Mystery

The Midori Ito of Paranormal Mystery

I am three books complete in 4 days.  Even for me that is a record.  Unfortunately, however, it isn’t per se a sign of three great books that I couldn’t put down.  There was one really goo, one mediocre, and one, well… read on and you can decide after reading the review.

A Slaughter of Angels by Matthew Angelo was, if nothing else, a quick read.  In e-books, on my phone, it was only 319 pages.  So, it was pretty short.  I can’t decide if that should be in the “helped it” or “hurt it” column.

I feel like this particular book should be graded the way figure skating is (or was, I’m not really a fan of the sport so I am not sure which tense of that verb is accurate, but given that I am just trying to illustrate a point, it doesn’t really matter): one score for technical merit (aka, execution, grammar, etc.) and the other for artistic merit (aka, the story/plot).  Because this is a book (or short story, since it really isn’t terribly long) that really suffers in one area but had such promise in the other.  And where is suffers?  It doesn’t just stumble a little.  No, it flat out falls on its rear end and the routine never recovers.  And yet, there was the potential to be so beautiful and graceful.  Why the figure skating analogy, you might wonder.  Because figure skating looks easy, but it is phenomenally difficult, takes tons of practice to get right, lots of coaching is absolutely necessary, it take a lot of courage to attempt some of those cra-zy jumps and spins and even those really, really good at the sport fall on their butts.  A lot.  That, to me, is the perfect analogy to writing a book.  And the scoring system, with two scores, seems to be a good way to describe things here.

Here’s the way it really breaks down – there was just way too much of each of the following: grammatical mistakes, clunky sentences, choppy sentences, tense-mixing, typos, inconsistencies (from small to large) in the little aspects of the story or the plot itself, to have been an execution that score anywhere but “on its ass.”  I counted nearly a dozen glaring issues (e.g., “to” instead of “too” – where earlier in the same sentence “too” was correctly used – yikes!) that were either typos or bad, bad, bad grammatical mistakes.  Some of the more subtle grammatical issues were things like using the past tense and present tense in the same paragraph, which could be missed a little easier, but they still made reading the story a challenge.  And then there were the inconsistencies that are typical of self-published works – where there is no (decent) editor:  page 50 (of the iphone count epub) discussed the European clans of Nephilim and yet page 51 contains the following thought “[i]t would be arrogant of me to think I was the only Nephilim in the world.”  The page before he was talking about clans of them.  Clans.  Yes, that word is plural.  And that word typically indicates a number at least a little larger than one or two.  Decent editing would have picked this up.  Hell, decent story boarding would have picked up most of the issues like this.

And then there is the lack of development of anything that has any real meaning.  The character tells us he is nervous and scared and that Axel (the Detective in the story) is angry and Axel only does XYZ when really pissed off… etc., but we have to take  it all on face value.  There is no supporting evidence for most of what the book is trying to lay out, and as a result, I never for a second felt invested in the story or any of the characters.

All of that is the really, really low technical score.

So, the logical question seems to be, why did I continue to read it?  Well, the artistic merit had promise.  I will tell you, because the idea of the paranormal, angel/demon detective is something I love.  And the murder mystery?  Well, lets just say that I was trying to fill a Castle size hole in my heart with something that sounded like it could be fun and Castle-like, even if it was without the Kate-Rick romance (oh, ABC, how I HATE you for cancelling my absolute favorite TV writer/detective and show, and I do so hope Nathan Fillion lands somewhere awesome so I can watch more of him).  Throw in some paranormal, coupled with the essence that the cover had (another great example of things being off – the main character doesn’t have wings, but look at the cover!!!)? I was itchin’ for something good.  The main character was sarcastic – but to his determent because it was over the top and the author was clearly trying to hard.  And there was a whole lot of stuff that was set up for a finish that never really came.  And the epilogue?  It looks like a set up for more books, but while the overall idea is intriguing, unless the author can graduate from fan-fiction like writing (and not the sophisticated fan-fiction writing) and get some serious editing help, then I am not sure I can bear to read more about Rian MacCaren and his Midnight Agency, no matter how awesome the premise sounds because one really low score in each is enough for me.

 

p.s. if you are wondering about Midori Ito and why the comparison, I was specifically thinking of a particular fall, highlighted in this list of the best of figure skating falls: The 9 Most Epic Olympic Figure Skating Wipeouts Ever.

