reviews

Genre Round-Up

One of my 2017 reading goals is to read more genre fiction, since it’s generally out of my comfort zone, reading-wise.  Since January is wrapping up, this is the genre fiction I read this month:

71811Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy): I’ve been meaning to read the first book in this series for years, and I finally ended up listening to this on audiobook.  The narrator was great, and she managed to do a variety of accents for the different characters in the book without ever veering into the totally preposterous or distressingly bad.  The novel itself is a pretty decent foray into urban fantasy: Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic who mostly keeps to herself, but she’s also a shifter who turns into a coyote. Her closest neighbor is the leader of a werewolf pack, and when his daughter is kidnapped and he’s dangerously injured in a fight, Mercy gets pulled into the supernatural world in an attempt to save him and his daughter.

Briggs has created vivid characters and a world that feels lived-in and compelling. But there are so many characters elbowing in for some page time that it starts to wear down the plot. It’s possible that as the series gains traction, the plots get stronger, but this first entry into Mercy Thompson’s world was enough for me. I did like how strong she was and how capable she was of taking care of herself.

Keep Me Safe by Maya Banks (Romantic Suspense): Romantic suspense meets supernatural in this “thriller” 20910177from Maya Banks, who is a bestselling author but not one that I’ll seek out again. Psychic Ramie can find victims of serial killers by touching personal artifacts, but it comes at a great physical and emotional cost.  Connected to the victims and the killers, she experiences everything they do and it has taken a toll. Hiding from the rest of civilization, she thinks she’s as safe as she can be until Caleb Deveraux finds her and forces her to help him find his sister. Realizing the pain he’s caused her, Caleb vows to protect her in the futuer. But she’s made a connection with the would-be killer, and she can’t seem to sever it.

It might be that romantic suspense is just not my genre, or it might be that I chose very poorly when it came time to select a romantic suspense title, but this was not for me in any way, shape or form. Setting aside how problematic the general premise is, there’s no character development to speak of, no chemistry between the leads, and the plot is preposterous. I’ll have to delve into some other romantic suspense titles to get a better handle on the genre–I’m taking suggestions!

25760151Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (Historical Romance): Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance centers on Rhine Fontaine, a man who is passing for white in Nevada not long after the end of the Civil War. He meets Eddy, an African-American woman on her way to California under unfortunate circumstances, and he finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. He knows that their romance is forbidden so long as he remains in hiding about his true race, but the repercussions of coming out are great.

There’s a lot to love about Jenkins’s historical romance featuring characters of color in the old west, and much of it is related to how much care she gives her characters. She knows them and clearly likes them, and the result is fully-realized characters with actual chemistry that leaps off the page. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from some of the messier politics of race, either, which is a surprising–and welcome–addition to the traditional romance fare.

On the whole a very enjoyable read and recommended for lovers of historical romance.1601773

Triptych by Karin Slaughter (Mystery/Thriller/Suspense): The first in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, this one is not for the faint of heart, because it is super, super violent. In Atlanta, women are being murdered by a serial killer who has a particular affinity for mutilation. Detective Michael Ormewood is on the case, but he’s pissed when they bring in FBI agents, including Will Trent, whose closing record is astronomical.  There’s also an ex-con who might know more about the murders than anyone else.

Slaughter’s books are fast-paced, compelling, and very violent. They’re definitely for the reader who likes their novels suspenseful, gritty, and gorey. I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would, and I found it too long in parts, but on the whole it was an exciting novel that kept me guessing.

 

 

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Book Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Seven stories, spanning years, intersect in this novel.  All seven stories–featuring all sorts of different characters, including a pilot, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a king–take place on a remote Scandinavian island called Blessed where there’s a mysterious plant resembling a dragon.  What do all these stories have in common?

Midwinterblood has received a great deal of press in the last year, and rightfully so.  It’s an ambitious novel, and it’s memorable, without a doubt.  Just trying to summarize the plot above was no easy feat.  Heaped with critical praise, this is going to be one that divides readers: they’re either going to “get” it, or they aren’t.

I fall into the latter category.  Try as I might, I never fully connected with this one.  It could be that the hype machine got to me and I was never going to love it as much as I felt like I should, or it could be that it simply didn’t work for me.  What I do know is this: the writing is impeccable, the characters are fascinating, and the premise itself is compelling.  But it never came together for me.

