Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Gold Standard of Urban Fantasy

COLD DAYS (Dresden Files #14)
Jim Butcher narr. James Marsters
Penguin Audio
November 2012

Who would have thought a dozen or so years ago that the Harry Dresden of Storm Front would grow into the epic and powerful wizard of Cold Days? Not me, that's for sure! When we first met Harry he was the only practicing wizard in the Chicago phone book, subsisting on wizarding jobs here and there and a monthly stipend from the Chicago PD. His contact with the PD is Karin Murphy, who heads up the "woo-woo squad", an investigative arm looking into crimes that can't be explained by normal means. The first few books appeared to be romps through the supernatural world solving crimes with wizardly pyrotechnics. Harry is increasing his power and abilities, putting together a loyal band of allies and making enemies right and left. As his usual method of solving problems involves blowing things up and/or setting things on fire, the enemy part is not surprising.

In the course of the two books leading up to Cold Days Harry has lost everything but his allies and upset the balance of power in the supernatural world. He even lost his life for a while and was brought back by Mab, Queen of the Winter Court of the Fae. Mab has been pursuing Harry for years to take the position of Winter Knight, the Queen's Assassin. Harry has always resisted but when he needs a power boost he swears fealty. Mab, cold-hearted and megalomaniacal, is not one to let a little thing like death thwart her. After months of traditional physical therapy and a daily murder attempt by Mab, he is ready to make his debut as Winter Knight. His first assignment is to kill Maeve, Winter Lady and Mab's daughter! Not only is this impossible as Maeve is an immortal, but back in Chicago Harry has to save the world from a new and very nasty enemy- all in the space of roughly twenty-four hours.

His band of allies are all familiar figures, Karin, Harry's apprentice Molly Carpenter, his half-vampire brother,Thomas, and some folks who may or may not really be allies. Some old villians show up, intent on finally extracting revenge and keeping him from his missions. Plot twists and turns abound and by the book's end everything changes for Harry again. Harry's relationship with Karin, always "one step forward and two back" comes to a resolution of sorts. 

I am always eager for a new installment of the Dresden Files and I think this may be Jim Butcher's best book yet. Long after I have gotten bored with other Urban Fantasy series, the Dresden Files remains the gold standard. I am impressed that in the course of writing about Harry, Butcher also managed to write another favorite series, the Codex Alera. Codex is over and lamented, but Harry goes on.

James Marsters has narrated thirteen of the fourteen books in the series and has become the voice of Harry Dresden for me. I prefer the audio to the print versions now, but I highly recommend them in either format.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Return to Sevenwaters

Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters #6)
Juliet Marillier
November 2012

The publication of a new book by Juliet Marillier is always a drop everything and read occasion for me. One set in the Sevenwaters world is even more so. Like many other readers, the first three books remain my favorites in the series, particularly Son of the Shadows. That was a "don't know how many tissues" read. Liadan and Bran remain my favorite Sevenwaters characters.

Set in Druidic Ireland, the Sevenwaters family has the guardianship of mysterious Sevenwaters forest where one can step into the Fey Otherworld if one is not careful. Christianity is growing thoughout the British Isles, but at Sevenwaters they keep to the old religion. Things are very unsettled in Sevenwaters as there have been many disappearances and grotesque murders on Sevenwaters land. These are no doubt the doing of Mac Dara, the evil Fey Lord of the Oak. Mac Dara is desperate to force his half-blood son, Cathal, married to one of the Sevenwaters daughters, to return to the Otherworld and become it's new ruler. The disappearances are a way to accomplish this by stirring up discord among the local chieftains.

Maeve, one of the Sevenwaters daughters, has been living with her Aunt Liadan in Britain for 10 years. Maeve was burned badly in a fire as a child and somewhat scarred. The most serious consequences are scarring of her hands that render her mostly unable to accomplish every day tasks. She does however have a great talent, the ability to bond with and train animals using her voice alone. When her father, Lord Sean, asks that a particularly promising and temperamental yearling be sent from Britain as a peace offering to the Chieftain of Tirconnell, Maeve is the logical choice to accompany the amimal.

