Monday, July 6, 2020

Taking a Pause

Good morning.

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you may have noticed that a couple of weeks have gone by without a new review. That's for a few reasons:

One: I haven't been really reading, as I've been focusing so much on writing. I'm preparing the first draft of The Shadow of Theron for beta-reading, and whatever free time I have has been taken up by that. It's a beast - over 120k so far, and I'm not done typing it up yet. I'm really happy with it though, and that's what counts.

Two: Even that work is happening much slower nowadays, as a resurgence of vertigo keeps me from focusing on the written word - anybody's words.

Three: When I can read, I often put down books or just don't like them enough to put in the effort to review them.

So: this blog is going to go on a temporary hiatus. I'll still be around, and when I'm able to read/write/operate on some level of normalcy, you'll see more of me here. For now, take solace in the fact that there are lots of reviews and recommendations up in the past feeds. As updates make sense, I will make them.

For now - take care of yourselves- your bodies, your brains, your spirits. Take a walk. Read a book. Write a story. And for all our sakes, stay safe.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Rushing to the Conclusion: Ghostly Echoes

I came back to this series quicker than I normally would, because the second installment of the Jackaby series left off with some very interesting changes in the resident ghost's activity, and I wanted to see what the series would do with a trope that is very well-covered and traditional, compared to redcaps and some of the other crazy paranormal creatures that made their appearances in the first two books.

Unfortunately, there was too much going on here in Ghostly Echoes, and as much as I wanted the book to focus on the murder-mystery style task of discovering Jenny's killer and putting her to rest, we got thrown into a whole other set of otherworldly creatures and rules of the fae and the River Styx. It's not that these things weren't interesting, but once again they're in a jumble with other things, so there wasn't as much depth of detail, and in that way the narrative that could have been very tight quickly lost focus. There was also a missed opportunity to develop how the ghostly realm and the realm of the dead works here. There was an effort at that, with Abby's descent into the land of the dead, but it had very little to do with Jenny's temporal changes, and just felt too far afield, even for these novels.

I'm not as hyped up about finishing the series as I was to come to this title. So it might be quite a while before I pick up book number 4, if at all.

K Rating/ 2/5

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Solid Serial Killer: Looking Glass

I was pleasantly surprised by how different Andrew Mayne's The Naturalist was, in terms of the investigation of a rampant serial killer working under the radar, and in the quirky, almost inhumanly scientific way that Dr. Theo Cray uses his weirdly wired brain to solve the unsolvable.

Looking Glass (The Naturalist Book 2) by [Andrew Mayne]This continued with the second installment, Looking Glass, which handled the same kind of case - the kind that goes on and on for years with people not even realizing it's happening, but with the new twist of the killer being more of an urban legend than reality. Mayne is able to successfully demonstrate the gravity and scope of the crimes he writes about it in a way that gives you a real sense of urgency in the solving of cold cases. I don't read crime thrillers extensively, but this is certainly a unique take from what I've seen, and it's what keeps me coming back. That, and the fact that Theo is a likable guy, even though the other characters in the book don't seem to like him. This is especially true of law enforcement characters- they don't like being told how to do their jobs, predictably, even when they need to be told how to do their jobs. So that element of tension in the books, and what Theo will or won't have access to to complete his investigations is compelling. Also, I really do sympathize with a character who is always and indisputably the smartest guy in the room.

The other thing that I appreciate about Mayne's work is that he doesn't play it safe in the nature of his crimes. They are grisly and disturbing, and in many ways all-too-real. The same is true of the bleak backdrop, both in the opioid crisis of the first book, and of the broken family dynamics in low-income and/or crime-ridden areas, as is the case in this book. He's not afraid to have kids be his primary victims, and I appreciate that boldness and edginess. As someone who reads horror and thrillers that gear toward horror, in my estimation, it wouldn't be as good if it wasn't transgressive, and in a way that is also a pointed social commentary on social issues that are not fictional or imaginary. The backyard full of bones was an especially powerful scene.

Another excellent title on on fronts. And that kind of reliability these days is very hard to find.
K Rating: 5/5

Sunday, June 7, 2020

So Very Good: Death Come to London, and Kurland Hall

I've been reading these Kurland St. Mary Mysteries so quickly- because they are so good and such quick reads (I can't imagine putting the books down) that I'm going to review Books 2 and 3 Death Comes to London, and Death Comes to Kurland Hall together.

Death Comes to London (Kurland St. Mary Mystery Book 2) by [Catherine Lloyd]This is a great series, and has pretty much everything that I'm looking for in books like these. There's always a new mystery (of course), but those mysteries are complex and compelling and really draw you into each new round of characters and their motivations. All the while as we're looking at evidence and suspects, and twists and turns of the plot, we're following Major Kurland and Lucy along as well, and the chemistry- both as investigators and as romantic interests - is explosive.

In Death Comes to London, Lucy Harrington has gone to London with her sister to help her have her season, where hopefully she will come away with a husband. Lucy is hoping for the same, but her time is consumed with the murder of a wretched old woman who drops dead after being insulted by another wretched old woman. Rather than spending time with prospective suitors, Lucy is constantly visiting with Robert to get to the bottom of the case. This of course scares off any other men, and it becomes obvious to everyone (except Lucy and Robert) that something more than an investigation is brewing between them. By the end of this book, Lucy's relations pressure Robert into offering to marry her, since he's monopolization of her time has ruined her chances with anyone else. Needless to say, this doesn't go well.

So in Death Comes to Kurland Hall, things are tense between the two, to say the least, but that has to be put aside as there's yet another death, as Lucy is planning the nuptuals of her friend. It takes the interest of yet another person for Robert to realize how he feels and to act on it. Which was very satisfying indeed.

