Thoughts on LAST PEN STANDING

Howdy, howdy!  It’s already the last Wednesday of September.  Where did the month go?  For that matter, where did all the months since March go?  My internal clock is kind of lagging.  Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday and that means it’s book review time!  I decided to go back to a cozy mystery this time, because I wanted something with a guaranteed happy ending.  So, I requested Last Pen Standing, the first in a brand new series by Vivian Conroy.  It was released yesterday (Sept. 24th).  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for allowing me access to an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get to it!

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Cute cover and pretty fitting.

Last Pen Standing follows Delta Douglas as she embarks on a new chapter in her life.  Delta’s grandmother gifts her a large sum of money because she wants to see what Delta will achieve with it instead of waiting and passing it on as an inheritance.  So, Delta quits her big city job and becomes co-owners of a stationery store in a small town with her college bestie, Hazel.  During their first workshop event at the town’s fanciest hotel, one of the hotel guests is murdered.  Hazel’s brother, Finn, is accused and everything kind of spirals from there.  Delta didn’t expect to be using her creative skills to help solve a murder, but things don’t always go the way you want.  With the help of her new friend, Jonas (an ex-cop), his dog, Spud, and the Paper Posse (the local gossips and crafters), Delta tries her best to figure out what’s going on.

I have to admit that I didn’t pinpoint the correct suspect right away.  I had the person in my list of probable suspects, but I wasn’t positive until I got closer to the end.  That made the story all the more fun, because I was able to eliminate suspects right alongside Delta and the others.  The plot was full of twists and turns.  I really liked the slow build of tension and the subtle clues sprinkled throughout.  It was just paced really nicely.  I wasn’t absorbed enough that I had trouble putting it down in order to eat and sleep and work, but I also looked forward to picking it back up again.  That’s the kind of balance I enjoy with cozies.

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Works with writing.

As far as the characters go, I loved them.  Delta was an interesting and likeable lead.  She rarely came across as pushy or bratty like some cozy leads can.  She left a lot of the snooping to the town gossips and only pried into things when she was relatively sure there was something useful to be discovered.  The love interest, Jonas, was a nice foil.  He helped Delta proceed with her investigation and made sure everything she did was above board.  Being an ex-cop gave him access to more information than usual, so I suppose that’s why Delta didn’t have to pry as much as some cozy leads.  Even the rich people came across as mostly human.  It was nice.

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Because people talk weird.

The writing was done well for the most part.  My only complaint would be that a lot of the dialogue was stilted.  “People don’t talk like that” was my mantra as I went through this book.  It was like the author wanted to give the reader a bunch of information and couldn’t find a better way of doing it than having people say it.  But people don’t say things like that, especially if they think their listener knows what they’re talking about.  Like, the stationery shop is across the street from the diner.  She works at the shop, so she knows where the diner is.  Don’t have the woman she’s talking to say to meet her at *insert name of diner*, the diner across the street from where you’ve been every day this week.  It’s not realistic.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Last Pen Standing.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for future books and maybe even try something else by Vivian Conroy.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  The dialogue is annoying enough that I took a star off, but if you like cozies and stationery and western type stuff, you should pick this book up.

Thoughts on THE BONE CUTTERS

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of August, which means it’s book review time!  This month, I received an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum Renee S. DeCamillis’s new book.  It’s called The Bone Cutters and it’s due out on September 1st from Eraserhead Press.  I must thank Renee and the press for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Anyway, I stepped slightly outside of my comfort zone with this one since I haven’t read much bizarro horror.  I’m more into traditional horror, but I do love me some psychological horror, which this book definitely falls under.  Now, onto the review.

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Lovely cover, though I’m not entirely sure why she’s naked.

The Bone Cutters follows Dory (our unreliable narrator) as she wakes up to find herself confined in a psychiatric hospital.  When she’s put in a counseling group for a very specific brand of junkie (one who snorts bone dust to get a “free” high), it has her literally pulling her hair out (something she has issues with anyway).  As if that’s not bad enough, the nurse who put her in the group refuses to believe that Dory belongs elsewhere.  Luckily, there’s a janitor who seems to believe Dory and even wants to help.  From there, things just keep getting weirder.

