Friday, February 27, 2015

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer

Trust Me, I'm Lying  Trust Me, I'm Lying is a young adult, mystery thriller by Mary Elizabeth Summer.  It is told from the point of view of teenage grifter, Julep Dupree (not her real name).  She was taught by the best, her father.  At the fancy private school she attends, Julep is known as a fixer.  She has a way of conning, scamming, and well fixing problems for her fellow classmates, many of whom are happy to use their seemingly bottomless bank accounts to pay for Julep's help.  Julep doesn't always want to be grifter.  She has dreams of attending Yale, hence the fancy private school that she and her father can barely afford.  All is going well until Julep comes home to an empty apartment.  As a grifter, Julep knows that sometimes the con goes wrong and the mark gets angry, but with her apartment ransacked and her father missing, Julep knows this was no ordinary con and no ordinary mark.  Her father is in trouble and it's up to Julep to get him out of it.

Trust Me, I'm Lying was such a treat!  There were a lot of things I liked about this book.  For starters, Julep Dupree is a whip smart, resourceful, self-sufficient heroine.  She reminded me a lot of the name sake from Veronica Mars, one of my favorite shows.  She's strong and vulnerable.  She's a criminal with a strong sense of right and wrong.  In other words, she's a richly drawn character with all kinds of complications.

Another thing going for this book is the fact that there is diversity.  Julep's best friend and co-conspirator is an African-American young man and his story is not all about being Black.  If this were Veronica Mars, he would be the equivalent of Veronica's hacker friend Mac.  I also appreciated that there were consequences. Often in stories like this there is more or less a happy ending where all the good guys win and the bad guys lose, and the good guys suffer few lasting consequences even though they may have done some bad things on the way to getting the happy ending. That isn't the case here. Good and bad guys alike suffer the consequences for their actions.

Another thing I appreciated was that the romance plot point was the side story.  Julep is a fifteen-year-old girl in high school.  Yes, there is a school dance and Julep was happy to make the acquaintance of a certain boy, but getting a date to the big dance was neither the main goal nor the highlight of her life.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is the first in a new series and I can hardly wait until the next book comes out.  Unfortunately, it won't be published until Fall 2015.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Bury Me Deep  Ever since I read Dare Me last year I have been eagerly working my way through Megan Abbott's backlist.  This time it was Bury Me Deep.  Inspired by a true crime involving a grisly discovery inside a steamer trunk, Bury Me Deep tells the story of a young woman abandoned by her husband in Phoenix.  The woman is Marion Seeley and her doctor husband has gone to Mexico to kick his drug habit.  He promises to come back some day.  In the meantime Marion finds a job at a medical clinic and makes friends with one of her fellow nurses, Louise and Louise's roommate Ginny.  Louise and Ginny are known around town for their scandalous house parties at which many of the city's prominent men are often guests.  Lonely and demure, Marion finds herself drawn in by the charms of Joe Lanigan, a frequent guest of Louise and Ginny.  Of course, everything goes horribly wrong in the end.

This is the third book I've read by Megan Abbott, after Dare Me and Die a Little.  What I like most about Abbott's books are the characters, especially the female characters.  Abbott writes women who are smart, mentally strong, and complicated.  Everyone is complicated. Her characters are mix of sex, violence, ambition, love, lust, selfishness, and selflessness.  Few of her characters, like actual people, are ever pure good, pure evil, or pure anything else.

Of the three books by Abbott I've read so far, I have to confess Bury Me Deep comes in last.  It was good, but I liked Dare Me and Die a Little a little more.  The first half of the book dragged a little and I kept waiting for Marion to wise up.  Once the crime happens and Marion is forced to come to terms with her life and the people in it, the story got good.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in strong female characters or 1930s pulp or noir.  (I'm not quite sure what the difference between the two is, if there is one.)  For those new to Megan Abbott's modern noir novels, I would recommend starting with Dare Me then moving on to Die a Little or Bury Me Deep.  Whatever you start with, you're in for a ride.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

No Humans Involved (Women of the Otherworld Series #7) No Humans Involved is book 7 in Kelley Armstrong's Women of Otherworld series.  In this installment Jaime Vegas takes center stage.  Jaime is a necromancer who can communicate with ghosts and even raise the dead.  She makes a living communicating with the dead for grieving relatives of the deceased.  She's not a con artist who goes after grieving widows and steals their life savings or anything like that.  She does host live shows where she talks to the dead and tries to give closure and comfort to the living.

She makes a pretty good living, but the big bucks are in TV so Jaime's goal is to get her own TV show.  First step - a television special with two other spiritualists where they each will try to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe and finally solve the mystery of her death.  If all goes well, Jaime just might get the TV deal she's been hoping for.  While the TV special is being taped, the three spiritualists and the television crew are housed in a Brentwood home.  Before they find Marilyn, Jaime discovers the ghosts of children trapped in the Brentwood home.  The ghosts cannot seem to move on as they are supposed to.  Jaime must help them.