My love for YA, the Fae, and really almost anything by Holly Black

I think back to when reading YA stuff became such an obsession for me, and I realized that while much of it has to do with my undying, unyeilding, still-growing-even-after-all-these-years, love of Harry Potter, much of the rest of the love/obsession came from two other authors: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.  I picked up City of Bones when it first came out (I think it was one of a few that I picked up at the release party for Deathly Hallows – I think – one of the others I know for sure was the Alchymest (Nicholas Flamel #1) by Michael Scott).  And I devoured it.  The Club scene where Clary sees the Shadowhunters reminded me much of my youth when we trekked into Manhattan to go to the Limelight. The story was enthralling and I loved it instantly.  I loved the world it was set in (right up until the dawn of City of Fallen Angels, when I was disappointed by the contrivances needed to stretch what I swear I remember seeing was originally slated to be a trilogy into more than that, but I digress…).  That was the start of the love affair with all things demon, vampire, werewolf, etc., in the YA world.  Holly Black’s Tithe Tithe (Modern Faerie Tales, #1)was the start of the love affair with YA Fae stories on the other hand.   I am not sure when I read this, but it was certainly after Sorcerer’s Stone (as I read that before Chamber of Secrets came out – I was one of the not so large group to read the first right after it was published) but before City of Bones.  The dark and creepy gothicness of Tithe and its sister books sucked me in.  I couldn’t get enough.  I even ended up diving into the Spiderwick Chronicles, clearly written for an even younger audience.  The courts, the settings, the quest in Ironside for a fairy that could lie…  it was all so much fun.  Then, some of the more mature PNR stuff started making its way into the to read pile and I flitted away from Holly.  I caught the Curse Workers when those came out (and really feel like there was unfinished business in the last of that series, and wouldn’t turn away from one more of them) but the universe of books to read was just becoming impossible to track.  I do have a life outside of reading after all.  So, to it was much to my delight that I noticed I had missed a book that was both Holly Black’s and Fae.  I hesitated because these days I tend to steer clear of stand-alones but for Ms. Black and the Fae, I didn’t hesitate long.  And I am so glad I read this one!

The gist of the story goes something like this:  in the town of Fairfold (some where in the US presumably based on the relative ease of a move to Philadelphia by Hazel’s family at one point), the Fae are a part of life.  There is a horned boy in a glass coffin near the town that has been sleeping for ages.  Hazel and Ben, her brother, hunted Fae when they were little, pretending to be knights.  Jack is both Ben’s best friend and a changeling. One day, the horned boy is set free and a terrible monster is set upon the town.  Hazel is trying to solve the mystery of the horned boy’s release because all signs seem to point to her being the one who broke his glass coffin.  She encounters the Alderking who requires that Hazel bring the horned boy to him, as well as a sword Hazel found when she was younger.  Turns out, Hazel also made a bargain with the Fairies when she was younger and she has been serving the Alderking as a knight for some time, during the night, without her remembering (her not remembering is thanks to the Alderking’s magic).  Hazel wants to rescue the town, the “boy” she loves, and the horned boy.

I found this to be one of my favorite stand-alone stories in a while.  The suspension of reality is just enough to bring magic to the story but not so much so as to be overdone.  Some of the elements were, I thought keen observations of society.  While others made me happy The Darkest Part of the Forestthat they were teaching a message of tolerance and courage.  The scene where Carter’s and Jack’s human parents are at their house defending Jack and Hazel’s mother also stands up for Jack were both demonstrative of the mass hysteria that humans get swept up in, so often without all the facts and based in fear alone, as well as how important it is for good people to stand up to injustice.  Especially when the injustice is being done to others.  While I can’t say whether Ms. Black intended that social commentary or lesson, or whether it was just what I read into it, I thought it was well written and provided clues to me that this was going to be a story with an ending I would be pleased with.  And I was so happy to get to the end and find that feeling was completely accurate.

There are some dark and scary moments.  It is indisputable that the portion of the narrative around a 10 year old girl finding a boy’s dead body, half eaten by something, only to then have her be attacked by a hag intent on killing her, only to have the 10 year old strike the hag dead with a magical sword, is grim.  The story of the monster, her genesis, and how that is resolved is both dark and clever, disturbing and understandable.  And many of the details in between are creepy and scary.  But, like always with Ms. Black’s storied, the imagery is wonderful and  it is tremendously easy to get swept up in the story.  I had a very difficult time putting this one down.  I just wish there was the potential to see more of Jack, Hazel, Ben and Severin for apparently, my love affair with all things YA and Fae continues!

A Little About a Lot

While my reading has suffered, my posting has suffered worse.  I just realized that I have read about a baker’s dozen books, across 4 series, and haven’t added a page or post or review on any!  So, this little “data dump” will be to give a few little tidbits on each (by no means am I catching up and reviewing 15 or so books all in one shot – that post would be epically long and take forever to finish, only exacerbating the lack of posts problem).

Here’s what I have read:

  • The Jolie Wilkins Series – all 5 – by HP Mallory
  • The Bryn and Sinjin Series – both (although I would argue these really are just an extension of the Jolie Wilkins Series) – HP Mallory
  • The Hot Damned Series – 5 of the 6 published so far – by Robyn Peterman
  • The second in the Lynburn Legacy – Untold – by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The first two in the Magisterium Series – The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet – by Holly Black

And I think I am missing something….

Anyway, let’s have a little fun with all that.  Here’s the quick and dirty on each series.  Bryn and Sinjin are hot, Hot Damned is much hotter, Jolie Wilkins has its moments, the Lynburn Legacy is a YA and therefore pretty cold but not completely as there is a love story to it, and the Magisterium The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)books are also YA and colder than Lynburn.   Jolie Wilkins is Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble (Jolie Wilkins, #1)your typical girl didn’t know she was a witch, man comes to rescue her from that boring normal non-magical life.  She is destined to be queen or something like that and save the world.  Cue the sexual tension, love story, bad guys wanting to take over the world, blah blah blah.  Not terribly unique or original, but a fun little escape just the same.

