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Book Review: The Devil You Know (Felix Castor) by Mike Carey

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Man with a long shadow that looks like a cross.Summary:
In the near future London, supernatural creatures, particularly ghosts, zombies, and demons, have suddenly shown themselves.  Naturally the religious find this to be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but most people take it all in good stride.  Some even discover that they have exorcism abilities.  Felix Castor is one of these people.  A staunch atheist, he works for hire, rather like a private detective in a Raymond Chandler novel.  He takes a case of a haunting in an archive, but gets more than what he bargained for in the form of an overly-interested pimp, a succubus, and a competing exorcist who oddly bound the ghost so she can’t speak in lieu of sending her off to the after-life.  Although his employers just want him to exorcise the ghost and be done with it, Castor refuses to do so until he discovers just what exactly is going on…., and he just might become a ghost himself in the process.

Review:
This book held a lot of promise to me.  I’m a big fan of both the old-school private detective novels and the more modern paranormal books, so I thought this would be right up my alley.  It fell flat for me, though, although I think that has more to do with me than the book.

First, it contains a very British sense of humor instead of the American kind found in Chandler books.  I know some people find British humor absolutely hilarious, but it always completely fails to strike my funny bone.  I’d read sentences in Carey’s book and know they were supposed to be funny, but they just aren’t to me.  That becomes frustrating the more times it happens in a book, and it happened a lot.

I also, frankly, didn’t like the whole archives setting.  Maybe it’s that I’m in library science and know archivists personally, but it just wasn’t escapist enough for me.  The extensive descriptions of the archives, reading room, and storage, and the librarians’ spaces were dull to me.  I wonder if this is the case for anybody reading a book that takes place largely in a location similar to where they work?  It could also just be that I find archives dull.  I am a reference librarian, after all.

The mystery itself was good and kept me guessing, although I slightly suspect that part of that was due to the fact that the rules of the supernatural are unclear and so Carey has some leeway in taking unexpected turns.  It was the mystery that kept me reading, though, so it was well-written.

Overall, although this book wasn’t for me, it was well-written, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys British humor, detective novels, archive settings, and the paranormal.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson (Series, #1)

July 28, 2010 1 comment

Blonde woman sitting on top of a tomb stone.Summary:
Betsy was a 30 year old secretary (previously a model, previously a college drop-out) living in Minneapolis, and she was quite content with her life.  Oh, a good date would have been nice, but at least she got to drool over the hot detective assigned to figure out who assaulted her a few weeks ago outside an Italian restaurant.  Everything was fine.  Until she got hit by a car one slippery night in front of her house and woke up undead in the morgue the next day.  Even that would have been fine, but the local vampires keep insisting she get involved in vampire politics.  True, a lot of the vampire rules don’t seem to apply to her.  For instance, holy water only makes her sneeze, but why should she bother with vampire politics when she could be doing more important things like getting her designer shoes back from her stepmother?

Review:
This is not paranormal romance.  I repeat. This is not paranormal romance! It is, however, what I have chosen to dub paranormal chick lit.  Undead and Unwed reads like a Sophie Kinsella novel if it was set in the frigid midwest and had a pleasant back-drop of vampires.

Betsy is one of those main characters who you really think you would hate in real life.  In fact, I hated her so much in the first bit of the book that I almost stopped reading it.  Statuesque blonde who used to be a model who was too good for college and is illogically obsessed with designer shoes?  Blergh.  The thing is, though, when she gets turned into a vampire we see the happy-go-lucky, humorous, good souled person underneath.  What a flip from typical vampire books, eh?  But it works.  Betsy is a flawed main character.  What a nice change of pace!  But she isn’t so flawed that we can’t sympathize with her and enjoy her presence.

Choosing to make Betsy a prophesied mighty vampire puts an interesting twist on the typical paranormal trope.  She’s not a non-vampire with interesting powers who shakes up the vampire community, and she’s also not some regular newbie vamp learning the ropes.  She’s a vampire who the typical rules don’t apply to, but on top of that, she calls it like she sees it.  She laughs at the ridiculous names, pomp, and circumstance the vampires in the area have chosen to burden themselves with.  She’s a breath of fresh air, if you will.  These combine to make a truly amusing read.

Of course, there is sex, and it’s not badly written at all.  The vampire elements are played up more here than they are in series like the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Additionally, some readers might be turned off by the revelation that when a vampire feeds on a human, they must also have sex with them so the human gets a similar release.  I found this to be a call-back to the grittier vampires such as the type Anne Rice wrote, but I get it that some readers might be a bit skeeved out by that.

Overall, Undead and Unwed is a delightful northern piece of paranormal chick lit that will have you laughing or at least smiling in a wittily bemused fashion.  I recommend it to lovers of paranormal and chick lit alike, and I plan on reading the rest of the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (ARC, Feb 2010)

December 24, 2009 1 comment

Summary:
Boston socialite Lucy Valentine isn’t too keen on running the family’s matchmaking business while her mother and father take a necessary trip out of country to let a scandal settle down.  You see, she lost the family’s genetic ability to see auras that has led to their matchmaking success.  When she was a kid, she was hit by an electrical surge that removed her ability to see auras and replaced it with an ability to see lost objects when her palm touches the owner’s palm.  When a potential client shakes her hand, and she sees a dead body wearing his ring, she gets caught up in a bit more adventure than she ever thought her ability would lead her into.  It doesn’t hurt that she manages to enlist the aid of the hunky private investigator whose office shares the matchmaking business’s building.

