Dueling Wizard…

Taken (Alex Verus, #3) by Benedict Jacka

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Alex Verus #3. It was fun. Probably the best so far? Urban Fantasy with a mature tone. People are actually treated as adults, there is no gratuitous sex just for the heck of it, the bad guys are not cardboard cut-outs, there is a lot of grey areas and Jacka writes good action sequences.

The mystery plot was good, although the additional, final revelation was a bit too detached from the main story for my taste. Set-up for later shenanigans, maybe? 

The dueling apprentices is a fun idea and a nice way of explaining the magical mechanics of this world. I appreciated the juxtaposition to Alex‘s duel towards the end.

The tone still reminds me a little of Peter Grant, but grittier, with less focus on being funny (though it is).

This series should definitely be read in order and I have the next one lined up to read in a few months…

A wee bit of Magic…

The Sweet Rowan by Keira Dominguez

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Regency romance with a touch of magic. Governess trope! False identity! Scotland! Rugged Scotsmen! Damsel in distress! Treacherous antagonist! Drama!

A young woman runs away from her English home, to find something she has lost, and goes to Scotland under a false name, pretending to be a governess. The master of the house is immensely interesting, as he is wont to be in a sweet romance of this type. The situation gets complicated, with that lie of her assumed identity hovering in the background. And what is happening to that magic?

The writing was a little rough in the first chapter. And the tiny amount of magic felt like a gimmick at first, propelling the story from pure historical romance to something a little different. 

The plot didn‘t hold any big surprises for most of the book. However, when the requisite amount of drama occurred, it was well done and the expected reveals were very entertaining. Good amount of action and the above mentioned damsel in distress was not a wimp.

The characters were likable and lively. The switching points of view added a nice layer to the story telling. The characters from her other two books, Her Caprice and The Telling Touch, are related to this book and should probably be read first. The books are standalone though, it didn’t feel as if I was missing anything.

Bottomline, this was a lot of fun! I might read more by the author at some point.

How to deal with your curse 101

Cursed (Alex Verus, #2) by Benedict Jacka

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The second Alex Verus novel. I read the first one a few years ago and didn‘t like it, then tried again recently and changed my mind. 

So I am back in London, in a magic shop that reminds me of the Iron Druid‘s shop, with a mage that is definitely not Harry Potter. Alex gained a small amount of fame after the events of the first book. He went back to his old life, with Luna in tow as his sort-of-apprentice. Training her is not going terribly well and then something turns up dead, someone need his help and people start trying to kill Alex. He doesn‘t take that well.

The first two chapters rehash the set-up of this world, the magic system and the events of the first book. Especially the first chapter was pretty dry reading for me. But I guess you are not supposed to read these books back-to-back, so the reminder should work in most cases. The action started to pick up in the second chapter though and from then on it was quite a rollercoaster. If you like plot-driven books with a lot of action, that also have well developed characters, this is a winner.

At the end of my kindle edition is a preview to Hounded by Kevin Hearne, which is very fitting. They are both similar in tone. Alex Verus is the more mature one, with a world that feels more solid and well-developed. However, if you like Verus, you might have a lot of fun with the Iron Druid Chronicles as well. I did, at least for quite a few books.

If the first one-an-a-half chapters hadn‘t been so dry, this would have been 5 stars. The next books is on my shelf already.

After posting my review, I always look at other reviews, to see what my GR friends thought of the book. To my amazement one of my buddies really flamed this book as being very sexists, women just being helpmeets, etc.

Yes, Luna and Meredith only serve as facilitators. Well, at least Meredith does. And the book probably doesn‘t pass the Bechdel test, but it didn‘t bother me terribly much. And you?


