Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: in Death's Shadow

This is one of those books where I cannot tell you how it came to my consciousness. 

I recall getting a review copy. For all I know, Kal could have mentioned asking for reviewers in one of our groups and I just volunteered.

However I am glad that I got a chance to get this particular review copy, though I cannot tell you for the life of me how it came into my possession. 

This book has so many fun entertaining elements to it, it is hard to know where exactly to begin.

  • You have Metallurgy on bullets that I have not seen since the first Monster Hunter novel. 
  • It brings in Creative elements that would make Jim Butcher want to take notes. 
  • And frankly I also believe that there is a Quantum Leap reference just thrown in for good measure. (When you have a entity that no one else can see except our protagonist and he is called Sam I try to remember back to Quantum Leap to remember which character was played by Dean Stockwell — Al or Sam.)

Welcome to In Death's Shadow.
Ari lives in the shadow of death.
Ari is a combat veteran who has chosen to leave the military behind and live a quiet, normal life.  He's got a few problems though.  For one thing, the cops think he's a serial killer.  For another, a vengeful politician has put Ari in his crosshairs.  To make matters worse, Ari has a guardian angel... and not just any angel, Ari's protector is the Angel of Death.  When his life is in danger, people start to die, and Ari's guardian can sometimes be indiscriminate whose life he takes when protecting him.

That's not even the worst problem.  Death wasn't assigned to him by mistake.  An ancient werewolf wants Ari dead and even with death on his side, Ari might not survive.

Ari needs to find a way to stay alive, to clear his name, and most importantly to get out from under the shadow of death and live a normal life... even if it kills him.
Yes, a reaper playing guardian angel. I appreciate how Kal has avoided making our hero utterly indestructible by giving him a guardian angel who is akin to a weapon of mass destruction. 

Also appreciated? The execution and showing us the point of view of how at this reaper operated within his rules and regulations. 

Overall the book is so much fun I didn't put it down from the moment I picked it up. Right now I am only waiting for book two to come out (and I suspect book 3) so I can just buy all of them in hardcopy and spread them among my friends and family.

Kal brings a lot of wonderful little touches to his writing style. He has one of the better opening lines I've seen since "the building was on fire and it was not my fault." The very off-hand casual easy descriptions and backstory feels effortless -- largely executed with nice sharp background notes that leave a nice little sting and then move on with the rest of the story, easily throwing them out... But boy, does the reader feel them. 

There is also a lot of very easy humor such as how Sam (our Guardian Reaper) chooses to protect our hero. Sometimes to laughable degree — that though Kal never resorts to a Rube Goldberg mechanic. In terms of little touches, there are lines like "I'd managed to avoid ruining this set of clothing with blood at least." 

As I said, it's the little things.

Due to the nature of the Guardian reaper, Sam's protection has led to him having more than a few run-ins with the police. 

Kal even manages to have to make use of the old canard 
"Do you have plans for the day?" "No, I can't make plans, then they can throw around words like premeditation." 
I've been waiting for someone to use that in a novel for years. He just slid it in like a nice stiletto and moved on.

And no, even though Sam is very thorough about his job, he never turns into a deus ex machina. Never. That's freaking impressive.

I even like the little bit about how Sam really enjoys he 24 hour news cycle as "like an athlete staying up on sports news". Also, Sam's commentary on CNN is beautiful.

Great one liners include
"Are demons common in Detroit?" "Clearly you haven't been to Detroit lately." 
"Angels are the police of the Supernatural world" "What does that make Sam?" "Designed sniper."
There are several elements that almost feel like nods to other genre novels. For example one could be forgiven for thinking that Harry dresden's werewolf / Terminator scene is slipped in this one, or having supernatural beasties encountered in Afghanistan feels a little bit like Monster Hunter. And again, little touches like casually mentioning a werewolf and "how thermite grenades work wonders." 

As I said above, some of the metallurgy is so good, I intend to steal a lot of it. Including silver and mercury arounds, as well as electrum.

We have great action, dark humor, easily executed backstory that is all relevant to the plot, along with some great world-building at a pace Mickey Spillane would have loved.

I will also admit to highly enjoying Kal's version of werewolf mythology and lore. He does some nice variations that I personally have never seen before. And he comes up with perfect reasons and rationale for werewolves to be 100% pure evil all the time. After all, one of the enemies is literally a soul sucking werewolf from Hell.

