paranormal

Pure Fun in “Beastly Bones”

Ritter_BeastlyBones_jkt_COMP.inddBeastly Bones by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers: September 22, 2015 (Historical; Paranormal; Young Adult)*

I’d go there again!
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“Follow my lead, Miss Rook,” Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investigator, those might have been simple instructions, but in the time I’ve been his assistant, I’ve found very little about Jackaby to be standard. Following his lead tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. (p. 10)

Beastly Bones is the wonderful follow-up to Jackaby in which readers are introduced to Jackaby, paranormal investigator extraordinaire, and his intrepid assistant Abigail Rook. The first book in the series was fantastic and its sequel does not disappoint – it was just plain fun reading. And totally justified as being one of my most anticipated reads of the fall.

After successfully solving the case in the previous book, Jackaby and Miss Rook are called upon to investigate the theft of a dinosaur head at a nearby dig in Gad’s Valley. Abigail, who once dreamed of being a paleontologist, is thrilled to be near an exciting new discovery. However, it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary dinosaur. Something supernatural is disturbing the site and once again Jackaby and Abigail are on the case, aided by shape shifting police officer, Charlie Barker. (more…)

Prepare to be Charmed by Charming

charming Charming by Elliott James
Published by Orbit: September, 2013 (Urban Fantasy)

My Rating: Outstanding Adventure!

John Charming is half werewolf, half Knight Templar. During a supernaturally long lifespan, he has been a knight-in-training, an orphan, a despised werewolf, and a fugitive (from the same knights who raised  and trained him). He’s become apathetic about his life, tending bar in a small town in Appalachia, when a vampire and a blonde walk into his bar. That’s how it starts, and it doesn’t end until he’s been co-opted into a band of vampire hunters, nearly killed at least twice, stalked and ambushed, and visited by his fiancee’s ghost.

The action never stops, with tension, distrust, and attraction between the main characters; a sociopathic teenage vampire with delusions of world domination and a hatred of everyone; and jealousy among the vampire hunting cohort. Which doesn’t stop at turning green, but involves some ambushing and hand-to-hand combat, among other exciting things.

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‘Jackaby’: For Fans of ‘Sherlock’

20312462Jackaby by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers, September 16, 2014 (Historical Fiction; Young Adult)*

My Rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)

“Monsters are easy, Miss Rook. They’re monsters. But a monster in a suit? That’s basically just a wicked man, and wicked man is a more dangerous thing by far.” (p.112)

Jackaby is a book that I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about, and after finishing this historical fantasy wrapped in a mystery, I have to agree that it’s worth the attention it’s getting. Described as Doctor Who meets Sherlock this young adult novel will be sure to appeal to a wide audience.

Miss Abigail Rook is newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892. Rather than attending school, Abigail is intent on finding herself an adventure. After participating on a dig for dinosaurs, Abigail finds herself with limited funds in New Fiddleham. Thankfully (or not, depending on your point of view) she soon finds employment with the investigator, Mr. Jackaby. (more…)

Ghosts, Demons, and Vampires in ‘Deadly Curiosities’

deadlycuriositiesDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Solaris, June 24th, 2014 (Urban Fantasy)*

My rating: I’ll go there again! (4/5)

Not your typical romantic urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities focuses on the supernatural powers, the fighting of demons, and the magic of paranormal fantasy. The story is set in modern-day Charleston (and having had a chance to visit the city while I finished the book, it seems the author portrays the city pretty accurately. And the houses she mentions? With the porches and gardens and side doors? Absolutely gorgeous. But I digress).

Cassidy Kincaide owns and runs her family’s antiques shop, but her assistant manager is a Weaver who can weave magic in threads and in data (he’s a magical hacker!), and her business partner is a centuries-old vampire who has worked alongside her family for generations. Cassidy herself has the ability to read objects’ histories and moods when she touches them. Together, Teag (the Weaver), Sorren (the vampire), and Cassidy defend the city and its inhabitants against ghosts and objects that have negative and harmful resonances, buying these objects from people, sometimes neutralizing their energies, and hiding them away. (more…)

Your Haunted House of Literary Monsters for Halloween

Burne-Jones-le-VampireHappy Halloween, lovely readers!

