The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Readers of my blog and of my reviews will likely have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards two types of books – Fantasy/Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes. That is not to say that I don’t review other types of books, it’s just that I keep coming back to those two genres above. And when one book promises to combine the two it certainly grabs my attention.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a wonderous mash-up of beloved characters from Sherlock Holmes and the fantasy genre. A universe where reality is optional at best but some things still remain the same.

Holmes is now Shaharazad Haas, a drug-addled consulting sorceress with a loose grip on reality and even looser morals. Watson is now Captain John Wyndham, newly discharged from being injured in a far off war but not wanting to go home and face his family just yet. The two characters are not complete analogues though there are numerous little nods to the originals. It is more like they were used as a starting point, something to build on yet becoming completely different.

For me, a large part of what made The Affair of the Mysterious Letter so enjoyable was watching the struggle of poor John Wyndham when faced with the force of nature that is Shaharazad Haas. Wyndham hails from a very puritanical country originally and everything that Haas is and does flies in the face of what he was brought up to believe. What is even more amusing is how Wyndham tries to narrate a story with copious swearing as well as wild and appalling behavior without actually placing any of this on paper. The little asides are quite funny and on more than one occasion it gave me a laugh.

In The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, Alexis Hall has written an unconventional and oftentimes outlandish tribute to the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. And my dearest reader, I loved every minute of it. Much like Doyle’s original stories this book is chock full of thrills and chills, is rife with comedy and drama, and has more than its share of tentacles.

Readers looking for something a little more serious in their steampunk novels might want to look elsewhere. For this is a far (very very far) from serious novel. The only thing that makes me sad is that this is currently a stand alone novel. I know I am not alone in saying that I would love to have more of Shaharazad Haas and John Wyndham and their adventures at 221B Martyrs Walk.

Provided for Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Oddjobs (Oddjobs #1) by Heide Goody

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Incomprehensible horrors from beyond are going to devour our world but that’s no excuse to get all emotional about it. Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible.

In her first week on the job, Morag has to hunt down a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

The first book in a new comedy series by the creators of ‘Clovenhoof’, Oddjobs is a sideswipe at the world of work and a fantastical adventure featuring amphibian wannabe gangstas, mad old cat ladies, ancient gods, apocalyptic scrabble, fish porn, telepathic curry and, possibly, the end of the world before the weekend.

The world as we know it may be ending but someone still needs to make sure the proper paperwork has been done.

Oddjobs is the first book in the series of the same name by Heide Goody and Iain Grant. It is a very British take on the Men in Black trope that has spawned several movies, books, and graphic novels. The main difference being while in Men in Black they were trying to stop the apocalypse, in Oddjobs they’re trying to make sure the process goes smoothly. If it’s going to happen anyway, why not make it as easy as possible? And maybe even bring in a few dollars with a line of incredibly cute and cuddly plushes?

As I said above, Oddjobs is a very British book. Peppered throughout are references to persons, places, and events that the average UK reader would recognize but other readers might not. On a handful of occasions I found myself having to look up things referenced simply to try and keep up with the storyline. Not that this is a bad thing per se, but it might throw off the average reader.

Oddjobs is a fast paced book and in some places quite funny. The cast of characters are an eclectic lot, each one bringing their own strengths to the team. While some background is given on each character, it is my hope that we learn more about every one with each subsequent novel.

I really enjoyed reading Oddjobs. As a fan of British sci-fi I found it to be an entertaining mix of seriousness and satire. Readers who are fans of this genre and like classics like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf are sure to like this one as well. Average readers might find the British-isms a bit confusing at time but I urge them to give this a try as well.

Channel Blue by Jay Martel

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This review was originally posted January 2015

Turn on the TV at practically any time of day or night on any channel and you have a good chance of seeing some kind of Reality Program. The programs run the gamut from the serious to the insane and cover any number of subjects. People tune in to them in droves and the people who appear on them become stars overnight. But what if the Earth itself was its own reality program? What if the day to day happenings of the people here, no matter how mundane, provide entertainment to extraterrestrial beings?

