Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beckoning Light (The Afterglow Trilogy #1) - Alyssa Rose Ivy

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before.  But a couple of Christmases ago, I won a whole bunch of indie e-books in a contest.  Last year, I talked myself into attacking the virtual stack with vigor -- which is why I have so many books to write reviews for. 

When I first glanced over the stack, I found, in general, a 50-50 split.  About half the books I won't review, either because I bailed due to lack of interest in the subject matter or due to the book not being up to par -- either the story had a major flaw or the book needed a thorough edit.  (To be fair, I've found a similar 50-50 split among the traditionally-published books I get in my World Fantasy Convention goodie bags: sometimes the writing is lame, sometimes I've read the basic story too many times, and sometimes the subject matter isn't to my taste.)

Beckoning Light was one of the books I won, and I liked it well enough that I sought out, and paid money for, the second book in the trilogy.

The book is a YA fantasy.  The main character is Charlotte, a teenaged girl who has been living in Alaska for the past several years, following her mother's death.  Now she and her older brother Kevin have moved back to South Carolina while their father pursues a job opportunity in the Arctic.  They're living back at the old homestead with their mother's brother, Monty.  Kevin picks up right where he left off, hanging out with his best friend Liam and making the basketball team.  But he's worried about Charlotte, who, he thinks, needs a more active social life.

Charlotte is more ambivalent about their homecoming.  For one thing, she had a crush on Liam before they left, and she wonders where that will lead now.  For another, on her first day of school, she meets an annoying kid named James who keeps turning up at odd moments, and who can't seem to stop staring at her.  And she's drawn inexplicably to a gate in the garden of the old house -- a gate their mother told both Kevin and her to never go through.

Of course, Charlotte goes through the gate, into another world, and immediately becomes emotionally attached to the first person she meets there -- a young man named Calvin.  He feels the same way about her.  Why is it so hard for the two of them to part? Why did Charlotte's mother want to keep her out of the world beyond the gate? And what if her mother didn't die, after all?

I thought Ivy did a good job in handling both the real world and the fantasy world she's created.  The characters are mostly well drawn and the plot seems fresh, even though it's a story that's been told many times before.  I liked Charlotte's spunk.  And as I said, I was interested enough to buy the sequel.  Now I'm hoping that the third Afterglow Trilogy book will be out soon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Fool's Journey - Kristina Jackson

When I first picked up this book, I was kind of excited about it.  The title, after all, refers to the first card of the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck.  The Fool, which is usually numbered Key 0, is depicted (in Rider-Waite-style decks, anyway) as a youth who's starting off on a long journey.  He is happily striding forth, a pack slung over his shoulder and a small dog bounding by his side. And his next step will take him right off the edge of a cliff.

The Major Arcana are sometimes used as foci for guided meditation.  You can also use them in sequence, in a series of meditation sessions -- a process known as "The Fool's Journey."  So I knew I was stepping into Pagan territory.

The plot can be viewed as a Fool's Journey of sorts.  The main character is Moira, a woman determined to get out of the secretarial pool by any means necessary, including what might be termed consensual sex, but only just.  Several months into this new and better job, Moira looks out her office window and witnesses her boss beating up another former secretary -- and this one, she learns, is pregnant with the boss's child.  The beating is so severe that the woman dies.  At the same time, Moira's boss offers her a seat on the firm's board of directors, but only if she submits to more of the same violation.

While sorting out her feelings about all this, she stumbles across a psychic fair, where she has a Tarot card reading done.  It's spookily accurate, of course, and before you know it, she is following the cards' advice.  She dumps her horrible corporate job, moves to a haunted cottage in Wales, and learns how to use magic.

While I applaud many of the novel's messages -- for one thing, nobody should ever stand for the sort of treatment Moira's boss dishes out -- it all just seemed too easy.  Once Moira gets to Wales, nothing serious ever complicates her life again.  Does the hot guy next door like her? Of course he does!  But will her be okay with her being a witch?  No problem!  Need a new home? Here's the perfect place, and with Pagan neighbors, to boot!

