Category Archives: Young Adult

Charish, Kristi; Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015)

The world of Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish, is dominated by antique thief extraordinaire, Owl, previously known as Alix Hiboux. Alix’s transformation from archaeology grad student to thief is in part a result of one of the laws we get to know in this urban fantasy. The International Archaeological Association (IAA) operates outside the law of the land in certain cases. Not all archaeological discoveries can be shared with the public. Also, the IAA takes care of their people in the know. Unfortunately for Alix, she fell victim to one such person.

“In exchange for saying, “No, I was wrong, none of the data in that report was falsified, the postdoc and supervisor still remain god apparent, I’m a bad grad student,” I had been verbally promised funding for the next four years and a coveted transfer to the lost city dig site in Ephesus, Turkey. Right after I had signed the paperwork that had legally absolved the university and my supervisor of any wrongdoing, all my funding had been terminated and my transfer had disappeared.”

All of a sudden, Alix was persona non grata in academia. Her reputation was ruined, and she needed to make a living. Turning thief was a matter of getting back at her old university and utilizing her outstanding understanding of the authenticity of antiques and antique languages. She chose her clients carefully (she thought), made sure they never met face-to-face, and paid a courier well to deliver the orders. All went well. Owl made loads of money. And then – poof – vampires. Once the lid is off Pandora’s box, there is no putting the monsters back. When we meet her, Owl is on the run from said vampires.

“I turned around slowly and looked up at the tallest Japanese man I’d ever seen, wearing a pair of designer sunglasses. He wore a tailored suit with diamond cuff links – real diamond cuff links – and matching shoes, but that wasn’t what got the kid. A tattoo of a dragon wound its way around his neck and disappearing underneath his shirt. It was striking, and a stark contrast to the expensive outfit. It was also a signature.”

One does not refuse Mr. Ryuu Kurusawa. Owl has done jobs for him before but never met him or his people.  That is about to change.

“Ryuu Kurosawa, a Vegas mogul known for his Japanese Circus-themed casino, looked up from a white couch and smiled that business smile you come to expect from professional sharks. Not the ones that take your money, the ones that eat you while you’re still screaming.”

In return for retrieving the missing contents of a magical egg, Mr. Kurosawa will hold off the vampires. Or else.

Like most humans I have met, Owl is incredibly inconsistent and willfully blind to her own fears. And, as is the case when we are willfully blind, she does not learn from her mistakes. Even though she now knows that there are supernaturals, she never spots them. For one so focused on the details of archaeology, Owl misses the details of people around her. This leaves her with room for growth.  Quite naturally, she also has huge trust issues. Along with those come a tendency to self-sabotage anything that might lead to friendship. Her tools are language and running away. However, there is some hope.

“You made me nervous the last time I was here. I didn’t know what to make of it, and personal conversations make me uncomfortable, so I did something stupid and decided to avoid you.” I ran my hand through my hair. “I’m a hell of a lot better with inconsequential conversations about vampires and RPGs,” I added, hazarding a look at him. He was still watching me and sizing me up from the doorway. Then he walked back to the outdoor bar and took the seat beside me. “All right,” he said. “We can go back to talking about RPGs and my vampire problems?” I said, maybe a little too hopefully. “No. We can have the conversation you didn’t want to have three months ago, and then I’ll decide whether I still want to be friends with you.”

One relationship Owl would never dream of sabotaging is her relationship with her Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. He goes with her everywhere. At first, I thought that would be a problem because of all of her traveling and her line of work. After a look at the various cat carriers out there, traveling was no longer an issue. When it comes to her line of work, Captain is a potential liability. Traveling with a cat in a carrier makes it easier to be spotted once that detail leaks. However, he is also a vampire alarm. Plus she loves him and he gives her balance.

Owl’s best, and oldest, friend is Nadya. The two met while at grad school. About six months before trouble hit Alix, Nadya suspected something nasty was going on and left for Tokyo. She advised Alix to do the same, but as we know, Alix ended up as Owl. Nadya is extremely smart and business savvy. She lives in the Shiyuba (sp?) district of Tokyo, owns a night club called the Space Station Deluxe and is Alix’s go-to-person when there is need of hacking.

Owl and the Japanese Circus was a fun YA urban fantasy with long-term potential. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Trivia:


Available at Amazon

Hernandez, Jessica: Capering on Glass Bridges (Hawk of Stone I)

Capering on Glass Bridges, 2015
On Fiaru Island, in the Kingdom of Greylandia, on the world Acu lives the Stone family. We first meet them at the Pairing ceremony of the youngest daughter. Meeting your canonipom and bonding with it is the most important day in the lives of Greylandians. As far as the people we meet know, Kaia Stone (16) is the only person who never did so. The Stones are humans. Canonipoms are not.

