Archive for Book Reviews

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

immortalsWhen people stopped believing in the gods, the gods began to diminish.  They still walk among mortals though.  Artemis now goes by the name Selene DiSilva and she calls Manhattan home.  Her powers may be greatly diminished but she can still handle mortals.  Or can she?  As the story begins and she intervenes to save yet another woman from an abusive man, she finds herself wondering if this is the fight she won’t win.  She does win, but just barely.  Has she finally grown so weak that a mere man can defeat her?  As troubling as that thought is, Selene soon discovers there’s something that frightens her even more.  Someone is trying to resurrect the Eleusinian Mysteries and they are upping the ante by using human sacrifice.  Selene suspects that it’s one of her fellow gods, trying to regain former powers.

This is the first entry in the Olympus Bound series and it’s intriguing.  I liked Brodsky’s interpretation of not only the histories of the Greek gods, but also what they would be like if they were among us today.  And I appreciated Selene’s observations about her fellow gods, particularly Persephone.

The mystery was okay — the gods don’t really hide themselves all that well but why should they bother?  No one believes in them anyway.  I had most of the bad guys figured out but not the main one.  That one caught me by surprise but in a good way.  The tension level was excellent.

The romance, and yes, there is one, sort of — that didn’t really work for me.  Let me amend that.  I felt the romance of Artemis and Orion.  Brodsky sold that very well.  Selene and this guy, not so much.  Aside of the glimpses of her past with Orion, Selene is a pretty icy character.  During her heyday, she may have allowed herself to care about her handmaidens, but these days she keeps everyone at an emotional distance.  She protects women but she doesn’t care about any one of them individually.  I would expect that countless years of only exposing herself to the worst of men would have hardened her against them particularly.  Yet somehow,  while trying to figure out the next move of a fellow immortal intent on sacrificing human lives for godly power, she finds herself drawn to a man she originally suspected of murder?  Over the course of a few books, maybe.  All in the same book though?  Which took place in something like 10 days?  It felt rushed.  Not a deal-breaker though.

The next book in the series, Winter of the Gods, comes out in February.  It’s on my To Read list.


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Footprints to Murder by Marcia Talley

footprints-to-murderBook Review:  Footprints to Murder by Marcia Talley

After meeting up with her former roommate at their college reunion, Hannah agrees to help Susan coordinate the Sasquatch Sesquicentennial in Oregon.  There’s excitement when Big Foot himself seems to wander in front of one of the motion-activated video cameras an attendee has set up near the lodge.  The excitement quickly gives way to shock when the live feed also reveals a still body lying nearby.

This must have been an impulse-grab from the bookshelf; I never intentionally start 15 books into a series.  Sheesh.  That said, this book never really grabbed me, and I don’t think it had anything to do with starting mid-series.  The mystery itself was okay and I enjoyed the newspaper blurbs that introduced each chapter.  I never connected with Hannah though.  She never felt like a real person to me; none of the characters did.

Hannah tells us everything that she notices, whether it’s relevant to the story or not  —  the reunion is only a construct to reconnect the friends during Susan’s time of need — which itself appears only to be a way to conveniently place Hannah somewhere someone is murdered.  Why do I need to know that the new dorm has a dome-covered porthole that changes colors depending upon the energy usage within the building?  Nothing happens at the reunion.  Nothing.  Which begs the question — couldn’t the reunion have been more than an obvious plot device?  Couldn’t it have revealed something deeper about Hannah or her friendship with Susan?  We’re told that they were best of pals, way back when, but their history is skimmed over.  They happily reconnect at the reunion, barely lean on each other at all for emotional support or heck, even safety,  during a conference in which an attendee is murdered, and then go shopping for cowboy boots at the end.  Where’s the depth?  I felt Hannah’s zest for Debbie’s donuts more than I did her friendship with Susan. Even their friendship seems nothing more than a plot device.

That’s probably a harsher review of the book than it deserves.  Maybe.  I was tempted to set the book aside several times but I didn’t, so there’s that.

