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REVIEW:  Undead Chaos by Josh Roots

REVIEW: Undead Chaos by Josh Roots

Undead Chaos  by Joshua Roots

Dear Mr. Roots,

 

I really, really, really hope you meant for this to be an over the top, fun, tongue-in-cheek type book.  If you did, you succeeded beautifully.  If you didn’t, well, I guess my sense of humor and the absurd got in the way.  You’re definitely going to get a HUGE “thank you for writing this” from me – I loved it!

 

Marcus Shifter is a Washington DC-area Warlock – a man who can wield magic with the best and worst of them, usually with comical results – who comes from a very long, powerful line of magic users, and who occasionally takes the odd banishing job to help pay the rent.  After he gets called to banish a woman’s already dead, now reanimated husband, he discovers that darker magics than he’s ever dealt with are at play.  With only his conscience and warped sense of what’s right to guide him, and a cast of friends as strange and misguided as he is, he delves deep into the fetid, bloated underbelly of necromancy to discover the truth behind the too-weird-to-be-happening occurrences.

 

I love that Marcus’ credo is “it seemed like a good idea at the time!”  This man gets himself into more trouble when he tries to think through a problem than if simply charged in, guns and mouth blazing.  I once had a Maine Coon cat just like Marcus.  We always knew when he was about to do something flamingly stupid – we’d hear what we called his “suicide trill” just seconds before he ran headlong at the sliding glass doors, trying to get to that other cat (his reflection) who was running at him from the other side.  The thing is, like the cat, Marcus is just so lovable and earnest about it that it’s hard to stay mad at him for long, even when he does something like burn down a bar or attempt to detox an oracle the hard way.

 

To say the book is a romp is a wild understatement.  I rode the wave of emotion and hilarity all the way through, going from the highs of Marcus being one of the “good guys” to the lows of him having done something so monumentally stupid, all I could do was sit there, shaking my head, moaning “No, Marcus!  No!”  It would have been so very easy for you to have used a deus ex machina to wrap the book up, but you did it the hard way, showing me the conclusion to a book-long-running plot that I absolutely did not see coming.  Oh, once I saw what you did there, it made perfect sense – but you hid the genius beneath the “Bad News Bears”-like antics.

 

One of the sweetest parts is Marcus’ very innocent romance with Quinn, the daughter of an infamous necromancer.  While it isn’t sugar-shock inducing, it is utterly adorable.  You could have very easily played it for laughs, but instead you chose to use it as a foil to everything else that was going on – a balance for all the craziness.  As I read, I kept thinking “Oh, I know where this is going.  How predictable.”  Then you’d pull the rug right out from under me.  There’d be a left turn so unexpected that I was left staring at the page going “You wonderful jerk.”

 

All of the characters are incredibly well developed and fit their roles beautifully and the description of the Underground is deliciously creepy and wonderful.  The fact that Marcus is a very well rounded character with slightly different than normal hobbies is just the icing on the cake.  Of course, there are some places I just shake my head a little at some of the stereotypes and “ever afters,” but those are few and far between.  Though, in reading about you-the-author, I can’t help but wonder if Marcus has just a little more Gary Stu* in him than you originally wanted.  After finishing the book, I looked at my husband and asked what he thought it would take to get you to write the story of Marcus’ parents.  Of all the characters, I think they are my absolute favorites.

 

If I had to give a criticism of the book, it would have to be that sometimes things were a little too over the top and just a little too far to stretch for believability.  Though, even then, it’s not a deal-breaker.  Things are constructed in such a way throughout the book that it’s clear we’re not meant to take it too seriously – it certainly doesn’t take itself seriously at all!  My overall impression is that this book is the bastard love child of Simon R. Green and Jim Butcher as raised by Spider Robinson and Katie MacAlister, with Robin Williams cast in the role of Fairy Godfather (though no actual fairies were harmed in the making of this book.  I don’t think.)  B+

 

Mary Kate

 

* The male equivalent of a Mary Sue character.  Mary Sues and Gary Stus are generally idealized versions of the author-as-protagonist.

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REVIEW:  Merry Gentlemen by Josephine Myles

REVIEW: Merry Gentlemen by Josephine Myles

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’Tis the season of goodwill to all men…even the one who dumped you.

Riley MacDermott’s ambitions are simple. Managing the annual Bath Christmas Market—which involves long hours in the cold and a whole lot of hassle—will secure the promotion he needs to afford to move out of his noisy, top-floor flat. Where not even his balcony is safe from an aggressive herring gull.

The last stallholder he expects to see is his ex. Riley never recovered from their break up, and five years on the old chemistry still sparkles. So does their habitual head butting.

