The Atlas Defect, A J Scudiere

The Atlas Defect, A J Scudiere

The Atlas Defect (The NightShade Forensic Files, Book 3)

Eleri Eames was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a mystic for a grandmother. Her uncanny string of successful profiles for the FBI left her facing an inquiry into whether she’d been involved…until NightShade scooped her and her instincts up and put her to work. With her partner, Donovan Heath, Eleri is following up on a report of ‘weird’ bones in a national forest – in a snowstorm. Happily, the snow isn’t a problem for Donovan’s nose – the fact that ‘weird’ might be an understatement, on the other hand, is liable to crack open something that no one wants to see the light of day.

The Atlas Defect was a highly enjoyable read, offering plausibly imperfect characters and an original slant on shape-shifters. Despite being the third in the NightShade Forensic Files series, I had no trouble reading it as a standalone; there was enough back-story evoked as the adventure progressed to flesh out the characters, without leaving the pacing bogged down in an info-dump. ‘GJ’ Janson was the only real weak point in the story for me; she went to far too much trouble to insert herself into the investigation to roll over that easily when push came to shove (trying not to drop too many spoilers here). Other than that, the plot contains a nice mix of macabre and mystery, the pacing is good, and the twists were nicely handled. Certainly one to add to your to-read list.

Fly by Night, Cris and Clare Meyers

Fly by Night, Cris and Clare Meyers

Fly by Night (Criminal Elements #2)

Rook is screwed. His ex-boss burned him so thoroughly that most of his contacts won’t even give him the time of day, the team said ex-boss hoped to kill with him hold him responsible for the mess, and he’s methodically experimenting to see if life looks any better through the bottom of a bottle. That’s before the voices in his head decide to bitch-slap him from halfway across town and someone tries to blow up the one person still willing to speak to him…

Fly by Night is an excellent sequel to Playing with Fire, with the main focus passing to the maverick hacker and shape-shifter, Rook. While Rook manages to rub everyone the wrong way in the first novel, authors Cris and Clare Meyers have done a lot to make the character more easy to get along with in the first person view of him, and his malfunctioning magical gifts make an entertaining side-show to the main action.

A second book in a series isn’t always the easiest thing to pull off. However, this sequel manages to avoid inconsistencies in plot and characterisation, and pulls together an entertaining and action-filled story that gives tantalising glimpses of the likely series story arc moving forward. These books are also by and large well-edited, which I always deeply appreciate, and the magic system has some convincing and occasionally hilarious downsides. Definitely something worth picking up for anyone’s urban fantasy collection.

Playing With Fire, Cris and Clare Meyers

Playing With Fire, Cris and Clare Meyers

Playing with Fire: Criminal Elements #1

Playing With Fire is an urban fantasy set in the underground world of international crime, where the top operators use magic to augment their more mundane skills. Renée Devereaux is a professional thief, flying about as far under the radar as she can. Sam ‘Stone’ Anders is a hitman for hire. When they meet on a job in Russia, the fact that the job requires both of their diverse skill sets turns out to not even be the strangest thing about it, and it takes all Renee’s magic with stealth and Stone’s destructive Talent with fire for them both to escape with their hides intact. Nearly fifteen years later, when a chance to take out the man who set them up in Russia comes their way, they’re both more than ready to accept the challenge…

Renée and Stone make for interesting protagonists; they initially come across as the French chick and the all-American hero, but they develop into much stronger, more original presences in the story, adding their own unique quirks. While all the characters are written very much in the present, the interactions are really one of the high points in the book, especially once the secondary characters are introduced. There are plenty of hints of more back story to be uncovered, and as this is the first in a series, it’s not much of a stretch to assume that details will be forthcoming as the series unfolds. Rook, Grace, and Medium make a quality supporting cast.

I felt that there were areas where the tension could potentially have been made a little more of; Renée and Stone are written as highly competent, and in places, it made it hard to worry too much about their long-term well-being. The magic structure has some particularly nice touches, realistically written and with enough downsides to make it plausible, and it added an excellent thread of ‘power corrupts’ to the overall plot. The book was also editorially solid, which I always appreciate. Taken all in all, this is a very enjoyable story, a strong series-starter – I look forwards to seeing what authors Cris and Clare Meyers do with the next couple of books.

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

Veronica’s interior design business is failing when she gets a call from France early one morning. The call is the opportunity of a lifetime – an offer to renovate an ancient chateau in the Loire Valley, the traditional holiday destination of French royalty, all expenses paid. Veronica and her sister, Nikki, both agree that a few months working on a French chateau sounds like just what a couple of poor American girls need. What neither of them realises is that the Chateau du Feu Ardent isn’t just a medieval French castle, but more a thin veneer over a yawning pit of history.

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place is a nicely-paced urban fantasy spiced with just enough horror to keep a reader’s attention. The characters are a particularly strong point of this book: Nikki, especially, shines as a trashy, selfish type, guaranteed to get a reader response. The utter normality of the characters, and their typically American complacency, is a particularly nice offset to the horror aspects of the plot. It’s a classic plot construct because it works, and this story is no exception. Vanta M. Black has done an excellent job of weaving in the cameo stories of the castle’s past inhabitants and keeping all the various storylines in sync for the final twist. I can recommend this book to anyone who likes their legends with a little darkness.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold

A tale of devils and monsters and high-school heroes, F.A.R.’s Devils of Black and Gold introduces us to Lucas, the class loner, and Brian, his best friend, as Lucas struggles for control in the face of the impossible: he believes he’s become a werewolf. Dealing with shape-shifts he can’t always control, and increasingly wild mood-swings, Lucas is afraid that he’s a danger to all that he holds dear, including his best friend. Brian’s complete faith in his friend becomes Lucas’s only point of reference for faith in himself, and that’s before they find out about the string of gruesome murders that the police are calling the Beast Attacks – brutally mangled corpses that have no apparent connection.

Devils of Black and Gold is a fast-paced urban fantasy novella offering an eclectic mix of shape-shifters, possession, and a crime thriller that doesn’t let up on the tension. F.A.R. writes convincingly from the teenage viewpoint of the characters, contrasting them with a surprisingly intuitive and flexible authority figure in the form of Eliot Guthrie, a homicide detective on the local police force. The action is set against an economically evoked background of school, parents, and high-school tensions, carefully hidden from the attention of parents and teachers. A worth-while read for fans of urban fantasy and YA.

Between Two Worlds, Christy Santo

Between Two Worlds, Christy Santo

Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds is a fantasy story, following the experiences of a woman whose concussion turns into a coma of several months’ duration. It offers an interesting perspective of a combination of the protagonist’s real life experiences of her coma and the events around her, observed as through from an out of body perspective, interspersed with the experiences of another older woman from her hometown.

While the idea was interesting, I experienced some challenges with the read. The book is written in a first person, present tense style that, as a reader, always makes me wince. Some of that is the jerkiness that it gives a book; I find it impacts the smoothness of the writing and keeps pulling my attention back to the writing rather than allowing it remain on the story. That’s a personal perspective.

From a more technical side, the level of description of trivia in the story often overwhelmed the events, and dulled the emotional impact that the scenes may have been intended to convey. There were also a number of punctuation issues that periodically forced me to stop and re-read to ensure I had the passage correctly, and combined with the rest, meant that the story didn’t really draw me in and hold my interest as I read.

Overall, I think that the basic idea was strong, but the book itself would benefit enormously from a strong developmental edit or critique.