The Review: Midnight Crosssroad


18107951Midnight Crossroad; Charlaine Harris,2014;The Berkley Pub. Group

When Ms. Harris decided to bring an end to the Sookie Stackhouse saga, she had my full support. Not every heroine’s story has the chutzpah to keep going and going and going and . . . You got the idea. Yet there are others that should have, or at least could have, if Ms. Harris had continued writing them. For instance, her Aurora Teagarden or Lily Bard-Shakspeare series, both, in my not so humble opinion, had the makings of a longer-than-they-were story. (Teagarden [8 novels] ended with Aurora getting pregnant and Bard [4 novels] ended with Jack getting the crap kicked out of him.) But be that as it may, some stories need to end, others-not-so-much.

So that leaves us with – stories that shouldn’t start.

As my readers know, occasionally I have to pull out my ‘Loyalty Reader’ card, (LR) in order to finish a novel by one of my fav authors. That would be the case with Ms. Harris latest, Midnight Crossroad (a first in the Midnight, Texas series). Normally I give a new author a couple of paragraphs to hook me, a seasoned favorite as many as ten or twenty. But after the two hundredth page of Ms. Harris newest novel, the only thing that kept me turning the page was my LRC and the fact that I promised to reward myself with another authors newest novel when I finished.

So why was this such a difficult book to read? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to three things; story, character and voice.

Story. ( which is about the residence of a-blink-in-the-road-town in Texas and the murder of one of its less-than-loved citizens – using by the by, one of the characters from Harris’ Lily Bard series). It never launched. Not at the opening. Not when they found the dead body. Not when the town rallied together to find the killer. It just never got off the ground. Like a firecracker that fails to sputter, Midnight Crossroad failed to raise even a spark of interest.

Character. As I’ve said before, good character development can save even a badly written book (even a bad story), but in this case, the characters were as lackluster as the story. Even with a hint of the abnormal about them, the citizens of Midnight, Texas were not roadside attraction material.

Voice. Not Ms. Harris’, but the characters. Except for Fiji and Mr. Snuggles, the character’s in this novel-story lacked individuality, pizzazz,  grit, texture. There was nothing that made them unique, separate or individual. If you took them out of the environment each inhabited and didn’t mention their names, there was nothing that distinguished one from the other. Which is in and of itself, all part of character development. Granted, not every character has to be unique, but there ought to be at least two or three that are. Especially when the story gives them equal attention.

If Midnight Crossroad had been just a bad novel in the middle of a great series, I’d have given it the can’t-win-them-all shrug. But this is a first in a series. Which makes me skeptical about the future Midnight, Texas novels.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Midnight Crossroads . . .

 

 

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The Review: Highborn


highborn

“As the heat of Hell swirled inside and outside of her, she had to wonder – Could she be redeemed?” –  Brynna; Highborn

Highborn; Yvonne Navarro, 2010
So . . . I’d just finished speed reading the last of Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Cat & Bones’ series and was cruising my 3MCloud Library (love it), looking for new authors to test read, when I came across ‘Highborn’, by Yvonne Navarro. Now we all know there are two things I look for in a new book; art work (bad cover art – I won’t even open up the book unless I already know the author) and a story hook within the first two paragraphs. I might be able to get around the bad cover art, but if they haven’t set the story hook by the end of page one, I’m a gonner.

Anyway, I find this new author whose cover art is so-so and start to move on to the next book ad, when I see this blurb; ‘A twisted urban paranormal noir . . . ‘ just below her name.

Okay, they had me at ‘twisted’.

I can’t say I was hooked by the end of page one. Heck,I wasn’t even hooked by page ten. But I did find the character and story (bad angel seeking redemption) interesting enough, that it pulled me onto the next page and the next and . . . until finally I found myself turning them without effort.

So what is it about ‘Highborn’ that kept me going, even after admitting I won’t read something that hasn’t set its fictional claws in me by page two? The main heroine, Brynna. Despite the authors failure to grab my immediate attention with the story, she did manage to create an interesting enough character, quickly enough, to make me wiling to invest another twenty minutes of my time. Fortunately for both of us,it paid off, since I read the remainder of the book in one sitting.