Bryn and Sinjin is a shift from the perspective.  What I mean is that instead of Jolie’s destiny being the primary focus, Bryn (Jolie’s twin sister) and Sinjin (the loveable handsome ancient Vampire who was previously in love with Jolie but lost to Rand) and their developing relationship are the focus.  Another fun little outing, a little more steam.  But a cliff hanger big enough to leave me pretty annoyed if there isn’t another.  There are only 2 listed on goodreads but I swear I saw something on facebook or somewhere about at least one more coming.  And heaven forbid, it looks like they will be from Sinjin’s perspective.  Yikes.  I personally am not a fan of the romance novel from the guy’s perspective.  Even worse, the statement on HP Mallory’s facebook page says:  “…decided to make this book (and maybe the next one.  Not sure but going to switch back and forth, I think) in Sinjin’s perspective!”  There are very few novels I have read where the flip-flop in perspective works.  So, fingers crossed that is not what we get next.

The Hot Damned series is… well… in a word: weird.  Out of the first 4, 2 is more about Dixie, the cousin of Astrid our main protagonist from 1, 3 and 4.  I 1 Astrid gets turned into a Vampire.  And kills her wack-job of a mother and her demon father.  And she meets her Hell on Heels (Hot Damned #3)destined mate, a Vampire prince.  In 2 she finds herself in Hell with a cast of characters too weird to do justice to: Mother Nature (her Grandmother), Satan (her Uncle), God (another Uncle), Dixie (cousin), Seven Deadly Sins (all more cousins), Mister Rogers, Hemingway, and others.  And we discover **spoiler alert** she is “Compassion”, a True Immortal.  In 3 Dixie is sent to Earth to find herself of something like that.  And she meets and falls in love with the Angel of Death.  In 4, Astrid’s baby with crazy growing power and all sorts of magic turns out to be the most powerful Immortal ever.  And there are Fairies with names like The Kevin (with “The” being the mark of an old fairy), trolls, demons, and all sorts of other craziness going on.  Another fun little romp, with some steam, if you can get past that there are moments when it felt like the author was trying to do too much with the vampire, demons, family tree thing.  And don’t, like I did, be expecting the Rogues that were such an issue in book 1 to really mean anything in 2 through 4, they just don’t really ever turn into anything that matters.

The second in the Lynburn Legacy, which while I am dealing with before the Holly Black books, I read after and just finished.  About 20 minutes ago.  And I am furious.  Furious at some of the characters. Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, #2) It is a little hard to consider some of the “good guys” good.  Lillian, while on the same side as our young adult Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1)protagonists is such a snotty bitch, who has delusions of grandeur, and wants to rule the town is just not quite as loathsome as Rob who wants a sacrifice of blood but otherwise feels exactly the same way. And, some of the plot holes were hard for me to deal with.  That said, I love the relationship between Kami and the other young folks the story is really about.  And the connection between Jared and Kami and the complication that Ash becomes was great.  There are really some sad moments on the pages of Untold.  And there are a TON of unanswered questions, that I hope get answered in the final book, Unmade (which I will be starting tonight). I will note that of all the 15 books I have neglected to write reviews on, this one, to me had the highest “can’t-put-it-down” rating.  I will note, however, that I liked the cover for the first book, Unspoken (seen on the left), better and like the cover of Unmade even less.  And, the short stories for this series – get them free or don’t bother.  They don’t really add to the story and they, in some cases, are super short.

And the last Image result for magicians syfyseries to get some reading time was the Magisterium by Holly Black. I admit to thinking of these books when I saw the first few episodes of the new show on SyFy – The Magicians – which I understand is based on a book of the same name by Lev Grossman.  Especially the part about the testing and kids not succeeding and getting dumped back to their old lives seemed, in so many ways,  so similar to the scenes in the Magisterium’s testing scene.  These are a little like Harry Potter (kids away at school, sorted into groups, learning magic) meets Seeker (who knows which is really the good side, which is the bad) meets a number of other things.  Biggest twist in the beginning is that the main protagonist wasn’t the big deal magician that the school’s staff was looking for.   But, there’s a big bad guy attacking children and there were some really creepy things in this book.  Not spooky ghost story creepy.  But adults praying on and using children and other stuff like that creepy.  But, interesting and Holly Black is magical herself in her ability to write something that I can conjure in my head in great detail and it is like watching a movie as I read.  It is so easy to get lost in her worlds, emersed in the characters and the story, and to become so invested that I am desperate to read what is next.  So… my message to her and her publisher:  let’s get on with it and release #3!!

I am going to try to add pages for all of these – in some form or another.  But I ask that you be patent and I will try to write more reviews and pages.  Goodness knows I need the pages as a lot of this is all swirling together into a big mixed up mess.

p.s. – to any worpress folks paying attention to my tiny little site:  I F’ing HATE, HATE, HATE, DESPISE, LOATHE, ABHOR, DETEST, [add your own synonym here] the “new posting experience”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Give me back the old way, without all the extra steps.  I beg of you.

 

Bottom of the Pie is surely sweet!

I don’t know how I hadn’t come across these books before. I picked up the newest through netgalley and was 3 chapters in (and totally LOVING it) when I realized it couldn’t be the first. So, I spent a few minutes on goodreads and was thrilled to discover not just a book or two that came first, but six. I bought all of them right away (love Amazon – although I will note I never get all of the books at once like that; it is a testament to how wonderful I thought the first 3 chapters of the 7th book are that I did so). And I am already engrossed in the first book. I will pick #7 back up when I get to its rightful place in the order.