How could we prepare you for Halloween without a collection of creepy stories featuring scary monsters, in addition to the ghostly selections we listed earlier? (The answer is, we couldn’t. Which is why you’re reading this post.) Keep reading for a stunning selection of scary (and some not-so-scary) tales of vampires, werewolves, serial killers, and one monster.

In the Drawing Room, we have … Vampires.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Duh. A classic. I bet you already think you know what it’s about. Read it – and go back to the original that inspired all the knock-offs. Word to the wise: watch out for the misogyny, but the suspenseful story and creepy Vampire make it worthy of its classic status. By the way – have you seen the new show yet?

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Another about Dracula, but a much different take – follow a young woman as she searches for her father, who once searched for her mother, who got taken by … you guessed it – Dracula. It all starts with an ancient book and mysterious yellowing letters. Her travels span the globe, and several stories (the heroine’s, her father’s, and Dracula’s) are intertwined. This was one of those books I couldn’t let go, and I was particularly impressed by and enamored of this Dracula.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

These days, another classic take on the Vampire, although much more recent than Dracula. I’ve not read this one, but if you’ve seen the movie (with Brad Pitt – enough said), my work here is done. I’ve heard it’s erotic, and shocking… you’ve been warned.

Nightlife by Matthew Quinn Martin

Shivers. This dark modern-day tale of vampires you’ve never seen before is dark, spooky, suspenseful, and riveting. Beth Becker is just an outsider bartender in a small town, until her best friend goes missing – and she discovers a creepy, alien world she never suspected existed. Along the way she meets Jack, a vigilante motivated by a devastating past. And the vampires – they’re definitely NOT your friends. Try putting it down. I dare you.

In the Kitchen, with the Knife: Serial Killers.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Hannibal has to be the creepiest fictional sociopath. In Red Dragon, the first in the series chronologically, FBI agent Will Graham relies on hints and manipulative advice from mental patient Hannibal to track a serial killer associated with the Dragon. Even if you’ve seen the Hannibal movies, it’s worth checking these out in book format. There’s something about using your own imagination that makes it even scarier.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Do you like stories about time travel? Do you like cringe-worthy novels about horrifying (fictional) events? What about a strong, determined heroine who wins the day in the end? Can you stand graphic and disturbing imagery. This is a twister about a sociopath who discovers a house that allows him to travel through time. Kirby is one of his victims, who can’t let her attempted murder go. Cue mystery, suspense, danger, and sleeping with a light on.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The only nonfiction book on this list, this is one of the best and creepiest serial killer stories. This time, the serial killer was for real. Adds an extra dash of spine-tingling horror. Intermingled with (and almost as interesting) the true-crime story of the serial killer of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, is the story of the fair itself.

And on the Back Porch, howling to get in, are the Werewolves and Monsters.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

I haven’t read this yet, everyone knows it’s a classic. Mary Shelley (daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, if you’re interested in the history of feminism) started writing this story when she was 18. How’s that for youthful accomplishments? Anyway, Frankenstein is a science student who thinks there’s nothing wrong with attaching scavenged body parts to other scavenged body parts and then animating them. Riiiiight. Nothing could go wrong! Except poor Frankenstein ends up with the first vengeful undead monster (if we’re not counting vampires, who have been stars of folklore and fireside tales for even more centuries).

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

This is magical urban mythical fantasy along the lines of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Galina, a young woman in 1990s Moscow, searches the mundane world and the underworld with a young clear-eyed policeman, Yakov, when her sister turns into a jackdaw and flies away. In Moscow’s underworld, you’ll find more jackdaws, weeping trees, and creatures of Russian folklore. Fasten your seat belt!

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Okay, not so scary. But definitely kick butt. Volvo mechanic Mercy Thompson is not a werewolf – she’s a coyote shifter. This makes relations with her neighbor, attractive alpha of the nearest werewolf pack, tense (and intriguing). Not to mention, her former boss is a gremlin, and one of her customers a vampire. This mix ends up getting her in trouble with the local supernatural community. One of my favorite series about werewolves. Ever. Go check it out from your local library now. Go, go!

