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Book Review: First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1) by Darynda Jones

Book Blurb:

This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.
Or a diagram of some kind.
A flow chart would have been nice.

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can’t she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?

Published February 1st 2011 by St. Martin’s Press

My Review:

Ah, snark.

I love it deeply (if you hadn’t noticed by now). So when I find a book with a snarky heroine, dead people, and mystery? I’m in.

I picked this book up because a friend recommended it to me…and recommended it again…and again. It was one of those “sounds-interesting-I’ll-add-it-to-my-list-but-then-don’t-actually-buy-it” recommendations. Until I found myself wandering around Barnes & Noble with a gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Viola. My new guilty pleasure.

The shining point of this novel is Charley. She’s such a fun character to follow. Her snark, wit, and charm sold me instantly, reminding me of a more adult version of Meg Cabot’s Mediator series. Except, you know, instead of a teenage mediator, we get an adult-ish grim reaper.

And just like with the Mediator series, we’re given a mystery that our plucky heroine must solve. Sure, murder’s happened, and yeah, bad guys are out to murder again, but it’s definitely a light mystery. Nothing at all like deep, Tana French level mysteries, with complex motivations and intricate characterizations.

Which, you know, is perfectly fine. Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery every now and again? The light mystery fare is perfectly matched with the characters, making it such a delectable treat. I laughed, I had fun, and I spent an afternoon thoroughly entertained. In my opinion, you can’t have higher praise than that. It gets a solid 5 out of 5 stars from me.

Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl (Crown of Coral and Pearl #1) by Mara Rutherford

Book Blurb:

For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…

Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.

Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen… and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.

In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.

Published August 27th 2019 by Inkyard Press

My Review:

Tamora Pierce probably saved me in middle school. I had just switched schools, didn’t have any friends, and spent most of my time hiding in the library…where I found her Circle of Magic series. Wouldn’t you know it, it was about four friends, and it largely inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and try to make friends in my new school.

Nearly seventeen years later, one of those people is still my closest friend today, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.

But enough with all the mush! All I wanted to say is that any endorsement by Tamora Pierce is worthy of a read.

And Crown of Coral and Pearl didn’t disappoint.

I loved the themes of beauty and responsibility threaded throughout the novel. How beauty can be viewed as a curse or a blessing, how the way we regard it and wield it reveals the true mettle of a person. And I especially loved the war between responsibility and desire: following your heart or the expectations of the people you love. Nor’s struggles did a wonderful job of exploring those concepts, making it such an engaging read.

The setting, and the lore of the world, also did a fantastic job in selling me on this book. There was a deep history steeped in myth and legends which influenced the traditions our characters were forced to adhere to (going back to that whole responsibility theme). I loved how magically Varenia was portrayed, how I could almost feel the warmth of the sunlight on my skin and smell the saltwater just from reading the passages. Similarly, I loved the dark beauty found in Ilara. And how both were beautiful, despite their differences.

As for the characters…oddly enough, Ceren was my favorite. He seemed the most complex, with his motivations the most compelling, and his struggles the most gripping. By comparison, the other characters felt lackluster and too expected (especially Talin, whose only job seemed to be to stand there and look pretty). Still though, I enjoyed getting to see their story unfold, and I did feel for Nor’s plight (sibling problems always get me in the feels).

The pacing of the story was a bit odd, with the beginning like the slow, lazy days you spend at the beach, the later chapters in Ilara beating to a more stringent rhythm, and the ending rushed. Like very rushed. Like we reached the end and Rutherford realized she needed to wrap it up fast. It left so much open to another book, which I realize was probably the intention, but I would have enjoyed a more drawn out ending. Some threads of the narrative were given that satisfactory conclusion, while others were ended abruptly, which was a disappointment because I genuinely loved the threads that didn’t get the attention I thought they deserved. Overall, I’d rate it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: 14 (Threshold #1) by Peter Clines

Book Blurb:

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbour across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything…

Published June 5th 2012 by Permuted Press

My Review:

As we’ve already established, I’m a huge Peter Clines fan. I mean, the man Instas his Warhammer figurines and Lego constructions, peppers his prose with Doctor Who references, and does a blog that gives some sensational writing advice. So I might be a tad biased.

