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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Review: A Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan Maresca


A Murder of Mages
Author:  Marshall Ryan Maresca
Series:  The Maradaine Constabulary 1
Publisher:  DAW, July 7, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBNs:  9780756410278 (print); 9780698180109 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: A Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan Maresca
A Murder of Mages marks the debut of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s novels of The Maradaine Constabulary, his second series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine. A Murder of Mages introduces us to this spellbinding port city as seen through the eyes of the people who strive to maintain law and order, the hardworking men and women of the Maradaine Constabulary.

Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.

Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.

Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage— sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.



Doreen’s Thoughts

Marshall Ryan Maresca has done it again. After introducing readers to Maradaine through the eyes of criminals in The Thorn of Dentonhill (Maradaine 1), he focuses now on the constabulary, the ones catching the criminals in A Murder of Mages (Maradaine Constabulary 1). After her husband is severely injured, Satrine tricks her way into being named an Inspector to earn a living for herself and her daughters. She is partnered with Minox, who is an untrained mage, unassociated with any controlling circle. The two are charged with solving the murders of several mages within the City.

Satrine is intriguing as a character. While she appears to be a bright and ambitious woman simply trying to provide for her daughters, there are times when Maresca hints at her teenage years, when she worked as a spy. I do think that the scenes with her daughters and her husband (paralyzed and brain damaged during his last case) almost were unnecessary. I would have enjoyed learning more about her experiences during the war as a young spy – perhaps Maresca will return with her story.

Minox, however, remains more of a mystery than Satrine. While he bonds with another Uncircled mage, it really is never explained why he continues to remain Uncircled. That is rather telling since being Uncircled is almost a crime in and of itself.

While the mystery really could never be solved by the reader, it is well thought out. Overall, A Murder of Mages is another rollicking adventure of magic and mayhem.





Also by Marshall Ryan Maresca

The Thorn of Dentonhill
Maradaine 1
DAW, February 3, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBNs:  9780756410261 (print); 9780698180093 (eBook)

Review: A Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere’s clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle. Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere’s side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.


See Doreen's review here.

Review: Dark Screams: Volume One


Dark Screams: Volume One
Editors:  Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
Publisher:  Hydra, December 9, 2014
Format:  eBook, 98 pages
List Price:  $3.99
ISBN:  9780804176576
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Dark Screams: Volume One
Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell are the first contributors to a mind-bending new series of short-story collections that push the boundaries of horror and dark suspense to the bleeding edge. From Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar of the acclaimed Cemetery Dance Publications, Dark Screams: Volume One reaches across genres to take readers beyond the precipice of mortal toil and into the glimmering void of irreality and beyond.

WEEDS by Stephen King
When a meteorite lands on his property, Jordy Verrill envisions an easy payday. Unfortunately for Jordy, this is no ordinary rock—and the uncompromising force inside has found its first target.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Kelley Armstrong
Never pay more than you owe. Sounds like easy advice to follow. But for Kara and her childhood friend Ingrid, some debts can never be repaid . . . especially those tendered in blood.

MAGIC EYES by Bill Pronzini
Edward James Tolliver has found a weary sort of asylum among the insane. He knows he’s not one of them—but how can he tell anyone about the invaders without sounding that way?

MURDER IN CHAINS by Simon Clark
Imagine awaking to find yourself in an underground vault, chained by the neck to a murderous lunatic, a grunting goliath who seems more animal than man. What would you do to save yourself?

THE WATCHED by Ramsey Campbell
Little Jimmy gets a glimpse of the cold truth when he finds out that it’s not always what you see that can get you into trouble; it’s who knows what you see.



Doreen’s Thoughts

Dark Screams: Volume One is a group of short horror stories from some of the best horror authors in the industry. All of these tales had some type of twist in their endings that made a reader think.

Stephen King’s “Weeds” seemed similar to some of his other short stories in other anthologies. In it, a slow-witted man has a dangerous meteorite land on his property, and while he hopes to sell the stone, the secret inside has another plan. Kelley Armstrong’s “The Price You Pay” was somewhat more satisfying. In it, two best friends suffered during their childhood together and face a new terror in their early adulthood. I thought this story was probably the best of the bunch, mostly because I did not see the end coming.

