A Natural History of Dragons

Have you ever wondered what a fantasy version of Downton Abbey would be like? I'm not gonna lie, I've watched every episode of the show. I like it quite bit. And yet every time I watch an episode I can't help but wonder what it would be like in a fantasy setting. It wouldn't be too different, which would allow it to retain the charm while still imparting that fantastical sense of wonder.

Earlier this year, after catching up on Downton Abbey, I picked up Marie Brennan's A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS: A MEMOIR BY LADY TRENT. As soon as I began reading I thought, "This is exactly what I've been asking for!" Don't misunderstand me, the entire novel isn't spent in a manor or anything, but it's the attitudes of the characters that make me draw the comparison. DRAGONS is a fantastic novel that should appeal to any readers of Victorian-esque fantasy. It has all the character and cultural charm of those shows where propriety and manners are of the utmost importance. But DRAGONS is also about following your dreams, regardless of your lot in life.

So what is DRAGONS actually about? Well, the title gives away most of it. The novel is told in a memoir format from the PoV of Lady Isabella Trent as she grows up, gets married and goes on an adventure. The entirely of the story is centered around her love for dragons. From her obsession with them as a child, to her first adventure in a foreign part of the world (note: it's not our world). Brennan does a remarkable job of allowing the reader to see and feel the wonder Isabella experiences in her encounters with the beasts. It is this strong female lead that allows the novel to succeed. While all the side characters are fine, none of them really shine - which is to be expected in a "memoir".

The story, while interesting, isn't actually the main focus of the novel. There is enough there to keep a reader going, but much of the world is glossed over due to the PoV. Again, this is a "memoir". We get only as much of the story as what the Lady Trent considers worthwhile and important. This is equally appropriate and frustrating. Brennan hints at such a deep world, but the PoV of the story just brushes off a lot of it with, "But you can read about that in another memoir." Hopefully this means we'll get more stories set in the world so we can learn more about it all.

As you read the book, story points are punctuated by illustrations courtesy of Todd Lockwood. While I'm not a huge fan of his art depicting people, no one can deny the guy is amazing with dragons. The illustrations throughout the book are fantastic, and really add to the whole package. In fact, the book as a physical product is incredibly well done. If I were an author, I'd be super jealous of the overall production of this novel.

A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS benefits from the sum of its parts being far greater than any individual piece. The characters are fun and interesting. The story has enough mystique to keep patient readers satisfied. I guess it comes down to the novel feeling...comfortable. Yeah. Comfortable. In every way, when I would sit down to read DRAGONS, I felt like I was truly taking a break. It's rather hard to describe, but hopefully you get my meaning. Depending on the type of reader you are, you may want to pick this novel up. This is not an action-filled novel. Don't even expect the same level of action as you see in Brennan's prior novels, like WITH FATE CONSPIRE. This is a cozy novel meant to help your imagination roam for a time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Profanity: Not really. Some very minor instances.
Violence: Very, very little. It all has to do with PoV, but it's handled well.
Sex: Not really.

Take a chance on this novel. Here's your link:


Third Grave Dead Ahead

Charley Davidson is the grim reaper--but it's not like you think. She's more a portal to heaven than someone who actively reaps souls. But she's still mortal, and a girl's gotta have a day job. Hers is as a private detective in New Mexico, with her dad as a business partner and her best friend Cookie as the receptionist.

The third book of the series, THIRD GRAVE DEAD AHEAD, Charley works to solve the mystery of a doctor's missing wife, a man who faked his own murder, and even a few other side jobs. Charley is not above using her otherworldly abilities to give her advantages a regular detective wouldn't have. It doesn't hurt that she can see and communicate with ghosts, or that her Uncle Bob is still a detective with the local police, or that she's made friends with a FBI agent on the missing woman's case.

The real mystery here, however, is how to solve the problem of Reyes--the handsome son of Satan (yes, that Satan) in mortal form. He resents Charley's binding him to his corporeal form, which has the unfortunate result of forcing him to come when she calls, even if it's subconsciously. Right now it always seems to be when she's asleep, so Charley has decided to not sleep again. Ever. Of course.

Charley is a smart-aleck, fast-talking, coffee-chugging woman who doesn't understand why the men in her life can't seem to trust her to take care of herself when she's perfectly capable of doing just that. It can't be all those horrible situations she seems to get into, the ones that almost kill her. They happen to be the natural consequence of her job as a PI, that's all. The secondary characters are a quirky and memorable lot, easy to like, with the villains just as easy to loathe. I liked Charley from the start; but while Reyes is an important character I had a hard time really getting to know him. Alas the pitfalls of first person PoV.

