DNF Review: The Weight of Souls – Bryony Pearce

Pearce_Bryony-WeightOfSoulsTitle: The Weight of Souls
Author: Bryony Pearce
Strange Chemistry
Rating: DNF

Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?

And what happens if she starts to fall for him?

I tried with this one. I really did. I started reading it, and it took me so long to get to just 100 pages that I finally gave up.

Truthfully, it isn’t a bad book. The characterization is typical of a teenager in high school, and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. Normally, teenagers acting like teenagers doesn’t bother me. This time, it just slowed down my progress with the book. I wasn’t invested in the characters, and as a result, I didn’t care what happened to them.

Part of my problem, I think, was the brief journal entries from Taylor Oh’s ancestor, an archeologist who was part of a team that broke into a tomb and, apparently, pissed of Anubis. The family becomes cursed as a result.

I’m actually unsure whether the backstory is necessary (I gave up reading at about 146 of 225 pages), but for me it felt extraneous. While it was nice to know how Oh’s family became cursed, it wasn’t necessary for me to know the step-by-step process; simply knowing the curse existed, along with some minor details like how it worked, would have sufficed.

The pace of the story was, while fairly consistent, somewhat slow, at least for me. I went into it expecting a much faster pace. For the first 60 or 70 pages, not much happened, and this contributed to my inability to really become invested in the book.

Eventually, I’ll probably pick the book up and try again, but for now, this is a DNF. At the time I read it, it wasn’t a fast enough pace for me, and I couldn’t become invested in the characters. I’m hoping upon a future re-read that I will enjoy the book more.

I received this book via the publisher via Netgalley. This has not influenced my opinion in any way.


BFTA Review: Dennis Lehane – Shutter Island


Title: Shutter Island
Author: Dennis LeHane
William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Rating: 4/5
Read for: 2011 Gothic Reading Challenge

The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new -partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple-murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane bears relentlessly down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades–with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is remotely what it seems (goodreads.com)

**WARNING: there are spoilers for the book in this review. If you don’t want to know what happens, please don’t read.**

I cannot gush over how much I loved this book. I really like psychological twists, and while it wasn’t what I was expecting (the summary lead me to believe that it would be a mystery), it was what I got, and the further I got into the book the better it got, and I just couldn’t put it down.
It seems like such an unambiguous ending, but you’re still left wondering whether it’s all in Teddy’s head, or if he really is Teddy and they’re committing him anyway. The puzzles that Teddy and Chuck find along the way spell out the ending, but if you don’t pay too close attention to them, you’ll be surprised at the end. I’m definitely one of those people who doesn’t put two and two together until it’s too late, but for me that works out well because I like being surprised with endings.

BFTA Review: Mary Higgins Clark – Where Are You Now?


Title: Where Are You Now?
Author: Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster
Rating: 3/5
Read for: Queen of Suspense challenge

It has been ten years since twenty-one-year-old Charles MacKenzie Jr. (“Mack”) went missing. A Columbia University senior, about to graduate and already accepted at Duke University Law School, he walked out of his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side without a word to his college roommates and has never been seen again. However, he does make one ritual phone call to his mother every year: on Mother’s Day. Each time, he assures her he is fine, refuses to answer her frantic questions, then hangs up. Even the death of his father, a corporate lawyer, in the tragedy of 9/11 does not bring him home or break the pattern of his calls.
Mack’s sister, Carolyn, is now twenty-six, a law school graduate, and has just finished her clerkship for a civil court judge in Manhattan. She has endured two family tragedies, yet she realizes that she will never be able to have closure and get on with her life until she finds her brother. She resolves to discover what happened to Mack and why he has found it necessary to hide from them. So this year when Mack makes his annual Mother’s Day call, Carolyn interrupts to announce her intention to track him down, no matter what it takes. The next morning after Mass, her uncle, Monsignor Devon MacKenzie, receives a scrawled message left in the collection basket: “Uncle Devon, tell Carolyn she must not look for me.”
Mack’s cryptic warning does nothing to deter his sister from taking up the search, despite the angry reaction of her mother, Olivia, and the polite disapproval of Elliott Wallace, Carolyn’s honorary uncle, who is clearly in love with Olivia.
Carolyn’s pursuit of the truth about Mack’s disappearance swiftly plunges her into a world of unexpected danger and unanswered questions. What is the secret that Gus and Lil Kramer, the superintendents of the building in which Mack was living, have to hide? What do Mack’s old roommates, the charismatic club owner Nick DeMarco and the cold and wealthy real estate tycoon Bruce Galbraith, know about Mack’s disappearance? Is Nick connected to the disappearance of Leesey Andrews, who had last been seen in his trendy club? Can the police possibly believe that Mack is not only alive, but a serial killer, a shadowy predator of young women? Was Mack also guilty of the brutal murder of his drama teacher and the theft of his taped sessions with her?
Carolyn’s passionate search for the truth about her brother — and for her brother himself — leads her into a deadly confrontation with someone close to her whose secret he cannot allow her to reveal. (goodreads.com)

