Like father, like son

For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge Jim Butcher fan. I love the Dresden Files and Cinder Spires and I’m trying to work my way through Codex Alera (high fantasy like that isn’t usually my cup of tea). Jim has a son who just wrote a book, and color me friggin surprised that Jim has an adult son because he does not look old enough to have an adult son.

Jim’s son is James. This will probably be confusing for a while. James J. Butcher just recently published his first urban fantasy novel, Dead Man’s Hand via Penguin Random House publishing. I bought this book because I figured if he was anything like his father, I’d love his writing too. This novel is brand spanking new, so BEWARE THE SPOILERS.

This novel is very much a first novel. Not that I’m by any means a writing expert, but I am a voracious reader. The world needs to be filled out a bit more. The writing needs to be polished a bit more. But there’s tons of potential in James’s world. Dead Man’s Hand is apparently the first in at least three books, featuring 19 year old witch Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby. That’s a hell of a name, right off the bat. And yes, witch is the term used in the books. It appears to be non-gender specific in this world.

Grimsby is a failed witch. An accident as a child left it painful for him to do complex magic. He only has a handful of tricks he can do without hurting himself. What he wanted to be, above anything else, was an Auditor. Auditors appear to be the magical cops of this world. He failed his training because he can’t do all the things Auditors are supposed to do. The book starts with him doing cheap tricks for kids birthday parties in a crappy, Chuck E Cheese style restaurant. Thanks to the person who ran him out of the Auditors training, Samantha Mansgraf, putting his name (in blood) at the scene of her death, he’s about to go on a terrible journey with someone called The Huntsman. They have to figure out who killed her and over what before Grimsby also dies.

I won’t go into too many details, as this book has only been out for about a week, but Grimsby is kind of a coward. He definitely has self esteem issues. Still, because he’s the book’s protagonist, he finds himself overcoming these things to do the right thing in the end. The Huntsman is basically a killer. Not really sure of his back story yet. He’s lost a spouse at some point not too long ago, because he’s drinking himself to death when we’re introduced to him. He’s a seasoned investigator, so this is kind of a magical buddy cop book.

I’d recommend checking it out and supporting a new author, but remember that this is James’ first ever novel. You can tell, but don’t let it put you off. This world has some real potential. Rating: B-/B. Check out this VIDEO of Jim Butcher interviewing his son James. There’s a point toward the end where Jim said that he’s read the second book and that it’s leaps better than the first one. That gives me hope that the second book will be pretty good.

Practical Magic

Courtesy of goodreads.comI got this book because I really liked the movie and I’ve thought for years now Man, I should really try that out. I kinda wished I hadn’t bothered. Alice Hoffman wrote Practical Magic and I have to wonder if this is her first book. If it is, I might give her a little leeway. If it isn’t…well, then she’s not a good writer. I really felt that I was reading the equivalent of a little kid going And then, And then, And then the whole book. There was a lot of exposition and not really a lot of pay off.

If you’ve seen the movie, then you know Practical Magic is the story of two sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, who’s family is comprised of witches all the way back to progenitor Maria. Sally and Gillian are raised by their aunts, Frances and Jet, whose names we don’t actually get until the very end of the book. Otherwise, they’re just referred to as the aunts.

There’s no mention of a family curse against men Owens women marry, which is a key factor in the movie. And you have to admit, a pretty good plot point. The book is just sort of a slice of life look at the Owens women with a little bit of ‘magic’ sprinkled in here and there. Gillian does run away and Sally does marry and get widowed.

However, in the book, Sally also leaves the nameless little Massachusetts town after losing her husband, moving to Long Island where she leads a normal, boring life and raises two kids, one of whom is an extreme bitch and the other of whom has been beaten down to a mousy pulp by her elder, bitchy sister. The younger child is semi-likeable. The elder is not, even taking into account that they’re both teenagers. I found it too hard to care about either of them.

I actually found it hard to care about either Sally or Gillian too, sad to say. Gillian’s life is a mess and she blames everyone but herself, something I’m far too familiar with in real life and don’t want to deal with in a book. Sally is just…uptight. And a little sanctimonious.

I was really disappointed that there didn’t seem to be much magic in the book, just sort of hints to it. And Gary Hallet, who plays a pretty large and central role to the movie, is barely there at all. There’s not much in the way of character development for him either. Nor is there for Ben Frye, who ends up winning Gillian’s heart.