I love Flavia – she is a wonderful character (so far anyway) and I can’t wait to read more about her. Reading the author’s prose is like listening to a favorite song – so easy to read, so easy to smile while my eyes dart across the page, so colorful and it makes it so easy to conjure a mental picture of Flavia and her world. I could almost imagine being able to dance to it and the lyrics something I might unconsciously end up memorizing.

Flavia is an amateur detective and chemist prodigy.  In a family with two sisters, a physically present but emotionally mostly absent father, dead mother, jack-of-all-trades (and currently the gardener) ex-prisoner of war manservant and family cook, Flavia has a wild imagination and a wonderful mouth filter (because her thoughts are matter of fact and fantastical but they are merely thoughts, not words, and the very fantastical she never acts on).  She is a delight of a character.6218281

In this first installment, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the mystery surrounds the death of a mysterious visitor and it kick starts her detective career.  A well built little plot, an intriguing mystery, and a rambunctious and smart young lady with an excellent vocabulary and sense of logic despite being merely 10 years old – and that shines through in many ways if you are looking for it – or maybe because she is merely 10, create a clever and fun read.

I was reminded of all the great Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and all the great little mysteries that these presented I read when I was younger.  And in many ways, I was reminded of all the Agatha Christie that I have read too.

I had one question though throughout – it is a little unclear if the narration, which is from Flavia’s point of view, is occurring as if Flavia is older, looking back and telling the stories, or is she just so exceptional that she has a better vocabulary than most of my colleagues (I suffer from the affliction of being a lawyer by day and so I think that’s saying something about her vocabulary)?  Mr. Bradley, the author of this fine book sent me an email addressing this, after I posted to a comment on his blog (which can be found off his website), which I will share:

Dear Kris,

It’s always a treat to hear from a happy reader. Your shamefully flattering words will keep me going for weeks.
Flavia is, as you have spotted, very precocious. Although she has never defined the time-frame from which she is writing (some have suggested she’s in her 70’s!) my own personal opinion is that she’s recording each tale not long after it has happened.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write.
With warm wishes,
Alan Bradley”

Binge watching is the latest thing with popular tv series but for me, I am more likely to binge read than binge watch.  And, this series is definitely going to cause me to binge.  I am so looking forward to continuing the Flavia marathon that just started for me!  Yarrooo!!!

Small Update – since writing this review (as short as it is), even though I failed to publish it, I have finished the entire series.  And I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.  I will be posting pages on each, but will likely only review the last which I did receive from Netgalley.  It is precisely because I received it from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review, that I will review it.  But, it is enough to say that I loved each and every installment and am eager for what ever is next with Flavia!

The Frustrating and the Stupid. (Oh, and let’s not forget the Revolting.)

This installment 13629951was… frustrating.  Yes, that’s probably the best description for about three-quarters of this Dulcie adventure.  Downright stupid fits not quite the other quarter.  Because there is a dash of revolting thrown in that absolutely must be accounted for.  Revolting.  Yes, that is correct.  You aren’t reading a typo or a misstatement.  But I will get to that in a few.

First, the frustrating.  The bad writing is starting to surface.  I am not paying attention to things like the active vs passive voice switches, the run-on sentences, the bad grammar (because while bad, it feels like natural speech versus a well written book so it actually, to me, reads ok if I think of these as little plays in my mind and all the words are just part of a natural conversation).  No, I am talking about the characters.  Dulcie seemed like a pretty cool girl in the first book.  And she was even better in the second.  The third book didn’t add to her coolness factor, but it didn’t detract either.  This one, however? Oh my goodness is she a blubbering idiot.  She is delusional, whiney, self-contradictory (at one point she thinks that she never gave up fighting to get out of her situation, but caving to each and every demand and command isn’t exactly fighting) and she becomes so irritating.  Not to mention the story itself – her lies and that Knight knew but was lying too and all the manufactured drama/stress because both characters are liars… well, I can only take so much of that internal struggle from our “heroine” before it gets old.  Really, really old.  Like ancient Babylonian times, Noah’s Ark kind of old.

The stupid.  Dulcie went from being a pretty with-it law enforcement agent to a complete moron.  Zero to stupid in less than 10 seconds, flat.  The Flash has nothing on her.  That’s not great character development.  That’s exactly the opposite of jbravowhat I want to read.  Had she started out a walking talking potato it would be one thing.  But she is supposed to be this kick-ass regulator and she was smart enough to eventually figure out the deal with Quill in the first book.  While here, Johhny Bravo is an Einstein in comparison.  When characters don’t learn from their mistakes, it can be frustrating.  When they are as idiotic as Dulcie is in the book… stupid is too smart.  How can she not think of any options – none, zero, zilch.  I thought of 15 within seconds and I am really not all that creative.  I know that there needs to be some sort of tension or obstacle, but we could have gotten to the same end point in a number of other, totally valid and less moronic ways.  The character didn’t need to become a walking lobotomy.

More stupid.  The title.  A play on Wuthering Heights, I get that.  But where, oh where, is the relationship?  Other than a play on the title just to play with the title.  I was wondering this with the prior installments, but here it was too much to continue to ignore. There were also a number of book-to-book inconsistencies that I picked up here.  For example, she had returned from the Netherworld a day after meeting her father, which was mere hours after being at Gabe’s where she took a shower.  But here, her return, she says she hadn’t taken a shower in Hades knows how long.  Ok, this isn’t exactly plot risking inconsistency, but there were a fair number of them here and I wonder if the author and/or editor just fell asleep at the helm.  Lazy and… you guessed it… stupid!

