A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is a terrific fantasy novel that separates itself from the pack of YA fantasy tales by tackling some rather adult themes. It also separates itself by not involving any sort of juvenile romance. Instead we have characters who quite often make mistakes and find themselves in predicaments of their own making.

The magician Kell is one of the last of the race of Antari and he has that rare ability to pass between parallel worlds. He moves between the four Londons; Red, Grey, White and before the doors had been closed to it, Black London. Kell calls Red London home and serves as the official ambassador for the Empire, travelling between the Londons. But he also likes to dabble in contraband, using his passage as a way to smuggle items back and forth. This is strictly forbidden but Kell finds he cannot help himself. But it is a habit that will cost him dearly, for one package is made of the darkest magic. Now Kell, with the help of thief Delilah Bard must return the talisman back to Black London where it originated but there are others who know of its existence and they want the dark magic for themselves. Kell finds himself under attack and Red London at risk as the brutal and devious rulers of White London look to take over and with the darker magic on their side; no one can stop them.

This book is filled with political intrigue as the greed and aspirations of one kingdom looks to overtake all the kingdoms. Schwab has created characters who breathe. These are not caricatures of the standard YA characters that permeate so many other YA fantasy books. Kell is niether a rogue or a devilishly handsome main character. He does what he does more so because he is bored. Traveling between the kingdoms has made him sloppy and when he realizes his mistake it is too late. ‘lilah is the rogue. A young woman with secrets and a past she may not even completely know about. She joins sides with Kell only because he saved her from torture and death. The question as to why he did it bothers her. But as she comes more and more involved, they begin to bond. Not romantically but more in a brother and sister way. They are partners in their quest to right the wrong that Kell had a hand in.

What is truly good and fun here are the bad guys. They rulers of White London. A brother and sister duo whose bloodlust and hunger for power is something out of Game of Thrones. Minus the incest and we not really sure that is not happening. With their pet magician they wreak brutal and bloody havoc across White London and are have their sight on Red London next.

The fights are bloody and even the victories come with cost. That is what makes this book so much fun. It is not glossy, it is blood and pain and desperate.

A really fun read.

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City of Endless Night by Preston & Child

city of endless night

 

City of Endless Night by Preston and Child is book #17 in the Pendergast series. By this time you would think that we have seen all that Agent Pendergast has to offer but in Endless Night, the authors take the unflappable agent onto a course that he is ill equipped for.

The missing daughter of a wealthy billionaire is found dead. Her head taken. The evidence at the scene alludes to two separate killers. The first who killed the young woman and the second who took her head. The case goes to New York Detective Vincent D’Agosta and FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. It has been some time since Pendergast has been in his home city and not hunting killers and criminals across the globe. He has been solitary and distant since his ward Constance Greene has left him. Having only recently come back from being presumed dead, Pendergast is hoping for some stability in his life now. A murder may be just what he needs to take his mind off of what his life has become.

But as another body and another body begin to show up; Pendergast and D’Agosta may have a serial killer on their hands. A killer who is terrorizing New York. But as always, all may not be as it seems and for Pendergast, the answer may be much closer to his own soul than he is prepared for.

City of Endless Night is a departure from the path of Pendergast novels of late. His family and hidden past plays little into this tale. No secret societies or monsters or powers of supernatural origin play into here. There are not hidden gems of knowledge that unlock a great ancient power. No here there be monsters of another sort. A very human monster. A creature of human pain and anger. Here there is a throwback to something that may have been missing from Agent Pendergast novels in general. An actual murder mystery to be solved. A human killer doing horrible deeds and the why behind it all.

Pendergast, the character is going through changes. The loss of Constance Green has affected him in ways that he was not prepared for. Loss is a theme in the life of Pendergast. For all that he has he seems to constantly be in grief. His family, his wife, his son and his ward. Here, finally, we see the shell around him break and Pendergast may be saying enough.

The mystery of City of Endless Night is well written and detailed in research, which is to be expected from a Preston and Child book. This writing duo does not disappoint. It takes the reader a moment to realize that this is a murder mystery and that there is no deeper sinister plan at work as is the norm with Pendergast tales. This is a murder mystery. A police procedural as it were. A brilliant Detective pitted against a ruthless killer.

