City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

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Unholy Magic ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: Unholy Magic
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  ENEMIES DON’T NEED TO BE ALIVE TO BE DEADLY.

For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.

Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.

Review:  Unholy Magic is the second book of Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts, a series that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The second book is even darker and grittier than the first, a quality that I love to find in urban fiction.

The story is about Chess Putnam, a witch who investigates hauntings for the governing body who protects the world from ghosts, known as The Church. Chess is a pretty tough cookie and a great investigator, despite that fact that she is addicted to drugs. Once again, Chess finds herself working for the underworld of Downside, as well as The Church.

Ms. Kane delves even deeper into the cesspit of her heroine’s self-esteem in this book and reveals more the background the caused it. Chess is painfully dysfunctional in her relationships and at times it is agonizing to witness her ineptitude. Her addiction seems to be getting worse. The scene where she goes into withdrawals is written so that the reader can almost feel her pain. It makes me wonder upon what inspiration she draws for this character.

Despite the darkness, Chess has plenty of reasons to shine. Even in her deepest, darkest moments, she is able to tap into her powerful magic, which she often refers to as the one thing she can do really well. Her character may be flawed, but Chess is smart, fierce, and determined.

Chess has very few friends, and the one she holds most dear to her heart is Terrible. In this book, there are scenes that remind us just why his official job is playing the enforcer for a drug dealer. Yes, we also see his tenderness toward Chess, and his integrity.

Kane does a great job of weaving her subplots together and cultivating the mystery throughout the book. Her characters a richly drawn and beautifully flawed. I especially appreciate the character development that arcs between books. She is not afraid to dig deep to elicit strong and dark emotion, so be prepared. This is certainly not fare for the rainbows and flowers crowd.

This is one of my favorite covers in the series. The model’s facial expression just has kind of a world-weary look that I think captures the essence of Chess. The color scheme is dark, yet appealing and the layout and fonts follow the pattern that identifies the series.

Unless Ms. Kane takes a sharp left turn, I have a feeling that I am going to be a huge fan of this series.

Wyrd Sisters ~ Terry Pratchett

  • Title: Wyrd Sisters
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Series: Discworld #6
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  When murder, mayhem and the sudden arrival of a royal baby disturb the monthly cauldron-stirring of three witches, trouble is bound to be brewed up in the little kingdom of Lancre. Kingdoms wobble and crowns topple in this sixth hilarious Discworld adventure!

Review: 
This is one of the earlier books of the series, and not the best one either. I know that most Discworld fans rate this book with 5 awesome stars, but I can’t honestly do that. I think it’s an OK book, definitely weaker than many other novels of the series.

The novel has two distinct parts. In the first part, the king of Lancre is killed, and his murderer, the duke, usurps the throne. At the last moment, a loyal servant spirits away the infant prince, the rightful heir, and the three witches, seemingly the protagonists of the novel, hide the baby from the lethal wrath of the usurper.

This part of the plot has many allusions to Macbeth, albeit in a spoofy kind of way, including the storm, the three witches, the vengeful ghost, and the wicked, ambitious duchess. The story is slow, dragging and meandering without any obvious direction, until the writer and the witches decide to speed things up. Together, they hurtle the kingdom seventeen years into the future, to get the young heir back in circulation pronto.

In the second, mush faster part, the heir is at last of legal age. He can come back to Lancre to claim his father’s throne and oust the evil duke. If he wants to… Which might be a problem.

The lack of focus in this short novel extends to the characters. They are not exactly flat. Rather, they are amorphous, blurry. The duke is by turns frighteningly evil and inept; suffering from the pangs of guilt one moment and hankering for power the next.

The witches are not exactly sympathetic either. They are supposed to be good guys (gals) but they don’t really have a role in this tale except as a collective catalyst, making things happen. But their own personalities and stories are at the periphery of the tale, unimportant. They could’ve been a cardboard manikins and still serve the purpose. Only the duchess has a clear-defined personality – a psychopath.

The most interesting and controversial aspect of this novel is its idea to use art to change history. Words can twist the truth, make it unrecognizable, insists one of the characters, so the duke and duchess commission a play which would introduce their own, revisionists’ version of the night the rightful king was killed.

Fortunately, in the Discworld universe, the play itself resists all the actors’ attempts to tell lies. Eventually the truth prevails, the villains are punished, and everyone lives happily ever after… or at least reaches an approximation of the ‘happily ever after’.

In my experience, this never happens in real life. As far as I know, history is always written by victors. Since the beginning of written records, no full truth ever surfaced, in any country or culture. The idea that the written word can alter reality, or at least the memory of reality, is the only true one in this book.

