Saturday, February 26, 2011

Past Midnight by Mara Purnhagen

I can't remember where I saw the review of this book that convinced me to buy a copy. When I got it and saw that it was published by Harlequin Teen, though, I immediately expected the worst. Fortunately, my assumption that the book would be a shallow, poorly written romance was completely wrong.

Charlotte Silver's parents are paranormal experts who investigate haunted buildings scientifically and film documentaries about their results. As a result, Charlotte and her older sister have moved frequently throughout their lives. Charlotte's used to starting a new school almost every semester; she's also used to the way people at first think her parents are cool, then--after Halloween, typically--they start spreading rumors about seances and cults. For her senior year, though, Charlotte's thrilled that her family plans to spend the whole year in one place, and in a brand new house instead of a haunted one. She's determined to act as normal as possible. The trouble is, at her parents' latest investigation, something strange happened--and suddenly Charlotte is hearing things, seeing things, and having disturbing dreams.

I liked Charlotte, who is practical, intelligent, and friendly. Her difficulties seem real, no matter how bizarre they really are, because the writing is so good. I also liked the layers of plot going on. Charlotte doesn't just have to keep her new classmates in the dark about her parents' ghost-hunting while figuring out what to do about her own haunting, she's also dealing with a new best friend with a dark secret, a strange boy in school who everyone shuns for no reason Charlotte can figure out, her relationship with her older sister--now in college--and her parents, and what to do about her own future after high school.

The pacing starts out a little slow, but picks up after a few chapters. I enjoyed the way the various mysteries unfold and intersect, and how Charlotte's friendships develop. There's only a small romantic subplot that works well with the story and leaves the possibility open for more in the sequels.

I do want to read the sequels--I think there are two already, although this book was just published last year. That brings me to another thing: Past Midnight is very short. I read it in only about two hours. It's one of those 'bonbon books,' short and delicious and hard to stop after just one.

B&N link

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

After her divorce and her mother's death, Melanie Turner, known as Mel, took over the family construction business from her father. Now she's restoring historic homes in San Francisco. But when she agrees to help a friend restore a supposedly haunted house, practically the first thing that happens is a murder. The problem is, the police and even OSHA seem to think the murder was either an accident or a power-tool assisted suicide, which Mel knows can't be the case. Then she finds a box full of old documents hidden in the walls, documents that could shed light on a hundred-year-old mystery as well as a modern one. Oh, and Mel keeps seeing the ghost of the murdered man.

This is a great set-up for a mystery. Unfortunately, the book just isn't all that great. All the right ingredients are in there, but the soup is not a success.

There's way too much exposition, to start with. Mel seems obsessed with her ex-husband and her miserable life with him, because she brings it up constantly--and not just a line here and there, but whole paragraphs or even multiple paragraphs at a time. I wouldn't necessarily even mind that if she was working past it, but she's not. There is a romance with an old friend turned OSHA inspector, but that doesn't actually kick in until late in the book.

For that matter, the book doesn't kick in until halfway through the book. The murder happens soon, but it felt like Mel's impromptu investigation took forever to get underway. And Mel seems curiously unconcerned about things normal people would freak out over, like someone breaking into her father's workroom and torching it, and someone smashing a window out of her car to search it, and her reliable foreman disappearing and not answering his phone.... Even toward the end, when Mel's threatened by a suspect and is tied up and locked up, once she escapes she fails to call the cops and doesn't even seem all that upset.

Mel is blandly pleasant, but I never found her compelling enough to hang a series on. Even though the ghost turns up early, Mel spends more than half the book doubting her sanity about him, which is tiresome. I also found most of the other characters unlikeable, especially the male characters (although Mel's best friend is also annoying). The men are almost universally misogynists of various stripes--even the ones we're supposed to like, including Mel's dad and her love interest. I couldn't warm up to anyone.

