Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

On the Edge (Novel of the Edge, #1)

On the EdgeOn the Edge
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441017805
Series: Novel of the Edge #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Well, it just goes to show you: people change and you should never say never.  I read this book back in 2016 and my review from that reading was … unfavourable, ending with my declaration that I’d never read the book again.

Shows you what I know.  I not only read it again, I liked it better than I did the first time.  It’s still a little too PNR for me, but I found it easier to get into the story, the setting and the characters.  Maybe because I’d already read it and had a vague recollection of not liking the romantic interest, I found him less unbearable than I expected to, and the non-consent issues didn’t feel as egregious this time around, only typically arrogant.

I can’t really say why, except maybe I’ve read more Ilona Andrews’ since, or my mood was more receptive to the story.  Who knows?  But I went from rating this 3 stars and never reading it again, to rating it 4 stars and buying a copy of it for my shelves.  Along with the other 3 book in the series.

 

I’ve been intending to read this since I ordered it back in July, but its arrival during Halloween Bingo was fortuitous;  it’s a great fit for the Relics and Curiosities square.  The story line centers on a powerful artefact from a previous civilisation that eats magic and spits out something very akin to a demon hound.

Charmed & Ready

Charmed & ReadyCharmed & Ready
by Candace Havens
Rating: ★★
isbn: 9780425222492
Publication Date: May 8, 2008
Pages: 292
Publisher: Berkley

 

So much worse than the one before it (Charmed and Dangerous).  The romance between Bronwyn and Sam is adolescent, and Bronwyn’s “professionalism” isn’t any better.  For a woman tasked with security detail, there’s a lot of drinking and dancing, witch or not.

Truly bad.

Scourged (Iron Druid Chronicles, #10)

ScourgedScourged
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780525486459
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #9
Publication Date: April 15, 2018
Pages: 268
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Books

 

I bought a signed copy of this book around the time it came out, before I heard that the general conclusion of other readers’ was disappointment.  It sat on my TBR shelf neglected ever since.  But recently I read a review for the second book in his new series, which is winging its way to me as I write this and in that review it’s mentioned that Atticus and Oberon play a part and they get the ending they deserve.

Well, in order to appreciate the ending they deserve, I needed to know about the ending they got, so, being in a very bad mood yesterday anyway, I grabbed this book and thought “let’s get this over with”.

And it turned out, I guess because I was braced for the worst, that I didn’t think it was so bad after all.  Yes, if you agree with the premise that not all promises are meant to be kept, Atticus’ ending was pretty dire in consequence of keeping that ill-fated promise.  And no, I didn’t really enjoy all the self-flagellation Atticus had going on, nor did I think Granuaile’s reaction at the end entirely proportional.  But over everything else was kind of fun.  I enjoyed seeing all the pantheons show up, and I liked the humour and the ever-so-subtle oneupmanship between them.  And as much as I love Oberon, I wasn’t unhappy with his smaller role in this book.  There’s a fine line, I think, between Oberon being adorable and funny, and Oberon being insanely obnoxious, and this book found that line before it crossed it.

I’m not sorry to see the series come to a conclusion, though I’ll miss the characters.  I am glad I read it too, because I’m really looking forward to what I can only guess is Atticus’ redemption in the new series, Blood and Ink.

 

I read this book not really thinking how it would fit on my Halloween Bingo 2021 card.  And it really doesn’t, although it would work for Gallows Humour.  But I have a Wild Card I can use, and a square I don’t like, Plague and Diseases so I’m going to use Kevin Hearne and this book to take care of that space.

Naked Brunch

Naked BrunchNaked Brunch
by Sparkle Hayter
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781842430422
Publication Date: May 1, 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: No Exit Press

Annie Engel hasn’t been feeling herself lately. With good reason. A mousy secretary by day, she’s been morphing into a werewolf at night. In the morning, she’s not quite sure what she’s been up to, but she knows she’d like to do it again. She soon discovers that her odd dreams and strange hangovers are actually the remnants of a night out on the prowl.

But Annie’s predatory activities have not gone unnoticed, and soon she is being pursued by one hapless reporter, a psychiatrist who wants to save her from her beastly impulses, and another (guy) werewolf who captures her heart. Who is a nice werewolf to trust? Get ready for a manic, madcap chase through the dank underbelly of the big city, a place where no one seems to sleep and the scents of fear and desire are always in the air.


