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, Road Trip of the Living Dead, Mark Henry

Description
Celebrity party girl Amanda Feral is back from the dead, and hungrier than ever for a good time. With her zombie gal pal Wendy and vampy gay sidekick Gil, this stone cold fox is dressed to kill, on the prowl, and ready to take a big juicy bite out of Seattle’s supernatural nightlife. But what’s a zombie chick to do when her ‘Mommie Dearest’ gets sick? If you’re Amanda Feral, you can either ignore the wicked old witch – or bury the past by visiting Ethel before she kicks it. Amanda’s not thrilled about the idea of crossing three states just to be criticized. But Wendy, who’s always looking for fresh meat, is up for the adventure. And Gil, who just launched his ‘luxury’ resurrection business, needs to disappear because a pissed-off client is out for his blood. First, they pack their stiletto pumps and plasma into a skeevy rattrap on wheels that used to be a Winnebago. Then, with a little help from a Korean-ghost hood ornament, a masochist named Fishhook, and a slew of ‘moderately accurate’ psychics, they hit the highway – their way. Of course, they’ll have to navigate past some neo-Nazi skinheads, a horny dust devil, a hunky werewolf cop (who could pass for an underwear model) and an unsightly horde of supermarket shoppers. But for this glamorous gang of ghouls this trip is about to take a dangerous detour that could give road kill a brand new meaning.

Review
In this second installment of Mark Henry’s hilarious take on the modern zombie, Amanda Feral, finds herself in a jam. Her mother – whom she loathes (her valid reasons why pepper this book) – is dying. Amanda does not want to go to her bedside, however, her vamp pal Gil’s new business is about to get flushed down the drain – along with Gil – when his star client, well, doesn’t quite get the reception he expected. Gil needs to get out of town quick and Amanda has just the jaunt that could keep him safe.

Amanda, Gil and fellow zombie fashionista Wendy pile into a Winnebago, along with a unique cast of characters, to hide from Gil’s client, visit Amanda’s mother and solve a mystery or two along the way. Oh, and stop for some road side snacking.

Mark Henry’s second foray into Amanda’s twisted existence reveals a lot of her early life, explaining much about background and her behaviours (no, not the eating people part – that’s just zombie biology and Henry describes it quite vividly). As before the laughs are tinge with gore and can be a little vicious, though they are never cruel. If you have even a smidgen of a twisted sense of humor you will chuckle your way through this wickedly bawdy tale. It is crude, lewd, raunchy, and side-splittingly hysterical. (If you are a zombie make sure you have some duct tape around just in case you really do split your side).

P.S. Do not miss out on some of the best giggles: read the footnotes!

Series Order

Find out more about Mark Henry at his site or by following him on Twitter

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Review, Happy Hour of the Damned, Mark Henry

Description
Alive, ad exec Amanda Feral worked hard to wring enjoyment out of her days. Now that she’s a zombie, it’s a different story. Turns out, Seattle is home to glamorous undead of every description, and Amanda – stylish and impeccably groomed even in the afterlife – is swigging cocktails and living large (so to speak) among its elite. But there are downsides. Not being able to stomach anything except alcohol and human flesh, for instance. And the fact that someone is targeting Seattle’s otherworldly inhabitants for their own sinister reasons. Preying on the undead is seriously uncool. The only option is for Amanda and her zombie BFF Wendy and gorgeous gay vampire pal Gil to unearth the culprit among the legions of Seattle’s bloodsuckers, shapeshifters, reapers, succubi, and demons – before they all meet a fate a lot worse than death…

Review
This wonderfully irreverent book combines Sex in the City, but for Seattle-ites (Seattlians?), with Night of the Living Dead. Amanda Feral is a successful ad exec, complete with corner office and a hot boyfriend, when she is turned into a zombie. Not one to let a little thing like being undead stop her, Amanda adapts to her new afterlife with style; quickly picking up a cadre of close friends (of the zombie, succubus and vampire variety), learning the necessities of mortuary makeup, hanging at only the in-est of otherworld ‘in crowd’ hot spots, and quickly becoming Seattle’s Supernatural ‘it’ girl.

