Points For Style

19547767The City: A Novel by Dean Koontz
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If points were awarded for style and having his way with the English language, then Dean Koontz deserves a solid 8.5 for THE CITY, where the prose sings soprano, and hits all of the high notes. But if you want to award an author for his plot and filling a novel with substance, instead of flowery language comprised of mums and daffodils and rhododendrons and roses, then he gets -7 in this arena, and that may even be a tad generous. I mean, this is the same man who takes the mundane and turns it into one machete-wielding bastard. Forget Freddy and Jason, and all the other hacks, this man takes a father figure, stuffs him full of crazy, and sets him loose on society. If that shit doesn’t freak you out, then you’re probably not thinking hard enough.

If names were any indication of a person’s destiny, then it’s no surprise that Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk is a musical prodigy and can recreate a song after listening to it. Sure, he’s one brilliant son of a gun, and this novel shows plenty of brilliance, but it gets caught up in the mundane. And I found myself asking the question about when the train might pull up to the station and take me away from this universe with verse left to spare on some unsuspecting ne’er-do-well.

There’s a cutting fiend who takes up residence on the sixth floor, just above our nine year-old hero in Apartment 5-C who wields a knife at his throat, and leaves a few trinkets behind for the residents to remember her by. But it seemed like more of an artificial way to ratchet up suspense, instead of grounded in a more concrete foundation. Where this story really failed, though, is it never went anywhere. Similar to a hitchhiker who gallivants across the country, stopping in Nashville and Columbus and Chicago and Denver and Albuquerque and LA and then Las Vegas before finally settling in Lincoln, it just seemed all over the place.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Dirty Pair Of Drawers

18672509The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

There’s something about an athletic woman wielding a long bow that really helps me find my stride on the highway. What proved most interesting were the pieces about the Amazons and their sparse history, as THE LOST SISTERHOOD overflowed with Greek mythology. But that was where this tale and I parted ways on the positive side, as many of the negatives pressed into my flesh.

First, this novel splayed itself across a few too many pages, and then it managed to develop an ambitiousness best reserved for politicians and CEOs. It may have been historical, or women’s fiction, or action & adventure, or literary, or possibly even fantasy. Had the fantasy only been in my head, I would have been perfectly fine with the outcome. Instead, the fantasy spread itself across over 600 pages of stilted prose, as I held my nose with one hand and flipped each page of my Kindle with the other.

The characters proved a bit hard to swallow—like thumbtacks as I asked for my life back—and the ending felt like it was sprung upon me, like a dirty pair of drawers. Had this novel discovered the pace and precision of The Da Vinci Code, I would have gladly hung on for the ride. Instead, though, I gripped this story with two fingers held firmly away from my face, and waited for the ride to end. The end, though, didn’t come soon enough.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Downright Fun

20448958Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If God wants to punish some poor bastard, I mean really punish him till he’s ready to poke out his own eyeballs, swallow a .44 Magnum, slit his own wrists, or end his own life in front of a city bus, he should force him to come back to earth as a teenage girl. In less than a month, you’d read about the extravagant deaths of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and even Hannibal Lector. Yeah, and those sonsofbitches never stood a chance either.

But the true beauty in this novel, aside from the sudden death experience, is all the voices inside the heads of the characters. I happen to hear a voice of my own (my muse), and no, I’m not crazy. But sometimes it feels like I am, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to walk around LA and hear the voices of poodles and porn stars and strippers and businessmen and models and actors and who the fuck knows what else. If I could end my life in Santa Monica or on the Redondo Beach pier, it’s an offer I’d probably consider, just to make all those bastards shut up. So, yes, one voice is more than enough.

Not all writers can pull off first person plural (in fact I can’t recall another book I’ve read off the top of my head that uses this particular device), but Sarah Mlynowski pulls it off to perfection in DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Even when she drifts a bit into first person, you’re more than ready to go along for the ride. So while you may not want to think about this story, or have it stuck in your head, in the end, it just does.

Other than Cooper and Olivia, I wouldn’t say any of the characters are particularly loveable. In less deft hands, this could be a detriment to the story, as a number of characters spring off the pages clamoring for attention, but I found myself in a happy state of ignorant oblivion, where the pie was sweet even if the characters always weren’t.

