Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin

MartinDeadlyCuriositiesWhy I Read It: Urban fantasy and antiques, how could I say no?

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via NetGalley (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of ghosts, antiques, and items steeped in emotional resonance would enjoy this book.

Publisher: Solaris (2014)

Length: 454 pages

Series: Book 1 Deadly Curiosities

Author’s Page

Cassidy’s family has run Trifles & Folly, an antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina, since 1670. Cassidy’s business partner, Sorren (a Nordic vampire several centuries old), has worked with Cassidy’s family all that time, assisting them in tracking down and neutralizing dangerous magical and supernatural items. Cassidy’s employee, Teag (a man who has all but the PhD in history and some martial arts skills) has been brought into the know. Some mundane items start going spooky, and Cassidy and crew soon have their hands full with mysterious deaths, Shadow men, vicious supernatural hounds, and a scarred, withered man who may be behind it all.

This was a fast-paced urban fantasy with a twist: antiques. So, lots of history was tossed into the mix, and I loved it. Indeed, I had a hard time putting this book down. It was easy to get into, easy to connect with the characters, and plenty of fun to watch them battle supernatural beasties, a demon, and a determined mad man. I thoroughly enjoyed how the tale pulled in historical aspects of the local area and smoothly blended them with made up ‘facts’ for the sake of the plot. There’s an old Navy yard that becomes a focal point for the mystery of the story, complete with a history of shady business deals, slavery, and pirates.

Cassidy herself is well-rounded, having both strengths and weaknesses, concerns and confidence. She and the other main characters have to deal with getting injured, protecting each other’s backs, and eating regularly. There are few superhumans among this crew, and even Sorren (the vampire) has limitations. I enjoyed that Sorren was just another character – not some evil, icky bad guy, nor some romanticized love interest. Then we have Teag, and to some lesser extent, his partner Anthony. Teag was in the thick of things for most of the story, and Anthony put in a few appearances, trying hard to accept what Teag does for a living. I can definitely see these two being featured more heavily in future additions of the series. Lucinda, a local voudoun witch (or practitioner) calls upon the Loas for her brand of magic, offering the crew another layer of defense. And of course, her presence made it simple to pull in a few more bits of history.

As the story moves forward, a few more characters are brought in, so by the end you have a sizable list. But it was done very well, pacing the entrance of the characters throughout the book so I didn’t feel that I was ever overloaded with new characters, scrambling to keep them straight. My one little complaint is the final fight scene: I was pretty darn sure that some of the good guys had taken out one of the bad guys, only to have the bad guy rise two pages later to continue wreaking havoc. I reread the section 3 times and didn’t feel there was a clear transition. Perhaps the author wanted the reader to be surprised…..but the good guys didn’t seem surprised. Anyway, that is a very small criticism and it won’t keep me from reading further works by this author.

What I Liked:  Lots of historical tidbits; plenty of paranormal baddies that function within a set framework; the cover; Teag and Anthony; the vampire is not a love interest; Cassidy is a well-rounded character.

What I Disliked:  One minor thing about the final fight scene – but not a big deal.

What Others Think:

A Bibliophile’s Reverie

Elder Park Book Reviews

Much Loved Books

Fantasy Findings


OnceUponATime8Tis the season for fantasy in all forms. Join the reading challenge Once Upon A Time, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can catch my intro post to this year’s challenge over HERE. Anyone can join this event, which runs from March 21 – June 20, 2014.

Interview: Mari Adkins, Author of Midnight

AdkinsMidnightHello everyone, please welcome Mari Adkins. She’s launching her book, Midnight, today! And she had time to swing by here and chat about the usefulness of Google maps, Buck Rogers, bloodlines, and Harlan County. You can check more about her book at Apex Publications.

1. What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

People are probably sick to death of me going on and on about Cornwall, brown betty teapots, and Penelope. But if I could go anywhere, I’d like to spend time inside Rosamunde Pilcher‘s The Shell Seekers. It would make me insanely happy to visit Penelope at Podmore’s Thatch and have lunch and afternoon tea. I would think around the middle of April would be perfect. The flowers and trees in her gardens would be sprouting and blooming. The vegetable garden would have been turned and seasonally planted. Everything would be homey, especially with the singing birds and laundry on the clothesline. And of course, inside, her father’s painting would still be hanging on the wall.

2. Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Reality in my fiction is just as important as the paranormal along with everything else. My Harlan County is, of course, based on a real place.

