Book review: Blood Price by Tanya Huff

Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)Blood Price by Tanya Huff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All librarians need the training to minimise loaning occult books to unhinged people.

Vicki Nelson was a respected Toronto detective until her eyesight deteriorated. Now operating as a private detective, she accidentally stumbles upon a vicious murder. Her interest in the case is piqued when more killings occur and she is hired to investigate one of the murders by a grieving client. But the murders have also caught the attention of Henry Fitzroy. The victims being drained of blood brings talk of vampires, and the last thing a vampire like Henry needs is a mob hunting him. Vicki and Henry’s paths cross and they decide to team up to try and stop the murderer.

Half-a-year ago I read Tanya Huff’s Summon the Keeper. I enjoyed that amusing and fun urban paranormal novel so I decided to try Huff’s Blood series. The styles of the two series are very different. The Keeper series is humorous and firmly set in the paranormal world. The Blood series has a much more serious tone and has an emphasis on the paranormal bleeding into the real world.

Blood Price has a lot in common with other detective paranormal stories, like the Dresden Files. So if you enjoy that sort of novel, then you’ll like this too.

Related to this point about similarities to other paranormal series, something I noted with both of Huff’s works was that there were many elements I’d seen elsewhere. But these novels were written and published a decade or more before others were using them. Does that mean Huff is due some royalties or just some hat-tips?

I sense more Tanya Huff books in my reading future.

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Book review: Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

Summon the Keeper (Keeper Chronicles #1)Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You can check-in, but you may never leave.

Claire Hansen is a Keeper drawn to the run-down Elysian Fields Guest House. When she arrives, the owner forges her signature on the deeds and does a runner, leaving her in charge of one employee, one permanent guest, one ghost, and one gateway to hell. With the help of her cat, Austin, she might be able to figure out how to close the gateway. Or she might be stuck there forever.

For our wedding anniversary, we went shopping at a specialist sci-fi and fantasy bookstore. My purchase was the Keeper Chronicles. Yeah, we know how to celebrate. We’re kinky. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tanya Huff, but I was promised a fun story with humour. I think it is fair to say Summon the Keeper delivered on that promise.

The book meanders along, introducing characters, having those characters banter with one another, introducing a few random elements, and generally giving you the feeling that you’re just reading a series of scenes. Then Huff ties everything together in an exciting and fast-paced finale that almost blindsides you. I think that feeling of meandering through the bulk of the story is the only reason I’m not diving straight into the next instalment in the series.

Overall, I enjoyed this paranormal – or is that urban fantasy – novel and will be reading the rest of the Keeper Chronicles in the coming months.

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Book review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1)Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, if magic and science are incompatible, does that mean gravity is magic or physics?

Kate Daniels is scraping by making a living as a mercenary. In her world magic rolls through in waves, knocking out technology and allowing all the beasties to have way too much fun. As a result, people need mercenaries with magical abilities like Kate. Then, as part of a power play, someone kills her guardian sending her after the most powerful magical beast in Atlanta.

The Kate Daniels series was recommended to me by my wife. She has been steadily reading the whole series and kept making appreciative sounds whilst reading them. Written by Ilona and Andrew Gordon, I wouldn’t have immediately picked up a book that hints at fantasy romance. The cover of Magic Bites may be more neutral, but some of the later books in the series I saw in the library had a lot of chiselled male torsos on them.

Fortunately for me, Magic Bites reminded me more of a Harry Dresden book than a steamy romance. Kate is a much more likeable character than Harry,* and the world she lives in makes a bit more sense.** There is also the implication of Kate having continuing adventures that are building toward something, not just another series that will keep churning out instalments.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Kate Daniels’ adventures.

*I originally described this book as Dresden Files except without a jerk as the main character.
**I mean, there are only so many world-ending events that Dresden can take on single-handedly before a) someone non-magic notices, and b) the Wizard Council would also get involved.

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Book Review: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The chief said, ‘I’m going to need your badge, your gun, and your ability to turn into a werewolf.’

