Tag Archives: urban fantasy

In which I am cranky

Sometimes, as I tap away at my computer at work, I wonder how on earth people did my job without computers.  And then I remember that even as the computer makes my job easier, it also makes the “job” of the people I’m scrutinizing easier.  And by “job” I mean scam.

And then I open up a sample on my Kindle and read a sentence that even a nominal amount of internet research (i.e., a web search of a public agency’s website) would have rendered impossible.  How freaking lazy is that, in terms of background research?  And the sample is deleted immediately.  The author might have some sort of background story to make the error plausible, but I’ve got a limited amount of time and a limited reading budget, and sloppy research is not a winning attribute for me as a reader.  Next?

Also pinging the crank-o-meter:  changing the name of a character mid-series.  In Magic Bleeds, Dr. Doolittle’s name was George (see page 244).  But in Magic Rises it is Darrien (see page 197).  Seriously?  The book hit number 1 on the mass market paperback list and the next book of the series had already been scheduled to move to hardback before that high point.  Am I supposed to believe the last few books didn’t get the attention of a copy editor and one of Ace’s best editors in general in Anne Sowards?  That kind of thing is irritating as hell, and also sadly common in the Magic series, as I’ve noted in posts about earlier books.

On the reading front, I added Jo Beverley’s The Secret Marriage and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty to the donate pile for this week’s installment of The Great Book Purge.  Beverley used to be much more to my taste, but I found during the Purge that older keepers aren’t so much now, and more recent books don’t really appeal for reasons I can’t really articulate other than to say ~meh~.  The Bray book…probably would have appealed if I’d read it when I bought it.

Otherwise, I didn’t get much new reading done in the last week — instead I’ve been re-reading Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes, because I wanted to see how I’d been so blindsided by the ending.  And there are some hints or breadcrumbs but I…still didn’t see it coming.  My copy of the book is full of post it notes on pages with hints and also with passages that I like or that I think are very typical of the narrator’s voice.

The only other book I read was Carla Kelly’s new historical, The Double Cross.  (FWIW, the title isn’t a religious allusion.)  It’s set in New Mexico in the 18th century.  It reminded me a lot of her early trads:  a sweet romance with some adventure thrown in.  It’s not inspirational fiction per se, although the Church plays a role in the daily life of the main characters, which I’d expect for the setting.  I’m not sure how the series will go; there’s a personal mystery or conflict that will need to be resolved, but I’m also wondering if there will be outside mysteries related to Don Marco’s position as juez de campo.

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Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch – first thoughts

Title:  Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Series:  Book Four, Rivers of London

Copyright:  2013 in the UK; will not be published in the US until February 2014

Cover art from Aaronovitch's web site, www.the-folly.com

Cover art from Aaronovitch’s web site, http://www.the-folly.com

A mutilated body in Crawley.  Another killer on the loose.  The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man?  Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

First:  yes, I ordered a copy from the UK and paid the ridiculous shipping fees and the currency exchange rate against the pound for it.

Second:  no, I am not at all sorry and think the book was worth the price.

Third:  I tore through the book in very short order and didn’t really have time to absorb the nuances of the storytelling.  Certainly now that I’ve gone back to the beginning of the series, some things that were sort of casual asides or seemed like throwaway, inconsequential points really aren’t.  Maybe I’ll post a full review then.  But for now, my general thoughts:

  • As I read, the separate story lines felt a little scattered and disjointed, but they all fell together like a puzzle or a rubik’s cube in the end.
  • The copyediting or typesetting, I’m not sure which, missed a fair number of very noticeable blips — spaces between letters and punctuation, dropped articles, etc.
  • Loved the humor, the slang, the reappearance of minor characters like Peter’s parents, Abigail, etc.  Others have said it, but this series has a very distinctive sense of place.

One of my favorite passages — and there were many but this one seemed least spoilerish — is this:

The Met has a tin ear for operations mnemonics, and the one for being the first officer on the scene at a major incident is SADCHALETS.  Survey; oh god there’s a bomb.  Assess; oh god there’s more than one bomb and everyone in the [redacted] will die.  Disseminate; oh god there’s a bomb, we’re going to die, send help.  For the life of me I couldn’t remember the CHALETS bit — Casualties, Hazards, something, something and I remembered that the last S stood for Start a Log because it was such an obvious cheat.

