Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW | A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
Publication Year: 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery (?) Science Fiction (?)
Series: Kendra Donovan #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrator: Lucy Rayner


WHY?: Murder! Mystery! Time Travel! 

SYNOPSIS:  Kendra Donovan is a genius who was more experiment than daughter to her parents, so it's no surprise that she rebelled against them and is using all her inherited smarts as a profiler for the FBI.  After an operation goes terribly wrong she chases the perpetrator to a role-playing house party in the English countryside where, while in pursuit, she unceremoniously is transported back to 1815. While stumbling around trying to find her footing in this weird situation, one of the housemaids goes missing and she snaps into full-on FBI mode which, needless to say, is rather shocking for all the 1815ers.  


I liked this book.  I really, really did.  I'm putting this right up front because I suspect that contrary to that fact, my review is going to read like a litany of complaints.  There were a number of little things that bugged me and kept the book from being all it could be but even with all that I had an enjoyable time reading it.  So just keep that in mind while I fail to prevent myself from whining about what was and what could have been.

A Murder in Time's protagonist and main perspective character is Kendra Donovan.  When we meet her at the start of the novel she is a brainy FBI agent yearning to see a little field action.  She gets her wish but unfortunately it's in an operation that goes terribly wrong.  Afterwards, she gets really pissed off and goes rogue in order to get revenge on the big bad.  She's on the verge of getting said revenge when she walks down a hallway in a English country manor house, walks through a door and into the 19th Century.  There is very little explanation for this in this book though there are some hints that discovering why and how she went back in time will play a larger role in future books.

Once the book shifts in time, the story really begins.  A missing housemaid leads into a mystery and manhunt that is an interesting and fun whodunnit.  Kendra must figure out how to solve a crime without modern law enforcement technology and must rely more heavily on her profiling skills.  Needless to say, in a society that sees women as delicate, emotional flowers, she sticks out like a sore thumb. She makes little effort to blend in with the time period which in many ways bugged me (more on that later) but the author was clever to have her stick to being American so Kendra is able to pass off her eccentricities to her nationality. Because, obviously, Americans are crazy!  I may seem like I'm joking there but I'm not - we're nuts  - hopefully in a lovable way. 

There are a couple of other characters that help Kendra and are quite interesting as well. The first is the owner of the manor house, who is luckily for Kendra, a little scholarly and eccentric so he is very tolerant and open-minded about Kendra her behavior.  I can see him developing into a father figure for Kendra whose real family in the modern day is less than ideal.  The second is a noble spinster lady, about Kendra's own age, who is scarred by smallpox and who chafes against society's restrictions on women. In solidarity, she takes Kendra under her wing despite being rather shocked by her.  To be honest, and this is a big reason for mild dissatisfaction, I actually found both these two characters more interesting and likable than Kendra.  

Which leads nicely into the complaining portion of post. The book had so much potential and only partially lived up to it in my estimation.  The first issue I thought was with the beginning.  The book didn't really get interesting for me until the first murder is discovered in the historic time period and there is SO MUCH set up and dallying in the modern-day before that takes place.  I appreciate that the author really wanted to establish Kendra's life in contemporary times before shooting her into the past but I honestly didn't feel like I got to know her all that well in those first chapters and the modern day storyline was boring and pointless.  

And speaking of the modern day, one of my biggest complaints which has nothing to do with the book itself was with the audio version.  The narrator, Lucy Rayner, was all wrong for it in my opinion.  She has this very plummy, almost cartoonish British accent with a treacly sweet voice.  It's really jarring during the modern day section where the author is going for hard-boiled modern America with F bombs being dropped and an elaborate shoot out.  In the historic sections it fits a little better but she was still too sweet voiced for this.  I could see her reading the crap out of a Gail Carriger book or a particularly fluffy Regency romance but a mystery/thriller starring an American lead? Nope. 

