Review, Grave Witch, Kalayna Price

Book blerb
Not even death can save her now.

As a grave witch, Alex Craft can speak to the dead-she’s even on good terms with Death himself. As a consultant for the police, she’s seen a lot of dark magic, but nothing has prepared her for her latest case. When she’s raising a “shade” involved in a high profile murder, it attacks her, and then someone makes an attempt on her life. Someone really doesn’t want her to know what the dead have to say, and she’ll have to work with mysterious homicide detective Falin Andrews to figure out why…

Review
Set in a near-future where magic has reappeared and the Fey have come out of the proverbial closet, Alex Craft is a grave witch who able to raise the shades of the dead, making them visible to others. She is about to embark on the most difficult task of her career; be the first grave witch to raise a shade to testify in court. It will be a landmark change for her industry and has made her a target.

Or is she a target because of the favour she does for her estranged sister, looking into the death of a politician?

There are a number of engaging characters in this world, including a prophetic gargoyle, handsome and mysterious detective, even Death himself.

This is more of a murder mystery than many other offerings in the urban fantasy field, and it holds up well. Yes, it is somewhat formulaic and some sections could use a touch more editing, but overall it is engaging, funny, well-written, and action-packed. The romance is dealt with deftly, the myriad of threads all weave together well and the world is distinct and fully-formed.

I look forward to the next instalment in this series.

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Review: Dead to Me, Anton Strout

Book blurb
Psychometry – the power to touch an object and divine information about its history-has meant a life of petty crime for Simon Canderous, but now he’s gone over to the good side. At New York’s underfunded and (mostly) secret Department of Extraordinary Affairs, he’s learning about red tape, office politics, and the basics of paranormal investigation. But it’s not the paperwork that has him breathless.

After Simon spills his coffee on (okay, through) the ghost of a beautiful woman – who doesn’t know she’s dead – he and his mentor plan to find her killers. But Simon’s not prepared for the nefarious plot that unfolds before him, involving politically correct cultists, a large wooden fish, a homicidal bookcase, and the forces of Darkness, which kind of have a crush on him.”

Review
What happens when Good and Evil meet at the junction of bureaucracy?

Simon Canderous has spent years using his special gift of psychometry for nefarious purposes, but he is working for Good now, in the form of New York City’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. Author Anton Strout’s description of life in the bureaucratic hell that is a government agency is spot on – even if the agency’s role is to protect the Good. Mountains of paperwork, fascinating but bizarre characters and the occasional zombie cleanup definitely make Simon’s determination not to fall back into a life of crime interesting.

While still trying hard to learn the job under the tutelage of his mentor Connor, Simon manages to find himself mixed up with a very confused ghost, evil cultists, a wooden fish, and a bunch of FOGies.

Much like the forces of Darkness, I too have a bit of a crush on Simon. Or maybe it is on Anton Strout for creating him. I love this world he has created and I am going to be eagerly waiting for the door to the bookstores to open on February 24th when the second Simon Canderous story, Deader Still, comes out.

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Ghost tour on Queen Mary

Sad to say, one of the stories I had heard somewhere about the Queen Mary is untrue.

I had read somewhere, and I cannot for the life of me remember where, that some of the Queen Mary’s most famous spooks were the ghosts of servicemen who had died there during World War 2. No, I am not saying that there aren’t ghosts of servicemen, just that the story I had read was wrong: I had heard that they had died because they were sleeping in the first class pool, which is situated right over the engines (true and true), and that when the boat sailed through the Panama Canal, the heat from the engines combined with the heat of being close to the Equator resulting in overly cooked servicemen.

The Queen Mary is too big to go through the Panama Canal. Ergo, that last part isn’t true.

It is true, however, that the Queen Mary was used as a troop ship in the Second World War, however it operated in the North Atlantic, and I get the feeling that those troops who got assigned bunks in the pool area were probably happy about the extra warmth they would have gotten from the engines.

One of the highlights of my brief stop in SoCal taking the time to do the “Dining with Spirits” tour on the Queen Mary, in Long Beach California. I was also very excited because the Queen Mary has quite the reputation in ghost tour circles. I’ve seen a few ghost hunt shows about the ship, and was eager to try my own hunt.

Arriving at the ship is almost daunting… dark, overcast night, empty streets and then suddenly there she is: this huge behemoth ocean liner rising before you. I’ve been on cruise ships in the Caribbean before, but somehow the Queen Mary just seems more overwhelming.

There are a couple paranormal tours offered on board, but the one available that night was Dining with the Spirits, which included “upscale dining at the award-winning Sir Winston’s, followed by an intimate tour of the ship’s paranormal host spots.” Well, I was going to have to eat dinner anyway…

We were a small group that night (under 20), which I understand is quite the rarity. We all gathered in the bar area of Sir Winston’s, the ships ‘most elegant restaurant’. The bar is decorated with many pictures from the ship’s heyday, including some of its celebrity passengers. I met a couple who were not only doing the dinner/tour but also staying on board at the ship’s hotel. They were not the only couple doing so, I later discovered; most of the folks on the tour were staying there. Our paranormal guide says the ship is most ‘active’ around 4 a.m., so staying over is definitely something I’ll want to try next time.
Sir Winstons

Sir Winston’s definitely lived up to its elegant promise. The food was excellent and wonderfully presented. The group at my table spent most of dinner telling each other stories about strange encounters they had experienced or other ghost tours they had been on. Needless to say, we were primed.

