Sunday, August 18, 2019

Solid Scientific Thriller - Relic

After reading Preston & Child's Thunderhead, I was excited to jump  into Relicfocused on an allegedly cursed object and the havoc that it wreaks on the American Museum of Natural History.

Relic (Pendergast Series Book 1) by [Preston, Douglas, Child, Lincoln]What I really enjoy about this writing duo is that they bring a lot of meticulous detail to the scientific elements of the story. Those details make the museum and its characters feel authentic, and it also adds to the suspense of the story because everything is plausible and believable down to the tiniest plot points. In this instance, the Manhattan institution is plagued by gruesome deaths and disappearances on the eve of a sensational exhibit about the supernatural. The centerpiece of this exhibit is a figure of Mbwun, the diety of a secretive Amazonian tribe that is believed to have gone extinct. And all of the disasters seem to be connected to the delivery of the figurine to the museum after the expedition team itself disappeared into the jungle.

There was a mediocre film adaptation of this in nineties, but the text itself had so much more nuance, and the combination of discovering the source of the curse, parsing out the competing personalities of the museum bureaucracy, and the tension between FBI agents and local law enforcement kept me turning pages well into the night.

I especially liked the introduction of Special Agent Prendergast, whose southern charm reminded me so much of Gabriel Knight. I'm very much anticipating his further adventures.

K. Rating: 5/5

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Don't Show Me Your Hand: The Thief's Daughter

I enjoyed The Queen's Poisoner so much that I came back to the sequel, The Thief's Daughter, much quicker than I normally do. And while there were things that I did like about this book, there were mostly the continuation of things that I like from the first book - the concept of the Fountain-blessed for example--but the way in which the characters grew in this book only made sense some of the time, leaving me feeling like the author's intention was more transparent than it should have been.

The Thief's Daughter (Kingfountain Book 2) by [Wheeler, Jeff]I speak specifically about the way in which Owen Kiskaddon, the young boy ripped from his home who convinced the tyrannical King Severn that he could see visions, has grown into a man who is capable of many things, and yet couldn't seem to find his way out of Severn's shadow in this book. He consistently did the things his king asked of him even when they went against his own conscience and growing love of his childhood friend Elysabeth Mortimer, and while I buy that some of the time, I can't buy that all of the time for a man of his age-full of impulses and passions, especially about the things that matter the most to him, like Elysabeth. So Owen came off as contradictory, because he's grown as a man and is more powerful than he was as a boy regarding his abilities, but in the end he is powerless against a king that he can, in fact, outwit, whom he had been outwitting for years. It just didn't make any sense. The same can be said for Elysabeth. I don't know a single teenage girl who would have taken the lot the king handed her with a graceful smile, and not ever (even in private) showing the explosive emotions of a girl in love. If anything, she acts aloof to her own fate, which makes me question what if anything motivated her, and made her even less likeable as a character than she was as an annoying brat, always in Owen's face. So the way in which this book ends felt like it was set to make these two suffer for the sake of it, not because it actually made sense or that the decisions that led them there made sense.

Additionally, Severn himself does things that make no sense. You don't conquer someone then give them a substantial prize to bind your kingdoms. Sorry. No. I can't think of a single time in history that that's happened, and so again, super contrived. In a way, this second book was an odd title in that its main message seemed to be "hey  - remember how awful Severn was in the first book? Well, since everyone's grown up in his presence they seemed to forget that somehow, but they'll sure as shit remember to hate him now!" And that's what I didn't understand. I didn't get the transition from fear to loyalty. Because the characters didn't act out of fear. They acted out of fealty that felt misplaced from the get-go. So none of their decisions felt grounded in the reality of their experience as laid out in the first book.

I'm still going to read the rest of the series, but I just hope we can get our shiznit back together again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Kitchen Sink Paranormal: Jackaby

I've been on the hunt for a good paranormal investigator series for a long time, but always come away from first titles rather disappointed.

Jackaby almost was added to that pile for me, because I generally don't like the kitchen-sink approach to paranormal or supernatural activity. I like tight, cohesive stories that deal with one creature/lore/legend at a time. Here, there were more things that I can count on my fingers, and that tenor presented itself rather plainly fairly early on. That, and there was a bit too much whimsy (at times) for my taste. Jackaby's hat and manner of speaking, for example, and the fact that he rooms with a ghost and a person turned into a duck. However, the book did have several saving graces that will keep me coming back.

Abigail Rook, an adventuress-in-waiting and Jackaby's new assistant, is an excellent character. She is witty, resourceful, and goes with the flow, providing a practical (and often humorous) approach to counterbalance Jackaby's "I'll believe in anything and everything" attitude. Their methods of investigation (her, more like Holmes' attention to small yet significant details) was a great counterpoint to the walking encyclopedia of unnatural things that is her boss. And his aloofness and scientifically-bred social awkwardness is rather endearing.

Even though there were multiple creatures at play here, each one that was a focus of this story was really well done, and in that moment felt like it was getting that deep treatment that I appreciate. The banshee was hands-down my favorite, but even the details of the monstrous killer were as meticulously researched and gruesome as any true fairy tale should be. And that was rewarding. So were the other characters, the "Lestrade" stand-in, and the officer Charlie. I also appreciated the climate of the book in that not every non-human creature is depicted as monstrous or incapable of co-existence. Very species forward.

So I will be coming back for more, no matter how many creatures are in the next book. Also, the very kind and sweet gesture Jackaby makes toward Rook at the end has got me dangling on that hook.

K. Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Wanting More, in a Good Way: Beauty and the Blacksmith

Beauty and the Blacksmith: A Spindle Cove Novella by [Dare, Tessa]After Maclean's romance put a bad taste in my mouth, I moved on to a different author, and discovered someone whose tastes for falling in love jive much better with my own. Beauty and the Blacksmith was everything I thought a straight romance novel(la) should be, and my only regret is that it ended too soon.

