The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy

I Was a Teenaged Weredeer by C.T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus

I’ve enjoyed Phipps supervillain series so was happy to give this novel a try, hoping he would bring his quirky way of looking at the world of comic books to the realm of lycanthropy. Boy did he ever. I Was a Teenaged Weredeer is a fast-moving romp that mixes a very serious, thoroughly engaging mystery with a lot of snarky teenaged attitude and about five million pop references that really solidified the setting and the story. I never wanted to put it down.

The setting is also well thought out with different sorts of were-creatures living together in a world that includes vampires, ghosts, old gods, and lots of monsters. (I suppose I should consider were-creatures monsters too, but since the heroine is one, they don’t come off feeling that way.) This is a world where something new is being discovered at every turn and where the crime is deeply intertwined with a highly credible setting. Can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

I received this book from Free Audio Book in exchange for an honest review.

Smoke Rising by Craig Halloran (Supernatural Bounty Hunter 1)

John Smoke is an ex-special-forces-soldier turned bounty hunter turned ex-con who has a reputation for being hard to control but extremely capable in tracking down difficult to find targets. Sydney Shaw is a by-the-book FBI agent who is smart, driven, and competent. Together they get roped into trying to track down a suspect on the FBI’s mysterious black slate list. No one seems to know quite where the black slate came from and why people are on it—but Smoke and Shaw are about to find out why no one listed on the slate ever gets brought in for arrest.

This is a great urban fantasy series with a really enjoyable (non-romantic so far) chemistry between Smoke and Shaw as they are forced to come to grips with the idea that supernatural creatures do exist and that they are not only running criminal enterprises in the U.S. but manipulating its politics. That discovery was very well handled, as is the skepticism of the rest of the law enforcement community. There is a ton of action in addition to the basic mystery of what the heck is the bad guy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

I received this book free from Free Audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Just Try Not to Die by Gareth K. Pengelly

Many monster hunter style series are built around a sort of chosen one—a hero in the making who will protect the world from nefarious supernatural creatures. Pengelly’s Brian Helsing series is just this sort of book with one major twist—Brain Helsing has no traditionally heroic qualities and apparently no aptitude for learning them. While geeky and not-unintelligent, he hasn’t an athletic bone in his body and he doesn’t have the mindset that one traditionally associates with the sort of person who would go seek out monsters threatening civilization. In fact, he’s so not the hero that the good guys have to physically coerce him into training and going on missions.

So it’s an unusual sort of book and it takes too long for the story to develop, but Pengelly does manage to weave Brian’s unheroic nature and past into a solution for the ultimate problem in the novel in a convincing and frankly touching way. Everyone who’s watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or read anything in this genre has wondered what they would do if they were chosen as the slayer. This book offers a more plausibly realistic answer to that question than many of us would wish was true. It’s a fun read with a lot of potential to be even more so as the series progresses.

Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge

Doidge has a lot of fun with the reader in this first book of her Dowser series, playing with the urban fantasy tradition of mixing romance with the genre to set the reader up for some very big surprises. In doing so she creates a vibrant setting mixing witches, werewolves, vampires and other supernatural creatures. Her heroine, Jade, is an extremely weak witch who is more interested in making cupcakes than magic. She’s bullied mercilessly by her sister—but doesn’t seem to recognize what is happening. And she’s unintentionally become a person of interest in a secret investigation into the death of several werewolves.

The story is frankly a lot of fun, but it took me a while to truly accept Jade’s character. I suspect that, like me, the average reader will figure out who the bad guys are and what they’re up to within the first few chapters, but Jade is really slow to put the pieces together. However, I decided by the end of the book that that was the result of really good characterization on the part of the author. I don’t want to give away the ending, so I’ll try to be indirect and subtle. The problem is that we often blind ourselves to the truth of those around us and while frustrating, it is actually very realistic to let our preconceptions force us to overlook what’s really happening.

Doidge has a nice setup here for future stories which will hopefully explore the mysterious half of Jade’s heritage and help the reader understand how it interweaves with the trinkets she is constantly crafting. It’s a mystery I would very much like to see resolved.

Even Tree Nymphs Get the Blues by Molly Harper

Many paranormal romances gravitate around an external plot like a mystery or some crisis. That is not the case in this short book. It is solely focused on a romance between a psychologically scarred tree nymph and the human man who decides to coax her out of her tree. It’s a quick and enjoyable story, but there isn’t much to it—including a reason for the romance. The nymph is simply not interested and I never understood why the man pursues her. Don’t get me wrong, the character was fascinating—especially when we finally learn why she is so skittish around people—but her personality wasn’t attractive and there was never any reason given to explain the man’s interest in her other than purely physical attraction.

What was more interesting was the background of mythical creatures living on the outskirts of human society with a sort of self-appointed and not particularly liked governing structure. I suspect that this government—for good and ill—plays a much bigger role in other books set in Mystic Bayou.

The Corpse Whisperer Sworn by H.R. Boldwood

The sequel to Boldwood’s excellent novel, The Corpse Whisperer, manages to simultaneously heat up the action, tangle heroine Allie Nighthawk into an even more complicated mystery, move the setting to zombie central in New Orleans, and, most importantly, ramp up the personal costs of the struggle to stop the spread of the undead for everyone involved. And in the midst of all of this, Boldwood also introduces a whole lot of great new characters. So, yes, Sworn, is like giving an overdose of steroids to the original novel, but instead of roid-rage, we get an even better adventure than we did the first time around.