More and more, as both a reader and fledgling author, I’m finding that the four most important ingredients for a great book are: fast hook, interesting characters, better than average plot and good beat/pace. Now, it might just be my short attention span, but if a book has at least three of those four things going for it, I don’t see how the story can go wrong. Heck, I’ve enjoyed poorly written books, simply because the ingredients for greatness was there. I just had to get over my need for perfection to see it.

And that in a nut shell is what I found with this book; a slow starter with all the ingredients needed for greatness. It just took Navarro a little while to get there.
On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Highborn’ a 2.5 for taking a little too long for lift off and 3.5 for recovery. Looking forward to the second book in the Dark Redemption Series, ‘Concrete Savior’.

The Review: Night Broken


 

night broken_front mech.indd“Rabies has a lot in Common with vampirism.” said Adam” ― Patricia BriggsNight Broken

Night Broken: A Mercy Thompson Novel; Patrica Briggs, 2014.As we all know, or at least I’m assuming we all know, Briggs is one of my fav authors and her ‘Mercy Thompson’ series is right up there with Starbucks, cheesecake and ‘Downton Abbey’; three things which I’ve come to realize, I prefer not to live without.

Superficial I know, but true none the less.

Once again our heroine, coyote-shifting Mercy, is pitted against things that go bump in the night and those that we non-scary types would prefer to believe exist only on NBC’s ‘Grimm’ and CW’s ‘The Originals’. Both of which can be rendered moot when the scenery and verbiage get to be more than the unbelieving mind can handle.

Recently I wrote a review on a novel series I thought well past its expiration date(here) based on the premise that due to character arc failure, the story was becoming flat. One of the reasons for that, which I probably should have stated. is that when a story line is complicated,  involving layers of conflict and mystery, the main hero’s either have to keep growing or die, which ever serves the greater good. I used Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse as an example; the blond-bombshell had reached the end of her evolutionary arc, so Harris took the smart route and had her exit gracefully.

I said all that because, in book #6 ‘River Marked’, I was beginning to think the same thing for this series as well; Mercy had reached the pinnacle of her character arc and it was time for the author to start looking for the exit door.

But bless Briggs’ heart, not only did she rally back with ‘Frost Burned’ but, in my not so humble opinion, gave us yet another great story in ‘Night Broken’. Though, and here is the‘spoiler alert’, the fact that the author did not have Mercy wiping the floor with Adam’s ex-wife, says a lot for the state for our heroine’s ability to choose what is right for the greater good, over personal preference. If it had been me, I’d have put the woman out of all our miseries – but that’s just me; not very gracious when it comes to manipulating-backstabbing . . .

You get the point.

So on my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving 3.5 for over all story, and 4.5 for reminding me that goodness and kindness are choices we make, not only for ourselves, but for those we love and care about as well.

The Review: The Chase


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“I like cars the way I like my men. I pick them up, grab the stick, and drive them hard down the straightaways and fast around the curves.” 
― Janet Evanovich and Lee GoldbergThe Chase

The Chase: Fox and O’Hare #2; Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg, 2014.
As with their first novel under team ‘Evanovich & Goldberg’, these authors have once again given us, their readers, an all out butt-kicking, gotta-run-to-keep-up,damn-I-wish-it-wasn’t-over novel, full of fast paced action with characters interesting enough to withstand a few short stories of their own.

From the Burb’s of Southern California to the smog filled landscapes of Beijing to the green-green-hills of somewhere on the eastern sea board, these authors have our hero’s running around the world, pulling scams and breaking laws that force the question; does the end always justify the means?

In their case, the answer is a resounding yes – as long as they don’t get caught that is. And let’s face it, we all know that the only difference between a thief and a government agent is, one wears a badge, the other doesn’t (unless he or she is pulling off a scam, then they’ll wear whatever badge suits the purpose).

‘The Chase’, like ‘The Heist’, is a great read for those occasions when my idea of cutting loose involves glass, ice cubes, sunshine, shorts, tank top and a deck chair. Which is another way of saying, it’s the perfect read for vacations, long flights, boring weekends and just plan ‘I’m not home’ kinda days.

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘The Chase’ 3.5 for good story and 4 for being my reader version of ‘Calgon take me away’- without all the water of course.

