Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook

Unraveling Isobel
Eileen Cook

This is a review of an eARC obtained through GalleyGrab.
The Premise: When Isobel’s mother meets a man on the internet and marries him three months later, “appalled” doesn’t begin to cover Isobel’s reaction, especially since it means uprooting in her senior year and moving into his creepy estate. Isobel misses her friends, finds her step-father Richard smarmy, and her gorgeous new step-brother Nathaniel hates her. Then weird things start to happen and Isobel begins to think she has bigger problems: either her she’s seeing ghosts, or she’s starting to show signs of the schizophrenia that runs in her family.
My Thoughts: Isobel is a grumpy teen narrator, who has nothing but snark when it comes to describing the adults around her.  Next to her mother’s sunny, somewhat oblivious outlook on her new life, Isobel is a dark little cloud, and she recounts her mom’s new marriage and their move to Nairne Island with an amusing lack of enthusiasm.  I understand that can be a very fine line between sounding like a typical teen questioning authority and sounding like a snotty brat, but for me, Isobel comes down on the right side of that line because of the adults around her. The biggest red flag is one that we get practically on page one: Richard (Isobel’s stepfather) had a wife and daughter who died seven months ago.  Isobel’s mother seems willing to overlook this, focusing more on her new marriage as a chance to remake herself with little thought to Isobel’s feelings on the matter.
Yes, this is a book with Bad Parents. On one hand, this trope works here because without Isobel’s parents’ choices, there would be no story. We wouldn’t read about Isobel’s trials and tribulations on Nairne, including a stint trying to fit in at school with the popular crowd, or her run-ins with Nathaniel, the other teen in the same dysfunctional boat. On the other hand, their characterization was very convenient to the story. Isobel’s mother was incredibly unaware while Richard was just so self-serving.  While I wished for some more depth to Isobel’s mother and step-father, at least their interactions with Isobel rang true, especially between Isobel and her mother.
Isobel and her time adjusting to her new life felt realistic, and the mystery/ psychological thriller aspect of the story was seamlessly interwoven into it. At one moment, Isobel may be calling her best friend to rant about her new life, the next she is having a strange experience that she can’t explain. Things begin to appear in her room which her mother and step-father insist are put there by Isobel herself. She doesn’t know if they are right and begins to investigate the house while fearing for her own sanity.  This felt like a modern version of a Gothic thriller complete with the haunted mansion and secrets in the attic, but it was a very simple story without any huge, surprising twists in the plot. I think the biggest strength was the interesting mix of the Gothic, psychological element with the modern teenage voice.
The problem I think was that the story didn’t feel like it went far enough. The beginning was very promising, but by the end I wanted more to Isobel’s adjustment to school and her relationship with her step-brother, and at the same time, I wanted more on the mystery of what Isobel was seeing in her new house. These two plots began with great promise but took a very safe and ultimately very bland route. I never really feared that Isobel was sinking into madness, and there was no real mystery of who the bad guy was. Nor is there any emotional depth in the secondary characters. I enjoyed Isobel’s growth in dealing with her genetic predisposition, but I lamented the way in which Nathaniel went from a brooder with issues to becoming a rather generic character. He lost his personality somewhere along the way.  If this story was deeper and darker, I think it would have pushed it to a higher level.
Overall: A really quick, entertaining read. I found the narrator amusing and I liked the mix of contemporary YA with Gothic thriller in Unraveling Isobel, but I think it loses something by not pushing the envelope more. It was fine brain candy for an afternoon.
Unraveling Isobel is slated for publication 1/3/2012
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
I didn’t see any up yet. Let me know if I missed you!