This novel is sassy and flirtatious and coy and just downright fun all rolled up into one blast from the first page to the last.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

A Strong, Particular Shine

17931878The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Made it to 300. Not sure what that says about me, other than the fact that I probably have too much time on my hands. I should probably spend a bit more of it writing, instead of reviewing, but I plan to rectify that situation as well. Otherwise, I’ve checked the gauges, and all systems are a go.

Once again, I’d like to thank all the people who are smarter than I am who have already written a review. That’d be Karen and Kemper and Amanda and Trudi. But as usual we may have a difference of opinion or two, and those errors are more than likely of my own making, so I do have that going for me.

What made me weigh in on THE SHINING GIRLS more than anything was the dichotomy of ratings that spanned my friends’ lists. From over-enthusiastic high ratings to ones that lumbered near the nether regions, this novel brings out the little demon in all of us, some more prominent than others, just as the supernatural house did for Harper Curtis.

“Why did you kill, Harper?” You might ask.
“Because the house told me to.” He’d probably reply with a stint in his eye.

And that was when I wanted to haul off and smack the bastard. Sure, he may have had his reasons—women filled with hope and promise and a strong, particular shine—but those reasons were never completely fleshed out for this reader. So he ended up being more of a machine as the body count ratcheted up, and the violence took a turn for the worse. Which wouldn’t have been all that bad, except his motivations continued to remain less than clear throughout the entire tale. I can say yes to violence just as fast as a football player, but I needed character development and building to give this story a more rounded out finish and a bit of polish. Instead, I ended up more than a bit disconnected, and that out of body experience continued to the end of this blood bath, with women slaughtered like lemmings.

Kirby Mazrachi, the one that got away, had motivation and conviction and a strong sense of purpose, but even she seemed a bit one-dimensional. She held hard and fast to her principles, even as she was being disemboweled on a sandy beach. But she let this one particular focus consume her entire existence, and it nearly swallowed her whole.

And the time-traveling premise while interesting made me want to head on back to my apartment and end up in 1969 with my hair out of line. Like the rest of this novel, it seemed a bit too convenient and forced.

While I can understand  Lauren Beukes‘s reasons behind writing this genre-bending tale the way that she did, it doesn’t mean I have to agree with the final result. Had this novel not hit so close to her home, the execution and gaps might have dried up faster than the Sahara, and she might have ended up with a stronger book in the end.

Suck My Soul

13068332 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If you’re packing a pair of DDs beneath your peek-a-boo blouse, you may want to keep the following in mind: “With great breasts comes great responsibility.” Or so says a t-shirt. That I briefly considered acquiring simply for the amusement factor alone. Maybe I could get my wife to wear it. Although there’s a more than good chance she probably won’t find it nearly amusing as I did. Just as I’m convinced some of you (and I can’t imagine why) won’t find SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT nearly as amusing as I did. And if you don’t—let’s get this out of the way right now—I’m sorry but I can’t help you. Because this is some highly entertaining shit. I mean, the voice and zingers and main character are more than worth the price of admission, and I just happen to have a stack of ones at the ready.

When I die and float up to the big house in the sky, I want to pass through Charley Davidson, the hottest grim reaper in seven continents. She has a mouth on her, doesn’t like mornings, is as stubborn as a loan shark chasing after a man with a gambling addiction, and may, or may not, have somewhat questionable taste in men, but she’s got a juicy ass and a seriously enlarged chest area. If you’re a guy, it kind of makes you want to cry (in a good way). At least if you’re into that sort of thing. Which for the record, I’m going to go ahead and say it right now “I like curves, damn it!”

It’s really hard to say if I liked the story as much as the first one. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say probably not. It just seemed a bit too contrived to me, but crap on a cracker, Charley’s welcome in my world anytime she wants to stop by for a visit. Given the right temptation, I’d probably even let her suck my soul from my body with a straw.  Who knows? I may not even need it anyway. And if I do, I can tell the big boss “Woo-eee, I had one hell of a ride!”

And that, my friends, is probably the best way I could ever possibly sum up this novel. I can’t wait to come on back for the third installment. I’m thinking I’ll need a fix again real soon.

