Advance review: Elysian Fields (Sentinels of New Orleans #3) by Suzanne Johnson

Elysian Fields (Sentinels of New Orleans, #3)Elysian Fields
by Suzanne Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Expected publication: August 13th 2013 by Tor Books 


An undead serial killer comes for DJ in this thrilling third installment of Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series.

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combatting an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.

I started reading the Sentinels of New Orleans series in my desperate quest to tide myself over before the new Alex Craft and Kate Daniels books come out at the beginning of August and end of July, respectively. I’ve mentioned before that the southern setting is a big draw for me, and N’awlins seemed like a great place for a paranormal urban fantasy. It is really fun to get to know the city and its legends and night spots through these books.

Royal Street, the first book in the series, introduces the heroine, deputy Sentinel Drusilla Jaco (call her DJ or she will pummel you), a minor wizard living in New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina hits. Her mentor, Gerry, goes missing, her city is devastated, and it’s up to her to make it right. With a new partner foisted on her – one who just happens to be extremely hot, the story and setting are interesting. The second book is even better, even though the narrative jumps forward two years and all of the characters’ relationships…don’t.

Now we skip to THIS book, which albeit is an ARC (I love NetGalley), so there might still be some changes that show up in the finished copy, but from what I read, either my memory is awful or Suzanne Johnson’s writing style and editor changed. Dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is still great. You’ll be hooked. It’s a page turner, and that’s exactly why I have a problem with it. The chapters feel truncated and stilted. DJ ends the narration of a chapter in a punchy, dramatic way, and then picks up at the start of the next chapter with an entirely different temporal subject. It’s hours or days later, and the cliff-hanger of the previous chapter gets resolved in a quick, past-tense aside. Not gonna lie, I felt cheated. I would almost ALWAYS rather “see” how an altercation or issue gets resolved than be told. It starts to be less jarring toward the middle of the book, but that also may be because I became accustomed to it.

All in all, decent read, I will definitely pick up the next in the series when it comes out next year, and I will go down with my ‘ship. There are like a bajillion (3) absurdly attractive guys in this series vying for DJ’s attention and Johnson is being VERY clever with these relationship plot twists, that clever boots. Pirates and shifters and elves, oh my. Though it’s kind of a dead giveaway which one is meant to win out, he’s the only one who hasn’t done something jaw droppingly awful to DJ in the past two books, so it’s hard to root for anyone else.

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (finally) reviewed.

The DemonologistThe Demonologist
by Andrew Pyper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Published March 5th 2013 by Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 1451697414

Professor David Ullman’s expertise in the literature of the demonic—notably Milton’s Paradise Lost—has won him wide acclaim. But David is not a believer.

One afternoon he receives a visitor at his campus office, a strikingly thin woman who offers him an invitation: travel to Venice, Italy, witness a “phenomenon,” and offer his professional opinion, in return for an extravagant sum of money. Needing a fresh start, David accepts and heads to Italy with his beloved twelve-year-old daughter Tess.

What happens in Venice will send David on an unimaginable journey from skeptic to true believer, as he opens himself up to the possibility that demons really do exist. In a terrifying quest guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David attempts to rescue his daughter from the Unnamed—a demonic entity that has chosen him as its messenger. –from Goodreads

The UK cover. Much prettier, non?

I want to clarify that though I gave this book 3 stars I didn’t like it. It was just written well enough that to rate it lower would have been spiteful.

David Ullman is a professor at Columbia University. He has a strong friendship with colleague and psychologist Elaine O’Brien, but is otherwise a solitary man. His marriage is ending, and his wife has been cheating on him with yet another Columbia prof. His relationship with his preteen daughter Tess is the best thing he’s got at the opening of the novel. Unfortunately, through a series of uncanny events that lead to an impromptu trip to Venice sponsored by a mysterious employer, Tess is taken from him. David is willing to do anything to get her back, up to and including striding into Hell.

Now, the first thing that must be said is that The Demonologist takes itself pretty seriously. It is written about a university professor of literature by what sounds like an academic, probably a university professor of literature — or a writer trying very hard to sound like one. Pyper gets points there.

The story has thrilling, introspective and scary moments. On two separate occasions I was chilled, though this is not saying much, I am easily scared. I can’t even read the Bible without getting freaked out. Unfortunately for me, quotes from Milton and Revelations make up a substantial amount of the dialogue, and are the fulcrums on which the plot turns. This is both positive, as it fits in the academic narrator framework, and negative, as the relation between the quotation-clues seems arbitrary, though the quotations themselves are familiar.

