Blood Feud by Mike Lupica: Sunny Randall’s Back in this Promising Reintroduction

Blood FuedRobert B. Parker’s Blood Feud

by Mike Lupica
Series: Sunny Randall, #7eARC, 352 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: October 5 – 9, 2018

I have a complicated relationship with Sunny Randall. Readers of this site have been frequently exposed to my love for Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, both by Parker and the continuations by Ace Atkins and Reed Farrel Coleman (let’s overlook Michael Brandman’s contributions for the moment). I enjoyed his stand-alone works, and I thought the first couple of Virgil Cole & Everett Hitch books were fun (I haven’t tried the Robert Knott continuations). Which leaves us with Sunny.

Sunny Randall, the story goes, was written to be adapted into a film series for Parker’s chum, Helen Hunt (incidentally, I’ve never been able to envision Helen Hunt in a single Sunny scene, but that’s just me). She’s a private investigator; a former cop; part-time painter (art, not house); emotionally entangled with her ex-husband, but can’t live with him; lives in Boston; and enjoys good food. But she’s totally not a female Spenser — she doesn’t like baseball, see? I’ve read all the books — some multiple times — and while I enjoyed them, I’ve never clicked with Sunny the way I have with others. Including every other Parker protagonist. Most of her novels are mashups and remixes of various Spenser novels, entertaining to see things in a different light — but that’s about it. Frankly, the most I ever liked Sunny was in the three Jesse Stone novels late in Parker’s run (but both characters are better off without each other).

So when it was announced that Mike Lupica would be taking up the reins of this series I was intrigued but not incredibly enthused. I only know Lupica from having bought a few of his books for my sons when they were younger. I didn’t get around to reading any of them, so he’s really a new author for me. And sure, I was a little worried about a YA/MG author taking the reins of a “grown-up” series. But not much — if you can write a novel, you can write a novel, it’s just adjusting your voice and language to be appropriate for the audience.

Enough blather — let’s talk about Blood Feud. Since we saw her last, Sunny has had to move, Richie (her ex-) has gotten another divorce (giving them the chance to date or whatever you want to call it) and has replaced her late dog, Rosie, with another Rosie. Other than that, things are basically where they were after the end of Spare Change 11 years ago (for us, anyway, I’m not sure how long for her, but less time has passed you can bet).

By the way — does anyone other than Robert B. Parker, Spenser and Sunny really do this? Your dog dies, so you go and get another one of the same breed and call him/her the same name? Is this really a thing?

Then one night — Richie is shot. It’s not fatal, but was done in such a way that no one doubts for a moment that it could have been had the assailant wanted it to be. For those who don’t know (or don’t remember), Richie is the son of an Irish mob boss, although he has nothing to do with the family business. He’s given a message for his father — his shooter is coming for him, but wants him to suffer first. This kicks off a race for the shooter — Sunny, the Burke family and the police (led by Sgt. Frank Belson) are vying to be the one to find the shooter.

Before long, the violence spreads to other people the Burkes employ — both property and persons are targeted by this stranger. It’s clear that whoever is doing this has a grudge going back years. So Sunny dives into the Burke family history as much as she can, so she can get an answer before her ex-father-in-law is killed. Not just the family history — but the family’s present, too. As much as the roots of the violence are in the past, Sunny’s convinced what the Burkes are up to now is just as important to the shooter.

Richie’s father, Desmond, isn’t happy about Sunny sticking her nose into things. Not just because of the crimes she might uncover — but he really wants to leave the past in the past. But as long as someone might come take another shot at Richie, Sunny won’t stop. This brings her into contact with several criminal figures in Boston (like Parker-verse constants Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris) as well as some we’ve only met in Sunny books.