Bill Pronzini was a new author for me, but his “Magic Eyes” seemed somewhat stale. I saw the end coming from a mile away. A murderer incarcerated in an insane asylum tries to tell his side of the story. “Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark was probably the most different of the five tales, with its protagonist waking up chained to a murderous lunatic. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no way out for anyone in the story.

Lastly, Ramsey Campbell told a ghost story in “The Watched.” This was my second favorite story, with an ominous atmosphere and a child in danger.

Overall, there was nothing really new in these stories – I quickly read them in an afternoon. Only Armstrong and Campbell really gave me chills.

Review: Spider’s Trap by Jennifer Estep


Spider’s Trap
Author:  Jennifer Estep
Series:  Elemental Assassin 13
Publisher:  Pocket Books, July 28, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501105173 (print); 9781501105180 (eBook)
Review copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Spider’s Trap by Jennifer Estep
The next thrilling book in Jennifer Estep’s New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Elemental Assassin series—“an extraordinary series.…One of the most intriguing heroines in the genre” (Romantic Times Book Reviews).

Keep your friends close but your enemies within stabbing distance.


One important lesson I’ve learned in the assassination business is that to be the best you have to roll with the punches. Now that I’m queen of Ashland’s underworld—by default, not by choice—a lot more punches are being thrown my way. But I suppose that’s the price of victory for taking down some of the underworld’s top dogs. Good thing I have my Ice and Stone magic to help me survive my volatile new position. Just when I think things are finally settling down, someone tries to murder me during a hush-hush underworld meeting. But the real surprise is how strangely familiar my shadowy assailant seems to be.

My job is to maintain order among killers, crooks, and thieves, and soon I’m embroiled in a bloody game where the ability to keep secrets could be the greatest superpower of all. My enemies have all sharpened their knives and laid their traps, waiting for me to fall. But this Spider weaves her own webs of death…



Doreen’s Thoughts

Spider’s Trap is the latest thrilling book in Jennifer Estep’s stories about Gin Blanco, assassin extraordinaire. In this novel, Gin has accepted the fact that she is queen of Ashland’s underworld, but she does not have to like it. Trying to negotiate peace between two troublesome kingpins, Gin is almost killed by a bomb – the question is whether the bomb is intended for her or one of the other dangerous thugs in the underworld.

As is usual, Gin has her friends and family to stand by her and assist when things go wrong. As more potentially tragic accidents occur, it become obvious that someone else is being targeted – but why? Gin’s memory keeps telling her there is something she is forgetting, and she returns to her mentor Fletcher’s files to determine who may be responsible before someone is really harmed.

I love all of the Gin novels, not only because of the characterizations, but also oddly enough because of the food descriptions. Gin runs a restaurant for a living and prepares meals at any time to soothe herself and others. Estep never stoops to recipe listing but she provides enough information and description for me to become hungry throughout the story.

I did find the memory loss trick a little trite and unnecessary. After 12 novels, I find it hard to believe that Gin has that bad of a memory that she could forget such a critical time in her assassin training. I felt that Estep could have handled the memory issue a little more in character with Gin herself.

Overall, Gin’s latest adventure fits in well with the rest of her canon. In addition, Estep does a good job setting up the next adversary to come – one which I never would have seen coming!

Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs


Speaking in Bones
Author:  Kathy Reichs
Series:  Temperance Brennan 18
Publisher:  Bantam,  July 21, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $28.00 (print); $14.99 (digital)
ISBN:  9780345544049 (print); 9780345544056 (digital)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
No one speaks the language of suspense more brilliantly than Kathy Reichs, author of the acclaimed Temperance Brennan series. In Speaking in Bones, the forensic anthropologist finds herself drawn into a world of dark secrets and dangerous beliefs, where good and evil blur.

Professionally, Temperance Brennan knows exactly what to do—test, analyze, identify. Her personal life is another story. She’s at a loss, wondering how to answer police detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. But the matter of matrimony takes a backseat when murder rears its head.

Hazel “Lucky” Strike—a strident amateur detective who mines the Internet for cold cases—comes to Brennan with a tape recording of an unknown girl being held prisoner and terrorized. Strike is convinced the voice is that of eighteen-year-old Cora Teague, who went missing more than three years earlier. Strike is also certain that the teenager’s remains are gathering dust in Temperance Brennan’s lab.

