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Book Review: The Girl from the Well (Series, #1)

Book Review: The Girl from the Well (Series, #1)Summary:
A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just killto get out.

Review:
The official pitch on this one is that it’s Dexter meets The Grudge but what I heard about it was it’s another version of the Japanese myth that The Ring is based on. (After reading it, I can tell you that this is true). I was absolutely batshit terrified of The Ring when I first watched it. I must admit that I read this description and expected the book to me meh compared to the movie based on the same myth. This low expectation is what kept the book from being a disappointing read for me.

I found the writing to be overwrought and trying too hard for the actual genre and plot. Like when the small town seamstress thinks she’s a haute couture fashion designer. For instance:

His mind tastes like sour wine, a dram of sake left out in the dark for too long. (location 63)

Bear in mind that this passage is about a ghost girl who murders child killers/rapists. It’s a pretty passage; it just doesn’t fit.

As far as the plot goes, while I really liked the ghost, the tattooed boy’s plot rubbed me the wrong way. His mother is deemed mentally ill, partially for trying to kill him and tattooing him when he was a child. We later find out that rather than being mentally ill she was battling literal evil spirits, one in particular who wanted to go out and wreak havoc on the world. To try to bind the spirit, she decides to sacrifice her own child to the evil spirit by using him as an anchor, basically, to bind him. So after a bunch of the book basically saying hey the kid should forgive his mother because she’s ill we find out she did this act. I feel like the book wants me to think it’s heroic, but I thought it was sick. The way I felt the book wanted me to feel and the way I actually felt about the situation made me uncomfortable with the rest of the book and struggling with who to root for. Others may feel less conflicted than me over this part of the plot.

Overall, it’s a unique plot that other readers may enjoy more than myself.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding by Angie Fox (Series, #5)

July 24, 2014 3 comments

Woman in short wedding dress and black boots holds a sword. A dog in a bow tie is nearby.Summary:
Lizzie Brown, once preschool teacher turned demon slayer, is extremely excited to be marrying her true love, Dimitri Kallinikos, who just so happens to also be a magical shape-changing griffin.  And she’s also fine with letting her adoptive mother run the whole show, even though her mother wants to make the wedding into a week-long event.  She’s not so ok with having to tell her mother about being a demon slayer, though. Or about integrating her mother’s posh southern lady lifestyle with her recently discovered blood-related grandmother’s biker witch gang.  She’s pleasantly surprised that her mother found a goth-style mansion to rent for the wedding.  Maybe the magical and the non-magical can integrate fairly well, after all.  But then it becomes evident that someone in the wedding is trying to kill her.  Plus, they find demonic images around the property…..

Review:
This remains one of my most enjoyed urban fantasy series.  The world Fox has created is bright, witty, imaginative, and a real pleasure to visit, even though sometimes the main character can rub me the wrong way (she’s a bit too straight-laced for me sometimes).  Urban fantasy books can either keep the main character perpetually single or have her get married.  If they choose to get married, the wedding book winds up with a lot on its plate.  It’s hard to integrate the world of urban fantasy with the wedding scene a lot of readers enjoy reading about.  Fox achieves this integration eloquently, presenting an intriguing urban fantasy mystery, the clash of urban fantasy magical folks and real world expectations, and manages to show the wedding is about the marriage, not the party.

My main gripe with the previous book was Dimitri and Lizzie’s relationship.  Primarily that they don’t appreciate what they have, and how annoying that is.  I think the events of the previous book really snapped them out of it, because here, Lizzie and Dimitri have taken their relationship to another level.  They have a trust in and intimacy with one another that manages to withstand some pretty tough tests, and is a pleasure to read about.  It’s easy to see that this is a couple that is ready for a marriage.  It’s a healthy relationship that’s rare to see in urban fantasy.  At this point in the series, I can appreciate that Dimitri and Lizzie aren’t perfect in the earlier books.  Relationships change and grow with time, and Fox demonstrates that beautifully.  Of course, it’s still more fun to read about a happy couple than one bickering with each other over minor things.  But those hiccups in the relationship in earlier books helps make it (and the marriage) seem more real.

