Flynn, Sabrina; A Bitter Draught (Ravenwood Mysteries II) (2015)

I have followed Sabrina Flynn‘s writing since her début novel. It simply does not do her justice to say that her writing has improved immensely. That she happens to throw in important issues as well, is frosting on A Bitter Draught.

Humphrey glanced at the envelope again. Muttering under his breath about redheads and their strange temperaments, he opened the envelope, hoping he wasn’t going to get arrested. It held a neatly folded slip of paper. When he unfolded the slip, a single line of elegant words ran its width. A cold prickle pierced Humphrey’s neck and crawled down his spine, producing a shiver that no San Franciscan wind had yet managed.

And so our story begins. San Francisco around the turn of the 19th century was a hot-bed of racism, corruption and bigotry.

“For murdering a Negro woman? The police all but accused my wife of harlotry.”

Isobel Saavedra Amsel (formerly Kingston), aka Bel, aka Charlotte Bonnie, aka Mr. Morgan is back in town and finds San Francisco unforgiving of people running out of capital. Bel has never been a helpless damsel, waiting for her knight in shining armor, and she aims to solve her emptying purse. The San Francisco Call hints at a solution.

Reporter Charlotte Bonnie gets wind of an unusual death on Ocean Beach. That people die after entering the water at Ocean Beach is in and of itself not interesting. It is a dangerous place to wade. What makes Ms. Bonnie’s detecting muscles stretch is the note in the sand that went with the death of Violet. Clues are given early on and continue throughout the story. Keep your eyes open and brain at attention and you may well solve the mystery before our favorite cross-dresser does.

Mr. Morgan is not alone in his cross-dressing. We also meet our favorite gender fluid and gay side-kick, Loratio, aka Madame de Winter, aka Paris. Since before they ran away to the circus, Bel and Loratio have caused their parents heart problems. Both are wild for their time. People often think of the “Wild West” as wild. And it was. But that wildness was pretty shallow when it came to gender- and sexually-fluid people. Our twins hold many of my favorite moments in this story.

Atticus Riot is both cynical and naïve. Despite his childhood as the son of a crib-whore, he thinks that as long as he does his part in fighting the darker sides of people, justice will prevail. He might also be deemed nuts. Ravenwood has not yet left him and conversations between the two seem a bit one-sided when all people see is Riot. Yet Riot needs both his naivety and his ghost to keep living and helping people. A husband comes to him seeking to understand the death of his wife. They had only been married three months, and the man knew little of her background. San Francisco being San Francisco, Riot warns the husband he may not like the answers he gets. As it turns out, neither does Riot. But the road towards understanding brings him, once again, into contact with Bel.

And Kingston. Will Kingston find out that his dead wife is back in town? Good question.

I loved A Bitter Draught. Yeah. Loved it. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


My review of From the Ashes (1)


The author gave me a reviewer’s copy of A Bitter Draught


Just because: you-tube clip Copyright: American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.; 30Sep1903; H36355. Camera, H.J. Miles.
Photographed: September 23, 1903. Location: San Francisco, California. Ocean Beach w/Cliff House

 

Cheek, Kater; Parasitic Souls (2016)

Cover art by: Fiona Jayde Media and Kater Cheek
Cover art by: Fiona Jayde Media and Kater Cheek

About five years before the beginning of Parasitic Souls, the Earth experienced a magic apocalypse. As a result of the apocalypse, some people became magical. The strangest form of magic is SL (spontaneous lycanthropy), in this case to coyote . More common is magical talent. Those who had practiced magic before the apocalypse, like brujas/brujos and witches/wizards, had a head-start. The magically talented are able to use their energy to set wards, make charms or influence people. Scientists study magic in hopes of understanding its underlying principles.

One of the magics discovered is a fountain of youth. Not a particularly ethical magic, but one that might potentially earn the inventor loads of money. Many people would be willing to use this highly questionable form of magic and pay almost anything. However, before this fountain of youth could be sold to the wealthy and unscrupulous, it needs testing. Which is how we meet Lenny.

