Review, Play Dead, John Levitt

Book blerb
Mason used to be an enforcer, ensuring that those magic practitioners without a moral compass walked the straight and narrow. But now he just wants to keep his head down, play guitar, and maintain a low profile with Lou, his magical canine companion. But Mason is down on his luck, and when a job with a large payout comes along, he finds the offer hard to resist-not knowing it might mean sacrificing what both man and his best friend hold most dear.

Review
Mason and Louie are back again!

I have been a fan of Levitt’s series since I picked up the first book, Dog Days, simply to fill a ‘buy 3 get 4’ pile. It turned out to be the best of the four books I purchased at the time, and Levitt has not let me down with any of the books in the series.

His main characters are so fully formed and interesting you wish you could find out where Mason is playing and swing by to take a listen. Bringing lots of bacon for Louie, of course. Levitt manages to juggle a number of diverse sceondary characters with flair, making them work well (or not) with others while still maintaining their own identity. The magic system set out in this world is exacting and well-documented, and even Mason`s innovations make sense given his minor abilities and tendency to improvise. Finally, he gives us a San Francisco that both is and isn`t so naturally that you are not all together sure that it all may not be true after all. San Francisco does have that magical quality about it, after all…

In Play Dead, Mason is once again forced to make choices based on his need to make ends meet (and haven`t we all been there), taking on an assignment from a black practitioner. It seems straightforward, but when dealing with those who deal in darker magics – and then Mason is involved – it turns out to be far more complicated, with implications that could change not only Mason and Louie`s lives, but the lives of all magic users in San Francisco. With a little au courant environmental activism and several double-crosses thrown in, this tale is one that winds tighter and tighter – like a snake – as things progress to its splashy conclusion.

The only drawback is the somewhat cliffhanger conclusion, which leaves this devoted fan desparate for more….

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Review, The Better Part of Darkness, Kelly Gay


Book Blurb:
Atlanta: it’s the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil….

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She’s recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make doing her job for Atlanta P.D.’s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim — but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?

Review
Charlie Madigan is a police officer in an Atlanta that is working hard to integrate the radically different off-worlders who are starting to make Earth their home. She’s tough, has a great partner and a supportive police Chief, but a little overworked as she struggles to balance a recent return from death, unruly off-worlders, being a single mom, and an ex who desparately wants back into her life. It is a precarious juggling act, one made harder by someone determined to stop her from solving her current investigation into an off-world drug. Someone who is more than willing to threaten her family, friends, partner and Charlie herself.

Kelly Gay has created a creative and detailed world full of diverse characters. I found her portrayal of Charlie’s rich family life both realistic and also something you don’t see often in urban fantasy, particularly a situation where the heroine is not only a mother but also the principal caregiver – in addition to being able to kick serious paranormal ass. The story moves at a brisk and exciting pace and Charlie’s challenging life leaves readers gasping for breath but definitely wanting more.

I am eagerly looking forward to the next in the Charlie Madigan series.

Find out more about Kelly Gay at her site or by following her on Twitter.

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Review, Hunting Ground, Patricia Briggs

Review
The werewolves are coming.

Bran, leader (Marrok) of the North American werewolves has decided that, much like the Fae had done several years before, it was time for werewolves to announce their existence to the world. To ensure that this goes smoothly he arranges for an international conference with the werewolf leaders from around the world to discuss how it should be done and sends his son and pack enforcer, Charles, and Charles’ mate, Omega werewolf Anna, as representatives at the summit.

While a conference may not sound all that interesting keep in mind we are talking about lychanthropes here and Briggs weaves an intricate tale of warring supernaturals with enough twists and subplots to keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

Here we are introduced to the leader of the British wolves, who is convinced he is Arthur reincarnated, as well as the mad French leader, the legendary Beast of Gévaudan, Jean Chastel. There is a neophyte Omega werewolf who is the source of conflict between the Italian and German delegates. Also a Fae, whose powers are shaded in secrecy, who will be acting as mediator for the conference. Did I mention that she and Charles has a romantic past? Roll all that together with a gang of vampires using werewolf magic and tactics to try and kidnap Anna and the couple really have their hands full.

In Briggs’ deft hands we also get to see how the couple are adjusting to their new mating. Charles with his violent background may not seem to be the best match for the traumatized Anna but with her he can show all the gentleness and caring that he has been forced to keep hidden. Anna experiences continued growth here as she slowly becomes more at ease with her relationship with Charles and gains more confidence in her intuition and ability to reason as well as her darker nature.