When one of her gal pals leaves a cryptic message asking for help and then disappears, newbie flesh-eating zombie Amanda is off to the rescue, determined to find out who (or what) is trying to turn Seattle – both the living and the undead sides of it – into a place of true terror.

This is a wildly unique take on the modern fashionista zombie, which will have you both cringing with the gore and laughing uproariously at, well, the gore. Mark Henry has created a heroine who you can admire whether she is spouting snappy, snarky bon mots or chowing down on a guy she picked up in an alley. His world is well-developed, his characters pop off the page and the storyline is twisted, weird and wonderfully original.

Slip into your favorite designer pajamas, pour yourself a vodkatini and do yourself a favour: read this book! This is grisly chick-lit at its finest and will leave you salivating for more. (Of course it will also make you a little nervous about being breathed on in elevators).

You are in luck: Happy Hour Of The Damned has just come out in mass market paperback! Sure you can still pick it up in its original trade size – but why?

Find out more about Mark Henry at his site or by following him on Twitter

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Review: Already Dead, Charlie Huston

Review
Vampires in NYC. Heck, vampires controlling NYC. Very gangland.

In Huston’s take on popular vampire myths, Manhattan has been divided up by the vampire clans and our hero, Joe Pitt, is a well-connected ‘rogue’ just trying to find his way in the world that really doesn’t like rogues.

Joe is also a PI, who is hired by Marilee Horde, a prominent New York socialite, to locate her runaway teenage daughter, Amanda, who may be slumming with homeless goth kids in the East Village. Meanwhile, a “carrier” is on the loose, infecting its victims with a bacterium that turns them into brain-eating zombies and the group of uptown corporate-type vamps, The Coalition, want Pitt to find and destroy the carrier. After all, an influx of zombies does kind of bring unwanted attention to the undead community.

And what a fucked-up world this is! This story will suck you in, turn your stomach, and yet leave you wanting more. I loved the diversity of the type of vampire groups: corporate uptown-ers; 60s radicals, motorcycle gang-ers, tai chi higher being-seeking vamps, gangstah vamps, etc. Huston takes the usual vampire conventions, mixes in social commentary and adds enough violence to keep the most bloodthirtsy horror fan happy.

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Review: Staked, J. F. Lewis

Book blurb
UNREPENTANT UNIMPRESSED AND TOTALLY UNDEAD
Eric’s got issues. He has short-term and long-term memory problems; he can’t remember who he ate for dinner yesterday, much less how he became a vampire in the first place. His best friend, Roger, is souring on the strip club he and Eric own together. And his girlfriend, Tabitha, keeps pressuring him to turn her so she can join him in undeath. It’s almost enough to put a Vlad off his appetite. Almost.

Eric tries to solve one problem, only to create another: he turns Tabitha into a vampire, but finds that once he does, his desire for her fades — and her younger sister, Rachel, sure is cute. And when he kills a werewolf in self-defense, things really get out of hand. Now a pack of born-again lycanthropes is out for holy retribution, while Tabitha and Rachel have their own agendas — which may or may not include helping Eric stay in one piece.

All Eric wants to do is run his strip club, drink a little blood, and be left alone. Instead, he must survive car crashes, enchanted bullets, sunlight, sex magic, and werewolves on ice — not to mention his own nasty temper and forgetfulness.

Because being undead isn’t easy, but it sure beats the alternative.

Review
Void City isn’t like other American cities. For one, well it is inhabited by a whole lot of supernatural creatures. One in particular, Eric, is not having a good, well, un-life. He is a vampire who owns a strip club and just woke up in an alley with no memory of how he got there (getting embalmed before you rise from the dead can play havoc with the memory) and had to kill a werewolf in self-defense. And wouldn’t you know it; the werewolf was connected. No, not that way: he was connected to a bunch of old-time-religion holy rollers who aren’t too pleased with vamps in general and strip club owning ones in particular.

In situations like this it is good to turn to your friends. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be very willing to help. His best friend and business partner is acting off and the woman who would have been his wife (if he hadn’t become a vampire) is getting on in years and cranky. Then there is his current girlfriend, Tabitha, who really, really wants him to turn her. When he gives in and does it instead of the happily ever after she’d expected, he loses interest in her, especially after he meets her younger sister.