There are a couple of new characters in these pages, but most of them we’ve met before — Lupica is re-establishing this universe and doesn’t have time to bring in many outsiders, but really just reminds us who the players are. Other than the new Rosie, I can’t point at a character and say “that’s different.” He’s done a pretty good job of stepping into Parker’s shoes. Not the pre-Catskill Eagle Parker like Atkins, but the Parker of Sunny Randall books, which is what it should feel like (( wouldn’t have objected to a Coleman-esque true to the character, just told in a different way). I think some of the jokes were overused (her Sox-apathy, for one), but it wasn’t too bad. Lupica did make some interesting choices, particularly toward the end, which should set up some interesting situations for future installments.

The mystery was decent enough, and fit both the situations and the characters — I spent a lot of the novel far ahead of Sunny (but it’s easier on this side of the page). I enjoyed the book — it’s not the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s a good entry novel for Lupica in this series, a good reintroduction for the characters/world, and an entertaining read in general. If you’re new to this series, this would be as good a place to hop on as it was for Lupica.

I want better for Parker’s creation (but I think I’d have said that for most of Parker’s run with the series), and Lupica’s set things up in a way that we could get that in the near-future. He’s demonstrated that he has a good handle on the character he inherited, the question is, what can he do with her from here? I was ambivalent about this series coming back, but I can honestly say that I’m eager to see what happens to it next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars

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Pub Day Repost: The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright: Kat Stone — and her wonderful wigs — are back for more danger

The Blue KingfisherThe Blue Kingfisher

by Erica Wright
Series: Kathleen Stone, #3
eARC, 320 pg.
Polis Books, 2018
Read: August 1, 2018

So, Kat Stone, private investigator, is trying something new — she’s being herself. No disguise, no wig, no fake name (well, most of the time). There’s no need, the person she was hiding from has found her. He hasn’t done anything about it — but there’s no need to go to extra effort. But she’s not used to just being Kat Stone anymore — and that’s going to take a little work.

One morning, Kat finds a body — a body in horrible shape in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. While waiting for the police, she recognizes the body — the maintenance man from her apartment building, Tambo Campion. The police are quick to dismiss the death as a suicide, but Kat’s unconvinced. Why would someone trying to kill themselves miss the water so completely?

This, of course, isn’t enough. So she ignores paying customers for a bit to launch her own investigation, trying to find more evidence. She doesn’t necessarily have to find the murderer, she just needs more evidence to get anyone in the NYPD to take her seriously enough to investigate his death. She plunges into Tambo’s life — partially driven by guilt that she didn’t pay him enough attention in life. It turns out that Tambo is a kingfisher, someone who finds jobs for people who aren’t in the country legally or who are wanting to stay off-the-radar, for a fee. This alone provides several avenues of investigation. But there are others, too, don’t get me wrong. All of these take her into all sorts of corners of NYC society — and gives her an excuse to dabble in different identities.

The NYPD requirement of “more evidence” is a trigger of sorts for her. It reminds her of the constant refrain from her superiors during her undercover days at the NYPD. They always wanted more evidence — even when she becomes concerned for her own safety, they say she hasn’t done enough, she needs more evidence to bring down Salvatore Magrelli. Between the Magrelli knowing where she is now, and this requirement, Kat spends a lot of time ruminating on the times she felt most threatened by Magrelli — and the things she didn’t provide enough evidence on. While she has several other things going on in her life, these are the thoughts that dominate her attention.

As interesting as the murder case is, obviously, it’s the Magrelli (past and present) stories that provide the major emotional hook for this novel. Even while she’s meeting with success at Kat Stone, even when she finds evidence of a crime — multiple crimes, actually. She can’t get out of the shadow of her past or the threat of the present.

I failed to get around to reading the first book in this series, after reading The Granite Moth, which really bugs me, so I can’t really comment between the ties between it and this book, but I’m reasonably certain there are some. Characters from The Granite Moth show up here and events from it are discussed as well, which is always nice, too many PI novels ignore what happened before. I don’t know (but I can’t imagine) that too many people from The Blue Kingfisher will show up down the road, but I’ll be happy to see any of them that do. But several events from this book will show up soon.

