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review 2018-01-03 21:02
Review: Breaking
Breaking - Danielle Rollins

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I initially requested this one because I liked the previous book I’d read by the same author. I had no idea it was actually a companion novel to Burning until I was half way through and looking up something else on Goodreads.

 

This was an interesting book, after reading the first two or three chapters slowly, I read the rest in a couple of hours one evening. I just couldn’t put it down. I wasn’t completely blown away with the book, I can’t even say I really liked all the characters that much. There was just something about the story and the way the plot unwound that made me want to keep reading and just had to know what was going on and how it all wound up together.

 

Trigger Warnings: Suicide.

 

The novel tells the story of teenager Charlotte, starting off when she’s a very young child, her mother who is some sort of doctor giving her genius tests (which Charlotte is not very good at) her mother has certain expectations of what sort of girl Charlotte should be.  You get the impression that Charlotte doesn’t really care about her mother’s expectations, even at a very young age. Skip ahead to a teenager in a posh prep school. Charlotte is in the principal’s office one of her best friends Devon, has recently committed suicide in a very short time since her other best friend Ariel also committed suicide. Both were bright, smart and popular.

 

Charlotte doesn’t seem to fit the bill with the other smart kids in the school. The kids in the school are all very smart to genius. She’s struggling in her classes and not making the grade. Her mom is a very prestigious (and very rich) alumni. She’s about to pull Charlotte from the school on the principal’s advice, failing grades and the sudden deaths of her two best friends very close together and Charlotte’s attitude seems to be very blasé about everything.

 

Whilst packing her stuff Charlotte finds a package left by one of her deceased friends containing a strange note and a tiny bottle saying “Drink me”. Charlotte realises there must be something more going on, she can’t stop thinking about the note. She realises she wants to find out what it means and will have to be at the school to do that. When almost overnight her physical appearance improves and her (really bitchy) mom notices too. She uses this and manages to convince her mom to let her stay at the school for the rest of the semester contingent on her grades rapidly improving.

 

 

 

 

Charlotte notices quickly that her grades are improving as well, she’s answering questions in class without studying, acing essays and vastly better at her fencing class than she’s ever been. And she’s not the only one who noticed. Her BFF Ariel’s former boyfriend Jack for one, when they start talking again over what happened it turns into more than talking and flirting. And a rival in Charlotte’s fencing class, Zoe, who is not happy at all when Charlotte kicks her ass in fencing.

(spoiler show)

 

The plot is fairly fast paced and there’s enough intrigue that kept me interested when Charlotte finds more notes and more clues left by Ariel and realises at one point that she found the notes and clues left for her in the wrong order. The mystery deepens, Charlotte’s relationship with Jack is getting more and more intense and she’s got the added irritation of fending off Zoe who seems determined to make things difficult for her.

 

The characters were kind of flat, I couldn’t really identify with Charlotte much, she was cold and aloof and had a sort of above it all vibe about her. There was an interesting morality grey area to the plot as it developed as well. It definitely takes a darker twist towards the end, and that’s where it ties in with the previous novel Burning. It can be read as a standalone, there’s very little that gives away anything to do with Burning’s actual plot but if you’ve read Burning there’s an “ahhh” moment when you realise the connection.

 

I also have issues with Charlotte and her two best friends, Ariel and Devon, the reader learns some pretty unsettling things about the two girls as Charlotte delves into the mystery as what caused them both to commit suicide within weeks of each other. These girls were supposed to have been the tight knit group that everyone wanted to be part of, yet there was a sense of underlying threat rather than close female friendship with Ariel as the ring leader and Devon following with Charlotte trailing behind. There was a sense of rivalry and tension that was supposed to be uncomfortable but more annoying than anything else.

