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review 2018-08-07 09:15
Iron and Magic (Iron Covenant, #1)
Iron and Magic - Ilona Andrews

The best news:  even though the timeline of all the books in this trilogy takes place before the final Kate Daniels, Magic Triumphs, out this month, the author has a note in the book that the actual recommended reading order for the books is:

 

Iron and Magic

Magic Triumphs

Iron Covenant #2

Iron Covenant #3

 

This is a huge relief, because no way could I put off reading the last Kate Daniels for however many years it takes for the final 2 books in this series are published.

 

Now, onto this book.  It was good.  Gripping, hard to put down.  But not as good as the Kate Daniels series overall.  I like Elara and I can see the redemptive possibilities in Hugh - I especially liked the authors' insight into the psychological make up of his relationship with Roland - but the two of them together... eh.  I don't get the dynamic between them and their sex scene made absolutely no sense to me.  I think I know what the authors were aiming for, but the whole thing felt schizophrenic.  Like the scene was a double exposure; two different scenes over-lapped.  The secondary characters don't feel distinctly individual either, although in all fairness it is only the first book.  I have no doubt that will change for the better.

 

But as I said, it's still a great story; I love, love, love Elara's power potential.  I like the twists in Hugh's power.  I love Hugh's horse.  The book is battle heavy, and sometimes a little graphic, but compelling readable.  It's not a Kate and Curran book, but it's a great read nonetheless.

 

I can't wait for Magic Triumphs.

 

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review 2018-07-19 10:16
Strange Fascination (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #3)
Strange Fascination - Syd Moore

Consider my enthusiasm for this series dampened.  This was a very average effort, with a number of problems I couldn't overlook.

 

The biggest is the MC, Rosie.  I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and say she probably has a long-range plan for Rosie's personal growth, but if so, she's not executing it well.  The MC has a chip on her shoulder about being from Essex and the stereotypes involved in being an "Essex Girl"; the chip is big enough to sit firmly in soapbox/crusader territory, as she frequently fights the good fight against the idea that an "Essex Girl" is cheap, trashy, and dumb.  And then proceeds to refer to vegetarians as "nut-nuts".  And utterly dismiss someone's conversation about ecology, because ... who cares?  And when people fail to fawn over her best friend for being the "black urban goddess" she is, her knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as backward conservatives. (They were polite, mind you, they just didn't fall to their knees in awe.)  Not sure how she can find the time to fight the Essex Girl stereotype when she spends so much time stereotyping everyone else.

 

The author also seems intent on making Rosie a bit of a dim bulb through the use of scenes and dialog that are obvious choices to highlight her ignorance without showing any desire to correct it.  Again, it's hard to square this with Rosie's righteous mandate to stamp out the cliches.

 

She also spends a lot of time drunk.  Absolutely pissed.  Bottles of Prosecco at a time pissed.  Now, I don't care what socio-economic class you are in or are perceived to be in by others - being a drunk is not classy.  I understand some cultures enjoy the plonk more than others, but sorry, drunk is tawdry in any culture and economic class.

 

So.  MC with contradictions.  It happens, and as I say, the author might have a master plan I'm just not seeing.

 

Unfortunately there were some egregious editing issues too.  Poor and odd word choices (she kept referring to the ground as the floor - is this a common interchange in UK English?), and poorly copyedited, this 3rd instalment felt rushed to press.  The pace dragged too, and the plot was all loosey-goosey.  A more severe editor would have done this book more justice.

 

I liked the story though, once I was able to dig through all the extraneous dead-ends.  I enjoy the factual elements of historical record the author uses, tying them and local legends into her modern day murder plots.  If the author dropped the hypocritical chip on the MCs shoulder, matured her up, dried her out, and tightened up her plotting, she'd have a hit series on her hands.  She might yet, but this book won't be a contributing factor.  I'll be taking a close look at the fourth one (if/when it comes out) before I commit to reading further in this series.

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review 2018-07-10 11:51
Strange Sight (Essex Witch Museum Mystery #2)
Strange Sight - Syd Moore

Even better story than the first one, though epically bad copyediting.  Rosie is still an odd character for me to sort out, but coincidentally, I was at the hair salon today and was able to ask my stylist, a UK native, about the whole Essex thing, which he tried to explain while desperately trying to be PC about the whole thing.  I got the gist though, and it helped.  It also helped that Rosie seemed more focused in the second half of this one.

 

This story revolves around a good old fashioned murder mystery albeit with ghosts and a haunted restaurant.  Nothing to scare the reader too badly, but the historical context of the plot, (which is based on historical events, sadly) is wickedly dark and honestly, even if this wan't a cozy(ish), would be hard reading in a few places.  While this book is excellent on almost all fronts, it is also full of trigger warnings for epic violence against women.

 

I liked the ending - I liked that it didn't involve the MC doing something stupid or ending up in a woman-in-peril situation.  The very last page was also creepy as hell.

