Naivete is not altruism

Long isle

Every so often, I tool around Kindle Unlimited (yes, I have a subscription to that. I read too much sometimes) and I stumble upon a book or a series that has some promise. The latest series I’ve stumbled on is called the Magic and Mixology Mystery series Gina LaManna. All the titles are plays off of cocktail names: Hex on the Beach, Witchy Sour, Jinx and Tonic, Long Isle Iced Tea, Amuletto Kiss, Spelldriver. The covers are fun.

These books follow around one Lily Locke. She starts life as a marketing executive in St. Paul and ends up the Mixologist for a place called the Isle. It’s a magical (literally) island in Lake Superior where magical folks of all types can live/hide away from the world of humans. Lily finds it initially hard to believe, but then her aunts find her and whisk her away to be the new Mixologist – a sort of apothecary. 

And she rolls with it. She puts her head down and studies her butt off and becomes good at it. But (there’s always a but) – she’s not that likable a character. Lily has insecurities out the ass. Like all of them. Every trope of how she’s “not good enough” to do this, that or the other thing is all wrapped up in Lily Locke. And it’s annoying as all get out.

She’s afraid to fail, so she doesn’t really get to live or take chances. Learning how to fail is one of the best things a person can be taught. Everyone go to Netflix and watch the Magic School Bus Returns episode on failing. It’s excellent and this character needs it. 

We also get the “I’m in love with you even though I’ve only seen you twice!” trope between her and the weirdly named Ranger X. Rangers are the peacekeepers/special ops of the island. They keep everyone safe from the Faction (the trope-ily named bad guys). Apparently once they become a ranger, they no longer get to use their name? I don’t know, it wasn’t explained.

I have a horrible habit of once I get through one mediocre book in a series, I keep reading the rest, hoping they’ll get better. These ones (I’m only up to the beginning of Amuletto Kiss) are all mediocre, but I’ve had to stop at the beginning of Amuletto Kiss because Ms. Lily has just ticked me right off.

They’re in the beginning stages of an all out war with the Faction (which is run by her father, NATCH) and she sells off her entire stock of Long Isle Iced Tea potion to an unknown witch who says it’s for a party. Now, this particular potion changes a person’s clothing into what they most want. It was made specially for a surprise costume party for one of Lily’s newly found cousins. 

The thing is…it doesn’t just delve into your subconscious and say This person has always wanted to be a pirate and suddenly you’re dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow. No, you can focus on what you want to be and you will be it because in Long Isle Iced Tea we see Lily and a few other Islanders use it to escape the Faction by concentrating very hard on being Faction guards. And we also find that it can give you another person’s face because at the party, another cousin of Lily’s accidentally turns herself into Ranger X.

So….Lily just sold her entire stock of a glamour potion to a woman she doesn’t know. All of it. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There is a difference between altruism and naivete! The Mixologist is supposed to help people. To do good as we’re reminded constantly. That doesn’t mean she should just blindly trust everyone (which she does, constantly) during the middle of a frickin’ war!

I haven’t gotten to the end yet, but I’m betting that we’ll find out that this woman works for the Faction and she or a partner (or partners) have been using this potion to imitate Rangers (especially X) around the Isle at night and doing little pranky steals (snatching an old woman’s knickers off a clothes line, stealing every tomato at the general store etc) to sow discord between the people and their peacekeepers. Mark my words.

Nothing bothers me more than a female character that has such potential to be awesome, but instead gets caught in the naive, insecure web that writers think makes the “perfect heroine”. Maybe you can do that naive, insecure thing in the first book when she’s first introduced to a world she never knew before…but in 4 straight books (likely 5 if I ever get to the last one) just tells me that this person is incapable of learning. It makes them two dimensional and not fully fleshed out.

The male characters in the book like Ranger X are the same. Ranger X is caught in that emotionally closed off, never met a woman like you before trope. It’s one of those “to be a ranger, you need to not love anyone” crap. Oh, and naturally Lily and Ranger X “fall in love”. I put this in quotes because they’re both really terrible at relationships. Lily’s insecure and Ranger X can’t open up and trust her. It’s a recipe for disaster in real life that will probably lead to a happily ever after in this series. 

On the plus side, this series is kinda light hearted. I tend not to like the really emotionally heavy things that are just a slog to read through. There’s some nice shenanigans in these books and a large extended family (like mine) full of weirdos (like mine).  If you’re looking for a nice, light read, go ahead and pick up Hex on the Beach (or any of the others, I don’t really think you need to read them in order) and give it a go. If flat, tired and tropey characters are not your thing, skip it. Rating: C-. I’m betting once I return these to Kindle Unlimited, I won’t really remember them.

If you want some nice, well fleshed out female leads, try Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, her Finishing School Series or her Custard Protocol Series. Also worth reading: Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series, which I’ll get around to reviewing sometime. Oh, and though they aren’t the lead in the series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. He has some seriously great female characters.

