Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan

April 20, 2010 at 8:53 pm (Caitlin R. Kiernan, fantasy, fiction, novels) ()

Caitlin R. Kiernan is my personal savior. Last year, after months of reading nothing but crap books and seeing my numerous prayers for decent reading material go unanswered, I picked up Kiernan’s debut novel, 1998’s Silk, and was blown away by the stunning imagery and creative wordplay. It kept me from drowning in an ocean of mediocre writing, and wound up coming in at number three on my 2009, end of the year “Best of” list.

Soon thereafter, I purchased Daughter of Hounds not realizing it was the third book in a series of novels revolving around the Silvey family. When I found out, I figured I should read the first two books, Threshold and Low Red Moon, before diving into Daughter of Hounds, only neither of them appealed to me. The synopses on their back covers didn’t grab me the way the one on the back of Daughter of Hounds had. So I left it languishing in my “to read” pile for a year as I tried to decide whether or not to buy Threshold and Low Red Moon.

But, as you can see from the number of bad and luke warm reviews I’ve churned out since the New Year, I’ve been having another run of bad luck with regard to reading material. After so many duds I desperately needed something good to read which is why I finally reached for Daughter of Hounds. And I am glad I did because, once again, Caitlin R. Kiernan put an end to my losing streak.

Daughter of Hounds takes place in a Lovecraft-ian world where ghouls and monsters, having been banished from the surface of the Earth, live in vast, underground cave networks, silently plotting  to take back control of the world. Soldier is a changeling with a mission. Stolen from her crib as a baby and raised by the ghouls, it is up to her to dispose of anyone on the surface who might stand in their way. Eight year old Emmie Silvey isn’t much of a threat. Struggling to understand the psychic abilities she inherited from her father, all Emmie wants is for her dad to stop drinking and her step-mother to move back into the house. But when their paths converge, Soldier and Emmie learn that the lives they have been living aren’t the ones they were supposed to live.

First off, you do not have to have read Threshold or Low Red Moon in order to understand Daughter of Hounds. The book is whole unto itself, and Kiernan gives as much background as is necessary to understand the story.

All the elements I’ve come to expect of a Kiernan yarn are present – the creative wordplay, the strong description and character development. Kiernan creates a world you can see, smell, taste, and touch from the very first page.

What I appreciated the most about Kiernan’s style this time around was her willingness to trust the reader. So many of the books I’ve read over the last couple of months felt like they were written by authors who thought their readers were idiots. They spoon fed their story to the reader, not trusting them to make even the tiniest leaps of logic.

For example, when introducing a new character they would momentarily put the scene on hold to explain the new character’s entire background even if the details were irrelevant to the current scene. It was as if they needed to prove the character belonged in the story. Kiernan, by contrast, does not tell you everything you need to know about each character as they are introduced. Instead, she tells you what is important to know about that new character within the parameters of the scene, and allows additional information to trickle out as needed as the story progresses. Aside from building tension and giving readers an incentive to keep reading, Kiernan’s approach indicates confidence in her readers’ intelligence. She trusts they don’t need to know every connection, detail, and event in a characters life right off the bat in order to care about them or understand how they fit into the narrative.

Same goes for plot twists. I’ve read a lot of fiction in which each plot development warranted a complete re-hash of every event that occurred up to that point, as if readers are so forgetful they need to be constantly reminded of what they’ve read. Kiernan only spells out how particular plot twists relate to other aspects of the story when the relationship is unclear. Otherwise, she just lets the story unfold, and allows the reader to connect the dots. She expects her reader to have paid close enough attention to the text that she won’t have to spoon feed the story to them. Kiernan puts a lot of thought into her writing and expects her readers to do the same.

I enjoyed Daughter of Hounds so much I want to read the first two books now. I became so invested in this world and these characters that I need to know their back story. That’s what a good writer does – she makes you want to run out and buy everything she has ever written. And really, what sort of disciple would I be if I didn’t?

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Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

April 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm (ARC, fiction, mixed bag, novels)

When her husband’s sudden death reveals an avalanche of hidden debt, Meg Rosenthal has no choice but to sell off everything she owns . With her teenage daughter Sally in tow, Meg moves to the small town of Arcadia Falls after securing a teaching job at a prestigious arts school, hoping a change of scenery will help heal the growing rift between them. But when one of the students goes missing, Meg finds herself at the center of a mystery with roots that stretch back to the very founding of the school.