It is a really good read.

The Last to See Me by M. Dressler

last to see me
The Last to See Me by M. Dressler is one of the better ghost stories you are going to ready this year. It does what so few dare to do. It takes the ghost and makes them the sympathetic character in the tale.

Emma Rose is a poor girl growing up in a small logging town along the coast of northern California. She had dreams of a better life and of love. But no one remembers Emma’s dreams, those were a lifetime ago and those dreams were scarred with the reality of what fortunes a young poor girl could have in those times. Now all Emma has is her own peace. A peace she never had in life, she has now as she spends her time in the place that had been forbidden to her in life.

Lambry mansion.

But Lambry mansion is now up for sale and Emma does not care for the new owners. In a fit of rage she reveals herself and tries to ward them off. But instead, her actions cause them to hire a Hunter to come and cleanse the mansion of her spirit. Now Emma must fight for her own existence and the only home she has ever known.

The usual descriptions for a ghost story apply to The Last to See Me. Haunting. Atmospheric. But Dressler has invested so much more into the character of Emma Rose. This is a story of betrayal and of class warfare that goes beyond even the grave.

In her life, Emma was a very pretty young girl who caught the eye of one of the sons of the Lambry family. But Emma could never be accepted by the family and with concerns of romance going to far, she is sent away along the coast to serve in the lighthouse, far from the boy. But as time passes their desire and love cannot be denied and the boy himself is sent away. Emma is determined to follow him, but what she finds is that it is not only the family that is sending him away, but that he is going on his own as well and perhaps, he never really loved her at all. A horrible tragedy at sea leaves Emma the spirit of who she once was as she returns to the small logging town and the Lambry mansion. Emma haunts the generations of the Lambry family for over a hundred years. Staying in the very home that in life she had been unwelcome. It is hers now. But with a new owner taking residence, Emma once again finds herself unwelcome in her own home.

What follows is a battle for survival as Emma must wage a war on the living to maintain the peace she has earned in death.

In this world that Dressler has created, ghosts have been hunted to extinction if such a term can be applied to them. The hunters eradicate them in much the same fashion an exterminator would rid your home of rats. But Emma has suffered through being driven away before and she won’t go through it again. In Emma, Dressler has created a hero who doesn’t want vengeance for the wrongs done to her, not does she find the hunter to be evil.

There are two stories here. The story of Emma the ghost and the story of Emma the girl and both of these stories would make their own intriguing tale. But Dressler ties them together in this book and makes them into a haunting and bittersweet novel of angst and heartache and the desire to simply exist in peace.

A really good read.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

 

wolves

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson is one of those books. You know the kind. The books that start with a Holy Hell, and then Oh My God and then morph into the rare and haughty…Oh My Mother Fuckin’ God.! Yes it is just that good. You will wonder from time to time just why you never heard from this writer before, and that may just be that this is his very first novel.

Years have passed since society fell and Lynn McBride and what remains of her family fled to the Canadian Yukon. It began with a bombing at the Pentagon and then the wars came and then the disease. The flu that killed indiscriminately. Whether you were American or Chinese or Muslin or Christian. The disease spread across the country and what the nukes could not do, the flu did. Now, exiled in the snowy tundra, Lynn and her family exist off the land. Hunting and fishing and trapping for their food.

But the past is a strange thing and though they may have fled the disease and the wars, the past has a way of finding even the best hidden of them.

Lynn’s father was a biologist with the group known as Immunity. A government branch that studied the disease and its effects on humans. But Immunity is much more than that and they have crossed the borders into Canada and are on the hunt. The disease was thing of their own creation, foolishly they thought they could control it. Lynn’s father abandoned Immunity when he learned of what they had done and he paid for his ignorance with his life.

Change is coming to the tiny community in the Yukon and to Lynn’s family and it starts with the arrival of the man and his dog. The man is Jax and he has been traveling for a long time. Heading north as far as he can. Lynn’s family takes him in but what they cannot realize is that Jax is a hunted man and that Jax may be far more than just a man.

