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Book Review: Full Metal Magic

Full Metal Magic: An Urban Fantasy Anthology of Magic, Mayhem, and the ParanormalFull Met­al Mag­ic: An Urban Fan­ta­sy Anthol­o­gy of Mag­ic, May­hem, and the Para­nor­mal by J.A. Cipri­ano
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

I was clued in to this anthol­o­gy by a men­tion in J.A. Cipri­ano’s newslet­ter, which is worth sub­scrib­ing to (hey, the man sends you free reads, and they’re good!). Any­way, Cipri­ano and com­pa­ny are all dark urban fan­ta­sy authors who have writ­ten the­se sto­ries specif­i­cal­ly for this vol­ume, so you won’t find them any­where else. The book is avail­able via the Kindle Unlim­it­ed pro­gram. In fact, every relat­ed book that I checked on is avail­able that way, so I’m won­der­ing if this thing was spon­sored by Ama­zon or some­thing. If so, why doesn’t it say so? Any­way, on to the review.

“The Bull Demon King” is Cipriano’s sto­ry, set in the Thrice-Cursed Mage uni­verse. You don’t need to have read those books to appre­ci­ate the sto­ry, and it serves as a nice lit­tle intro­duc­tion if you’re curi­ous about the series (I’ve real­ly enjoyed them). I think the sto­ry is set between the sec­ond and third books, but I won’t swear to that and it isn’t vital. We get to attend the Tex­as state fair with assas­s­in mage Mac Bren­nan and his girl­friend Ricky, the local alpha were­wolf. Of course, may­hem ensues, because that’s Mac’s lot in life — and what kind of sto­ry would we have oth­er­wise?

Domi­no Finn con­tributes “The Black Door” which is not­ed as “A Black Mag­ic Out­law Sto­ry.” This sto­ry had me guess­ing right up until the end, which was delight­ful. The writ­ing is won­der­ful, the world of an alter­nate mag­i­cal Miami nightlife is very ful­ly real­ized, and cen­tral char­ac­ter, Cis­co Suarez, is extreme­ly well drawn. I will be point­ing my part­ner to Finn’s work, for sure (he loves the macabre), but I think it may be a lit­tle too dark for me.

On to Man­hat­tan for our next piece, “Dance of the Dead,” which Sonya Bate­man tells us is a “Death­s­peak­er Codex Short Sto­ry.” It takes place just after the events of the first nov­el in that series, accord­ing to the author’ note. Gideon Black dri­ves bod­ies from crime sce­nes and the like to the morgue. Appar­ent­ly he’s not 100% human, and he’s just learned that he can speak to the dead. That’s very impor­tant to the plot. For some rea­son this sto­ry didn’t grab me. I don’t relate well to sto­ries that deal with the dead, like zom­bies and so on, so it’s prob­a­bly a fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion on my fault rather than any­thing wrong with Bateman’s sto­ry. If I find some­thing she writes in anoth­er set­ting, I will give her anoth­er go.

Ambrose Ibsen offers up “Hard Row: A Demon-Heart­ed Sto­ry” for the col­lec­tion. Lucian Colt works with oth­er spe­cial enforcers to keep the threats from Beyond from encroach­ing on the mun­dane world of Detroit, and when he learns that there’s a ship­ment of kid­napped chil­dren being moved, he’s def­i­nite­ly down for track­ing down the bad guys behind the trade. The fal­l­en angel whose heart he car­ries is just glad to get a chance to throw down. The gim­mick doesn’t real­ly car­ry the sto­ry here. It feels like Colt is too over­pow­ered in com­par­ison to his allies, as if they are a mis­matched RPG par­ty.

Okay, I’ll admit it: Al K. Line’s name just annoyed me. So I had to get past that to give “Angry Spark,” set in his Dark Mag­ic Enforcer world, a fair read­ing. Then the use name of the main char­ac­ter, “Black Spark,” hit me wrong. The guy’s real name is Faz Pound, but obvi­ous­ly mag­ic men don’t go about giv­ing their real names to all and sundry, hence the use name. Then I didn’t like the remarks about a cor­pu­lent char­ac­ter. So I final­ly just decid­ed to leave off on this sto­ry. May­be some­one else can give you a review of it.

