A review of Justice in the Shadows (Justice #3) by Radclyffe

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: in a shadow world of secrets, lies, and hidden agendas, Detective Sergeant Rebecca Frye and her lover, Dr. Catherine Rawlings, join forces once again in the elusive search for justice. Rebecca is aided in her struggle to uncover a pornography ring and expose its connections to a traitor within the police department by a rag-tag team of dedicated cops and civilians: JT Sloan, a cybersleuth committed to avenging her lover’s devastating injury who walks the fine line between justice and revenge; Dellon Mitchell, a young police officer who discovers an unforeseen talent for undercover work; and Sandy, a prostitute who develops an unexpected passion for cops. Ultimately, this secret investigation may risk not just their careers, but may cost one their life.

MY REVIEW: This series just keeps getting better! I was pretty “meh” when I read Shield of Justice, book one of Rsdclyffe’s Justice series; some time earlier, I had read book one in her Honor series, and was basically underwhelmed by that one, too. Well, there’s that old saying, “Third time’s the charm,” so I tried Matter of Trust, which is sort of a prequel to Justice, but only in the fact that it introduces two new characters who will appear in the rest of the series. I was very well aware that “third time’s the charm” could equally well turn out to be “Strike three!” but, happily, that wasn’t the case. I really enjoyed Matter of Trust, though it’s more a romance than mystery or police thriller, enjoyed it enough to spur me to read Pursuit of Justice, which I liked even more, and, finally, to Justice in the Shadows, about which: Wow!

Where to begin? First, of course, Radclyffe’s prose is, as always, exemplary from a technical or mechanical standpoint. The plot is intriguing, especially as a continuation of the previous novel. The suspense is plentiful, and there’s enough humor sprinkled in to be a little relief from the cop stuff. The characters are what really stand out, here, though.

After Shield… and Pursuit… I’ve definitely warmed up more to the original characters, Rebecca, a Special Crimes Detective and Catherine, a psychiatrist, or, I think maybe it’s they who have done the warming. Sloan, computer security wiz and Michael, the principals in …Trust, are still a likable, as are the secondary characters from that book, Jason and Sarah. In a review of Pursuit…I wrote of the characters Dell, a street cop and Sandy, a prostitute, that their developing relationship was intriguing, and that I’d like to see a lot more of them in the series. Well, I got my wish, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It doesn’t diminish the likable and admirable nature of the other characters to say that Dell and Sandy are the highlight of …Shadows. They’re brave, resourceful, loving, a bit qurky and, somewhat more than Sloan and Michael, and a lot more than Rebecca and Catherine, they’re just plain fun. I can see where Rebecca and Catherine could be an iconic couple for some people, a Bette and Tina, so to speak, or, to stay in the same general genre, a Micky and Cordelia. For me, though, Dell and Sandy are what makes this entry in the series truly memorable. As with all Radclyffe’s characters, whether in series or stand-alones, everyone here is well fleshed-out, even the less prominent characters; clearly, this is an author who understands that cardboard figures and “filler” characters can be fatal to a work of fiction.

The police drama, as in Shield… and Pursuit, is compelling and suspenseful. Like her characters, Radclyffe’s story-lines are always credible and logically executed; Justice in the Shadows is no exception. The balance between that element and the personal relationships of the characters seems just right, as it has been in the rest of the series, and both are well-written and thoroughly believable.

There is, for those interested in such things, a lot of sex here, much more than in the other books, but, then, there are now three pairs of lovers, so it doesn’t seem like an undue amount. I’m again reminded, especially in the case of Dell and Sandy, of Katherine V Forrest’s comment about how such scenes can be used as means of characterization. Certainly, it’s true in the case of Dell and Sandy, whose relationship is just blossoming, and, I’m pretty sure in the future that it will help them work through issues that derive from their disparate lifestyles and professions. In the case of Rebecca and Catherine, it serves a similar purpose, for they also have issues, and sex can at times aid in opening lines of communication, bringing them close when otherwise Rebecca’s issues could cause them to drift apart. Despite a considerable number of sex scenes, however, they never feel gratuitous, and, while some of them are definitely quite erotic, they never feel prurient, nor are they titillating just to be titillating.

It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book this much. To sum up, the characters are thoroughly depicted, complete with their respective fears and foibles, and all are engaging, especially Dell and Sandy.  The police drama is believable, well-paced and, intriguing, with a decent amount of action. To repeat, as regards the mechanical aspects of the book, the nuts and bolts of writing, Radclyffe’s serves as a model for other writers in any genre. While this might be expected from her editorial skills, it’s a quality I’ve come to never take for granted.