But! All that happened AFTER I read this book. And it was because I loved this book so much that I found him on social media and looked up his advice on writing. Not the Doctor Who bit though. I loved Doctor Who even before I read this book.

Which is a freaking fantastic book! I just wanted to let you know that if you read this book, you will be sucked into the Clineverse (Peterverse? PClineverse?). So…beware and all that.

14 has a wonderful cast of oddball characters, and I loved each and every one of them. But what really drew me into the narrative was the bizarre. Imagine a cross between the madness of Alice in Wonderland but with a Lovecraftian vibe. That’s what you get in this wack-a-doo apartment building that Nate, our main character, finds himself in.

The atmospheric, scenic horror was out of this world…

Ok, that was a terrible pun, but seriously, the dread and suspense Cline can build is phenomenal. I did a late night binge reading session of this book because the mystery of the odd apartment was overwhelmingly compelling. I had to know what it all meant, what horrors awaited Nate and the other apartment dwellers, and I chop that up to Cline’s amazing writing. This book deserves 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Queen Con (The Golden Arrow #2) by Meghan Scott Molin

Book Blurb:

MG Martin thought she’d turned the last page on the dangerous Golden Arrow case. The bad guys are behind bars, and the rest is up to her detective boyfriend, Matteo Kildaire. But when Golden Arrow impersonators start popping up all over Los Angeles, the writer in MG can’t help but be intrigued. Are they impostors, or has the original Golden Arrow returned for another story arc?

A reemergence of drug crime has left the LAPD baffled, and golden arrows are once again being left at crime scenes. Matteo asks MG if she’ll resume consulting on all things geek, and she jumps at the opportunity. No need to mention that she may also do some sleuthing, with her friends’ help, right?

It’s rumored that the Golden Arrow will make a guest appearance at an exclusive queen party, and MG, Lawrence, and Ryan go undercover to sniff out the truth. But the sting goes sideways in a deadly way, and it’s up to their little crew to prove that the Golden Arrow might actually be the supervillain they’re chasing. Because looks can be deceiving, and every good writer knows the sequel is where the real plot twist happens…

July 9th 2019 by 47North

My Review:

Ok, so, take this review with a grain of salt, because I’m totally biased toward anything with nerd references. Ready Player One? Yeah, I loved the book and the movie, while my friends trashed them both as nothing more than 80s nostalgia porn. And maybe it was, but the whole point of a story is to entertain, right? To draw me in, engage with me for a while, and spark emotions and thoughts.

The quickest way to do that, for me personally, at least, is to cater to my interests. And The Queen Con checks them all off as if the universe presented Meghan Scott Molin with a ready made checklist and said “Hey, don’t forget to add these.”

Those references are, and forever shall be, my favorite part of this series. Because they’re jokes I would make. They’re media I’ve seen and adored. They draw upon a huge influential culture in my life, and to see Molin wield them with the same love, care, and reverence I have for them just makes me all warm and mushy inside.

But to make it even better, we get a mystery!

Gah, I love mysteries.

And oh boy, what a mystery it is. I was hooked from page one, and by the time our heroes reached The Party (believe me, when you get there, you’ll wig out as much as I did), I was a goner. I consumed that book like my life depended on it…which was kind of ironic, since I essentially made myself into a human burrito while I read, not coming up for food until I finished, but I digress.

The writing is so engaging, so vividly compelling (I’m looking at you again, The Party), and the cast of characters felt like good friends I’d missed since finishing the first installment. I loved the book, and better yet, I didn’t feel like anything was missing. Molin shot another arrow straight into five star range.

Book Review: The Ghosts of Kali Oka Road (Gulf Coast Paranormal #1) by M. L. Bullock

Book Blurb:

On the Gulf Coast, Things Don’t Just Go Bump in the Night They Terrorize You and Sometimes You Disappear! The paranormal investigators at Gulf Coast Paranormal thought they knew what they were doing. Midas, Sierra, Sara, Josh and Peter had over twenty combined years of experience investigating supernatural activity on the Gulf Coast. But when they meet Cassidy, a young artist with a strange gift, they realize there’s more to learn. And time is running out for Cassidy.