Review:
I was excited to discover a book set in Boston that has nothing to do with the Irish mob or the Kennedy’s.  Unfortunately, I have this problem with reading about the modern wealthy.  I simply can’t identify, and it tends to irritate me unless the book is all about how they’re a serial killer or something.  Lucy is decidedly in with the Boston wealthy.  Her family owns a building on Newbury Street; they employ a driver; and she has a trust fund.  Of course she refuses the trust fund, but she’s still living in a cute, perfect cottage on her grandmother’s land in the South Shore.  She calls her grandmother by her first name, “Dovie,” and her mother “Mum.”  *shudders*  I cringed every time she said either.

On the plus side, once I manage to overlook the whole poor rich girl scenario, the plot is good.  It is full of twists and turns that have a slight supernatural bent without going full-tilt building an entirely populated other world of faeries, sprites, vampires, etc… that is seen in a lot of paranormal fiction.  Lucy’s attraction to Sean, the PI, is believable and progresses at a good rate.  The main mystery actually managed to surprise me with the ending, so that’s a major mark in its favor.

I also enjoyed the little life details Webber put into the story, Lucy’s cat’s activities, exactly what T lines are nearby where the action is happening, etc…  However, I did not like Lucy’s personality quirk of doing math problems in her head when she was nervous.  I don’t know what it is with romance writers lately having their characters do some annoying thing when they’re nervous, but to me it screams that Webber couldn’t figure out a better way to signal this emotion to the reader.

On the whole, it was a fun mystery plot with a dash of paranormal set in Boston  marred by the choice of making the main character part of the wealthy elite with an annoying, unnecessary personality quirk.  If you enjoy paranormal and wealthy characters, you will enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Received from publisher, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program

Projected Publication Date: February 2010

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Book Review: Dead Until Dark By Charlaine Harris

October 28, 2009 17 comments

Since I watched the first season of True Blood and loved it, I decided to read the book the first season is based on.  This was an interesting reversal for me, since usually I’ve read a book then seen the tv show/movie that is made from it.  Anyway, this review naturally contains comparisons between the two, so be warned there are spoilers for both Dead Until Dark and the first season of True Blood.

0441016995.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Summary:
Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a bar in a small town in Louisiana, has been wanting to meet a vampire ever since they came out of the coffin a few years ago.  She gets her chance when Bill Compton, a vampire who was made right after the Civil War, moves to her town of Bon Temps.  Bill is in turn intrigued by Sookie, because she is different from other humans–she can read minds.  They start dating, but it’s not always easy to date a vampire–especially when local women known to hook-up with them are being murdered by an unknown killer.

Review:
Charlaine Harris’s strength as a romance novelist is definitely witty conversations between our heroine and the various male characters in the books.  They are witty and come across remarkably real considering the paranormalness of the plot.   She also sets scenes well.  I’ve never been to Louisiana, but I could just feel the humidity in the air as Sookie partook in various night adventures.

Something that bothered me when watching True Blood was I just couldn’t understand what Sookie found appealing in Bill.  I find him dull, boring, and ugly.  In the book, though, it is abundantly clear that what is so appealing about Bill is that Sookie can relax around him since she can’t read his mind.  The amount she relaxes in scenes with just him is palpable.  I therefore understand why she chooses to overlook his various faults.

The book is written in first-person, and I think this was an unfortunate choice.  It limits our ability to see everything that is going on in Sookie’s world.  Most notably missing is Jason’s storyline.  In True Blood vampire blood is sold as a drug, V, and Jason becomes addicted to it.  Thus, his odd behavior with Sookie is understandable.  In the book though we only hear hints of V being used by anyone and certainly not by Jason.  Jason is just a douchebag.  This limits the levels of story in the book, and I missed the multiple storylines.

*spoiler warning*
The end of Dead Until Dark almost makes up for this though.  In True Blood the murderer comes for Sookie, and she is saved by Bill and her boss, Sam.  In the book though Sookie is left entirely on her own and saves herself.  She finds the faces the murderer alone and defeats him.  She finds her inner strength and just keeps fighting back.  The murderer even says that the Stackhouse women were the only ones to fight back (he also killed her grandmother).  They didn’t just lay back and let it happen.  That’s what makes Sookie such a great romance heroine–she is strong and independent.  She doesn’t need her relationship with Bill, but she does want it.  This makes their romance much more fun.
*end spoiler*

Finally, if you’re a romance novel reader, you might be wondering about the quality of the sex scenes.  Well, they do exist, and they are not corny.  However, they also just aren’t that exciting.  Harris keeps them short and to the point.  No witty, fun double entendres are used, either, which is one of my personal favorite aspects of romance novels.  This book isn’t one to read for the sex scenes; it’s one to read for the storyline.

If you could mash up the best parts of Dead Until Dark with the best parts of True Blood, you would have a truly amazing story.  Unfortunately, both versions have flaws that hold them back from excellence.  Dead Until Dark is worth reading if you enjoy paranormal romance.  If you just want to read the books because you like True Blood for anything but the main Sookie storyline, though, don’t bother reading the books.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sources: I bought Dead Until Dark and Netflixed True Blood.

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