Currently still reading:

Life on Earth by David Attenborough (audiobook)

Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter (audiobook)

Reading next:

Black Powder War (Temeraire, #3) by Naomi Novik, buddy read, part of my TBR-pile, ebook

Blast from the Past

In yesterday‘s review of Fated I mentioned other novels with a similar setting and feel. And because I haven‘t posted those review here before (well, ok, pretty sure I talked about Peter Grant plenty), I give you another Blast from the Past…

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1) — read and reviewed in 2013
by Kevin Hearne

I struggled a bit in the first third of the book. For an over 2000 years old druid this guy seems to be pretty silly and not very smart or wise. The talking dog is a tad annoying, too. It sometimes sounds very smart and at other times it’s pretty much like I would expect a dog to be. 
In the beginning you also get swamped with every supernatural being you can think of and you’re pummeled with a ton of complicated, celtic names. The werewolves could do with being fleshed out a bit more. And a tad of world building would not go amiss. Thor? Really?
I was prepared to be royally disappointed and give up. But I stuck with it and the action picked up eventually. The fight scenes are well written. The bad guys are pretty stupid, though. And the author is not as funny as he thinks he is, Maybe he is trying too hard. Or I am too old to be that easily amused. Take your pick. But I ended up reading pretty much two thirds of the book in one sitting and I enjoyed myself. Go figure. I might even get the next book of the series.

PS: I threw in the towel after book 7 of the series…


Rivers of London (Rivers of London, #1) — read and reviewed in 2012 and 2018
by Ben Aaronovitch

First re-read, July 2018:

My first re-read, six years later and having read and liked all the other available full-length novel. I liked it a lot better than the first time around, although it still felt a bit slow in the middle. I didn‘t remember much of the plot and it was interesting to see, how much this world has developed with the consecutive books.

I guess the perceived slowness was probably due to Aaronovitch spending time on world building and introducing various characters, which are relevant in later books. The plot suffered a bit for it. It was worth reading this again, though. And if this is your first read and you are maybe not totally sold yet, please give the next book a chance.


April 2012, original review:

Modern day London, a copper takes a witness statement, not realising that he is interviewing a ghost. He ends up working for the last wizard of England in a special police unit dealing with the supernatural.

I read the first 70 pages in one sitting. Fresh, witty, great plot, I laughed a lot and had fun. Murder, sleuthing, magic, talking to ghosts. And then those rivers started showing up and the story wandered off into the distance aimlessly. The plot lost its way and I lost interest. I kept putting the book down for days on end, to read something more interesting. Finally I forced myself to finish it with a fair bit of skimming.

What shame. I really wanted to like this book. There was too much going on that had nothing to do with the actual plot. I wish the author had just stuck to the murder mystery and concentrated on developing the three central characters of of Peter Grant, Inspector Nightingale and Lesley. Instead he sidetracked into the story of Mother Thames, her daughters and the Old Man. Which was a nice plot bunny by itself, but had nothing to do with the murder mystery. In the end it was boring and frustrating, because it was so scattered.

PS: Re-reading the first book spawned into a re-read of the entire series and this is currently one of my favourite UF novels written by a male author. Currently waiting for book #9, due to be published in April 2022! Instabuy / pre-ordered!


Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) — read and reviewed in 2008
by Jim Butcher

Love the Endless Purse, I want one! What an excellent read. Liked it right from the start, Harry is a guy who likes his sarcasm and has a sense of humour. Harry Potter has grown up and moved to Chicago. Thoroughly enjoyable, good suspense story, well fleshed out characters, and the tension just keeps on rising.

PS: I threw in the towel after book #5. There was zero character development and Harry was just too immature for my taste.

Better the second time around…

Fated (Alex Verus, #1)
by Benedict Jacka

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Harry Dresden meets Peter Grant. Jacka probably wrote this because he is a massive Dresden fanboy!

“I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under ‘Wizard’ though that’s probably an urban legend.“

He gives us some great characters, for example the air elemental Starbreeze…

“She’s ancient and timeless. I don’t know how old she is, but I think she might have been born at the time the world was made. She’s also dumb as a sack of rocks.“

In tone it‘s actually more Hounded by Kevin Hearne than Rivers of London (Rivers of London, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch. Well, maybe both. But it is set in London, which I always love to read about as a place setting. And it‘s the kind of humour I like. Tongue-in-cheek, not too silly. Roughly in the middle of this book the story starts to take a darker turn. Unexpected and pretty fun.

