Review: ‘Strike’ by Delilah S. Dawson

strike_cover

The hit list was just the beginning.

Time to strike back.

After faking her own death to escape her term as an indentured assassin for Valor Savings Bank, Patsy is on the run with her boyfriend, Wyatt. All she wants to do is go home, but that’s never going to happen—not as long as Valor’s out to get her and the people she loves.

Left with no good choices, Patsy’s only option is to meet with a mysterious group that calls itself the Citizens for Freedom.

Led by the charismatic Leon Crane, the CFF seem like just what Patsy has been looking for. Leon promises that if she joins, she’ll finally get revenge on Valor for everything they’ve done to her—and for everything they’ve made her do.

But Patsy knows the CFF has a few secrets of their own. One thing is certain: they’ll do absolutely anything to complete their mission, no matter who’s standing in their way. Even if it’s Patsy herself.

Strike is book two in the Hit series; you can find my review of the first book here. The basic premise of the series is that an apparently evil big bank has bought up the US national debt and has very quietly taken over the country. Its first step was to enlist teenage assassins to thin the “dead weight” — people with huge debts to Valor and no prospect of paying them off. Patsy is one of those teen assassins, forced to do so by means of her mother’s own debt. (If she doesn’t, her mother becomes some of that dead weight.)

And all of this has been consented to, because who ever reads the full terms of service when applying for a credit card?

The premise does stretch the credibility a little bit, at least for me — though that might be because I don’t live in the US, with its sub-prime mortgage crisis as part of my personal experience. Still, if you can accept the premise, these books are lightning-paced and sooooo addictive; I gobbled Strike up in two days. (I did the same with Hit. I love Dawson’s writing style.)

In Strike, we pick the story up where Hit leaves off; Patsy and Wyatt are on the run with a trail of bodies behind them, unable to go home, out of cash and unwilling to use Wyatt’s credit card for obvious reasons. So they hook up with the local chapter of the Citizens for Freedom, an underground group seeking to resist Valor’s sneaky national takeover by fighting against the capitalist machine. Leon Crane is the head of the local chapter. His family owns a lot of the small businesses around town, and you’d think he’d be all for Valor and its focus on the almighty dollar, but he’s an anarchist and creepy cult leader at heart. He is especially fond of recruiting the ex-Valor teen assassins — who better to use as his field agents?

Of course, he and Patsy … don’t get on.

I really love how Patsy develops in this story. She’s clearly suffering from PTSD, but she’s also able to knuckle down when she has to. She discovers a new, non-lethal way to rebel, via graffiti tags — hence the awesome cover. Graffiti is much quicker and clearer in delivering a message than yarn-bombing; Patsy’s use of it becomes a bit of a psychological crutch, and like all good crutches gets her into strife.

Patsy is devoted to her mother and her labrador, Matty, and very concerned that she not turn into the detached killer that Leon and Valor both seem to want her to be. That’s not to say that she won’t pull the trigger when she has to, though. She’s had a lot of practice at it by this point.

Her relationship with Wyatt is something that on the one hand feels a little rushed, but on the other is entirely understandable given the place they’ve both been put in. I got a bit annoyed at Patsy at one point when she gets mad at Wyatt for something that was not his fault — given that in the first book he manages to forgive her in fairly short order for killing his father. (Even though he hated his father, that still took an impressive effort.) I’m not saying I don’t understand her desire to lash out at someone, but poor Wyatt didn’t really deserve it.

Fortunately for her, he has the patience of a saint and is willing to give her the space she needs to cool down. I think we all need a Wyatt in our lives. ❤

One of the reasons this book didn’t earn a full five stars from me was that I found the CFF’s methods and choice of targets a little strange. How does sending the owner of a store franchise broke via extreme acts of vandalism hurt a big bank/new government like Valor? Why not target Valor itself? Maybe I missed something? But we get to find out more about Patsy’s absentee father, see more of the connection between the bank and her family, and learn why her list of targets in Hit all bore some connection to her rather than being random.