Brennan has doubts about working with a self-styled websleuth. But when the evidence seems to add up, Brennan’s next stop is the treacherous backwoods where the chilling recording (and maybe Cora Teague’s bones) were discovered. Her forensic field trip only turns up more disturbing questions—along with gruesome proof of more untimely deaths.

While local legends of eerie nocturnal phenomena and sinister satanic cults abound, it’s a zealous and secretive religious sect that has Brennan spooked and struggling to separate the saints from the sinners. But there’s nothing, including fire and brimstone, that can distract her from digging up the truth and taking down a killer—even as Brennan finds herself in a place where angels fear to tread, devils demand their due, and she may be damned no matter what.



Doreen’s Thoughts

Speaking in Bones is Kathy Reichs’ 18th novel featuring Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist who splits her time between North Carolina and Montreal, Canada. Her novels also are the basis for the TV show, Bones. In this story, Tempe has just received a marriage proposal from her long-time love, Andrew Ryan, and she is unsure how to respond. We also see a good deal of her mother, Daisy, who suffers from severe mental illness.

The basis of the mystery itself is a set of bones which may or may not belong to a missing girl. This girl also may suffer from serious mental illness herself. Tempe meets Hazel “Lucky” Strike, a websleuth who believes she has connected the girl with the bones. However, the girl is not the only missing person, and the mystery only deepens as Tempe investigates a fringe church splintered from Roman Catholicism.

What I appreciate most about these stories is the research that Reichs obviously has done, not only in her real-life profession as a forensic anthropologist, but also on the topics that occur in her novels. In this case, the reader learns about web-sleuthing through online sites dedicated to helping find missing persons and solve cold homicides, the haunted lights of Brown Mountain, diseases that cause fingers to lose fingerprints, and mountain rescue procedures.

I also appreciate the interactions that Tempe has with her family – her mother, her sister, and her daughter, not to mention her ex-husband and her potential fiancé, Andrew Ryan. In spite of her professional expertise, Tempe does not have her personal life as well organized. In fact, she agonizes for most of the story over how to handle Ryan’s proposal and why she is hesitating. She struggles with an aging parent as well as a grown child fighting in Afghanistan. She suffers from heartburn and neglects to eat properly or exercise regularly. Worse than all of that, she puts off handling her taxes until the last minute. She is a well-rounded woman with whom I can identify.

I thought I had solved the mystery several different times, but the story twists, in a good way, into areas that I never expected. I cannot say more without spoiling the story, but I did like how it ended. I could see the various steps that Reichs included to lead you to the ending. I do get tired of how often Tempe rushes to disaster, but at least she has learned to text her fellow officers first when she makes a stupid decision to visit the potential killer in their lair. Overall, another good addition to the Temperance Brennan canon.

Review: Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews


Magic Shifts
Author:  Ilona Andrews
Series:  Kate Daniels 8
Publisher:  Ace, August 4, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:   $25.95 (print); $12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780425270677 (print); 9780698136779 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews
In the latest Kate Daniels novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews, magic is coming and going in waves in post-Shift Atlanta—and each crest leaves danger in its wake…

After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Kate and Curran know that separating from the Pack completely is a process that will take time.

But when they learn that their friend Eduardo has gone missing, Kate and Curran shift their focus to investigate his disappearance. Eduardo was a fellow member of the Mercenary Guild, so Kate knows the best place to start looking is his most recent jobs. As Kate and Curran dig further into the merc’s business, they discover that the Guild has gone to hell and that Eduardo’s assignments are connected in the most sinister way…

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.



Doreen’s Thoughts

This is the eighth book in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and the stories just get better and better. From the writing team of Ilona and her husband Gordon, Kate Daniels is a kick-ass warrior in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta, Georgia, where magic fluctuates with technology in unpredictable waves. In the former stories, Kate and Curran flirt and fight beside each other before becoming partners and mates. In the last novel, Kate claimed the City of Atlanta as hers against her father, Roland, and Curran was forced to step down from his role as the Beast lord of the Pack if he wanted to remain with Kate.

