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review 2015-07-18 20:12
"The Big Keep - Lena Dane Mystery #1" by Melissa F Olsen -original, character-driven PI mystery
The Big Keep: Lena Dane Mysteries, Book 1 - Melissa F. Olson,Erin Spencer

In "The Big Keep" Melisa Olsen moves away from vampires,witches and werewolves to write a story about an ex-Chicgao cop turned Private Detective.


I knew from the first chapter, "Little Sticks of Destiny", that I would enjoy this book. The little sticks are pregnancy testing kits and the novel starts with Lena Dane staring at the recently peed-on stick in her hand that declares that it is her destiny is to become a mother in a few month's time. While she's still struggling to come up with a reaction to this information, she meets a potential new client: a teenage boy in search of his father. She takes on the case partly out of sympathy for the boy and partly to distract herself from her newly declared destiny.


I loved the originality of the opening. I can't remember ever having read a story opening with a PI finding she's pregnant. I loved the humour in the writing and in the dialogue, the fact that the characters are both real and likeable, the easy to read, natural writing style and the strong orientation towards relationships over plot.


The book more than lived up to my expectations.It is a book about what it means to be in a family. The characters are richly drawn and the relationships between them seem authentic. Lena Dane is a good PI but she isn't superhuman. She isn't even setting out to be a hero. Yet she is strong and brave and smart and has good taste in comics. I could believe in her as a cop. I could also see why she might doubt her own ability to be a mother. Olson has come up with a great female lead here: likeable, credible and still very much an individual with strengths and flaws to be explored.


Lena's father runs a comic book store and the book is filled with references to all kinds of comics and movies. As usual with Melissa Olson there's a well described dog character, which I take as a plus. The relationships between Lena and her sister and Lena and her husband are complicated and sometimes tense but the love she has for each of them is clear.


The plot is a good one. Olsen manages to broaden a simple missing person case into something much bigger and more dangerous without asking me to suspend disbelief and without making Lena into a passionate avenger who is too stubborn to stay out of harm's way. The twist and turns in the plot kept me guessing.


The best thing about the book is characters in it. That's a rare thing in a PI series. I hope Melissa Olsen can pull herself away from her urban fantasies (much as I love them) long enough to produce more Lena Dane novels.


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review 2015-05-09 17:37
"Boundary Crossed" by Melissa F Olsen - so much better than "Dead Spots" - this series has just hit the Turbo button
Boundary Crossed (Boundary Magic Book 1) - Melissa F. Olson

"Boundary Crossed" starts well and keeps getting better. It opens with:

"The third time I died was early on a Monday morning, a week after Labor Day"

The person speaking is Ex-Army Sergeant Alexandre "Lex" Luther. Working the late shift at a convenience store in Boulder Colorado, she finds a couple arguing about nappies in the baby aisle and realizes that the baby the nappies are for does not belong to them. The ensuing fight and its dramatic conclusion pack a punch that sets the pace for the rest of the novel.


"Boundary Crossed" is set in the Old World universe as the Scarlett Bernard trilogy "Dead Spots", "Trail of Dead" and "Hunter's Trail", occupied by vampires, werewolves, witches and nulls. There are cross-over events and characters between the Bernard trilogy and "Boundary Crossed" but, as Lex starts with no knowledge of the Old World, you don't have to read the Scarlett Bernard books first.


With "Boundary Crossed", Melissa Olsen has hit the turbo button on her Old World series. Lex is a much more action-oriented main character than Scarlett is. She starts by attacking two vampires with nothing more than her bare hands and a heavy jar of baby-food and moves on to using automatic weapons and kick-ass magic.


I read the whole book in a day during two (very long) car rides across Germany and the time just flew by. Part of the impact of the book comes from being read by Kate Rudd, one of my favorite narrators. She packs energy into her performance, getting the accents right, keeping the pace up and bringing Lex alive. The rest comes from the character of Lex herself. Melissa Olsen has created a plausible action-oriented main character who also has enough vulnerabilities and enough connections to real life to make her sympathetic and convincing.


The cast of characters around Lex gives a different take on the Old World than the previous books. Boulder is a Vampire town. It has witches but werewolves have been "purged" from the State.  Both the lead Witch and the lead Vampire are strong, scary people but neither is monstrous. Lex has an affinity for the Vampire world and quickly becomes entangled in it. Where Scarlett held herself at the edge of the Old World, Lex pushes steadily into its heart.


I won't go into the plot because part of the fun is finding out who Lex is and what she's capable of but by the end of the book, Lex is set up to good deeper into the Old World and to cross paths with the characters from the Scarlett Bernard trilogy. I'm already looking forward to reading about what happens to her.


Click here to hear Kate Rudd reading "Boundary Crossed"

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review 2015-04-16 17:26
"Hunter's Trail - Scarlett Bernard #3" by Melissa F Olsen - a satisfying end to the "trilogy"
Hunter's Trail (A Scarlett Bernard Novel) - Melissa F. Olson

hunter's trail

"Hunter's Trail", is the final book (for now)  in the Scarlett Bernard series that started with "Dead Spots"  and went on to "Trail of Dead" .


"Hunter's Trail" is written with the confidence of an author who knows the world she's created and has developed the characters who live in it. The plot deals with the consequences of Scarlett's actions after the killings in The Hair Of The Dog in "Trail of Dead."


I liked to the fact that what seemed such a good and kind thing to do in "Trail of Dead" has some very bad, impossible to foresee, consequences in "Hunter's Trail" a few weeks later.


I also like that Scarlett spent the entire book walking with a stick because of the injuries she received in "Trail of Dead". It made the whole thing more convincing and provided a good reason for her having to have help whether she liked it or not.


In "Hunter's Trail" I felt I was finally starting to get a clear picture of how the cultures of the Vampires, Wolves and Witches are. For me the Wolves, haunted as they are, come out of it best. I admire their constant struggle for control and their willingness to help each other.  The Vampires are much more alien and frightening than the "Twilight" versions: amoral, immortal, apex predators who ALWAYS put their own needs first and the Witches who have they have the same failings as the rest of us but have far more power to make mistakes with.


The insight into the supernatural communities comes partly from the nature of the new threats in "Hunter's Trail" - a Nova werewolf killing innocents and a European witch sect exterminating werewolves both highlight what the LA "Old World" communities have struggled not to be.


Scarlett started to take control of her life in "Trail of Dead" in "Hunter's Trail" she finally realizes her own worth makes herself a player in the "Old World". This, together with her FINALLY choosing between the two males in her life (and she chose the right one - I was surprised to find I cared about that) , rounded off the "trilogy" nicely, while leaving the door open for Scarlett to return.


Melissa Olsen has started a new series, set in the same world but with a different main character - get ready to smile - Lex Luther - no not a bald guy from Smallville but a former US Army Sergeant named Allison "Lex" Luther. It comes out on audible on May 1st and is currently on sale for $5.24  here - and no, I don't get paid for saying that.

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