I remembered liking Kat Stone – I didn’t remember how much or why I did, and I’m very glad I got to rediscover her. Kat is clever, very clever when she’s not distracted. She’s resourceful. She may not have the skills of Lori Anderson or even Charlie Fox when it comes to weapons or hand-to-hand, but she’s got a mental toughness that’s hard to beat. And I really hope to see how she moves forward — because there’s just no way that what comes next is going to look too much like what’s come before, and I’m very curious about that. The New York she travels in isn’t the one I’m used to seeing (it’s not so different that I don’t recognize it) in Crime Fiction, and the way she sees the world is a fresh perspective.

The writing in this one — and this is not a knock on The Granite Moth — feels more disciplined, the plot more controlled. I took it as a sign of growth, that whatever Wright intended to accomplish in this book was clear to her and she executed things to that end. I’m almost more curious about what she’ll do next than what Kat will do next. Almost.

This isn’t a criticism, this is more of a wonderment: There is a lot of time spent on Kat’s affection for New York City. Do people spend a lot of time doing that, really? Thinking about how much they love/appreciate the town they live in (assuming they do)? Her leaving town was brought up once — indirectly — but it wasn’t like anyone was really suggesting that to her — and even after she made it clear that it wouldn’t happen, there it is again, her love for NYC. I could see it fitting in if people were actively trying to get her to move, or if she’d just returned after some time away (on a job, in self-appointed exile, etc.) — but given her situation, it felt forced. Now, I liked the way she expressed it, and I can understand her affection (theoretically, anyway, I’ve never been there). It just seemed out-of-place and/or unnecessary.

This is a good, satisfying PI novel with a protagonist that you will definitely enjoy. Like its predecessor, it’s a decent jumping on point for a new reader, and a welcome return to the world for someone who’s met Kat before. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series already.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Polis Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Question of the Dead Mistress by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen: Samuel Answers a Question a G-g-g-g-host

The Question of the Dead MistressThe Question of the Dead Mistress

by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #5
eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2018
Read: June 26 – 27, 2018

“Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?”

That doesn’t seem to be the kind of question that Samuel and Ms. Washburn would tackle as Questions Answered. They typically take on things that require esoteric research, problem solving, and occasionally something that takes some investigation that looks a lot like the kind of thing a P.I. would do. Paranormal investigation is not in their wheelhouse. Samuel is almost reflexively dismissive of the idea — but his associate, Ms. Washburn makes him listen to the prospective client’s story. And then he tries to reflexively dismiss the question, but she won’t let him. While Samuel is convinced there’s nothing supernatural afoot — in fact, the notion is impossible — Ms. Washburn had an experience she can’t explain as a teenager, and refuses to rule it out.

So Samuel let’s her try to come up with an answer to the question and goes back to whatever he was doing before. Before she can get very far into her research, the husband is murdered. Suddenly, the question doesn’t matter as much as the replacement question, “Who killed my husband?” Given Ms. Washburn’s involvement, Samuel gets interested in things again — and the two get involved in a very twisty and complicated mystery. As far as twisty-turny-keep you guessing-mysteries go, this is the best that the duo has encountered and will easily satisfy the most puzzle-obsessed of readers.

What makes this even better — is that given the supernatural/supernatural-adjacent nature of the instigating question, the two are approaching things in very different ways and decide to operate largely separately. Samuel interviews people with assistance of other to drive him places or via the Internet, while Ms. Washburn goes on her own, trying to use Samuel’s methods. This change in modus operandi is refreshing for the characters and the readers, and will lead both Samuel and Ms. Washburn to re-evaluate the way they do business in the future.

The danger level in this one is great — and there are direct threats made against Ms. Washburn and Samuel’s mother and father. Which just makes Samuel more determined to come up with definitive answers quickly. The possible supernatural elements stay with the story throughout and it’s only near the end that all the characters come to the same conclusions about it. This novel features a great puzzle and the solution is very satisfactory — and one I didn’t see coming (but in retrospect makes complete sense).