Immunity is coming and they want what is theirs.

First off, all you reviewers and readers out there. A young woman with reddish hair who uses a bow and arrow is not the next coming of Katniss Everdeen!!! If that is all you got out of this story then it is obvious you only read the jacket cover! Okay, there, just had to get that off my chest.

The Wolves of Winter is a tale of survival and the end of mankind. It is about the evil of those who would do whatever they think is right for the greater good; without responsibility and recourse. It is about the abuse of power and what happens when it goes unchecked. It is about grief and loss and the cold fringes of your heart, that make the frozen landscape seem warmer.

It is about love and discovery and about family. It is about doing the right thing when the right thing can cost you everything. It is about the memories of a love one and the reality of the world you now live in.

Johnson has written into life characters that will continue to haunt you long after the final page is turned and you move onto the next book. You will rage and cheer at Lynn. Her immaturity and impetuousness. Her sorrow and her triumphs. You will want to understand Jax and see him for far more than the dark creation of Immunity. You will cheer him as he fights for his own humanity.

Then there is Immunity itself. An entity that seems all too real in our current political climate. An entity that has existed before and will again. Fear is its breeding ground.

This is a book that will keep you up at night. It begs to be completed in one sitting and if you do put it down to finish another day, you will not sleep.

It really is that damn good.

Dead Girls Dancing by Graham Masterton

dead girls dancing

 

Dead Girls Dancing by Graham Masterton is book #8 in the Katie McGuire series and while the character is still intriguing, the books themselves may be losing steam. These tales are not for the fate of heart. They are violent and brutal and blur the lines between what does and does not make for good reading.

In Cork, Ireland, a fire erupts in a local dance studio. Thirteen dancers are killed in the tragic accident. But as Maguire and her team investigates, it soon becomes apparent that the blaze was no accident. But who would want to kill 13 teenage Irish folk dancers?

Elsewhere, the crime lords are in a disarray with the death of their prior boss. New blood is stepping to the forefront and its ties to the IRA and terrorism are strong. Could the new crime boss have something to do with the fire?

Katie also has to deal with interdepartmental politics and a rural dog fighting ring. All of which can harm her on a very person a level. But can she navigate these and still find out what happened to the dancers?

The Katie Maguire series is a gritty noire set of mysteries that at times, seems to revel in its shock value. I have read and loved Irish police dramas, but Masterton seems to take it further that many writers do. It is not only the violence but the sexual violence that permeates his stories. This is the fourth Katie Maguire book I have read and each of them has a rape scene. In this one it is a gang rape as a form of intimidation and then there is the scene where the undercover policewoman performs oral sex on one of the criminals to secure information.

Is that really in the interest of the story or is it for shock value alone?

What makes these stories work though is the characters. They come alive in these books. Masterton is an incredibly gifted writer and as a reader, you can tell he enjoys this series. It breathes, even though at time it is disturbing and hard to stomach.

Katie Maguire is tough as nails but her tenderness and vulnerability is what makes her character work. She throws herself into each case and at times, allows it to become to close to home. But in the end she solves it, only it also seems to come with a price.

Good but the sexual violence in this series is beginning to detract from the stories themselves.

The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen

the last thing

 

The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen is a novel that gives you all the answers you really think you need to start off with and then comes at you with questions you never really thought of. It will have you looking at your neighbors, at your spouses and at your friends in a whole new light. Or instead, in varying shades of darkness.

“…She ran over to the Jarretts’ little bungalow next door and pounded her fists against the bright pink front door. Her fingertips found her bloody earlobe and she brushed off the blood with the shoulder of her blouse. Owen and Liz were gone. Of course they were. Liz had her exam that day-the essay section of the Oregon bar-and Owen had been going to the office early to prepare for an infusion of venture capital money and then an IPO of his software firm.
She returned to the house and went through it a third time. Nothing. No trace of her son. Charlie was gone.
This was real.
It was her fault.
Finally, Carole slumped on the upholstered bench at the foot of the bed and dialed 911.
‘My little boy is missing,’ she said, giving the dispatcher her address. She fought for composure with every syllable as she scanned the surface of the Deschutes.
‘Please come as fast as you can,’ she said, holding the phone with a vise grip. ‘He’s three. I think my little boy fell into the river…”

Along the Deschutes River in Oregon, there is a community of tight knit neighbors. Some of the original families whose modest homes are now being besieged by the newer remodeled mansions along the shore. Liz and Owen have often envied their good friends and neighbors, Carole and David who seemed to have everything. A large home, a trendy and successful restaurant and a beautiful young son, Charlie. Until the morning that Charlie vanishes without a trace and the quiet neighborhood is shattered.

