Review and Rant: Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop

Daughter of the Blood (The Black Jewels, #1)Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I visited the main branch of the Denver Public Library this week, so naturally I left with armfuls of books. Bless you, library card. One of the books I checked out was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop, the author of The Others series, which I adore. Daughter of the Blood is a markedly different type of novel, more high fantasy, but I quickly noted one very similar characteristic of Bishop’s writing.

*Spoiler alert* Both central protagonists in the series are young girls who have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of depraved men and this hampers them from developing their powers and forming friendships, familial bonds, as well as romantic and sexual relationships with the intended love interest of their respective series, all of which are much older than their object of romantic and sexual desire, and take the role of guardian, mentor, and at times, paternal figure.

It bears mentioning that I stayed up all night long to read this book. It is good, but I do find the choices made in regard to character development a bit disturbing, mostly because I recently encountered it while reading nearly the entire published works of author Connie Suttle, whose female protagonists are, without exception, victims of mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Notice I didn’t say survivors. The abuse is continual throughout the entirety of their story arcs.

When I examine my reaction to the use of abuse as a plot device and character development, most of the aversion comes from the fact that it is extremely common in Western Literature. Anne Bishop herself makes reference to the archetype of Cassandra, Princess of Troy, who in the myth was punished by Apollo, the Greek god of light and music, for refusing him as a suitor. Cassandra was cursed with prophesy that no one would heed, and was later captured by the Greeks during the Trojan war and sold as a slave. In Bishop’s The Others series, the cassandra sangue is a female seer who prophesies through self-mutilation, which will ultimately kill them. In addition *spoiler alert* the majority are enslaved and used for sexual pleasure in addition to having their visions sold for profit.

Daughter of the Blood starts in a world that is tenuously clinging to a magical and political matriarchy that is slowly being dismantled by a tyrannical female ruler bent on complete domination of her world, at the cost of killing every woman with enough power to challenge her. She’s enslaved the most powerful living men of the Blood (a magical nobility) and as a result the entirety of their magical lineage is declining. The book centers around a young girl, Jaenelle, who is a, or the, Queen of the Blood. She is only seven years old at the start of the series, but already possesses the power of the Black Jewels, which are a combination of indicators of power and also like magical power banks.

The entire plot line of Daughter of the Blood revolves around three powerful men who are determined to shape her future to become the Queen the realm needs. Their names are Saetan, Daemon, and Lucivar. I am not kidding. Only Saetan and Daemon have much of a part to play in this first installment, but the enslavement of Daemon and Lucivar is a major plot device, in that both are fitted with “Rings of Obedience,” magical metal cock rings controlled by the women (witches) who command them as sex slaves. The men take great pleasure in killing the witches, and do so many times throughout the story, and the sense I perceived was that the reader was expected to condone their homicide as justifiable because of the cruelty they experienced in being used as sex slaves. Many, many times throughout the book the term “shave” or “shaved” is used to refer to genital mutilation. It is used as a form of entertainment by the more despotic members of the Blood. This practice is reacted to with much more horror than that of sexual assault, with a subtle implication that the value of the person lay fully in their sexual commodity. Daemon is repeatedly noted to be impotent, and experiences no small amount of self-hatred because of it, even going so far as to compare his lack of sexual arousal to being shaved, though it is made clear that his flaccidity is due to his contempt and hatred for the women who use him.

Throughout the book, the men often express a desire to serve a worthy Queen, but every single adult witch of the Blood introduced is either cruel (those who use them), or a victim of sexual or physical abuse. Tersa, the first character introduced, has slid into madness because of a violent rape. Bishop uses the euphemism “spearing” to describe the act of rape, and witches of the Blood may be “broken” and lose their powers as a result of rape. This is problematic given the removal of agency of the women, many of whom possess powerful magic, but only until the loss of their virginity. Without exception, none of the rape survivors are able to mentally or magically recover from their assault. Whether this was intended to underscore how severely the culture of this world has backslid in terms of gender equality, or Bishop deliberately constructed the nature of the female power this way is unclear in this book. Perhaps this will be further developed in the series. I doubt this however, given that one of the major point of view characters, Surreal (yes, that is her name), a high-end prostitute, is repeatedly told her profession is shameful and immoral, and despite being powerful and well educated, she is looked down on by her society, including by men who patronize her services.

