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Book Review: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter SwansonSummary:
On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

Review:
You know from that description that this is going to be a thriller. I was fairly certain it would be in the vein of Gone Girl, and it certainly was.

This book takes you on a delightful rollercoaster of emotions. It’s hard to determine precisely who to root for because they’re all just so darn despicable. In a way, you’re kind of glad that they’re taking things into their own hands amongst themselves because then society won’t be burdened by dealing with it ourselves. On the other hand, there’s certainly an aspect of “look how off the rails things get when we let just any individual decide who deserves what.” That said it’s never heavy-handed. It has more of a delightful sneaky glance into disastrous lives ala a murdery Lifetime movie.

The plot is kept moving forward and twisty and full of surprises partially through alternate viewpoints (more than two). This is a technique I really enjoy when done well, and it was done quite well here. The transitions felt smooth and natural. Never cheap.

I also must say as a New England local that the author got both the logistics and the vibe of multiple New England locations right, everywhere from the ritziest Boston neighborhoods to central Massachusetts towns to rural Maine. If you want a true sense of the area and can handle some murder, definitely pick this up.

I’m not sure how I feel about how the book ended, which is what kept me from loving it. I knew where it was going by about two-thirds of the way through, and I just don’t think it was as smooth as the rest of the book. That said, I do think it ended at the right point in time (with the particular plot it was telling). It left me perfectly satisfied, unlike quite a few thrillers lately.

If you’re still looking for a quick Halloween read, pick this one up. It’ll keep you up and on the edge of your seat waiting to see who comes out on top.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

June 27, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen KingSummary:
Something evil is haunting the small town of Tarker Mills, Maine. Every month another person is found dead, brutally ripped apart.  Can they solve what is haunting their town before the terror consumes them all?

Review:
I picked this up in a used book basement because I’m generally trying to read most everything Stephen King has written, and this particular print book was beautifully illustrated.  Each chapter (or month…or murder) had at least one full-color illustration, and that just spoke to me.  The story itself wound up being rather ho-hum to me, but part of that may be due to the fact that I’m rather hard to shock these days.

My favorite part of the book is that it opens with a note from King stating that astute readers will notice that the full moon couldn’t possibly have fallen on all of the big holidays he has it fall on, but that he’s taken artistic license to make it do so.  The passage reads like it has a wink at the end, and I like that King assertively addresses what could bother some readers or be a controversy and acknowledges that his facts are wrong, but he did it for artistic reasons.  Personally, I’m not a fan of books that take artistic licenses, but if you’re going to, this is the way to do it.  Acknowledge it (don’t hide from it) and move on.

This feels like an early Stephen King book.  The usual small town New England stock characters are there, but they’re not fully fleshed-out.  There’s even a spunky kid in a wheelchair who reminds me of an earlier version of Susannah from The Dark Tower series (the book about Susannah was first published in 2004).  The stock, rather two-dimensional characters work in this book, since the storytelling approach is basically one of folklore.  We don’t need to know much more about these characters than we see on the surface, and that’s fine.

Each chapter is a different month in the year, and they sort of feel like connected short stories.  By the last half of the year, the reader starts to know what’s going on, and the “short stories” become even more connected.

Fans of an underdog hero will enjoy who ends up battling the werewolf plaguing the town, as will those who enjoy seeing the trope of a trusted citizen being someone who should not be trusted.  (That’s as much as I can say without being too spoilery).

This all sounds rather positive, so why did I feel ho-hum about it?  The tension building didn’t work for me.  Nothing that happened really scared me.  The character in the wheelchair feels like a less bad-ass version of Susannah, and what I would want would be Susannah.  This is perhaps unfair of me to say, since Susannah came about further down the line, but I do think it points to how King’s writing improved with time (as does everyone’s).  I also just found the villain to be rather expected and cliche, although I’m sure it wasn’t when the book first came out.  In general, this book just doesn’t feel like it aged particularly well, especially when compared to other older King books.

