Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

Wicked Game
Jeri Smith-Ready

I snagged the last copy of this book at my Borders a couple of weeks ago. Wicked Game was released recently in trade paperback format. It centers on the life of Ciara Griffin, an older (26) college student who is majoring in marketing and has just found herself a job at a local radio station.

Excerpt of Wicked Game

Being an urban fantasy, nothing is as it first seems – the DJs at the radio station are all vampires, and Ciara is a reformed (sort of) grifter. The author puts a nice spin on the conventional vampire myth - each of the vampires is stuck in the timeperiod they were turned, unable to move forward with the rest of the world into the present time. this means they all play music from their era only and develop a half-amusing, half-tragic case of OCD.  This is the least of their problems. The radio station is threatened to be swallowed up by a huge media conglomerate, which would mean all the DJs would have to play what the Man tell them to, which is just not possible because of their natures. Ciara decides to help out by marketing the radio station as it is: run by vampires. This doesn't sit well with everyone, including other vampires in the area.

I really enjoyed this one and I read it everywhere I went. My week has been full with work followed by one appointment after another and I was seriously irritated that I didn't have much time to read it and irritated every time someone talked to me and made me put it down. I think that it's been a long time where I've had that problem. Usually even when I'm enjoying a book I can put it down, but this book made me want to just immerse and enjoy and I didn't feel like there were any places where I wanted to put it down or check how many pages there were till the end – it just flowed well. I was always curious what was going to happen next.

Haven't done this in a while. Bullet time:

  • I liked that the vampires were scary sometimes and yet approachable at other times. There were personalities that came out with each of them along with feeling of "other", not human being, that came across in this book better than some other vamp books I've read.
  • What happens after you stick a stake in a vampire is explained in disturbing detail. New one for me.
  • Ciara has a budding relationship with a younger vampire in this book. THANK GOD there is only a 10 year age difference because I swear, I do sometimes have a hard time with the – "he's 50+ years her senior, what do they have in common?" suspension of disbelief thing.
  • Sometimes the radio station was WMMP, sometimes WVMP. I guess I missed the part where they decide to change the name? and then call it by it's old name again? I was a bit confused.
  • The book has a definite ending and I felt pleased with it, but there are some loose ties. I think there is the opening for a continuation and a series if they are explored.  I'm happy with it as a standalone though.
  • I like that this is not just about vampires. There is also a lot of music, Ciara's personal problems and her past, and a sweet romance. It reminded me of that time period between college and "the real world" quite a bit. And Ciara seems real. She really has gone through some tough patches in life and it shows. Plus she reacts more like a real person when a vampire tries to bite her: I won't ruin it for you except to say she did NOT swoon. Also I liked that that Ciara uses her experience grifting to get her through tough situations. Her run ins with her nemisis from school were highly amusing.  
  • Oh! Almost forgot – the book is in first person present. Don't see that often. Sometimes it was strange, but often I managed to get too into the book to notice.

If you liked the references to music in War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, I think you would like this one too.

My past Jeri Smith-Ready posts

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Heart of Stone by C. E. Murphy

I started reading this book because it was the book of the month at the League of Reluctant Adults' blog. On top of that, C. E. Murphy has been on my list of authors I wanted to read because I read a short story by her in Winter Moon and really liked the writing.

This is book 1 in a trilogy that centers around Margrit Knight, a hardworking lawyer working for LegalAid, and a gargoyle named Alban. At first Margrit lives in the "normal" world, unaware of any kind of paranormal happenings in New York City, but after Alban speaks to her, she suddenly becomes involved in not just Alban's situation (believed to be a murderer) but in others as well. I found Margrit's character believable as someone I'd meet in this world, and someone admirable as well. Margrit is just that type of person that's has strong convictions about helping others, and she is very good at that. There were several places in the book where despite the fact that she's in a position of weakness, she never allows that to be an issue when she speaks. She always manages to convey strength with whom ever she is dealing with, and I really liked that! At the league blog when we were discussing themes, I suggested that one of those was feminism, and tmthomas posted a really interesting comment about formal vs informal power. In either case, it was something refreshing to see. I felt like this is the kind of strong heroine I like. 

On top of that, the secondary characters were quite well written as well. Margrit's on-again, off-again lover, her roommates, her boss.. they all played understandable roles of people concerned for Margrit although unaware of what was really going on. There were understandable conflicts that came out of this. Then there are the paranormal/supernatural/Other creatures. Murphy has some new twists to the conventional myths and also populates the world with some beings not usually found in urban fantasy. These "people" feel dangerous and unknown but also  fascinating. Particularly during their interactions with Margrit. I'm looking forward to finding out more about them through Margrit's dealings with them in the next two books. And – the city. I have to say, it does feel like New York to me when I read this book. An everyday, yeah I live here, New York.