Another troubling element is that Jaenelle is a child throughout the entire book, making her first contact with the three men at age seven and then for the majority of the story at age 12. Daemon, as previously mentioned, feels no arousal with any of the women in the books, except for this child. He repeated chastises himself for his sexual attraction to a child, but continues to think of her sexually and romantically throughout the book. He is territorial and jealous of the other men who pay her any attention, despite the fact that Jaenelle is the bastard child of a man who refuses to claim her, to the point where Jaenelle is punished for revealing her paternity to her mother, grandmother, and uncle. In addition, the unprecedented acquisition of enormous power at an unheard of young age sends the major players in her world scurrying to form some sort of authority or control over her. Even the most benevolent characters, in terms of Jaenelle’s mental and physical well-being, Saetan and Daemon, both step into roles of mentor-ship, the former more paternalistic than the latter, given his romantic and sexual desires. Both set rules and chastise her for her behavior, while acknowledging how beyond their knowledge and control she is growing, refuse to give her the information she might use to make determinations for herself, such as explaining innuendo or the nature of romantic and sexual relationships, and about the dangerous consequences of misusing her enormous powers. This contrast is troubling because the male characters often note that they find her oddly precocious, and that her stare seems “ancient,” yet they make many attempts to retain her perceived “innocence.”

The penultimate plot point is that the hospital where Jaenelle has spent much of her childhood is discovered to be a front for many of the male antagonists to gather female children, under the guise of treating them for emotional disturbance, and then sexually assaulting and killing them. Jaenelle is drugged and brutally raped, and it is inferred that this particular assault, the loss of her “virginity,” though her innocence was probably lost years earlier, will cause her to slide in to madness if her body doesn’t succumb to the mortal wounds she has suffered.

Rape as a plot device is unfortunately common point of character development in fantasy. The fear of rape equally so. I don’t say this to downplay the horror of such an act, but to point out how misogynist it is that the ultimate violation is that of being treated as a sexual object. Women can be equally traumatized by other violence, but the continual removal of agency, and the fact that in this case and many others the female characters are never able to overcome the circumstances that led to this trauma paint the characters as intrinsically weak.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book. I did. I stayed up all night reading it. I devoured all of Bishop’s The Others series, and I have read numerous other books that employ the same tired tropes, and enjoyed them. But I do find it concerning that modern writers are still writing for medieval readers, no matter how well they do it.

Thanks for reading!

Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Truly wonderfully fantastic.

I like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Quite a lot. But I ADORE this book.

I can’t gush enough. I was recommended this book by a friend and didn’t take the recommendation seriously enough.

The raw creativity of this world, the complexity of the plot, and the perfection of the characters.

Just, read it. There are cats.

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ARC Review & Blog Tour for The Guardians by T. M. Franklin + Interview!


The Guardians (More, #2)The Guardians
by T.M. Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published November 7th 2013 by TWCS Publishing 

Ava’s life is . . . complicated.

After all, it’s not every day a girl learns she’s not entirely human, or unlocks hidden powers strong enough to make even the First Race sit up and take notice. After surviving an attempted kidnapping and standing up to the Race’s Ruling Council, Ava Michaels returns to college and what she hopes is a normal life. But Ava quickly realizes that for her, normal may not even exist anymore.

In fact, the Council wants her under their control, and they’re not the only ones. The mysterious Rogues have a plan of their own, and it turns out Ava’s a big part of it, whether she wants to be or not.