Harry Dresden is living on the memory of ramen noodles and hasn’t heard from his contact at the Chicago Police in ages. But with the full moon dawning, a spate of murders leads Lieutenant Murphy to call on his wizard skills. With the FBI sticking their nose in, Murphy under investigation, and a pack of werewolves on the prowl, Harry is up to his neck in trouble before the moon has risen.

Jim Butcher really does love to make Harry suffer. He is obviously a big believer in creating a large stack of insurmountable odds for each of Dresden’s adventures. This is both entertaining and frustrating. Entertaining because it keeps the suspense up. Frustrating because you kinda want there to be fewer fires layered under the frypan Dresden falls out of. Or to put it another way, you start asking, ‘Isn’t it time to kill the bad guys yet?’ Or to put it another way, the damned suspense nearly killed me.

This was another enjoyable Dresden adventure. I’m looking forward to my next one.

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Book review: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas, #1)Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Pitch: The kid from The Sixth Sense grows up to become a short-order cook.

Odd Thomas lives just above the poverty line in a small town. He works as a short-order cook, driver for Elvis’ ghost, and ad hoc homicide consultant. When a creepy guy surrounded by bodachs enters his restaurant, he starts to uncover a plot to stage a mass shooting. Yes, the small town is in the USA; how did you guess? With the help of his soulmate, Stormy, he tries to stop this evil from happening.

Ever since I watched the Odd Thomas movie on Netflix – starring Anton Yelchin – I have been meaning to read some Dean Koontz. My last Koontz outing was….. many years ago in the form of Night Chills. For some reason, despite finding Night Chills enjoyable and highly memorable, I’ve not come back to Koontz. Well, the drought has been broken.

Despite enjoying Odd Thomas, I still have reservations. The narrative is told in the memoir narrator style, something that robs the book of tension, yet still manages to provide a twist. The story itself feels drawn out, with a lot of detail put into things that probably don’t matter. So I’m left wondering if I’d prefer to try something like Phantoms rather than the next Odd Thomas novel. Probably won’t take me another 30 years to read the next Koontz though.

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Book review: Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson, #4)Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vampire ghosts: the undead undead?

A few weeks earlier, Mercy killed one vampire too many, and now Marsilia and her vampire seethe have found out. Out of the blue pops her old out-of-state college friend with a ghost problem that she hopes Mercy can help with. What convenient timing.

It is refreshing to read a fantasy series that doesn’t get bogged down in world building waffle. Aside from being written as though they are standalone novels – whilst being a continuing adventure – there isn’t any fat on this lean series. And as the series has progressed it hasn’t fallen into a rut, nor become formulaic. I’m already halfway through the next in the series and enjoying each Mercy Thompson outing as much as the first.

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Book review: Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth

KillfileKillfile by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are times that I’m glad people can’t read my mind: I’d hate to have someone else humming The Proclaimers.

John Smith is a specialist who helps wealthy clients with tricky problems. He has a talent for hostage negotiations, corporate espionage, and gleaning people’s deepest secrets thanks to his ability to read minds. Who’d have thought that reading people’s minds would turn his latest job into a death sentence.

Killfile is the first novel I’ve read from Christopher Farnsworth since his excellent Nathaniel Cade series went on hiatus four years ago. I read the Nathaniel Cade series back to back and loved every second of those supernatural thrillers. Killfile was similarly enjoyable with the paranormal thriller element pitched nicely into the realms of corporate espionage and CIA interrogation programs.

Also, as a scientific skeptic (i.e. scientist who hears all the kooky claims and demands evidence) it is always fun to read the conspiracy claims in a more rational format. Dusting off MKUltra and utilising it as a plot point in fiction rather than an outlandish conspiracy tickles me in all the right ways.

Chris’ novels continue to be highly enjoyable reads.

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Book Review: Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega, #1)Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do werewolves smell of wet dog when they are in human form?

Anna is having a tough week. After breaking up with her old pack she moves to the middle of nowhere with a guy/wolf – Charles – whom she has only just met. Then when a rogue wolf starts attacking people, she has to help Charles track it down before it exposes the pack. But is it really a wolf?