The story is nicely paced and keeps the tension up fairly well throughout the whole thing.  It’s a novella, so you could easily finish it in one go.  I broke it up into multiple reading sessions, but I really think it would benefit from reading it beginning to end.  I admit that I lost a lot of forward momentum each time I put it down, which was my own fault (stupid life getting in the way).  But every time I picked it back up, I enjoyed the ride.  In fact, I’ll probably pick a day in the next couple of months to sit down and read it all the way through just to see how the experience differs.

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The characters are interesting, but I wanted a little more flesh on some of them.  While we’re in Dory’s head, we don’t get to learn much about her.  Sure, she isn’t a Duster, and she’s super protective of the people she trusts, but she doesn’t really seem to grow much over the course of the story.  Her relationship with Tommy grows, but while she becomes more coherent, she still feels basically the same at the end.  Tommy, the janitor, is the most fleshed out.  We get to know his past and his motives.  The villains, on the other hand, are basically just junkies looking for a fix who are being manipulated by the big bad in the shadows.  I had no feelings about them one way or the other.  That being said, I like that the big bad in the shadows remains a distant mystery.  It really worked for the story.

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I like it when characters level up.

As far as the writing goes, it is lovely and poetic and musical.  The way Renee breaks up her paragraphs pulls the reader forward and aids in creating tension in all the right spots.  It’s a story worth reading to study the writing alone.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Bone Cutters.  I can’t wait to see more from Renee in the future.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you enjoy psychological horror with some bizarro thrown in, pick it up.  If you like beautiful writing that combines both poetry and prose, pick it up.

Thoughts on SHATTER THE SKY

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of July, so you should all know what that means.  It’s time for another book review!  This month, I felt like getting into something fantastical, maybe with dragons or something, so that’s what I looked for on NetGalley.  They recommended the young adult novel Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells, which was released yesterday (July 30th).  It sounded interesting, so I went ahead and requested it.  I must thank NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me access to an ARC (advanced reader copy) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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A pretty generic YA cover.  No idea what the glowy thing she’s holding is, but I’m guessing a vial which is never described as glowing in the book.

Shatter the Sky follows Maren who leaves her secluded home in the hopes of rescuing her girlfriend, Kaia, who is taken by the Aurati seers.  Maren never actually wanted to leave her home and always believed she was average, especially next to Kaia who was obviously meant for greater things than the mountains could provide.  But when Kaia is stolen, Maren decides she needs to reclaim a dragon from the Flame of the West (the warlord who loves nothing more than conquering lands) and rain down fire and destruction upon the Aurati.  But how is an average girl like her supposed to do that?  With a little help from friends, apparently.  But is Sev, a guy she meets along the way, really a friend?  And can his allies really help her rescue Kaia?  Maren doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing or who to trust, but she does all she can to keep moving forward.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare.  An underdog rises above her challenges in order to achieve her goals, discovering along the way that she’s actually super special.  Not only must she face physical obstacles, but there’s also a budding romance with the new friend despite her devotion to her heartmate, which brings up shame and all that good stuff.  And there’s an adorable little dragon that gets sucked into the adventures.  It’s a little predictable at points, but still enjoyable.

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But not so ashamed she’ll ditch him.

It’s not the plot that pulled me in, but the characters.  Of course, in the beginning, Kaia is the obvious choice for a heroine, but then she’s abducted and we only get to see snippets of her in Maren’s visions.  By the end, she’s so completely changed that it makes me want to read the next book to find out what she really becomes.  Maren is headstrong and a little flighty.  She rarely has more than a vague notion of a plan, but that never stops her.  However, her insistence that Kaia is somehow better than her does become annoying.  Sev is an ambiguous character that could either be really good or he could go really bad, which is fun.  He’s adamant that his cause is the only way to a better future, which most villains feel the same way.  But if he keeps with Maren, and lets her influence shape him, he could become a hero in his own right.  This book is leaning toward the latter for him, but it doesn’t mean he won’t veer off in the next book.  Otherwise, I love the dragons and want more of them.

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A Dragon Witch by Nene Thomas.  Just because dragons.

