Monthly Archives: July 2018

Kind of Like Life

Title: Kind of Like Life

Author: Christina McMullen

Renee is excited about her move cross-country. She’s always wanted to live in New England, and now she not only has the perfect house and people who might become friends, but also guy she instantly falls for. But when fantasies become reality, and anything she can imagine can become real, a danger she never imagined surfaces . . .

This starts more like a typical fiction story, where the introverted, socially awkward Renee is discovering that life really did get better after a cross-country move. It’s not like life is perfect, but with friends to give her more of a place than she had back in New Mexico, and a hot guy who likes her, she’s finding the downsides easy to brush aside.

But this part of the story is playing out a lot like a really bad self-insert fanfic (although with admittedly very good writing). I kept hitting details that felt like terrible worldbuilding, and it was harder and harder to convince myself the fantasy portion would be worthwhile when the details initially presented looked like the plot would go a certain way.

And just when I’m eye-rolling hard enough to almost put the book down unfinished (super magical kiss with soul mate!!! Bleagh), the first big twist shows up and changes the rules completely. Because the fantasy is bigger and stranger than some wish-fulfillment fantasy/romance. This one will kill Renee if she can’t get to the truth.

Even then, her odds of surviving don’t look good.

The book immediately gets funnier, snarkier, and starts this glorious trip through all sorts of genres, worlds, and powers. Renee and Blake have all kinds of villains to fight. Zombies. Interstellar enforcers. Elves. And way more.

I love how the use of imagination allows for both an anything goes mentality, coupled with some hard limits. If she believes this is how things work, they will. But if she’s subconsciously believing otherwise (or if someone explains why something won’t work) the impossible goes back to being impossible. So there’s a weird balance that Blake and Renee need to work with—not enough information and one of them is going to inadvertently cause trouble, but too much and their biggest advantage won’t work.

And it leads to so much fantastic imagery. I’m particularly fond of the phoenixes, but I also found so much to laugh about throughout the book. They shift genres and expectations at the drop of a hat, and the story can pivot from flying spaceships with laser weapons to being pirates on a tropical island looking for treasure.

Overall I’m glad I stuck around long enough for the hook that changed the book from “interesting, but not really my thing” to “this is awesome.” I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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A Perjury of Owls (Fantasy & Forensics #4)

Title: A Perjury of Owls

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #4

Dayna has two lives that have both become full-time jobs. Back in LA, she’s worried about her friend Shelly, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. And that one might be Dayna’s fault, because Shelly had gotten caught up in Dayna’s last adventure. On the Andeluvian side, she’s about to be made a Dame—landed nobility. Except the owls are still protesting anything involving her and refusing to release the finances, the nobles bicker like spoiled children, and the king always has one more job to set in front of her . . .

This is another strong story. It’s interesting to see a lot of the fallout that’s been building up for several books now, both good and bad. Dayna’s certainly impressed the king, but he’s not above using her in his various political machinations.

I also liked having a more “normal” case at the beginning. We finally get to see Dayna in more of her usual job, her usual setting, where magic and interesting creatures aren’t complicating things. And, of course, this comes with more usual complications, like jealousy at her boyfriend’s new work partner.

On the Andeluvian side, some of the hints from previous books soon turn into the main case—what exactly happened with the Albess, and why can’t anyone get a straight answer out of the owls?

I liked the resolution with Shelly, too. That scene in Dayna’s apartment was too funny, and it shows Dayna has important allies on both worlds.

Overall if you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, this is yet another good read. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Off Leash (Freelance Familiars #1)

Title: Off Leash

Author: Daniel Potter

Series: Freelance Familiars #1

Thomas Khatt is unemployed and growing more desperate for a job when the unthinkable happens. His elderly neighbor is murdered, he’s somehow been turned into a cougar, and now he’s expected to enter the magical society that’s always existed in his town on the other side of the Veil. But Thomas rebels against being auctioned off to become someone’s familiar, and he’s determined to take charge of his own life one way or another . . .