The fourth book, Death Comes to the Fair, was on its way to my local library when it shut down on account of coronavirus. So aside from my twice-cancelled Disney vacation, this book is the very first thing I'll be doing when I'm able to leave my house again. Stay safe and healthy - and find a good boo to read!

K. Rating: 5/5 (on both counts)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Good Dare Alternative: Suddenly You

The fact that I keep talking again and again about looking for a romance author that I like other than Tessa Dare should tell you everything you need to know about what I've been reading lately.

Suddenly You by [Lisa Kleypas]It's not my usual way of doing things, to read voraciously in one genre title after title without switching it up. But my reading habits are coming up against my writing habits. And right now, I am in the thick of finishing up my manuscript for The Shadow of Theron, a hefty fantasy title. (more on that in my bio) So my brain can't even think of reading someone else's fantasy at the moment, which is my preferred genre. All the same though, I like to read other people's work in between chapters to refresh my brain and get me thinking for the next one. Hence the quick brainless reads happening at warp speed.

So- now that I've explained myself, and why this blog has taken a heavy turn toward the romance titles - the book on today's chopping block is Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas. I was pleasantly surprised by this book and the chemistry between the shark-like publisher Jack and the author-cum-spinster Amanda. In an unusual twist, rather than acting loutish and proving everyone else right about what a brute Jack is, he never presents himself as more or less than he is, and his attraction to Amanda is straightforward from the beginning - that is, except for the very very beginning, where Amanda mistakes him for the boy-toy birthday present that she buys for herself. Jack is happy to oblige, of course, and the tension comes from her mortification when she discovers who he truly is. But by then, the die has been cast- for both of them. Jack's desire for her is palpable and written in a compelling fashion, which I really liked, and the steamy scenes were executed well. Kleypas pushed the boundaries of the sensual encounters I have read up to this point, and did it in a way that felt intrinsic to both characters.

There was no major moment where a character lost my respect or my sense of their likability, and that's always what I'm looking for with new romance.

So this one was a win - hopefully when I pick Kleypas up again, I will get a similar result. Then I will be very happy.

K. Rating: 5/5

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Better than the Last: Prophecy

Prophecy: An Elizabethan Thriller (Giordano Bruno Novels Book 2) by [S.J. Parris]It's always a good feeling when you get to the second book in a new series, and you're able to say at the end of it, "yep, I'm sticking with this one." That's the case for me and Giordano Bruno, the heretic-cum-detective of S.J. Parris's historical mysteries. In Prophecy, there's a smooth continuation of the underlying tensions of religious conflict in Elizabethan England while also giving us a fresh setting away from Oxford (where the first book is set) that puts us right in the middle of the royal court and Queen Elizabeth's fascination with the historical figure of John Dee and all manner of occult knowledge. The promise of occultism with historical mystery is a heady concoction that I will never cease to pick up, and Parris treats it beautifully here.

What really deserves high marks in this book is how Parris treats historical interest in occultism. It's not all black-and-white, with some people seeing this as the future, others seeking delusions of grandeur and the secrets of the universe and divinity, and others who are so staunchly Christian that the mere thought of pre-Christian knowledge sets them to thoughts of burning witches. That kind of complex landscape is as true and accurate as it can get, and it showcases that Parris knows his stuff and can work with it to create a truly intriguing mystery.

The cast of characters in this book, as in the last one, are really well-developed and fleshed out, with no chance that you'll mistake one character for the other. They and their motivations are all complex, with no stock characters among them who are easy to peg as guilty, innocent, or any number of things inbetween. And Bruno weaves through them with a sly wit and social grace that is eminently endearing - he's exactly the kind of historical detective that you root for and can easily identify with as someone who is supremely smart but spends most of his time in the dark among people he doesn't trust, and can outmaneuver even the most cunning villains. He is unpredictably indestructible, and that gets a cheer out of me every time.

With all the books that leave me wanting more lately, it's satisfying to know that I can come to Bruno's adventures with a sense of hope and optimism that good storytelling is not yet dead. And also, the narrator for the audio books is just perfect.

K. Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Didn't Hit the Right Note: Just Like Heaven

I keep trying to find a romance author that I can read reliably for enjoyment that isn't Tessa Dare. I tried a second book by Julia Quinn, Just Like Heaven, because the last one that I read wasn't half bad.
Well, this one wasn't half good.

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith Quartet Book 1) by [Julia Quinn]It wasn't that there were things that bothered me, per se, about the not really real courtship between life-long friends Marcus and Honoria. Is that the plot, which is mostly centered around a grievous injury that Honoria causes and then later helps to heal, took up so much of the plot that I had a hard time seeing where the emotional/physical chemistry was. So they've known each other from childhood, and Honoria's family is practically the only family that Marcus has ever had. I get that. That's a recipe for a good romance simmering under the surface for years.

But that's not really how this is played. If anything, this book goes through the motions of getting these two people together, without really taking the time to spell out their mutual attraction in a way that is compelling and makes you anticipate when they will actually express how they feel. That's how this book could have gone and could have been much better, but it just didn't. There weren't enough outside factors in the way that the leads were established to bring them together in any way that doesn't feel like an arbitrary service to the plot.

I'm not sure if I will come back to Quinn. It's a tough call, because she didn't offend my sensibilities, which is what normally turns me off to romance authors. All the same though, I wasn't thrilled or satisfied by the reading of it. It's a tough call. But with her extensive backlist, perhaps I just need to be much more exacting with exactly which of her back covers holds the most promise.

K Rating: 1/5