Rob Cor­nell’s “Fam­i­ly Busi­ness,” which is appar­ent­ly a pre­quel set in his Unturned series’ uni­verse, is set in anoth­er alter­nate Detroit. For­tu­nate­ly noth­ing annoyed me about this one, so I was able to read it. It’s a wee bit hack­neyed, but a bit sweet, too. It’s sort of like when you hear a song and you know how the melody is going to go because the chords and the melody pro­gres­sion already feel famil­iar. I might check out more of Cornell’s work, but it won’t be at the top of my to-read list.

On the oth­er hand, “Valen­tine Blues” left me tru­ly hun­gry for more of James A. Hunter’s work, and want­i­ng to read more about Yan­cy Lazarus right now. This min­ute. Not soon, NOW. Lazarus is a trav­el­ing blues man with some inter­est­ing tal­ents who takes an inter­est in the very strange behav­ior of the young peo­ple in Valen­tine, Nebraska. You can find the most inter­est­ing things on the road! I will most def­i­nite­ly be read­ing Strange Mag­ic: A Yan­cy Lazarus Nov­el, the first book in this series, SOON.

I know that I’ve read some­thing about Craig Schae­fer’s Daniel Faust series some­where before, but I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly read any OF the series until “A Dri­ve in the Coun­try.” It’s set in and around Las Veg­as. I have no idea where in the time­line of the series this par­tic­u­lar sto­ry is set, but it’s well-writ­ten. It pulls you into the grit­ty, noir world of gang­sters plus mag­ic and makes you feel the dark. If that’s your thing, Schaefer’s your man.

New York is the set­ting for Pip­pa DaCosta’s “Chase the Dark,” set in the world of her Soul Eater series. I am high­ly intrigued, as I don’t believe I’ve ever run into an urban fan­ta­sy series that draws upon Egyp­tian mythol­o­gy the way DaCosta is here. The name of the main char­ac­ter, though, Ace Dan­te? Even though it’s obvi­ous­ly an assumed name, it’s ter­ri­ble. I hate it. I’m jarred every sin­gle time my eyes come across it on the page. It kept pulling me out of what was oth­er­wise a real­ly good sto­ry, and is mak­ing me won­der whether or not I can han­dle read­ing Hid­den Blade, the first book in the series.

Now that I’m fin­ished with the book, I can’t help but notice a few things. There wasn’t a sin­gle main char­ac­ter that was female, and while it’s pos­si­ble that Cis­co Suarez is a per­son of col­or, his cul­tur­al back­ground wasn’t made clear in Finn’s sto­ry. If any of the oth­er pro­tag­o­nists were POC, that wasn’t obvi­ous (I’m not sure what to con­sid­er “Ace Dan­te.”) I’m pret­ty sure all the­se men were cis­gen­dered and het­ero­sex­u­al, as well. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that there’s a lit­tle more diver­si­ty in such a vol­ume.

All in all, a decent col­lec­tion of sto­ries and a nice intro­duc­tion to some new authors, but a dis­ap­point­ment in some impor­tant respects.

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Book Review: Magic to the Bone

Magic to the Bone (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, #7)Mag­ic to the Bone by Annie Bel­let
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

The Boss Fight!

The cli­max to the Samir sto­ry­line that has been build­ing through­out all sev­en vol­umes of the series, this plot does not dis­ap­point. My only com­plaint about the book, as with the oth­er six, is that it’s short. Still, it’s as long as it needs to be to tell the sto­ry, with noth­ing extra­ne­ous, so I guess it is the right length.

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Book Review: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday LivesBet­ter Than Before: Mas­ter­ing the Habits of Our Every­day Lives by Gretchen Rubin
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite as good as her first book, but well worth the read. I prob­a­bly should have got­ten the abridged ver­sion, because as usu­al I got tired of the anec­dotes.