It’s a three hour road trip from Loyall, Kentucky, to Lexington. Likewise, it takes forty-five minutes to get from Loyall to Middlesborough, which is more or less halfway to Knoxville, Tennessee. So yes, getting places takes time. With Sami’s stories, she usually went to sleep, unless she was driving; then, I’d make note of the length of the drive, insert a discussion (if any), and have the characters listen to music and/or check out the scenery and/or think Really Deep Thoughts.

I don’t know about my characters, but personally, I require a pit stop at the Happy Mart in Pineville on the way to Lexington, followed by another at Renfro Valley Shell; reverse that for the trip from Lexington. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sometimes had to add a stop, each way, in Corbin.

There’s plenty of cussing in Midnight. I tried to tame a lot of them, but Sami is fond of her many f-bombs. I’ve tried to use a bit more creativity in the teenagers I’m writing now. Teens are going to swear; it’s as much part of finding their identities as the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. Sometimes saying, “charlie foxtrot”, “cuss panties”, or “my hind foot” don’t and can’t convey how someone truly feels in a given moment.

My characters end up in showers, baths, and looking in the mirror a lot. It’s not uncommon or strange for them to end up doing these things together. Females tend to get their periods right on schedule without any comment. But if it comes as a “bad time”, the reader hears about it, plenty.

SizemoreAinsworthAegriSomnia3. More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any cross over pieces (TV to book, book to PC, etc.) that you have enjoyed?

I reserve comment on how I feel publishing should be handling such changes. I can say I can’t see them as trends; I definitely see them as change. Having said that, I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead and Justified. While I haven’t read the TWD graphic novels, I have read the short “Fire in the Hole” that the pilot for Justified was based on.

4. What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

As I’ve mentioned, Harlan County, Kentucky, is a real place. So, in a way, a lot of my worldbuilding is already done for me. However, I’ve made use of digital and print histories, genealogies, maps, and photographs. Mostly my own photographs–with the exception of the story set in 1959, obviously. I spent 1995 to 2013 talking with Art Halcomb Sr about Harlan County. We got to the point where he’d sometimes call me with questions. The running joke in our family is that I know more about the county than some of the people who live there.

Google Maps with street view has been useful. Not much of the county is available on street view, unfortunately, but there’s just enough that if I need to know real quick what something looks like, I can click through–which is often simpler than combing through a gigabyte of pictures.

I’m also one of those writers who creates or downloads floorplans of the buildings my characters spend the most time in. If I don’t, I’m sure to write a character going through a wall instead of taking a flight of stairs, looking out a window that doesn’t exist (onto a view that doesn’t exist), or taking an elevator into oblivion.

I’ve also made use of a 1995 county telephone book so I have authentic local names. For example, I might pull a last name from one part of the county and a first name from another and use that to start building a character.

AdkinsHarlanCountyHorrors5. In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

I’m one of those writers who doesn’t write physical bad guys. Sometimes readers have difficulty comprehending the lack of a physical antagonist. Readers are conditioned to believe a boogeyman or other kind of physical threat is necessary. But neither is. Just like in real life, characters don’t have to wage physical battles to grow as individuals. My leads battle their inner selves. Sure, there’s outward conflict. But inward battles can be even more damaging and traumatic than what we might face from someone else.

6. As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

Anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury gave me this. When we studied space in second grade (way back in 1976), I fully expected to be living on the moon by 2010. I thought that would be so awesome. Space stations, lunar colonies, daytrips to Mars, and so forth. I thought this would be common. I got my laser battles from visual media–Star Wars and Buck Rodgers. I’ve always envisioned a future world made of science filled with magic, which in my opinion, aren’t mutually exclusive; they comprise a whole.

ScullyEnterAtYourOwnRisk7. Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

I wanted to write a “human having a vampire problem” story. How would it be if vampirism wasn’t at all like we’ve learned from books, movies, and even common folklore? How would it be if this vampirism was genetic, passed through bloodlines?

I kept asking What if? What if? What if?

My characters are human first. The vampire certainly lies at their core, but the vampire isn’t what or who they are. They aren’t monsters. They’re people. They have jobs, go to school, have parties, visit family and friends, have babies, fall in love–and have real, human problems.

One of the characters is quite fond of telling anyone who’ll listen, “You’re a vampire. Being a vampire is pain.” And that, to me, encompasses the entire human condition.
Humans have limits. Humans can be pushed only so far before they break–figuratively and literally. Vampire genetics makes that a bit trickier. They still become ill, grow old, get hurt, be killed–anything that can happen to a “regular human” can happen to them. The vampire genetics can make all that better or worse, depending on the overall health and mindset of the person at his core.