Cry Wolf is another werewolf series from Patricia Briggs set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series. After being won over by the Mercy series, I decided to give Alpha and Omega series a read. So I started with the Alpha and Omega novella and I am still scratching my head as to why it wasn’t just included as the first few chapters of this novel. If you intend on reading Cry Wolf, do read Alpha and Omega first. Or don’t: I’m not your mother.

This was quite a hard book to rate/review. It was an enjoyable read, but the breaking of the story between the main novel and the introductory novella throws out the narrative a bit. The romance between an abuse survivor and a really old life-long bachelor as the central plot is interesting, but it does tend to wander as the other events of the novel occur. At times I felt the story was just happening with no real point or destination in mind, but it felt like things tied together in the end. And for a Patricia Briggs story set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series it is going to draw comparisons. Whilst I’d recommend this book (and novella), it isn’t as good as Mercy and her adventures.

My recommendation is that you’ll enjoy reading this to sate your hunger for werewolf stories when you run out of Mercy Thompson novels to devour.

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Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind GamesMind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn’t easy to write Young Adult stories that have appeal to adults. The melodrama. THE MELODRAMA! Nothing brings out the wrinkly curmudgeon quicker than reading teen angst.

Fia and Annie are sisters who are offered a place in a school for gifted girls after the tragic death of their parents. Annie is blind but can see the future. Fia (short for Sofia) has perfect instincts. And the school is a training ground for spies. Let the fun begin.

Paranormal isn’t a genre I’ve read a lot of in recent times, and young adult is not generally a genre that entertains me, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by Kiersten White. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that allows the reader to experience the teen angst and melodrama without it playing out like a TV soapie. Now I used the terms teen angst and melodrama but these are reactions to situations and events that warrant reactions of this kind. Which is probably why the novel worked for me.

And let’s be honest, we all remember being teenagers and thinking the whole world is against us. Kiersten’s novel plays on this whilst telling an interesting tale of two sisters being exploited as seers and assassins.

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Book Review: Parallax by Jon F. Merz

ParallaxParallax by Jon F. Merz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The paranormal is an interesting genre for me. As some of you may have guessed, I’m a scientist and skeptic. Basically this means I want evidence of claims, not some beliefs and suppositions. Prove it to me.

When it comes to entertainment, the assumption would be that anything other than realistic fiction is not going to grab me. The key word here is fiction. Just as Lt. Shane Shcofield’s adventures are as realistic as Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter, the paranormal can be just as entertaining to this scientist and skeptic.

This is the second of Jon’s books that I have read. Parallax was a very entertaining read that reminded me of some of the earlier paranormal works I read that combined the paranormal with the crime or noir genres. This novel works as a straight crime story, the mental link between the two main protagonists serving as a twist on the formula.

Worth checking out if you like a tale about hitmen having to redeem themselves.

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Combating Writer’s Block: Advice by Genre

There is no worse disease for a writer than writer’s block. I’d also say that writer’s block is terrible for readers too, uninspired prose is what we expect from policy and political people, not our entertainment. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing advice: set a daily word goal and stay at it until you reach the goal. There is something about daily writing and forcing yourself to write that seems to make things flow.

But Tyson, I hear you say, I’m stuck with no ideas for what to write next. Luckily I was procrastinating whilst writing the other day and came up with a definitive fail safe for each major genre. Any additions are welcome in the comments.

Thriller Writers
When writer’s block strikes kill someone or blow something up.

Crime Writers
When writer’s block strikes describe the main character getting drunk and wallowing in self pity.

Mystery Writers
When writer’s block strikes introduce a red herring.

Romance Writers
When writer’s block strikes introduce new character with rock hard abs.

Literature Writers
When writer’s block strikes describe a tree in intimate detail.

Fantasy Writers
When writer’s block strikes have a talking dragon appear, or have the characters go on a long walk somewhere.

Sci-fi Writers
When writer’s block strikes cut and paste physics article from Wikipedia into your novel.

Horror Writers
When writer’s block strikes cut and paste autopsy reports into your novel.

Paranormal Writers
If you already have vampires, ghosts and werewolves in your novel, introduce ninjas and pirates as characters.

If you are really stuck after all of these ideas, then there is no novel in existence that can’t/couldn’t be improved by the addition of pirates and/or ninjas.