And these are some of the lesser problems our hero will have to deal with. Because on top of a wonderful first novel, Kal has effortlessly set up a sequel without any actual sequel baiting. There is no Empire Strikes Back level BS. There is no "to be continued." And there is only an ending that would have worked perfectly well with the final line of a comic book movie. I mean a good one.

Spriggs is such a good author that it was nearly halfway through the book before I realized how many tropes and cliches that Kal had made good use of without them feeling at all like cliches or tropes. Including: a dead fiance, memory loss before a certain age, et al. However it feels more like the sort of mash up that brought us something as brilliant as Jim butcher's Codex Alera novels. 

At the end, we even get a little of the "hero of the borrowed heart."

Anyway, 5/5. This book was excellent. I look forward to the next one. Hopefully, it comes out soon.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The return of the Planetary anthologies

So, Pluto is out

Luna is out.

And the returning anthologies are already up and ready to go.

Mars is up for pre-order, and it has a new editor. 

Mercury is back for pre-order 

As is Venus.

You can pretty much order or pre-order the entire series as of right now. Just click here. 

But yeah. They've got editors and they've got covers, and they have release dates and everything.

Tuscany Bay is such a nice, efficient publisher, and they run a tight ship.

It's so nice working with people who know what they're doing.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review: Psycho (and Psychic) Games

I've already reviewed Amie Gibbons' Psychic Undercover (with the Undead), a law enforcement UF novel that really makes Laurell K. Hamilton look like an amateur (okay, LKH does guns better, but since LKH has even managed to make Edward a useless character, I'm not feeling charitable).

And now, we have Psycho (and Psychic) Games (The SDF Paranormal Mysteries Book 2)

Psycho (and Psychic) Games is ... 

Well, let's just say this is what happens when southerners make a Hannibal Lecter.

And they thought catching the serial killer was difficult...

Psychic Ariana Ryder just completed her probationary year and is now a full agent in the FBI's Special Division Force, a semi-secret branch that investigates paranormal crimes. She's got a great, if strict and strictly yummy, boss, a vampire for a boyfriend, and yeah, that has its issues and politics, but overall, life's lookin' pretty good.

The director, in a bid to score political points, puts Ariana on interrogating famous serial killer JB Truck, aka The Puzzle Master. Truck's been in prison two years and the authorities still can't figure out who all his victims were or where his vast resources came from.

Ariana's mission is simple, get visions off the psycho until they get the information they need.

But nothing's ever simple when there's magic afoot. The vampire queen's gunning for Ariana, there's a mysterious new shifter in town who needs a psychic's help (and is way too flirty considerin' she's a lady with a boyfriend), and Truck's got a few tricks of his own.

And he didn't end up in Nashville by chance.

Frankly, this book already has a very nice summation of the novel.
"This isn't Silence of the Lambs, it's freaking Nightmare on Elm Street."
I think this sums it up nicely.

I would say that this is as good as the first novel, though there are some minor issues. You don't "sick people" on others. There were one or two moments where I was concerned we were going to enter into squicky Anita Blake BS. Don't worry: while the sex did get heavier into detail, it's still better (and easier to skip) than the Hamilton books. In fact, it's more like how I with Hamilton would write her books. Maybe I could get back into them.

But as I said, this was is just as good as Gibbons' first novel in the series. It has elements of fantasy microbiology (which was my favorite parts of Grimm, and I would like to see more of that in fantasy in the genre in general).

And Gibbons' does some cute bits of business with the psychopath du jour. There was a good deal of 3D chess going on that reminded me of the Joker. And then he turns into Deadpool (from before he became a popular character)

This one even solved a lot of my problems with the first one. Because this was the book where our heroine is a full agent, and it was time for her to just grow the hell up.

And then she ends by setting up book three.

I've only got one noticeable problem with the series in general so far and this individual book in particular.

With the book, it's a bit unbalanced. About 75% deals with the serial killer. Then we have a break and we switch tracks, where it turns into a relatively good variation on an Anita Blake novel (a bit of soap opera, a touch of melodrama, and let's talk about feelings -- though that was in service of actually FURTHERING THE PLOT, so it gets a pass).

With the series. I don't have a really good sense of place. This is something that is occasionally a problem with even Jim Butcher. I don't get a sense that this is Nashville. I like to get an idea of where the heck I am. But aside from some of the accents, this could be almost any city and state in the union.

To be perfectly honest, this is still a 5/5. The problems in the book are easily overlooked and forgiven. If I were being more nitpicky, I'd penalize the overall score. But I'm not. And the book was still enjoyable.