Overall, if a reader is looking for a quick, beautifully illustrated folklore style retelling of a werewolf story, they will enjoy this book.  Those looking for high levels of tension or gore or in-depth character development will want to give it a pass.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith, used books basement

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Friday Fun! (November: Maine Holiday and Thanksgiving)

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment
Oceanside coast of the island in Maine we stayed on.

Oceanside coast of the island in Maine we stayed on.

Hello my lovely readers!

Sorry for the delay in November’s post.  I was away for the last week of November on vacation, and I knew it would be the best part of the month to talk about, so I didn’t want to preschedule a post. 🙂

My partner and I both had the last week of November off.  He usually gets the entire week off for the holiday, and I took an extra three days off on top of the normal Thanksgiving days (day of and day after Thanksgiving).  We split our vacation between a trip to Portland, Maine and a trip to vacation to see my dad and brother and his wife and kids.

For those of you who are not from the US and don’t know, November in Maine is *cold*.  It’s officially the off-season.  This meant we got to go on the cheap but it also meant it was cold  We’re both from northern climates though (Vermont and Michigan), so we dealt well.  Portland, Maine is a happening, hip small city.  It holds 1/3 of the entire population of Maine.  We stayed on an island off the coast of Portland, which meant we had to take the ferry in and out of the city each day.  Originally our intention was to rent bicycles and bike around the island one day, but it was too cold one of the days and there was snow the other (and the bike rental place didn’t have snow-friendly bikes), so we went into Portland both days.  The cabin we stayed in had a hot tub, fire place, and one of those showers that takes up the entire bathroom.  So we got to hot tub in the snow, which was an entirely new experience to me, and I clearly loved!

While in Portland, we went to the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is a delightful museum run by the world expert on Bigfoot.  I’m more of a sea monster girl myself, but we still got our picture with Bigfoot.  We also hit up the Shipyard Brewing Company and got lots of free samples and got to see the bottling and brewing process.  I was surprised to learn that Shipyard was started by an immigrant to the US from the UK.  We also went to an official Cabot store.  Cabot is an American cooperative of New York and New England dairy farms.  They have amazing dairy products.

Vegan satay from Green Elephant

Vegan satay from Green Elephant

For food, we visited the original Otto Pizza.  The pizza at the original branch is approximately 100% more delicious than the pizza at the new branches down here in Boston.  They also had Magic Hat on tap, which floored me! We also did something special for each of our dietary preferences (I’m veg and my partner is omni).  We went to Duck Fat for my partner to get poutine made in duck fat.   I couldn’t eat anything at the restaurant because literally everything was friend in duck fat, but I did have a delicious locally brewed beer.  For me, we went to the Green Elephant, a vegetarian Thai restaurant that was positively reviewed in VegNews magazine.  Their bathrooms were literal saunas, and I for once got to have satay for an app! (Made from seitan). But our favorite place in Portland was an Irish pub named Ri Ra on the waterfront.  Their menu catered perfectly to both of our dietary needs, with a house-made white bean veggie burger for me and a perfectly cooked medium burger for my partner.  We liked them so much we went twice.  (The second night I had mac and cheese made with Irish cheddar and my bf had Maine steamers).  Incredibly reasonably priced with fireplaces and a wonderful staff, I wish it was closer to us!

After Maine, we drove up to New Hampshire to visit my family for Thanksgiving.  The day of Thanksgiving was just my dad, his dog, and my partner and I, since my brother and sister-in-law were hosting her parents for the holiday.  My bf made the turkey (under the direction of my dad), my dad made veggie stuffing and gravy, and I made 3 bean chili (for my main course and their sides).  We had untraditional alcoholic smoothies for dessert.  It was delicious!  The next day, we visited my brother and his family and gave my nephews and niece their Christmas presents.  They range in age from 2 to 6, so that was obviously a delight.

The vacation was amazing and just what we needed!  And when we got back, we immediately got our tree and set it up, because in only three weeks we’re off on a cross-country trek to visit my partner’s family for the holidays.

Happy holidays all!

