Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Ghost Walk" by Brian Keene

I know that ”Ghost Walk” by Brian Keene isn’t exactly a new title. It was actually released almost a year ago in July of 2008. But…I was going through my shelf of older ARC’s that I hadn’t gotten around to reading (don’t worry, this is one that I purchased, not one that I was given for me in exchange for a review. No blogger ethics violations here), and it kind of jumped out at me.

After reviewing the synopsis on the back cover, I was pretty jazzed to read it. This is a true horror book. Not sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery or dark fiction. Horror. You don’t see a whole lot of it anymore. As I started into the first couple of chapters, I was definitely not disappointed. The initial shock was fairly immediate and effective. Unfortunately, the book peaked at that point, and then kind of maintained a steady plateau of action before fizzling out in a too-convenient climax.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. The story takes place in York County, Pennsylvania and centers on the long-rumored haunted LeHorn’s Hollow. The hollow has been a paranormal magnet for decades, attracting witches, warlocks, devil-worshipers, demons, ghost, and according to rumor, at least one Satyr. The perfect place for a Halloween haunted house attraction. Or, at least that is what Ken Ripple thinks.

Ken decided to open the Ghost Walk to as a tribute to his dead wife. The money raised will be donated to cancer research, and hopefully prevent others from suffering her fate in the future. A noble endeavor indeed. But, strange disappearances plague Ken’s staff of volunteers starting just prior to opening night. He doesn’t find out until the body count numbers in the dozens that he has a big problem. I am talking about a bad-guy that has the power to travel from dimension to dimension and who has been holding a grudge since before the big bang. Definitely not good.

Overall, the pacing of the book is good, and the action continues steadfastly from beginning to end. However, the supporting characters aren’t very well developed and the climax didn’t seem to do justice to an antagonist that had been around since the beginning of time. If you are looking for a quick, fairly entertaining read, this might be the book for you. If you are looking for something more substantial, you might want to keep looking. In my opinion, a three star rating is not only fair, but probably generous

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Eve of Darkness" by S.J. Day

So, I have always been one of those people who buys books at random. If I see it and it looks even remotely appealing, I generally end up with a copy. That is what happened with my newest acquisition, “Eve of Darkness.” It just stared me down from the shelf, its sweet cover-art refusing to allow me to look away. And when I read the back cover and discovered that it was the first book in a new series, and that the next two books would be released by July, I was sold.

The premise of the book was pretty compelling. I mean, there are a lot of ‘supernatural’ books out there today. It seems like everyone and their dog is jumping on the bandwagon, writing books about demons and werewolves and vampires and faeries. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the majority of those books. But this series is about Angels and other main players in the bible. How original is that?

The books center around a woman named Evangeline (Eve) and a stairwell tryst that results in her being punished with the mark of Cain. Cain also happens to be the last name of Eve’s first love, who took her virginity and left without a trace a decade earlier. Of course, the story wouldn’t be complete without Cain’s brother. And Abel is alive and well in this book. In fact, he was the one trysting with Eve in the stairwell. And the one who did the marking. Nefarious.

Being marked initiates a change that gives Eve super-human senses, makes her impervious to the effects of mind-altering substances, and (for some reason) makes her hornier than a person has a right to be. Lucky for her Cain swoops in to facilitate her life-change. Once the change is complete, it is he who advises Eve that the marked are pretty much the assassins of the angels. (That is the short description.) And that she must now spend her life hunting down and killing Infernals (the various and assorted demons and other such damned that roam the earth.)

The book actually started off weird for me, because it felt like you were walking into the middle of something. But, the pacing quickly reasons itself out, and the story flows really well. It was a very well written first installment for the series, answering the questions that needed immediate answering as well as leaving enough unfinished to leave you wishing you could start on the next book. Fortunately, the next book comes out in June, so the wait won’t be too excruciating. (Come on, I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has been waiting impatiently for the next Laurell K. Hamilton book for a freaking year!!)

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the plot and the dimension of the character dev elopement. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a breath of fresh air in a played-out genre. I easily give this book 4 stars.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Mona Lisa Darkening" by Sunny

I was so excited when I started reading the books in the “Mona Lisa” series by Sunny. I mean, there are throngs of supernatural series’ out there, but most of them center on vampires or lycanthropes. Or the people who have set out to destroy them. It can become a pretty generic genre. Needless to say, the Monere society appeared to be a breath of fresh air.