The writing itself was smooth and a made for nice read.  A lot of the description was beautiful and the pacing pulled me along at a good clip.  The dialogue occasionally felt stilted, but not enough to really distract from the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Shatter the Sky so much that I’m looking forward to book two and am a little sad that I have to wait for it.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  Like I said, it’s standard fantasy fare, but the characters made it worth reading for me.  If you enjoy character development and can get past some predictableness, this is definitely worth reading.

Thoughts on BELINDA BLAKE AND THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe it’s already the last Wednesday of the month?  You know what that means!  It’s time for another book review.  Since my mind has been drifting to my own cozy mystery, I decided to see if any new series in that genre were releasing this month.  Yup!  I went with the Exotic Pet-Sitter series because who can resist animals and a good murder or two?  Not me.  It’s by Heather Day Gilbert and the first book is called Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass (kind of a mouthful, I know).  Since it was only released yesterday (June 25th), you would be correct in assuming that I got an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) through NetGalley.  So, I must thank them and Kensington Books for allowing me access to this ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, which I’ll be getting to presently.

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A cute cover that has nothing to do with the story.

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass follows (you guessed it!) Belinda Blake as she embarks on a new phase of her life.  Moving from a studio apartment in Manhattan to a carriage house on some rich family’s property in Greenwich, Connecticut, Belinda works hard to keep her exotic pet-sitting business going strong.  She’s currently taking care of a ball python for a client in Manhattan who insists she carts the animal back and forth from his place to hers (because snakes need vacations too) as well as taking it for walks and even bathing it.  As if that plus an embarrassing run in with the homeowners’ handsome son, Stone Carrington the fifth, isn’t bad enough, she finds a dead woman in her garden.  From there, things just get stranger.

The plot of this one is pretty standard.  A young woman (26) finds a dead body and gets dragged into investigating it with the hot new guy in her life, who she falls in love with, of course.  But could he possibly be the murderer?!  Dun dun dun…  It’s a cozy, so what do you think?  He’s still shady, though.  And I admit that I picked out the murderer as soon as they showed up, but it took me a little while to piece together the why part, so it’s still a fun journey.

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My main problem with this story is the pacing and the odd scenes that feel tossed in for no particular reason.  It’s super jumpy.  Things would be going along nicely, then something completely random would pop up.  Like the kiss.  It doesn’t feel like it belongs there to me and it’s out of character for Belinda, so it seems really forced.  Then, she goes home (upstate New York) for Thanksgiving and randomly gets sent to a neighbor’s house to pick up honey.  I’m guessing he’s supposed to be the rival love interest, but his part in this particular book seems unnecessary and rushed.  His introduction could’ve waited for a book or two until he’s needed.  There’s also this thing with escaped cows that makes no real sense and does nothing for the actual plot of the story.  There are some other instances, but these stand out the most.

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Me wondering how things fit together in this book.

As far as the writing goes, it’s a little stilted in spots.  The book is in first person, so we’re in Belinda’s head when we’re not dealing with dialogue.  I spent a lot of time telling myself that people don’t talk that way.  It’s distracting, but I was still able to enjoy the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass enough that I’ll check out the next book to see if it’s better.  Also, I kind of want to see just how much randomness makes it into the next one.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of five stars.  While many, my complaints are actually pretty minor.  If you like cute cozies and animals, go ahead and check this one out.  If you have too many books on your TBR lists, you’re not missing much if you skip this one.

Thoughts on THE SCENT KEEPER

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last week of May already, so you know what that means!  It’s book review time.  I went with something a bit more literary than I’m used to, but I wanted to shake things up a bit.  When I was browsing NetGalley, The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister caught my eye.  So, as usual, I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for giving me access to the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.  The novel was due out on May 21st.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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The cover is absolutely lovely.

The Scent Keeper follows Emmeline as she grows up on a remote island with only her father and their mysterious scent-papers to keep her company.  Her childhood is filled with fairy tales and the type of fantastical fun that only opening up your senses can get you.  However, as she grows, so does her curiosity.  After making discoveries her father refuses to explain, life starts changing until she’s finally flung out into the real world with no safety net.  Can she adjust to real life?  How is she supposed to find out about her origins when her father never told her much?  These are just a couple of questions the book explores.

