Review: “One Fell Sweep,” Ilona Andrews

Pros: Rich worldbuilding and fascinating characters
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ilona Andrews’ One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles Book 3) follows on the heels of Clean Sweep and Sweep in Peace. I think this is the best so far. A creature called a Hiru comes to Dina’s inn looking for a place to hold a meeting. He’s from a race hunted and nearly extinct thanks to the efforts of the inhabitants of a planet near theirs, and an alien has agreed to help them–but first they have to gather the alien’s human-looking parts. For those unfamiliar or who’ve forgotten since the last book, Dina is an Innkeeper. In this case, that means she operates a magical, powerful inn where aliens can stay when they come to earth. There are only two main rules: the humans must never know what is happening under their noses, and once an Innkeeper has chosen to take on a guest, she must not allow harm to come to them. When she takes on the hiru, she inadvertently takes sides in a war where the opponents have no compunction about firing off nukes or waking up the neighbors. Just to make things a little crazier, she has to save her sister and her sister’s daughter from a dive on a vampire-controlled planet, and she has to figure out whether she’s really falling in love with haunted werewolf Sean.

 

I love this series, and I think this is the best of it so far. The abilities and limitations of Gertrude Hunt (the inn) and Dina come to the fore, particularly what they can do when together as opposed to apart. The will they/won’t they between Dina and Sean is softened and believable, not frustrating. Dina’s sister Maud–and her vampire daughter Helen–are totally fun to have around, as are the friends and allies Dina acquired in previous novels. I always love Ilona Andrews’ ability to portray nuanced characters. This volume punches up the violence, but there’s plenty of familial love, romantic love, daring and bravery.

The language is fun, and sometimes funny:

“He broke their bones, he made them scream, and then he cut off their heads and put them on a pike.”
“He’s been through a lot.”

The story, setting, and characters are entertaining, creative, a bit dark at times, and unusual. I highly recommend the entire series, and look forward to more!

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Short Take: “Of Swine and Roses,” Ilona Andrews

Pros: Sweet, whimsical, and funny
Cons: Want more!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Of Swine and Roses (by Ilona Andrews), is a short story. It centers on Alena, whose family insists she go on a date with Chad Thurman. His family is important to their business interests, so even though Alena has no interest in such a thug, she goes anyway. Then the weirdest thing happens–they come across a couple of Thurman’s goons chasing a little pig. Chad stops to help, and Alena decides enough is enough. She isn’t going to let them hurt an animal.

That’s actually about half of the story, but the tale is short enough that I kind of had to include that much. It’s worth reading as a whole, though; I found it very cheaply on Amazon. I’m a big fan of Ilona Andrews (actually a husband-and-wife writing team), so I’d read pretty much anything they write. I enjoyed this story and found it to be fun, whimsical, and sweet, with just a touch of darkness. It certainly made me want to read more!

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Short Take: “Witch Hunt,” Sam Witt

Pros: I’m addicted to Sam Witt’s “Pitchfork County” books; good to learn more about Al
Cons: Al’s ‘inner voice’ never fully gelled for me
Rating: 4 out of 5

Sam Witt’s Witch Hunt: A Pitchfork County Novella is another Pitchfork County novella following on the heels of Night-Blooded Boys. It becomes apparent that a witch hunter has entered the county, and Al–Joe’s son, the one who can turn into a demon and has a pack of dogs he leads–is the one who can best sniff him out. Just to make things more difficult, the Conclave of witches faced a terrible enemy recently, and they’re all still recovering. Al is doing his best to check in on them, all while falling for Rae, one of the witches.

It’s largely up to Al this time, which makes this a great opportunity to get inside his head a bit more. He has to rescue Rae, which is much harder than it sounds. The witch hunter employs remarkably vicious tactics. We get to see some of Rae and Al’s relationship, but we also get to see how Al is learning to handle his dog pack.

There’s some overly coincidental timing here and there, but on the whole I enjoyed the story. It’s a short one, novella-length, but it makes a nice tale before we get into the next longer book. If you like bloody horror (not the type of horror where people get limbs cut off for no reason) and want a decent bit of worldbuilding and plot as well, this makes a good inclusive read.