In the Corpse Whisperer, we got to know brash, never-think-before-acting, Allie Nighthawk, one of those rare individuals who can raise a zombie from its grave. She has an act-first personality that the reader will come to love even as she unintentionally makes life difficult for just about everyone who knows her. In the Corpse Whisperer Sworn, we find out how Nighthawk got this way, digging deep into her past to learn how she learned to control her abilities and why the first love of her life is now determined to kill her—after he torturers her to the point where she doesn’t want to live any more.

There’s lots of pain in this one, but Boldwood smartly offsets it with great action and plenty of humor. All of my surviving favorite cast members from the first novel are back with a handful of great new characters thrown into the mix as well. Boldwood also spices up this book by introducing magic into the world—something that zombie hunting law enforcement has a great deal of difficulty accepting is real. It’s yet another point of separation between Nighthawk and the traditional professionals that boosts the feelings of isolation that tormented her in the first book. Nighthawk’s life is so dramatically different from her peers that most people can’t even understand her problems much less contribute to solving them. So even in crowd, Nighthawk seems to stand alone.

As with the first novel, the characters and their relationships with each other are what pull this book head and shoulders above the typical zombie-related urban fantasy. When you love even the minor cast members, it keeps you at the edge of your seat through the entire reading—because let’s face it, you know that some of them aren’t going to make it to the end of the book. Hopefully, those who survive will all be appearing in the next volume.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

The Corpse Whisperer by H. R. Boldwood

This is not your typical zombie novel. While it’s still possible that the end of the world is coming, the people inhabiting Cincinnati haven’t figured that out yet. Instead of a zombie apocalypse, the world of the Corpse Whisperer has police forces, legal systems and a medical establishment that has learned to cope with the facts that the dead don’t always stay in their graves and a handful of special individuals like Allie Nighthawk have the power to raise them.

Boldwood takes this premise and runs with it, creating a whole world that is built around the existence of the dead walking mostly on the fringes of society. Zombies and the virus that creates them are studied by scientists. Not all zombies become instant biters and not all bitten people become zombies. There’s even a new medicine that can hold a person back from turning once bitten. The legal system has evolved to incorporate this new reality as gifted people like heroine, Allie Nighthawk, are often needed to raise the dead to ask them important questions like—did you see who murdered you? The rules are pretty well understood by the professionals. The problem that confronts the heroes in this book is that the rules are suddenly changing. People are turning without being bitten and people without the traditional genetic markers are turning too. Perhaps that cliched apocalypse really is about to overrun the world.

In the middle of this unfolding crisis, is Allie Nighthawk. Studying Nighthawk would make any psychologist’s day. She has this amazing power but her ethics keep her from getting rich with it because she actually cares about people and the world around her. Yet those same people don’t seem to like her very much and she has become brash and difficult as a defense against constant rejection and ill treatment. Yet, when push comes to shove, she still stands in the thick of things, loyal to the core and determined to keep the undead from hurting people.

Nighthawk works as a consultant to the Cincinnati Police Department, and they don’t like her much either—even as they keep needing her skills to help with their investigations and generally keep the citizens of their fine city from being killed. Allie’s police detective partner enjoys giving her as hard a time as she gives him, but he has a major personality defect—he’s hard in lust with a news reporter named Jade Chen who keeps her ratings high by loudly criticizing Nighthawk every time a zombie rears its head in the city. And they’re rearing their heads a lot these days, and exhibiting new behaviors that scare the fecal matter out of anyone with enough knowledge to understand what’s happening.

As if all of that wasn’t complicated enough, Nighthawk has been assigned to help protect Leo, a mob accountant who has decided to squeal on his superiors in front of a grand jury. Those superiors, quite understandably, want to prevent him from doing this, but are they the only ones trying to kill him? Oh, and there’s one more thing about Leo which explains Nighthawk’s involvement with him. He’s been bitten and only a new drug is keeping him from turning right away. His tolerance for the medicine is growing, however, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts biting other people with the rest of the zombies.

Leo is the character that best shows Boldwood’s brilliance as an author. He starts out brash and unlikeable, but the longer he appears on the pages, the stronger you will root for him to beat the zombie thing. That’s not easy to do, and he’s not the only character that Boldwood tricks you into liking.

So, if you like great characters, non-stop action, a couple of solid mysteries, a smattering of genuine surprises, and your zombies without the cliched apocalypse, you should really give the Corpse Whisperer a try.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Adventures of a Vegan Vamp by Cate Lawley

I’ve read a fairly large number of vampire novels over the years and it’s always nice to get a new take on the genre—but a vegan vampire? Really? How is a vampire who pukes at the sight, smell, and taste of blood supposed to make it in her undead afterlife?

Mallory has no recollection of how she became a vampire nor any real understanding of what it means other than that she is losing frightening amounts of weight and surviving on coffee and fruit drinks. She tries to get medical help and gets told she’s a vampire, but nobody really believes in those, right? Then, as reality sets in, she finds out that the vamp who created her expected her to die from the process and has in fact killed several other women the same way. So Mallory decides to embrace the afterlife by getting some good old fashioned revenge.

This is a fun book for people who are interested in the undead but want to skip over all that spooky horror novel stuff. Lawley’s vampires aren’t particularly mystical or even very vampire-like, but she’s put together a light-hearted world of the living dead with wizards, assassins, and magic swords. This probably won’t appeal to the hardcourt vampire fan, but I really appreciated a totally unique take on the genre.