First, I want to talk about the use of the senses in this book because it’s amazing.  Most stories tend to lean hard on sight because that’s probably the easiest way to explain the world around you.  Not this book.  As you can probably guess, it uses the sense of smell to propel us through Emmeline’s world.  Her other senses work fine, but her nose is what she’s been taught to follow all her life.  She reads scents the way other people read facial expressions.  Smells can’t betray her the way other things can.  Or that’s what she thinks.  But the focus on smells as both deep memory triggers and helpful everyday tools is really neat.

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Have you ever noticed that the longer you look at the word “smell,” the more it looks like it isn’t spelled right?  No?  Just me?  Okay.

The story itself is weird because it has a tendency to move really slow, then speed up, then keep jumping between slow and fast.  I don’t know if that was just because I wasn’t as interested in Emmeline as I was some of the other characters or what, but even the slow parts were nice.  I was in love with the story, so the pace didn’t really matter.  Then the ending happened and everything fell apart for me.  I knew what was going to happen, but not where it would happen.  I was hoping for a return to the island for the big finale, but what I got was an abrupt ending that left so much open that it was unsatisfying.  I mean, Fisher (the love interest) was waiting for Emmeline to return to the cove (her childhood home after she had left the island) with him.  They had plans.  Does she just leave him waiting?  Does she go back home?  Nothing is explained and it reminded me why I avoid straight litfic.  Nothing is ever satisfactorily resolved and it’s annoying as all get out.

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As far as the writing goes, it is a beautiful and lyrical experience.  The description is gorgeous.  It makes the focus on scent easy to picture or understand even when I wasn’t sure what some of the things smelled like.  The pace is weird but the rhythm of the writing flows nicely.

Ultimately, I’m happy to have had a chance to be exposed to such wonderful writing in The Scent Keeper, but the ending ruined everything for me.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of five stars.  What I enjoyed of it, I really enjoyed, but what I didn’t like got the best of me in the end.  If you don’t mind a story that just cuts off but has lovely prose, pick it up.

Thoughts on the PIECES OF ME Duet

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of April!  Can you believe it?  Time sure flies, I guess.  Anyway, it’s time for another book review!  Actually, this month is a little different because I’m reviewing two books at once.  My friend, Danielle Rose, has a duet coming out on May 14th, so I decided to see if I could get some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of the books.  Thanks to NetGalley and Waterhouse Press, I did just that.  The duet is called Pieces of Me and it’s comprised of Lies We Keep and Truth We Bear.  They are contemporary romances, so they’re not my usual reads, but I knew that going in.  I thought you should know as well.  Anyway, as usual, I have to thank NetGalley and Waterhouse for allowing me access to the ARCs in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get on with it!

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The covers are pretty!

The Pieces of Me duet is centered around famous author, Jezebel Tate, and her bodyguard, James Blakely, as their relationship blooms from “just sex” into full blown love.  Lies We Keep is told from Jezebel’s perspective and follows her as she hires Blakely to protect her from her stalker.  Along the way, she has to confront her past and accept that she isn’t to blame for her parents’ deaths.  Truth We Bear is told in Blakely’s perspective and follows him as he and his past chase each other into a head-on collision.  He has to learn the same lesson as Jezebel, but under completely different circumstances.

Let’s talk plots.  The whole of the stories are vastly different, but both books are pretty similar if you boil them down to their bones.  Both Jezebel and Blakely have to deal with stalkers while they sort out issues revolving around the deaths of their folks.  Plus, they have to find time to cram in lots of steamy sex (a requirement of the romance genre, so don’t pretend you didn’t know it was coming).  Granted, Jezebel’s journey to resolving her issues is more internal and psychological while Blakely actually gets to confront people from his past, but still similar.  I enjoyed the parallels.

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The characters were interesting and mostly fleshed out.  Jezebel vacillates between a strong woman who knows what she wants and takes it and an insecure woman who feels that only a big strong man can save her.  It’s annoying at times, but not out of the realm of believability.  Blakely is basically your average stoic dom on the outside with a bunch of weird insecurities inside (I say weird because I didn’t understand why he was worried about her leaving him over what happened when he was a kid).  Tara, the literary agent, was a neat character that I felt could have been used more.  As far as the bad people go, I felt like Jezebel’s stalker could have shown up earlier and played a bigger part.  He seemed a little like an afterthought.  I really liked Blakely’s stalker, though.  Her development was quick, but nicely done.  And lastly, the pastor (Blakely’s actual bad guy) was a bit flat.

