Heroic Hearts

Heroic Hearts, edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

Unexpected heroes are featured in short stories by twelve popular writers of urban fantasy. They vary considerably in tone, setting, and type of narrator, including a sprite, a troll, a werewolf, and an Irish wolfhound. If you read urban fantasy, you’ll rejoice at the list of authors; other readers may find new favorite. I regularly read Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and Patricia Briggs, but I also enjoyed Kerrie L. Hughes’ story about a troll who works at a train station, the poignant “Train to Last Hope” by Annie Bellet and the valiant dogs in “Fire Hazard” by Kevin Hearne. Enjoy!


Magic Bites

magic bites jacketMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Book 1 in the Kate Daniels series.
I thought this was urban fantasy novel worked really well. Frequent waves of magic have brought down many skyscrapers in Atlanta, and stalled cars. Sometimes technology still works, so Kate has two kinds of lights in her apartment, and drives two very different old vehicles, and occasionally rides horses. Kate is a mercenary investigator, fast with her sword and both sarcastic and funny, which often provokes a quick challenge. Kate has no family, so when her guardian Greg is killed, she wants revenge. During the investigation, she has access to his office and apartment. She dislikes vampires, thinks crusaders are crazy, and spars with the Beast Lord Curran, who can take human or lion shape. Together, Kate and Curran search for Greg’s killer, and I’m sure they’ll have more adventures together.

Storm Front

storm front jacketStorm Front by Jim Butcher 

I was inspired to read Jim Butcher’s first book, entitled “Storm Front” in his Dresden Files Series, after a friend excitedly introduced me to the main character, Harry Dresden–wizard extraordinaire! I am now a fan and am sure to read more in this series. Thrillers with car chase scenes just don’t grab me the way a giant scorpion (“an orthopod version of Frankenstein’s monster”) chasing a wizard does. I read this book on audio and the narrator James Marsters sounds as smooth as Butcher’s portrayal of Dresden. While this book didn’t center too much on the Chicago landscape, the series overall does. I think I’ll enjoy that aspect of the other novels that I’ll eventually get to. Some of the most pivotal points in the story take place outside of the city at a lakefront home where Harry Dresden confronts dark magic in an effort to solve two converging mysteries. The first case is of a missing person and the second is of a baffling killing spree, in which the murderer left a distinct signature mark. Lieutenant Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit suspects that only Dresden, her trusted wizard friend and private investigative colleague, can offer insight to this grisly case.  

Other suggested audio reads of dark fantasy that has lighthearted, witty humor mixed in are Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys,” read by Lenny Henry who is superb at speaking with multiple dialects. Jim Dale’s reading of the J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” audiobook series is also intense and versatile. 



carniepunk jacketCarniepunk

Come one, come all! The Carniepunk Midway promises you every thrill and chill a traveling carnival can provide. But fear not! Urban fantasy’s biggest stars are here to guide you through this strange and dangerous world. . . .

 A carnival is the perfect setting for an urban fantasy story. The strange characters, promise of magic, threat of sinister doings alongside unhealthy treats but mostly just a lot of fun. Some of these stories were fun diversions and others made me want to jump off and find another ride. 

Most of these stories tie into series and some standalone better than others. I’m only familiar with one series (the Iron Druid Chronicles, which I’ve reviewed here before) but other contributors are big names in the genre. The Iron Druid tale is a nice piece that adds to that world but it suffers from the same problem many of these stories do. If you’re not familiar with the characters and settings then it feels like jumping in on a TV show in the middle of an episode in the middle of the second season. Too often I was pulled out of a story by wanting to figure out who the characters were and that their deal was.  

Only one story lead to me finding and checking out a book from the series. “The Three Lives of Lydia” is part of the Blud series. Normally I wouldn’t go for steampunk vampires, but the story is sweet, sinister, and has an intriguing twist at the end. Seanan McGuire’s “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” is a sad tale where the threat comes from outside of the carnival. The other stories that stand out to me were more because of how lost I felt reading them but overall, it was a good bunch of rides and attractions and I didn’t feel sick at the end.  

I’d recommend this to fans of any of the authors in the collection but I don’t think this would be the best introduction to individual authors. People who like sinister carnivals but aren’t into any of these authors may enjoy Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love or Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Urban fantasy collections are plentiful and may offer better stories to get acquainted with new authors though.


Dead Things

dead things jacketDead Things by Stephen Blackmoore

Necromancy isn’t pretty. That’s probably why we don’t see many characters who practice it. Most of them are villains who are expected to do terrible things. The occasional good guy who uses necromancy usually just talks to the dead with the occasional raising of an individual. In Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore, the main character shows that necromancy isn’t necessarily evil but it’s not for the squeamish.