I find her types inter­est­ing — there are uphold­ers, oblig­ers, ques­tion­ers, and rebels. Appar­ent­ly most peo­ple are ques­tion­ers or oblig­ers (I think — I may be wrong about the oblig­ers). (I’m a ques­tion­er, so for once in my life I’m not weird.) Then she clas­si­fies peo­ple in addi­tion­al ways, like abstain­ers or mod­er­a­tors and so on. In fact, there seems to be some sort of clas­si­fi­ca­tion or label in near­ly every chap­ter!

Any­way, the infor­ma­tion in the book is use­ful, and I am already using it in ana­lyz­ing my own habits and improv­ing them. Rubin’s read­ing voice is fair­ly pleas­ant (I lis­tened to the Audi­ble ver­sion), so I don’t hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend the book.

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Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital AgeHow to Win Friends and Influ­ence Peo­ple in the Dig­i­tal Age by Dale Carnegie
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

I was a teenager when my father rec­om­mend­ed Mr. Carnegie’s orig­i­nal book to me, and at 48 I final­ly got around to read­ing this ver­sion. I’m glad that I did, as it was well worth the time. I would rec­om­mend this book to absolute­ly any­one who deals with oth­er humans in any capac­i­ty at all. And yes, I’ll be sug­gest­ing it to my own daugh­ter right away.

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Review: Attack the Geek by Michael R. Underwood

Attack the Geek (Ree Reyes, #2.5)Attack the Geek by Michael R. Under­wood
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Excuse me, but SQUEE! More Ree Reyes! More Drake! More East­wood and Grog­nard! Yes, more Geeko­man­cy!

Michael Under­wood is back with a delight­ful novel­la and if I have ANY com­plaints, it’s that this is a novel­la instead of a nov­el. That’s just because I am a greedy fan­girl read­er. The sto­ry itself is ful­ly devel­oped, and the novel­la is exact­ly the right for­mat for it. 

Attack the Geek def­i­nite­ly isn’t the place to start in the series, as it relies on pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of the char­ac­ters and the uni­verse, but if you’ve read the pre­vi­ous nov­els, you will NOT want to miss this install­ment when it is released on April 9.

Now I’m left hun­gry for Ree Reyes #3, though!

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Review: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexBonk: The Curi­ous Cou­pling of Sci­ence and Sex by Mary Roach
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Fas­ci­nat­ing stuff! Vast amounts of sheer geek­ery about sex, sci­ence, and the inter­sec­tion there­of. If you’re look­ing for sex tips or sala­cious read­ing, look else­where. If you’re look­ing to howl with laugh­ter with­out being able to explain WHY to most peo­ple, this is your book.

Okay, one might glean the occa­sion­al sex tip, but I don’t think they’re any­thing that com­mon sense couldn’t tell you. And you’ll have to wait for the very last chap­ter for the best bit.

I’ll be adding more of Roach’s diverse works to my to-be-read stack soon!

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Review: Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open RelationshipsOpen­ing Up: A Guide to Cre­at­ing and Sus­tain­ing Open Rela­tion­ships by Tris­tan Taormi­no
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

I have to be hon­est. When I ini­tial­ly heard about Open­ing Up by Tris­tan Taormi­no, it was in asso­ci­a­tion with some­one I can’t stand, and I child­ish­ly let that asso­ci­a­tion col­or my impres­sion of the book. I didn’t real­ly con­sid­er read­ing it. I final­ly got around to read­ing (okay, lis­ten­ing to) it this past week, and I’m sor­ry I didn’t do so soon­er. It’s so good that I’m con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing a print copy to have on hand in my lend­ing library, and may­be even an ebook copy so that I might eas­i­ly ref­er­ence pas­sages from time to time. 

None of the infor­ma­tion is new to me, exact­ly, but it is put togeth­er very well. The sec­tions on issues to consider/​issues that might arise in each style of respon­si­ble non-monogamy were espe­cial­ly appre­ci­at­ed. I was dis­ap­point­ed that there isn’t a sec­tion in her web site for read­ers, but per­haps the print copy has repro­ducible check­lists.

The chap­ter on STIs was very good, although I think that a list of speci­fic STIs for which non-monog­a­mous peo­ple should request test­ing would have been help­ful.

In any case, I do rec­om­mend this book. It’s replac­ing Love With­out Lim­its as my go-to rec­om­men­da­tion for new poly­folk to read.