A canonipom is about a foot tall and humanoid in appearance, the same gender as its human and similar in nature and looks. Being a companion seems to be its sole purpose. Once a Pairing is complete, the two have a bond that allows telepathic communication.

Soon after the family returned from the bonding, a flird appeared with a message from the Speaker Council on Zavonia. A flird is a type of shape-changer. One form functions as a flying messenger capable of conversation and memorization. Its other form is flower-like. Travel for a flird must be instantaneous because the time it took to go back and forth between Zavonia and Fiaru was, at most, a couple of hours.

The Council invited the Stones to appear before them. Speakers are human magicians whose words, or Utterances, manifest. As with most magicians, talent and work ethics differ between Speakers. To get to the secretive island, the Stone family had travel overnight by ship. The Council of Speakers asked Kaia to go on a mission to the cursed Kingdom of Mar.

Ten years ago, Marians slaughtered the Tivmicians and, thereby, into conflict with one of the Speakers’ utterances:

“Should a group ever seek the extermination of another group, … let Acu’s skies cry blood on that day. Let the plagued realm know only misery, and let it offer escape to none.”

And so the Marians were cursed forever. Or so it seemed. Recently, the Utdrendans (one of the first three races) told the Speakers there was a chance the curse could be lifted. To do so, Kaia Stone of Greyland and Sir Pelliab Blackwell of Darlbent must go to Mar and report the Utdrendan message to King Richard of Mar and discover a cure. Kaia and Pelliab would not have to travel alone. The Council promised to send along two Speakers and five of King Robert’s (brother to Richard) sons. Mr. Stone refused outright to let his 16 year old daughter traipse off into unknown territory. Kaia felt this quest would, finally, give her life meaning and felt devastated by her father’s refusal. However, just as she was about to enter the return vessel, one of the Councillors pushed a flird bulb up her sleeve. If she chooses to go, it will have to be without her family knowing and that worries her.

Capering on Glass Bridges is a hero’s quest story, and that means we know what Kaia will decide. She is our main character and it would be strange if she stayed home. So. We get to meet five princes of King Robert’s 1000 children (busy man), two speakers and a kingsman along with the various people who are part of the adventure. Kaia and Pelliab’s challenge lies in getting to the Kingdom of Mar, then getting to King Richard, then finding out what they and the kingdom need to do to lift the curse. A solution is not found in book one of the duology.

Capering on Glass Bridges is Hernandez debut. It has a good story-line. Genre betas and/or editor would have improved it. Terminology is important and there were inconsistencies. However, there very few spelling/grammar problems, and the plot and creatures fit the “hero’s quest” genre.


Reviews:


The author gave me a reviewer’s copy of Capering on Glass Bridges.


Capering on Glass Bridges is available at Smashwords

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

Sofras, Lynette; Cocktails and Lies (2016)

Cover by Nika Dixon
Cover by Nika Dixon

Until I was asked to review Cocktail and Lies by Lynette Sofras, I had not heard the term “cozy mysteries“. I needed to look it so I would read the story in the proper frame of mind.

Cocktails and Lies is a mystery and romance story. Our main character is Hannah James. She lives in London in a house squeezed in behind an apartment building. Hannah works as an insurance loss adjuster. We first meet her when she is picking up her mail:

“Are you stealing our junk mail?”

Voice accusing, mocking even, with a hint of an accent; masculine, unfamiliar and unexpected – so much so that it made me lose my precarious balance and topple sideways, cracking my knee on the cold, marble floor and putting me at an even greater disadvantage. I bit back my sarcastic retort, realising I must appear pretty suspicious, crouching in front of the mailboxes in a building in which I didn’t even live.

This clumsy meeting introduces another important character, Jansen (Jan) Behrendt. Jan owns an auction house in London and is an expert on fine arts and collectibles. He is also one of Hannah’s love interests and a suspect when Hannah’s house is burgled.

Detective Sergeant Callum Connors is the CID detective in charge of investigating the burglary. DS Connors’ other role is as Hannah’s second love interest, a typical romance story move. I suppose authors use love-triangles because they are supposed to create tension. That must be a non-aspergers thing.

There are two mysteries in the story. Well, one mystery and one kind of mystery.

The mystery is, obviously, who the burglar is, and her/his motive. Hannah inherited her house from Grandmother Elouise. The house is two cottages knocked into one. The burglars seemed to be looking for something specific. They had searched all rooms, yet taken only Elouise’s art deco stuff and some antique crystal and china. Other valuables were left behind.

From her work as loss adjuster, Hannah knows this type of non-violent crime has low priority with the police. Although DS Connors investigates the crime, it soon becomes clear that he has little to go on. Most of his attention is due to his interest in Hannah and suspicions of Jan. So, Hannah decides to investigate the crime herself and tries to discover what there is about her grandmother’s house that might interest a burglar.

