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REVIEW:  Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke

REVIEW: Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve...

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Dear Ms. Tucholke,

Between the Spark and the Burn is the follow-up to your debut, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which I read and enjoyed last year. It continues the story of Violet, whose life was rocked when the Redding brothers walked into her life. I won’t summarize what happened in that book — the review’s linked right there. But I will warn new readers that because the books are tightly linked, there may be spoilers in this review. Tread carefully!

The story picks up a few months after Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Despite his promise, River still has not returned to Violet and she begins to fear the worst. Then one night, on a late night paranormal radio program, she hears rumors of weird occurrences and “devil sightings” in an isolated country town. Suspecting that it might be River–or worst, the murderous Brodie–she and Neely (the third Redding brother who stayed) go on a road trip.

They arrive, only to find that River–or Brodie–is gone. But they find clues pointing to other places the brothers may have gone. So their road trip leads them on a chase from one town to next, as they track the brothers. They always seem to be one step behind, until they catch up to River in a North Carolina island community. There, Violet learns her fears were quite founded. Now to find Brodie — except he might be closer than any of them ever suspected.

While I think Between the Spark and the Burn has the same dreamy gothic tone as its predecessor, I enjoyed this book a lot more. I’m fond of road trip stories, and this is basically a gothic monster hunter road trip story! All of my favorite things in one.

I really liked Violet in this. She loves River. She always will in some way. While I wasn’t really okay with these feelings in the previous book for reasons I explained in the linked review, I apprecated how much Violet has grown in the months between. She doesn’t trust River anymore because despite his promise not to, he’s used his powers and they’re harming people. Because of this, she refuses to let herself fall into the same trap again. He’s bad for her, she realizes it, and she makes the correct decision. Essentially, all of the misgivings I had about the first book are addressed. The screwed up relationship is presented as screwed up. It’s not presented as romantic. I loved that this happened!

I also really liked the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Neely. It’s a variation on one of my favorite tropes: Girl goes after guy… and ultimately ends up with guy’s brother/best friend instead. And while you can argue that it’s Bad Boy (River) versus Nice Boy (Neely), I didn’t view it as a love triangle for the reasons I stated above. I understand why other readers would, but by the time they catch up with River, I felt confident that Violet’s feelings for him stopped being romantic and became one more of responsibility and debt. Because of the things River did in the past, and because of the horrible things he does in this book, Violet will never feel the same way about him as she once did. She can’t.

The twist involving Finch made me gasp. It was so obvious. The signs were all there, but I was determined to believe that I was wrong. Never have I been so sad to be right! (I mean this in a good way.) Still, well done on that particular plot thread.

One thing I wish the book had more of is close female friendships. Violet’s friend, Sunshine, is absent for large stretches of the book and while Pine and Canto are introduced, the former only makes brief appearances and the latter is wrapped up in Finch. It just seemed like it was all about Violet and her relationships with the brothers. Yes, that is the premise, but it would have been a nice to see another dimension to her life.

If you imagine a Stephen King story written for the YA set in a gothic style, you’ll get this book. I think the two books together make a fabulous whole. And if you were like me, and viewed the romance in the first book with distaste, know this book will satisfy you. B+

My regards,
Jia

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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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