The mystery itself is interesting, but the clues are laid out in such a haphazard way--Mel finds most of her information by accident--and the trail she follows is so lifeless that I never got caught up in the puzzle. There are tons of red herrings and dead-ends, but nothing felt at stake and nothing felt at all realistic. The lack of police investigation in the murder didn't make any sense; Mel's failure to call the police even when quite serious things occurred made the whole book seem like it was set in an alternate reality, one where San Francisco has only one cop, and he might be crooked. It was frankly bizarre.

I can't say I actually disliked the book, though. It just wasn't very good.

B&N link

Monday, February 21, 2011

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

I read a review of this book over at Book Aunt, where I get a lot of excellent book recommendations. I'm very glad I picked up a copy when I found one.

Rachel Sheridan was born and raised in Africa in a tiny village where her missionary parents run a small hospital. It's early 20th century, and the Spanish Influenza is sweeping the globe. Rachel's world is destroyed when her parents die of the flu and an unpleasant English couple take her in against her wishes. The English couple's daughter, Valerie, has also died, and Rachel looks enough like her that the parents think she could fool Valerie's grandfather, who has never actually met her. Rachel is shipped off to England with strict instructions to convince the grandfather to leave his estate to his ne'er-do-well son and daughter-in-law. She has to become Valerie, a girl who despised Africa as much as Rachel loves it.

Rachel's homesickness for Africa and her life there is moving and well realized. The reasons why she's afraid to tell the grandfather of the deception make sense, and her growing fondness for him and the English countryside make for a wonderful story. The writing is simple, clean, and descriptive.

The last section of the book, as Rachel grows older, was the weakest. It covers many years at a fast clip, skimming the important events of Rachel's life. The ending is satisfying, but the whole last section seems almost unnecessary. Still, it's a very good book and a fast read.

B&N link

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

This was a much better book than I had expected. If I had bothered to read the first page before putting it on my to-be-read shelf, it wouldn't have sat there gathering unmerited dust for so long.

The author's phrasing gives away immediately that he isn't just putting out another also-ran fantasy book: there's no pretension, no trying to fit in with the pack. It reads very much as if someone were telling us a story while we sat around a campfire, breathless and impatient for the next detail.

The book is compelling--especially in the beginning--because of the particular cruel and horrific circumstance in which we find our main character, a boy in his early teens being raised among hundreds of others in a religious order. The zealots who run the place offer no apologies for their treatment of their charges, and that treatment is terrible to behold. It's impossible not to admire anyone who survives this place, much less those who rebel and eventually escape. And just so, the reader finds himself already a quarter of the way through the book and very much immersed by the time the plot is really unfolding.

Hoffman can't maintain that grip quite so well once the MC and his friends have started exploring the wider world outside, but before the book begins to labor the plot--rather than just the environment and back story--becomes strong enough to carry the load, with a few stumbles but also a fair share of excellent twists and turns including an unanticipated ending that definitely merits a sequel or two. The Left Hand of God has turned out to be a great start for a truly epic fantasy series.

Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier

Griffins. I'm ready to swear that I've read this book before, except last time--um, twenty years ago or so?--it was about dragons, and this time it's griffins. For the life of me, I cannot remember which predecessor kept tugging at me as I read this one. Oh well.

Our hero Kes is an autistic waif of a girl. Well, actually, I'll let the author tell it: "She has some skill with herbs, and she can stitch a cut or set a bone. A man came and asked her to come, and she went up into the desert to help somebody who'd been hurt. Before we even knew there was a desert."

...which choice launches us nicely into the plot--and gratifyingly, that happens in the first chapter so things start moving pretty quickly. There's a shift to a second set of characters in the second chapter, and though that one's a bit of a snoozer we're back with Kes in chapter three and the alternation is established. That third chapter picks up the pace again and thereafter there's always a battle or some other appropriate tension in play. The plot is well accomplished if not particularly twisty, and the griffins themselves bring a refreshing mindset to the field.