All the features above combine to make Justice in the Shadows an eminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable novel which can be read by police fiction aficianados and romance fans with equal pleasure. Very much worth your time.

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A review of Sweet Charlotte (Michaela & Trisha, #3) by Kate Genet

READ JUNE 2012

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: ” When a dear friend of Michaela’s holds a séance as part of her research for a book she’s writing, things don’t go quite as planned. Communication with those beyond the grave is no sure thing and the spirit who comes through is not the right one. That should have been the end of it, but things are just never that simple. Finally, in desperation, Michaela and Trisha are asked to help unravel the mysterious and frightening events that follow the séance.

Michaela won’t turn her back on a friend in need but Trisha thinks they would both be seriously crazy to get involved. Trisha’s even more worried when her sister Caro is determined to play paranormal investigator right alongside Michaela. Drawn into a dangerous web of madness that claws at them from beyond the grave, can the girls find the strength and courage to do battle? Thrown in the deep end, Trisha especially has to decide whether her faith in herself and her love is enough to save them all. ”

MY REVIEW: Like strong female characters? Lovers whose affection for each other is evident on every page, but never cloying? A budding romance involving a likable secondary character from earlier in of the series? Fierce loyalty and friendship? Plenty of humorous dialogue? And enough spooky shit to make Shirley Jackson jealous?

This, then, is the book for you.

As with the previous two entries in the series, I totally love the two main characters, and, no, I don’t get tired of saying it. They aren’t just likable, they’re strong, and worthy role models. Yes Mr. & Mrs. Middle America, lesbians as role models. Deal with it! I also enjoyed Caro’s increased level of participation. As a whole, it’s good to see Genet widen her character base, as the earlier books were a little restricted, character-wise. Genet does a nice job handling the expanded dramatis personae, too, keeping them all interesting and actual parts of the story rather than filler, as so many secondary characters are. BTW, the fact that Michaela & Trisha are lesbians is treated very straight-forwardly; it’s not one of those “Hey, look! These people are gay!” books where sexual orientation is used for shock value, and certainly not for titillation. Thank god & goddess. It’s, quite simply, who they are.

The plot is intriguing, more than enough to keep the story going, but as before, at least for me, it’s the wonderful characters that are the big attraction here. That doesn’t mean the plot is bad, far from it. It just means, ah, I love these characters. (I may have mentioned that.) The humor in their interactions is great, but, when things turn serious, they prove they’re up to the task. One of the things I really liked about this addition to the series is that Trisha, albeit reluctantly, takes a more assertive role, at least at the end. In the first two books, Michaela took more of the lead, with Trisha as her Watson (or her Mary Russell, if you’re a Laurie King fan), but the better balance here  considerably  strengthens the pairing.

A major area of improvement, since it was really the only fault, from Shadows Fall is in Caro and Trisha’s dialogue. While there are still one or two lapses, they sound a lot more “American” than previously. I apologize to those north of the 49th parallel for the use of “American,” but “people from the US” seems awkward, as does “United Staters.”

Technically, the writing, as in the earlier volumes, is very accomplished, not showy, but well-suited to the story. So is the editing. No complaints at all of a technical nature. Far too many books read like first drafts; you need not worry about that where Kate Genet is concerned. Great story-telling paired with well-constructed prose is becoming something of rarity; with this writer, I’ve come to expect it, but with appreciation, not taking it for granted.

To sum up, Sweet Charlotte is a compelling story with realistic dialog, fun, engaging — and, yes, lovable — characters, unpretentious, well-written prose, humor, lots of suspense, a bit of romance. And…it will seriously creep you out. What more can you ask?

Highly recommended!

BTW, Genet’s Remnant is next up in my to-read list.

A review of Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson, #3), by Patricia Briggs

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: I could smell her fear, and it satisfied something deep inside me that had been writhing under her cool, superior gaze. I curled my upper lip so she could get a good look at my sharp teeth. I might only weigh thirty or so pounds in my coyote shape, but I was a predator…

Mechanic Mercy Thompson can shift her shape – but not her loyalty. When her former boss and mentor is arrested for murder and left to rot behind bars by his own kind, it’s up to Mercy to clear his name, whether he wants her to or not.

Mercy’s loyalty is under pressure from other directions, too. Werewolves are not known for their patience, and if Mercy can’t decide between the two she cares for, Sam and Adam may make the choice for her..

MY REVIEW: I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, but book three is by far my favorite, so far. Briggs’ does a fantastic (pun intended) job blending the paranormal plot with more personal, character-driven elements. Sure, I love an exciting, suspenseful story, and you’d better believe, this is one, but, really, I read for character. Not only is the character development awesome but Briggs really helps you identify with her protagonist: when Mercy laughs, you laugh, when she’s pissed, so are you, when she’s in pain, you wonder how you/she will get through it all. I can’t think of the last time I got so wrapped up in a character.