When Gulf Coast Paranormal begins investigating the ghosts of Kali Oka Road, they find an entity far scarier than a few ghosts. Add in the deserted Oak Grove Plantation, and you have a recipe for a night of terror.

Ready to go ghost hunting? You’ll enjoy this supernatural suspense novel, the first in the Gulf Coast Paranormal series.

Published March 15th 2017

My Review:

I like ghost stories (obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have written a series about them) so I was thrilled to bits when I found this one on Amazon. I downloaded it immediately, and because I was at work, I slipped into the bathroom to read the first chapter.

Don’t judge me.

Anyway! The beginning set up a marvelously spooky scene: abandoned stretch of road, a couple of teenagers making out, a fight, and then unearthly screeching mixed in with pulse-pounding tension that built and built until I shrieked when someone else came into the bathroom.

I loved the first chapter, then I loved the first half of the book. Some of the writing had repetitive sentence structure, which I personally found distracting, but that might be because as an author, I’m looking at that kind of stuff. Bullock did a fantastic job of building the tension–which is exactly what you need in a good ghost story.

But then…it didn’t go anywhere. The tension continued to build right up to the end, all these threads–Ranger, the owl, Cassidy’s visions, the ghosts in the woods–didn’t connect. Worse still, they got quick mentions in the Epilogue. Only one thread of the story, I felt, had even a remotely conclusive ending with the closure I wanted, but even that felt lackluster considering the buildup I’d spent hours reading through. Ranger’s story (which I thought was the most compelling narrative thread) was wrapped up as if Bullock had reached the end with the other threads and forgotten to conclude Ranger’s and Melissa’s. We’re given an unsatisfactory ending–one that I felt didn’t make sense and seemed slapped together to give it some kind of conclusion–which left me disappointed. Similarly, the owl received an honorable mention in the Epilogue as well, and Cassidy’s visions left off with a cliffhanger, with the impression that they’d continue in subsequent books.

I liked the characters, and Bullocks did a wonderful job building up the tension, but the ending just left me unsatisfied. I’d rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1) by Connie Willis

Book Blurb:

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering, and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

Published June 1992 by Bantam Spectra

My Review:

Holy guacamole. This book, guys–this book–is absolutely crazy. Time travel, bell ringers, political agendas, and can I just say, I have never fretted about a man on his fishing trip more than I did while reading this book.

Yep, that’s right. A man on his stupid fishing trip.

I think the CIA could take pointers from Basingame on how to disappear because dang. That man did not want to be disturbed on his holiday.

Anyway, back to the point. To call this book anything but masterful would be an insult. The parallels alone are marvelous, with the two times (the 14th century and the near future) almost mirroring each other in their responses to, well, everything. In both eras, you have the distrustful, the ones with political agendas, the religious zealots, the people only looking out for themselves, the selfless helpers, etc. And to have it laid out so simply as the narrative bounces back and forth between the two times only reinforces how little things have changed. One era might use horses and the other has cars, and in the beginning (if you’re like me), you’ll be swept up in how utterly foreign and different the two times are, but watch the people. Because while the times are different, at their core, at their very center, people are still the same, and Willis does an absolutely fantastic job of exploring and revealing that by showing how people respond to a crisis. I won’t launch into specifics and spoil the story, but I will warn you again: watch the people. They’re the true crux of the story.

The characters are the stars of this book, but I had to marvel at the attention to detail as well. Willis takes the stereotypical time-travel narrative and dissects it down, doing the most realistic interpretation of time-travel I’ve read yet as she builds her story. She nods to the changes in dialect and language, the hygiene habits, the social order, and she does it all so marvelously that it’s seen rather than told. And that’s one of the marks of a truly gifted storyteller: seeing how things are rather than being told through narration. It makes for a much stronger story and Willis has mastered it, because those little details crop up when you least expect them, and her ability to draw you in, to paint a past era and a future one with those little brushstrokes of detail is truly genius.