 

Book Review: Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Kate Reinders)

August 8, 2013 1 comment

Cartoon drawing of a white woman with black hair surrounded by water in twisting columns with a background of fire. The title Tracking the Tempest and the author's name Nicole Peeler are on the image.Summary:
Things have gotten interesting since Mainiac Jane True found out she’s half selkie.  She discovered the whole world of supernatural beings, started training and honing her own powers with the help of a local goblin, and of course met and started dating the sexy vampire Ryu.  After being caught up in the mystery that was a supernatural person killing halflings, Jane really just wants to focus in on power honing and Ryu.  Particularly with Valentine’s Day approaching.  But when she goes down to Boston for her first visit to his home, she ends up getting caught up in his current investigation. Going after a dangerous halfling who just escaped from an illegal lab.

Review:
I enjoyed the first entry in this series as a surprisingly humorous paranormal romance set in the unusual (for pnr) setting of Maine.  So when I needed a new audiobook for a roadtrip and saw this lounging on audible, I snatched it up.  I kind of regret that choice because not only did I enjoy this entry in the series less but I also apparently misremembered how well I liked the first book in the series.  I only rated it as 3.5 stars but remembered enjoying it at at least 4.  Hindsight is not always 20/20.  Essentially, everything that kinda sorta rubbed me the wrong way in the first book got worse instead of better, and the things I liked became worse as well.

The humor takes a nosedive.  Whereas the first book deftly handled a dry New England sense of humor, here things turn mean and inappropriate.  Jane laughs at things she shouldn’t laugh at and invites the reader to as well, and it becomes deeply awkward.  Like hanging out with a friend who thinks they’re funny but is in fact offensive.

I was excited to see what Peeler did with Boston, and I admit some things she handled well.  She nailed the neighborhood of Allston, for instance, but she also put Ryu’s home in Bay Village.  Ryu is supposed to be a wealthy vampire, but instead of putting him in Beacon Hill or a wealthy suburb like Cambridge or Newton, she puts him in a neighborhood that is actually a lower to middle class neighborhood that is slowly being gentrified.  That’s not where a home like Ryu’s supposedly is would be located.  This is a neighborhood that border the Massachusetts Turnpike (noisy big road, for non-Americans).  It’s not the mecca of wealth that Peeler seems to think it is.  A big mistake like that is rather jarring when she got details like how the exit of the T in Harvard Square is called the Pit, a bit of knowledge even some locals don’t have.  On the other hand, she seems to think that the Boston Public Garden closes at night and has a big scene where Ryu takes Jane there on a romantic late-night date. Um. No. The Garden doesn’t close at night.  It is, however, full of people trying to sell you drugs. Yes, yes, ideal for a romantic date.  This unevenness in knowledge of Boston and its surrounding areas made reading the setting uncomfortable and awkward.

The issue of Ryu being an obvious jerk continues.  It’s clear from the beginning of the book that a break-up is coming and Jane is being set up with another character.  It’s kind of annoying for the book to be this predictable, but it is paranormal romance, and Jane does ultimately stand up for herself, so I was ultimately ok with this.  In fact, the way Jane stands up for herself is handled so well that it saved the book from getting 2 stars instead of 3.

The last, and most important, thing that made the book deeply upsetting for me was the fact that Jane is not once but twice put into a situation where she is about to be raped.  Rape comes up a lot in paranormal romance and frankly it bothers me.  These are worlds in which women are powerful, talented, and often gifted with great gifts.  So why must their confrontations so frequently devolve into threatened or real rape?  I get it that rape is a very real thing in the real world, and I am completely fine with it existing as a plot point in horror, dystopian or post-apocalyptic scifi, and mysteries.  Horror is supposed to push the boundaries of comfort. Dystopian and postapocalyptic scifi is frequently presenting humanity at its worst, and rape is one of the worst.  Mystery needs a victim, and frequently murder victims are also raped.  But in a battle between supernatural creatures in a book that is supposed to be a romance suddenly tossing in rape as a weapon doesn’t read right.  It removes so much agency from the main female characters.  Like, what, she’s always easily defeated because you can just threaten to shove your dick into her against her will and suddenly she will acquiesce to your viewpoint?  It’s paranormal romance. Why can’t the paranormal world have fights where rape threats and attempted rapes aren’t a thing?