Maeve is not happy to return to Sevenwaters. She has settled into a new life in Britain and fears that her disability will make her a liability at home. She has many issues about her hands and face but she can't avoid the homecoming this time. Coming home is indeed difficult, but Maeve reluctantly finds that she and her younger brother Finbar are perhaps the only people who can stop Mac Dara.

Flame of Sevenwaters is a very solid entry into the Sevenwaters series. Intensely suspenseful and unexpectedly romantic, I very much enjoyed it. Juliet Marillier is a wonderful folklorist and a riveting storyteller. I am looking forward to more books from the Sevenwaters world and it seems to me that there are new stories foreshadowed in Flame.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Very Cozy Christmas Murder and Mayhem

A Fatal Winter
G. M. Malliet
October 2012
St. Martins Minotaur

Every once in a while those of us who grew up on the works of Agatha Christie and later, those of Caroline Graham just need a visit to the lovely villages of England for a dose of murder and mayhem. G. M. Malliet filled that need with last year's Wicked Autumn and now A Fatal Winter. I can assure you, though, that Dame Agatha never had as dishy a sleuth as Max Tudor, Anglican Vicar and ex-MI5 operative. Nor was her pen quite as acid.

Max felt a call to the priesthood after the death of his partner in a bombing intended for him. He is well settled now in the picturesque village of Nether Monkslip and if the ladies of the church would stop trying to marry him off, mostly content. He is forming a close friendship (and maybe more) with Awena Owen, proprietor of the local New Age Shop. Matters are not so content however at nearby Chedrow Castle. After years of ignoring his family Oscar, Lord Footrustle, has invited them for Christmas.  Quite a nest of vipers they are too. The permanent residents of the castle are Lady Baynard, Oscar's widowed sister, and her adopted grand-daughter, Lamorna. The invitees include Lady Baynard's two sons, wives and hangers-on; Oscar's failed Hollywood actress daughter from his first marriage and husband; and Oscar's newest ex-wife with adolescent twins. Oscar's relations all wonder just what Oscar is up to and how they can profit. When Lord Footrustle is found brutally murdered in his bed and Lady Baynard a few minutes later dead in the conservatory the fun really begins. It's clear that Lord Footrustle was murdered but what about Lady Baynard?

A call goes out to Max asking for help with the funeral arrangements and a second call from Max's friend DCI Cotton of the Monkslip-super-Mare Police. Can Max help solve these murders? In the days following Max finds out many family secrets and uncovers a diabolical plot. A Fatal Winter is a very tightly plotted puzzle and plays with all the conventions of the traditional country house mystery. The quirky residents of Nether Monkslip all have their respective parts to play in this very enjoyable entry in the series.

RATING- 3.5 stars

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Southern Secrets and Lies

Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
November 2012

The newest installment in the long-running Deborah Knott series returns home to fictional Colleton County in North Carolina after last year's  Three Day Town. As a native North Carolinian I find the Deborah Knott novels almost a good as a visit home. But my, how the place has changed over the years!

The Buzzard Table has the sort of complex and layered plot that I have come to expect, full of the doings of Deborah's large extended family, the challenge of a new marriage to Dwight Bryant and a new step-son as well as the use of the county's small airfield for refueling CIA "rendition" flights. The refueling of the flights is a open secret- one that most don't care about, but some find abhorrent and try to stop by publicizing. A nearby group of citizens is trying it's best to scuttle the flights, the most visible of whom is a nerdy high school student.

Sigrid Harald, NYPD detective and her mother Anne Lattimore are also visiting. Anne's mother, the patrician Mrs. Lattimore is ill and failing. Mrs. Lattimore has asked her daughter and grand-daughter to help wind up her affairs. A long-lost Lattimore cousin, Martin Crawford, has also appeared. Crawford is an ornithologist studying the Southern vulture for an upcoming book. When the murder of a real estate agent, an assault on the nerdy student and the death of an unknown man in a nearby motel happen in swift succession Dwight Bryant has a lot of questions for Martin Crawford. Even though the investigation is taken over by the feds Dwight intends to get answers for what is happening in his county.