This book absolutely deserves 5 out of 5 stars. This was one of those late-nights, can’t-put-it-down reads that drew me in and left me a jumbled mess of feels at the end of it all. I heartily recommend it to anyone–whether you enjoy science fiction or not–because this book is more about what it means to be a human. About how, when you look at it, whether you’re from a different time or place, we’re all just people in the end.

Book Review: The Looking Glass Wars (The Looking Glass Wars #1) by Frank Beddor

Book Blurb:

When Alyss Heart, newly orphaned heir to the Wonderland throne, flees through the Pool of Tears to escape her murderous Aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!

Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss’ story – and he’s searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland, to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions of mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curious little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination.

Published September 26th 2006 by Dial Books (first published September 1st 2004)

My Review:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retellings might be some of my favorite out there. I love how the nonsencial world of Wonderland gives such a whimsy, creative, dare I say imaginative spark to those retellings. How could it not? With madness as the backdrop, it’s so easy to create anything.

Frank Beddor takes the classic tale and spins it with more “Bloodier and Gorier” plus “Darker and Edgier” tropes thrown in. Not surprising, considering the title has the word War in it. I love the balance that Beddor struck between the whimsical and the serious. The characters, their antics, and even their names (I’m looking at you, Bibwit) lean toward the whimsical while they’re all seriously mourning the death of the queen/mother and plotting to overthrown the despot that murdered her. That duality felt unique and special, keeping me reading eagerly to know what would happen next.

I loved Beddor’s spin on the characters, with Hatter being a particular favorite. The ingenious way of creating a matriarchal society but still keeping with the original characters was brilliant. I’ve read some other reviews calling the characters one dimensional or stiff, but keep in mind, this is a young adult’s book. And even then, I didn’t think they were that unbelievable. I thoroughly enjoyed the menagerie of characters running through the pages, which really (aside from plot) a great book needs.

I definitely recommend if you’re looking for something fun but heavy at the same time. The unusual balance between the two is definitely worth checking out! 4 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Ex-Heroes (Ex-Heroes #1) by Peter Clines

Book Blurb:

Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.

Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Now, a year later, the heroes struggle to overcome their differences and recover from their own scars as they protect the thousands of survivors huddled in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount.

But the hungry ex-humans are not the only threat the survivors face. Across the city, another group has grown and gained power.

Published 2013 by Broadway Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group (first published February 20th 2010)

My Review:

I’m not big on the zombie craze. I didn’t watch The Walking Dead, I didn’t play The Last of Us, but I did play Zombicide (but only because my brother loves that game). Anyway. Me + Zombies = Meh.

I picked up this book because, while I’m largely ambivalent to the walking dead, I do love superheroes. And when I saw this book in the bookstore, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I mean, look at the cover! And don’t lie when you tell me you aren’t intrigued!

This novel, largely, is a superhero story. Sure, there are zombies, and the post-apocalypse scene does play a major role in their characterization and actions but, at its core, I felt like this was still a superhero narrative. We have one hero that feels largely useless and struggles with his place in society. Another one with the weight of their survival refuge, The Mount, riding on his shoulders. And another one terrified of the world they live in. Each of the superheroes in this story is struggling with a fundamental problem that could just as well take place in a pre-apocalypse world.

The characters sold me this story. Yeah, it was fun to watch them bash in zombie brains, but it was the people that really drove this story forward (and home, to be honest). I could resonate with their fears, their struggles, their dreams, and I think that’s the core essence of a great superhero narrative: humanity. How the hero reconciles being placed on this pedestal, and the responsibilities it entails, while navigating what it means to be human.

Ex-Heroes was witty, charming, and action-packed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I’m giving it a well-earned 5 out of 5 stars because of it. I definitely recommend picking up a copy!

Book Review: The Librarian’s Vampire Assistant (The Librarian’s Vampire Assistant #1) by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Book Blurb:

Who killed Michael Vanderhorst’s maker? It’s a darn good question. But when the trail brings Michael to hellishly sunny Phoenix, Arizona, his biggest problem soon becomes a cute little librarian he can’t seem to stay away from. He’s never met a bigger danger magnet! Even her book cart has it out for her. And is that the drug cartel following her around, too? “Dear God, woman! What have you gotten yourself into?”