And to add insult to injury, this novel wasn’t funny at all. It wasn’t a bad book as such, but compared to the other Pratchett’s novels, it was a disappointment. I’m glad I didn’t start reading Discworld with this novel. If I did, I would never have continued with the series. But I read several of his other novels first, so I know how much better it could get. I look forward to another Discworld book.


Sealed with a Curse ~ Cecy Robson

  • Title: Sealed with a Curse
  • Author: Cecy Robson
  • Series: Weird Girls #1
  • Genre: UF, PNR, Fantasy
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Description:  Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other twenty-something girls—with one tiny exception: They’re the products of a curse that backfired and gave each of them unique powers that make them, well, a little weird…

The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren’t aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders if the vampires of Tahoe are plague-ridden.

Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha’s family to keep the area safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and—oh, yeah—not lose her heart to the wrong guy or die a miserable death. Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, he’s coming for her and her sisters.

This Wird girl has never had it so tough.

*May contain spoilers*

Review:  This one was just kind of meh for me. I liked some the basic concept and world building. She had an interesting interpretation of vampire/were lore. However, her mythology as it related to the sister was a bit suspect. It felt almost like Ms. Robson didn’t really want to nail down any set rules regarding the girls, so she could use their mysterious magic whenever she needed to move the story forward.

As for the story itself, the plot had some big gaps. Most glaring was the last hospital scene from which everyone left in a mad dash. Um, shouldn’t someone have stayed behind for clean up on aisle five, maybe alter some memories or something? This stood out because at the previous hospital incident, the author made a point to have Emme take care of this. Oops.

The action and the mystery plot line were not bad. I just wish there had been more of it and again, that there had been more consistency to it.

Robson did a good job of building chemistry between the main love interests, but then I felt like she dropped the ball. There was really no relationship development beyond some raging sexual tension. This is a pet peeve of mine. I just don’t buy hormone-driven insta-love. And speaking of stupid love, each sister seemed to get her very own insta-love package with one of Aric’s closest were-buddies? Really?

Finally, and this drove me absolutely batty throughout the entire book . . . WHAT was with the unnecessary quotes every time Celia experiences a “change.” GAH! Why? Why? Why?

Deep breath and moving on. Clearly, I was not a fan of this story. It is a shame. I do think with some tweaking that it could have been a pretty good book. Too late now.

One last thing regarding the cover, I thought it was well done. The girl looks mysterious coupled with barren night trees and full moon (which hints at the were mythology contained in the book), without being twisted into an unnaturally sexy pose. The font choice plays out well against the rest of the cover and considering the nature of the book.

The Lords of Salem ~ Rob Zombie

  • Title: The Lords of Salem
  • Author: Rob Zombie
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  “The book offers a different experience from the film since it can obviously go into much more detail,” says Rob Zombie. “The book and the film really complement each other.”

From the singular mind of horror maestro Rob Zombie comes a chilling plunge into a nightmare world where evil runs in the blood…

THE LORDS OF SALEM

Heidi Hawthorne is a thirty-seven-year-old FM radio DJ and a recovering drug addict. Struggling with her newfound sobriety and creeping depression, Heidi suddenly receives an anonymous gift at the station-a mysteriously shaped wooden box branded with a strange symbol. Inside the box is a promotional record for a band that identifies themselves only as The Lords. There is no other information.

She decides to play it on the radio show as a joke, and the moment she does, horrible things begin to happen. The strange music awakens something evil in the town. Soon enough, terrifying murders begin to happen all around Heidi. Who are The Lords? What do they want?

As old bloodlines are awakened and the bodies start to pile up, only one thing seems certain: all hell is about to break loose.


Review: 
This book was dark, demented, and deeply disturbing. I would have been disappointed with anything less in a horror novel from Master of the Macabre, Rob Zombie.

There is an allure to the legend of the Salem Witch trials. Our modern day logical brains scoff at the barbarism of the past. How could they not only believe, but act upon such nonsense? And yet, we have that inner voice. You know the one that loves to tell scary stories around a camp fire. It whispers to us, “what if?”

Mr. Zombie knows and recognizes that little whisper. In fact he shamelessly exploits it in this gory little tale. He goes well beyond a mere suggestion that the Salem trials were a just condemnation of witchcraft. He depicts a scenario of barely contained depravity and evil. Flash forward to the modern day, and the legacy of evil is about to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting souls of Salem.

Zombie is not one to portray a cast of white knights battling evil. No, his characters lean toward flawed, gritty, and sometimes deserving a sharp rap upside the head. And yet, we don’t want EVIL to win. Or do we? Mwahaha. Er. Um. Moving on.