8. How did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?

My first reaction to having something published was, “Are you serious?” I jumped up and down a bit then had a glass of wine. I love a party, but I’m not much of a party person, despite the jokes I make about holding raves. The feeling returned when I received the anthology and got to hold it in my hands. I’d sometimes go to the shelf and look at it and see if it was really there. Or I’d read the table of contents–just in case!

9. Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Midnight, my debut novel, launches May 27th. I have a signing June 7th at the Lexington Farmers Market at The Morris Book Shop booth.

AdkinsMidnightSynopsis of Midnight:

Samantha Clark has always known she was different. Growing up feeling unwanted and unloved, she escaped a bad childhood by going to college. There she quickly fell into an unhealthy relationship in an attempt to form a connection with another person, to be needed and loved in a way she had always craved. When the abuse becomes life-threatening, Sami is on the run again, turning to a college-friend for help. What she finds is not only a place to crash while she tries to make a plan for the future, but acceptance, friendship, and a new hope of ‘family’.

Set in rural Kentucky in 1985, Midnight is the inward journey of Sami’s self-loathing, self-reflection, and eventual self-acceptance. Through the love of her friends and the mysterious Michael, Sami not only heals from the scars given earlier in life, she finds her personal strength.

Places to Stalk Mari Adkins




The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

AcevedoNymphosRockyFlatsWhy I Read It: Mario Acevedo was at Bubonicon and chatted a bit with me, so had to check out his book.

Where I Got It: Own it via

Who I Recommend This To: Urban fantasy fans.

Publisher: EOS Harper (2006)

Length: 354 pages

Series: Book 1 Felix Gomez

Author’s Page

Felix Gomez, Iraqi war veteran, vampire, detective takes a job in Colorado. On the surface, it seems ridiculous and he has his doubts. After all, any sizable population is bound to have a few nymphos. But as he digs into it, it becomes apparent that these ladies were definitely affected by some outside agent. In addition to his investigation, there are these eastern European vampire hunters, an old friend, and government bureaucracy.

This was a ridiculous book and I quite enjoyed it. Mario Acevedo has the government speak down perfectly for the Rocky Flats scenes. I had to laugh out loud at the first few ‘top secret’ pages to this book as it is so like these institutions. Having recently walked away from one after over a decade of service, I can tell Acevedo did his stint in bureaucratic hell too.

So let’s talk about the ladies. Yes, there are female nymphos, but Denver seems to have more than the average and they all once worked at Rocky Flats, at least until their hornyness got them fired. Yes, having sex on the job even at nuclear weapons facilities is frowned upon. Of course Felix’s interviews with them leads to some awkward (and funny) scenes.

Towards the end, I did feel the author tried to pull in a little too much for this one book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was one more mystery, and something totally different from what was already going on. Still, I wonder what was done with it in Book 2.

One of the things I enjoyed (and it is with a naughty grin that I enjoyed it) was that Felix tended to knock people out and then pose then in questionable positions. Hehe….he’s my kind of vampire.

I will definitely be looking to read more in this series, especially when I need a chuckle and something light to pick me up with questionable humor. I think I can safely classify this book as one of my guilty pleasures.

What I Liked: Felix’s humor; the ridiculous nature of the mystery; nymphos make for interesting conversations; the cover.

What I Disliked: The ending pulled in 1 too many things.

What Others Think:

Love Vampires

Red Pen Reviews

Taliesin Meets the Vampires

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.
Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

Why I Read It: Read it years ago, loved it, and wanted to try it on audio.

Where I Got It: Own it via

Who I Recommend This To: Urban fantasy fans.

Narrator: Laural Merlington

Publisher: Tantor Media (2008)

Length: 15 hours 23 minutes

Series: One can only hope McKinley will bless us with more books in this world.

Author’s Page

In the near future, the world as we know it is no longer. Now magic walks the streets or heats the coffee or is used to hunt those who feed on humanity in one form or another. Rae (aka Sunshine) barely graduated highschool and was quite ready to be done with it and go to work at the bakery full time. Her mother does the books there and her step-father is the owner and chief cook. Rae handles the bread and pastry items, getting up at the butt crack of dawn to go make hot, fresh bread goodies for the masses. It’s been more than a generation since magic burst out on the scene, so the US government has had time to create a new branch – the SOFs hunt down dangerous magic users. And after Ray spent a rather eventful night out by the haunted lake, they keep a sharp eye on her.