The other investigation is on behalf of her best friend, Rachel. Rachel suspects her husband is cheating on her and asks Hannah if she might look into it. The reason Hannah is able to help is because Rachel has discovered that Max is a few online dating sites.

Sofras seems to know people well. She has managed to portray how utterly self-absorbed we are most of the time, showing spurts of worrying about others. Except for Ted, all of her characters are like this. Completely normal. I kept on going “hang on” because I would have moments of “oh dear” introspection. Well, done.

When it comes to the romance bit, I am lost. I find three-somes unnecessary and my ASD is extremely romance-challenged. I have no idea how realistic it was. I never do. Cocktail and Lies has very mild sexual and violence content. I would guess its intended audience is upwards from young adult.

Recommended.


Available at Amazon UK and Amazon US


I was given an Arc copy by the author

Joiner, Ann Levingston: Vision Quest (2010)

Vision Quest, Ann Levingston Joiner

The Vision Quest is the first short-story exploring the lives of Daniel “Two Horses” Thorne-Redstone and his friend. We are only introduced to Two Horses in The Vision Quest.

After Daniel had been on his own vision quest, his name became Two Horses and he was now considered a Penateka warrior. While visiting his grandmother, Two Horses shared his experiences of his vision quest. Two Horses’ vision quest is fraught with danger and mystery.

I cannot speak to the story’s authenticity with regards to the Penateka vision quests. The information I found pointed towards it being fairly OK. Nor am I certain of the story’s intended audience.

With those provisos, I found The Vision Quest a warm story about a young man’s coming-of-age ritual and his understanding of that ritual.

Recommended.

 

Carlon, Lee: A God-Blasted Land (The Bastard Cadre I) (2016)

AGBL_Cover-Low-Res
Cover design by Lee Carlon

The Bastard Cadre, episodes 1-14 is the first book of this ongoing serial written by Lee Carlon. I am not used to continually changing stories, but find the concept fascinating. Carlon describes the way he works:

… one thing to note about this serialization is that unlike traditional serializations where the author is bound to the words that have been committed to the page, publishing online allows me to treat The Bastard Cadre as a continuous work in progress. Each episode is complete at the time of publication, but I do update the text from time to time. (peakcity)

Change can be daunting when you are an aspie. Part of that has to do with the accompanying anxiety. I have to go through mental gymnastics to keep anxiety’s influence on my opinion as limited as possible while reviewing The Bastard Cadre.

Newterra is on a world with two suns. Its geography is loosely based on Australia’s. Some of the inhabitants on Newterra might be descended from Earth humans. Others, not so much. Dragons, dualists, descendants and gods are in the last category, although, I’m arguing with myself about the gods. Newterra’s gods are not very old, they fight each other, hold separate territories and 20 years ago they Cleansed the world with a type of fire. The Cleansing took biological lives but not electrical ones. There are still plenty of AIs around. Vehicles can be picked up in almost any city and cleaning bots are still doing their jobs in the larger cities. We enter the world 20 years after the Cleansing and meet a world that has lost numbers and a great deal of understanding of technology.

Our main characters, Avril Ethanson, Ethan Godkind and Ranora fi’Intar, all seem to be human. Avril and Ranora are both young and have unusual abilities. Avril can affect electrical impulses. Ranora can read people and cards. Ethan is Avril’s foster-father and has held that role since soon after Avril was born. These three characters give us insight into how Newterra works and what its people are like. Clues to their importance and backgrounds are doled out during the telling of this story. This way of learning about places and people in a story is my preferred one.

Avril and Ethan are scavengers who salvage old tech and barter it for essentials. When we meet them, the past is about to catch up with Ethan. Life has a tendency to mess up our plans and put our procrastinations to shame. There was so much Ethan had planned on telling Avril to prepare him for what might happen. When they meet Beads, the finder, it is almost too late and Avril is in for some gigantic surprises that involve his heritage and potential future.

We learn little about Ranora’s background. She is a talented painter who brings the past to life. Bringing the past to life in her art is probably connected to her ability to read people and objects to uncover “secrets”. Ranora seems to be on her own when we meet her. Being alone in Newterra tends to shorten your life-expectancy. When a bounty-hunter gang shows up, Ranora uses her ability to claim a spot in it. We all make choices in our lives. Some mess life up for us while others bring unexpected gifts our way. Joining the gang was a choice that brought both mess and gift to Ranora, such as bringing her into contact with both Ethan and Avril.

The Bastard Cadre’s intended audience is young adult and older. From the get go we get an action-filled story about fate, betrayal, family and different ways of handling the world. The Bastard Cadre was given to me to review. Recommended.