That is the question posed in Channel Blue.

At one time Earth was Galaxy Entertainment’s highest ranking show. The viewers couldn’t get enough of the backwards little people. But like most audiences, they are fickle and what was once the biggest thing is now at the bottom of the heap. This is what has happened to Earth, aka Channel Blue. With its ratings quickly going down the tube they plan to draw in the viewers once more with an amazing finale. In just three weeks, the TV show will go out with a bang, and unfortunately so will Earth.

One man however can save our planet from it’s final curtain call, but Perry Bunt’s hardly the hero type.

If that last line sounds a tad cliched, that’s probably because it is. Earth is on the brink of destruction and out of the billions of people on the planet the only one who can save us is some nobody. He is your token white man, non-descript and bland. Like most in the anti-hero trope, Perry starts the book with a “I don’t want to do this” approach which evolves in to a “I guess I have to do this” approach which becomes a “I want to do this!” approach. He continues to try and do the right thing which only gets him in to trouble and usually ends with some kind of physical beating for Perry. As the story carries on this becomes tiring, not only for Perry, but for the reader them self.

With Perry in this mad adventure is Amanda Mundo. Hailing from the planet Eden, but looking exactly like any human, she is one of the many many producers of Channel Blue. At first she’s interested in Perry because he’s an ex-script writer and she needs ideas to keep Channel Blue running. The disappointing thing is that eventually she too succumbs to the trope most female characters are subjected to – that of the love interest. Of course she falls in love with Perry and of course they end up together with a happy ending, the story left open-ended for the possibility of a sequel. In it’s predictability it’s almost disappointing.

Now I’m not saying that Channel Blue is a complete disappointment. There are some rather amusing moments and the book itself does present a sort of critique on our society. It is absurd in its own way but hardly “in the tradition of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut” as one reviewer said it. Adams and Douglas set a precedent when it comes to sci-fi and while Martel does make a good endeavor, he simply cannot match the greats.

Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

This review was originally posted May 16, 2017

Emperor Mollusk – Mad genius. Conqueror and Destroyer of worlds. Intergalactic menace. And Ex-warlord of Earth.

Not too bad for a guy without a spine…or any bones.

But what is a super villain to do when he’s already done everything?

With no new ambitions – no new planets to conquer – Emperor Mollusk finds himself in a bit of a quandry. Retirement isn’t as simple as he thought it would be. While he would certainly prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of science, even that becomes boring after a while. So when the assassins of a legendary death cult come calling, Mollusk is eager for the challenge. Someone has their eye on Earth and Mollusk isn’t about to let the planet go so easily, especially in to the clutches of someone less capable of ruling than him!

Dear reader, in reading a book have you ever that should said book be made in to a movie (or even audio book) that a particular actor would be perfect for a particular role?

I found myself having just those thoughts while reading Emperor Mollusk. The great Emperor himself reminded me so much of Iron Man’s Tony Stark that should this anything be done with this book, if Robert Downey, Jr. isn’t cast as Emperor Mollusk, it would be a great shame.

In the character of Emperor Mollusk, Martinez has captured the dry wit and genius of Tony Stark and put it in the body of a spineless blob from Neptune. In the story itself, he takes the numerous tropes that peppered 50’s B-movies and combines them in a fast and funny tale. If there is one drawback, it is that the prose sometimes gets a bit bogged down with techno-babble. This especially happens towards the end however I didn’t find it too detracting from the story overall.

Fans of 50’s B-movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and wonderfully bad sci-fi in general should absolutely read this book. I greatly enjoyed Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain both times I read it and can only hope that Martinez will take us back to visit these characters again.

Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill #1) by Rick Gualtieri

There are reasons we fear the night. This guy is not one of them.

Bill Ryder is your average dweeb; he’s a computer programmer, gamer geek, and absolutely hopeless when it comes to the opposite sex. All he’s ever wanted in life was to hang out with his friends, collect his paycheck, and one day meet the woman of his dreams.