So much for the mystery — there’s also plenty going on in Samuel’s personal life. On the whole I thought they dealt with it well, but…

I appreciated Samuel pointing out that Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis, but he still claims it s a shorthand way to describe the way he acts/thinks to others. Which is just a great — and realistic — way to handle the change in status for the label. Let me follow that observation with this one — what frustrated me about this one — and I will admit I was very frustrated at times — is how little Samuel’s mother seemed to understand him. Ms. Washburn, too, but she hasn’t known Samuel as long — or as well as his mother. Dealing with the father who abandoned his family decades ago suddenly reappearing and trying to merge back into his life, would be difficult, complicated and messy. For someone like Samuel? Well, I’m guessing it’d be just as difficult and complicated — but he’d tell you exactly what’s going on with him. And Samuel does so — repeatedly. His father doesn’t believe him; Ms. Washburn seems to try to believe him, but doesn’t; neither does his mother. His mother has been with him every day of his life, devoting more of her life and energy to her son than most parents do — how does she not know him well enough to not double-guess his emotions? If Samuel says he feels “X,” then that’s probably exactly what he feels — unless you force him to look at things another way. Over and over again, his mother shows less awareness of Samuel’s reactions to things than almost anyone. It just didn’t ring true. Samuel’s Asperger’s isn’t new to her (or Samuel) — she shouldn’t act like this.

I should add — the authors know a whole lot more about all of this than I do, and their depictions of this are probably spot-on, I guess they just didn’t convince me about those depictions like they usually do. Also, in the overall-scheme of things, this was a relatively minor quibble and didn’t detract a lot from the pleasure I had in the book — it just took a lot of space to describe.

The trick to Samuel is to give him a little personal growth, a little greater awareness, a little understanding of himself and the emotional needs of others. Yet, only a little bit. I do think this is depicted faster (possibly unrealistically so) in the books — because outside of Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, or other Golden Age/Golden Age-like characters who don’t grow and evolve by design, we expect some sort of noticeable personal growth in our series characters (particularly the central characters) from book to book. Samuel shouldn’t give us much in that way — his evolution/growth/whatever you want to call it is going to happen on a glacial pace. And over the last three books (I really need to double back and read the first two in the series), he’s taken significant steps forward — so much so it’s like Ms. Washburn has slipped into forgetting that he’s not neurotypical a few times here. That makes sense, because their relationship (in every sense) is pretty new. Thankfully, she catches herself and deliberately attempts to accept that — and generally does – and recognizes when he’s trying. Because we readers get a direct pipeline to Samuel’s thoughts, we might have an easier time with it than she does, but she does a decent job (and his mother usually does, too). It’s a heckuva trick to pull off narratively, and Copperman/Cohen nails it, time and time again.

Another clever mystery, well-told with one of Crime Fiction’s most original and convincingly written characters (not a detective, just someone who can easily be mistaken for one) — this series is a consistently pleasant and rewarding read. The Question of the Dead Mistress is a great jumping-on point, and a welcome-return read for those who’ve spent time with the crew from Questions Answered before.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions are my own, however.

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3.5 Stars

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout: An All-Ages SF that is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser

Voyage of the DogsVoyage of the Dogs

by Greg van Eekhout

Hardcover, 208 pg.
HarperCollins, 2018
Read: October 1, 2018

           Of course, the humans couldn’t go alone. There had to be dogs. Because wherever humans went dogs came along. Like rats, only more helpful. Dogs would herd livestock. Dogs would keep watch against the unknown. And, more importantly, dogs would keep the human crew company during the long spaceflight, and on their new home, far away from Earth.

But first they had to get there.

I guess this is technically a “Middle Grade” book — but forget about that. Call it All-Ages instead — that way, adults and YA readers and . . . everyone can enjoy this SF guilt-free. I should also include this line from The Big Idea post Van Eekhout wrote on Scalzi’s blog: “Spoiler: I don’t kill off any of the dogs in this book. Why not? Because I’m not a monster, that’s why not.” It’s important to get that out of the way.