No Humans Involved is a paranormal mystery with some romance added in.  They mystery of the trapped ghosts was good but I especially liked the romance.  In this installment the werewolf alpha Jeremy Danvers and Jaime finally start to come together.  They have been dancing around each other for awhile now.  Or rather, Jaime has been dancing around.  Jeremy is so reserved it is difficult to ever know what he's thinking or what he wants, especially for a non-werewolf like Jaime.  Finally, Jeremy begins to let his guard down and let Jaime in.  I hope there are more stories in the series involving the two of them.

I really liked this book.  In past books and in the beginning of this one Jaime has been the one who constantly gets captured and kidnapped.  Finally, in this story she starts to come into her power and find where her strengths lie.  Very glad I read this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie Series #4) Literary mystery - that's how I've decided to describe Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series.  Sure, genre labels don't matter but whenever I pick up a Jackson Brodie novel I can't help but think about what kind of book it is I'm reading.  I mean, the first time I heard about Case Histories (the first book in the series) was in a review that described it as a mystery.  These books were never shelved in the mystery section of my local bookstore, however, but rather could always be found in the general fiction section.  I can understand why - the Jackson Brodie series is not like any other mystery series I've every read.  Started Early, Took My Dog is, incidentally, the fourth entry in the series.

Describing the plot of a Jackson Brodie book is always daunting because there are always multiple characters with multiple story lines.  Several of the story lines in Started Early, Took My Dog had to do with children and parenthood: missing children, women who never thought they would have children suddenly finding themselves with a child in their care, fathers coming to terms with being fathers, women and men welcoming new children into their lives or saying goodbye to them.  There is a mystery of sorts - Jackson has been hired to find information about the birth parents of a woman in who was born in the U.K. but adopted as a two-year-old and then raised in New Zealand.  The woman is pregnant and impending motherhood has her thinking about her own origin story and what she will be able to tell her children about their maternal ancestry.

One characteristic of this series is that Jackson Brodie, the private detective that ties the series together, is never quite in control or aware of all different stories happening in proximity to him.  It is one reason why this series so good.  Nothing happens in a vacuum. People are more than characters waiting around to help or hinder the detective solve his mystery.  They have their own lives and their own problems.  There are coincidences and random acts of kindness and cruelty. Jackson wanders in trying to solve case while others are trying to solve something else.

Kate Atkinson has written other, non-mystery books.  Last year her novel Life After Life made a big splash in the world of books and reading.  I haven't read that or any of her non-mystery novels but plan to soon.  I hope this isn't the last Jackson Brodie story she writes because I have thoroughly enjoying reading this series.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Darkest Kiss by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Kiss (Lords of the Underworld Series #2)  The Darkest Kiss is the second installment in Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series.  With this series it helps to know the background against which each books is set.  The backstory of this series centers on twelve immortal warriors who were jealous of Pandora and her box.  The warriors attacked Pandora and in the battle that followed Pandora was killed and the demons were freed. The demons were eventually recaptured but the box was lost so the twelve immortal warriors were each forced to carry a demon inside them.

For the most part the immortal warriors try not to interact with humans too much, well except for Paris but his is a special case.  Nevertheless, there exists a group of humans, called hunters, whose life mission is to hunt down and end the immortal warriors.  The hunters believe that if they can kill the immortals and the demons then it will be heaven on earth, literally. 

In addition to protecting themselves from the hunters, the immortal warriors must also protect themselves from the Greek gods and the Titans.  It was the Greek gods who forced the warriors to carry the demons in punishment for killing Pandora and freeing the demons.  The Greeks had also captured and imprisoned the Titans, but the Titans broke free and in return, imprisoned the Greek gods.  The Titans want to prevent the Greek gods from ever regaining power and believe Pandora box, which is missing but is rumored to still exist, can help them.  Both the hunters and the immortal warriors want the box as well. 

Notwithstanding all of the above, the Lords of the Underworld is a paranormal romance series.  So although there are battles and treasure hunts, there is even more in the way of romance and romps between the sheets.  Each book tells one of the immortal warrior’s story and how each of these warriors comes to fall in love with a woman.  The Darkest Kiss is Lucien’s story.  Lucien holds the demon of death which requires him to escort souls to their final destination.  (Interesting side note, in this universe there are multiple people who have the job of escorting souls; Lucien is but one of them.)  The woman Lucien eventually falls in love with is Anya, goddess of anarchy.

Lucien and Anya are drawn to each other the second they meet, for reasons that are never totally clear.   Anya, in fact, followed Lucien for days before finally approaching him.  For his part Lucien, whose face and body are heavily scarred, can hardly believe a woman like Anya could be attracted him.  Though attracted to Lucien, Anya also distrusts him.  The first two-thirds of the book is mostly the two of them bantering and bickering in between bouts with hunters and Titans.  I didn’t find Anya to be the most likeable character (she steals a friend’s treasured object and then has the nerve to get angry when he turns on her later), however, I did appreciate her strong sense of independence and her strength.  Anya is definitely not the type of woman to sit around moping about her lot in life or to wait around for someone else to rescue to her.  Lucien is the leader of the warriors and for good reason.  Despite his demon he has managed more than the others to keep his demon under control and he spends a lot of time thinking about how best to protect his immortal brothers.  It was fun to watch Lucien’s control melt in the presence of Anya.  Their chemistry sizzled on the page.  Of course by the end they were devoted to each other and read for the next battle, be it with hunters or the Titans.