 Eric Carter was born with a knack for the dead that set him apart even in his magical family and community. His parents were murdered when he was a young adult and Eric killed their killer. He fled his L.A. home and left his younger sister behind to be taken care of by a friend. He spent the next 15 years learning more about his magic and never setting down roots. He regularly converses ghosts, occasionally visits the dead side of things which is dangerous for humans no matter what their power over the dead, and gets dead things to stop hurting the living. What he hasn’t done is thought much about what he left behind. When his sister is murdered, he’s pulled back to L.A. where he finds out the people he cared about have moved on. Two of his old friends are ready to help him out despite his abandoning them, but it’s not so easy for Eric. Neither is figuring out how to get rid of the man he thought he killed before he left. 

 Dead Things has been recommended to fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It has the same noir feel to it (Eric gets beat up just as badly as Harry does) and lots of magic being thrown around. The action is intense. There’s a lot of introspection but Eric sees a lot more grey in the world than Harry does.  

This book gave me two things I’ve been looking for: a protagonist who’s motivated more by justice than strict morals, and necromancy being used to do more than just talk to the dead or raise armies of zombies. It’s not clear if this is the first in a series and I think I’m okay with this. As much as I enjoyed the read, it’s a very intense and dark world that may work better as an occasional side-trip than a regular destination.



Alien Diplomacy

Alien in the Family (Alien Series #5), by Gini Koch

It’s easy to find vampires, werewolves, and immortals fighting bad guys and winning the hearts of women but aliens have so far been underrepresented in Urban Fantasy. I love Urban Fantasy and aliens would be a hard sell to me. Luckily, some amazing covers got me to pick up the first Katherine “Kitty” Katt book Touched by an Alien and I quickly had a new favorite supernatural.

 Kitty was a regular—albeit geeky—marketing manager finishing up jury duty when she walked right into what she thought was a domestic dispute. Rather quickly things start getting weird and she ends up killing an alien with her pen. She’s swept away by gorgeous men in Armani suits and finds herself in a world her conspiracy-loving best friend has been insisting exists for years. Kitty finds out there are aliens, they are on Earth, and while some of them are good guys, some of them are horrible monsters.

 This is a really fun series. Kitty speaks her mind and has a great sense of humor. She adapts to the weirdness she finds herself in really well thanks to years spent reading superhero comics and realizing her best guy friend was right on the money with his conspiracy theories. Despite being surrounded by aliens with super speed, strength, and powers she holds her own in a fight and her quick-thinking often saves the day.

 If you’re in the mood for something fun with romance (it gets steamy) and a good dose of geekiness (and Aerosmith), try Touched by an Alien. This is one of those rare series where character relationships develop and there aren’t any love triangle hang-ups.  Through the five books a large blended family starts and gets stronger. The series reminds me a lot of J. D. Robb’s In Death books because of the strength of the relationships and the stable couple at the center. I’m hoping the Alien series is around for just as long as Robb’s.

 Alien Diplomacy puts the main characters in a new setting with new challenges. This time they don’t have to save the world and instead of being relieved, everyone is having trouble fitting in and dealing with feeling useless. But they’re ready for it when the action starts up. Kitty prefers getting kidnapped and fighting to sitting through classes on diplomacy but she makes some new friends and allies that help ease her transition. You’d think action hero main characters being taken off active duty would make a book boring and you’d be totally wrong. This crew doesn’t do boring. The changes in setting and career work out in the end because of the adaptability of Kitty and her family. By now, everyone knows that Kitty will never be far from trouble. But unlike other heroines she can handle it and learn from it. The enemies may be ruthless and the aliens and company don’t know how large the influence the not-so-lovable aliens have but they’re prepared to stop them and save the day and the world.


Ghost Story

Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

Harry was dead, to begin with. Like Jacob Marley in The Christmas Carol, Harry is sent back to earth as a ghost, to solve his own murder, and because his friends are in danger. Six months ago, Harry was last seen near an island in Lake Michigan, but his body and murderer were never found. Harry, a wizard, protected Chicago, and things have gone downhill since his death. Karrin Murphy, former police officer, is even working with gangster Marcone. Harry’s apprentice Molly may be the vengeful Rag Lady, and it’s still snowing in May. Something is very wrong. While trying to learn the rules and tricks of being a ghost, Harry befriends Sir Stuart, the ghost of an 18th century marine, and Fitz, a young gang member who can hear his voice. Harry’s cat, Mister, ectomancer Mortimer, Bob the skull, and Molly can see Harry’s ghost, but everyone else is reluctant to believe it’s really him. We learn the power of memories to a ghost, retrace part of Harry’s childhood, and relive his anguish at the death of Susan, the mother of his daughter Maggie. Molly, Mortimer, and Dr. Butters have hidden depths, his fairy godmother and an archangel have unexpected advice, and the adventure has plenty of twists and turns. There’s even some humor. This is an excellent entry in the urban fantasy series that starts with Storm Front. If you enjoy audiobooks, John Glover narrates this book very well.