So if you're interested into a nice mystery, something that harkens back to the days before Anita Blake before it became Penthouse letters, you're going to want to read this one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Villain As Hero?

If I have to hear one more BS statement about how "Villains always think they're the good guy," I think I'm going to hit someone.

This is a lie. Because it assumes way too much about what happens inside of the villain's head.

Let's face it, every real world vile sumbitch has not, does not, and never has consider "good" or "bad" in their equations. They considered what was good for them. You can always say that they're the hero of their own story, but never, ever say that they think that they're the good guy. 


Because "I'm the hero" is the sort of narcissism you can see in ... anyone selfish enough to pull off villainous deeds. Because each bad guy must start with the premise that "I need to do X to Y because my needs are more important than Ys."

Evil thinks that it is the center of the universe. Of course it's the hero. But the only good they see is their own. 

Let's take the Devil...

Work with me here, I've got a punchline...

Traditionally (no, not Lucifer's non-Christian heresy) Satan literally thinks he knows better than God-- even though it is impossible. Satan sees humans as so beneath angels it's ridiculous. 

"Oh, but Satan was the good guy of Paradise Lost." No, he was the protagonist. There's a difference. So was Dexter in the Jeff Lindsay books. But at the end of the day, Satan would rather reign in Hell, because serving is beneath him. Because "he knows better."

Notice, I am being very picky in my word choice. I'm talking about people who are villains, not necessarily antagonists. I've done this blog before, I'm not doing that again

Villains are evil. To think that they believe themselves as "the good guy" is idiotic. Hell, in most versions of the Joker I've ever seen, he will out and out boast that he's evil and just having so much fun.

Pick a serial killer. Jeffery Dahmer is my usual example. He had a perfectly healthy middle class background growing up .... killed his first victim when he was a teenager. Grew up to be a rapist sodomite and cannibal murderer. Ted Bundy, another psychopath, was a total narcissist who even blamed his victims -- who he strangled to death as he raped them.

Villains don't care about good or bad. Just what they want. They might add some self-justification from time to time ... but that's only for the highly reflective jerks.

And yes, this is not to say that villains are Johnny one note all the time. Perhaps one of the better bits from Man of La Mancha is where we find a caravan of thugs singing to a bird "with the gentility of truly brutal men."

Don't believe me? Hitler was a vegetarian who painted roses. Eichmann -- despite every filmed attempt to make him look sinister -- was the most boring bureaucrat ever tried for mass murder, who out and out said "Every time I thought about what I was doing, it made me ill. So I just didn't think about it."

... If you ever want to know what goes through the mind of a low level minion, Eichmann's your guy. The answer being "Very little."

Of course, when writing, do try to give your villain as much background as you give your hero. You don't necessarily need it, but we need to get a sense of the character.

Heck, use some of my own bad guys lately. It's possibly the least amount of background I've given a villain.

Hell Spawn featured a possessed serial killer -- most of the time, everyone interacted with the demon. But the ultimate reveal is that the demon and the host were in sync, and that tells you everything you need to know about that psycho. 

Death Cult had a truly political animal. It's amazing how much power for its own sake can go.

Infernal Affairs ... well, let's just say that the villain monologue does help.

City of Shadows, Crusader and Deus Vult actually did a fairly good job with their villains.

And yes, they are unremitting evil, AND they think they're the hero of their own little worlds. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Clerical Error: out now

Clerical Error is out.

This one is going to be interesting.

There are no fights.

There are no explosions.

There are no ... okay, there's one murder.

Maybe one or two people are just a wee bit injured.

But no one is shot. Or stabbed. Or poisoned. 

A lot of this book falls under your traditional cozy. There's a lot of talking and maneuvering. There's a lot of local politicking and environment...

It helps that this is a historical novel dealing with local issues and murder in 1976.
James is a college philosophy professor with too much time on his hands. When an old classmate asks for a favor, he drops in with little notion of what’s ready for him.

The year is 1976, during the dark times – for both the Catholic Church and New York City.

James’ college classmate is Father Gus Sadowski, the pastor of Saints Gabriel, Columcille, and Rocco church in the middle of Bed-Sty, where there drive by criminals are on one side of the parish, and the mob is one the other. Father Gus is all alone to run the parish, and needs some help – because the live-in priest in the attic, Father Timothy A. Lessner, is worse than useless.

When Lessner takes a tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night, the casual favor has turned into a nightmare.

Can James solve the mystery of who killed Lessner before he finds himself the main suspect?

