A Trip to the Dark Side

Courtesy of goodreads.comNo, not that dark side. This isn’t a Star Wars post (and though I’m a Trekkie to the core, the new Star Wars is awesome. Go see it!). Simon R. Green’s latest book is called The Dark Side of the Road.

Ishmael Jones (seriously, that’s his name) is a drifter, moving from job to job and blending in to the crowd. He has to, to keep safe. Ishmael isn’t human. Obviously, or he wouldn’t have picked a name like Ishmael. At any rate, he apparently crash landed on earth back in the 60s and as a part of his civilization’s crash protocol, his entire self down to his DNA was remade to be human.

Unfortunately, it didn’t change his strange golden blood or the fact that he (at least seemingly) doesn’t age. So he keeps a low profile and works jobs on what he calls the dark side of the road so he can have access to new identities when needed. He works for someone called the Colonel, who represents The Organization. Suitably vague for their type of work, which is to take care of those things that go bump in the night that threaten to go bump in the daylight.

The Colonel calls Ishmael at Christmas, on the eve of a terrible storm and asks him to come to Belcourt Manor in Cornwall (don’t quote me on the location, it was mentioned briefly and I can’t quite remember). By the time that Ishmael arrives, the storm is so bad it snows everyone into the manor.

Once there, Ishmael discovers that the Colonel is in fact one James Belcourt, son of Walter Belcourt, owner of Belcourt Manor. And he’s missing. Which is odd, considering the weather. Ishmael gets to know the guests, two of whom he knew in one of his previous lives and one of which is James’ sister Penny, who wants all up in Ishmael.

Eventually, Ishmael and Penny discover the Colonel’s beheaded body outside in the snow, disguised as a snowman (loved that. Suitably macabre). Its up to Ishmael to discover who killed his Colonel and is now picking off the few guests (a half dozen or so) left, to get revenge.

This book is Agatha Christie meets the Twilight Zone. Ishmael is an alien, the killer is referred to as the horror by the Colonel, and they’re locked in a quaint, old British Manor for a few days with no outside help to be found. It’s glorious.

It’s my understanding that Simon R. Green isn’t writing anymore series, just doing one off novels, due to health concerns (he’s been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes), so I’m guessing that this is a stand alone. That’s a shame because it has such potential to be a great arc. This is already better than his Ghost Finders books, and I slogged my way through all of them. I hope he does at least one or two more, but we’ll have to wait and see. Even if it doesn’t continue though, this book is definitely worth the read. Rating: A

Steampunk-ish: Red Hot Steele

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo this book Red Hot Steele by Alex Berg came up when I looked for a new steampunk novel  in Amazon. Only thing is…it isn’t really steampunk. Its more like…an Edwardian pulp mystery. Its a bit more Dashiell Hammet than Gail Carriger.  This is a first person novel told from the perspective of Detective Jake Daggers. Really. That’s his name. And he seems to be every stereotypical gumshoe rolled into one. He’s a large, misogynistic detective in New York that eats poorly, is divorced and not a good dad.

At least I think its New York. The world building in this book is almost non-existent. Magic/the supernatural seems to be known and somewhat accepted in this world, as evidenced by the fact that Detective Daggers’ new partner is a young female half-elf by the name of Shay Steele. Yes, really. Despite her name, she’s actually the most interesting character in the book. She supposedly has some supernatural talent for visions which lands her on the police force. As women are not police in this time/world, her visions are the only way she can gain detective status.

The story itself is a regular old murder/con double-header with a sprinkling of magic. It wasn’t really all that spectacular a story and I figured out the whodunit pretty quickly. It could have been an acceptable book if there were more world building but seriously, the most thought I felt was put into it was the fact that horses weren’t used in the city anymore because of all the droppings so therefore rickshaws were the mode of transportation for those who could afford such things. I thought that was an interesting concept but it was the only thing that put any sort of time-frame on this story.

There was none of the usual steampunk trappings of steam powered everything, gadgets, brass, and general sense of elegance. I was overall disappointed with this book and grateful I got it on sale for about 4 bucks. I don’t see myself getting the next book in the series. If you’re a fan of the old Sam Spade/Big Sleep style mysteries, this might be a good book for you. If you are more a steampunk person or an urban fantasy person, I’d stay away. There just isn’t enough of either genre in this to satisfy.  Rating: C-

Sherlock Holmes

So I’m eagerly awaiting the US release for the second season (or series to you Brits) of BBC’s Sherlock and it got me in the mood to read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have been, since before the Guy Ritchie movies, a big ACD Holmes fan. He’s a Victorian detective House (very simply put) but oh so much better.