I mean, what’s not to like? Mercy is smart, headstrong, loyal, compassionate, funny (with some serious snark), and fiercely independent. She has a degree in history, but works as a VW mechanic — how cool is that? — and, in an setting where there are some seriously deadly vamps, some grisly fae whom you’d never mistakenly call “fairies” and a good-sized pack of werewolves, our heroine shifts into a freakin’ coyote. Yep, or maybe yip, but she proves that size really doesn’t matter, or maybe the hoary “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight…” Does she sometimes bite off more than she can chew? — sorry ’bout that — Yeah, and she gets her tail pulled out of the fire once by the wolves and once by her fae friend Zee. Does this make her weak? Hell, no! The ancient fae baddie she faces clearly outclasses her in power and the magnitude of his magic — even the wolves can’t vanquish him, just subdue him for a while — but, at the conclusion, Mercy tries to take him on all the same.

Technically, I’ve never had the slightest quibble with Briggs’ prose. I’ve read several books of late where the story-telling is great, but the writing — well, to be honest, it kinda sucks. That’s definitely not the case with Briggs. In addition, the plot here is imaginative, and the pacing just right in its alternation of personal elements with the paranormal plot. There’s plenty of suspense, even an OMFG! moment or two, and genuine pathos which never threatens to descend to the level of mawkishness. The characters are well-drawn: I mentioned Mercy’s character earlier: Not only does the character development make us cheer for her and cry for her, but it also contributes a great deal to the novel’s realism and its complexity.

There are plenty of books where some of the supernatural characters are mostly caricatures, the vamps all fang-y and little else, wolves pretty much just “grrr,” etc. Not only are Brigg’s characters well fleshed-out, but the wolf pack dynamics add an extremely interesting side element, further enriching the story. I also like the way she presents the fae, which, in some novels are a little too goody-goody. Here, they have ethical standards, but very, very much on their own terms.  Iron Kissed is a great mix of plot-driven (or action-driven) and character-driven, and Brigg’s proves she’s skilled at each style.

The final few chapters are, frankly, amazing, a word I seldom use, making you want to kill and weep at the same time. You ache for Mercy when she’s down (and really hate the psycho SOB that put her there), you cheer at her resilience, and you admire her compassion, in view of all she’s gone through.

There’s some romance, an element I can generally take or leave. Here, though, it’s an important part of the story, as, for the good of the pack, Mercy must choose between two potential mates. It’s in no way intrusive, and it helps us learn more about Mercy’s character; it’s not romance for the sake of romance. Hopefully, the series will continue in this vein, where the romance doesn’t grow at the expense of other aspects of the story.

So, terrific, characters, especially the principal, interesting plot, intriguing depictions of the wolves and the fae, crisp suspenseful writing, a soupçon of nicely handled romance. Conclusion: A highly recommended read.

A review of Heist Society (Heist Society #1), by Ally Carter

READ OCTOBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving “the life” for a normal life proves harder than she’d expected.

Soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history–and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way. ”

MY REVIEW: A few years ago, when I’d just gotten my Kindle, I was reading a lot of YA paranormal indie novel. The YA aspect is, I imagine, why the amazonians kept throwing out Heist Society as a recommendation. Well, I hadn’t read any YA in a long time, and happened to remember that rec. My local library had it, so, I figured, why not? I’m happy to say it was a good choice.

Not having read a ton of YA literature, and being in the age bracket where most YA readers would call me “Gramps” or worse, I’m not 100% sure how to approach a review of Heist Society. My instincts, though, say that it should be judged by the same standards by which one judges any other book: Mechanical aspects (grammar, etc.), plot, characters, credibility…feel free to add your own.

There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong here from a mechanical aspect. Plenty of writers who aim at adult audiences fall considerably below the standard Carter sets here. The writing is crisp and in no way does the author seem to be writing “down” to a younger audience.

The plot is well constructed and more than interesting enough to keep you turning pages. Yes, it does require a healthy dollop of “willing suspension of disbelief,” given that the heroine is a 15 year-old master thief. Carter overcomes that objection by making everything else solidly grounded in fact (within the terms of the novel) and by Kat’s smooth, down-to-earth narrative voice which suggests “This may not be the sort of thing that happens in your world, but it is in mine.” A scenario like this could become far too over-the-top in a hurry, and the characters become comic book-like. Carter does a great job avoiding these pitfalls, and making the (frankly) unbelievable quite credible and realistic.

