review: odd thomas

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (2003)

Though I have liked both of the books I have read by Dean Koontz in the past (Fear Nothing and Phantoms) he isn’t one of my go-to authors.  My perception of his work and the fact that his name is frequently spoken in the same breath as Stephen King’s (and as it happens, the books of these two writers are often found on the same shelves, almost back to back with each other), I tend to think of his novels as residing more in the horror genre than anything else.  Horror isn’t a genre I seek out all that often because I don’t like to be scared.  Life in the 21st century is plenty scary enough.  But then every time I read a book by Koontz I remember that it isn’t that his books are really horror.  Instead they are suspenseful and you don’t always know what awaits the characters around the next corner.  If you haven’t ever picked up a book by Dean Koontz because you’re also not a fan of the horror genre, but you do like suspenseful stories that will keep you turning the pages, give Odd Thomas a try. Continue reading

review: cursed city

Cursed City by William Massa (2016)

Do you ever get into reading slumps?  You know, those periods when you search and search for something to read (even though you have tons of books already on your bookshelf just waiting for your attention) but nothing ever really sparks your interest? When you read sample after sample and give up before you get to the end? When you force yourself to finish the book you took a chance on even though it doesn’t fully capture you and demand you keep turning the pages? Well, this is where I have been for the last few weeks.  I have started several books but haven’t finished one, and I’ve spent way more hours scrolling through my options on Amazon than is good for me.  At last, I opted for Cursed City and I read it from start to finish in one day. While I feel terribly accomplished in that I actually met my reading goal for the week (to read just one book), I’m not enthusing about the book itself. Continue reading

review: one snowy night

One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis (2016)

This novella is book number 2.5 in Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series (preceded by Sweet Little Lies and The Trouble with Mistletoe, and followed by Accidentally on Purpose, which I reviewed here). One of the good things about this series is that each book stands alone and the books can be read in any order. I’ve said this before and will say it again, Jill Shalvis is one of those authors whose books I will always check out because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t know if I would put her in my list of favorites, but she’s dependable and entertaining and hasn’t ever disappointed me.

One Snowy Night is an easy and quick read. I tried to read with my “reader” hat on but somehow my “writer” hat kept demanding to be worn. While reading, the development of the main characters—Max Stranton and Rory Andrews—preoccupied my mind as well as the basic story structure. The story is told through Max and Rory’s alternating third person point of view, and while I would say that the narrative is split fairly evenly between them, I wouldn’t say that by the end of the story I know either of them especially well. Sure, I know them in terms of their current situation—Rory has agreed to accept a ride from Max as they both travel from San Francisco to Tahoe on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with their families. Perhaps that is attributable to the short narrative as well as the fact that the story itself takes place within a time frame of approximately twelve hours.

The desire for forgiveness is what drives Rory’s character. What haunts her is the way she left home. At seventeen, she ran away from home after her junior year in high school in order to escape a household where she didn’t fit in and a family who blamed her for things she hadn’t done. Six years later, she is finally returning home and fears that she will do something to make her family continue to believe she is flaky and undependable. Proving that she has changed is the thing that drives all of her actions and emotions. In the end, it is her interactions with Max during the drive from San Francisco to Tahoe that shows what kind of person she is, and it’s up to her family to see and accept for themselves the woman she has become.

While Rory’s character arc is clearly defined, Max’s is a bit blurry and indistinct. He is haunted by the same incident in Rory’s past but his experience of it was different and he begins the story blaming Rory for what he thinks was her part in it. During the drive, he learns the truth about what actually happens, and this does change the way he sees Rory and allows him to act on the attraction he has felt for her in the time that they have both lived in San Francisco. Max travels a flat character arc through the story. He doesn’t change in any significant way (yes, it can be argued that he admits his love for Rory and that that is a significant change, but in my mind, this is a romance and that is what is expected and without that element the whole story fails to work). Rather, he reflects Rory’s positive change arc and assists her along the way, ensuring that once she does finally make it to her family home, her opinion of who she is and understanding that she is no longer the seventeen-year-old girl who ran away from home six years is what matters most. She won’t be devastated if her family doesn’t see the change and we feel confident that she’ll continue to be who she is even if she doesn’t have her family’s acceptance.

The structure of the story is also difficult to define in absolute terms. When it comes to story structure, I’m looking for the following six key turning points in the plot: catalyst, big event, midpoint, crisis, showdown, revelation. One Snowy Night does have external conflicts and obstacles that the characters must overcome along with inner conflicts that the characters must resolve. And yet, the lines between acts one, two and three are blurry and indistinct, and in my opinion, the turning points are largely absent. This is more observation than judgmental. The story moves along fine and has good pacing; there wasn’t a moment when I wanted to put the book down and stop reading.