The first three books in the series (“Mona Lisa Awakening”, “Mona Lisa Blossoming”, and “Mona Lisa Craving”) were really good. In fact, after reading book one I was so hooked that I immediately went out and bought books two and three and pre-ordered book four. (And after finishing the first three books, I impatiently awaited the release of “Mona Lisa Darkening,” going so far as to troll around unsuccessfully for ARC’s.) By the time it actually arrived, I was practically slavering with anticipation.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, the Monere are a race that migrated to the earth from the moon 4000 years ago. ‘The children of the moon’ are beautiful creatures who appear human enough to blend in, and who can in fact interbreed with humans. They are supernaturally fast and strong and live hundreds of years. They are a society led by ‘queens;’ females who are born with the ability to draw down the rays of the moon in which the other Monere’s are then able to bask in, thus sustaining their life on our planet.

In this installment, Mona Lisa’s true love, Gryphon, has recently been killed and in inhabiting the realm of hell. And she is sharing her body with the spirit of his killer, Mona Louisa. Immediately, Mona Louisa pulls some messed up sh*t and kills Mona Lisa, sending the two of them not to hell but to NetherHell “the cursed realm of the damned.” (Direct quote from the back of the book, LOL).

This situation starts a chain of events that send Gryphon and Halcyon (the High Prince of Hell and one of Mona Lisa’s mates) on a perilous decent to NetherHell to bring her back before it’s too late.

Frankly, there is not a whole lot in this book that makes sense. And (spoiler alert) at the end, we are simply right back where we started from.

As much as it pains me to do this, I feel obligated to give this book a single star rating. Unfortunately, Sunny seems to have taken a swift and drastic downturn when it comes to the quality of her writing. I hope this is just a fluke, and that any future Monere novels will be closer to what we loved from the beginning of the series.

The plus side is that if you do love this series, you should be okay to simply skip this book. As I said before, the book pretty much ends up exactly where it started, so you won’t be missing anything. You can pretend that “Mona Lisa Darkening” never even happened…

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Face of Betrayal" by Lis Wiehl

I love a good mystery as much as the next person. The only problem is that is it exceedingly difficult to find one. I mean, when you have figured it out within the first five chapters, the book quickly becomes irrelevant. No matter how well the characters are developed or how engagingly the book is written.

Luckily, “Face of Betrayal” was a good mystery. One that actually kept me guessing from the first page to the last. Because the characters begin to draw you in from the very beginning, where you are introduced to Allison Pierce. She is a no-nonsense prosecuting attorney who soon finds herself deeply entrenched in the mysterious disappearance of a 17-year old Senate page, Katie. With the help of her friends Cassidy (an up and coming television reporter) and Nicole (an FBI agent), Allison attempts to unravel the twisted threads of Katies life and bring her abductor to light. Over the course of the investigation, it is discovered that Katie may have been carrying on an adulterous affair with a U.S. Senator, which suddenly transforms a missing person case into the story of the year. (In fact, the entire story feels vaguely familiar. It’s as if Lis Wiehl took the most sensational parts of the biggest news stories of the last year or so and combined them into one.)

I am not going to say anything that could be a spoiler, but the entire plot of the story is fantastic. Everything flows, the characters are very well developed, and all of the sub-plots are very relevant and come together in the end. (There’s nothing worse than a stor y full of pointless filler plots and red herrings.) And you will find yourself surprised at the twist at the end when the whodunit is exposed.

Honestly, I didn’t have the highest of expectations for “Face of Betrayal.” I mean, Wiehl is a legal analyist for FOX NEWS. I was actually a little bit afraid (tic). But I changed my tune before I finished chapter one, and I would recommend this book to anyone. Easily 4 ½ out of 5 stars. And this is only book one of the Triple Threat Series. I will now be anxiously awaiting the release of book two, “Hand of Fate” in April of 2010.

Just some non-review observations...

Ok, I started this blog with good intentions. You know, to help people make more informed decisions regarding their reading material. (It's not going to end world hunger; so sue me.) I was new to the whole blogging thing. I had the gist of it, but hadn't really even read a blog before, let alone become a 'folllower' or anything that stalkerish.

