Strange Country

strangeHalle Michaels was killed in combat in Afghanistan. After she was revived she started seeing ghosts.  She came home to West Prairie City, South Dakota for her sister’s funeral in Wide Open and strange things ensued. Strange Country is the third book and West Prairie City is still unsettled (and unsettling).

Coates books are atmospheric in the same way that Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver is – although the setting and the pretext are completely different. This trilogy takes place on the open prairie and if it isn’t always winter, it sure feels like it. Halle Michaels is just barely a vet – her mind has not really disengaged from the battle-field yet and that’s sometimes all that keeps her alive (again).

Strange Country is laboring under the weight of the previous two novels. Wide Open was magnificent and spooky, Deep Down was weird, and Strange Country has to tie up a lot of loose ends from Deep Down. It is either the end of the series or a turning point.

Maybe a Ghost Story category would describe it better, but it might be the only inhabitant. This is good fiction. I highly recommend Wide Open. Start there and see how far you get.

Seraphina

seraphinaIn a world where peace between dragons and humans is shaky, at best, Seraphina is the daughter of a human man and a dragon woman. Seraphina’s mother died in child-birth and her mother’s silver blood was the first time her father realized he’d married a dragon. The scandal is so great that the dragons no longer speak her mother’s name and her father has remarried, invented a new history of his first wife and given out that the child died as well.

Seraphina is sharp-witted, musically brilliant, and has an odd menagerie of grotesques living in a garden in her mind, as well as scales around her wrist and waist. When she grows up and gets a job at the palace as the assistant music master she meets the prince and princess and with her insight into dragons is quickly pulled into a more visible role than either she or her father is comfortable with.

This is a great story, full in interesting characters in a richly detailed society. I was fortunate enough to listen to the audiobook read by Mandy Williams (with Justine Eyre as the voice of Seraphina’s mother). Williams has an oddly lisping British accent that seems just right for the character of Seraphina, but I think I would have enjoyed the book just as much if I’d read the text myself. Hopefully the next book, Shadow Scale, will be as good.

Wickedly Dangerous

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Baba Yaga, going by the name Barbara Yager, is called to a small town where children have been disappearing. There she meets the frustrated sheriff who has been searching for five months and still doesn’t have a clue. However, he does have washboard abs and a strong muscular chest even though he spends most of his time sitting behind a desk or eating burgers and pie at the local greasy spoon.

It turns out that the children are being abducted by an evil rusalka, upset by fracking and taking her revenge on the  human community. But when the rusalka’s activity also threatens to destroy the fairy kingdom the queen of the fairies charges Baba with solving the problem, because when the fabric of fairy is literally dissolving around you it only makes sense that instead of mustering all your forces and sending your high power knights and magic wielders out to fix it you would instead send your lone human witch and her studly sheriff “friend.”

Turns out “Baba Yaga” is a title, not a name, and there are three of them in the U.S.

I think we can reliably predict that there will be two more books in this series.

I should just stop reading books with covers like this, but every once in a while I’m surprised by something really good. (This wasn’t one of those times.)

[edit]

I have been wasting more time than this story deserves stewing over it, so I’m going to add some spoilers and vent about the part of this story that pisses me off the most.

How, you may ask, did the rusalka get there in the first place? It turns out that this is the fault of the sheriff’s estranged wife. The rusalka, as I’ve mentioned, was pissed off by the fracking, but it’s important to understand that no fracking had actually taken place. There was a proposal before that town to allow fracking in the next election, and there was considerable discussion. On the one hand, this would bring badly needed revenue into the farming community, on the other, fracking would pollute their ground water, destroy their crops and sicken and/or kill them all. So it was a tough decision, but it hadn’t been made yet.

Six or so years previously the sheriff and his wife had lost their infant daughter to SIDS. This completely devastated the wife, who began drinking and taking drugs to deal with the pain, and soon began sleeping with all the men in the town. Because men are completely defenseless in the face of a drunken, high and vulnerable woman, as we all know, this was clearly entirely and solely her fault. Everyone felt very sorry for the sheriff.

Having victimized all the men in town, the whore had to start going further afield. One day, while wandering through a distant forest (as one does when one is drunk, high and looking for men to seduce), she stumbled across a hidden cave and decided to search it. After stumbling through the dark of the narrow, twisting, branching passages she found a doorway into fairy that had been created by the stresses on the natural environment caused by the fracking that would be proposed some years later.

When she entered fairy she encountered the rusalka, who was incensed at the soon to be proposed pollution and offered to steal the wife a new baby daughter if the wife would show her the doorway, so that she could wreak anticipatory revenge on the town.

Why would anyone write this misogynistic and illogical drivel?

Ok, maybe I can get some sleep now.

Pocket Apocalypse

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pocketThis is the latest in a series about a family of “cryptozoologists” whose self-appointed job is to protect both humans and monsters. As opposed to The Covenant, whose self-appointed job is to wipe all the monsters off the face of the earth. If you haven’t read the earlier books – it’s all too complicated to explain.

In Pocket Apocalypse Alexander and his girlfriend are off to Australia to help her family and their Covenant splinter group fend off werewolves.

Once you get past the truly annoying wittiness of the characters and their obsession with threatening each other with sudden death, this series provides some light-weight amusement. But the forced wittiness is really annoying and I think the only reason I’ve stuck with this series is that I read Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series first. Now that’s a good series.

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

murderNot a bad book, but I had a hard time getting through it for a couple of reasons.