The principal characters are quite likable, and pretty well fleshed-out. That sketching out is accomplished through their actions and words, not in dry descriptions; Carter definitely does a good job showing rather than telling. Kat’s wry humor adds a great deal to her appeal. Her loyalty to her dad is admirable; although she has been trying to break from the family “business”, she puts that aside because her father needs her. Her glamorous cousin, Gabrielle forms a nice, flashy contrast to Kat’s more mundane character. Hale, her (sort of) romantic interest, is a solid BFF (at least at this point in the series.) Simon is the inevitable computer geek. I’ve seen some objections that the characters seem older than their specified ages. Seems to me, if one accepts their lifestyle, then it’s not to far a reach that they’ve grown up a little faster than the average teen.

I’ve already touched on issues of credibility, but it’s worth mentioning again: This would be an easy book to let get out of hand as far is realism is concerned. After all, we have a bunch of mid-teens planning to rob the most secure museum in the world. However, Carter is able to make things seem normal, even if, by our standards, they aren’t. The matter-of-fact narrative style and the avoidance of truly outlandish, Bond-like scenes help keep the unlikely plot within the realm of the plausible.

If there’s one short-coming, it’s that the villain is just not nasty enough. He seems more like a cantakerous uncle who just happens to be a gangster type, than someone as thoroughly evil Hale describes. I just can’t take his threats against Kat’s dad seriously. It’s possible Carter softened his character to make it more palatable to prospective tween and early teen readers. Pshaw! The Internet and video games have made that age-group far more worldly and accepting of such things than some of us were at thirty. So, a bad guy with a lot more bite would have added a lot.

In short, I can’t find much of anything to quibble with in Heist Society. The majority of my reading is in adult mysteries (everything from Sara Paretsky to J.M. Redmann), hard science-fiction (Melissa Scott, Joanna Russ, James M. Tiptree, Jr,, Nicola Griffith), and urban fantasy (Kim Harrison, Jes Battis, Devon Monk, Seanan McGuire). As a piece of genre fiction aimed at a different market, I’d compare Carter’s book favorably with those as exemplars of their own genres. More than anything, Heist Society is a quick, fun, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read. I’m pretty sure that’s just what Carter intended, and, judging it in those terms, I find it very successful. There’s absolutely no reason that it can’t be appreciated by any reader, no matter his or her age bracket.

A review of “Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1), by Patricia Briggs

READ JUNE 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy’s next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water..

MY REVIEW: I’m currently reading Iron Kissed, book 3 in this series, so I thought this would be a good time to post a review of book one.

Ever seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the 1979 one with the cast of the original TV series? Like, it takes half the movie to get the damned ship started. Moon Called, the first of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels, is a little like that. Yeah, there’s a good action scene early on — in fact, all Briggs’ action scenes are quite good — but most of the first 100 or so pages is backstory, catching up with old acquaintances, etc. It’s pretty fluid writing, though, almost conversational, so there’s no info-dump feel.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to read this one, though I suppose the dreadful cover could have had something to do with it. I accidentally read book 2, Blood Bound, out of sequence a couple years ago. I liked it, but I didn’t exactly kvell over it. Sort of the “Good is the enemy of great” thing. There were plenty of other things to read, so getting back to Mercy Thompson slipped my mind for a while. In any case, I finally got around to it, and I’m very glad I did.

Mercy, a “walker,” a shape shifter who turns in to a coyote, isn’t quite as bad-ass as some UF protagonists, and, after having recently finished Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bites, I can only say, “Yes, there is a god!” Not that there’s anything wrong with woman kicking ass; far from it, as a quick glance at books I’ve read will show. It’s just that sometimes it gets to be a little too much. Don’t get me wrong, though, Mercy’s no wimp; early on, she kills two werewolves, and she can hold her own against a master vamp and other assorted baddies.

There’s a certain sameness to most female UF protags, and I’m not quite sure what it is that sets Mercy apart. Partly I think it’s that, pace Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, a woman’s got to know her limitations. Mercy does, but, when those she cares about are threatened, she doesn’t worry about that; she does what needs to be done. I also like that she has a pretty mundane everyday job (when she’s not out fighting the bad dudes) as an auto mechanic, here too, there’s a slight twist — not just a mechanic, but a VW mechanic. Cool. Likewise, the coyote thing, as opposed to a vamp, or wolf or panther or witch or…You get the idea. Makes her seem more a, you should pardon the expression, underdog, and her accomplishments more impressive. Mercy’s open-mindedness is another likeable quality: she has friends who are were, fae, and vampires, as well as gays.