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Review: “Night-Blooded Boys,” Sam Witt

Pros: Love watching the whole family get into it!
Cons: They’re remarkably hard to kill
Rating: 4 out of 5

Night-Blooded Boys: A Pitchfork County Novel by Sam Witt, is filled with explosions, fist-fights, magical duels, and blood. The feel of the book is different from its predecessors because it takes place in part outside the usual Pitchfork venue, with a wider range of unusual beings than we’re used to seeing. It lets us know that Pitchfork is hardly alone in its supernatural problems. It picks up with a fracking operation coming to town that looses something nasty–and more than just an ordinary poison. This thing is changing people, and it’s getting into the tap water. Joe knows he needs to stop what’s going on, but that turns out to be much more difficult and complicated than he thought. A company is bottling this evil stuff, and planning to auction it off to the highest supernatural bidders. It could apparently make them even stronger than they already are.

 

This time we get to see Joe and his family work more-or-less as a team to stop an evil that threatens to spread well past Pitchfork’s borders. I loved getting to watch all of them. Al is getting better at harnessing his inner demon. Elsa is holding her own against some of the spirits that caused her problems in the past. Stevie’s getting her Bog Witch on, and Joe is still a bit uncertain as to whether he should continue his ‘kill ’em all’ policy on creatures, especially now that his family is full-on supernatural and not in a happy-shiny white hat kind of way. He also stops to realize that if he just mows over the fracking facility he’d wreck one of the only sources of jobs in the county, and that would not be good for it. He’s finally trying to think about things like collateral damage and the well-being of other people, which I loved watching.

The amount of damage the characters could take added up awfully high. I know they’ve got abilities that help to heal them, but they keep using those abilities long after they’ve supposedly strained them to their limits. If they’d been stronger at first it would have been easier to buy into their continual use.

Witt is fantastic at making random weird things that sound unimpressive into fights that make your heart pound. Fighting with a parasite sounds, well, difficult to picture as a battle, and yet he makes it work. Stevie’s big battle is awesome to behold. The climax involves an incredibly extensive fight scene that I found simultaneously over-the-top and totally engrossing.

There’s a new sheriff in town who busts Joe’s balls; it’ll be interesting to see how she affects the ongoing story. Although I wasn’t fond of her character at first, I grew to like her later on.

This installment in the Pitchfork County series isn’t quite as top-notch as what came before, but it’s a lot of fun! I certainly plan to continue reading the series.

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Short Take: “Ghost Hunters,” Sam Witt

Pros: Fun horror-slash-“justice porn”
Cons: Predictable
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sam Witt’s Ghost Hunters is a brief novella that takes place in his “Pitchfork County” setting. Dick is at the end of his rope. He bankrupted himself (and with their personal information, the rest of his crew, too, though they don’t know that yet) trying to put together a TV show about ghost hunters, but each of his pilots gets rejected. This one is his last chance. A contact of his sent him to Pitchfork County, where the events of book one were quite explosive yet failed to wipe out all the evil in the county (as though that’s even possible). Dick further compounds his dickishness by taking two waitresses at gunpoint–Nancy and Liz–and forcing them to show him where the ‘bad place’ is. In the process, he ends up telling his crew what he’s done to their finances, leaving them ready to kill him themselves.

This is why this is a short little review: the rest of the novella is a short story in which Dick gets exactly what’s coming to him–but so do a bunch of people who maybe didn’t deserve it so much. There’s some predictability to it, because you know all these people are going to find something more than what they’re looking for and that they’ll regret it. But the fun is always in seeing how it happens and who gets it. So it’s short, it doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it’s still a great read. Witt is fantastic at writing up bloody, extensive combat scenes, so there’s plenty of meat to this story.

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Review: “Half-Made Girls,” Sam Witt

Pros: Long and worth every moment!
Cons: Don’t bother if you can’t handle lots and lots of blood
Rating: 5 out of 5

Sam Witt’s Half-Made Girls is a Pitchfork County novel. In Pitchfork County, the Long Man has imbued Joe, the Night Marshal, with some of his powers so that Joe can fight off the monsters that plague the rural, poor county. Lately the meth trade has gone through the roof, and Joe finds out it’s intertwined with the evil that saturates Pitchfork. Eventually he realizes that maybe his usual tactic–kill ’em all–might not be the best one. By then he and his family are deeply in danger from bats that eat their way into your body, demons, and some very angry meth-heads. And no one trusts a Marshal who’s so quick to use his gun.