“….Maybe they didn’t see him,’ she said.
David held Carole by the shoulders and searched her eyes. ‘Honey, they used dogs. The dogs’ trail ended at the river. At the driveway. His scent was all over the place. And then gone.’
Next they walked along the river and returned to the play area of Columbia Park. In the center of the grass space above the river was a pirate ship climbing structure that offered slides and various interactive games aligned with the pirate theme.
‘Charlie loved to find the treasure,’ Carole said. The treasure was a grouping of six items on a spinning wheel that included jewels, coins, and other nods to the pirate theme.
‘Loves to,’ David said. ‘He loves to.’
Carole stopped. ‘I didn’t mean to…’
‘Mean to what?’ David asked, though he knew.
‘Mean to say loved. Yes, loves…”

Along the river and the small community, the vanishing of young Charlie is a mystery to everyone. All that is except for Liz. She knows exactly what has happened to the child and now, she doesn’t know how she will every tell anyone what has happened.

“….He heard Liz swallow. ‘What about Carole and David?’ she asked.
Owen turned his body toward the window. The sidewalks were full of people shopping and finding their way to one of the city’s farm-to-table places that had been featured in the Oregonian. The car show and the Charlie Franklin story had provided a one-two punch to one of the last summer weekends.
‘Be yourself,’ he said.
‘I don’t know who I am anymore.’
‘You’re Liz Jarrett. You love Carole. Go help her get through this.’
It was not a suggestion but an order.
Liz was a woman who knew how to stand her ground, but she knew that under her feet the ground was shifting and at any moment she was going to fall. It would be a hard fall, one from which she would never recover. She couldn’t push back at an order. She no longer knew who she was.
‘But-‘ she started to say, before letting her words drop.
There was no arguing with something as horrific as what she’d already done…”

It took a brief moment of distraction for Liz’s life to change forever. Now she struggles to keep her own secrets during the search and investigation into Charlie’s disappearance. But there are other neighbors who have their own dark secrets to keep as well.

The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen is a roller coaster ride of emotion and betrayal the lengths guilt will drive you. What is amazing about this book is that you know from the onset exactly what happens to the child, Charlie. It is what happens after that is truly the story here. The breaking of marriages and trust and the cruelty of ambition that is displayed. It is in itself at times far more horrific than the act itself.

If there is a drawback to this novel is that every male character is in some manner or another, an asshole. I understand in this glut of female driven novels, that the males characters are portrayed very often as indecisive and weak or insincere and cruel. But here, in both of the marriages affected by the disappearance, both husbands are more concerned with themselves and their ambitions than with the child or their wives. In fact, both are actually working to take advantage of the situation in one manner or the other. The only redeeming male character is Charlie, the three year old boy.

As for the women, Carole the mother of the child who finds that arguing over bad service is more important than keeping an eye on her child. Never mind that he is next to a river that comes up to their property or that he is only three years old, the phone call and getting her way is much more important. If you shouldn’t take your eyes off your child while they are in the bathtub, then I’m pretty sure that a current driven river is not really any safer. Then there is Liz, whose selfishness and self involvement actually starts this whole tragedy in motion, not to mention the absolutely cruel acts that follow. Not only to Charlie but to Carole, her friend who she is supposed to love? No they are portrayed as victims manipulated by circumstances or the men in their lives and in the end, somehow heroes.

But in truth, what we find here is that none of the characters are particularly likable. The husbands are just a little bit more so.

The Last Thing She Ever Did, in this book, is tell the truth. But don’t lie to yourself, it is only because she was confronted with it.

A really good book that will just piss you off. A great read.