On top of that, her new relationship is tested in ways she never expected. Her boyfriend, Caleb Foster, has disappeared—accused of betraying the Race—and Ava herself stands implicated in a crime she didn’t commit.

Clearing their names will mean uncovering a web of deceit and intrigue with Ava woven right in the center. To unravel the strands, she joins forces with some unlikely allies; a Protector who once haunted her nightmares, a young girl with secrets as unexpected as Ava’s, and a group of rebel Guardians who have their own fight against the Council.

Together they stand in a battle to find the truth, bring Caleb home, and secure Ava’s freedom—not to mention save her life.

More Information | Goodreads | The Guardians Book Trailer

Review:

After racing through More, I was really excited to start The Guardians. Ava is a likeable character, and I really enjoyed how her relationship with Caleb developed in the first book; no insta-love, a not-super obvious attraction (aside from Ava’s roommate being a little pushy), and totally self-aware semi-creepy stalking.

One of my FAVORITE things about this book, and the series in particular, is the idea that this superhuman race are separate but entwined with humanity throughout history. The powers that the First Race have reminded me a bit of the movie “Push” actually, if only in the way they are named. They’re powerful, but Franklin keeps the narrative on course, without exploding it into a Bruckheimer-esque overdone too-big situation.

In The Guardians readers find out more about Ava, her background i.e. being adopted, and why/how, and get to see more of Caleb, but more importantly, TIERNAN.

Why am I so partial to him? He’s kind of unlikeable in the first book. In fact, he’s the BAD GUY for the greater part of it. I think I have a soft spot for meanies who get softened down by the protagonist. Like cats, once you win them over.

Will he be a love interest? Won’t he? (see my interview with T.M. Franklin below, where I ask her this question.)

To be honest, I won’t be too sad if he isn’t, the love triangle is kinda tired in YA, in my opinion. Tired, but somehow still engrossing enough that I yearn for it?

All in all, this book is a very good follow-up to the first in an excellent series. A fast-paced, quick read, with a sort of fantasy-meets-science-fiction premise that is accessible to fans of both genres. It’s blended enough that science nerds won’t be tripped up by technobabble, and fantasy fans get kick-ass characters with fantastical powers.

View all my reviews | buy at TWCS | Barnes and Noble | Amazon
 

Author Bio:
T.M. Franklin started out her career writing non-fiction in a television newsroom. Graduating with a B.A. in Communications specializing in broadcast journalism and production, she worked for nine years as a major market television news producer, and garnered two regional Emmy Awards, before she resigned to be a full-time mom and part-time freelance writer. After writing and unsuccessfully querying a novel that she now admits, “is not that great,” she decided to follow the advice of one of the agents who turned her down—write some more and get better at it. Her first published novel, More, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days.
She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mike, is mom to two boys, Justin and Ryan, and has an enormous black dog named Rocky who’s always lying nearby while she’s writing. Whether he’s soothed by the clicking of the computer keys or just waiting for someone to rub his belly is up for debate.
In addition to More and The Guardians, Franklin penned the Amazon best-selling short story, Window, as well as another short story, “A Piece of Cake,” which appears in the Romantic Interludes anthology.

Connect with T.M. Franklin: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Interview:
MORE  was a NaNoWriMo novel, right? I love to see NaNo novels in print. What kept you in Ava’s world during those 30 days?
NaNo was so good for me. I really needed the daily accountability to keep myself writing. NaNo really emphasizes that you should just keep writing – and not go back and try to edit at all. That was really hard for me to do. In the end, though, it helped a lot. I was able to get about 2/3 of the book done during the month of November. They key, for me, was my outline. It allowed me to keep writing and avoid those times when you just don’t feel inspired. Since I knew where I was going, I just focused on getting the words down and going in the right direction. I went back later to clean it up and make it better.
Do you have any tips for WriMos getting bored with their stories (coughmecough) or having trouble with discipline and writing every day?
Ugh. I’m one of you this year! It’s really difficult to focus on writing when I’m so deep in promoting my new release. I don’t have any great tips other than the old Nike adage – just do it. Even if you put your novel aside and are writing something else. Just write something.
 