The apartment was dark except for the streetlight shining rudely through the curtains. Since she had a raging thirst and an urgent need to pee, Fiona got up. She managed to find the bathroom without shinning herself too badly on the birch Ektorp coffee table, and she only had to open four cabinets before finding a cup to drink out of. As she was downing her third glass of water, she heard a non-human voice creak at her through the kitchen window.

“Let me in!”

She dropped the glass on the floor. It bounced and rolled under the table, spilling water everywhere.

Fiona gets called to Clementine, California, by her step-mom’s assistant, Sophie. Fiona’s step-mom, Carlotta, had done a disappearing act. There was little the two girls could do to find her, except wait and hoped that the only thing wrong is a severe hangover. Turns out, Carlotta’s problem is a bit more serious. In fact, her whole demeanor changed from warm and kind to cold and mean. At least towards Fiona and Sophie. Something is up, and the two of them know it has to be bad.

Fiona is 24-years old and born to a messed up mother and father. One of her father’s marriages had been to Carlotta. Carlotta was everything Fiona needed, and she was there for Fiona even after she divorced Fiona’s father. So Fiona has reason to expect Carlotta to, at least, let her sleep on the couch. Instead, Fiona has to shack up with Sophie.

Sophie is 18-years old and the adopted child of adoring and overprotective parents. Because Carlotta is related to her mother, Sophie was able to move to Clementine and apprentice with Carlotta. Up until the personality change, Carlotta had treated Sophie kindly. Now neither Fiona or Sophie has a job, and they certainly have no idea what to do about Carlotta. Should they go back or stay and try to fix things?

Parasitic Souls would be a terrible, and probably realistic, story if they chose to give up. However, the two do not. Things happen, and through them we meet Marcello and Xavier. Marcello teaches magic theory at Clementine Preparatory Academy for Magic and Technology. Xavier is apprenticed to his grandmother, the bruja, Luna. Luna is a woman you do not want as an enemy. The two men are in their early twenties and both of them are interested in the two women. So. Some romance.

Parasitic Souls is a Young Adult story with three types of stories in it. Coming-of-age, romance and “what if”. There is plenty of action, some of it rather unusual. Kater Cheek also manages to thrown in her odd, but cool, sense of humor. I liked it and recommend Parasitic Souls.


Parasitic Souls is available at Smashwords


Kater Cheek gave me a copy of Parasitic Souls in exchange for a review

Moore, Mary C.; Angelus (2012)

Angelus has three kinds of humans. Evolution made us look different, but we are able to interbreed. The three breeds are Homo Angelus (angels), Homo Daemonis (demons) and Homo Sapiens (us). Because of our high birth-rates, there are more sapiens than angels and demons. During Greek and Roman dominion  angels and demons enjoyed playing gods. The Bible often portrays angels as “good” and demons evil. Around the 11th century persecution became so bad  “The Great Immigration” started and Yeti became more common in the Himalayas.

Neither angels, demons or sapiens have mystical powers in Angelus. Only their looks (and birth-rates) differentiate between the three. Angels are dark-skinned, have dark hair, large, dark leathery wings and a bony ridge along their forehead that looks something like a tiara. Demons are light-skinned, have blondish hair, large horns and a prehensile tail.

Sarah Connelly’s father is a demon and her mother a sapien. Sarah works with SITO (Satellite Intelligence Tracking of Others) in Santa Rosa. Her boss, Starks, is head of the Santa Rosa Department. He is half angel and half sapien (I’m not sure if angels and demons can inter-breed). SITO’s main purpose is to protect angels and demons and to keep them from extinction. Sarah has worked two years in CPU (Child Protective Unite) with families who lost children (runaway or disappeared) or who have mixed children. She also works as nanny for sapien children.

