Review of “The Third Rail:An Eddy Harkness novel” by: Rory Flynn

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Review:

Deceptively, this book begins with a startling and a bit of an uneasy sense of slightly diminished chaos, as we are introduced to the book’s title cop character Eddy Harkness living a life both in the shadows and light of more polite society. During the night, he engages in activity that might be construed as criminal activity by some, and by day, he must act in accordance with the precepts of his position. During the day,he behaves like a more mundane cop, mechanically emptying parking meters, in a desultory way that almost mirrors the loss of excitement of his previous, more dignified position as a full-fledged drug crime investigator for the Boston Police force.

So, Rory Flynn’s darkly humorous, concisely written The Third Rail  begins with a story-line that is slightly derisive, in the way it pokes fun at the devalued nature of Ed Harkness’ occupation, after his career takes a tumble for the worse after a certain highly publicized event makes him the mockery of the entire city of Boston. Now, he stumbles in the darkness of a frivolous lifestyle by night, and uncannily exists on the borders of the criminal world that he once investigated for more official, less degrading duty.  Yet, he strives to get his position and reputation back. The story of a diminished hero- now existing as an anti-hero in a sense- is a story that compels readers to readily sympathize with the character’s plight, even if we might somewhat agree with the opinion of others in the story that Eddy Harkness is basically a bit of a pathetic loser at this point of his life. And at the beginning, you ponder this, as you become immediately engaged and concerned with his story, and the crime at the heart of the story, because Rory Flynn’s smooth writing really helps you become concerned with the story’s outcome.

At only 210 pages, Rory Flynn’s novel is a fast-paced read, but there are times where it is a bit formulaic. It really is at its best, when it is darkly and satirically humorous, poking fun at the humorous incompetency of the character of Eddy Harkness, in terms of his professionalism in his job.  The slight formulaic edge of the actual development of the crime and some of the dialogue of other characters (who sometimes exist as more than stock characters, but can slip back easily into that more dull role) is what really prevented me, in the end, from ultimately loving the story.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed it a lot, it was very entertaining, if mostly for the well-developed humor of the story, and the character of Eddy Harkness is a very interesting, rather likable personality. With my criticism aside, the writing is still pretty competent, even if certain tropes that haunt the thriller genre appear a bit far too often. Of course, you may have an entirely different opinion of this book, so I definitely still recommend it. Maybe, you’ll beg to differ about my opinion, and that is perfectly alright. Rory Flynn is definitely a skilled writer, who writes very entertaining, very well-paced stories, even if I thought that they were a bit bogged down in predictable, formulaic elements.

So, if you’re planning on heading to the beach this weekend, nab yourself a copy of The Third Rail. If you enjoyed it or didn’t enjoy it, I’d love to hear your feedback!

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Review of Dark Paradise by Angie Sandro

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  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Forever Yours (July 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HUU13SQ

Reviewed by Paula Tupper

Since signing on to do these reviews, it seems I learn something new with each book, whether it is a fact about an author, a new publisher with whom I was unfamiliar, or, in the case of Dark Paradise, a new genre.  Most of these revelations have been pleasant.  This latest one, not so much.

I think the problem may be that I am not the right demographic for this new genre.  As I read Dark Paradise, something just seemed off to me.  I had the feeling that the characters were SUPPOSED to be shallow, immature and confused.  It turns out I was right.  Dark Paradise is part of a new category of fiction intended to be the older sister of YA, namely New-Adult fiction.

According to Wikipedia, New-adult fiction is defined as this:

“New adult literature touches upon many themes and issues to reach the readership that falls in between the categories of young adult and adult fiction.”

Many themes covered in young adult fiction such as identity, sexuality, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, familial struggles, bullying[14] are also covered in new adult fiction, but the various issues that are dealt with in the category hold it separate. Some common examples of issues include: first jobs, starting college, wedding engagements and marriage, starting new families, friendships post-high school, military enlistment, financial independence, living away from home for the first time, empowerment, loss of innocence, fear of failure, and so many others.

This category focuses heavily on life after an individual has become of legal age, and how one deals with the new beginnings of adulthood. Commonly, these themes and issues have been seen taking place post-high school in popular new adult fiction titles, but there are exceptions.”

Dark Paradise certainly fits.  This is Angie Sandro’s first novel, the beginning of a trilogy that will include Dark Paradise, Dark Sacrifice, and Dark Redemption.  The main character is a twenty something young woman in Louisiana, daughter of the town prostitute, and touched with the Sight through her ancestral line of voudou witches.  Malaise (great name) hopes to join her parish police department.  The book opens with her discovering the body of another young woman in her bayou, an apparent suicide.  It quickly is made clear that it was murder, not suicide, and probably ritual murder at that.  Mala is haunted by the girl’s ghost who demands she “Find Him.” Shades of Stephen King, she writes it in reverse on a mirror. Mala must face the animosity of a town that considers her a witch like her momma, the hatred of the girl’s religious fanatic father, alcoholic mother and creepy psychic sensitive stalker brother, while she comes to terms with her blossoming power and solves the murder.  She acts like a spoiled, immature, and uncontrolled adolescent despite her age.  Her reaction to the two love interests borders on abusive.  We are repeatedly told she will react with violence if the townies push her, because that was how she overcame their bullying in middle school.