The author has, though, done herself a disservice by choosing a shy, tentative girl as the MC; she keeps that identity a little too long and the MC gets a little mired in self-pitying whining from time to time. Ultimately she does show the inevitable character growth everyone had expected, but when all is said and done the MC has not become a strong personality (the obvious choice for growth), but rather an aloof one. That particular progression rang a little hollow; who wants an aloof main character?

In all I found the author pulled off a good balance with this book: the characters were distinctive without being too stereotypical, the environment was conveyed well (desert scenes play strongly here) and after that one misstep with chapter two the pacing never really sagged. The last of the plot pieces ended satisfyingly, leaving enough unsaid to lay the foundation for a sequel. I didn't find anything in here particularly compelling--which is to say it's not of the same caliber as such books as The Name of the Wind or The Blade Itself--but it's a fine first offering and I'm pleased to see there's a whole trilogy waiting.

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede

I bought this book used; it's long out of print. I've read a lot of Patricia C. Wrede's books and enjoy her writing a lot. I was glad when I finally found a copy of Mairelon the Magician, particularly since it's set in the same world as Sorcery & Cecelia (which she wrote with Caroline Stevermer, whose books I also love).

Kim is a London street waif who's lived most of her life disguised as a boy. It's safer that way. When she's offered five pounds to break into a traveling magician's wagon and look for a certain silver bowl, she jumps at the chance. She doesn't even have to steal the bowl, just find where it's hidden. But when she's discovered, instead of turning her over to the police, the magician--that's Mairelon--offers to let Kim tag along as they leave London. Kim agrees, even though Mairelon is obviously a real magician, not a trick magician, and even though there's something strange going on about the silver bowl.

The book starts off strong. Kim's a feisty character who fears for her future, now that it's becoming increasingly obvious she's not a boy. Her relationship with Mairelon is quarrelsome but friendly; Mairelon himself turns out to be full of surprises as to who and what he really is. Wrede's lively writing is a lot of fun.

Everything rocks along just fine, in fact, until the big smash finish. At which point...good grief. The tension drops dead as every character in the book shows up and starts arguing or infodumping or both. Kim might as well not be in the last 75 pages of the book, because she literally does nothing despite an excellent set-up for her being the only character who might be able to help. All the set-up has no point, since a lot of coincidences take the place of plot. Then there's an unbelievably long section explaining what happened and why regarding the events of the book. It's boring boring boring boring boring boring boring. Seriously, it's boring. And unnecessary, which is the worst of it.

I was badly disappointed in the book, especially since the first two-thirds built everything up so well. I think there's a sequel, but I doubt I'll bother to chase down a copy.

B&N link

Friday, February 18, 2011

Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies by Michael Adams

I love books about bad movies (more than I love bad movies, actually), and this one's a real winner. Australian film critic Michael Adams comes up with the idea of finding the worst movie ever made, and embarks on a year-long journey to watch at least one bad movie a day. And oh my goodness, does he watch some stinkers.

The book is fast-paced, funny, and always interesting. I would have liked more details on a lot of the movies mentioned, but I realize there just wouldn't have been room. I enjoyed Adams' interviews with various directors, actors, and fellow critics about their favorite bad movies (or their own bad movies), and I especially liked the way Adams' own life progresses during the year. He worries that he's spending too much money on awful movies, and that he's becoming obsessed with the project far beyond the one-year mark he set for himself.

Best of all, this isn't a razzfest making fun of bad movies (although there's a healthy, and funny, dose of razzing where appropriate). Adams genuinely enjoys movies, bad or good. He finds something to appreciate in even the most horrible film, and he discovers many guilty pleasures in his hunt for the world's worst.

This book is a great addition to any bad-movie enthusiast's collection, although it'll make you want to rush out and buy a lot of DVDs. If there's a weak spot in the book, it's the lack of very many animated bad movies, although that may just be my personal preferences showing. (While Freddie the Frog as F.R.O.7 may not be the worst movie ever made, it's in my personal bottom 10.)

