THE VAMPIRE AND A WITCH – WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE (TALES OF CALLIE WALKING) – HUNTER CASSELLS

with friends like theseWhen Callie Walking — child of a Lakota magician father and a Scottish witch mother — meets one of the oldest living vampires, a creature so powerful it’s impossible to even gauge the extent of his power, one of two things is going to happen. Death or friendship.

I would be struck dumb if this is not the first story in a series. Callie Walking and Aristo Ionios are perfect for a series. He’s ancient with powers beyond understanding. She is young, but no slouch in the power department and one can only imagine how much more powerful she will be as she matures.

They meet. They talk. They take a wild ride on a classic Indian motorcycle. They talk some more. A chord is struck, a resonance.

She wants to know how he defeated the wards she set up to protect her client. She’s not deep in mourning for the client — he was, after all, a serial killer. But she want to know how her wards were defeated. The vampire she meets is not what she expects. He’s something else. Unique. Despite herself, Callie is fascinated and attracted.

This isn’t a full length novel. It’s 93 pages, which makes it either a long short story or a novella. Whatever you want to call it, it’s very good. I don’t say this lightly, but rarely have I encountered two more intriguing main characters. And I want more. There isn’t any more, not yet … but I live in hope. This could be a series worth following. Magic, witches, vampires, great dialogue and the entire story just oozes atmosphere.

You can buy With Friends Like These on Kindle at Amazon for $3.99 and it’s worth every penny. Buy it. If you do, maybe the author will write more and I would personally appreciate that.

GOT A KINDLE? MEGA BARGAINS FROM AMAZON TODAY!

Need something to read? Like mysteries? How about the classics? These are some of the amazing values you can get free or for very short money from Amazon.These are currently available. You can’t beat the prices, so if you’re a reader, there’s no downside except possibly that some of these books are huge.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available for PC, Mac and a variety of mobile phones and tablets. Truly a win-win. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots more.

Delphi Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition] Samuel Clemens … $.99

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (37 plays, 160 sonnets and 5 Poetry Books With Active Table of Contents) [Kindle Edition] … $.99

Alice in Wonderland: The Complete Collection (Illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated Through the Looking Glass, plus Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and The Hunting of the Snark) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (My all time favorites!)

Oz: The Complete Collection (All 14 Oz Books, with Illustrated Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Exclusive Bonus Features) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (Note: I would have given a body part for this when I was a kid.)

The Detective Megapack [Kindle Edition] Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, much more … $.99

The Classic Mystery Collection (100+ books and stories) [Kindle Edition] Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anna Katharine Green, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Honore de Balzac and more … $2.99

Agatha Christie Collection (Illustrated): The Secret Adversary AND The Mysterious Affair [Kindle Edition] $.99

The Dashiell Hammett Megapack [Kindle Edition] … $.99

“All You Zombies-” [Kindle Edition] Robert Heinlein (Possibly the best time travel short story ever written) … $1.25

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Kindle Edition] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … $0.00

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) …  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection) … $.99

H.G. Wells Collection, Over 50 Works: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Little Wars, World Set Free, Tales of Space and Time, When the Sleeper Wakes & MORE! [Kindle Edition] … $.99 ( I don’t know how many pages this is, but it’s a huge file, so I’m better a thousand or more pages.)

Charles Dickens Collection 55 Works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, MORE! [Annotated] [Kindle Edition] This is 15 novels and all the short fiction … an entire library … $2.99

Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Love and Friendship, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Lady Susan & more! [Kindle Edition] … $.99

The Complete Little Women Series: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (4 books in one) [Kindle Edition] (807 pages) Louisa May Alcott … $.99

The Bronte Sisters – The Complete Novels (Annotated) + Extras [Kindle Edition] by Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte (894 pages) … $.99

Jules Verne Collection, 33 Works: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Mysterious Island, PLUS MORE! [Kindle Edition] (8876 pages — apparently not a misprint). … $.99 (You may never need another book!)

Truly, the selection is huge, the prices are more than reasonable. If you’re short on money, long on loving literature, you’re going to love this! And there’s so much more. I kid you not. SO much more.

Ever After, Kim Harrison – Fantasy Comfort Food of the Literary Kind

When I began reading Ever After, by Kim Harrison — on the day of its release — I read it first on Kindle. Next, to get the full flavor, I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. Oh my. I just sank into it, the same way I sink into my bed … with a sigh of sheer delight. How good it felt to be home again.

Home again? In Cincinnati? When I’ve never been to Cincinnati and probably never will be? Where witches consort with vampires and pixies and a powerful elf rules the political world? Where you can hire a werewolf as a body-guard and you must take care to avoid demons and banshees?

