the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy

xxxholic omnibus 1xxxHolic, omnibus #1

published in 2007 (I think?)

where I got it:  have owned it forever.

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I’ve been reading Manga on and off for probably ten years. I don’t mention manga much, because there are very few series I’ve liked enough to invest in.  One of the early reviews on this blog was for the first volume (or first few? I can’t tell) of xxxHolic, by CLAMP. The Manga section of Barnes and Noble is full of 3 volume omnibuses these days, but back in the old days, a three volume omnibus was an oddity. No one planned to make more than one of these monsters, so sometimes there wasn’t even a  number on the spine.  And speaking of “way back when”, xxxHolic has been floating around in one form or another since 2004 or there abouts.

 

I wrote a halfway decent review of this back in 2010, it’s nice to see I did a decent job of writing a plot based review!   It’s interesting to see what I got out of xxxHolic then, and what’s I’m getting out of it now. The surface stuff is always the easy stuff – Yuko’s hidden “shop”, the crossover plotlines and funny little jokes from other CLAMP works, the “monster of the week” episodic feel of these first three volumes, the gorgeous artwork.   If you’re used to American style graphic novels, Japanese manga, CLAMP works especially, may be a shock to you – everything is in black and white, there is far less dialog per page, motion is depicted very differently, and the human body is drawn differently than you might be used to.

are you the spacetime witch

Back in the day, I stalled out six or seven volumes into xxxHolic, I felt the story wasn’t really going anywhere.  At the time, seven volumes was a pretty big investment to make in a series if I wasn’t going to continue.  Yuko might be the space time witch who offers to help Watanuki get rid of his spirits problem, but I needed more than just urban fantasy slice of life.  I didn’t continue reading it, but my husband did, eventually trading in our single volumes for these hefty 3-volume omnibuses. And he let me know the story gets deeper, deadlier, and darker. So now I want to give it another try, because I like all of those things!  Watanuki might be getting dragged on Yuko’s errands, but it’s important later for him to have safely been exposed to all this urban fantasy type stuff. Even at the ghost story telling ceremony with Domeki, Watanuki might might not feel safe, but if Yuko is in the room she’ll never let anything permanent happen to him. Or at least I don’t think she’d let anything happen to him . . .

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The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi

published in print in 2017, audible version in 2016

where I got it: received advanced reading copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean!)

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.Wow was this a fun little novella!

 

The story is nearly all dialog, and while I was reading I kept thinking to myself “All this banter and chatter, this would make a fantastic audio book!”.  I hopped online, wondering if there were any reviews up yet of this novella to learn that I live under a rock.

 

Last year, Scalzi wrote The Dispatcher as an audio only novella, to be exclusively offered on Audible.com for a certain length of time. And Zachary Quinto narrates it!  As a huge thank you to his fans and everyone who loves audible, the download was free for a short window.  So, I am apparently the last person to know that Scalzi wrote a very fun little  novella called The Dispatcher.  I’m ok with this.

 

I recently reviewed Mira Grant’s Last Girls, and my experience with Scalzi has been similar to my experience reading Grant/McGuire: I’m mostly meh on their novel length works, but I usually enjoy their short fiction.

 

The Dispatcher is just over 120 pages, but feels much shorter since it is nearly all dialog. The gist of the story is that people aren’t really dying anymore.  Sure, you can die from old age, or from driving drunk and wrapping your car around a tree, but if someone else intentionally kills you, you’ll wake up a few hours later at home, as good as new.

 

No one quite understands how or why this is happening, but 999 times out a thousand, it works. What about people who are on the edge of death? They’ve been brought to  the emergency room after a terrible car accident, or they had a surgery that had horrible complications?  This is where professional dispatchers come in. If you’re about to die, a dispatcher shoots you in the head, intentionally causing your death.  About five minutes later, you wake up good as new, at home. About five minutes after that, the dispatcher cashes their check from your health insurance company.  It sounds ridiculous, but it works, and it makes for an increasingly fun little story.

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Lost Souls,  by Kelley Armstrong (Cainsville series)

published March 31 2017

Where I got it: received ARC from the publisher. Thanks Subterranean!!

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These ongoing series are fantastic, aren’t they?  Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.  You never run out of books to read!

 

On the downside, a huge series like that can be daunting for someone who hasn’t even started it yet.  You mean I have to read 7 novels before the backstory starts up?  You most certainly do not.  Find yourself a short story or novella that takes place in that world as a “dipping your toes in”, as it were. Will you be reading things out of order? Yeah. Might there be spoilers? Yep!  But, you’ll get a feel for if this is a world you want to invest more time in.

 

Kelley Armstrong’s first novel, Bitten, came out in 2001, and since then she’s written over 25 novels, primarily supernatural urban fantasy, but also mystery and a few books for kids.

 

Her newest novella, Lost Souls, is part of her Cainsville series, in which people are desperately trying to escape their past and live normal lives.  This novella was my first  first Armstrong (I know, right?), and I’m pleased to say I came out of it caring about these characters and wanting to keep their secrets safe. Even better news?  If, like me, you haven’t read any of the Cainsville urban fantasy novels,  this Lost Souls is a good jumping in point.  Spoilers? Oh,sure,  a few.  But knowing the future is kinda fun, because when you go back and read the first two Cainsville novels,  you’ll feel like you’re in on a big secret that no one else knows.

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fix-steinmetzFix by Ferrett Steinmetz

published Sept 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Fix is the final entry in Ferrett Steinmetz’s ‘Mancy trilogy.  If you’re just joining us, check out my reviews of the first two books, Flex and The Flux, and don’t read any further in this review because hey, spoilers for the first two books.   Fix takes place a few years after The Flux – Aliyah is a teenager, Paul and Imani are back together, Valentine and Robert are trying to make things work, and the whole family is living in hiding. But what are you gonna do with a bored and lonely teenager?  Take her to play some soccer, of course.  Take the world’s youngest and most talented videogamemancer to play youth soccer?? This is not going to end well.