Darynda Jones cannot only tell a great mystery (well...multiple mysteries as Charley goes mad dash through New Mexico towns looking for clues), but she does it through the hilarious narrative of a wise-cracking woman who uses humor to keep herself from getting bogged down by all the horrible things she sees. Seriously, these dialogue sequences can't be for real, but they were so funny I had tears in my eyes from laughing by page 10. Either that or after 10+ hours of flying in one day (with 4 more to go) I had become slightly hysterical--it was exactly the kind of book I needed by that point.

During Charley's travels to talk to people and glean information I got a decent feel for where she lived and worked. Jones adds fun details about the people and places that really make Charley's surroundings come to life. There are other things that weren't so clear, like why is she the grim reaper and how does this 'portal to heaven' thing work? And the solution to unbinding Reyes...duh? But maybe Jones is saving those for the sequel, or else I missed them from the first two books, which I haven't read.

By the end I was fully invested in Charley's story and the people she was trying to help. And I had fun in the process.

Recommended Age: 18+ for sexual content
Language: Yes
Violence: Mostly peril with a bloody torture scene and references to sexual abuse
Sex: The first few chapters are pretty steamy with detailed scenes; the rest is mostly innuendo

Find out about this hilarious series here:


2013 Hugo Awards Voting

This is it everyone. If you can vote for the Hugo Awards, you have have until July 31st to do so. Honestly, vote for who you feel is best and most deserving, but most of all, JUST VOTE!

So who are we voting for? Well, that's a bit complicated in some aspects. It's a very odd field this time around, especially in short fiction. I know we usually review the short fiction, but there doesn't seem to be any point to it. We just end up saying, "Hey we really liked this one. But we can't discuss it without major spoilers because of how short the pieces of fiction are.

Stay with us for a moment while we digress a tad bit here. Short fiction is pretty weird. It just isn't as readily available to the reading masses as novels. You don't just go onto Amazon or to B&N and grab a short story. That's why you only see three short stories nominated this year. It's disappointing. Most readers don't want to pay a subscription to a magazine in hopes that they get a couple short stories they like. I don't know what the solution is.

Anywho, here is a quick list of who we, as a consensus here at EBR, are voting for. Each of our individual picks may be different than what you see on this list, but this is our group-think.

Oh! Before we get there, one last thing. We sincerely hope that you think EBR is the most deserving in the category of Best Fanzine, but if not, we completely understand.

No, really. We really do get it. This is is all a matter of personal opinion, isn't it? So really, you can't be wrong. There is no right or wrong answer. Regardless of what happens, we are all overwhelmed by the well-wishes and congratulations we have received. It is an honor, and we are humbled...well, as much as we CAN be humbled!

To all those who nominated us, thank you. You are amazing! Regardless of the result, we will continue working hard here at EBR. We will continue give you reviews and interviews. It's the least we can do for readers as awesome as you all.

Now, back to the voting. Here we go:

Best Novel:
REDSHIRTS - John Scalzi

Best Novella:
The Emperor's Soul - Brandon Sanderson

Best Novelette:
Fade To White - Catherynne M Valente
(This one was really hard to choose)

Best Short Story:
Mono No Aware - Ken Liu

Best Related Work:
Writing Excuses Season Seven - Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

Best Graphic Story:
(We were evenly divided here, so we are listing both)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia - Written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks - Written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
The Avengers
(All the movies here were good, so to us, it doesn't matter who wins)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
Fringe, “Letters of Transit”

Best Editor, Short Form:
Jonathan Strahan

Best Editor, Long Form:
(Again, we split)
Toni Weisskopf
Lou Anders

Best Professional Artist:
(Yes, another tie)
Vincent Chong
John Picacio

Best Semiprozine:

Best Fanzine:
Elitist Book Reviews - Edited by Steven Diamond

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:
Chuck Wendig

So there you have it. If you don't see a category here, it's because we didn't feel like we knew enough to make an educated vote.One thing we will not do is just put someone down. That's not how we roll. If we don't know, we don't know.

To all the nominees, good luck!

*Note from Steve: I will be at WorldCon this year. Feel free to find me and chat. When not on panels (I'm on four so far), I'll be running around trying to meet my favorite authors, artists and editors. Don't hesitate to approach me...I'm really not that special. And I like to talk. A lot.