Despite that, in a way, it all does work. The basis of the supernatural element of this work is that maybe all of the stories of angels and demons and denizens of hell are true, and the mind is a space — the ultimate battleground for humanity. What separates the sane and good from the morally compromised and possessed is the belief. Once you’ve gotten this and suspended reality, you are taken on quite a ride. Pyper’s David Ullman totally pulls this off.

Unfortunately for my opinion of the book, and this review, this wasn’t enough to win me over. For a book that takes itself as seriously as The Demonologist does, the number of tired tropes motivating the narration are just lazy. A cuckolded academic chosen to be the cosmic harbinger of demonic existence? A damsel in distress, and not only that, but also a child-like Eurydice? (The Orpheus/Eurydice trope is referenced in the text, but STILL). A terminally ill woman who has nothing more important to her in her final weeks than to join a seemingly insane friend on a cross country wild goose chase?

The jacket of the ARC I was reading (won through a FirstReads giveaway) said the book is in development for a movie. Well, it did read a lot like a screenplay at times. Not in a bad way. It was what it was.

Altogether, I think this is a book most readers will enjoy. I can’t say it wasn’t an engrossing read. If you’re not nitpicky, and can stomach the description of women (albeit dead women) being beaten, and a general lack of character development for them, well, have at it. Just read it during the day.

p.s. Click here to see the spoilers I removed in the full review on Goodreads, if you’re into that.

Review: Dead Man Rising (Dante Valentine, #2) by Lilith Saintcrow

Dead Man Rising (Dante Valentine, #2)Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m sure if I’d been having a better day I would be darkly amused by the glossary at the end of this book. The glossary which should have been at the end of the first book and also integrated into the story. But whatever.

I think what sets my teeth on edge so much about this series is how fundamentally damaged Dante Valentine is/is supposed to be, yet she doesn’t function like the fundamentally damaged, per se. I’m no expert and everyone is different, but there seem to be a good deal of psychological missteps here. Paired with unreliable narration, stingy exposition, and unusual pacing, I can’t love these books. I am not even sure if I can like them. Yet I seem to keep reading them?

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Review: Working for the Devil (Dante Valentine, #1) by Lilith Saintcrow

Working for the Devil (Dante Valentine, #1)Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, the long and short of it is that up until the last probably twenty pages I disliked this book, to a degree. No. Not true. I loathed it. Fiercely. The character development was not going very well and I was annoyed at how opaque the world-building and backstory were.

At 9% I was like “Ugh hope this gets better.” At 40% I was like “WHY WON’T SHE EXPLAIN ANYTHING OR LIKE, BE NICE TO HER FRIENDS?????” and now, at 69% I am just ultra baffled at why anyone would say this book is paced well and isn’t harboring a grudge against the editor that could have made it SO SO GOOD with very few well chosen suggestions. I will never again criticize info dumps. I will cherish them.

But then love story and glorious action. Stakes high enough. Realistic consequences. Tragedy.

This book still had a lot of flaws, but I was won over at the last minute. I guess all it takes to book-seduce me is to write me an unlikely romance and then kill off my favorite character. I have issues.

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Review: The House on Tradd Street (Tradd Street, #1) by Karen White

The House on Tradd Street (Tradd Street, #1)The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not really big on mystery novels. This is not to say I can’t enjoy a good mystery in a novel. I just cannot handle it when the entire plot of a novel revolves around not knowing a bunch of very important things. I also loathe really obvious foreshadowing and poorly dealt out clues. Of course, these things can all be present in non -genre novels too. What was I saying? Oh yeah, this book had a lot of issues, but I liked it. I’m a huge sucker for the Southern small town secretsy society old buildings charming culturey setting. Like, big time. Even though I would probably hate living in any of these places.

Despite the Southern charm; this book is rife with plot holes and grammatical issues that an editor shouldn’t have missed. The protagonist, Melanie Middleton, is not sympathetic. She is a prickly bitch who has a number of really good friends for no discernible reason. She is 39 and clearly has severe Obsessive Compulsive issues as a result of childhood trauma, but doesn’t seek professional help despite being accurately diagnosed by multiple people in her life. I actually respected that she didn’t own casual clothing. But the way she kept fobbing the dog off on other people was the kiss of death for her in my eyes. The fact that I am interested in reading the sequel defies as much logic as she does but whatever I do what I want.

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Review: Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1) by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whichever misgivings I had in the first few pages of this book, not enough concrete detail, or dialogue, or characterization, didn’t leave me throughout the rest.

It’s kind of like a slightly loose tooth you can stop jiggling with your tongue. Because you KNOW it’s there and you KNOW it’s loose and you just can’t.