 

There was an eye rolling side plot revolving around Ariel’s former boyfriend Jack who was close with Charlotte and Charlotte had always had a thing for but never did anything cause Ariel got there first even though it’s completely obvious Charlotte liked him. Jack is a typical nice guy, good looking with rich parents. His dad has an important job – senator or judge or something along those lines (can’t remember which) but Jack doesn’t seem interested in following those footsteps and like Charlotte doesn’t seem that interested in the classes at the prep school. He and Charlotte redevelop their friendship which of course develops into something more. She (of course) gets to see the side of him that no one else really gets to see.  Then Charlotte notices Jack starts rapidly improving in grades and stuff like she did. The romance angle was irritating.

 

It was a fairly quick read and definitely interesting, not something I would call a favourite but definitely worth a go if you like prep school mysteries and are intrigued by unlikeable characters.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-11-08 09:41
Grave Errors (Witch City Mystery, #5)
Grave Errors - Carol J. Perry

When you read enough books in one genre, you start to get a feel for the different styles of different publishers, and I've definitely read enough cozies to recognise patterns.  Kensington, for instance, tends to publish authors with creative stories and strong characters, but are almost always too light-handed with the editing.  Just enough to notice it but mostly not so bad you can't enjoy the story anyway.  

 

Grave Errors is a good example.  Lee is a strong, independent, likeable female protagonist with intelligence, who has an unwelcome gift for scrying that she can't control.  Instead of going all woe is me! she takes steps to deal with it.  She gets along with all the other characters and isn't TSTL.

 

The book (and series) has no love triangles, just a nice, subtle sub-plot romance that makes Lee's involvement in mysteries feasible and lends an additional air of well-adjustedness.  The story is set in Salem Massachusetts, which lends its atmosphere to a variety of plots.  And finally, the mystery is decently plotted.  Even though I think it was pretty obvious who the villain was from almost the start, the story behind the motive was, to me, so much more interesting. 

 

But man, this could have been so much better if it had been more tightly edited.  Small things, like red-lining blue-lining* the author's tendency to mention Pete's (the BF) discomfort with Lee's visions every time she tells him about one.  There were at least 6 visions in this book, and I'd gotten a clear idea of Pete's discomfort with them after the first 2.  

 

At one point she refers to a hurricane heading their way named Penelope, with top sustained winds of 60mph.  Storms aren't categorised as hurricanes until they reach a sustained wind speed of 74mph.  I get that as a Florida girl, that's something I'm going to pick up on more than a lot of readers, but it's a simple google search - you don't even have to leave the results page to find it.

 

I'm not trying to discourage cozy readers from reading this - it's a good story and I really enjoyed it.  But at a time when I feel like most cozies are turning into completely vapid crap, Kensington shows so much promise, publishing stories that are both cozy and interesting to readers that value intelligence in their fiction.  If only they weren't quite so stingy with their red blue* pencils.  

 

*Editors actually use blue pencils.  I did not know that.  But I googled it.  ;-)

 

I read this for Task 1 Calan Gaeaf:  Read any of your planned Halloween Bingo books that you didn’t end up reading after all, involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft.

 

(I originally said in my status update I was going to read this for Dios de Muertos, using my Book Holiday Joker card, but then realised it totally fits the Calan Gaeaf category without burning the Joker. Duh.)

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review 2017-10-09 04:31
The Dark Victorian: Risen by Elizabeth Watasin
The Dark Victorian: Risen Volume One - Elizabeth Watasin

The Dark Victorian: Risen is set in a steampunk London with magic and paranormal aspects. Jim, an agent of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, is given a new partner: Artifice, a Quaker and artificial ghost (meaning that she can turn incorporeal at will). All agents of the Secret Commission were once criminals - they were executed and then brought back to life, bound into service, with no memory of who they once were. They are able to guess some things about their past selves, but that’s about it. It generally isn’t a good idea for them to find and communicate with people they once knew.

Artifice, who chooses to go by the name Art, and Jim begin investigating their first case, the disastrous reanimation of several corpses. The culprit started with animals but appears to have moved on to humans. In each instance, the corpses manage to kill someone before either being destroyed or escaping.