The Review: A Wind in the Night


a wind in the nightA Wind in the Night; Barb Hendee, J.C. Hendee, 2014; Roc, NY.
Here we go with #12 in the Noble Dead Saga, in which our heroine’s Wynn Hygeorht and Magerie (with an M) are once again leading their merry, or not so merry, band of heroes across the globe in search of yes, more globes – ‘spirit’ and ‘air’.

Though Hendee and Hendee tried to split the story-line between the two protagonists, the real action went to team Wynn, not Magerie – or at least not until the end, where . . .

Can’t say as that would be giving away the story. Suffice it to say, as with any good series, the authors left us hanging and the only way to get our fix of Noble Dead, is to read the next, and last book.

As far as character and story goes, I’m thinking, not for the first time, it’s time to put the story to rest. Why? Because the trouble with all good stories is keeping the arch of character growth alive and well.

What do I mean by that? Like real people, a writer’s protagonist, even their antagonist, need to continually evolve, for good or bad, and if they don’t, the story goes flat. If the series is only three or four books long, it doesn’t usually become a problem.  It’s after that point (and the point differs for every series) that it becomes, in my not so humble opinion, harder to keep the arc of evolution alive and well. In the case of the Noble Dead Saga, Hendee & Hendee, who have put their two heroines on opposing developmental arcs, are starting to lose the strength of that arc. In Wynn’s case, hers is an upward climb into independence and maturity, in Mageries’, a downward spiral into monsterhood.

Up until ‘A Dog In the Dark’, these changes were evident and helped propel the story forward.

Now? Not so much.

Not long ago, Charlaine Harris got a lot of flack for ending the Sookie Stackhouse, Southern Vampire Series. But as an author and business woman, she did the right thing. Sookie was beginning to run out of character arc. So rather than wait for her heroine to become tedious and boring, Harris forced her into making the choice that would allow her to exit the story gracefully. An assumed disappointment to readers, a smart move for the author. As far as I’m concerned, it’s better to leave em wanting more, than bored and wishing it would just end.

Does this criticism of Hendee & Hendee’s choice to drag this particular story out longer than I think it should have been mean I don’t care for their writing or that I won’t read anything else?

Not even. Loyalty trumps short-term disappointment every time. A couple of books, out of more than two dozen, won’t sink my Loyal Reader Ship. I love Barb’s ‘Memory Series’ as well as their team ‘Hendee’ ‘Mist-Born’ Witch one. Not to mention that they’ve produced some short stories that I’m looking forward to reading. And despite my bitching over when I think something should end, the Noble Dead Saga is still a great story and one which will always have an honored place on my bookshelves.

On my reader scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘A Wind in the Night’ 3.5 for over all good story.

The Review: Blood Maidens


Blood Maidens; Barbara Hambly, 2010; Severn House8388595

As my readers know, I’m a big Hambly fan (she’s in My Favorite Reads list). As talent goes, Barbara always restores my faith in the power of good narrative – which, let’s face it, not every writer can do without making me want to shoot myself (or worse, skip over the entire passage). She also does an excellent job with dialog and the make-it-or-break-it, ‘show don’t tell’. (Which if you didn’t know, wasn’t a big deal until about fifty or sixty years ago.) And in today’s historical-paranormal-romance genre, its hard for an author to come up with a unique twist that doesn’t involve a woman in leather, give-me-a-break-sex scenes and vampires.

But Hambly does.

Fact is, she’s done such a great job with her James Asher series, I finish every book relieved to know my imagination is still in tact: i.e.- I get to decide whether the sex was hot and heavy, or if the main vampire, Don Simon Ysidro, is really as nasty as he’d like James and his wife Lydia, to believe.

 “Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” ― Neil Gaiman

I also appreciate that this author knows her history and does an incredible job of weaving fantasy, paranormal, romance and history into one really good plot; my four favorite escape genre’s, all rolled into one. Nine times out of ten, Hambly will hit a home run.

Unfortunately, this was that one that didn’t quiet make it to home plate.