Similarly, Lizzie has grown with the series.  Where at first she’s annoyingly straight-laced, now she is not just starting to break out of that but is enjoying breaking out of it.  Seeing her adoptive mother pushes this issue to the forefront.  Lizzie is finally coming into her own, and she, and her loving mother, have to confront that.

[Lizzie’s mother] paused, straightened her already squared shoulders. “Is this type of style…” she waved a hand over me, “appealing to you? You look like a hooligan.” I let out a sigh. “Try biker.” (page 16)

Whereas this confrontation between Lizzie and her mother could have led to the mother looking like a bad guy, Fox leaves room for Lizzie’s mom to be different from her but still a good person and a loving parent.  They butt heads over different opinions, just as real-life parents and adult children do, but they both strive to work through them and love each other for who they are.  It’s nice to see how eloquently Fox handles that relationship, particularly with so many other plot issues going on at the same time.

The plot is a combination of wedding events and demon problems.  Both ultimately intertwine in a scene that I’m sure is part of many bride’s nightmares.  Only it really happens because this is urban fantasy.  How Fox wrote the plots to get to that point is enjoyable, makes sense, and works splendidly.  The climax perfectly demonstrates how to integrate urban fantasy and real life situations.  Plus, I did not come even close to guessing the ending, which is a big deal to me as a reader.

The wit and sex scenes both stay at the highly enjoyable level that has been present throughout the series.  Dimitri and Lizzie are hot because they are so hot for and comfortable with each other.  The humor is a combination of slapstick and tongue-in-cheek dry humor that fits the world perfectly.  I actually laughed aloud quite a few times while reading the book.

Overall, this is an excellent entry in this urban fantasy series.  It tackles the wedding of the main character with a joyful gusto that leaves the reader full of wedding happiness and perhaps breathing a sigh of relief that no matter what may go wrong at their wedding, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as what can go wrong at an urban fantasy wedding.  Highly recommended to fans of the series.  You won’t be disappointed in Lizzie’s wedding, and you’ll be left eager to see her marriage.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, review
The Last of the Demon Slayers, review

Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (Series, #13) (Audiobook narrated by Johanna Parker)

March 5, 2014 5 comments

A blonde woman stands among flowers and tomatoes with the sun either setting or rising behind her.Summary:
Sookie, Eric, and Sam must deal with the fall-out of her using the cluviel dor to save Sam, rather than to save Eric from his arranged marriage with the vampire Queen of Oklahoma.  On top of this, someone is out to frame Sookie for murder, and they just might succeed.  Sookie even gets arrested and must be bailed out of prison.  Her demon godfather, his niece, his grandson, Sookie’s witch friend Amelia, and Amelia’s boyfriend all come to help her.

Review:
You guys. You guys. I finally did it. I finally finished the Sookie Stackhouse series! No longer will Sookie’s book adventures hang over my head….now I just have to finish watching True Blood.  The final entry in the series finishes telling the story of what clearly were a defining couple of years of Sookie’s life.  Whether or not that’s the story readers wanted to hear, it is the story that gets told.

It becomes abundantly clear early in this book that Sookie has had it with the supernatural world.  At least, with pure supes.  She’s ok with people who are basically human with a touch of something else (like herself) but she’s over the truly supernatural, like the fairies and the vampires.  Anyone who she feels has no humanity, she is done with.  As a reader, I appreciate that Harris took the heroine and made her commit firmly to the humans.  Many heroines in supernatural books desperately want to be supernatural themselves and commit wholeheartedly to that world.  I like that Harris tells a different story, even if I think that ultimately it makes Sookie look a bit prejudiced.  That part of Sookie’s character arc makes me sad.  She starts out very much in favor of social justice and incorporating the supernatural world into the human one and ends up kind of prejudiced and against change.  It’s sad.  But, it is an actual character arc, and it makes sense within who Sookie is as a character.  Some readers, who are enamored with the supernatural world themselves, might find it irritating or frustrating that Sookie has changed to not wanting to be a part of that world.  But it is a well-written character arc that makes sense.