B&N link

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown

Eric Brown has been writing for a while, but as far as I'm concerned he really became interesting when he published Helix about three years ago. Since then he's been turning out a surprising number of books--like six or seven so far with another due to release next month.

Helix was a strong offering: not stunning, but a good adventure story on an outlandish world--a little like Ringworld, perhaps, but without Ringworld's sense of epicness.

Necropath was very different in tone but an even better book: a solid science fiction tale blending in a murder mystery and psionic abilities. He continued the saga with Xenopath and Cosmopath and never really lost the pace, though by the end of the last I was starting to see some of Helix shining through.

I missed a few other of his releases, then picked up this one: Guardians of the Phoenix. Here Brown is definitely returning to his Helix roots: it's an adventure tale concentrating on a small group of desperate people struggling to travel to a half-mythical goal across a horrible landscape. This time, instead of placing our adventurers on a novel planet, Brown has decided to tear up the Earth: in this post-apocalyptic tale the oceans have dried up and the planet has been covered with sand dunes, with the last remnants of humanity numbering perhaps in the thousands worldwide.

Brown pulls several things off well in this story. The environment is well crafted: not as stifling and fraternal as Glen Cook's Passage At Arms perhaps, but still enough to make you feel adrift on that barren wasteland. The reveals are thin but well timed--sometimes you can feel he's dragging them out on purpose, but he never seems to be stuffing pointless material in there for pacing. And while the characters have annoying traits, you can at least identify with them.

And naturally there are things I'd like to see improved. There are too many scene shifts early in the book: with only 450 pages this doesn't qualify as even Medium on my tome-o-meter, so I don't want to see six or seven different viewpoints in the first six or seven chapters. It's a relatively small group of people, so let me get to know them a little, eh? One of those viewpoints is awkward as well--it's backstory for a character who doesn't appear in the flesh until the last chapter, and each bit of backstory is only a page or two. I understand why Brown needed to add this stuff, but it could've been managed better.

I don't think we'll be seeing a sequel to this one; it wouldn't fit well on the ending, as any follow-up would have too many new characters and a new location. But it was a worthwhile read anyway.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Before I write this, I have to disclose a little personal bias: Jack McDevitt is one of the best science fiction authors writing today. He has produced a diverse collection of works, most of which are simply phenomenal. I buy every book he writes as soon as I notice it has become available. His The Engines of God was one of the best SF books I've ever read.

So keep that praise in mind while I tell you that this book sucked. The only thing going for it was McDevitt's healthy experience as an author: the book was mechanically well done with a story line that was (despite the time travelling confusions) always nicely consistent and well paced.

What it lacked was, oh, most of everything else. I read this book two weeks ago, and at the moment I can't remember the MC's name nor that of his time-travelling friend. The characters were simply boring despite the handy dandy time travelling devices they played with. The book was also, surprisingly, almost entirely lacking in plot: three quarters of the book consisted of a hunt for one person or another (the dad, then the friend, then the MC) in various times--but it never felt urgent or exciting at all. Halfway through the book I was still waiting for a real problem to appear, and it never really did.

Curiously, this is not the first time McDevitt tried his hand at a time travel novel. His other one, Ancient Shores, was even worse than this one--a real stinker of a book that was so bad I wondered at the time if McDevitt signed his name on someone else's work.

Stay away from Time Travelers Never Die. But honestly, don't hesitate to pick up anything else with McDevitt's name on it; most of his tales are excellent.

Winter Song by Colin Harvey

I really enjoyed this book for the first few chapters. It was delightful: spaceships and nanotech, FTL weapons, a desperate escape using some nifty technology and the prospect of a survival story on an iceball of a planet. I positively devoured this thing. At the beginning.

Our hero manages to flee to the promised frozen wasteland and is rescued and brought to a local village to be brought back to health. But as he convalesces, the story starts to fall apart--not because the MC has developed multiple-personality disorder (because his ship shoved its AI into his brain as part of his escape attempt), but because one of his personalities is written in the first person, and everything else is written in third.

