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review 2020-02-20 02:22
The Forbidden Game: The Hunter, The Chase, The Kill by L.J. Smith
The Forbidden Game: The Hunter; The Chase; The Kill - L.J. Smith

This omnibus edition includes all three books in the trilogy. In the first book, Jenny is doing some last minute preparation for her boyfriend Tom's birthday party and stumbles across a mysterious game store, where she buys a game in a blank white box. The game turns out to be a paper house, with paper figures you can draw on to look like the various players, and paper cards on which the players are expected to draw their worst fears. It seems like harmless fun, until the game becomes real, and Jenny, Tom, Zach, Dee, Audrey, Michael, and Summer are all trapped in the house and forced to face their fears if they want to survive. The one putting them through all of this is Julian, an evil but handsome being who wants to make Jenny his.

In the second book, everyone tries to adjust to the consequences of Book 1, and Julian's back for another game. In the third book, Jenny and her friends must travel to the Shadow World for a rescue attempt. They end up in a deadly amusement park, and this time around Julian isn't the only threat they need to worry about.

L.J. Smith was one of my top favorite authors when I was a teen, despite her book's frequently ugly covers (seriously, the original Night World covers were hideous, although they were at least more memorable than the current "face on a black background" omnibus covers). She was my go-to author for YA paranormal romance, and I loved several of her books enough to reread them multiple times.

I don't think I ever reread the Forbidden Game trilogy, though, and all I could remember about it was that it starred a hot evil guy and had a disappointing ending. I can tell you right now that the reason Teen Me was so disappointed was because I approached this trilogy as paranormal romance. In reality, it's more like YA horror with romantic elements, or maybe a YA horror love story. Even though I'd adjusted my expectations for this reread, the trilogy's ending was still a bit disappointing.

Smith's writing was as compulsively readable as I remembered it being, although it felt a bit dated, especially during the first book, and the computer scenes in the second book made me laugh a bit. Jenny was very much an "L.J. Smith trilogy" sort of character: the gorgeous blonde girl who was loved by everyone and viewed by everyone as being very good and kind. It was a bit much, but I suppose it fit with the "Persephone and Hades" vibe that the story was going for.

The horror aspects in the first book were a bit cheesy, but still decent. In Book 2, I liked the creepy moments before the newest game started (Audrey and Dee's experiences were my favorites), but the game itself was largely forgettable. Book 3's horror elements, on the other hand, were fabulous. It's no wonder that the primary thing I remembered about this trilogy was the amusement park. I'm a fan of creepy animatronics, so I considered Leo the Paper-Eating Lion and the stuff in the arcade to be some of the best parts.

The romance aspect... Even with my vague memories of how the trilogy turned out, it was hard not to read it as paranormal romance.

After the events of Book 1, I hated myself a little for wanting Jenny to end up with Julian - after all, the guy was responsible for one of her friends ending up dead (granted, the friend didn't have much of a personality) and was trying to force her into a position where she had no choice but to stay with him.

But I also kind of understood it. At the start of the book, Jenny was working her way towards becoming Tom's perfect Stepford wife, wearing clothes and styling her hair primarily to suit his tastes and laying out a future for herself that revolved around him and his plans. Tom's happiness was the most important thing. Then Julian appeared. He considered Jenny the light to his darkness and, unlike Tom, was completely focused on her. He was also way more charismatic and interesting. Tom was barely on-page in the first and third books and spent most of the second book either sulking a bit out of jealousy or acting like he'd already lost her and could only watch her from the shadows. Julian was more appealing than that. And what about a third option? Jenny could have ended up single, but stronger and more self-confident. I'd still have been bummed about Julian, but that outcome would have worked better for me than Jenny ending up with Tom. Boring, boring Tom.

(spoiler show)


I appreciated aspects of the ending more now than I probably did as a teen - the way all of the characters were forced to face the things they most feared about themselves and how others viewed them, and how they supported each other in the end. But I can't help it, I still read (or reread, I guess) L.J. Smith's books for the romance more than anything else, and this trilogy was just painful in that respect. I can understand why Teen Me never reread it.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2020-01-08 11:51
A wild ride for lovers of historical fiction, amusement parks, and great female protagonists
Dreamland - Nancy Bilyeau

I thank NetGalley and the publisher for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for the launch of this book and for providing me an ARC copy of it, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I recently read and reviewed Bilyeau’s novel The Blue and loved it so much that I did not hesitate when I got an invitation to read her new novel and join the blog tour. Like the previous one, this book also successfully combines history with intrigue, adventures, mystery, a fantastic cast of characters, and a heroine who is trying to find her own way amid a society in turmoil due to changes in the status-quo and to international historical events.