Writing in alternating first person narrators is a tricky proposition.  Sandro is not particularly adept.  Mala gives way too much detail, and the prose is often violently overblown.  At one point, seeing the deputy upon whom she has a crush, Mala says “The towel I wrap around my heaving chest constricts my rapid breaths like a tightened corset.” At another point she states “My arms fold across my chest with a chill that caresses my spine like an accordion being played by a zydeco master.”  The first reads like a bad bodice ripper, the second is an inartful flood of purple prose.  It does not improve.  Andros’ style makes us listen to Mala drone on in exquisitely painful detail during moments when she is awash in adrenaline and fear.  When she switches narrators to Landry, the dead girl’s brother, we are treated to almost sociopathic rambling and puerile fixation of the girls with whom he comes in close contact.  How we are supposed to switch gears and accept that a man who is frightening suddenly becomes a love interest who feels safe is a leap difficult to make.

Maybe it is an age gap.  Maybe the reader has to be closer in time to experiencing this angst and making these horrible choices to be able to identify with the characters in New-adult fiction.  That could explain why I found Dark Paradise so incredibly tedious.   Or maybe it is all a marketing tactic, and this is just really poorly written.  Whatever it is, it speaks ill of a book when the gothic creepiness of a bayou, ghosts, and voudou can’t even raise a little gooseflesh.  A good book of that type makes you leave the lights on and scares you so much you can’t go to bed.  This book just put me to sleep.  I can’t recommend it.  I felt like it was mostly a waste of time.

In accordance with FTC guidelines for bloggers and endorsements, I would like to clarify that the books reviewed by me are either purchased/borrowed by me, or provided by the publisher/author free of charge. I am neither compensated for my reviews nor are my opinions influenced in any way by the avenues in which I obtain my materials.  I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Maria V. Snyder Author Highlight Wednesdays: Poison Study Retrospective

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 From my older version, more outdated looking Blogspot blog, this is the 2009 version of my Poison Study review, dredged up for comparison’s sake! 

When finding the exact link for my previous, nearly five-year old review of Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study, I forbade myself from reading it over, as I wanted the following experiment to work well.

   **For the next three Wednesdays in July, I will be reexamining all three books in Maria V. Snyder’s Study Series, and will be posting links to my previous reviews for all three books. Each retrospective review will be written without reading through any of the reviews to perfect this test, thus allowing readers to see glaring differences in thoughts and reactions to elements of the novels- both past and present.

Also, this post will be your last opportunity to leave your questions for Maria V. Snyder in the comment section below! On July 30th (two weeks from now), a post that contains Maria V. Snyder’s answers  to all your questions will be posted.

Retrospective Review; July 16, 2014:

While re-reading the book this time around, the one thing that struck me almost immediately was the clarity of Maria V. Snyder’s language at this point. This is something that even the most experienced of writers wrestle with all throughout their writing careers, But straight from the outset of Poison Study, the prose is clean, sparse, and still relatively detailed. Some of it, though, still feels a bit clunky, in a sense, and I don’t remember the prose feeling so clunky, at times, but I think the relative clunkiness may be just a subjective feeling, having just finished Taste of Darkness-her most recent novel- last week. Seeing as how Poison Study happens to be Maria V. Snyder’s first novel, it is really unfair to compare it with her later novels, which of course will bear more evidence of her growth as a writer. Analogously, her own writing career, could be visualized in a sense, as being much like one of Yelena’s tense, though exhilarating tight-rope routines, meaning that Maria V. Snyder struggles with each book to write prose that is more lucid, more fluid, in a way where it becomes less viscous and suddenly becomes so organic, as to make the reader completely forget about the tactile, logical barriers that separate ourselves from fully believing that this entirely separate universe of the story is a real alternative dimension of sorts.

Yet from the beginning of Poison Study or her writing career, Maria V. Snyder has always had this knack to make us feel that the world of the territory of Ixia, and its neighboring magic territories, holds some semblance of reality in the minds of the reader. While reading this novel a second time, I felt much more keenly focused on the interesting notes of nuances about the actual semi-socialistic government that rules over Ixia, which has divided the land into various military zones. I believe five years ago, I felt much more concentrated on Yelena’s own past history, and fixated almost entirely on her own subjective experience of being fleetingly held as a prisoner, bound to be executed, then giving a bit of a pardon, by being assigned to the dangerous job or assignation of being the commander’s new taste taster. I thought it was interesting to note just how morally ambiguous the militaristic socialist government itself that has planted itself in Ixia is described through the pages of the novel. Yelena offers a very technical description of how the government operates, but her experiences with the one rather distrustful commander that she was adopted by and his sociopathic, even sadistic son is where we are given a bit more  complex feelings, overall, about Yelena’s feelings about the ethicality of the government.