I wish I’d spent my money buying the movie rather than the book. On that note, why in the world is the electronic version more expensive than the paperback version?! That makes no sense whatsoever. Unfortunately, this book was a strikeout for me and there doesn’t seem to be much new on the horizon. Hopefully Peace Talks or the latest Simon R. Green will be out soon. Until then, I’ll be rereading some of my good stuff. Rating: D-. Wish I could return it and it didn’t add anything to the movie.

Skinwalker: A Jane Yellowrock novel

Courtesy of Goodreads.comI’ve read all through the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter but I haven’t reviewed any of them yet, which is a shame because they’re really quite good books. The series starts out with Skinwalker, which just happens to be what Jane is, though we don’t find that out right away. We’re introduced to our protagonist Jane Yellowrock as she rolls into New Orleans on her motorcycle, Bitsa. Bitsa is so named because she’s apparently made out of “bits of” other bikes. That tickled my fancy. 🙂

At any rate, Jane is something of a mercenary/bounty hunter. She’s licensed to handle vamp problems, which include the right to kill them if necessary. Since vamps aren’t really citizens in this world, as yet, the US government isn’t terribly worried if you knock one off for bounty money. Vamps in this world are sort of considered foreign citizens and their compounds as foreign territory. The humans leave it up to them to police themselves because humans just can’t handle them for the most part.

And for their part, vamps police themselves very well. They want to be accepted by human society. They want power that comes from being citizens, of holding property and earning money. So they don’t want to compromise that due to some nutso vamp going on some killing spree, which is what’s happening in New Orleans right now.

High powered vamp Katherine Fontanbleu has hired Jane to find a rogue vamp whose killing off not humans but other vamps. They don’t know who it is, don’t know how its killing the other vamps. They want it caught and they want it dead, which is where Jane comes in. Jane has specific requirements when she takes a job and Katherine readily agrees to them all with no argument, which rather puts Jane on edge.

Jane herself is Cherokee but with little memory of where she came from before the age of twelve when she was found wandering some woods. She was raised in an orphanage and that’s about what she knows. She knows, of course, that she’s a skinwalker and the last one to her knowledge but she keeps that from most everybody. She has few friends and no romantic entanglements and she likes it that way.

So naturally, within the course of a few days, she finds two hot guys in New Orleans that are her type and who light her fire but are also pretty suspicious fellows. She finds herself more than a little off balance with these two and the master of the city, Leo Pellisier, who is very interested in what she is. Somehow Jane has to tango around all three of these guys to get at what’s going on.

These books are a good combination of urban fantasy and engaging mystery. I liked the fact that I was kept guessing the whole time. There were some personality traits of Jane’s that I didn’t particularly care for but the world has been crafted well enough that I could see why those traits came about. I like the fact that the protagonist is a strong, independent female who is, for once, not a white girl with red hair as seems to be par for the course these days. Also, I adore New Orleans. 🙂 I highly recommend this whole series. Rating: A.

Cupcakes and Magic? Yes please

Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic

So I recently had a birthday and for that birthday I got a Kindle gift card. Among the many, many books I picked up was the Dowser series by Meghan Ciana Doidge. These books feature Jade Godfrey, half-witch and full time baker. She owns a cupcake shop in Vancouver called Cake in a Cup. Godfrey herself admits that this is an unimaginative but accurate name. Jade Godfrey, we learn, has a type of magic that basically means she’s a human dowsing rod. She can taste magic, tell what from sight if an item has any sort of magical signature in it and put these random items together into something a bit more coherent. This last bit, which she doesn’t start out really knowing about, makes her even more rare in her magical world. She’s an Alchemist. That is, she can make magical items, basically through force of will.

Jade is raised by her grandmother since her mom was sixteen when Jade was born. Her mom is apparently still something of a wild child, even twenty some odd years later. Jade was also raised alongside foster sister Sienna, who has the capability of binding things to her. Jade is pretty content just to run her cupcake shop and hunt down her little semi-magical trinkets. She doesn’t think too much about what she could be doing with her magic. She’s happy.

And then a vampire comes to her shop. He can’t get in because the wards of her shop, set by her grandmother, keep him out unless invited. But just having a vampire, who is apparently far too interested in her little trinkets in the window, is highly unusual and quite creepy. Turns out, in Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (the first book of the series), the vampire is hunting down a killer who has killed several werewolves. At first it was thought to be another vampire but once that was ruled out, the next suspect was Jade because at least one of her trinkets was found at the site of a murder.

