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Review: Best Intentions, by J Dark

I love a good crossover novel . . . or in this case, series of novels. An author who can successfully blend the tropes and themes of two kinds of worlds can perform that magical feat of pulling you outside your own world and showing you the things that bind people together, no matter what world they’re inhabiting.

The Glass Bottles series by J. Dark will give you that. Here, J Dark blends the noir detective story with urban fantasy. What makes it work is that the features of both worlds are both given their full due. Don’t think of this as a mashup–it’s more than that, it’s an overlay that draws on compelling elements of each type of story to bring fans of either just what they need. I’ve just finished the first one, Best Intentions, and I think you’ll agree that this is a dark, engaging tale that draws you in … and maybe kicks you a few times in the gut before it lets you go.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ll get yours, you demanding film noir fan: the grim, gritty streets of The City, the denizens of the underworld–some better than they seem, some worse, the wiseacre Private Eye with the dingy little office, the mysterious crime that the police can’t handle, the stranger at the door…a stranger who may need her help…or may be about to kill her. Yeah, the PI is a dame, OK, a hot dame, no less, you got a problem with that?

Oh, and you, you urban fantasy addict, you get: a fully-worked out magic system that’s unique in its own way, but that you can pick up on as the story progresses, demons, pentagrams, spells, and rituals. These are all set against a backdrop of a seemingly ordinary city that’s fallen on tough times and normal complications of families, friends, and law versus order. All of these are contained within an ordered universe with an explanation for why-things-are-this-way…an explanation that ties directly to the deepest peril that the hero of the story must face.

While I don’t do spoilers, I will share a tiny content warning–this is not a story for children–got that?–not any more than the Maltese Falcon is a lighthearted romp for the kiddies. And while there are interesting magical–make that magickal–animals that play important roles, this is nothing like a Harry Potter story.

Here’s your setup. No Spoilers.

Fern Fatelli and her sister Fawn work on either side of the private-public law-enforcement line, in the city of Dayning (a fictionalized urban enclave of Halifax, Nova Scotia). Fern’s got her PI business to tend to, with equal parts moxie, magick, and good old-fashioned gumshoe footwork. When she needs a bodyguard, her old buddy–who also happens to be a troll–stands by her. There’s some baaaad stuff going down in the city…there are these strange little bottles that seem to suck something essential right out of a person, but no one knows what they are, where they came from, who is using them … let alone, why.

Our Fern is comfortable in the lower echelons of her city, using her limited magick on the old PI standards–scrounging up evidence on adultery for a disgruntled spouse. But this time, a seemingly typical case lands her in the role of hero, the one who has to solve an enormous puzzle to save her friends, her family, and her world…to save them all from an ancient evil that was set loose long ago, with the very best of intentions.

J Dark has a way with creating twists that will catch you off balance. Just when you think you sort of know what the solution to the mystery is going to be, something comes in out of left field–something that was there, all along, that you weren’t paying attention to–and everything changes again. You’ll enjoy the ride, but it’s like a roller coaster in the dark, so hang on tight.

At this point, there are three Glass Bottles books released, plus a short story, a prequel actually, A Last Good Day, that’s available for a free download at the publisher’s website. The books are on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and several digital-books sites. J Dark has a blog, too, where you can read about writing or try to catch up with a serialized sci-fi work-in-progress.

If, like me, you’re kind of curious about this re-imagining of life in Nova Scotia–or, as it’s been renamed in these books, New Scotland–there’s a trove of imagery on Google’s map images–check out this awesome shot by Mark Lamontagne that captures the blend of old and new echoed in J Dark’s vision.

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Blog On Books

Review: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron Cisco

Give yourself time to read when you pick up this book, because once you start, you won’t be able to stop reading T. Aaron Cisco‘s memoir, Black Nerd Blue Box: The Wibbly Wobbly Memoirs of a Lonely Whovian.

You don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan, or Black, or even a Nerd. If you love words, and the idea of extended bursts of witty, angry, insightful “one-sided dialogues” makes you just the slightest bit curious, you need to pick this up. If you happen to have all three characteristics, then you’ve finally got the chance to hang out with someone who … wait … is not exactly like you, because … what the heck were you thinking? Because you have three things in common, you’ll be the same? I bet you think you’re from Chicago, too. (Teaser: inside joke for readers of this book.)

I should also state clearly that, though it’s a memoir, and we all “know” it’s grown-ups who read memoir, this book could be an inspiring discovery for any young reader at YA-level or above who identifies with any of the above characteristics. Or for one who likes music their friends think is stupid. Or for one who self-identifies as anything out of the so-called mainstream.

Black Nerd Blue Box transports you into the mind of a fellow traveler in this universe and reveals just enough of that person’s experiences and inner life to allow you to connect with what resonates with your own. With that connection established, Cisco takes you on a journey, skipping through moments like the Doctor skipping across times and worlds. It’s not always a jolly adventure. There’s heartache as well as humor. Doctor Who asides will be enjoyed by fellow Whovians, but non-fans can catch up with the series later and not miss a beat in this life story.

Unless you happen to be an alternate-universe version of the author with only one or two minor differences from this time-line’s one, you will undoubtedly stumble across moments that teach you something about yourself, maybe a hard lesson, maybe one you need to go back and reread a couple of times, run a highlighter across until you really get it.

The chapter where he writes about his mother’s battle with cancer is wrenching in ways you won’t expect. Cisco was only a child at the time–but he has a stunning ability to convey the way that experience impacted his younger self. If you only have time to read ONE chapter, read this one, because it will change the way you think about talking to children about illness, about living with the prospect of dying, and about the nature of optimism.

I’m not saying Black Nerd Blue Box is a tear-blaster. It’s a humanity-sharing-lesson-learning experiment in self-revelation. About a third of the content is a hilarious inside-his-head discussion/ argument/ philosophy discourse. I laughed out loud twice while reading this on my phone–because I did not want to take the time to go back and boot up my computer after I’d read the first two pages on my phone–and I do NOT laugh out loud while looking at my phone. It’s embarrassing when people look around to see who’s the nerd laughing at their phone.

If you’re still hesitating, you know, you could do a trial of Amazon kindle unlimited and collect a copy-to-keep later. Make a note to remind your future self. Timey-wimey stuff isn’t just for nerds and aliens.

Cisco has fiction for you to read, too. Look for Teleportality, Dragon Variation, and The Preternaturalist. Amazon has all three, Barnes and Noble (my preferred shop) has only the first two at present. I can’t claim to have read them, but I skimmed the online sample of The Preternaturalist (love that title!), and the voice of the first-person narrator is lively and entertaining…much like Cisco’s own voice in this memoir.

You can find out more on his website, Black Intellectual. Lest you doubt his nerd credentials, you can find him writing for TwinCities Geek, such as his breakdown of Star Trek: Short Treks. Or if you’re in the Minneapolis area, you might meet him at the local Trek/Who trivia night.