Tag Archives: 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.

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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.

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.

The Sword of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #1)

Title: The Sword of Kuromori

Author: Jason Rohan

Series: The Sword of Kuromori #1

Kenny Blackwood is on his way to Japan to meet his father, but he hasn’t even arrived before things start going weird. From the fuzzy animal in the luggage compartment to the various monsters that are wandering around, the various invisible residents aren’t able to hide from him. The problem is they hate being noticed. And like it or not, Kenny’s coming into this on the heels of his grandfather’s formidable reputation . . .

I liked the sheer amount and variety of monsters in this. Starting with the tanuki, Poyo, and branching out from oni and kappa to less familiar (but mostly deadly) creatures, Kenny’s experience of Japan is a menagerie of folklore.

I also appreciated that the story tried to give some depth to why Kenny is being drawn into all these things. He has family history with the work his grandfather did in Japan just after WWII, and that’s tied to why so many youkai are transferring old grudges or alliances to Kenny.

The romance was less appealing. Half the time Kenny and Kiyomi are fighting, and then just as suddenly they’re crushing on each other. The mood swings happened often enough to really annoy me, as sometimes there’s no buildup at all and suddenly he’s desperate for her. I also don’t like the trick pulled at the end. Taro’s offer lacked much impact because he’s not really there in the story except as a background character until that moment.

The card game also felt like a letdown. Since the rules are never explained, it’s hard not to feel like a random “I win” for whichever character is winning. There’s no sense of tension because we can’t follow the game, so all the games shown are basically two-turn affairs where the first player looks like they’re doing well until the second player crushes them.

Although ironically the thing I find hardest to believe is that he actually LIKED natto.

Overall this was okay. I didn’t like it as much as I hoped, but all the monsters helped keep my interest enough to finish. I rate this book Recommended.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

Title: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1

A team of researchers are conducting tests on a newly discovered planet’s surface, accompanied by one company-provided SecUnit that privately calls itself Murderbot. Although Murderbot behaves like the equipment it’s supposed to be, it actually overrode some of its own programming so it can function more autonomously. And that becomes critical when unexpected dangers arise . . .

I liked this well enough, but it’s far too short. Murderbot is the only character with significant development—the team is fleshed out enough to see why Murderbot appreciates their low-stress interactions, but ultimately it means most of the team was interchangeable for me, except for the enhanced human (because he was the only one Murderbot felt cautious about, and not unreasonably, given his suspicions towards it in return).

It was funny to find that someone who calls itself “Murderbot” is a huge introvert who doesn’t actually like people at all. Murderbot would rather watch entertainment than deal with actual humanity.

Most of the fight scenes felt poorly described, as well. Murderbot narrates several gunfights with little more than “and here’s where each bullet hit” kind of description, which made it hard to feel much of a flow to the fighting or much of a sense of danger. I was very annoyed where one fight described all the damage to the opposing forces first, and only then cataloged Murderbot’s injuries. My initial impression had been that Murderbot somehow hadn’t been hit, since segregating things that way feels like it drains all the tension out of a fight.

Overall this was interesting enough that I will probably read the next book, but between the short length and the lack of anything that really grabbed me, it’s not on my buy list. (Besides, the ebook price is insane. The book is only 140 pages long.) I rate this book Recommended.

Shatterglass (The Circle Opens #4)

Title: Shatterglass

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #4

Tris simply wanted to get some shopping done when she spotted a man trying to blow glass and summoning lightning into it. But the man is an unrecognized and untrained mage—which means Tris now has to teach someone much older than herself. Someone who’s afraid of lightning. And if that weren’t bad enough, someone is killing female entertainers and leaving their bodies in public places . . .

This is my favorite of the four. Tris is grumpy, sharp, and fusty, so she gets a student who’s not only older than she is, but equally bullheaded. I love how Tris has braided her stored powers into her hair, and how she’s managed a form of air-conditioning by taming winds to always blow around her. The little glass dragon is the best pet, too.

It’s interesting, too, how Tris, despite being the most powerful, is also having the hardest time actually finding employment. Her powers to disrupt and channel weather would be excellent in a war but are rather harder to use in day-to-day life, as she’s not eager to throw nature out of balance.

I liked Keth. He’s got his own history with both glassblowing and lightning, and he’s not at all impressed by Tris. He just wants to get on with his life as a glass crafter, but magic got in the way. And he’s got personal reasons to want the murderer caught, so he drives himself past his limits again and again in pursuit of answers.

Overall this is a good read, and while it doesn’t exactly close doors for the future of these four unique mages, it’s been a fun journey to see how life is going to look as they become adults. I rate this book Recommended.

Cold Fire (The Circle Opens #3)

Title: Cold Fire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #3

Daja and Frostpine are in the snowy north. Daja’s just hoping to learn more smithcraft and work on her own projects, but soon she’s in over her head. A firebug has been setting fires—and Daja wants to use her living brass to make a fireproof suit to help combat them. And the two girls she discovers with magic need to be taught, which means Daja is responsible for finding them teachers and helping them get grounded in the basics. At least she’s found a kindred soul in Ben, the man with a passion for fighting fires.

I’m not exactly sure why this is my least favorite of this quartet. Maybe it’s all the snow and cold, or the fact that the firebug is revealed relatively early and the rest of the book is just waiting on Daja to pick up on the clues. Or the really annoying old lady. I appreciate that the story tried to show she had more to her than just her cruelty, but that still doesn’t make me sorry for her getting what she so richly deserved.

Despite that, though, it’s still a solid book. Daja has always been one of the more mature, and her challenges here stretch her in a different way. It’s a little about dreams and what happens when they break, whether that’s simply the expectation that someone is a good person, or the dream of a normal life that suddenly went up in smoke.

I rate this book Recommended.