So basically – good, above average read. I wasn't staying up all night to read it, I took my time (about 5 days?), but the writing was skilled, I did enjoy myself, and I felt quite satisfied when I finished.

Here's an excerpt from Heart of Stone 

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Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Ah, another butt shot cover. I liked this one.

This is book 3 of the Mercedes Thompson series. Mercy, a VW mechanic who can shapeshift into a coyote, can't help sticking her nose into things when her friends are in danger, even when they tell her to back off. Book 1 was Mercy helping werewolves, book 2 was helping the vampires, and in book 3 she's involved with the fae. This time the problem is that her mentor Zee is being charged with murder. Mercy feels she must prove his innocence to save his life, even though he tells her get her ass lost.

Lazy bullet time:

  • There is a resolution to the love triangle Mercy is involved in since book 1. I was pleased with it. It felt like her decision was inevitable but I liked how her choice was explained.
  • I think you can probably read this book out of order, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's a lot better knowing what happened in books 1 and 2.
  • I was really looking forward to this book, and I think a lot of people loved the story, but I didn't feel the same way at the end of this one as the others. I don't think the end made me feel "satisfied", but this isn't the fault of the writing. I'm going to try to say this without spoilers. Basically - I found myself being chilled by what I was reading. It went past my personal comfort zone, which shows that the writing is good, but I don't think I want to reread it. At all. Meanwhile I would reread books 1 and 2. So basically, this was a different kind of book to me – more visceral, less escapist. I could go into why and blah but that would spoil so that's all I have to say.
  • So good book, not sure if i could handle it again. I'm fragile.
  • I love this protagonist.
  • Wonder what book 4 is going to be like? I thought there were 7 of these books coming out, and since this book seems like it concludes, I can't tell if we are going to keep hearing from Mercy (I hope we do), or if we're going to get a book from another POV. I wonder if we're going to revist the vamps because Mercy was a little nervous about them finding things out after book 2?  

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The Hunter’s Moon by O. R. Melling

This is a young adult novel was recommended as being along the same lines as Holly Black's Faerie series, so I went to look for it. Findabhair and Gwenhyvar (Gwen) are two cousins (one Irish, one American) who want to believe in Faerie and to have adventures. Gwen visits Fin one summer and they plan to tour Ireland together, centering around famous Faerie related places, but soon after their tour begins Finabhair is stolen by the Faerie, leaving Gwen to seek her. Gwen pretty much gets guided by helpful strangers to chase her cousin, the king of Faerie, and his court across Ireland.

While the writing was really lovely and magical, especially in describing the scenery, the story felt predictable – a quest story, sort of mirroring fairytales of snatched princesses and the brave journeyer who uses their resourcefulness to save them. It started to get repetitious – Gwen catching up with Fin, then losing her again, then following her again to the next site. The characters themselves were also a little flat. I found myself bored several times and putting the book down. What I felt redeemed this book were those beautiful descriptions (especially of Faerie) I mentioned and all the references to Irish myth. You could tell the author knew what she was writing about. Here's an example of a passage when Gwen is asked to dance with the fairies:

"Parting leaf from twig and eyelid from slumber, anyone and everything was awake in the night. To life we wake from the long forgotten dream, the beautiful mystery. The taste of existence is a drop of honey on the tongue. So very sweet and very old, we have gone to seed and run wild in the wind. It ws a dance of stars and flowers and souls. Gwen stepped into the chain to become part of the whole. How long she danced she couldn't know. Time branched like a tree and each bud was eternity. She could feel the world dissolve into myth."

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Enchanted, Inc. By Shanna Swendson

Remember that post I made a while ago about this series (I was miffed because I heard they were chopping it off at book 4 instead of the complete 5)? I finally got around to reading book one.

The series is about Katie Chandler, a Texas girl who has relocated to the Big City (NYC) and discovered that she's normal. So normal that she's in fact rare – someone with no magic in her what-so-ever, which means that she is not fooled by enchantments and can see through them. She thinks she's just not jaded enough when no one else blinks at the girl in fairy wings or the gargoyles that aren't always in the same place. Then she finds out other people aren't seeing what she's seeing and she's so unusual she's offered a job.

