Category Archives: Book Reviews

Avast, Ye Airships : Steampunk Anthology Book Review

First book review of the New Year. Seems I made too many goals that I needed to jumpstart asap and let reading fall a little behind. Or, it’s that I got too excited about all my new books and tried reading them all at once. My most recently devoured book was an anthology from Mocha Memoirs Press, Avast, Ye Airships!,, which included tales of airship robbery, mechanical dancers, pirates, and countless creatures. While I didn’t enjoy all of the stories in this anthology, the majority of them were fantastical, action-packed and wove great story lines amidst steam-powered ships. My favourite three stories are below.

  1. Maiden Voyage by Jeffrey Cook & Katherine Perkins

This story features Emily and Lucca, strong female characters who use their intellect, cunning, and epic fighting skills to defend a cruise ship from pirates. I loved this story not only for its intricate descriptions of machinery, but also for its LGBT partnership between Lucca & Emily, and also for the way the authors portrayed Emily’s leg braces as her strength and talent, rather than something that held her back from dancing.

2. A Wind Will Rise by Andrew Knighton

These opening lines. Just yes. ” Dirk Dynamo pedaled frantically, legs going hell for leather to keep the pedalo-thopter’s wings flapping. A fierce wind lashed at him, stray cloud brushing his face like Death’s own icy fingers” This story focused on a goofy, yet resourceful pair, who are thwarted as they try to take over a pirate ship. Our hero, Dirk Dynamo, outwits the pirate and slaver Colonel Storm, using a flag to wrestle Storm’s lighting-gun during a final fight scene miles above the ground on an airship.

3. Lost Sky by Amy Braun

Another great opener that makes your eyes race to the next line, needing to know what unfolds, ” The sky used to hold hope for me. Now it held only terror”. For anyone familiar with Braun’s work, which, if you are not, head over to her blog yesterday and get acquainted – you won’t be disappointed, this story delivers.  (Amy Braun Blog) Braun packs a punch, introducing Hell creatures from another reality, pirates with a heart, and the unconditional love of a sister who braves Hellions and the skies to rescue her sibling. The descriptions of the creatures and of the airship alike draw you in, making you feel like you are the one trying to outrun the ‘onyx claws’ of the Hellions.

These are just three of the stories that stood out. Others included squirrel-invaders, pirates who are only plundering aprons, and ghosts that take over an airship. All in all a great collection of stories and one I would highly recommend if you have even the slightest interest in steampunk.

Dead Witch Walking – Kim Harrison

Forewarning: This review might be gushy as Kim Harrison is one of my all time favourite authors.

Demons, witches, and vampires -oh my! “Dead Witch Walking” has it all. Strong female character who is flawed and loyal to a fault. Check. Fully developed and unique secondary characters. Check. Magic, magic, and more magic. Check.

Harrison has set up this world with so many realistic layers, that it makes it plausible that this alternate world could exist. She cites something called the “Turn”, where genetically modified tomatoes wiped out most of the human race, leaving a gap for supernaturals to make themselves known and to step into positions of power. Having an explanation that explains the public acknowledgment of magic is something that is important to me in urban fantasy and horror stories. This book delivers.

The main character, Rachel Morgan, takes her life in her hands when she quits the I.S. (think police that focus on supernatural crimes), taking their best runner with her. Her rash decision is characteristic of how Rachel seems to make her choices. She acts on emotion, something which causes her to have more than one close call with her fiery temper.
Trying to pay off the bounty on her head, Rachel sets up her own investigation firm with her new partners, Ivy (a living vampire) and Jenks (pixie and backup extraordinare). The three of them set up shop in an abandoned church, trying to stay one step ahead of the witch assassins gunning for the bounty on Rachel’s head. Their investigations lead them to a wealthy business owner and manufacturer of illegal drugs (recreational and medicinal), Trent Kalamack. To investigate his shady dealings, Rachel turns herself into a rodent, only to get caught by Kalamack. Trent enters her in rat fighting contests, where she helps another human-turned-rodent escape from the ring. As if her life couldn’t get more complicated, a demon, Al, is summoned to kill both her and Trent.  Rachel barely escapes with her life  and to send the demon back to the ever after, she and Trent make a deal that seems to foreshadow more interactions in future books.

