Review – Lost Under a Ladder by Linda Johnston

lost under a ladderFrom Goodreads: Is it luck or is it . . . Destiny?  Are superstitions real? Rory Chasen doesn’t think so–until her beloved fiance walks under a ladder and is killed by a car five minutes later. Needing closure, Rory takes her dog Pluckie to a town called Destiny, where superstitions are a way of life.  Rory’s visit to Destiny takes an unexpected turn when Pluckie saves the life of Martha, the owner of the Lucky Dog Boutique. To show her gratitude, Martha offers Rory a job at the pet store. But when Martha becomes the prime suspect in the murder of the local bookshop owner, Rory refuses to believe that she would do it. Rory is convinced the real killer still roams Destiny’s streets, and she must uncover the truth before Martha is hauled off to jail.”

 

I’ll admit – I don’t judge all books by the same standards.  Rating on a scale of 1 to 5 is hard sometimes.  Because I don’t expect cozy mysteries to be earth shattering with cliffhangers and strange twists, they probably receive higher ratings than if the same story and writing were in a different genre.

I gave Lost Under a Ladder 3 stars for being an enjoyable cozy mystery.  But, when I checked my notes I had some serious reservations about this rating.  I used words like “hokey”, “stream of consciousness”, “bad execution” and more.

Don’t get me wrong, it has a good story.  The problem is that the main premise (that our MC visits this town to learn about superstitions because her fiancé was killed after walking under a ladder) is pretty far-fetched.  I never bought it.  And, frankly, I didn’t feel her loss.

At some points, I felt that this was a paint by number cozy mystery.  MC with a past, check. Love interest, check.  Older lady to take our MC under her wing, check. And so on.  I really want to see an author try something different when they are starting a new series.  This was a great opportunity and it felt wasted.

Plus, I found a timeline issue that really annoyed me.  Things like that shouldn’t get past your beta readers.  I’m sorry.

If you are a big cozy mystery fan and not the super-picky reader that I can sometimes be, then you will probably really like this one.  Give it a shot.  3/5 stars.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an e-book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review – Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

fair game

While reading Fair Game I had an epiphany about what makes a book go from “It’s good – 4 stars” to “I loved it – 5 stars”.  It’s all about the characters.  And, for me specifically, I need to connect with them.  I don’t have to like or even fully understand them.  But I need to be able to associate them with someone I know or want to know.  Or, maybe I just need to be able to put myself in their shoes for a few hundred pages.

And, here’s the rub with this 3rd installment in the Alpha and Omega series.  The writing is excellent as usual.  Patricia Briggs always delivers that.  There is an interesting storyline.  All of the pieces are there.  Yet, I didn’t feel that connection with Charles and Anna so I just knew this was going to be a 4-star for me.

Then, the last 5 pages happened.  And I learned that a book can become 5-stars with just a few words you weren’t expecting.  Since I don’t want to spoil anything, let’s just say that this could be a game changer for this and the Mercy Thompson series (set in the same world).

And, always remember, to never, NEVER, underestimate someone.

5/5 stars.  WHOA!

Review – An Artificial Night (October Daye #3) by Seanan McGuire

an artificial nightOctober Daye is another Urban Fantasy series that I just can’t quit.

From Goodreads: “October “Toby” Daye is a changeling-half human and half fae-and the only one who has earned knighthood. Now she must take on a nightmarish new challenge. Someone is stealing the children of the fae as well as mortal children, and all signs point to Blind Michael. Toby has no choice but to track the villain down-even when there are only three magical roads by which to reach Blind Michael’s realm, home of the Wild Hunt-and no road may be taken more than once. If Toby cannot escape with the children, she will fall prey to the Wild Hunt and Blind Michael’s inescapable power.”

The good:

- Toby – Let’s face it.  You can’t help but pull for her.  She’s like the train wreck best friend who is always losing her keys, having car trouble or breaking up with her boyfriend.  She can irritate you (see “the bad”) but you love her anyway.