The plot, while not earth-shaking, was logical and interesting, kept me turning the pages, anyway. The world-building, is pretty standard, but solid and consistent. The actual writing is capable and, for a first novel, Briggs’ (Mercy’s) voice pretty assured. The characters are interesting, and fun to read about, even though macho pissing contests, somewhat inevitable when wolves are involved, abound. I especially liked the description of the hierarchical relationships with wolf communities.
Personally, I appreciated that fact that, while there are slight sparks, Mercy doesn’t get all weak-kneed and googly-eyed at every male she meets. If you’re looking for romance — I wasn’t — this isn’t the book for you, either. Which brings me, sort of, back to the barf-worthy cover. Why the fuck do publishers think they have to use sex to sell a damned book? This one certainly stands extremely well on its own without needing such a skanky come-on. I’m surprised authors put up with this crap. (And, I’m no prude.)

Note: I have absolutely nothing against romance, per se, but I hate it when it overwhelms everything else in the novel. Here, it’s barely hinted at, though I assume it becomes more prominent as the series progresses. The inclusion of werewolves suggests that things could become quite interesting, indeed.

All in all, a fun, more than competently executed novel, and, in this day and age, even competent is unique enough to make it worth your while. Bear in mind, if you’re one of those who want a thrill-a-minute, heart-pounding read, which personally, I find kind of boring, this ain’t it. While it’s slow at times, particulary in the beginning, the pacing doesn’t seem all that problematical, and Briggs makes good use of those less action-filled sections to set up all that follows.

In conclusion, this is an interesting, well-written story with characters (particularly Mercy), you come to care about.

A review of Internal Affairs (OSI #4), by Jes Battis

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “A dead body on the beach turns out to be a live demon on the run from some of the nastiest bounty hunters in this dimension-or the next. Protecting one demon from another, Tess gets wrapped up in a case that’s as dangerous as it is mind-boggling, especially when it begins to involve her own past.”

MY REVIEW: I’ve really been enjoying this series, and I think I liked this one even more than the first three books. Battis has several strengths which are apparent here: Technically, the writing (and/or editing) leaves nothing to complain about; as a male writer, he is able to write a very convincing female character; and, finally, there is a nice mix of the supernatural with the quotidian.

Technically — or, mechanically, as Janet Burroway puts it, in Writing Fiction — the best word I can think of for Battis’ writing is “accomplished,” in other words, more than just competent. I found none of the distracting sort of errors which lift the reader, well, this reader, anyway, out of the story. “Accomplished” could also apply to the narrative style, which moves smoothly from page to page, effectively alternating calmer scenes with well-written action passages. “Calm,” though, doesn’t mean nothing happens in those scenes. In fact, a lot goes on: a fair amount of back-story is presented, but never feels like an info-dump; we learn more about Tess, both her past and her romantic relationship; and, we get some in-depth looks at her unique family life.

Not every writer can produce female characters, especially principals, who ring 100% true. Battis definitely succeeds, though. In fact, until I googled Jes Battis, I had assumed the author was female, Jes being gender-ambiguous. I can’t over-emphasize how important I think this is. Being presented with a convincing female protagonist allows the reader, male or female, to fully identify with and sympathize with Tess. The author’s insights into her personal, as opposed to her professional, side, greatly enrich the novel’s complexity. It’s that complexity that elevates this series above some of the other entries in this genre.

There are plenty of novels in this genre which are purely action-driven, event stories as opposed to character stories, if you will. Battis manages to quite successfully combine two structures, and the glimpses of Tess’ quirky family are, to me, some my favorite parts of the book. I simply love Mia, and hope we see much more of her in the series. In fact, I wouldn’t mind Battis giving Mia a book of her own, as Armstrong did with Savannah Levine in the Women of the Otherworld series. In any case, the aspects of Tess’ home life make this an infinitely more enjoyable novel than many, simply because of its greater depth.

But…and, readers of my reviews know there’s often a “but”…

Structurally, I have a serious problem with Internal Affairs: There’s no climax. Really! There are a series of crises, none of which exceeds the others in tension. The final scene begins as if we’re approaching a climactic conclusion, but our heightened expectations are never met. In fact, this last scene really fizzles. At a point which seems to demand a major physical confrontation and resolution, all we get is talk. Informative, interesting conversation, true, but still, just talk. I found it extremely unsatisfying, and given how good things were to that point, terribly disappointing. While there are, admittedly, quite successful novels where the plot is more of a plateau, in this particular genre, a satisfying climax is almost always called for, and here, its absence is very noticeable, problematically so.

Be that as it may, Internal Affairs, is an extremely enjoyable read with plenty of action and some of my favorite characters in this or any genre.

