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Urban-Fantasy

REVIEW:  Close to You by Stacia Kane

REVIEW: Close to You by Stacia Kane

Close-to-You

THE HOLIDAYS ARE HELL

Churchwitch Chess Putnam has seen, and banished, her share of ghosts, but not of the Christmas Past variety–the holiday has been illegal since the Church of Real Truth defeated the undead and took control of the world in 1997. Yet when she and her boyfriend, Terrible, make a trip to an abandoned auto junkyard, they find more than the rusted auto parts and spare tires they’d bargained for. They also run across a creepy Miss Havisham-type hell-bent on reuniting with her long-dead husband just in time for Christmas–even if it means taking Chess and Terrible down with her into the City of Eternity…

If Chess and Terrible don’t manage to keep these ghosts in the past, they won’t have a future…

Dear Ms. Kane,

No, I’ve never read any of the books in this series before. I hadn’t even read the other review we’ve posted at DA by Shuzluva a few years ago because frankly dystopia books aren’t my thing. Which makes it all the more bizarre that this little short story caught my attention at netgalley. I think it was the line on the cover “A Downside Ghosts Holiday Story” that did it. Ghosts during the holiday? Sure, why not and maybe that will cut through the usual saccharine sweet Christmas books that start appearing each year about now.

As I said, I knew nothing about this world you’ve created before starting this short story but as Shuzluva mentions, the world building is great. It’s laid out with elegant simplicity yet is succinct enough to fit in the length of this story and still leave room for the actual story. I’m very impressed since a lot of times when I read works this short, with no need for filling in the blanks, I feel cheated – but not here. I am curious, though, as to why Terrible sounds like an ESL pirate hillbilly.

The story quickly moves from background set up to – whoa – seriously creepy old lady to the slam bang finale. I had to think that if I lived in this world and had seen what Chess apparently has that I would have picked up on it sooner that Something Is, not just wrong but, Terribly Wrong. But then there’d be no act 3 which frankly is actually fairly hilarious, in a ghastly ghostly, raising the dead kind of way. The nativity figurine flinging, Christmas tree bashing, holiday village house hurling ending had me laughing my ass off even as Chess and Terrible attempt to keep these determined ghosts in check, stay alive themselves and keep Chess from going into withdrawal.

This usually isn’t my genre of choice but I enjoyed this one enough that I just might check out some more of Chess and Terrible. But it will be a long time before I can hear that Carpenter’s song without picturing this hoarders house from holiday hell. B

~Jayne

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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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