Goodman’s greatest success is her ability to maintain a break neck pace throughout Arcadia Falls. Though the book starts out slow with Goodman taking the first eighty pages to introduce her cast of characters, as soon as Meg begins uncovering the secrets of the school’s founders the story speeds up, and Goodman doesn’t tap the brake until the final page. Each new piece of information follows right on the heels of the previous one, and every time I thought I had the ending figured out, Goodman threw in a new twist that always killed my latest theory.

But the pace itself – not the characters, the storyline, or Goodman’s use of language – was the only thing that really kept me plowing through the novel. Had Goodman not put the pedal to the floor when she did, I’m not sure Arcadia Falls would have kept my attention.

Why? Well, for one thing, I didn’t like the main character. Like so many of the first person narrators I’ve discussed on this blog, Meg has no personality. She is bland. She’s polite, inquisitive, imaginative, and she loves her daughter, but that’s all we really know about her. Sure, she tells us about some of the major events in her life  – how she dropped out of art school to have Sally, how she was a stay at home mom until the day her husband died – but Meg never tells us how she feels about any of those events or how they affected her on a personal level. Occasionally she’ll ruminate on her past, but she doesn’t dig particularly deep when doing so.

Goodman’s writing is neither good nor bad. It’s competent. Her words don’t light up the page, but they get the job done. They’re functional.

Arcadia Falls is full of recurring themes and motifs. One is the conflict between raising a child and cultivating an artistic life. Another is dependence vs. independence. But, again, none of these themes are explored in-depth. Different themes figure prominently at different points in the narrative, but are often dropped before Goodman can really examine what they mean to the story, and that makes the book feel incomplete.

The ending was a real problem for me. Goodman gives Meg and Sally a laughably unrealistic, fairytale ending that I probably wouldn’t have had a problem with if, A) the fairytale motif, so prominent in the first half of the book and practically non-existent in the second half, had figured more prominently throughout the story, and B) if Meg and Sally had actually earned their happy ending. As is, neither of them do much but fall victim to circumstance and aren’t really transformed by the experience.

Goodman may know how to weave an intriguing and complicated yarn, but overall, Arcadia Falls is an average book. It’s not deep and doesn’t require a lot of thought on the reader’s part. It ‘s a decent way to pass the time, but it’s not a story that will stick with you.

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Hell Hollow by Ronald Kelly

March 24, 2010 at 3:03 am (ARC, fiction, horror, novels)

You can identify good writing by how easy it is to take for granted. Tight, well-crafted, emotionally and intellectually engaging prose keeps the reader’s attention focused on the story. The words, sentences, and paragraphs flow so effortlessly from page to page there is no reason to consider that someone spent months, perhaps even years,  slaving over them, or that each unit of speech was deliberately put on the page to elicit a certain response from the reader. 

Bad writing, by contrast, draws attention to itself. A reader spends more time puzzling over poorly worded or clunky sentences, more time noticing grammatical errors and continuity problems, than following the story. Bad writing steals the spotlight and prevents readers from truly engaging the work.

If bad writing is an attention whore than Ronald Kelly is her pimp and Hell Hollow the brothel she calls home. When describing Hell Hollow to one of my writer friends I told her to recall every writing “don’t” she’d ever learned in class or workshop, mix them all together, and slap a cover on the mush. That is Hell Hollow in a nutshell.

This ho-hum horror novel follows four tween-age kids as they battle the evil Augustus Leech, a con-man, magician, and murderer who is basically the Freddy Krueger of Kentucky. I can’t tell you any more about the story than that because I spent all five hundred pages correcting grammatical errors, re-wording poorly written sentences, crossing out unnecessary text and dialogue, and wondering why Kelly’s editor didn’t fix all these problem before the book went to press.

The lack of craft here is mind-boggling. Hell Hollow is full of extraneous words and adverbs, unrealistic and unnecessary dialogue, and clunky sentences. Kelly has difficulty maintaining an age appropriate voice in his twelve year old protagonist, and the pop culture references his young characters throw around are twenty years out of date.

What bothered me the most was how Kelly tried to avoid using his characters’ names as a way of spicing up the narrative. For example, on page 170 Kelly writes, “The elderly farmer sat at the kitchen table and listened as the boy’s footsteps mounted the stairs,” when he could have written the shorter and more natural sounding, “Jasper sat at the kitchen table and listened as Keith’s footsteps mounted the stairs.”