My immediate reaction:  Gobsmacked.  I can’t remember the last time I came to the end of a book, the big confrontation, and was left so utterly blindsided and stunned.


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What I’m reading right now

I just finished Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander.  It was my commute book, and it took all week to get through, which is surprising since it’s not that long (~330 pages).

Moonshifted seemed a little different based on the blurb, or as different as urban fantasy with werewolves and vampires can be, which is what prompted me to pick it up when browsing at the bookstore last week.  But UF plot and tropes are pretty standard in the hands of all but the most gifted storytellers.  This isn’t badly written but it also doesn’t stand out in the sea of Other Creature-type books.  Additionally, this book does not stand alone: it’s the second book of the series apparently, and a lot of the MC’s situation is based on repercussions of the first without being well explained IMO.

On cover art:  the front cover has the main character, a nurse, in the 50s style white nurses dress…despite the fact that she never wears one in the book and that they seem mostly used only as Halloween costumes and the wardrobe for slutty nurses in porn.

Edie, the MC, is an urban version of Sookie Stackhouse, except less hung up on sex and being a good Christian, whatever that means.  She’s apparently a magnet for other creatures and pretty much a doormat for her family and loser brother.

There’s some sloppy copyediting, which does not impress.  I especially loved page 84’s “Why God, why” lament.  I’m pretty sure the phrase was meant to be “Why, God, why” given the context (grieving family).  The missing comma makes the question an entirely different can of metaphysical worms.

Next up:  I’m not entirely sure.

Recently wishlisted:  Calculation in Death, even though I’m not sure I actually want to read any more JD Robb at this point.

What I should be reading:  No action letters and other assigned readings for the class on hedge funds that begins on Monday.  I’m not all that interested in this topic, but the other class (forensic accounting) required more basic accounting knowledge than I have according to the course description.  Of course, a colleague is taking it and says no accounting knowledge is necessary at all so I could’ve enrolled.  Too late now, dammit.

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Added to the TBR

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Ericksson.  Swedish thriller.  I wasn’t planning on buying this but the trade paperback was on sale for $9.99 (plus 10% off).

The Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch.  Victorian mystery.  Same as above.

Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George.  Paranormal YA mystery, first of a series.


Realized that the thing I loved best about Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series is the very distinct voice of the narrator and its very specific sense of place:  the books are jammed full of the history and geography of London, and Peter is a Londoner born and bred.  It’s urban fantasy and one review calls it a cross between Harry Potter and CSI, which is kind of true but also not, because it’s really unlike anything else I’ve read. (Not that I’ve read that widely.)  Magic exists next to mundane, as in Harry Potter, but it’s a different type of magic-work; and to call what Peter and his governor, Nightingale, do forensics is really not right — they are detectives, the same as other detectives, just using slightly different means.  Still, I love the series.



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Emptying the junk drawer

When I was a kid, my sister and I would spend part of the summer with my grandparents, who spoiled us rotten.  (I’m not exaggerating:  we were the first grandbabies and could do NO WRONG.)  One of the mysteries and treasures of the summer was Mommom’s junk drawer.  You could find amazing, magical, useful things in the drawer; whenever you needed something, it could be found there.  Spare keys, a screwdriver, twist-ties, lids for canning, a ruler, etc.  The drawer collected the flotsam of the household, the bits and bobs that wound up in the kitchen for some reason, and held it all securely until we needed it.  Because sooner or later someone would need that key chain or a green ink pen or whatever other oddity might’ve gotten added to the jumble.

As an adult, I recognize the pack-rat tendencies and Depression-era mentality of my grandmother that led to the junk drawer — don’t get rid of anything still usable because it might be useful at some point.  I’ve managed to avoid having my own junk drawer in the kitchen, but I still manage to have a sort of book related equivalent:  not just this blog, but a collection of notebooks, some expensive and some not, that reside in my shoulder bag, being filled with notes about books to buy, reviews to write, links to share, and things to look up.