Even more stupid.  While we needed to see how the “relationship” between Dulcie and her father was going to impact things – and they were for sure going to impact things – was there a race going on that someone failed to mention?  The speed with which this story takes place, from Dulcie getting home to getting her job back to ending the way it did, remember the Flash?   flashThis element of the pace makes him look like a tortoise.  A man who is supposed to have been a master criminal and all around tyrant for at least a hundred years can’t take a few days or weeks to give his new plant time to get settled and work through a workable solution?  Tosh!  Poor planning on the author’s part if you ask me.

Then Dulcie’s libido needs some help.  Sure, in the PNR genre the libido is the elephant in the room and characters are often overcome by it, unable to silence their inner voice telling them how bad they want to jump bones and eventually the fail to control their urges, heating up pages (or chapters depending on how good the author is).  And often, characters think the coupling nikki Fisn’t smart (ok, always not just often – but this is where the couple’s struggle to be together, the he’s too good for me, I am too damaged, I can’t… comes from) and that tension or obstacle is necessary to the plot.  When done right, it makes the steamy scenes steamier and the happy endings happier.  When done right, the reader gets to sigh a sigh of relief that the characters have coupled and beaten what-ever was keeping them apart.  But when done wrong, the characters are stupid, whiny, self-centered annoying reflections, with the emotional range of a teaspoon.    But the teaspoon is Nicky Ferrante compared to Dulcie.  While her libido puts Charlie Harper tocharlie shame – as absolutely all reason and any teeny tiny sense of intelligence disappears instantly every time Dulcie gets too close to Knight since she automatically stops thinking even semi-coherent thoughts about anything other than lust.  Dulcie is the poster child for Lust.  And it became really tedious and boring in this installment.  Especially given the revolting – and unfortunately, her inability to do anything other than lust after Knight, while being self contradictory in the same thoughts doesn’t appear solved even at the end of book 5.

The revolting.  This was the worst part of this book.  By far.  The cliffhangers in this and the last book sucked.  The fact that I idea I might get a slightly more sexy version of the cozy mystery was burst worse than on over-inflated balloon sucked.  All of the stupidity and frustration noted above sucked.  But what sucked the worst was **spoiler ahead**  the scene towards the end between our 2 main characters – Knight, who I was really starting to like, and Idiot.  Where they are fighting and he goes from being a good guy to a rapist.  Yep.  He does.  Just like that.  He is all over Dulcie, she is telling him no repeatedly, and he reads her body language and decides that she doesn’t mean no when she says it, she really means yes.  So he forces himself on her.  It doesn’t matter that she eventually says ok – it never should have gotten that far with these characters.    I have read books with rape elements or scenes.  And typically there is a reason for the scene.  Here – I think the author just flipped her lid.  And, the way the characters handled the situation subsequently, made me ill.  I had to put the book down and re-read a number of times to make sure I really read what I thought I did.  (Compounding this is the fact that in the following book, which I will review in the next few days, the author even does some victim shaming.  That too was revolting.)  And the larger lesson of it’s not the victim’s fault and no means no, no matter what (I counted 6 times she explicitly said no or stop or don’t do this and a number of others where she had that thought) and that rape isn’t the same as passionate sex (which is one of the explanations for the whole thing later) and that no man can read the mind or in this case body of another to change no to consent.  Never mind that she eventually, begrudgingly, says she wants to have sex – since it is after he has already penetrated her.  His response at one point to why he is forcing himself on her is “because I can.”  WTF???  Let that sink in.  Is my revulsion misplaced?  The more I think about it, the more revolted I am.  And the more disappointed in the author I am (especially after reading Malice in Wonderland, by the way… but I won’t spoil that one in this review).

This is NOT ok.  Glossing over this by the characters, is NOT ok.  Ending the book on this note, between these characters, is NOT ok.  Turning the hero into a monster like this, for no apparent reason, is NOT ok.

So where do I stand?  I definitely need to reclassify these from the mystery to the PNR.  I am terribly disappointed that the individual mystery per book is not the way this series went and it took this ugly dark twisty turn.  And I read book 5 (Malice in Wonderland).  Not because I was really psyched to after the way 4 ended (and that is such a shame because I was really enjoying the series up until this point) but because I was curious as to how the author would handle things and I felt like I couldn’t let it end on such a sour note.  We’ll talk about my disappointment and more of the frustrating and the stupid in the next Dulcie review.

 

Spooky Fun in Southern Spirits

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]I want to thank Netgalley again for access to yet another wonderful title – one that has made my “to be read” pile significantly larger because if the other stuff by Angie Fox is as much fun as Southern Spirits, then I have a lot more reading to do!  I mean, there are a number of series that Ms. Fox has written and it looks like, fingers crossed, that there will be another related to Southern Spirits (the end page with other books lists this installment under “The Southern Ghost Hunter” heading!).  Yippeee!

I am a big fan of books like this – quick, fun, easy to read, an engaging mystery, and characters that are easy to like.  A little bit of romance and a little bit more of the paranormal, and I am hooked.  The final ingredient, which sometimes feels like the cherry on the cake is good writing.  I read some bad stuff, and very often continue to read that book or series anyway.  Call me a masochist (it’s bad but I like it!) or maybe an optimist (things will get better?) but it usually takes a lot to get me to stop reading something.  How can good writing be the dessert course?  Well, even bad writers can have fun books, good stories and/or characters.  Ok, so I am in a Twi-bashing kind of mood lately.  They were entertaining and fun reads.  But, lets face it, they were about sparkly vampires.  I mean, really, who thinks they were well written?  Or Fifty Shades – they may have been steamy but they were also the model for a course in contradiction and bad writing.

