narfna’s #CBR5 Review #102: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

bone seasonThe next J.K. Rowling? Uh, nice try, Bloomsbury, but no. Extremely false. This isn’t the worst book I’ve read, by far, but it is one of the most frustrating, mostly because Samantha Shannon is clearly very smart, so that makes it all the more aggravating that this turned out the way it did. I have lots of thoughts, as if you couldn’t tell from all my status updates. I will try to parse them out in a concise and entertaining manner, but I make no promises because it is New Year’s Eve and I’m in my party dress.

So let’s start out with that awful marketing plan, since I’ve already brought it up. Comparing their extremely green author to one of the most beloved authors of all time was not a smart move on Bloomsbury’s part. I’m sure they miss all their Harry Potter revenue dearly, but all it did was set up Samantha Shannon for failure. And that was going to happen whether or not the book was any good. This book, which in my opinion is a hot mess, needed to be edited within a half inch of its life. It didn’t need to be praised as “the next Harry Potter.” Honestly, what I think it needed was for its author to incubate a little more. Her fine education and precocious imagination aside, she bit off way too much with this series, and did not have the life experience necessary to pull it off. This book screams AMATEUR to me. As stated above, I’ve certainly read worse books, but I almost think the experience of reading this one was so horrible because I could see the potential hiding in there. This story could have been great given five or so years, and a lot of patient editing.

To sum it up quickly, The Bone Season is the first of seven novels that take place in a dystopian/alternate world that diverged about two hundred years before present time. It’s a world where clairvoyance is real, and those possessing the ability are either persecuted or conscripted for police service, and where others choose to practice their talents in criminal underworlds as an alternative. But just as Shannon begins to describe this world to us, and we’re already feeling lost, our main character, whose name I have now forgotten, is kidnapped by a mysterious race of beings who are also clairvoyant, and then we have to learn about THAT world on top of the other one. Everything has a label, there is a new and confusing terminology for everything Shannon could have possibly thought of, and it is an incredibly trying reading experience. Not that challenging books are a problem, but there’s a way to do it that Shannon didn’t manage.

And then it quickly became clear to me that the plot of the novel was just the standard YA/romance with a super speshul heroine hiding underneath the thin veneer of the very confusing exterior of the world Shannon has created. Our heroine is SO SPECIAL and nobody has ever had powers like hers and the bad guy falls in love with her! And only she can save the day! It was about 1/3 of the way through the novel when I just gave up trying to keep track of everything and just let the crazy wash over me. The cardboard cutout secondary characters, the way the heroine fixated on things for no reason (and Shannon clearly expected us to care about those things as well, only I didn’t want to), the constant info-dumping and violations of Show, Don’t Tell. She uses complicated words to impress when simple ones would do. Last minute plot contrivances to get her story in place. A romance that comes out of nowhere. She basically lifts a character straight from A Clockwork Orange, and probably thought we wouldn’t notice, maybe because her target market won’t have read that book yet:

Look at you with dewdrops in your shiners. Raise your head, O my lovely! What do you want–sympathy? Pity? You won’t find that from him, just like you didn’t find it from me. The world is an abattoir, my mollisher. Raise those barking irons, now. Let me see you give him hell.”

Ugh, shut up.

I might read the second book in this series. But maybe not. Reading this one was torture, if I’m being honest, because a lot of the things I see Shannon doing as an author are things I used to struggle with as well. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing my past self, and I can see myself thinking the wrong things are good, and being an idiot, and I don’t have the power to stop myself. Anyway, in my case it didn’t matter, because nobody was publishing the shit that I wrote when I was her age, and mistaking complicated worldbuilding for complexity and depth of content, as Bloomsbury seems to have done with this series.