I enjoy a good mystery and I get an especial pleasure from a good historical mystery. I love the feeling of learning about the past while enjoying a good story. Brother Cadfael, Mary Russell, Maisie Dobbs, Catherine LeVendeur – all characters in historical mysteries that left me feeling that I knew more about what it was like to live at that time, in addition to having read a great story.

Unfortunately, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is more about the history than the story – it’s filled with endless historical detail. If you’re interested in a very thorough dissertation on life in London in 1583, this is the book for you. I’m impressed with the research Emerson did. I’m sure it’s very accurate. I’m less impressed with her story-telling ability.

The other problem that I had makes me feel that I’m being a little unfair to the author. This is a story about a young woman working undercover as a spy in 1500’s London. In other words, almost exactly what Y S Lee has written of so incredibly well in her Agency novels. Mistress Jaffrey’s history is very different from Mary Quinn’s, but if you’re going to write a story about a woman working under cover in Elizabethan England you’re asking for comparison with the best, and Emerson just doesn’t have the hand with characters and story-telling that Lee does.

Bottom line: not bad, just sterile.

The Lost Night

lostI will confess that I got this book simply because of the words “Rachel Bland and her dust bunny companion” on the back cover. Perhaps that’s not enough for a relationship to blossom.

As the cover clearly indicates, this is paranormal romance. It’s doing it’s best to seem like a Science Fiction novel, but it takes more than a reference to “the aliens” to make scifi.

Rachel Bland is a former member of the Harmonic Enlightenment community on some distant world where psychic abilities are common and the environment itself gives of psychic vibrations, which apparently glow, like blacklight posters. She has the ability to see and modify other people’s auras. After a failed attempt to live in the “normal” world she has moved to a small island where there’s a psychic Reserve and a hot dude who guards it. Odd things are happening and Rachel and Harry are drawn together to investigate. Needless to say, passions flair.

If you’re a fan of romance novels and can stomach the woo this is a well-written novel. Not to my taste.

Solstice Wood

woodSolstice Wood is a different book for McKillip. It takes place in modern day America and is probably more akin to something by Charles de Lint than her other books. Or perhaps, Tanya Huff’s series about the Gale women.

Sylvia Lynn is comfortable running her bookstore far from home. She has a secret that would not be welcome in the small town that she grew up in, so she escaped and made a new life for herself. Sylvia is half fae and her family is terrified of the fae in the woods behind the house.

Then Sylvia’s Grandmother calls to tell her that her Grandfather has died and she needs to come home for his funeral. Sylvia knows that going home will be a lot easier than getting away again, but she loved her Grandfather, so she goes.

Ultimately, this is a story about perspective and prejudice, but it’s also about honesty with others and with yourself. A good story with a deeper sub-text.

Silvertongue

silvertongueSilvertongue is the last of the Stoneheart trilogy. Unfortunately the audiobook version was not available yet, so I missed out on Jim Dale’s excellent reading this time. None-the-less, an enjoyable book and a good, though surprising, twist ending to the trilogy.

Edie and George are back together, along with their Spit friends, but in the process of returning they’ve brought along a stowaway – a force from the blackness with no form of its own, cousin to the stone heart.

War between the Spits and the Taints is in full force, George’s marble vein is growing up his arm, 13:00 has struck and time has stopped. This is a fast-paced and extremely dense ending to the trilogy – a lot happens in this book.

Good YA fiction with strong male and female characters.

Deerskin

deerskinI dropped Magic Shifts off at the library yesterday and decided to take my own advice, so I re-read Deerskin.

Lissar is the only daughter of a completely self-involved king and queen. The most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms and the prince who won her by impossible feats. They’re so wonderful that when the queen starts to die of some mysterious illness (hint: she starts to age) she has an impossibly perfect portrait painted and makes the king promise to not marry anyone less attractive that she was.

Then Lissar grows up and turns out to be as beautiful as her mother.

Robin McKinley writes incredibly good fairy tales. Not Disney fairy tales, but the original ones they’re based on. So bad things happen and people die and all is not sweetness and light at the end, but generally things do work out as well as can be expected.

The bulk of this book is the story of how Lissar and her dog escape, build a new life on the buried ashes of the old, and eventually become strong enough to pull the memories out of hiding and limp forward towards recovery. There are moments of pain, moments of heroism and, eventually, moments of love. It’s a deeply touching story – highly recommended.

Magic Shifts

shiftsMagic Shifts is the first in the new direction for Kate, Curran and Julie. They’ve moved out of the compound into a nice house in the suburbs where the most they have to worry about is getting along with the neighbors (Curran sneaking up on the mailman in lion form and saying “hello” didn’t help with this).

At least that’s the theory. In practice, Kate’s responsibilities have just increased vastly and so have their enemies. Fortunately, they’re tough as nails and have lots of friends. So when a missing shape-changer case turns into a whole lot more they’re ready to handle it.

One knows, of course, that ultimately Kate will overcome, but the path is still absorbing. I read Magic Shifts in a single day; just couldn’t put it down.

There’s an interesting parallel here between Kate’s and Anita Blake’s life path – from freelance mercenary to queen of the city. I recently read an interview with Ilona Andrews where they describe Laurell Hamilton as one of their role models (appallingly; Ilona Andrews’ paranormal adventure is much more interesting than Hamilton’s), so perhaps that makes some sense, but I also think it’s a natural evolution of the character.

This is a transitional story, so in addition to the story itself, there’s a lot of stage setting. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.