I’m unsure whether the series is intended to be a trilogy or perhaps longer, but although there isn’t a cliffhanger ending there are still some plot threads left unresolved. I’m definitely keen for book three!

hitstrikeFour stars


theendbookendIn case you missed it, yesterday at Aussie Owned and Read I blogged about five bookish gifts for blokes (in belated honour of Father’s Day, and in anticipation of Christmas).

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Review: ‘Wake of Vultures’ by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures

A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

A historical fantasy about a half Native American, half African American bisexual girl who dresses like a man? This is the book I didn’t know I needed till I had it. Delilah S. Dawson (writing here as Lila Bowen) is one of my favourite authors, and I confess that I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if she hadn’t written it — not for any particular reason, just because I don’t usually read books set in the American Wild West (or a facsimile thereof). So Wake of Vultures would never have even crossed my radar.

And that would’ve been a tragedy, because Nettie Lonesome’s story is a cracking read. The action whisks you along, and it doesn’t get bogged down in self-reflection — though there is certainly a bit of that, as poor Nettie has received exactly no education and, as other characters keep telling her, has a lot to learn about people. Consequently, she is baffled by notions like bisexuality or why a woman would actually choose to wear skirts rather than pretending to be a man.

From my (admittedly white, non-American) perspective, Dawson/Bowen handled the issues of race and gender identity with tact. There’s no stereotyping — there are good and bad guys both white and “Injun” (as Nettie refers to them, given she was raised by whites; the phrase is something the author acknowledges is not PC these days but would have been accurate in the 1800s Texas that Durango is based off). Even the monsters have a range of good and bad types.

As far as the monsters go, if there’s a method to determining the ones we encounter then it isn’t made clear to Nettie — and therefore us — in this book what that is. There are vampires, harpies, werewolves, skinwalkers, the Cannibal Owl (a Native American bogeyman), dwarves and bludbunnies (a critter from Dawson’s steampunk series). I guess European-mythology creatures can emigrate just as easily as Europeans can!

I enjoyed the other characters, particularly Winifred — who is the first female Nettie really gets to know who is happy and proud to be female — and Sam Hennessey, one of her fellow Rangers. There is a hint of romance in the story, but if you only like your romance to include kissing scenes and heavy petting, you won’t find any of that here (the closest we come to a kissing scene actually made me cringe for poor Nettie and the other party). I actually liked that, though. Nettie is so confused by who she is and what she wants that if she’d jumped into the sack with someone it would’ve seemed very out of character.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Horde of Crows. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger per se, but it sure left me wanting more.

Five stars


Review: ‘Three Slices’ anthology

Three Slices

Three Slices presents three novellas by modern fantasy writers:

A Prelude to War by Kevin Hearne

After an old friend is murdered in retaliation for his mercenary strikes against the oldest vampires in the world, Atticus O’Sullivan must solicit the aid of another old friend in Ethiopia if he’s going to have a chance of finishing a war he never wanted. Meanwhile, Granuaile MacTiernan starts a private war of her own against Loki, the lord of lies, and if it brings Ragnarok early — so be it.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys by Delilah S. Dawson

The number one rule of the circus? Don’t kill your volunteers, even accidentally. That’s how young magician Criminy Stain ends up on the run in a forest, where he meets a beautiful woman holding a bucket of blood. But is Merissa the answer to his prayers — or the orchestrator of his ruin?

Interlude: Swallow by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black is back. Miriam is tired of her curse and finally believes she knows how to be rid of her ability to see when and how other people die. She follows a lead to the mountains of Colorado, where she believes she sees signs of a serial killer she thought she already killed. (Set between THE CORMORANT and THUNDERBIRD.)

It’s very rare to find an anthology where you’ve read all (and are up to date on the relevant series by) the contributing authors. It’s never happened to me before, at any rate! So of course when I saw Three Slices, which has stories by three awesome urban fantasy writers, I had to buy it.