If you’re looking for a few hours of escape into a book and want a light romance, One Snowy Night delivers. If you want something a bit deeper and more complex, I can recommend the first book in the series, Sweet Little Lies and the third book, Accidentally on Purpose. If you’ve already read every book in this series, well, then, perhaps like me you’re waiting for Spence’s story to finally be told in Chasing Christmas Eve.

Have you read One Snowy Night? Hit the comments and tell me what you thought of it.

review: just one touch

Just One Touch by Maya Banks (2017)

For the part of me that is a writer, it is a challenging task to write this book review.  I find myself wanting to temper my comments and yet I know that I just need to come right out and say what I’m really thinking.  What I’m really thinking is that this book isn’t any good.  I have read and liked other books by Maya Banks in the past, but this one definitely is not like the others, and in this case that’s a bad thing.  The only reason that I got to the end of the book was because, well, I forced myself to keep reading.  Not because I thought it would get better (I didn’t and it didn’t) and not because I have some sort of personal rule about finishing every book I begin (I don’t and have given up on countless books).  The idea of the story had potential, but it was wasted time and time again.  I’m putting this book into my newly minted “Don’t Bother” category of books, and here’s why.

In theory, Just One Touch should be able to stand alone.  It is the fifth book in Banks’ Slow Burn series; however, the series isn’t serial in nature in that the events of one book are a continuation of or dependent upon the events that took place in the book or books that came before it.  The books are set in the same world and you will see characters from previous books make appearances; however, these do not have to be read in order, so you can jump in at any point or pick and choose to read the stories that appeal to you.  One of the problems with the book is that even as it tries (and fails) to stand alone, it reveals a lot of the details of other books in the series to the point that if you hadn’t read the others, you’d already have them spoiled for you.  In addition, if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, you will be confused by some of the actions of the supporting characters.  What’s more, you’ll be called upon to care about the fate of those characters in this book, to be empathetic and sympathetic toward them, but if you haven’t read each of their stories, that aspect of the story will be lost to you and only further decrease the odds that you’ll enjoy the book.  In my opinion, if you’re going to write a series you have to either (1) have each book be a link in a sequential chain, where you must read them in order, or (2) have the books exist within the same world and with recurring characters but each book can and does stand on its own.  For this reader, Just One Touch misses the mark.

The characters, as well as the development of those characters, also fails to deliver.  There’s no real depth to either the male protagonist or female protagonist.  Instead, Isaac and Jenna are both cardboard, two-dimensional stick figures who do what they’re supposed to do but are in no way engaging or interesting.  Both characters’ pasts are shrouded in mystery.  At least, I think that’s the intent.  I’m not spoiling anything by saying that at the beginning of the story, Jenna has escaped from a cult.  Though the question of how she came to be a member of the cult is answered in the faintest of terms by the end of the story, the answer itself is rendered meaningless because I don’t ever get to the point where I really care.  Likewise, Isaac’s history is also shrouded in secrecy, and though the intent is to show that whatever is in his past haunts him to the point that he needs a kind of spiritual healing, it’s never specifically spelled out what, exactly, haunts him.  I didn’t ever really know who the main characters were, and I was never invested in them.  There were moments when Jenna in particular is supposed to be read as strong, selfless, and courageous.  Honestly, I kept thinking “Is this really the choice you’re going to make? Seriously?”.  She’s not believable as a character.  None of the character development worked for me.

Oh, and this is a romance, right?  Not only was I not invested in Isaac and Jenna as separate characters, I wasn’t invested in their love story either.  There was never any chemistry between them, no tension, nothing to make it hard for me to look away and put the book down.

There’s also the dimension of suspense, right? The villain of the story (and yes, in my mind villain is the accurate term to use here instead of antagonist because the character isn’t nearly complex enough to earn that descriptor) is yet another cardboard figure.  Apparently, nothing more than evil and a quest for immortality drive his actions.  Throughout the story, his machinations are nothing more than plot devices.  The crisis/all is lost moment in the story is quite predictable and the showdown is anticlimactic at best.

Then there’s the epilogue.  Don’t read it.  Trust me, just skip it altogether.  If I hadn’t been reading on my e-reader I would have thrown the book against the wall.  As it is, I’m rolling my eyes and shuddering just thinking about it.