In the last week or two, however, I have read more book review blogs than any sane person has a right to. And I have come to the conclusion that they are actually kind of useless as a reference tool. Ten people reviewing the same book are going to have ten different opinions, and most likely they are going to span the entire scale from one to five stars. I mean personal opinion is certainly not a science. It is just opinion and nothing else.

So that begs the question, "What are we doing with our time??"

And here is my answer:

I have a overly-high opinion of my opinions LOL. I think I am right. Of course, that is probably not even remotely true 90% of the time. But that doesn't mean I am going to shut up or even that I should.

The bottom line is that we (the whole blogging community) are doing ourselves more of a service than anyone else by spouting off our thoughts and feelings regarding the creativity of strangers. But that's ok. It's constructive and possibly even helpful for the small percentage of people who happen to agree with us :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"You're So Vein" by Christine Warren

So I just finished reading this book, and I have to say I wasn't really impressed. For starters, I thought this was the first book in "The Others" series. Turned out to be book 7. Oopsey. The funny thing is that I didn't really notice that it was at the tail end of a series until I was done and started doing a little research on the author's website So maybe my bad impression was mostly my fault. Should have done my homework.

It's set in contemporary New York, and Ava (our heroine) is a successful 30-something who is changed into a vampire as the result of a brutal attack. (Isn't that how it always goes? Your life is at it's peak and then WHAM, you're the walking undead.) Lucky for Ava, an avenging vampire happens upon the scene of her attack. He slaughters the rogue vamp who attacked her and whisks her back to his apartment to help ease her into her new existence.

Dima is an 800 year old Russian vampire who happens to be in the New York area chasing down a crazy lady (who is also a vampire; will the wonders never cease?) And not only does he take her back to his apartment, he strips her down and ties her up to prevent her from hurting herself. That is what she wakes up to almost 24 hours later. Tied up, half naked, in a strange place, and a vampire.

I don't know about anyone else, but a situation like that would really piss me off. No matter how hot the guy was or how good his intentions. Apparently for Ava, seething rage easily gives way to wanting a good boffing, because the next thing you know they are getting it on. Which is what most of us expect to happen when we read a vampire novel with the word 'erotic' anywhere on the cover. But man, there was no preamble, no rationale, nothing. One second she wants to kill him and literally the next second they are having sex. Whoa. It made no sense.

It pretty much goes on like that until the end. I guess there is something of a plot relating to the capture of the crazy Russian vampire lady that Dima was tracking when he found Ava. And of course, it is exposed the Ava was involved more than anyone knew. But the fight scenes are too easy and the climax is decidedly anti-climactic.

After I finished the book, I checked out some other reviews (this is when I discovered it was book 7 and not book 1). From what I gathered, "You're So Vein" is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Christine Warren's work. I got the gist that even some of her most die-hard fans were let down by this one. So I don't feel like my faux pas of reading the series in the wrong order has really tainted my opinion. I mean, it read like it could have been a stand-alone book. There were other couples in the book, and apparently the other books in the series were written about them. But none of them were so integral to THIS book that you needed to have read them to follow what was going on.

I don't know, maybe I will go back and give the first six books in this series a gander so I can see what I missed. Maybe. As it stands, I have to give this book a fairly lowly 2 star rating for the plausibility factor alone. (I mean who in their right mind would be strolling through New York alone at 2AM to begin with???) It's the best I can muster.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Dirty Little Angels" by Chris Tusa

Religious fiction isn’t my genre of choice. I have found that anything that falls into that classification tends to be little more than a conversion attempt in 300 pages or less. Not exactly my idea of fun, entertaining reading. So, when I started reading ‘Dirty Little Angels,’ it was with with a monkey on my back.

Set in present-day New Orleans, the book centers around a sixteen year old girl named Hailey. Hailey is just like the majority of modern teenagers. Dealing with issues far above her maturity level. Things like adulterous parents, criminal siblings, sex, drugs, and friends. In facing the trials and choices she encounters, Hailey begins to wonder if her pleas to God for help are falling on deaf ears.

I actually ended up getting into the book really fast (despite some initial awkward wording), and overall it was really quite good. There were some pacing issues, and it could have been a little bit longer. (The ending was great, but felt a little rushed.) And I fell in love with Hailey. She is a very relatable character, and I found myself wishing I could be there to advise her through her troubles.