These days, a vampire owning a strip club is cliché, but Lewis makes Eric a character well worth watching. He may have difficulty remembering things but he is still a young vamp and hasn’t lost his humanity. He runs his business with kindness, taking care of his girls – and donors – with respect and understanding. Sure he is crude, sarcastic and caustic, but he genuinely cares about the people around him and he works hard to try and protect them.

I found the world that Lewis build around Eric fascinating. Not only are the characters rich, the way he describes the vampire hierarchy is complex and original. Excellent work.

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Review: The Protector’s War, S.M. Stirling

Review
S.M. Stirling is one of the the best writers of alternate history fantasy out there. I also greatly enjoy Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill’s Carolus Rex series, as is Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series. I admit to some occasional confusion about what alternate history is versus what urban fantasy is (and don’t even get me started on paranormal romance). After all, urban fantasy does re-write history to some extent; making it include vampires, shapeshifters and zombies. I guess my definition is that if it is something that happens in the past (even if just 1998, as in this series case) that makes things spin off in a different tangent, well that is alternate history. If it is vampires, fairies and other supernatural beings doing stuff in modern, mostly-urban settings then it is urban fantasy. Just don’t ask me what happens in situations where in the past, vampires, fairies and other supernatural beings come out and make things spin off in a different tangent… that is just too confusing (though I’ll read those books, don’t get me wrong. Will just avoid classifying them).

Still, this trilogy is a great example of what a truly gifted writer can do: take the current world, change one thing and create a new world that is as believable as the one we currently live in (is this one real or is it just aliens playing marbles… you decide). Stirling provides us with descriptions of a land gone wild, complete with ruined cities and towns so convincingly crafted we can almost see them. He does dip into the usual writer’s foible of having the good guys be just so darn good, but his descriptions of land, man and beast are so authentic you can almost smell the woodsmoke and see all of those kilts flapping.

Despite its title, this is more of a set-up to the war between the Bearkillers/Mackenzies and the Portland Protective Association, than the actual war. It is like watching the chess pieces being moved about the board; setting up for the final moves. Sorry, I don’t play chess so will have to leave that analogy at that.

If you don’t have this trilogy (Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War and Meeting at Corvallis), I suggest you get them as soon as possible. They are intricately woven tales about how the world could be, and maybe even will be.

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Review: One Foot in the Grave, Jeaniene Frost

Book blurb
You can run from the grave, but you can’t hide . . .

Half-vampire Cat Crawfield is now Special Agent Cat Crawfield, working for the government to rid the world of the rogue undead. She’s still using everything Bones, her sexy and dangerous ex, taught her, but when Cat is targeted for assassination, the only man who can help her is the vampire she left behind.

Being around him awakens all her emotions, from the adrenaline kick of slaying vamps side by side to the reckless passion that consumed them. But a price on her head—wanted: dead or half-alive—means her survival depends on teaming up with Bones. And no matter how hard she tries to keep things professional between them, she’ll find that desire lasts forever . . . and that Bones won’t let her get away again.

Review
I may never complain about my family again…

This is the second in the Night Huntress series, and once again we meet Cat Crawfield, who is no longer slaying rogue vampires on her own – she is doing it for the government.

Not a lot has changed in the five years has past since she ducked out on her vampire lover and tutor, Bones. Sure she now heads her team in her special FBI division, having several others working with her now, but she is still kicking ass, killing vamps and dealing with her mother and her mother’s obsession.

Now, however, there is someone out there trying to assassinate her. Bones to the rescue.

Okay, not the rescue because Frost’s Cat is more than capable of saving herself, but it doesn’t hurt to have a hunky vampire at your back. Or in your bed.

Following Cat as she juggles old boyfriends, assassination attempts, workplace romance, MAJOR family issues is a very fun ride. There is plenty of action both in and out of the bedroom. Definitely a series that will keep you on the edge of your seat, with a stake close to hand.

While I would suggest you pick up a copy of this book, I recommend that you start with the first book in the series, Halfway To The Grave. The third installment, At Grave’s End was just released (December 30) and once I’m finished reading it myself, I will post a review.

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