- Tybalt – The King of Cats.  Enough said.  Can they just get together already?

- World-building is exceptional.  Three books in and you really feel like you understand the fae of Toby’s world.

- Strong story / plotlines.

 

The bad:

- Toby!  She makes the same mistakes over and over and over.  Always putting herself in danger.  How many times can she be at death’s front door?  And, I get it she doesn’t want to be a hero.  But she is.

- Repetitious writing.  This is a huge pet peeve for me and too many of the urban fantasy series that I otherwise like have this problem.  I’m hoping McGuire shakes this as the series progresses.

 

No Ugly.  Thank goodness.

 

Overall a solid installment and recommended for Urban Fantasy fans.  4/5 stars.

Review – Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7)

magic breaksI love the Kate Daniels series and I love Ilona Andrews.  This installment included all the things we’ve come to expect: Kate and Curran, the pack and all its’ infuriating ‘packiness’, big bad guys that don’t disappoint and action, action, action.  Another 5-star addition.  But…it did come close to losing 1/2 star.  Kate has lost some of her spunk and that’s not acceptable.  Bring back the sarcastic and, yes, violent Kate next time.  Please, Ilona?  I know, I know.  Kate has more to lose now.  She has a family.  Don’t care.  Want to see her kicking butt and taking names.

Any review would be too spoiler-y so I’ve decided to set my thoughts to song once again.  Sing along if you recognize the tune:

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful pair.
Kate was born to evil Roland,
His power was so rare.

Her mate was the Beast Lord, a lion,
Curran led the shifter packs.
Most of them didn’t accept Kate,
She had to watch her back.

They knew Roland was coming soon,
And they would have to fight.
Curran said they would take him on,
And, Kate said, “Alright”.  And, Kate said, “Alright”.

When Roland showed up it didn’t go down as planned.
He did bring Hugh.
Hibla too,
The vampires and their minds,
The navigators,
The leader and his magic,
It’s about to be on.

So this is the tale of Kate and Curran,
Fighting for their town,
They’ll have to make sacrifices,
It’s finally going down.

With friends and their family too,
They’ll do their very best,
To make sure everyone is safe,
After this ultimate test.

With power words and swords of bone,
Kate uses all her tools,
To fight her father Roland,
And save a pack of fools.

So sit right back and read some more,
You’re sure to be shocked,
About Kate’s Atlanta,
And the ending that rocked.”

Review – Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (White Trash Zombie #2) by Diana Rowland

even white trash zombies

Sad face.

I really loved the first book in this series and had high hopes for this one.  It was just okay.

Angel is a zombie who is still learning to live a brain-craving, super-strength, challenged life.  When she is pulled into a conspiracy it all starts to fall apart.

From Goodreads: “Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right–the zombie mafia.

Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower–and maybe a brain smoothie as well–in order to get through it without falling apart.”

My primary problem with this installment was Angel and her boyfriend, Marcus.  Where was the kick butt Angel I loved?  She puts up with way too much from Marcus.  He gives sign after sign that he doesn’t respect her yet she still goes back for more.  He keeps secrets that endanger her.  While she might have a flash of anger, she continued to have feelings for him.  As a reader, I felt absolutely no connection between the two of them and that was a disappointment.  Bring back Marcus from book one if you want these two to stay together.

The storyline itself had a nice mystery element and moved well.  There are a few new characters thrown into the mix.  The best part is seeing Angel’s friendships grow and allow her to become a more confident person.  Hopefully this will move into her intimate relationship in the next book.

Overall, a disappointment but still worth reading.  2.5/5 stars.

Review – Wicked by Gregory Maguire

wickedLast year I decided to re-read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and found that I was disappointed.  When I saw so many more current novels based on Baum’s story, I wanted to see what was out there and if anything clicked for me as a reader.  The natural starting point was Wicked.  Almost everyone has either read this or seen the Broadway show.  I honestly went into it without expecting too much.  Boy, was I wrong.