I maybe should have guessed from the title, but all three stories have one thing in common: oracular cheese. (Yes, cheese.) That element was really cute, and was one of the things that tied the stories together. There were a few other things, some of them more subtle than others — Kevin Hearne gives a nod to Chuck Wendig’s heirloom apple obsession, for example, while Chuck uses the Polish expression that is the title of Delilah Dawson’s story. I loved seeing those little easter eggs sprinkled throughout.

On the stories themselves, I enjoyed all three, although Delilah’s story was probably my favourite, mainly because — of the three of them — it was the one that stands alone the most cleanly. For fans of her Blud series, seeing how Criminy Stain winds up in the circus he’s the ringmaster of in later books is very entertaining, and Criminy is still my favourite smoking hot magician vampire.

Wendig’s Swallow was a little peek at how Miriam is going; the mystery within the story is resolved internally, but does heavily reference previous books. (Also, note that although I enjoy Wendig’s raw style, it may not be for everyone — I shelve this series in “horror” on Goodreads for a reason.)

As for A Prelude to War, I did enjoy catching up with Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile, but this story is the least able to stand alone. If you haven’t read the series up till this point, you will be lost. Still, it was very satisfying to see Granuaile’s interaction with Loki, though.

Very, very satisfying.

Four stars


Mini-reviews: ‘Ensnared’ by A. G. Howard and ‘Hit’ by Delilah S. Dawson

After writing like crazy during the week, I’d intended to write like crazy a little more on the weekend. But instead I sorta kinda read like crazy instead.

This weekend I finished:

  • Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows #8) by Kim Harrison
  • Ensnared (Splintered #3) by A. G. Howard
  • Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

I say finished, because I started Ensnared over a month ago, and I’ve been listening to Black Magic Sanction as an audiobook for the last two weeks. I’m not going to review the latter, because it’s book eight in the series and I figure by this point you’re either committed to it or you’re not! I give it four stars, though. (I did review the first book in the series, Dead Witch Walking, here, if you’re curious. The series is a sexy adult urban fantasy with some awesome worldbuilding.)

Onto the other two…

Ensnared by A. G. Howard

EnsnaredI found the start of Ensnared a little hard to get into, but this might be a situation of “it’s not you, it’s me”. If you read my review of the previous book, Unhinged, you’ll know that I read it in 2013, in the hospital immediately before and after having surgery. In the intervening 18 months, I basically forgot the entire book. I’m not kidding — I could remember the events in the first story, but was really confused by the way the third one started, because it was like the second one never happened.

Damned general anaesthetic and awesome pain medication.

However, it did give me the chance to test A. G. Howard on her ability to seed back-story, and I can happily report that she included just enough that I didn’t get totally lost, without being over the top.

High fives?

Once I got party-way through — probably around about where Morpheus shows up, which I’m sure is a TOTAL coincidence — I really got back into the story and the world. At that point I finished the book in only a couple of days and really enjoyed it. Alyssa really comes into her own, Jeb finally redeems himself in my eyes, and Morpheus… Sigh. He’s Morpheus. ❤

Four stars

Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

HitThis beautiful little piece of book mail arrived a while ago and got bumped to the top of my to-read pile, because I have a bit of a crush on Dawson and her work. Her last book, Servants of the Storm, blew my mind with her writing and the WTF twist at the end. (I’m  still hanging out for a sequel, BTW!)

Hit didn’t disappoint.

The genre is dystopian, but it’s the kind of dystopian we don’t often see except in zombie fiction — the kind where the world is just starting to collapse. The government has been taken over by an Evil Corporation (TM) and no one has realised yet. No one except Patsy, the main character … and presumably a bunch of other indentured assassins, although we don’t really get to see them.

Patsy is given five days to confront ten people who have defaulted on their debts with Valor Savings Bank. They have the choice between paying their debts (which they can’t), agreeing to be indentured assassins themselves, or being executed. The book has one chapter per victim, with the chapter title being their name. (I loved that touch so much.)

