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Book Reviews

REVIEW:  Corroded by Karina Cooper

REVIEW: Corroded by Karina Cooper

In an effort to provide more coverage of paranormal romance and
historical romance, I’ve been searching for additional reviewers.
Mary Kate is one of a couple we are going to try out here at Dear
Author. From Mary Kate:

As a reader who’s old enough to know better and young enough to not
care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to
offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in
one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and
anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my
parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt
started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds
of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s
land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s
children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room
downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I
didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent
working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first
responders, and trying to dig my writer/editor/reviewer husband out
from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of
romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and
self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.

Dear Ms. Cooper,

 

First of all, thank you for penning what is, clearly, a different take on society, morals and life during the Victorian age of England.  The views expressed are unique and ones I don’t know that I’ve encountered anywhere in mainstream writing before.  Countess Cherry St. Croix, or Lady Black as she now prefers to be called, is many things – she’s a bounty hunter – also known as a collector – a friend, an addict, a lost soul, a widow, and a woman who is driven by demons both chemically induced and real.  After the untimely death of her husband at the hands of her unseen, unknown nemesis, Cherry retreats from her life among London’s elite to inhabit the darker, seedier side of the city.  While searching for herself amidst the terrors of the Midnight Menagerie, a pleasure palace for the wealthy, and the dark, filthy streets, she also hunts for the man who is torturing her.  The one constant seems to be the Menagerie’s ringmaster, Hawke – a man Cherry isn’t quite sure she cares or.

corroded karina cooperIn a word, I both loved the book and hated it.  On the one hand, the world is beautifully detailed, and while this book is clearly part of a series, the parts that went before are thoroughly described.  While it’s not easy to just “drop in” to the story, enough is explained that immersion in the world is relatively quick and painless.  On the other hand, I felt, at several points, like I was the one in the opium induced haze trying to figure out what the letters on the page were supposed to mean.  Life in Cherry’s world is quite difficult, that much is made readily apparent.  However, the line between describing what was going on in her mind and living in her mind was crossed more times than not.  It was distracting, to say the least, and a little bit uncomfortable.  I’m all for stories that invite the reader to think and expand their horizons, but this bordered on the painfully raw and manipulative.

 

Then there’s Cherry.  I wanted to like Cherry – I really did.  Here is a woman who has lived on the fringes of society her whole life, forced to become a member of Society, then just as quickly forced to become something much less than that.  She’s dealt with horrors that no person should ever have to endure.  And yet she whines.  Dear merciful heavens that girl whines.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a character bemoan her fate so much and so hard outside of a Shakespearean tragedy.  Cherry doesn’t just wallow in her guilt and failure – she revels in it.  She wears it like a badge of honor.  Yet the feelings don’t debilitate her like one would expect – no, she manages to flip through the air and execute amazing feats of strength and heroism, while at the same time loudly, eloquently, wailing her fate as if she didn’t make any choices to lead her to that point.  I realize that many of her circumstances were thrust upon her, dire as they were.  While she handled some of them with a modicum of grace, she was always one opium bite away from cracking – always – and being inside of her mind was like being inside a fever dream that had no ending.  Her relationship with Hawke really had no romance to it at all.  Certainly there’s some emotion there – you outright stated that Hawke had been punished for his defense of Cherry – but there seemed to be no real connection other than the carnal.

 

One of the things I really liked about the book was the use of secondary characters.  While they weren’t more than sketches, they seemed vibrantly alive – particularly the prostitutes, or sweets, in the Menagerie.  Each one was a jewel set against darkness – there were few of them, but each stood out as a character I’d love to know more about.

On the whole, the book wasn’t so much a romance as it was historical steampunk horror.  There was very little romance, though the erotica content was there.  The sensuality and sexuality seemed more brutal than alluring, with one act falling neatly within the realm of domination and submission while the other was straight up assault that could, for some, be more than a little disturbing.  It felt like you were dancing on that fine line between acceptable and not – though you came down, barely, on acceptable, there are those who will definitely say that you crossed a line.