I counted more than one hundred similar monikers throughout the book. Each primary character has at least six that Kelly uses liberally when attributing actions or dialogue. The villain alone has more than a dozen. Kelly refers to him as “the traveling medicine man,” “the sadistic traveling medicine man,” “the medicine show doctor,” “the man in the stovepipe hat,” “the lanky wanderer,” “the tall man, “the dark man,” and  “the murderess showman” all long after he has introduced the character by name.

Not only is this one of the many ways amateur writers attempt to liven up dull prose, but it indicates Kelly views his characters as “types” rather than people. He repeatedly refers to his four protagonists as “the city boy,” “the farm boy,” “the handicapped boy,” and “the girl.” And that’s all they are. They aren’t given much personality beyond the stereotypical image each of those monikers calls to mind. If you read this blog with any regularity you know I can’t get into a book unless it contains at least one three dimensional character. I think complex characters can save otherwise unremarkable stories, and it’s too bad Kelly didn’t bother to write any into Hell Hollow because I found it impossible to care about a world populated by stereotypes.

Perhaps worst of all, Hell Hollow isn’t scary. Kelly fails to build any sort of tension, and seems to think describing something as “dark” and “gloomy” automatically makes it frightening. At no point did I feel like the main characters were in real peril, even as they were fighting for their lives.

Actually, Hell Hollow is scary, but not for the reasons Kelly intended. The sloppy writing and lack of craft made me scream more than once, and the corrections I continually scribbled in the margins left my hands trembling. If you’re one of those masochists who read Twilight just to see how awful it was, you might enjoy picking Hell Hollow apart. But, if you’re looking for a chilling, well written and thought out horror novel, you’d best look elsewhere.

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Acts of God by Mary Morris

March 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm (fiction, mixed bag, novels)

In her fourth novel Mary Morris examines the many ways we are shaped by loss.

Tess knows all about the mechanics of disaster. The daughter of a traveling  insurance salesman working the flood plains of the midwest, Tess learned early on that no matter how much you love or cherish something, be it a person, a way of life, or type of work, nothing is safe. Everything can be taken from you. It’s a fact she has spent most of her life trying to ignore. But when she returns home for her high school reunion she is forced to face up to the destructive forces that swept through her childhood, and finally learn to cope with the betrayals that carved her into the woman she is.

Mary Morris is one of those authors who makes it look easy. Her writing is lean and clean. There isn’t an ounce of filler in the book. Every single word is necessary to achieve the effect she is going for.  Each sentence flows seamlessly into the next creating a rhythm that starts out subtle but grows more insistent as the story progresses. Acts of God is a novel in which plot and character are intrinsically linked  and Morris’s slow unveiling of each makes for a layered and engrossing read.

That said, my reaction to Acts of God was lukewarm at best, and I blame the main character. Though Tess tells her story in first person, much like CeeCee in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, she never shares anything with the reader. Sure, she relays the details of her childhood, describes formative events as they occurred, but she doesn’t talk about how they made her feel and doesn’t offer much in the way of insight.

Which isn’t to say Tess never tells us anything about herself. She tells us plenty, albeit indirectly. For example, Tess is a collector. She picks up pieces of daily ephemera – bottle caps, loose change, feathers – and squirrels them away in clearly labeled and organized containers. The reasons behind her urge to hoard become clear as she talks about seeing the wreckage left behind in the wake of a flood while traveling with her father. Tess doesn’t need to come right out and say that she collects things because she is frightened of losing what little she has. It’s implied, and that’s enough.

Tess reveals herself through actions rather than words and that speaks to her most prominent character trait: aloofness. Tess keeps herself emotionally detached from everyone and everything, and you read to find out if she ever lets her defenses down.

When reading fiction, generally I prefer to see important connections implied rather than stated outright. It shows that the author expects me to use my brain, and makes me bring as much attention to reading the book as the author did in writing it. But, as we all know, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Morris reveals Tess’s reasons for  living her life at arms length through the rising and falling action, but by never allowing the reader a glimpse into her heart Morris puts too much distance between Tess and the reader. Sure, the distance may be in character, but it does nothing to emotionally engage the reader. By choosing not to dip into Tess’s head the story often feels like a list of events void of meaning.

Acts of God is a well written and crafted novel that is hindered by a main character incapable of connecting with others. It is possible for an author to use distance to enhance a story as Patrick Suskind proved in Perfume, but Morris just can’t pull it off.