The Crimson Pact: Volume 4

Aaaaand here's another round of Crimson Pact stories for the reading masses. I know most of you by now have probably read over my full disclosure of each of the previous volumes (I, II, III) of this series. So you already know that our boss here at EBR, Steve Diamond, figures prominently in them. And you know that I've promised to stay impartial, like I always try to do, with my reviews. And you know also know that in light of these two facts, I have no qualms whatsoever about reviewing these anthologies. So, I guess I won't have to give you my normal spiel about the ethics of posting a book review that is so closely connected to our own blog, or anything like that, and-- Dang. I guess I did just that, didn't I? Oh well. So much for being succinct this time around...

THE CRIMSON PACT:VOLUME 4 is, quite obviously, the fourth antholgy in the short story anthology-series of the same name, and (perhaps not so obviously) edited by Paul Genesse. Each of the stories contained in these anthologies revolves around the idea that multitudes of demons have been spun out into the multi-verse through some kind of interdimensional portal and the Crimson Pact (a group of powerful knights) have gone chasing after them.

The anthologies thus far have contained a wide array of stories, varying considerably in genre, perspective, and length. Overall, I've been fairly impressed with the offerings found in these anthologies and have to tip my hat to Mr. Genesse for the genesis of the original story and the work that he's put into this project thus far. Granted, not every story has tickled my fancy, but when has that ever happened in this kind of setting?

Not often I will tell you. Not often.

This fourth volume was one that worked well for me. My ratings were spread on the high range of the scale (vs. number of stories):

Loved: 5
Liked: 3
Mediocre: 6
Didn't Like: 3

I was happy to see this be the case, especially with my impression of Volume 3, and this time I have five stories to highlight:

Family Reunion” by Kelly Swails – Girl takes her boyfriend home to meet the family as her great-grandmother is approaching death.  Obviously, demon-induced mayhem ensues.  This story is a perfect example of what I think continuing stories in anthologies like this should be (well, it is still lacking the element-connections that I'd love to see between unrelated stories, but...). All the stories are connected (in this case, through family ties), but each of them are separate, distinct, and most of all complete.

Wild Card” by Sarah Kanning – Lady that's been chosen by an "angel" to do certain things learns more about her curse and starts to rebel.  Moved me from one idea to the next.  Kept me guessing.  Surprised me.  Made me laugh.  Loved it.  Although, people that use the f-word typically don't use the word "crap".  At least not in my universe. Her bio says that she's working on a YA urban fantasy novel.  She can count on my buying that one when it's done.

Tendril” by Patrick Tracy – Demon in retirement is finally caught by the "good guys".  Introspective and humorous. Good fun.

The Best Lies” by Steven Diamond – This time around Tombs finds out more about himself.  Silent and brooding and riding the edge of keeping his humanity, we see lots of just what else is coming down the pipes.  If I have to say I missed something in this one, it was more Diego Santos, but seriously great stuff here.

Dogtribe” by Suzzanne Myers – Guy at a listening station in space reviews the 50-year-delayed video feeds originating from two people's lives on a far-away planet.  Very well-told with good writing.  Great way to end the anthology: with a message. "There are more demons coming."

As if we didn't already know that though. :)

Another good entry into this series, imnsho (don't forget the “not-so” in the imho!) Just as excited, if not more so this time around, to read the next round in Volume 5. From what I've heard, it should be out later this year.

Age Recommendation: 18+  
Language: Across the board: some are profanity heavy, others not so much  
Violence: A few of the stories get kinda gory, and one of the stories includes violence against children (honestly, a tough one for me to finish reading)  
Sex: Not much that I remember

Want em? Get em:  Volume 1 -- Volume 2 -- Volume 3 -- Volume 4

Giveaway! In Thunder Forged

Update: 7-25-13

We have two winners!

David Wiebe
Frank Jarome

Congratulations! We'll get your information over to Pyr so they can send you the books.


Here we are again, faithful readers! Another giveaway!!!

This time around we have fiction set in the Warmachine/Hordes universe. For those of you who don't know, Warmachine/Hordes is a tabletop miniatures skirmish game that pits armies of humans, monsters, and giant steam powered robots against other similar armies. There is also an RPG set in the same world, THE IRON KINGDOMS RPG. Now Privateer Press (the company that makes Warmachine/Hordes), has taken the leap into original fiction both with their own self-published line of ebooks under the name Skull Island eXpeditions, and also through a partnership with Pyr.

As a huge Warmachine fan, this fantastic news.

So today, thanks to the generosity of Pyr SF&F, we are giving away a couple copies of IN THUNDER FORGED, by Ari Marmell. Here are the rules:

1)  Anyone can enter. We are giving away two books, one in the US, and one outside the US. Again, a HUGE thanks to Pyr for doing this!
2)  Send an email to elitistbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com with "Giveaway! In Thunder Forged" as the subject, and your name and mailing address in the body.
3)  We'll pick the winners at random and post the results early next week.