Not the case here!  Verity, a girl hard on her luck because of a jerk of an ex-fiance, happens to change her life when she dumps an urn full of the ashes of a 1920s gangster on her rose bushes.  And then waters said rose bushes.  And ends up with a gangster ghost, grounded to her and her property.  Property that she is trying to save.  So, she jumps into a mystery now that she has a connection to the spirit world, in an attempt to make the money she needs to save her home.  Frankie, the gangster is funny, Verity doesn’t shy from danger and is sarcastic and witty, the dialogue between characters is amusing and feels real.  Melody, Verity’s sister is a great tool for info (she’s the Hermoine of this story, being the resident librarian) and Ellis is the hunk who hires Verity and he was pretty fun to conjure in my brain.

The story isn’t super complicated – they never really are in this genre (cozy mystery is where I believe it sits, at least that’s where I have categorized it).  But the paranormal spin keeps it fun and lets things happen which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  I was reminded very much of Madelyn Alt’s Betwitching Series (which I miss terribly, by the way – I still have fingers crossed that In Charm’s Way will eventually grace the book stores but I may be delusional on that front) or H.P. Mallory’s stuff (I am only one book into the Dulcie O’Neil series, but loved the first one).  We see everything from Verity’s perspective and she’s a great companion.  Never mind the fact that she has a pet skunk (yes, skunk!!!  Lucy. Love. It.) and isn’t shy about that.  She has just enough personality and we see just enough of her for me to think “move over Pepe Le Pew”.

Then, we have a little tiny hint of romance between Verity and Ellis, and that too keeps things interesting.  Just enough suspense and mystery to be alluring and addictive.   The ground rules for the paranormal world were solidly established and that was a relief.  The story, with the backdrop of the Southern Spirit’s distillery, was just spooky enough to keep me furiously reading.  Can’t go to bed right after the ghost attacks, after all!  A toast is in order: here’s to Southern Spirits, and hopefully more spooky fun in A Ghostly Gift!

The Fizzling Out of the Spark and the Burn

Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Geneive Tucholke, takes some odd turns, unfortunately none of them lead us to the nice little bow that signifies the end. Instead of going out with a bang it sort of just fizzled into the nether.

I felt like I was back watching the last episode of Carnivale, Deadwood deadwood underscoopfire.comor the Pushing Daisies  – don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly the cliffhanger that Las Vegas or the Glades (total tangent:  while this is a book site, A&E is on my sh*t list because really, Glades and Longmire?  What is wrong with you TV people?  They were excellent shows and the only, ONLY, reason I watched your network!) left us with, but this story left  more loose ends then a grass skirt  factory.  I give you TV show examples because TV shows, I think, are way more frustrating to have end on cliffhangers or leave with loose ends.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for a happily ever after or having everything tied up in a nice little bow I can hang on my Christmas wreath.  But there is a big difference between a few unanswered questions and the frustrating, bang your head, when is the next book coming out feeling.  Think for a moment of Harry Potter if you will.  .Severus Snape's Big Moment. by AnaksunamoonWe get an epilogue at the end of Deathly Hallows, but not absolutely everything is tied up.  There are still questions.  For example, one of the things that bothers me to this day is why Snape hated all Griffyndor students, not just Harry.  Where exactly did that animosity come from; surely it isn’t solely because of James. Why, despite being expelled from Hogwarts, is Hagrid prohibited from doing magic “strictly speaking”?  There is mention of home schooling and am I really supposed to believe that Stan Shunpike got through school… so why can’t Hagrid use magic (especially since he was vindicated)?  Does Dolores finally get her comeuppance?  What were the Centaurs seeing in the stars?  See… loose ends.  And I can live with them.  Heck, I even enjoy thinking up my own resolutions to those loose ends.  But It’s not like book seven never happened and we are left wondering if Harry ever defeated Voldemort or if we really should have trusted Snape.  The end of Between the Spark and the Burn left the latter type of questions unanswered.  And damn it, I feel cheated by the fizzle that was the end of this book.

The plot is basically this: Violet needs to find River; she wants him back.  She and her troupe, including Neely, head out to find him, and/or Brodie,  in places that have been reported on this weird radio show that discusses the weird and strange.  On the way they encounter trials and seem to add to their rag-tag band of merry men.  It all culminates with how they “find” Brodie too.

In addition to all those loose ends, there were some odd places that we traveled to.  Both in terms of geography (we get Carrolie NC, a fictional part of the Outerbanks; I kept thinking it was a typo and it should have been Carrolla…) and in terms of plot.  That is not to say that some of them weren’t interesting and even welcome (regardless of other’s perspectives I don’t think it was predictable; guessable, yes, but not predictable).  Like the first book we have all sorts of things going on: a boy with hooves instead of feet with flames in his hair, a devil boy and dead ravens; a sea king who sacrifices virgins and a haunted fisherman’s shack; a highlander hung in a dead tree and talking trees and all the children are missing; blizzards, ice cream trucks… the weirdness is pretty bountiful in this book.