Let’s start with this: the rationale to bring dogs along on a spaceship. It’s brilliant. It also points to one of the biggest problems with Starfleet, the Colonial Battle Fleet, the Serenity, etc. A lack of animals. Sure, NCC 1701-D had pets (not that we saw them often), but they were sealed up in cabins. And Firefly‘s episode “Safe” had cattle, but that was an oddity. The animals aboard Laika are there for purposes — like the main character, Lopside. He’s there to hunt rats — where there are humans and cargo, there are rats. Something small and fast — and with a good nose — is needed to hunt rats down.

The book will do a better job explaining the roles of the other three dogs and what advances in breeding have led to dogs being capable of being more than the dogs we have today — while still remaining dogs — to become Barkonauts.

These poor, brave dogs go into the hibernation state just before the humans do to complete the voyage to a nearby star system as part of human exploration and colonization, the first mission like this humanity has tried. But when the dogs wake up, they notice something’s wrong — part of the ship is missing, as is the crew.

They’re too far into the mission to turn around, too far away for a rescue mission to reach them. At this point, Lopside and the others have to try to salvage what they can and limp along to their final destination.

Lopside is a terrier mix, he’s brave, he has (understandably) abandonment issues — which are not helped at all by the absence of the humans. He’s a little scatter-brained (like a good terrier) and he’s incredibly loyal and has a great heart. The other barkonauts are as well-drawn and lovable.

Van Eekhout is clearly a dog-lover and it comes out in his characters. He’s also a pretty good story-teller, because even with that spoiler, I was invested in the outcome and really wasn’t sure how he was going to pull things off in a way that was satisfying and that wouldn’t reduce semi-sensitive 5th-graders across the globe to quivering balls of tears (a lesson Wilson Rawls could’ve used, I have to say — no, I’m not still torn up about Old Dan and Little Ann, why do you ask?). He does succeed in that — although some might get a bit misty at a point or two. It’s a fun and creative story, and takes some oft-repeated SF tropes and deals with them in a refreshing way.

Ignore the stars — I can’t bring myself to give it more, I don’t know why. Pay attention to what I have said above and this: read the book. It’ll warm your heart, it’ll make you make you a little sad, it’ll give you something to grin about — and it tells a good story, too. What more do you want?

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3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Ed’s Dead by Russel D. McLean: From Wallflower to Most Wanted — the Story of Jen

Ed's DeadEd’s Dead

by Russel D. McLean

Kindle Edition, 274 pg.
Contraband, 2017
Read: September 15, 2018
Going to keep this brief — like the book itself.

Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb — which provides a couple of details I don’t think I would have, but I’m not sure how you talk about the book without giving.

           Meet Jen, who works in a bookshop and likes the odd glass of Prosecco…oh, and she’s about to be branded The Most Dangerous Woman in Scotland. Jen Carter is a failed writer with a crap boyfriend called Ed – who she accidentally kills one night. Now that Ed’s dead, she has to decide what to do with his body, his drugs and a big pile of cash. And, more pressingly, how to escape the hitman who’s been sent to recover Ed’s stash. Soon Jen’s on the run from criminals, corrupt police officers and the prying eyes of the media. Who can she trust? And how can she convince them that the trail of corpses left in her wake are just accidental deaths? A modern noir that proves, once and for all, the female of the species really is more deadly than the male.

Jen is a character we’ve all seen before — she’s not assertive (especially when it comes to this horrible boyfriend), she lets her boss push her around — actually pretty much lets everyone push her around, actually. Until she Ed meets his untimely end. This breaks things open for her — she has to take steps to preserve her life and freedom. This sort of carries over into other aspects of her life — and when the criminals, corrupt cops, uncorrputed cops, school friends, and everyone else comes calling, she finds herself being assertive, daring, and even brash.

Once things get moving in this book, they don’t stop — McLean’s prose is lean and gripping. It’s the right match of voice, pacing and content. The characters may not be the most well-rounded, but they don’t need to be for this to work. There are some more developed than most, true. But this isn’t the kind of book filled with fully-developed characters, it’d just slow things down. You get enough to meet the need of the plot, and nothing else. It’s all about keeping things moving at a good clip. I couldn’t take a steady diet of that kind of book, but when done right (as it is here), it can make for a great ride.