 

 

A review of Shadows Fall (Michaela & Trisha #2) , by Kate Genet

READ MARCH 2012

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Separated by circumstances, Michaela and Trisha are both too stubborn to admit they miss each other. Even Trisha’s impulsive phone call for help degenerates into an argument. But why does Trisha need help? Swallowing her pride, Michaela decides she needs to fly back to the States to see what trouble Trisha has gotten herself into this time.

She’s glad she did. This time it’s not a stranger in trouble, it’s Trisha’s sister, and the trouble is a lot darker that any of them can imagine. This time, the night is filled with shadows, and some of them move on their own…”

MY PLOT SUMMARY: Lovers Michaela and Trisha have parted ways after the first novel, out of necessity, though they miss each other more than either wants to admit. Trisha summons Michaela to the US to help solve a mystery involving her (Trisha’s) sister, Caro. Seems some very malevolent shadow creatures are “haunting” Caro, and Trisha believes Michaela is the only one who can help. Along the way of unraveling the mystery, and vanquishing the shamanistic spirits, our two principals finally admit their love for each other, and come up with a plan to allow them (and Caro) to remain together.

MY REVIEW: I have no idea why, when I added this book on another forum, I only gave it 3 stars; I’d given it 4 on amazon when I first read it. The only negative, as I just reread that review, I called a “gigantic flaw,” but, having had time to reconsider, I realize it was really more of an annoyance. It was just more noticeable because, otherwise, the book was so damned good. Were I using a star system, here, 4 1/2 stars is probably more accurate.

Possible slight SPOILERS!!! follow (Some of the comments below could be applied equally well to the first book in the series Silent Light.)

The story is very well-written from a technical standpoint; grammar, syntax, etc. are much better than in the average offering in this indie Kindle medium, and especially at this price point, for which, many thanks. Okay, at one point, Trisha becomes “Tricia”, then returns to being Trisha again in the same paragraph, and, yeah, that’s pretty sloppy, but, again, it stands out because of the marked lack of other such errors. The paranormal aspect of the story is deftly handled, and logically concluded. The pacing of the romance is just right. The love-making is realistic without being xxx-rated. Genet skillfully creates an eerie, almost claustrophobic mood which becomes more and more oppressive as the story progresses. I absolutely love these characters, just as I did in the first novel, and Caro is a very nice addition. Michaela and Trisha’s characters complement each other nicely, and they act in ways that are consistent with their established dispositions.

So, what’s that “gigantic flaw” I mentioned earlier? I can’t imagine a reader from the US who would  believe that Trisha and Caro are from the States. If Genet is aiming only at an audience in NZ or OZ, then that’s no big deal: if she has wider aspirations, then it becomes more of an issue. We don’t ring people up.. We don’t go off and get ourselves sorted out. We don’t usually “pinch” things, we swipe them. And, while we do on occasion, use the expletive “bloody,” it’s vastly overused here. Finally, assuming Caro is a nickname, it, too, has a real “Down Under” feel to it.

That said, this is a still great story, very well-executed for the most part, and,  to repeat, it features characters with whom I immediately fell in love in book one and who are equally engaging here. Caro makes a really nice addition, too.

Let me end by streesing that my original comments about Tricia and Caro’s dialog were something of an overreaction on my part, and you should take them with a grain of salt. yeah, they’re aggravating, but, they don’t detract all that much from the reading enjoyment. This issue is very much improved in the succeeding volumes, Sweet Charlotte and Disbelief.

s every

A review of Magic Lost, Trouble Found, by Lisa Shearin

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: A girl with attitude. An all-powerful amulet.
This could only mean trouble.

My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine finds herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumé enhancement worth her soul?”

MY REVIEW: Magic Lost, Trouble Found, book one of Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series, was one of the more pleasant reading experiences I’ve had in some time. Up to a point, about which, more later.

The world and the story are each interesting, if not terribly novel and Raine is a very likable protagonist, smart, smart-mouthed, determined, brave, but cautious, and uncompromisingly loyal to her friends. The majority of the supporting cast were enjoyable to read about, as well,  and although we don’t spend a huge amount of time with some of them, they’re important to the plot, and, at times, help us learn more about Raine. In other words, they‘re not just there to take up space, as is far too often the case.

The villains are considerably more stereotypical, especially in their dialog, and not nearly as well fleshed-out as the “good guys.” The main antagonist, a goblin shaman, is a caricature of the psychopathic evildoer, completely one-dimensional. I would have loved a little more depth in his case, even some understanding as to why he turned so thoroughly to the “dark side.”

