V Wars

Most anthologies contain a collection of unrelated stories from various authors. That's just the way it goes. Unless the anthology is done by Baen Books and is set in one of their authors' worlds, the stories are rarely even set in the same universe. Heck, even the anthologies I've written for (THE CRIMSON PACT: Vol 2, 3 & 4) have had very few links to connect anyone's work.

And then I read V WARS. V WARS is a vampire (mostly) anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry. That name alone should be enough to grab your interest. Maberry puts out quality work 1000% of the time. This anthology is about a global outbreak of a virus that converts the "junk DNA" in some people. Depending on their heritage, those affected by the virus turn into vampires and werewolves (which in folklore are traditionally related).

And the best part is every story is set in the same world under the same calamity.

You have no idea how refreshing this was to me. Maberry tells a series of short tales following the so-called "patient zero" and his transformation. Maberry's stories serve as a continual frame and big-picture narrative to the entire anthology. The execution across the board is fantastic, and the story feels equally cohesive from the shared story element, to fittingly diverse since it is written by a variety of authors. Obviously, Maberry's portions were stellar, but in many cases they were just vignettes to move the overall narrative forward.

I had some personal favorites in this collection, but I feel a bit crappy about pointing out specific stories. Due to the nature of this anthology, and the connected nature of every story, it would almost be as if I were picking certain chapters in a novel that I didn't like. So instead--and thus avoiding a ton of spoilers--I'm just going to talk about some of the ideas here and what made the entire collection strong.

The ideas in this anthology are what carry it. We get a werewolf themed political thriller, a vampire pyramid scheme, biker gangs, tales from the Mexican-US border, and even a tale from the Antarctic. Even the variety in vampires is pure awesome. How many anthologies play it safe these days? V WARS takes a risk here by having such a crazy variety of stories. I don't know whether or not Maberry planned this whole thing out, or if he just edited it all together, but it all flows so well considering the multitude of authors involved in this project.

I do have a few issues. Firstly, the title of the collection is V WARS...and yet this anthology is really about the spread of the virus and how the world reacts to it. The anthology ends right when we are about to get into some actual wars. So this begs the question: is there going to be a follow-up anthology? If so, great! If not, the title of this collection makes promises it can't (and doesn't) keep. There were a few cases where the segments just didn't work, and were inconsistent with the overall narrative. Also, one story delves into the cliche on a bad level.

Here is what I hope: that this becomes a trend. I want more projects like V WARS. Lots more. A bajillion more. Why? Because readers get to have some great short-fiction while at the same time experiencing a big narrative. This seems like such a win-win for authors and readers alike.

V WARS isn't perfect, but it is dang good. I've been begging Maberry through email to do a sequel anthology, and I'm just praying he gets his group together and does it. You should read V WARS, and so should your friends.

Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: All sorts.
Violence: Holy crap, yes!
Sex: Actually, there is a really explicit scene in one of the stories. To me, it wasn't needed.

Buy it here:

V WARS

21st Century Dead

One of the anthologies that renewed my faith in short fiction was THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden. There were just so many fantastic stories that after I closed the cover, I just sat back and said, "Wow!" Since then I've been more than happy to tackle any collection of short fiction, and I've read a lot of absolutely stellar work. With all that said, it shouldn't be too difficult a stretch of the imagination to say that my expectations of 21ST CENTURY DEAD were extremely high. Unfairly so, even.

21ST CENTURY DEAD is edited by Christopher Golden, and should appeal directly to the shambling masses that loved Golden's first collection. It contains stories from Jonathan Maberry, Orson Scott Card, Simon R. Green, Brian Keene, and tons more. While THE NEW DEAD was solid pretty much from start to finish, 21ST CENTURY DEAD is far more uneven.

I'll start with the good:

"Jack and Jill" by Jonathan Maberry
This story actually takes place concurrently with his novel DEAD OF NIGHT. It follows a brother and sister (Jack & Jill) and their family as a massive superstorm hits their town. Everything about this story is fantastic, and it serves as a perfect alternate PoV from the novel. It also follows perfectly the hopeless theme of the novel, with I completely loved. For me, this was the best story in the anthology.

"Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay" by Thomas E. Sniegoiski
A radically different story, and one that I didn't think would work at the onset. See, part of the story is told from the PoV of a phantom dog. Yeah. In all, it is a very cool story about the faithfulness of a dog even after death has separated it from the boy it wants to protect. This was the most surprisingly good story in the collection.

"Biters" by Mark Morris
This is the lead story of the collection, and gets it off to a mostly good start. It starts off shocking and crazy, just the way a zombie anthology should. Without getting too much into it and spoiling it for you, I'll just say that part of the tale revolves around kids who are charged with taking care of zom-babies. There was some mild disappointment when one part of the horror just gets glossed over, but this story actually has a "happy" ending. Pretty good overall.

"Tender as Teeth" by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski
Such a different story. It's about a girl that has an infamous moment as a zombie, then gets "better".  I'm not gonna say much about this one other than it was one of my favorites.

"Antiparallelogram" by Amber Benson
This story had, bar none, the best ideas. People can take vials of fluid that turn them into whatever they want. Addiction factors into it all, and then there is a vial that can turn you permanently into, say, a zombie. This story could have done with being a bit longer to flesh out the world more, but I really, REALLY liked that Benson didn't play it safe.

"Couch Potato" by Brian Keene
Keene's story was short, sweet, and complete. No fluff. It was equal parts sad and funny the way Jerry Springer is. For me, this was the guilty pleasure story of the collection. It did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I just loved it.

As for the rest? Many of the stories had good parts in them, specifically good beginnings...and then they just fell apart. The prime example of this was Orson Scott Card's story. It had such an awesome beginning. Such stellar ideas. But then the ending was terrible. It's a story that went on too far, too long, and just unraveled. Ken Bruen's "The Dead of Dromore" and Kurt Sutter's "Tic Boom: A Slice of Love" had weird formatting styles that did not work for me at all. They became a chore to read.

Here is my main issue: very few of the stories satisfied me completely. So many of the stories were stunningly mediocre. Were my expectations too high? Maybe. I loved the prior anthology, and I just expected that every story in 21ST CENTURY DEAD would be killer. There were enough stories here that saved the entire collection from becoming mediocre, but so many "meh" ones to keep it from being great.

Should you read it? I think it's worth a try, especially if you feel the need for a short-fiction fix.

Recommended Age: 18+.
Profanity: TONS.
Violence: Quite a bit, seeing as this is a zombie anthology.
Sex: Talk about it, but nothing super explicit.

Want it? Here is your link, plus a link to THE NEW DEAD:


THE NEW DEAD
21ST CENTURY DEAD

American Sniper

Nonfiction! What is this black magic? You all must be thinking that I'm a pretty contradictory person. I don't read books about dragons. I love James Maxey's GREATSHADOW. I don't read anthologies. I love ARMORED by John Joseph Adams. Now I'm going to tell you that I don't read nonfiction. Ever. But it turns out that I really liked AMERICAN SNIPER, written by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. An autobiography about a Navy SEAL? Well if you're going to read nonfiction you might as well read the most exciting nonfiction available.

Chris Kyle served as a Navy SEAL during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kyle and his platoon were part of some of the thickest fighting the US Armed Forces were involved in, from pacifying Fallujah to cleaning out Sadr City. AMERICAN SNIPER is an unapologetic, patriotic, and personal look at the conflict in the Middle East from the perspective of a special forces sniper.

AMERICAN SNIPER begins with Kyle's first sniper kill and then follows his path from childhood all the way through his enlistment until he leaves the Navy in 2009. Reading about the way Kyle grew up and the life he led before becoming a SEAL really gives insight into what sort of person it takes to be a special forces operator. Kyle is a legitimate cowboy, a Texan, and a "good ol' boy". He's the sort of guy that you would really like to buy a beer and it shows through his writing. The autobiography is broken up into chapters with sub-chapters, making for quick easy reading and the tone of the narrative is so laid back that it's really more like having a conversation than reading.

The personal bits are all very compelling. Kyle's wife Taya even writes small excerpts here and there that add an even more delicate touch. The parts written from Taya's perspective are often about the toll Kyle's enlistment and service took on the family. These parts serve as a reminder that SEALs aren't just warriors. They are sons and brothers and fathers and husbands as well. But enough about the touchy-feely stuff.