Well plotted and full of  colorful characters, The Buzzard Table does not disappoint. Not only do we meet new fascinating characters, the usual colorful folk of Colleton County are back. Margaret Maron provides a wealth of facts about the Southern "turkey buzzard". at the beginning of each chapter. For instance, circling buzzards are called a "kettle"- who knew?  Thanks to netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for an advance reading copy!

RATING- 4 Vultures

New Urban Fantasy set in Colonial Boston

D.B. Jackson
July 2012

THIEFTAKER by D. B. Jackson is a book that has been sitting on my TBR list for quite a while. After speeding my way through this very impressive debut fantasy I could only smack myself in the forehead and ask, "what took me so long"? Set in an alternate 1765 Boston roiling with preRevolutionary fervor and magic, THIEFTAKER tells the tale of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer trying to make a living by using his talents to catch thieves. 

Ethan has had a very tough life. He was convicted as a mutineer against the Crown and lost over a decade of his life to penal servitude in the Indies. He lost the support of his family, his reputation and his first love and was brutalized in body and spirit. He is barely getting by and when he is hired by a rich merchant to discover the murderer of the merchant's daughter and to recover a brooch stolen from her. Ethan usually doesn't investigate murders but the pay is welcome. When he views the body Ethan knows that the murder was done by magic and only he can find out who the dangerous conjurer is. There have been other such murders and it is clear that a larger purpose is at work. Along the way it seems that everyone wants to stop his investigation by fair means or foul, especially Boston's chief thieftaker, Sephira Pryce.

THIEFTAKER is rich with period detail, action and wonderfully rounded characters both historical and completely fictional. Sam Adams, James Otis and Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson make appearances in supporting roles. Ethan himself is flawed and weary but has maintained his humanity despite his many losses. I am fascinated by Ethan's back story and hope that more details emerge of his family and especially the mutiny aboard the Ruby Blade that cost him so much. As for the beautiful and murderous Sephira Pryce, Ethan will surely have to settle up with her in future books.

RATING- 4 1/2 Tricornes

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's an overused word, but Fury's Kiss is .....Awesome

FURY'S KISS (Midnight's Daughter #3)
Karen Chance
Tantor Audio, Audible Download
October 2012

I am a big fan of Karen Chance's Cassie Palmer series but ever since the introduction of Dorina Basarab in the Midnight's Daughter series, Dory has been surging ahead. The dhampir daughter of Mircea Basarab (from Cassie Palmer)and a human mother, Dory is hated and feared by the vampire community. She is a vampire slayer but as she says, only kills the vampires who need killing. She also is subject to black-out periods of intense rage and wholesale killing when her vampire half takes over. Dory's peculiar mix of kick ass toughness and vulnerability has always drawn me to her.

There are some perks to being a dhampir. Dory has lived about 500 years and has tremendous strength, enhanced healing abilities and amazing fighting skills.  All of those come in handy as a vampire slayer when you are a little over five feet tall and weigh about 100 pounds-- with dimples. For most of her long life she has been free-lance but over the course of the first two books (Midnight's Daughter and Death's Mistress) she has contracted her services to the Vampire Senate, on which her father is a powerful Senator and diplomat. The relationship between Mircea and Dory has been strained at best, so the new working arrangement is problematic. Added to that, Dory's attraction to vampire Louis-Cesar is something she never looked for.

I won't go into many plot points here but will talk about Karen Chance's unrivaled ability to plot action. Fury's Kiss starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the end. And by that end, many things have changed for Dory. The Midnight's Daughter series comes with a healthy dose of dark humor along with the action. Dory's interactions with Ray the (formerly) headless vampire she dragged around through Death's Mistress are laugh-out-loud funny in Fury's Kiss. I really look forward to the next book in the series and hope it comes soon. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series before tackling this one, and some familiarity with Cassie Palmer's world is helpful as well.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile's Big Olympian Adventure

                                                   TRAPPED (Iron Druid #5)
                                                   Kevin Hearne
                                                   Random House- Del Rey
                                                   November 27, 2012