Dawn of the Deadly Fang by T. James Logan

You expect an author to kick the stakes up a notch in the first sequel to a novel, but in Dawn of the Deadly Fang, T. James Logan jumped over the first notch and took the plot all the way up to “eleven”. While in the first book, the focus on the werewolf threat made it look like a mostly local problem, the sequel makes it clear that the monsters pose a national—if not global—threat. The danger is greatly enhanced by the fact that these supernatural creatures are not just monsters mindlessly howling and killing people on the night of the full moon, they are experienced military and law enforcement personnel who have lost their moral compass as a result of contracting lycanthropy. They have come to believe that humans need to be knocked off the top of the food chain and into the cattle pens to serve as sheep for the new alpha predators.

In the middle of this (still secretly) evolving menace is Mia—the teenager whose DNA appears to hold the key to the lycanthropy pandemic. Her mother is completely immune to the disease, but Mia is infected but not expressing the disease like other lycanthropes. So, she’s being poked, prodded, and tested in a relationship that has become so antagonistic with her doctors that she starts hiding key developments from them—her ability to finally shape change and her unique ability to halt the transformation halfway.

The novel focuses on a global movement by werewolves to paralyze national governments through strikes on critical personnel and infrastructure. Since the knowledge of the existence of werewolves is not yet widespread in those governments, the creatures have been able to infiltrate everywhere simply by infecting people. The final move is to try and capture/kill Mia to prevent the government from using her to develop a vaccine or cure. How do you get your hands on a highly protected teenaged girl? Kidnap a busload of her friends and get her to come to you. But Mia isn’t as stupid as the bad guys think she is, and she’s got a lot of help. Too bad she doesn’t know that her friends are a sideshow toward the real plan—destruction of all human authority in the United States.

If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you’re certain to enjoy Dawn of the Deadly Fang.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

Night of the Hidden Fang by T. James Logan

It’s really difficult to write a good werewolf story focused on high school kids—at least it looked that way before I read Night of the Hidden Fang. The problem isn’t that the high school kids often live a very separate life from their out of touch parents, they do. It also isn’t a problem that no one would believe the high school kids if they started talking about werewolves prowling the neighborhood, they wouldn’t. No, the break down usually comes when the high school kids insist on solving the whole problem by themselves and somehow get away with doing it without the adults ever finding out. That isn’t the way T. James Logan handles this problem in Night of the Hidden Fang and as a result he was able to surprise me again and again in the novel. At times it felt like he was “breaking the rules” and that was very good for his story.

Mia is a believable high school girl who never feels like she fits in. Because her dad was in the military before he joined the FBI, she hasn’t lived in any one place very long and she doesn’t have many good friends. She’s bullied by some of the more popular girls and suffers endless amounts of teen angst over the boy she likes but feels like she could never have. Then strange things start happening—disappearances, body parts appearing, unsettling men, some mysterious boys—and suddenly we’re not in high school anymore. (Except, Mia is, of course, and manages to never lose all her angst no matter what terrible things are happening around her.)

After a slightly slow beginning, the plot starts charging forward and never stops until the end of the novel. There were a couple of very big surprises for me—shocks that I just never believed would occur—and one very obvious plot line that never happened. Both the shock and the author’s restraint greatly enhanced the novel.

If you’re looking for a new take on the werewolf story, you should give Night of the Hidden Fang a try.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

A Witch Called Red by Sami Valentine

Valentine has set up an interesting backdrop to this novel that was probably inspired by the vampire character, Angel, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Angel killed a gypsy, her father cursed him by restoring his soul so that he could feel the guilt of decades of his horrific actions. In A Witch Called Red, the man who restored the vampires’ souls publicized how to do it so that now, a significant percentage of vampires are “handicapped” with genuine human emotions. It’s a fascinating, and as far as I know unique, setting.

The witch of the title is an amnesiac who is found by a vampire hunter after apparently surviving a vampire attack. Discovering her past is a significant motivating factor for Red that is made more complicated by her strong resemblance to a woman many of the vampires in the story knew a century earlier. We don’t get total satisfaction here as the mystery of Red’s past is something clearly intended to be further explored in the next novel but many of these tantalizing clues captured my interest and made me eager to learn more.

The actual plot of this book is a murder mystery that quickly becomes enmeshed in complex vampire politics. I love well done politics and vampires with their centuries-long grudges really enrich a good political mystery. Valentine takes full advantage of these possibilities and it’s a major strength of the novel.

So this is a strong book with lots of actions and a good mystery forming its core, but I do have two complaints to register. First, the novel is at least twenty percent too long mostly because of endlessly chatty dialogue that didn’t do much to advance the plot. Second, there is a really unfortunate break with basic physics toward the end of the book—melting a bullet in flight doesn’t cause the molten metal to lose its forward momentum and drop straight to the ground. Other than these two things, A Witch Called Red, is a great opening to a new series and promises more excitement to come.

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

The House of Teeth by Dan Jolley

If you’re looking for a powerful new urban fantasy, you’ll want to sink your teeth into this new book by Dan Jolley. There is magic in the Louisiana Bayou and Henry Lemarchand is about to find out that his family is right in the middle of it—waging a centuries-old struggle between good and evil. This book has it all—a great back story, a cool magic system (actually two cool magic systems), and a great plot as Henry and his cousin seek to find out how his father really died. In doing so, they may just have to save the world from an ancient evil.

I had a lot fun with this novel. It’s targeted at young adults and centered around two teenagers. They make a lot of mistakes—technically dumb mistakes but we’re talking about teenagers and so acting on emotion without a lot of thinking through the situation felt very right. My only real problem with the story was the supervillain moment in which the big bad guy revealed his nefarious plan. As one would expect at this moment, the villain thought he was impossible to stop, but, fortunately for the good guys, he wasn’t.