This is one of my favorite books and it was so great to revisit it in audio format. She’s an average person, a baker, who finds herself in the middle of vampire turf war. Messy. Yeah, that really sums up a lot of it. But there is a lot more going on in this world that McKinley created. The SOF suits are a complicated bunch. Magic users are suppose to be registered, and if they aren’t the SOFs can arrest them, or more depending on what the magic users are up to. But the SOFs that keep an eye on Rae have known her for years, and they are far more interested in taking out the dangerous elements of the paranormal community, like vamps. The SOFs also have several interesting secrets of their own.

Then there is Mel, Rae’s boyfriend. He also works at the bakery. His hobby is working on bikes and riding bikes and making love to Rae. He’s a calm character with lots of tatts. His tatts are the complicated kind that are really wards to keep his skin intact. I so wish to know more about this man, his history, and why he needed such powerful wards at one time in his life. Perhaps from the Voodoo Wars?

And of course we have to talk about the vampires. There’s the rude and crude ones, lead by Beau, that planned to sacrifice Rae to their enemy (Constantine), who they had shackled in an abandoned mansion on the lake. But things don’t go as planned and together, Rae and Constantine find a way out of this trap. Their relationship, if it can be called that, becomes the underlying plot line to all the other stuff going on in Rae’s life.

Just a side note: There is one of the hottest not-a-sex-scene in all of literature in this book. Yeah. You need to read this book.

The world itself is lush with charms that have a mind of their own, weres (werehound, wererabbit, werebears), and remnants of destroyed cities from the Voodoo wars. Rae has been able to wall out this world by and large for years by living simply and working at the bakery. But it comes crashing in as she has to confront the heritage from her father’s side.

Deeply rich in environment, excellent characters, and wonderful plot makes this book one of my favorites and earns it a permanent place on my shelf. Don’t particularly care for vampire stories? Yeah, me neither. But I love this book. It’s not about vampires; it’s about Rae and her world and her struggle to keep that world and those people precious to her. Definitely worth the read.

Oh, and Ms. McKinley, if you ever do have a need to write another book in this magnificent world, I would be ever so tickled pink to add it to my permanent bookshelf. Just saying….Oh, and perhaps a companion cookbook as I need to try Rae’s Death by Bitter Chocolate.

The Narration: Merlington does a fantastic job with Ray’s voice, perfect fit. She also did a good job with the other female voices. Her male voices sometimes felt like a bit of a stretch in masculinity, but each was distinct and that matters more to me. Overall, a very good performance.

What I Liked: Everything; Rae and her bakery skills; Mel and his mysterious tattoos; Constantine and all his secrets; the messy, messy way to end vampires; the SOFs and all their little secrets; Rae’s mysterious heritage.

What I Disliked: Nothing. I love this book. I hope Ms. McKinley adds another book or two in this world.

What Others Think:

Love Vampires

The Flyleaf Review

Strange Horizons

Sf Site

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The Obsessed Reader

Horror, Humor, and Heroes by Jim Bernheimer

BernheimerHorrorHumorAndHeroesWhy I Read It: Greatly enjoyed Bernheimer’s Prime Suspects, so gave his short story fiction a try.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Are you a bit twisted, but still need a good laugh? Yeah, check this out!

Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Publisher: Self published (2013)

Length: 5 hours 54 minutes

Series: Book 1 Horror, Humor, and Heroes

Author’s Page

This short story collection is full of werewolves, zombies, Greek idols, giant bugs, and the first kid born on the moon. With plenty of twisted humor. Oh yes. If the average puns and jokes that populate SFF literature merely get a weak grin out of you, then perhaps you need some deeper, darker humor? It can be found here. This collection contains 11 or 12 short stories plus the first 5 chapters of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain and the first few chapters of Prime Suspects. So it’s a great way to see if this author is for you. And it is thoroughly entertaining.

While I won’t go through each and every short story, I will share my thoughts on my favorites.

Raw and Reel – David is a TV producer, and he is filming a questionable show in Mexico. It’s a werewolf hunt. Yeah, werewolves turn up here and there and as long as they cage themselves during the full moon and don’t make a ruckus, no one much cares. But once one goes wild and crazy, then they have to be put down. Well, this particular werewolf may or may not have done the deed, but it looks like he will have to pay the price. And what of David and his sleazy soul? Well, there’s a surprise waiting for him.  I liked the twisted nature of this tale from start to finish.

My Son, The Monster – Daedalus and his son Icarus have been imprisoned by Minos. Daedalus is quite the inventor and manages to fashion a way to escape. As the narrative moves forward through the escape scenes, we also get small flashes of Icarus’s past, and it is not pretty. I liked this story for it’s new spin on an old, old tale. The ending was bitter and just.