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secret
Charlaine Harris

This is a series that falls more into the “mystery” genre (and that’s where it’s shelved), but there are paranormal overtones. Harper Connelly, the protagonist was struck by lightening as a child and after that, she’s been able to sense the dead – at least when she’s in close proximity to their bodies. She can also tell how someone died. With her step-brother Tolliver Lang, Harper has used her ability as a unique way to earn money – finding bodies and identifying the cause of death for her clients.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Grave Secret here

I’ve been reading this series for a while now, and at four books, I think it may be done, at least for the foreseeable future. Grave Secret came out in September 2009, and there hasn’t been news of another book yet. Here are my reviews for the first three books in this series:

Book 1: Grave Sight https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Grave Surprise https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: Harper and Tolliver decided to visit their younger sisters Mariella and Gracie who live with their aunt and uncle in Dallas. Along the way to Dallas, they take a job identifying what killed the grandfather and patriarch of the wealthy Joyce family, and Harper discovers some things that the Joyce’s are not happy to hear. Then Tolliver and Harper discover that Tolliver’s father Matthew was recently released from prison and is trying to renew ties with his children. Then someone begins shooting at Harper and Tolliver. Somehow all of this is connected and their past is involved. Memories and questions about the abduction of Harper’s older sister Cameron resurface.

******* Minor spoilers for earlier books from this point on ********

My Thoughts: Like the other books in this series, Harper and Tolliver are presented as not really sleuths, but people who keep getting targeted by people with something to hide or found out news they didn’t want to hear.  In this book, someone keeps shooting at them. Something happens which forces them to stay in the area, and to stay alive, they have to re-examine the past few days and find out who wants to kill them. I think that this is sort of a standard Harper Connelly mystery, with a bunch of deaths before we find out what is really going on. It’s a little unsatisfying that so many people die before the bad guys are caught, but this seems to be how it goes in these books.

I’ve commented on this before: I find Harper to be a hard character sometimes. The book is told from her point of view, and how she sees people feels colored by lenses that first look for what’s wrong in others. I don’t think this is an obvious thing, but when you read half a book and meet several characters you notice that Harper isn’t one who tends to like someone at first sight and what she says about people is often unflattering. I think this is something I can only take in small doses, but, this is all part of her character. Harper’s mom and Tolliver’s dad were drug addicts and dragged their children from a regular family life to one of despair and poverty. In this book when Matthew Lang, Tolliver’s father shows up, the dark childhood that Harper experienced was rehashed, and I could see why Harper took a jaded view of people. It was pretty bad. I think Harper and Tolliver have the appropriate, healthy response to their father. I wouldn’t forgive or trust him either. On the other hand, we also get to see more of the rest of Harper’s family and Harper learns to appreciate her Aunt and Uncle, who adopted her sisters, but Harper has always had a little friction with, as well as their other siblings. There seemed to be a better understanding all around by the time the book was done.

In the meantime, their sister Cameron’s abduction is brought up again. That mystery is one brought up from the very beginning of the series, and Harper has mentioned details of the day Cameron disappeared in other books. This story does get wrapped up here, which is why I think that this is probably the final book of the series. There’s also a resolution here in terms of Harper’s relationship with her family, and in terms of her relationship with Tolliver. I still maintain that I feel uneasy about their relationship. I know that they’re not blood related. They’re only step-siblings. I think it bothers me because Harper keeps calling him her brother. Not step-brother. Brother. She introduces him as such, even after they become lovers, and then reminds herself she has to stop thinking of him as her brother. Ew? I’m also not exactly sure how long they lived together as siblings. I’d feel better if it wasn’t long, but we’re not really reminded. It feels like the author is deliberately pushing the ick-boundaries on purpose by doing these things. The reaction of other characters who find out about them feels like a backhanded way of telling the reader not to judge, but I find it hard when the narrative seems to intentionally push my buttons.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I feel satisfied by the way the long-running story arc of Cameron’s abduction and of Harper and Tolliver’s relationship were dealt with in this book, but on the other, I wasn’t as satisfied by the other mystery. It felt sort of overly-complicated and forced to fit with the Cameron storyline with some senseless killings thrown in. The mystery didn’t feel as strong as the previous books -and the big reveal felt rushed and convenient. I also felt like I was being emotionally played with in terms of the ick factor in the main relationship, which bothered me.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – positive review
Angieville – positive review (Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings”)
Ellz reads – similar comments to mine about the mystery here but satisfied by how the series ended
jmc_bookrelated – “phoned in”. A C- grade
lindseyfrankin “3-3/5 stars for a solid end to a good mystery series”
Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and reviews – not really a review but a commentary that I found aligned with some of my complaints

Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator by Janni Nell

This was another offering from the new Carina Press. This looked like an interesting urban fantasy (it was really more of a paranormal mystery) so I requested an eARC from Harlequin.

