Monthly Archives:: October 2016

Urban fantasy review: ‘Stolen Magic’ by Marina Finlayson

October 23, 2016 Review 0

The first of a new series, and once again Finlayson offers a book that’s everything I don’t normally read (urban fantasy? Me? Um…), and has me utterly absorbed, hanging on every word. Right from the start, as heroine Lexi breaks into a house with the aid of nine cats, I loved everything about it.

The world Finlayson lays out is (to me) a little different. There are shifters – were-wolves and a whole array of other were-species. There are vampires. There are shapers — people with a power over one or more elements. And the result is a very different-looking political spectrum. There’s no pretence here that the ‘other’ species are somehow hidden from the human population, nor that they peacefully coexist. No, the shapers are immensely powerful, and as a result, they call all the shots. There are shaper-controlled areas, where shifters and other non-humans live in cautious subjection. There are separate human-controlled areas. The differences are underscored by place-names — Britain is Britannia here, and Australia assumes its 17th century name of New Holland.

So where does our heroine, Lexi, fit in? She’s neither shifter nor shaper — her peculiar talent is to connect to the minds of animals. I’ve used this ability to a limited extent in my own books, but Finlayson uses animals in some wonderfully creative ways — even cockroaches! I’d never thought of the little blighters as anything but an irritating nuisance, but here Lexi manages to make them delightfully useful.

Plot: OK, there’s a plot. Lexi is hiding out in the small seaside town of Berkley’s Bay after a powerful shaper asked her to use her unusual talents to steal a ring from an even more powerful shaper. Not a game she can win, whatever she does, so she’s lying low, running a second-hand bookstore for the vampire who runs the pub, living above the shop with her cat. But then another shaper turns up, and life starts getting difficult…

The author’s always brilliant at drawing her characters, so it goes without saying that Lexi and all the other shifters and shapers in her world feel beautifully real. However, I have to make special mention of Lexi’s cat, Syl, who is quite awesome from start to finish, and utterly catlike in every way. I adored her. There’s also a blossoming romance for Lexi, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the rest of the series.

Another terrific book from the author. Great world-building, loads of action that kept me turning the pages when I really should have been doing other things, a wonderful main character, a hot but difficult-to-trust love interest, an awesome cat and a mysterious ring. What’s not to like? Five stars.

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Mystery review: ‘Aunt Bessie Assumes’ by Diana Xarissa

October 18, 2016 Review 0

As cozy mysteries go, this is about as cozy as it gets. Aunt Bessie is a lady of bus pass age living beside the beach in Laxey on the Isle of Man. One morning she (literally) stumbles over a body on the beach, and, since she knows everyone on the island, she’s roped in by the police and her own curiosity to help solve the crime. As always, there are plenty of suspects, and all sorts of skeletons in closets to be revealed before the murderer is brought to justice.

There’s nothing fundamentally amiss with this book, and I was never tempted to abandon it. However, the pace is glacially slow, with inordinate amounts of unnecessary dialogue and repetition, and a great deal of page time is devoted to drinking vast amounts of tea and loving descriptions of every single food item passing Aunt Bessie’s lips. When she cooks, we’re treated to a blow-by-blow account of every ingredient and cooking utensil and process involved. It’s easy to read, however, and the odd Americanism felt reasonable to me given that Aunt Bessie grew up in the States.

As a mystery, let’s just say that my first guess was the correct one, and there were no challenging puzzles to unravel. For anyone who enjoys this kind of lightweight and undemanding story, there are plenty more books in the series, and the Manx setting is charmingly different. For me, it only rates three stars.

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Fantasy review: ‘The Healers’ Home’ by S E Robertson

October 2, 2016 Review 1

Another awesome story from the author. A world you can immerse yourself in. Characters who are so real, you’re sure you must have met them some time. A story that weaves itself around you like a silk cocoon, soft and gentle and totally mesmerising. If you’re looking for action, this really isn’t the book for you, but if you want literary fantasy, where the characters matter more than anything else, this is the book for you.

The premise: in the first book of the series, The Healers’ Road, Agna the healer and Keifon the Medic, with their very different backgrounds and approaches to healing, were thrown together and had to reach a working accommodation. Two years on the road and a lot of adjustments saw them become strong enough friends to consider settling in the same northern town, Wildern. Agna hopes to open an art gallery. Keifon wants to become qualified to practice medicine in his new home, and also hopes to make an arranged marriage and have a family. This second book in the series opens with Agna buying a former dry goods store to convert to an art gallery, where the two of them will also live until Keifon gets settled.

The early part of the book is rather slow. There’s a great deal of ambling around the streets and into furniture shops, with much discussion of the necessary purchases for their new home. Then the details of food items have to be gone into, and there are shifts at the hospital to be itemised and so on and so forth. As a way of introducing the world, it’s quite effective, but I did get rather impatient to get to the meat of the story. Even when things do start to get moving, everything seems to go very smoothly. Agna’s approaches to patrons for the gallery are successful. Their work at the hospital goes well. Keifon finds a new project to absorb him. Nothing terribly bad happens, even though Keifon agonises endlessly about being ‘nameless’ and about taking advantage of Agna’s hospitality.

Things do get more tense eventually, as the past comes back to bite both our main characters, and they have to make difficult decisions in situations where there are no right answers. Or perhaps I should say, no perfect answers. The conclusion leaves the pair in happier circumstances, but with a very interesting situation for Agna to deal with. I look forward to seeing how that works out, and there’s a character from her past that I’m rather hoping will turn up in the future.

Any quibbles? Well, Wildern seemed almost too pleasant place, all told, (at least until events close to the end) and a little more overt drama early on would have added some spice. There was some terminology used that struck me as being quite modern in feel: rest room, pen pal and municipal trash can, for instance. Not a big deal, however.

The second book in a series always loses a little of the bloom of freshness, but the pleasure of rejoining familiar characters more than compensates. A slow-moving, gentle and wonderful story. Five stars.

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