Kendra.  The reader is repeatedly told what a genius Kendra is, and not in a normal sort of way - she is supposed to be a brilliant, through-the-roof, graduated from college when she was 15 kind of smart. She's read Jane Austen and at times recalls dates in history for specific and often obscure inventions. From her actions, she's not great with people but she doesn't completely lack social skills.  Put all of that together and you'd think she'd be on the ball enough to at least try to be inconspicuous and fit into the time period she finds herself in, but nope.  She doesn't even really seem to try and it is only because she has the good fortune to find herself with the two champions I mention above that she is not carted off to a madhouse or tarred and feathered.  She's always bossing everyone about, finding herself alone with gentlemen and referring to modern day things carelessly.  It stressed me out!  Maybe I need to stop reading so much literature set in the Regency era,lol. Her fish out of water behavior definitely leads to a few interesting scenes but overall it just felt lazy that Kendra didn't even try to fit in.  The author, I think, was just really jazzed up about using modern forensic profiling in a historic setting so didn't fuss with the reality of the situation. Your mileage will vary on how much that bothers you.

There is some romance for our intrepid heroine but the love interest is basically "Generic Regency Dude" and the interactions between he and Kendra who is also a little flat, are  pretty lackluster.  The chemistry isn't absent but it's barely bubbling.  I was much more invested in headstrong spinster lady friend finding herself some lovin' but there isn't even a whisper in that direction.  

FINAL VERDICT:  I found this time-travel mystery thriller to be a mixed bag - it had a lot of potential but only got halfway there, at least for what I was looking for.  The mystery was pretty good and because of that and some of the side characters, I am definitely interested in checking out subsequent books in the series. 3 out of 5 stars.

OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books | The Lit Bitch

Monday, September 25, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Fave Characters Who Fight the Supernatural Menace

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

This week's TTT topic reads thusly:
Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can't wait to see what you all come up with!
Complex and varied characters are pretty much why I love reading books so this is a topic that speaks right to my heart.  For my personal twist, I decided I would choose to celebrate characters who fight, in one way or another, supernatural baddies*.  In other words, Urban Fantasy heroines and heroes.  This is actually a sub-genre I used to have a hard time getting into so I'm excited that I now have a number of Urban Fantasy characters that I adore!

* It must be noted that in many characters these characters do not just fight supernatural critters, they often fraternise in friendlier type ways as well.  BUT, part of their purpose is to stand against the bad supernatural folk so I think it's a fair characterization.

1) Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins - aka Lockwood and Co. in the series of the same name by Jonathan Stroud

I just finished this series and absolutely ADORED it  - I finished the last two books in two and a half days.  These 3 characters make up the Lockwood & Co. ghost hunting agency in an alt reality London and they are all just wonderfully distinct and complex and lovely.  I'm very sad to no longer have their company and wish there were about 5 more books in the series.

2) Peter Grant from the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch

I have raved about Peter many times on this blog.  This was a series that convinced me that I did in fact like UF and a lot of that is because Peter is the bomb.  He's a London police detective who gets drafted into a supernatural unit after he realizes he can see and talk to ghosts.

3) Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

This was the other series that convinced me that UF could be awesome and a few years later I am convinced Ilona Andrews can do no wrong.  Kate is a strong, complicated, confident but not arrogant heroine who I would like to grow up to be some day.  She's sassy and bad ass but she also shows her insecurities and vulnerabilities which keeps her human and relatable.

4) Karrin Murphy from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

It's maybe a little unusual to choose Karrin as my favorite character from this series over Harry but while I like Harry Dresden, I LOVE Karrin.  Karrin is a middle aged cop with no supernatural powers but who nevertheless charges in to fight the big bads whenever she is needed.  She is my favorite character in this series and I often find myself wishing she was the title character and not Harry.

5) Katie Chandler from the Enchanted, Inc. series by Shanna Swendsen

This series is definitely on the fluffier side and has completely charmed me to pieces.  Part of that is Katie, who is a down-to-earth, Texas girl working in a support job for a magical company in New York.  She is a nice change from most UF heroines! She shows that you can fight evil armed only with a lot of good organizational skills. This series also has a nice beta hero and a healthy dose of romance.

6) Mercy Thompson from the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Mercy is an auto mechanic and a Walker - she can shift into the form of a coyote.  She's not particularly strong but her magic is unusual and it gets her into some hot water with all the local baddies.  I like her because she's down to earth and not too cocky.  

7) Penryn Young from Penryn and the End of Days series by Susan Ee

This series is only on the fringes of Urban Fantasy, being more of a post-apocalyptic type story but I think it fits nicely because I love Penryn because she is SUCH a bad ass, fighting evil angels, and defending her little sister.  She is a fantastic character and one of my favorites in YA, period.  