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Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

serafina-and-the-black-cloakBook Review:  Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Twelve year-old Serafina and her father live in the basement of the Biltmore Estate.  In secret.  In fact, Serafina herself seems to be a secret.  Her pa helped build the mansion and stayed on as its mechanic; people know him, but even the majority of the servants are unaware of Serafina’s existence.  Her pa doesn’t mind her roaming the lower levels of the mansion at night, when most are asleep, but he has expressly warned her against exploring the upper levels where the Vanderbilts and their guests reside.  The few servants who have caught a glimpse of her, here and there, have chosen to look the other away.

One night, she comes across a man in a black cloak, dragging a young girl.  The girl tries to get away and the man’s cloak seems to envelope her.  The girl disappears, but not before she sees Serafina and cries for help.  The man pursues Serafina next and nearly catches her; only her years of exploring the mansion’s lower levels and their hiding places saves her.  She tries to tell her pa about the encounter but he shrugs it off as either a bad dream or an overactive imagination.  She breaks one of his rules and ventures upstairs during the daytime where she comes face to face with the Vanderbilt’s twelve year-old nephew Braedon.  Braedon believes her when she tells him what she witnessed: a girl is missing and she’s not the first to disappear.  Together, the two of them will witness another child taken in the same way.  And they resolve to stop the Man in the Black Cloak.

If you can get past the first few pages during which you’re introduced to Serafina happily hunting and catching rats with her bare hands, this is an enjoyable read.  Beatty handles mystery and suspense well.  Even though I was appalled that Serafina’s pa decided Chief Rat Catcher was the perfect job for a young girl who wanted to earn her keep, my curiosity overcame my revulsion.  Why was her pa keeping her a secret?  Such a secret that he was apparently unwilling to buy her a real doll or clothes of her own.  Wages shouldn’t have been an issue;  as THE GUY who kept the mansion humming with electricity, he was probably paid fairly well, but even paid poorly, they’d been living rent/expense-free in the basement for years.

The Man in the Black Cloak (MBC) is terrifying and he made his appearance in the novel quickly.  Once he made his appearance, I was hooked, and turning pages as quickly as possible.  I did something I never do — take the book into a restaurant with my husband.  Poor guy.  He was stuck with his smartphone for company while we were waiting for our meal; I was that unwilling to set this book down.  And that’s in spite of several flaws.

As excellent as the suspense was, it was easy to see who bad guy was.  I’m okay with that because it was also easy to understand why most of the characters didn’t have a clue; no one other than Serafina and Braedon had actually seen what happened to the children.  All that was known was that children were disappearing during the night.  But why, after the second disappearance, when everyone was afraid that something terrible was afoot, did everyone stay?  Why weren’t they bundling their kiddos up in their carriages and heading home as fast as their horses could take them???  And, backing up a bit, how on earth did MBC lure little Clara into the lower levels of the basement, anyway?  That’s where Serafina encountered them and it seems an unlikely spot for a privileged little girl to be in the middle of the night.

Other plot problems concern the cloak itself.  Spoiler alert:  MBC is not the first to don the cloak.  The man who created the cloak attempted to rid himself of it but couldn’t.  So he threw himself down a well, cloak and all, for the greater good.  Yet, MBC only dons the cloak at night; he is able to remove it at will.  Perhaps the cloak allows this because it knows that MBC isn’t resisting it, only avoiding drawing attention to himself?  However, MBC also retains what he has gained from the cloak, even when he’s not wearing it.  Knowing how the cloak works, this doesn’t seem logical.  And, as much as I love happy endings, I wasn’t sold on this one.  At all.

Despite the problems with the plot, this was an enjoyable read.  Liked the mystery, loved the suspense.  Not sure that I will continue with the series however.

Grades: 5-7

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Books in Brief: Earthsea

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.



A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursala Le Guin.  Sparrowhawk had great magical talent but his reckless pride led him to tamper with magic beyond his training and he loosed a terrible shadow upon the world.  The tragic consequences of his actions sober him.  He applies himself to his studies and grows into a wise mage resolved to capture the shadow and send it back to whence it came.

LOVED this book.  A wonderfully told coming of age story.  A believable story of transformation.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursala Le Guin.  Believed to be the reincarnation of the last high priestess, a young girl is taken from her family and consecrated to the service of the Nameless Ones.  She is isolated and taught the dark rituals she is expected to lead.  Ged (Sparrowhawk) comes to the tombs in search of the lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe.  Arha (Tenar) discovers him and traps him, outraged by his sacrilege.  Her anger gives way to curiosity, however, and she begins to question everything she has been taught.

