Category Archives: Urban Fantasy

Review: Dead to Me

Dead to Me by Anton Strout.

Simon Canderous has a double edge sword of a talent, psychometry. Psychometry is the unique ability to divine information about the history of an object through touch. Formerly a petty thief Simon answers a cryptic newspaper ad and becomes a new employee for N.Y. City’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. The D.E.A. is on the side of Good. Our young protagonist takes his new position seriously. He views good versus evil the same as black versus white.

Simon struggles with learning the aspects of a real job, office politics and other-worldly skills. His mentor, Connor, specializes in ghosts and points out a lovely young woman sitting across from them in a coffee shop. Because she has not moved on they interview her trying to determine why she is still here. The ghost has no memories but she says something cryptic about the movie Apocalypse Now. This suddenly makes her a priority case though why is not clear.

As Simon and Connor work to discover information about Irene they stumble across the Sectarian Defense League. The SDL is a cultist rights movement legalized by the city as part of equal rights movement. A kerfuffle ensues and the Mayor’s liaison arranges a meeting between the D.E.A. and the SDL. Simon is sent and meets Jane for dinner. Jane is the personal assistant to the evil Faisal Bane, chairman of the SDL. Simon is attracted to Jane but conflicted because she works on the side of darkness. Simon’s investigation leads him zombies, ghost sniffing drug addicts and other forces of darkness.

Dead to Me is light urban fantasy. Fans of the Dresden Files will in all likelihood enjoy this book. Author Strout has four Simon Canderous books published to date, obviously the series had potential. But this book is a bit uneven, the characters under-developed and the action come across as a series of confrontations from an outline. The humor in the book seems thrown arbitrarily. I am not saying it isn’t funny rather the characters aren’t funny.

Examples: “Are you implying you had someone murdered? The Mayor’s Office does not condone that sort of conflict resolution.” And

“A lot of people who have come to work for us over the years have come to us from …. shall we say suspect backgrounds. Involvement with the dark arts, telemarketing and worse.”

The first chapters of the book introduce the reader to Simon and his motivations. The writing could have been tighter. The book came out in 2008 and I started to read it but wasn’t engaged. It sat in my TBR pile for 5 years. Simon is a likeable, hot-headed but good intentioned, 24-year-old man. The secondary characters are interesting. However sometimes the story gets ridiculous. When Simon wants to learn if Jane really a bad guy, he reads her diary. Her diary that she was writing in a chick lit voice when she was on a rooftop spying on him and having been sent to kill him.

I did like reading the book and may give the second book a try. I can’t rate this book a 5 but if you want light urban fantasy this is definitely worth a try.

Product Details
Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Ace (February 26, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0441015786
ISBN-13: 978-0441015788

Ratings 1 – 5
• Readability: 3.5
• Likability: 3.5
• Recommended: 3
• Book Club Read: 0
• Author Watch List: 2
• Laugh Meter: 32
• Cry Meter: 0
• Three Word Description: Light Urban Fantasy

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Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

This book is an enduring read. I have read this so many times I had to buy another book. Even having repeatedly read the book, I never skip certain areas or paragraphs as I do in other re-reads. That speaks to how marvelously written Sunshine is.

The book starts painting the normal world where our heroine and narrator of the book lives. The first line,

“It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years.”

Rae Seddon nicknamed Sunshine just needs a break from her family. She is the baker for the family coffee shop. She is irritated with the smothering of love and togetherness so she drives out to the lake for a break from everything one night. The author paints an average young woman with normal life when wham the reader learns this is a very different world with the marvelous, last sentence of the chapter.

“And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life. ….. I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.”

Sunshine takes place in a dark alternate version of our world. A world where demons, ‘were’ creatures (werewolves, wererats), vampires and magic are part of everyday life and everyday fears. The book is in first person and Sunshine’s narration is written like a conversation. Reading is like listening to a friend tell you a story. And McKinley has such talent that throughout this conversation she unveils and builds Sunshine’s world and a sophisticated, intricate well-thought plot. The atmosphere is dark, filled with menace, danger and small doses of humor.

Sunshine is kidnapped by vampires and chained to a wall as human livestock for a fellow captive. Her companion is a starving vampire named Constantine. Vampires are terrifying, frightening, smelly and deadly. Captive Constantine is the enemy of Bo, the leader of the vampire gang that captured them. Both Sunshine and Constantine are victims of an evil taunting game only Bo enjoys. Constantine tells Sunshine to remind him she is a rational creature so that Bo does not win the game today, the consequence being Sunshine dies.

Though petrified Sunshine recalls magic taught by her grandmother. And so she frees herself and Constantine. The mutual imprisonment and escape binds the two as partners in an ongoing battle against evil Bo. Neither is accepting of this bond. The relationship that develops is awkward and uncomfortable for both. Constantine is not evil, we come to know he is good and as a reader he becomes an endearing, heroic character. But the quality of menace remains as he is truly other and alien. Constantine becomes an endearing, heroic character.

Sunshine comes to learn more about the people around her and herself. Yes, she steps up to the fight ahead but as a real person. She is not suddenly brave and strong, she is scared and unsure. She is a flawed but always likeable, confused and deals with the trauma of her capture through work and pushing the people she cares about away. She is often bitchy. But she is a consistent narrator through her capture, escape, trauma and coming to terms with circumstances and the new reality forced on her. The meandering path of Sunshine’s thoughts show a very real person and her seemingly superfluous diversions continue to lay the ground work of this world and the story.

The ending of the book is strangely unfinished, quiet and yet remains true to the characters and story. It is a solid ending that is satisfactory and makes you want to cry. And if you are like me you will also want to cry that you have reached the end.

This is my absolute favorite book. Ms. McKinley is an amazing, talented author. Her storytelling and plotting is brilliant. I fear I have not done justice to the book. Sunshine is infused with the magical prose of Robin McKinley. Neil Gaiman said this book is “Pretty much perfect.” He is right.

Product Details:
Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 29, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0142411108 ISBN-13: 978-0142411100
Mass Market Paperback Publisher: Jove (2004)

Ratings 1 – 5
• Readability: 5
• Likability: 5
• Recommended: 5
• Book Club Read: 4
• Author Watch List: 5
• Laugh Meter: 2
• Cry Meter: 1
• Three Word Description: Perfect Urban Fantasy
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