I creeped on your NaNo profile a little bit, and I noticed your working title for book 3 of the MORE trilogy is Twelve. Will readers get to meet all of the Twelve?
Yes, to a certain extent. Some you’ll get to know more than others.
You’ve mentioned before that you get to know some of your characters as you write them. I love Tiernan, his character, his internal conflict between being a loyal Protector and his loyalty to his friends. How was getting to know Tiernan for you? Did anything surprise you? (I laughed out loud when Ava said that under his Veil he looks like Michael Cera/Jesse Eisenberg, I did NOT see that coming, but I loved “Zombieland”)
I’m so glad you enjoyed him, because I loved expanding on Tiernan’s character in The Guardians. That was probably the most fun I had writing the story, along with developing the relationship between him and Ava. I always knew he’d play a bigger role in the second book, and that there was more to him than initially met the eye in MORE, so I don’t know if I’d say anything about him was surprising to me. I would say that I smiled a lot while writing his scenes, however. I like him a lot.
Speaking of Tiernan, in the first part of MORE, Ava mentions to her roommate Lucy that she finds Tiernan attractive, even though she was terrified of him at the time. You’ve decided to avoid the love triangle route (thank you), but is the book completely closed between them, or is it possible the attraction will resurface later on?
Ava knows who she’s meant to be with. As for Tiernan, well, he’s a bit broken from a past relationship, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he deals with that and what his romantic future looks like.
You wrote Ava’s heartache with Caleb so well! I haven’t felt a YA rocky relationship so deeply since (don’t laugh) Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon. Ava’s situation in The Guardians is so much less…pathetic because she empowers herself to find him. Did you write the situation with that in mind?
One of the things I like about Ava is the way she deals with all the craziness that’s thrown at her. Instead of whining or falling apart or relying on others, she keeps pushing forward. She may not always make the right decisions, but she really tries to do what she thinks is right. An important aspect of the whole trilogy is that it’s not all about Caleb rescuing Ava – sometimes (to quote Pretty Woman) she rescues him right back. 
I’m a mythology nerd, and I love the idea that mythological figures like the Titans of Greek mythology and the biblical Nephilim were actually members of the First Race. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for that? Will readers get to see any historical or mythological connections in the final book of the trilogy?
I had all of this backstory in mind about the Race when I was writing the first book – all of these characters in myth and history that either were Race or Rogues or Half-Breeds. For example, maybe Attilla the Hun was a Rogue who was trying to seize power for himself, but was taken down by the Council. Or that Jonas Salk’s assistant was Race and he was the one who actually pushed him in the right direction to develop the polio vaccine. Maybe Medusa was a Half-Breed whose power was uncontrollable, so she had to be stopped – that kind of thing. A lot of it has fallen to the wayside because it just didn’t seem to fit anywhere. There’s a possibility some of it may come up in the final book, though – perhaps the true history of Merlin and King Arthur. 
What inspired the characteristics and abilities of the First Race, and how did you decide which abilities (such as tele- and pyrokinesis) to give them?
I sat down and thought of all of the cool powers I could think of (and then Googled some more!) Then I sat down and connected powers to characters. Protectors, like Tiernan, Katherine, and Caleb needed to have gifts that would aid them in their jobs, of course, so tracking and shifting made sense for them. Same for the Council, which I talked about more in The Guardians.

The powers for the Twelve were even more of a challenge. I don’t want to say too much about that yet, but it should be fun to see some of those revealed.