 

Years ago, I read Sparkle Hayter’s mystery series featuring Robin Hudson, and enjoyed it tremendously.  Years pass and I’m digging through a local used bookstore and stumbled across this completely different style of book, but the author’s name is not one that’s easily forgotten, so I grabbed it.  It sounded funny.

I finally got around to reading it this year and it was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be, and in fact, better, since I was wary over the different narrative style and genre.  It’s also told in the third person, which can be tricky for me.

The story revolves primarily around Annie, the last nice girl in the big city (which, while never named explicitly, is NYC).  She’s a secretary during the day and normally a door-mat for her two ‘best friends’ at night, being dragged from vapid party to vapid party while her two friends kill themselves to become famous.  But lately, she’s been having weird dreams, and waking up in the morning covered in blood, to find broken bedroom windows, and the need to vomit up whatever she ate the night before, which seems to be meat, which is odd, as she’s a vegetarian.

Then there’s Jim – he’s a werewolf and he’s come back to the city after a self-imposed exile, the kind of exile where everybody thinks you’re dead.  He runs into Annie one night when she’s not herself and they hit if off in a love-at-first-sight kind of way – if only he knew who she was or what she looked like in her less hirsute form…

Dr. Marco knows there’s a werewolf running around uncontrolled in the city and is frantic to find it, bring it into the center, and reform it using a tried and true method of drugs, restraints, and group therapy.  If he can’t find it, his family will and they’ll put it down rather than risk exposure.

And then there’s Sam, the hapless, truly kind, incredibly lucky, has-been reporter, desperate to hold on to his wife and his career.  He hears about the ‘vicious dog attacks’ that are leaving dead bodies all over the city and turns it into the career comeback he’d been hoping for, while the rest of the station’s crew, against their better judgement, turn themselves inside out to help him.  Because he’s just no nice.

Annie has to choose between the chance at a normal life by submitting to Dr. Marco’s rehabilitation center, or being on the run, in love, and having hot animal (literally) sex.  It’s a hard choice – especially amidst a city wide armed hunt for the mad-dog killers leaving dead bodies all over the place.

There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not even going to touch on all the ‘secondary’ characters from whom the reader occasionally hears from.  The narrative starts off a little slowly, as it takes awhile to figure out who all the players are and what’s going on.  But once everybody’s found their place, the story is fun, and a very different kind of morality tale.  I love that the good guys get good stuff and the bad guys get … eaten.  Or at least, what they deserve.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’ll likely read it again.  I won’t call it speculative fiction, but it’s very different from the garden variety werewolf stories I’ve read before, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different take on a common theme, done with a cynical sort of humor.

I read this for Halloween Bingo, and it easily qualifies for at least three squares: Shifters, Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, and Gallows Humor, which allows me to invoke my first Spell Pack card: the all-new Double Trouble.  I’m choosing to use it for the first two squares: Shifters and Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses.

   

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)

Dead Until DarkDead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 2008-01-02
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #1
Publication Date: January 2, 2008
Pages: 312
Genre: Urban Fantasy

I read this for the first time in 2008, when it came out, but find I don’t have any notes or reviews of it; obviously I was only lurking and shelving on GR back in 2008.  I remember really liking it back then, and I’ve read all but the 13th and final novel since.

However, upon a second read many years later, I find the writing doesn’t hold up.  Sookie is naive and a bit simple (not simple-minded), as she is supposed to be, but the writing too feels naive and simple, which left me impatient.

It’s possible later books are better written, but so far I have not the urge to find out.

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland, #3)

Shadowed SteelShadowed Steel
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781473230606
Series: Heirs of Chicagoland #3
Publication Date: May 6, 2021
Pages: 309
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz

Elisa Sullivan is the only vampire ever born, and she bears a heavy legacy. After a sojourn with the North American Central Pack of shifters in the wilderness–where she turned a young woman into a vampire to save her life–Elisa returns to Chicago.

But no good deed goes unpunished. The ruling body of vampires, the Assembly of American Masters, is furious that Elisa turned someone without their permission, and they’re out for her blood. When an AAM vampire is found dead, Elisa is the prime suspect. Someone else is stalking Chicago-and Elisa. She’ll need to keep a clear head, and a sharp blade, to survive all the supernatural strife.