If you really want to see Mary Morris at her best I suggest picking up her fifth novel, Revenge. It boasts the same meticulous writing technique and well paced plotting, with the addition of a knowable and relatable protagonist.

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Perfume by Patrick Suskind

February 9, 2010 at 11:44 am (fiction, historical fiction, literature, mixed bag, novels, suspense/thriller)

Born with an acute sense of smell but no biologically produced body odor of his own, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille experiences the world through his nose. He knows every person, animal, shop, and street in Paris by their unique scent.

This peculiar gift drives Father Terrier, the monk under whose guardianship Grenouille was placed as an infant, to turn him over to Madame Gaillard who runs a boarding house for abandoned children, fearing if he does not rid himself of Grenuouille the boy will sniff out all of his sins. It is what leads Madame Gaillard, after years of caring for all Grenouille’s physical needs, to sell him to a tanner named Grimal as a child laborer, sensing that there is something not quite right about him. It is what convinces local perfumer Giuseppe Baldini to hire him away from Grimal so that he may use Grenouille’s talents for his own gain.

Grenouille’s entire identity is built upon his ability to mentally catalogue and re-create scents. He remembers each and every smell he has ever encountered. He dissects them, reducing each complex odor to its individual components. Without a home or even a compassionate guardian Grenouille’s sense of smell is the only thing he can truly rely on. It anchors him in an increasingly unpredictable world. But it isn’t enough for Grenouille to experience every scent in existence. He wants to be loved and admired for his talent, and vows to earn that admiration by creating the most irresistible perfume ever.

This allegorical tale about the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler is hypnotic in its depravity. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of allegory. I think it is easier and more enjoyable to probe a text when the subject matter is clear. Perfume, however, is so deftly written it can be enjoyed as the allegory that it is, or simply as a story of suspense. There are depths to mine if the reader wishes to, but it is not cricual to do so.

Grenouille is your run of the mill sociopath. He hates everyone and hasn’t an ounce of love or compassion in him. He values people for what they can do to help him reach his ultimate goal, that’s all. I can’t say I liked Grenouille, but even so, I wanted to know what would happen to him. I found his heartlessness and single-minded determination fascinating.

The book is full of people just as despicable as Grenouille. Madame Gaillard treats the children under her care with cool indifference, her only goal in life to save up enough money to buy an annuity so she might grow old and die in private rather than in the cramped Hotel-Deu as her husband did. Grimal purposely leaves the most hazardous tasks to child laborers as they are more disposable than skilled workers. Baldini, a master perfumer though he is, is barely competent and owes most of his success to the ingenuity of others. None of them are the least bit likable, yet I could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to them.

And what happens is grusome. Every life that Grenouille touches comes to a bad end. Madame Gaillard dies of old age in the Hotel-Deu just as she feared she would. Grimal drowns in a river after passing out drunk on the shore. Baldini’s house collapses while he’s asleep inside. Each is destroyed by their obsessions and punished for their sins. Call him Grenouille or call him Hitler, either way he can be seen as the personification of our worst human impulses. His behavior and the way others react to it shed light on aspects of the human psyche we’d rather ignore.

Suskind’s decision to tell the story in a dramatic third person voice distances the reader from the story. I never felt as if I were in the story or observing it like a fly on the wall. I was always very aware of being spoken to. This deliberate stylistic choice allows Suskind to manipulate the reader, making him feel emotionally removed from the story as it grows ever more bizarre and disturbing. 

It wasn’t until the explosive finale that I realized what Suskind was up to. He made me enjoy a story full of morally corrupt people, told it in a way that made me feel indifferent to behaviors that should have repelled me. He drew me in and, in doing so, made me an accomplice to the depravity. He turned me into a witness who did nothing to stop the crime. I got the feeling Suskind wanted me to feel guilty for having enjoyed the book, just as all of Germany continues to be made to feel guilty for allowing the rise of Nazism.

Though I was unable to emotionally invest in the novel, and that reduced the amount of enjoyment I got out of it, Perfume is worth reading, if only to admire the masterful technique with which Suskind weaves his tale and manipulates the reader.

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Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

January 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm (ARC, fiction, novels)

Like everything else that appears on a book cover, from art work to jacket copy, the title of Beth Hoffman’s debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt sets certain expectations. First, that the reader will learn about the title character, and second, that the story will primarily concern itself with how CeeCee was saved and why she needed saving in the first place. So, I was a bit confused when Saving CeeCee Honeycutt lived up to its title within the first forty pages.