Some time ago I bought the Complete Sherlock Holmes for both Kindle and paperback. It contains, so far as I know, all of Doyle’s original Holmes stories, including the novels of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’m really very hard pressed to choose a favorite story as I find most all of them entertaining on some level. Sherlock is a master detective and a master at the back handed compliment.

So, I won’t try to summarize all the various stories. There are far, far to many to do so in a single post. I will, however, pick a few of my favorites to recommend them to you.

-A Study in Scarlet: This is a full novel of Sherlock Holmes. It introduces him and Dr. John Watson. It gives a bit of back story for Watson and include their first case together. I was a bit confused when I first read it because I thought that it suddenly broke into an entirely different story with entirely different characters. But if you can stick with it, it’s well worth the read.

-A Scandal in Bohemia: This story introduces The Woman, Irene Adler. A bit of a warning for you Ritchie fans, she isn’t quite like the lovely Rachel McAdams portrayed. She certainly outwits Sherlock at every turn but I believe she had only one ‘spoken’ line in the entire story. It is one of the more fun stories in the Holmes verse.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle: Sherlock solves a Christmas time mystery involving a felt hat, a dead goose and a blue carbuncle (a garnet related gem). This is another fun one.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band: It’s an engaging story with a woman who is not quite the typical helpless Victorian lady. She’s in some what of an abusive relationship with her step-father but finds the courage to ask help from Holmes and Watson.

The Final Problem: This is the one where Holmes faces down the dastardly (good word that, one hardly ever gets to use it) Professor James Moriarty. I believe I read somewhere (probably on the net so beware the ‘facts’) that Doyle so despised Holmes’ popularity at this point that he had killed off the detective in this story hoping to never return to writing him. Didn’t quite work out as planned.

The Adventure of the Empty House: Holmes makes his triumphant return to London and his old friend Watson. I love this story because Watson has such a visceral reaction to Holmes’ return and yet I’m a little disappointed that Watson didn’t pop him one. I’m hoping that the BBC Watson will do that during the updated version of this story. 🙂

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot: This one features a Holmes’ that is less than the ‘superman’ that he was portrayed as previously. His poor habits during (and between) cases had left him on the verge of a break down and Watson takes him to recover in the country. Of course, life isn’t that simple for the pair and a murder mystery finds them.

The Adventure of the Three Garridebs: Holmes investigates the story of a will with the strange stipulation that the inheritance be split between three adult men with the unusual last name of Garrideb. I like this one because we finally see a glimpse of just how much Watson means to Holmes.

There are many other stories that I enjoyed but these ones stick out most in my mind at the moment. I’m not sure what I’ll move on to next but this was a good break from my usual fare of urban fantasy. If you haven’t read Sherlock Holmes before, I highly suggest the stories. A+

Sandman Slim

So I just picked up the new Sandman Slim novel Aloha From Hell and I realized that I didn’t review the last two books. The books are written by Richard Kadfrey and are sort of an old fashioned pulp mystery mixed with urban fantasy. The first novel was Sandman Slim (surprising, I know).

Sandman Slim’s name is James Stark. He doesn’t particularly like either moniker. Mostly he gets called Stark. You don’t really want to like him. He murders, he tortures, he cusses. He’s a thief. And he can walk through shadows and do magic. Stark has spent the last decade or so in Hell. And that isn’t a metaphor. He was the only living human in the whole of Hell. And he was the favored toy/gladiator of the Hellions, right up to Lucifer himself. When you’re immortal, new things are always fun.

We’re introduced to Stark as he wakes up in a flaming garbage pile in LA. This might be a bit redundant. 😉 His first act is to roll a guy for his clothes and money. The only thing on his mind is to kill the men who sent him down in the first place, people he’d once considered friends. In the mean time, he manages to pick up some new friends that include a 200 year old alchemist, a young woman working the counter at a video store, an archangel masquerading as a doctor and his assistant, a Jade named Candy. Jades are  a cross between vampires and spiders. They liquify the innards of their victims and suck it up.

His main focus is a man named Mason, the one who was personally responsible for sending Stark to Hell in the first place. The only problem is getting to him. He’s rich, he’s magically powerful and he’s more than slightly psychotic and paranoid. Not to mention the thug he has protecting him. Stark is definitely an anti-hero, but he’s good at it.

If you like darker, grittier books, this is one you should definitely pick up. Rating: A+

The Dresden Files

Since reviews of the books I’ve read will take a while, I decided to get the ball rolling with some recommendation blog posts.