Even more interesting, both her and Valek, through their carefully developed relationship of sorts (both their business relationship and budding romantic relationship) shed more unambiguous light on the morality of the government they dwell in. For example, the one thing I found interesting was the fact that Valek’s main job, involved killing young magicians, endowed with some connection with the overhanging magical fabric that covers the whole fantasy world of this world. Yelena is rather disturbed by this, and I nearly forgot just how morally complex the character of Valek is. When recalling the books, I was always envisaging him as mostly a bit more of a generalized hero character, with a few morally questionable proclivities towards use of violence for certain actions that are not prescriptively moral actions or deeds. And, I think readers can get so enamored with the blossoming romance, and eventual consummation of Yelena and Valek’s relationship, to really forget entirely just how not so clearly good or moralistic that this character is.

Now, I see this as one of the things that attracts readers to Maria V. Snyder’s series because she shapes her characters in a more George R.R. Martin fashion, in that none of her characters are clear moral paragons in a sense. They all exist in the template of a world that is structurally a bit more utilitarian and pragmatic, much like our own real world, when we take away the pretenses of religious or ideological objectives. Yet, the language all throughout is so deceptively clear and concise that reader might mistake this novel for somehow being less complicated than the real depth that lies below a very entertaining, deeply engrossing surface story of one woman’s very dynamical story of growth into a more versatilely strong character, who is neither just a poison-taster or skillful acrobat. She becomes a warrior, a very resourceful person, and above all, very crafty person. This was the book that really displays Maria V. Snyder’s great skills, in developing female characters, who are not strong, and courageous by default. Rather, the situations that they are unwantedly plunged into, allows them the chance to either weaken themselves as characters, and become completely despondent. But, Yelena always makes the choice to defy the brooding thoughts of her mind, and she never lays her agency, her identity down (her life in a sense) to become a martyr for any cause. She always chooses the more difficult, even statistically absurd choice of overcoming various barriers or forces, in again a purely pragmatic/situational ethic way, that reflects the fact that she is a character that never becomes subdued by the wiles of her own chastening subconscious that might have led her just to throw her gumption away, and instead have chosen to die from the beginning of the story.

As such, this story still carries a strong, even salient message of choosing life versus death, whenever dangerous scenarios that present these choices appear at some metaphorical fork-in-the-road in our lives. Yelena, at the age of twenty, is also a story of maturing, not just as a woman, but as a human being, that needs to accept that the moral order of the world she lives in is not a structurally linear world, but is  a world propounded by paradoxical moral ideas and utilitarian decisions. This story is sorta of a subversion of the typical hero story, which always held an undercurrent of clear, moral perspective that would allegorically reflect a more religious or ideological ethos. Rather, the ethos of this novel is again, much more grounded in humanist thinking, it is concerning the world that these characters inhabit in the now. In the future books, there will be metaphysical forces, but these things comfortably coexist in a world that is much more humanist and the characters are more motivated by purely pragmatic, rationalistic things, above just religious thinking. Even in the Healer Trilogy, the one country that is seeped in religious modes of thought, still come across as making most of their decisions in a utilitarian fashion. Poison Study and all Maria V. Snyder’s novels are post-modern novels, by nature, meaning they’re written with the same line of thought, as a George R.R. Martin novel, meaning there’s no overarching, even higher moral dimension in the novel. This is a rational novel, in a world where all the characters, including Yelena herself, are not always clearly moral or ethical by any structured, predictable sense of those words.

Reading Poison Study was a deeply enjoyable experience, as this book actually carries more depth than I remember. After five years, it still holds up to more mature eyes, and the novel carries far more nuance than I recalled. Yes, some of the writing itself can feel a bit clumsy, especially when unfairly compared to her later books. But, this shows that Maria V. Snyder continues to further refine her writing, without forsaking any of the moral depth that I think is the real reason people flock to her books. It’s a pity that this novel sometimes gets lazily pinned a “romantic novel,” or a novel only geared towards women. That is ridiculous, as this novel can be enjoyed really by anyone yearning for an action-packed novel with tons of political intrigue and very morally complicated characters that always elude our predictable perceptions of them. So really, this novel is recommended for anyone, and more guys should really be reading these books, as they’d see that novels that happen to feature women as the lead roles does not somehow mean that the novel is automatically frivolous or less meaningful than fantasy novels, written by men.

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Review of “Only with You (The Best Mistake)” by Lauren Layne

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Available July 29, 2014

  • Series: The Best Mistake (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Forever (July 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455546070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455546077

Reviewed by Paula Tupper   July 9, 2014

Summertime is perfect for light, frivolous books you can stuff into a canvas bag and read at the beach, or in line for the roller coaster, or on that long bus ride to the wine country.  You don’t expect much from these books, except maybe a good story and a little escapism.  That said, the bar is not set especially high when I pick up one of my beach reads.  This book, Only With You by Lauren Layne, should have filled the bill nicely.  How could it miss with a young lovely heroine with two degrees from Stanford, and a brooding, emotionally wounded CEO who dance around their possible relationship, exchanging witty repartee before giving in to love and happy ever after? Alas.