Twelve year old CeeCee is a social outcast, thanks to her crazy mother who often wanders around town dressed in a second hand prom dress and tiara, attempting to relive her glory days as a Georgia State pageant queen. With CeeCee’s traveling salesman father always out of town, it’s up to CeeCee to care for her mother; to make sure she eats and bathes when she’s depressed, and doesn’t break all of the plates in the house when she falls into a fit of rage. When Mrs. Honeycutt is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee’s heretofore unknown Great-Aunt Tootie swoops in, claims custody of CeeCee, and takes her down to Georgia to live in the family mansion, essentially saving her from her wretched life. With half of my expectations so quickly fulfilled I wasn’t sure what to expect from the rest of the novel. What followed was little more than a recounting of all the little adventures CeeCee has during her first summer in Georgia, a narrative that fails to create dramatic tension or coalesce into an identifiable plot.

Hoffman might as well have named CeeCee Cinderella. She has about as much personality as the fairytale princess who is defined entirely by her personal hardships. CeeCee has no strong desires, opinions, or hobbies. Though she is an avid reader Hoffman doesn’t ever show her relating to books in a passionate way. Children who turn to books to escape difficult home lives tend to develop a strong relationship to reading in general. They experience books on a deep emotional level, often coming to view them as friends. Yet, the most CeeCee ever says about her involvement with books is “I like to read.” Though books are supposedly her refuge CeeCee does not seem to have any strong feelings about or attachment to books.

Despite the fact that the story is told in first person by CeeCee herself, Hoffman never bothers to take the reader inside CeeCee’s head. CeeCee tells her own story with the emotional distance of a third person narrator which made me wonder at Hoffman’s choice to write in first person. The whole point of writing in first person is to give the reader access to the narrator’s thoughts, emotions, and biases. But CeeCee never tells the reader how she feels about the events unfolding around her. She doesn’t have any strong reaction to her mother’s death, no lasting worries about moving in with a relative she’s never met, and no problem adjusting to her new life.

Though CeeCee admits she deals with difficult issues by putting them out of her mind, as someone who often utilizes the “I’m not going to think about it” method of coping myself, I can say from experience that it takes effort to ignore things you don’t want to deal with. It’s a constant struggle that takes a mental and emotional toll. For CeeCee, however, there’s nothing hard about it. She finds it easy to ignore her mother’s death, her father’s absence, and cruises through the novel hardly suffering a moment of anguish. Her lack of character combined with the unrealistic way she so easily deals with loss made it impossible for me to care about or relate to CeeCee.

If CeeCee is Cinderella then Georgia is the Magic Kingdom. Everyone who lives there is kind, problems magically work themselves out, the good guys always win, and the bad guys are always punished. The story skips along from one minor complication to another, all of which are resolved before they have time to turn into a major plot point that might force the characters to work at finding a solution. Hoffman could have written a very complex story about grief, racism, and the ways we cope with circumstances we can’t change. Instead, she created a fairytale world where bad experiences are easy to put behind you and there’s always a happy ending. It’s a choice that saves Hoffman from having to create three dimensional characters, deal with difficult subjects, or build a truly engaging plot.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is an easy novel. It does not require a lot of thought power on the part of the reader. If you’re not all that concerned about plot or character development and you’re looking for a simple read, this is the book for you. But, though I enjoy escapist literature as much as the next gal, to really get into a book I need to have fully fleshed characters to connect with. Without them there is no story, and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is an example that proves the rule.

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Best and Worst of 2009

December 31, 2009 at 2:14 pm (Best of, fantasy, fiction, horror, nonfiction, romance, urban fantasy, Worst of)

It’s that time of the year again. Time to call out the five best and five worst books of the year. Though I only posted  eight reviews in 2009, I actually read eighty-three books. My excuse for my low output is the same as last year: I spent more time working on my own personal writing projects than blogging. Even so, that eight is five more than I wrote in 2008  so I am improving, and hope to post more reviews in the coming year.

Despite my low output reader response was much louder this year. I received more thank you emails from authors whose books I’ve positively reviewed, and that’s quite gratifying. There’s nothing like hearing someone you admire say that you’ve made their day. This is the first year I received threats of physical violence from enraged readers who disagreed with me. The post that seems to draw the most ire is a negative review I wrote on a book about bullying. Ah, the irony. Though I originally felt obligated to publish and respond to abusive comments and emails, I eventually realized that, not only do I not have to tolerate such abuse, I don’t have to give abusive individuals their own forum. I’ve since stopped publishing comments containing profanity, personal attacks, threats of violence, rants that have nothing to do with the content of the book in question, or any other form of harassment.