  • The Economist on the success of Nordic crime fiction
  • An interview with Gore Vidal that was banned.  I have thoughts about Vidal’s play, The Best Man, and how it reflects on the current election season, but haven’t managed to string them together coherently other than to think that John Stamos’s character seems like a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the GOP veep nominee and also any tea party candidate.
  • Matt Taibbi on Romney the archipelago man.
  • This article on David Ferrer made me ::head desk:: when I read it.  Really? Has that journalist (assuming he is a legitimate sports journalist) paid more than cursory attention to professional tennis?


On the reading front, I’ve finished Aaronovitch’s first and third Peter Grant urban fantasy novels.  As I mentioned earlier, I found them at the Strand, but unfortunately could not find a copy of the second book of the series.  I’ve broken down and bought a copy of the ebook, but read #3 before doing so.  I’m kind of sorry I skipped around now, because some of Grant’s behavior in the second book changes my opinion of his reliability as a narrator and a detective/constable, which would make a difference to my reading of the third book (although it wouldn’t change my enjoyment of the series.)  Will have to reread book three once I’ve finished book two.

I’ve also fallen prey to the lure of Audible.com.  I used to borrow a lot of audiobooks from the library, but fell out of the habit.  A recommendation over at Dear Author in a comment thread got me started again.  ::sigh::  Just what I needed:  more books, just in another format…



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Seen at The Strand Bookstore

In addition to visiting Flushing Meadows to watch supremely athletic people smack around  innocent, little, yellow tennis balls, I saw some theater and visited The Strand this week.  No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the bookstore.

I wound up with a copy of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, a Native American narrative set in Southern California after the Mexican-American War, two of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant urban fantasy/mystery/procedural books, and Garcia Marquez’s The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor.  Am tearing through Midnight Riot right now, love it.

In the half-price mass market paperback bin, I was tempted by a copy of Jennifer Probst’s The Marriage Bargain.  It looked worth the price point (half of $7.99), and I’d heard good things about it, but in the end it didn’t appeal as much as the other books in my basket, and I had a self-imposed limit of four books.  I noticed on my way out, though, a stack of trade paperback editions of The Marriage Bargain.  Someone in a hurry would see those first, and end up paying the slightly discounted tpb price of $11.69 over the $4 bargain bin price.  I guess it pays to be a bargain browser.

Also in the half price mmpb section were a bunch of YA paranormal and urban fantasy books, including nearly all of Tamora Pierce’s backlist dating back to the Alanna books…which I read and loved; I can remember checking out The Woman Who Rides Like A Man from the school library in hardback. (It was a favorite, along with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Across Five Aprils.) Made me wonder if someone had cleared out a kid’s bedroom bookshelves after she headed off to college.

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Cover fails and other observations

Some algorithm of Amazon prompted the “recommendation” of The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile for me. And in theory, it’s a book I’d be interested in reading, as far as I can tell by the blurb, as long as I suspend disbelief and ignore any place where the fiction diverges from the legitimate histories of the period that I’ve read over the years.

The cover art is lovely, as long as you don’t mind yet another headless cover model.  But at least she’s dressed in a gorgeous, sumptuous gown…from the wrong century.  The fifteenth century queen is wearing a gown from the 19th century (I think)?  It’s definitely not the style of the 15th century though.  Did anyone in the art department even think about the setting of the novel?    As a recommendation, it may do its job and sell me the book in the end, but not until a paperback is released, because I’m not paying hardback price for an author I don’t know or $12.99 for the Kindle version.

Also on the subject of cover art, a blog in my feed reader included an excerpt of Townie and the Twink, which I’m not interested in as a book, but the cover art made me do a double take:  it looks like a photoshopped version of Novak Djokovic is the cover model!

For comparison, the cover and a photo of Nole in close proximity.

Look at the guy on the right. Does he look like Novak Djokovic to you?

Novak “Nole” Djokovic, Sept 2011, after winning the US Open

Am I imagining it?


This week my local CityPaper has a full page ad for “save your local bookstore day” (6/16), blurbing five local independent bookstores.  The ad and its subtext are problematic for me – of the five, not a single one appears to stock genre or popular fiction, all are niche stores catering to extremely specific interests, none of which are mine.  Should I support the bookstores just because they are independent?  I fail to understand how/why as a consumer I should support a local business just because it is local, if it doesn’t provide a good or service that is useful to me.  I buy at the local farmer’s market and Cross Street market and other small businesses in my neighborhood, but not the bookstore…because as a business the bookstore is not interested in my custom while the other venues are.  Independents may need saving, but I’m not sure from whom — Amazon and B&N, or from the business model that stems from the publishing industry and often their own lofty opinions of what is appropriate to read and/or sell.