As the description explains, the novel is set in New York and Coney Island in the summer of 1911. Peggy Batternberg, the protagonist (the author explains that she was inspired by the historical figure of Peggy Guggenheim when she created her main character), belongs to the upper class, although as she observes, her family is only a couple of generations away from very humble origins as immigrants, and they would not have figured among the very select of society a few years earlier. They are also Jewish (not very religious), and although their money protects them from the worst of prejudice and antisemitism, that does not mean it does not exist, as the novel exposes time and again. She is trying to lead her own life as a modern woman, but her family’s power and influence, and society’s double standards of morality for men and women make it difficult for her to break completely free, and she ends up having to leave her job at a bookstore and spend the summer holiday at a posh hotel near Coney Island. Of course, although the hotel is very close to the three amusement parks, including the Dreamland of the title, the clientele of both are separated by the chasm of money and social class.

Peggy is a fascinating character. She is very young, determined, and contradictory at times. She is strong but naïve, passionate and rushed, headstrong and totally unrealistic. She tries to be practical and become independent from her family, but she acknowledges that much of what she does is only possible because she has the support of her family, and she does not have to rely solely on her salary, like her colleagues at work. She lost her father when she was young, and she is aware of the kind of hypocritical behaviour the males of her family engage in, but no matter how she struggles against it, she is still trapped by the morality of the period. Following some fairly traumatic experiences with men of her own class (and the male sense of entitlement —especially of men of a certain class— runs through the novel as a theme, and unfortunately recent events only prove that things haven’t changed as much as we might like to think), it is unsurprising that she feels attracted to an artist, a futurist painter, a foreigner, and somebody who is genuinely interested in her as a person, and not as a rich heiress. I am not a fan of love at first-sight (or insta-love) stories, but considering what we know of the character and of her circumstances, it is easy to understand the attraction, and let’s say that I was quite reconciled to it by the end of the story. The character is forced to question herself and her motives more than once throughout the novel, and she does grow and develop as a result.

The story is told, almost in its entirety, in the first person, from Peggy’s point of view, but there are many other characters that create a rich tapestry of both, the wealthy upper-class society of the era (there are some real historical characters that make brief guest appearances as well), and also the working class, the underclass, and the artists working at the fair. The author paints a clear picture of the Batternberg family, its power structure, the differences between male and female roles within the dynasty, and it makes for a sobering and absorbing read, especially because over the course of the story, Peggy discovers things are even worse than she thought, and the web of deceit, secrets, and false appearances is woven thick. The fact that this people of loose morals look down upon hardworking individuals without a second thought is highlighted by the murders that take place in close proximity to the hotel, and how nobody (other than Peggy) seems to care about the victims or their relatives, only about preventing anything from disturbing the elegant guests. By contrast, some of the lower-class characters, that have the most to lose if things go wrong, go out of their way to help, even at a serious personal cost.

I must admit to being quite taken by some of the secondary characters that appear in the story, and in many cases I’d love to know more about them (the whole of Lilliput scene is amazing; Madame Kschessinska is very intriguing; the police detective; Stefan, of course; and what to say about Ben, Peggy’s cousin, a real puzzle), but I agree with many of the reviewers and Lydia, Peggy’s sister, is a favourite of mine as well. She knows her own mind, she is supportive of her sister, and she grows in strength and maturity through the story. With her like with most things and characters in the story, appearances can be deceptive.

The historical background is well achieved, and I loved the descriptions of Coney Island, the seaside hotels, the fast trains, the clothes, the incubators, the art, the buildings… It felt as if I was peering into that era, and even experiencing the heat, tasting the food, and joining in the rides. The descriptions don’t overwhelm the story but help create a realistic setting and increase our understanding of what the period and the place were like. This is a work of fiction, and although some characters and events are recreated, the novel does not claim to historical accuracy (in fact, Dreamland was no longer functioning in the summer of 1911), but I have no doubt that it will encourage readers to learn more about the period and about Coney Island.