Most of all, I just really wish whatever person accepted her manuscript for publication would have been thinking with their brain instead of their wallets. This book and its author are going to suffer for it.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #56: The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

The Last Kiss GoodbyeI did not pick up The Last Kiss Goodbye (2013) by Karen Robards with the best attitude. First, I am not a fan of paranormal romance novels. I just don’t understand the appeal of falling in love with a ghost. Romance heroes are pretty unrealistic already. Is it really necessary to make them even more unobtainable? Second, the only reason I was reading The Last Kiss Goodbye was to get closure after reading The Last Victim, a book that I only read because Robards was one of my favorite romance authors, and she’d never written about ghosts before. And not only did The Last Victim have ghosts, but it didn’t even have an ending! What I know now is that it is the first book of the “Charlotte Stone” series. I have no idea when this series is going to end, but it appears it could go on forever. The Last Kiss Goodbye is the second book in the Charlotte Stone series. I picked it up because I like closure and I was curious how she was going to make everything work out (I was assuming that paranormal romances–like regular romances–requires a happy ending).

Unfortunately, reading The Last Kiss Goodbye didn’t get me any closure.

Continued…

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 34-38: The Demonica Series by Larissa Ione

The covers (and titles, and character names) for this series are patently ridiculous (perhaps not moreso than usual for paranormal romance aka PNR, but that’s a rather low bar) so instead, to give you a brief idea of what the ‘tone’ of these books is, have this GIF of Blanche:

blancheI can’t confidently assure anyone who isn’t already a fan of this genre that this series will convert them, but among the PNR I’ve read, I really enjoyed this series. The standard formula is there. You have your alpha male heroes — here, they are demons (in particular, sex demons… spicy!) — and heroines who are THE ONLY WOMAN for the hero. The women across the series are varied in background, and while each of them can be described in some manner as “kick-ass” — as is par for the course in this genre, lately, since PNR readers seem to like their leading women to want it rough, if you know what I mean — their strength comes from different wells of experiences.

My two favorites in the series were Pleasure Unbound (Tayla and Eidolon) and Sin Undone (Sin and Conall), and my least favorite was Desire Unchained (Runa and Shade.) Really, the differences between all of them are slight; it comes down to how much you like the coupling. One thing that I liked about this series in general was that there were several plot arcs that spanned across several of the books at a time, which tied them together nicely and prevented them from seeming completely interchangeable and redundant. Even though you could read any one as a standalone, they were actually more rewarding read together as a series, which for me is in stark contrast to a lot of PNR, where over the course of the series I think to myself, “Okay, I get it, I don’t need to go any further.”

A few more fun points: the author has created a whole phylogenetic/biological classification for the demons in the books, which is pretty precious. Also, did you know that the semen of certain classes of incubi is an aphrodisiac? Now you do! And if you’re looking for ThunderSex (h/t Mrs. Julien) you’ll get plenty of it, with blood-bonding and all kinds of other great things that preternaturally strong beings can do to each other in bed.

In sum total: for PNR fans, highly recommended. For fans of exclusively highbrow literature, well, you probably didn’t even start this review, much less finish it. For those willing to dabble, this entire series will probably take you about a week or less, so it won’t be a huge imposition on your time if you didn’t find it as fun and/or steamy as I did. Allow me to re-iterate: FUN! and STEAMY! So yes, enjoy yourselves; this shit is fucking silly. If nothing else, the covers will make you giggle.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #44: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

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This was another historical YA book that dealt with spiritualism. Basically, something written so that I would love it.

It’s about Anna, whose mother claims she is Harry Houdini’s daughter. Anna performs magic as an opening act in her mother’s shows. She also hides her real abilities, premonitions and the ability to read emotions.

I really liked the descriptions of 1920s clothing and speakeasies in this book. The mixture of a real person and a real paranormal society really adds to the appeal.

You can read my review here.

meilufay’s #CBR5 review #10 Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series is easily my favorite paranormal series. I have to say, this wasn’t my favorite book in the series by far and I did keep on picking it up and putting it down again (rather than read obsessively) but I’m by no means done with Mercy’s adventures. I think maybe Briggs is a little at a loss with her character now that she’s settled down and doesn’t *quite* know what to do with her next. Anyway, it’s not a great book, but I liked it.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #24: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

The Last VictimI’ve read a lot of Karen Robards because she writes romantic suspense, and romantic suspense is some of my favorite escapist literature. Feeling the need for some escape, and seeing that Robard’s latest book was available at the library with no wait, I decided it was time to read it. I’ve usually liked most of Robard’s contemporary stuff. However, when I read the blurb, I felt some premonition of doubt. The heroine, Dr. Charlotte Stone (Charlie), could see and sometimes communicate with ghosts. I’ve never been a fan of mixing ghosts into my romance novels. The romance requires enough suspension of disbelief as it is, so when you throw ghosts into the mix, it’s a little too much for me. But since Robards had been pretty grounded in the past, I hoped the ghosts bit would just be a small part of the story that I could mostly ignore. That turned out to be wishful thinking.