Magic Shifts starts several months after the last book, with Kate and Curran setting up their new life in a new home and separating their business lives from the Pack. They work together in the Cutting Edge business eliminating unwanted magical predators and solving magical mysteries. Their friend and comrade, Eduardo, apparently has disappeared, and Curran’s step-sister, George, hires them to track him down since no one in the Pack will bother.

I love the interaction between Kate and Curran and their overall irreverence towards the many problems that face them. In the first chapter, Kate is teasing the Master of Vampires Ghastek by implying that they will face Curran’s wrath for meeting secretly without him. Poor Ghastek is not amused, not only by Kate’s gentle ribbing, but by the knowledge that the God of Vampires, Roland, is actually Kate’s father.

As part of separating his finances from those of the Pack, Curran receives an offer to take over the Mercenary Guild, which has been in major disarray for several novels. While everyone agrees that the Guild is currently a bad bet, when Curran and Kate visit them for the first time, Curran is challenged by the various mercenaries who have no interest in letting anyone run their business. You can almost see Curran drooling over the challenge that they offer him because he thrives on taking a poorly run business and making it over into a thriving one. You just know that running the Guild will be a major topic in one of the two remaining books in the series.

I also appreciate the research that the writers do in obscure mythology from different parts of the world. While they have addressed Russian and Egyptian myths in past stories, this time they face Arabic creatures and mythology – as from Ali Baba stories. These are not just the lamps and genies that you might expect, but rather flesh-eating unicorns and giant sand scorpions.

Kate started out as a solitary character who had been raised to avoid any and all extraneous relationships. Now she has a mate as well as a foster child, and a whole group of friends willing to leave the Pack in order to continue to work with her. She also has a complex relationship with her father, Roland, who actually killed her mother in an effort to prevent herself from living. Now, Roland seeks a relationship with the only other godlike entity in the world, Kate herself. She has grown and evolved in relation to her friends and family, and it has made her a stronger character.

What has not changed has been her willingness to sacrifice herself for others. In this particular story, she injures herself more seriously than she ever has before and there is some question about what damage, if any, might remain after the intense healing that may or may not work. I appreciate a character who is willing and able to change in most ways, but stubbornly refuses to lose that one characteristic that may ultimately be the end of her.

I cannot recommend the Kate Daniels series enough. I love the characters, the stories, and the mythology – everything about it. The week of August 4th was a great book week, with Magic Breaks being one of my favorite books published!

Review: Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton


Dead Ice
Author:  Laurell K. Hamilton
Series:  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24
Publisher:  Berkley, June 9, 2015
Format: Hardcover and eBook, 576 pages
List Price:  $27.95 (print)
ISBN:  9780425255711 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review:  Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton
Anita Blake has the highest kill count of any vampire executioner in the country. She’s a U.S. Marshal who can raise zombies with the best of them. But ever since she and master vampire Jean-Claude went public with their engagement, all she is to anyone and everyone is Jean-Claude’s fiancée.

It’s wreaking havoc with her reputation as a hard ass—to some extent. Luckily, in professional circles, she’s still the go-to expert for zombie issues. And right now, the FBI is having one hell of a zombie issue.

Someone is producing zombie porn. Anita has seen her share of freaky undead fetishes, so this shouldn’t bother her. But the women being victimized aren’t just mindless, rotting corpses. Their souls are trapped behind their eyes, signaling voodoo of the blackest kind.

It’s the sort of case that can leave a mark on a person. And Anita’s own soul may not survive unscathed . . .



Doreen’s Thoughts

Laurell K. Hamilton has been writing since the early 1980s, and Dead Ice is her twenty-fourth novel about Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. During these years, Anita has evolved from a fairly uptight young woman to someone who is involved in polyamory, intimate relationships with more than one other person. Some reviewers feel that since Hamilton started adding this element to her novels, they have become little more than erotica. However, Hamilton was one of the pioneers to combine mystery with the supernatural, and for years, I struggled to find her novels in the stacks as Horror, Mystery, or Fantasy, before someone developed the Urban Fantasy genre.

Dead Ice brings Anita back with a new mystery to solve and more relationship issues to negotiate. While not as tightly written as Affliction, Hamilton is still able to balance the mystery with the personal. This time, someone is making porn using zombies that still possess their souls, something that no one has been able to do since the initial novels. However, the Senora is dead and cannot be the one raising these zombies, and Anita is left to work with the FBI to try to find some clue as to who is performing this rite and how.