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I laughed every time a lip was bit.

The writing is crisp and flows well.  It makes for a quick read.  There are some gestures that became repetitive.  Distractingly so.  Lots of bit lips and bobbing Adam’s apples and clenched jaws, especially in the first book.  But to be fair, this happens in every romance I read, so I guess it’s a genre thing.  But what I really liked was that they’re written to work as both a duet and standalone novels, so even if you only read one, you get the pleasure of a satisfying ending.

Ultimately, both books in the Pieces of Me duet were fun and I’m glad I read them.  It’s good to get outside of my comfort zone once in a while.

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Overall, I gave both books 4 out of 5 stars.   The issues I had with them are minor and seem fairly common in the genre.  If you like romance and lots of random sex, these are definitely worth a look.

Thoughts on SEA WITCH

Howdy, howdy!  Due to the random sicknesses of the past couple of months, I forgot to request a book from NetGalley for March.  Luckily, I had a book on my to-be-read list that I’ve been looking for an excuse to read ever since it came out in July of last year.  My love of mermaids automatically drew me towards Sea Witch by Sarah Henning.  The fact that it sounded like a new take on the Little Mermaid (my favorite fairy tale) sealed the deal.  I had to read it.  But that’s enough of why I chose it, let’s get to the review.

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I love the cover.

Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch tells the story Evie, a peasant and a witch, who not only has to hide her power, but also has to put up with the townsfolk accusing her of not knowing her place just because she’s best friends with the prince (Nik) and close to his cousin (Iker), another prince.  When her other best friend, Anna, was taken by the sea, Evie’s whole life fell apart until she thrust herself into studying magic.  Evie and Nik never stopped mourning Anna, but when a mysterious stranger who resembles their dead friend appears, Evie finds herself a purpose: keeping her new friend on land.  Unfortunately, Evie has no idea what kind of magic it will take, nor does she understand the repercussions until it’s too late.

This isn’t some Disney-ified version of the tale with replicas of Ariel and Ursula and Erik.  These characters are mostly well-developed and have a nice balance between light and dark within them.  However, I do admit that Iker and Nik could have used a bit more personality.  Nik was an ideal prince through and through.  I wanted him to be a little selfish and at least make his desires known.  Iker, on the other hand, is a stereotypical playboy prince who turns his back on Evie when he thinks she’s a threat to him and his family.

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For some reason, Iker reminded me of this.  “Love me Evie! … from afar.”

As far as the plot goes, I have some issues with the reasoning behind Annemette’s whole revenge thing.  I just don’t believe someone who was always best friends with these people would blame them like that.  But I’ll say it was because of her lack of a soul.  I’m sure that would corrupt people and make them do weird things.  But other than that, I have no real qualms with the book.  In fact, I’m really happy the story didn’t take the happy ending route where friendship conquers everything.  That would’ve been far too sappy a climax and not a fitting tribute to the original Little Mermaid.

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Because we’re talking about writing next.

The writing is mostly smooth and enjoyable.  Most of the romance between Evie and Iker comes off as corny and more funny than I think it was supposed to, but I got a good chuckle out of it.  I also admit that a couple of the past sections confused me.  At one point, I’m not entirely sure if Iker or Nik is the main character for one of those parts.  It’s easy enough to figure it out after the fact, but during it, I was super confuzzled.

Ultimately, I’m glad I found this book.  A friend actually pointed out that a second one is coming out this year.  I will definitely be picking it up to see what Evie is up to next.

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Overall, I gave Sea Witch four out of five stars.  If you love mermaids or witches or both, this book is a worthy addition to your library.  Bonus points if you’re into fairy tale retellings!