Yup, Cincinnati. I feel like it’s the home town of my wistful soul, a world that somehow makes more sense than the reality in which I live my real life.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks and I realized … I need a fix. I need to go home to Cincinnati and visit the gang at the old church. I started listening to it again last night and of course, I loved it as I have each time before. Maybe I’ll reread some of the earlier books I haven’t read in a while because there’s a new book in the series coming out and I want to be psyched. Like I wouldn’t be :-)

I have loved every book in the series, though I have loved the last three or four even more than the first group. The characters have matured, come into themselves, their powers. They are grabbing hold of their destinies, moving into their futures.

One of the signs a book may deserve  the label “classic” is when rereading it is — no matter whether it’s the first reread or the 10th — is like reading it for the first time. Maybe better. I was barely past the first few paragraphs when I realized it was as if I’d never left. I was back in the Hollows, home in magical Cincinnati and the church where Rachel, Ivy and Jenks live. My friends were waiting for me.

Ever After was new all over again. I relived the adventure, relishing each twist and turn of the plot, each character’s development. I was happy for Ivy, finding her own life at long last but sorry not to have her with me on this journey. Glad that Jenks was still involved and Biz is coming into his own. Delighted with the direction of Rachel’s relationship with Trent, sad at the loss of beloved characters. Bemused at the changes and growth in the world of demons as they evolve from caricature bad guys to people with memories of better days, their own private griefs and joys.

I keep discovering new layers to the story. This is a great book. I know it’s genre urban fantasy but it is far superior to most of the stuff I read in any genre. The consistent, careful development of characters and plot are outstanding. Kim Harrison never drops a stitch. Knowing  something about Kim Harrison’s process has given me a better understanding of how she achieves this remarkable, near-perfect construction. It has improved my writing. Following her blog is a good thing for writers. She is unusually forthcoming about how she does what she does. I continue to be fascinated by how excruciatingly precise she is, how very careful. No wonder there are not lapses in continuity, no strange leaps in time. She is careful, organized. Compared to my writing style, she’s downright anal compulsive and probably why she is able to keep such a high standard of quality. I don’t have that kind of dedication. Which is why she is a best-selling author and I’m not.

If you’ve never checked out her blog and you write, I highly recommend it. She answers questions about anything other than the details and plot of upcoming books.

She is an extremely focused and precise writer. She plans every detail of the plot, every twist of the story. No “off the cuff” writing. She doesn’t depend on obvious answers nor use genre clichés.

There’s nothing raw or unfinished in any of her books. Ever After would be a fine novel be any standards. If it weren’t urban fantasy, it would be good literature.

In my opinion, most of today’s creative authoring is happening in fantasy and science fiction. General fiction, of which I have read a great deal recently, has become drab and unimaginative. Very little new territory is being explored in “serious literature.” If you want to read something that’ll knock your socks off, visit another genre.

Kim_Harrison_06lrI have heard a lot of complaints about the popularity of science fiction and fantasy, that people don’t want to read anything that doesn’t have supernatural creatures or time travel as part of the plot. But those who complain might consider the paucity of good books coming out of “main stream” fiction. It doesn’t have to be dull, but it so often is. And bleak. And depressing. It’s no wonder that many of us don’t want to go there.

The thrill of reading isn’t gone but it has just moved to a different part of town. Read Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series and check out Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid. Discover Carol Berg. Pick one of her books or series; you can’t go wrong. Move right into the book world with Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next series. If you haven’t already read it, Stephen King’s 11-23-62 is one of the best books of the decade — maybe any decade — and it’s pure science fiction.

Try some of Connie Willis‘ works. This is an area of fiction where creativity is running rampant. You’ll find books to entertain you and fill your mind with ideas. And you won’t be bored, not for a moment. There are lots more wonderful writers waiting for you to discover them. It’s not a whole world. It’s many worlds and they are all yours to explore.

Ever After is a very satisfying read. Magic, love, passion, battles. Complicated relationships, love in bloom, hope, loss, and danger. I mourned the fallen, exalted for the living and dreamed about the future. It’s not the only good book I’ve read recently, but it sure is among the top few.

If a witch, an elf and a demon can come together to save the world, anything is possible.

All of the Hollows are available as paperbacks, on Kindle and as audiobooks.