It took me a bit to get my bearings in this story. The Secret Commission wasn’t really a secret. Everyone seemed to know who and what they were, even if they weren’t always comfortable around them or happy about them. I also initially had the impression that Art was supposed to be an unusual sort of agent, but that didn’t seem to be the case either. She had special abilities, just like Jim, although hers were of a different sort, and she had the same limitations. Her primary oddity was that she was a Quaker, someone Jim would have thought would be unlikely to become an agent of the Secret Commission.

The world and setup were pretty interesting. Jim and Art each had their own abilities, and both were technically immortal as long as they consumed enough of whatever their particular bodies needed. Jim, a disembodied skull, could feed off of fire and smoke. Art needed raw seafood.

The story was a fairly simple one and would have worked fine in several urban fantasy and steampunk mystery series I can think of. The problem was that it was a bit buried. I understand that this is the first work in a series and is meant to whet readers’ appetite for more, but there were lots of details that were unnecessary for this particular story and could easily have been left out. As it was, it felt too large for its page count.

The pacing was a bit strange, too. Jim and Art would be chasing after the killer and investigating the murders, only to stop for a bit in order to make sure that Art was properly clothed. Okay, so she needed to be properly dressed for propriety’s sake, but it killed the flow of the story and made it easy to forget what the point of it all was. By the time one particular character made her second appearance, I had already forgotten who she was and why she might be important.

Despite my issues with this work, there's still a chance I'll continue on with this series. The second work is much longer and might therefore give everything more room to breathe - it’s possible that Watasin is one of those writers who does better with longer works than shorter ones. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jim and Art in action a bit more, and Art’s potential romances intrigue me, even as they worry me a bit. At this point she has two potential love interests: Manon, a “sapphic performer,” and Helia, Art’s lover in her past life. Both options are potential minefields for Art, Manon because she isn’t human and I suspect Art could end up wanting more from her than she’s willing and able to give, and Helia because of her curse.

 

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

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review 2017-09-24 01:47
Elusive Elixir (Accidental Alchemist, #3)
The Elusive Elixir (An Accidental Alchemist Mystery) - Gigi Pandian

This series started off with a chimera/gargoyle brought to life through backwards alchemy approaching the MC, pleading for help, as he was starting to revert to stone again.

 

This book is the conclusion of that particular series plot, while at the same time introducing a couple of other mysteries, including a murder.

 

The characters keep me coming back to these books, as does the alchemy backdrop which is always fun.  But the stories could do with a bit of tougher editing; it was difficult to get into the story at the beginning because of all the repetition of information.  I think the MC mentioned she was 300 years old at least 3 times in as many pages.

 

The plotting was great - I had little idea where the story was going - but the ending, especially the part concerning the gargoyle, felt a little to pat, a little too anticlimactic.  

 

It's a fun story with great characters, but if it had been a bit tighter all the way around, it would have been great.

 

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review 2017-09-14 11:08
Magic and Macaroons (Magical Bakery Mystery, #5)
Magic and Macaroons - Bailey Cates

I'm generally a fan of Bailey Cates writing but this one left me feeling ambivalent.  The characters remain charming, and I love the Savannah setting, but... meh.

 

It didn't help that the murderer was achingly transparent from the first (although part of it was a surprise, at the very end).  Really there wasn't much mystery at all.

 

Cates did have me smiling though when she takes a moment in the book to explain the difference between a macaroon and a macaron; both luscious desserts but utterly different from one another despite the confusing similarity of their spellings.  It was a source of confusion when I first moved Down Under, (macaroons, which are the ones made of coconut, are not generally known here at all, though macarons - think oreos made with meringue - are hugely popular), so the aside felt very relevant.  

 

I have the next one in the series, but unless it's a markedly more exciting plot, I might let this series go with no hard feelings.

 

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