Charlie Horse – Oh my! Now this was such an excellent story. I am hard pressed to say which is my favorite of the lot, but this might be it. I am not much of zombie person, but this was awesome. Ted and his band, including the new kid Chuck, round up zombies. Yep. They have a few runners to entice the zombies out and get them to congregate in one location, and a nice big tank or caravan or such for holding them while they are transported to market. Most are sold to the zombie-powered turbines, generating green energy. A good zombie can walk in a circle for a few years before giving out, all the time pushing on a spinner connected to a turbine. Nice. I actually laughed out loud at the idea, thoroughly liking the take on zombies as something useful. Of course the stronger and faster ones can end up doing other things, like at the race tracks…….I’ll just let your twisted little minds chew on that.

Reality Bites – Life insurance and vampires. You’ve been declared legally dead, zero heartbeat for the past week, but you can’t claim your life insurance benefits because you’re still ambulatory. Nor can you claim any government paycheck or social security. Sucks. Literally, for you are a vampire. well, Mr. Merril is anyway. As he tries first logic, then pleading, and finally the vampire thrall seduction stare on Fundamental Insurance worker Cheryl, his sad little tale unfolds. But Cheryl is an old hand at the insurance company, and has a few surprises of her own. Yep, it’s a messed up situation captured here for my amusement.

Adventurers Beware – This is one of the stories that vies for my favorite of the litter. You’ve got your adventurers, Lord Byron, Lady Anise, Ragnor, and Nimblefingers. They adventure, whether the locals need some adventurers to swoop in and save them or not. Duncan runs the inn and he and the senior business women and men gather about. How to get rid of Lord Byron and his crew? Mulling it over a nice local beer, they come up with a plan. Adventurers love maps. Listening to this story made me think of my man’s D&D games, and of course the numerous hours I’ve logged playing one dungeon crawl PC game or another. very funny.

The View From My Room – Adam was the first person born on the moon. His parents emigrated there perhaps 20 years ago and now Adam is a teen. He is prepping for his first trip the Earth to see his grandparents in person. Wearing a weighted full-body suit daily for several hours to build his muscles and bone density, he contemplates what it will be like to leave the moon. A crowd on the sparsely populated moon is perhaps 20 people. On Earth, the crowds will be unlike anything he has ever experienced. This was probably the only story in the lot that didn’t ride on twisted or dark humor. It was simply cute watching this teenager prep for his first big trip.

Lieutenant Armchair – So here is the 3rd of my favorites. It’s nitty gritty and dark. Some biological agent escaped the labs a few years back and now Kansas is no more. Large, aggressive bugs (just one result of the agent) cause grief and consternation as they spread and make places uninhabitable to humans. Along the TX-OK border, Chris Gibson and his band of merry bug whackers have been sent out to take out a bee hive. But it’s dirty, dangerous business and their armchair lieutenant, who is safely tucked away back at headquarters, is barking orders that make no sense and may get one of them killed. Later, back at base, Gibson gets to unwind with a beer and gives his shoulder to teary Kelly, who had a bad day. There’s a lovely twist to this story, but I don’t want to ruin it.

This book also includes the first 5 chapters of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, and it works quite well as a short story, or short novella. Mechani-Cal (Cal, for short) is a guy who has been screwed over one too many times. And now is looks like the world will be screwed over by mind-controlling bugs. Luckily, he has been able to lock himself up in his battlesuit and avoid being taken over. Unfortunately, it looks like the superheroes known as the the Olympians have been brainwashed. Battling a few of them, he manages to stun Aphrodite (aka Stacey), whose bug falls off. taking her back to his secret lair, she threatens all sorts of death and anatomical contortions upon him if he doesn’t release her. She needs her bug; it’s an addiction. And it goes from there. And it is pretty cool. Cal has issues, Stacey has issues. But somehow, someway (twisted and full of U-turns) they find a way to work together. I definitely need to read the full-length version.

The Narration: Jeffrey Kafer was once again an excellent narrator. I loved variety of voices he pulled off, from young Adam to battle-scarred Gibson. He even had a variety of female voices for this collection that were believable and not strained. Perfect pick for this book.

What I Liked: Quite a variety in the themes; unexpected twists and endings; mix of sweet to nitty gritty in the stories.

What I Disliked: Only one story was so short I wondered if it was like a prelude to the story following it, so in my mind they run together (Red Badge of Doom followed by Charlie Horse). Very minor bewilderment on that and it did not diminish my enjoyment of the story collection.

Tis the season for the Science Fiction Experience 2014 hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. Make sure you swing by his place to catch other great SF posts!

What Others Think:

Scott Reviews and Ramblings

Fantastic Dreams of Pamela K. Kinney