Returning to the topic at hand, the reason I split my year end top ten into a five best and five worst list is because normally I only end up reading five outstandingly good books and five unbearably awful ones. But, this year I read a truck load of books by authors with a talent for storytelling, world building, and character creation, and it made assembling my best of  list really difficult. Thankfully, I didn’t have the same problem with the worst of list. As in previous years I only read five cringe-worthy books in 2009.

In the past I’ve been more inclined to review books I enjoyed. This year, however, I was more inclined to write about books I did not like. I only wrote two positive reviews this year. For the first time ever it became more important to me to keep people away from bad books as oppose to attracting them to good ones. Because I did read so many good books in 2009 I think the bad ones stood out in my mind, and I tend to write reviews about books that stand out in one way or another.

All right, enough year end babble. Here are the five best and worst books of 2009.  As usual, the lists consist of books I read this year, not necessarily ones that were published this year.

The Best:

1) Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein – In Heal Pelvic Pain Stein lays out the benefits of physical therapy to those living with pelvic pain syndromes. She offers laymen a clear and comprehensible lesson in pelvic anatomy, as well as exercises designed to stretch and loosen the muscles of the pelvic floor.  I suffer from a chronic pelvic pain syndrome. I was so amazed by the immediate relief I experienced after using the stretches suggested in the book, I went and got myself a physical therapist the next week. I didn’t really need to though. Stein’s recommendations would have served just fine on their own. But here I am, seven months later living almost entirely pain free and I’ve Amy Stein to thank for it. I can say that Heal Pelvic Pain literally changed my life and that’s why it tops the list this year.

2) Dirty by Megan Hart – I’m not a fan of romance novels, the work of Megan Hart being an exception. Hart is deft at creating realistic relationships, and no other book showcases her talent better than Dirty. Elle is a deeply withdrawn woman, and it isn’t until Dan starts picking at the emotional scars she has ignored for years that the secrets from her past begin bleeding out. Everything about this book is perfect: the characterization is flawless, it is beautifully paced, the romance between Elle and Dan is completely earned, and the sex scenes actually *gasp* advance the plot!

3) Silk by Caitlin R. Kiernan – Kiernan has an unbelievable way with words. Her use of  language is so evocative  it’s practically a form of teleportation. From the very first sentence I felt like I was in this dark fantasy about how fear shapes our perception of reality.

4) Unclean Spirits by H. L. N. Hanover – How refreshing to read an urban fantasy in which the heroine does not have all her shit together, doesn’t always have the answer, and isn’t always a strong leader. The  joy of this novel is in watching the heroine, Jayne,  grow into herself. She  is a different woman at the beginning of the book than she is at the end, and that character growth is what distinguishes Unclean Spirits from the rest of the urban fantasy herd.

5) Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead – The first book in the Georgina Kincaid series is a perfect combination of all the preceding books. It’s urban fantasy with strong characters, crisp writing, an intricate story, and a believable romance.

The Worst:

1) Key to Conspiracy (Gillian Key, book 1) by Talia Gryphon

2) Key to Redemption (Gillian Key, book 3) by Talia Gryphon

3) Key to Conspiracy (Gillian Key, book 2) by Talia Gryphon

In my review of Key to Conflict I said I would not continue on to the next book in the series. However, the Gillian Key series turned out to be a train wreck I could not look away from. Key to Conspiracy was so atrocious I had to find out if the series could get any worse. The second and third books may not be worse, but they’re not much better either.  All three are poorly plotted, contain sloppy writing, and revolve around a completely unlikable heroine.

4) Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout – This modern day re-telling of the Norse myth of Ragnarok should have been interesting, but a plodding pace, mediocre writing, and hollow characters make it a real snooze fest.

5) Eve of Darkness by S. J. Day -This lackluster debut contains every bad urban fantasy cliche imaginable. Let’s go down the check-list: Generic sassy, sarcastic, caffeine addicted female protagonist? Check. Not just one, but two romances that turn into true love within 24 hours? Check. A “kick ass” heroine who spends more time sleeping with the heroes than actually kicking ass? Check.

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