The legend of Chris Kyle is really what makes this book a must read. During his service, Kyle wracked up 160 confirmed sniper kills. This is just the confirmed kills, but the number claimed is actually 255. Kyle doesn't once brag about his tally, in fact he is completely humble about his whole experience as a SEAL. Kyle fought in Iraq, not for any medals, but to protect his country. Kyle doesn't regret any of his kills and he refuses to make apologies for what he has done. Some people are likely to be offended by the candid nature of the autobiography, but I doubt many of these people are likely to buy a book about snipers in the Iraq War to begin with.

AMERICAN SNIPER is a great read. If you are curious about Navy SEALs and the way their operations have changed with the emergence of the War on Terror this is the book for you. This is a very personal story with no shortage of action, humor, mourning, and hope. If you have a problem with patriotism you should skip this one, but I found it to be a fun time.

Here's a thanks to all who serve in America's Armed Forces for their service and sacrifice.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Chris Kyle cusses like the cowboy he is, but he doesn't overdo it. Still, be warned. Violence: Yes, sometimes morbid but never gruesome.
Sex: None.

Interested in this book? Find it here:
AMERICAN SNIPER

The Watchtower

Garet James is the last in a line of women "watchtowers" who protect humanity from evil--particularly the magic kind. In BLACK SWAN RISING she had to learn about her unknown powers and save New York City from destruction. She had the help of fairies, goblins, as well as that of the rich and handsome vampire Will Hughes. But he has disappeared, leaving clues for Garet to follow.

If you remember my review for BLACK SWAN RISING, I had a hard time with the love story between Garet and Will. It was sudden and inexplicable and emotionless--it's hard for a romance to be believable when you don't understand why two characters love each other. So when the second book, THE WATCHTOWER so depended on their love in order to explain Garet's motivation to follow Will...it didn't bode well.

Garet must travel to Paris and find the path to the Summer Country to find Will on his quest to cure himself of his vampirism. Those details are interesting and creative as Carroll draws out the history and lore surrounding the magic of the Fae and their lives in Paris. Carroll also does well painting a picture of Paris itself and its view from an up-close street level--much like was done successfully with New York City in SWAN.

Unfortunately, that's the best part of the book, and it's not enough to keep the reader interested. Instead, we get the love story of Will and Marguerite (Garet's grandmother+great I don't know how many times, it wasn't clear) of 400 years ago mixed in with Garet's present-day search. What's wrong with that, you ask? Carroll already told us how that particular story ends in SWAN. So I'm reading a story of a spoiled and emo 19-year-old Will falling in swooning love at first sight, and I already know what's going to happen...and, yeah. Had a hard time enjoying that. Add on the fact that Garet and Will spend the majority of the book apart, and when they're together I'm still not sure why they love each other.

If I had liked Will more, I might have been more interested in his origins, but he behaved so erratically and took Garet's stuff only to leave her behind in SWAN, so going into THE WATCHTOWER I would have been fine if she'd washed her hands of him. My other question is: Why name the book THE WATCHTOWER if Garet doesn't do watchtower-ish things? Sure she is clever and able to follow the clues, but she leaves the hard stuff for others in the end. Again. Maybe the book is about Marguerite the original watchtower? But we don't see Marguerite protect the world from evil, she just moons over Will. Now I understand where Garet gets it from. But I still don't understand why.

And then the Summer Country and time travel and magic watches and...I just got confused at where the story was taking me. Why the characters did the things they did. Why magic worked the way it did. By the end I just wanted it to be over. There will be a sequel. I don't plan on reading it.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Very little
Violence: Some, although without detail
Sex: One brief scene

This book is the second in a series:
BLACK SWAN RISING
THE WATCHTOWER

The Coldest War

What are they putting in the water down in New Mexico?  Seriously!

There are two books that I’ve read this year (and I really read my share of books) that I’ve gotten to the end and thought, “WOW!”  The first was Daniel Abraham’s excellent THE KING’S BLOODTHE COLDEST WAR, by Ian Tregillis is the second.  The weird thing is they both hail from New Mexico.  They seem to be in the same writing group or something down there.  You can see each other’s names in the acknowledgment section of their books.  Whatever they are doing down there, keep it up.

