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Friday, June 28, 2013

Of Shadow Born by Dianne Sylvan

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Terrance McArthur

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this post.

In Dianne Sylvan’s Shadow World series, the vampires of each territory are ruled by a Prime and his Consort (his female—or male—companion). When a Prime dies, the strength of the link between them is so great that the Consort gets sick and dies/goes crazy/commits suicide/all of the above.

In Of Shadow Born, David Solomon, the Southern Prime, has been ritually killed in Austin, Texas, but his body is missing. Miranda, his pop-star/Consort, the vampire Queen of the South, is expected to fold up and die, but she starts pulling things together and getting on with business, even though the local Second/security chief (her best friend) is also gone. So, is David really dead (Well, he’s a vampire, so he was dead in the first place, but you know what I mean, right?)?

Things are getting crazy in the Shadow World—Primes are turning against Primes, a human secret society called Morningstar (very anti-bloodsucker) is gathering artifacts and laying plots, the police chief’s witch daughter is in vampire protective custody (with Dad’s approval), and a local tattoo artist turns out to be a disgraced former Second with a great body. On top of all that, changes are happening to the nature of vampires and the structure of the vampire world, with Gods, Goddesses, New Generations, New Primes, and rumors of Elves!

Image source: Penguin

Sylvan has created a complex geopolitical society for her paranormal denizens. You’ll find action, plots, counterplots, references to Doctor Who, betrayals, and loyalty. She has a diverse world, ethnically and sexually (David is a former lover of Devon, an aging Prime from the West Coast). Miranda does her share of grieving and moping around while waiting to die/go crazy/etc., but she manages to get back that kick-undead spunk that has made the series so popular. There is sex, but there is also ice cream.

This is Dianne Sylvan’s fourth book in the series, and the fifth won’t be out until March (according to Sylvan’s website), so Miranda’s fans will have a long and lonely vigil. It wouldn’t hurt to start with the first tome, Queen of Shadows. Come to the Shadow World. It’s fun.

To enter to win a copy of Of Shadow Born, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Shadow”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 6, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X) By Richelle Mead

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Cynthia Chow

Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

When creating a new mythology in a science fiction novel the author can take many approaches to introducing the reader to the new world. One method is the Star Wars exposition approach, an introductory prologue that explains the parameters and rules of the world immediately in a methodical but possibly dry manner and then begins the actual story. Another approach is to throw the readers into the action midstream and allow them to learn about the world gradually as events unfold. Urban fantasy author and writer of the extremely popular young adult Vampire Academy series Richelle Mead, takes the latter approach in this new adult series, and as a result it was not until halfway through the novel that I felt comfortable enough in the world to enjoy the action and her exciting characters. I have to admit that it also took several starts and ultimately a reading of a glossary on the author’s website before I was able to completely enjoy and understand this new world.

In the not too distant future extremists released a virus that killed half of earth’s population and infected much of the rest, causing the next generation to be born with scars, asthma, and thinning hair. When it was discovered that those with mixed genealogies had the strongest resistance to the virus nicknamed “Mephistopheles,” the new Republic of United North America government began to enforce Genetic Mandates that restricted reproduction of children with “pure” ethnicities and more prone to sickness. Only the very wealthy can afford to buy their way out of the mandates, with the result being that a high class of patrician ethnic Castes has arisen with the rest of the population being of mixed heritage. Since religious extremists were blamed for the virus in the first place, servitors have been assigned to monitor, legalize, and prohibit all but the tamest of congregations who in essence reinforce the teaching of the government.

Image source: Penguin

It is in this world that we first meet Mae Koskinen, a member of the military’s elite Praetorians who are enhanced by implants that release chemicals to magnify their ability to react, fight, and occasionally, have sex. Though feared among the RUNA and outside populations, Mae is mourning at the funeral of her former lover and this causes her to overreact rather badly to a jealous coworker and results with the woman’s hospitalization. Mae is then punished and given the assignment to contact and then be a bodyguard for Dr. Justin March, a brilliant former servitor exiled to the South American uncivilized community. Justin and Mae’s redemptive assignment is to solve the murders of numerous Patrician Castes who have been killed in ritualistic manners by suspected religious fanatics. Justin’s deft skill at unraveling an individual’s character, motivations, and thinking, has him back in demand by the government and he uses this to negotiate the passage back into RUNA for the promising teenage daughter of the family who aided him when he became exiled.

Mae and Justin hold an alarming number of secrets from one another, ironic as their first meeting resulted in a one night stand that both have vowed to never repeat. Justin’s reasons are far more complex due to the two unseen ravens that accompany him and advise him on a mysterious agreement he made that will seal him into service should he again sleep with the woman he now knows is the woman with a crown of stars and flowers. As a result, Justin fights his need to unravel the complexities of his lethal but beautiful Nordic protector by charming and bedding an assortment of lesser females. The two do manage to investigate a series of religious sects who would be most likely to have cause to murder pure Castes but they are constantly confused and misguided by mysterious interventions that defy their world’s scientific dictates.

Whew. That’s a lot of backstory and as a result it took me nearly halfway through this 450 page novel to feel comfortable enough to relax and enjoy what is at its heart a very fun and interesting mix of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery.