 

Can't wait for book 3!

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review 2018-07-09 09:30
Strange Magic (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #1)
Strange Magic - Syd Moore

Both the titles and the covers of these books grabbed me, and as they were part of a 40% off sale, and I've been looking for new mystery series, I couldn't resist grabbing #'s 1 and 2.

 

I'm glad I did, although book 1 and I got off to a rocky start, when cracking it open the other night in bed, I read the prologue, featuring a comatose little boy suddenly 'waking up' speaking in Early English and rising up out of bed, floating in the crucifix position.  NOT what I want to read about right before turning out the lights and going to bed, thanks.

 

Fortunately, none of the rest of the book is nearly as scary as the prologue.  Spooky fun, yes, a tad creepy at times, but mostly fun.  Rosie has inherited her estranged grandfather's Essex Witch Museum, which she plans on selling as soon as possible.  Except while she's there a plea for help comes along that she can't refuse, and she and the curator, Sam (cue romantic tension) find themselves on a race to locate the remains of the original Essex Witch.

 

It's a good story - an excellent story.  My only beefs with it were the slightly forced tone of the will-they-won't-they romantic tension, and Rosie's character, to a certain degree.  The former is just personal taste, but the latter is, I think, a lack of micro-cultural understanding. Rosie is a strong, very intelligent and independent woman, but has a chip on her shoulder about being an Essex girl - and I don't know what that means.  As the book progressed I got the feeling it's sort of like an American redneck, but my lack of confidence meant Rosie came across paranoid, or at least carrying an aggressive inferiority complex.  

 

Possibly related, her internal dialogue's habit of noting every time a man looked at her breasts/body got super tedious, super fast.  Yes, men look at women's bits; sometimes they are so distracted by them they lose sight of the fact women have faces.  Yes, it's tiresome, Yes, it's deplorable. Don't care. Don't want to hear about it in my murder mystery, it's beyond irrelevant and lent a rather shallow tone to an MC that wasn't.

 

Note though that these were minor annoyances; if I understood the Essex thing better, I'm guessing they would have lent authenticity to her character, and her accounting of leers received didn't happen more than 2 or 3 times, and it's a personal tic.  The majority of the story was, as I said, excellent: fast-paced, well plotted, and my favorite literary device: based on the history of a real woman tried and hung for witchcraft, Ursula Kemp.  In the acknowledgements, the author outlines at what point the fiction diverges from the reality, and both make for compelling storytelling. Also, people throughout history have been appalling.  Truly appalling. 

 

I'm so glad I already have book 2 in hand, and I believe book 3 is scheduled for publication any day now, which means if I like Strange Sight as much as I enjoyed Strange Magic, I'll only have to wait as long as the postal service to find out what happens next.

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review 2018-07-06 11:25
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

So, I was shopping Bloomsbury's annual end of financial year sale the other day, when I was suddenly possessed by someone who reads award winning literature; not wanting to waste the money spent on the book, I wanted to read it before the exorcism, so I cracked it open as soon as it arrived.  The ripping-off-the-bandaid method for personal growth.

 

Half-kidding aside, while I do generally use literary award short lists as guides of what not to buy, Lincoln in the Bardo has intrigued me for some time - from the descriptions, it came across as an adult version of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and while this sale was on it seemed as good a time as any to give it a try.

 

It turns out there is a lot in common with The Graveyard Book in terms of setting and characters, but it goes worlds beyond, too.  It's an odd book.  Written as something akin to witness testimony, only in present voice, and interspaced with historical quotes about the Lincoln administration and Willie Lincoln's death, each complete with proper citations, it's constructed in a way that is unique in my (admittedly limited) literary experience.

 

Upon Willie Lincoln's death and internment, Willie fails to move on as he should and a battle erupts in the graveyard over his eternal soul.  Saunders populates the graveyard cast with a wide and varied collection of souls, good and bad, all flawed, although Saunders seems to prefer a larger percentage of twisted and corrupted.  Perhaps this makes sense in the construct of the story's logic, but there were moments that teetered precariously towards gratuitous. 

 

Is this story Man Booker worthy?  I wouldn't know, but it is brilliantly written; unique; startlingly creative.  Did I like it?  Yes, it was a compelling story; one I couldn't put down and read in two sittings.  Do I think it's the acme of the literary form?  No, but probably not far from it.  Did I find it flawless?  No. What was the reverend's fate?  Saunders invested an awful lot of intimate detail in the reverend to just leave his fate unexplained.  And I found the ending ... odd.  Abrupt.  In any other literary form, I'd say there's a sequel in the works.

 

LIncoln in the Bardo is in the purest sense, a ripping good story; one that just happened to win an Important Literary Prize, and that's why I'd recommend it - the prize, in this case is irrelevant.  

 

Off now to that date with an exorcist... 

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