Thoughts on SNOW WHITE LEARNS WITCHCRAFT

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time!  Didn’t I just do this?  Seems like it, but that was just to make up for January.  February gets its own book.  This month, I’m going to talk about Snow White Learns Witchcraft, which is a collection of short stories and poems by Theodora Goss.  Technically, I received access to an advanced reader copy (ARC) through NetGalley, but they archived it without warning a few days after the approval and I hadn’t downloaded it yet.  Sadness.  Then, I realized it was releasing on February 5th, so I would have plenty of time to buy a copy and read it in time to review it.  Happiness!  Anyway, let’s get to it.

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A lovely cover.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft is a little misleading as a title for the entire collection because Snow White isn’t the only fairy tale revisited among these pieces.  Goss adds her own personal touch as she retells many beloved tales from Goldilocks to the Little Mermaid to Cinderella to some that I’m not even familiar with.  A mixture of poetry and short stories, this collection is sure to have something for all fairy tale lovers to get lost in.

I think I’ll start with the short stories.  My personal favorite was “Conversations with the Sea Witch,” but I admit that I’m biased because the Little Mermaid happens to be my favorite fairy tale.  It tells the story of an old crippled woman who has lived her happy life with her prince and is now awaiting death.  Each day her servants wheel her out on the balcony for fresh air and she has conversations with her friend, the sea witch who gave her legs.  We get to hear about the witch and how she ended up the way she is.  It’s a neat, quick story.  Most of the stories in this collection come at their mother fairy tales from new and interesting directions.  Some are set in olden times while others are in the present and many are somewhere between the two.  Many of the tales are quick reads, but some drag a little.  I think that’s why “A Country Called Winter” wasn’t as enjoyable as others for me; it felt slow.  It was one of the tales I wasn’t familiar with, but it was predictable enough that I wasn’t pulled along the way I would have been if I didn’t know what was going to happen.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked this story (and all the others), it simply wasn’t my favorite.

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She does get nasty.

The poetry in this collection was wonderful.  “The Ogress Queen” delights the senses as she ponders what delicacies Helios, Aurora, and their mother would taste like.  “Diamonds and Toads” offers up an amusing situation that leaves the reader with a number of potential lessons it could be trying to teach.  I’d like to believe it’s showing us that every bad situation has a potential upside if you’re willing to look for it.  Like all fairy tales, each poem leaves us with a lesson.  Some of these, the speaker comes right out and says, others we have to dig for.

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The writing in this collection is as varied as the stories and poems.  Goss captures each voice like she’s the sea witch.  As I said earlier, the pace changes from piece to piece, but all in all this was a fast and fun read.

Ultimately, I’m happy that I went ahead and bought Snow White Learns Witchcraft.  Fairy tales are some of my favorite reading material.  This book was worth adding to my collection.

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Overall, I gave this collection 4 out of 5 stars.  I wavered between four and five because I always expect to not enjoy some pieces as much as others when reading a collection like this, so I shouldn’t let that affect my decision, right?  But I settled on four because it seemed fair and true to how I felt about everything.  If you like fairy tales, check this book out!

Thoughts on DEAD AS A DOOR KNOCKER

Howdy, howdy!  Since I missed last month’s book review, I figured I would go ahead and do it this week.  After all, I’m only a week late.  That’s not too bad, right?  For January, I picked up an advanced reader copy (ARC) of the first book in a new cozy mystery series.  Dead as a Door Knocker is the the first book in Diane Kelly’s House Flipper Mysteries.  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for granting me access to this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, we might as well get to the review!

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Cover is relevant to the book, but the knocker is all wrong.  It’s supposed to be the Green Man.

Dead as a Door Knocker introduces us to Whitney Whitaker, a 28-year-old who enjoys helping her cousins remodel houses and harbors dreams of becoming a real estate guru.  She lives with her parents and her cat, Sawdust, in Nashville and works at a small mom-and-pop property management firm.  When the firm’s biggest client offers her a deal on a property that’s too good to be true, she jumps on it.  However, the guy is murdered on the site and everything goes haywire from there.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I didn’t like this book.  The story was the same as every other cozy, which could have been fine.  Combine it with the fact that the main character is extremely unlikable and not even the parts from the cat’s point of view could save it.  Why is Whitney unlikable?  First off, she’s 28 and acts like she’s 15.  If she doesn’t get her way, she pouts or throws a fit.  Second, she’s a bully.  She runs around questioning people like she’s a cop or something, ambushing people and even forcing her foot in doorways so people can’t close the door, then has the gall the get upset when she gets a glass of iced tea thrown in her face.  I had zero respect for her.

