Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dancing With the Devil by Keri Arthur

Synopsis: Private Investigator Nikki James grew up on the tough streets of Lyndhurst and believes there's nothing left to surprise her. All that changes the night she follows teenager Monica Trevgard into the shadows-and becomes a pawn caught in a war between two very different men. One fills her mind with his madness, the other pushes his way into her life-and her heart. Nikki knows how dangerous love can be, but if she wants to survive, she must place her trust in a man who could easily destroy her. Michael Kelly has come to Lyndhurst determined to end the war between himself and another brother of the night. For 300 years he has existed in life's shadows, gradually learning to control the life from death cravings of a vampire. Nikki not only breaches his formidable barriers with her psychic abilities, but makes Michael believe he may finally have found a woman strong enough to walk by his side and ease the loneliness in his heart. But will his love be enough to protect her from a madman hell-bent on revenge? Or will it drive her into his enemy's deadly trap? Only together can they overcome the evil threatening to destroy them both. But the secrets they keep from each other might prove to be the greatest threat of all.

My Thoughts: While the concept of this book was actually to my liking, a psychically gifted PI being caught in the sights of an evil vampire and a vampire hero comes to her rescue, I found the execution was a bit off. Finding the positives to point out has been difficult for me because every instance had both pro and con to it.

What Worked: Our heroine, Nikki, is both determined and strong....yet flawed. This will allow for future character development....and believe me, this character needs some because although I've listed Nikki as a plus she was also the biggest disappointment I had in this book. (more on that later)

In addition to the character of Nikki, her boss, Jake, although completely human with no special abilities is actually the glue that holds Nikki together and essentially the book itself. He lent a calmness and logic to the story that it truly needed it as Nikki seemed to go off half cocked most of the time.

What Didn't Work: The World Building. The addition of the Damask Circle was woefully under-explained. If not for Michael mentioning a few times that he worked for them I'd never know it existed. This was just one example of the lack of world building. Arthur has also failed to provide rules to her world. Nikki has telekinesis but apparently also has psychometry and precognitive skills too. I've never read a book where one person had so many different types of psychic skills. Usually a person is only gifted with one. In addition it is mentioned so many times that while battling vampires or the zombies Nikki had depleted her psychic gift yet a moment later she is pooling more energy to attack or defend again. It is not explained where her reserve is coming from two, sometimes three times after it's mentioned she's essentially empty of her gifts. In addition to this it appears Arthur's vampires have even greater psychic gifts than Nikki as they have telepathy and can control anyone with their minds in addition to having telekinesis. They also can raise the dead and become invisible by blending into the shadows. And can someone tell me how a vampire 1/3 of the age of our hero could be continually best our hero? In every vampire romance I've read, the older the vampire the greater the strength and the speed and the everything....not so much in Dancing With the Devil.

The romance between Nikki and Michael didn't work either as it rang false by basing itself on a psychic connection that readers had to believe in without any actual romantic gestures from either character. When all was said and done I was still wondering how the characters fancied themselves in love.

The biggest flaw of the book would have to be Nikki herself. She came across angry with the world and self sacrificing to the point I really was rooting for the bad guy to kill her and get it over with. I have a hard time liking a character who completely ignores all of her own instincts, runs headlong into danger every other page knowing it was probably not a good idea and practically gift wraps herself for the bad guy to kidnap her (after already having been kidnapped by him once.) She was BTSTL (Beyond Too Stupid to Live!)

In a Nutshell: Despite the numerous negatives I did give this book 3 stars because it has potential and room to grow. Jake was a very interesting secondary character and I'm interested in seeing what the Damask Circle is all about.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Synopsis: She won't rest until she's sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever.
Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would changed course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that's all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.
Her father was right. The monsters are real.
To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn't careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

My Thoughts: What started out as a really decent paranormal YA ended with a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of suppositions on my part.

What Worked: Gena Showalter's idea of 'Ghost' zombies is unusual and interesting. They are essentially soul eaters that infect the living. She wrote the idea very well and I never had any question as to their existence. It made sense and it was exciting but then it got muddled.

What Didn't Work: Although her zombie concept was great and well explained it appears that the readers of the series have to wait to see every other question answered as Ali, herself, figures them out. We don't know why some people can see the ghost-zombies and some can't. We have no idea how they have special abilities to fight them either. Alice is often reading a journal but we have no idea where it came from or who wrote it. We find there are beings called Watchers but don't know exactly what they are or how they came to exist either. So a biiiiiiiig minus in the world building column.