I remember getting to the end of BITTER SEEDS, the first book in Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed series, and liking it more than I had expected.  My thoughts on finishing THE COLDEST WAR? “Holy (bleep)ing (bleep)ity (bleep)ing (bleep)!!!!!!  Why isn’t the last book in this series out RIGHT NOW!!” Or something along those lines.

I’ll try and talk about THE COLDEST WAR without spoiling much from the series.  It helps that this book takes place years and years after the first one.  The characters from BITTER SEEDS have aged and grown in the intervening years.  If you’ve read Abraham’s Long Price Quartet think of the time lapse between the books there.  The events from the first book have taken their toll on Raybould Marsh leaving him in a loveless marriage while caring for a disabled son.  Will is doing well at the beginning of the book but is haunted by demons of his own.  Klaus and Gretel are prisoners of the soviets who are trying desperately to find the secret to their power.  I could go on, but I don’t want to.  I want you to see it for yourself.  I want you to see what’s happened to these characters, how they’ve grown.

There were scenes here that were simply stunning.  There were cool ideas and wonderful moments backed up with excellent prose.  But that’s not what kept me going back for more again and again (sometimes when I really didn’t have the time to read but I just had to read a few pages more anyway).  It was the character interaction.  It was the way the story wove in and out of various viewpoints and crisscrossed each other.  Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, a new twist would be added.  Gretel’s character in particular was a favorite.  We never get her as a viewpoint character, instead focusing more on her brother Klaus (who was really fascinating to read about as well).  Throughout the last book and this one it’s seen that Gretel has a plan for this grand future ahead and every action she takes is helping her get to that foreseen future.  Some of the actions appear meaningless and others confusing.  I loved reading about her and seeing her scheme her way towards her goal.  The ultimate payoff of that work at the end of this book was great.  The book tied up well while at the same time leaving me salivating for more.

Sadly this book took a long time to come out.  Reading Ian Tregillis’ blog he talks about problems he had getting in touch with his (then) editor and a few years went by before we could get our hands on it.  It’s upsetting.  You mean I could have read this two years ago?  I could already have the last book in the series in my hands?  I could be holding it, hugging it and telling my friends what an amazing series this is?  Well fine, I’ll do it anyway, but I’m still not happy that I have to wait until April for the last book.

What can I tell you more than I already have?  THE COLDEST WAR is a fantastic novel. An incredible one. Hugo worthy. This is a series you need to be reading.  This is great, great stuff.  I can’t wait for the next one.

Age Recommendation: 16+ nothing especially egregious, just a bit of stuff here and there.
Language: Not a ton, but there.
Violence: A bit. Fascinating and cool, but a bit.
Sex: Mentioned but not shown.

Get the novels here:

BITTER SEEDS
THE COLDEST WAR

Mind Storm

The description of MIND STORM by K.M. Ruiz would have you believe that is a story about Threnody Corwin, a soldier-slave of the Earth government. Well, it is and it isn't. As it turns out Threnody is really more of a supporting character than a primary protagonist. The story is really about Nathan and Lucas Serca and a family feud that has the potential to burn the world to cinder. MIND STORM is what you get when you take the hard-edged, dystopian Science Fiction of Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels and spice it up with some psychic powers.

More than a century has passed since the Border Wars and the Earth is still in the throes of recovery. Much of the world is uninhabitable due to nuclear warfare and the populace is segregated by registered humans with clean genetics, the unregistered with "trash" DNA, and psions. Those fortunate few with a sparkling bill of health use the psions to enforce the law. Threnody Corwin is one such psion, a high-classed agent of the Stryker Syndicate with the ability to control electric with her mind. In the face of shifting alliances and with an iron-core of duty, Threnody must fight to secure a future for life on Earth.

Ruiz's vision of the future is a bleak one to say the least. Prejudice against gene-trash isn't only rampant but encouraged. The World Court has enslaved those with psionic powers and impels them into service with the threat of excruciating death. On top of this the government is less concerned with restoring the planet than it is with fleeing to the comfort of another world. It turns out that this authoritarian government isn't the only force in play, the Serca Syndicate has been secretly pulling the strings for decades. Behind the facade of human politician, Nathan Serca operates the infamous rogue psions known as Warhounds. Nathan is about to enact his own plans for survival at all costs, even if it means sacrificing his own family. The only person who can possibly stop him is his son Lucas.