The story is fine, but don’t expect to ever really be told how, why, or what about anything major. I.e. “the days of the unspeakable.” Jiggle.

There are a lot of characters and no real actual villain. Kind of like how you never actually see Sauron in LoTR. But less so, because Sauron is much more vivid than, um. What’s his name? That’s right. Jiggle.

The characters all, for the most part, have good and bad qualities. Physical characteristics? Kind of. Personal growth, sure, I guess. They don’t talk much, though.

All in all there were a lot of little things that could have been tightened up to make the whole narrative more cohesive. Like more dialogue…

I also had a suspicion the entire time that there was some “subtle” feminist subtext that didn’t show through because, well, it wasn’t working. It felt like a point was trying to be made that was kind of thrown in as an afterthought. (view spoiler)[I am mainly referring to Evanjalin being totally capable, but being forced into entirely unnecessary constraints despite her being more savvy and badass than any of the men. The part at the end when Finnikin had to realize their equality was a departure from the patriarchy though. Tiny applause. (hide spoiler)]

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Review: Divergent (Divergent, #1) by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a moment about midway into reading this book where I looked up and remarked aloud (I wasn’t alone in the room, not that that would have stopped me) that all authors steal, you know? They all have and they all do, and the difference between my noticing Veronica Roth “stealing” where I generally haven’t often noticed other authors before is that probably I’m just not as well read in their influences, predecessors, competitors, what have you.

It’s weird and feels wrong to admit, but I like dystopian fiction. I only say that it’s weird and feels wrong because I don’t particularly want to like it, as the idea of a dystopian future has haunted my nightmares since I was forced to watch the movie The Road two years ago. It was an awful experience, I was terrified and disgusted. However, I have to admit I like it because I’ve read so much of it. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, The Hunger Games, The Host (yes, even Stephenie Meyer), Ender’s Game, Margaret Petersen Haddix’s Among the Hidden. To name a few.

Throughout Roth’s attempt to amalgamate these elements and visuals I was forcibly reminded of elements of all of these other works. It made me feel both kind of bored and also ridiculously well-read in this genre. But let’s focus on the boredom.

I couldn’t care too much about Tris because it became clear very early that our tiny, non-pretty, speshul snowflake wasn’t really going to come to harm. I liked her, but I’ve read book after book about small white blonde girls against the world, and it’s really tired. I only say this having read all of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna novels, plus other short authors like Laurell K. Hamilton (who I manage to mention in every. single. review. How??? I’m obsessed, clearly). We get it. Fighting people bigger than you is hard and takes more work. Geez. I should write a book where the protagonist faces the perils of bumping her head, can’t ever find long enough pants, tall enough dates, and consistently knocks things over in close quarters. Because normal to tall people seem to be an underrepresented minority in fiction. Or maybe I’m just being silly. Who knows.

But let’s not get me started about the feasibility of the entire plot. Getting through this novel required a huge suspension of not only disbelief, but also, you know, reality. Physics. Psychology. You know. Stuff.

It’s just so unlikely that the response to world disorder is a big ol’ personality quiz segregation. I mean, people are stupid, but it just doesn’t stand up to logic. Virtue ethics are great measures of character, but they don’t dictate behavior the way Roth designed the society to work.

All in all it just didn’t live up to the hype. Roth is a great writer, but I’ll hold out until a different series/novel appears to give her another go.

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Review: Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine

Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1)Ill Wind by Rachel Caine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes coming in with lowered expectations can pay off. This was just barely one of those times.

Rachel Caine writes up many a figurative storm in Ill Wind. The narrator’s voice is chatty and forthright without grating on my intolerance for women who spend too much time thinking about clothes, shoes, cars, and how hot they are. Well…maybe it grated a little.

(view spoiler)[I didn’t have a problem at all with the convenient new romance, which only bothered me in the instances when David got all bossy protector-y. Even so, his motivation materialized, albeit toward the end.

Somehow the Djinn were at once not explored enough and also made too human to retain their mystique. The first sighting of the Djinn was exciting, I couldn’t wait to see the dynamic play out. I would have liked to know more about their history with the Wardens (and the history of the Warden’s themselves), maybe more exploration/exploitation of that thorough list of rules at the beginning.