We will now slip into my alter identity, that of crusty and curmudgeonly ancient crone.  I really tried to like this book.  I tried to refashion my mindset to a place where these characters made me smile and cheer and root for their happiness.  I tried to say “You go, girl!!”, “You’re on track!” “Don’t let them hold you back with their silly grownup expectations,” (I know, how embarrassing.  Even your mother doesn’t say “You go, girl!” anymore. So I’m old.  And I’m being curmudgeonly, so I am allowed.)

Lauren Layne has talent as an author.  Her stories flow, her dialog moves rapidly, the reader does not find herself trapped in a morass of bad writing.  That said, this particular book had me wanting to fling it at the wall, or vandalize every known copy so that its insidious demeaning presumptions never poison the mind of even ONE female reader.  The  story opens with Sophie dressing for a bachelorette party in Vegas.  The theme of the party is flashy trash so she is wearing a skirt less than a bandaid, a top that bares much of her torso, and thigh high vinyl hooker boots.  Her long blonde hair (of course) is teased out, and she has on false eyelashes that glitter. She gets trapped in a stalled elevator with gorgeous and distant Gray, CEO of a luxury hotel concern.  He thinks she is a hooker.  Well, DUH!  She is dressed like one.  On purpose.  What SHOULD he think?  But no, Sophie is offended.  So offended that she quits her job as a waitress in a dive bar the next day, without any backup plan.  Back in Seattle, she heads to her horrible uptight parents’ house for Sunday dinner.  Why are they awful?  Because her doctor father who has paid for not one but two degrees from Stanford that Sophie is not using, plus a year and a half of law school that Sophie dropped out of,  is disappointed that she is failing to use her potential, opting for the aforesaid dive bar career instead. Oh, and he is more interested in the Mariners than golf.  Her mother is shallow and nouveau riche crass, always pushing for marriage and success for Sophie.  She picks on Sophie for not being like her perfect sister Brynn the orthodontist. How does she pick on her?  By pointing out when she is late, or that she is wearing torn jeans rather than dressing up a little for dinner.  Oh the horror.

Brynn is bringing a new boyfriend to dinner.  Oh what a surprise!  It’s the dude from the elevator in Vegas!  Who would have guessed?  Squashed together in the powder room, they figure out Sophie is not a hooker, and he realizes he is attracted to her, not her sister.  Over a strained dinner, Sophie reveals she has quit her job without another in sight, and Gray needs a personal assistant.  He offers her the job, without knowing anything about her skills or talents.  Of course he does.  That’s how successful CEOs operate all the time, right?  From that point on, Sophie sashays her way through his company, proving invaluable in making coffee with cream and saving big acquisition deals with her breasts, while heating up her boss as well.  It is ludicrous.

The set- up is insulting.  If any real couple found themselves in this situation it would never play out this way.  We are expected to believe being mistaken for a whore in her whore outfit causes Sophie such distress she immediately quits her waitress job, as if there is some feasible connection between them.  We are expected to understand Sophie’s disappointment in how she perceives she is treated by her parents, her sister, and her lover, lacking in respect, when she acts like an idiot, not a 27 year old woman with an impressive college education.  In fact, nothing in the book ever makes you believe that Sophie could have ever finished the type of curriculum we are told she excelled at.

Women in general are treated as objects.  Constantly throughout we are given vignettes of Sophie focused solely on things of a sexual context: “ Her lady parts purred” when her boss pours wine into a plastic cup.  Her “hellish yoga helped to keep her backside from wobbling.”  Gray is upset about an upcoming business meeting because “Watching Alistair sniff after his assistant’s tight little ass like a randy dog would be more than he could handle.”  He thinks about dinner conversation with his siblings as running “My secretary? Yeah, I mistakenly implied she humped for money and she now spends every hour of the day pushing my buttons.”  His sister is pimped out to the same Alistair during a bowling outing to help encourage the hotel acquisition.  I could go on, with another nine or ten examples I bookmarked, but it is just too depressing.

