Daughter of Baal by Gill McKnight

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Another one from The Law Game series, and another excellent one. If you’ve never heard of Gill McKnight (and why haven’t you?) I highly recommend her book The Tea Machine, because it may just be one of my favorites.

Daughter of Baal is another novella and it’s a good one. It’s set in the 1920s in England. The two protagonists are as different as they could be, but they agree that all the deaths at Clamp House must stop and the killer or killers be brought to justice. How the lady and her chauffeur will go about that, I will not tell.

What I will tell you is that the novella is beautifully written and the characters are charming. The case happens to be quite surprising, and that is an important part of a good mystery. You have it all here. As with Archer Securities, it’s only a little sad that it’s not longer.

If you like a short read, an entertaining read, something to pass the time pleasantly, this is for you. You might also wanna check out the other books in the series as they’ve all been written by very good writers. Now, go get and I’ll be here reading and telling you what to read next.

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Archer Securities by Jove Belle

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As you can see, this is part of a series of books from Ylva Publishing called The Law Game. Crime books. I know what you’re thinking: but you’re always saying you don’t like crime books. Well, I don’t and yet I do. Just like with crime shows, some are too predictable. But there are also really good ones, brilliant even.  And some are not even that much of crime books, if all is said and done.

And maybe, I’d like to put Archer Securities into that latter category. After all, there is no murder to solve, no gory description of dismembered bodies, no psychological profiling of a psychopath. It’s about something else:

Laila Hollister is a private investigator whose uncle Samar has asked for her help. The books of his company, Archer Securities, show discrepancies and he wants her to find out who’s stealing from him. Easier said than done, as Laila finds out, because cyber-Robin Hood Trinity Washington re-distributes Archer’s resources so cleverly that she doesn’t leave a trail. And Laila isn’t quite sure who’s the cat and who’s the mouse in this investigation.

It’s a lovely novella. Jove Belle is slowly becoming a favorite for mine. She’s practically sucking you into her worlds, leaving you wanting more. Especially since this is a novella and you really want to read like a whole encyclopedia about Laila and Trinity. They’re wonderful characters, flawed, but so very good.

Belle understands the intricacies of family relations, her characters are never shallow, never one-dimensional. The story she tells is straight forward but never simple or boring. The characters and the plot will keep you chained to your ebook readers and kindles.

This is really a fantastic read and I think you should all go and get it. Only thinking of you here, because it’s really that good. You can thank me later.

Blurred Lines by KD Williamson

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I’ve read so much in January and early February that I needed to slow down a little. Just ticking the ‘read’ box, makes me lose touch with the characters I’m reading about. And with this one, that would have been really bad, because its characters’ inner lives is what Blurred Lines deals with.

It was different in that way from what I had expected. Maybe I watched (and read) too much Rizzoli & Isles, but I thought this would be more of a procedural, a case where cop and doc work together to solve a crime. It was not. Here’s what it’s about:

Detective Kelli McCabe has been shot on the job. During her recovery at the hospital she meets surgeon Nora Whitmore, her partner’s attending physician. The two women connect in a strange but endearing way, challenging each other with each meeting. And suddenly meeting becomes as important as having their morning coffee.

While Kelli is working through recovery (her own and her partner’s), she also has some urgent family problems to solve. Nora, on the other hand, almost loses her job over a sexual harassment accusation. They become each other’s shoulders to lean on, but there is more than just being needed, there’s being wanted, there’s falling in love – and both of them might just run scared of that possibility.

Their journey toward each other and away from convictions of how life should be is at the forefront of this tale. Neither Nora or Kelli are well-equipped to dealing with deep emotions and they need time to figure themselves and each other out. But when they finally do, it’s beautiful and fulfilling.

Williams writes a compelling tale about characters that never feel like characters. They feel like the flawed people we ourselves are, like the people we’re dealing with every day. Relationships are not perfect, some people cover their own shortcomings with drama, things get ugly sometimes. But at other times, you find someone who understands what you’re dealing with, who listens and helps. And that’s where Kelli and Nora start out.

Yes, this novel was different than I expected, but that was actually a good thing. It was also a wonderful start into spring with a love story that doesn’t take itself for granted. And I’m looking forward to reading more about Whitmore & McCabe in the upcoming Crossing Lines.

 

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

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First, how do you like the cover? Because I simply love it. I think it’s my favorite from all of the Ylva Publishing books yet.

And I’m so glad that the inside meets the promise of the outside, because The Tea Machine is an incredible read.

Here’s what’s in it:

Millicent Aberly is upset with her brilliant brother because he’s used her favorite parasol for his newest invention: a time machine. In the attempt to get at least a piece of the parasol back, she engages the machine and is catapulted to a strange place in a strange timeline, where a strange warrior woman dies because of her.