I was channeling KC every time the first-person/third-person shift happened: this little voice would start repeating, "I can't believe the author just did that! Really, is this really going to continue through the whole book? Really?" The shift was horrifically jarring, throwing me straight out of the book and dreading when the next instance would occur.

The author also kind of wimps out over the course of the book. At the beginning it's all violence and no pity; he kills a cute little puppy for crying out loud--and not even as a random brutality, but rather targeting a puppy that was introduced several chapters before and had been popping in and out ever since. Cruel but reasonable with the background: think frozen planet, desperate people, hard circumstances. There's a crazy guy eating vomit because he's desperate for calories. It's harsh, but you agree it probably should be.

But by the end of the story, we're all friends. The bad-guys-in-space, after having taken out our MC's ship, have blown each other up and disappeared from the story in a cloud of debris. The bad-guys-on-the-planet have agreed that it's all for the best if we just stop fighting and chasing each other. Even the vicious wampa-like indigenous creatures that everyone on the planet fears have proven to be neither vicious nor indigenous, but rather intelligent and capable of enjoying theoretical discourse. Where did all the anger go?

Anyway, I'll provide a B&N Link, but I can't really recommend that you bother following it.

Indigo Springs by A. M. Dellamonica

I'm having trouble writing a review for this book, largely because I can't decide whether I liked it or not.

Indigo Springs has several things in its favor. The basic magical device in the story--a thick blue water-like "vitagua" that responds to human will--is both novel and richly integrated into our mythos and pseudo-history. There is a diverse cast of characters, but there are never too many to track. The book is framed in a sleepy little town that quickly and comfortably settles around you--and yet its world never really feels small. And the writing was fluid enough, with sufficiently dynamic pacing, to make me keep chewing through the chapters.

And yet, not everything is delightful in here. The main character is a whining douche, inexplicably love-struck over her self-absorbed would-be girlfriend. She lives with her half-brother who is likewise a douche. Her mother is a bad-tempered half-male weirdo. And there's an extra main character--a government agent who spends the book asking her questions and getting a long back story in response--who can't seem to decide if he should ever play a prominent role or not. (I suspect he'll show up in the inevitable sequel.) The MC's actions throughout the book are frequently--no, almost continually--unjustifiable. Is it really possible for anyone to make a bad decision every hour of every day for weeks on end? Yikes!

After weighing the pros and cons, I think I've decided that I won't be picking up the sequel. But I can't really regret having spent the time to read what was, after all, a reasonably good book.

The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

I have no earthly idea how I missed discovering Georgette Heyer before now. I love old-fashioned detective novels set in the 30s and 40s, and Heyer wrote dozens. Yet somehow I've never read a word she wrote.

I picked up The Unfinished Clue since it looked like a fun place to start with her writing, and I was right. A mismatched group of guests spend the weekend at a country-house, where the odious Sir Arthur Billington-Smith ends up stabbed to death. Everyone has a motive, everyone has an opportunity to have done it. The local police call in Scotland Yard.

It's an entertaining, frequently funny book. I loved the main characters, Dinah Fawcett and Inspector Harding. All the characters are strongly drawn, though, and the plot is excellent. I was 100% convinced I knew who the murderer was and why, but I was 100% wrong. I love it when I'm wrong.

B&N link

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rivers of London / Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

I ordered my copy of this book in hardback from England for several reasons. One, the original title, Rivers of London, is a million times better than the generic U.S. title, Midnight Riot. Two, the original cover is also a million times better than the generic U.S. cover. Three, I didn't want to read a watered-down "Americanized" version of the book. I ordered my copy via Powell's Books, but I just went to find the link in case other people wanted to order it and it's no longer available. I'm glad I got mine when I did.