Due to understaffing, Sarah finally gets a chance to show that she “deserves” more than CPU. A half-breed child, subject 342, has come to the attention of SITO. This child is adopted by sapien parents (Code Yellow). Informants have told SITO that the kid and his mom would be at Burbank playground. Sarah takes her nanny charges there and gets the youngest boy to help out with 342. Turns out 342 is something of a surprise to the unsuspecting Sarah. So are his sapien parents. And his stalker. Oh, yes. Subject 342 has his very own stalker.

A broad-shouldered man wrapped in a trench coat, was leaning against the massive trunk of a tree at the edge of the park. The smoke of his cigarette blurred the lines of his dark face as he watched the children. He had been lingering for awhile, but it wasn’t until he started to stare at the children that warning bells rang in my head.

SETI become extremely worried when the stalker’s name is tied to the cult of Moloch. Sarah becomes part of the team that tries to keep Kel out of the hands of the Cult. I totally get that, because cults are scary things. But keeping Kel out of Molochite hands proves difficult and Sarah discovers that maybe getting what she wanted, wasn’t what she really wanted.

Angelus contains some violence but not much gore. But there is plenty of action. There is some drooling but little romance and I really liked that. I think the target group is Young Adult.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Angelus can be found on Amazon

Edghill, Rosemary: Speak Daggers to Her (Bast Mysteries 1) (1994)

I will speak daggers to her, but use none. (Hamlet: III,ii)

 More than twenty years ago Rosemary Edghill was caught by the mystery of the sudden death of a healthy young woman in her 20’s. Add to that the ethical violations within the New Age Community that were not taken seriously and Speak Daggers to Her was born. (FM Writers)

“Miriam’s dead.”

It was Lace on the phone, which meant that Miriam was Miriam Seabrook, and Miriam was my age. People in their middle thirties don’t just up and die.

“Bast?” Lace sounded half-a-step away from hysteria. “We were going out to dinner and I used my key and she was lying there on the bed and I thought she was asleep–” Lace took a deep breath and started to cry in high weepy yelps.

“Did you call the police?”

I thought I was fine — after all, I wasn’t the one who’d walked in and found my lover dead — but my jaw muscles ached when I pushed the words out. Not Miriam. Not dead. I didn’t even know her very well, I plea-bargained.

“I can’t. You know I can’t. You know what they’ll do to me — oh, please, please, can’t you come over?” Lace started to cry in earnest, a real Irish peening for the healins.

New York City, like many large cities, is a place people go when they seek others like themselves. Sometimes “The Establishment/ Society” frowns upon the existence of certain alternative lifestyles. Bast, Miriam and Lace belong to the 1990’s neopagans and Witch community in New York. Or as Bast describes themselves:

“overeducated ex-hippies trying to unscrew the inscrutable, trying to make sense of life through ritual and gnosis.”

When Bast arrived at Miriam’s apartment and saw that, yes, she was definitely dead and Lace was gone, Bast called the police. Before they arrived she removed an occult necklace from Miriam’s body.

a mummified bird claw of some kind, with the stump wrapped in silver wire so she could string it on the chain. The nails were painted red.

That claw freaked Bast out, as did Miriam’s message on her answering machine:

“… There’s this weird stuff, and I’ve got to see you. … It’s too weird. I’m scared. I think they’re going to – ” The voice stopped abruptly, …

Miriam had been the kind of person who wanted desperately to be part of the occult society. She wanted “The Truth” yet never found it. Each failure brought her into contact with stranger and stranger pagan traditions. She and Bast had eventually become semi-friends, so there was no real reason for Bast to involve herself. Except for that claw and the message from Miriam. Those factors worried Bast and would not leave her alone. Then Bast finds a book of spells with a picture of Miriam being torn in two. Add to that a mysterious phone call and Bast wants to find out if there was anything suspicious about Miriam’s death. Because nothing about the body indicated there would be. But guilt has its own way of gnawing at us, and guilt was Bast’s entry into the world of detection.