Not only does the soccer game go poorer than anyone expected, Aliyah’s magic is exposed and now she’s on the radar of the Unimancers, the government hive mind of their captured ‘mancers.  Paul and Valentine are literally going to have to up their game to ensure Aliyah’s safety.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Ferrett Steinmetz at Conventions and attend his readings. My friends, if you ever find yourself in the same city as Ferrett, get yourself in the same room with him in the hopes you will hear him read his work. The man has an amazing voice.  At first it seems he’s reading slowly. But no, those are deliberate, planned pauses. Those are moments in which the words he is saying (and not just the sound, but the words and the meaning and the weight) sink in. He’s doing you a favor – giving you time to absorb and digest what you are hearing.  While I was reading Fix I heard Ferrett’s voice reading it to me.  Slower than I usually read, a kindly and sympathetic voice encouraged me to slow down to experience the full effect of getting kicked in the feels in nearly every chapter. Thanks Ferrett, for making my cry for like an hour while finishing this book!

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purloined-poodle-hearneThe Purloined Poodle, by Kevin Hearne

published Sept 30, 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean Press!)

 

 

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Swap out the recipe and/or knitting pattern for lots of butt sniffing, and The Purloined Poodle would make a perfect cozy mystery.

 

Told from the point of view of Oberon, Atticus’s wolfhound, this is a fun and fast paced mystery about doggies that have gone missing. And not just any doggies, but a prize winning poodle!  As Atticus chats up other dog owners at the dog park, Oberon gets to know the other dogs. By shaking hands and saying “Hi!” in the doggie way, which of course, as everyone knows, is sniffing the other dog’s butt and letting them sniff yours. But enough playing and getting to know each other, there’s a mystery to solve!  Atticus promises Oberon plenty of snacks, so Oberon is on the case! Just like that other mystery solving guy, you know, the one with the pipe!

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Spells-of-Blood-and-KinSpells of Blood and Kin, by Claire Humphrey

published June 2016

where I got it: received review copy

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Spells of Blood and Kin was mentioned in my recent 5 Books, 50 pages blog post.  Of the books mentioned in that post, this was the only book that I had a tough time stopping reading at exactly 50 pages.   In fact,  by the time that blog post published, I was halfway through Spells of Blood and Kin,  and finished it 48 hours after picking it up.  I couldn’t put this book down, I didn’t want to put this book down,  I was late to work because all I wanted to do for 2 days was read this book.  If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, of stories that have weight and depth and sensuality and secrets and consequences, this is a book for you.

 

We all know those fantasy authors who write in a fashion to make their novels longer, because an epic story should have an epic number of pages, or something. Short story authors do the opposite – often self-editing their work towards making their prose more effective in fewer words. Claire Humphrey is a well published short story author, and you can see her short story composition skills on display in Spells of Blood and Kin.  What I mean by that is there is not a single unnecessary word or scene in this book.  Every scene, every conversation, and every paragraph is honed down to a sharp reflective edge, increasing the effect of the words, pushing the reader to engage with the story in a more intimate and imaginative fashion.  That was a lot of fancy talk to say Humphrey is a damn good writer. Spells of Blood and Kin opens with a surprising and unnerving sentence, dives right into the compelling intricacies of the plot, and runs from there. Like with most books, everyone is going to have a different reaction to this book, and much of my personal interaction with this book happened between the lines, in what Humphrey left unsaid.

 

So, what’s this story about?   Lissa’s grandmother Iadviga has just passed away.  In a stunned state of grief,  the funeral is planned, the church ladies bring piles of food to the house, and Lissa starts going through her grandmother’s things. Not only is Lissa inheriting the house and the debt, she is also inheriting her Baba’s responsibilities among the traditional Russian families in a community surrounded by the cosmopolitan  bustle of Toronto.  On the night of Iadviga’s death, the spell she had been weaving and reweaving for over 30 years collapsed.

 

For her Baba’s funeral, Lissa was allowed to enter the church building, but not allowed to be in the sanctuary. Because while the church will tolerate the community’s need for witchy women,  magic practitioners are not allowed on consecrated ground.  With one hand the community shuns Lissa and her family, while placing orders for magic eggs with the other hand.

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the flux steinmetzThe Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

A few days after writing an emotionally fraught and migraine fueled review, I finished Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Flux, which although isn’t a heavy book, deals with a boatload of heavy shit.  I found myself laughing and smiling at all the videogame and pop culture references as huge lumps developed in my throat from #allthefeels. I kept running across things that transcended the page right to “this is super important to me on a very personal level” territory, and that list of things kept getting heavier and longer.  And all of that was all happening at the same time!  The closer I got to the end of the book, the slower I read. Because I didn’t want it to end. If you aren’t reading Ferrett Steinmetz, you really need to start.

 

You know how the middle book in a trilogy too often suffers from “middle book syndrome”, where that book is just a way to get to the 3rd book? The Flux is a middle book that reads like a first book. What I mean by that is the characters grow even more in this book than they did in the first, the stakes get higher, and the reader gets even more invested in what’s going on. Also? Steinmetz wisely includes just enough background so you can successfully enter the series here, and be hungry to go back and read Flex.

 

I really want to tell you all the everything in this book, but sorry peeps, I just don’t have the spoons to write the full on review that even comes close to doing this book justice.  Thus, the list.  The list of things in The Flux that were super important to me, the things that took this book from fun urban fantasy to self help book:

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.