Will readers see more variety of abilities in the next book, such as, I don’t know, flight, or underwater breathing?
Maybe not those particular gifts, but yes, you’ll see a lot more.
Could the First Race be responsible for mythological creatures like angels and mermaids?
Yes, that was kind of my thought process behind the Race in the first place – that maybe these mythological creatures weren’t really what you think. I hinted at that a little in MORE in describing some of the Race who couldn’t leave New Elysia because they were just too beautiful. People could easily mistake them for angels. Maybe mermaids didn’t really have fish tails but could swim really fast and breathe underwater – and the storytellers added the fish tails along the way.
Ok, last question: if you could cast a TV series for the trilogy, who would you cast, and would you go cable or primetime network, say, the CW vs. HBO?
Oh wow – this is a hard question! I mean, this is so far beyond what I could hope for, but if we’re dreaming, let’s dream big, right? Lol!
I think the most important thing to me would be that whoever made it had the budget for the special effects – in particular, the Veil would be a concern for me – the rest shouldn’t be too difficult. So whoever could do that I’d be happy with.
Odette Annable
Sarah Roemer

As for a cast, I think I’d prefer an unknown for Ava – someone who could make the character her own. But Sarah Roemer has a good look for her. Or one of my readers suggested Odette Annable, who is beautiful and would also be a good choice.

For Caleb, I’m kind of torn between Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Covert Affairs) and model Mark Ricketson, who was suggested by another reader. (Although who knows if he can act? LoL!)

Christopher Gorham
Mark Ricketson

 I’d love Charlize Theron for Madeleine and Billy Burke for Gideon. A bald and scarred Colin Egglesfield for Tiernan, Asli Tandogan for Katherine, and there’s a Japanese actress named Maki Horikita who has the right look for Emma.

But a lot of that’s based on looks alone – to be honest, I’d be happy with a cast of new actors to try and bring the story to life. Actually, I’d be thrilled if anybody anywhere ever wanted to actually see it as a TV show! Lol!

Thanks for reading!

And thank you to The Writer’s Coffee Shop for the ARCs, and to T.M. Franklin for being generally awesome!

Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published 2011 by Viking Penguin
ISBN 0670022411

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

This book had a LOT of problems. Really kind of troubling problems. I liked it anyway. Sit down, I’ll tell you why.

I’ll start with what I loved with this book: the settings were excellent. I love coming to know a place through a book. I’ve never been to Oxford but I think I caught a sliver of it through the narrative. I loved the academic parts of it, and I loved that I learned things about history from it. I always enjoy picking up tidbits of practical knowledge from fiction. The premise of the book was interesting. And here is where we run into my issues.

This book is disturbingly like Twilight. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Twilight, despite my better judgment and its many flaws, but this book is supposed to be a book about a witch and her personal struggle against fate, or the underground political struggles between the supernatural races. This would have worked out in a really interesting way if not for one thing: homegirl falls in love with a vampire.

There is something about [male] vampires in urban fantasy acquiring the power to utterly ruin any story the minute the heroine falls for them. It doesn’t happen every time, see Sunshine or Rachel Morgan, but it seems to tap into this dark well of perverse desire to be absorbed entirely into someone else’s life in certain authors of certain books. The relationship turns into this black hole that seems to swallow everything else. Granted, relationships often do, but you can’t realistically let your life be subsumed into that of a really old dead guy when you are just beginning your own journey of self discovery without your readers thinking you’ve lost your damn mind. Which is pretty much what happens here.

Luckily this guy is ptherwise pretty interesting and you get to go to France and find out a buncha stuff. But the original plotlines suffer for this.

Don’t even get me STARTED ranting about the whole alpha male/pack business. We get it, vampires are animalistic. Let’s just go ahead and disregard all feminist social progress. Because he just can’t help himself. EYE ROLL

I really enjoy reading books about witches. Unfortunately, this book was almost entirely hijacked by vampires from the beginning. I really would have liked to learn more about Diana’s parents and her Bishop lineage. I would DEFINITELY liked to learn more about daemons. Not the secrety things, just more about what they are like and what differentiates them from…well, mentally gifted and disturbed humans. Because aside from being savants, I can’t pinpoint a single thing.