It’s rare that I give a book a one-star rating.  I know from experience how hard it is to write a story from start to finish, and consequently, I typically choose not to review books if I think I’m going to struggle to find good things to say about it. I’m changing my mentality (or trying to change it) on that because I think if you’re a writer, you can learn from books that are not executed or written well. That’s what Just One Touch is for me.  A lesson on what not to do in my own writing.

review: hard to let go

Hard to Let Go by Laura Kaye (2015)

And then we came to the end. Hard to Let Go is the final (full-length) installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, which follows a group of five men who were discharged from Army Special Forces in disgrace and are trying to unravel the truth behind the event that ended their military careers. If you haven’t read all of the books before this one, then here’s your spoiler alert warning. Stop reading because there are spoilers dead ahead. If you’re interested in checking out the series, I do recommend the first book, Hard As It Gets.

Is it part of a series?
Yes. This is book six in the Hard Ink series and I would advise reading them in order. Hard to Let Go wraps up the larger mystery threaded through the series and ties off all the loose ends.

What is it about?
If you look at the book in terms of its placement in a series, then you can guess that Hard to Let Go is the climax of the series as a whole. The book begins where the previous book in the series, Hard to Be Good, leaves off. There’s been an attack on Hard Ink and in terms of the series’ story structure, the team’s investigation into the events surrounding their discharge from the military and the coverup of what actually happened has reached its moment of crisis. The attack brought death and loss straight to the team’s door, and the beginning of Hard to Let Go is basically the aftermath. The team is reeling but still intent upon pursuing their investigation to the end, particularly in light of all of the sacrifices they’ve made up to this point. In this book, Kaye gives us the revelation of the mastermind as well as answers the questions of what the initials GW and WCE mean, sets up the final confrontation and showdown between the team and the villain, and delivers closure and realization for the team. Oh, and of course there’s the romance plot between Beckett and Kat.

Tell me more about the main characters.
Beckett Murda is the fifth and final member of the team to find love. For most of the series, Beckett has been the one on the fringes of the group. He feels guilty and responsible for the injury his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio (whose story is told in Hard to Come By) suffered during the firefight that ended their military careers. He is also struggling with his past, which has led him to be emotionally numb and caused him to believe that he doesn’t deserve love and that no one wants him in their lives, as either friend or family. Katherine “Kat” Rixey is Nick Rixey’s sister (whose story is told in the first book, Hard As It Gets). She’s come to Baltimore to visit her brother and also put distance between her and a threatening ex-boyfriend. Kat is an attorney at the Department of Justice, and she reveals that her office has been investigating some of the same people that the team has identified as being part of the plot to discredit them. She agrees to provide the team with documents that could be helpful to them, risking her career in the process. Although Beckett and Kat’s relationship begins with the familiar “I can’t stand you” trope, they work well together as the leads of the story. Both of them are likable characters, and if you’ve been invested in Beckett’s character throughout the series and waiting for his story, you won’t be disappointed. Another highlight of Kat’s introduction into the story is that there is additional emphasis on the aspect of family. Nick, Jeremy, and Kat are their only family unit, as are Becca and Charlie, but Kat’s inclusion into the story reinforces a running thread throughout the series, which is the idea that family isn’t just about blood relations. Sometimes family ties are forged in blood. With Kat’s appearance, there’s also the sense that the Rixey family has once again been made whole, and that the ties between brothers and sister are stronger than ever. Indeed, the same can be said of Becca and Charlie in light of the revelations of their father’s actions before his death.

What is the narrative style?
Like many romance novels, the narrative is told in third person point-of-view, alternating between Beckett and Kat’s POV. The narrative style works and I liked being able to see the story, at last, from Beckett’s point of view.

Should I invest my time?
If you’ve come this far into the series, then yes, you should definitely read this book. Again, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in how the overarching story ends or in the romance plot between Beckett and Kat. I actually gave this book five stars when rating it, which isn’t something I do often. In my opinion, the book earned that rating from me because it not only rewarded my investment in the series as a whole, but it also drew me into Beckett and Kat as characters and convinced me to become invested in their story. I see this series as falling into the subgenre of romantic suspense, and since that is what I write myself, I appreciated the way this story (and the series as a whole) was structured and how the romance plot and suspense plot were intertwined. Though I am sad to see this series come to a conclusion (yes, there’s one more novella after this one that I’m guessing is actually an epilogue to the series as whole), I was more than satisfied by the conclusion. I’m also comforted by the fact that there is Kaye’s new series, Raven Riders, to look forward to. The Hard Ink series is definitely one that I recommend to anyone who likes their romance and suspense to walk hand in hand.