The Premise: Allegra Fairweather investigates paranormal happenings and solves problems related to them. In her newest case, she’s been called to the village of Furness, next to Loch Furness in Scotland, by pub owner Douglas MacGregor who wants her to investigate the appearance of a very rare rosebush that suddenly sprung up.  Douglas has some interest in Allegra, but Allegra is interested in her Guardian Angel Casper, who she knows she can never have. Unfortunately Allegra has other problems besides men when a day into her visit, a death changes her trip from pure research into a full-blown investigation.

Read a short excerpt of Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator here

My Thoughts: This story had a lot of elements that reminded me of a amateur sleuthing story, so I’d categorize this as a paranormal mystery instead of what my first impression of it from the cover was.  It was like an episode of Rosemary and Thyme: set in a small idyllic country town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, a newcomer is invited to investigate a rare plant when suddenly there’s a murder and whispers of secrets and more death to come, except in this story, all the secrets are related to the paranormal. There is sort of a stereotypical portrayal of village life with familiar characters like the kindly old lady, a trio of foolish drinking buddies, even a local mansion run by an unlikeable rich owner, with his equally unlikeable butler and cook. Dinnae’s and cannae’s pepper the text (I am never fond of them, though their inclusion was not unbearable).

I thought that this story had a pretty straightforward style. Allegra comes to Furness, chats with Douglas and then just sets off in her investigations. Along the way she interviews the locals and has to figure out what’s going on. I think that the mystery isn’t immediately obvious but you do begin to figure out pretty easily who the bad guys are, just exactly what they did and how to fix it takes longer. Casper shows up when there’s the possibility of danger so he can do his Guardian Angel duties and protect her. At first the writing has a sort of choppy feel with short, almost abrupt dialog and sentences but as the book hits it’s stride, I didn’t really notice that awkwardness anymore. It’s pretty light fair and an easy read with the mystery as the main entertainment in the story.

The love triangle is not really a strong one – it’s clear who Allegra likes best and any attraction with another man is half-hearted. Allegra and Casper’s back story is largely inferred as she’s known him since she was six, so there is no getting to know him as she does, rather we see them in a sort of uncomfortable impasse since any type of physical touch that is sexual in nature will set back Casper’s entry into Heaven. I thought that the characters were rather quick sketches – not quite superficial but I didn’t really feel like I got to know them enough to really connect with them.  I was OK with that because the mystery kept me relatively interested.

I thought much of this story had a sort of cheery charm, although at times I found my tastes at odd with the blithe nature of the book. Some of the tongue-in-cheek humor I found a little on the silly side (for example a reference to Allegra helping a female Bigfoot get shoes in her size), and I questioned how seriously Allegra took why Casper was a Guardian Angel. I mean, the man pillaged and raped when he was alive. I also thought she was rather cavalier about death because of her Guardian Angel, something the rest of us can’t be. Warning: rape is mentioned often in this book as a violence that happens to females, and one side character is a victim of repeated rape. It is not explicitly described.

Overall: An entertaining paranormal mystery story that I think fits the bill for a light and short beach read. I had minor reservations with it but overall I think it had a sort of cheery charm that may not linger afterward but keeps you pleasantly occupied in the moment.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s

Other reviews:
Reading with Tequila – 4 shots out of 5

Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil by Barbara Monajem

I received an ARC of this book from Dorchester Publishing.  This is the first book being offered in their Publisher’s Pledge program, where they guarantee the read, or your money back.