For me this is a re-read and I am actually raising my star rating from 3 to 4. I still have the issue that there is a little too much telling instead of showing, but for a first entry into the world of adult UF Jacka did a good job and this time around I will definitely pick up the next book in the series. I am especially looking forward to how Luna will develop.


Here is my slightly harsh sounding review from December 2012:

Nice setting, interesting plot, reminiscent of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Likeable characters, especially Luna, Sonder and Starbreeze. Hopefully they will be part of the next books. I am not quite sure yet, if I will pick up the next book though. Although I liked Fated, it left me a little unsatisfied. Too many times you are simply told what happens, but you don’t get to see it happen. I would have liked a more graphic story telling. I doubt Jacka is lacking imagination and therefore leaves it to us to fill in the blanks. So what is the problem? Is he just lazy or does he maybe not want to scare us away with more violent scenes during the battles and so on? It made it a little harder for me to build an emotional connection with the characters, making the story feel a little sterile at times. Maybe Jacka just needs a little warming up to the world of adult Urban Fiction…

Dystopian fantasy, not enough sarcastic AIs

City of Bones
by Martha Wells

Rating: 2 out of 5.

“Somewhere else, in a room shadowed by age and death, a man readies himself to look into the future for what may be the last time.“

First chapter

It took me five days to read the first chapter. I only read in bed that week and this book put me to sleep so fast that I made no decent progress. I could not get into this for the life of me. City setting, two outsiders and underdogs as main characters. Dystopia, aka apocalyptic fantasy world having risen from a world ravaged by climate change and turned into a desert world. One of the main characters with unusual biological features. Magic that drives its wielders crazy—where have I read that before?

The second chapter then turned into Mad Max and I started to become interested. I liked the part in the Waste (desert). The initial chapters in the city were engaging enough, but the plot didn‘t exactly move fast. A lot of explanations and descriptions of the scenery. Nice, but although I liked what I read, it ultimately bored me. It went downhill from there.

I would have liked more exploration of Khat‘s society and biology, sadly it was only light backstory details. I also liked the idea and workings of the Remnant. 

Wells lost me somewhere in the city and never got me back. I heavily skimmed from the middle of the book. It seems that fantasy these days only works for me if it is heavily plot driven and fast moving. I liked the idea of this story, but not the execution.

Brain candy done right…

I mentioned K.J. Charles in my previous review. Here is what I read…

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies, #1) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Very entertaining and well written brain candy with likeable characters, a nice mystery, some sorcery and the requisite hot sex toward the end. Couldn’t put it down! Well, I had to sleep at some point…

Interlude with Tattoos (A Charm of Magpies, #1.5) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Interlude with Tattoo (A Charm of Magpies #1.5) is a short story set just after the end of The Magpie Lord and is included at the end of that eBook. Nice little follow-up.

The Smuggler and the Warlord (A Charm of Magpies, #0.5) by K.J. Charles (Goodreads Author) 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

And this is set before the first full-length novel. Flash fiction, just a tiny snippet to set the mood, I guess. I liked the humour and sarcasm in it.

A Case of Possession (A Charm of Magpies, #2) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Main story again. Brain candy with magic, mentions of exotic locations, some fairly graphic m/m sex and a simple murder/revenge plot with shamans and scary rats, historical setting. Has a Regency Victorian feel to it (timing, not tone), I am not sure when exactly it takes place. 

The plot is nothing too twisty or deep, this is a quick and entertaining read. The ending was a bit rushed. I was pretty surprised to stumble into the dramatic climax all of a sudden, also because I wasn’t aware that there was another story at the end. Best read in chronological order of the series, including the short stories.

A Case of Spirits (A Charm of Magpies, #2.5) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Quick read, Victorian setting, nobility, gay lovers, magic and a little suspense. Well written, entertaining.

Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies, #3) by K.J. Charles

The third, full-length novel. I haven‘t read this one yet, it‘s part of my TBR pile, review to come…

Feast of Stephen (A Charm of Magpies, #3.5) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read this out of order, before novel #3, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Very short, but for fans of the series worthwhile. Stephen seems to have gone through some interesting changes in the previous book. 

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is the start of another series. Very similar set-up to The Magpie Lord, but in earlier times. Tall dark stranger, magic, mystery, the other character is generally more of a Dr. Watson type…

A saturnine, sardonic sort of face, clean-shaven; a mouth that seemed made to sneer. He looked like the kind of man Saul had met a great deal in the war in the officer ranks: a thoroughbred aristocrat, effortlessly superior, endlessly disdainful.

I like her writing. It rolls along nicely, good tension, she has humour. I don‘t know how much sense these stories make in their historical setting, but so far they have been fun. And I learned something about London‘s suburbs, parks and medieval, Norman sherifs.

Several refences in the book made me think that I missed reading an important prequel. Perhaps reading the stand-alone The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal would provide back-up to some of the stories hinted at in Spectred Isles?

I like the humour and the slow build-up between Randolph and Saul.

The stories about the war remind me a little of Nightingale’s backstory at Ettersberg in the Peter Grant series—opposing magical forces, misused by their respective governments, the destruction of all the wizards/occultists…

Very readable, creepier than expected, not too many horrid romance clichees, a not too predictable plot. I am very tempted to pick up the next book in the series. 

2018 RITA® finalist for Paranormal Romance

And last but not least I have this on my TBR pile: Think of England (Think of England #1). Review to come!

Six Degrees of Separation, you‘ve got mail…

Welcome to #6degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I am using this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here.

This month starts with autobiographical fiction, Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher. 

Which, yet again, I haven‘t read. I know Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, as probably most people do. I don‘t know, how much of an autobiography this book is, but nonetheless I will mention another book by an author…

The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven

I read this at some point in the ’90s. I don’t recall any details, just a general sense of having read something pleasant and somewhat entertaining, befitting of the biography of a true, English gentleman. I would have loved to mention an autobiographical book by Dirk Bogarde next. It was about his time in the Royal Airforce (I think?) during WWII, but sadly I don‘t remember the name and couldn‘t find it, when I looked now. I don‘t want to mention Michael Caine again, although it is a very funny book. However, I posted about it already in another meme. So… Moon? Moon!

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2) by Ilona Andrews

My favourite book of Ilona Andrews‘ Edge books. I loved the crazy family, the rathole and the Mire. In my mind I kept punting through a darker and pissed-off version of the Everglades. Great setting, good plot, suspenseful, good snark. The sword on the cover of this book leads me to…

The Power of the Sword by Wilbur Smith

For a few years Wilbur Smith was my guilty pleasure and I enjoyed his books tremendously. This one here is the second book in the family saga of the Courtneys of South Africa. I liked the first one a lot. When I picked up Power of the Sword, I possibly had outgrown my interest in Wilbur Smith. One Smith leads me to another Smith…

Wynonna Earp Volume 1: Homecoming (Wynonna Earp #1-6) by Beau Smith (Writer),  Lora Innes (Illustrator)

None of my lists would be complete without a comic / graphic novel. The story did not do much for me. The heroine ran around shooting and otherwise killing a lot of baddies and in the process got the good guys killed as well. She got told off for it, ignores that completely and killed some more. Rinse and repeat. Gore, blood, not much plot. Not much character development either. I tried the TV adaptation and didn‘t like it much either. Homecoming is the title of another tie-in comic…

Homecoming (Mercy Thompson Graphic Novel) by Patricia Briggs,  David Lawrence,  Francis Tsai (Illustrator),  Amelia Woo (Illustrator) 