All in all, a good/ruthless editor with a scalpel and an aversion to vampire hijacking would have done this book a world of good. It was about a hundred, maybe two hundred pages longer than I expected it to be (ebook), and about the same length stretched out/overwritten. Despite all of my issues and opinions to the contrary, I did really enjoy this book and can’t wait to read the next one.

I know. I’m hopeless.

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Review: The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1) by Amanda Stevens

The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1)The Restorer
by Amanda Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Published April 19th 2011 by Mira
ISBN13 9780778329817

  

My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.It started with the discovery of a young woman’s brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I’ve been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

I really wanted to like this book more. It has all of the ingredients to bake up into a beautiful cupcake of favorite book, for me anyway. Ghosts, Charleston, NC, hot guys, murder. The reason the first half of the book took me forever to get through (or at least it felt like an eternity) was due to the style of the writing.

This is SO unlike me to say, but the narration style was overdone. It was too…stylized, too over-written. No one thinks in such a flowery, erudite way. But people sure do write that way. I’m sure I’ve got pages and pages of abandoned writing that read exactly the way the beginning of The Restorer does.

It’s too bad, really, because what was shooting to be beautifully written, almost literature, wayyyy overshot, but had atmosphere and intrigue. Luckily it eventually did get better. That or I just got used to it.

Amelia Gray isn’t a very interesting or well fleshed out character (I can tell you exactly one thing about her personality: that she’s reserved) but her circumstances make up for it. Lots of stuff happens to her. Interesting stuff. And all of the information about graveyards is fascinating!

Definitely a good summer read, with lots of ghosts and southern gothic settings. My cup of tea, mostly.

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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 

ISBN0765333198

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 Nightmare Affair (The Arkwell Academy #1) by Mindee Arnett

The Nightmare Affair (The Arkwell Academy, #1)The Nightmare Affair
by Mindee Arnett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Published March 5th 2013 by Tor Teen
ISBN 0765333333

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

The blurb for this book really did it for me. Personifying nightmares? Awkward chest sitting? A magical academy? Sign me up!

No, really, sign me up—I never got a Hogwarts letter.

After reading the blurb and receiving the ARC from Tor Teen via NetGalley, I wish I had better news to report. I did like a lot of things about the book—I just wish I had liked them more.

Dusty is an outcast at Arkwell Academy, thus you get some unpopular-girl vs. The Cool Kids dynamics, which I didn’t find 100% convincing, mostly because I’ve never witnessed such blatant bullying before in school. The Draco-Malfoy-loudly-mocking-Harry-at-mealtimes thing never seemed plausible to me, because I’ve never witnessed a bully so secure at the top of the food chain that someone wouldn’t call them out, eventually. I’m no authority on bullies, though, despite my extensive public school resume (10 different occasions of being the new kid). Maybe it’s a private school thing?

Speaking of schools, Arkwell Academy is such a great draw toward this book. The idea of a Nightmare personified is way cool, and when you add in her magical secret high school that teaches witches, fairies, sirens, demons, and, yes, Nightmares, to do magic had me really excited. I found myself feeling a little deprived mid-book—I wish Arnett had gone into a bit more detail about the different students and their magic, maybe a couple more characters, and more depth to the cast we got to meet. The characters all seem to be smart and intrepid, but disproportionally emotionally immature. I think getting to see more of them, dialogue and action, in future books could definitely even this out.

In addition, the political structure of the magical world is referenced several times, and the reader isn’t ever given a first hand perspective into how it operates and how Dusty understands it. Give me more! Politics send a lot of people to sleep, but throw in some fantasy characters and history and they can be made really compelling.

All-in-all, The Nightmare Affair is a fast read with enough fresh spin on a collection of tropes to make it palatable. I could criticize it some more, but I think it’s a book a younger teen (12-14) might really enjoy. A fresh pair of eyes could really get stuck on elements that seem tired and over-done to a reader like me. And it’s got that little bit of boarding school story appeal that never seems to get old.

