Thursday, October 29, 2015

Necromancing the Stone (Necromancer #2) - Lish McBride

Just in time for Samhain/Halloween, I bring you a trad-pubbed urban fantasy whose main character is named Samhain.

Samhain is Sam LeCroix, a former short-order cook and son of a local witch, who has only just recently realized he's a powerful necromancer. He's dispatched his hometown's former head necromancer, Douglas Montgomery, and has thereby inherited Douglas's house, gnomes, gargoyles, and houseboy -- a pukis named James. Sam is a nice guy, and isn't crazy about succeeding Douglas, who was definitely not a nice guy and who ruled mostly by fear and intimidation. Sam is new to his powers, and he's in love with Brid, the daughter of the local head werewolf. All of which makes him vulnerable. And as it turns out, Douglas isn't quite as dead as he ought to be -- and he's very interested in re-acquiring a little green stone that's stashed away in the house that now belongs to Sam.

This is the second book in the series, but I don't think you have to read the first book to enjoy this one. I figured everything out quickly enough and was never very confused.

I was, however, a little bit disappointed. I spotted this book in a bookstore and was excited pretty much right away. The title's a pun on the movie Romancing the Stone, after all, and the title of the first book in the series is a pun, too (Hold Me Closer, Necromancer -- and if you don't know that reference, I'm very disappointed in you). The blurb made it sound like the plot would include one madcap complication after another. In short, I was expecting a story along the lines of Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next series. Or at least a heaping helping of snark. And then the author didn't deliver, and I was sad. I mean, it was okay. Just not what I was expecting.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brother Raven and Other Tales from the Middle of Nowhere - Leland and Angelo Dirks

Leland Dirks is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. In Brother Raven, he is ably abetted by his Border Collie companion, Angelo.

This collection of flash fiction includes pieces Dirks wrote for a couple of my own favorite micro-fiction haunts: the #2minutesgo outings at JD Mader's blog on Fridays, and the weekly flash fiction contest at Indies Unlimited. He has paired each story with his own photography and most of the photos were taken in southern Colorado.

All good so far. But the guy can also write. I'm partial to the first story in the collection, "Brother Raven," but I don't think there's a clunker in the whole bunch.

Highly recommended for fans of flash fiction.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Seeker (Seeker #1) - Arwen Elys Dayton

I received an ARC of Seeker free in my World Fantasy Convention book bag, and picked it up without knowing anything about it. I expected the usual YA epic fantasy. You know -- the kind where old wizarding families teach their kids the family business, in which they'll travel around the world, righting wrongs and fighting for Justice with a capital J. Yeah, no. Seeker features old wizarding families, all right, but something has gone wrong with the system, and the Seekers are ruthlessly wielding their magic for the benefit of certain rich and powerful companies.

The McGuffin here is a stone athame -- a techno-magical knife that allows its wielder to travel from one place to another by cutting a hole in the fabric of time and space. Each old wizarding family had one originally, but somehow Quin's family ended up with John's family's knife. John's family has sent him to Scotland so that Quin's father, Briac, can train him to become a Seeker. Then he can fight Briac and get his family's athame back. Briac, of course, knows why John is really there, and has no intention of letting him become a Seeker.

And of course, John and Quin are in love. The requisite love triangle is completed by Shinobu; his Scottish father is related to Quin's family, his Japanese mother is dead, and he loves Quin and is jealous of John. When things go pear-shaped in Scotland, Quin and Shinobu escape from John to Hong Kong where, as it turns out, Shinobu's mother is very much alive. A master of Eastern medicine wipes Quin's painful memories, and she starts a new life. But it doesn't take long before the past -- and John -- catch up to all of them.

This was an amazing read that held my interest far better than a lot of YA fantasies do. Dayton lets us see out of the eyes of all of the young people, so that we understand the pressures all of them are under, and why they're all, in a sense, doomed. Yet the book ends with a glimmer of hope.