This one started out rough for me, as I generally don’t like the ‘woman in peril’ trope at all.  It’s trite and worn in all its iterations, so having the MC set up for a murder she didn’t commit and put before a kangaroo court didn’t incline me to lose myself in the narrative or plot.

Luckily I really enjoy the author’s gift of snark and dialogue, so I persevered, and the story got interesting as soon as it became clear the said MC wasn’t going to martyr herself.  I enjoyed watching the formation of the scooby gang, and the political machinations at the end were a lot of fun.  So all in all, the author pulled it off, and I await with anticipation the next one in the series.

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder, #1)

Blood HeirBlood Heir
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781641971652
Series: Ryder - Kate Daniels World #1
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Pages: 354
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Nancy Yost Literary Agency

Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it's a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival.

Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she's back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name-Aurelia Ryder-drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit.

If Aurelia's true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she'd ever loved could threaten everything.


While I’m a huge fan of the Kate Daniels and Iron Dog series, and liked all the characters an awful lot, I’ve never been super-excited about a book or series dedicated to Kate’s daughter Julie, but I liked her and Derek enough to be interested in picking it up.

The hardest part of a spin-off series for me, is the first half of the first book; it’s always a long, drawn-out slog for the veterans of the series because of the necessary background information for the new readers.  It makes the story start off so slowly, and Blood Heir is no exception.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I was bored until page 178 or so, when the dynamics of the plot finally got interesting.

I’m also feeling a little ambivalent about Julie’s transformation.  I liked her quite a bit the way she was, and I’d have enjoyed her story more had she remained as she was.  Instead she’s been transmogrified into a super-beautiful, super-magical badass and while I guess I can understand the authors’ enjoying the range this allows them, I think I’d have found a story about Julie being a badass without the superlatives even more interesting.

I’ll admit to being a tad more intrigued about Derek’s evolution, but perhaps that’s because it’s more mysterious (so far).  Either way though, it feels as though the authors’ have just created an imitation of Kate and Curran – right down to what will obviously be the series arc – and it short-changes what were fascinating characters previously.

For all my hurrumphing though, it was a very readable story I was able to knock-off in just a couple of days.  I liked it enough to read a second one whenever in the far off future it should arrive, in hopes that the deadly dull (but necessary) world building has been gotten through and the second book will allow for a more interesting read.

Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10)

Calculated RisksCalculated Risks
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780756411817
Series: InCryptid #10
Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Pages: 433
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?


I knew, after finishing the last book, Imaginary Numbers, that I probably wouldn’t rate this one highly in my personal ranking of InCryptid books, and I wasn’t wrong.  Math, multiple dimensions, alien planets – none of these are guaranteed to make me giddy with anticipation, but Sarah has always been one of my favorite characters, so I counted on my investment in the characters to see me through.

They almost didn’t.  So. much. explication.  The first half of the book was crushed under the weight of repetition about what a cuckoo is, what it means to be a cuckoo, the inherent amorality of cuckoos.  What little survived was further smothered by Sarah’s guilt and constant mea culpas.  Which were contradictory, by the way, as on one page she’s explaining that the equation at the end of the first book was sentient enough to fight against its own destruction, and malevolent enough to exact its revenge on her by – SPOILER ALERT! – excising Antimony’s and Arnie’s memories of just her, and on the next page she’s saying she did it, that she chose to do it so they wouldn’t miss her when she was dead.  Either way, the constant self-flagellation was way over-played.

Like most of the InCryptid books, once you get past the half-way mark, things start to get interesting.  Just by sheer virtue of the fact that there was less wailing and more action, more progress being made in the plot.  But the introduction of Greg really livened things up, and the speed of plot progression made even an other-dimension, alien planet sound interesting to me.  Sarah’s angst over the capacity problem irked me, because she was back to the whole woe-is-me schtick when the solution to the problem was painfully obvious – but at least it lasted only a few pages before the lightbulb clicked on, and then it was all action as the end was neigh.  And it turned out the end was much neigh’er than I’d thought – a short story at the end of the book had the actual story ending much sooner than I expected, making it feel like an abrupt, albeit happy, ending.

I still enjoy the series and I’ve learned to just put up with the first half of each book to get ‘to the good stuff’, so I’ll likely pick up the next one.  Or maybe, after having braved alien planets, I’ll go back and read Antimony’s story, carnival settings and all.  Maybe.