Regardless of the book description, Nathan and Lucas are the main characters. Nathan is ice to the core, willing to sacrifice his own flesh and blood to further his agenda. Lucas is no basket of sunshine and flowers himself. He has no problem sacrificing others to meet his needs either, but his end goal is considerably brighter. Threnody and the others are just pawns of these two super powered sociopaths. More character development will be required before Threnody can outshine the others as a protagonist but the foundation is there to build upon.

This all makes for a great set-up but is hampered by some indelicate world building. I am pretty ambivalent about info-dumps. I prefer world building that is integrated seamlessly into the fabric of the story but I can stomach dense downloads of information when handled properly. Ruiz avoids the cardinal sin of massive amounts of exposition, but the info-dumps she does incorporate are indelicate and unwieldy. The world she has created has the gritty vibe of a Richard K. Morgan novel but lacks the little details. A lot of the explanation behind the Border Wars is unnecessary, readers could connect the dots without a load of exertion. While Ruiz details the life of the wealthy elite as well as the duties of psions of the Stryker Syndicate, there is a lack of focus on the gene-trash humans at the bottom of society. Later in the novel the Salvagers are introduces as allies of Lucas, and though they exist on the fringes of a crumbling civilization it never becomes apparent that they live much differently from the psions. Other than saying "ain't" the vocabulary of the Salvagers is identical to that of the World Court justices. An opportunity was overlooked to establish the world and culture that the psions are trying so desperately to rescue and create a striking contrast between the privileged and the less fortunate.

The psions, on the other hand, are a very well rounded creation. A lot of reviews propose that MIND STORM is X-Men meets Bladerunner. That's a fair enough comparison, though I see a lot more Bladerunner than X-Men. Critics overuse the X-Men comparison when it comes to books that involve super powered individuals (I, admittedly am in error of this as well). Yes, this book does have people that can control electricity/fire/gravity with their mind but it is all fairly grounded and limited by the world of the book. Ruiz also introduces some capabilities of mind powers that I had never considered, such as a sort of mind-radar that tracks the location of others with psychic abilities. The combat is brutal. There is no shortage of collateral damage. The psions carry conventional weapons to supplement their abilities but these prove little use when brought to bear against skilled opponents. What I appreciate is all the ways in which the psionic powers interact and negate each other. There are some grisly stalemates brought on by the nature of the powers and the ranking of the individuals.

MIND STORM has rough edges. The characters need to fill out, and the world building needs to be smoothed but I still read this book in two days, eager for more of that bloody psion on psion goodness. All the pieces are here for a dystopian science fiction thriller of epic proportions. Ruiz just needs to refine her craft and I am confident that the sequel TERMINAL POINT will be a big improvement.

Recommended Age: 16+
Langauge: F@#% yeah.
Violence: Duh! Why else would you have mind powers?
Sex: None

Want it? Buy it here.

The Blinding Knife

THE BLINDING KNIFE picks up where THE BLACK PRISM ends, throwing you into the exciting action from page one.

Oh, yeah.

If you haven't read book one, the opening chapters of BLINDING won't make any sense to you. Sure Weeks refreshes our memory here and there, but it won't be enough to get new readers up to speed. So if you haven't read THE BLACK PRISM, stop here, go read it, then come back, or else what follows will have spoilers.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the master of light and magic in a world that's growing unbalanced. After a crushing defeat, he and his followers must escape and find a new place to live to protect them from the Color Prince and his army. Karris has discovered his secret, his own magic is beginning to fail him, and the Chromeria doesn't believe that war is imminent. Everything seems to be going wrong. Despite all this, Gavin has a few bright hopes left.

Kip, Gavin's son, has started classes at the Chromeria as well as training with the Backguard. If his professors don't kill him, then his father's enemies (including Gavin's scheming father) might just finish the job. But Kip's about his father's work at the Chromeria, with his own dangerous assignment.

Persuaded by the Color Prince's altruism, Liv has turned against the Prism. She questions the need to kill drafters when they 'halo' and wonders if it's murder and not the mercy everyone claims it is. The Color Prince keeps hinting that he has great plans for her, but she has yet to guess what they are.