Mae is a brittle heroine who becomes thrilling to observe as her extraordinary fighting skills hide an acerbic wit and a childhood of sexist repression. When the reader meets Mae’s family a new layer to both her character and the novel is discovered and this is when the novel truly picks up speed. Justin is far more difficult to embrace as he must use his arrogance and appeal to other women as a barrier to the mutual attraction with Mae for reasons that gradually unfold. Justin’s addiction to drugs to that enhance his concentration and the corresponding drugs that allow him to come back down further complicate his already flawed character.

The insight into Mead’s new society is a lot of fun to observe, especially when it teeters a little too uncomfortably close to present-day norms. All RUNA citizens are chipped with IDs that are recorded at various locations and never without the “egos” that are essentially iPads with all of their health, ID, banking, and communication information. Plastic surgery, hair extensions, and excessive teeth whitening are common among the Castes who have been affected by Mephistopheles. The government’s crackdown on religion has created a responding number who react against the prohibitions by embracing new beliefs and seek comfort against RUNA’s restrictiveness. All of this is highlighted when seen through the eyes of Justin’s sheltered ward Tessa who has not been indoctrinated by RUNA’s oppressive policies that were implemented to “protect” the people.

There are numerous exciting battle scenes and as the author reveals the true players manipulating events the title of the book becomes takes on a new meaning. While not the easiest novel to begin it establishes the playing ground for what could be an extremely fun, complicated, and promising novel of an ominous but fantastical future.

To enter to win a copy of Gameboard of the Gods, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Gameboard”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 29, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Casino Infernale: A Secret Histories Novel by Simon R. Green

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Terrance McArthur

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this post.

“The name’s Bond. Shaman Bond.”

Shaman Bond (Yeah, he’s sort of like a James Bond fighting paranormal threats) always seems to be at the edge of where the action is happening, getting whatever piece of that action he can acquire. Actually, he’s Edwin “Eddie” Drood (Yeah, as in Charles Dickens’ unfinished The Secret of Edwin Drood), a secret agent who is in and out of his powerful family/secret society and/or a clandestine agency (The Department of the Uncanny) run by his grandfather in Simon R. Green’s Secret History novels (Live and Let Drood, For Heaven’s Eyes Only, The Spy Who Haunted Me, Daemons Are Forever, and now Casino Infernale; yeah, they’re all riffs on James Bond titles by Ian Fleming). Eddie wears Drood armor, a golden outfit with futuristic technology that can shrink down to a torc (archaic term for a golden collar or neckpiece).

Eddie is assigned to accompany his lady love, Molly Metcalf, the Wild Witch, to an island north of Scotland where they plan to infiltrate the revival of a group of ecoterrorists with paranormal leanings, in the creepy mansion where Molly’s parents died…and this is only the warm-up adventure that sets up their main job, breaking the bank at Casino Infernale, where winning and losing fortunes is only the prelude to the real games where souls are on the line.

Image source: Penguin

Eddie is at a disadvantage there, because his parents have already wagered and lost his soul…a soul he has to win back.

Down to the French Riviera they go, battling Nazi women on pterodactyls, fighting in pits, outwitting security systems and cloned security guards, creating environments and creatures to defeat other worlds, shape-changing in a fight to the finish, and—deadliest of all—playing poker. Their assets: a shifty snitch, some paranormal paraphernalia, and a car with a mind of its own.

The puzzles and solutions are clever, the banter is snappy, and the action reaches world-rending levels. Green’s other books (the Nightside series and the Carnackie Institute novels [Ghost of a Smile]) also show the wry, British humor lavished on Shaman Bond, and there are guest appearances of characters from the other lines. Take a chance, defy the odds, and place your bets: Casino Infernale is a winner!

To enter to win a copy of Casino Infernale, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Casino”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 22, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Seeing Ghosts by James Garcia Jr.

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Marilyn Meredith

Check out details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this review.

Having read Garcia’s vampire mysteries I wasn’t sure what to expect with his latest book. After all, Seeing Ghosts is a most intriguing title. I love stories about ghosts, haunted houses and have even written about them myself; so I began reading with great expectations. And I wasn’t disappointed. If I were to give Seeing Ghosts a label, I’d call it an unusual romance with a big dose of scary.

The hero, Paul, is still mourning the loss of his pregnant wife when he learns he and his cousin have inherited a house from an Aunt Flora neither of them can remember. The two men take a road trip to see the house. The woman, Anne, who shows it to them, has an uncanny resemblance to Paul’s dead wife. This is most unsettling for him.

Paul decides to stay at the house to learn more about it. He and his cousin buy a week’s provisions and Paul is left behind—without transportation. It isn’t long before he learns that he is surrounded by ghosts that aren’t the least bit friendly.

Image source: James Garcia Jr.

To complicate things, he has visits from a strange preacher who doesn’t want to come inside but does have some knowledge of Aunt Flora. Other visitors are Anne and her son. When two of Anne’s tires are mysteriously flattened, she and her son must stay the night with Paul in the house.

I don’t want to say any more so as not to give any spoilers—except for this, the ghostly appearances escalate and things not only become frightening but also dangerous.

Seeing Ghosts was a page turner for sure, I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next and how everything would be resolved.

To enter to win an e-book copy of Seeing Ghosts, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Ghosts”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 15, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Marilyn Meredith is a Springville, CA mystery author and an ongoing contributor to our Mystery section section. Be sure to visit her website; fictionforyou.com