Book Review: The Taken (Celestial Blues #1) by Vicki Pettersson

Book Review: The Taken (Celestial Blues #1) by Vicki PetterssonTitle: The Taken
Author: Vicki Pettersson
Series: Celestial Blues
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Page Count: 432
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Summary from Goodreads:
Griffin Shaw used to be a PI, but that was back when gumshoes hoofed the streets . . . and he was still alive. Fifty years later, he's an angel, but that doesn't make him a saint. One small mistake has altered fate, and now he's been dumped back onto the mortal mudflat to collect another soul—Katherine "Kit" Craig, a journalist whose latest investigation is about to get her clipped.

Bucking heavenly orders, Grif refuses to let the sable-haired siren come to harm. Besides, protecting her offers a chance to solve the mystery of his own unsolved murder—and dole out some overdue payback for the death of his beloved wife, Evie.

Joining forces, Kit and Grif's search for answers leads beyond the blinding lights of the Strip into the dark heart of an evil conspiracy. But a ruthless killer determined to destroy them isn't Grif's biggest threat. His growing attraction to Kit could cost them both their lives, along with the answer to the haunting question of his long afterlife . . .

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Though the first few chapters were less than inspiring, I’m quite impressed with The Taken by Vicki Pettersson. It’s probably the darkest urban fantasy novel I’ve read, and the seriousness of the topic grasped my attention and held it through until the end. I would have liked to see more in terms of world-building, but I was satisfied with what I got, and I plan on continuing the series.

At first, I wasn’t sold on the protagonists. Griffin Shaw is an angel (sort of) who was murdered in the 60’s, and Kit Craig is a devoted follower of the rockabilly lifestyle. To me, that pairing seemed a little gimmicky, but once Petterrson started going deeper with the storyline, I was able to recognize that Grif and Kit had aspects to them besides the style of their clothing and speech. They’re not, honestly, the most well-rounded characters, but they had enough depth for me to become invested in their issues.

The story (content and plot), however, was what really made The Taken a good read for me. In the opening scenes of the book, Kit’s best friend is murdered on an undercover job in an illegal brothel, and after that, our protagonists join forces to uncover a sex trafficking ring lead by Las Vegas’s high and mighty. I was honestly surprised by how explicit and honest the author got with such a touchy subject, and I liked it a lot. Rather than focusing so much on the angels and mythology, Pettersson grounded The Taken with a very human issue, which made things far more interesting for me as a reader.

Of course, since the book’s primary focus is uncovering the protagonists’ earthly mystery, we missed out on some explanation of the heavenly situation. I have pretty basic grasp of what’s going on, world-building wise, but I definitely would have liked to see more expansion and detail throughout.

In any case, though, The Taken is a well-written, gritty urban fantasy novel that doesn’t sugar-coat humanity’s darker side. The incorporation of angels in the mystery investigation was smooth enough that I believed in it’s realism, and had no major issues suspending my disbelief. I look forward to seeing what future installments will bring.

3 Stars

Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn

Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara HornTitle: A Guide for the Perplexed
Author: Dara Horn
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Page Count: 342
Genre(s): Literary Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented an application that records everything its users do. When an Egyptian library invites her to visit as a consultant, her jealous sister Judith persuades her to go. But in Egypt’s postrevolutionary chaos, Josie is abducted—leaving Judith free to take over Josie’s life at home, including her husband and daughter, while Josie’s talent for preserving memories becomes a surprising test of her empathy and her only means of escape.

A century earlier, another traveler arrives in Egypt: Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor hunting for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. Both he and Josie are haunted by the work of the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides, a doctor and rationalist who sought to reconcile faith and science, destiny and free will. But what Schechter finds, as he tracks down the remnants of a thousand-year-old community’s once-vibrant life, will reveal the power and perils of what Josie’s ingenious work brings into being: a world where nothing is ever forgotten.

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Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed is inspired by the Biblical Joseph story, but aside from some plot structure similarities, doesn’t have much the same tone or theme as Joseph’s story from Genesis, most notably concerning the conclusion which was desolate rather than encouraging. However, Horn’s novel stands well on its own minus any comparisons to others’ writing. I found, all in all, that I enjoyed this book.