If what you're after is a typical YA epic fantasy, keep looking -- Seeker ain't it. But if you're up for a globe-trotting adventure with a bunch of surprising twists and turns, I would highly recommend this book.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Kidnapped by Nuns, and Other Stories of a Life on the Radio - Bob Fuss

I'm not a fan of memoirs, as a rule. But when I heard Bob Fuss had written one, I had to read it -- partly because (here comes the Six Degrees of Separation moment) I worked with Bob at Mutual/NBC Radio News, and knew him to be an outstanding journalist, as well as an entertaining guy. (No, he doesn't mention me in the book. Although he does talk about the "talented people working at these networks (who) were told they were being laid off" when the owners merged the Mutual/NBC news operation in the DC suburbs with CBS News in New York in 1998, and I was one of those people.)

You may not think you know who Bob is, but if your favorite radio station carries CBS News at the top of the hour, I'm certain you would recognize his voice. For decades, he was the network's Congressional correspondent. He also covered political conventions, presidential campaigns, and the odd disaster and/or coup.

Most of the chapters are straight past-tense memoir, but interspersed here and there are travelogues written in present tense, radio style. Bob has traveled a great deal, both for his job and for fun, and some of his observations had me laughing out loud. For instance, when touring Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's home, Bob writes of Neruda's tchotchkes, "The collection of items from around the world was quite impressive, as was his 'Stalin Peace Prize,' which is not something you see every day." No kidding.

In later chapters, he indulges in opinions about politicians of his acquaintance that would have gotten him canned if he'd said them in public twenty years ago. Back then, as he notes, journalists were required to avoid showing any bias; we had to keep our opinions to ourselves. Of course, things are different today.

He also talks candidly about his disability, and makes it clear that it has never slowed him down.

I give Bob a lot of credit for sticking it out in radio longer than I did -- that layoff in '98 did me in, but he didn't retire 'til last year. His book made me nostalgic about the business, though. Radio was a lot of fun, back in the day. If you're interested in radio, or in journalism, or in politics in Washington, or in travel to exotic places...oh, heck, just read the book. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Finisher (Vega Jane #1) - David Baldacci

Baldacci is best known for his adult thrillers, none of which I have read. The Finisher is his first YA fantasy. And if you guessed this was the first of a series, you'd be right. (The second book should be available shortly, if it's not already.) The main character is Vega Jane -- Jane being her last name. She lives in a village called Wormwood, which no one ever leaves. She and her younger brother live in a sort of boarding house since their parents went into a catatonic state, more or less, after Vega's grandfather had an Event -- which means he went poof! and disappeared. Vega's best friend is a boy named Delph, who stutters. Her brother goes to school and she works in a factory called Stacks, where she and a man named Quentin Herms finish all the things manufactured there. They sand rough edges and paint pretty statues. And then one night, Vega sees the local constabulary chase Quentin into the Quag -- a mysterious barrier that surrounds Wormwood. No one who has gone into the Quag ever comes out again.

So already, you know that Vega is going to have to enter the Quag before the book is over. But before that, she will come into her own power, and deal with the town bullies -- not the least of which is Morrigone, a member of the town council, who starts out friendly enough but who clearly has her own agenda.

While the protagonist is a strong female and while the plot included some surprises, the story struck me as a fairly predictable hero's journey. Vega is provided with magical tools with which to unlock her own magical potential, solve some puzzles, beat the bad guys, and progress through to the next level. Baldacci has picked such weird names for things in this world -- people are Wugs, minutes are slivers, days are lights (which makes for a nice "lights and nights" pairing, actually) -- that I had to wonder whether the story wouldn't morph into sci-fi before it was over. And it still might; I expect it'll be a trilogy before all is said and done.

This book is nearly 500 pages in hardback, but it's a fast read (for adults, anyway). I'd recommend it for kids who have finished the Harry Potter books and who are looking for something a little different, but not too different.