Stan never wanted to leave the love of his life, but the pull of the woods was too strong—and Riley was firmly planted in the city. Reconnecting is painful, but Stan still jumps at the chance to stay with his old flame during the Market. And damn the consequences.

As the weeks pass, the two grow closer than ever. But despite scorching sex and cozy intimacy, they both know they face a cold and lonely future. Unless one of them can compromise.
Warning: Contains sex in a shed, a seagull with a grudge, glamping, awful Secret Santa underwear, misuse of an Abba song, and as many wood-related puns as the author thought she could get away with.

Dear Josephine Myles:

As blurb indicates, Riley and Stan meet each other again at the market. Stan left Riley five years ago. Basically Stan likes to live closer to nature and Riley needs crowds, civilization, needs to be among people in order to thrive. But Riley clearly was not able to forget Stan and when he’s drunk, he constantly talks about him to his best friend, he keeps the pictures, etc. In other words Riley is not over his ex. It is also apparent that Stan is not over Riley – very soon after they meet again they have a passionate sexual encounter.
And while they stay together while the market is taking place, but they know that it is going to be over soon unless they can compromise.

I liked Riley – I liked his ambition and his drive, and I adored his fights with the seagull (you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean). Later in the story I decided that his fights with the seagull, while very funny were supposed to be a metaphor for nature winning over civilization, and that annoyed me in light of other issues I had. I felt bad for him not being able to forget his ex, but at the same time I was wishing that he would get his groove back and moved on.

And although I have to say that while I rolled my eyes a little over both men staying away from each other for five years with neither of them taking the first step (it was just such a tiresome m/m cliché for me), I liked that believable reasons were given for them to stay away from each other. I am not sure if I buy it completely, because Stan could have come to the market a year after he left, or even a few months after he left instead of waiting until five years had passed and all the same events could have taken place. But at least credible reasons were given for the separation and at least they were apart for five years and not fifteen. I read a story a while ago where the guys were apart for fifteen years and of course they were only thinking about each other, but meeting again was out of the question for some weird reasons.

So, I appreciated that in this case the narrative gave me some help to suspend my disbelief. I also liked that while Riley could not forget his ex, he tried to form other relationships and was not sitting around crying and falling apart. Riley concentrated on his professional career after he and Stan split up and when the story begins as blurb states he is managing the market in hopes of obtaining a promotion.

After a somewhat terse meeting sparks fly between Stan and Riley, but nothing has really changed – Riley is a people person who needs crowds and civilization, and Stan needs wilderness to carve things from the trees. Well, Stan really lives two hours away from where Riley lives (yes, two hours, five years apart) and they have cinema and Internet as he says at some point, but there certainly does not seem to be many people in the town where he lives and it is much closer to nature.

I thought the reason for their breakup and the main conflict between them was very natural, very well done – I mean how often do we see this in life, when two people love each other a lot, but want different things from life. Sometimes they compromise in order to be together and sometimes love is just not enough.

I cannot say that I liked Stan much – not because he was some horrible person and not because he left Riley (surely it was better than the alternative at that point). [spoiler] No, I really disliked that he rejected even a possibility that in order to stay with Riley he would need to compromise as well. Riley wanted them to try visiting each other, perhaps make an attempt at some sort of long distance relationship, but Stan decided that it would be too painful for him. I hated that Riley ended up sacrificing it all in order to be with Stan and Stan just took it without giving anything back. I admired Riley’s creativity and his ability to find ways to attract people to them in their new life together, but that was all Riley’s doing without help from Stan. Riley spent time thinking about how to make their relationship work. What did Stan do? He did not even apologize properly for his role in the breakup after Riley apologized. Because saying “if that’s what you need to hear I am sorry” is not a proper apology in my book. There is a conversation near the end of the story in which they agreed that they would take holidays together and go to civilization, but for me it was just not enough: when they tried taking nature holidays back when they were together Stan was not happy, but he expects that it will be enough for Riley this time. I also have to admit that I really disliked the message that what Riley did and have was not important just because Stan was living closer to nature. I like nature and love holidays like that, but being a child of big city I would not want to give up civilization for more than a month or two. So I guess I felt like my feathers were ruffled a little bit too ?. [/spoiler]

This story has a very small cast of characters, so besides Riley and Stan the only two secondary characters which were relatively well developed were Riley’s best friend Janine and his boss Rita. But I really cannot even say much about them – they were mostly serving the story. I wish Janine especially would have more agency – while she is portrayed as a competent worker, I still felt that she was mostly there cheerleading for Riley.

Grade C.

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