The murder/framing plot at first seems incredibly ho-hum, been there, done that, why is everyone constantly after Sookie she is not that special, although she’s pretty annoying so yeah it kind of makes sense.  The plot does at least bring together a bunch of other highly enjoyable characters, such as Diantha and Amelia.  Ultimately, there is a plot twist that makes the central whodunit plot more interesting, although I did not like how the twist plays into Sookie’s increasing dislike of supernatural folks who she thinks aren’t human enough.

The boyfriend situation.  Well, it makes sense who Sookie chooses, and thank god their sex scenes are better written.  The ultimate romance makes sense with who Sookie has become, although it doesn’t read as either titillating or particularly romantic to me.  Then again, I decided many books ago that this series isn’t really about the romance, so I can’t say that it bothered me that much.  Readers that are more invested in the romantic aspect of the books might be disappointed or elated, depending on who they like.

One oddity of the book is that it alternates between Sookie’s first person narration and an ominous third person narration telling us things that are going on that Sookie doesn’t know about.  I don’t recall this happening in the series before, although I read the books over a long period of time, so perhaps it had.  In any case, departing from the familiar first person narration probably was an attempt to build tension, with the reader knowing more about what is threatening Sookie than Sookie does.  Ultimately, though, it just comes across as simultaneously jarring and like Harris just couldn’t figure out how to tell this story entirely from Sookie’s point of view.  It reads odd, not ominous.

The audiobook narrator, Johanna Parker, took an odd turn with this book.  Her voice reads as an old woman periodically, which doesn’t suit who Sookie is.  I was disappointed, after her very good narration of books 12 and 11.

Overall, the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series satisfactorily completes Sookie’s story arc and wraps up everything that has happened to her.  Those who are secondary to the first person narration of Sookie’s life do not get the attention and wrap-up some readers might be looking for.  However, this book series has always been about Sookie.  It is told in her voice and is about her life.  Some readers may be disappointed with how her life ends up and who she ultimately becomes but the character arc is well told.  Recommended that readers who have completed at least half of the series finish the series, keeping in mind that it is really just about Sookie.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
Deadlocked, review

Book Review: The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt

February 22, 2014 2 comments

Purple pentagram against a black background.Summary:
Christopher is so grateful for his twins that seem a true miracle after he and his wife, Annamarie, had trouble conceiving.  He can hardly believe it’s their 8th birthday already, and he won’t let anything spoil the celebration, not even an odd nightmare about being eaten by hellhounds he had the night before.  But his children wander off into the woods after the party.  When Christopher and Annamarie find them, they’ve stumbled upon an abandoned house.  The children convince them to explore it.  But the house quickly turns into a living nightmare.  A nightmare designed and run by Azareal.

Review:
This is my second read of the twelve review copies I accepted for review here this year (see the complete list).  I was looking for a shorter read after my previous two chunksters, and this short, fast-paced horror seemed like the perfect fit for my mood.  The book puts a fresh twist on both haunted houses and trouble conceiving horror plots, although the writing style and dialogue struggle to support the excellent plot.

The story at first appears to be a straight-forward haunted/evil house plot.  Right away, I liked that Azareal’s house isn’t the one the family lives in or one the family has just moved to.  Instead, it is a house found in the woods, akin to Hansel and Gretel.  That’s a trope I enjoy, and I liked seeing it used in the plot.  Having the parents go into the house with the children was the first of several twists on tropes in the plot that made the book so engaging.  From the point the family enters the house onward, the plot continues to twist and turn unexpectedly, yet believably.  Gradually it becomes apparent that this is more than a haunted house book, it includes the occult, as well as a trouble conceiving plot.  The fact that the results of using the occult to aid in conceiving doesn’t have consequences for eight years is a nice twist.  Most books show consequences either during the pregnancy or immediately after the baby is born.  The inclusion of new twists on both of these horror plots in one book makes the book fast-paced and engaging.  It is a quick read that will propel you forward to see how it ends.