Speak Daggers to Her is not about magic, although we do learn a great deal about what being a modern witch entails. We also get a look at coercive groups within Neo-paganism. Groups that use the tools that abusive partners and leaders have always used, grooming and secrecy, and regular people doing things they thought they never would.

I bought the omnibus Bell, Book, and Murder and liked the stories so much I gave a friend of mine a paperback copy. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


You may buy Bell, Book and Murder at Amazon

Flynn, Sabrina; From the Ashes (Ravenwood Detective Agency I) (2014)

From-the-Ashes-FINAL-NEW-Cover

California’s Silver Mistress greeted him with a lush, sensuous embrace. She was a late riser who generally left at noon, returning in the evening like a slow crashing wave rolling relentlessly towards the port. Her touch was cool and it settled around his bones. He had missed her caress.

I have never been to San Francisco and so have not experienced the “Silver Mistress” myself. From all reports, she is alive and well. We are left in no doubt that Atticus James Riot, our main character, has missed her.

Sabrina Flynn does not try to romanticize a city that in the latter half of 1800’s was both charming and gruesome. Perhaps much like any large city of that and our time. However, San Francisco had a unique condition that brought money to the pockets of any man greedy and corrupt enough. The Ravenwood Detective Agency had fought to end the Tongs of Chinatown and child-sexual-slavery.

Opium and slavery were lucrative businesses, protected by the very men who lived in luxury, lording over an empire of lives from high hills that were impossible to see from the depths of depravity.

Like many of us who have traumatic memories, Riot wished to rid himself of all reminders of such past events. But the past never changes, nor did AJ’s natural inclinations. Temptation to try just one more case proved impossible to resist when Tim presented him with the following mystery:

“On Tuesday, December 26th, shortly after her husband left for Oakland, Isobel Kingston told the staff that she intended to visit her family in Sausalito. She took a hack from her home on Nob Hill. The fare was paid to Market, but the hackman said she exited just short of the ferry building. The intersection was jammed by an accident. The hackman thought she was in a hurry.

“Of all the travelers, ferry crew, ticket counters, and dockhands we questioned, Smith managed to find two witnesses, a mother and daughter, who placed her on the 9:00 ferry. None of the other passengers could confirm or deny this. Mrs. Kingston never arrived at her family’s home. And no one realized she was missing until the next morning when her father, Marcus Amsel, received a ransom demand.”

From the Ashes consists of two time-lines. One of them follows Riot’s investigation into Isobel’s disappearance. It begins Tuesday, January 2, 1900. The other time-line begins Tuesday, December 26, 1899 – Seven days earlier and follows the disappearance of Isobel (Amsel) Kingston. Atticus and Isobel are the characters we get to know well. All others are there to build the story. Both of them are complex and the kind of people I like. I love Isobel’s life-long fight against conventions, as seen in the description her father gives of a picture taken when she was about 10 years old. Around the turn of the century, women in San Francisco were being squeezed into society’s (men’s) idea of what constituted proper women.

In a sense I identify with Isobel. Like her, I have found many of society’s (whether mormon or secular) expectations of how girls/women are supposed to behave ridiculous. We have both tried hard to stay true to ourselves. Society doesn’t like that. Being born and bred to wealth meant that Isobel’s parents could afford to send her to a Finishing School in Dresden. A finishing school is simply a school whose goal is to change girls into obedient, complacent and unquestioning women.

After an interesting interlude in Europe, Isobel comes home, settles down, marries and disappears. Really? Where to? Why? Find out. It’s all there in From the Ashes. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


From the Ashes is available at Amazon


I was given a copy of From the Ashes by the author

An Aspie’s method of reviewing books

I was surprised when Ms. Sofras asked me if I wanted to say something about my review process – from the point of view of an ASD person. This is what reviewing looks like in my version of an Aspie brain.