Reviews:

  • Benjamin Spurlock
  • Leachim
  • N.E. White
  • N.N.
  • Rosie Writes

A God-Blasted Land can be found on Amazon

Pierce, Tamora: Wild Magic (The Immortals I) (1992)

Wild Magic is the first book in The Immortals four book series. It can be read alone or with the other three. The setting is in Tortall. In the world of Tortall and its neighboring countries, magic is called the Gift.

Daine is our main character. She is 13-years-old and an orphan. Daine has an unusual ability to communicate with animals. In spite of this, her gift does not show the hallmarks of the Gift. It turns out that her magic is a more dangerous, unpredictable and unusual magic, Wild Magic. In fact, Daine seems to be brimming with it.

Daine’s father is unknown (unknown to her). Before her mother managed to get around to telling Daine who he was, bandits killed her and Daine’s grandda and tried to burn down the homestead. At the time, Daine and Cloud (her pony) were away helping a breech-birth lambing.

“Coming out of their place, I couldn’t see anything anywhere but fog, couldn’t smell, couldn’t hear. I was clear to our village before I knew.

“They hit around dawn. The mill was burned, the miller dead. They took the wheelwright’s oldest girl and the headman’s wife. Really, they mighta passed my house by, Ma having the Gift, but they remembered she was pretty too, see.

“They fought—all of them. Ma, Grandda, dogs, ponies, horses—even the stupid chickens. Even Ma’s geese. Not the rabbits. They left. Well, they never fight, and you can’t ask them to go against their nature. But the rest fought. They killed some of the bandits.

“The bandits went crazy. They killed everything on the farm and didn’t carry any of it away, Mammoth told me. Mammoth was my boss dog. He said they was too cared of animals who fought like that.

“Mammoth told me what happened, and died.

“So we buried them, me and Cloud, every last one of our family. Cloud’s dam and sire, her brothers are in those graves.

“I straightened up the house, what was left. The raiders had tried to burn it, but only the upper story and the roof were gone. Ma had a bunch of charms against fire in the kitchen, so most of the downstairs was saved.

“It was two days before anyone came to see. After Ma helped them birth their children, nursed when they was sick. Two days! She could’ve been alive and hurt all that time! If the bandits had passed us by, Ma would have been at the village with medicines and bandages, making me and Grandda help.

Daine brought what she could from her home and left. Onua is the first person we know about who encounters Daine’s unusual ability to converse with animals. It turns out Daine is also unusually good with the bow and arrow. Way better than natural ability would make her. But Daine does not acknowledge that her abilities have anything to do with magic. That would mean confronting an episode we do not find out about until we are well into the story.

The second person Daine meets after Onua, is Numair, shape-shifter and magician. He is the one who spots the degree of her magic and identifies it. Numair is also the person who helps Daine understand that she must learn to control her magic. Otherwise Daine might end up unintentionally killing herself or others. So Daine battens down and does her best to stuff information into her head while at the same time ending up as Onua’s assistant. Turns out Onua is head hostler of the horses that the Riders use. Riders are semi-cavalry who go out in small groups to route out bandits and try to keep Tortall out of trouble.

Strange creatures attack Tortallians. Immortals seem to have escaped the God’s dimension that magicians had imprisoned them in 400 years previously. They are back and making sure people know it. Some of the Immortals are cruel beings, some are indifferent and some are helpful. Like people everywhere, I suppose.

Daine and her friends are attacked by the scarier versions of the Immortals. These creatures are difficult, but not impossible, to kill. Daine faces many difficult choices during Wild Magic. Some of them involve placing others in danger and understanding the meaning of free will. Other choices involve killing other intelligent creature. Not a simple matter for a 13-year old girl.

Daine also has to face pirates and the royalty of Tortall. For those who have read The Lioness series, you know that they can be a bit unusual. For Daine, who has grown up in a hierarchical and patriarchal society, Tortall royalty comes as a shock. But face them, she must. We meet characters from The Lioness series (another great children/young adult series that Pierce has written. The Immortals falls into the same age category.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Czech: Pierceová, Tamora, Zaklínačka koní; Trans: Eva Kadlecová; Praha, CPRESS, 2014
  • Danish: Vild Magi; Trans: Bjarne Skovlund; Ruds-Veby, Tellerup, 1998 (ill: Bodil Molich)
  • German: Dhana: Kamph um Tortall; Trans:  Elisabeth Epple; Würsburg, Arena, 1998
  • Indonesian: Wild Magic – Sihir Liar; Trans: ; Jakarta Pusat, Elex Media Komputindo, 2013
  • Swedish: Vild Magi; Trans: Ylva Spångberg; Stockholm, Bonnier Carlsen, 2003

Zoelle, Anne; The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown I) (2012)

Hiyo to all who read my blog posts,

Ren Crown: The Awakening blog tour

From March 28 – April 1, 2016

I was asked to join it as a reviewer.