Geekomancy

So I was just going through my Amazon recs and came across a book called Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood. Being that I am a geek, I was intrigued. So I downloaded the sample to my Kindle and away we go. I was a little worried by the ridiculously complicated name of the main character which I can’t remember the whole of so I’ll just let you know that she’s Ree Reyes.

I’m not entirely sure one has to be a geek to enjoy this book but it would definitely help to understand it. This book is made up of mostly pop/geek culture references. I personally love when my favorite writers sneak in a pop culture reference (Jim Butcher, I’m looking at you) but this might be a tad much for some. The character of Ree tends to think of things in a  geeky way. Like breaking down people into D&D character sheet traits (strength #, wisdom #, intelligence #, charisma # etc).

She works at a theme cafe called Cafe Xombi that provides coffee, pastries and comics (among other things). She’s got the standard urban fantasy trops of having recently broken up with her boyfriend, her mother left when she was a child, her father is poor/hard-working and in every way supportive and she has a dream job (being a screen writer) that just isn’t meant to be. Just once I would like to see a female character (or any main character I suppose) be in a stable relationship, have both parents and a job that they love and don’t lose.

Aaaaaaaanyway, moving on. Ree’s post-break-up mopiness is interrupted by the arrival of a man who insists on being known as Eastwood (*sigh*), who is the one who inadvertently introduces her into the world of the weird. Now here is where I rather like the world that Underwood is creating because I haven’t seen something like it before.

Back around the time of the Renaissance, those people who could do magic influenced how those who could not do magic see magic. What I mean is, they created this thing called The Doubt. Because of the books and general enlightenment of the era, those who did magic basically put a big, multi-generational “someone else’s problem” spell on, well, Muggles for lack of a better term.

Someone who has magic has a type of magic. Werewolves are Atavists, who use magic to bring out the beast in them…turns out they have to use rubber werewolf suits as a focus but hey. Eastwood can basically use comics and other geek memorabilia to gain powers. The rarer the item, the longer the power will last. Like a Nightcrawler card will allow him to teleport briefly. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Ree’s power is emulation, which would also rock. She can watch something or read something and gain the ability to do that thing. Want to fight like Buffy? Watch Band Candy. Want to dodge attacks? Watch The Matrix. Want to investigate a crime? Well, that’s all on BBC’s Sherlock (which you should totally watch BTW, because AWESOME doesn’t cover it). It only lasts for a little while and it doesn’t make her bullet or wound proof but hey, she can kick some booty.

So Eastwood has her looking into some virgin suicides that he is apparently investigating. Only investigating is a rather loose term. Its more like he’s looking for them specifically. He needs to collect the souls of five virgin suicides to get his lady love back from a demon (who is so ridiculously named I didn’t even try to remember it). And who is our mystery love? I’ll give you three guesses. No? Enter trope long-lost-mom.

Oh what is a girl to do? Well, read and find out. 🙂 This is a geek’s fantasy. I’m telling you if I could suddenly dive into an urban fantasy book, I think it would be this one. How cool would it be to be able to fight like Westley and Inigo Montoya simply by watching The Princess Bride? I know right?! But it is a really trope-y book, just so you’re forewarned. I enjoyed it enough that I would read another book in this series (if there is a series-it was certainly left open for a follow up). Rating B. His writing could use a little work. I feel like there was a lot of exposition in this book and that any follow ups would be smoother.

Ashes of Honor

Okay, so putting this out there ***MAJOR SPOILERS***. You have been warned.

Oh. My. God. Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Ashes of Honor is fantastic. This might just be my favorite of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books. We pick up with plucky Toby some months after Connor has died and Gillian has chosen to be human. At the very start of the book, she is doing something dangerous, confronting a group of teenage Changeling druggies. But these drugs aren’t the usual drugs of pot or heroin one might think of as being rampant in a city just as San Francisco. This drug is called goblinfruit and while harmless to purebloods, it is addictive and fatal to Changelings.

Toby is confronting them without back up and with only her knife. These kids are armed with mortal weapons and are of the opinion that Toby needs to die. Why? Because in the very first Toby Day novel, Rosemary and Rue, Toby killed Devin, the man that took care of most Changeling kids. So they shoot Toby but it doesn’t kill her. Toby’s mom messing about with her blood to make her more than a mere Changeling makes her very hard to kill. That doesn’t stop her friends from worrying.

Speaking of friends, Tybalt has been sent after her by May and Quentin, arriving just in time to dispense some Cait Sidhe justice on the stupid young drug dealers. He then takes her home where another surprise is waiting for her, Etienne the Senechal for Shadowed Hills. Etienne has a problem. Namely, he had a daughter by a human some sixteen years ago and never knew it. And now, that daughter has come into her fae powers and has disappeared.