STYXX by Sherrilyn Kenyon – Total Immersion Escapism

Styxx Amazon

Series: Dark-Hunter (Book 23)
Hardcover: 848 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition – September 3, 2013
Language: English

Epic in scope and length, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s latest offering has everything. I mean that in the most literal way. Absolutely everything. Eleven thousand years of … well … What would you like? If it’s fantasy, sexual, violent, weird … it’s here. My reality has been a real drag lately, so despite the fact that I had stopped reading Ms. Kenyon’s books a while back, I got this. Actually, to be fair, I forgot that I had pre-ordered it months ago, so when it showed up on my Kindle, I said “Oh, lookie here. Ooh, and it’s a long one. Yummy.”

Thing is, I’d stopped buying her books. They had become so much the same, I figured rather than spend money on a new one, I could reread an earlier one. Save a few dollars. Get the same kicks.

Styxx isn’t one of her cookie cutter, interchangeable books. Like Acheron, this is a big book in every way. I actually listened to it on Audible rather than reading it because my eyes don’t do well on very long books, and now that Audible.com is owned by Amazon, you get a big discount on many audiobooks you already own on Kindle. Then you can follow the bouncing ball in your Kindle while a narrator reads to you. As an audiobook, it’s 31 hours of listening. The narrator is overall good, but I am not sure why some Atlantean Goddesses and Greek gods and demigods have Cockney accents. Just wondering, is all.

Styxx audibleStyxx lets you spend  serious time in those golden olden days of yore. It’s enough to make you glad you don’t really live then and there.

So, what will you find in Styxx?

Sex, for one. A hefty dollop, though oddly, not quite as proportionately much as many of her lesser books. It’s there, but it’s not the most prominent feature of the book. Still, you won’t feel deprived. There’s plenty … but it’s not the only thing.

The most prominent feature of the book is torture and violent rape. Male-on-male rape. Agonizing torture, sex slavery, more torture, whippings, serious chains and bondage, straight up child abuse and cruelty, child rape (I sincerely hope that isn’t your thing). It’s all there, a cornucopia of perversion. Keeps you turning pages. In CinemaScope and surround sound. Name your hottest S & M fantasy. This book has got it. Lots of it, whatever it may be.

Oh, I almost forgot about the drugs. Them too.

Chains. Whips. Brands. Bondage. Rape. Torture. Regular sex too, just for contrast. And love. Karma in action. Reincarnation. Immortality. If you have read any other books in the series — Acheron in particular — you already know the plot. Horrible things happen to the hero. Cruelty, injustice, misery, torture. Not to worry. Love conquers all. Heals all. A fair amount of melodrama transpires along the way. Keep a hankie nearby to dry your tears.

This book also features the ever-popular war. There are some excellent, well-written battle scenes. Some of the best writing in the book is devoted to military maneuvers. She also provides (as usual) a substantial amount of pseudo-history, as well as Sherrilyn Kenyon’s special brand of “she made it up herself, really she did” mythology. She does it so well you think it must be based on something other than her imagination, but it has no basis in fact. Her ability to create things that feel very real is one of her strongest abilities as an author.

She give this book something she has never really given in any of the many books in the series I’ve read. True, there were hints, but this time, she lets it hang out.

Sherrilyn Kenyon is witty and clever. Her humor tends to the dark end of funny, but it’s there. Much of the wit falls into the category “Easter eggs,” hidden jokes for those in the know. She makes literary and movie references that, if you notice them, make you stop and say … “Hey, wait minute … that’s from …”

It was when Styxx, our hero, looks at the heavens and says “The old man was right” that I could no longer ignore it. This a very famous — and favorite — line from “The Magnificent Seven.” My husband uses it as his email signature.

I couldn’t let it pass, so I stopped reading and went to tell my husband, a man who can recite the entire script of “The Magnificent Seven” from memory. He and I discussed if it could be accidental and he said, “Not a chance” because that’s as famous a movie line as any, up there with “We don’t need no stupid bodges …” (NOT in the book). However, after that, I started consciously listening for hidden wit. I found plenty.

Underlying everything, Sherrilyn Kenyon has a wicked sense of humor. I love that in an author. I will forgive anything for cleverness, snappy dialogue and something to make me laugh. She made me laugh. More than once. It told me that she was not taking herself overly seriously, that she knew who her readers are. I was profoundly grateful.

You can miss the wit entirely if you aren’t acquainted with the source of her little surprises. If you don’t recognize where they come from, you won’t get them. The book goes on fine without them but they are a nice bonus for those of us who do catch them as the fly by.

Favorite original quote from Styxx: “A quiet man is a thinking man. A quiet woman is an angry one.”

I’m going to have to find somewhere to use that. Great line.