More horrifying than Ged’s coming-of-age story.  While Ged (Sparrowhawk) brought something terrible into the world, Tenar is ripped from her family when she is only 6 years old and indoctrinated into an evil cult.  And yet, despite this, she is still able to question what she has been taught and choose her path.

The Farthest Shore by Ursala Le Guin Magic is fading quickly from the lands of Earthsea and no one knows why.  Songs are being forgotten and people are going mad.  Archmage Ged (Sparrowhawk) chooses a young prince to accompany him as he searches for the cause.

Le Guin adds more detail to her wonderfully developed world of Earthsea.  She continues to introduce interesting characters.  That said, I struggled a bit with this story.  The Big Bad annoyed me — I think I expected someone Bigger and Badder.  And I didn’t quite get some of the motivations.  I didn’t like the ending — not that it should have ended differently, I just didn’t want it to end the way it did.

Tehanu by Ursala Le Guin.   Le Guin revisits the character Tenar, perhaps the only character more haunted than Ged.  It’s been years since she left the Tombs with Ged; she’s now a widow.  She takes in a severely injured child and names her Therru.  And Ged returns.  Immediately following the events of The Farthest Shore, the dragon Kalessin brings him to Gont, unconscious and near death.  Tenar nurses him back to health . . . but not to his former power.  That is gone.

This was an interesting departure for the series.  Ged has no power; his sense of self is shattered.  And he, Tenar, and Therru are targeted by another Big Bad who has ample magic.  The danger feels more threatening this time around.

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Books in Brief: Fantasy and Sci Fi

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.



Parable of Talents by Octavia ButlerThe breakdown of communities within the United States has led to an upsurge in Christian fundamentalism.  The cruelty people inflict upon each other in the name of religion unfortunately feels all too possible.  Lauren’s small community, established in Parable of the Sower, is destroyed.  Her child is kidnapped and she is imprisoned;  she must find a way to escape and begin again.

Love Lauren!  And I mostly loved this continuation of her story.  My only quibble is that I don’t understand Larkin’s feelings about her mother.  She knew what happened.  She knew what the new fundamentalism was like.  She knew that Lauren had searched for her.  She knew that her uncle Marcus had kept her a secret.  And yet, she resented her mother.  I get it but I don’t get it.  If Lauren hadn’t been Lauren, maybe they wouldn’t have been separated.  But the world Larkin lived in would have been a far worse place.

Upside Down Magic:  Sticks and Stones by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins.  Strange things are happening at Dunwiddle Middle School, the kids in the Upside Down Magic class are being blamed, and there’s talk that they will be kicked out of school.  Nory’s tutor encourages her to join a sport and while things get off to a bumpy start, she and her teammates get to know each other and see other as individuals instead of stereotypes.

Fun!!!  What I love about this series is that it gives kids insight into what it feels like to be different — and it demonstrates that being different isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself.

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent.  Based on the title, I wondered if it was based upon Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.  Maybe influenced???  There’s no mention of Lauren Olamina but this is a story about the belief that humanity’s destiny is beyond Earth.  A space ship designed to think for itself is loaded with the history of human culture, as well as the genetic material to create new humans, animals, and crops.  It’s purpose is to create and prepare a new generation of humans for life on another planet.  Once it has a destination in sight, that is.

Eh.  I liked the premise but this story just didn’t work for me and I have no intention of reading its sequels, Farseed and Seed Seeker.  The character development felt off.  Sargent didn’t convince me of much regarding the relationships formed and choices made.  Not only were the characters in general somewhat flat, Sargent employed two narratives I particularly hate:  girls becoming infatuated with bad boys, and sudden transformations of character.  Can a bad boy change his ways?  Sure, but show me and make me believe it — don’t tell me and expect me to take it in stride.


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Books in Brief: Mystery

Time has gotten away from me.  Because it’s been a few months since I’ve read some of these titles, the reviews will be more about overall impressions rather than detailed analysis.



Kilmoon by Lisa Alber.  Merrit Chase leaves the States to travel to an Irish village to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, who has no knowledge of her existence.  Her arrival triggers events which lead to murder and she finds herself a suspect.  Everything eventually comes back to events from thirty years in the past.