That's it! I can't tell you how excited I am about fiction in this universe. Here are some links so you can get into Warmachine/Hordes game in a variety of ways, and remember, Praise Menoth!

The Book:

Tabletop Game:
Warmachine Two-Player Battle Box
Hordes Two-Player Battle Box

Skull Island eXpeditions ebooks:
Instrments of War by Larry Correia
Moving Targets by C.L. Werner
The Way of Caine by Miles Holmes
The Devil's Play by Dave Gross
Dark Convergence by Dave Gross
The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells


And get in on the Warmachine: Tactics Kickstarter!!!

As a last bit, here is a portion of the first chapter of IN THUNDER FORGED.  Enjoy!


Glaceus 4th, 605 AR
Leryn, Llael

The casual observer might never even have known the nation was at war.

The sun had fallen off the world’s edge more than an hour ago, and still the streets were, if not bustling, certainly a far cry from abandoned. Men and women scurried about their business, wrapped in gaudy coats and vibrant gowns against winter’s insidious caress. Most were human, but the occasional fabric-swaddled figure, too short for the Ryn ethnic majority but too broad of shoulder for errant children, suggested a late-night dwarf. They tromped across a carpet of fresh snow, their finery gleaming in the radiance of wrought iron streetlamps. Some of those flickered with gas-fed flame, others with an alchemical luminescence far steadier yet somehow less comforting.

Each citizen nodded, curtsied, waved, or exchanged brief witticisms with the next, all dependent on the passerby’s social status—or at least, the social status implied by the quality and cleanliness of his attire. Voices swirled over-head, blown by the winds, kicked into flurries almost choral in their harmo-nies. One might have overheard discussion of the Lord Regent Glabryn’s latest scandals, the squabbling amongst the Council of Nobles, the winner of last week’s derby, or the recent performance of Oswinne Muir’s newest opus, An Orgoth Goes a’Courting.

One would not have heard mention of the expanding western front, of the shadow of Khador slowly darkening the face of Llael. One would have seen nobody acknowledge the brittle edge to jests, the tremor in the laughter, or the occasional reverberating clang from beyond the outer walls, the ponderous step of a patrolling warjack.

No one spoke of the war. No one acknowledged their fears.

It would have been gauche.

One particular couple, elbows intertwined, shuffled quickly, seemingly eager to catch the misty plumes they exhaled with every breath. He was regal, buttoned up tight in high-collared greatcoat atop an emerald vest, his iron-gray hair swept back in a style that not only acknowledged the receding hair-line, but haughtily dared anyone to comment on it.

She was wrapped in brilliant scarlet and gleaming gold, a beacon as radiant as any of the streetlamps. A fox-fur stole was her only concession to the nighttime chill. Hair the hue of a lion’s pelt fell in perfectly curled ringlets around a face that was just too round to be called classically “patrician.”

She was also, at best, half the gentleman’s age. That, along with the fact that she gazed at him adoringly with eyes like dark-brewed ale when she wasn’t busy laughing at his witticisms, might have gone a long way toward explaining his obvious fervor to reach their destination.

They drifted past several structures, each boasting a magnificent façade of stately columns and arched windows—all deliberate modern echoes of the architecture of centuries past. And then they arrived, ducking through one deep doorway to stand in a hall of lush carpeting and glowing chandeliers. Some herbal treatment of the fixtures—or, perhaps, of the pipes, or the gas itself?—imbued the burning fumes with a vaguely floral aroma.

The gentleman beamed, even puffing his chest out, at the dazzled coo wafting from his companion’s lips. “This is just a taste,” he offered. “The actual amenities are even more impressive. My suite occupies a full half of the fifth floor.”

“I can hardly wait to see it,” she said in a breathy tone. His own breath caught in his throat, as he wondered if her offhand comment might suggest what he hoped it did. Placing his free hand on the slender arm resting in the crook of his elbow, he led her toward, and then up, the sweeping stairs.

“Goodman Tolamos,” she began right around the third floor.

“Please, please. ‘Lyrran,’ dear Garland, by all means.”

“Lyrran,” she corrected, paying for his given name with another heart-stopping smile. “I don’t think I quite understand . . . This place is marvelous, but why keep an apartment? Surely a man of your success and your means could afford a home—an estate!—of your own?”