One thing I liked, though it may seem like a minor point, was the variety in the names of the characters. Benares has a decidedly Mediterranean feel, Spanish, Italian, even Greek. Raine’s cousin Phaelan sounds Irish, his name, anyway. Her sometime associate, Quentin, could be a Brit. The principal villain, Sarad Nukpana, could even be Japanese, as could another nasty, Chigaru. I know this doesn’t take place on our world, but, it’s impossible not to make comparisons of the names. Long story short, the wide range here adds a certain richness to the world Shearin’s created.

I’ve seen a few people classify this as PNR, but, there’s really only a hint of romance: A couple of breath-stealing kisses is about it. I really didn’t care much for either of Raine’s potential romantic interests — well, one is really more sexual than romantic — but that’s just me. In fact, I’m beginning to think that sometimes I fall in love with the lead character while I’m reading, and so I come to resent the competition, so to speak. It’s great than an author can create a character you love, but, a little silly to turn into a first-crush teenager about it. Anyway…

The plot moves along at a pretty good clip, nicely paced, and Shearin manages to hold our interest even during the lulls in the plentiful action, mostly via humor, but also by providing salient back-story. Such sections never feel like info dumps, though, largely because of the first-person POV, and the conversational style of he narration.

However…

Seems like I’ve been saying this a lot lately: The writing just doesn’t measure up to the excellent storytelling. It’s not that there are grammatical gaffes — well, okay, there are several occasions where subject and verb don’t agree in number, and that’s pretty annoying — but it’s really repetitive and cliché-riddled. In one scene, Raine tells us that she and her crew don’t want to call attention to themselves. Unfortunately, we’re told this probably half a dozen times in fewer pages. And, y’know, it’s really a “Well, duh!” remark the first time. There are countless iterations of phrases like “Now, if only I could make myself believe it,” or “But, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer,” a lot of things like “That makes two of us,” or “At this point, I’ll take what I can get.“ Then there’s the ever-popular “You will come with us, or the boy will die.” Cue the spooky organ music. If goblins have mustaches, you can almost see him twirling his while Nell’s tied to the railroad tracks waiting on Dudley to rescue her. Or, maybe a “bwah-ha-ha-ha” afterward. And, in your mind, your hear “vill” instead of “will.”

I have to admit, though, there was one line I really loved: “Sometimes I hated it when I was right, but I always hated it when someone else was.”

Another slight quibble, though: Raine’s an elf, but, we never really get much of a clue what distinguishes the elves in her world from the humans. Is it just the pointy ears? Inquiring minds want to know.

From the viewpoint of the setting, this is an epic fantasy, but it has a decidedly urban fantasy feel to it. That might be off-putting to some purists, but Shearin mixes the two genres very well, and it makes the story move faster than the more laborious epic fantasies often do.

Anyway, Magic Lost, Trouble Found is a really good story with plenty of action and suspense, a nice helping of acerbic wit, and a protagonist that I liked a lot. That, in my opinion, the writing was’t as good as the story-telling doesn’t keep it from being very, very entertaining. Well worth you’re time.

A review of Ill Will (Micky Knight #7), by J.M. Redmann

READ JUNE 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: First, do no harm. But as New Orleans PI Micky Knight discovers, not every health care provider follows that dictum. She stumbles into a tangle of the true believers to the criminally callous, who use the suffering of others for their twisted ends. In a city slowly rebuilding after Katrina, one of the most devastated areas is health care, and the gaps in service are wide enough for the snake oil salesmen—and the snakes themselves—to crawl through. First, her investigation is driven by anger, but then it becomes personal as someone very close to Micky uses her cancer diagnosis to go where Micky cannot, into the heart of the evil where only the ill are allowed. Micky is her only lifeline out. Can Micky save her in time to get to the medical treatment she desperately needs to survive?

MY REVIEW: If you read “About me an’ the blog,” you know that Redmann’s Death by the Riverside, the first book in this series, was what caused me to begin reading mysteries with lesbian protagonists. So, you might say Micky Knight and I have a long history together. I recently finished Ill Will, the seventh entry in the series. Before starting it, I reread the entire series, a third reading for all but books five and six. That was rewarding in itself, and helped prepare me for he latest volume. Sorta like rereading all the Harry Potter books before seeing the movies.

Well, if I look to this genre for emotional impact, then Ill Will is a veritable bonanza. Things have been so since the early books where Micky deals wih the trauma of her childhood years. It would not be out of place to call Redmann’s writing visceral, affecting you not only emotionally, but also physically. Very few authors have hit me so hard in that way, and, certainly, not as consistently. But, in the current volume, the emotional stakes have risen, even over the wrenching events of the previous two books.