The Premise: Ophelia Beliveau is a woman who owns a landscaping business in Bayou Gavotte, Louisiana, and she’s also a vampire. In this series, vampires are people with a rare genetic condition who need blood and sex to sustain them, but Ophelia is going without sex and hunts nutria not humans. She’s done with men because of bad experiences with people who got too crazy over her vampire allure, and when she calls the cops to scare her neighbor who trashed her garden, she’s not happy that Gideon O’Toole answers the call. Ophelia finds herself actually liking him, and tries to push him away for his own good. But Gideon isn’t easily swayed, and he actually wants to help her despite her railing at him to mind his business.  As more and more things happen, like a blackmailer targeting people in the town and dead bodies showing up, it’s a good thing that Gideon is on Ophelia’s side.

Browse the first 33 pages of this book here

My Thoughts: I am having a hard time explaining how I feel about this book in my head. Maybe the word is “surprising”. I look at the cover and it doesn’t really give a good indication of what’s inside. Hints of the Southern setting and the vampires are suggested by the magnolia flower and the drop of blood, but it but I don’t think it conveys the quirkiness of the story. There’s a small town humor that does remind me of Sookie Stackhouse, so I understand the comparison. There’s nosy neighbors, people freely giving their opinion about other people’s sex lives, gossips, and peeping toms. But then there’s the bizarre as well: the fetish clubs and a local rock star and tourists that come to Bayou Gavotte to experience “vampires”.  Since vampires need blood and sex, they often run the fetish clubs to help them feed, and an Underground led by head club owner Lep makes sure that people keep things legal, while the cops take care of the rest of the town. It seems to be a matter of opinion whether vampires really exist – some people think it’s just a myth, others are certain.

The idea of this town teeters on the edge of being over-the-top, but the main characters anchor it down, especially Gideon, who is a refreshingly levelheaded hero, even when Ophelia gives him every reason to lose it. Gideon is one of those people who doesn’t believe in vampires, despite his reactions to Ophelia because of her vampire allure. Ophelia is a very interesting character. Quite vulnerable and yet combative at the same time. She is not nice to Gideon when they first meet and I had a hard time understanding why she was so rude until more of her past is revealed and her reasons for staying away from men made more sense. Ophelia is also scared because Gideon doesn’t know what she is, and she’s sure he will be disgusted if he doesn’t go crazy over her. Luckily for her, Gideon has the patience of Job when it comes to Ophelia and he keeps trying to help even when she continues to distrust him.

Usually if a book puts a lot of emphasis on the physical and on sex, the romance doesn’t work very well for me. This book has some explicit scenes and sometimes I felt like everyone was a little too preoccupied with sex, but the personal connection was there for me as well.  Ophelia and Gideon go through murders and investigations, arguing with each other the whole time, and slowly getting to know each other before anything happens.  They both come into the relationship wanting to do a better job than their parents did, and we learn what their baggage is as the book progresses. They are also both subject to the same forthright interference from everyone else: Ophelia really should just have sex with Gideon, Gideon dates a lot of bimbos, Gideon is good in bed, Gideon better treat Ophelia right. I had to take it as part of the small town humor.

I thought that there was a cozy mystery feel to this book.  Not that Gideon is an amateur sleuth (he conducts his investigations professionally,) but because of the small town combined with the series of crimes – vandalism and blackmail that escalate into murder. The mystery was a strong part of the book and the killer keeps Gideon and Ophelia on their toes with one thing after another so I didn’t really guess who it was or what they were up to for a while. There’s a lot going on, but it felt organic and unforced.

There’s a large cast of side colorful characters who that also added to the story such as Gideon’s sister Art, who is being blackmailed but is too embarrassed to tell her brother, Ophelia’s theatrical sister Violet who owns a club, Zelda, Ophelia’s niece, who acts a lot older than her age, Constantine, the scary rock star who people think killed his wife, and Ophelia’s odd neighbors.  There were a few “WHAT did they just say/do?!” moments and I just floated along. I think I was charmed by the town and it’s oddball characters and when they did zany things I chalked it up to “I guess that’s Bayou Gavotte”.

One big niggle: Despite waiting before the relationship becomes physical, the hero and heroine really lose their heads when they do, and they managed to hit a couple of my pet peeves. I won’t spoil it for people by saying what bugged me, but let’s just say I wish the characters acted less impetuously there.