There wasn't a terribly deep amount of conflict, and I suppose there could have been more of that as the town blacksmith and high-born lady reveal their long-restrained attraction for each other, but I was more than happy to go along a smooth ride of them finally getting together, and each one of them being thrilled to death about it. I was too, and so the only thing that could have really sweetened this up (their dialogue was adorable and heart-melting) was if the anticipation had been drawn out a bit more for a more satisfying denouement. All the same, the steamy scenes were perfectly perfect. I liked very much seeing a male protagonist be a solidly "good" man, who thought he was the luckiest guy in the world, and treated her like a princess (except when he was covering her with soot, which she asked for and I just loved).

Needless to say, I've been going through Dare's Spindle Cove series at a decent clip now.

K. Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Not the Woman in Cabin 10: The Lying Game

The Lying Game: A Novel by [Ware, Ruth]I was so pleasantly surprised by the quality of The Woman in Cabin 10 that I quickly acquired all of Ruth Ware's titles. I have to say though, The Lying Game was not what I expected it to be.

This story of four grown women who return to the town they grew up in (and buried their secrets in) did not feel as fresh to me. Maybe it's not an overdone trope in suspense, mysteries, or thrillers, but it is an overdone trope in slashers, and I am up to my eyeballs in those. So I was able to guess much better what the trajectory of the book might be, and even though the resolution of a body resurfacing in the lake didn't end exactly the way I thought it would, I can't say it was the most satisfying reveal or solution (much like I felt about The Woman in Cabin 10, actually), and the plot felt like one stupid move after another, rather than a ratcheting up of tension.

My background in slasher tropes affected my reading of this in one other significant way: I couldn't empathize with the characters. These four girls all have their flaws, some more serious than others but all serious, and even if they fool themselves into thinking they've moved past it into new women, they all too easily let themselves be sucked into yet another shitty situation. As they continue to lie to their significant others and uproot their lives, endangering their infant children, the morality of the slasher rained down up me: they deserve what's coming to them. If not more. And I'm almost positive that was not how Ware envisioned people responding to her characters. But there really was no other way for me to read it.

Thankfully, each of her books has an entirely different premise, and I'm not so put off yet as to rid her from my shelves. Fingers crossed that The Death of Miss Westaway is everything people say it is.

K Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Jerky Guys Do NOT Finish First: The Rogue Not Taken

The Rogue Not Taken: Scandal & Scoundrel, Book I by [MacLean, Sarah]I've recently begun reading more straight-up romance titles. Normally, I take my romance heavily dosed with fantasy or historical fiction, but I figured I'd get my feet wet with a big name like Sarah Maclean, and her book The Rogue Not Taken.

I didn't like this book. I don't know if it was about the author's style or about the trope of the "rogue" male more generally. I tend to think it's the former, because I quickly thereafter read another book by another other featuring a rogue, and liked that very much. The heroine was fine, there was nothing wanting there, except for her judgement in continually allowing herself to be at the mercy of someone who is an untrustworthy jerk all around. King (yes, really) constantly puts Sophia down, even when she's helping him, being kind, or being a genuinely likeable person, which she really was. I liked her as a character very much, and was able to sympathize with her and her situation a great deal.

The narrative put these two characters through the adventurous ringer together, and again, that was a fine premise, that would have come off better IF KING HADN'T BEEN SUCH A JERK. I didn't like him at all, his back story didn't negate or excuse his behavior,  and when he did yet another terrible thing to Sophia, I felt terrible for her. Essentially, her getting with this guy didn't feel like a satisfying ending. The satisfying ending would have been to kick him to the curb and get someone who actually treats her the way she deserves to be treated. Or, at the minimum, have King come to see the error of his ways and change his behavior. But he doesn't. Even after several less-than-virtuous encounters between the two of them, (which were weird, not steamy) there is no change of heart, at least never a permanent one, and he continually treats their growing closeness like nothing important.

Trying to give Maclean a fair shake, I thought, maybe it's just this type that's not for me, and I'd like another title. So I read a sample for another book in a different series of hers. Nope. Same issues. I like bad boys, that's all fine, but this is something else, character flaws that should not be rewarded, and are an instant reading turnoff.

If my opinion of the characters and their chemistry is not clear at this point, I don't know what else to tell you. Bottom line - I don't suffer jerks or fools, and I will always root for the white knights. I'm so glad that I found Tessa Dare's books shortly after. Those reviews are a'comin.

K. Rating: 2/5

Sunday, July 7, 2019

All the Pieces, but No Feeling: Blood Song

Blood Song (A Raven's Shadow Novel, Book 1) by [Ryan, Anthony]It's very rare for me to put down a title that is marketed as epic or high fantasy, as this is one of my all-time preferred genres. And I read Blood Song for over three hundred pages. I was very close to finishing it, and then, I just said to myself, "you know what? I don't really care."

Blood Song has all the components of a great fantasy series - an abandoned boy, trained and hardened to kill, the hint of people outside the complex where he trains to be a Brother of the Sixth Order attempting to assassinate him, a hidden seventh order causing issues, and old secrets bubbling to the surface.

But there was something about the writing style that, while very detailed, felt lacking in emotion or that compelling thrill that drives you to turn pages. And there were some tropes that, the further into the book I got, the less I was willing to forgive. The shells were there, and sometimes the details were painstaking, but not necessarily in the places that would have given the story the breadth and beauty of something like Name of the Wind.

Don't get me wrong: I think a lot of people will like this book, and the story does have some interesting elements going for it, but I felt like reading was a chore rather than a compulsion, and that's not any way to start a lengthy series.

K Rating: 2/5