This is a fun series.  Up next: the story of Reyes, keeper of the demon of pain, and Danika.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars We are Sinclairs.  No one is needy.  No one is wrong.  We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Perhaps that is all you need to know.  Except that some of us are liars.

I knew this book was about a wealthy East Coast family.  I suspected there was would be some sort of major wrongdoing, possibly a crime, perhaps along the lines of The Secret History.  Mostly I expected a story about wealthy people complaining about their first world, top one percent problems.  I was spot on but at the same time really surprised.  I should have been less surprised.  After all, the title says it all.

The story is narrated by Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman.  She is a Sinclair.  The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and blond.  They have strong chins and an even stronger resolve to be normal (as Cady's mother likes to remind her) and present a good front to the world no matter what happens behind closed doors.  Cadence has a secret, or rather her family has a secret that they're keeping from her.  When she was 15 she had an accident and continues to have memory problems two years later as a result.  No one will talk to her about the accident.  She is desperate to find out the truth.

We Were Liars borrows much from King Lear.  Harris Sinclair, the patriarch of the Sinclair family has three daughters: Penny, Bess and Carrie.  Despite all the opportunities and privileges afforded to those with ancestors who sailed over on the Mayflower and who have enough money to own an island, the three sisters have ended up divorced and without careers or a reliable source of income of their own.  The women turn to their father.  Like King Lear, Harris demands that each of his daughters prove their love to him, again and again, dangling the possibility of an inheritance in front of them to keep them in line. 

We Were Liars started off slow.  At 225 pages I should have finished this in one day, but it took a while to grab me and I kept putting it down.  As Cady starts remembering more about her accident the story started to come together.  What kept me going until it came together were the fairy tale like retellings of King Lear.  I really liked how the author used the retellings to flesh out the dynamics of the Sinclair family.  It was clever and King Lear is a play I remember liking a lot when I read it in school.  This was a good choice for a quick, weekend read.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus  The Night Circus has been on the edge of my reading mind for awhile.  Lots of people told me it was great.  I was intrigued, but only mildly.  This year is all about, or at least partly about, reading my TBR list, so it seemed like a good time to pick it up.  Plus it is a love story, so I was told, and I've been into romances lately, so again, it seemed like it was time to read it.  So I did, and well, eh.

There are two magicians, for lack of a better word, who are engaged in a competition.  Their magic is real, not an illusion or a trick.  Each acquires a child and trains them in the art of magic.  When the children grow up they are to compete against one another.  The two magicians are betting on which of their prodigies will be the last one standing.  Neither of the competitors (the children) knows the exact rules of the game, what they're competing for, or initially who they are competing against.  Why this competition exist is never quite clear.  There is a love story, actually multiple love stories. 

The night circus sounds like a beautiful, wonderful, magical place to visit.  I can picture it clearly and vividly in my mind.  In fact, the best way I can think of or describe this book is as series of still life pictures and moving scenes.  Erin Morgenstern excels at scene building and scene setting.  There is an ice garden, a wishing tree, and magic - beautiful, wondrous magic.  Although I would love to visit this circus, the story never quite came together for me.  I can't put my finger on it, but something was missing.  Still, it was a pleasant week of reading.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dirty Rowdy Thing by Christina Lauren

Dirty Rowdy Thing  It started as a drunken Vegas fling.  Then it was meant to be a distraction and nothing more, but despite their best intentions, more is what it became.

Dirty Rowdy Thing is the second in the Wild Seasons series, which began with Sweet Filthy Boy. In the earlier book three girl friends celebrating their college graduation met three boy friends in Las Vegas.  There were many shots, an ill thought out trip to a wedding chapel, three weddings, and the next day in the sober light of day, two annulments.  The first book centered on Mia and Ansel, who were the only two of the six to stay married.  Dirty Rowdy Thing is Harlow and Canadian Finn's story. (Each of the boys hailed from a different country: France, Canada, and Australia).

With Harlow and Finn there was instant chemistry, but they both recognized Vegas for what it was, a drunken fling.  At the end of the day they parted ways, Harlow went back to California and Finn went back to Canada.  Since they have friends in common they end up seeing each other more than perhaps either expected to.  Months after Vegas, there is still chemistry but there is also real life and both have pressing problems to concern them.  For Harlow it is an illness in her family; for Finn it is his family's business problems.  Both need a temporary distraction and each believes they have found the perfect person for just that.  And that's how it start, as a distraction.  Then it evolves into much more and neither is quite prepared.

Dirty Rowdy Thing is a steamy hot, fun, good read.  I especially liked how well the characters were written.  This is not the kind of romance story where the only thing of importance is finding a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Both have families, friends, and jobs to contend with.  The relationship between Harlow and Finn is just one part of their respective lives.  Each make good and bad decisions for good and bad reasons, and they take turns being adorable, infuriating, and vulnerable.  It all felt believable.  I haven't read too many contemporary romance novels.  If this is a reflection of the genre as a whole, then it is a genre I will definitely read more of.