This is a short book, and it seems shorter because Horn has split the narrative into two. First there is the story of Josephine, the symbolic “Joseph” character, who is kidnapped in modern-day Egypt. Second there’s the story of Solomon Schechter, a Hebraic scholar in the late ninteenth century, who also travels to Egypt. The author switches back and forth between the two characters’ stories, and so the reader is only allowed to spend a brief amount of pages with each. However, I wouldn’t say the brevity of the novel is a bad thing; Horn communicated everything that was necessary for a well-rounded plot, and I didn’t think anything was lacking.

As I mentioned, the overall tone of the book was fairly bleak and/or hopeless, especially when the conclusion was taken into consideration. Among other things, the main focus of the book seems to be the past and how we control it through memory and media archives. Though various points were made about the past, the final place the characters reach seemed to be bitter and mournful more than anything.

Not to say, however, that I didn’t like the atmosphere of A Guide for the Perplexed—I did, as it seemed fitting. Dara Horn did well with the topic and hand and treated it honestly. I was very pleased by the lack of a “happy ending” since I don’t believe it would have fit at all.

Overall, I found A Guide for the Perplexed to be very unique and intriguing. The themes of philosophy, memory, and biblical parallels were combined skillfully. I’ve not read a book like this before, and I think Horn did well altogether.

3 Stars

Book Review: The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance Trilogy #3) by N.K. Jemisin

Book Review: The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance Trilogy #3) by N.K. JemisinTitle: The Kingdom of Gods
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: Inheritance Trilogy #3
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Publisher: Orbit
Page Count: 613
Genre(s): Fantasy
Summary from Goodreads:
For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri's ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.

Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family's interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.

As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom—which even gods fear—is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?

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This final installment in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy is, like its predecessors, well-worth reading. The author’s world-building is inventive, her storytelling is always engaging, and her writing is fast-paced and easy to become immersed in. Overall, The Kingdom of the Gods was a highly satisfying fantasy novel.

Though this book is quite a bit longer than the other two books in the trilogy, I didn’t feel that it was needlessly lengthy. The plot wasn’t as tightly-packed and precise as it could have been, but neither did Jemisin seem to waste pages with unnecessary meanderings. I think that, overall, this was a book whose length was very much warranted, which is always nice. I do love very long books, but not when they don’t need to be that long.

The main character and narrator in The Kingdom of Gods is Sieh, a trickster godling who unexpectedly finds himself growing mortal. The book is basically about Sieh learning about why he’s become mortal and attempting to reverse the change, but there’s much more going on. The book’s plot is complicated enough that it can’t be explained in a single sentence, which is a good thing.

One thing that has always stood out about Jemisin’s books is the conversational style of narration they contain. I don’t really enjoy breaking the fourth wall, and at times I think an epic fantasy novel presented as an easygoing dialogue isn’t the best plan. However, the author is a talented author, so even though I’m not a huge fan of her approach to narration, neither can I find significant fault with it.

As far as characters go, I think I would have liked to see more from Sieh and his new mortal friends, Shahar and Deka. Their personalities made sense, but the dynamics between the three of them were very complex, and I felt sometimes that the text didn’t explore those dynamics as well as it could have. I really enjoyed the way the main characters in The Kingdom of Gods were interacting, but I would have liked more depth and perspective on it. Jemisin really does authentic relationships, but they seem to be too understated, for the most part.

I’m very satisfied and impressed with this series closer. The Kingdom of the Gods is well-written, imaginative fantasy, and N.K. Jemisin does an excellent job in crafting her story and setting. She clearly knows what she’s doing.

4 Stars

Book Review: The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

Book Review: The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland MerulloTitle: The Talk-Funny Girl
Author: Roland Merullo
Release Date: July 5, 2011
Publisher: Crown
Page Count: 320
Genre(s): Contemporary
Summary from Goodreads:
In one of the poorest parts of rural New Hampshire, teenage girls have been disappearing, snatched from back country roads, never to be seen alive again. For seventeen-year-old Marjorie Richards, the fear raised by these abductions is the backdrop to what she lives with her own home, every day. Marjorie has been raised by parents so intentionally isolated from normal society that they have developed their own dialect, a kind of mountain hybrid of English that displays both their ignorance of and disdain for the wider world. Marjorie is tormented by her classmates, who call her “The Talk-funny girl,” but as the nearby factory town sinks deeper into economic ruin and as her parents fall more completely under the influence of a sadistic cult leader, her options for escape dwindle. But then, thanks to a loving aunt, Marjorie is hired by a man, himself a victim of abuse, who is building what he calls “a cathedral,” right in the center of town.