Excerpt of book 1

In one word – the book was "charming". I think it has a sweet, uncomplicated appeal to it. Nice texan girl comes to New York and makes good using her common sense. I also like the idea of a secret side to the city, and the author does incorporate a lot of New York into the story. There is also a lot of interesting aspects to the magical world that the author included in the story (like how many frogs in Central Park really are princes and the hijinks that ensue when Katie gets talked into going to kiss some with her tipsy female coworkers). I'm having a little trouble categorizing the genre of this book though. The romance is so light I don't even know if I should mention it, but I think it's possibly going to come up more in following books. I think it comes closest to being chick-lit. Except ..I guess I'm used to chick-lit books being more stand-alone and something, than this book feels. Anyway: a pleasant read, I found it hard to put down. I'll be looking for book two.

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Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance

In book one, Cassandra (Cassie) Palmer is introduced as a clairvoyant with the ability to see ghosts and see flashes of the future (usually bad things that she can't stop from happening). Raised by vampires with mafia-like attributes, she escapes their "care" and spends most of the book running around and being chased by different factions of mages and vampires while learning that the power of the Pythia (head clairvoyant for lack of a better description) is going to be hers. She doesn't want to be Pythia and to make things more complicated – others are trying their damnedest to make her Pythia or to kill her and stop her from becoming it. On top of that is a lot of action and some time travel that occurs when some of the Pythia's abilities start to transfer to Cassie.

Now in book 2 we have some of the same problems – Cassie has enemies and her supporters aren't very clear cut. She still spends her time running from one place to another and again we have people who want her to be under their control or dead. I think the goal here is Cassie wanting to track down two people who she knows are her enemies and want to kill her, but she spends so much time getting there it was ridiculous. Subgoal – she has a geas placed on her by master vamp Mircea, her guardian from childhood which binds her to him and she wants it off.

This was the book: Cassie is somewhere, suddenly 4 random characters appear and chaos ensues, Cassie gets/runs away or other character/s leaves. Cassie is somewhere else (it doesn't help that she gets pulled back and forth in time too). Suddenly 4 random characters mentioned in book 1 or new ones appear and chaos ensues. Cassie runs away. Cassie is somewhere else.. suddenly more characters appear, chaos, fighting, someone runs away.. Cassie is somewhere else.. SUDDENLY…

Oh my god. First of all: does it have to be this way? And how slowly does anything happen in between all the action? Sure its interesting to see the world building here and the neat new characters with cool abilities (moving tattoos, incubi, magic bombs, portals, talismans, zombies, gargoyles), and fights and action is fine, but don't overdo it so that it bogs down the story. Save it for the next book!  Basically: too many characters, too much action without a break, too complicated. What really irritates me is that if the author cut down on her interesting ideas she would have a good story, but she has a tendency to just throw everything in there and mix. This COULD be a good book, but too much cool ideas = overkill. If there were less new characters added every scene or so, less action (does it have to happen every scene?), and less complications, the book would be AWESOME. Right now the pace is always high, and its tiring to read something with one pace. It needs breaks and it doesn't have any. Something is always happening and even when Cassie does her thinking and planning – she's doing this when she HAS to make a decision, so its all very forced march and it doesn't help that explaining her decisions is very complicated to read because the author adds a billion things to make things more complicated – mostly more and more characters with their own agendas. Cassie explains her thought process is this way: "If I d x, then this is how the vampires will react, this is how the mages will react, this is why its good for me, this is why its bad for me, this is probably the goal of the vamps, this is what the mages probably want.. blah blah blah". Very confusing and irritating that it has to be so complicated and take so long. I would like to see Cassie just make a decision and explain it in simple, straightforward, non wishy washy terms. What's sad is that because I see it could be awesome I keep reading, hoping the plot will get better.  Another thing: I really don't like it when the author finds a plot device where sex is needed in order to complete some ritual or where the characters get all hot and bothered because of a spell, both which are used in this book. Not to have orgies or anything, there hardly any actual sex in here, but it hangs over everything and the plot revolves around it and I suspect will continue to revolve around it.

Siiiiigh. I just ranted on that one. And yet: I still want the author to get it right in the next book and I'm willing to read it to see if she does. I liked book one better, so maybe I'll like book three better. Or I'm a machochistic.