Of course, there’s even more going on than a seventeen-year-old girl being forced to shoot people and having a slow nervous breakdown, and the sense that there was a greater, overarching scheme takes this from The Hunger Games set in small-town USA to “can I guess the conspiracy theory” hijinks. (For the record, I guessed some of it.)

Like Servants of the Storm, Hit is a book in dire need of a sequel. I loved how it ended, but I need to know what happens next. NEED TO.

Five stars


Ten Authors I’d Love to Have Dinner With

toptentuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Ten Authors I REALLY Want To Meet”. I debated whether to do this one or not, because I already did a top five on the same subject about a year ago. But I figured I’d do an expanded version. In my fantasy scenario, we’re all having dinner somewhere fabulous (where I don’t have to cook!).

In no particular order, Stacey Nash, Lauren K. McKellar and Kim Last. These three ladies are some of my fellow Aussie Owned and Read bloggers, and they’re always so ready to provide advice, cheers and a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold when required. They’re also all super talented, and the idea of being able to sit down with them and brainstorm plot ideas makes me giddy with delight.

J. K. Rowling. The world of Harry Potter is so clever and complex, and I’d love to engage with someone who can achieve such an epic level of world-building. Also, she was a single mother when she wrote it, and we could bond over that. We’d share parenting advice and give each other manicures or whatever it is that bonding single mothers do.

Stephen King. I’d probably be too terrified to talk to him, because — whatever you think of genre fiction in general and horror specifically — this man is a genius. (For the record, I love horror but am now scared of clowns. Seriously.) Maybe I could bask in his reflected glory. If I did speak, I’d have to be careful not to utter any adverbs.

Chuck Wendig. As well as being an excellent writer, he seems to be a stand up bloke, and I’d like to buy him a beer or something. He’s also funny. I like a man that can make me laugh and impart excellent writing advice at the same time.

Delilah S. Dawson. As well as writing kick-ass steampunk fantasy romance and a Southern gothic that will scare you witless. Delilah is funny too, and a geek. She’s such a geek she writes geekrotica, WHICH IS TOTALLY HOT YES I MAY HAVE READ IT SHUT UP! (The safe word is “wookiee”.)

Mercedes Lackey. Misty wrote one of my go-to favourite fantasy reads — the Last Herald-Mage trilogy is comfort food for my brain. I love some of her books more than others (I blogged about that during last week’s Top Ten Tuesday), but given she’s released over 100 novels, that is inevitable. I’d love to talk to her about her approach to writing — how she does it.

Honourable mentions

Unfortunately, unless I get a TARDIS, these folks are no longer available. 😦

Anne McCaffrey. Anne was my first writing love, and her Pern books are the first fantasy world I desperately wanted to live in.

Douglas Adams. Adams was not only a hilarious writer but a staunch conservationist and lover of science.

Who would you have to dinner?


Top Six Halloween Reads

toptentuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is my top books (or movies) to get you in the mood for Halloween. If you say so… *evil grin* My selection is mostly ghost stories, but there are other greeblies thrown in there for good measure. They’re listed in no particular order other than the one I thought of them in. And there are six rather than ten, because that’s how I roll. (Pretend it’s 100th of the beast, rounded down, if that helps get you in the mood to be spookified!)

(Note: While my own book, Isla’s Inheritance, opens with a Halloween party, I have valiantly resisted adding it to my list. I’m not that shameless. Not quite.)

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Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

A year ago Hurricane Josephine swept thServants of the Stormrough Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction — and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real … including Carly at their favorite cafe. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah — where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk — she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Dovey’s running out of time and torn between two paths. Will she trust her childhood friend Baker, who can’t see the threatening darkness but promises to never give up on Dovey and Carly? Or will she plot with the sexy stranger, Isaac, who offers all the answers — for a price? Soon Dovey realizes that the danger closing in has little to do with Carly … and everything to do with Dovey herself.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

BlackbirdsMiriam Black knows when you will die.