So, obviously, this is different for me.

The joke I've been using has been "If things go wrong, I'll just blame the co-author."

Since the co-author is my father, that's part of the joke.

Anyway, it's out. I think you can even return e-books if you don't like them. So give it a shot.

Be well all.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Review: Adam Lane Smith's Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood

You may previously remember Adam Lane Smith from his work in Burrito Avenger and Making Peace (reviews in the links)

Adam has moved on to Christian Fantasy dystopia.

You have to be pretty flipping awesome to make me get through dystopia of any type. Mostly, you have to be named John Ringo.

If this sounds interesting, then you can get out Adam's main series of Deus Vult Wastelanders. The featured character is Gideon Ira -- imagine Judge Dredd as a crusader knight in powered armor. 

I wasn't a fan of book one. I blame the poor editing -- It opened with a fight with a demon, then tried to make us care about Gideon Ira, then put us with a fight against random thugs. Which isn't how you do story structure. Book two of Deus Vult Wastelanders was better.

The one I really liked is Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood. It's a spin-off from the main series, but I think it did a better job of introducing the world through character interactions than the first two books.

The Valkyrie revives in a coffin.

As she climbs from her tomb, she finds the end of the world has come and gone. Demons roam the blasted wasteland of what was once America. Humanity hangs by a thread and she, one of the last surviving Valkyries, is tasked with driving the rampaging legions back into Hell.

As she battles waves of demons, raiders, and mutants, the Valkyrie faces far darker questions: Does a created being have a soul? What does it mean to protect mankind as humans prey upon each other? When she confronts the cult of Moloch hidden beneath the ruins of an ancient abortion clinic, her burning need for justice may just prove more powerful than her orders to protect mankind.

The last survivors of humanity need her. Will she be our protector, or our destroyer?

Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood has multiple advantages over the main series. 

To start with, the Valkyrie has a personality. She's almost charming in her observations. She has a character arc and development.

And let's just say that she has an inventory system that feels like a very meta comedy about video game systems.

Another advantage this has over the main series is that our heroine is working with a team of various personality types. Adam's already got team dynamics down from Making Peace, and it really is one of his strengths. 

Overall, this was better than the last two. And if you want better than Larry Correia's Son of the Black Sword, and looks like a cross between Solomon Cane with a protagonist out of Nier: Automata (if Neir Automata was, you know, GOOD), then give Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood a try.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Review: Mel Todd's No Choice

So, what happens when you are a cop in the middle of a bank robbery -- you're held hostage, a child is about to die.

You turn into a giant puma and kill them all, of course.

Officer McKenna Largo is having a very strange day.

But she has No Choice.
Book one in the completed Kaylid Chronicles. Over 500,000 words. Start the journey here.

Being a Cop – difficult but rewarding.

Cougar – WTF? But can be dealt with.

Targeted by drug dealers and dirty cops – Watch out, this cat bites back.

McKenna Largo loves police work and would rather no one focus on her. Transforming into a cougar in the middle of a bank robbery, is a shock. But when a video of the event goes viral, she becomes the reluctant public face of shifters appearing around the globe.

The police department uses her for “PR”, and the governor creates and inclusiveness campaign, putting criminals behind bars seems a million miles away. Trying to juggle the animal she now is, the strange attention, and a society changing faster than anyone expects, McKenna worries she might be a monster. When criminals capture her and innocent young shifters, the cougar and the cop combined must decide where duty takes them.

Will McKenna run scared from the animal inside, or will she save the day and set her inner beast free?
If you like strong characters, fast-paced action, and unique shifters, then you'll love Mel Todd's exhilarating novel. Buy No Choice to shift into a thrilling urban fantasy today!

No Choice (Kaylid Chronicles Book 1) by [Todd, Mel]

But millions of people around the world are also changing, shifting into various and sundry furry predators.

And no one knows why.

Officer Largo and her partner are at the heart of the firestorm. A long the way, she has to deal with police regulations, media nutcases, and unwanted celebrity.

Mel Todd is really fairly awesome at this.

Imagine doing cops as well as Grimm or Blue Bloods.

AND doing media relations as well as Carrie Vaugh's Kitty Norville.

AND examining the full spectrum of cultural impacts of the supernatural twenty times better than the Anita Blake novels.

No Choice would be that book.

No Choice is book one. I got the entire set for $.99, and this is more than worth it. I probably would have paid full price if I had heard of them in advance.

5/5 Stars. Easily.