How I Read ~ A Guest Reviewer Writes ~ #ASD #Asperger’s

I came across Lise Lotte when looking for bloggers to read and review my latest book, Cocktails and Lies.  I became so fascinated by Lise’s story, that we struck up a kind of correspondence which resulted in me inviting her to write a guest post on her reading experiences for my blog.  As a former English teacher, I’m always fascinated to hear about readers’ perspectives, and because Lise’s autistic spectrum disorder, I thought her story might be of interest to authors and readers everywhere.  Over to Lise.

(Pic not included)

My name is Lise Almenningen and I am the owner of the blog humanitysdarkerside.com. Along with that I run a few other blogs on various topics. I also happen to be ASD/Asperger’s/Autistic.

I did not know I had Asperger’s until about the same time I started my first blog, 2012. Until then, I just figured I had some unusual quirks that I tried very hard to suppress. When I realized all of that strangeness was normal for me, I stopped fighting it so hard. Surprise. Surprise. Life got simpler.

I believe the greatest commonality in Aspies, is how different we perceive what we see/observe/feel to non-ASDs (or neurotypicals/normals as you like to call yourselves). That is both our best friend and our worst enemy depending on what we are doing and who we are with. As a reviewer (once I let myself out of my preconceived idea of a reviewer), I believe being Asperger has shed new light on texts.

I am addicted to reading and will try to read anything. That does not mean I will finish, because not all writing is worth finishing. Whether a text is worth finishing has nothing to do with the author’s level of education, expertise or category. I have read academic texts whose authors cannot have been beta-ed and “trashy” authors whose writing is so poignant, I am incapable of putting the text down. Sometimes a text is so technical, I am incapable of ever understanding it. I would not know if the author is good or not in such cases. But I will give them a try.

The rest of the article can be read on ManicScribbler

Farrugia, Nathan; Interceptor (Helix III) (2016)

Helix 3 - Interceptor cover

Sievers turned his lapel out so Denton could see him reaching for a small, slender tin. He crouched and opened the tin on the floorboards, then stepped back. Inside, a large stainless steel and glass syringe. The liquid inside the syringe burned with the colors of molten lava.

“You already know what this is,” Sievers said. “And you’ll need it, if you intend to live long enough to find what you’re really looking for.”

Denton took a step toward him. “You’re using my people to get what you want.”

For the first time, Sievers smiled. White teeth flashed between his black beard. “And you are doing precisely the same.”

Colonel Wolfram Sievers and Lieutenant Denton have lived a long time. Both are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve what they want. For Denton that seems to be world domination through Project Gate. Sievers appears to be playing another game. That game could be called chaos. Peace would probably be boring business for his superiors. Obvious suspects for such superiors might be arms manufacturers who may or may not work with biological/genetic research firms like Intero. As far as I can tell, the various countries (certainly many politicians) in the Helix world (and real) are simply pawns in the hands of these entities.

As I have said in previous reviews, one of the major appeals of Farrugia‘s stories is that they could happen. Reactions of the general populace would probably (and do) fit his description of the election of the Purity party’s leadership into Poland’s government. Fear of people with genetic mutations is increasing among the population, thereby legitimizing the Purists going after our “heroes” with the aim of targeting/turning off their mutations.

In Exile, Sophia met an operative from the Fifth Column who self-destructed when Sophia attempted to de-program her. This time around, she meets a completely different type of agent. Who or what these new operatives belong to becomes a pressing question. So does the question of DC’s loyalties. Will Jay, Nasira, Damien and Aviary be able to infiltrate Intero’s data system and what about finding Val. How is that going for Olesya and her team? And who the hell are the Benefactors?

From the various links, you would be correct in presuming I had fun with Interceptor. There is so much going on, I cannot help but dig. At the same time, I do have to stop digging and write a review. Once again, definitely recommended.


Farrugia provided me with a reviewer’s copy of Interceptor.


Interceptor is available at Amazon


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode I
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  4. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  5. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Remember to use your public libraries when you can

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