There was a really good, thought provoking couple of lines near the end of the book:
“Maybe God didn't save us after all. Maybe we had to
save ourselves,and each other, first.”

And those lines accurately summed up what I got out of the book. It isn’t a sanctimonious statement of what faith is. It is a question of how we apply that faith.

I have to give this book a very respectable 3 ½ stars. It is an entertaining, thought provoking read that really transcends genre with it’s message.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Announcing a great book giveaway!!

How would you like a free copy of "Fangland"?? How about an ARC in near pristine condition??? All you have to do to get your name in the running is leave a comment on my blog. That's it. You will get one entry per comment, and one additional entry if you become a follower. The winner will be chosen in a drawing on May 1st and announced immediatally following. Comments must be made by 11:59 PM MST on April 30th to be considered valid entries. Be sure to include your email address so that I can get ahold of you. If the ARC isn't claimed within 48 hours, it will be awarded to a second chance winner!! Let the insanity ensue :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Most Likely to Die" by Lisa Jackson, Beverly Barton and Wendi Corsi Staub

Normally, I wouldn’t have read a compilation novel, but ‘Most Likely to Die’ came to me highly recommended. Although the action picked up almost immediately, I found myself having a little trouble getting into the story. By chapter 3 or 4, though, I was hooked.

The plot reads something like a cross between “I know What You Did Last Summer” and “Prom Night.” In 1986 during a high school Valentine’s dance, a popular student (Jake Marcott) is brutally murdered. He is found by one of his several love-interests impaled by an arrow in the middle of a hedge maze. And despite the public nature of the crime, the murder goes unsolved.

Fast forward to the planning of St. Elizabeth’s 20 year reunion, in which the clique of girls who were closest to Jake reunite. From the first meeting, strange and unsettling things start happening to each of them. Things that would send sane people running first to the police and then their local gun dealer. Personal items being stolen from inside their homes (with no signs of forced entry), old pictures with red slashes across the faces turning up in their reunion invitations, strange phone calls. You know, traditional stalker stuff. It doesn’t take long for the more astute among them to link the stalking to Jake’s unsolved murder.

About the time the paranoia really sets in, the planning committee crew starts dying off one by one. The deaths are violent but seemingly unrelated. By the time it dawns on the survivors that the deaths may not be random but in fact part of a deviously complicated plot against all of ‘Jakes girls,’ the killer has become increasingly bold, blatantly targeting each and every one them. By the time the number of committee members is cut in half, our killer has been so bold as to travel across country, attempt a kidnapping, and actually strangle someone to death in broad daylight. By now, our main players have determined that the new killer and Jakes killer are not only one and the same, but also part of the planning committee.

Despite the carnage – and suspicion that someone on the guest list is a serial killer- , the reunion occurs as planned (you know, the show must go on.) By this point in the story is has become obvious who the killer is, and over the course of the reunion that person is revealed.

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. It was written well enough to keep your attention despite the tired story line. Especially for a collaborative effort between three authors. They kept the story flowing by having each author write a third of the book, with each of them writing from the point of view of one of the three main characters, Kristen, Lindsay, and Rachel. Their styles of writing meshed almost seamlessly (Although I was partial to Part Three written by Beverly Barton. IMO, the wording and pacing were superior to the other two parts.)

I had a harder time than usual determining a rating for this book. The story has been done a million times, and read (as I mentioned before) something like a bad horror flick. On the other hand, the writing was, for the most part, strong. All in all, I have decided to give it a 3 star rating.

***As a disclaimer, I wanted to mention that this is not a new release. It was published in 2007.***

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Swallowing Darkness" by Laurell K. Hamilton

The most recent installment of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series, “Swallowing Darkness,” answered some lingering questions…and then asked a whole bunch more…

When we meet up with our heroine in this installment, she is newly pregnant with twins. (Fathered by not one but FIVE of her royal guards. Oh, and Sholto the King of the Slaugh. Lucky girl.) Her pregnancy is both a blessing and a curse as it secures her position as heir to the Unseelie throne but also increases the pressure on her enemies to end her life before she can become queen. After her beloved grandmother dies in her arms, she makes the decision to return to self-imposed exile in California to protect her life and the lives of her babies.