At the same time, on the home front, Anita has agreed to marry Jean-Claude, the master vampire of America, and hold a commitment ceremony with at least two of her other lovers, Nathaniel and Micah. However, in the shapeshifter community, there is a prophecy that in order to keep Marmee Darkness dead, Anita must enter into a relationship with one of the tiger shifters. Lastly, Asher continues to make trouble with his lovers and negotiates a relationship that threatens the hyena shifter politics.

Hamilton does a good job portraying some of the more mundane aspects of polyamory -- communication. Everyone involved in the relationship must negotiate and discuss every aspect of adding or deleting someone from the roster. Anita proves that it is a balancing act, and her feeling that she may be torn too much among too many seems a legitimate response for someone with this lifestyle. In addition, Hamilton discusses some of the intimate details of BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, and roleplaying). As she did with all elements of her novels, she researched the lifestyle extensively before trying to write about it, and it appears that she has done her homework.

I would not recommend this novel (or indeed, any of the novels after Obsidian Butterfly) for anyone under the age of 16, because the sexual scenes in the book are fairly explicit for someone younger. However, I would recommend this series for anyone who is interested in equality, because Hamilton does well portraying individuals from all walks of life – bisexual, polyamorous, sociopathic, etc.

While I feel the relationship aspect was balanced with the mystery, I did think the mystery was solved a little abruptly, although I did see the foreshadowing from the beginning. While some might complain about the relationship aspect of the series, I appreciate it because I feel it more fully depicts Anita as a well-rounded human. I appreciate that she has evolved and grown over twenty-four years. While I sometimes have difficulty remembering the difference between Dev and Demon, it makes me sympathize with an individual who must have sex to feed a certain supernatural need. I still look forward to a new Anita Blake novel whenever they are published.

Review: Dark Heir by Faith Hunter


Dark Heir
Author:  Faith Hunter
Series:  Jane Yellowrock 9
Publisher:  Roc, April 7, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780451465962 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Dark Heir by Faith Hunter
Shapeshifting skinwalker Jane Yellowrock is the best in the business when it comes to slaying vampires. But her latest fanged foe may be above her pay grade…

For centuries, the extremely powerful and ruthless vampire witches of the European Council have wandered the Earth, controlling governments, fostering war, creating political conflict, and often leaving absolute destruction in their wake. One of the strongest of them is set to create some havoc in the city of New Orleans, and it’s definitely personal.

Jane is tasked with tracking him down. With the help of a tech wiz and an ex-Army ranger, her partners in Yellowrock Securities, she’ll have to put everything on the line, and hope it’s enough. Things are about to get real hard in the Big Easy.



CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EARLIER BOOKS

Doreen’s Thoughts

It is no secret that Faith Hunter is probably one of my favorite authors, and her Dark Heir is worthy to be included in the Jane Yellowrock canon. In the last few novels, Jane and the New Orleans vampires have been preparing for a visit from the European mithrans (vampires). There are many archaic gestures and actions that have to be met when inviting some of the oldest and strongest of the mithrans to America, with the fear that the Europeans may just want to try to take over the largest vampire group in the nation. However, everything is delayed when it appears that one of the worst vampire witches in history has escaped Leo’s custody and is terrorizing the city. Jane must find him before the Europeans declare war.

Hunter’s novels are better than average because her characters grow and evolve as a result of their adventures. In earlier novels, Jane loved and lost Rickie-Bo, a former cop now working for Psy-LED, the federal agency policing supernaturals in Jane’s world. Jane has taken a while to recover, and now Bruiser, former human servant to Leo, is wooing her as she deserves. It is fun to see Jane a little hesitant and uncertain about this new relationship, and Bruiser is a gentleman who is using every means at his disposal to treat her as she deserves. In addition, her relationships continue with her housemates and new family, Eli and the Kid. Eli, a former special ops soldier, is now Jane’s number two in charge, and his younger brother, Alex, has technical skills that help Yellowrock Securities, the company Jane started with the two. Lastly, Jane’s Cherokee heritage adds richness to the character as well.