I loved Wicked.  To be more precise, I loved Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.  Maguire set out to tell her story since Dorothy received most of the spotlight in TWWOO.  We begin by learning of Elphaba’s birth and her early years.  As Kermit says, “It isn’t easy being green.”  She is an outcast both in the community and in her family.  Elphaba isn’t the most lovable creature but there is something about her that is special and it comes through the pages.

We follow her to boarding school in the larger city of Shiz where her assigned roommate is Galinda, a pretty, spoiled, blonde girl.  They strike up a tenuous and unlikely friendship.  Others (a motley crew) are part of their circle which is brought closer through different tragedies.  Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister, is now attending the school along with her Nanny.  Nessa was born without arms and has other physical ailments so she is treated more gently and thoughtfully than Elphaba ever was.

As an adult, Elphaba continues to be an outcast.  Sometimes by choice.  Her relationships are complicated by the fact that she is a very black or white person and she cannot look the other way when she feels that something needs to be changed.  And, even as grown ups, we do continue to try to find love.  Elphaba hasn’t had that from her family so that energy goes elsewhere.

Plus, she can’t get over those stupid, shiny shoes that her father sent Nessa in school.

This is a story about politics, power, friendship, family, love and maybe a little evil.  It is a thinking persons fantasy novel.  The wizard, cowardly lion, scarecrow, tin man and munchkins are all here in one form or another.

One question continued to go through my head while reading – what is evil?  Is it the abuse of power by taking away basic rights from other living creatures?  Is it magicking an ax to cut off someone’s arm so that you can get something that you want?  What about using sorcery to try to force others to do your bidding?  If so, it’s not Elphaba who is evil.  These acts are attributable to others.

Or, maybe there really is no evil.  There are just people who don’t have evil souls but end up going down a path that leads to destruction.

Elphaba speaks to the outcast in me, the one who is different from so many others and has a hard time trusting and making friends.  For about 90% of the book I was 100% on her side.  But, then she made a few really bad decisions and lost me a little.  I wish that the author had allowed her to continue with her true self through the very end.  It might not have tied a bow on the story quite so easily but we spent 350 pages with the real Elphaba.  I wanted to see her through and didn’t get that opportunity.

Other than a somewhat disappointing ending, this was one of my favorite reads this year.  4.5/5 stars.

Review – Hunting Ground (Alpha & Omega #2)

hunting groundThere are some authors that you just know you can count on for certain things.  Patricia Briggs is one of my go to authors when I need a pick me up – a great story without too much angst but plenty of action.  Plus, I know I can knock one of her books out in just a few hours because they are so easy to read.

Hunting Ground was no exception.  It continues the story of Charles and Anna.  They are called upon to go to a meeting of Alphas to help them understand why Bran, the Marrok and Charles’ father, wants to reveal their existence to humans.  It’s an urban fantasy so things don’t go exactly as planned.  But, there is plenty of wolf, fae and vampire action to keep you glued to the pages.

There is something about this author that makes her books feel like a warm and fuzzy blanket.  She writes strong female characters who, in many cases, are the ones who save the day.  The men, usually alphas or at least dominants, are not too overbearing.  She gives them a balanced manliness (for the most part, well, at least those that we are supposed to like.)  That sounded really cheesy after I typed it.  “A balanced manliness?”  Oh well, I can’t think of another way to say it.  They are strong men who don’t drag their women around by the hair.

Charles and Anna had to grow on me a little.  Charles is no Adam or Sam (if you are familiar with the Mercy Thompson series).  He’s his own kind of dominant wolf with a very serious personality.  Anna could have gone a little Mary Sue but Briggs found a way to keep her relatable and far enough from perfect that we don’t want to roll our eyes when she’s on the page.  I like the fact that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and use cookie cutter characters.  Each series has leads with different personalities and quirks.  It keeps it interesting.

4.5/5 stars and highly recommended.  Currently this series has three books published.  I thought it was done and I was sad that when I read the third soon I would lose this part of my literary family.  But, I saw earlier this week that a fourth book is coming out next year.  Woo hoo!!!