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The Red Hill, expanded review

The Red Hill

Here’s the short review I wrote for The Red Hill on Goodreads. Below that you will find a more thorough review.

The Red Hill by David Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy reading a good mystery now and again. Reading a mystery in an historical setting is a real pleasure, especially when the author can bring that setting to life in their book. David Penny managed to do that. Crossing the lines of religion and culture, Penny takes you through a thrilling ride. Exploring the darker aspects of politics in Moorish Spain around the time of Ferdinand and Isabela, Penny’s characters of Thomas and Jorge learn a lot more about life than either one ever wanted to know. With twists and turns that will leave you wondering until the end who-done-it. I’m looking forward to reading other Thomas Berrington stories.

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Filed under Crime & Mystery, Historical Fiction

Coronation by Lee F. Jordan

From time to time I find a story that is damned good, but the writing of that story isn’t at the same level. I’m afraid that was the case with Lee F. Jordan’s Coronation (2012).

An ancient evil (that’s not all that ancient), nautical themes that do make sense (but corrupt the legends of their subjects), and a mysterious ability that just isn’t really explained. Like I said, the story was pretty damned good and could have gone places, different places than it did go.

J.D. is a semi-retired special officer with the United States Navy. He has this thing that happens when he’s in danger, or someone he is close to is in danger. His nose bleeds. Okay. Why? What’s the cause? Just a couple of the questions left unanswered. It almost reads like this isn’t the first book in a series. It is not Jordan’s first book.

Ok, I can move beyond those unanswered questions. The suspense, the thrill, the horror. Those were done rather well. Jordan’s descriptions of mutilated bodies were very graphic. They didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, but that may have been his point. Sometimes the more graphic a description the better the horrified reaction from the reader. Personally I like to be able to draw in some of the details myself. But I do understand where Jordan was going with those descriptions. To tell you would be a spoiler.

Along with the blood and guts and the unanswered questions, there is a theme of military and government intrigue that strikes a chord for today’s reader. Does the government really have an “X-Files” unit in the Navy? If so, is the Navy the only military branch with such a unit? More unanswered questions, but maybe Jordan will write something else that will explore both this mysterious unit and J.D.’s nose bleeds.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I am sure that fans of conspiracy theories, the exploration of evil in humanity, and the horror genre will enjoy this book. All in all, I did enjoy it. I was disappointed in the unanswered questions.

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Filed under Horror, Thriller

Stolen Ink by Holly Evans

What a pleasant surprise to find Holly Evans’ first book in the Ink Born series. I recently interviewed Danielle Ackley-McPhail, one of the editors of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series and she mentioned Evans as an author she thought was going places. I’d have to agree with her on that one!

Evans takes a little bit of this and a little bit of that and tosses in a dash of this other thing over here and makes a world that is both familiar and different at the same time. In a city that could be anywhere, but most likely in England, resides Dacian. Dacian, or Dan, is a tattoo magician. He can help draw out the tattoo that his clients are meant to have. There is much more to it than that, but I don’t want to take away from the fun of discovery.

Oh, and did I mention that he has two tattoo animals, a cat named Kyra and a snake named Aris; a best friend who is his tattoo partner, former lover, and an elf; that he has dreamwalker and shapeshifter friends? Or that he is a lonely gay man in a world of magic and intrigue that seems to leave little time – or desire – for anything long-term? Or that he has a deep secret that he won’t even tell his best friend?

You’ll just have to read the book to find out about that secret!

Dacian feels compelled to get involved in a series of mysteries tattoo related magical deaths. He’s drawn to the killer through the ink. Like many a hero in fantasy he is reluctant and fights it all the way kicking and screaming. But along the way he learns something about himself, something that he is afraid to share with anyone and something that might lead to him having to flee for his life and leave everything behind that he has worked so hard to create – his tattoo business, his friends, and a budding romance that he didn’t even want.

If you like fantasy, faeries, magic, mystery, and a dash of romance this is a book for you. The love scenes are subtle and won’t even make you blush to read them on the bus or in a coffee-house. The action is intense at times and the road to self-discovery for Dacian is one that I do not envy him.