The steampunk aspect of the book intrigued me, though it was merely touched upon lightly, almost glazed over in favor of Cherry’s addiction and fate.  I wanted a bit less atmospheric narrative and a bit more detail, something just a bit MORE to draw me in.  While overall beautifully written with this book’s story neatly wrapped and tied with a bow, there was a cliffhanger ending that left too many questions for comfort unanswered.  D+

 

Mary Kate

 

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REVIEW:  Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

REVIEW: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

autumn bonesDear Ms. Carey,

Despite my general disenchantment with urban fantasy, I enjoyed your first foray into the subgenre with Dark Currents. Dark Currents introduced Daisy Johansson, the half-demon daughter of a woman who accidentally summoned a demon with an ouija board as a teenager. I was charmed by the portrayal of a resort town whose tourist industry depended on the local supernatural community. Daisy’s struggles as a woman juggling the responsibilities of being a liaison for the preternatural world and her duties for the police department were also fun to read about. The entire novel was refreshing so I’d been looking forward to the sequel for the past year.

Autumn Bones picks up where Dark Currents left off. Daisy is settling into her role of Hel’s liaison and nurturing a new relationship with Sinclair, a relative newcomer to town who gives bus tours to tourists hoping for some supernatural action. Unlike the other men in Daisy’s life, Sinclair is normal. He’s not a werewolf. He’s not a revenant.

At least that’s what Daisy believes and what Sinclair led her to think. Unfortunately, he’s kept very quiet about his background and she soon learns the reason behind his faint supernatural aura. Sinclair comes from a family of powerful Obeah sorcerers and they want him to come home, to fulfill the family duty. Sinclair isn’t inclined to humor them, and they’re not inclined to take no for an answer — which means Daisy’s little tourist town is caught in the middle.

The one thing I’ve always enjoyed about your works is that they subvert the subgenres they’re a part of while firmly honoring them at the same time. That was part of the reason why I enjoyed Dark Currents so much. Not only did Daisy choose the relatively normal guy over the other supernatural candidates, she started a very normal relationship with him. She has a best friend who she actually treats like one and that she prioritizes above all else but who has a life outside of Daisy’s. There are genuine depictions of lower working class people. Daisy’s best friend is a cleaning lady. Her mother is a seamstress who lives in a trailer. For all that many urban fantasy novels make noises about featuring protagonists who are poor or lower class, they don’t. Not really. (Sorry, Rob Thurman, it’s true.)

Autumn Bones had less of that subversive quality, and that lessened my enjoyment of the book. I admit I’ve come to expect it from your works so when it’s not present, I’m disappointed. It’s more of a straight-up portrayal of an urban fantasy, which made it less interesting. Daisy takes care of an issue involving a sartyr in rut (aka the opening case that’s supposed to show the daily grind of Daisy’s supernatural life). Then the matter of Sinclair’s family comes to light and the repercussions unfold (the main story). There’s not much subversion happening.

That said, there were things I liked. The portrayal of Daisy’s relationship with Sinclair felt genuine. I loved Sinclair as a love interest but I also understand how a relationship between them would flounder. I liked that while Daisy is struggling between multiple love interests, it never takes over the story or becomes the focal point. It’s present but drama-free. When Daisy has sex, it’s presented positively and as a natural progression of things. This is not a surprise to people familiar with your works. Your books have always been sex positive and have never presented it as the end all, be all.

The novel’s true weakness, however, is the plot. Yes, there’s conflict. Yes, there’s a threat. Ghosts are overrunning the town, and people are being put into danger. Given the local tourist economy, this is a problem. Tourists come for supernatural looksies, not for actual supernatural danger. But despite all the inherent conflict, there’s no sense of urgency. There is no tension. And given that some things go majorly wrong, the fact that I never really got an Oh shit! moment is a sign the plot structure didn’t work for me.

While I enjoy Daisy’s adventures and the happenings in the tourist town of Pemkowet, I thought Autumn Bones didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by Dark Currents. I’m still interested in reading more novels in this series but I’m not chomping at the bit anymore. B-

My regards,
Jia

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