The Hammer Commission by Jan Van Stry

This was one of Van Stry's more convincing novels. Set in a world very much like our own, this is the story of an agent of The Hammer Commission—a centuries old department of the Catholic Church dedicated to protecting the world from demons, devils and other evil creatures. Unfortunately, someone (or something) is taking out the field agents of the Commission and that means our hero is a marked man. It doesn’t help that he and his boss don’t get along and that the distrust between them gets him shut out of the investigation.

There’s a lot to like about this story. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and would like to see more about how the supernatural elements of this world work. A few of the characters (such as the King of Las Vegas) were particularly intriguing. In addition there are a few nicely sprung surprises which kept the story very interesting. On the other hand, I knew who the big bad guy was the first time I met him and I don’t think Stryvant intended me to identify him quite that quickly.

The single best part of the novel is the ending. This was well set up and I found it extremely satisfying. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

The Black House by Blodwedd Mallory

Haunted houses are so much more interesting when magic and ghosts are real. In The Black House, Mallory and a fellow student at the Innsmouth Academy are dared to explore a haunted house and Mallory finds a lot more than she expected.

This short story is a treat for two different reasons. First, there is a good mystery surrounding why the house is haunted and it, alone, was enough to keep me turning pages to find out what was going to happen. But it’s also an excellent prequel story to Mallory’s already published adventures. Prequels are hard to pull off—the characters have to be true to the people they will become over the course of the series, but they are less capable and less experienced. In this case Mallory handles both aspects extremely well. If you’re interested in trying this series, The Black House is a great place to start.

I received this story for free in exchange for an honest review.

Chasing Shadows by Jamel Cato

Chasing Shadows may well be the most vibrant paranormal mysteries I’ve ever read. There are no vampires or werewolves in this well drawn urban fantasy, but there are plenty of ghosts, spirits and extra dimensional beings. This novel caught me from chapter one and just didn’t let go again until I’d reached the end.

In addition to a rich backdrop of ghosts, etc., there is a fascinating mystery (or three) that powers this novel as our hero tries to track down why a home is being haunted by an extremely large number of other worldly beings. The answer to that quickly becomes even more complicated involving an environmental tech company trying to save the world from carbon fuels, a failing marriage, and a possible otherworldly invasion.

As you can see from the above paragraph, this book is hard to pin down. Every time I thought I knew what was going on the author threw me for another fascinating loop. If you’re looking for a new type of urban fantasy and love ghosts, you should take a look at Chasing Shadows.

I received this story for free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

Immortal Creatures by J.N. Moon

I decided to read this book because I find the wendigo—the mythical Canadian monster created when a person eats human flesh—to be a fascinating and rarely used supernatural creature and I wanted to see what Moon would do with it. I also thought the idea of an EMT brought into the knowledge that supernatural creatures exist had great potential as a vehicle for propelling a story forward. So when the novel opens with the heroin Eloise killing a banshee, I thought things were off to a very good start.

Eloise was bitten while making a call. (I was never clear about what bit her.) Somehow this bite activates within her the ability to see the supernatural and kindles within her a fierce need to destroy the predators among the supernatural community—sort of. She quickly makes an exception for her one supernatural friend (a vampire) and convinces her to help her friend destroy the wendigo because it is preying primarily on vampires. Frankly, this never made a lot of sense to me, as vampires prey on humans and stopping that seems to be a major motivating force for Eloise, but to be fair to her, events quickly get complicated as they try to stop the wendigo and the force behind it.

As the springboard for a series, Immortal Creatures has a lot to offer—vampires, witches, demons, and tons of supernatural creatures. It will be interesting to see where J.N. Moon goes with it.

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

The HighFire Crown by J.T. Lawrence and M.J. Kraus

There’s a lot to like about this new series by Lawrence and Kraus. Jacqueline Knight is a hard driving wizard detective whose magic is driven by her emotions. This simple statement really helps the credibility of the story, because in most adventures, even though our heroes are exhausted, they somehow manage to find the strength to keep going. Strong emotions like anger, hate and fear often grow worse as the hero is run down and this made Knight suddenly finding the strength to keep fighting really believable.

There is also a nice mixture of modern world and hidden magical world. The idea is not original, but the world building worked for me here and kept up my interest in learning about Knight’s realm.

The mystery was also a good one. Lots of things happening. Many of them end up being related—no surprise there—but how they become related kept my interest building throughout the story.

I do have a couple of very minor complaints. One is that we keep getting told that Knight is the best wizard detective around. She clearly has a superb reputation. And yet she’s two months behind on her rent and I found those two things didn’t quite go together. Maybe if only poor people thought she was good, but everyone knows who she is and wants her to work on cases for them. In addition, and this is a bit unfair of me, there is a big unresolved problem at the end which is clearly intended to drive the next book in the series. When I read a book that acts like a detective story, I expect the mystery resolved even if the bigger problems continue into the next novel. Obviously the authors disagreed with me here. Which is their right. It’s their story and despite these small complaints it’s a good one.

I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

Detroit Christmas by Larry Correia

I enjoyed Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles quite a bit. It’s the sort of trilogy I plan to reread someday. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover this short story set in the same universe and the fact that it was fully dramatized just added to the treat. Unfortunately, unlike the original trilogy, this short story felt almost like a satire of the noir atmosphere of the first three books. The dialogue was often corny, and there are no real surprises in the tale. If you’ve read a few hardboiled detective novels that you won’t be the slightest bit surprised about who the ultimate villain really is.