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Filed under Crime & Mystery, LBGTQA Books, Paranormal Romance, Sci-fi and Fantasy Books, Uncategorized

Agent Pendergast: Cold Vengence

The second in the trilogy about Agent Pendergast’s wife Helen, Cold Vengeance takes the reader on a whirlwind journey from the moors of Scotland to the humid bayous of Louisiana and the dregs of the interwebs. Fever Dream introduced us to the idea that Helen’s death was anything but an accident. Cold Vengeance starts to unravel the conspiracy in detail. With hints of genetic manipulation, secret societies, and a plan to take dominion of the human race the reader will be hanging on each word wanting for more.

Preston and Child take advantage of characters introduced in earlier books to thicken the plot. Corrie Swanson continues her independent investigations, even with Pendergast firmly telling her not to get involved. His own ward, Constance Greene, becomes a central figure in this chapter of the drama. Of course Lt. Vincent D’Agosta and Cpt. Laura Hayward continue their roles as Pendergast’s willing, and unwilling, partners in his quest for the truth.

I’ve always enjoyed reading mystery and suspense. Preston and Child seem to have a unique flair for both. I’ve read solo works from both authors and haven’t been disappointed yet. Between the two of them they add an element of almost the paranormal (sometimes without the “almost”) with the complications of the modern world. With characters from across the social and political divides, these two authors can capture the imagination and make you think about the implications of what some of those very same characters are willing to do to get to where they are or where they want to be in life. Some who have not read them may be familiar with the movie version of Relic, you have to read their books to truly appreciate what Relic brought to the screen.

From the official website of Preston & Child:

Nothing is what it seems…

Devastated by the discovery that his wife, Helen, was murdered, Special Agent Pendergast must have retribution. But revenge is not simple.

As he stalks his wife’s betrayers-a chase that takes him from the wild moors of Scotland to the bustling streets of New York City and the darkest bayous of Louisiana-he is also forced to dig further into Helen’s past. And he is stunned to learn that Helen may have been a collaborator in her own murder.

Peeling back the layers of deception, Pendergast realizes that the conspiracy is deeper, goes back generations, and is more monstrous than he could have ever imagined-and everything he’s believed, everything he’s trusted, everything he’s understood . . . may be a horrific lie.

Check back soon for my review of the third and final installment of the Helen trilogy – Two Graves.

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Filed under Crime & Mystery, Thriller

Vampire Academy 1-3

It is not often that I read young adult fiction. One of my customers at the c-store and I have bonded over books. She’s a prison guard and likes to have the escape of fiction. One can well imagine that her job can be stressful and a need for escape surely exists. She was raving about this series by Richelle Mead and convinced me to read the books. In May she loaned me the first three books in the series and after I finally got caught up on some of my other reading I picked them and devoured them in days.

Find out all about Richelle Mead and the Vampire Academy books at Penguin’s website.

St. Vladimir’s Academy is a school for special children. The children of the vampires and their guardians. Somewhat like Hogworts from the Harry Potter series, the school teaches the basics of math, language arts, and history as well as the physical and magical disciplines necessary for the vampires to live and prosper in a non-vampire world.

The Moroi, the elite of the vampire world, and their guardian Dhampir, half human half vampire, send their children to special schools like St. Vladimir’s. A place where they can learn and be protected at the same time. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, the best friend of Moroi Princess Lissa, the last of her line. They’ve been friends since childhood, Rose and Lissa being the only two to survive a tragic accident that killed the rest of Lissa’s family. An accident that may have been the plot of the evil Strigoi, the truly immortal – yet immoral – vampires.

In the first book in the series you are introduced to Rose and Lissa as they are living among normal humans, having run away from the academy at the urging of Rose and her uncanny sixth sense. They are soon taken into custody by agents of the academy and the ruling class of the Moroi, rescued and taken back in time to finish their junior year at the school. Another Dhampir is assigned to Rose for special training to help her catch up on lost time as well as a means of punishment for taking Lissa away from the safety of the academy. Dimitri takes her under his wing and teaches her most everything he knows, and a forbidden romance begins to take root between them. All this is the background for another diabolical plot to take Lissa away from the academy. This time a plot by another Moroi royal who wishes to use her special talents – healing – to his own ends.