I am a huge fan of the series, so I had to give this a try. Not a lot of world building. I doubt I would have understood what was going on or who they all were and related to each other, if I hadn‘t know the books. Mercy looks different in every chapter. Her face changes, her body shape changes. Sometimes she is muscular, sometimes she looks like Barbie with runner‘s legs. Big boobs, small boobs, pointy chin, square chin, malnourished looking, at times badly proportioned. Very odd. The other humans or werewolves weren‘t terribly well done either. I suppose it‘s silly to expect them all to be anatomically correct, but sometimes the drawings looked a bit too amateurish for my taste. Bottom line, don‘t bother. I will certainly not get another of these comics. Apparently they have also done comics for Laurell K Hamilton, so those are out as well. Talking about Hamilton, I posted about a fair few Anita Blake books, but never about…

A Kiss of Shadows (Merry Gentry, #1) by Laurell K. Hamilton

The usual humour and an interesting storyline (this is early-ish Hamilton!), although not quite a gritty as Anita Blake. Up until the point, until the heroine goes home. From the onwards it just seemed to be Merry Gentry considering who looks the most stunning, what their clothes look like and how good they might be in bed. Probably sounds familiar for readers of Laurell K. Hamilton.

So, from the edge into the shadows in this round…

Diaspora

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora by Zelda Knight (Editor)

For my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge, the next story…

A Maji Maji Chronichle by Eugene Bacon

Eugen Bacon is an African Australian computer scientist (born in Tanzania) and author of spec fic.

A magician and his son time-travel to Ngoni country and try to change the course of history. Very wordy, wanting to create atmosphere. I didn‘t like the first few pages, but as the story picked up momentum, I liked it better. It covers the usual ethical ground of time travel stories. It is worth reading up on the Ngoni before reading the story, it helps with the background. The author is pretty sparse with filling in any details. ★★★½☆

Historical myths or events are perfect for alternate history in science fiction, especially where paradoxes and anomalies can indicate variant historical outcomes. Early in the 20th century, the Ngoni were a fierce ethnic group, distant cousins to King Shaka of the Zulu kingdom. Way before the scramble and partition of Africa, ethnic groups had dispersed across the continent, and this particular Ngoni group set habitat in what later became known as German East Africa. In defiance to harsh methods of forced labour imposed upon them by colonialists, the Ngoni took up arms in what is historically documented as The Maji Maji Rising. Maji is a Swahili word for water. Belief holds that a witchdoctor gave warriors a magic potion that would turn German bullets to water. This rebellion sets the premise of my story, A Maji Maji Chronicle.

http://www.backstoryjournal.com.au/2016/05/23/a-maji-maji-chronicle/

More about the Maji Maji Rebellion here.

Story can be read for free here.

I will post updates whenever I finish another story.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

Award Winning Authors for the Reading Writers of Color Challenge

I don‘t usually freak out about the end of the month coming, but July got away from me. I read good stuff, it was much better than June, but I did not manage to catch up… For my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge I barely glanced at my pick for July, which was all about a collection or anthology. The main prompt leaned towards poetry, but I went for a short story collection from my TBR pile. My plan was to read:

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (ebook).

I will get to it eventually and probably post updates after each story.

The challenge for August is this:

Celebrating Award Winning Authors for the Reading Writers of Color Challenge.

And for my books on my TBR shelf (owned books) that gives me these choices:

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world.

Literary Awards: Sunburst Award for Young Adult (2018)American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book (Honor Book) (2018)Governor General’s Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général for Traduction (de l’anglais vers le français) by Madeleine Stratford (2019) and for Young People’s Literature — Text (2017)CBC Canada Reads Nominee (2018)Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature (2017)

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.

Literary Award: Alex Award (2021) — there was a ton of nominations for other awards, which this did not win…

In this epic saga of magic and kungfu, four siblings battle rival clans for honor and power in an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

Literary Awards: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2018)Prix Aurora Award for Best Novel (English) (2018)

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumoured healing powers.

Literary Awards: Arthur C. Clarke Award (2019)Nommo Award for Best Novel (The Ilube Award) (2017)