Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review of Wide Open by Deborah Coates

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days' compassionate leave, her sister Dell's ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.
The sheriff says that Dell's death was suicide, but Hallie doesn't believe it. Something happened or Dell's ghost wouldn't still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell's loss, think Hallie's letting her grief interfere with her judgment.

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn't have to.

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone's trying to beat her up, burn down her father's ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie's going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.
As I am sitting here pondering what points I would like to talk about in my review for Wide Open, a word that I could use from the time that I opened up the package that it came in is, "ominous". As I had not heard about this title before, I was instantly intrigued by the foreboding cover. Ehhhhhhhhoooweewewewew... Jeepers, Fred, go pull around mystery mobile. Scooby Doo? Where are you? Well, this little novel here doesn't need the cast of Mystery, Inc., but who doesn't love a little Rooby Roo? Straight out of the box we are introduced to our main character Hallie Michaels and as the book description reads that is Sergeant Hallie Michaels. Hallie is coming home from the war in Afghanistan for ten days. She is told her sister is dead, an apparent suicide, but Hallie knows in her gut that it couldn't be that. Ms. Coates did something really great here by driving the point home from the very beginning that Hallie is only going to be home for ten days. This for me kicked the story into hyper-suspense mode as how do you solve the mystery of your sisters death in only ten days? I mean, come on... get moving already! Something that I have read a few of my fellow reviewers comment on in this story that cannot by any means be overlooked is the backdrop. I have never been to South Dakota, but, I had a really great friend once that grew up there and had described to me on several occasions the type of scenery that he had come from. Our minds fill in made up pictures of these conversations, but as I was reading Wide Open, I felt like I was actually there with Hallie, like I was just another one of her... AHHH! Not going to spoil... Seriously, Ms Coates has a great ability to put you right in the book with her vivid words describing the surroundings. The prairie, the Bob as is it's called is totally imaginable and exactly what you would think of in a relatively small town out in the middle of a seeming nowhere. Pete and his friends even have their own Straw Dog feel to the atmosphere. After all this I think the thing I was most impressed with by the novel was Hallie and the way the picture of her developed for me in my head as I was following her throughout the story. It is a real up-close and personal characterization as your stuck in her head for most of the novel and that does sooooo well for this book. Hallie was a believable character that you can feel compassion for. She is openly strong willed because she has to be. Always holding it together for the sake of everyone else or just maybe appearance, but while we the readers get a closer look inside her ideas and thoughts we know that she is one step away from breaking down. This above all else in the story, kept me reading. Not that we can forget about the mystery of her sisters death. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question element opens the door for our author to plinko the pages of this book right into its very own urban fantasy... wait, urban? No, rural fantasy! Ladies and gentlemen we have a whole new genre of books! Make the the signs Books-a Million! RURAL FANTASY! Bring on the cowboy hat wearing, tractor driving disembodied space alien heads! Actually, this book doesn't have those, but what a cool idea huh?

That about sums up my review of Wide Open by Deborah Coates. Too much more and I will be giving away plot points that makes this novel what it is, a great new addition to the paranormal urban/rural fantasy, mystery that I think will be enjoyed by a wide range of readers. Whatever your tastes in reading are, Wide Open will surely have something tor you to enjoy. Thank-you Ms. Coates for a great read that I am happily recommending to friends and family.

4 out of 5 Kitty whiskers, because in the hearts and minds of the innocent, they are the strings that bind friendships to make them last through... Well... to stand the unforgivable things we do...

Now here is a little Metallica with The Unforgiven II, for all the unspoken reasons...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review of Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell

She is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon's underbelly looking to find answers, and justice with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshipers but Widdershins herself.
Thief's Covenant is the first in what I hope to be an ongoing series. And although I have not uncovered anything that tells me this outright, Mr. Marmell's website lists these as "Widdershins Novels". AHA! That is a very plural, "Novels". My squad car is right out front, Thank-you very much!. Don't let the series part scare you though. We all know how skittish some of you get when the "S" word starts getting thrown around. No, this novel does come complete with its very own beginning, middle and end and would work very well as a stand alone novel. Either way, a step back into the life of our young protagonist will be a refreshing getaway when and if it comes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, albeit kind of short and not very quest driven for something I have seen labeled as high fantasy. If you have been following my blog for a while now, you may have noticed that I don't particularly care for the labels we all tend to give the books were reading. I personally don't know anyone actually qualified to make these labels, I definitely know that person is not me. I read a book and form my opinion of what it is and that is that. No harm, no foul. At this point you can stop and ask me what I am gibbering on about, because, I am not even sure I know myself. See this is my dilemma. You all will have to bare with me here, while I veer off into the more cobwebbed catacombs that is my mind. I say above "no harm, no foul" but that can't really be true can it? Let me show you what I am talking about. A buddy of mine and I met for drinks at the pub after work last week. After a bit of conversation he asks, what new books I can recommend him picking up. As I am nose deep in the streets of Davillon with the sleek and sexy, (Oops, can't use that word describing a minor can I?) thief. Anyway, with a little bit of the Irish Dew picking up the blarney, I spit out, "Well, I am reading this new young adult fantasy yarn called Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell. As a known fan of Stephen King and reads of the like, my friend just kind of shakes his head up and down slowly and on reflection of my last sentence I see clearly my error. So, I back up and throw in some words that will likely appeal a little more to to my friends specific tastes. i.e. espionage, gritty, scenes (brief as they are) that are pretty graphic. And a favorite I through in there, "not a lot of romance". Which is a pretty good thing considering that when most people hear young adult anymore, they automatically assume love triangle. After that, I had him totally on board and downloading it to his kindle app on his phone... Man, you gotta love technology. Yeah, score one for me. Ultimately, my point is this, as people who recommend books on a daily basis. We need to be aware of the audience we are speaking to and make sure we are clear about things we like and don't like about the books were reading. On the other side of the coin though, I see a publisher putting the term "young adult" on a book like this one and I think after reading it... Do I really agree that this book is young adult? I don't freakin' know!?!? I am almost 35... And I totally dug this story. But I am glad this is in the young adult section as well, because if I seen this cover when I was 12 or 13 I would have totally picked it up. That leads me to a quick shout out to cover artist Jason Chan. Really great stuff, man. Even better is the fact that this novel is going to appeal to younger boys as well as young adult girls. Which is great considering it can be a little more challenging getting most young males to read, at least, that is what I have heard from the general consensus. And growing up, a lot of my guy friends didn't have the voracious reading habit that I did... or reading habits at all for that matter. I am not some magic book recommending Zoltar here, people. Although, the thought of someone pitching money at me and asking me what there next favorite read is... kind of appealing don't you think? Huh, Huh?!?!?! Right?!?! Maybe someone asks me what they should read I should just spit out a card with the title of a book on it?

Well, I have guided you far enough into my madness for one day. Don't worry I won't leave you stranded there. On our way back out though, I will actually tell you a little bit more about this wonderful read. You know... That one I was suppose to be talking about all this time, but sucked you into controversial topics such as genre bending labels. Sorry. In the famous words of one of my all time favorite philosophers... Alf, "Hey, I know my rights, I watch Peoples Court." Ha! I kill me. Ok, [clears throat] Thief's Covenant follows a young female protagonist who has the rags to riches story about her. but then unlike most happy ending stories is forced by some very horrible happenings back into a less desired lifestyle. But this doesn't seem to keep Widdershins down. I actually think it is great that she adapted so well to all the things life has thrown at her. Be that as it may, the story goes through a bunch of back and forth which made me keep my thinking cap on as to where and when I was in her story. This played a huge part in my reading pace. I don't think it would have been as exciting as it was if the timeline was streamlined. The funny thing is that I have read novels in the past that at these time switching spots I put the book down, but here I was so engrossed in the current timeline that I buzzed right through the skipping just so I could get back to the present. Well played Mr. Marmell, well played. What does all that mean... This book is over way quick... quick like seeing the end growing ever nigh and I am thinking, sputtering, uh, bu, duh... It can't end there, I want more.

At the heart of all the great fantasy that this book revolves around, there is a mystery. This is another aspect that just took off from the very beginning. It's something that I think will hook a lot of younger readers. As the character development lays out in front of you, the more you want to find out who is behind all this chaos. All the while leaving little mysteries that will hopefully be picked out of the haystack to bring you back for the next novel. The reveal near the end of this one on who the shrouded lord is, is a prime example of what I am talking about and great storytelling. The addition of a minor deity to the already overflowing 120 major deities of the pact is an interesting concept that I personally have not read about before. A lot of doors could open with a god on your shoulder and I am anxious to see where that goes in future volumes. I really enjoy novels about thieves and assassins, mainly I think, because of the tense adrenaline rushing sensation you can acquire through well planned tense scenes and this book has a bunch of them.

I personally would like to wish all the success to Ari Marmell with this novel. It has definitely broken onto the young adult scene with some hype and it is very well deserved. Readers young and old won't have to look to hard to find things to love about Thief's Covenant. And with a first novel like this on the Young Adult shelves, I am chomping at the bit to get my hands on his other books like Goblin Corps. I hope that will deliver the bloodbath a sci-fi, fantasy, military mash-up should.

4 out of 5 stones because it's solid like 4 out of 5 stones are.

I dedicate this one to Adrienne Satti. Read the book, you may understand why...