Brent Weeks began the Lightbringer series with a fresh new story in THE BLACK PRISM, and surprisingly enough, the second installment, THE BLINDING KNIFE builds then warps and even crushes the plots that went before. Like I mentioned above, BLINDING starts with exciting action that carries over from book one. The middle slows down as Weeks builds up for the Big Event at the end of book two, setting us for what's going to happen. Then about 2/3 of the way through, the dominoes start to fall and everything explodes. It's messy. It's gruesome. It's awesome.

In THE BLINDING KNIFE we get a couple of new PoVs and main characters. The Color Prince isn't any less saintly than the Prism himself, but has the drive to change the world for the better, even if it means breaking everything first to do it. Liv still isn't completely sure about him, but he delivers results in a way that's more even-handed than the Chromeria. There's Teia, a young Blackguard in training who can only draft in sub-red and befriends Kip despite himself. Weeks weaves in the new cast, each fascinating and adding depth to the magic and setting: like the beautiful seer, the madwoman artist who draws game cards that mirror truth, Gavin's domineering father, and while we don't get much of Karris' PoV she's still an important part of this story.

Here, Weeks also spends a lot of time on the setting itself, particularly the magic that influences the world and its people, weaving it more naturally into the story than he did in his first series. Some of it is just plain weird, but I love the originality. He doesn't make magic only about drafting, and we even learn there's more to drafting yet to be revealed. More layers and details that only enrich the world and the magic.

Sure Week's prose has the occasional blips, sometimes making readers stumble at wording, transition, or flow. There are a couple of infodumps. But these issues are so minor as to be petty. Most of the characterization problems from book one, as well as the problems I had visualizing the magic, were fixed here (mostly). I'm still trying to define Week's style--to myself, anyway. There are those brief moments of goofy camp...but then the very next chapter is darkly disturbing, sometime enough to be nearly barf worthy. His action scenes are still flashy, but by this point I think less about their Jackie-Chan-ishness than I attribute them to being a Brent Weeks book. He has such unabashed joy with showing us the strange and wonderful, and the characters to go along with it, that you can't help but enjoy the ride.

While his Night Angel Trilogy introduced the world to him, it's THE BLINDING KNIFE that will give him a name.

Recommended Age: 17+ for sexual content and violence
Language: Yes
Violence: Lots, including deaths with gory detail
Sex: Many detailed references (sometimes crass), and a couple of scenes

Find this exciting series here:
THE BLACK PRISM
THE BLINDING KNIFE

Kitty Steals the Show

In Carrie Vaughn's last Kitty Norville book, KITTY'S BIG TROUBLE, she raises the stakes (ahem, no pun intended) regarding Kitty's dealings with the vampire Roman. In the next installment KITTY STEALS THE SHOW, we come to understand that his plans are big and his reach is even bigger.

Kitty has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the first ever Paranormal Conference in London. Scientists, lawyers, doctors, and paranormals themselves are not only presenters but attending the historic conference. Well, and a group of protesters, too. Of course.

Her vampire ally Alette sends her to stay with a friend, Ned. Despite the unassuming name, he is the master vamp in London, and he's got his fingers in everything from the cops to Parliament. Fortunately he's the good guy. While there, Kitty meets Caleb, the Alpha for the entire British Isles, a concept she'd never before conceived: a werewolf pack that extends beyond city borders, working with each other in solidarity.

But in true Kitty fashion, her mouth gets her into all sorts of trouble, and it's just so much fun to see the fireworks. Unfortunately, the fireworks are flammable and dangerous and when she confronts the master vampires in town for the conference, she stirs things up a little too much.

Vaughn has done great with the progression of our three main characters: Kitty, Ben, and Cormac. Their evolution is engaging, and I particularly enjoy their interactions with each other. There is trust, love, and camaraderie that only comes from true friendship. Kitty still struggles with the limitations her life as a werewolf has dealt her, but she's determined to make the lives of other werewolves more livable, even at a danger to herself. It's easy to admire her and see how far she's come in the series. After Cormac's strange reveal of what went on in prison in KITTY GOES TO WAR, we got to read Vaughn's explanation in KITTY'S GREATEST HITS, so the extra from that storyline which we get in STEALS is only more cool. And Ben only gets better (who knew he'd be such great husband material?).

She's also done well building Kitty's world of magic and the paranormal. It's not as detailed as the heavier fare out there, but despite that every book adds a little more interest and we get to see some clever stuff added to the story as a result.