Sophie’s expectations are inane.  She is offended because she is mistaken for a hooker, she is offended because her huge contribution to Gray’s business as his coffee toting, picnic arranging, taxidermied head removing assistant is undervalued. She is offended because her parents don’t invite her to play tennis with them anymore.  She is a petulant pain in the butt. Sophie triumphs by helping Gray defrost after his betrayal by a former fiancée freezes his emotions. She breaks free from her oppressive family’s expectations by realizing the one thing she really wants is marriage, love, a home and kids.  What?  Where did that come from?  She hated her mother for pushing marriage all the time.  She never so much as blinks at a child in this book.  The one chance she might have had, with the son of Gray’s friends, is thrown out because the boy is asleep when she meets them.  Yet we are expected to believe that the solution to Sophie’s life crisis is marriage to Gray and yet another degree, this time in Teaching.  Between the clear ethical abuses involved in Gray’s sexual relationship with an employee way down the corporate chain whose superior he is, to the ridiculous inflation of Sophie’s importance in her job, to the nonsense she spouts and the bizarre solutions to all the conflicts, everything in this book annoys me.  I am all in favor of some willing suspension of disbelief for a Cinderella story, but this is no sweet fairy tale.  The next book in the series will be Brynn’s story.  I won’t be reading it.  And I won’t let anyone I care about read these, either.  All the wrong questions and all the wrong answers for anyone looking for a lifeplan, even a fictitious one.

In accordance with FTC guidelines for bloggers and endorsements, I would like to clarify that the books reviewed by me are either purchased/borrowed by me, or provided by the publisher/author free of charge. I am neither compensated for my reviews nor are my opinions influenced in any way by the avenues in which I obtain my materials.  I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Special, Spoiler-free review of Deborah Harkness’ “Book of Life”

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Part of Female Magic Wielder Month on A Bibliophile’s Reverie

Please be advised that it is spoiler-free, in terms of having no explicit plot revelations. But, people these days are even more over-scrupulous (and even a little neurotic) about avoiding spoilers. If you want to avoid them at all costs, don’t read any reviews before reading the book. It is that simple!

 

In the precarious realm of final installments to prodigious,large-scope fantasy series, series can either fizzle into pedantic, unsatisfying obscurity or end in a way that is both emotionally and technically satisfying. From my vantage, the type of story that represents the worst ending in the last ten years for any series has got to be Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, which really got nonsensical and extremely interminable by the story’s end, as the novel was both too predictable, too silly, and very dull by the end. There were even certain things, from my ethical vantage, that were even really offensive and deeply disturbing, as per the implications of certain weird, unseen plot development towards the mid-point of that novel.

I feel like endings, inherently, are some of the hardest types of books for any novelist to pull off, in a way that satisfactorily appeases all readers. On the other end of the spectrum, the noteworthy example of an excellently written conclusion novel lies Cassandra Clare’s incredible Clockwork Princess, the third and last installment of her best series Infernal Devices. All these aforementioned opinions are merely opinions, and as such, this spectrum that comprises the bad and good endings of any known, or pre-existing fantasy/speculative fiction trilogy can change, according to your subjective perspective of what elements in a narrative constitutes either a bad or good ending.

In the case of Deborah Harkness’ Book of Life, I am very pleased to say happens to fall somewhere a few inches away from Clockwork Princess on my own good/bad ending spectrum. Emotionally, this novel is very deeply-affecting to readers, who have become greatly invested in the lives of these characters. All the nuances of the characters are further carefully refined, and even the smallest strand of seemingly unimportant facets of these characters are continuously developed throughout the course of this very fast-moving, very engrossing 559 paged book. It also shows vast improvement, in areas of plot development, over the first book, which sometimes wallowed in slow, sometimes boring scenes of mundanity.  Of course, these scenes proved to be very purposeful, and even integral to the story’s structure, as the story perfectly conveyed the sterility of Diana Bishop’s clean-cut academic lifestyle, which really was not enchanting and even fun for readers to read. Masterfully, the novel slowly becomes much more interesting and magical, throughout the course of the first novel, and the series truly becomes worthy of academic and serious literary attention, when the second book comes into the scene.

The third book balances the mundane elements of the story’s character development, with more exciting, magical elements much more seamlessly than Discovery of Witches, in a way that is very much intentional. In terms of Diana Bishop’s journey and development as a powerful witch; Deborah Harkness calculatedly shapes the texture of the novels themselves to match the development of Diana from a dry academic, aloof of the magical realm around her,into a powerful, even brash witch that is fully confident with both her abilities and trying to achieve what needs to be done. Antithetically, Diana Bishop is very much the type of truly dynamic female main character, which many fantasy fiction fans have been truly yearning for. We do not want female characters that are strong, super-powered enchantresses, by default, or somehow become more seductive or voluptuous when they transform into stronger characters, as though the author is implying women must be sexy in order to be powerful, or that true strength is really superficialized into a glossed-up visage. Or, you must somehow have brute strength, or be completely remorseless in the way you kill others around you, to accomplish the goals of your own story, and overcome adversity.

Adversity in Deborah Harkness’ novel is much more subtle, and the true way that Diana learns to overcome these abilities may not always be construed as only relying on her magic. In many ways, it is her steadfast love for Matthew Clairmont, her family, her compatriots of daemons, witches, and vampires- all characters that she has crossed on her journey- who become her true,binding source of strength in the end. If you see the former sentences as a spoiler, you probably shouldn’t be reading any reviews of this book, as it is impossible for me to evaluate this novel thoroughly, without somehow discretely referring to certain overarching plot developments or elements that prove to be developed in ways that are very satisfying to the reader.