What really bothered me about the second scene this happened in with Jane is the level of victim blaming that happens as well.  Jane has just successfully escaped from the first rape attempt. She saves herself. This is great, and she does it with a mixture of trickery and violence that is commendable.  But then a man shows up and immediately takes over. He says he needs to protect her; he’s going to walk her out of this situation. Jane insists she needs to pee. She goes to pee, against his protests, and when she comes back out, he’s gone because another group of villains have him, and Jane starts to be attacked by a known violent rapist.  She later blames herself for having to go pee, and no one argues with her that she has every right to pee when she needs to. So we have a powerful halfling who can’t go pee by herself because she might get attacked and raped? That is so incredibly victim blaming and putting all the responsibility for safety on the woman that I can’t even properly articulate how angry it makes me.

Kate Reinders, the narrator, mostly does a good job.  She lands the complex voice of Jane quite well.  The only negative I can say is that she mispronounces some New England words and city names.  But her narration did make the book more enjoyable for me.

Combine these issues (aside from the audiobook narration which was fine) together with the fact that the plot is basically the previous book’s plot flipped in reverse (violent halfling killing supernatural people instead of supernatural person killing halfling), and I can safely say I won’t be continuing on in the series.  The only thing that saves the book from a lower rating is the fact that Jane ultimately does stand up for herself. But for me it was too little too late.  Not recommended.  Unless you enjoy bad humor, awkward settings, and rape threats and victim blaming of the heroine.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Tempest Rising, review

Book Review: Beyond the Misty Shore by Vicki Hinze (Series, #1)

Red headed woman near a house on the seashore.Summary:
Maggie Wright comes to the cozy Maine bed and breakfast, Seascape, not for a vacation, but to investigate the mysterious death of her cousin, Carolyn.  Carolyn’s artist fiancee, TJ MacGregor, just so happens to be staying at Seascape, but a mysterious force is preventing him from leaving.  Despite the tragedy standing between them, they start to fall for each other.

Review:
This is obviously a romance with a dash of mystery and a touch of ghosts.  Maine is a wonderful setting, particularly for a paranormal romance.  This one just didn’t work for me, although I can clearly see how it will be able to find an audience.

I found the writing, particularly the romance, to ring a bit….old-fashioned and conservative.  The characters all seem to speak in the same speaking style as the elderly woman who manages the inn.  That works for her, and she is definitely my favorite character in the book, but it doesn’t work so well for TJ and Maggie who are both young and from New Orleans.  I’m sure some readers would find the clean, conservative manner in which they talk a bit of fresh air, but to me it was dull and felt like a book my grandma gave me to get started out in romances when I was in middle school.

Similarly, the way the entire town is willing to appease the local pastor when it comes to things like alcohol and condoms kind of enraged me.  For instance, the convenience store will only sell condoms to married couples upon the request of the pastor. I mean WHAT?! That is just not even LEGAL.  But.  As a book reviewer, I can definitely see that a more conservative crowd would appreciate the idea of a town where that sort of understanding could exist.

So, ignoring the fact that this book is far too conservative for me, there is one other issue that bothered me.  I found the mystery of Carolyn’s death entirely confusing.  At first I thought that Maggie came to Seascape to investigate the death because Carolyn died up there, but toward the end of the book, it sounds like she died in New Orleans.  Which was it?  And if she did die in New Orleans, then why did Maggie go to Seascape in the first place?  Also, people think the car crash was mysterious because the painting she had with her was undamaged, but then toward the end of the book they say no the undamaged painting wasn’t found at the car, it’s just that it had disappeared and reappeared.  Or something.  I’m still very confused about everything about Carolyn, which is problematic given that this is the central conflict keeping our romantic couple apart.  The mystery should be mysterious but not illogical.