Disappearing happens to be Etienne’s trick. He’s Tuatha de Dannan, a teleporter. And his daughter is too. Only she’s a lot more powerful than dear old dad. Apparently on occasion Changeling children are more powerful than their full blood parents because something goes (genetically, I’m assuming) wrong and they have none of the innate blocks on their powers that pure bloods have.

The problems start piling up as Toby takes Quentin to visit her aunt, the Luidaeg (Sea Witch) for a tracking charm. It seems that an out of control Changeling Tuatha can rip the very fabric of Faerie apart at the seams. Etienne’s daughter, Chelsea, has apparently already been to places that the long gone Oberon had sealed off for his own mysterious reasons. And because everyone in Faerie lives by Oberon’s Laws, this could mean tons of trouble.

Toby has to track down Chelsea and the ones who took her while dealing with a Tybalt who has finally, FINALLY confessed his feeling to her. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I have been waiting for this forever and a day! Not to mention that one of his subjects is attempting to usurp Tybalt’s throne and the Countess of Dreaming Glass, Treasa Riordan, is up to something.

This was an amazing book and I am sooooo tempted to re-read it right now. Seanan McGuire, you had better write the next book because I’m drooling for more! Rating A+

Ghost of a Dream

So I wasn’t too sure what to make of the Ghostfinders stories from Simon R. Green at first. I LOVE Simon R. Green, easily one of my top 5 authors. But the first book was really kind of meh. The second book was a bit better and this third one, Ghost of a Dream is a bit better than that.

Ghost of a Dream starts out with our favorite (read only) Ghost Hunters JC Chance, Melody Chambers and “Happy” Jack Palmer on the case of a ghost train, which is just an awesome concept. I love ghost train stories. At any rate, they’ve been sent up north to figure out why Bad Things have been happening to an abandoned train station called Bradleigh Halt that was supposed to get refurbished by a local steam train enthusiasts society.

The event behind the haunting is a missing train from the Victorian Era. It went in a tunnel near Bradleigh Halt and never came out. Now it wants to come home from the Outside and its bringing Something back with it.  Its up to JC, Melody and Happy to figure out what that Something is and how to kick it’s arse back to where it came from.

That’s the first sort of intro story that Simon often puts in his stories, a little teaser to whet your appetite for the real deal and the bigger, badder nasty. The second story is a tad more interesting. It takes place very soon after the Bradleigh Halt incident at a theater that was out of production for twenty years. The owners of said theater apparently have pull with the Carnacki Institute’s big cheese, Catherine Latimer, and so the three Ghostfinders find themselves on what appears to be a typical haunting.

And when I say typical I mean typical. All of the little spooky incidents are the sorts of things that people up and down the centuries have been claiming  as proof of ghosts: flickering lights, cold spots, eerie noises and doors opening and closing on their own. Nothing is outright malevolent at first but something is definitely there and definitely powerful and definitely after the two actors who are re-opening the theater.

JC and his team have to find out why and not only that, but another big, bad nasty is taking the opportunity to try and finish them off. Will they survive?! Duhn-duhn-DUUUUUUUUUUHN! Well, SPOILERS, they do survive because the series is clearly not over yet but it there was a bit of a cliffhanger moment at the very end that made me go “YOU CAN’T DO THAT TO ME!!”. So over all, I’d say that this isn’t quite as good as Hawk&Fisher, Deathstalker or the Nightside story arcs…yet. It has potential and it seems to be working up to it slowly. So I do recommend the books because I will always recommend Simon R. Green. Rating B.

Taken

Just finished the brand new Alex Verus novel yesterday. What’s that you say? It was only released Tuesday? Well that’s just how I roll baby. 😉

Anyway, I won’t go into too many details since the book is brand spanking new and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. In this one, Alex is tapped to figure out who is abducting apprentice mages.

Each abduction is neat, very neat. No witnesses, no clues and no trace of abductors or the victims. Even time mage and occasional side kick Sonder is stumped.

And then the Council hires Verus and all sorts of suspicious clues start popping up. And suspicious people, lets not forget them.

So I’ll leave off there so as to not give any more away and just tell you to read it!. A+. Oh and Mr. Jacka…thank you sir may I have another?

Introducing Alex Verus

So one of Amazon’s suggested books actually paid off. Though I really place the thanks firmly in the court of Jim Butcher, who wrote a blurb for Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels in which he said that Harry Dresden would like this guy. Since I love Harry Dresden (Oh Jim, please write another novel soon!), I figured I’d give Fated a try.

Jim Butcher was right I think, Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus. While I wouldn’t really call Verus a knock off Dresden, I would say that there are striking similarities between the two. Both are outcast wizards thanks to the misfortune of having a Dark Wizard as a master/instructor. Both have a bit of an unusual way of making a living (Dresden advertises as a wizard in the phone book, Verus owns a magic shop). And both get into, and survive, a lot more trouble than any one person really has a right to see in their lifetime.