Trying to save this woman’s life over and over again, Millicent, her brother Hubert, and his fianceé Sophia are trying to walk the stony path of histories with as much dignity as it allows, changing the world and their own fates – maybe forever.

Well, there’s also a giant squid, Amazons, and steampunk galore in this story, but where to put it in a short blurb? This story is a breathless adventure with so many delicious parts that you can’t put them all together by retelling.

I’ve never read a steampunk novel, though I am intrigued by this subculture. And if all novels that include this phenomenon are as wild and wonderful as this one, well, then I’m a fan. McKnight understands the intricacies that come with time travel and never loses track of her story. I’m truly fascinated and enthused about her imagination.

There is some romance, but the story is more important. McKnight creates entertaining and charming characters and not all of them are human. But all of them are overwhelmed by the magnitude of Hubert’s invention and at a loss how everything will turn out in the end. McKnight takes the time to explain what happens. Her time travel story is well thought through and it’s possible to follow it and not get swallowed by plot holes, because there are none.

This is an entertaining, fascinating read. The only regret I have is that it was over too quickly, but as I’m told that there will be a sequel, The Parabellum, I’m looking forward to it.

Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction stories, even if you think steampunk is ridiculous, give this story a try. It’s really funny and smart and entertaining. Go, read!

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

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Since I started reading Stephen King when I was only ten, I never really read young adult novels when I was a young adult. I’m pretty sure there weren’t as many around as there are now, I’m also doubtful that they were as good as some of them are today.

To these good ones belongs A Spy in the House, the first part of Lee’s The Agency series.

Mary Lang is kidnapped from her way to The Gallows, where London rids itself of its criminals by hanging. When she awakes, she finds herself in a school where she receives a formal education in the years to come. Same school is also a cover for The Agency, a covert operation helping the police and other interested parties to gain information. Like their students, all their agents are women.

Mary’s (now using the last name Quinn) first assignment for The Agency places her as a female companion in the house of the Thorolds. Mr. Thorold is suspicious in several crimes under the cover of his trading company. Mary tries to gather information, but gets involved in far more than just Thorold’s shady businesses.

If the summary sounds a little muddled, that’s my fault, because nothing in Lee’s novel is muddled. She did her research, she wrote an excellent, exciting tale. I couldn’t get away from this book, because I wanted to know what happened next, and next, and next.

Y.S. Lee spins an intriguing tale around her protagonist. Mary Quinn is a modern heroine trapped in times which treated women as anything but heroines. Victorian England is not for the faint at heart, and Mary surely isn’t. She has moments of doubt, moments of emotional turmoil, but she fights to be someone better than her lot in life has dealt her.

Mary’s story and the whodunit tale of the novel are woven into each other. We get to know Mary better as she unravels the mystery surrounding the Thorold family. And she finds herself a male adversary in James Easton. While their war of wits is charming and engaging, Easton is never put before Mary. She is the heroine, it is her story.

This is a book you will like, no matter if you’re 17, 37 or 67. While the main protagonists are in their late teens, they’re mature and interesting, the story is exciting and mysterious, the setting believably narrated. This is a truly wonderful tale. I bet you’ll like it too.

Barring Complications by Blythe Rippon

barringcomplicationsBack from the vestiges of dark narration, I’ve chosen an actual romance – as opposed to an abusive relationship masked as romance. And since many have said that Barring Complications is something worth reading, I wasn’t about to resist. And I’m not disappointed – even though it is not just a romance.

Here’s what it’s about:

Victoria Willoughby is a supreme court justice about to make history. This year’s agenda gives her the possibility to be instrumental in overthrowing DOMA. But what the public is really interested in at this point, is her private life which she kept under tight wraps since college. Back then she was in a relationship with Genevieve Fornier, now one of the lawyers presenting the case of the plaintiffs for marriage equality. The spark between these two successful women is still there, but giving voice to newly awakened feelings would jeopardize the case that is dear to both their hearts.

‘Kay, as you can see, I’m not lawyer-speech-savvy, but Blythe Rippon is. She builds a gripping story about a historical case before the supreme court. She weaves a tale that is suprising in its understated romantic ambitions. To me, it’s a jewel in its genre because it is not typical, it’s never showy, it simply tells a story of law, social injustice, and two women in love.

Rippon knows her history and her legal vocabulary. For me, as a student of North American Studies (I’m European, in case you forgot) it is especially interesting to see what happens when the text books write: ‘… the supreme court decided…’ or whatever they write. It was a practical course at what happens behind the Scenes. But don’t be fooled by my geekery, this book doesn’t read like a text book. It’s a romance well-told and it’s a tale worth telling. It will lift you within your little rainbow-colored world and make you proud of the progress we’re making, especially in our generation. Yes, it’s an American tale, but we all know that these changes are being made throughout the Western world.