But nothing in Faery is that easy, and Merry’s treacherous cousin (and rival for the throne) Cel has a final trick up his sleeve. He refuses to be graceful in his defeat. And despite his cruelty, many among the Unseelie Sidhe would prefer his leadership to that of a mixed-blood mortal.

So the insanity ensues. There is a singularly bloody battle that reminds all of us of Laurel K. Hamilton’s vampire executioner roots. Magic and mind-bending glamour abound. Traitors are exposed, and familiar faces return. I can’t say much more about the climax because I don’t want to spoil the carefully woven surprises that make this book so satisfying. Needless to say, it is a close victory for Merry and crew (come on, there’s another book coming out in October. You already knew her team won.)

I have to say, this ended up being one of my favorite books in this series. It really did tie up some big loose ends that have been hanging around since the beginning. Most importantly, it kept her from having to choose a single member of her royal guard as her King. She is clearly in love with several, and in serious like with a couple more. The development of her twins having multiple fathers (three each) really saved her ass. Here’s to hoping the next book in the series, “Divine Misdemeanors” allows some of her good fortune to continue.

On my scientifically proven rating scale, I give “Swallowing Darkness” a very respectable 4 ½ stars.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"The Academy" By Bentley Little

Like any good book junkie, I waited impatiently for the release of Bentley Little’s most recent book, “The Academy” for months. He is my favorite horror author, and in the top 5 across the board. If you haven’t read his stuff, you are seriously missing out. He is unapoligetically graphic and fantastically horrible. You may find yourself looking away from time to time, desperately trying to dislodge an unwitting image from your head jell-o, but you will always look back. It is impossible not to when you know that what is already nightmarish will only be getting worse. And after you put the book down, you will never be able to look at the mundane minutia of everyday life the same way again.

But.. back to “The Academy."

I was one of the few lucky enough to score an ARC in June or July, so I had the honor of reading the book before my opinion could be tainted by someone else’s review. The tale of how I came to posess the ARC is a fun story in and of itself, but the short version involves an Ebay auction gone horribly awry and myself mildly harassing a fellow bidder for my own selfish gains.

The plot becomes clear fairly early, and key protagonists and antagonists are easily distinguishable. One of the best things about his works as a whole, though, is the tendancy for the lines to be somewhat blurred. There is always enough surreal or supernatural infulence on all of the characters that you feel as though they may be swayed to the dark side at any time and for the most innocuous of reasons. There is just so much of a wrongness to the entire atmosphere of the book that you find yourself waiting (with eager anticipation) for the other shoe to drop.

And drop it does. Repeatedly in fact. A big bonus is that you will be so hooked by page five that even if horror isn’t your genre of choice, you will still be in for a good read.

The basic synopsis of the book surrounds a public high school whose administrators have secretly plotted to attain charter status, seemingly in a bid to escape the mechanisms of the religious zelots pulling the strings at the district. There is the expected level of dissent among the faculty, but needless to say, the charter is approved and the school becomes “The Academy.”

As the school year progresses, supernatural events occur, and the majority of the students and teachers begin to be mysteriously influenced by an unseen malevolent force. The supporters of the charter become more and more cultish, and those opposed find themselves facing deadly consequences. In an attempt to keep order, the principal recruits a nazi-youthish brigade of students to patrol the school and monitor goings-on both on and off campus.

As is to be expected, a group of do-gooders is formed among the teachers and students to get to the bottom of all of the mysterious occurrences. Their own experiences direct them towards the horrible truth; a truth which I will not disclose here. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Those of you who are already familiar with Little’s work will probably see more than a few parallels between ‘The Academy” and an earlier work “The University.” I am not going to lie to anyone, the latter was definitely the superior book. However, “The Academy” is definitely worth the read. The story is engaging, primarily due to Little’s unapologetically blunt style of horror. My biggest complaint is that the ending is decidedly anti-climactic. After all of the drama and action leading up to it, is seems forced and too easy. You may end up asking yourself ‘That’s it??” It could have used another chapter or two.

But who am I to say what should have been included? I’m merely a humble reviewer. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be able to out Bentley Little Mr. Bentley Little. As always, the man does great work.

With my newly implemented rating system, I would give “The Academy” four out of five stars.