Over all I enjoyed these books. They’re fun and I wanted to eat all of the cupcakes the author mentioned. And I’m not even a chocolate fan. However, this point kinda stuck in my craw a bit. These trinkets that Jade make are either hanging in her shop windows or they’re in her apartment. Jade herself doesn’t do much with them once she feels that they are complete. The only other person who has access to these trinkets is her foster sister Sienna. 

So right away Jade knows that these trinkets are at the scenes of the murders and that only a couple of people have access to them. She knows that she didn’t kill any werewolves so that leaves…duh duh DUUUUHN! Sienna. And yet it takes Jade a whole, relatively short book to realize that her sister is the killer. Now to be fair, Jade is not a PI or a cop as a lot of urban fantasy protagonists tend to be. She’s a baker. But Vancouver’s “Adept” community is so, so small that there are only so many people it could be.

Nothing bothers me more than a lead character who is willfully obtuse. I could figure out what was going on half way through the book (or earlier), so the character really should have as well. I would have liked to see Jade figure this out quickly and spend the second half of the book 1) struggling to coming to terms with the fact that her sister is a killer (because face it, that would be hard) and 2) a more thrilling hunt of said sister. What we get is a rather crunched hunt for Sienna with an ‘oh by the way, Jade is much more than we ever thought of’ tossed in almost haphazardly at the end. The final two books deal more with the first point.

Still, I enjoyed it well enough to pick up the other two books in the series, Trinkets, Treasures and Other Bloody Magic and Treasures, Demons and Other Black Magic. In the follow up books, Jade gets a bit better about not being totally oblivious to just about everything, but only just. Luckily she is a likable enough character and you really want to know just how she’s going to deal with her sister (who doesn’t get her comeuppance at the end of the first book) that you can overlook the moments of stupidity. Then again, no one really likes the ‘perfect’ character do they? It wouldn’t make for a fun or interesting story if your main character knew all protocol or knew the extent of their magic etc. Jade grows with each book and that’s the important part. So far there are three books. The author, Meghan Ciana Doidge, could stop there with the series or she could go on. There’s a hint that there could be at least a fourth book but I don’t know if anything is coming down the pike. I’d probably read it if there was.

At any rate, if you’re looking for something that is a bit on the lighter side and a quick read, you couldn’t go wrong with the Dowser series. Rating: B

Dead Ever After

You know you’re addicted to reading when you buy a brand new book and read it in a matter of hours (spread out over two days, but hey, I was trying and failing to pace myself). I just picked up Charlaine Harris’s Dead Ever After. Its being billed as the final Sookie Stackhouse novel but there is a follow up “coda” of sorts due out in October (After Dead).  Since Dead Ever After just came out recently, I’ll try not to go into too many details. However, there may be inadvertent SPOILERS.

So at the end of the last book, Sookie was forced to use her precious faerie brooch the cluviel dor to bring Sam Merlotte, her boss and best friend, back from the dead. His former lover had accidentally killed him while trying to off the Shreveport werewolf pack leader Alcide. Things did not end up good for the girl.

This book picks up the day after pretty much. Sam is in shock (obviously). And we learn that there are some people out to get Sookie Stackhouse for pretty much everything that she had done in the previous books. Eric is pissed at Miss Sookie for using the cluviel dor on Sam rather than on him and his marriage problem.

So Sookie has to sort out Sam while keeping herself alive. We get all the good old characters back: Mr. Cataliades, Diantha, Bob the (no longer) cat, Amelia Carmichael, Bellboy Barry and Quinn (albeit briefly). It was a very good book and if you like the Stackhouse series at all, you cannot miss the finale.

My pet peeves with the book even though I highly enjoyed it:
1) Eric went back to his old dickish self. I’d thought he’d changed in the last few novels but alas, he was your “typical” vamp in that change is hard and probably doesn’t come at all.
2) All too brief cameos by Quinn and Alcide. Almost wasn’t worth having them there at all
3) The bringing back of two relatively minor douchebags as major baddies bent on revenge.
4) Bit of an unnecessary side plot involving Copley Carmichael, Amelia’s dad. It introduced some whole new information that literally NO ONE in this universe knew about…and went absolutely nowhere with it. Perhaps this information will lead into some sort of spinoff series in this same universe?

At any rate, despite my little peeves, I really enjoyed the book. I’ll likely pick up the coda in October as well. Until then, I’m going to need to pick up more books. Rating: B+/A-. And remember, I welcome suggestions!

The Hollows, to present

I’ve been zooming through books recently and haven’t had much time to update my blog, so this one might be a long one.  I left off my review of Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series with A Fistful of Charms. Following on the heels of that book comes For a Few Demons More.