The Past Attacked

17453786 by
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

While Kit and Grif still had plenty of appeal and charm and various other pleasantries, I found myself a bit lost with this particular read. Sure, the hard-boiledness still captured and held my attention, and sure, the story moved along at a rather reasonable clip, but I found my mind drifting toward the nether regions, and my heart didn’t miss a single beat. A nurse may have visited me while I was counting ceiling tiles, and I may, or may not, have had an IV injected in my arm, somehow improving my overall well-being.

The past may have attacked my faded blue jeans, and my hat may have been tilted just a bit to the side, as I tipped it in the direction of the skirts and blue-eyed wonders that happened to cross my path. THE LOST left me a bit red in the face, and more than once I was forced to consult the map on my passenger seat. I probably missed a turn or two, but I was certainly happy when I reached my final destination.

The mystery certainly intrigued me, but it wasn’t a perfect logical leap from the first tale, and it wavered a bit during various increments along the way. I found my attention vacillating and my car swaying as I took more than a few turns too sharply. Blinking a bit too rapidly, I propelled myself into a ditch, since I didn’t have Griffin Shaw to show me the way.

Kit came alive in this novel after a bit of a slumber in the first go round, but it wasn’t enough for me to rate this novel higher. Maybe it was my place in the universe, or my sense of self, or I might have gotten just a bit spoiled after I first dipped my toes in the swimming pool, but I’m a bit sad to admit I didn’t like this one better. A part of me feels as though I’ve somehow failed this book, but with the curveball headed my way, I’ll probably take one more last swing for the fences and hope I don’t spin myself around and tumble to the ground.

Shot In The Foot

5376551A Fistful Of Charms by
My Rating: 1/5 Stars

The charm was lost on me. Maybe I need to remove the stake from the nape of my neck, devour a clove of garlic in less than 12 seconds, follow it up with some red Kool-Aid, douse myself in holy water, and then shoot a silver bullet up my bum. Or maybe I should tell all the werewolves, witches, pixies, and vampires to suck it, and that I’ll handle the trials and tribulations of dangling from a rope myself. Instead of plunging a few of my fantasies into ecstasy, I was left with a look of horror on my face, and a belief that I somehow showed up to the wrong party on the wrong day and with the wrong date. I’d equate it to watching a chicken with boxing gloves beat the crap out of a coyote.

The Hollows kept me firmly in the shadows. Flipping the pages was like dragging my knuckles through glass and battery acid, reading the dialogue caused multiple convulsions, and listening to Ivy whine in time would have instigated trips to multiple psychiatric specialists and probably more than one straightjacket stint. At the Turn I wanted to burn a stake through my heart, roughly somewhere in the middle of Inderland where black spells and hexes and disguise charms and demon curses forced me to question the limits of my own sanity. To use an expression presented in A FISTFUL OF CHARMS: shit on crap.

I suppose vampires might inhabit Cincinnati, but I can think of plenty of other places I’d rather reside were I to wake up one morning and enter the land of the undead. Even within Ohio, I’d rank other major C cities Cleveland and Columbus higher up the residential map. But, hey, that’s just me.

Sure, there was a plot, but I have no idea what the hell happened. If I were to get shot in the foot, whacked over the head (and knocked unconscious), strapped to the front of a wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point, and then shoved against a brick wall at over ninety miles an hour, I’d probably have an easier time describing what happened to the authorities (assuming I miraculously survived).

Took Me For A Ride

15702848The Taken by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

It wasn’t love at first sight. No, it was more like casual curiosity in a sea of strangers where one stood out a little more than all the rest, wearing a tailored suit and an upturned do whereas the other women wore red dresses and spiked heels. But I was intrigued enough to continue the flirtatious glances, and she was inviting enough to offer up those baby blues and batted eyelashes and slight smiles when I least expected them, and before either of us realized it, the glances led to a conversation and the conversation led to dancing, and ultimately to a night neither of us would ever forget.

And it would be easy to classify Grif and Kit in a similar fashion, as their relationship started off rockier than a wooden rollercoaster in the middle of a windstorm. But there was a spark, a flare, and a need inside of them that had more pull than an undertow. Grif’s hard-boiled voice carried this story to new heights, while Kit proved every bit as tough as her pencil skirts and sharp tongue, and her milky skin was as pure as a fresh snowfall.