“I could,” Lyrran admitted. They’d reached the fourth floor, now, and he struggled to hold up his end of the conversation and continue walking without sucking in ragged gasps between. Not as young as you used to be, old fool.

Then, with another glance at Garland’s upturned face, And you’re going to need your strength . . .

“I could,” he repeated after what he hoped was a discreet wheeze. “But I often spend late nights in my workshop, and I’m no great admirer of the dormitories the Crucible makes available. I decided that living within a few minutes’ walk of Thunderhead was worth the inconvenience of dwelling in a building I don’t own.”

Of course, had I known then that the only deluxe suite available was on the fifth bloody floor . . . !

They stepped from the landing, Lyrran again leading, and stopped at a massive door of hardwood, intricately inlaid with abstract leaf patterns.

“Just a moment, my dear.”

Lyrran tugged a small chain, setting off the faintest tinkling beyond. The butler—a tall, thin, dark-haired fellow who more or less resembled every other butler the world over—had barely opened the door before his master was whispering instructions. The manservant glanced over at the woman, back at his employer. Then, with neither expression nor gesture, he squeezed past them and headed, at a stately saunter, toward the staircase.

“He keeps a small private chamber on an upper floor,” Lyrran explained. “And my other servants rarely work this late. We should be able to converse undisturbed.”

“Oh, my. Goodman Tolamos, do you feel that’s entirely proper?”

“I . . . Ah, I . ..”

“Your man is discreet, at least?”

“Of course!” Lyrran hoped he didn’t sound as relieved as he felt.

“Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it?” Garland breezed past him with a faint giggle. “Wine?” she asked.

“My dear, please! I’m your host, you should allow me to—”

“Nonsense! Sit, rest. I’ll be just a moment.” Then, her voice slightly more distant, “Um, perhaps two moments, then. My, this is a big place . . .”

Lyrran briefly wondered if the entire magical evening had been a setup so he might be robbed—then shrugged, shut the door, and lowered himself care-fully into an old leather chair. He was in no position to stop her if she were a thief; too tired to chase her, and though he carried a double-barreled holdout in his vest, he couldn’t imagine shooting the woman . . . Still, he breathed a silent lungful of relief what she reappeared, a wine goblet in each hand. “No trouble finding anything?” he asked, half-amused, half-chiding.

“Oh, no! Your home is laid out so sensibly, I felt like I knew where to look for everything!”

Lyrran smiled and accepted the libation. “To Llael,” he offered, raising his goblet—the closest he meant to come, tonight, to acknowledging the war. “To Llael.”

Hmm. The gentleman suppressed a scowl as the wine washed over his tongue. She may have found everything, but she doesn’t remotely know how to choose a proper vintage! This has almost gone bad . . .

“But then,” Garland was saying as she daintily wiped at her own lips with a kerchief, “I suppose you’d have to be meticulously organized, working with all those awful tinctures and powders and whatnot. I don’t imagine you’d want to grab the wrong one of those!”

“No,” Lyrran agreed with a chuckle. “You really wouldn’t.”

“For instance,” Garland continued, “can you imagine if I’d chosen the wrong powder to mix in your wine? Or just dropped in a pinch too many? Why, you could be dying right now, instead of just growing sleepy. That would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it?”

“I . . . What?” Why was his tongue suddenly so thick, as though it wore its own winter coat? He blinked, and now not only were there two Garlands, but they—and the room around them—ran like a wet watercolor.

“Now, then,” Garland said, “we haven’t a great deal of time, have we?” Hiking up her skirts so she could sit, she settled in Lyrran’s lap. The old alchemist knew he should be excited by that—would have been, only a few moments before—but he was having trouble remembering why.

“So,” she continued, tapping a finger almost playfully against his lips and peering into his blinking, unfocused eyes. “Before you’re off on your little snooze and forget that this entire evening ever happened, let’s discuss Thunderhead Fortress. And the Golden Crucible.

“And, if you happen to have made the fellow’s acquaintance, a gentleman by the name of Idran di Meryse . . .”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman's last published novel, ANANSI BOYS, was clear back in 2005, so imagine the squees of fans (female and male alike) with the knowledge that June 2013 meant the relief of the drought with THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.

Gaiman's works are hard to truly define. In this case, OCEAN is rather like his YA books, such as CORALINE and the GRAVEYARD BOOK; it's a fantasy with moments of horror, hints at mythology, with the tone of a fairytale.

The PoV character is an unnamed man returning to his hometown to attend a funeral. While there he visits the old farmhouse of his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock. It's while gazing at the duck pond at the end of the lane where he recalls the events of the summer when he was seven years old.

