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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 17:55
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Strange Highways - Dean Koontz

I do re-read this one mostly in the month of October. Koontz really sings in this short story collection. Maybe he should think about publishing more short stories since even some of his shorts he has written lately have been better than the full length novels that have followed.

 

All in all the books showcase the good with Koontz. He can spin a sentence and also scare you at the same time. You get some religious musings here and there, but honestly everything in most of the stories works. I kept wishing after I first read this, that Koontz would think about spinning off some of the characters that we meet here. Too bad he never did.

 

"Strange Highways" (5 stars). The anchor of the collection this one was really good. We follow a man named Joey who is in essence a failure. He tried to be an author and is pretty much dead broke. He returns to his hometown in Pennsylvania to attend his father's funeral. His brother is successful and Joey doesn't know why, but he can't stand to be around him. When a second chance has Joey back in the past to fix a mistake that can lead him down a different path. This one had a lot going on with it, but it all works. Most time travel stories make me go hmmm, but Koontz plays with it in a good way and the reveal about what happened to Joey in the past and who was behind it was actually scary. I think Koontz also smartly incorporated the town. We find out this is a dying former mill town (there are lots in PA) and due to that many people had left it when he was a teen, when Joey goes back as an adult you feel like time stopped there. I loved this story from beginning to end.

 

"The Black Pumpkin" (4.5 stars). An almost perfect Halloween tale. A young boy named Tommy is in a terrible family. His mother and father are pretty awful and his brother is a potential serial killer. When Tommy and his brother get to pick out a pumpkin, his brother picks the black one that has Tommy scared to death. He can sense something evil about it. In the end though there is a definite surprise about the pumpkin. The ending was okay, but just didn't gel with the scares that came before it.

 

"Miss Attilla the Hun" (3 stars). Among my least favorite in this series. Probably because we get another uber perfect woman for Koontz to fawn over. Mrs. Laura Caswell is a teacher who one day realizes that something funky is going on at her school. A classic alien story which in the end didn't really work for me, probably because it didn't seem quite finished.

 

"Down in the Darkness" (3.5 stars). We follow a good man (Jess) who is excited about moving his family into their new home. When Jess finds a mysterious door that he doesn't recall being there during the house tour, he realizes that the door is hiding something potentially evil. When we (readers) find out what the door is for and how it comes into play with Jess's background as a former POW it was intriguing. In the end though I thought the ending (pun intended) wasn't that great. I think because it ends up leaving things a a moral question when we see what happens with Jess and the door and I don't think that Koontz needed it to be that deep.

 

"Ollie’s Hands" (4.5 stars). A sad story but very good. We find out about a man named Ollie and what his hands can do. I had nothing but pity for the character named Ollie when we come to the end of his story.

 

"Snatcher" (5 stars). This is really a fun and scary story. A man that is a purse snatcher and just all around terrible person has the tables turned on him.

 

"Trapped" (3 stars). I honestly feel like I read this story before somewhere. A woman and her son are on the run from some scary rats. Not a bad story, but like I said, I think that I read this or a similar idea of it somewhere before. Drove me up the wall because I can't figure out where.

 

"Bruno" (5 stars). I laughed and always laugh reading this one. No spoilers, I just think you will enjoy a story about a time traveling bear (seriously) and a private eye named Jake. Jake is asked to help Bruno out with catching a time traveling criminal (as one is these days apparently). this is one of the stories I wish we had seen a follow up about since it was so interesting.

 

"We three" (3.5 stars). Not bad, just fairly short. Murderous triplets maybe ushered in something that will be the end of them.

 

"Hardshell" (5 stars). So good. Another one I would have loved to see a spin off or larger novel about. We have a LAPD detective chasing a killer. We find out though that neither man are what they appear to be.

 

"Kittens" (5 stars). The main reason why I gave this one five stars is that for once Koontz didn't back away from a scary/terrible ending. Reminded me a bit of King with the ending and what we realize must have happened as readers. Shudder.

 

"The Night of the Storm" (3 stars). My second least favorite story in this collection. I can't even go into how boring I found this, but it was boring.

 

"Twilight of the Dawn" (3 stars). A very preachy Koontz book that also had no horror elements in it so it doesn't really fit with the rest of the book. That said, it works because Koontz manages to draw you in with his writing. The story is about an atheist who ends up being pretty much an asshole to his young son and his own wife when the question of religion comes up. We know why he is that way (he had very religious parents) and doesn't want his son growing up thinking there is a God. When he loses his wife though his son starts to question his father's lack of faith and grows even stronger in his belief of a God. When his son eventually gets diagnosed with a fatal cancer, the question of faith becomes even more of divide between them. I went back and forth on this rating a lot. I eventually ended up with a three since I thought the father character was an ass.

 

"Chase" (5 stars). This and "Strange Highways" were the longest stories in the collection and this one really packs a punch. It's a good way to end the collection. Benjamin Chase has a complicated history. Returned from Vietnam and having to drink to forget his memories he is welcomed at a dinner for a Guest of Hero thing. I was a bit nonplussed at first since I thought most of the US was terrible to returning vets. Chase is given a new car and while driving ends up saving a young girl who was about to be raped and murdered. This puts Chase neck in neck with a killer who is determined to end Chase.

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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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text 2018-07-08 08:45
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson,Richard Armitage

I think I've probably said this before, but it bears repeating: Richard Armitage should narrate all the things.

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