Another element that I love is the richer development of Matthew Claremont, the fairly complex and realistically shaped vampire character of the series, who never becomes mired in certain generic character archetypes, which have been haunting the vampire genre for too long. Thankfully, he continues to have very fleshed out flaws that Deborah Harkness deftly allows to be examined, as with all the flaws of the various characters, and shown to be more than just a smooth, infallibly moralistic vampire character.

Even though Diana,Matthew, and many of the side’s characters  overall character development is very well done, there is a one rather disappointing feature of this novel that prevents it from truly being a truly excellent ending. The one thing that I feel was done in a rather anemic, even rushed fashion was the development of the novel’s main villain. This seems to be a growing problem in the fantasy genre.A lot of writers will haphazardly throw in villians, and skimp on the development of their villain’s motivations, or make them monologue in ways that become really silly and inappropriately funny, rather than realistically frightening . Now, the villain is still developed in better ways than more egregious examples of this trope of monologuing, recycled villains overreaching the fine line between believable villainy and clownish villainy. While the Lord of the Rings series is considered a classic (in many ways, it becomes “infallible,” and beyond the reach of criticism by some more fervid fans), the villain in that series is pretty ridiculous and unbelievable. I never was convinced that the abstract evil of the Lord of the Rings series was ever a very real threat, especially in the movies, where he is just this stupid glass, protuberate eye thingy-ma-jing.

Thankfully, there is no stupid, bombastic battle sequence to contrivedly spell out the destruction of this villian. And, I cannot tell you how sick I am of reading perfectly good novels descend into boring, tiresome action sequences that go on for pages and pages with tons of superfluous description of characters running around, like chickens with their heads cut off, showing off their special physical skills, that they never had till they magically tapped into this intrinsic skill, in a very prophetic fashion, during the course of the battle. So, Deborah Harkness did succeed in writing a polished ending, which does end both intelligently and cogently, in that it is more interested in the intellectual elements of the storyline versus the vacuous physical triumphs of the story’s heroes in some pathetic excuse for a waste of twenty to thirty page battle sequence(so, I am happy that no such battle sequence is practically nonexistent in this novel). The novel’s various elements are smoothly alchemised, by the novel’s brilliant ending, which brings everything together in a way that is not generic, tiresome, or interminable.  Thankfully, Deborah Harkness knows that  the readers, reading the All Soul’s Trilogy, want something a bit more substantive, than silly “let’s vanquish the boring, one-dimensional monstrosity” to win the day. There are higher stakes in this novel, that have much more sinister, far-reaching implications than just your city of boring, nameless civilians being crushed by a monster, or silly CGI-fied (mainly nameless) soliders screaming, and being killed by large, absurd looking fantasy monsters.

So, the villain is a tad bit one-dimensional, in some sense, but he does exemplify some truly believable villainous traits at other times. Again, Deborah Harkness handles his development in not a completely unsatisfying way, at least from my perspective, but the villain, when compared to the more complex characters of the story, doesn’t seem developed in a way that was satisfying to me.  His development feels a bit haphazard at times, and again, there were times his appearances in the novel felt slightly stagnant and forced.

But, the villains of any of Deb Harkness’ novel are not really the focal point of what truly intrigues me, as a reader, about this novel.  It is the ingenious way that this novel masterfully utilizes the literary mechanics of literary alchemy, in one of the most impressive ways since JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. And, the development of Diana Bishop is truly impeccable, in the way Deborah Harkness is very careful to mold her into a very realistically flawed, dynamic character. Moreover, Deborah Harkness writes a book that does no disservice to the dedicated readers of the All Soul’s Trilogy. Most of the truly important canon characters, and even side characters, are given very  thorough development that shows that Deborah Harkness took the necessary time to carefully tie up their disparate, though interwoven subplots in ways that show respect to all the characters.

Even with my one small note of criticism about the construction of the villain, the overall novel is written very well, and fans will be very pleased with this final installment of a series that deserves more attention from academic circles for the adept, even unconventional way it uses the mechanisms of literary alchemy, or recreates a parallel version of our history within a world, where vampires, daemons, and witches happen to exist. To all the fans, I really hope that you enjoy this wonderful final novel, for it’s definitely a book that you’ll have trouble putting down, once it has been opened! Everything converges in a chaotic, but very symmetrical, meaningful way, which proves that Deborah Harkness truly cares about the fascinating, multifaceted characters that she has been writing about for three consecutive books.  It is a wonderful, refreshing, satisfying ending that shines with alchemical brilliance, and it champions egalitarian values in a strong, moral way that leaves the reader themselves feeling deeply edified.

 Remember that I still have a contest running, where you can enter for a chance to win Diana Bishop’s Commonplace Book or a copy of “Book of Life.” The contest ends July 31st, 2014, and it is only open to people, living in the United States!