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Reviewed: The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, #2) by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, #2)The Madness Underneath
 by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published February 26th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
ISBN 1101607831

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends. But Rory’s brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she’s become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades–the city’s secret ghost-fighting police–are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it’s too late.
In this follow-up to the Edgar Award-nominated THE NAME OF THE STAR, Maureen Johnson adds another layer of spectacularly gruesome details to the streets of London that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
—from Goodreads

I honestly feel there is no way to write a review on this book without referring to THE THING which is very spoiler-y, but I am going to try.

The Madness Underneath is the sequel to Johnson’s 2011 The Name of the Star, which was very good! The Madness Underneath was good, but not quite as good as the first, which was about a copycat Jack the Ripper murderer in present-day London — lots of history, mystery, and thrills. And ghosts!

I definitely recommend you pick up a copy of the first book! Though, having read the sequel so long after reading The Name of the Star, I was a little fuzzy on the details, and I was too impatient to re-read before starting this book, so I can say with relative certainty that it can stand alone.

Overall the story was decent, though the characterization was a bit weaker than the first book, which is odd, because the focus was placed more so on the characters’ inner struggles than the actual crime/mystery. I think this is the only aspect of the story that was lacking. Maureen Johnson did a really very excellent job writing Rory’s PTSD (if it was that) and anxiety. Having gone through a similar bout of anxieties about school (without any paranormal fatal injury), I was able to connect with the character very well, almost to the point where it was painful to read. This was personal, but I think any reader will be able to really get in her head.

So if you like ghosts and a really strong sense of setting (way to make me want to move to London, MJ, the weather is HORRIBLE there), I definitely recommend this series. Hopefully Book 3 will be even better!

View all my reviews | Buy The Madness Underneath on Amazon

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Emilie and the Hollow WorldEmilie and the Hollow World
by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Expected publication: April 2nd 2013 by Strange Chemistry
ISBN 1908844493
 

While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure. Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father. With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.  —from Goodreads.

I’ve never read a book by Martha Wells before, and generally Journey to the Center of the Earth-type novels aren’t my cup of tea, probably because mole-people don’t interest me and I have an aversion to the dark. Emilie and the Hollow World sounded just different enough to be intriguing.

That said, after I received the ARC from Angry Robot on NetGalley, it took me forever to start reading, which I regret, because I really liked it! However, I was a bit prejudiced, given the YA marketing & cover design, and I thought, going in, this book was probably going to be quite fluffy. Well, I overestimated the fluff (minimal) and underestimated (or misread) the age of the protagonist, Emilie. I read the first few pages assuming she was a plucky 11 or 12 year old — not so. Emilie is 16, and further, some of the elements of her backstory (and of the beginning of the sequel if there will be one) are more northward in the YA spectrum than an 11 year old character might have. But only slightly. One or two degrees northward. Still appropriate and not at all shocking for any middle-grade fiction reader. So despite being even older than the intended audience than I’d expected to be, I still enjoyed the story.

Very steampunk, great world-building (in an aquatic way, a personal favorite), and likeable characters, especially Emilie and Miss Marlende. Sort of like the child protégé of Gail Carriger’s Alexia Tarabotti, though much less prim and chatty. I also quite liked how Wells describes the non-human characters.

 I would recommend this book to middle-grade readers and older who like steampunk, The Swiss Family Robinson (do kids still read that?), Robinson Crusoe, Disney’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (this especially! A favorite of mine), and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

 View all my reviews | Buy or pre-order on Amazon

p.s. I went back and read some reviews on The Swiss Family Robinson and I am completely unsurprised to find out how much many adults hate it. I’m glad I read it and saw the movie as a child. I remember really liking it, but given all the criticism about how much senseless animal shooting goes on, maybe it makes sense I grew up to be a vegetarian.

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.