Neither psychic journeys nor real life are ever that easy.  More tension in the plot, and a setback or two for Moira -- maybe even the edge of a Welsh cliff -- would have made this book a lot more interesting.

One more note:  The cover shows Kristina Jackson as the author, and that's how Amazon has the book listed, but the title page gives the author's name as "Kay Darling."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Urban Shaman - C. E. Murphy

I did mention that I'd sneak in a trad-published novel every once in a while, didn't I?  Well, in honor of Valentine's Day, I give you a trad-pubbed urban fantasy.
I have a few favorite urban fantasy authors: Patricia Briggs (whose Mercy Thompson is a shapeshifter who fixes cars for a living and who loves the alpha of the local werewolf pack), Carrie Vaughn (whose Kitty books had me at "radio talk show host" and Denver, never mind the paranormal stuff), and C.E. Murphy.

Urban Shaman is the first book in the Walker Papers series.  The main character is Joanne Walker, who works as a mechanic for the Seattle Police Department (what is the deal with female mechanics in urban fantasy, anyway? No wonder I gave Naomi a white-collar job!).  Then, jet-lagged after her mother's funeral, she's dropped into a situation in which she believes she's witnessed a crime.  Somehow she talks a cabbie into driving her all over Seattle to track down the bad guy, only to plunge down a rabbit hole of weirdness.  Because, you see, Joanne Walker's birth name is Siobhan Walkingstick -- Irish fey mother, Cherokee shaman heritage on her father's side -- and she is, naturally, the most powerful shaman in North America, no matter how much she refuses to admit it.  But when the Celtic Wild Hunt shows up, she has no choice -- particularly when she manages to heal herself of a gut wound that should have been fatal.

It's not just her magical power that she's in denial over.  It's clear to everybody (here comes the romance!) that she has the hots for her boss, Capt. Michael Morrison.  But you know, the whole boss/employee thing, and, well.  We have lots of books to go.  Maybe they'll both figure it out eventually....

Every hero needs a sidekick, and Jo's is Gary, the cab driver who picks her up at the airport at the beginning of the book.  Gary is rock-solid and yet willing to go along on all of Jo's adventures; he says it's the most fun he's had since his wife died.  And he's right -- Jo's a lot of fun.  Her self-deprecating snark comes through loud and clear.

If you like urban fantasy, but you haven't read any of the Walker Papers books, give this one a try.  Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Dimension Researcher (The Second Internet Cafe, Part I) - Chris James

Here's the other indie novel I mentioned in my list for Book Junkies Journal of my six favorite reads of 2012.
Y'all can breathe now; this one is sci-fi. 

First, let me explain about dimension research. James has taken the process of making a decision and run headlong with it.  In the reality he has invented for his series, every decision you make spawns a series of new realities: one that follows the path you decided upon, and one or more others that follow the paths you didn't take.  Researchers in Europe have figured out how to move from one of these dimensions to another.  Now, a consortium of nations has built a facility called the Second Internet Cafe, from which teams are sent to parallel dimensions to find out what could have been -- for example, how our world would have been enriched if So-and-so hadn't died in the Holocaust.  Think Connie Willis's Doomsday Book crossed with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (but without the daimons). 

Lucas Hunter is a brand-new dimension researcher.  On his very first day on the job, not only does he manage to annoy his team leader, ace dimension researcher Jean Bauer, but he also discovers that another nation has figured out how to do dimension research.  All of this is happening at the same time that the Russian prime minister is supposed to tour the  Second Internet Cafe -- and if he doesn't like what he sees, Russia will pull out of the project and the facility will have to close.

There's intrigue involved, of course, and politics, and some less-than-ethical stuff going on.  Lucas brashly appoints himself to figure it all out.  The one thing he can't seem to figure out is that his friend Kasha is in love with him -- but hey, even in our dimension, geeks have that problem.

James has done a great job with the world-building, and his science had me convinced.  His visual of the decision tree has stuck with me in the months since I read the book.  All in all, a good read.