Also: I googled for other reviews and it’s interesting how many people got the title of the book wrong, probably because of another book’s title. It’s Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, not Sunrise in THE Garden of Love & Evil. 🙂 I was calling it that too until I realized my mistake!

Overall: A well-written paranormal romance with a cozy mystery feel. I liked this better than I thought I would and would recommend it if you like these two genres, with the caveat that you need to keep an open mind about the town. I found a small town with vampire fetish clubs a bit bizarre, and sometimes I thought people acted inappropriately but the strong story telling and relationship negated those problems for me.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/links:
Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Guest Blog by Barbara Monajem at Patricia’s Vampire Notes
(I didn’t see any more in my social circle. Please let me know if you reviewed this and I will link you!)

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

A quick review because I'm spending time with the family this week and they keep interrupting my blogging!!

Charlaine Harris continues the adventures of Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang in the third book of the series, set in Doraville, North Carolina. Harper has been hired to find the bodies of missing teen-aged boys – she soon does – eight young men buried in the same driveway next to an abandoned shack. All Harper wants to do is leave Doraville after this horrific job, but as usual, circumstances prevent it.

Despite this series being shelved in mystery, I think of it as being paranormal mystery because of Harper's ability to find the dead and identify how they died. There are also other reoccurring characters with some psychic ability that sometimes cross Harper's path. I always find these abilities fascinating within the story.

Overall: Every time I read one of these Harper Connelly mysteries, I expect a certain level of writing that will just let me kick back and enjoy – I always end up reading the book really quickly, not wanting to stop. So it wasn't a surprise that I liked this book. I think it's my favorite in the series so far. In the earlier books, especially book 1, I felt annoyed with the way people treated Harper because of her job, like she was a charlatan. It was a relief that in Doraville, Harper is treated much better so I wasn't annoyed by the other characters passing judgement on her. The mystery of who the killer was also kept me guessing, and there was enough of an element of danger to keep me absorbed, turning pages quickly to see what happens next. There's also enough of a cast of small town characters that Harper and Tolliver meet and a couple of old friends that stop by to help out to keep things interesting and the story moving along nicely. The weather also feels timely because as Harper dealt with an ice storm in An Ice Cold Grave, I was living through freezing rain and iced over roads in New York.

But be warned, this book goes to a weird place with Harper's personal life. I'm sure if you've read book 2 you'll have guessed what I'm talking about. Well, even though I expected this book to go there, I was still reeling when I read it. I'm still not quite comfortable either, but I guess I'll get used to it. Anyone else read this? What did you think? Am I right or what? Book 4 should be interesting – I'm still looking forward to reading it.

My past reviews:

Grave Sight (book 1)

Grave Surprise (book 2)


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Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

After reading Grave Sight last week, I was curious enough about the second book, Grave Surprise that I picked it up this week.

This story continues the life of Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang, this time in Memphis to demonstrate Harper's talents to a Bingham College class. The professor Clyde Nunly fully expects to expose Harper as a big fraud, but when she keeps accurately describing the deaths of people buried at the cemetery within campus, his smirk leaves his face. He really doesn't believe it when another surprise occurs - Harper discovers one grave with two bodies – the original and the body of an eleven year old girl who Harper once tried but failed to find. Soon Harper and Tolliver are again embroiled in a murder mystery, and because the victim was such a young girl, this time Harper really wants to find out who did it.

Overall: It's been a while since I've read something that falls more on the mystery side of things, so I enjoyed reading this. It kept my interest and I read it fairly quickly. I also enjoyed this better than the first book because I was feeling a little less annoyed at some of the other characters involved. There was less of a small minded small town vibe and while people still gave Harper a hard time over her talent, Harper and Tolliver managed to give as much as they got, even getting some apologies in the process. Which made me feel better. I also felt that if you read this book before book 1, you'd be OK, Harris went over Harper and Tolliver's pasts again in this book, so you wouldn't be missing anything. Meanwhile, there was some progress in Harper and Tolliver's relationship with their little sisters and something else which I guessed was coming from the first book. Besides that their characters stayed fairly consistent to what they were like in book 1 – Harper really intriuges me.. again, that half vulnerable, half hard thing. Anyway, if you liked book one, I'd recommend this one.