Day by day, Marjorie’s skills as a stoneworker increase, and so too does her intolerance for the bitter rules of her family life. Gradually, through exposure to the world beyond her parents’ wood cabin thanks to the kindness of her aunt and her boss, and an almost superhuman determination, she discovers what is loveable within herself. This newfound confidence and self-esteem ultimately allows her to break free from the bleak life she has known, to find love, to start a family, and to try to heal her old, deep wounds without passing that pain on to her husband and children.

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Roland Merullo’s pseudo-memoir, The Talk-Funny Girl, is an interesting and unique coming of age story. The author’s discussion of abuse, cult-life, and breaking away from one’s past were handled intelligently and without making a production of things. This is definitely a book that made me think.

Marjorie, the novel’s narrator, grew up in backwoods New Hampshire with violent parents on a mission to give her the “penance” that God wanted her to have. Over the course of The Talk-Funny Girl, the reader watches Marjorie mature enough to face the realities of her situation, and then make steps to turn away from her family’s lifestyle. It’s a slow, but very believable, process for her, and I thought Merullo was able to portray Marjorie’s distaste with her parents’ treatment of her as well as her loyalty and love to her only blood relations. It was a complicated situation, and I felt it was dealt with authentically.

The thing that definitely makes this book stand out, aside from the cult activity, is Marjorie’s dialect. It’s a very strange, broken English that she learned from her parents, and for some readers, I think it might impede reading ease and comprehension. I felt, though, that in the end the odd dialect added atmosphere and dimension to the story that would not have been there if Marjorie’s parents spoke the same as you or me.

The cult aspect, also, was handled well. From what I know of cult leaders and how they operate, what Roland Merullo presented in The Talk-Funny Girl seemed accurate. It was very easy to see how this man had brainwashed people into abusing their children “for their own good” and then running wild with that theme.

While not a perfect book, The Talk-Funny Girl was well-written and imaginative, portraying a harsh but realistic side to human nature that not many are comfortable dealing with. But bleak as Marjorie’s story was, I think there was a lot of hope and peace that came about through her own choices, which made it all worthwhile in the end.

4 Stars

Book Review: Ruins (Partials Sequence #3) by Dan Wells

Book Review: Ruins (Partials Sequence #3) by Dan WellsTitle: Ruins
Author: Dan Wells
Series: Partials Sequence #3
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page Count: 464
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Kira, Samm, and Marcus fight to prevent a final war between Partials and humans in the gripping final installment in the Partials Sequence, a series that combines the thrilling action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Blade Runner and The Stand.

There is no avoiding it—the war to decide the fate of both humans and Partials is at hand. Both sides hold in their possession a weapon that could destroy the other, and Kira Walker has precious little time to prevent that from happening. She has one chance to save both species and the world with them, but it will only come at great personal cost.

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This is yet another trilogy with a disappointing third installment. In spite of its great potential, Ruins fell flat in every way. I was bored throughout, and characters, writing, and plot failed to inspire my interest. Dan Wells definitely could have done better.

Firstly, at this point, I’m really not a fan of Wells’ protagonist, Kira. She is a complete Mary Sue. I have no interest in her or her “problems”. Over the course of this series she ends up curing not one but two incurable diseases that have stumped the world’s most elite scientists for years. Also she has a very dull and lifeless love triangle that I care nothing about. Bleh.

The plot also suffered, mostly due to shabby pacing. Ruins has multiple perspectives, and all the pagespace it took to cycle through all those characters made the story progress in a stilted, choppy fashion that did nothing for heightening tension or capturing my attention.

Beyond plot technicalities, the storyline itself was so obvious and lackluster. I really didn’t care about the great human versus Partial battle that was supposedly going down. Partly because it wasn’t staged in a way that made me care, and also because there actually wasn’t all that much battling going down. It was just the threat of battle. And really, who seriously finds 300 pages of threats to be engaging material? Not I.

I really feel like Wells could have done something more with Ruins. It was so unimaginitive and lifeless that there’s really nothing to recommend it. If the first book in the trilogy had been like this, I most assuredly would not have stuck around. Ruins is spectacularly underwhelming on every point. That’s really all there is to say.

2 Stars