Two sort of related random thoughts:

Hex Appeal, an urban fantasy UF anthology with contributions by several popular authors, has been released.  If I’m only interested in one story (Ilona Andrews’ story), $9.99 is too much.  So I’ll be waiting to see if it is released separately as a short for Kindle at some point; stories from other, similar anthologies have been sold individually eventually.

Tangent on the Kate Daniels series:  we’ve been told Roland is evil by Kate, who was raised by a warped guy.  He’s the natural enemy of the Pack and the Order is wary of him, but what exactly has he done that’s So Evil?  Mostly readers have been told that he’s managed to stay alive a long time, amass wealth and power, and conquer/control lots of people/territory/magic.  That’s not inherently evil, at least no more so than any other empire in human history.  Yes, yes, he’s The Big Bad, okay, and he killed Kate’s mother (after she stabbed him in the eye), but that just makes him a murderer, not an epic opponent in a heroic struggle for survival and battle between right and wrong.  But at some point, is he going to do something to merit the Scourge of the World label he’s got?


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SBD: Devil’s Punch

Warning:  SPOILER AHEAD!  If you don’t want to be completely spoiled for what is almost the end of this book, then STOP READING NOW!

My copy of the new Corine Solomon series book, Devil’s Punch, arrived early last week.  After a couple of false starts, I buckled down to read.  [That perhaps makes reading sound like a chore. It isn’t. I just was busy, and wound up trying to read but falling asleep with the book in my hands.]

Here’s the blurb:

As a handler, Corine Solomon can touch any object and learn its history. Her power is a gift, but one that’s thrown her life off track. The magical inheritance she received from her mother is dangerously powerful, and Corine has managed to mark herself as a black witch by dealing with demons to solve her problems.

Back home, Corine is trying to rebuild her pawnshop and her life with her ex Chance, despite the target on her back. But when the demons she provoked kidnap her best friend in retaliation, Corine puts everything on hold to save her. It’s undoubtedly a trap, but Corine would do anything to save those she loves, even if it means sacrificing herself…

My notes about the last book, Shady Lady, were:  Enjoyed it as I read. Feels a little Anita Blakish – everyone loves/wants her. Increasing power is disconcerting. Power was also weakness earlier, but now not so much. Ending predictable (foresaw when spell was cast). At the end, Corinne seemed a little adrift to me, and she grasped at Chance like driftwood. 

Devil’s Punch picks up shortly after Shady Lady left off.  Corine and Chance are rebuilding her life and business in Mexico, along with their relationship.  Given only Corine’s POV, as I reader I felt somewhat sorry for Chance, who seems to have recognized the damage he did and to have genuinely changed.  Certainly he’s made the Big Sacrifice.  Corine subscribes to the “love the one you’re with” philosophy:  given a “better” option (Jesse, who has forgotten her because of a spell she worked, or Kel, a nephilim), she would not have taken Chance back.

Anyway, just as Corine and Chance are settling into life in Mexico, Corine learns that Shannon (her BFF who has forgotten her, also due to Corine’s inept but extremely powerful spellcasting) has been kidnapped by demons.  Thus they have to go to Hell (aka Sheol) in order to rescue Shannon.  Except journeying in the demonworld awakens something in Corine and plunges them into what is basically a demonic civil war, while Corine is overtaken by a Demon Queen who is part of her genetic/magic makeup.  There’s a lot of fighting and angst and political maneuvering.  Followed by the death of a new insta-loyal, red shirt sidekick.  And then by the sacrificial death of Chance.

What happened next?  I have no idea.  The end was near but the book hit the wall at that point.

Why?  What was the point?  The sacrifice of Chance almost immediately after the Red Shirt seemed pointless.  He’s a main character — he’s been in every book, and his presence or absence is significant.  Or was.