General feeling – 4.5 (it was ok. I think it can be redeemed)

Plot – 4 (didn't like it, made worse by it came close to being good)

Writing style - 7 (The writing is good. Nit: were some typos I noticed in the early pages that bugged me – quotes in wrong place, same exact sentence used twice in a couple of pages that were right next to each other)

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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OK, most people reading this blog know that the Stardust movie is coming out very soon. In the U.S the opening date is the 10th of August. At first I wasn't that pysched about it, but slowly I began looking forward to this more and more, and now its probably one of the movies I'm most looking forward to. The cinematography looks like it will be pretty judging by the stills on IMDB . Of all the actors in this, I'm most interested to see Michelle Pfeiffer as the "Lamia" (in the book her character is called the "Lilim") – I think she can do evil well. There will be a whole host of other famous faces involved as well (Robert De Niro, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Jason Flemyng, Peter O'Toole, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais). I'm not sure I've heard of the actor playing Tristan Thorn though – Charlie Cox? I'm sorry, but he looks a little like a doofus.. is that just me? We shall see.

Anyway, in preparation I had to re-read Stardust. I read it when it first came out.. 7-ish years ago was it(?), and I remember the Wall, Tristan Thorn going after a star for the woman he loves, and that was pretty much it other than liking the book.

I don't feel like I've read much Gaiman. I've read some Sandman (read up to volume 5 of the graphic novels but some jerk stole volume 6 from the library and I can't move on from that point. I'm bitter…), CoralineWolves in the Walls, and Neverwhere. Out of those I'd say Neverwhere is the only one that fits into the same category – adult fantasy novel, and its been a long time since I read that too. So basically as I was reading Stardust I was mostly thinking .. hey this Gaiman guy is a pretty good writer huh? I seemed to have forgotten how well thought out each sentence felt. I think its even better the second time around.. truely feels like a fairy tale. Every paragraph is .. magical. So I guess that may explain the legions of fans. 

If you haven't read Stardust, its starts at the village of Wall, which borders Faerie.  Between the village and the Faerie kingdom (Stormheld) is a wall. And in this wall there is one gap, which is guarded day and night by the villagers for centuries, except for when the market comes to the meadow on the other side of the wall. This market happens every nine years, and because of this market, Tristan Thorn is born. Stardust is chiefly the tale of a young man (Tristan), setting out on a foolish quest for a fallen star in order to impress the woman he thinks he loves. Of course he finds more than he expects and wonderous adventure occurs in the land of Faerie.

Oh 9 / 9.5 out of 10.

This book seems to have some inspiration from John Donne's Song (Go and catch a falling star..). The other book I can think of which I loved and is similarly inspired by that poem is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. There. Two posts in a row where I have referenced Diana Wynne Jones. But am I missing another book? Do tell, I will want to read it.

The one thing I would complain about with this book is.. wow there are a lot of things that fell into place ridiculously easily weren't there? I mean, there are hardships and whatnot, but I sure noticed there were a lot of convieniant things going on? That they were.. oblivious to? Right? No? And yet, when everything is wrapped up, there is still something that made me a little sad, but it made the book realistic at a point where it was looking dangerously close to too pat. Discuss.

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Alchemy by Margaret Mahy

I wanted to relaxing weekend so I went for a couple of old favorites (authors I mean).

Alchemy
Margaret Mahy

Alchemy by Margaret Mahy: I really like Mahy's novels – they are about teenagers and strange things happen to them – sort of young adult contemportary fantasy. The Changeover was one of my favorite books in high school because Sorry Carlise, the male witch in the book, was very weird. I felt this was a much more accurate representation of teenage boys than many other YA books in my day.

Anyway, in Alchemy, seventeen year old Roland isn't obviously odd like Sorry. He's a popular young man – prefect at Ault Academy, dating the prettiest girl in school, smart, good-looking and has a good relationship with most of his teachers. But underneath it all, Roland has felt that something inside him is warning him to be "careful", that he has to keep up his wholesome, normal image. His father left when he was 10 and Roland feels he must be a good, strong person that his mother can rely on.Things begin to change for him when one day one of Roland's teachers somehow catches Roland shoplifting some minor items (very unlike his normal behavior), and coerces Roland to make friends with and to keep an eye out for Jess Ferret. Until now Roland never paid any attention to Jess. She's a quiet, unnoticable girl in Roland's classes, but when Roland watches her, he realises she works to keep people ignoring her. Jess is hiding something and Roland wants to know what it is. So he stalks her. Meanwhile Roland has a reoccuring dream about a carnival and a magician that terrifies him. Suddenly Roland starts to catch glimpses of this magician around town and what his has to do with Roland and Jess is another thing he has to find out.