I have finally figured out what it is about MHC’s books that bug me: the dialogue. I’ll be reading, engrossed in the little world she’s created around her characters, when bam! Awkward dialogue rears its ugly head. And it doesn’t happen once, or even twice, but quite often, and it makes reading her books difficult, because it pulls me out of the story to make me go, “People don’t really have conversations like that, do they?”

I had that issue a lot during this book. I also found the somewhat romance between Nick and Carolyn somewhat distracting and unnecessary. Fortunately, it becomes a back-burner plot point, and the plot stays focused on Carolyn’s need to find her brother.

You would think, that after reading five other MHC books, I would have gotten used to her characters, but I still haven’t. They’re still intangible, at least for me.

Despite its short length, it took me a while to read, and while I generally like the who-dun-its, I didn’t like this one.

Originally posted 25 February 2011.

BFTA Review: Jennifer Crusie – Maybe This Time


Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 4/5
Read for: Amazon Best of 2010 Challenge

Andie Miller is ready to move on in life. She wants to marry her fiancé and leave behind everything in her past, especially her ex-husband, North Archer. But when Andie tries to gain closure with him, he asks one final favor of her before they go their separate ways forever. A very distant cousin of his has died and left North as the guardian of two orphans who have driven out three nannies already, and things are getting worse. He needs a very special person to take care of the situation and he knows Andie can handle anything.
When Andie meets the two children she quickly realizes things are much worse than she feared. The place is a mess, the children, Carter and Alice, aren’t your average delinquents, and the creepy old house where they live is being run by the worst housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers. What’s worse, Andie’s fiancé thinks this is all a plan by North to get Andie back, and he may be right. Andie’s dreams have been haunted by North since she arrived at the old house. And that’s not the only haunting.
What follows is a hilarious adventure in exorcism, including a self-doubting parapsychologist, an annoyed medium, her Tarot-card reading mother, an avenging ex-mother-in-law, and, of course, her jealous fiancé. And just when she thinks things couldn’t get more complicated, North shows up on the doorstep making her wonder if maybe this time things could be different between them.
If Andie can just get rid of all the guests and ghosts, she’s pretty sure she can save the kids, and herself, from the past. But fate might just have another thing in mind…(goodreads.com)

Overall, I really liked the book, but at some points I felt like the scenes were ridiculous (such as the seance scene, where someone knocks at the door every five minutes). But let’s back up a minute and start from the beginning.

Andie is a school teacher, and she’s recruited by her ex-husband to go visit his wards, a twelve-year-old boy and his younger sister, and to find out what’s wrong with them. All Andie was trying to do was return the alimony checks that North had sent her every month for ten years (that’s a long time to go without cashing checks, and a long time to not notice that the recipient wasn’t cashing said checks).

North guilt-trips Andie into going, and Andie dutifully goes to the old, creepy house that has a moat (yes, really), although the moat is only mentioned and rarely ever noticed. Andie meets the children, silent Carter and screaming Alice, and Andie has her work cut out for her. She manages to buy her way into the children’s lives, and eventually starts changing their lives around.

I wasn’t entirely pleased to see Andie buy her way into the kid’s lives. She figures out what they enjoy, or don’t enjoy (Alice likes sparkles, butterflies, and the color blue, and Carter likes comics and drawing), but it was a way for her to get involved in their lives and get them to trust her. I just don’t like the idea of buying anyone’s trust, no matter how attentive or thoughtful the gift.

