Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Binge

I’ve been a little more choosey since Borders went under and there’s no longer a SINGLE book store on my side of town.  Can you feel the bitter hatred?  It’s there in spades, believe me.  Which means there’s a little less snark on this go round, but I think  I might be grading a little more harshly too, with no true stinkers to balance things out.  It also means that I’m reading a bit less because I’ve having to a) drive b) wait until I can find time to spare & c) budget, because, hey, aren’t we all?  Anyway, this is what I’ve been wasting my time on this month.  Enjoy!

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris


This is the fourth, and not sure, but maybe final (?) book in Charlaine Harris’ series about a lightning struck southern girl whose special ability is to find the bodies of dead people.  In the last book some inevitable plot spoilers took place, and in this one the audience gets the reward of everyone being just about as awkward about it as we would be in their shoes.  Which is nice.  The author would have had to jump through some pretty impressive hoops to ignore this one.  This is also the book we all knew was coming, the one where Harper finally finds out what happened to her sister all those years and white trash wonders ago.  It’s a doozey.  I was perfectly pleased by the way the relationships developed and unraveled, came together and fell apart.  The plot(s) are entertaining and well crafted, and Harris puts her background as a mystery writer to good use in giving us just enough clues to put it together while still managing to surprise.  On the whole, if this is the last, it went out on a strong and satisfying note, and if it goes on, I have reasonable hopes of them continuing to entertain.  While neither as swooningly romantic nor as funny as the Sookie Stackhouse books for which she is better known, these are highly rewarding never-the-less.  But do yourself a favour and start at the beginning.

Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

This gets a ‘A,’ really? Yes really.  It is what it is (paranormal romance) and as that it excels well past much of the competition.  A college kid in Houston is all wrapped up in Fey politics because she has the rare ability to see where the holes the Fey cut in reality lead to, and since Faerie is at war, it’s a handy talent that both sides want to control.  I picked this up because I lived briefly in the city and was excited to see a fresh local (I love Seattle, but, seriously.)  There’s nothing of the city to be had here, though, as perhaps 6.6 seconds of it occur there and it’s a real generic there when it is.  The book, however, is pretty great.  As soon as our lead gets kidnapped by the “bad” guys the plot moves briskly, and the characters unfold in realistic ways.  Good and bad get obscure fast, though our heroine earns my respect by consistently trying to save herself and get back to her love, even when she begins to doubt him.  The political and economic backdrop, as well as the cold fact that neither side of any war is without blame are well thought out and intriguing. The romance part of the paranormal is at the forefront to be sure, but I was entertained thoroughly and WAIT FOR IT: there is zero sex.  Hip-hip-hooray!  Again, the angle is romance, not smexy time.  Overall, worth your time if you enjoy the genre.  Side note: why does the chick on the cover have a sword? Totally misleading.

Mr. Shivers Robert Jackson Bennett

Let’s just say that I ended up making a station on Pandora for this one.  It’s clues were Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Gillian Welch, and this trio pretty effectively sums up the feel of this slow moving but deeply creepifying novel.  A man who's lost everything  hitch hikes across the bleak and all-on-its-own horrifying landscape of the great depression searching for vengeance against a mystical figure who kills seemingly at random.  The afterwards acknowledges a debt to Waits and to Neil Gaiman, and I have to say they’re well warranted.  At times I can actually pick out the song that inspired the image, and the whole mystic road trip thing strongly resonates with American Gods, although avid Sandman fans will see the end coming from a mile off.  This pastiche/homage is why it gets the minus, and maybe because of the pacing too.  It is a slower read, but the odd, disturbing atmospherics build to an inevitable conclusion that rewards the effort. 

Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews

This is the third books in husband and wife writing team’s Edge Chronicles about people who live in the boundary between the world as we know it and the word where magic works like science works here.  Somewhere, they describe the series arc as fried appetizer, meaty entrée, desert, and the next as coffee.  This one is the fluffy desert and on that level it works.  Unfortunately, I was expecting something more like a meaty entrée.  A reformed theif and a con man turned spy get roped in to retreiving a stolen mystical object before it causes an international kerfluffle and have hijinks along the way.  This really needs for you to have read the first two books, which is fine, and to not mind some rather forced and occasionally random plot diversions, which isn’t.  On the whole it all works out, but honestly I’m a little annoyed that our villains give us less than their best and yet aren’t truly vanquished.  Grr.  Argh.  There are, however, moments of true humour and it reads fast.  They absolutely nail family and sibling dynamics, and do a well above average "long term results of drug addiction. " I liked it, but I wanted more after the high bar the previous book set.

Midwinter by Matthew Sturges

This is an older book that I’ve been putting on the back burner for a while.  You may know Sturges from the comics world, since he’s the guy behind the fabulous House of Mystery and has worked on Fables among other things.  I put it off because I’m not much for war/quest tales and every time I picked at it, the writing seemed to lean cliché.  But once I dove in from the beginning, it flowed much better.  It’s an odd blend of High Fantasy quest and Urban Elf changeling saga.  It bears some marks of a writer doing his first switch from a largely visual medium, but on the whole it’s satisfying and rewards patience with the occasionally episodic narrative.  As always, I despise villain narrative interludes, but this one works to make our villain complex and relatable rather than as a vehicle to live vicariously.   The book may have its challenges, but let’s just say I’m not against picking up the sequel.  The world is well built, the characters both flawed and believable, and the bad guys are never the cackle in their lairs kind, but more the doing the best they can kind.  Though Mab and her floating city are truly fearsome creations.  I’m not totally sure it’s worth 14.99, but it’s all over the web for less, and it is worth anything under 10 if you enjoy quests/faerie tales. 

Beauty Dates the Beast by Jessica Sims

Having just said that I can only hold a book to its genre standards rather than those of great literature, it seems harsh to slap this one with a B-, but it still deserves it.  If Shadow Reader is on the romance side of PNR, then this one tips the scale so far that it tips over the edge.  A girl whose sister is a werewolf in the closet works at a supernatural dating agency (a sadly underutilized goldmine of an idea) who’s strong armed into accepting a date with a were-cougar.  There are some genuinely enjoyable moments, and the author shows potential in the fun diversion market.  It’s fluffy, silly and utterly forgettable, but it is far from the worst way ever to waste an afternoon.  For instance, no faux rape scenes.  Yeah! (It’s sooo sad that this is a thing that I can be happy about now.  Yowzers.)  The plot is severely predictable however, and the the villain/s so obvious it’s a little sad.  Plus, a few of the plot obstacles are hackneyed.  This is a pick it up it you like the romance angle best (but don’t mind a little gore splattered around the edges) and get it used if you’re able. 

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

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