Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine HarrisDead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #5
Published by Ace/Roc, Gollancz
Pages: 295
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Dead Until Dark

Sookie's got just a month, before the next full moon, to find out who wants her brother dead - and to stop the fiend! Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her life, mostly. She's a great cocktail waitress in a fun bar; she has a love life, albeit a bit complicated, and most people have come to terms with her telepathy. The problem is, Sookie wants a quiet life - but things just seem to happen to her and her friends. Now her brother Jason's eyes are starting to change: he's about to turn into a were-panther for the first time.

She can deal with that, but her normal sisterly concern turns to cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population. She afraid not just because Jason's at risk, but because his new were-brethren suspect Jason may be the shooter. Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who's behind the attacks - unless the killer decides to find her first.

Thoughts: I am an ex-True Blood fan. While I am grateful for the series as it got me to pick up the Sookie Stackhouse series, I don’t watch it any more. It is brash and crass and just a bit too crazy – qualities that are fantastic in the short term, but painful after 4 long years.

But the Sookie books are nothing like True Blood – a fact that always comes to me as a shocking realisation whenever I pick up a new Sookie book. Dead as a Doornail is just like its predecessors: sweet, comforting and very Southern. If these books were food, they’d be a series of Red Velvet cupcakes… providing serious southern comfort while looking like blood.

Yup. Sookie Stackhouse novels = literary equivalent of Red Velvet.

So, of course, Dead as a Doornail was a pleasure to read. I curled up with it and was happy reading about both Sookie’s car troubles and her weird paranormal problems. It was a sweet, escapist read – and I will certainly be reading more books in the series. But did it keep me on my toes? Nope. Did it have me dying to read the next page? Nope. Did I feel any of the emotional ups-and-downs of reading a good book? Not once.

Why is that? Well, Dead as a Doornail is a bog-standard mystery with vampires and werewolves thrown in. Problem was that this particular mystery had no bite to it. By the time of the big reveal, my sole reaction was “huh”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Alongside the mystery was Sookie’s ludicrous love life. She has FIVE men chasing after her in Dead as a Doornail – three of whom she kisses in this short book. Oh, and as if those five weren’t enough, Love Interest #6 makes his debut at the end of the novel. Seriously? I mean, if I were taking these books seriously (thank God I’m not) I would be quite pissed off by this flip-flopping.

Bottom line? This is an enjoyable series, but Dead as a Doornail is far from brilliant. If you don’t take the plot too seriously, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Review: Night Life by Caitlin Kittredge

Review: Night Life by Caitlin KittredgeNight Life by Caitlin Kittredge
Series: Nocturne City #1
Published by Gollancz
Pages: 352
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Nocturne City could be any big city in the US. Poor areas, rampant drugs and violent crime, witches, demons and were creatures. Homicide detective Luna Wilder is investigating the death of a drug addict and comes across a drug that is more a spell than a chemical. A drug that leads her to the centre of a vicious war being fought between witches, a war that threatens to unleash hell on Nocturne City. Backed by a gritty take on crime and a vivid look inside a police department leading a fight against crime out of our worst nightmares the nocturne city novels bring crime to Dark Fantasy.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the protagonist, Luna, with her impulsive, kick-ass ways; the universe with its out-but-not-accepted!supernaturals; the bloody, complicated magic that actually made sense; and, of course, the love interest Dmitri, who was such a bad catch, it’s ridiculous.

And yet, there are a number of reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed Night Life. For starters, a lot of Luna’s erratic, stupidly fearless behaviour was blamed on her being a were. Same went for her love interest Dmitri. One minute they are getting on just fine, the next they have nearly come to blows, and then they are jumping each other’s bones. Unbelievable would be putting it lightly… or so one would think. It worked in Night Life – and so did a number of other things you’d think would have me rolling my eyes. For example, the book centres around an open-and-shut criminal case. I don’t tend to like my Urban Fantasy overlapping too heavily with a criminal procedure novel – mostly because I think it illogical to have a character chose to risk their life (and the lives of their loved ones) for a stranger. And yet Night Life, for all its criminal fantasy elements, made it work.

I was also surprised by how much I liked Luna. Although she was erratic and had no sense of self-preservation, she was an enjoyable narrator that I could completely root for. Luna’s fierce pursuit for justice, as well as her troubled past (which involves attempted rape and an evil grandmother), made her all the more admirable. And then there was love interest Dmitri… actually, I’m not sure I should call him a love interest. The guy is Bad. News. He has an extremely sordid criminal record and really should be everything I hate. And yet, he proves himself worth his weight more than once… and, well, everyone loves a proper bad boy now and again. Especially when partnered with a heroine who can more than take care of herself.

The only character I was less than fond of was Luna’s cousin – and supposedly her best friend – Sunny. God, did I ever want to show her off a cliff. How could this woman profess to care for Luna whilst defending the man that attacked her and the woman that had kicked her out of her home? *makes stabbing gestures*

Bottom line? Night Life was a welcome respite from the mundane UF I’ve been reading lately. If you want a bit of a rough-and-tumble in your next fantasy, pick this up!