I think I must stop at 7 - I am still a relative noobie to Urban Fantasy but am so glad to have found many characters I love already!  How about you?  Do you have a favorite UF hero or heroine?

Monday, September 18, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books At The Top of My List This Fall

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

This week's topic is straightforward - Top Ten Books on the Fall TBR.  This type of topic is usually focused on books that are being released but my list will mostly just be books that are at the top of my list to be read in the next 3 months. I did try and throw in some up-and-comers that I am particularly excited about!  It's always fun for me to look back on these well-intentioned "this is what I'll be reading" posts and see how I so totally did NOT follow the list!  Doesn't stop me from makin' 'em.  On with the show!

1) The Empty Grave (Lockwood and Co. #5) by Jonathan Stroud

I'm reading book 3 of this series right now. It's about teenaged ghost hunters in England and book 3 is the best in the series so far.  I've already checked out book 4 from the library and I know I'll want to immediately jump into this book which finishes the series.

2) All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

I am distressingly far behind on my reading goal for the year and I need some shorter, fast moving fiction to help move things along.  I am dying to read this novella and it seems to fit the bill.  Bonus: Murderbots!

3) Penric and Desdemona Series by Lois McMaster Bujold

See above my desire for some shorter fiction, and I've been meaning to read this series of 5 fantasy novella's set in Bujold's World of the Five Gods since the first one, pictured above, was released.  

4) Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters #3) by Amy Stewart

I completely adore, with all my heart and soul, this lovely historical crime series.  This third installment just came out earlier in September and no way am I leaving it for several months like I did book 2.  I mean, why would I want to postpone the impatient longing for book 4?

5) Akata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

I can't wait to catch up with Sunny and the Leopard Society.  It has felt like a long wait!  This is Okorafor's YA series about a teenaged Nigerian witch.  It's out on October 3rd. 

6) City of Lies (Counterfeit Lady #1) by Victoria Thompson

I'm a fan of Thompson's Gaslight mystery series that features a turn-of-the-20th-century midwife in New York so I'm excited to see her starting a new series with a very interesting sounding female protagonist! It's out on November 7th. 

7) Stiletto (The Checquy Files #2) by Daniel O'Malley

I am truly disappointed and dismayed with myself by my lack of promptness in reading this follow-up to The Rook.  I'm gonna fix this, this Fall. 

8) Ghostly Echoes (Jackaby #3) by William Ritter

Samesies as the above.  I love this YA fantasy series so not sure why I am two books behind!

9) The Gray Wolf Throne (Seven Realms #3) by Cinda Williams Chima

Like with the Lockwood and Co. series above, I am currently obsessed with this YA fantasy series so there's not a power in the 'verse that will prevent me from picking up book 3 in the near future. 

10) Hallowe'en Party (Hercule Poirot #36) by Agatha Christie

It's one of Dame Agatha's books that I haven't read and tis the season!

That's my list of Autumn reading list sorted.  How about you?  What are you most excited about diving into this Fall?

REVIEW | The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Cathrynne M. Valente

Publication Year: 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Series: Fairy Land #3
Awards: Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book, 2014
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: The Author

SYNOPSIS:  September is now 14 and she has waited a whole year for her birthday to roll around and her 3rd trip to fairyland to begin.  But her birthday comes and goes, and she is afraid she will never go back until, when she least expects it, an irascible Blue Wind shows up and grudgingly allows her to hitch a ride to the moon above fairyland.  After a happy reunion with L and Saturday, September and her friends must go on a journey to find a Yeti who is terrorizing the moon's citizens.  


I should really give Cathrynne Valente credit for at least co-writing this post because a big chunk of it will be in her own words.

Why?  I love this series though they are not the most riveting books in the world and they take forever to read, especially for a middle grade book.  They sometimes feel like they are just a collection of creative ideas Valente had  - really, really creative with beautiful imagery - but with a barely-even-there plot.  They are dreamy and odd.  The characters took me a bit to warm up to though I must profess that I do now adore September, A-through-L and Saturday.  Here's the thing, though. The reason I love them. I'll be listening-reading along, feeling ever-so-slightly bored and then this will happen:

“A silent Library is a sad Library. ... A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens are uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can't-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!” 

And this...

 “Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you're changing into a hundred other things, but you can't let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he's a rabbit, or a mouse while he's still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he's a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It's harder than it sounds.” 