In this book, Rachel Morgan still has the 5,000 year old demon made Focus in her possession and someone has found out that it is in Cincinnati. Someone is killing off werewolves in Cincinnati trying to find it and take it away from them and a serial killer seems to be on the loose, going after human women with no discernible link.  Rachel gets pulled in by the FIB and Detective Glenn to help investigate and the trail leads to Rachel’s own Alpha, David Hue.  Add master vampire Piscary and Trent Kalamack into the loop and things get really complicated, real fast.

Of course, once Rachel does get things figured out…she gets stupid.  Kim Harrison hasn’t quite gotten passed putting her main character in situations that are created entirely from her own stupidity.  And the only way for Rachel’s stupidity to be fixed is by summoning a demon, a new one by the name of Minias.  Spoiler alert: The werewolf focus gets magically sealed into Alpha David Hue.  This allows him to create werewolves by biting a humans, which hasn’t been done in thousands of years.

Next up is The Outlaw Demon Wails. With (spoiler) Kisten dead at the hands of some unknown enemy, Rachel’s life is in the midst of falling apart. Not that it was every really together.  Now, however, she’s even more determined to not do stupid things. At least, not before determining that stupid is absolutely the only way out.  Which happens to be the case in this book.  With at least one demon after Rachel and she has to figure out who is setting him on her, why and how to stop them.  Her trip will lead her into the ever after with her hated enemy Trent Kalamack on a trip that will save both her and the Elves.  But she has to survive first and to survive, she has to embrace the fact that she can spin demon magic.

White Witch, Black Curse.  Rachel is determined to figure out who murdered her vampire lover Kisten two novels ago, but ends up getting side tracked by a banshee.  Rachel’s FIB friend Detective Glenn gets injured in the line of duty and Rachel and Ivy are called in to help.  Rachel figures out that one of those involved is a banshee, who sucks the aura/emotions out of people.  Here we find out what Ivy did with the leprechaun wish she received in the first novel and how it relates to the banshee problem.

We’re also introduced to a new character, a witch by the name of Gordian Nathanial Pierce.  He starts out life as a ghost of a witch who is (conveniently) buried in the cemetery in Rachel’s backyard.  He was, in his day, one of the most powerful witches out there.  He and Rachel met when she accidentally gave him a body some dozen years ago or so. Rachel had thought him finally at rest, but such is not the case.  He ends up getting a new body by agreeing to become the demon Al’s familiar.  This also ties in with the banshee later on down the road.

Rachel causes a lot of destruction and gets a bit of bad press from the pursuit of the banshee, which probably helps lead up to the situation she finds herself in in Black Magic Sanction.  Rachel has been blacklisted by the coven of witches that guides the moral fiber of witch society. It’s something left over from when witches had to hide, but it’s still a very real thing for modern witches. While I can’t remember the term off the top of my head, it basically means that she can’t buy anything from a witch or a witch-run business in good standing.

To top it all off, this particular branch of witches want to use her as a lab rat to increase the power of witches.  They want to harvest her eggs and/or lobotomize her to get her ability to spin demon magic.  Ex-boyfriend Nick shows up again when the coven forces him to summon her.  Since she switched her summoning name with Al’s in the last adventure, the initial summoning might have been construed as a mistake.  And Nick does help summon Rachel back to Cincinnati a few hours later.

Adding to her troubles is Trent Kalamack, who is pissed by the fact that in the ever after (which he will most likely never set foot in again), he is consider Rachel’s familiar-a situation that is akin to being owned. He hates the thought of that and instead of simply asking Rachel to remove her mark on his body, he tries to force her into a contract that would legally bind her as his property in this realm.  Rachel, obviously, will have none of either and finds a way out of the situation in a suitably destructive and public manner.

Nick pits himself firmly in the asshole category in this book.  He sells out Rachel to Trent, unsuccessfully, but thanks to Ivy and Jenks’ well placed mistrust of him, Rachel hears all the details through a radio transmitter. It is highly unlikely that Nick will have Rachel’s help ever again. At least one would hope.  However, she might have reconciled with Trent Kalamack, who turns out to be a very old friend from when she was sick as a kid.

I keep flip-flopping on whether or not I like Kalamack.  There are times when I am truly repulsed by his behavior. But at the end of this book, I am almost rooting for Rachel and Trent to at least do the nasty if not get together. The story arc is obviously going somewhere that should be culminating in the next book (or two perhaps) and I can’t wait to see what lies in store in Pale Demon.