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchRivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #1
Published by Gollancz on 2012-07-01
Pages: 416
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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This is London as you've never seen it before.
A city of wonders and terrors.

London is a city full of ancient secrets, a city haunted by its past. A city where you are never far away from the magic.

And now meet the person who will show you the city you never suspected...

My name is Peter Grant, and I used to be a probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth.

My story starts when I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was already dead.
There is something dark at the heart of the city I love...

Thoughts: Rivers of London was very nearly great. The quote on the gorgeous cover says “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz” and it is exactly that.  Our adult-HP-hero, Peter, has the same not-a-genius-but-rather-savvy way about him. He also has a fantastically dry, English sense of humour which constantly made me chuckle. Add to that the wonderful, spot-on London setting, and we should have had the makings for a fantastic book. And while there were times when I loved it, it did drag. But before I move on to that, I’d like to share a few fantastic lines from the book:

“On the minus side, Covent Garden had nearly burned down, but on the positive side there weren’t any major bus routes or tube lines affected.” – p. 337

“I have an idea,” I said.
“This better not be a cunning plan” said Lesley.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.
“It is, in fact,” I said, “a cunning plan.” – p.249

‘It’s a myth that Londoners are oblivious to one another on the tube: we’re hyper-aware of each other and are constantly revising our what-if scenarios and counter strategies. What if that suavely handsome yet ethnic young man asks me for money? Do I give or refuse? If he makes a joke do I respond, and if so will it be a shy smile or a guffaw? If he’s been hurt in a fight does he need help? If I help him will I find myself drawn into a threatening situation, or an adventure, or a wild interracial romance? Will I miss supper? If he opens his jacket and yells ‘God is great’, will I make it down the other end of the carriage in time?

All the time most of us were devising friction-free strategies to promote peace in our time, our carriage and please God at least until I get home. It’s called, by people over sixty, common courtesy, and its purpose is to stop us from killing each other.’ – p.244

So, as you can see, Aaronovitch knows how to deliver the funnies. Rivers of London is filled with snark, sarcasm and genuinely insightful humour. Aaronovitch also really understands London – the people, the streets, the transport, everything. His descriptions of the city kept me reading and really made me want to love the book.

But when it came to everything else – the plot, characters, the universe – the novel dragged. I mean it seriously dragged – picking it up every night required concerted effort on my part. I never grew attached to any of the characters, as I never actually got to know them. While I enjoyed Peter’s snarky remarks, I couldn’t quite work out what he was all about. Was he a damaged, traumatized kid-in-a-uniform? Or was he as confident as he snark made him seem? I never found out. And then there was the story, which had some 12 unrelated plot-strands floating through it without any obvious overlap. I never quite understood what was going on – and even when I did, nothing was work staying awake for.

Bottom line? Londoners should find Rivers of London amusing and rather touching – but non-Londoners won’t be able to see past the faults. But I think Aaronovitch will improve with his next book, and am willing to stick around to find out.

P.S. Although the English cover is gorgeous, the US cover should be avoided like the plague.

Review: Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

Review: Friday Night Bites by Chloe NeillFriday Night Bites by Chloe Neill
Series: Chicagoland Vampires #2
Published by Gollancz
Pages: 357
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Ten months after vampires revealed their existence to the mortals of Chicago, they're enjoying a celebrity status usually reserved for the Hollywood elite. But should people learn about the Raves-mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle-the citizens will start sharpening their stakes.

So now it's up to the new vampire Merit to reconnect with her upper class family and act as liaison between humans and bloodsuckers, and keep the more unsavory aspects of the vampire lifestyle out of the media. But someone doesn't want peace between them-someone with an ancient grudge...

Thoughts: That I love Chloe Neill is not much of a secret.  Her YA debut Firespell made my Top Ten of 2010, and the first in her UF series, Some Girls Bite, made me long for Merit’s BFF and her asshole-Mr. Darcy.  Friday Night Bites is a solid sequel to the aforementioned UF book, but not as good as her other works.

Friday Night Bites really deals with Merit accepting her new position in the vampiric world – she makes decisions based on what the responsible vampire action would be and it’s all very grown-up.  But Merit starts to change in this book, and while it is not a bad change, we start to worry (and as does she) that she might lose herself to her new job.  As someone who does that all the time, that really struck a chord with me.  When does the responsible move become the move that suppresses your true nature? Great stuff.

I also liked how Merit’s relationships developed in this book – some for better, some for worse.  It wasn’t what had changed that I liked, but how Neill went about the change.  We all lose touch with people we love and we all find unexpected relationships.  There doesn’t have to be a death or a betrayal to spark a dramatic change… time does that all on its own.

Unfortunately the action left quite a bit to be desired.  Even though I have never read Neill for her action-packed baddies, in Friday Night Bites she dropped the ball. The evil!plot was rather coincidental, and a few of the non-central characters behaved like plot devices.  I know it’s hard for series writers to come up with Big. Events. for every book, but this one was particularly poor.  I really wish I could give more explicit details – because there are a couple that made me really roll my eyes – but I don’t want to spoil all of you who are expecting fab stuff.

Bottom line?  Fabulous writer, great characters, great series – but just an OK novel.  I am hoping for bigger and better things from Neill in her next books!