Some of Vaugn's previous novels have been disjointed, but STEALS flows well and quickly, with each event building on the other, leading to an exciting conclusion--with a promise for an even more exciting next installment. Even if you haven't read the previous novels, KITTY STEALS THE SHOW is still worth reading. Sure it's a fluffy good-fun series, but it's one of the best fluffy good-fun series out there.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Less than a handful
Violence: Some deaths and blood, but not much gore or detail
Sex: Referenced only

Find the latest installment of this fun series here:
KITTY STEALS THE SHOW

Southern Gods

Every so often I buy a novel purely based on the cover. I don't read the synopsis on back of the book. I don't read any reviews. Nothing. Now granted, you can get a fairly decent idea of the type of novel from the cover art, but buying based purely on cover alone has made for some interesting reads in the past.  Usually they end up being novels I would normally avoid, but that please me nonetheless. So, real quick, look at the cover of John Hornor Jacobs' SOUTHERN GODS. Do you see what I see? Do you get the impression I got and say, "Huh, that looks cool"? Can you see why I bought the novel without knowing anything about it?

To me, it looks like the blending of Horror and 50's music. Everything about the cover--from the pose, to the macabre figure, to the tentacles, to the night club look--literally forced me to buy the novel.

And then I started reading.

SOUTHERN GODS follows WWII vet, Bull Ingram. He provides muscle for persuading people to do various things (or give back certain things...). Sometimes he goes out and finds lost people. After an opening scene that perfectly establishes Ingram's character and skills, he is hired to find a missing promotional guy, Earl Freeman, that was out delivering records to radio stations in Arkansas.  Ingram is also tasked with finding a musician named Ramblin' John Hastur. Rambin' John's music is said to cast a spell over the audience. And not a good spell. This is the kind of spell that makes you want to murder the man next to you. It makes you despair and want to end your own life.

Maybe it can even make the dead walk.

The premise is refreshing. It's promising. The writing, while rough in a small number of spots, conveys the horror and confusion Ingram feels as he witnesses a sequence of increasing horrible things.

I was absolutely riveted as I read the opening of SOUTHERN GODS. The prologue itself could be considered some of the better works of short fiction Horror I've read. Ingram is instantly likeable and recognizably flawed. But then we get introduced to Sarah Williams and her daughter Franny. Sarah is escaping her abusive husband and taking her daughter back to her ancestral home outside of Little Rock. The problem here resides with Sarah not having anything interesting happen to her for half the novel. She is just filler until the final parts of the novel where she becomes important to the plot, but not as a character herself. I could have read any story involving Ingram, because he was such a solid character. Sarah was just a bit too flat and lacking for my tastes.

Fortunately the majority of the novel follows Ingram, and his proximity to Sarah in the latter chunk of the book makes Sarah a much easier character to read.

I want to stress that this novel is Horror. It is violent, and often very disturbing. There is a light Lovecraftian vibe throughout the novel, but the horror is much more visible and physical than being psychological. There is some psychological horror elements in SOUTHERN GODS, and those moments are some of the best, but the novel lands more firmly on the gore and shock-value side of the fence. Usually I prefer the psychological because I think it requires more skill to do right. In SOUTHERN GODS, Jacobs does a terrific job of making the shocking and terrible equally shocking to both the characters and to the readers. It has to do with timing. The reader feels the emotions simultaneously with the characters in the novel, and the effect makes what would otherwise be cheap, shock-value horror feel genuine and actually more horrific.

SOUTHERN GODS is a story about people in a world where gods are constantly in opposition to each other. It is a story about how a family's past can come back and haunt its innocent descendants. Some parts of the novel I absolutely LOVED--usually anything to do with Ingram. The Sarah sections--no matter how hard I tried to like her--were a disappointment to me and hurt the overall experience. Instead, SOUTHERN GODS is good but not great.

Recommended Age: 18+.
Profanity: Lots.
Violence: Tons. Some of it is shocking and sudden (the first walking dead portion should leave you in awe over it's execution). There is quick a bit of violence and gruesome description that has a sexual lean to it. The ending is extremely disturbing. This book is not for the faint of heart.
Sex: One explicit scene, and then a ton of very disturbing descriptions that come from various texts that Sarah reads.

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SOUTHERN GODS