Overall, this is a romance novel that was not for me, but will appeal to more conservative romance readers.  People looking for an old-timey style romance with a touch of ghosts will appreciate it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler (series, #1)

Woman standing in harbor.Summary:
Jane True lives in a small coastal town in Maine and cares for her father, a stubborn fisherman who refuses to leave his hometown.  This means Jane is stuck in a town where everyone pretty much thinks she’s crazy.  Everyone except the lesbian couple who run the local bookstore where she works.  Even Jane thinks there’s something off about herself what with swimming near the deadly whirlpool The Sow in the ocean in the middle of the night in the winter on a regular basis.  But then a neighbor winds up dead, mysterious people show up, and Jane finds out she’s half-selkie, and nowhere near as crazy as she once thought.

Review:
First things first.  I absolutely, completely, 100% love the character of Jane True.  If she lived in my neighborhood, we’d definitely be the best of friends.  She’s smart and loyal with a biting, classic yankee sense of humor.  At the same time though, she’s human, flawed, and makes mistakes but not the sort of mistakes that would make you hate her.  I also really related to her relationship with her father, as mine has the same debilitating heart disease that her father has.  Seeing her see in him the same, strong, blue collar daddy who raised her and who now is struggling with an illness was really refreshing to see in a paranormal romance.  It seems like dads tend to be absent in the genre in general, when let’s face it, a lot of women’s dads remain an integral part of their life, even when grown-up.

The storyline itself is fairly complex, and it was a delight to see modern rural New England in literature.  The characters also take a random jaunt up to Quebec, which honestly we definitely do periodically.  I’ve been to Canada more times than I’ve been to the American south for instance.  The settings were fabulous and well-envisioned.  Normally I would complain about Jane’s love interest, but it’s obvious to me that she’s going to outgrow him with time.

The one thing I actually didn’t like about the book was the sex scenes, which is kind of problematic for a paranormal romance since that’s kind of half the point.  Jane insists her man uses a condom.  Ok, fine, write that in there once and then we’ll assume that they have safe sex for the other encounters.  The thing is though, Mr. Man Candy complains about having to use a condom every single time, and every single time asks her if they really have to….by dangling the wrapped condom in her face.  This is not sexy behavior!  This is reason to ditch a guy behavior.  She said use it, that means use one until she says otherwise quit being a baby.  And frankly, quit ruining my sexy reading by turning into an asshole right before the sexy times.  The whole entire sex scene situation is problematic throughout the book, and just gets worse each time they do it.  There’s one scene in particular when Jane is down on her hands and knees, and the dude is behind her, and he dangles the condom in her face.  Like randomly he’s behind her, she’s getting excited, he’s touching happy places, then bam there’s a condom in her face. WTF. This is not how paranormal romance should work.  I get it that we’re not supposed to 100% like the guy, and this is part of the way of showing us he’s an asshole, but still.  I hope the whole sex scene situation improves in the next book.

Overall, the character is a rich, engaging, Mainiac with a biting sense of humor, and the world Peeler has created is diverse and engaging.  Hopefully the boyfriend situation improves in the later books.  Given how much I like the main character (which is rare in paranormal romance), I’ll definitely be reading the next entry.  If she sounds engaging to you as well, and you like paranormal romance, you’ll most likely enjoy this book.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Creepy looking clown.

Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.

Review:
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it.  I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember.  My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably.  My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA.  It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book.  However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them.  So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.

This is not a cheesy scary clown story.  What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up.  The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood.  King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult.  A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night.  Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.

What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later.  King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life.  Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive.  For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.

Did he remember?  Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)

Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods.  Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful.  There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons.  That’s how they feel.  In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find

A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands.  (Location5631)

Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful.  It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience.  There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence.  These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.

Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there.  It gave me chills to recognize them as I read.  Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these.  One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is

Eddie had drawn his aspirator.  He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol.  (Location 20760)

Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read.  I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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