 

I was in the mood for a good ol’ dark, bloody horror read, and this one completely hit the spot. Joe’s whole family is wrapped up in the horrors of Pitchfork County–unfortunate, because Joe views his job as requiring him to kill anyone who uses their powers in a manner that is evil, that walks the Left-Hand Path. His wife, Stevie, is the daughter of the powerful Bog Witch, and she would be the next Bog Witch if she allowed it to happen. Their son Al (Alasdair) can turn into a demon. And their little daughter Elsa channels spirits–sometimes she even helps her daddy do his work. Which this week happens to be part of a corpse attached to a cross in the church. Whoops, Sheriff Dan was wrong–the girl on the cross isn’t dead yet. She’s still alive and quite lively despite all the parts she’s missing, and when the Marshal tells the Sheriff to take her back to the jail for the moment, Dan goes along with it, not sure why. I like the back-and-forth between Dan and Joe as the book goes on. They’re fighting different kinds of demons, and their jobs are entirely different. There is a portion of the book that gets a bit repetitive in addressing Joe’s abilities, but it picks up and moves on before too long. It’s also believable, watching Dan struggle over which road he’s going to take, that he has that struggle going on. Each man’s struggle makes sense to him.

The violence and blood are definitely over-the-top, but as long as you’re in the mood for it, it’s a good over-the-top. By the end I just kind of assumed that everything was drenched in blood. Even fist-fights go on for a while, and I was totally engrossed. I’ve also regained some of my fear of bats, so, thanks, Witt, for that.

Because Joe would have to view Stevie’s powers as evil, he refuses her help for most of the book. He’s convinced he’d then have to kill her. He’s sort of a believable idiot in trying to keep Stevie and Al out of the game. I do feel like lately every strong male figure in genre fiction has the flaw: alcoholic, subset: whiskey, but to be fair this book was put out two years ago.

The meth plot is interesting, but it does feel heavily moralistic at times (the message of helping these people rather than crushing them). Thankfully that tied into his work as the Marshal; otherwise it really would have felt like a soapbox.

I absolutely loved Half-Made Girls, and have already picked up copies of the rest in the series!

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Review: “Acca,” Christina Bauer

Pros: Sassy
Cons: Sass at the expense of other elements
Rating: 3 out of 5

Christina Bauer’s Acca (Angelbound Origins Book 3) is sassy and snarky, all right–sometimes at the expense of character smarts, worldbuilding, and more. Main character Myla is the great Scala–she’s the only person in Purgatory who can send souls to Heaven or Hell. She’s getting married to Prince Lincoln, a sexy demon-hunter from the Thrax, who are not on good terms with Myla’s quasis. At this moment, however, they’re chasing a demon who’s just stolen all of their evidence against a Thrax house named Acca, who’ve been dealing with demons and more. They’re also about to be married within a few days, and all Myla’s mother can seem to think about is how quickly Myla will get pregnant when that happens.

 

Sass and snark are great, but it’s like the fine line between dark and depressing: the “too far” spot on the spectrum is at a different spot for everyone, but there is a “too far” spot. For me, this went over the line from sass/snark and into bitchy. It also seemed like getting just the right snarky line in was more important to the author than the story was, so sometimes the characters did something stupid for, apparently, little reason other than to set up a snarky line. (Or to set up later plot that would otherwise not work.) For instance, in order to impress upon us how powerful Myla’s angelic father is, she’s writing down each new power she sees him use in a journal so she can keep track. Umm, that’s just begging for the journal to get stolen and for a bad guy to use all that info to thwart her father at something. It also implies that her father is just a deus ex machina waiting to be pulled out whenever the author has difficulty with the story. At another time there’s a character they’re interviewing who gets all squirrely, and they get distracted and totally ignore it on their way out. And there’s plenty more like that.

As someone who has just come into the series via reviewing, I appreciate that there are little summations of things from previous books so we’ll get the idea. I know this is hard to judge, but the author way overdid it here in my opinion. The number of times the Scala’s basic job got described was over the top considering how simple that job is (send souls to Heaven or Hell from Purgatory). The world-building feels artificial, abnormal, overly concerned with setting up plot rather than the world the plot takes place in.

The book does become tense and engrossing for a time, at which point I enjoyed it and almost–not quite–wanted to read more in the series.