The real story eventually develops once the ghosts start appearing, and while Andie spends a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of the ghost mystery, she certainly has a lot of drama going on in the real world, like trying to get Alice to brush her hair, and trying to get Will to understand that no really means no.

The novel speeds up even more with the addition of Southie, North’s little brother, his girlfriend, and her cameraman, not to mention a parapsychologist who is caught in his own Catch-22 (he cannot see ghosts because he doesn’t believe in them, yet he is a skeptic and will not believe in them until he sees them), and it speeds up again with the arrival of more people, including the fiance, Andie’s mother, North’s mother, and a few other people.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this book. It’s definitely different from Crusie’s other novels. I went into it knowing about the supernatural element, but I was unsure of the extent; did the story take place in a haunted house? Does the main character fall in love with a ghost? I just wasn’t sure, and at least on that front I was pleasantly surprised.

The main problem I had was the relationship between North and Andie. We’re told that they were divorced ten years prior after a very fast marriage, and that they still love each other. However, Andie spends so much time with the kids and trying to solve the ghostly mystery that she hardly has time to interact with North, and it leaves their relationship lacking. There’s no build-up into a new relationship between them; they simply jump into it, and usually one of the most exciting parts of a relationship is the build-up.

While I enjoyed the book, I did so for very different reasons than the other Crusie books I’ve enjoyed. It has a nice ghost element, but if you’re going to read it, don’t look for the usual romance.

Originally posted 09 February 2011.

BFTA Review: Mary Higgins Clark – Daddy’s Little Girl


Title: Daddy’s Little Girl
Author: Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4/5
Read for: Queen of Suspense Challenge

Ellie Cavanaugh was only seven years old when her fifteen-year-old sister, Andrea, was murdered near their home in Oldham-on-the-Hudson, a rural village in New York’s Westchester County. There were three suspects: Rob Westerfield, nineteen-year-old scion of a wealthy, prominent family, whom Andrea has been secretly dating; Paul Stroebel, a sixteen-year-old schoolmate, who had a crush on Andrea; and Will Nebels, a local handyman in his forties.

It was Ellie who had led her parents to a hideout in which Andrea’s body was found–a secret hideaway in which she met her friends. And it was Ellie who was blamed by her parents for her sister’s death for not telling them about this place the night Andrea was missing. It was also Ellie’s testimony that led to the conviction of the man she was firmly convinced was the killer. Steadfastly denying his guilt, he spent the next twenty-two years in prison.

When he comes up for parole, Ellie, now an investigative reporter for an Atlanta newspaper, protests his release. Nonetheless, the convicted killer is set free and returns to Oldham. Determined to thwart his attempts to whitewash his reputation, Ellie also returns to Oldham, intent on creating a Website and writing a book that will conclusively prove his guilt. As she delves deeper into her research, however, she uncovers horrifying and heretofore unknown facts that shed new light on her sister’s murder. With each discovery, she comes closer to a confrontation with a desperate killer. (goodreads.com)

This is the first mystery I’ve read that was told from the first person point of view, and I must say that it worked. Ellie comes across as a real person, and someone who knows her job very well, and is also very good at it.

I really adored her sincere protection of Paulie, but at times I wondered how often she was willing to put her own life on the line to “get the story” (in this case, keep her sister’s killer behind bars). With every entry she put up on her Website, she made herself a bigger target, especially for a desperate killer. While I thought she was good at piecing together facts, I wondered how much she took into account the risk she was really taking.

I also didn’t like her reaction to her father, then later, her half-brother. She constantly referred to her father as “your father” when talking to her brother, Teddy, and her cold reaction to him turned me off a little, too. After all, it wasn’t Teddy’s fault that her parents split, and although he was the result of her father re-marrying, Teddy didn’t ask to be thrown into the middle of the drama. He just wanted to be friends.

While reading the book, especially towards the beginning, my decision wavered on who had really done it, but the further along I read, the more I began to agree that Ellie was right.
Overall, I really liked the book, despite my dislike of Ellie at times. Reading a mystery in first person POV was a different experience, and I’d love to read more like it.

Originally posted 23 January 2011.