Peter Grant is a rookie cop who's about to find out what department he'll be transferred to once his two-year probationary period is up. He's dreading a career of paperwork in the Case Progression Unit. But when he takes a statement from a murder witness who happens to be see-through, Peter comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale--who turns out to be a wizard. Nightingale arranges for Peter to become his apprentice.

The set-up is fantastic, with a mostly excellent plot to follow. Something strange is going on in London, some force that's causing otherwise normal, law-abiding people to go crazy and attack others, after which their faces fall off. Literally. With the help of his friend Lesley May--assigned to homicide--and the sometimes off-kilter guidance of Nightingale, Peter tries to figure out what's going on in his city and put a stop to it.

The writing in this book is a real joy. It doesn't call attention to itself at all; Aaronovitch's prose is high-quality without being flashy, effortless to read and never awkward. The characters are well rounded and all of them are sympathetic, even if they're not all likable. I liked Peter, who's intelligent, curious, pleasant, and practical in a low-key way. He's also of mixed race, which gave him an extra depth since he has to deal with issues that white cops don't, although that's only one part of his personality and history.

The plot takes its time to unfold although the action never drags. I got the impression that Aaronovitch was enjoying himself as he explored the world he'd created. While there are dark and even horrific moments in the book, the overall tone is light, engaging, and frequently very funny. The big climax wasn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped, but it was certainly a lot of fun, as was the whole book.

Incidentally, there's a fourth reason why I bought the UK version of the book at great expense instead of the US version in cheap paperback. Take a look at the original US cover art and current US cover art:

I can't find any information out there about what happened, but the figure on the original cover art looks awfully white to me. I can't help but wonder if the figure was, ahem, blacked-out to stop allegations of whitewashing of the cover. Either way, it's a crappy cover.

Powell's link for Midnight Riot
Here's the Powell's link to order the hardback UK version of Rivers of London

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Annie Seymour mystery series by Karen E. Olson

I wrote a very short review of the first Annie Seymour mystery a few days ago. Now I've read the next three.

The books in order are Sacred Cows, Secondhand Smoke, Dead of the Day, and Shot Girl. It looks like they're all out of print, which is a damn shame. At least they're available as ebooks; that's how I got my copies (although I've also ordered used copies, and in fact I delayed writing this review until after I'd ordered them so no one would swoop in and get the last copy or anything).

I really enjoyed the books, obviously. I've also read and really enjoyed Olson's other mystery series (reviewed here). I think what I like most about both series is the truly fine characterization. None of the characters are flat or stereotypical; I care about all of them, even the ones I want to loathe. Olson keeps surprising me by twisting things around so I see the good in otherwise bad people and recognize the bad in people I like. It's subtle, nuanced, and doesn't slow the first-rate pacing at all. This is good writing.

Main character Annie Seymour, a journalist at the New Haven Herald, is cynical, bitter, and suspects she's as burnt out on her job as her coworkers think. As I said in the previous review, Annie's the type of character readers either love or hate. Some people will undoubtedly find her offputting, but I loved her. I found her bitterness oddly refreshing, and she's cynical without being sassy like so many mystery heroines. She's also extremely sharp--and frequently very, very funny.

Since Annie's a reporter on the crime beat, it makes sense that she keeps getting mixed up in murders. That's kind of refreshing too; I don't mind the mystery series where someone stumbles across a corpse in every book, but it does start to seem weird after a few books. Annie's just doing her job. The mysteries are well constructed, the plots complex but never confusing. And again, the pacing is excellent.

In addition to the mysteries, the equally important subplots and character arcs are just as important. Annie has to deal with her coworkers, especially the eager young reporter she's afraid will end up with her job; her hotshot lawyer mother, who won't give her anything on record and who's dating her boss; her cop ex-boyfriend and her private investigator current boyfriend; and many others. Most of all, though, Annie has to deal with herself. This is most obvious in the fourth book, where her ex-husband is murdered and she's suddenly confronted with parts of her past she's tried not to think about for years.