The saving grace of the story was the dramatization. I really like it when an audiobook is brought to life more fully than a narrator simply reading the tale. This was good enough that I may listen to it again next Christmas.

Accidental Witch by Gemma Perfect

This short novel is the first book in a new series. It has a lot of potential—a feisty cast of teenagers and a highly dangerous political situation which promises to make future books even more interesting. There is a lot of action and once Elsie becomes the head witch, the plot moves very rapidly. The greatest strength of the novel is the interactions of the teens—they’re rarely nice to each other which was unpleasant but credible. Their parents were not particularly impressive—a mess of prejudices in addition to amazing shortsightedness—but again that was quite believable. My biggest complaint with the story was that we do not actually see much of the other races in action—i.e. using their powers. Hopefully this will be addressed in future books in the series.

I received this book from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

The Man from Rome by Dylan James Quarles

This is a novel about deep and abiding hate. The kind of hate that only grows over time and finds no price too great if it holds the promise of vengeance. It is perhaps ironic that the triggering incident of this raging animosity was a very small act of rejection.

In the ancient past, before the humble beginnings of the city of Rome, two immortals met. The first (the goddess, Diana) attempted to seduce the other (he who will become the Man from Rome) who drove her away with the warning that she and her kind (i.e. the other gods) should stay away from what will become Rome. Instead of listening, Diana decides to destroy the man who threatened her instead. Some three thousand or more years later, she is still trying. But this time she has a particularly insidious plan…

This whole book felt like a spy-thriller to me, but one with supernatural characters at least two of whom are close to immortal. The cast is wonderful. The Man from Rome himself is properly enigmatic and occasionally extraordinarily frightening. His enemies are intriguing as well, and the weapon they have chosen to use on him—taken out of the pages of mythology—was absolutely fascinating. The humans drawn into the conflict are both extremely sympathetic as they seek to be something more than sacrificial pawns. The plot was extremely well thought out, the action pulse-pounding, and the mystery intriguing. And while I knew very little about the geography of the city of Rome before I started reading, the author succeeded in making me feel transported to that ancient city. If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure with a lot of twists and turns, I think you’ll enjoy The Man from Rome.

I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

District Witch 1976 by Mel Enderby

I enjoy a good urban fantasy and am especially attracted to excellent world building. This novel caught me early on when it was revealed that Winston Churchill, as a matter of national security for the British Empire, made a secret treaty with the witches of England to protect their human neighbors from supernatural dangers. Thus was born the office of district witch—individuals called in by those few members of law enforcement who are in the know—to protect England by quietly neutralizing supernatural problems.

District Witch 1976 follows two young district witch apprentices who are in competition to become a district witch one day. Both of them have problems. One lost her sister to fell magic and remains very bitter about it, making her somewhat difficult to like even if she is in many ways a sympathetic character. The other was hidden among the humans for reasons that begin to become apparent as the novel progresses. He finds out during the course of the novel that he is a witch and begins to develop his powers very rapidly.

Many (if not most) magic powers appear to come from arrangements with beings from the other side and the boy, Tom’s, magical companion is so powerful it worries everyone—except Tom who really doesn’t know enough to know if he should be worried. The leaders of the witches want Tom watched as they attempt to determine if he will prove to be a danger to them and England.

The novel offers a couple of interesting cases that the two apprentices and their district witch investigate together and lays the groundwork for a sequel. There are moments that are quite exciting, but there were also moments that I wished the pacing of the story would pick up considerably. Overall, I enjoyed the book and am glad I read it. If you like magical systems and the idea of supernatural beings secretly moving about in our world, you’re likely to enjoy this novel.

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

Poseidon’s Children by Michael West

This excellent novel by Michael West strikes me as a reinterpretation of Lovecraft’s classic Dunwich Horror with a little legacy of Atlantis thrown in for good measure. The first portion of the book is a half-mystery as West introduces a cast loosely connected by their ties to organized-crime boss, Roger Hays. As the remains of Atlantis are discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, half-man/half-fish creatures begin to haunt the waters off the small east coast tourist trap of Colonial Bay. The reader knows there are monsters, but the characters in the novel do not. That’s why I refer to the plot as a “half-mystery”—the reader knows a lot of what is going on and watches as the various protagonists start to uncover the horrifying truth. By the end of the first part of the novel, the whole cast is converging on Colonial Bay for a variety of reasons. They are about to discover a more literal definition of the term “tourist trap” than the one we generally mean.

The second and third parts of Poseidon’s Children watches the various protagonists from Part I arrive at Colonial Bay and learn there are a nightmare’s worth of mythical creatures hidden under the surface. The tension just keeps ratcheting higher with each successive chapter. There’s a lot of good action here, but I found the politics within the community of “monsters” even more fascinating. On the one hand, we find the fanatics who are ready to announce their presence to the world by eating a lot of people. On the other hand, you have more pragmatic creatures who recognize that the humans who defeated them millennia ago are now far more numerous and have much deadlier weapons. Yet recognizing that this nest of creatures probably doesn’t spell the end of humanity all by itself doesn’t make the danger to the humans in the area any less severe. People die in this series and West keeps you guessing as to who will die next.

I enjoyed two of the organized crime-types (Horror Show and Roger Hays) more than the technical good guys in the story. I think that’s because when you’re dealing with human-eating monsters, people who are tough enough to fight back look good no matter what their other drawbacks. I enjoyed the fight scenes and the conclusion of the story quite a bit, but it’s the epilogue that truly got me excited for the sequel. I’m definitely planning to read West’s next book.