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Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight is the first in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris.

After being hit by lightening at an early age Harper has a talent at locating a dead body if the general area is known. She can also tell how they died. This doesn't make her very much liked by both sceptics (who think she preys on the weak) and by those who hire her (because they don't always like the truth that comes out).

In Grave Sight Harper and her step-brother Tolliver Lang get involved in a murder mystery in the southern town of Sarne. What starts off as a normal case – finding the body of missing, presumed dead wild-child Teenie Hopkins (whose boyfriend's body was found six months ago), becomes increasingly dangerous as more deaths occur. The people of Sarne immediately begin to blame Harper for all their troubles, and Harper is forced by the police to stay in the area. At that point, Harper feels compelled to investigate what is going on.

Overall: New spin on murder mysteries and worth a read. The murderer was someone I guessed at but it wasn't that obvious I think. The writing was absorbing – no troubles where I wanted to put the book down and go do something else, and interesting main characters. Really it's Harper's unusual talent and her life with it, that makes the book so interesting. I couldn't really pinpoint the genre here, it seems to cross a couple of them. There also seems to be a mystery in Harper's past (the abduction of her sister Cameron) which I hope gets more exposure in later books.

Harper was an intriguing character. Sometimes she seems very hard because of her upbringing in a broken home (her mother was a drug addict, as was Tolliver's dad), but also sometimes very vulnerable (with her great fear of lightening, and ailments caused by the lightening strike). She is also very reliant on her step-brother, and their relationship was really strange to read. I have a brother so their relationship didn't seem quite brother/sister, and staying together when they were in their twenties, working together, spending that much time together without their own separate lives - kind of weirded me out. I suspect that their relationship is going to become something more, if I'm reading the subtext right. I am not sure how to feel about that. I have a brother so… eck, I don't know.

The other thing I spent a lot of time thinking about with this book was how almost everyone in Sarne treated Harper and Tolliver badly. It seemed like this small-town, small-minded cliche, and I felt bothered by it. I had a hard time believing that so many people (including the police and city officials) could be so suspicious and rude, and I felt like it gives southerner's a bad name. The whole situation gave me a bad taste, and I was aggravated by the attitudes throughout the book.

Other than those two big issues I had, I did enjoy this book.

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Thunder Moon by Lori Handeland

To be honest I didn't expect to like this book. I picked it up at Goodwill because I recognized the author as a popular one and I noticed that the published date was January 2008, so I thought I would swap it on paperbackswap. The only thing I had read by Lori Handeland was in the Dates from Hell anthology and the story in there didn't do it for me (my review of that is here).

So I was pleasantly surprised that I ended up sucked into this book. The heroine is a small town sheriff, with Cherokee blood. Grace McDaniel is capable and independent, and I liked her. She's tired and overworked but also irreverent and snappy. This is a supernatural romance, but instead of werewolves which I was expecting because of the world "Moon" in the title, the night-creature in this instance was one I'd never heard of before, so there were elements of Cherokee folklore that was new to me. The book looks to be part of a series, with references to Claire, who is the mayor, Grace's best friend, and probably the heroine of her own book, but I had no problems following it. A pretty decent read and while I sort of guessed the identity of the creature terrorizing the town, I wasn't completely sure about it till the end, which I liked. The only thing I found jarring was the sudden sex scenes in this book, which seemed to be incongruent with Grace's wary nature regarding men. I found myself saying out loud: what the hell, you're the sheriff, what are you doing?!! which brought down things a notch for me. Still, couldn't really stop reading.

Here's a review at Dear Author which meshes well with my opinion.