Bill’s life takes an unfortunate turn when he meets Sally. She was mysterious, aggressive, and beautiful – the poor sod never stood a chance. When she invites him to a party, he initially has his reservations but goes anyway. Too bad the party is a trap and when Bill awakens he’s now a member of the undead. And at the bottom of that particular food chain.

The head vampire has given him a 90 day ultimatum – either prove he belongs or be killed in a more permanent manner.

Poor Bill is in way over his head but he’s not about to go down without a fight. He’s got more than one trick up his sleeve; along with some unlikely allies and a severe attitude problem. The one bit thing Bill has going for him is a vampire like him hasn’t been seen for over 500 years. With all this going for him, Bill just might make the 90 day deadline, if he doesn’t get his teeth kicked in first.

Bill the Vampire is one of those books that was recommended to me several times but I never got around to reading. Upon reading it though, I see why I put it off for so long.

Allow me to be blunt, dear reader – Bill is a jerk.

Bill and his roommates embody everything of the stereotypical neck beard. And not in a good way. They believe themselves to be “witty” and “snarky” yet they are anything but. They are misogynistic, viewing the women around them as items to be ogled over and little more. And should any woman give them a dirty look or other verbal smack down, she is immediately labelled a “bitch”.

On the other side of the fence are the vampires. They are the diametric opposite to Bill and his friends. Led by the the self named Night Razor, they embody the age old enemy to freaks and geeks – the jock. Every one in the small group is beautiful; the women looking like they walked out of a print ad with the men looking they spend all their time at the gym.

Overall, Bill the Vampire is a decently written book. But that is about all it has going for it. Bill, as well as every other male character, were assholes (pardon my language). There were slight differences to separate the vampire from the humans, but they all felt alike. Much can be said for the few female characters as well, their actions and personalities were so alike it was only their names and physical descriptions that set them apart.

Personally, I think Gualtieri is either trying too hard with the character Bill, or not trying enough. The premise itself was truly promising, but the execution fell woefully short.

Should a person wish to read this first book of the series, I would advise them to tread carefully. The story itself is a virtual minefield of questionable language and other problems. And while it’s been compared to Revenge of the Nerds meets Return of the Living Dead, it’s not a good comparison. The movies are far more enjoyable.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourne

London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I discovered the Veronica Speedwell series quite by accident in my local book store. While perusing the new books, I came across A Perilous Undertaking and it sounded quite interesting. Unfortunately, I saw it was number two in a series and since I almost never start a series in the middle, I sought out the first book; which is being reviewed here.

A Curious Beginning introduces us to the character of Veronica Speedwell. Raised by two spinster aunts, she has traveled quite extensively – both as a child by moving from town to town, and as an adult in the pursuit of the passion of butterflies. She is an intelligent and head strong young woman, a trait that she uses many times to her advantage. She is also incredibly astute, noticing things about her and about the people around her that many would overlook. At times she reminded me of a beloved character – Sherlock Holmes; yet she also reminded me of another beloved character – Amelia Peabody.

In many ways, Veronica Speedwell is much like Amelia Peabody. Both women are brilliant in their respective fields and more often than not are looked down upon by their male counterparts simply because of their supposed weaker gender. Yet while there are times they must “play by the rules” of society, they are more than content to do things their own way.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed – and hope Ms. Raybourn continues to play with in subsequent books – is the relationship between Veronica Speedwell and Stoker Templeton-Vane. There is a chemistry between the two characters that is difficult to deny and yet it seems they each treasure the other’s friendship too much to risk ruination with a more physical relationship. There are times they get on as well as cats and dogs, but in the end each is more than content to come to the aid of the other when needed.

Overall, I enjoyed the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series, A Curious Beginning. Readers who have previously enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series or any other series with a strong female character, should give this one a try.

The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles (Warlock Holmes #2) by G.S. Denning

Warlock Holmes is back again! Sort of.