THE TAKEN took me for a ride I won’t soon forget, and I’m more than a little intrigued to discover what happens next for Grif and Kit. In a sea of books that sometimes strive to be more alike than they are different, I’m always delighted when I find a fresh voice, a fresh twist, or a combination of factors that individually aren’t any different than what I’ve already discovered so far, but when combined create a brand new element.

This novel offered me a glimpse behind a curtain, and I want to peel back the rest of the red velvet and discover what other joys wait for me on the other side.

A Dude With Breasts

9732753First Grave On The Right by Darynda Jones
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Charlotte “Charley” Jean Davidson reminded me of a dude with breasts, a Meatloaf if you will, but with a rockin’ bod. Sorry Meatloaf. She has more attitude than a trust fund baby tooling around Albuquerque in a Lamborghini, stolen police siren, and Jimmy Choos. She even manages to name her womanly parts, and as far as I know, most women don’t bother. When you’re a guy, though, you can just name your penis Spike and be done with it. But coming up with four names certainly proves more of a challenge. If you’re curious, her breasts are Danger and Will Robinson, and her ovaries are Beam Me Up and Scotty. And if you don’t find that funny, or even slightly amusing, you probably won’t enjoy this novel.

Her voice sucked me in faster than you can say hoo-hah, as I rumbled along for one epic ride. I love great beginnings, and this novel certainly meets the criteria. FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT opens with these two lines: “I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me. I was starting to wonder if repetitive exposure to nightly hallucinations resulting in earth-shattering climaxes could have any long-term side effects.”

Maybe being pulled out of a dream like the one above helps explain why she doesn’t like mornings, and I couldn’t do a better job of describing her complete and utter dislike of daybreak than Charley: “While I normally weighed around 125…ish, for some unexplainable reason, between the hours of partially awake and fully awake, I weighed a solid 470.”

Other than the voice, though, this novel managed to keep me entertained with antidotes accompanying the beginning of each chapter grabbing my attention. Whether a personal quote, bumper sticker, or t-shirt, with references to the dead and ADD and bright, shiny objects, it certainly added a little extra to the amusing tone confined within the constraints of this novel. Oh, and I can’t forget about the names and character nicknames that pop up over the course of this comical tale there’s Strawberry Shortcake and Bobby Socks and Patty Cakes Strip Clubs and Cookie Kowalski and Ubie and a car named Misery.

The mystery may not have overwhelmed me with its complexity, but with Charley by my side, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. While I had never contemplated having sex with a spirit before, were such a thing possible, I might have to reevaluate my Fantasy Sex Wish List. All in all, though, this particular concept sounds more intriguing to me than getting it on with vampires or werewolves.

Charley’s voice carried me above the usual fray and made my mystery/fantasy jaunt worth the journey.

Constant State Of Confusion

17910313The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Walking around in a constant state of confusion might be the best way to sum up my feelings on this tale. If this muddled state actually led me to some definitive suppositions on the universe, or put me in touch with all the answers to THE INCREMENTALISTS, or even offered me a sense of well-being, I would have been okay with my scrambled brains and possibly the head scratching as well. But that wasn’t the case here. Instead, I felt a bit exhausted after finishing this tale, like I’d been running a race in the wrong direction.

The dialogue stood out for me (and there was a quite a bit of it), but not in a good way. The Old English felt a bit ham-handed, although it could just as easily have been me. But I like to think that’s not the case. Even focusing on just the modern times, the dialogue proved a bit pretentious and stilted and a bit too heavy handed. Aside from the dialogue, though, there seemed a few too many clichés. As for the pace, I’d equate it to walking through molasses.

None of the characters resonated with me. While this is fantasy, and the argument could be made that I shouldn’t have identified with the characters, I enjoy a story much more when I do. And I found myself racing to the end, so I could set this book aside and move to the next one on my TBR list.

I can’t help but feel like there was some flaw in the execution of this tale. Maybe it was a case of trying to do too much in such a short amount of time, or maybe it was a case of not doing enough, or maybe it was a case of blending universes and realms that shouldn’t be blended. But whatever it was, I found disappointment lingering on my lips.

The premise certainly intrigued me with secret societies and unbroken lineages and cheating death and making the world better and meeting in Las Vegas, but that excitement quickly dwindled away, and I was left with a tainted aftertaste.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.