Not that she didn’t do a wonderful job with the history and the paranormal and the romance or the dialog or the narrative. Where she would have lost me, had I not whipped out my ‘Loyal Reader Badge’, was the first twenty or so pages. It was almost as though it took her awhile to figure out where she was going with the story, and then forgot to go back in the re-write and tidy up the confusion. In other words, it took quiet a while for me to connect with the story she was trying to tell. Too convoluted by far. Which is not her normal style. It also didn’t help that there were so many Russian names, I couldn’t keep track of them (What do they always tell an author about having too many characters?)

So on my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Blood Maiden, a 3 for taking too long to reach first base.

 

The Review: Allegiant


18710190 Allegiance: #Veronica Roth, 2013; @HarperCollins

In my review posts, ‘Divergent‘ and ‘Insurgent‘, my reader comments were focused on the flatland first person POV Ms. Roth chose to use in her novels, and what I believe is/was, the evolutionary metamorphosis of  her protagonist Beatrice Prior (Tris). I also devoted time pontificating on the unique experience I believe we, the reader, were given; to witness something which seldom, if ever, occurs in the world of Traditional Publishing – the development of an author.

 

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Now something that not all readers might know (but certainly recognize instinctively), is that in order for a story to compel the reader to turn the next page, the characters not only have to be engaging, and the plotline interesting, but there has to be a reward at the end (for the reader, and hopefully, for the protagonist, as well) – be it good, bad or ugly. In other words, there has to be an upward  evolution, an arch, something that lifts the hero up and catapults them forward so that in the end, they or someone, is a better person for all that has taken place.

If it’s a stand alone, this arch has ‘X’ amount of pages to accomplish this evolution in. But if it’s a series, such as ‘Divergent’, or ‘Catching Fire’, the author has three (or more) books to do it in. What I found so very unique about Roth, was the way she created two arch’s; one that lifted our heroine, Tris, upward, and another, that took our hero, ‘Four’ downward. And the way she did it was to utilize the upward trajectory of the one, to emphasis the downward trajectory of the other.

What do I mean by upword and downward trajectories? As Tris begins to let go of more and more of the ideals of those around her,  including her boyfriend Four, she is then free  to develop her own values – embracing more and more of who she is, and who she is becoming. The opposite is true for Four – who comes out of his own evolutionary chrysalis dragging as many dead cats behind him as he had going in. In other words, unless he finds a way to break free of the nightmares from his past (family, friends, society) he will never have the power, or confidence, to embrace the man he is destined to be.

My only criticism of Roth’s ‘Allegiant’ is, unlike the first two novels, Roth decides to add the voice of Tobias, or ‘Four, to that of Beatrice, ‘Tris’, giving us, the reader, now two dimensions instead of the  one-dimensional- flatland-POV. I wish she would have done this from the beginning, as it adds a layer of depth to her story which, now that we’re in book 3, I realize I found lacking in the first (that might explain why I always felt like I was reading/watching the movie – Flatlanders.).

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Allegiant’ 3.99999 for story well done and Roth 4.599999 for making me a fan of first POV flatlanders.

 

 

 

The Review: The Heist


16169737The Review: by SSpjut

The Heist; Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg, 2013; Bantam Books, NY

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve yet to read a Janet Evanovich novel, be it Stephanie Plum or Lizzy Tucker, that required a great deal of brain cells to navigate. That rude statement being said, I’ve also never read a Janet Evanovich-Stephanie Plum-Lizzy Tucker novel, I didn’t like. Call me schizophrenic, but if I need to kick back and unplug my mind from writing, researching and all the other brain sucking things authors must do through out the day, the last thing I want to do is pick up a book that challenges what few active brain cells I’ve still got functioning – without the aid of stimulants, legal or otherwise.

Now that we have that TMI out-of-the-way, let’s get on with the review.

Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!

Like everything else Evanovich, and now her cohort Lee Goldberg, has written, this new series has all the ingredients for a fast paced, funny, I-can’t-wait-until-the-next-book, gotta read it.

Throughout its entire 304 pages, characters FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare  and her nemesis con-man Nicolas Fox, lead us on a marry chase with a butt-kicking heroin, a smooth talkin ladies man and enough love-hate-wish-we-could-but-can’t romance, to keep the pages turning fast enough to generate a little smoke of their own.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving The Heist 3.5 stars for being a good read, and 4 stars for never disappointing.