SPOILER WARNING There’s actually a point at which our duo is facing two enemies. One of the two is two words into a three-word incantation that’ll set a massive demon loose. Lincoln is strong and quick, so he chokes out his enemy–that is to say, he chokes out the other character and politely asks the incantation-spouting person to stop, which of course allows him to get the last word of the incantation out. There was no reason whatsoever given for why Lincoln wouldn’t just choke out the incantation-spouting enemy instead. That also isn’t the only stupid combat move some of the characters made. Truly the book feels like plot over character or world–the latter two are constantly given short shrift to make the first work. End Spoilers

 

Book provided for review by publisher
Expected publication date: December 13, 2016

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Review: “Cold Hollow,” Emilie J. Howard

Pros: It could have been worse–maybe?
Cons: Where should I start?
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Emilie J. Howard’s Cold Hollow (Cold Hollow Mysteries Book 1) is listed under horror on Amazon, but I’m not sure why. Her townspeople’s greatest fear is that they won’t have the money for the mayor’s protection racket and his police goons will come after them. The first part of the plot involves our standard happy innocent couple moving into our standard trouble-filled New England town. Then this ceases to be a horror novel. The baker wife opens an amazing bakery. The townspeople are weird. The bad guys are icky. When the bad guys collide with the baker and her family, things go badly. Then Myrna, baker Sophia’s friend and employee, opens a clever can of whoop-ass on the town. I won’t detail any of that last, nor will I tell you whether things go well or badly for her, because hey, spoilers. But I don’t think it would really ruin the book for you, because there isn’t much to be ruined.

 

Everybody’s terrified of this mysterious, bizarre-sounding “till”. It’s nothing but an itemized (!) monthly protection racket bill handed out by the mayor and enforced by his goon policemen. I mean sure, knowing you have to bankrupt yourself rather than get beaten up or killed or whatever is scary, but it really doesn’t classify as horror.

The worst part of Cold Hollow is that most of the narrative is exposition and summary. Everything is told to us; almost nothing is shown to us. Even the dialogue is just summary of speech most of the time, and sounds like it was written by a teen who hasn’t had any instruction in the craft part of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as prone to that as this one is. There’s a death scene that becomes frankly embarrassing because of this.

There are so many foolish things the characters do with no consequence. If Nazar, the bad guy, has cameras and bugs in every house, then destroying those just lets him know you’re on to him–yet there are no consequences as gradually people start doing this over time. There’s a scene where a doctor gives Myrna drugs to put in people’s foods and: “He didn’t want to tell her exactly what drugs were being used. That way, if things didn’t work out, she could never be blamed.” Uhh, that’s not how the law works, people.

It feels like the author is a teenager–way too much exposition; childlike narrative; childish view of how the law might look and work. I can’t recommend this to anyone.

 

The town does hold a secret, but it’s basically the plot from a Criminal Minds episode that’s been dumbed-down and made ridiculous. Spoiler warning: It’s a town of parolees being run as an experiment, but unlike the town on CM, this one was screwed up from day one. Also, apparently if you take a couple who had been in jail for kidnapping children because they wanted to feel that they had a full family, it’s okay later to let them get that out of their system by having them babysit your kid. Say what?! End spoiler warning

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Review: Nate Temple Supernatural Series Books 1-3 (Boxset), Shayne Silvers

Pros: Total young male wish fulfillment fantasy
Cons: Total young male wish fulfillment fantasy
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller Series: Books 1-3 (The Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller Series Boxset), by Shayne Silvers… I don’t remember how I came across it, but I wish I remembered, because it hasn’t appealed to me all that much and I’d like to skip accidentally doing that again. It’s an unabashed young-adult-male wish-fulfillment fantasy set in a contemporary fantasy universe. All of the female characters kick ass, but they’re always happiest when making their men happy (save for one lesbian relationship, which still followed the same pattern). In case it matters to you, note that there is some sexually explicit material present. As I wrote in my notes: “Nate’s awfully misogynistic, and the quota of stunning sexpots is ridiculously high.”

In this set of three books, Nate and his friends start out trying to figure out who or what killed his parents. It’s certainly a good coming-of-age setup, which Nate badly needs. He’s the standard billion-dollar playboy vigilante/hero/whatever, except younger and apparently much less cunning.

This is one of the most over-the-top, purple prose-laden pieces of work I’ve read in a very, very long time. To me it read like someone who has a fair amount of talent but not much learned skill pouring his heart out on the page, which results in a series that sometimes I quite appreciated and at other times hated. Another pass by a copyeditor wouldn’t have gone amiss as well–particularly in Fairy Tale, which has more than the usual number of words that aren’t used correctly. The author could also stand to write out a meticulous timeline to make sure that everything happened when he said it did, and that he didn’t accidentally change his mind a few times.