A reserved and bookish boy, the narrator begins his memory building up the events that lead him to meet Lettie and her mysterious family, and the results of her allowing him to see a part of her world; but part of her world follows him back to his, with disastrous results. The rest of the story is how the boy and Lettie must deal with the fallout.

It took me a few days to sort out my thoughts about this book. OCEAN is short, really more novella length, and can be read in one sitting. I was hoping for something longer and more exciting like the astounding AMERICAN GODS. Here Gaiman I think is trying to make the fantastical elements of the boy's experience more accessible to a wider audience, and the result is part adventure part dark fairytale. It's different from Gaiman's usual stories (which may disappoint some fans), yet contains many of the same elements and themes he's used before.

OCEAN is an easy book to read. The prose is precise and fluid, simple and lovely--it's easy to tell the care Gaiman took in crafting it. He creates the boy and his setting with the intent that we understand not only the boy, but probably also Gaiman himself, their points of view showing what it was like to be a child and the constraints caused by the demands of adults. Such adult-created rules are supposed to keep children safe, but in this case the boy only had to walk through his back yard to find trouble.

Take the book at face value--for what it is, not what you want it to be--and you will like it. We all could do with remembering the adventures of our own childhoods, especially the ones where we had to learn a hard and painful lesson.

Recommended Age: While 16+ could read it, I get the feeling that it's a story adults would understand best
Language: None
Violence: Some peril and death, but not detailed
Sex: A vague brief scene and references

Find Gaiman's newest novel here:


The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it! Burton & Swinburne books to continue in amazing new adventure of intrigue and mayhem! Deviltry! Betrayal! Vampires! It'll cost ya more than a dime, but will be worth every ha'penny you spend to get it!

THE SECRET OF ABDU EL YEZDI is the fourth Burton and Swineburne novel (yes, lovers of the series, make note of the fact that Swineburne is still a part of things!), and a novel that I was most ravenously hoping to get my hands on this year. I couldn't help but crow my pleasure when I last met up with the boss for the most recent round of new books and noticed the familiar font of this series. All it took was a single glimpse of the smallest corner of the book, just the top of the author's name in that large, familiar script, to make me want to snatch the ARC right out of Steve's hands and start reading right then and there. There are few authors that can make me act in such an unprofessional manner. I'm sure you faithful readers know a few of mine by now. Anything written by these authors will typically turn me into a raving fanboy, if not complete lunatic, post haste. Mark Hodder is one of them.

Before I get started though, let me wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth and take just one somewhat-somber moment to give some serious love to Jon Sullivan for the amazing-tastic work he's done on all the covers for this series and the cover of this book in particular, and also to Lou Anders and Pyr Books for the extra panache and special treatment they seem to have given the series as a whole. In a publishing world where smallish paperbacks with simple covers have become the “new thing” (whatever that means), it is awesome to see this series getting the benefit of an extra mile of work in the art and cover department. Just wow and cool. I can't say enough good about the great publishing choices that have been made to make Hodder's work stick out on the shelf. He so deserves it, and man do the books look impressive.

Now, back my drooling.

EL YEZDI starts off in a place that I never expected it to. It begins with Sir Richard Francis Burton. But it doesn't start with the Sir Richard Francis Burton that we've known up to this point. This is, after all, a “time travel” story, and like all good speculative fiction readers we know that no time travel story is complete without at least a few insurmountable paradoxes, multiple historical timelines, and a general sense of what-in-the-heck-is-going-on-here. Thankfully there are a plethora of the first, more than enough of the second, and very little of the last.

This new Burton has just returned from one of his many trips to Africa, and London is nothing like what has come before. In fact, it's positively benign as compared to the vaulted menagerie of imagination that has been present in the series up to now. It's a London that, while somewhat fantastical, is very similar to the one portrayed in SPRING-HEELED JACK. We're starting over in many ways, and this is immediately apparent.

During Burton's return trip home and in the middle of a malaria-induced recovery haze, Burton walks in on the murder of his long-time friend William Stroyan. The butchery is part of a summoning to bring something or someone into this world from another. Once home, Burton sets off to find out what is going on and why his friend was murdered. The game is a foot. Er. Afoot. Um.. ah, whatever.

Once into the thick of things, Burton learns about Abdu El Yezdi, a medium of impressive power that has been leading the British government down the historical path that they should follow to avoid a war of devastation and destruction with Germany so massive that it will crush the British Empire for good. None of those in the know have any clue as to who El Yezdi actually is or what he wants. They only know that the things he leads them to do have turned out well for England. And that's enough for now. These “nudges” have led to the technological advances that have begun to be seen in the streets of London.