First, formalities:

  1. Rafflecopter giveaway: This includes Amazon Gift Card, Special Edition poster and coloring book and pens!
  2. Anne Zoelle may be found on her websiteFacebook and Twitter. An excerpt can be read on her website.
  3. All 3 books in the series are on Amazon. The Awakening sells for $0.99 during the tour.

Now to the fun stuff. Let’s review The Awakening.

The Awakening should appeal to people who are into interesting magic systems and worlds. Ren Crown’s world is the one we inhabit (Layer one). A suppression spell has been cast on our layer keeping people from remembering anything to do with real magic.  At some point the Magic community had decided to split the mundane world from anything to do with magic. Unauthorized magic is immediately discovered and investigated.

The Awakening begins with a death. Florence (Ren) Cross and her brother Christian are breaking into the garage of the girl Christian is asking for a school dance. Just weeks are left of the school-year. Christian had been acting peculiarly a few weeks. This evening he keeps on rubbing his wrists. Even Ren had been feeling an itch under her skin and feels an urge to create her own paint.

Outside, the weather is acting strangely. As soon as the two leave the garage lightning begins a thunder-less dance. Christian is having cramps and sparks fall off his fingertips.

“A weird wave of electricity surged through my fingers where they touched him. I snatched my hand back, staring at the digits. The charged feeling dissipated within me, but increased in the air around us, swirling and darkening. I tentatively touched his arm again, and the energy shot into me once more. It was like focused euphoria.”

In the magic community Christian and Ren are what the call “ferals”. Ferals are children with innate magic who grow up outside of the influence of the magic world. While they are supposed to be protected by magic laws, having unregistered magic-users available is a dream come true for scruple-less magic users. Christian’s awakening works on them as bees to pollen. These magic-users  have the tools to drain all magic from a person, killing them. And so Christian dies and we meet grief.

At this point, Ren is still not aware of her own magic. Her awakening happens a little later, in her classroom under the eyes of their new art-teacher, Mr. Verisetti. What was supposed to be a dangerous yet happy event, is instead one of anger, tears and fear.

Zoelle writes about Ren’s grief in a manner that I think could help those who, themselves, are grieving or affected by the choices of others who are grieving. A consequence of a loved one dying may, sometimes, be that we, intentionally or unintentionally, make stupid and/or dangerous choices. Ren does and is not exempt from their consequences. Nor are her surroundings. Zoelle does not preach or judge. She just shows.

Not everything in the story is about Ren and her sorrow. There are strifes in the magic community that she and we find out about as we go. The magic school has students from all over the wizard community. Without preconceptions about this new world she is entering, not knowing who belongs to which family, the class system (highly stratified community) or what is possible, Ren finds herself stepping across divides that were thought unbreachable.

Without Christian about, Ren discovers that people want to be her friend. She is highly suspicious of some motives, but accepts any person with the same level of nerd/geek as herself.

Until she accomplishes her goal, Ren’s greatest fear is that others discover she is feral. Once her goal is over and done with, Ren wants to get the hell out of an incredibly dangerous place. Who knows. Maybe she will.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:

Barnett, David: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl (2013)

“Darling Annie!” He took her in his arms and kissed her. Annie wanted to should it from the rooftops. She had a sweetheart, and he was a toff to boot.

Poor little Annie Crook became involved with the wrong man. In Victorian times, whether they be in alternate or our history, the rabble risked much if they caught the attention of the upper class. Yet, sometimes, the rabble manages to surprise. Young Annie is one of the voices David Barnett  introduces us to in Mechanical Girl.

At first, he thought the knocking was a gear slipping, or one of the spring wearing. He sat up in the chair, suddenly alert, and peered around. “Anybody else hear that?”

Arthur frowned. There it went again. He stood and walked to the port side. Probably a piece of driftwood or rubbish hauled over the side from one of the factory farms. He leaned over and looked at the black, oily water.

Lives of trawler-fishers are dangerous one. In the past, more so. Usually, lives are lost because of the ocean’s wiles, but for Arthur Smith the cause of death of was much more sinister. Left behind is 24-year-old Gideon Smith (our main protagonist). To him Sandsend seems like the end of the earth and he wants nothing more than to leave it behind and experience the adventures he reads about in World Marvels & Wonders.

To have his father’s death be the impetus for his investigation  was not how Gideon thought his adventure would begin. Investigate he must, for there is something distinctly off about the disappearance of the crew of the Cold Drake. Anger can be a marvelous tool when we suspect something needs fixing. Anger at our gods, the fickleness of nature, people dying and leaving us behind and even at our own fears are all angers that can prompt action and change. Gideon is an angry man, and rightly so. Life in Victorian times (both alternate world and our) was unfair. It still is. Being wealthy makes life easier to navigate while poverty keeps people in their place. Annie was certainly kept in her place. Now Gideon has to find a way to leave his and investigate and explore.