While this is a young adult novel, the writing and plotline have complexity in plot and character that you don't always see in young adult novels. Plus, I really love the way Mahy writes – especially her descriptions of things that are wonderous: "Suddenly, he is suspended in a space that falls away beneath him and yet somehow embraces him too. Roland blinks. Those distant grains of light are really suns. He blinks again, and silence shivers through him. It is all around him, yet he feels it deep inside his head like a song he has not yet sung aloud." Mahy is compared to Diana Wynne Jones and I agree there are similarities, but Mahy's books may have a little bit more of this complexity to life element to it than Jones. I also noticed for the very first time – her writing is really British (or is it New Zealand-ish since that's where she lives?). I also like how well she fleshes out Roland and Jess – they are unique characters, and I liked how relationships between characters, especially family relationships were written (Roland and his mother, Roland and his brothers, Mr. Hudson and his sibling). Yet another interesting relationship – Roland and his girlfriend Chris – I pondered over this one a bit.

9.5 out of 10 (extra points because I feel nostalgic)

This wasn't a re-read but my other book this weekend (Stardust by Neil Gaiman) was. I'll talk about it later. Going to bed.

Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July week.

TBR  @ 98

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Falling Upwards by Kassandra Sims

I just finished reading this book, went online to google it and didn't find much that I agreed with so I'm going to review this one first.

First of all: Ug, why did they call this book "paranormal romance"? That makes it sound like its a romance novel in a paranormal setting. It really felt like a .. contemporary fantasy book to me with romantic elements. There was definite sexual content but it was really vague and mild, not really the type of thing you would find in a pure romance novel – it read like a fantasy novel.

The story starts out with our protagonist Neva on a business trip in Wales. Neva goes to a bar where she encounters a handsome young man who often has young women trying to get his attention. When this man tries to pry himself away from perhaps the 10th one, Neva feels compelled to step in and pretend to be his girlfriend. She doesn't do this because she's interested – she doesn't really know why she does this, only that she feels like a puppet when the words come out. This starts some weirdness in the air and something begins. There on Neva begins to lose track of reality. When she goes home to coastline Alabama she keeps having visions of falling through a pond into another world, weird dreams about a riotious wood, apple trees, and chimes. Her mother and friends are worried, and her sister is ready to commit her. Around Mardi Gras, Neva has begun to accept her madness and decides she knows where the pond she hallucinates about is – her grandparents farm. Neva immediately goes there and jumps in. Almost unsurprisingly she finds herself in another world – she meets fairies, a talking raven and stag, and March – the young Welsh man at the bar. They send her on a quest. March is surly and resigned, as if he has been here before, and has no reason to hope. Neva finds his attitude annoying but feels compelled to finish the quest and go home. Sniping at one another they trek through a wildly imagined land. Many fairytale and mythical elements make appearances (nothing I was expecting) and a reader has many "W..T..eff.." moments. Which I liked! I really enjoyed how unexpected the story was (especially the detailed landscapes), and the growing relationship between March and Neva. The character development, mostly that of Neva and her attitude to dealing with her situation just delighted me. I also liked that March and Neva use modern speech when they argue as it contrasts greatly with their surroundings. The only complaint .. I wish this story was longer! I would have felt more content with two more chapters and a better idea of what really happened in the gap before the final chapter, and yet it is not a bad ending at all. I just want more time with the story and characters. I wanted to turn the book over and open it to the first page to reread it as soon as I finished so I could understand more. Is there a sequel? Want one.

After I read the book, I went on Amazon and looked at a review by HK (you know who I mean). What was she smoking? Don't read her review, it's so wrong, especially this part: "As Neva begins to believe that there is more to the universe than the physical plane starting with the metaphysical feelings of falling in love, she struggles with reality vs. illusion as she enters a realm in which her only realism anchor is March. " What? starting with the metaphysical feelings of falling in love?!  March was the realism anchor? Ahhh? Many reviews seem to glomp onto the insanity/hallucination aspect. I think many people who didn't like the novel did not like the way the story shifts from one location and situation to another, but that is what I liked about the book – it works to convey that "Alice through the Looking Glass" feel. I also found the writing itself very savor-worthy. 8.5 or 9/10.

P.S. This came out April this year and is the author's second book. I'm going to have to look for her first book – "The Midnight Work". That got 2 stars on Amazon so far and I think the complaints are also about the story "jumping around" and I think they wanted paranormal romance with emphasis on romance so I'm not going to listen to them.

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