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop has always, all my life, been a favorite author of mine. And with her latest series, she just KILLED it. In a world where humans are not at the top of the food chain (that’s the Others: werewolves, fae, and the like), Meg Corbyn is a rare cassandra sangue, which means her blood gives her prophetic visions (meaning that she gets cut every time a vision is required, and every time she gets a cut, she sees a vision). She, and others like her, are confined and controlled by a mysterious agency. Clever Meg escapes, though, and hides with the Others. Leading to all kinds of intriguing situations and interspecies relationships. Another Must-Read here.

What’s on your Halloween shelf? Read any really scary, really good monster stories lately? Share in the comments!

*Image credit: Philip Burne-Jones, The Vampire, 1897

Book Review: Shadow’s Curse

17191535Shadow’s Curse by Alexa Egan*
Pocket Books, September 24, 2013 (Historical Romance / Paranormal Romance)
Series: Imnada Brotherhood, Book 2
Rating: Beach vacation.

Shadow’s Curse is the second in a historical paranormal romance series (whew, what a genre mouthful!). I should preface this review with the fact that I have not read the first book in the series, and after finishing Shadow’s Curse I have to recommend that you read the books in their proper order to really understand the world and the larger conflict that binds the books together.

The world of Shadow’s Curse is an interesting one. There are shape shifters and fae creatures, all hidden from the general masses in Regency England. David St. Leger is one of those shape shifters, cursed after being exiled from his clan. David stalks the stews of London and helps those in need, but it’s certainly not for altruistic purposes, rather he just needs something to do. And he finds a whole lot more trouble than he bargained for when he comes to the aid of a young woman.

Callista Hawthorne is the young woman rescued by David, although she’s unaware that it’s actually a “rescue” at the time. Callista is being used by her brother for her ability at necromancy; she can contact the dead and her brother has been using this as a money making scheme. Callista wants out of this life and longs to escape to her aunt in Scotland. Unbeknownst to Callista her brother has sold her off to an underworld crime lord that plans to marry her and use her powers for his own purposes, and he will resort to any means necessary to make that marriage come about. Understandably Callista’s none to happy about this and when her path crosses again with David, she strikes a bargain and gets an escort to Scotland. Of course, the crime lord is not so keen to let Callista go and David’s got his own problems trailing behind them as well. The course of true love never does run smooth…

Essentially, what we have in Shadow’s Curse is an on-the-road romance. Callista and David are both on the run and they band together because of common goals. At first they don’t like each other all that much (Callista did inadvertently help capture David); however, they quickly become attracted to one another. I liked the romance aspect of this book, I just didn’t feel like there was enough of it. The main focus of the book was the adventure and the greater conflict that had started in book one. If I had read book one I think I would have been more invested in what was going on, but since I had not I was really reading it for the romance and I didn’t get enough of it.

In the end, I felt a little confused when I finished the book. I was missing something, and it was that first book. I liked the writing style and I thought the world had potential, but I think the confusion that I felt reading Shadow’s Curse really hampered my enjoyment of this one. Ultimately, I’m not sure that I’ll be back for the next installment in the series since I don’t feel invested in the outcome of these characters. I’m also not really a fan of the fae in fiction. Don’t really have a reason why, I just find them odd creatures, and I tend to stray away from books with these characters in them. I think had the romance taken more of focus I would have enjoyed this one more; however, I think those looking for more plot in a romance will enjoy this one a lot more than I did. Overall, not a bad book, just not my favourite.

*e-ARC provided by NetGalley

Read-Alikes:

Shadow Kin (The Half-Light City, #1)Steam & Sorcery (Gaslight Chronicles, #1)Legacy (The League of Illusion #1)

Shades of Potential in Delia’s Shadow: a book review

deliasshadowDelia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
Publisher: Tor
Date: September 17th, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery
e-Arc provided by NetGalley

Rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed. (In other words, I didn’t like it much).

And now, just to confuse you, lovely readers, in this post I recount a vastly different experience with Delia’s Shadow than my fellow reviewer, Jaclyn. (Spoiler: We do agree on the lacking romance). Forewarning: I watch a lot of Criminal Minds, that show about horrible horrible crimes and behavioral analysis of criminals.