The Dawn Country: The Review


book1The Dawn Country; Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear, 2011; Tom Dougherty Associates LLC.

The Dawn Country (book number two out of four in the People of the Longhouse series) picks up where our not so fine feathered friends, War Chief Karocco, her defunct/ex-husband/Deputy Gonda and their recently acquired enemy-friends Akio, Sindakm, Cord and healer/killer Wakdanek are now on the last desperate leg of their attempt to rescue the rest of the missing children and avenge the death of those that the Trader Gannajero either sold to pedophiles or killed because they refused to perform (I warned you in my last review…Guaranteed to bunch up undies…so don’t wear a ‘thong’… just saying.).

 

Yet…our heroes of this second book are not who you think and by the time you turn the last page, I guarantee you that you’ll be standing in the middle of the room, shaking your fist at imaginary people yelling, “Your damn right”.

My only criticism about this second novel is that Gear and Gear didn’t develop Koracco and Gonda’s new friends as well in this second novel, as they did in the first. Which is a shame really, because in my not so humble opinion, several of their add-in were worth developing. Which in meant the second book, for me, was  a little light on character…which as you know, I think is the best part of any well told story.

Still in all, it was still a really good story and as I mentioned in my review on the People of the Longhouse, laid a good foundation for books three and four, which tell the rest of the story of how the Iroquoian nation was formed and  democracy was born.

On a reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving The Dawn Country 3.5 for good story, and 3 for not developing the new characters better.

To read my other reviews on books written by these authors click on – Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear or go to my Goodreads.

People of the Longhouse: The Review


People of the Longhouse; W. Michael, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, 2010; Tom Dougherty Associates, LLC.people-longhouse

Once again husband wife team Gear & Gear take their reader’s back to pre-invasion America  1400-1500 AD, to bring light into dark places and revelation to the unacknowledged foundations of democracy and these here United States.  Beginning with ‘People of the Longhouse’ (book one of four), team Gear begin laying the historical ground work for why east coast NA (particularly the Iroquoian) began the sociological shift from small communities to larger villages called ‘palisades’ (defensible forts) which ultimately led to the formation of the Iroquoian Nation and the establishment of democracy (an idea our Anglo-American history books forgot to mention did not originate with the first colonists).

With this shift in society came things like food shortages, increased violence and war parties whose sole purpose was to steal food and people – namely to replace the woman and children lost when another tribe raided them to steal food and people – namely to replace…you get the picture. A giant snowball effect of I steal from you and kill to survive, you reciprocate by stealing from me and killing to survive, and so forth and so on.

For history buffs, this team of authors will rock your socks off.

For those who become incensed at injustice and the sheer brutality hidden within the human heart…well let me just say, you don’t want to wear a ‘thong’ while your reading this book. Why? Because it could be very bad for your health when they get bunched up and begin to wrap around… well, you’ve got the idea 🙂

This first novel starts out bloody, picks up steam and really gets cranking with all kinds of superstition, anger, resentment, hatred, prejudice, intrigue, deception – not to mention your ordinary, run of the mill human stupidity.  So by the time I got to page 294, not only was I totally disgusted, but I couldn’t wait for the next day to pick up book number two, ‘The Dawn Country’. Oh no! I had to start reading it right then and there.

Dang me if I was going to bed before somebody rescued those kids.

So much for getting any work done on my own novel. Therefore, in order to justify my own irresponsible behavior, I decided to call staying up all night to finish the second novel – ‘research’. (Doesn’t matter that my own novel takes place in a different time, on a different continent, involving a completely different culture….it’s still ‘research’.)

And as always with the team ‘Gear & Gear’, not only does the reader get a great lesson in history, but these authors do a bang up job of creating characters that you hate to love, and love to hate. From the unforgiving War Chief Koracco and her newly divorced husband/Deputy Gonda, to the wicked witch of the west Gannajero the Trader and the Child that haunts her every move…you will discover individuals rich in texture and depth.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving The People of the Longhouse 4 stars for historical significance, 4 stars for telling a really great story and 2.5 for ‘CDW’ Contributing to the Delinquency of a Writer.

To read my other reviews on books written by these authors click on – Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear or go to my Goodreads.