The fifth book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Series begins twelve years after the events of Tricked with a short novella (Two Ravens and One Crow) in between. Atticus, with most of the Gods of the world angry at him faked his death with the help of Coyote in order do the required twelve years of Granuaile's Druidic training. She is now ready for the final stage, binding to Gaia. Trapped begins with a literal bang when first Perun, the Russian Thunder God, crash lands and brings tidings of the destruction of the Slavic plane of existence. Perun is followed closely by Loki, the mad Norse God of Mischief who has escaped his imprisonment, heralding the beginning of Ragnarok or the end of the world. The fact that Atticus is alive is known and the Olympians, especially Bacchus, and the gods of the other pantheons are out to get him. Even the Dark Elves are gunning for him. Worse, Granuaile is not yet fully bound and can't defend herself without a full connection to Gaia. And even worse- Atticus fears that he is to blame for the triggering of Ragnarok. What follows is another bang- up adventure of mythical proportions leading to what I believe will be the final book in the series.

Atticus has made a lot of mistakes that are coming home to roost, mainly due to to his habit of being a smart-mouth and using expediency rather than wisdom. Sometimes it is hard to believe that  a two thousand year old Druid could be so thoughtless, but I guess a life so long is all about living in the moment and above all, survival. Atticus is one of the good guys though in spite of everything.The Iron Druid Chronicles are an extremely entertaining mash-up of mythology, humor, adventure and this time, a little romance. I read a lot of mythology at one time and enjoy trying to remember what I read about the various pantheons. I never could get my head around the Norse pantheon but none of that really detracts from the enjoyment of this series. It's all about fun, not being learned.

A review of the Iron Druid Chronicles is not complete without a mention of Oberon, Atticus's faithful wolfhound. The mind connection and byplay between Atticus and Oberon are by far the most laugh-out-loud parts of all the books. May I say that I am in complete accord with Oberon on the subject of sausage ( and almost everything else)!

Trapped is another highly recommended entry in the Iron Druid Chronicles but start with the first book, Hounded. Thanks to Del Rey and for an advance copy.

Rating- 4 Stars

A Return to Dawson's Clough with Dylan Scott

DYING ART (A Dylan Scott Mystery)
Shirley Wells
Carina Press eBook
November 12, 2012

A visit from an ex-lover plunges Dylan into a new investigation in the dreary northern town of Dawson's Clough, the scene of several previous investigations and a place Dylan never wanted to visit again. Dylan is the quintessential Londoner and Dawson's Clough's rain, cold and lack of  entertainment holds no charm.

When Maddie Chandler approaches Dylan about investigating the death of her sister Prue he is undeniably flattered and besides, business has has been slow. Dylan doesn't remember much about Maddie herself, but he does remember that the sex was great. Since Dylan is not exactly the most introspective guy around this is not surprising. However, he has absolutely no intention of cheating on his wife Bev and losing his family again. Prue was discovered in her Dawson's Clough flat dead of a head wound. The police have chalked it up to a burglary gone wrong, but Maddie says that Prue called her the day before her death and a set up a meeting in London to discuss something Prue was worried about. Maddie presents herself as a concerned sister but as the investigation progresses Dylan wonders about her true purpose. It has become very clear that Maddie and Prue were not close and in fact Maddie was extremely jealous of her sister. When a painting turns up in Prue's flat by a world famous, recently deceased painter, the plot thickens. Why would Prue, with few possessions and a very stripped-down lifestyle have such a painting and who knew about it?

Bev, the children and Dylan's aging hippie mother, Vicky, also play a part in the investigation. Of course Dylan also enlists the help of retired CID Chief Inspector Frank Willoughby, now living in Dawson's Clough. It seems that everyone has secrets; Maddie, her somewhat sleazy husband and his business partner and Maddie's parents. The painter's estranged wife, Prue's creepy landlord and a local wine bar owner also may have motives. When another murder occurs the investigation becomes even more complicated but Dylan is nothing if not dogged. There is also a big twist at the end that I never saw coming!

Dying Art is another extremely well plotted and entertaining puzzle in the Dylan Scott Mysteries. I highly recommend the series to fans of British mysteries. Thanks to Carina Press and for an advance digital copy.

Rating 4.5 Stars