The character does so many contradictory things. He wants to keep the police out of things, then baits them for fun. He also seems to be a prodigy at nearly everything. He’d be a male Mary Sue except for the fact that he does occasionally suffer the consequences of his actions. He can’t remember a thing, then two sentences later he remembers it as if he’d never forgotten in the first place. There are demons who leave Nate alive pretty much ‘just because’ which is the biggest “uh, I dunno” a writer can use. Someone grabs him by his bloody jacket just after he threw it away. There are a lot of mistakes like this throughout the series.

In book two, there are finally a few good quotes, although overall the dialogue was pretty terrible. Also, I think that when your new girlfriend threatens to chase you down and beat you up if you don’t tell her every last one of your secrets in three days, then maybe you shouldn’t go out with her.

The characters aren’t remotely balanced (any game master running this as an RPG would shake his head sadly at the lack of creative use of powers, as well as the distribution of them). For instance, Nate has near-cosmic power but can’t seem to use it to get money. Okay, fine, you can’t summon gold or whatever, but there are nigh-infinite ways of making money with the kind of power Nate has.

I’ve saved this upcoming quote because I think it will give you a good idea of whether you’d like the series. Enjoy the purple prose and weird narrative? Cool, march right ahead. Can’t take how the author approaches women and can’t enjoy the weirdness? Slide on past.

Ashley and Indie had several silent conversations with only their eyes. Tory and Misha jumped in on a few of these exchanges, learning the same information by estrogenic osmosis, and each of them silently proceeded to take care of the men, encouraging us, congratulating us …

I find it difficult to believe that the author has ever met a woman. Anyway, it probably now seems as though I should have given a lower score given how I feel about all of the above. But the truth is, there’s an awful lot of creativity in here. There’s plenty of exciting adventure. The author clearly has a lot of talent to work with, and I very much hope he’ll put some effort into acquiring the kind of skill that will hone that talent to a fantastic shine. I also hope he’ll learn that women are just people too, but we’ll see.

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Review: “Silurid,” Gerry Griffiths

Pros: Mild beginning
Cons: Blah ending
Rating: 2 out of 5

It’s been a long day already, so I’ll quote from the Amazon text instead of rolling my own. Silurid, by Gerry Griffiths: “In this exciting horror novel, Vernon Murdock, a young idealistic marine biologist, makes an incredible breakthrough with high hopes of ending world famine for the rest of eternity when he breeds a hybrid species guaranteed to put substantially more food on the dinner table.” You can predict several things from there with virtual certainty. The experiment will go wrong. People will die. Harder to predict was the fact that the book isn’t about Vernon and isn’t really about mad science, either. We start out as the giant fish enter play, and follow Vernon’s sister Jess as she tries to deal with them.

 

It’s important to note that Vernon’s experiments went wrong when they produced super-massive fish: he’d actually be feeding fewer people with them (the amount of protein they’d need to grow would be greater than the amount of protein they’d provide). I’m not quite sure how he ended up with armor scales and some very nasty teeth, too. You’d think he’d realized he’d gone in the wrong direction by size alone long before he actually created these two massive, scary fish, and thus would have turned back and done something else.

Anyway, the entire first part of the book is kinda meh, introducing us to characters who are bland, stupid, or completely stereotypical. Jess, the main character, is of course loved by everyone. For a while I tried to track the stereotypes for this review, but I lost count.

The fish brought me to laughter as they scuffled around on land using giant fins, knocking over trees to chase and eat people. I don’t think it was meant to be as silly as it was, but I suppose I can hope it was intentional.

The time frame for the story keeps getting confused. Things like types of phones or computer data collection devices that are available seem to contradict each other. The narrative is also a bit choppy and confused, with multiple instances of one word substituted for something that definitely didn’t mean the same thing.

Part two of the book was… uh, slightly better? Slightly better characterization. Slightly better dialogue. On the other hand, the premise is ridiculous (I’ll leave it out, since it would give away the ending in part one). I’m also disappointed that this book is ostensibly about mad science, but there’s really no mad science done in the course of the book. It’s all pre-book.

My hope is that this book’s origin came when its author said, “hey, what’s the most ridiculous creature a mad scientist could muck with that people would still have to run away from?” But since this doesn’t appear to be listed in any kind of humor or satire listing at Amazon, I have to assume not.

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