Unfortunately, the writing style doesn’t quite live up the high quality of the plot.  Some of the dialogue feels forced and awkward.  Similarly, while some scenes are set well, others are written in an awkward manner with focus on minute details that are irrelevant to the plot or the setting and not enough focus on other details that are.  The writing style is good enough that it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book, but it does knock it down a couple stars.  The book is mostly well edited with the exception of one grammar mistake made quite a few times.  Either using its for it’s or vice versa.  Since it’s the same mistake made repeatedly, it’s easy enough to gloss over when reading it.  However, I would advise for future books that the author keep an eye out for this particular issue during the editing process, especially since the rest of the grammar and spelling is so well-edited.

Overall, this is a fast-paced read that combines two horror plots into one book and puts unique twists on both.  The writing style isn’t quite as good as the plot, but it’s still an enjoyable read.  I’m looking forward to future works by the author.  Recommended to horror fans looking for a quick, unique read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish (Series, #4)

December 17, 2013 1 comment

A bald man's head bowed in prayer.Summary:
A new inhabited planet, Lithia, has been discovered, and an exploratory Earth crew of four is sent to determine how Earth will respond to the planet.  Ruiz-Sanchez is a scientist and a member of this crew, but he’s also a Jesuit priest.  Although he admires and respects the reptilian-humanoid inhabitants of Lithia, he soon decides that the socialist, perfectly co-existing society must be an illusion of Satan, so he advises against maintaining ties with the planet.  The vote of the crew is a tie, however, so the UN must ultimately decide the fate.  While they are awaiting the decision, Ruiz-Sanchez and the others must raise and guardian a Lithian child who is sent as a present to Earth.  Soon, Ruiz-Sanchez starts having fears about just who the child might be.

Review:
This is the third book from the collection of 1950s American scifi classics from Netgalley, which I will review as a whole at a future date.  I was surprised that a book that is fourth in its series was included in the collection.  Upon investigation, I discovered that this series isn’t surrounding a certain set of events or characters but instead is multiple books around a similar theme.  The theme for the series is each book deals with some aspect of the price of knowledge.  So each book works as a standalone as well.  There is also some disagreement as to precisely what book is what number in the series.  I have chosen to use the number used by GoodReads.  I had previously read a scifi book with a Jesuit priest scientist visiting a newly found planet (The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, review) and loved it, so I was excited to see a similar idea executed differently.  Unfortunately, I found that this book lacked the nuance and subtlety that made The Sparrow such a lovely read.

Ruiz-Sanchez is a rather two-dimensional character who quickly turns into a bumbling priest trope.  Very little attention is paid to his credentials as a scientist within the story, so instead of coming to know Ruiz-Sanchez the scientist, the man, and the priest, we only know him in his priest role.  This prevents a connection or even a basic understanding of his rather bizarre concerns.  Whereas in The Sparrow, the priest wonders how a new planet can be covered by salvation and has a meaningful crisis of faith, in A Case of Conscience, the priest is just busy seeing demons and Satan and the Anti-Christ everywhere in such a bizarre, unbelievable manner that he may as well be holding an end of the world sign on a street corner.  It’s almost impossible to connect with him on this level unless the reader also has a tendency to see illusions of Satan and the end of the world everywhere they look.

The plot is fascinating, although it does jump around a lot.  Essentially there’s the part on Lithia, which primarily consists of discourse between the scientists.  Then there’s the development of the Lithian child into an adult who doesn’t fit anywhere, since he lacked the social training on Lithia and also is a reptilian humanoid on planet Earth.  He then starts to incite rebellion among the youth.  Meanwhile, Ruiz-Sanchez is told by the Pope that he committed an act of heresy and he must re-win favor by stopping the Anti-Christ aka the Lithian on Earth.  All of the settings are fascinating, and the plot is certainly fast-paced.  However, the plot is so far-fetched that it is difficult to properly suspend disbelief for it.