The story starts off with a bang in the bowels of Vamp Central, as Jane calls it, Leo’s stronghold within the city. Unfortunately, an action that Jane failed to take in an earlier novel has dire consequences in this one. Leo’s captive has escaped, possibly with the help of some of Leo’s most trusted followers. In addition to tracking the escapee, Jane has to negotiate the vampire politics involved – determining who may have aided and abetted the escape and bringing the knowledge to Leo’s attention.

There is a tremendous amount of action in this story, and the pace is rip-roaring. I could hardly put the book down before I finished it. As usual, Hunter has done a wonderful job entertaining her readers, and I can hardly wait until the next installment.

Review: Black Widow by Jennifer Estep


Black Widow
Author:   Jennifer Estep
Series:  Elemental Assassin 12
Publisher:  Pocket Books, November 25, 2014
Format:   Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:   $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781476774541 (print)
Review copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Black Widow by Jennifer Estep
Lethal, sexy, and always ready to protect her friends, Gin Blanco (a.k.a. the Spider) takes on the mysterious M.M. Monroe in book twelve of the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series.

There’s nothing worse than a cruel, cunning enemy with time to kill—and my murder to plan. With wicked Fire elemental Mab Monroe long gone, you’d think I could finally catch a break. But someone’s always trying to take me down, either as Gin Blanco or my assassin alter-ago. Now along comes the Spider’s new arch-nemesis, the mysteriously named M. M. Monroe, who is gleefully working overtime to trap me in a sticky web of deceit.

The thing is, I’m not the only target. I can see through the tangled threads enough to know that every bit of bad luck my friends have been having lately is no accident—and that each unfortunate “coincidence” is just one more arrow drawing ever closer to hitting the real bull’s-eye. Though new to Ashland, this M. M. Monroe is no stranger to irony, trying to get me, an assassin, framed for murder. Yet, as my enemy’s master plan is slowly revealed, I have a sinking feeling that it will take more than my powerful Ice and Stone magic to stop my whole life from going up in flames.


Doreen’s Thoughts

I discovered Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series last spring, and I only caught up to her writing when Poison Promise came out. So I was very excited when I received Black Widow for review. For most of the earlier novels, Gin Blanco’s nemesis was Mab Monroe, the queen of the Ashland underworld, but Gin put an end to her and thought she was finished with threats to her family and herself. Even after ending the next contender for the crown in the last novel, Gin cannot rest on her laurels. As revealed in the last novel, the mysterious M. M. Monroe is actually Madeleine Magda Monroe, Mab’s daughter, and this novel shows that she is just as evil and cunning as her mother, if not more so.

With the unusual elemental power of Acid, Madeleine also may even be stronger than her mother, and Gin’s Stone and Ice powers may not be enough to stop her from taking control of the Ashland underworld. However, it is when Madeleine attacks Gin’s family, surreptitiously causing problems for those she loves, Gin decides that things have come to a head, and she begins to take action against Madeleine.

With Estep’s usual mixture of action and characterization, Black Widow speeds along to its finish. There were several points where I worried whether Gin could actually get out of the fixes that Madeleine set. However, as usual, Gin is able to save the day.

There is a significant twist at the end of Black Widow, one which I did not see coming; however, I felt it was resolved much too quickly. Estep had several directions that she could have taken with the reveal, but chose to use what I would consider a “Deus ex machina” to determine the matter. I can appreciate the major decision that Gin ultimately makes, and it is totally in character with Gin herself, but I just felt there was more that could be done. I hope that Estep revisits the issue that she set up and takes the story further.

All in all, Black Widow was another galloping read that adds to the myth surrounding Gin Blanco. The teaser for the next Elemental Assassin novel, Spider’s Trap, is excellent, and I cannot wait for it's release.

Review: The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca


The Thorn of Dentonhill
Author:  Marshall Ryan Maresca
Series:  Maradaine Constabulary 1
Publisher:  DAW, February 3, 2014
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780756410261 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere’s clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle. Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere’s side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.



Doreen's Thoughts

The Thorn of Dentonhill is a terrific tale of adventure and magic, with the action practically non-stop from the opening page. Veranix is a magic student by day, and a daring thief of those who pedal drugs at night. He leads a personal vendetta against the city’s biggest drug lord, Willem Fenmere, who murdered his father and has been the biggest criminal player since he arrived in the city.