First up is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series.  I LOVE this series!  I used to hate books that were written in first person, but I’ve come to enjoy them thanks to this awesome series.  Butcher starts out with book one, Storm Front and just gets better from there.  I highly, highly recommend this series.  Harry Dresden is talented, irreverent and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Chicago.  On the whole I give the series an A+. It hooks you and reels you in so that you just can’t wait for the next book (trust me, right now I am lamenting the fact that the next Dresden novel doesn’t come out until March 2011).

The nice thing about the series is, you don’t necessarily to have to read the books in order to understand what happens in them.  It’s easier if you do, true, but Butcher does a good job of briefly recapping the previous bits of story line in each successive novel.

  • Storm Front: This is the first novel of the series and it’s pretty solid, even with introducing the main characters.  It isn’t quite as excellent as the later books, but I think that’s to be expected for a first novel. Magic, fairies and warlocks oh my! Overall, it’s a solid B novel.
  • Fool Moon: This novel focuses on werewolves and the many varieties thereof.  The series is stretching it’s wings, so to speak, and is introducing more recurring characters.  B/B+
  • Grave Peril: Introductions to Butcher’s view of vampires. Being a vampire story enthusiast, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued by Butcher’s ideas of vampires.  Also introduces recurring character Michael Carpenter. The series really starts getting better from here. B+
  • Summer Knight: Good fairies, evil fairies and possibly evil exes (aren’t they all). A-
  • Death Masks: The Red Court returns just at the worst possible time, as the Blackened Denarians are in town.  A-
  • Blood Rites: This is one of my personal favorites in the series.  I love, love, love the character of Thomas the incubus half-brother of Harry Dresden.  A+
  • Dead Beat: Necromancy! Yay! But seriously, who doesn’t think that riding a resurrected T-Rex through Chicago is awesome? Polka will never die! A+
  • Proven Guilty: Introduction of Molly Carpenter as Harry’s plucky side kick.  Very good story, a little darker than the previous Dresden books maybe. A
  • White Night: Who’s killing off Chicago’s minor magic users? That’s what Harry wants to know! But no one wants to talk with him.  What else is new?  A-
  • Small Favor: Return of Ivy the Archive and one of my favorite characters, Kincaid. A
  • Turn Coat: Ah! A little bit of “I told you so” for Donald Morgan! Very good story. A+
  • Changes: Oh. My. God. Amazing, amazing book. But SOOOOOOOO frustrated with the end! A little spoiler: It is definitely going to leave you hanging…and not on a good note! I cannot wait for the next novel. A++
  • Short stories: Jim Butcher has an anthology of his Dresden short stories due out around October 2010. I’m definitely going to get it, but I have read some of them already from other anthologies.  As I am waiting, patiently, for this book Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files.

I recently recommended Storm Front to my father-in-law and he has gotten just as hooked as I have.  Butcher is a good, witty writer who can do a comedic scene just as well as an angsty scene or an action scene.  If anyone out there has read and enjoyed this series, I would love to hear from you on any authors/series that you would recommend along the lines of the Dresden Files.

Hello world!

Recently I’ve become hooked on reading urban fantasy novels and anthologies.  My problem is that I stumbled into this fascinating genre via Jim Butcher’s awesome Dresden Files series and I had never even heard the term “urban fantasy” before.  I tried Googling for urban fantasy recommendations and didn’t find a whole lot out there.   So I figured that I would create my own blog for reviewing the books that I’ve read and asking people if they had any suggestions for similar books.

Like I said, I’ve been real into urban fantasy lately, but I also like some mystery, some action/adventure and even some history books.  So I’ll have a little bit of everything on my site eventually.

Just a bit of miscellany before I get started:

  • I am not looking for any reviews, recommendations or raves about the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer. I realize that I may piss off a horde of teenage fan girls out there, but I personally found the series dull. I’m sorry but vampires do not sparkle.
  • I do like Harry Potter. I adore Harry Potter.  I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. I’m sure I’ll get around to writing a review for those books eventually but since they are so popular, I’m sure I don’t need to recommend them to many people out there at this point.
  • I do not own any of the titles, characters, author’s names etc I may mention here. I’m not making any money off of this (though I would love to if I could).
  • I don’t care if you don’t agree with what I say, that’s your prerogative, however, please try to be civil in your posts and I’ll try and be civil in my responses.
  • I have read a lot of books and I would like to review most, if not all, of them eventually.  This means I may have to re-read them, so if new posts take a while, that’s why.

And now…to the show!