As to the guess-ability versus predictability – I am making the distinction because I think that this didn’t follow the formula seen in most YA books.  Some of that comes from the loose ends and some of that comes from the failure to move certain aspects of the plot along.  Whatever the reason, however, the map I would draw for this plot does not look like the typical YA love-triangle-with-a-supernatural-bent map.  That’s not to say that I didn’t feel a little like I was being hit over the head with a sledgehammer every time the author tried to foreshadow or hint at what might have been going on.  This is why I say it was totally guessable.  I will not take credit for guessing it early on, no, I came late to the party and didn’t guess until right before the big reveal.  But I seem to guess stuff like that only about one third of the time.  And the fact that I guessed the there was something up with Neely and he had his own power blew any chance I had at guessing the whole Brodie/Finch thing.

I will note there was not exactly any huge improvements in the writing style or anything.  But it was consistent.  We still have a convenient parental void (merely letting the kids run off is so easily accepted), but I say like I said when reviewing the first book that that is typical of the YA genre.  We still have just enough setting description to paint broad stoke images of the house in Carollie and the motel in Colorado.  We have characters that for what ever reason have no trouble running off with strangers (stranger danger, anyone?  Anyone ever heard of it?  Definitely not something for the younger crowd to look to as a model for behavior).  And we have just the barest hint of romance.

But it works.  It gets the story moving and gets us up to that unfinished ending.  So, while it isn’t exactly great literature, it wasn’t bad either.  It There were even the rare moments of comedy (although whether intentional or not I can’t say) like the mental image conjured when the ice cream truck rolled up to the motel.  It was easy to follow, the dialogue was decent and the characters seemed to follow a natural progression from where they were, in relation to themselves and others, to where they needed to be for this story to conclude.  There even seemed to be a little more character development, certainly there was character progression (Brodie/Finch saving River from the freezing depths of the lake).  I am guessing, however, that the author intentionally painted many things in varying shades of grey as a lesson that not everything is black and white.  So despite how neatly black and white makes things (and how much I like that in books I read for fun), it just wasn’t the case here.  River is the epitome of a grey area.  The author paints a picture quite contrary to the rigid black-and-white, good-and-evil scenario.  People aren’t always either good or evil.  And sometimes people are just bad to be bad, not because the devil made them do it.  We see a lot of that here.  We also see nobility in a different way:  Neely’s sacrifice for his brother seems truly selfless – he is not going to get anything in return and he won’t stop.  He does it because he loves his brother.  There is a nice contrast between that relationship and self sacrifice and the relationship between the White parents and their children, where they leave the kiddos home to fend for themselves while they puruse their art.

My biggest gripe, if not already evident from the opening of this review,  is that the conclusion doesn’t tie things up – not really.  I am left wondering so very much.  What if River couldn’t completely crush Brodie, and he is in there still somewhere?  If Canto can find Finch and bring him back, then Brodie can probably come back too… What if Neely doesn’t come back?  Will the burn, spark and glow all stay away?  It was disappointing to learn that this is merely a sequel and not just the next in a series.  The author notes in two places on her website that this is it – the end to this story.  But I would really love to see what happens to this group next.  Who will Vi choose?  What will happen to River and Brodie?  Does Canto find and save Finch? All those unanswered questions don’t sit well with the notion that this book was the “conclusion to” the first.  But, that’s what the author asks me to believe.  So I guess I just need to live with the fact that the spark and the burn are fizzled out after all.

Special Note:  I don’t care if it’s Brody or Brodie… I use them interchangeable because I think the correct spelling is really irrelevant to my review.  I know what I mean by either spelling.

What’s coming in 2012

In honor of the end of 2011, which is rapidly approaching, I thought I would work on some year end/new year lists to recap.  Especially since the end of 2011 means my little blog experiment is approaching its one year mark.  So, I might as well start recapping the events of the year and planning for what I am going to read next year.

And I am so excited for some of the books coming in 2012.  Getting through 2012 will be so exciting.  No, it’s not just about watching December 2012 come and go and watching another group of doomsday-sayers be wrong (the Mayan calendar is pretty cool, but I don’t believe in the end of the world scenarios and that’s part of why reading The Daykeeper’s Grimoire by Christy Raedeke was such a huge disappointment – review for that is forthcoming)… but it’s about some huge expectations for sequels in some of my favorite series.  Boy, I hope I am not disappointed.  There are so many books where the first one was great but the second, well, sucked.  And they didn’t get better after that.  So… with those high expectations in mind, here’s MY 5 (or so) most anticipated YA and PNR books coming in 2012, in no particular order!  I have a few hopefuls and a few that are fit in other categories too.  I would be interested in the ones you are looking forward to most!

