Sunday, September 11, 2016

15th Anniversary Moment of Silence, Devils and Details by Devon Monk, Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter, and Cast in Shadow/Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Jim and I were at home in the bungalow we rented in Ballard with our twenty-two-month-old son Nick, and we were getting ready to make our first foray into Maple Valley to look for a home to buy so that we could give Nick space to grow. 
We got a phone call from a friend in Canada, who said "I am so sorry" and when I asked him what he was sorry about, he said "Your country is under attack. Turn on the TV." It was just so astonishing and horrifying that Jim and I were stunned into silence. 
We picked up our realtor and went house hunting anyway, but it was a bizarre experience since there were very few cars on the road, and no people walking around or shopping, so it looked like the Day the Earth Stood Still outside. We managed to find a good home, and bought it for a great price, I think mainly because no one had the heart to negotiate. Oddly enough, my parents had experienced almost the same thing when they found their first home in Davenport, Iowa on the day that JFK was shot and killed. At any rate, a moment of silence is in order for those who died, both in the buildings, airplanes and the first responders who gave their lives to try and save others. God bless them all.

I'd like to start my reviews with Devils and Details by Devon Monk, the second book in her Ordinary, Oregon paranormal romance/mystery series. The reason I'd like to talk about D&D first is that Devon Monk never disappoints her readers. She's written four other series, from Steampunk to a fantasy/science fiction take on Frankenstein. I've read them all, and each was wonderfully distinctive, full of sparkling clear prose and plots that never flag, but soar on swift wings. Her characters are marvelous, funny and fascinating and so well drawn you feel that you know them and could take them out for a cup of coffee after you're done with the book. Monk never bores the reader, never takes them for granted, never "talks down" to her readers or frustrates them with a Winchester House plot that meanders and never gets to the point (or gets to it so slowly you're on the verge of tossing the book into the recycle bin).
Sadly, this isn't true for another series I've been trying to read, Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra, starting with "Cast in Shadow," one of the most disappointing novels I've read in awhile. I happened to get the sixth book, "Cast in Chaos" at a warehouse sale, and it looked to be right up my alley, with a strong female protagonist. Unfortunately, as I struggle through the last third of Cast in Chaos, I realized that nothing could be further from the truth. The contrast with Monk's work is like night and day. But I will get to that later.
For now, I'll post the blurb for Devils and Details
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea...Police Chief Delaney Reed is good at keeping secrets for the beach town of Ordinary Oregon–just ask the vacationing gods or supernatural creatures who live there.

But with the first annual Cake and Skate fundraiser coming up, the only secret Delaney really wants to know is how to stop the unseasonable rain storms. When all the god powers are stolen, a vampire is murdered, and her childhood crush turns out to be keeping deadly secrets of his own, rainy days are the least of her worries.

Hunting a murderer, outsmarting a know-it-all god, and uncovering an ancient vampire's terrifying past isn't how she planned to spend her summer. But then again, neither is falling back in love with the one man she should never trust.
First of all, I love Delaney Reed (and her kick butt sisters are fun, too) because she faces all her problems head-on, even when she's scared half to death. She also realizes that she can't just stop loving Ryder because he's temporarily "dumped" her. She struggles with keeping the vampires from killing the werewolves and the gods from rioting because their stored powers have been stolen by a demi-goddess. She finally learns what Ryder has been up to, and he learns the hard way that Ordinary isn't. My only minor qualm with our heroine Delaney is her inability to see to her own safety, by never locking her apartment door and going out alone, without weaponry or backup, and hoping for the best. She's got to know by now that this is a foolish policy on her part. Still, her good attributes far outweigh her short-sightedness about her own safety. I loved this book, (just as I loved the first installment Death and Relaxation), and I'd give it a well-deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys Pacific NW area paranormal mysteries with a bit of romance added to sweeten the plot.
 Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter is the third paranormal mystery in the Jackaby series, which began with the novel Jackaby two years ago. Jackaby is an American steampunk version of Sherlock Holmes, if the detective were a "seer" with the ability to see the seelie and unseelie magical creatures that live among us, yet are invisible to the mortal eye. Here's the blurb:  
Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder--her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancĂ©, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Ghostly Echoes, the third installment in the New York Times bestselling Jackaby series, features its much-loved quirky, courageous characters and sly humor in the scariest and most exciting volume yet
Jackaby's assistant Abigail Rook takes on the spirit of Jenny in "possession," yet as she does, she also becomes a conduit for a horrifying secret society, the Dire Council, bent on stealing the souls and magic of otherworldly creatures to use for their own destructive ends. Though I love Jackaby's fascinating use of his seers eyes and all of his magical and mystical friends to help solve the murder mysteries, I find his lack of empathy and his flighty attitude a bit disturbing. Yet Ritter's sterling prose and his faster-than-lightening plots will keep readers turning pages into the wee hours.  A solid A, with the recommendation that those who love paranormal steampunk mysteries hop on board this train ASAP. 
Cast in Shadow and Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara were books that I found used, and therefore didn't worry about the quality from the outset. I've also read many other books of with the "Luna" imprint, which is supposed to be paranormal romances only, I gather, and again, it bespoke quality reading to me, so I bought them without really reading the back or a few pages to ascertain whether or not I'd like the prose. Unfortunately, the prose in the first book is dense, murky and dull. The plot meanders and stalls more than a few times, making this novel feel like a slog through cooling caramel in January. Here's the blurb:
Seven years ago Kaylin fled the crime-riddled streets of Nightshade, knowing that something was after her. Children were being murdered -- and all had the same odd markings that mysteriously appeared on her own skin . . .
Since then, she's learned to read, she's learned to fight and she's become one of the vaunted Hawks who patrol and police the City of Elantra. Alongside the winged Aerians and immortal Barrani, she's made a place for herself, far from the mean streets of her birth.
But children are once again dying, and a dark and familiar pattern is emerging, Kaylin is ordered back into Nightshade with a partner she knows she can't trust, a Dragon lord for a companion and a device to contain her powers -- powers that no other human has. Her task is simple -- find the killer, stop the murders . . . and survive the attentions of those who claim to be her allies!
The protagonist, Kaylin, is loathed by her cruel bosses, (who always seem on the verge of killing and eating her) and treated like an idiot slave by virtually everyone else (even her supposed friends) in this novel. No one can explain why this is, it just seems to be because she is female, human and mortal (this is not unlike Seanan McGuire's October (Toby) Daye, without the puking). Kaylin seems to revel in her own stupidity, and allows the other races on the planet to abuse her in every chapter, while she shows them her throat in submission. This gets old, fast. She has healing powers that she doesn't value enough, nor does she value herself enough to eat and sleep regularly. The male protagonist, Severn, grows up in the mean streets of the town, a starveling like Kaylin and two other children they rescue, and after he murders these two children in cold blood, he's somehow forgiven because, he explains to Kaylin, it was "necessary" that they die at his hands before this serial killer dragon could get to them and kill them in a ritual fashion anyway. WTF? I found this, along with the redundant, dull prose, hard to swallow. But I held out hope for Cast in Chaos, which is the sixth book in the series, because I assumed that Sagara had perhaps learned to winnow her prose and enliven her plots, while making her protagonist into something other than a wimpy idiot. Alas, though the prose is somewhat better, it's still full of redundancies and the plot still creeps along like a drunken slug. I've got 170 pages to go in Cast in Chaos, and then I plan to be quit of these novels for good. I'd give them a cumulative C+, and only recommend them to those who don't mind their protagonist being treated like a naughty child surrounded by predatory adults and two men who desire to possess her like chattel,which is pretty creepy all on it's own.  

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