I read this so quickly I couldn’t believe when it was done — the prose moves quickly, the pacing is great, it’s like an out-of-control train plummeting down a grade, and all you can do is hold on and hope that safety gear works. It’s violent, action-packed, and adrenaline-fueled — most importantly, in the middle of the tumult and destruction, Jen finds a way to exercise agency, which is great to see — and somehow throughout it all, there’s a sense of fun that permeates everything without toning down the brutality.

This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea — but if you read that blurb above and think, “that could be fun,” you’re right. Give it a whirl, you won’t be sorry.

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3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: Deputy Kopp faces her biggest challenges yet — a new Sheriff and an Uncertain Future

Miss Kopp Just Won't QuitMiss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #4
eARC, 320pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Read: August 8 – 9, 2018

So it’s been roughly a year for Constance Kopp working as the ladies’ matron for the Bergon County Jail. In that time she has investigated crimes, tracked down murderers, sought justice for women of all walks of life, and put her life on the line more than a few times. She’s gained nationwide notoriety, and caused more than a few scandals at home. About now, some of those scandals are coming back and are in the forefront of local elections.

Because of New Jersey law, Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss and chief defender, cannot run for another term of office without taking one off — so no matter what, after Election Day, Constance will have a new boss. Heath’s former Sheriff is running for the position again, and is the expected winner. He finds the idea of a female deputy silly, and while he won’t take Constance seriously, he’ll probably leave her alone. His opponent is a current detective in the Prosecutor’s office who has been opposing Constance’s position and person since Day 1, he’s essentially running a campaign against Heath (even if Heath isn’t the opponent), and Constance is the easiest way to do that. Clearly, the future isn’t bright for Deputy Kopp.

While this is going on, Constance makes a couple more headlines — she runs down a burglar single-handedly, she jumps into a river to apprehend a potential escapee under their custody when another deputy is injured. Constance has to take a woman to an insane asylum, after her husband and doctor get a judge to commit her for a while. This isn’t the first time this has happened to the woman, and it seems clear to Constance that this woman is as sane as anyone. So Constance attempts to find out what’s behind this commitment so she can free this woman. She’s very aware of the trouble that this could cause for herself and for Sheriff Heath, she tries to do this under the radar. Under the radar isn’t something that comes naturally to her, and her results aren’t stellar (but better than one would expect).

The story was a bit flat, honestly. A lot of things seemed to be foregone conclusions (not necessarily the way that various characters saw them working, either). The one case that she really gets herself into is really pretty tidy and doesn’t take a lot of effort — although she does take plenty of risks. So really, the novel isn’t about Constance sinking her teeth into a case, into helping a woman through some sort of problem, or any of the usual things. This is primarily about Constance worrying that she’ll do something to jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s Congressional campaign by giving his opponents something to harp on, while contemplating her future in the jail under the upcoming term of office for either candidate. Which is fine, really — it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from these books — I expected the case of the poor committed woman to take the bulk of the attention, so the problem is my own. But it comes from being conditioned by the previous books.

Constance’s sisters have a background role in this book — Fleurette in particular, she’s around frequently, but she plays a very small role. I appreciate that she seemed to have her head on straight and wasn’t the cause for trouble (inadvertently or purposely). Norma seemed to primarily be a conduit for comic relief in this novel. But it never feels right to laugh at her, she’s the most practical, she’s the only realist in the family — it’s her blood, sweat and tears that’s kept the family going. On the other hand, her obsessive nature does lead her into some strange preoccupations.