Dead in the Water by Blodwedd Mallory

In the third novel of the series, Mallory returns to Solomon Island to try and resolve the zombie situation which has lingered from the first book. She’s a full Templar now and acts with a bit more confidence than she did in the previous two stories as she and a growing cast of secret-society types investigate the cause of the zombie infestation and discover connections to a much larger problem.

Like the other books in the series, this one is fast moving and fun, but there were a couple of minor points that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. For example, the Templars sent Mallory into action without any type of briefing on the monster they already knew to be there—the zombies. While it’s been made quite clear that the resources of the Templars are overstretched, is it really plausible that Mallory’s superiors would not provide her with such basic information as zombies are attracted to loud noises? I think the problem comes from the game roots of the series. Some of the dialogue comes across as an NPC giving a mission to a player. The lack of training has the same feel to it.

These small problems aside, this is a worthy sequel to the first two novels and it builds to an intensely exciting, action-packed conclusion. I look forward to reading the next one.

London Underground by Blodwedd Mallory

Mallory comes out swinging in this second volume of her Legend of the Secret World series. Our heroine, Bloodwedd, has graduated high school and is finally going to get her chance to join the Templars. Unfortunately, every senior Templar she meets seems to have a serious stick stuck up their rectum and they do not appreciate her willingness to jump in and tackle any problem she sees. They also don’t appear to properly appreciate her intuitive grasp of the many sticky situations she finds herself in which leads her to solutions that have evaded her more experienced superiors. In short, most of the Templars come off as being married to their bureaucracy in a way designed to stifle innovation and irritate the reader. The cold shoulder Blodwedd receives from so many in authority probably explains why she doesn’t tell them about the most interesting thing happening to her—a series of much too life-like dreams.

These dreams are by far the best part of a very enjoyable novel. In the dreams, Blodwedd finds herself in Japan in the body of another woman fighting a supernatural threat known as the Filth. In her waking life, it quickly becomes clear that Japan is involved in some sort of mega crisis. The only disappointing thing about this novel was that we don’t have resolution on this storyline yet. Bad things are happening and it feels like it could easily spiral into a zombie-apocalypse level disaster (not that the Filth is composed of zombies).

I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series. Despite my comments above, some of the rank and file Templars are turning into great supporting cast characters and I’m eager to see what Mallory plans to do with all of them.

To Sir, with Love by Blodwedd Mallory

This novel is a lot of fun. It’s an urban fantasy setting told from the perspective of a young woman who was about to graduate from her magical high school when the apocalypse happened. That makes it sound like the secret of magic is now out in the world, but frankly, I’m not certain that’s the case. There is a lot of talk of secret societies such as the Templars and the Illuminati and I doubt that they would need to be secret if everyone knew about the supernatural.

That confusion aside, this is a fast-moving book about a young woman and her best friend who have to stop a wraith from killing the headmaster of their school. Complicating that significant problem are several hundred familiars that have been raised from their graves in the basement by the onset of the apocalypse and want nothing more than to kill everyone remaining in the school. It’s a tough situation for two teenagers to be in and Mallory handles it with a lot of skill.

As the efforts to stop the wraith become increasingly sophisticated, we learn a lot about how magic works in this world. I found the chaos-aspected magic the most interesting, especially the ability to step out of time and look at different outcomes that can flow from the caster’s magic—none of which seem to work out exactly as hoped.

I enjoyed this book enough that halfway through I bought the sequel novel, London Underground. In the afterward at the end of the book, I learned the story was based on a game system. That makes sense after the fact, but the book stood on its own and you don’t have to know anything about the game to enjoy it.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints by John Ringo and Larry Correia

After looking forward to this novel for a year, I almost didn’t read it because it quickly became apparent that this great subseries of Correia’s Monster Hunter books was the last about Chad Gardenier. You can’t help but love Chad and the thought that this was his last adventure was heartbreaking (not surprising, but it’s set in the past and we all knew when Chad is going to die from the beginning, but heartbreaking none the less). So I read it with a heavy heart and loved every page. I loved it so much I had to resist the urge to put it down and pick up the first two books in the trilogy to reread them and make certain I was totally up on what was happening. Not one page was disappointing. It’s a fabulous combination of hard action and genuine world building that (thanks to Correia) fits seamlessly with the main series. And then, as a reward for my loyal reading, the novel ends with a ray of hope—not for Chad—that I’m praying means Ringo will be teaming up with Correia to give us a new little sub series like this one. I hope they are both reading this and remember that it’s okay to tease as long as they come through with the new stories.

Monster Hunter Siege by Larry Correia

I am somewhat surprised to learn that this is the first novel I’ve reviewed by Larry Correia. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed all the books in the Monster Hunter Series plus his Grimnoir Chronicle and I’d be happy to try anything else he’s written. Aside from interesting characters and hard-biting action, Correia has that gift of presenting something you think you know all about in a different, fascinating, and often hilarious way. So he has nasty old-world trolls who love the internet and surf it better than anyone. He’s got a geek cyclops. His gnomes are all gangsta and well you get the picture. Correia’s books are just fun!

The Monster Hunter Series is a refreshing take on the rather well-worn idea that creatures of myth and legend really do exist in our world. The Monster Hunters are private contractors who risk their lives (for a good payday) to eliminate the monsters when they appear. The governments of the world often seem more interested in covering up the existence of the monsters than in actually winning the war against them.

This latest volume chronicles the effort to take the fight to a near-godly-powered entity instead of waiting for him to make his next bid to bring about the apocalypse. While it’s the weakest of the Monster Hunter books so far, most of the time I was reading it I greatly resented any interruption that made me put it down. The stakes are huge and getting even larger, and the cliff-hanger at the end which sets up the next novel is terribly painful. This is a series you really ought to give a try.