To read more, click here.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 # 29: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

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In the Shadow of Blackbirds was a really creepy, sad ghost story. I’m in love with the World War I setting. That’s not even mentioning how much I love the Spiritualism movement, séances and spirit photography and table-rappers. This book seems as though it could have been written just for me, because three of the things I love are history, Young Adult fiction, and the Spiritualism movement. It’s hardly a wonder that I liked it so much.

You can read my full review here.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 18-21: Dark-Hunter 1-4 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I’ve given mostly positive reviews so far for this Cannonball, so I’m rubbing my hands together with glee to finally be able to write a “critical” one.

The Dark-Hunter books 1-4 in order are:

  1. Fantasy Lover
  2. Night Pleasures
  3. Night Embrace
  4. Dance With the Devil

I borrowed these from a friend after we’d discussed how I had started to read romance and romance-adjacent books, namely, the Fever series; then, after enjoying Fever so much, I started perusing Mrs. Julien’s infamous “Shameful Tally” with piqued interest and started with one of her highest recommendations: Courtney Milan.

After finding Milan’s books and novellas to be pretty good as well, I wondered to myself: “Have I been unfairly biased against romance?” Maybe I just am a fan of fromage, after all! Well… now I can say, having mainlined this selection of Dark-Hunter (why the hyphen?) like a fifth-grader pretending Pop Rocks are cocaine, I surely did spoil myself beginning my foray into romance with the likes of Milan, because there is some true crap out there and this is it.

These books are apparently bestsellers and pretty highly rated on Goodreads. The Fifty Shades phenomenon has reminded me to take public opinion with a grain of salt, but I still feel like kind of an ass for shitting on what is obviously a well-loved series. Fortunately, I’ve accepted occasional assholery as one of my charming personality tics awhile ago, so I’m going to move forward with this review. I gave the first two books two stars as opposed to one on Goodreads, but I’m going to retcon myself a bit because frankly, they aren’t really much better than the third and fourth; I just wasn’t bored of the plug-and-play plot yet.

So: this is the plot of all four books (and I’m assuming probably all twenty-four — twenty four!!! — in the series.) The heroine, either by some mishap or lucky accident, encounters the hero, who is an ancient immortal of Greek or Roman ancestry. He is cursed somehow, and despite their smoldering sexual chemistry and his deep, inexplicable feelings for the heroine — feelings he has felt for NO OTHER WOMAN, ever (and really, I can’t emphasize enough how often the “only her” or “never anyone but her” line is used in these books) — he pushes her away because he is CURSED! She finds some way to help him become uncursed, though, and they live happily and sexily ever after.

Aside from the rote plot, there are also a bunch of really silly details in the novels that had me pretty consistently rolling my eyes. One thing that isn’t necessarily too egregious, but still had me giggling, were the technological references that were surely intended to make the book seem very “now.” But of course when “now” is 2002 (when the first book was published) and your character is dutifully punching away on her Palm Pilot, it comes across as very instantly dated to a reader in 2013. The second thing, related to the first, though it seems pretty laughable even by 2002 standards, is the author’s shameless plugging of her website in the text of the books. She spends at least a page in each of the books describing how the characters log onto “the Dark-Hunter.com website”, and in the context of the books it’s supposed to be the totally secret administrative message board for the Dark-Hunters (seriously, that hyphen just kills me,) while obviously in real life it’s the promotional website for the series. So, LOL Sherrilyn Kenyon, I see what you did there!