This is not to say it’s a bad book — Stewart is probably incapable of writing a bad book. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit feels very different than the others in the series (although, really, each has felt different than the others), and it left me feeling dissatisfied. Still, it was an entertaining and compelling read. The ending is likely the best the series has had thus far — we just have to go through some meandering passages, and some dark times for our favorite Deputy before we get to it. I don’t know what comes next for Constance Kopp (I’m deliberately not consulting anything to tell me, either) — but it’s going to be very interesting to see what Stewart does next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars

Twisted Magics by J.C. Jackson: A Great Spin on Contemporary Fantasy Kicks Off a Promising Series

Twisted MagicsTwisted Magics

by J.C. Jackson
Series: Terra Chronicles, #1

Paperback, 220 pg.
Shadow Phoenix Publishing LLC, 2016

Read: August 30 – 31, 2018


I had a brief conversation a couple of weeks ago with J.C. Jackson and she described the book as “Science Fantasy” and told us a little about the series. Something about fantasy characters but with modern technology, but phrased better. Not really getting what she said, I asked why not just call it Urban Fantasy, and she gave a decent answer — basically that she didn’t have enough vampires or werewolves in the books so readers told her she couldn’t. I was a chapter or two in to the book when I figured out what she was saying.

In your mainstream Urban Fantasy, you have fantasy creatures — wizards, druids, werewolves, fae — popping up in our world. On the other end of the spectrum (or an other end, anyway) you have things like the Eddie LaCrosse novels or the Dragon Precinct books that have modern ideas (police squads, private investigators) used in a fantasy series. Jackson takes a different tack — it’s a typical fantasy novel in that there’s a lot of magic, elves, halflings, Dark Elves, living next to humans — very standard kind of thing, but their technology matches ours (actually, it’s slightly more advanced). I loved this approach and there’s a good chance that I’d have had nice things to say about the book just because of this idea.

I do have more reasons to say nice things, though.

Ketayl is an Elven mage who works as a a CSI-like lab tech for the Terran Intelligence Organization (a FBI-like organization). Her strength is in finding ways to use devices to do forensic investigation of magical elements of particular crimes. She’s not the most socially adept of people, clearly more secure in her lab and with clearly drawn rules governing her interaction with others.

Then there’s an explosion in the Elven Territories, seemingly magical in origin — definitely devastating. The TIO director sends Ketayl, along with the rural tracker, Retanei; and Artemis, Retanei’s wolf companion to investigate. Along with the local TIO team — which does their best to bring these agents into their community — they dive into finding those responsible. It’s a kind of magic that doesn’t play by the rules that Ketayl is used to, and powerful enough to make her nervous.

While they look for what could have caused this destruction, we learn more about the world, the magic system and Ketayl. I still have a few questions about all of those and I think some of them should’ve been addressed in the first book — but I never felt lost in this world as I waited for the details to be given. This is a pretty decent thriller when you strip away the fantastic elements, or a pretty decent fantasy tale if you take out the criminal investigation elements. Keep them combined and the whole thing is stronger.

Eventually, the TIO hires a consultant from the Paladins — their kind of music is very different from Ketayl’s. The Paladins are also very prejudiced toward other magic users, and other species. Thankfully, the Paladin sent to help the team (Silver) is pretty open-minded and doesn’t get driven right into a religious conflict (which doesn’t preclude other kinds of conflict). Silver joining the team — primarily partnering with Ketayl — brings her out of her shell a bit.

Ketayl frequently reminded me of Tilly Bradshaw, the analyst from M. W. Craven’s The Puppet Show (one of those books that I somehow haven’t had time to blog about, but you should read, if only for the Ketayl-like character). She’s a complex character that I look forward to learning more about. The rest of the characters — with Silver pretty much being the exception — aren’t as developed as you might like, but you get enough of to satisfy just about every itch you might have.

There were a few too many typos for me, and the misspellings/unfortunate slips like homonym confusion. It wasn’t horrible, but it was bad enough to stick with me.

The novel does a good job of introducing us to the characters and world while telling a compelling story. Jackson’s particular spin on merging fantasy and a 10-minutes-into-the-future world is refreshingly original. I liked the characters, the world and everything — I’ve already gone out and purchased the sequel and am trying to find time on the schedule to get it read.

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3.5 Stars