She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

 

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in BloodCas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven Boys“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

The Memory Game by Sharon Sant

The Memory Game‘If there is a hell, I think maybe this is it.’

Weeks after fifteen-year-old David is killed by a speeding driver, he’s still hanging around and he doesn’t know why. The only person who can see and hear him is the girl he spent his schooldays bullying.

Bethany is the most hated girl at school. She hides away, alone with her secrets until, one day, the ghost of a boy killed in a hit-and-run starts to haunt her.

Together, they find that the end is only the beginning…

 

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaCount Dracula sleeps in a lordly tomb in the vaults beneath his desolate castle, scarlet-fresh blood on his mocking, sensuous lips. He has been dead for centuries, and yet he may never die…

Here begins the story of an evil ages old and forever new. It is the story of those who feed a diabolic and insatiable craving into the veins of their victims, into the men and women from whose body they draw their only sustenance. This is Bram Stoker’s chilling classic, a novel of exquisite power and hypnotic fascination.

 

 

 

 

Pleasant dreams and happy reading!


Review: ‘Servants of the Storm’ by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm

A year ago Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction — and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real … including Carly at their favorite cafe. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah — where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk — she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Dovey’s running out of time and torn between two paths. Will she trust her childhood friend Baker, who can’t see the threatening darkness but promises to never give up on Dovey and Carly? Or will she plot with the sexy stranger, Isaac, who offers all the answers — for a price? Soon Dovey realizes that the danger closing in has little to do with Carly … and everything to do with Dovey herself.

This is a book that is going to polarise people. I gave it five stars so clearly I’m in the “I loved it” category, but I can’t think of the last time a book pulled the rug out from under me in the last chapter like this one did. I lay awake half the night thinking about it. If there were a sequel available for me to read RIGHT NOW, that wouldn’t be so bad. But there isn’t. And I want to cry a little from frustration.

I see from perusing other reviews on Goodreads that some people had assumed this was a psychological thriller, and so were disappointed when it took a supernatural turn. Although there are elements of psychological thriller to the story — Dovey spends the first part of the book coming down off heavy medication and her memory is unreliable at best — the story is more a cross between urban fantasy and horror (which I guess is where gothic fiction often sits).

There are supernatural beasties, mostly demons or their various offspring. And the horror elements are a combination of the creeping sense that something was rotten just beneath the shiny surface, and the way the book leaves you gasping, like the freaky scene right at the end of a horror movie where all is revealed. I was reminded of Silent Hill by parts of it, if you’re familiar with those games (and that movie) — the way you’d turn a corner and something that looked shabby but more-or-less normal would peel back and reveal a slice of something deeply disturbing.

Other than the amazing atmosphere, the thing that made this book for me was Dovey. I love how complex a character she is. She is deeply flawed, in that she has a one-track mind (and may or may not have been dangerously insane before the antipsychotics). Her goal, to find out what happened to her friend Carly a year before, is what inspires her to stop taking her medication, and it’s what drives her to do pretty much everything from that point on.

Sometimes her actions are almost daft, the way she dives into trouble after having been warned of the danger. The ease with which she resorts to violence as the drugs go out of her system is both a warning sign and, I have to admit, deeply satisfying (because who doesn’t love a tough main character?). But her clear and enduring love for her friend, and her natural distrust of the gorgeous but suspicious Isaac — the one providing all the warnings of danger in the first place — are the cause of her recklessness. I can respect that.

There is a bit of a love triangle here, in the typical YA way: Baker is the childhood friend with a longstanding crush, and Isaac is a little bit of a bad boy … but not that bad, really, given the other YA bad boys out there. He came across as more of a bookworm who’s fallen in with a bad crowd to me, which made me like him more than I like most bad boys. Either way, the romance is definitely a subplot, a bit of extra spice, which is how I personally like it.

If you like paranormal stories with a serious creep-factor and a dark conspiracy, then this is the book for you. Five stars.

…now, where’s my sequel? Five stars