Atmospheric, brooding and complex.  Merrit was not an easy character for me to connect with; her father even less so.  That said, it’s still a good read.  Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern stole the story for me.

Whispers in the Mist by Lisa Alber.  A strange fog has rolled in from the Atlantic.  Along with the fog comes tales of the Grey Man . . . and murders.  Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern is on the case.  Until the case strikes too close to home.

Sequel to Kilmoon by Lisa Alber.  While there are references to events which happened in the first book, it’s not necessary to read it first.  Of the two, this is the stronger story, I think:  Danny is a far more interesting character than Merrit or Liam.

Hidden by Karen Olson.   Nicole Jones abandoned her old name and her old life years before the book begins.  She’s been enjoying a quiet life on Block Island, living off of the grid.  When someone from her past finds her, she realizes that she will have to leave and find another place to hide.

What I liked best about this story was Nicole’s reinvention of herself from the girl she used to be.  I like the Nicole who gives bike tours and taught herself to paint beautiful landscapes.  Her past self, which is revealed as the story progresses, is less interesting.  The mystery is so-so.

Shadowed by Karen Olson.   Sequel to Hidden.  Nicole is now Susan McQueen and she’s living on an island in Quebec, Canada.  She’s trying to recreate the life she had on Block Island, living a quiet life, working as an artist.  She’s still off the grid but this time around she has not given up her computer.  The lure of the online chatrooms and the temptation to reach out to an old accomplice proves to be her undoing this time.  Someone else has been lurking in the chatrooms, and they know her well enough to find her, even though she’s using a different name.

Some things are too easy, some things are too hard, but it’s still a light, enjoyable read.  Someday I will have to re-read the first book to see if something that happens in this one matches up.  Someday.

The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy.  Two online friends, scheduled to meet in person for the first time, are murdered on the same night, two hours and several miles apart.  And north of Minneapolis, Lydia Ascher finds two dead men in her basement.  Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth connect the cases.  When an elderly, terminally ill man is kidnapped from his home and an Alzheimer’s patient goes missing from his care facility, a link emerges.  Leo and Gino team up with Monkeewrench to solve a mystery sixty years in the making and moments away from disaster.

It’s been several months since I read this.  I remember enjoying it — I love the Monkeewrench crew.  I also remember thinking some of it was too easy.  And that there was one really good twist.

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The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

family-plotBook Review:  The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Music City Salvage is struggling.  The small family business risks bankruptcy by purchasing the rights to the contents of the Withrow Estate days before it’s due to be razed to the ground.   The estate with its Victorian mansion, carriage house, and barn offers a big payday but the salvage will have to be done on the cheap.  Any expense that can be cut, is.  Instead of staying in motels, Dahlia and her small crew will stay in the house while they strip it of everything than can be sold.

Having a fondness for historic homes, Dahlia is dismayed when she walks through the home for the first time and realizes that while it’s been neglected, it could be saved.  She wonders at the owner’s decision to tear it down rather than restore it or sell it to someone who would.  As she acknowledges the certain profit to be gained from tearing out its most precious features, she also acknowledges that she will hate doing it.  She makes a promise, out loud, to treat the home with respect.  She’s startled when she senses a reply.  Startled, but not frightened.  Yet.

By the following morning, everyone will be on edge.  The house is undeniably haunted.  Dahlia has done this sort of work for years; this isn’t her first haunted house.  Not so for Brad, Bobby, and Gabe.  She stresses the importance of the job, the fact that they’ll be done by the end of the week, and establishes a buddy plan.  But of course things get worse.  There’s more than one ghost, and although three of them seem harmless, one is definitely angry.

With its mysterious owner, terrible family secrets, locked rooms, ghostly footprints, etc., this is a classic haunted house story.  The secrets aren’t terribly surprising but they don’t have to be — they are disturbing and so make the present-day haunting believable.  For the most part.  The little boy ghost didn’t really work for me once I became aware of his backstory.  And my patience was tested a bit towards the end when Dahlia was determined to push the boundaries of daylight on the final day.  But all in all, I found the story atmospheric, spooky and well-written.  My strongest criticism regards the last page of the book.  The book felt complete — and then Priest tossed in an unnecessary cliffhanger.  Because I enjoyed the rest of the book so much, I’m pretending that scene never happened.

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