While the characters are definitely fascinating, the reader never spends enough time with any of them to fully grasp what is happening or what their motivations are.  There’s this creeping feeling throughout the novel, and while that in itself should keep the pages turning for most readers, there wasn’t enough substance here for me to walk away feeling sated.

That being said, the writing is excellent.  Sedgwick writes each section of the story with an intriguing, haunting prose that hooks the reader.  The creeping feeling of dread that permeates the pages is due in large part to his talent, and even the most skeptical reader will have a hard time overlooking that.

It might be that this is a novel that demands a second or third read-through, but for the time being, I’m left wondering, “Yeah, and?”

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. Roaring Brook Press: 2013. Library copy.

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Expected Release Date: February 11, 2014

Death hasn’t visited Rowan Rose since it took her mother when Rowan was only a little girl. But that changes one bleak morning, when five horses and their riders thunder into her village and through the forest, disappearing into the hills. Days later, the riders’ bodies are found, and though no one can say for certain what happened in their final hours, their remains prove that whatever it was must have been brutal.

Rowan’s village was once a tranquil place, but now things have changed. Something has followed the path those riders made and has come down from the hills, through the forest, and into the village. Beast or man, it has brought death to Rowan’s door once again.

Only this time, its appetite is insatiable.

(summary via Goodreads)

What I love about this one’s summary is that nothing is given away, really.  It’s the perfect teaser for a book that’s undoubtedly creepy and a little haunting.  Do I wish the cover weren’t quite so irritating?  Yes, of course.  There’s no reason to sexualize the girl quite so much with the red lips and nails (why are they in her mouth, really? is there a point to the story?), but that’s what sells, right?

At any rate, I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

What are you waiting on this week?

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Book Review: Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

When 12-year-old Lilah Bloom is struck by lightning at her mom’s wedding, she discovers she has a new skill: she can hear dead people.  They are everywhere, and they are verbose.  Her Bubby is one of the most opinionated ghosts, and she wants Lilah to help her get Lilah’s dad dating again.  All of this means Lilah must navigate the stress of seventh grade while also dealing with chatty ghosts–and somehow, she’ll have to try to work up the courage to talk to her crush, Andrew Finkel.

Joanne Levy’s debut middle grade novel takes a premise that could be sort of frightening–being surrounding by the voices of ghosts all the time–and subverts it by making light and a little silly.  Lilah’s frank voice feels authentic and is frequently very funny.  The supporting characters are vivid, and there’s just a touch of romance that will appeal to readers but won’t put parents on the offense.

While it could easily fall into the trap of being too silly or too slapstick, Levy walks the line carefully and successfully.  She creates a strong narrator in Lilah and allows her cultural identity and strong family ties to enhance the story, giving it a great deal of heart along with the (very real, very funny) humor.

Although it falls into the paranormal genre based on its premise alone, Levy’s book transcends its fantastical plot elements and offers some very real commentary on middle school.  Lilah has to navigate all the things that a normal seventh grader has to, and she has to do it while attempting to ignore the advice and commentary of invisible ghosts.  Readers will be able to relate to the real stuff happening in Lilah’s life while being entertained by the ghostly stuff, too.

This is a quick read that will work for reluctant readers. Levy never panders to her audience.  A definite stand-out in the paranormal middle grade market, this is an author to watch.

Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy. Bloomsbury: 2012. Library copy.

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Book Review: The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti

For Frenenqer Paje, life is stifling with its sameness day in and day out.  Books are her only escape from her overbearing father and the stifling heat of the desert oasis in which they live.  One small act of rebellion leads to her meeting a boy named Sangris–a boy who can shapeshift–and this spins her life into a different direction.  At night, Frenenqer and this boy travel to distant lands where she can barely feel the tug of her father’s commands.  If she can learn to let go, Frenenqer might just be able to finally live as she wants to.

Rossetti’s fantasy novel provides a neat twist on the genre that a lot of readers won’t see coming.  Instead of providing mere escapism for readers, Rossetti forces the reader to accept the fact that her fantastical world also has a grim reality to it.  The harsh environment in which Frenenqer is raised comes to life with Rossetti’s lush prose.  The scenes where Sangris and Frenenqer travel to distant lands are particularly well-rendered: the use of color to describe nature and their surroundings is often breath-taking.