This book was very interesting. In some ways, it felt like a connector book, because we're moving from the story of the old Burton and into the life of the new. The story seemed smaller, less busy, but was therefore much more personal. Life is different for this Burton. His brother survives. He's soon to be married to Isabel. The hints of addiction to a cocaine-laced tincture have begun to take root in him. This book, for me, was intensely more character-oriented. It was an opportunity for the world to try anew to destroy Burton, and oh does it do a number on him. Along the way, we see old friends and new—the old not always playing the same parts as before. He's asked to do things that both terrify and horrify him (and me alike!). Piece by piece, he uncovers the trail to learning both who El Yezdi is and also who was summoned at the outset of the tale. And oh is that tale delicious.

This book is still intricately connected to the previous books. There is no break between them. No closing of the loop. There is yet more to be told. Although humorous as always, this book very much grabbed me by the heart-strings and made me hurt with Burton like I never have before. This book solidified Burton anew for me. It gave him new motivations, ones so much more delicate than a simple (simple!) trip to find the source of the Nile. This book has completely changed what I expect from further books in the series, and I love it all the more for that fact. Hodder has earned himself a permanent spot in my rank of favorites. The next book of this series can't come soon enough, and yet all I can do is wait.

Like a phoenix that burns to ash as it rises anew, EL YEZDI provides both an end and beginning to a story whose doors I never want to close.

Age Recommendation: 15+
Language: Very mild, PG-worthy
Violence: There is some definite violence and death, but no real gore to be had
Sex: A few more S&M references with one hilariously-wrought scene of it

Although it would be technically possible to read this book and understand everything, you really don't want to miss out on all the fun.  Here's your links.  Happy shopping, but more importantly, happy reading.


As the enforcer for the Roanoke werewolf packs, Andrew keeps the area safe from lone wolves invading their territory. But there's something wrong with the strange lone he's hunting at the opening of SILVER. She only runs in human form, she runs seemingly directionless, and she smells sick with silver. When he catches up with her, Andrew doesn't find what he's expecting: instead of a lone who needs expulsion from pack lands, he finds a woman who needs protection.

Suddenly Andrew finds himself on a mission to hunt the monster who hurt the woman who calls herself Silver. The monster killed her entire pack, and Andrew wants to keep that from happening again.

Despite being a debut novel, SILVER by Rhiannon Held, holds its own in the Urban Fantasy genre by twisting a usually standard plot into something that feels new. She starts the story at a sprint and maintains a great pace throughout, leaving enough time for us to get to know the people and the Were culture.

Andrew and Silver are the PoV characters. Andrew is your typical dominant werewolf with anger management issues and a dead wife (not his fault but he feels guilty). It's Silver who's interesting and Held tells her PoV with style. You see, she's been injected with silver, and it's made her a little crazy. She sees Death in wolf form and talks to him and he talks back; she can't find her 'wild self'; and is fleeing to escape a monster who's following her. She doesn't make sense to Andrew...at first.

The fun thing about SILVER is how Held explores Were pack hierarchy--well, in her own world, anyway. I've read enough werewolf books to see different takes on how it would work, but Held tries to show the nuances of dominance vs leadership. Sometimes I was confused at how she chose to show how pack structure works, but it's still a good study, nonetheless. There are some vague hints at the difference in the U.S. vs European were packs, as well as how packs operate in relation to each other and regarding new wolves. We don't see much of the magic of werewolves, if there is any (one of the things I like about Patricia Briggs' two werewolf series are her details of how the magic works).

There are a few blips in the plot and there are some contrivances, but Held carries you along so they aren't particularly distracting. And she doesn't disappoint, because by the end she brings together all the plot threads to a satisfying conclusion.

Recommended Age: 16+ for themes
Language: Maybe a dozen total instances
Violence: Not a lot, but it can get bloody; torture is referenced
Sex: Implied

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Home Improvement: Undead Edition

The title of the book says it all: HOME IMPROVEMENT: UNDEAD EDITION is an anthology of stories with home improvement themes and the undead. All of them are smart, well-written, and unique. Enjoy!

"If I Had a Hammer" by Charlaine Harris is a Sookie Stackhouse story where Tara and JD have bought their first house. During demolition of a wall they find a hammer with old blood on it and discover they've released a malevolent spirit in the process. It's a fun short in the usual Sookie style.