Also, some of the characters come across extremely immature. Ali's new friend Kat has secrets that are just silly to keep. It's not like she secretly killed her algebra teacher or anything. She also is pretty obnoxious which Ali just loves about her but she actually comes across as annoying. The two of them have a couple of friends who bail at the first sign of trouble and apparently come back with open arms when the coast is clear and yet, they still are friends. It's weird.

The relationship between Ali and Cole is pretty explosive too. Their chemistry is pretty intense and reading about her wrapping her legs around his waist as they kissed made me a bit uncomfortable because they seem so young. I know teenagers do make out (and more) but I thought this aspect of the book seemed out of place and a little more advanced than the rest of the book portrayed the kids. They did talk about sex a few times which could be seen as mature but as I mentioned it just didn't fit. By the way, one discussion about sex between Kat and Ali was just weird and I'm not sure why it was included except to bring Kat's untruths to our notice.

What REALLY Didn't Work: The title is Alice in Zombieland which leads readers to believe this just might be an Alice in Wonderland retelling. Not so much. There are some basic things, like our heroine being very blond and named Alice and she keeps seeing a white rabbit (in the form of a big puffy cloud) but the idea of Alice in Wonderland is more figurative and not literal. This will be a big turn off for those who would love a retelling.

In a Nutshell: Not what I expected based on the title. Because of this and the lack of explanation of a whole lot of concepts this book was a disappointment and I'm not sure I'll even pick up the next book.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier

Synopsis: With planning the town's annual Halloween Party, the drought wreaking havoc on her garden, and her brood of four children, Lucy Stone's got her hands full this fall- As the air turns crisp and the trees blaze red and gold in the tiny town of Tinker's Cove, Maine, a newcomer arrives who seems to suit the Halloween season. Diana Ravenscroft has just opened Solstice, a charming little shop featuring candles, crystals, jewelry, and psychic readings. But after an unnervingly accurate reading by Diana, Lucy starts to get more than a little spooked- Then there's the dead body Lucy finds, way up on one of the old logging roads behind her house. The deceased is identified as Malcolm Malebranche, a seemingly harmless magician who worked at children's birthday parties. When it turns out that Diana knew the murder victim, Ike Stoughton, a prominent local businessman, starts a campaign against Diana, blaming -the witch- for everything from the unseasonal dry spell to his wife's illness and his pumpkins- lack of plumpness. But Lucy's not so sure that Ike himself is innocent. Still, as the town Halloween party approaches, Lucy's more concerned about the costume competition, pin-the-nose-on-the-pumpkin, and baking three dozen orange cupcakes and Beastly Bug cookies. But as the October moon rises, a killer plans a lethal celebration of his own-and Lucy's the guest of honor-

My Thoughts: I've been taking a sabbatical from mysteries for a while now and, in the past, I've loved the cozy sub-genre to pieces, including the Lucy Stone series. Before my time away of all that is murderous, I must have read 8...maybe 9 of the previous Lucy Stone books. I truly enjoyed them. So, what happened? Did I get punk'd by the Suck Fairy? Did this series really suck all along and I never realized it or was this just a horrible book? At this point I'm just not sure....

What Worked: Um...I got nothing. Well, I kind of liked the dog and maybe the couple cats the appeared through out the book. Other than that...yep. Nothing

What Didn't Work: First off the synopsis above was on the inner flap of the dust jacket. Meaning the publishing company thought this was a very good description of the contents. Not so much. For one thing this book starts in April (minus the prologue that is time line ambiguous). What? I thought Lucy was overly concerned about the Halloween festivities. Well, she was but not until the last couple of chapters in the book. This book is not about Halloween at all but the persecution of the Wicca religion and those who practice it.

The main character, Lucy Stone, is not charming whatsoever. She flip flops between sticking up for Diana, who is a witch and a practicing Wiccan and making horribly insultive and prejudistic comments like...
Lucy: "Samhain?"
Diana: "It's our new year, but you know it as Halloween."
Lucy: "Oh," said Lucy. "I suppose you'll all be riding around on broomsticks."

I suppose that if Lucy was known for her wry and sarcastic sense of humor or Meier had included some indicators to suggest she were kidding (ie: Lucy said jokingly) this might not have rubbed me the wrong way but as it's written this statement is an insult to Wicca.

The entire portrayal of the Wicca religion actually rubbed me the wrong way. I am no expert on Wicca but do know a little. The book rang false in it's portrayal from Lucy (who knows NOTHING of it) convincing Diana to perform her spell at 9pm instead of midnight because "Nine is three thrice." "The power of your spell will be magnified three times.", to the spell being cast (an annoying rhyming ditty), to an entire coven ignoring the first rule of Wicca "An it harm none do what ye will".  Basically, play nice and don't harm others.