It’s a wonderful read, go and get.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

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I’ve gone and done it – I read Fifty Shades of [Really, Really Bad Writing]. Why did I do that to myself, you may ask? I thought at length about the answer and it’s that I wanted to tell you about how bad it really is. Well, actually, it irks me when I make fun of something that I only have second-hand knowledge of, so I gained knowledge, processed it and will give you my interpretation now.

I told you after reading Twilight that I read those first two books to find out why people liked it. I never could find out and resigned to the fact that I can’t climb into people’s heads and feel what they feel, think what they think. So, the reasoning for reading Fifty Shades of [Boredom] had to be a different one. And I needed reasoning for myself, because I had promised myself early that I wouldn’t read it, wouldn’t put myself through this torture (which is not coincidentally ironic given the content).

The reason I mention Twilight here, is, of course, that Fifty Shades of [Abusive Relationships] started out as Twilight fan fiction. If Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey remind you of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen it was the intention of the writer and I’m almost saddened to say that the fan fiction doesn’t even live up to the low standards of the original text. I want to make it clear, however, that I’m not trying to diss fan fiction here. I have been reading fanfic for over fifteen years now, and some of my favourite romance novels have started out as Xena fan fiction. I’ve written and am writing fan fiction about various ships of various shows. I’m a fan, and fan fiction is a literary form I’m familiar with and cherish.

But as with every other literary form, there’s the good and the bad (and fifty shades of in-between) and Fifty Shades of [Can You Believe it Got Published?] is at the very end of the bad-spectrum where even wonderfully trashy fic won’t venture. You may call me envious, now, if you liked the books, because my fanfics don’t have a gazillion hits. And you would be right. Of course, I’m envious. Hell yeah, I would have liked to write about something I love and get published and earn a gazillion dollars with it. But beyond the envy is a lot of anger, because, honestly, between E.L. James and I, I think myself the better writer and I know a lot of fan fiction writers who are so much better than I am, that it’s a shame James got published and not one of them – or I, for that matter. Because I’m also a literary theorist and I have not in my whole life read anything that was so absolutely horrificly written, boring, stale, and over-exposed as Fifty Shades of [Word Vomit].

In case you want to know what it is about:

College student Anastasia Steele interviews Christian Grey who is a very successful business man in his early thirties. And he’s very pretty which is somehow important because Ana is fascinated by him and his looks play an important role in that fascination. He’s intrigued by her, too, though we’re not to know why because we have another I-narrator without a hint of self-worth and she can’t tell us what he likes about her. Anyway, Christian is a gruff young man who tries to scare Ana away, at least on the surface he does while simultaneously trying to seduce her. He’s successful in that as in everything he does but the lure into his bed is also a lure into his dark world of BDSM – or James’ version of it. He wants to spank her and Ana isn’t sure she likes to be spanked.

And then the reader has to endure fourhundred pages of arguments against being with Christan while she enjoys being fu**ed by him every one and a half chapters.

In the golden days of Xena fan fiction we called this kind of story PWP (Plot? What plot?). Nowadays, we refer to it as smut and the only reason it exists is for the sex scenes. I don’t condemn these kind of fictions or people who read them, because once again, so do I. But there’s so much better to be read than Fifty Shades of [You Repeat Yourself].

Now, I am a queer one. That is to say I’m queer in a LGBTQ-way and it’s true that the only people interested in straight sex are straight people, because the rest of us are frankly bored with it. That isn’t so say I’m not regularly exposed to it. We all are. So, yeah, I roll my eyes at another sex scene and am not much affected. Not much, as in sometimes I am. If the scene is good, if it’s interesting, if the characters are likable and believable, the scene erotic, or in other words, unlike those scenes in Fifty Shades of [Oh my].

This is becoming a rant, I know and am sorry. As I said, I’m angry. This first book in a trilogy, and I’m only talking about the first volume, is bad. I read one chapter each day, because I couldn’t bring myself to read more. The characters are cardboard 2D stand-ups, the story is non-existent (which is not a great problem since it’s smut), the writing is abysmal. After the tenth time you hear that Ana is biting her lip, you’ve read it all and it’s mere repetition. How pretty Christian is, how they call each other Ms. Steele and Mr. Grey when they flirt, how Christian is a stalker… these lame tropes are repeated so often, you’d like to roll your eyes at them, but then you remember that Grey used this as an excuse to smack his girlfriends around – all fifteen of them.

I’m not into BDSM – not that you needed to know that – and I don’t know much about it but Tumblr tells me Fifty Shades of [Emotional Blackmail] is a poor reflection of those kinds of sexuality and I tend to believe Tumblr. As I’m no expert on the practices of BDSM, I can’t really comment on them, but I am uncomfortable how it is portrait as something depraved and unnatural – by the main character, at least. Ana feels that Christian needs to be cured and wants to lead him to the light – of vanilla sex. I’m aware that this may not reflect on the author’s view of BDSM, but she doesn’t go out of her way to say that BDSM is not evil and absurd or unnatural. I don’t agree with this kind of message that a sexuality in which two adults consent to engage in is something bad – given that it is informed consent, which is not the case in Fifty Shades of [I Consulted Wikipedia].