This book managed to tie in a number of my favorite subjects: shapeshifting, extra-dimensional beings / abilities, big cats, and werewolves.

I liked the view of magic as something that breeches dimensions, probably taught by aliens or other-planar beings, and complex enough that few humans would conceivably be practitioners. (Thomas is quite disappointed it’s not just chanting from some old book.) In fact that’s one of the main reasons for familiars: to provide an extra set of senses so the mage can calculate the multi-dimensional shapes accurately.

And the dragon was awesome. I hope we meet more multi-dimensional beings in the future.

The magical society as a whole, though, isn’t quite as nice. The mages are corrupt, the familiars have unionized (TAU), and anyone like Thomas who decides he’d rather stay outside the system is going to have an extremely hard time. In fact neither side is interested in leaving him alone—not complying results in him repeatedly being accosted so that someone else can profit off his existence.

It was nice to see a few of the worst offenders neutralized by the end, but it’s unclear Thomas can do much of anything to change the way things are. He might be able to keep himself more to the fringes, but if there is a major upheaval it will be a long time coming. I’m not terribly fond of these super dysfunctional societies, so I hope this one gets dismantled in flaming pieces. Because worlds where everyone is moderately to majorly sociopathic are harder for me to read because I get angry at so many of the cast and am just waiting for them to die in the most horrible way possible.

So overall I liked a lot of the elements in this world, and plan to continue the series sooner or later. I do hope Thomas can find a mage who is more willing to help him with his ideas to reform the magical world. I rate this book Recommended.

GeGeGe no Kitaro (Anime)

Title: GeGeGe no Kitaro

Episodes: 1-13 (Season 1)

Mana doesn’t believe in youkai, or in the rumors of a mailbox that can summon help from one who fights them, until she encounters things too bizarre to be natural. Writing a letter summons Kitaro, a young boy with mysterious abilities, and from there Mana discovers a world she never knew existed.

This is supposed to be a kid’s horror show but I watched it more like an urban fantasy (well, I’m old enough not to find most of this scary). It’s extremely episodic (only one 2-part episode in this batch), which makes it easy to pick up and watch a story or two whenever you have a moment. That’s usually a plus, as this is basically a series of short stories, and if one episode doesn’t quite appeal, something else will usually make up for it.

The only downside is that there isn’t much continuity. The first two episodes introduce someone who appears to be a villain working behind the scenes, but the initial buildup goes cold almost immediately. So there’s not much of a sense of an overarching plot. Even the episode where various explosions level parts of the city feels like it takes place in isolation, as no one even remarks on the damage in future episodes. And a couple of episodes have youkai visible to broader society but nobody has any ongoing reactions to that.

That said, I enjoyed the various vignettes. Each episode tends to introduce a new youkai and has an adventure related to those powers. Some of those are more heartwringing, like poor Shiro, and some are just funny, like the kappa. The series may be for kids, but that doesn’t stop it from touching on adult issues like overwork, corporate bullying, abandonment of elders, and others.

So all in all, this feels like a kid’s series that was designed just as much for adults. The youkai may be traditional but it can be a lot of fun watching how they’ve adapted (or not) to modern technology. I rate this show Recommended.

Grand Theft Griffin (Fantasy & Forensics #3)

Title: Grand Theft Griffin

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #3

Dayna usually works murders, not theft. But this case has too many touches of oddity about, which has led to her department recommending her for the case. And it doesn’t take long for her to figure out they’re right—THIS theft was perpetrated by a griffin. Which means she needs to head back to Andeluvia to work the case. But Dayna knows less about griffins than she thinks, and she may not like the answers her investigation uncovers . . .

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

I think this is my favorite of the series so far. Not only for the griffins (because I love griffins and there aren’t enough of them in fantasy), but also for the way this is set up. We get a much deeper dive into the nuances of griffin society, and we also get to meet a few of Shaw’s offspring along the way.