Rossetti’s characters also subvert a lot of the usual tropes found in a fantasy novel.  Although Frenenqer and Sangris have feelings for one another, it takes a good long while for those feelings to develop, and even longer for the characters to admit it.  Frenenqer is a strong heroine who is also deeply damaged from her upbringing.  An easy read this is not: there’s a lot of emotional turbulence to be found here, but Rossetti’s excellent characterization and good pacing keep the pages turning.

There are a lot of issues explored within the pages of Rossetti’s book.  She writes about ex-pats with a kind of familiarity that hints at her own background and makes Frenenqer’s displacement palpable.  The concepts of love, trust, and self-identity are all here, but Rossetti doesn’t push and never gives her readers an easy answer.  Deeply affecting and deeply satisfying, this is a must-read for fans of YA.  Highly recommended.

The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti. Dial: 2012. Library copy.

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Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

A wakes up in a different body every single day.  There’s no telling who it will be, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  All A knows is that the person will be roughly the same age as A and will be in roughly the same geographic location as the body A went to sleep in the night before.  Each day, A navigates the world from a different perspective and tries hard not to make connections.  Then A meets Rhiannon, and everything changes.  What do you do when you meet the person you want to be with but you’re a different person every day?

David Levithan’s latest offering gives the reader plenty to think about.  Although there’s not much time spent explaining why A’s life is the way it is, the reader soon discovers that it doesn’t matter so much why A spends a each day in a different body as much as it does that it means A can never have a normal existence.  Levithan’s take on this is brilliant for myriad reasons.  Because A has no actual body, A has no set gender, race, or sexual orientation.  This allows the reader to think about what it means to love without the social constructs of these categories.

It’s an interesting, intriguing premise, and Levithan’s gorgeous prose draws the reader in and doesn’t let go until the end.  While some readers might struggle with how quickly A develops feelings for Rhiannon, this reader never felt like it was too rushed.  Everything about their intense feelings for one another felt authentic, heartbreaking, and all too real.  Rhiannon, like A, struggles with what her feelings mean for a person she can never truly see.

There are things here that don’t quite work.  Levithan’s novel is clearly approaching the topic of love from a perspective of tolerance and understanding, and yet he devotes an entire chapter to fat-shaming one of the bodies that A inhabits.  The fact that this happens later in the book and largely serves as a way to wedge some distance between A and Rhiannon is understandable, but Levithan’s insensitive handling of obesity clashes horrifically with his overall message.  This is going to alienate some readers and tarnish the overall reading experience, which is a shame, because there’s a lot here worth thinking about and enjoying.

A sad, thoughtful YA book with plenty of crossover appeal for adults.  Recommended.

Every Day by David Levithan. Knopf Books for  Young Readers: 2012. Library copy.

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Book Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Fifteen year old Delilah fits the bill of a bookish loner pretty well.  She spends most of her time reading, and lately, it’s been the same book, over and over.  Between the Lines is a fairy tale meant for much younger readers, but Delilah feels a connection to it and its protagonist and hero, Prince Oliver.  One day, Prince Oliver actually speaks to her, and Delilah’s world is forever changed.  How can the two have any sort of real relationship when one of them lives in the real world and the other lives in a book?

Much has been made about the fact that this is Jodi Picoult’s first foray into young adult fiction (despite the fact that her novels have crossover appeal for teens), and that she collaborated with her teenage daughter on this book.  The result of this collaboration is a mostly fun metafiction offering a twist on the traditional teen romance.

This is definitely a novel meant for younger readers, as the story offers the lightest of light romances to its readers.  While there are certainly older teens who will enjoy the novel’s central romance, it’s going to work best for a younger audience who like their love stories without any messy emotional complications or complexities.  There’s plenty of lightly silly humor to be found in this book’s pages, too, which makes the whole thing feel rather young.

Despite all that, there are still three different narrative threads found throughout the book.  Although each of these threads is presented in different fonts and colors, this is not a book that lends itself to a reader who is likely to put it down for large chunks of time.  The book is incredibly plot-heavy, which might deter some readers.  However, large font and more than a smattering of fairy-tale illustrations help break up the text.

While certainly not offensive in any way, it wasn’t particularly remarkable for this reader, either.  It’ll find an audience because of its topic, tone, and author, but it’s largely forgettable.  Recommended to readers looking for light fairy-tale romance.

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer. Simon Pulse: 2012. Library copy.