Is the purpose to give Corine the opportunity to bring him back from the dead in the next book?  I don’t know.  And I’m not going to find out, because killing off a main character in such a pointless way has knocked this series off my reading list.  And her bringing him back would require giving her even more powers and making her more Mary Sue-ish…which I thought would be impossible after Shady Lady but somehow managed to be done here.

Taking a step back from this specific book, authors who kill off major characters do something dangerous IMO.  While I appreciate authorial autonomy in terms of creating characters and storylines, I wonder about the alienation factor.  Yes, those characters are the author’s to do with as s/he will, but readers also feel invested in the characters, their story arcs and growth.  There’s a tension between what readers expect, given the conventions of the author’s genre of choice, and authorial control.  If the death or disposal of a major character feels cheap or purposeless, the reader’s trust in the author and willingness to follow where s/he leads is diminished.  (See also LKH’s character assassination of Richard.) Where is the line?  Or is there a line at all?


Completely unrelated:  when did “reference” become a verb?  When did the verb stop being “refer”?  Hate.

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It’s only Tuesday?

Finished Brockmann’s new paranormal action adventure book this evening.  Am not entirely sure what to think of it.  In some ways, it was very much like her earlier series in terms of style.  But it was a combination of futuristic urban fantasy and paranormal with action/adventure or suspense mixed in.  It was…busy.  And yet the ending felt rushed and incomplete.  Series bait?  Maybe.  I might need to let the book rest and then do a re-read in a week or so to figure out whether I’m interested in reading more set in this world.  (Yes, I’m assuming more books are planned.)

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Loved, liked, and meh

Book I read last week that I loved: Novik’s latest Temeraire book, Crucible of Gold 

Several years and books ago, Novik hinted about the alternate history of the New World as a result of the existence of dragons, and in this book readers get to learn more.  But better than that, the dull, dragging narrative and clunky pacing of the last book have vanished.  While I understand intellectually that Tongues of Serpents was a set up book, it needed better editing and pacing.  (Like the second and third books, which felt like a single long book chopped in two for marketing/business purposes, I wondered a little if it would have been better off coupled with either Victory of Eagles or Crucible for better pacing and plotting because it was a disappointment on its own — that seems to be the general consensus among the readers I know.)

Anyway, I love the way the Inca and Tswana dragons and their view of their human families are a foil for the European mindset about dragon ownership, and yet at the same time highlight the possessive natures of the dragons in Temeraire’s coterie.

One particular part left me goggle-eyed and startled, because I did NOT see that coming.  Not shocked or offended in any manner and it sort of fits in retrospect, but just startled.  Sort of the way I felt when JK Rowling casually announced that Dumbledore was gay.

And the ending was good, circling back perhaps to clear up some dangling threads in the next book.

The book I liked well enough:  Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

I liked but didn’t love this book and I haven’t quite figured out why beyond a few general quibbles.  First, Anna’s development from cowering and fearful in the first book of the series to organizing and managing in this third book.  Told not shown, and not particularly believable to me given how hard Briggs worked to present her as hesitant, self-doubting and reticent.  Second, in the early books, Anna’s delicacy and short stature were made much of IIRC but in this book she is average height or taller.  Did she suddenly have a growth spurt after maturity?  Lastly, I’m growing uncomfortable with serial killers and rapists in urban fantasy and Briggs’ use of rape and/or threatened sexual assault to the female narrators and characters in her books in particular.  It’s all down to personal taste and YMMV, obviously, since a lot of other readers really loved this book.

The meh book:  Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Some of the entries in this short survey are obvious (Joan of Arc); others are less so (Carry Nation); and still others are original and inspiring (Ida B. Wells).  The tone and style are extremely casual and informal, with the author making comparisons to Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, etc. — very pop culture referential, as if the author felt she had to equate each woman    It’s hard to condense the history of a complex character like Eleanor of Aquitaine to 15 pages or less, and the difficulty is very apparent here; in many of the biographies, the emphasis is on the trivial and the titillating rather than substance, which is an unfortunate waste of an opportunity.  There’s no significant analysis and the approach is not serious , and the bibliography and citations are somewhat lacking IMO.  Perhaps I’m the wrong audience; maybe a 20 year old who knows very little about history would be fascinated by this introduction to the wild women of days gone by.  Or maybe they could find the same information at Wikipedia for free.


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