Halfway through dinner we were joined by Andrew, who is one of the ship historians. He dashed the story I had heard, but confirmed another – yes, despite being unarmed the Queen Mary has sunk a boat. Sadly, it was an escort ship during WWII (a so-called ‘friendly fire’ type incident), and may account for some of the paranormal experiences. The ship also carried my POWs, which could also account for other ‘things that go bump in the night.’

Erika Frost, our paranormal tour guide joined us for dessert. She gave us an overview of where we were going and what to expect. She also gave us this directive: if taking pictures, take a few in rapid succession: If you get an orb on one and not on another, that is to be ‘trusted’ more than if you only take one picture. That one could just be of dust; a couple pics will clarify that. She also warned us that many folks did experience unexplained camera problems on the tour.

Another thing she mentioned is that the boat is completely stationary. While still surrounded by water, it was wedged pretty hard in, and so it just simply didn’t move. Any rocking feeling we might experience would be due to electromagnetic waves, something she says occur a lot in such a highly charged paranormal area. Indeed, some folks had mentioned it during dinner, though not all of us felt it.

I did also want to mention one slightly weird thing that happened during dinner. At one point I went to the washroom, walking through the restaurant’s lobby and bar. As I approached the lobby there was an overwhelming smell of cigar. Even the maître mentioned that someone in the bar must be smoking and he hoped the bartender would tell them to stop. When I went down the stairs to the bar, the smell was fainter, but more importantly – the place was empty.

Our first stop was one of the engine rooms, where a spirit called Johnny resides. He had been crushed in an accident many years ago, and is considered one of the ship’s most famous residents. Erika said she felt his presence, which I did not, though myself and a couple others felt there was someone else, hiding in the back area. Erika confirmed that there is another man whose spirit has been felt in that area but little is known about him; he’s shy and not that talkative. We stopped and some of us were given a chance to try dowsing. While the metal rods did do a lot of moving around, I am still not sure I felt a presence. One woman though, felt someone brushing against her a lot, and Erika did say that ‘Johnny’ really seemed to like her.
Engine Room

Orbs in Engine Room

One of the next stops was in the very bowels of the ship, right at the front, where the POWs had been kept. Haunted or not, this area was downright creepy. We turned off our flashlights, sat in a circle and just tried to commune with whoever might be there. For a while it was pitch-black, but then you could see shadows of people walking by the hatch door. Something you thought nothing of until you realized we were in an area that was locked to other people – we had to have a security guard let us in – and there were no lights on upstairs in order to cast shadows. We also heard several knocks and muttering voices.
Chair in POW area
Orbs on chair

It was here that I took some rapid succession pics that actually showed some orb shaped things.
POWs
POWs orbs
POW - no orbs
Orbs
More orbs
And one of the other women who had ‘seen’ the other man down in the engine room confirmed my feeling that there was someone in the far right corner; a woman. Probably a nurse.

We all got out of that area quite quickly.
Walking to the pool area...

Walking to pool
The last area we went to was the first class pool area. This is considered another one of the ship’s hot spots, and one of our tour participants had told a story about an experience he’d had there a few decades before; something that had scared him enough that this was his first time back.

Almost as soon as we arrived one man started asking about the little girl in the corner.

The pool. I was sure I saw something near the upstairs curtain
Erika supplied her name, which I am afraid I have forgotten. She is also one of the more famous ghosts aboard, believed to have been a young girl who drowned in the second class pool area, but when it was closed and turned into more cabin space, had moved to this pool area.

Frankly I was more unnerved by the person I felt watching from the upstairs balcony.

After a wander around the area we were asked if we wanted to enter the change room area, where there was supposed to be a ‘vortex’ – portal to the other side. The man who’d told his story had said his experience had happened right at the end of the hall of change rooms…. so guess where I went? Yep. I didn’t taunt the ghosts, as he said he’d done, I just went down to the end, turned off my flashlight (as all the others did) and waited. Let me also say, the nearest person to me was three rooms down. No one close to me at all.

So who the heck as rubbing my feet?

First the right then the left, then a pause, then left then right. And my skirt was lifting a little at the bottom.

There was also a feeling that something else was in the room with me. So I stepped out into the hallway… just as Erika said, “Whoever is down at the end, there is a strong presence down there with you.” “Yes,” I replied. “Which is why I moved out to the hall.”

When I mentioned the feet thing to her later, she laughed and said, “Oh, you probably got one of the cats then.” The Queen Mary had, in its heyday, a bit of a rodent problem. So cats were brought on board to take care of it. And many had never left… As soon as she said it, it made total sense: it had felt exactly like a cat brushing back and forth around my feet. And it wasn’t the first time I’d had cats show up for me on a ghost tour. It would seem that, despite not having a real cat at present, I am still a cat person.

All in all, an interesting experience. I am not sure how much of it was my imagination or if I did encounter something paranormal, but I did enjoy the evening. And I definitely would like to return for a night in the hotel and another tour. Maybe that one that starts at midnight…