Delia Martin steps off the train in San Francisco, her home, after three years in self-imposed exile in New York. She has returned because her “Shadow,” a young woman brutally murdered before Delia was born, haunts her, leading her back. Shadow’s death in San Fran is related to a serial killer currently stalking the city’s denizens and threatening the Pan Pacific Fair of 1915. Delia has a few close relationships – with her second mother and her best friend, Sadie. All her life, she has seen ghosts.

Gabe Ryan is a young police detective on the serial murders case, with a secret: this case may be related to an unsolved serial murder case that his father worked before him. He is determined, focused, by-the-book, and good friends with his partner, Jack, who is Delia’s best friend’s fiance.

At first, I found the novel compelling. I was hooked. I liked Delia a strong heroine with a sad and creepy ghost and a mystery to solve. Gabe was interesting, and I wanted to watch their relationship develop. I even enjoyed the visceral crime scenes, which added a vividness to the plot, although some are uncomfortable to read. (NB: If you get squeamish at gory details, you might want to give this one a miss. But check out a few of the titles I’ve recommended below.)

Before long, however, I found first the characters and relationships falling flat. In particular, the romance seemed forced, overplayed. Then, I noticed that I kept imagining the events were taking place in the 1940s. While this could be my own fault for not knowing the Ford Model-T was mass produced by the early 1910s, and that cloche hats were first designed in 1908, I was right about the fedoras, which were not worn regularly by men until the 1920s. The setting just wasn’t realistic enough, present enough, and I repeatedly lost the sense of being in 1915. Names were inconsistent – characters thought of each other by different names, often on the same page, which I found distracting. The climax  was almost glossed over, with little tension or suspense.

By the second half of the book, no part of it convinced me. The romance, the setting, the plot felt flat, contrived, and unrealistic. I had quite high hopes for this novel, but in the end I felt the delivery made it a quite forgettable tale of murder and romance in 1915 San Francisco.

Suggested Reading:

A historical account of the real-life serial killer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and an account of the fair itself. Superb.

The Devil in the White City

A complex detective story that revolves around the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1922 Berlin. Fascinating.

City of Shadows

A cozy, witty murder mystery set in 1920s England, by the woman who established Regency England historical romances. Fun.

Footsteps in the Dark

One of my favorite mysteries ever, which follows a young girl in search of her family … and Dracula.

The Historian

A new, very creepy, gory murder mystery about a serial killer who travels through time. Definitely creepy.

The Shining Girls

Book Review: Delia’s Shadow

10576071Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
Publisher: Tor
Date: September 17th, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Rating: Vacation by the beach

Delia Martin has returned home to San Francisco when she begins to see ghosts that have dropped out of sight since her move to New York. What Delia soon learns is that this ghost is the victim of a terrifying serial killer stalking San Francisco.

Once home Delia finds herself immersed in the investigation because of her unusual connection with the ghost, who is trying to lead Delia to her murderer. Helping Delia is the lead investigator of the case, Lieutenant Gabriel Ryan. As the killer raises the stakes Delia needs to learn to understand her ghost if she has any hope of stopping the killer who is now threatening the lives of those she loves.

Delia’s Shadow was a nice historical mystery with just a dash of romance. What I liked most about this one was the historical atmosphere that Moyer evoked. Historic San Francisco was a new setting to me and I found the descriptive setting to be a highlight with this one. The mystery was also fairly well executed, although I didn’t feel like there were any surprises about whodunnit. However, I felt that the serial killer and his crimes were sufficiently creepy, and had there been more violent detail I doubt I would have continued reading. So if you like a mystery, but don’t love explicit violence, this would be a good read for you.

For me, the weak part of the novel was the romance. Now, I’m a romance reader, so personally this aspect was important to me, and others may not have an issue with the relationship between Delia and Gabe as I did. From my point of view I found Delia and Gabe’s relationship to be a little flat and passionless. In the end, I just didn’t buy into the emotions that Delia and Gabe claimed to have for one another. Perhaps because a lot of this relationship development happened “off camera” and readers are just told that the pair goes walking and presumably has forged a strong relationship. I really would have liked a little bit more interaction between these two and I think it would have gone a long way to cementing a more believable relationship between them. But, again, this is coming from someone who is a big reader of romance rather than the mystery genre.

Overall, I enjoyed this historic, paranormal mystery and I would recommend it for fans of light mysteries. It was a quick read and I would gladly return to the setting since I’ve learned that it is to be the first in a series. I would love to delve more deeply into the characters of Delia and Gabe and explore more of historic San Francisco.