Cat Tales by Faith Hunter

Cat Tales by Faith Hunter is a collection of short stories from the Jane Yellowrock universe. The Yellowrock novels compose one of the best urban fantasy vampire series on the market today. As anyone who reads this genre knows, most of these series focus on the supernatural rivalries between various groups of preternatural beings (vampires, weres, etc.) and are often seen from the POV of a protagonist drawn into their world from the outside. That’s true in the Yellowrock novels as well. But what puts this series above the pack is the dual-souled nature of our heroine, Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who has the spirit of a mountain lion (called Beast) sharing her body. Jane is a solid character with well-thought out powers, but it is Beast and her simple predator instincts and wisdom which makes Jane super cool. This series should be read by everyone who enjoys an action filled book about the supernatural.

The first story, “The Early Years,” isn’t really a short story. It’s the unfinished lead in to what probably should have been a novella. It’s still a must read for any fan of the series as it offers a glimpse at Jane’s time in the orphanage and shows her rediscovery of her powers. But be forewarned, it will definitely leave you wondering what happened to the rest of the tale.

“Cat Tats” is a complete story, fleshing out the background of Rick LaFleur, one of the awesome support cast in Jane’s world. Rick has some elaborate cat-themed tattoos on his body and this story shows how and why he got them. Without spoiling the story, I think I can safely say that no one would want to get their tattoos this way.

“Kits” explores how Jane became best friends with earth witch Molly Everhart. It’s the best story in the batch and certainly isn’t hurt by providing a vital role for my favorite character, Beast. There are a lot of threads seamlessly woven together in this story and if you’ve never read any of the Jane Yellowrock books, this little story will draw you in and whet your appetite for more.

“Blood, Fangs and Going Fury,” is a treat for fans of the series who would like a gap between two of the novels filled in for them. In Mercy Blade things go badly wrong for Rick LaFleur with the promise of more pain and torment for him after the novel ends. This story shows just how terrible his life has become. Even better, it is simply beautifully written. Faith Hunter’s poetic descriptions bring the reality of Rick’s newly heightened senses to life. They are a true pleasure to read.

Ms. Hunter is at her best writing full length novels but this collection of stories is well worth the money. 

Have Stakes Will Travel by Faith Hunter

In Have Stakes Will Travel, Faith Hunter fills in more of the background of Jane Yellowrock and her strange group of friends. I’ve already praised the series at some length in my review of Cat Tales so instead of repeating myself here, I’m going to jump right into my reactions to the four short stories in this collection.

WeSa and the Lumber King: As I noted in an earlier review, I am a big fan of the character Beast. This spirit of a mountain lion trapped with Jane in her body is a lot of what gives this series it’s unique tone, bringing me eagerly back to each successive novel. So I was thrilled to find that this entire story is told from Beast’s perspective. For an indeterminate number of years (running in the decades) before Jane wandered out of the woods back into human society as a feral child, Beast was in control of their body prowling the Appalachian Mountains in big cat form. Their range is slowly being destroyed by the encroaching white man. Game is fleeing, trees are being cut down, rivers clogged and fouled. Beast decides to strike back at the white man in peculiarly Beast fashion. The story didn’t quite work for me, but I enjoyed Hunter’s attempt.

Haints: Haints is a short story that captures the excitement and mystery of the Jane Yellowrock novels. It’s a simply wonderful tale told from the POV of Molly Everhart Trueblood, an earth witch who is also Jane’s best friend. The reader gets to try and solve the mystery alongside Jane and Molly and watch as our heroines deal with an intriguing problem and finally it’s tragic resolution. The story also introduces a great new supporting character, a local police detective named Brax.

Signatures of the Dead: This story is in my view the most important of the short stories in the two collections (Cat Tales and Have Stakes Will Travel). This is the event alluded to from the beginning of the series in which Jane makes her reputation as a Vampire Hunter. It’s a gritty frightening tale of insane rogue vampires praying on a community and it strikes close to home when Molly’s pregnant sister is captured by the creatures. Like Haints, this story reads with all the depth and color of Hunter’s novels. It’s exceedingly well done.

Cajun with Fangs: This story also reads like one of Ms. Hunter’s novels. Jane’s motorcycle breaks down in a small bayou town and Jane gets pulled into a centuries old feud between witches and vampires. It’s intense with satisfying twists and turns. Jane is required to be both tough and very intelligent. The only problem with the story is that one of the locals speaks in dialect and it gets very trying. The “dialect” issue is often an unwinnable problem for authors. People do speak differently. If you pretend that they don’t your stories lack an important element of authenticity. If you show the dialect, it can distract from the tale. On reflection, Ms. Hunter walks the line between these problems very well.

Have Stakes Will Travel is a much stronger collection of stories than is found in Cat Tales. Both are worth your money.

Blood Prism by E.E. King

This is a beautifully written book with an unusual, heavily descriptive, almost poetic style. There’s not a lot of dialogue and that troubled me a little at first, but the short chapters quickly pulled me in to the parallel lives of Neal and Aidan from their extreme youth to the end of the novel. Neal brings hope and happiness into people’s lives while Aidan brings only misery, fear and despair—although not usually through any overt acts of his own. It amazes me that King somehow succeeded in making a character whom no one likes and whom everyone is uncomfortable around charming in his own sad way.