Which is why he goes seeking Captain Trigger, that wonderful hero of the penny dreadfuls. Such a hero must see that Gideon’s cause is worth pursuing (taking Gideon with him). Getting hold of Captain Trigger proves difficult and Gideon must seek help. Who should turn up but Bram Stoker. Yes, that one. David Barnett throws  conspiracies and magical names at us through the story. We just have to pay attention to where we are going.

Once Bram becomes involved, officials finally pay attention to Gideon’s worry about a smuggler’s cave. Stoker is just higher enough on the layers of society for him to be taken more seriously than Gideon. Let’s face it. That is the way the world works. I am taken more seriously than a homeless person. My husband is taken more seriously than I. Writing about inequality in a manner that is fun to read is something Barnett does well. Intended or unintended.

In the end, Gideon gets to meet Captain Trigger, a meeting that changes both men. Gideon also meets wonderful and strange Maria. As he and Maria get closer to an answer to both of their questions, stranger and stranger creatures turn up. Conspiracy indeed.

I had fun. Lots of fun reading Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl available at Amazon.com

Green, Dominic: Saucerers and Gondoliers (Ant & Cleo 1) (2008)

Saucerers and Gondoliers cover
Cover by Dominic Green

It was the cover that lured me in. Sometimes I am lucky and the cover actually presages the contents.

Dominic Green‘s Ant & Cleo series is as well-written and ridiculous as only British humor can be. These two young (12 years old) people go through experiences that are disconnected to reality as we prefer to believe it. Unless, of course, Britain, Russia (USSR) and the US have actually managed to get colonies into space. I suppose it is possible?

First, Antony and Cleopatra, the main characters. Their characters have little to do with the portrayal by Shakespeare but more in common with the originals. Ant seems to be bluff, passionate and a little simple-minded (and highly underestimated by Cleo), while Cleo is fairly intelligent and practical.

It all begins with a trip to the woods with Ant’s father. Forests are great places for adventure, though I doubt many people get to go into space with an alien from Lalande 21185. Strangely enough, this alien looks like a human:

“The new man looked tired and thin, and had a haircut that suggested he spent a lot of his time in prison. He was wearing neither a suit nor combat fatigues, but a pair of Levi’s which still had the label dangling from the back of them, and a maroon T shirt. The T shirt had aliens in flying saucers on it, along with the words SPACE RASTA.”

Mr. Green throws Ant & Cleo into situations that keep them wondering about the things they have learned in school. The spaceship they leave Earth in is their first clue to their ignorance. “Made in Britain by Hawker Siddeley Aviation” seems a bit far-fetched to them. But that is what the maker’s plate says.

Then they meet Americans (US) in space. What a parody of every prejudice non-US citizens have had of them. White-supremacy, a confederate flag and deep southern accents along with names like Billy-Bob, Billy-Hank and Wayne-Bob. A whole sleuth of movies go through my memories as I write this. The funniest thing about these stereotypes is that Hollywood is the worst perpetrator of the image (and early James Bond). Their new compatriots join them on that planet. Glenn Bob and Truman make an odd couple. One very curious and the other diligent in carrying out assigned jobs.

After the US, Ant & Cleo get to meet members of the Soviet Union. Yes. In space the USSR still rules and feelings between the US and Russians continue to be very cold (I guess a bit like today).  Here, too, accents and behavior copies movie and television stereotypes. Mr. Green nails these stereotypes.

“Glorious Soviet Yutopia does not kyill wyomen and chyildren”

OMG, non-russians speaking English with Russian accents drive me crazy. Finally, Ant & Cleo get to meet and talk with the British. Their poor kidnapper has been unconscious ever since their spaceship broke Earth’s orbit, so they do not know who he is and where he is from. He is British. Here again, Green nails every stereotype. These are the British who shake their head and carry on with the job even when they are severely wounded, wring sweat out of their long underwear to make water and express strong feelings by saying things like “Golly”, “Gosh” and “Bally good”.

Nothing is realistic. Well, except that quite a lot of it is. Tension between countries, secretive and lying governments and people who try to follow the propaganda they have been brought up are all things Green portrays as is. Propaganda, my goodness, what a great examples of propaganda and the brainwashing citizens are put through and accept.

I enjoyed this book immensely and think it would be appropriate for people from around 10 years old and up. Adults might have to explain some of the references, but with the I-net available to many, they might not.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Reading order:

Jensen, Megg: Anathema (Cloud Prophet I) (2011)

Keeping slaves is generally not something people openly admit  today. Many countries continue this practice and my contention is that most states participate in this tradition while closing our minds and eyes to that fact. Traditionally, people have become slaves either through being conquered by another nation, power-hunger or through criminal acts.