However, in Jacka’s wizarding world, mages don’t negatively effect technology and in fact use it regularly. Light mages and Dark mages have a sort of status quo where neither group will rock the boat. They went through a costly war and no one wants to repeat it. Each mage generally specializes in one thing (i.e.-fire magic, water magic etc) and gets really good at it, rather than Dresden who can do a great many things but seems to just favor fire.

In Fated, Alex Verus is unceremoniously thrust back into the world of mages because of his magic. Alex is a diviner, meaning he can see the future. All futures. He’s spent his whole life learning to control it so he doesn’t go mad. It makes it very easy for him to avoid trouble…unless he isn’t looking for it. Which he wasn’t when an old friend dropped by his shop in Camden (North London) and tried to recruit him, on the down low of course, for the Council.

Alex refuses and not long after not one but two Dark mages try to forcibly recruit him…for the same task. Alex has to find out what it is that everyone wants him for, who is after it and a way to get his friend Luna out of trouble with those very same people. Luna is a literally cursed young woman who is trying to break into the wizarding world with Alex’s help. She has a family curse where good things generally happen to her…at the cost of bad things to those immediately around her.

I found this book so engaging that I immediately bought the second book, Cursed. After foiling a bunch of Dark mages in the last book, Alex has become okay to work with in the eyes of the Council. So he’s getting more jobs, which means more wizard street cred but also means more trouble. Helping the one guy on the Council that he can stand, Alex finds himself at the bad end of a number of assassination attempts over the course of a couple of days.

Turns out that someone is trying to harvest magical energy out of magical creatures, such as barghests (a sort of feral, magical dog) and a sentient spider named Arachne. Trouble is, Alex is rather fond of what most mages consider mere monsters. So he agrees to investigate. If only Luna didn’t go and get herself in trouble again. *sigh* I have a feeling that this is going to be a trope for Jacka, though I do hope I’m wrong. Luna has potential to be pretty bad ass just like Molly from the Dresden files.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I didn’t go into too much details on these books. They just came out recently (Feb. 28 for Fated, May 29 for Cursed). I’ve just started the third novel, Taken. It is promising. So, if you all love the Dresden Files as much as I do, I (and Jim Butcher) highly recommend Alex Verus to you. A and A respectively.

Butcher Bird

I just finished reading Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey on my commute home (woot public trans). It was interesting enough that I’d be willing to read a sequel if he wrote one. But I’ll be honest, it took me a while to finish this one. I picked it up after I read the third Sandman Slim book (love those books!). I felt that Butcher Bird was slower to start than Sandman Slim. I stopped after a few chapters and went off to read a few (okay, a lot) more books. I recently came back to it and I must have been in the mood for his dark and snarky style of writing because I ploughed through what I had left.

Butcher Bird features a tattoo artist by the name of Spyder. It starts out with him and his lesbian best friend called Lulu trading worst way to die suggestions at their favorite dive bar in San Fran. Sometime during the drinking, he meets a blind lady by the name of Shrike. Not long after, he gets beat to shit by a demon while taking a piss in the alley next to the bar. Shrike saves his as with some cool swordsmanship (you heard me, the blind chick is a sword master. Pretty sweet). But this incident leaves Spyder with something he never wanted. The truth. Or the sight. Or whatever term you want to use for suddenly “seeing the world the way it really is”.

Spyder takes this suddenly seeing demons thing pretty cool. I’d probably be freaking the fuck out but Spyder’s all like “huh…weird”. Wondering if he got hit just a little too hard by his demon mugger, he goes to find Lulu. Only to find that Lulu isn’t exactly Lulu any more. She’s been selling off pieces of herself to these weirdos called the Black Clerks to be able to keep doing smack and not look like it. I pictured the Black Clerks a bit like The Gentlemen from Buffy, only talkers.

Not long after this, Spyder finds Shrike again and gets pulled into this sort of supernatural intrigue with her. Her partner’s been murdered and she needs a man to stand with her and look tough and intimidating. Spyder apparently fits the bill, being tattooed from neck to feet. The pair of them get hired to go to Hell (literally, not figuratively) to retrieve a powerful book from a demon.

I won’t say too much more because spoilers. 🙂 After this assignment is made though, the book really starts to pick up. I guess I felt the beginning as a bit too exposition-y. Richard Kadrey’s interpretation of Hell in this book is a bit different than the version in the Sandman Slim books. Sandman Slim is a much darker, much more chaotic place. I’m not quite sure how to describe his vision of Hell in this book. His characterization of Lucifer is quite interesting though. All in all, I’d say this is a solid B, maybe leaning just a hair to B- because it took so long for me to finish.