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Don of the Dead and The Chick and The Dead by Casey Daniels

I just finished these two books this week. I guess they fall under paranormal mystery. Paranormal because the main character (Pepper Martin) can see and hear the dead ever since she tripped and hit her head on the steps of a mausoleum at work (she's a cemetery tour guide in Cleveland). In the first book its dead mob boss Gus Scarpetti who shows up and pesters her until she agrees to help solve the mystery of his 30 year old death by drive-by. In book two its Didi Bowman, who needs Pepper to prove that her sister Merilee stole Didi's manuscript "So Far the Dawn", a Gone with the Wind-like tale with a fervored fan following. There are some cozy mystery elements (Pepper is an amateur sleuth, the mystery was really light, and the really violent stuff happens off-screen: Pepper almost gets killed a couple of times, but I wasn't worried), and very light romance with a detective (Quinn Harrison), and a "brain man" (Dan Callahan) who keeps trying to study her and isn't all he seems.

Overall I thought the series was OK. Probably a 6-6.5 out of 10 for me.

The good: The writing really flowed. I didn't find myself bored, and I was a little surprised that when I googled and went to Casey Daniels' website it looked like these were her only two books. She didn't seem like a first time author to me. So I googled more and found out Daniels is a pseudonym for Connie Laux (but only 3 books under that name too). The closest thing I can compare this author to would be Janet Evanovich.. but I'd say a less sexed up version (which is a good thing, because I don't like Stephanie Plum. There. I said it). The side characters are well-formed, and there is a really interesting thread that ties the series; this ability and Dan the brain-man's interest in it is a mystery itself. I think that mystery is what Daniels is going to use to keep readers reading (I know its driving me a little crazy), as well as the really slow building love triangle that hasn't got anything serious going on so far, but maybe people will want to see if anything does happen. Basically the books are a fun, light, read and the style is very easy to get into.

The less good:  a) It feels like Dan was meant to be this absent-minded but brilliant doctor interested in Pepper's brain scans for most of book 1, then he suddenly starts acting fishy and mysterious, hinting that he is someone else – did the author change their mind halfway? I'm suspicious it wasn't planned, but I guess its OK, though I don't fully buy his sudden change. Also he is barely mentioned in book 2, what's up there? b) I think that we're supposed to see Pepper's growth from a rich, daddy's girl who never expected to have a job to someone more self-confident who believes in her own intelligence. Problem is, this meant I didn't like Pepper's character for the first half of the first book – she was ditsy and annoying, didn't figure out some really obvious things (she grows out of this but still I found some of the mystery was obvious to me but not to Pepper in both books), and spends a lot of time happily bouncing her boobs in front of men. Which brings me to c) OK.. WHAT is up with the breast obssession? In book 1, I think just about EVERY. SINGLE. MALE character in the book stares at Pepper's breasts. Young, old (30+ years her senior), half paralyzed, they all stare and pretty much LEER. And they are just Cs, and I'm pretty sure they aren't popping out of some skintight top or something, so I really don't understand or care. I wasn't sure if I should be annoyed about the depiction of Pepper, because Pepper didn't seeme to mind, even puffing them out in certain scenes (even after arguing with Scarpetti about his chauvanism. Is she supposed to be feminist?), or annoyed at the depiction of men (in this century, I think most men know that's rude, or at least have developed a finely tuned way of not being obvious. At least don't make ALL the men in this book do that). Thank god that in Book 2 the detailed interchange of meet Pepper, stare/leer at boobs, Pepper talks etc, happened much less. Sadly Pepper also talks to more women than men in book 2. I still hope that this trend is dying. Finally, d) Pepper's fortunes changed so that she has to work - her dad was a surgeon bringing in 6 figures before who was convicted of fraud and Pepper lost friends and a fiance because of this. While it is often mentioned, we never see Pepper talk to either her dad in jail or her mother who moved to Florida. I wish I could see more personal interaction there than Pepper just being emo over it and repeating what I already know – dad's in jail, lost my fiance, gotta job – but I don't really believe I see anything that shows she's really messed up over except once thinking someone's guilty face reminded her of her father lying, unless not talking to her parents counts. Maybe in Book 3 – Tombs of Endearment.

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