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My thoughts exactly.

The background characters were flat and only served to enable Whitney’s antics.  She dragged her cousin and her best friend around as bodyguards, neither of whom ever bothered pointing out when she was crossing boundaries.  The detective let her go based on weak arguments and tantrums.  I get that it’s a story and all, but it still needs to be believable.  None of these characters came across as actual people, especially the police.

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Basically.

As far as the writing goes, it was a tight, quick read.  Every other sentence seemed like a well-worn cliché or at least a play on one.  If the author was aiming to make Whitney sound like a 15-year-old, she was spot on.  But don’t go into it hoping for the 28-year-old we’re supposed to be getting.

Ultimately, I was super disappointed in this story.  I just couldn’t get past the characters.  It’s not a series I’ll be following.

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Overall, I gave Dead as a Door Knocker one star out of five.  Pretty sure this is a first for me.  I honestly feel bad.  I really wanted to like it, but nope.  If you’re okay with childish characters and unrealistic police officers, try it.  Otherwise, you’re not missing anything.

Thoughts on A SPELL OF MURDER

Howdy, howdy!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (or whatever it is you happen to celebrate)!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month (and year), so it’s time for another book review.  I looked for something festive, but ended up going with another cozy mystery.  For December, I got a hold of an ARC (advanced reader copy) of A Spell of Murder by Clea Simon, which was released earlier this month.  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Polis Books, for granting me access to this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get to it!

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Cute cover.  And it actually refers to things in the story.

A Spell of Murder is the first in the new Witch Cats of Cambridge series.  It follows Clara, a calico cat, and her two sisters, Harriet and Laurel, all of whom happen to be witch cats (yes, they are cats who can do magic).  They do their best to keep their “owner,” Becca, out of trouble as she embarks on a new adventure in her life.  Recently single and newly unemployed, Becca is on a mission to find herself.  She researches her family history and even joins a local coven.  But when a covenmate is murdered, Becca is pulled down the rabbit hole of wanting to find out what happened.  Her cats must help keep her out of trouble.  Whether out of love or the desire for more food and treats depends on which cat you ask.

You might be wondering why I said it follows Clara instead of Becca.  That’s because the book is (mostly) told from Clara’s POV.  It’s part of the reason I wanted to check this book out.  A murder story from a cat’s POV?  Sounds neat.  And it was.  But it slips out of Clara’s POV at random moments, which is jarring and occasionally really confusing.  For the most part, Clara finds ways to be in each scene, but a couple of times the POV just flat out changes to Becca because Clara isn’t around.  If this was a braided narrative set up so we expected the POV shifts, that would be fine.  But it’s not, so the shifts feel lazy.  An easy out when putting a cat in the scene is too difficult.

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It’s random like this, except way less cute.

Other than that, the story is solid, if somewhat predictable.  I guessed at the murderer as soon as they showed up, but I also have a strong dislike of that type of person, so maybe it was just wishful thinking.  Correct wishful thinking, but still.  There’s a douchenozzle of a love interest, an actual love interest, an overzealous bestie, and a plethora of other characters you would expect in a story like this.  The most interesting characters are the cats.  Clara is all about loving and protecting Becca.  Harriet basically just wants food and treats and all the comforts she can get.  And Laurel simply likes drama, especially when it involves a man.  The humans are just kind of there.

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At least in this book.

The writing style is easy going and carries the reader along for the most part.  It tries to get you to follow it to awkward conclusions, instead of going with your gut.  That’s what cozy mysteries do.  The descriptions of the people in the book are pretty vague, which makes it a little difficult to separate them, but that’s how the cats see people.  It was interesting to see the world as a cat.  And it makes for a light, quick read.

Ultimately, it was an okay read.  I probably won’t go looking for future books in the series, but if I randomly run across them, I’ll flip through and see if anything has improved.

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Overall, I gave A Spell of Murder three stars.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  If you like magical cats and Hallmark channel murder mysteries, you might like it.  If not, you’re not missing much.