I also wish Joanne had been given a bit more present to contextualize her past. A lot of info was dumped about her and then never mentioned again. Honestly, I could have run wild with her speshul snowflake childhood stories and the whole learning to control the weather stuff. But then, maybe spinning the story out wouldn’t have worked, given the entire thing is structured around a very unlikely road trip/car chase. Unlikely given the lack of sleep she mentions frequently,, the number of times she has to stop (the woman drinks a lot of coffee, you’re tryna tell me our delicate flower doesn’t need frequent pee breaks?), and the gratuitous liberties Caine takes with the geography of the United States.

Lastly, I’d have loved to have seen more of Lewis in the present day in this book. Granted, now I plan to read all of them to see if there is more of him to come, but I am curious to know what his deal is. Also I get the feeling that since every man ever is in love with this chick (no idea why, she’s in this perpetual state of emotional and physical unavailability, re: lightning} the fact that she was with both her mentor, the Djinn, and him at some point would have raised eyebrows. And now she’s dead. I mean…the possibilities, man.

I don’t know, you go through the whole story telling me this chick wanted to succeed in her career and be promoted and self actualize because she’s SOOOO powerful, and then you kind of kill/superpower her. Frankly, I was reminded of the Twilight series. She was a lot more interesting than Bella, though weirdly into similar things like old cars…and she goes and gets “saved” by being turned into a superhuman creature. Been there, read that.
(hide spoiler)]

All in all though, despite its flaws Ill Wind was a decent beach read. Lots of explosions and bad-ass weather manipulation, explained in technical detail. Bad geography, but what are you gonna do.

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Review: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Are You My Mother?Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As introspectively awe-inspiring as Fun Home but in a much more exhaustive way. Bechdel narrates her creative process as she weaves the narrative of the current book. The book refers to itself as a meta-book in the text.

It’s amazing that something so incredibly personal and minutely detailed remained gripping, even after having read Fun Home the same day. Bechdel is amazing, but I still get the impression that for all of her confessionals in these graphic novels, she still maintains a conscious distance.

What were in depth and serendipitous literary references and allusions in Fun Home seemed a bit forced here, but again, Bechdel was aware of it. Such lucid commentary on the thought process and the creative process. Really a great work. Probably deserves more stars.

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Review: The Griffin Mage by Rachel Neumeier

The Griffin MageThe Griffin Mage by Rachel Neumeier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to buy the first novel separately, but Barnes & Noble only had the last two in stock, or the omnibus. So I went out on a limb and bought three books when I wasn’t even sure I was going to like the first one.

I’m on the second book right now and OMG, it’s so much better than the first, i.e. THERE IS ACTUAL DIALOGUE/I have some idea what’s going on. There is a plot, I can pronounce names, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I kept going through the first one. I’m not as patient a book-finisher as I once was, so it kind of means something. The griffins seem cool, and the descriptions are kind of pretty.

The desert, however, made me roll my eyes SO HARD. I have lived in a desert. They are not all that, especially when your body is 70+ per cent water. For Kes, I guess that isn’t an issue.

Anyway, so far my complaints about the 1st book are essentially:

1)Can’t pronounce any of the names, and I study language. I’m not exactly sure which languages they’re supposed to be based from. Japanese? French? Greek? German? SO MANY VOWELS. If I can’t figure it out by the third time it’s mentioned, I stop caring.

2) There are no character relationships. Like, yeah, there are preexisting filial bonds between Kes & her sister, Bertaud & the king. But outside of that? Kes & Opailikiita? Arbitrary. Kes & Jos? Barren. Like, I get it, Kes has no emotions now, whatever, but apparently Jos doesn’t either? Bertaud is not even a real person (round character), in his slavish devotion to the king. I get it, he raised you. You contemplate his sternness and flaws but that just makes you love him more EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE JEALOUS OF HIS WIFE?

3)Meandering plot.

To be continued when I finish the next one.

Ok, finished all three. The next two books are so very differently written than the first. Being all up in Kes’ headspace is very disconcerting when you flip to the second book and all a sudden you’re following a completely different kind of character. Gereint is older, from a different country, and a slave. But he’s a lot easier to get to know, and a lot more likeable than Kes.

The third book is also easier to slip into for the same reason. They’re both good, solid reads.

My only complaints (of course I have some) are that the relation ships between Bertaud and… anyone? Tehre? are so lightly dealt with that the reader can only rely on conjecture about what he really felt. Mienthe mentions he seems disappointed, and based on the way Neumeier writes by this point you assume it’s his separation from the griffins that is his major disappointment, not that he’d loved and lost someone. I couldn’t even tell you if Mienthe is in love with anyone by the end, because she sort of goes out of her way to say she isn’t, but could be. GAHHH. Implications.

Normally readers complain about being told things point blank, but I think in this case I would have preferred that to being at sea about all of it.

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