vampires in that, um, well, we’ll get back to you on that). Hollister is the only survivor, and because he refuses to claim that it was natives, he ends up in Leavenworth, which was still new then (logic is a little iffy here; punch a general and get demoted. Refuse to blame the natives for a massacre that’s more like a disappearance, go to prison. The former, the story makes clear, is politics; that latter, well, it would be nice to know what Hollister was charged with). He is sprung from prison by Alan Pinkerton and a presidential order. There has been another massacre. Pinkerton is working with Abraham van Helsing, who makes only a brief appearance in the story. This will eventually lead to some lying about Dracula, his powers, and his limitations, but that’s an aside.

Hollister brings Sergeant Chee out of prison with him, recruiting the younger man on instinct. Chee is part native, part black, and part chinese. He knows Kung Fu and voudoun, and travels with a giant dog (named “Dog”) who seems smarter than most canines. The two men are given a special train, custom weapons designed by Winchester himself (including a gattling gun that fires wooden bullets) and an assistant who is a mechanical genius. Their mission is to track down and kill the Archaics. They are also helped by a mysterious woman who may be an enemy, or something more than a friend.

Frankly, with the special train and steampunk weapons, not to mention the two-man unit that is really too small to be efficient (I would hope that future stories will expand the unit) I wouldn’t be surprised if this had started out as Wild, Wild West fanfic. It did grow beyond that. This is one of those rare stories where they tell you the hero (Hollister) is a military genius and/or a leader of men and make you believe it. What doesn’t work, though, is that there’s just not enough new here. The Wierd West reallyis getting crowded, and that means you need to bring your A-game to stand out from the crowd and Spradlin just doesn’t bring it here. On the other hand, you could do much, much worse. Mildly not recommended

Kitty’s Greatest Hits by Carrie Vaughn

A collection of short stories set in the Kitty-verse. “Il est ne” is set early in the period of Kitty’s exile from Denver; taking shelter for Christmas eve in a diner she meets a lone werewolf who may be a confused young man, or may be a serial killer. “A Princess of Spain” sees a young Catherine of Aragon, sent to England to marry the heir, Arthur, only to learn that someone in his service is not what they seem. “Conquistador de la Noche” is the secret origin of Rick, Kitty’s vampire friend. “The book of Daniel” deals with the most famous incident in that apocalyptic biblical story: the incident of the Lion’s den, and how Daniel survived. “The Temptation of Robin Green” is the weakest of the stories in the collection; a woman working on a government project that studies paranormal creatures is tempted by a selkie. The only obvious connection to the Kittyverse is a vampire named Rick. “Looking After Family” is Cormac and Ben’s secret origin. “God’s Creatures” has Cormac hunting a killer werewolf that may be under the aegis of the local Catholic church. “Wild Ride” is the secret origin of T.J., Kitty’s one friend from her original pack in the first book. “Winnowing the Herd” has Kitty suffering through an office party. “Kitty and the Mosh Pit of the Damned” has Kitty getting a chance to meet a hot new band, live and in concert–but at all of their shows someone ends up badly injured. Can Kitty find out why? “Kitty’s Zombie New Year” contains no actual walking dead. “Life is the Teacher” looks at some of what happened to Alette and her family after the events of Kitty Goes to washington. “You’re on the Air” is the other side of a phone call from Kitty and the Silver Bullet. Finally, “Long Time Waiting” is the story of what happened to Cormac in prison–how he and Amelia got together, as it were. The last three may contain minor spoilers for those who are new to the series, but the book as a whole is highly recommended.

Dead Streets: a Matt Richter Novel by Tim Waggoner

Sequel to Nekropolis. Having sort-of saved the world in the last book (albeit not our world, but rather the small chunk of another dimension that contains Nekropolis, the city of monsters and the dead), Richter goes on being the city’s only sentient zombie PI. However, he is now also helping out his lover, the half-vampire Devona, in running her security firm, the Midnight Watch. Matt considers himself an independent contractor working with the Midnight Watch, but do they feel the same way? In addition to the stress caused by that conflict on Matt and Devona’s relationship, Matt is jealous of the time that Devona spends with one of the employees of the watch, a handsome warlock. After all, while Matt and Devona have a passionate telepathic relationship, being a walking corpse Matt has a problem that, let’s say, Viagra cannot fix.

So Matt and Devona have a small fight and Matt decides to walk home alone. He kinda lets his guard down, which is always a bad idea in Nekropolis, since it allows someone to jump him from an alley, jam a bag over his head, and cut it off–the head, that is, the bag stays where it is. Being what he is, being decapitated is, for Matt, more of a nuisance than an injry, but whoever it was leaves his bagged head on the sidewalk to be eaten by the first predator to come along, be that a small group of imps, or the giant purple thing that lives in the sewer, or perhaps both, sequentially (hint: it’s the latter).

Fortunately, his telepathic call to Devona brings her to his rescue just in time, but all that she saves is his head: the attackers were literal body snatchers. Thanks to magic and a favour from a taxi-driver friend, they manage to find it again quickly (in the dumpster outside a lycanthrope restaurant). But reattaching Matt’s head is more than the voodoun priest who usually fixes Matt up can handle; a sentient zombie’s head needs to have careful work done. Only one person in the city could possibly do it: Victor Baron, the original Frankenstein’s Monster. Having taken on his father/creator’s name and learned his skills, Baron has filled the city with his creations and made himself so useful to everyone that some people want to raise him to Darklord status (ie–make him one of the Kings of Nekropolis).

Baron is willing to meet with Matt and Devona, and handily (pun intended, but only comprehensible if you read the book) reattaches Matt’s head. But before our hero can get on about the business of tracking down who dunnit, he’s seized by the city authorities and accused of a crime against one of the darklords. What’s worse, it seems like he actually did it, or at least, most of him did. Convincing his accuser that the important part of him was elsewhere proves impossible, and Matt is sent to Tenebrus, the city’s terrible prison. And he’s put into the general population, along with a large numer of people he sent there, such as the awesome Lycanthropus Rex.

So not only does Matt have to clear his name, to do it he has to escape from an inescapable prison. And if he does that, who will be sent after him (hint: it will be everybody)?

The book is full of Easter Eggs for the horror fan. To choose some of the more obvious ones from near the beginning: Victor Baron has hired just about all the mad scientists in town. Examples include Dr. X, Dr. Praetorius, Herbert West, and Dr. Goldfoot. Then we actually meet some employees, “[a] wild-haired, wild-eyed man in a white lab coat who kept telling a pop-eyed hunchback in a black cloak that his name was supposed to be pronounced ‘Fronk-en-steen,’ along with the handsome young man with curly black hair wearing a corset, fishnet stockings, 70s glam rock boots, and far too much make-up.” Their guide tells them that the young man is a distant relative of the family and, “To be honest he’s a mediocre scientist, but he’s great fun at office parties.”

Recommended. All three Matt Richter mysteries are now available in an omnibus edition.

Paranormality: why we believe the impossible by Professor Richard Wiseman

Professor Wiseman looks at beliefs in things like fortune-telling, OOBEs, and the like, and explains both why they don’t work and soem about why we believe in things like that. The book has scattered tests through it that might illuminate your own psyche–I say might because I didn’t bother taking them. The book is well-written and interesting, though if you’ve been hanging around on the fringes of the skeptical movement as I have been, there’t not a lot you haven’t encountered before. Still, mildly recommended.

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