YA:

  1. The White Glove War (Magnolia League #2) by Katie Crouch
  2. Until I Die (Revenants #2) by Amy Plum
  3. The Enchantress (the conclusion 😦 to the Secerets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) by Michael Scott
  4. Spellcaster (Spellbound #2) by Cara Lynn Schultz
  5. The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles #2) by Kady Cross
  6. Make Me (Demon Underground #4) by Parker Blue

PNR:

  1. Darker After Midnight (Midnight Breed #10) by Lara Adrian
  2. Werewolf in Seattle (Wild About You #3) by Vicki Lewis Thompson
  3. The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underworld #9) by Gena Showalter
  4. Lover Reborn (Black Dagger Brotherhood #10) by JR Ward
  5. Lethal Rider (Lords of Deliverance #3) by Larissa Ione
  6. Accidentally Dead, Again (Accidental Friends #6) by Dakota Cassidy and Accidental Genie (Accidental #7)
  7. Tempest’s Fury (Jane True #4) by Nicole Peeler

Others (note about the category:  some would put these into the PNR category but I most often see them in the mystery category.  And I put them in the mystery category for the blog, so… after all it is my blog so I can do it how ever I want! 🙂 And, there aren’t many of the “others” since I tend to stick pretty much to the YA/PNR/mystery/SciFi/Fantasy and for the most part the sub-generes I read end up looking like one big lump of a category because they all tend to have a paranormal bent!): 

  1. Let Them Eat Stake (Vampire Chef #2) by Sarah Zettel
  2. In a Witch’s Wardrobe (A Witchcraft Mystery, #4) by Juliet Blackwell

Those without listed (in goodreads anyway) sequels that I really hope get them:

  1. Misfit by Jon Skovron
  2. Out in Blue by Sarah Gilman
  3. Strange Neighbors – a new one would be #4 – by Ashlyn Chase
  4. Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Collette Freedman (the synopsis says Thirteen Hallows is the first in a new saga, so…  sequel to come at some point!)
  5. Runelight by Joanne Harris (the sequel to Runemarks – listed in goodreads as published in 2011, but not available on amazon or anywhere yet)
  6. Bewitching Mystery – would be #9, what ever would come after In Charm’s Way – by Madelyn Alt

Next year end list to tackle – best covers and covers that suckered me in the worst!

Creepy scary wonderful Anna Dressed in Blood

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Want to spend some time with a creepy scary ghost story? Then check out Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. It’s not the creepiest or the scariest but it’s another for the faint of heart either.

We are introduced to Cas while he is out one night killing a ghost. How does one kill something that is already dead? Well, he has an athame that was his father’s, before his father was killed, and Cas believes it is a special knife. He also believes that setting the ghosts free so they can not harm others is his calling. He is meant to do it. Because of this, he doesn’t stay in any one place long. His mother moves them where ever they need to be. And where they need to be is looking into the ghost story of Anna.

Anna is a ghost who was killed in 1958 and now like all the ghosts that Cas releases is killing. She kills and leaves no trace of her victims.

What ensues is Cas’ introduction into the social minefield known as high school. He sets out to find the queen bee because he knows that the popular kids will know all the ghost stories. And while he knows a little about Anna, he needs to know more including where he ghost is likely to be. And as expected, by identifying the queen bee, he pisses off the queen bee’s court which includes an ex-boyfriend jealous jock and his goon friends. Fast forward to them tricking Cas and taking him exactly where he wants to go – Anna’s house. But things go terribly wrong. And for Cas Ina. Creepy sort of way they go right because he meets Anna. And over time he finds that he wants to save her as much as destroy her. We get some quick glimpses into voodoo and other magics. We get introduced to and (thankfully) well acquainted with both the mystery and the answers to what happened to Cas’ father too.

This book had a great balance of creepiness, scariness, gore, evil, ghosts, good guys, magic and fear. It had just a hint of a teenage love story too. Normally I would say that I want to see more of the relationship develop. But here, since we are talking about a really bloody murdering ghost and teenage boy, it was ok to see only a little. And it was the perfect amount of the right stuff to see. The author made Anna scary angry and vulnerable and sympathetic at the same time. It was easy to route for an ending where she doesn’t end up the big bad evil. And it was easy to route for her and Cas even while knowing that they really couldn’t be together. It was also really nice to see the author not find some wacky convoluted was to resurrect Anna.

My biggest disappointment was actually when I realized that there will be a sequel based on Anna. I think that Cas and his ghost hunting abilities/story have potential. But bringing Anna back, when things were so nicely tied up, will likely be a little bit of a stretch. I hope I am wrong and the author has found a way to do the second installment without making the whole thing crazy, because I don’twant to see my opinion of Anna spoiled. But this means that I need to get on putting some pages together dedicated to this series…

This book is a great read for those who enjoy the creepy goose bump inducing story with just enough realizing in it to scare the daylights out of you!

Spoiling the Mystery!

Another day, another book read, and another category of books to keep track of.  Yep, I realized that I was leaving out an entire category of books that I like to read.  Which one is that?  Mysteries.  I could probably put a large portion of them in SciFi or PNR, since most of them have that sort of slant (let’s face it, I don’t really read just your normal mystery) bet they really would be better served in their own category.

A new feature, unique to those pages through, is the “Spoiling the Mystery” – the who done it section.  When you want to cut to the chase and just see who the murderer or thief or other type of bad guy is, there’s the answer.  Since the details of the crimes themselves usually don’t need to be remembered across books it’s not really significant for the “Other Things…” section.  So…  it’s the big spoiler – you have been warned!

This category will carry the likes of the Victoria Laurie, Madelyn Alt, Annette Blair, Sarah Zettel and others.  I am starting with Sarah Zettel’s first in the Vampire Chef series.  I saw somewhere that it may only be two books, but I am hoping it will be more than that.  I am starting there because it’s all so fresh since I finished A Taste of the Nightlife yesterday.  Then I will try to catch up on Madelyn Alt’s Bewitching Series.  And, we’ll go from there!

Any suggestions on what to read here?  I admit, this is the one category where I don’t have a huge “to read” list…