With vivid characters, intricate plotlines and beautiful writing this book is sure to please and can be read alone, though you would be better off reading the first book, Cry Wolf.

P.S. Look for the reappearance of Tom and Moira, first introduced in Briggs’ short story ‘Seeing Eye’ in Strange Brew

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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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Review: New Tricks, John Levitt

Book blurb
Mason used to be an enforcer, ensuring that suspect magic practitioners stayed in line. But he gave all that up for a quiet life scraping out a living playing guitar, keeping a low profile with Louie, his magical… well, let’s call him a dog. Luckily, Louie has a sixth sense for danger, and Mason knows exactly how dead he’d be without him.

It’s Halloween in the Castro district of San Francisco, which means that for once Mason doesn’t have to worry about the fact that vampires and ghosts are stalking the streets. What he does have to worry about is how his old flame Sarah became the victim of an attempted possession – leaving her an empty shell.

Mason’s only clue is the green rune stone found is her hand…

Review
Mason is not having a bad year. He’s got no girlfriend, no money, no upcoming gigs; he’s even gone back to working as a practitioner just to make ends meet. He’s in a major funk, and even partying on Castro Street isn’t helping.

When he is called on to help find a fellow practitioner who has gone missing, Mason finds himself with a new mystery to solve: what – or who – had left one of his old flame’s an empty shell.

Poor Mason. He really doesn’t have much luck with his old girlfriends does he? And things don’t necessarily get better in New Tricks.

Mason is joined in this tale by the some of the same characters found in the first book – including the required Louie – as well as some new ones who prove intriguing, though I admit I did figure out whodunit early.

Still, as in the first book, the plot is very enjoyable. We are given an opportunity to learn more about the possible genesis of ifrits, including a theory which, when acted upon, results in the creation of a horrible and deadly situation. It also begs the other questions: how far should practitioners go to help themselves rather than others, and does the end justify the means?

After reading this book I am even more invested in this series, and eagerly looking forward to more tales about Mason and Louie.

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Review: Dog Days, John Levitt

Book blurb
First in a new urban fantasy series-with a bite as magical as its bark.

Mason used to be an enforcer, ensuring that suspect magic practitioners stayed in line. But now he scrapes out a living playing guitar. Good thing he has Louie, his magical…well, let’s call him a dog. But there are some kinds of evil that even Louie can’t sniff out. And when Mason is attacked by a supernatural assailant, he’ll have to fall back on the one skill he’s mastered in music and magic-improvisation.

Review
I am a cat person. I just want to say that at the outset. I don’t hate dogs or anything, just not as fond of them as I am of cats. Having said that, I love Louie.

Louie may look like a miniature Doberman Pinscher but he is actually an ifrit and packs a mystical wallop, and is very helpful in guiding his owner/slave/companion Mason through the supernatural mess he finds himself in.

I also totally ‘get’ Mason. He is a man who has embraced that which gives him joy: playing jazz guitar, something he does a great deal of skill. He does have his shortcomings though: playing jazz guitar doesn’t bring in many bucks, and Mason is also someone who gets bored easily, only able to hack regular gigs for a while. Therefore money is tight, but he accepts that because he wants to live life the way he wants.

Oh and he also has magic. Once again, he uses it in his own way: recognizing that he isn’t the strongest user, but he is good at improvising – something he learnt from his music – and able to put that knowledge to good use when he finds himself in a jam. He is also very ethical in his use of magic, though he has a fairly laissez-faire attitude towards other magic-users.

Mason is happily minding his own business when he is attacked magically. His search to find out why leads him back to a life he’d left behind, a group of enforcers; people who ensured that magic practitioners stayed in line and, of course, the woman he’d once loved. His search for the truth behind the attack, the disappearance of magic practitioners and ifrits and the emergence of strange and mystically powerful jewels all come together in a compelling urban fantasy tale.

One thing I particularly enjoy is the way John Levitt paints a picture of a San Francisco, and its denizens, that is so close to reality. The people who have magic powers don’t seem all that different from the people you’d normally bump into: a buttoned-up but openly gay corporate type, a couple of leftover hippies, the driven and ambitious women, back-to-nature sports type, and various street people. People we would all recognize but who, in Levitt’s world, have that extra ‘umph’. Despite this, Levitt doesn’t stereotype any of them. They are archetypes we recognize but ones that don’t necessarily do what we would expect of them. Very refreshing.

This is a series that I would highly recommend to fans of the genre. If you like urban fantasy, this is one of the best examples of it.

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