Oh Yeah, this Didn't Work Either: The Mystery? What mystery? Sure someone died. Sure someone is vandalizing Diana's property (which is never solved by the way.) The murder is ultimately solved but not by Lucy, who I would have thought would have a hand in it. No, all she did was stumble along and point fingers at people and talking about Diana behind her back. Oh  and almost get killed because she was too stupid to notice her gas gauge was low. Anyway, back to that non-mystery. What really torqued my tonsils about this book was that there was no way to actually solve this mystery. There were no real clues with only one viable suspect and a couple vaguely suspicious ones. Too many of the characters had a 'weird' moment making them all suspect a bit. Now one or two character weirdnesses I normally would say "Hey, Doomis over there is actin' a bit shady. I bet he set fire to that nice magician back in April." but I couldn't do that to everyone without having to forfeit my Mystery Book Lovers club card, besides I love the decoder ring too much to even chance a false "Aha! Mr Green in the Library with the Revolver" moment.

In a Nutshell: I really didn't like this book (in case you missed all of my "This book Sucked" points up above). I'm regretting reading it. I'm thinking of never going to Tinker's Cove with Leslie Meier again. I'm actually thinking of boycotting Maine all together despite their lovely lobsters. Man I hope the entire cozy sub-genre is not ruined for me because of this book.....

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two Weeks' Notice by Rachel Caine

Synopsis: Bryn Davis finds out that making a living can be rough if you’re already dead...
After dying and being revived with the experimental drug Returne, Bryn Davis is theoretically free to live her unlife— with regular doses to keep her going. But Bryn knows that the government has every intention of keeping a tight lid on Pharmadene’s life-altering discovery, no matter the cost. Thankfully, some things have changed for the better; her job at the rechristened Davis Funeral Home is keeping her busy and her fragile romance with Patrick McCallister is blossoming— thanks in part to their combined efforts in forming a support group for Returne addicts. But when some of the group members suddenly disappear, Bryn wonders if the government is methodically removing a threat to their security, or if some unknown enemy has decided to run the zombies into the ground…

My Thoughts: No sophomore blues when it comes to the second book in Caine's Revivalist series. I enjoyed this one more than I did the first one.

What Worked: Bryn's personal growth from the first to the second book is tremendous. One of my biggest complaints of the first book was that if Bryn didn't have a gun she was nothing more than a punching bag for every Tom, Dick or Freddie to abuse. She got her butt kicked more than a bad MMA fighter in the first book. With this book she took her military training to a whole new level. She exuded confidence in bulk and could back it up. She was no one's victim even while tied up and tortured.

The relationship between Bryn and Patrick reached a whole new level in this second installment. Bryn being, technically, dead and Patrick being, well, not, a sexual relationship could have been an urpy concept however, Caine wrote it in a way that I completely believed it and liked it. Actually the complexity of relationships between all the characters was very well done. Including Joe Fideli's contribution to Bryn and all of her jobs and Liam, the Alfred to Patrick's Batman and his contribution to everything.

What Didn't Work: Parts of the book did drag a bit especially in the first 1/3 and I found it easy to set this book aside for something else until I got past page 100. Also even though I did love the advancements Bryn made towards being a bad-ass I would have liked some explanation on how she went from perpetual victim to thwarting professional kidnappers without (barely) breaking a sweat. Something like a rigorous training schedule for hand to hand combat or weapons training would have been an asset.

I didn't care for the Revived being called addicts either. To survive they all needed a shot on a daily basis. To me, addiction is the abuse of something, whether it be drugs, alcohol or gambling an addict would use to the point of abusing it. Having to have a shot once a day does not make an addict any more than a Diabetic reliant on daily insulin would be.

Towards the end, unfortunately, Bryn kind of fell into the TSTL category by making a bad decision for not only herself but for her sister Annie as well. This point is a bit teetering because I could see why she made the decision she did but I thought it was a bad one. Her sister thought it was a bad one and even Bryn herself was not completely on board with it. The results were catastrophic to Bryn but did open up a whole new level of awesomeness for this series. So, a minus and a plus all rolled into one!

In a Nutshell: I love this series. Zombies, who aren't exactly zombies...but might as well be, bad guys who might be good guys, bad guys who are living in bad guy land so deep even traditional bad guys won't go there, torture sequences in which nothing more than a spoon is used (mostly off camera) and several OMG moments towards the end ensure I am going to read the latest installment of this series ASAP. This series is not for everyone as it is a bit more gruesome than a typical UF series but for me it's a winner!