Warlock Holmes last adventure left him just a little…dead. Not one to let a little decay stop him, Holmes is determined to solve the cases that come to his door. Together, he and Watson will face the Pinkertons (the real ones), flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death and even Moriarty himself.

Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

Back when I reviewed the first Warlock Holmes novel, I recall saying how much I enjoyed it. How Denning’s take on two so well known and well loved characters was incredibly done. And how I would be eagerly looking forward for the second (and subsequent) books in the series.

With the second book, I am pleased to say that Denning continues in the vein of the original. Taking two characters and their stories and turning them on their ear. Yet Denning also strays from Doyle’s stories, not in a way that detracts but in a way that adds and makes the characters truly original.

I am reminded of one of my other favorite authors – Terry Pratchett – taking what we know (or what we think we know) and making us see it from a different angle.

Once again Denning has taken the well known world of Sherlock Holmes for a joy ride. Like the first novel, I laughed my way through the pages and even shed a few tears. And again like the first novel, I recommend this one to all my readers – especially my fellow Holmes and Watson fans.

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Milo is a very old soul. To date, he has been reincarnated over 9000 times; each time hopefully taking him one step closer to Perfection and Nirvana.

There is one small problem though…Milo doesn’t want to reach Perfection. He wants to spend his eternity with Suzie, aka Death. And it turns out she wants to spend it with him.

Milo now has to make a choice. You see, a soul can only be reincarnated 10,000 times before it must either move on to Perfection or fall in to the Void. But what good is Perfection if you cannot spend the time with the one you love?

Reincarnation Blues is one of those unique books that is hard to describe. Many have compared it to books by Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams and after reading it I can see why. On the surface it seems a light hearted, almost formulaic tale – a young man searching for a way to be with his true love. Having to overcome various obstacles, so forth and so on.

Yet underneath there are darker threads interwoven through the story. Some of the lives Milo lives are fairly standard. While there are others that see him pushed to his limits, both mentally and physically. A few of them were actually hard for me to read because of this.

One thing I did find interesting was Milo’s transformation throughout the story. In the beginning he believes he knows the perfect way to reach Perfection (pun intended), yet with each life cycle he comes to realize that perhaps he doesn’t know everything. That every person must find their own path and there is no one correct way.

Overall, I liked Reincarnation Blues very much. Readers who enjoy Douglas Adams and other authors of their ilk will enjoy this one too.

 

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1) by Kevin Hearne

To the casual observer, Atticus O’Sullivan looks like nothing more than your average twenty something tattooed Irish lad. Add a few zeroes to the end of his age and one will come closer to the truth – Atticus is actually twenty one centuries old. For the past few years he’s lived happily enough; he owns his own occult bookstore in Arizona and in his spare time shape shifts to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. Atticus is the last of the druids and the owner of the magical blade Fragarach – the Answerer.

Unfortunately, there are those who want the sword for themselves – one particular Celtic god has been trying to get it from Atticus for untold years. Now he’s on the verge of achieving his goal and getting his hands on the blade he’s coveted for years. Atticus, however, is not willing to give up the sword without a fight and he’s going to need all the help he can get from his friends to hang on to it.

Hounded was one of those books I saw mentioned on another website (this time Tumblr) and it immediately caught my eye. So of course I borrowed it from my local library and added it to my current queue.

Hounded reminds me a great deal of the early Dresden Files books. Our sometimes questionable hero is quick witted and funny, taking things serious but not too seriously. He is immensely likable. It’s little wonder the ladies’ in the books pages are drawn to him.

Hearne definitely did his research when writing Hounded because Celtic myth and mythos abound within the pages as well as mention of other belief systems. The subject is handled well without being too preachy about which one is “best” – though Atticus obviously has his favorite.

There were a few instances where the action was a little over the top but its easily forgivable. Overall, I thought Hounded was wonderfully well written. Fast paced and funny, I recommend it to any one who enjoys Joss Whedon or Jim Butcher. I’ve already gotten the next book in the series and cannot wait to read it!