The other major groaner, for me, is how the characters are all on a first-name basis with the Greek gods, so we’re given HILARIOUS characterization and nicknames for said gods. Like, Aphrodite and Artemis are both self-centered and bitchy (because of course they are,) especially compared to the heroines, who are just not like other women. They’re different! Special! Artemis in particular is portrayed as pretty awful, which is bizarre because I never picked up on that from any of the mythology I’m familiar with, but then again I’m not sure that this series is meant to fit right into the Pantheon canon, so…

Let’s see, what else. The Dark-Hunters themselves are kind of like vampires, except that they don’t drink human blood to survive. They can, but it’s kind of looked down upon. But they definitely have fangs, and die in the sunlight, and they have supernatural strength and special abilities. They’re meant to hunt Daimons, which are a species with a convoluted backstory, but the point is that they kill humans. So the Dark-Hunters are basically vampires who don’t act like vampires and hunt the creatures who do act like vampires. If this sounds confusing and stupid, that’s because it is.

I could go on, and I know I’m reading way too much into what is meant to be a fluffy series, but as a fan of paranormal entertainment, if your paranormal shit doesn’t make sense, I’m not going to give it a pass just because it’s supposed to be mostly romance. The romance itself is fine, I guess, outside of being extremely formulaic. For readers of Pajiba’s caliber, I can’t recommend this series at all, unless you are really into unintentional comedy and want to practice decaying your own grey matter for sport.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #21: The Murmurings by Carly Anne West

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This is one of those Teen books dealing with mental illness, except with a paranormal twist. It’s difficult to describe, there are these murmurs and then wraiths or something in mirrors and they want to put their life essence into people and take them over…I didn’t really get into that stuff in my review, which you can see here. It’s basically about a girl who just experienced the loss of her sister and now is worried that she may be going crazy as well.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 16: Ghost Planet by Sharon Fisher

Goodreads summary: Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she’d struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet. 

As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence. 

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.

This book was the April selection for the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, so I picked it up expectantly… and literally didn’t put it down until about 9 hours later once I’d read it completely. Thank god I work in an isolated space, because I am ashamed to admit that I took a holiday at my desk yesterday and was completely absorbed in this book. Sharon Fisher, I blame you for rising workplace delinquency! Kind of.

Anyway, let me get a few nitpicks out of the way, with the acknowledgement that for some people who have been discussing Ghost Planet on Goodreads, they are more than minor nitpicks. I did feel that the worldbuilding was a little lacking — the planet is described as having taken on ecological characteristics similar to Earth in order to be pretty recognizable to the colonists. In one sense, this is a nice shorthand, since we can fairly easily imagine a less populated, less polluted Earth. On the other hand, it functions to deprive us of what could have been some more thoughtful descriptions of the planet and the process of that adaptation, and more detail about the settlements that the colonists live in. Another related issue, which may be more due to its ‘sci-fi lite’ status than to a unique deficiency of this book, is that outside of the special attention paid to Elizabeth’s particular research (which I’ll get to later,) the futuristic technology which enables the colonization of this planet (e.g. space travel, any terraforming concerns?) and that which is used by the colonists (flat-reader) is given no description practically at all. If I had to guess, a “flat-reader” is a tablet computer, but why not just call it a tablet, unless it’s actually a futuristic descendent of a tablet? In which case, what makes it so? Anyway, little things like that make the sci-fi geek in me wish there was a little more in the way of techie detail.

At the end of the day, though, if an original concept and a well-paced plot that do that concept justice are set in front of me, I am going to completely forget about other minor concerns and just love the shit out of a book. And that’s basically what happened. I loved the main character, both as a personality and as a scientist. I read a lot of doom-and-gloom dystopia that tends to paint scientists as misanthropic megalomaniacs with unethical aspirations toward human purity or genetic cleansing, so it was refreshing to have a protagonist who is as empathetic as she is pragmatic. She actually explicitly employs the scientific method, which is pretty darn cool: she has a hypothesis, gathers data to support it, but also considers other possibilities and doesn’t reject them until she has absolutely enough evidence to do so. Not surprisingly, a character like this reasons well with others and builds a totally believable team of support, both from secondary characters and from me, who really wanted her to succeed in love and life!

I really highly recommend this. It was addictive and a great mix of psycho-biological drama and romance, and a really promising debut novel from this author.