As for the mystery side of things… There are red-herrings; there is misdirection, and several suspects, as it pertains to the genre. There is a fair amount of action, surprises, scares, and Peggy’s turn as an amateur detective is fraught with risk. Although she is neither experienced not particularly skilled as an investigator, she makes up for it with her determination, persistence, and a good nose for choosing her collaborators. This part of the story is the one that requires a greater suspension of disbelief, but the novel is not intended to be a police procedural, and the intrigue fits well into the overall story arc and will keep readers turning the pages at good speed.

I have already talked about the issue of gender and gender politics that is explored in the novel. Although things were moving and women were fighting for the vote, it was not easy, and if it was hard for privileged women to have a say on how their lives should be run, for working-class women it could get positively dangerous, when not lethal. The author also explores the issue of migration, the suspicion towards foreigners (despite the melting-pot mythos of the United States society), the prejudice of society and authorities towards newcomers, and this is also linked to international politics (and, of course, we readers know that the situation was about to get much worse and it would result in World War I). These subjects are well integrated into the fabric of the novel, elevating it beyond the typical historical adventure romp, and they make comparisons to current historical events unavoidable.

The writing style is compelling, with beautiful descriptions combined with a great skill in making us feel and experience the events first-hand, and a good pace, alternating between action and more contemplative scenes, without ever stalling the flow.

I’ve read some reviews that complain about the ending being somewhat rushed and sudden. It speaks to the skill of the author the fact that we don’t want the story to end, and although there are elements of it that I think could have been further developed, overall I enjoyed the ending, especially because it isn’t a conventional one.

In sum, I enjoyed the wild ride that is Dreamland. I wish I could have visited the real one, but lacking that opportunity, this is a close and satisfying second best. I congratulate the author for this great novel, and I look forward to the next.

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review 2018-10-03 15:44
Dark Ride
Dark Ride - P.G. Kassel

by P.G. Kassel

 

The story follows a criminal, Marty Wedlow, as he tries to get money to skip town before some thugs catch up with him. He's known by the local police and gets pulled in when he's the main suspect in a robbery, but the witness can't positively ID him so the police have no choice but to set him free. While he's in the cop shop, a spooky man is brought in for a fortune telling charge and he predicts that Marty's luck is about to run out.

 

Marty dismisses this incident and sets about more robberies to get the money he needs. Eventually after the usual small shops provide too little cash for his trouble, he hits on the idea of trying the local amusement park where money flows prolifically.

 

The story is predictable, but the writing is good and the characters were a bit of fun. Nothing spectacular, but an easy short read with he fear of dark places and a carnival atmosphere to keep the reader amused.

 

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review 2017-11-22 09:51
Dark Carnival
Dark Carnival - Nancy K. Duplechain

by Nancy K. Duplechain

 

Fantasy meets voodoo in New Orleans. Leigh Benoit comes from a family of paladins, people with special abilities who heal the sick and keep dark forces at bay. She is sent to New Orleans for training as a Traiteur, a healer, but she is also caught up in a quest to find a cursed antique mask as time for Mardi Grau draws near.

 

I found this an interesting alternative Fantasy. The paladins have individual 'gifts' in a way that reminded me of X-men, though more subtle. Leigh meets some of her own kind who are friendly and some who are not so friendly, but they have a common quest to stop dark forces. Apart from being followed by a "cute guy" (oh gee, where do you suppose THAT will go?) the story has a lot of original elements that make it a fascinating read.

 

Leigh is likable and no wiser than her nemesis about why she was sent for training when adequate training for what she is meant to do was available at home. There is some other purpose for why she needed to come to New Orleans, which we learn eventually.

 

For the most part, this book really held my attention. There were a couple of places where I thought Leigh and her companions were just a little too lucky in a battle or some really horrific imagery fizzled into nothing, but most of it moved the story along and kept me interested in Leigh's eventual fate.

 

This is one of those gems I sometimes find in the free slush pile, a book I've really enjoyed reading. There is a series, but the book stands alone very well. Some fascinating ideas and alternative ways of using Biblical entities as characters.

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text 2017-09-16 11:02
Finished Amateur Sleuth Square: I've read 100%.
A Spark of Justice - J.D. Hawkins

My only re-read this year and my previous review stands.

 

This is like a guilt-free trip to the circus and the big cats are supporting characters and add some of the humor. The circus people messing with the investigator makes it fun, though there are some tense moments.

 

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