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Review of Lindsay Buroker’s “Republic”

Amazon (Kindle Edition)/GoodReads

Reviewed by Paula Tupper

  • File Size: 1895 KB
  • Print Length: 619 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JTIME9E

 

 

It had been years since I read dystopian fiction.  There was a period in my distant past when I was obsessed with it.  Post Apocalyptic civilizations fascinated my youthful cynicism and I gorged on 1984, A Canticle for Leibowitz,  Alas Babylon, everything by Heinlein and Philip K. Dick.  This phase lasted on and off through the original Star Trek years, Bladerunner, and Firefly, until I eventually drifted off to noir detectives and steamy bodice rippers. (Hey, I’m a Renaissance gal…I read Richard Feynman, Louis L’Amour and Michael Shaara, too.  And soup cans and cereal boxes.  But I digress.)

Anyway, after years away from ruined monuments, lost technology, and unreadable runes, I stumbled on a series of books set in a steampunk-ish  sort of a world, where the current civilization is caught somewhere between magic and technology, where an ancient people have left dangerous artifacts that keep surfacing to be abused by power hungry organizations looking to overthrow the empire.  The emperor is, of course, young and untried.  The only thing between him and those lusting for his throne is a band of misfit outlaws, led by a neatfreak female enforcer, assisted by a stoic assassin, a young streetpunk learning the ancient magic sciences, a foppish paid escort, a scarred and silent foreigner, and an alcoholic professor.  Lyndsay Buroker’s series, The Emperor’s Edge, caught me wholly in its web. I found myself devouring all seven of her books, plus the novellas and short stories, and waiting for the spinoffs.  When she announced there would be an eighth volume, I was delighted.

Unfortunately, Republic left a lot to be desired.  Although the previous books were definitely part of a series, a reader could enjoy them as stand alone adventures and still get a good understanding of the distinct personalities of the characters.  In Republic, Buroker has given us short shrift, as if she felt that by now she could skip the buildup of character and just launch into the action. This leaves the book feeling flat and the reader less invested in the plights of Sespian, and the rest of the band.  This is a real detriment, since we are expected to suffer the pangs of young love, yet are so distant from the characters that we feel little more than mild interest and very little empathy as they slowly (and I do mean slowly) move towards being a couple.  All of the storylines feature some kind of challenge to love… will one survive poison, will another overcome selfdoubt, will a third resolve the conflict of career and relationship, will the fourth conquer infertility?  Will the secondary characters ever find a date?  It could have all been an interesting dissection of love and individuality, but instead it is all rather silly.

The villain in the book is a maneating invasive plant, threatening to take over the city and looking to kill the president.  A secret religious sect is trying to use the plant to frighten the populace and take over the government.  The president’s teenage daughter is the foremost expert on plant biology. All in all, it just seems to be one dizzy hamster cage.

I was seriously disappointed.  I enjoyed the earlier Edge books so much that I could see them as a series developed by Joss Whedon… something like a Firefly on terra firma rather than travelling space.  There was enough witty dialog to carry you along, and the people rose off the pages in three dimensions.  I could not wait to read what was going to happen next to Amaranthe and Sicarius.  This time, I felt like they had all run out of steam.  All I can say to you, fellow reader, is go back and read the first seven books of The Emperor’s Edge.  Then, if you really miss the characters, and really need a quick refresher, by all means pick up Republic, but do so with lower expectations, and hope that the next go around recaptures some of the missing fire.

In accordance with FTC guidelines for bloggers and endorsements, I would like to clarify that the books reviewed by me are either purchased/borrowed by me, or provided by the publisher/author free of charge. I am neither compensated for my reviews nor are my opinions influenced in any way by the avenues in which I obtain my materials.

 

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Wayfaring Stranger Blog Tour: Review of Wayfaring Stranger & Interview with James Lee Burke


Amazon
/Barnes and Nobles/Books-A-Million/Goodreads
Interview with James Lee Burke:

(1). A Bibliophile’s Reverie: While this is somewhat of a conventional interview question, what sparked the idea, originally, for the book, and was the experience of writing it different from your other books?

James Lee Burke: I had to wait over fifty years to write this book. For various reasons, I probably shouldn’t say more than that about its origins. 
 

The era I write about, however, is not intended to be a period piece. I believe the second half of the 20th century has given us the world we have today. Actually, our current situation has its origins in 1914. T.E. Lawrence in his magnificent book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom saw the future. No many have paid attention to his prescience in his work.

(2). A Bibliophile’s Reverie: Now, your book brings up many fascinating bits of information about the infamous criminals Bonnie and Clyde, what research did writing this book involve about their various antics? Were than any surprising aspects of this research?

James Lee Burke: I don’t do much research. Bonnie and Clyde were emblematic figures. The novel is actually about an Arthurian vision of the world. Much of the story has to do with the Song of Roland.

(3). A Bibliophile’s ReverieWhich film director, if authors actually had a choice over such matters, can you see doing the best job with an adaptation of this book? 

James Lee Burke: I like this young guy Julian Higgins.