Read-Alikes:

The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1)The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)The House of Velvet and GlassSilent in the Grave (Lady Julia, #1)

Classics: The Shadowy Horses

shadowyhorses The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Jove
Date: March 1st 1999
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
My rating: Outstanding adventure
This novel went way beyond my expectations, into “truly delightful” territory. I had expected something a little less fiction and a little more fluffy (Kind of like Elizabeth Lowell, who writes stories involving art history, book history, studies of artifacts, etc. – but whose writing is not nearly as good).

This novel has a perfect mix of history, romance, and mystery.

The plot begins immediately, with an archaeologist re-tracing her route on a bus after managing to sleep through her train stop. She’s received a teasing letter from an old flame about an amazing dig in southern Scotland, and is on her way to the Scottish borderlands to find out if she wants to work on it. The man financing and leading the dig has a reputation for being a bit mad, which she doesn’t find out until she meets him. It turns out he’s looking for the fabled Lost Legion, the Legio IX Hispana.

The author throws in a ghost – “The Sentinel” – and a psychic boy, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like. Fortunately, the supernatural stuff does not ruin the story or the characterization, both of which are compelling.

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Book Review: An Inquiry into Love and Death

inquiryintolovenaddeath

An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James
Publisher: NAL Trade
Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery / Romance
Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this one since I read St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare, yet when I got my hands on An Inquiry Into Love and Death I was strangely reluctant to start it. It was one of those times when you’re so excited to read a book, you just want to save it and you don’t want to be disappointed. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed with this one, it had all the elements that I loved from St. James’ first book – highly atmospheric, touch of the supernatural, dash of mystery, and a good helping of romance.

In An Inquiry into Love and Death Oxford student, Jillian Leigh receives the news that her ghosthunter Uncle Toby has died, and she has to identify the body and take care of his effects. Jillian drives to the seaside town of Rothewell and becomes embroiled in a ghostly mystery she had not anticipated. Along the way she meets RAF pilot turned Scotland Yard detective, Drew Merriken, who is investigating some mysterious happenings in the sleepy seaside town.

What I loved about this one was the atmosphere that St. James evokes. This book is set in 1924, shortly after world war one and you can feel the sadness and melancholy that you would expect people to feel after the war; after realizing all that they have lost. This same atmosphere was also present in The Haunting of Maddy Clare and I think its a perfect match for the post-war era. The setting of the novel seems to mimic this melancholy, but I also think that the investigation of ghosts (the focus of both St. James’ books) also demonstrates a mentality that I think people would embrace after such a tragedy as war. I thought this atmosphere was marvelously well done and it wasn’t at the expense of characters. I like a character driven novel and I liked that in An Inquiry into Love and Death we had a character driven plot that was also highly atmospheric. I find that it’s difficult to find a novel that had both strong characters and a strong sense of place.

I also loved the creepiness factor. The exploration of ghosts is a major theme and the way the ghostly encounters are described are terrifying. For example, one of the very first encounters Jillian has with the ghost, Walking John, hits you viscerally:

“At the top of the window – the very top – a hand was pressed to the glass.
 
The hand was reaching down – from God knew where – ans flattened to the glass. It was grayish white, damp. The  pads of its fingers were rotted black. I glimpsed blackened fingernails and a ripped, ruined thumbnail. As we watched, the hand pressed harder into the window glass – as if being used to launch the body – and disappeared. It left behind no mark.

‘Drew,’ I said. ‘It’s climbing up the wall.'”. (p. 123)

I think what also helps the scariness of the ghostly encounters is the way that Jillian reacts to them. You can feel her terror when she sees and experiences things that just couldn’t possibly be real. By having Jillian narrate her reactions, the horror of her experiences are ramped up another notch.

This was a very good read, and I think it will appeal to Downton Abbey fans for its atmospheric setting, but I think it will also appeal to a wider audience because it has a little bit of several genres: historical, romance, mystery etc. I will be anxiously awaiting St. James’ next book! And, if you haven’t read The Haunting of Maddy Clear do so immediately.

Read-alikes:

The House of Velvet and Glass The Uninvited Guests The Dressmaker The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)