   “Your death is going to be a pleasure for both of us, Rachel Mariana Morgan. Such a twisted way to die – in pleasure”…

“What are you?” I rasped.

It smiled. “Whatever scares you.” 

In the end, Rachel is granted her independence from the I.S., but is left with a rodent-turned-human boyfriend, a pixy backup, a deal with an illegal drug manufacturer, and a demon mark. I recommend this book to any lover of fantasy, horror, and just an overall great story.

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Hell House – Richard Matheson

“Isn’t it just another so-called haunted house?”
“I’m afraid it isn’t. It’s the Mount Everest of haunted houses.”

Complex.Terrifying. Suspenseful. Creepy. I read Hell House since it was next on my list of recommendations from the Horror Writer’s Association book. After reading this gruesome and gory tale, I agree with reviews of it standing as one of the great haunted house tales.

Set in the 70’s,the story begins with old man Deutsch, an eccentric and wealthy man. Nearing the end of his life, he hires a group of specialists to stay at ‘Hell House’ and report to him if they find evidence of the afterlife. The first duo are Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Barrett. Barrett is a parapsychologist who views the stay as the opportunity to complete his life’s research and prove the scientific, rather than supernatural, basis for the hauntings at Hell House. His young wife, Edith, joins him, only to fall victim to the house’s salacious ghosts. Two mediums round off the foursome. The first, Pastor Florence, endures physical and psychological torment from the ghosts. Her beliefs in the afterlife are put down again and again as rubbish by Barrett.The second medium,Peter, was the lone survivor from a group that had entered the house decades earlier. Too afraid to open himself to the House again, his decision not to join forces with Florence results in her violent demise.

The characters’ are pitted against one another – their desires and vulnerabilities drawn out by the dark force living in the bowels of Hell House.

Matheson is able to elicit a real visceral reaction to the terrors and depravities of the house and its previous guests. The characters make you feel pity for them while also feeling disgusted and horrified by the events they are put through.
I recommend this book to those with a hard stomach, and a taste for the suspenseful and horrific.

Conjure Wife – Fritz Leiber

Recommended by the Horror Writers Association as one of the most influential novels ever written in the horror genre, Conjure Wife delivered.  Written by Fritz Leiber in the early 1940’s, this is an urban fantasy classic, bringing together ritualistic magic and suburban America of the forties. This unique perspective on witchcraft as a gender specific practice is set within the politically-fraught college life. The protagonist, Norman Saylor, is professor of sociology at a distinguished college. Finding poppets from magic rituals amongst his wife, Tansy’s, belongings, he forces her to destroy them all. He believes his wife is delusional, and resists the notion of magic, even after it has caused him harm.

Norman Saylor is a realistic character, we feel for him as he clings to the reality and order that he knows. This is made more difficult for him as his career begins to take a nosedive, now unaided by his wife. As a successful professor, and now unprotected, Norman becomes the target of malicious magic, crafted by other Professor’s wives.

Presenting this world as exactly the same as what we know today, with one small, dark change, makes it easier to relate to and to understand, especially as we are taken through Norman’s logic and reasoning regarding the existence of real magic. He tries to use logic, even as he is wading through a curse that has been set upon him

“Thoughts are dangerous, he told himself, and thoughts against all science, all sanity, all civilized intelligence, are the most dangerous of all. He felt their presence here and there in his brain, like pockets of poison, harmless as long as you left them encysted and did not prick them.”

Norman and Tansy’s connection is sweet, making you root for them as they fight together against dark forces, a stone dragon, and a rare coven of  witches out for power.

I recommend this book to any lover of urban fantasy, witches, and the supernatural.

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