(4). A Bibliophile’s Reverie:Finally, are there are any other book genres that you’d love to experiment with, any historical incidents from the wide world of American history that would be perfect for an exciting thriller read?

James Lee Burke:The great adventure is always at our fingertips. You don’t have to look in other places for it. At least that has been my experience.

Thank you again James Lee Burke for this interview opportunity, and taking the time to answer these questions!

Review:

Not every book that you read offers instant literary gratification,and Wayfaring Stranger  written by thriller writing veteran James Lee Burke, certainly fits that description. From the outset of the novel, I was quite immediately wary of the book, and I felt ambivalent about the characters, their particular circumstances, etc. The book begins precisely in the thick of the Great Depression, or the Dust Bowl, in the rural sections of Texas; this is where we are introduced to the book’s main protagonist, Weldon Holland, who feels initially to be the trademark James Joyce character of feeling internally embattled with the fragmented world of the early twentieth century, during a critical period when the dreams and ambitions of the American Dream prove to be illusory in their scope, and very much unethical in their aims.

While the seemingly mythical figures of Bonnie and Clyde appear early on in the book, they appear almost as mirages of the fading world of the great American empire that will never exist feasibly at any time in the twentieth century, especially after two world wars besieged the world at large at this time. In many aspects, James Lee Burke’s apt title for the book Wayfaring Stranger relates to Weldon Holland’s mythic search for coherence and wholeness in identity, as he lives during the decades of the thirties and forties, where things are again progressively fragmented and mired in corporal corruption of some kind,especially in the worlds of the oil industry and Hollywood,two industries that almost serve as symbolic twins of the purveyors of false grandeur and pretension in the post- World War II period of this book.

Even though, this was a book that I initially approached with apprehension, I soon began wading deep into a pool of very complex prose and paradoxical characters that serve many diverse roles. Of course, the novel also contains a very rich narrative that examines the blurred divisions of the reality of  depreciated moral state and cost of the America Dream  and the illusions and myths that sometimes distract the incautious observer, from seeing the corruption that lies beneath the seemingly pretty, polished gloss of a world, trying hard to forget that there ever was either a Great Depression or two consecutive world wars that told a totally different story of the moral state of the twentieth century.

Wayfaring Stranger’s main character is a war veteran of World War II, and his bravery and heroics from the war, really start to fade in their mythic glory, when Weldon Holland returns to Texas, a decade after the era of the Dust Bowl or the world of Bonnie and Clyde. So in many sense, this story is not just a psychological study of how people were perceiving the history of their country, in such a way, that the telescope was showing them both a fragmented sense of the world of the mythic America and the very real, fragmented, 20th century America but a story of how adulthood always involves the slow destruction of our mythologized view of the world. When myths were constructed historically, they were often stories that told a symbolic story of the true history of a certain event, for myths are constructed from the fabric of nostalgic recollections, and the very same happens to Weldon Holland, when the narrative reflects his experience at one point in the Dust Bowl and his almost surreal encounters with Bonnie and Clyde. This part of the story, fittingly, even reads much like the script for a grainy, black and white, vintage western, which only superficially tells that tale of good and evil being clearly defined, and that there is always an explicit purpose for all the events that unfold in our lives.

So in one sense, Wayfaring Stranger, in the way that it cleverly displays the fragmentation of modernity, feels a bit like a modernist novel. But, it is very much a post-modern novel, as it is tackling this fragmentation, and trying to find coherence in the world, which only inexplicably exists during our childhood. While the modernists were very much entrenched in the fragmentation of the world, post-modern novels like Wayfaring Stranger tries to reconcile the change in perspective of morality that it is very much more relativist than black and white like within an older western film, or that the capitalistic titans of the world are really our heroes of this world that are meritorious in the way that their avaricious goals to dominate a particular market, in this book’s case the oil industry, are seen as “good” from an utilitarian  viewpoint, but not necessarily good in a more traditional ethical viewpoint.

There are so many other complexities in both character and plot development within this very deftly written novel, which falls more under the umbrella term of “literary fiction,” more so than “thriller fiction.” Sometimes, the novel was rather interminable to read, especially the scenes revolving around the discussion of the oil rigs, but even these scenes were very important to understanding the deeper layers of what makes this story really tick. It wasn’t a frivolous, lightly enjoyable beach read, it often wasn’t the most enjoyable book to read in a general sense. But, I feel  that this book, just like a William Faulkner novel, that has so much depth, complexity,and skilled writing that it is very, very rewarding for the circumspect reader to both read, analyze, and ponder. This is a work of literature, and that is not a term that I use in a facile way; it is a novel that will be appreciated most by readers that endeavor to read things with a bit more depth and nuance than your typical dime-store paperback thriller.

I’ll be thinking about this book for another two weeks, and maybe I’ll even re-read it eventually, because even if parts of it didn’t immediately grab me. Wayfaring Stranger is certainly the type of literary novel that, much like the novel suggests, wanders around your subconscious in a methodical search for the deeper meaning and significance of this very rich,layered work.

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