As a university student of magic, Veranix is obligated to do well in his studies and accept a position with the mage group that is sponsoring his education. However, his extracurricular activities as a thief negatively affect his ability to remain awake during lectures and do the actual studying. During the course of his adventures, he has friends, professors, and family who try to support him. His friend and roommate Delmin Sarren assumes that he is having a passionate affair with the lovely groundskeeper, Kaiana, who in actuality helps him hide the tools of his trade and supports his mission to stop the drug dealing in the city. His cousin, Colin, a high-ranking captain in the one of the main gangs that run the city, is certain that Veranix is the Thorn, but believes that his actions in targeting Fenmere will result in a backlash against the gang and the other city citizens, from both Fenmere and the so-called authorities.

For a novel that has this much “swashbuckling” in it, The Thorn of Dentonhill actually is very political. Maresca has created a complex world, with different races and classes side by side with magic users who can use magic to differing degrees. I loved Veranix’s explanation of “the five hundred and five rule,” which explains how one out of five hundred people are born with the talent to feel and channel magic (called numina), and of those five hundred, only one in five has the ability to manipulate it in any useful way. Maresca does a fantastic job of setting the political stage in his city, explaining his magic, and developing the back story for why Veranix is so determined to stop drug sales – all naturally within the story itself, without long-winded paragraphs of explanations relating to which gang has control over which criminal functions. Maresca’s world is probably at an 18th century level in technology, with magic being so scarce that technology already has dealt with and eliminated the problem of having mage rulers.

I enjoyed The Thorn of Dentonhill tremendously. It was a quick read, action-packed but with enough intrigue to balance it out. Maresca is an extremely talented author, and I expect to read more great things from him.

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish


Owl and the Japanese Circus
Author:  Kristi Charish
Series:  Owl 1
Publisher:  Gallery Books, January 13, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
List Price: $18.00 (print); $5.99 (digital)
ISBN: 9781476794990 (print); 9781476778679 (digital)
Review Copy: Provided by The Publisher

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.



Doreen’s Thoughts

While the description portrays Alix/Owl as an “Indiana Jane,” she reminds me more of a reluctant thief than an archaeologist. I love her rule about “no supernatural jobs ever” – it just seems guaranteed to bring her back to the supernatural world. The story starts out with Owl hiding out with her pet Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. I love the detail that Mau cats are bred to fight vampires and sing out whenever they scent one. What a great warning system for someone on the run from vampires!

I appreciated Owl’s best friend, Nadya, and her new friend, Rynn. They both are good foils for Owl, and the reader learns about Owl and what motivates her through interactions with the two of them. She is honest and loyal, and that resonates with her friends. In addition to being an archaeological thief, she also is a master gamer, and she becomes embroiled with an online hacker who feels she does not spend enough time playing computer games.

It is obvious from the opening chapter that Owl wants absolutely nothing to do with anyone or anything supernatural, and in some ways, this hampers her. However, Mr. Kurosawa really gives her no choice when he makes his offer – find the artifact and never have to deal with vampires again or else be eaten by a dragon. So Owl reluctantly begins to fulfill her job, returning to Japan and reaching out to sources there and around the world to try to find some hint about the location of the artifact. Ultimately, she travels to Bali, and here Kristi Charish’s descriptions really shine.

As an important man, Mr. Kurosawa has two primary servants with whom Owl is supposed to interact, the former samurai, Mr. Oricho, and the Lady Siyu, both of whom are probably supernatural creatures themselves. While the Lady Siyu gets on Owl’s nerves, Mr. Oricho almost becomes a friend to her and is especially helpful in finding the artifact.

There is a twist at the end of the story that I would never have suspected without some understanding of Japanese culture, and even with that knowledge, I was surprised and pleased with the development. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Owl and the Japanese Circus and look forward to more adventures with Owl. My one quibble is this – how Owl acquired her nickname is never explained, and that mystery still bothers me!

Review: A Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan MarescaReview: Dark Screams: Volume OneReview: Spider’s Trap by Jennifer EstepReview: Speaking in Bones by Kathy ReichsReview: Magic Shifts by Ilona AndrewsReview:  Dead Ice by Laurell K. HamiltonReview: Dark Heir by Faith HunterReview: Black Widow by Jennifer EstepReview: The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

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