As to Ill Will itself, I’ll speak in generalities, for it would be extremely easy to drop spoilers. Let me start by saying I consider Micky and Cordelia to be the iconic couple of the genre, kinda the Bette and Tina of lesbian mystery. And make no mistake, though Redmann’s books are very enjoyable simply as mysteries, the interpersonal relationships are every bit as important. As the book opens, something over two years post-Katrina, Micky and CJ (Cordelia James) are beginning to get somewhat back to normal after the hurricane and after CJ’s brief fall from the monogamy wagon. Then, after the various mystery elements have been introduced — the Micky Knight stories usually have several mystery threads going on simultaneously — new and  even greater emotional turmoil arises. Gotta admit, Redmann totally blindsided me with this one. The French have a word,  boulversant, which can mean simply upsetting, but which usually implies shattering or staggering. That’s how I felt. Like I said, Redmann tears at your guts. I was stunned. I mean, I fuckin’ love these two characters.

Anyway, enough angst. The mystery is enjoyable in and of itself, and satisfactorily, if messily — quite literally —  concluded, but the major emotional issue remains unresolved. I was a bit disappointed that familiar secondary characters didn’t occupy a bigger role, but understand that, given the issue I don’t wanna name, Redmann was right to focus on the two principals.

I was, just here and there, a little disappointed in the writing, which heretofore has been so rock-solid, even exemplary. Sprinkled throughout, not terribly often, but enough to be jarring, is some phrasing that’s just really awkward, not  necessarily wrong, but very un-Redmann-like. It isn’t enough to spoil an excellent reading experience, just enough to cause you to scratch your head a few times.

So, to conclude, most highly recommended, on several levels. Like the others in this series, this one goes straight to my “favorites” shelf.

A review of In Pursuit of Justice (Justice #2), by Radclyffe

READ JULY 2013

ONLINE SUMMARY: In the dynamic double sequel to Shield of Justice and A Matter of Trust, Det. Sgt. Rebecca Frye struggles to return to duty after a near fatal shooting. Joining forces with enigmatic computer consultant J.T. Sloan, Rebecca accepts a temporary assignment with a Federal task force investigating an Internet child pornography ring. Rebecca’s obsession with finding her partner’s killer and her involvement in the multi-jurisdictional investigation threaten both her life and her new relationship with Doctor Catherine Rawlings. When Catherine becomes professionally involved and an attempt on the life of a task force member ensues, the pursuit of justice becomes a deadly race against time

MY REVIEW: I wrote a pretty positive review of Shield of Justice, the first book of Radclyffe’s Justice series., but I was surprised at how much more I enjoyed its sequel, In Pursuit of Justice. In thinking about this, I realized that the overall tone of the book seems markedly different. The mood of Shield… was really forbidding, with almost no relief throughout. Admittedly, the fact that the novel features a serial murderer contributes to this, but the mood bleeds over into the blossoming relationship between the Detective, Rebecca, and the psychiatrist, Catherine. Even the lovemaking scenes are kind of a downer.

Although Pursuit… also deals with another horrendous crime, child pornography, it feels lighter, somehow, and more of a pleasure to read. I still haven’t completely warmed to either Rebecca or Catherine, but they aren’t quite the dour personalities of the first book. Even their lovemaking isn’t as austere. The addition of Sloan, Michael, and Jason, all of whom I liked very much in the prequel, Matter of Trust, helped lighten the atmosphere until near the end. Really though, it’s the addition of two new characters, Sandy, a young prostitute who’s Rebecca’s confidential informant, and Dell, a uniformed officer assigned to the Task Force Rebecca is leading, that really improved things for me. They’re the most likeable of the six main characters, and, though they don’t have major time on stage here — sorry for the mixed metaphor — they’re both important to the plot. In addition, the relationship which seems to be developing between them is quite intriguing, given their respective professions. I’m looking forward to seeing what direction Radclyffe takes them in the next book, in which I hope they play a greater part.

Only one complaint: The ending is really unsatisfying. And while Radclyffe is hardy the sort of writer to create a cliffhanger just to get you to buy the next volume in the series, it does kind of feel that way. SPOILER — When the cops catch a purveyor of kiddie porn with his pants down, quite literally, the Feebs show up and make off with all the evidence, leaving Rebecca’s team nothing to show for their effort. The ending also leaves us with Michael having just suffered a devastating injury in an attack meant for Sloan. Things feel terribly incomplete, at least for me.

Nonetheless, the book is, as always with Radclyffe, very well-written technically, the characters are extremely engaging, the pacing is just right, and the plotting is solid, even despite the lack of closure. In Pursuit of Justice is definitely worth your time.  (It would be a good idea to read the previous novels first, or Shield…, at least.)