This book is inundated in what I would call the “casual supernatural”. It’s all about atmosphere instead of plot. The Fates of Greek mythology overtly manipulate every aspect of the book. In addition, supernatural creatures—vampires, werewolves, minor gods, ghosts—flitter through most of the pages, as does small, potent, but generally unconscious magic. I’d say these supernatural elements drive the plot, but I’m not sure this book has a plot. It certainly doesn’t need one. It’s like a gorgeous intricate painting of a series of lives—endlessly fascinating, telling small stories, but only creating a larger picture in retrospect once the reader has finished. Blood Prism is definitely worth your time.

Bill the Vampire by Rick Gualtieri

Bill Rider is a geek who thinks he’s finally got a shot at scoring with a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, she’s a vampire and he’s the lonesome loser—big time. Now Bill is undead too and trying to figure out how to survive. Much to his disappointment, becoming undead didn’t make him graceful, or handsome or ready for a role on True Blood. It also didn’t dispose of his pesky conscience. All of which make him the very opposite of apex predator and pretty funny to follow.

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

The opening book in the Elemental Assassin series is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp through the southern city of Ashland run by a mix of wealthy humans, elemental wizards, giants, vampires, dwarfs and what have you. Gin, the main character, a top-notch assassin known as The Spider, has a lot of sparky attitude and generally makes a fun heroine. The opening scene is perfect for capturing the assassin at her work and makes her an instantly lovable character.

The plot of the novel is that Gin is set up to take the fall for an assassination. In covering up the crime, the people behind the setup also torture and kill her mentor. Gin wants revenge and the rest of the novel chronicles her efforts to find out who is behind the betrayal and making them pay.

To complicate matters, Ashland’s one honest cop, Donovan Caine, is smack in the middle of Gin’s problems. He knows—contrary to the city’s corrupt account of events—that Gin didn’t murder the victim. He also knows she’s on the wrong side of the law. The question is, can he work with Gin to find out what really happened or will he turn on her and arrest her as his superiors want? Of course, as has become an expectation of the genre, there is tremendous sexual tension between cop and assassin, although it’s overplayed early on throwing into question just how professional Gin really is.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I do have two major problems with it in addition to the aforementioned overplaying of the sexual tension. First, in working with Donovan Caine Gin loses any pretense at being a professional. She brings him to her apartment. She introduces him to her best friend. She talks about critical details that could let him identify her in front of him. She exposes critical contacts to him all while apparently not intending to kill him when the need to work with him was done. And all of this while he is insisting he will turn on her as soon as he doesn’t need her anymore. Needless to say, this was crazy.

In addition, Gin is a stone elemental. Among her powers is her ability to harden her skin so that she is immune to little things like gunfire. Yet Gin doesn’t want to use her magic because she fears it will make her overdependent on it and weak. This might make sense when she decides to stab someone instead of collapsing a building on top of him. (She also argues that such overt use of magic would attract too much attention.) But when a fellow assassin gets the drop on her with a pistol and she refuses to make her skin hard enough to be immune to his bullets (taking a wound for her stubbornness) this makes her look stupid and insane—not the consummate professional she keeps insisting she is. To make matters worse, when she finally does use her magic to harden her skin, one of the bad guys punches rattle her when bullets don’t. This is a major problem that appears to have derived from Estep’s inability to think of a better way to threaten Gin than pointing a gun at her.

That being said, it’s still a fun story and the series shows a lot of potential.

Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep

The second book of the Elemental Assassin series has more of the strengths and weaknesses of the first. It’s got a fun main character with the right kind of bad attitude and a weakness for helping people in distress. There are good action scenes that keep you flipping pages as we watch our heroine take on the bad guys. There are a couple of different mysteries unfolding--some central to the current plot and some setting up later adventures. And the supporting cast also works pretty well.

On the downside, our assassin just can’t stop telling people what she does for a living despite being at least nominally “retired”. This is especially dumb since it is becoming apparent that the big bad fire elemental who runs Ashland is becoming interested in her. It also defies sense--there is no way that a person with Gin’s lack of a filter on her mouth could have remained an anonymous assassin for all of these years.

That being said, Gin’s new problem--helping an old friend of her dead mentor to keep from being driven off his land by a mining firm--is a good challenge for our friendly neighborhood killer of bad guys and it gives her many good opportunities to show off her talents. We also get introduced to a new potential love interest which is good because the old one (honest cop Donovan Caine) was never going to work out in the long run.

In fact, Donovan Caine is the best drawn character in the novel. He likes Gin. Frankly, he’s obsessed with her. He wants to be with her. But he is never going to be able to accept her world view. He is, at heart, an honest cop who is being forced by Gin to confront the fact that his town is too corrupt for influential villains to ever be brought to justice. Yet, that doesn’t mean that he can live with the concept that killing those villains is the only alternative. That internal conflict causes a lot of pain for both Donovan and Gin. It’s ultimately a situation that can’t go on forever and I was glad that Estep realized that and came up with a believable solution to the problem. I’d like to see more of this supporting character in the future.

Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep

Winter’s Web is a quick short story about Jenifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin, Gin. I have only read the first few books of the series but it was easy to pick up what was going on. Gin is still full of self-confidence and attitude and the boyfriend she picked up after cop, Donovan Caine, left town is still with her. They are going to a Renaissance Festival called Winter’s Web to try and forget their problems for a while. But, something about the way people keep staring at Gin has her somewhat paranoid sense of danger screaming that there is trouble at the Festival. When three giants try to follow her about, her feelings are confirmed, so she ambushes them and things quickly go to hell. It’s a diverting short story—perfect for both old fans and for anyone thinking about giving the series a try.