"Wizard Home Security" by Victor Gischler is about a wizard named Broahm who was recently robbed of the expensive supplies of his trade. Convinced by the excellent salesman from Wizard Home Security that he needs an expensive security system, Broahm still finds himself unprepared for a burglary repeat. While clever, it wasn't my favorite of the bunch.

"Gray" by Patricia Briggs is about vampire Elyna, turned in the 1920s during prohibition Chicago, and has spent the last 90 year biding her time until she can leave her seethe and move back to the condo she once owned with her husband--who now seems to be haunting the place. I love Briggs' novel-length work, and this new character was complicated and interesting.

"Squatters' Rights" by Rochelle Krich is about newlywed Joe and Eve who bought a fixer-upper in expensive LA, unable to afford something better with their modest incomes. But the first night they're there Eve hears scratching in the walls, and the result is a deterioration of her sanity. It weaves in Jewish mythology with a woman's insecurities. Dark and disturbing.

"Blood on the Wall" by Heather Graham is about detective DeFeo Montville who is on the case of gruesome killings blamed on a local Satanic cult. This story goes in twisted directions and ends a little goofy, but is otherwise engaging.

"The Mansion of Imperatives" by James Grady is another dark one about a sentient house trying to find a new caretaker. I'm not really clear on the purpose of the sequence of events, but it was properly terrifying.

"The Strength Inside" by Melissa Marr is about Bori (feral shape-shifters) sisters Chastity and Alison are trying to create a sanctuary for others like them who need to learn to integrate into human society. But in order to make their home a haven, their remodeling plans require the approval of an uptight homeowner's association president. Despite trying to appear human, they aren't above using traditional problem-solving methods.

"Woolsley's Kitchen Nightmare" by E.E. Knight is one of the most original stories of the book, taking Urban Fantasy in an unlikely direction with PoV character the noted chef for the undead, Woolsley. After years of running restaurants, he takes his show on the road as a consultant, and the current job takes him to rural Wisconsin with, of all things, a human owner. Unfortunately said owner doesn't quite get what it means to feed the undead--with disastrous results. At the same time funny and macabre, this short was very entertaining.

"Through This House" by Seanen McGuire (aka Mira Grant) is about changeling (half human/half elf) October Daye's unexpected inheritance of an Elven knowe (aka faerie hill). First she has to figure out how to get inside, then she can deal with the mess left behind. Assuming the house will let her stay. This short is part of a longer series and it feels like it, jumping in with both feet with developed characters and relationships. The solution felt a little obvious, but it was still a decent story.

"The Path" by S.J. Rozan is a more sideways take on the anthology's topic, with the ghost of a hermit monk unable to reincarnate in order to protect the Buddha statue and guardians of the cave. The most sedate story of the bunch it was a nice departure from the others with a smooth narration. While interesting, the ending felt contrived.

"Rick the Brave" by Stacia Kane is about down on his luck Rick, who takes a construction job without knowing the details beforehand. Unfortunately it turns out to be dangerous, but somehow the Rick finds a courage he didn't know he had. It was a safely middle-of-the-road kind of story with a few quirks, but otherwise safe UF territory.

"Full-Scale Demolition" by Suzanne McLeod is about Genny, whose business rounds up stray pixies in the London area--they can be destructive when left to roam free. A recently married heiress needs Genny to solve a pixie problem at her house, but neglects to tell her the whole story. I liked the twists, as well as Genny's backup, the kelpie Tavish and their interaction.

"It's All in the Rendering" by Simon R. Green is told with Green's typical tongue-in-cheek style and campy humor. Peter and Jubilee are blissful newlyweds who are in charge of the House, a refuge for human and fae alike in need, for any reason, a haven to get away from what ails them. One day, unexpectedly, inspectors from the human and the elf sides appear to tell them that their caring for the house is substandard, which causes all sorts of panic. The solution is a little flat, but it's still funny enough.

"The Brightest Day" by Toni L.P. Kelner is about Dodie Kilburn. She's a houngan and she raises the dead for a living. Yes, she uses voudou magic to make zombies. When Gottfried dies without finishing his last architectural masterpiece, his associates pay for Dodie to raise him from the dead to finish the job. Things, of course, keep going wrong. I enjoyed this mystery that seems to baffle Dodie, as well as the side-issue of the houngan elders who question her business practices.

Recommended Age: I'd say adults would be most interested in this, although the intrepid teen might like it, but beware of "The Mansion of Imperatives" for sexual content.
Language: Hardly any throughout.
Violence: Some blood and gore, but mostly with "Woolsely's" and "Blood on the Wall."
Sex: "The Mansion of Imperatives" has a scene, while various others reference only.

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