BFTA Review: Charlaine Harris – Dead Until Dark


Title: Dead Until Dark
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Southern Vampire Series #1
Rating: 1/5
Read for: 2011 Urban Fantasy Challenge

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome–and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life….
But Bill has a disability of his own: He’s a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of–big surprise–murder. And when one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next… (goodreads.com)

It took me several tries to finally read this book. Not because I kept getting interrupted, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. Too much attention is paid to Sookie’s day-to-day life, and it takes a long time (more than 100 pages) to start getting to anything important. I kept wanting to put the book down in favor of other, better reads, but forced my way through it.

A lot happens during the course of the first novel. As with any first novel in the series, the focus is on introducing the characters; however, we not only meet Sookie’s family (her brother and grandmother), but we meet Bill, Eric, and a whole slew of Southern good ol’ boys that I couldn’t keep straight. I even had a hard time keeping straight Sookie’s co-workers; everyone bled into each other, and without names and details (such as referring to the sheriff as “Sheriff”), I’d never have remembered who was who. On top of meeting what seems like everyone in Bon Temps, we have three murders, and Sookie’s brother is one of the main suspects.

Sookie herself is a confusing character. She is constantly back-and-forth, moving between a naive girl and a knowing woman. She spends a lot of time describing what she’s wearing, and her fashion sense is appalling. I felt like she was living in the 80s, but sometimes Sookie would wear something so knock-your-socks-off that I wondered if she was really as naive as she seemed. Sookie’s feelings towards vampires, too, were back and forth. Initially, she is happy about meeting Bill, a somewhat civilized vampire. When she meets Bill’s “friends”, however, she is disgusted. No matter how open-minded she wants others to be, especially regarding her relationship with Bill, she is considerably close-minded when it comes to other vampires.

By the time the book go to the “who-dun-it”, I’d lost a lot of interest. Even Bubba’s true identity felt like more of a grasp at straws to keep the reader interested; Bubba could have been just another random vampire, but instead he is someone who was famous and came back wrong, so he’s not all that bright.

I wish this book had something redeeming, but it didn’t. It was filled with stereotypical Southern talk, and half the time I had to re-read sentences to try to figure out what Sookie (or another character) was trying to say. Between that and the bipolar narrator, I had a hard time staying with the story.

Originally posted 21 January 2011.

BFTA Review: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark – He Sees You When You’re Sleeping


Title: He Sees You When You’re Sleeping
Author: Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster
Rating: 2/5
Read for: Queen of Suspense Challenge

It is a few days before Christmas. For forty-six years Sterling has been awaiting his summons into Heaven. Will he be deemed fit for entrance into heaven this year? At last the day comes and the Heavenly Council settles on a test for Sterling – he will be sent back to earth and given an opportunity to prove his worthiness by helping someone else. Sterling Brooks finds himself in Manhattan, at the skating rink in Rockefeller Center. Among the skaters is a heartbroken seven-year-old named Marissa. Her sadness comes from her separation from the father she adores, a talented singer, and her sparkling grandmother, owner of a popular restaurant. Both have been forced into the Witness Protection Program because two mobsters, the Badgett brothers, have put a price on their heads to prevent their testifying against them in an arson case. As Sterling soon realizes, it is Marissa he has been sent to help. Sterling, who is able to move back and forth in time and place, masterminds a plan to eliminate the threat from the Badgett brothers and reunite Marissa with her loved ones. (goodreads.com)

This book went by very slowly for me. It isn’t the normal format for a mystery, where the main characters are trying to figure out who-dun-it. Instead, our main character is trying to help someone, and there is no “who-dun-it” involved in any way. It was a mystery of a different kind: how to get from point A to point B.
The novel is short enough that we don’t really get a feel for any of the characters. A lot of the novel takes place during the previous year, when Marissa’s father and grandmother go away. Sterling chases after them for more than a week, learning all he can about exactly why they had to go into Witness Protection. He skips through the following year, learning what he needs to in order to be able to help Marissa get her father and grandmother back in time for Christmas Eve, and her birthday. Because we skip over so much, we don’t really find out much else about the characters. Even Sterling doesn’t seem to change throughout the novel; we must rely on what’s been told to us about his past (that he was ungrateful and simply absent-minded in regards to those he loved or who might have needed a hand) to see the change.
This book wasn’t for me, but if you like quick reads, I’d recommend it, especially to read during the month of December.

Originally posted 04 January 2011.