Friday, June 27, 2014

Series Review: "The Hollows" by Kim Harrison (plus bonus remarks on "The Dresden Files" by Jim Butcher)

Rachel Morgan lives on the edge. Keeping her magical kindred from breaking too many human laws in the slums of supernaturally-integrated Cincinnati is a full-time job. Being a white witch herself means that she will always be taking the job home with her, too.

Chafing under the restrictions of the Inderland Security--plus a little harassment from her vampire boss--Rachel strikes it out on her own as an independent bounty hunter. The odds of her lasting long enough to file for self-employment aren't good, though. Her former employers have put out a hit on her for breaking her contract. And that's not including the everyday dangers from werewolves, demons, gang lords, insurance agents, and her own bloodthirsty roommate.

What's the good news? Rachel lives for danger.

  3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bonus Review: Karen Russell's Short Story Anthologies

I had so much fun reviewing Karen Russell's Swamplandia! that I picked up both of her short story anthologies: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Over the weekend, I tore through them both. As long as I can spend this summer lying by the pool with good books like these, I won't complain about the heat.

Russell is climbing swiftly in the ranks of my most esteemed modern writers. She has a thoroughly unique viewpoint on both the everyday and the paranormal, one which at times even reverses the two. At the same time, her writing is so grounded in earthy and unvarnished settings that the reader never senses when their feet have left the ground. There is no need to suspend disbelief when reading her tales. Russell does it for you. It's quite the optical illusion.

Most importantly, against these surreal stages--both the ones that exist in our own world, however unfamiliar they are to the reader, and the ones that require a little loosening of the seatbelt of reality--Russell sets very simple, very true characters. They grip the reader's heart with a familiar and possessive hand.

Reading through both of these anthologies at such a fast clip, I did notice a recurring weakness when it comes to endings. Over and over, Russell seems to conclude the tale five minutes too soon, stopping on a point that feels neither cliffhangerish nor resolved. It may be intentional, but I would love to see the author follow through at least once.

Every anthology has a few duds, but Russell knocks it out of the park with so many of these tales that I recommend both books as highly as Swamplandia! itself. I look forward to her other works.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: "The Princess Curse" by Merrie Haskell

The princesses of Castle Sylvian are under a curse, and young Reveka, the herbalist's apprentice, intends to be the one to break it. With the reward the king is offering, she could run her own herbary--and not have to listen to Brother Cosmin yelling anymore.

But breaking the curse is no simple matter, with a tower full of enchanted sleepers who failed to break the curse, and the princesses themselves poisoning those who try. It's for their own good, they tell Reveka. Better to be poisoned, than to follow the cursed princesses to the Land of the Dead where souls wander and fade, and where a monster hunts for his bride.
4.5 out of 5 stars


Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell

Once upon a time, Hilola Bigtree, the Swamp Centaur, wrestled alligators before cheering crowds at Swamplandia!, the Bigtrees' family-run theme park. Her daughter Ava wanted nothing more than to be just like her. But Hilola is dead and the tourists no longer flock to the island, preferring the gimcrack attractions on the mainland. Swamplandia!, like surviving Bigtrees, is abandoned.

While Chief Bigtree vanishes for days on end--supposedly raising money to save Swamplandia!--his children are left to fend for themselves. The traitor Kiwi runs away, working at a rival hell-themed water park to earn a normal life for himself and his sisters. Dreamy Osceola holds seances, talking first to her mother and then to a succession of ghostly "boyfriends." When one proposes to her, Ossie boards a derelict ship she believes will drift to the Underworld, leaving Ava behind.

Guided by the mysterious Bird Man, Ava plunges into the treacherous labyrinth of the Everglades, searching for Ossie. In the wake of Hilola's death, someone has to save Swamplandia! and the Bigtrees, even if that someone is the youngest of them all.

4.5 out of 5 stars