Plot? Oh,  yes, the plot. If you read Acheron, it’s the same plot, but from the other side of the mirror. This is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” Styxx is Acheron’s twin brother, the one who was supposed to have it easy, a spoiled princeling while Acheron struggled to survive. Not so, not so at all. Styxx’s tortures exceed even Acheron’s and last longer. Acheron is not the hero of the story. For followers of the Dark Hunter series, it may come as a painful shock to discover Acheron isn’t always a good guy. His nasty, mean-spirited, closed-minded side gets a good airing in Styxx.

I started by saying I was really ready to escape from my reality when this book showed up. I might not have bought it if I hadn’t pre-ordered it … but it was fortuitous that it did. I needed a dose of “out of this world.” You need to absolutely suspect your credulity to get into the book. Logic? Oh please. We don’t need no stupid logic. Just let the book sweep you away, accept it for what it is and enjoy it. If you don’t like explicit sex or violence, skip it. It’s not for everyone. If you are homophobic, skip it. If you are a Conservative Christian, skip it. I suspect the audience for this is mainly women, but I’m sure there are men who would like it too.

A lot of the story doesn’t really make much sense if you examine it closely. So my advice? Don’t examine it closely. Also, it is very clear where the story is going next and that should be most interesting. For the record, this is not the book where the danger of Acheron and his mom getting together to end the world as we know it is concluded. Not yet. More to come. Stay tuned!

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES – At Winter’s End, Robert Silverberg

Original Publication date: October 1, 2005, Kindle Publication date: May 14, 2013

At Winter’s End: The New Springtime, Volume 1. By Robert Silverberg, .

The falling death stars came again at last. Long predicted, the recurring catastrophic collision of earth with the world-destroying celestial bodies arrived on scheduled. In its last pass, it had killed the dinosaurs, brought the ice ages and ultimately, the ascendency of humankind as Earth’s dominant special.

It is many hundreds of thousands of years in the future when the cycle recurred. By then, Earth had not only humans, but other intelligent species — vegetals, mechanicals, hjjk (insect-like) and emerald-eyes (heirs to the dinosaurs) sharing the planet. Of the intelligent earth-based species, only humans and the hjjk were destined to survive the longest cold winter of the Earth. The others either could not or would not endure the 700,000 years of the Long Winter.

Simians who will become heirs to humanity have survived in an underground cocoon. Within this highly structured, rigidly organized society, they are driven by a singular goal. Endure until the New Spring comes. Survive until the sun warms the Earth. It’s an unthinkably long wait.

When finally signs portend the arrival of spring and The People are led by their chieftain Koshmar and chronicler Taggoran from the cocoon into the Outer World, it’s terrifying to many. The odds against survival are formidable. There are but 60 of them in total, the exact same number who entered the cocoon. This number has been maintained through ruthless reproductive control and pre-scheduled death dates. The number of tribe members has never in all 700,000 years been allowed to grow by a single member. But now, it’s a new day. The rules are gone and from where will the new rules come? robertSilverberg

Earth does not exactly throw the People a welcome party. Many are glad to see them, but not for the happiest of reasons. The rat wolves, the bloodbirds, endless vermin, bizarre predators and hideous insects await them … hungrily. With the warming has come the yearning for a taste of warm flesh.

The hjjk — those strange, cold insect like beings — have survived, to no one’s surprise. But there seem to be no other humans or humanoids anywhere. Koshmar’s band is so small and the earth so huge and empty. Losing Taggoran, the Old Man and Chronicler — preserver of the People’s knowledge and history — to the rat wolves means Koshmar must anoint a new Chronicler. She chooses the 9-year-old prodigy Hreesh-of-the-questions. It’s never been done before … but nothing is as it was. Everything must change.

Can this small doughty band of survivors fulfill the age-old promise to become the masters of the new-born Earth?

This is a long book with a lot of philosophical content. I enjoy the speculative nature of science fiction. That’s why I read it and that is, in my opinion, what sets sci fi apart — as a genre — from other kinds of fiction.

Sci fi is concept-oriented rather than centered on personal and emotional stuff. This is classic science fiction. There is a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here, much of it about the importance of following rules — and when rules no longer apply. How to know when it’s time to change and when it’s better to stand fast. If you are looking for a novel that explores the personal feelings of people and their relationships, you’ve come to the wrong book. If you like to give your brain a little exercise, don’t mind philosophical meandering (better yet, you enjoy it), give this one a read. And then read volume 2 — The Queen of Springtime. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

 At Winter’s End is available in hardcoverpaperback and now in Kindle. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking novel of world’s end, world’s beginning. Robert Silverberg is a  master science fiction writer. Earth and its people reborn.

Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein

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Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In this strange endless and infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears. During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man.

And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!

Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place.

Tree of lives

The logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.

You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.

I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this  particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.