The suspense throughout this book was killer. Literally. This made for a really enjoyable read. The ending, alas, fell short of the promise of the rest of the book. I just wanted a little more. Sigh. I do, however, think it will play out well on the big screen.

While I enjoyed the book immensely, it is certainly not one for the kiddies. It is violent, bloody, and grotesque. Those of you who are faint of heart, you have been warned. For my fellow ghouls out there, see ya at the movies?

Regarding the cover: This is a decent cover. It would have been so easy to go overboard on the gore, but instead they went for simple. Simple works. The smudging and sketchy font efforts do the story justice. The washed out little creeper at the bottom adds a nice hint of horror.

Sealed with a Curse ~ Cecy Robson

  • Title: Sealed with a Curse
  • Author: Cecy Robson
  • Series: Weird Girls #1
  • Genre: UF, PNR, Fantasy
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other twenty-something girls—with one tiny exception: They’re the products of a curse that backfired and gave each of them unique powers that make them, well, a little weird…

The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren’t aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders if the vampires of Tahoe are plague-ridden.

Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha’s family to keep the area safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and—oh, yeah—not lose her heart to the wrong guy or die a miserable death. Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, he’s coming for her and her sisters.

This Wird girl has never had it so tough.

Review:  Out of four girls, Celia is the oldest and she’s held herself responsible for her siblings. These knockout women live together in a sleepy cul de sac near Lake Tahoe. They just want to live their lives, work hard at their jobs and keep a low profile. None of them want to advertise that they’re different. You see, a long time ago, the Wird sisters were cursed. They just didn’t know how the curse would affect them until their unique abilities materialized. You could say that each sister’s personality is characterized by their ability.

Celia’s ability allows her to change her form to become a tempestuous tigress. She can change completely or focused parts of her body. The downside is that she can also change into any animal that touches her when she’s not paying attention. With her wild, curly locks and take charge attitude, Cel hasn’t had the best of luck with men or dating. Most of them are too scared to ask her out, let alone go on a date! Just when she feels doomed to becoming an old maid, two vibrant and strikingly different men come into her life. Neither of them are the type to take no for an answer. Well, tough! Celia isn’t the type to meekly follow anyone. Even if she wants to melt into a pair of brown eyes and sink into the warmth of a particular man’s arms.

Cecy Robson, you have a rockin’ way with words when it comes to a fight! I really appreciate that! I genuinely enjoyed reading most of the fight scenes in the story. I hardly ever feel that way and it’s nice to not breeze over the action. YAY!

The slightly different take on vampires and werewolves gives the story a fresh perspective that I really enjoyed. Usually, I feel that there’s too much world building in the first book. Here, I feel there’s just enough to give me an idea of what the world is like but not quite enough to be satisfied. I wanted to sink my teeth into the vampire and werewolf cultures. To get a closer look at the witches and the how magic works.

There’s a discordant duality to the sisters’ story voice and relationship with one another. It’s really uneven to read and process. While I know technically that the sisters love each other a lot, I didn’t always gain that feeling while reading the book. Their interactions with one another ranges from being those of flippant strangers to babysitters and family. From dialogue alone, I couldn’t decide if Celia is 12 or 24. I’m guessing she is older than that and more likely in her late 20’s.

These sisters have really cool abilities! You’ll see.

Without counting the two men friends that are in the girls’ lives, five distinctly interesting alpha males enter the story. Four are werewolves and of the four, Gemini’s ability is really cool! I can’t wait to find out more about them! Let’s not forget about Misha, the arrogant vampire. He is pivotal to the storyline but I feel cheated. There must be more to this man than being the reason why the sisters lose their anonymity and thrust into vampire politics.

At one point of the story, I had to put the book down and give myself a break. I just finished reading a great fight and, while I’m enjoying the glow of people kicking ass, turdball drops a bomb on the sisters that I couldn’t take as a reader or plot device or anything!!! My ruffled feathers were soothed once I picked the story back up. Cecy Robson, you got me! You totally got me with that tidbit.

Due to some of the bumpy bits in the story flow, I’m giving this book 3.5 stars instead of 4. I had to fight with myself a bit with score but that’s how it is. I’ll quote a friend and use her phrase: first book jitters. I really enjoyed reading the story. It’s action packed, has fun characters and lots of potential that I definitely want to explore!

The awkward greeting bits are over, and I’m ready to dive into the heart of the world and the characters. A Cursed Embrace – See you soon! I’ll be ready for you when you’re released for public consumption. 😉