Holly is fascinating. As one of Shaw’s True Born, she’s much like her sire in the some respects—fast, strong, brave, smart. And willing to go against the grain, as she and her brothers have created a new martial art for themselves that makes them far more effective fighting creatures like wyverns. Even if that does pit them against the griffin Elders, who dislike change intensely. It’s also interesting to note that this dislike of change extends to their speech patterns—Shaw is apparently NOT a template for his kind, and many of the younger griffins speak in much more familiar words.

I liked that the case shows Dayna messing up. And boy, does that have consequences. I would argue even her final reveal was a mistake, because the way it happened left itself open to much more than she intended. Dayna’s learning the hard way that mouthing off in the moment, giving in to her frustrations, is burning a lot of bridges. And her blunders have great impact on the beings around her. Lying and bluffing have their own costs, and although honor as strict as Shaw’s would have put a few more wrinkles in things, I think she probably could’ve pulled off the case while telling the truth.

I also love that Alanzo tells her off for trying to pull the stupid little “don’t be friends with someone who’s friends with someone I don’t like” game. He’s smart enough to see what she’s doing, call her out on it, and try to give her the context to see the people she’s demonizing as people. I’m still not sure if I’m sold on them as a couple, but he really impressed me there. And Dayna needs people who can tell her to her face she’s wrong. Galen, Shaw, and Liam respect her too much to voice that level of disagreement.

Overall this is a bittersweet book. Dayna solves the case, but it’s hard to say if justice was served. And it looks like she’s not going to be interacting nearly as closely with the griffins in the future than she might with the fayleene, thanks to how she ended her visit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Deer Prince’s Murder (Fantasy & Forensics #2)

Title: The Deer Prince’s Murder

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #2

Liam has been summoned home. The Protector of the Forest has died, and the fayleene are gathering to recognize a new leader. But Liam is quickly drawn into a much bigger issue. A dragon is encroaching on the fayleene lands, and Liam is tasked with ending the threat by any means possible . . .

As expected from the title, this book focuses on Liam. We got the gist of his unfortunate relationship with his people in Centaur of the Crime, but this is the first time we get to look more in-depth at the fayleene.

I liked the irony of the fayleene being much more vicious and petty than their “magical deer” species would suggest. But only one particular fayleene really has it out for Liam specifically. The rest of them are happy to use him if it means saving themselves.

And along those lines, although there is certainly a mystery, much of the plot plays out more like a fantasy adventure. A very dangerous dragon has it out for the fayleene, and Liam is tasked with stopping it. But an invincible dragon is a mystery in and of itself—what weakness can they use to confront it?

Although my favorite part is probably the pooka playing the Illuminati for Bob McClatchy. (This will not end well, for sure. But it was really funny all the same.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I liked the more we got to see of Liam, and how some of his confidence issues resolved. There’s also plenty of hints that this is only part of a much larger scheme and we’re probably building up to a massive conflict in the moderately-far future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Forensics and Dragon Fire (Fantasy & Forensics #1.5)

Title: Forensics and Dragon Fire

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #1.5

Dayna’s been put on probation for ditching her security detail on her previous adventure. Now she’s got to prove to an overeager psychiatrist that she’s fit for duty, in addition to perils of the more magical sort. Because Andeluvia needs her again, this time to investigate an “accidental” death that’s so convenient some people suspect there might be more to the story.

This book has more focus on the mystery, although there’s still some movement on the personal front, as Dayna’s confronting her anger management issues. (And Galen’s take on the whole rubber band “Snap out of it” bracelet is hilarious.)

Despite some similarities to the previous case in terms of diagnosing the corpse and site of death, there’s plenty of new material too. For one, Dayna’s not lacking for suspects. Pretty much everyone who worked with the deceased hated him for one reason or another, so it’s more a matter of narrowing down who was MOST likely.

We also get a closer look at the dragons, which is something I had been curious about since last book. I like how disdainful Shaw is of the whole business. He’s all for the superiority of griffins.

And I like at the end how Dayna has to confront what justice actually is, once she knows the truth.

Overall this is a much faster read than the first book (I didn’t check if it was shorter but it feels shorter). It’s still a good time. I rate this book Recommended.