Sometimes being conquered happens via false promises. Such is the case with the Serenian island in Anathema. Serenians were lured by promises of help from the Malborn. Once the Malborn were in force on the island, it took ten years for them to eradicate opposition. Criminals were those who would not obey the three “rules” Malborn leaders had set as a condition of harmony between the two people. “Trust, adore and obey” was what the Malborn required from the Serenians. Once you were deemed a criminal you would either be killed or enslaved along with your entire family. Add to that their military prowess, and the Malborn were bound to win.

Reychel remembers nothing but slavery. At fifteen slaves were branded with their master’s mark. This mark and their shaved heads clearly divided slaves from the rest of the population and it also make it extremely difficult for successful escapes to happen. Kandek, her master, is about to lose two of his slaves, one of whom is Reychel. The other is Ivy, Reychel’s best friend. First out is Ivy.  Fortunately for Reychel, her turn comes soon after. Her escape was public and unusual.

When slavery is all a person has known all sorts of things about being a free person had to be learned. There was a whole network set up to help escaped slaves deal with their new status. Blending in was vital. Both of them also had to come to terms with Reychel having magic powers of some sort. Ivy already knew about hers. Her ability to calm others, even to the point of forcing them to do things, becomes an important element of the story. Learning Reychel’s ability is also essential. The reader knows this long before Reychel does.

Another discovery Reychel ends up making is the value of her friendship with Ivy. Why did Ivy want her rescued, and why is Ivy acting so strange now that they are out of slave quarters? Sometimes people have different opinions of what friendship is and what friends are for.

Usually, slaves weren’t worth enough for a master to mount a search for too long. That was the case with Ivy. Reychel, however, was the exception to the rule. Kandek will not give up. If not for the friendship of one of the militia both girls would have been caught within the first weeks. There is a love interest with Marc, the militia guard. Another discovery about Ivy is the result of that interest.

Ivy is a fun character. Reychel is in line with a young adult hero type. So is Marc. All three are important to the story and the action-filled adventure Megg Jensen gives us.

Recommended.


Reviews:


Anathema can be found at Amazon

Edghill, Rosemary: The Warslayer: The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer, the Beginning (2002)

http://www.carolheyer.com/fantasy-art.html
Cover art by Carol Heyer

Rosemary Edghill does her usual cracking job writing The Warslayer.

“A terrible power has been unleashed in the land of Erchanen. Long was it prisoned upon the peaks of Grey Arlinn, until foul mischance freed it once more. Now it stalks the plains of Serenthodial, and Great Drathil is no more than an abode of shadows. We are a simple gentle people, without the arts of war, and we knew that only the greatest warrior who ever lived could help our people in their hour of greatest need. You are she.”

Quite understandably, Gloria (Glory) McArdle is a bit skeptical to being approached by three apparently insane (like all conventioneers) fans who are taking fandom to the extreme. What she gets instead is a new world.

It isn’t often a stuffed elephant gets to have a major supporting role, but Gorden, the elephant, does. Glory depends on him for comfort in all the strangeness and he is also in an essential place when one of the Allimir needs him. Or at least Vixen thinks that when she and Belegir are seeking the will of the Oracle. Comfort objects are important tools in emergencies and daily life. I think it is safe to say that Vixen’s new life is traumatic.

Vixen also brings her highly impractical costume including a real and blunt sword. It was thought that, for the sake of realism, the role as Vixen required learning to fight with a real weapon. Well, kind of fight. She discovers that her choreographed moves are of little use and improvisation is a must. In fact, having been an Olympic gymnast is far more important to Glory’s survival.

“The terrace directly below was still clear. It was an eight-foot drop. Glory turned away from the stairs and jumped.

They hated having her do her own stunts on TITAoVtS, because if she got hurt, production stopped dead, but in fact she was damned good at it, and the stuntpeople had taught her a few helpful tricks. She held the sword well out from her body and threw herself into a forward somersault, landing on her feet, crouching to absorb the impact – just like the vaulting horse, that – and backing up quickly against the wall. …”

Getting back to Earth after her arrival on Erchane requires the help of the Oracle. Belegir, the head wizard, goes with her as a guide. When they get there, Glory discovers that the Alimir aren’t as peaceful as they had told her. The walls of the temple are full of paintings of Allimirs’ killing.

“You-told-me-you-didn’t-do-things-like-that-” she growled in a low husky feline rumble, leaning over until she was staring right into his eyes. “You said you didn’t know how!”

