Book Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Friedman

Hey there!

Urban fantasy has been my fiction “drug” of choice over much of the last 5-10 years. So I was excited to get a chance to read the new book from Michael Scott (author of The Alchemist, The Magician, and The Sorceress from the young adult series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) and playwright and screenwriter Collette Freedman who’s recently been named one of the Dramatist Guild’s “50 to Watch.”

But be warned. The Thirteen Hallows is not for the faint of heart. This is by far the most violent and bloody urban fantasy I have ever read. Sex, gang violence, and sadism are mixed with a deep background rooted in folkore, history, and magic for quite a powerful combination that drives this story through to the explosive conclusion.

So what exactly are these “Hallows”? Items imbued with magical power to keep a race of demons from invading our world. Each item has a “Keeper” who was given one of these items to look after decades ago and has been influenced subtly by them over the years. But now someone is brutally murdering the Keepers in London and stealing their precious Hallows.

Then take poor Sarah Miller, a 20-something living with her ungrateful family and working in a dead-end job. When she happens upon an old woman being assaulted by two punks, she could turn away and pretend it wasn’t happening like everybody else, or she could help. Something compels her to help the woman fight off her attackers and get her to safety. From that point on, her life is not her own and she’s on a journey down the proverbial rabbit hole.

It doesn’t take long before the police are after Miller, following a trail of bloody murders across the city. As her options diminish, she finds herself in the company of Owen, the nephew of the woman she saved. And the two rush to stay ahead of the police and save the Hallows before they’re used to let an unspeakable evil into our world.

The history on the back-end of this adventure is compelling. There are threads woven through Christianity, World War II, myths and legends that tie everything to some interesting characters in the present day. I don’t want to spoil the discovery process, but where the violence put me off a few times, the story kept pulling me back in.

I’ll be curious to see where Scott and Freedman take the story in the next book. If you’re a fan of darker urban fantasy, The Thirteen Hallows should be right up your alley. There’s definitely more in store for Sarah and Owen as they get further wrapped up in the saga of the Hallows!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Wildcase: A Rail Black Novel by Neil Russell

Hi again!

A little over a year ago I read a novel from a first time novelist, Neil Russell. City of War was a well-written thriller in the vein of Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler with a bit of the pulp of Elmore Leonard. It pulled together an appreciation for Hollywood, art, history, and intrigue that blew me away.

So when Russell asked if I’d review Wildcase, his follow-up to City of War, how could I possibly refuse? Especially when the new book ratchets up the intensity of City of War to eleven.

Where City of War focused mostly on the present day, with a bit of history thrown in, Wildcase relies much more on political intrigue and mystery in the present with a whole plot woven through it based in the events of the past. But don’t worry, Rail Black still kicks some serious ass with a bombshell at his side.

Where Hollywood and the California coast were central to the first book, Wildcase offers an interesting view of Las Vegas. Though I’ve been to Vegas personally a couple of times, even if I’m on a casino floor I’m as far from the high roller tables as I am from the moon. Rail Black knows people in high places and gets more than a touch of preferential treatment. And he knows how to handle those high rollers.

But more than that, Wildcase is a thriller with strong social commentary woven throughout. Sometimes the United States seems to pay lip service to a number of injustices around the world, from hunger, animals hunted to extinction, and war to entire generations murdered or sold into slavery. Individuals and particular organizations do what they can to save those they can, but there’s only so much they can do. When the authorities turn a blind eye to inhumanity it’s a bad thing for everybody.

In Wildcase, Russell introduces us to a group of characters who did what was right during World War II and saw it spiral wildly out of control over the next 60 years. It’s much more than a cautionary tale about good intentions however…

Even with the social commentary, this book has the same tight writing, great story, and pacing that keep you guessing at how the pieces fit together. It kept me turning pages more than a few nights wondering how everything would come together at the end. And it does come together in a spectacular ending.

If you like thrillers, give Wildcase from Neil Russell a shot. And if you haven’t read City of War yet, I’d encourage you to pick it up as well. Both are available in paperback or for the Kindle at Amazon.

I can hardly wait to see what’s next from Russell!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.
–Fitz

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Mini-Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Ever since I saw Captain America make an appearance in the Spider-Man animated series from the mid-1990s, I’ve been a fan of Cap. There’s something about this red-white-and-blue soldier out of time that gives him a compelling story whether you learn about him in World War II in his battles against the Red Skull, or when he’s a part of the modern Marvel Avengers squad fighting alongside Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and the rest.

When I heard that they were working on a live-action movie for Cap, I was excited but not sure that actor Chris Evans could pull off the role. Evans, who played Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in a couple of Fantastic Four movies always seemed to be more of a smartass than a true soldier. After seeing him in The Losers, I gained a little hope for Evans in the role of Steve Rogers, the man who would become the super soldier Captain America during World War II.

I can say the cast and crew actually did pull it off in Captain America: The First Avenger, though I think I enjoyed Thor from earlier in the summer more. But the use of the extended flashback to show Cap’s origins worked great and we were able to see Cap fight the good fight in WWII against the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving from The Matrix and Lord of the Rings).

They did an amazing job of making Evans look puny for the scenes prior to his character getting the super soldier serum and I think Evans remained in character and serious all the from beginning to the end. If I have a couple of complaints, it’s that the film was a little long (at 124 minutes) and the sequence where Cap was used to sell war bonds in America through stage shows and film clips dragged things out more than a little.

I’ll give the film a definite B+ and be picking it up on Blu-ray when it’s released in a few months.

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