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Review: Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods

Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the CongoBonobo Hand­shake: A Mem­oir of Love and Adven­ture in the Con­go by Vanes­sa Woods
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I near­ly put this book down after the first chap­ter, because I want­ed to learn about Bono­bos, not atroc­i­ties in the Con­go. I stuck with it because it was the most inter­est­ing of the audio­books that were already on my phone when I was mak­ing a long dri­ve, and I got halfway through it dur­ing that dri­ve. I was hooked by then, and need­ed to know what hap­pened to the­se par­tic­u­lar Bono­bos and the humans around them. 

Now, I still don’t feel that I need­ed the explic­it descrip­tions of vio­lence. I could have under­stood what was going on with­out that. But then, I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­si­tive to such things, and I did already have a pret­ty good idea of what was going on in that part of the world. I sup­pose some read­ers may have need­ed those descrip­tions to “get it.”

I real­ly loved the rela­tion­ships that devel­oped between Woods and the var­i­ous Bono­bos, and how her net­work of friends and fam­i­ly grew over time. I am envi­ous of the con­nec­tion she has with her hus­band, Bri­an Hare. The infor­ma­tion shared about the exper­i­ments is tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, and the competition/coöperation the­me that runs through the book is vital to under­stand­ing not just chim­panzees and Bono­bos, but humans.

I was lis­ten­ing to the book in the car the oth­er day, and heard the fol­low­ing at the end of chap­ter 34. It caused me to cry.
“If there are those you love, who­ev­er or wherever you are, hold them. Find them and hold them as tight­ly as you can. Resist their squirm­ing and impa­tience and uncom­fort­able laugh­ter, and just feel their heart throb­bing again­st yours. Give thanks that for this moment, for this one pre­cious moment, they are here, they are with you, and they know they are utter­ly, com­plete­ly, entire­ly loved.”

All in all, yes, I rec­om­mend the book. Just be warned about those descrip­tions, and if you choose the audio­book ver­sion, don’t lis­ten with lit­tle ones around.

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Review: Bleeding Out by Jes Battis

Bleeding Out (OSI, #5)Bleed­ing Out by Jes Bat­tis
My rat­ing: 2 of 5 stars

Woof, I made it. I wasn’t sure that I would, as this nov­el start­ed out nor­mal­ly and devolved into a stream-of-con­scious­ness mess. I was seri­ous­ly moti­vat­ed to keep going, though, because I read the rest of the series and this is the last book in it. 

So I pushed on through, got to a bit of light in the tun­nel, and then there was more muck. Real­ly, Mr. Bat­tis — this is a pop­u­lar work! Or did you just feel like, “Hey, this is the end of my con­tract, I can do what­ev­er I want…” That’s the feel­ing I got, hon­est­ly. It doesn’t moti­vate me to pick up what­ev­er Bat­tis pub­lish­es in the future.

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Review: Endgame by Ann Aguirre

Endgame (Sirantha Jax, #6)Endgame by Ann Aguir­re
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Endgame is the final book in the Sir­an­tha Jax series, accord­ing to Aguir­re, and it def­i­nite­ly shows. Every­thing gets wrapped up very sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly. Noth­ing new is intro­duced. Jax’s rela­tion­ships with March and Vel are both expand­ed in a delight­ful man­ner, and I love the way that works out. She also gets to devel­op a not-quite-moth­er­ly rela­tion­ship with Sasha, March’s adopt­ed son.

The entire vol­ume takes place on Laheng, home of the Lahen­grin. We’ve only met the race through Loras so far in the series, but their sto­ry is touch­ing. This is Loras’ sto­ry as much as any­thing, the sto­ry of the fight to free the Lahen­grin from the Nicuans and from the need to be owned (or “pro­tect­ed” as it is called). The action is bru­tal — Aguir­re doesn’t hide the real­i­ties of war. She doesn’t dwell on it in an obscene man­ner, though, so the book is read­able.

Read­ing the end­ing of a won­der­ful series is also bit­ter­sweet, but at least Aguir­re has stat­ed that she’ll revis­it this uni­verse.

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