There’s so much to criticize about this book, but I want to stop here. I’ve already given too much room to something that is this bad. It is, without a doubt, the worst published work I have ever finished. And among those I haven’t finished I don’t remember anything so bad as this either. The worst thing you can do to me as a writer is bore me, and James did this very extravagantly and thoroughly. By the way, I did not spent money on this book, I rented it from the library which I would ask you to do as well if you feel you have to read it. A lot of people have made a lot of money with Fifty Shades of [Crap!] and continue to do so now that the first movie is coming out, don’t give them your hard-earned for something – among other things – poorly edited.

Panic by Lauren Oliver

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A paperback has become a rare occasion with me, but it felt good to go back to the printed copy and actually feel paper, turn pages, smell the glue of the binding. I like all these things. I also liked Panic.

The novel is about the youth of small town Carp who participate in a game called Panic after graduating high school. The lure is money, the danger is dying. Heather Nill participates to guarantee that her sister Lily doesn’t have to live in a trailer park for the rest of her life. Dodge Mason wants to get back at the brother of the guy who is responsible that his sister Dayna is now in a wheel chair – a direct consequence of entering the joust finale of Panic.

From the beginning the idea reminded me of something Stephen King might have written. It would have been set in Maine instead of New York, of course, but the idea is really that good. And it’s well-written and gripping, too. Given, it is not Stephen King, and that’s okay, only, I wondered reading this book what he could have made of this idea.

Oliver is an able story-teller, she weaves a gripping tale. I liked the idea with the tigers even though the final appearance of one might have been a little predictable. That is also the part with which I had my most issues – the ending. The last chapter was a little too happy ending-like for me, especially since some of the issues – What about Heather’s mom, didn’t she try to cut into the Panic-cake? Has Dodge simply forgiven his friends? Why did Luke had to appear of all people? – weren’t solved. In the end, the money from the game made everything okay, but nobody tried to put a stop to Panic, like it’s supposed to happen. And if Panic is supposed to happen, then Carp hasn’t changed at all and is still the dreary, hopeless place it was in the beginning. Could this town produce a happy ending like Oliver wants us to believe it did?

While the ending leaves things to be discusssed, the story as a whole is very enjoyable. Panic is well-written, the characterization is very good. You suffer with Heather and Dodge. Sometimes I wish that young adult novels weren’t so hopelessly heteronormative, but that’s not exactly a new problem. It would be nice, though, to have at least one main gay character… just saying.

It’s a good read, you should check it out. I’m not sure, but there might be a sequel in the works.

Unbreakable by Blayne Cooper

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Blayne Cooper – another one of my favorites from Xena-fanfiction days, ’cause who could forget Madam President and it’s sequel First Lady. I sure haven’t and I enjoy a reread every once in a while. Still, I haven’t read a lot by Cooper and don’t know why. Her style is compelling, her story-telling prowess impressive. But what I like best is her sense of humor, her tendency toward siliness and downright slapstick. Here’s a writer who makes me laugh.

This goes for the aforementioned novels as much as it does for the one I’ve recently read – Unbreakable. It’s the story of five girls who became friends when they were nine. Ten years later they have a falling-out. When one of them turns forty, they meet again – as promised – and discover that their friendship might have been buried but is essentially unbreakable.

While it is not a typical lesbian romance, a lesbian love story is part of the novel. Jacie and Nina become fast best friends and just a little more, undetected by the other girls in their club. While Jacie accepts her feelings early, Nina pushes the realization of what she might be away until their desire breaks through the heteronormative world their friend Gwen has build for herself.

The really compelling part of the story are the relationships between these girl, young women and adults. The chemistry is wonderful and comical and heartwarming. The characterization leads the story sure-footed toward a surprising plot twist that is sure to drive the friends apart once again, but is ultimately solved.

So mainly, I loved the story because I loved the characters. Still, as is often the case, there are some parts of the story, I don’t agree with. And I think there should be a trigger warning applied to it – rape. It’s a graphic scene, a violent and disturbing chapter. And it dampens the mood of the novel severely. I’m sure I will read this novel again some time, but I will at least jump this chapter. I don’t agree with rape scenes which are mere plot twists… or rather, I don’t agree with perpetuating rape culture at all.

There are a couple of minor style mechanisms which I didn’t agree with either. Pushing for the most dramatic effect in a couple of scenes is one of them.

But neither of these things makes this a bad novel, because it’s enjoyable. If a novel makes you laugh and cry, you can be sure you’ve found a favorite and that holds true for me with Unbreakable.