Things go from bad to worse when local vampires won’t play nice.

Can this four-hundred-year-old vampire keep his librarian safe and himself out of hot water? Can he bring his maker’s killer to justice? Yesterday, he would’ve said yes. But yesterday, he didn’t have a strange connection with a librarian. Yesterday, people weren’t trying to kill her.

Published February 2018 by Mimi Boutique

My Review:

It tickles my fancy when books mess with the traditional conventions of their genre. I find it clever, refreshing, and when done properly, absolutely hysterical.

Which this books does. In spades.

Spades, people!

We open with Michael Vanderhorst, a 400 year old vampire with the appearance of a 20 year old. His personality is at odds with his appearance (at least, how society expects 20 year olds of this day and age to act). A situation which is highlighted when we meet Miriam (I’m hesitant to call her a heroine and I’ll explain why in a moment), the 29 year old librarian that somehow, inexplicably, captures Michael’s attention. And cue the trope of dark vampire rescuing damsel in distress. Over, and over, and over.

Which is the point. It’s satirical, making fun of other supernatural romances that do the same thing. I love the ingenious ways Pamfiloff comes up with trying to off Miriam, and the increasingly silly ways Michael has to come up with to successfully rescue her. It’s not your traditional romance in the slightest–after all, Miriam thinks Michael is too young for her–which is what adds to its quirky charm. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it isn’t a romance at all, but rather a mystery poking fun at your stereotypical tropes of the supernatural romance genre. I suspect the romance will build in later books, but if you’re in the mood for a straight romance without the build-up, this isn’t it. You’re going to need to invest time into the series, I suspect, before any romance pans out between Michael and Miriam.

Which brings me to my only real issue with the story: how little Michael and Miriam actually interact. I get that this also makes fun of the trope–that sudden, love-at-first-glance romance you find in other novels of the genre–but I still wanted to see more interaction between them. She’s constantly at the forefront of Michael’s thoughts, and even the title of the book alludes to her being a main player, but she lacked screen-time (er, page-time?) and agency. In fact, I found the chemistry between Michael and Lulu better because they actually talked with one another for more than five minutes at a time. Miriam just felt like a cardboard cutout of a person, which, again, could be a satirical move, but if it was, it wasn’t packed and delivered strongly enough to point to that.

Nevertheless, I snort-giggled my way through this book and I loved how Pamfiloff played with the situations and characters. It was a delightful read and I fully intend to finish out the series! 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: A Witch Called Red (Red Witch Chronicles #1) by Sami Valentine

Book Blurb:

Taken in by a supernatural bounty hunter, Red spent the last year searching for her true identity. All she found were monsters to kill.

When a murdered model washes up on a lonely beach, she goes to Los Angeles to investigate. Instead of angels in the shadow of the Hollywood Sign, she only finds more bodies.

And vampires who know her better than she knows herself.

In a world where demons have souls, witches have amnesia, and humans are clueless about either, Red needs to keep her wits sharp and her stake sharper.

Or she’ll die before she even learns her real name.

Published November 2019 by Sami Valentine

My Review:

I was a little late getting to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer party. I was a Firefly fan first and didn’t know about Buffy until years after I’d finished the single…solitary…line season of Firefly (which I’m not bitter about being cancelled).

Anyway, I got strong Buffy vibes throughout this story. Sami brings on her own flare to the story, adding a twist a la The Vampire Diaries, but with the mystery element you might expect from Nancy Drew.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. And the snappy humor left me giggling more than once. Plus she calls the human hunters Bards. Bards!! My little Pathfinder self swooned from happiness.

There were some places that left me confused. And I lost the vein of the story, not following how Red made her leaps of deduction, or why she placed herself in certain situations. Plus, the give and take of the mystery left me unsatisfied at certain times—I felt like more mystery was piled on without answers being balanced. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mystery, but I didn’t like how the middle kept piling them on. I felt overloaded, stuck with the same feeling right before I rage quit a video game.

Still, I enjoyed the story and am interested to see how it progresses. I think it earned a solid 4 out of 5 stars!

**I received an ARC of this book and was asked to give an honest review of my opinion.