And this...
“Listen to me. Love is a Yeti. It is bigger than you and frightening and terrible. It makes loud and vicious noises. It is hungry all the time. It has horns and teeth and the force of its fists is more than anyone can bear. It speeds up time and slows it down. And it has its own aims and missions that those who are lucky enough to see it cannot begin to guess. You might see a Yeti once in your life or never. You might live in a village of them. But in the end, no matter how fast you think you can go, the Yeti is always faster than you, and you can only choose how you say hello to it, and whether you shake its hand.” 
And yet again, this...
 “September tried to show her sternness. It was becoming a habit. She could show her sternness and think about this another time, when it was quiet and no new red Moon turned somersaults in the sky.
But when she reached for her sternness, all September found in her heart was the bar of a trapeze, swinging wild, inviting her to catch it.
...She leaned up and kissed her Marid and hoped it was the right thing. Her heart caught the bar and swung out, swung wild, over the lights and the gasps below, reaching for a pair of sure blue hands in the air and willing them to find hers.” 
 And finally, a whole lot of this...
“Oh, aren't you just the rottenest wet blanket whoever spoiled a sport.” 
In other words, whenever I start to get a little bored or dismiss the books for having too little plot and flow, Valente hits me with a sentiment which is made of beautiful words and a unique perspective that makes my brain stretch.  And occasionally laugh out loud.  That's why I keep coming back to this beautiful middle grade series.

FINAL VERDICT: It's always good to visit with September and her friends and this installment has a lot of great imagery and thoughts about growing up. 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Monday, September 4, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books that Took Me a While to Love

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

The topic this week allows some leeway in how to approach but I decided to go with the first suggestion, i.e. books (or in a couple of cases, book series) that started off slow but which I ended up really liking.  Here's the official topic listing:
Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I've Most Recently Put Down (the theme is...books you had a hard time with...tweak it how ever you need)
Without further ado, here's my list:

1) The Fairyland Series by Cathrynne M. Valente

This series is charming and delightful but it took me a while to see these qualities because it is also wildly creative, purposely odd and somewhat dream-like.  It's reminiscent of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with the same strange characters and topsy turvy logic and reality.  These qualities are in most ways an asset however, the world-building tends to slow down the storytelling and the oddness sometimes gets in the way of getting to know the characters.  Glad I persisted because the books are lovely and really worthwhile!

2) The Demon King (Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Chima Williams

It took half of this book before it really started to click for me and now I'm completely obsessed with this series!  It felt like the two main characters took a bit to develop into the awesome characters they are and in fact the book started to work for me when these two characters finally meet.  

3) Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith

This one bends the rules a little bit because I did like this series right from the start.  However, while I didn't hate them, the two main protagonists, Cormoran and Robin, didn't  endear themselves to me in the first book.  As the series has gone on, they've really grown on me and now I love them and this series. 

4) The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

This series is somewhat infamous for having a first book that can be daunting for newcomers.  However, persistence is richly rewarded.

5) The Passage by Justin Cronin

I had a hard time getting into both this and book 2 of the series (The Twelve) but they do both pick up and become exciting and marvelous. Marvelous, I tell you!

6) The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

I love this series, which is a fantasy heist story with a fun and charismatic gang of characters,but the first book took a good long while to get going.  This is not an uncommon complaint I have with heist stories simply because, you first have to bring the gang together before they can embark on the heisty goodness.  Once the heist gets started though everything's aces!

7) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Another fantasy heist series!  And this one is unique because it was really only the first chapter that threw a road block.  The chapter is just a generic set up and for some reason it really turned me off so it took me a week to get through it, simply because I'd read a little bit, get bored and drift off for a couple days, lol.  Once the main characters showed up, however, I was completely addicted and zoomed through it in record time.

8) Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

It's hard to believe now, after I have devoured this series and loved it, that I had picked up the first book previously and put it down after a couple of chapters, bored.  I picked it up again and persisted because I couldn't believe that I wouldn't end up loving a book series that plays with Greek mythology.  And I was right!

All three books in this series started off a little ho hum for me but by the end of the books everything came together and I really enjoyed them!

10) A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

I had a hard time getting into this first book and I really struggled with the female lead.  In the end, it worked though and book two was fantastic!


That's my list this week!  Did any of you have similar experiences with any of these books or do you totally disagree?