Well, once upon a time, the Allimir had been a murdering horde killing everything in their way. Kind of like humans. Then, somehow, the old hero, Cinnas, banished War from Erchanen. But that enchantment only lasted one thousand years. And this magic was what the Allimir wanted Vixen to repeat. Like many of us they wanted another to deal with the consequences of their actions. I guess that fits with how my generation seems to feel about the future of the Earth. NOT our problem! Please solve and fix our mistakes and intentional shit. Because that is how we humans are, isn’t it? But Gloria is fully aware of her limitations.

“Well, cheer up. You’ve got me, now. When She sees that, She oughtta wet herself laughing. C’mon.”

The style of story, sword and sorcerery, kind of gives the ending away. As with most adventure stories the odds seem impossibly stacked against Vixen.

The Warslayer is an odd, yet profoundly pleasing, adventure tale with lots of action, humour and food for thought. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


The Warslayer available at Amazon UK

Scott, Alan: The “Y” Front Chronicles (2013)

Cover artist: Saskia Schnell
Cover artist: Saskia Schnell

Alan Scott has written a wonderfully funny and dark story about murder and mayhem.

I suppose it could be read as a warning about the consequences of training our soldiers too well. The thought did not enter my mind until the classroom situation. But, yeah, that could work.

A man with his own brand of conscience and his pet hamster, TF. A killer with a pet hamster. Not much like the hamster I used to own and adore. SCoT-01 is a fun and terrifying person I would hope to always keep on my side. His hamster, too.

Definitely recommended.

Norton, Andre: High Sorcery (1970)

Wizard’s World (1967)

His decision had shaken the “hound”. Craike bared teeth in a death’s-head grin. Now the mob would speed up. But their quarry had already chosen a part of the canyon wall where he might pull his tired and aching body up from one hold to another. He moved deliberately now, knowing that, having lost hope, he could throw aside the need for haste. He would be able to accomplish his purpose before they brought a gas rifle to bear on him.

At last he stood on a ledge, the sand and gravel some fifty feet below. For a long moment he rested, steadying himself with both hands braced on the stone. The weird beauty of the desert country was a pattern of violent color under the afternoon sun. Craike breathed slowly; he had regained a measure of control. There came shouts as they sighted him.

He leaned forward and, as if he were diving into the river which had once run there, he hurled himself outward to the clean death he sought.

Through the Needle’s Eye

“She’s a witch, you know!” She teetered back and forth on the boards of the small front porch. “She makes people disappear; maybe she’ll do that to you if you hang around there.”

“Ruthie!” Cousin Althea, her face flushed from baking, stood behind the patched screen. Her daughter was apprehensively quiet as she came out. But I was more interested in what Ruthie had said than any impending scolding.

“Makes people disappear – how?”

“That’s an untruth, Ruthie,” my cousin said firmly. True to her upbringing, Cousin Althea thought the word “lie” coarse. “Never let me hear you say a thing like that about Miss Ruthevan again. She has had a very sad life -“

By a Hair (1958)

Father Hansel had been one of the three Varoff shot out of hand, and there was no longer an open church in the valley. What went on in the oak glade was another matter. First our women drifted there, half ashamed, half defiant, and later they were followed by their men. I do not think the Countess Ana was their priestess. But she knew and condoned. For she had learned many things.

The wise women began to offer more than just comfort of body. It was a queer wild time when men in their despair turned from old beliefs to older ones, from a god of love and peace, to a god of wrath and vengeance. Old knowledge passed by word of mouth from mother to daughter was recalled by such as Mald, and keenly evaluated by the sharper and better-trained brain of the Countess Ana. I will not say that they called upon Odin and Freya (or those behind those Nordic spirits) or lighted the Beltane Fire. But there was a stirring, as if something long sleeping turned and stretched in its supposed grave.

 Ully the Piper

There was only one among them who was not satisfied with things as they comfortably were, because for him there was no comfort. Ully of the hands was not the smallest, nor the youngest of the lads of Coomb Brackett – he was the different one. Longing to be as the rest filled him sometimes with pain he could hardly bear.

He sat on his small cart and watched the rest off to the feasting on May Day and Harvest home; and he watched them dance Rings Around following the smoking great roast at Yule – his clever hands folded in upon themselves until the nails bit sorely into the flesh of his palms.

Toys of Tamisan (1969)

“If you have any wish, tell it to Porpae.” Kas dropped his hold on her arm and turned to the door. “When Lord Starrex wishes to dream, he will send for you.”

“I am at his command,” she mumbled; it was the proper response.

She watched Kas leave and the looked at Porpae. Tamisan had cause to believe that the android was programmed to record her every move. But would anyone here believe that a dreamer had any desire to be free? A dreamer wished only to dream; it was her life, her entire life. To leave a place which did all to foster such a life – that would be akin to self-killing, something a certified dreamer could not think on.

Goodreads


Translations:

  • Italian: Le terre degli incantesimi (1979)