The fourth book gives such a feeling of closure that I'm not sure if Olson plans to write more in the series. I hope so, but I also don't want her to neglect her other series. Frankly, at this point I'm ready to read whatever she writes, no matter what it is.

Karen E. Olson's books at Powell's (where you can order used print copies of her books)
Karen E. Olson's books at B&N (where you can download ebooks for a nook if you have a nook)
I bought my e-copies through the Sony Reader store, and I'm sure they're available for Kindle and other ereaders too.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Killing Rocks by D.D. Barant

I reviewed the second book in this series, Death Blows, last spring. I didn't like it much but I'd enjoyed the first book, Dying Bites, so much that I gave the series a pass until I could read the third book and see in what direction Barant was taking the series.

Well, Killing Rocks is the third book. The only good thing I have to say about it is that it just freed up some space on my bookshelves, because it's going to the used bookstore along with the second book. I'll keep the first. I liked it.

To recap the series quickly, FBI profiler Jace Valchek has been yanked into an alternate reality by a powerful sorcerer in order to track down a serial killer. In the alternate world, humans are a protected minority species--most people are vampires or werewolves. If Jace can engineer the serial killer's capture, she can go home to her own reality. In Killing Rocks, Jace thinks she's close to getting the killer, with a bonus of capturing the rogue sorcerer who brought her to this world and can put her back. Then things go kerblooey and she's stuck in the middle of a war as the golems take over.

This book is just one deus ex machina after another. Jace does absolutely nothing--there's no reason for her to be the main character. In fact, there's really no reason for her to be in the book at all. She reacts, runs away, gets rescued repeatedly, and thinks a lot about her past for no good reason. (The irony is that last year I used Jace as an example of a smart, active urban fantasy heroine in a rant against UF where the heroines do nothing but react and get rescued.)

The ending--no lie--is taken directly from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Except in the movie, it was supposed to be ludicrous and unrealistic. Also, I cannot forgive the author's blatant maneuvering to keep Jace from resolving her problems and therefore ending the series. Barant, you're not fooling anyone.

The main problem with the book and the series, I think, is that the author has plotted it out very carefully (and I'm guessing she didn't have the overarching plot in place until after she'd finished the first book, because it's clear she keeps having to fudge to make things match up). She can't deviate from the plot, but the plot doesn't allow for Jace to actually make a difference. That's why Jace comes across as a witness to events instead of an active player. That's all she is.

And I know I've harped on this in the other DD Barant reviews, but the present tense is unnecessary and annoying. It's far worse in this book, though, since big chunks consist of flashbacks, infodumping in the form of stories and legends, and characters recounting events to other characters--all in past tense. The constant tense changes are jarring.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Lertulo's review of the first book, which he really didn't like. Frankly, after reading this third book, I see exactly where he's coming from.

B&N link

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson

I've read and loved Karen E. Olson's other mystery series, which I reviewed a few months ago. I've been wanting to read her first series, this one, but her books are hard to find. My local B&N doesn't carry her at all, and Sacred Cows doesn't seem to be available at all except as an ebook. So I downloaded the ebook.

Annie Seymour is a reporter and has been for years. She's not happy with the way her newspaper, the New Haven Herald, has become more interested in keeping the tourists and powers that be happy than in actually digging into stories. When a Yale student turns up dead, and her murder seems connected to a local bigshot, Annie tries to ferret out the real story. Before long, she's become a target--not just of the murderer, but of her own boss, who's been told to bury the story and have Annie take a mandatory vacation.

I loved Annie, who's bitter and cynical and doesn't give a shit what people think of her, but I suspect a lot of people would dislike her. Probably this is one of those books you either love or hate. I loved it, and I can't wait to read the sequels I've already downloaded. The mystery is clever, the characters fascinating. Best of all, the book is funny. I highly recommend it and I'll be going into far more detail about why once I've finished reading the sequels.

Powell's link (I've linked to a used copy of this book, but please support the author and buy new if you can find the book)