Despite the uncomfortableness that some may have with the idea of a teenager and a twenty-something having a romance, the writing is well done. Few editing errors escaped the over-site of the publisher and the continuity of the story flows quite well. After a time it is easy to over look the strangeness of the romance between Rose and Dimitri (which I guess is common with young adult fiction). You’ll soon be caught up in the drama of the story as Rose fights to protect her friend and companion, Lissa, from the clutches of the plot to use her healing powers to take over the Moroi government.

I’m looking forward to a chance to see the film!

Book two picks up at the winter break with Frostbite. In Frostbite the students of St. Vladimir’s are taken on a ski trip after a Strigoi attack renders the academy unsafe for a time. Here you meet several new characters, including Janine Hathaway, Rose’s mother. The romance between Rose and Dimitri continues, despite his insistence that it should never have been and will never be. Another romance thickens between Lissa and the orphaned  Christian, whose parents succumbed to the temptation of the Strigoi.

A handful of students sneak out of the ski resort in an attempt to seek out the lair of the Strigoi, a group that have chosen to go against Strigoi tradition and actually work together. Included in that group is Rose’s friend Mason, who is madly in love with her. This escapade by the students rides on the coattails of a proposed joint action by the Dhampir and some of the Moroi who wish to combine their physical prowess and magical abilities to combat the nefarious Strigoi.

Rose, against the wishes of Dimitir and behind the back of her mother, takes Christian and follows Mason and his group in a rescue attempt. An attempt that soon needs to be rescued as well. It is here that the reader gets a real glimpse of the magical abilities of the Moroi and how they can be used in combat to assist the Dhampir in defending against the Strigoi and maybe even going on the offensive.

Shadow Kiss, book three in the series, picks up shortly after Frostbite. In it Rose, Lissa, Christian and the rest of the students at  St. Vladimir’s try to pick up the pieces after the attack on the school and the loss of friends, including Mason, during their winter break.

With a trial looming over the heads of the Moroi and the memories of Striggoi attacks very fresh in the minds of everyone at St. Vladimir’s, there is little hope of the students ever truly feeling safe again. Lissa and Christian’s romance continues to build, parallel to the romance between Dimitri and Rose. The Moroi and the Dhampir continue to be at odds with each other over whether they should combine their physical skills and their magical abilities to better defend themselves against the Strigoi.

As the year continues and the students attempt to go back to normal Rose and Lissa find themselves dealing with a new problem. Several students have shown up to class with black eyes, burns, and other minor injuries – many being taken to the infirmary. But none of them is talking about how their received their injuries. When Lissa is approached by other Moroi students wanting to band together to use their abilities as an offensive tool against the Strigoi Rose finds herself using the strange bond that exists between them to rescue her from their initiation ritual. And winds up rescuing one of her frienemies from Lissa instead.

Before the can address the issue with the school’s administration another Strigoi attack is launched against the school and all hell breaks loose.  The raging battle shows that the Moroi are more than a match for their mortal enemies when they combine their efforts with their  Dhampir guardians to protect the children. Janine returns along with many other guardians in the after math of this massive attack and a plot to go on the offensive ensues. You’ll have to read the books to find out what exactly happens. It surprised me, I’m sure it will surprise you.

I’m patiently waiting for my prison guard friend to bring me the next three books in the series so I can find out what happens to Rose and Lissa and their friends.

ADDENDUM (06/20/14): I was able to find an online source for watching the movie free. I watched it. I enjoyed it, but I was disappointed. Mark Waters and his writers took things a bit too much towards the satire side of things, making the characters out to be parodies of high society. As a stand alone, without having read the books I think the movie would have been fine. Having read the books, I was disappointed in how the characters were portrayed.

Zoey Deutch does a fair job as Rose; Danila Kozlovsky is a bit hollow as Dimitri; Lucy Fry (Lissa) does a great job of being a snobby upper crust bitch , but has a real trouble being believable as a friend. Gabriel Byrne, on the other hand, pulls off the nice-guy-turned-villain. Of the four, Byrne is the obvious veteran. Maybe in the sequel Deutch, Kozlovsky and Fry will have matured in their roles.

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Filed under Paranormal Romance, Sci-fi and Fantasy Books, Young Adult