The settings are the strength of the book.  Lithia is well-imagined, with uniqueness from Earth in everything from technology to how the Lithians handle child-rearing.  The tech involves trees since they lack minerals, and the child-rearing is non-existent.  The Lithians are simply birthed then allowed to develop on the planet, similar to turtles on Earth.  Earth’s setting is interestingly imagined as well.  The fear of nuclear weapons has driven humans to live underground for generations with only the elite living above ground, and the UN working hard to keep it that way.   It’s a fun mix of alternate alien civilization and dystopia.

Essentially, the book has interesting world-building and what could be a promising plot that get derailed by two-dimensional characters and too many bizarre plot-twists and occurrences.  It’s certainly an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in immersing yourself in this odd world Blish has created.  However, readers should not expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level and should be prepared for a bizarre plot.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Previous Books in Series:
Doctor Mirabilis
Black Easter
The Day After Judgement
The Devil’s Day (books 2 and 3 published as one book)

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)

March 2, 2013 4 comments

Burnt paper background to book title.Summary:
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them.  He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control.  Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.

Review:
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading.  The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable.  I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series.  However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next.  For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.

The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings.  I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it.  Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed.  John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book.  It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point.  It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far.  Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest.  Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing.  Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.

Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story.  They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend.  She was well-rounded and realistic.  Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.

In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end.  Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it.  The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum.  His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice.  Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration.  You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.

Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me.  It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing.  Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy.  While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it.  I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.

Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series.  If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster.  But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag.  It just might disappoint you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review
Mr. Monster, review

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Book Review: Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm (Series, #1)

March 8, 2012 5 comments

Man shoving his hand into a person's chest against a blue background.Summary:
Sam sold his soul to the devil in the 1940s and ever since then he’s been hopping from body to body, possessing and utilizing them to perform his task–collect the souls of the dammed.  Although he can possess anyone, he prefers the recently dead.  His new assignment stops him dead in his tracks though when he touches the 17 year old girl’s soul, a girl who supposedly killed her mother, father, and brother in cold blood, and finds it untainted.  His refusal to collect her sends both angels and demons after him, eager to restore the balance, but Sam insists that collecting her soul will only bring about the Apocalypse.

Review:
I’m not sure why, but somewhere between my email from Angry Robot about this then upcoming book and actually reading it, I forgot what it was about and assumed from the title that it’s about zombies.  Um, not so much? Haha.  Actually, it is an urban fantasy film noir.  Instead of a detective we have a collector, who, a friend pointed out to me, is basically the same as Sam the Reaper on the tv show Reaper.  Our femme fatale is Lilith (you know, the first woman god made but she refused to be subservient to man so she got kicked out of the garden and went and hung out with demons.  I always liked her).  It all sounds super-cool, but I was left feeling very luke-warm about the whole thing.

First, there’s how Sam talks, which I get is supposed to come across as witty banter, but I myself didn’t find that amusing.  Perhaps I’m way too familiar with the classic works of film noir and to me this just didn’t measure up.  Perhaps I’m just a mismatch for it.  I feel like people with a slightly different sense of humor would enjoy it more, though.  Personally it just read as Sam trying too hard to sound suave, which I always find annoying.

My other big issue with the story is a couple of really unbelievable action sequences.  Ok, I get it that this is urban fantasy, but even within that we still need believability.  What do I mean by this?  Well, if something huge happens that affects the mortals, there should be discussion of how the immortals cover it up or deal with the fall-out.  This doesn’t really happen in this book.  One sequence in particular that bugged me involved Sam and the 17 year old hijacking a helicopter, flying it all over NYC, then crashing it in a park AND THEY GET AWAY.  Does anyone believe this could actually happen in a post 9/11 world unless some sort of otherworldly shielding was going on?  I don’t think so.  It was at this point that I knew the book was just not gonna work for me.

Does this mean that I think it’s a badly written book?  No.  It’s an interesting twist on urban fantasy and film noir simultaneously.  The characters are interesting, and the plot wraps-up fairly well.  I personally found it difficult to get into and found some sequences simply too ridiculous to believe.  However, I do think other people might enjoy it more, perhaps someone who has an intense love for urban fantasy and doesn’t mind ridiculous situations.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from publisher in exchange for my honest review

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