Category: mystery


The Sitter

Hey, guess who’s reviewing a fourteen year old book! This gal! So, yeah, there might be some spoilers here. I tried to avoid them, but this was surprisingly hard to talk about without getting into what, specifically, made my reactions happen. I got really hung up on one thing, guess what it was. That’s pretty well it though. I’ll have another post up probably tomorrow or Friday. For now, enjoy!

the-sitter-cover

Ellie Saks is at the end of her lease, the end of her temp job, and the end of her patience with her mother and her ex-boyfriend turned stalker Clay. So, she jumps at the opportunity to leave the city behind for a trip to the Hamptons for a summer of fun away from it all. A stroke of luck even lands her a babysitting job and place to stay. That luck turns sour though when someone starts sending her threatening notes and disturbing gifts. With a disturbed child to care for, a stalker on the loose, and a ghost story unfolding with her in the middle of it can Ellie figure out what’s going on or even survive her summer as the sitter?

Not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy The Sitter. This is one of those books that feels so, so like a lot of the books I have tremendous nostalgia for but with all the nostalgia stripped away and a painful attempt at retargeting its readership. See, R. L. Stine does a great job with teen horror, particularly cheesy teen horror. His books can be very formula and very like a B horror movie, but they tend to be fun and quick and you know what you’re getting in to when you pick one up. That’s sort of the case here and with a few changes this could have been a pretty standard Fear Street book. That’s part of the problem though, with The Sitter Stine tries too hard to make his book “adult” and it feels very forced. There’s a fair amount of profanity, some drinking, a really gross sex scene, drug use is mentioned, but it all feels like someone reminded Stine that he was writing for grownups after the book was already finished, so he just threw that all in.

So, that said, what made me dislike this book other than the audience related weirdness? There are a lot of things that get a pass in teen novels that shouldn’t and don’t in adult novels, this book for example had terrible foreshadowing. Early on, we find out about Ellie’s cat, he’s sweet and trusting and she misses him so because she couldn’t have him in her apartment. Yeah, he didn’t make it to the end of the book. The problem with that is twofold. Stine’s used killing the beloved family pet to gain a quick cheep hit to the feels before, several times actually, so as soon as the cat gets mentioned you know what’s going to happen. It’s a similar thing with the big twist at the end. It also ties into my next big issue.

A ton of terrible stuff happens between Lucky’s introduction and Lucky’s plot appointed death, but Ellie doesn’t seem to take that into account. The book’s plot was almost entirely reliant on the protagonist making stupid choices. Again, a lot of those choices would have made more sense in a book with a teenaged protagonist rather than one in her twenties both because relative youth and because a teen protagonist could be stuck being the sitter rather than it being a summer job. This bit is really hard to go into without spoilers, but our protagonist gets death threats and vile stuff mailed to her. She stays, doesn’t even talk to the police after like the second thing. Not for the threats, or her cat getting killed, or her stalker ex showing up and threatening her. Most of the tension in the book relies on the reader having never read R. L. Stine before and Ellie being an idiot.

Add to that, The Sitter has a ton of stuff going on that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until the end. There are chapters from the antagonist’s view point. They could have been cut entirely. There was a side plot about some curse on the guest house. That could have been cut. Clay probably should have been cut, he doesn’t really add much to the story and is basically made of cringe. The cat could have been cut, he was a completely pointless inclusion. Any of that could have been removed to tighten up the main plot and work the twist in better.

Those are my big issues with the book, everything else kind of spins off of those. It had a twist ending, but that was completely unsupported by the rest of the book. The only reason I didn’t see it coming was that it was so completely out of left field it came from another game entirely. It’s silly in the grand scheme of things, but this book made me angry. There were so many places where Stine could have done better, could have not done the blatantly obvious thing, could have shored up the writing instead of going into another side plot. This book gets a one, as much for what it could have been as for what it is.

Broken Red

I’m back with a couple reviews for you guys. Quick thing with this one, I received the book through my job. It was printed in store at the Brookwood Books-A-Million on our Espresso Book Machine and can be found here, or by ordering it in store.

Who do you trust when the person closest to you might be a murderer? Tegan Kelly has been running from her traumatic childhood for as long as she can remember. When her mother is found murdered her life is thrown into chaos and the killer might be much closer than she thinks. As the body count rises will she be able to protect her family or will she fall prey to a mad man who knows too much.
So Heather Avello’s Broken Red is kind of a mish mash book for me. On the one hand, the blurb promises a murder mystery thriller with a heroine who can’t know who to trust because the killer is someone super close to her. On the other hand, the book gets bogged down in a romance side plot that really didn’t do anything for me and that I feel could have been cut dramatically without damaging the story. On the inexplicable third hand, I’d have probably been more into the romance side plot if the murder mystery main plot had connected it’s events better in the beginning of the book.
Where to begin, because there are a couple of big things that I think could have taken this from being okay to being pretty good. The big separation between the main and side plots is probably the easier thing to address. It actually feels in a lot of ways like this is two separate books featuring the same characters but with very different stories. In the main plot Tegan is a woman who’s had essentially every horrific back story element thrown at her, but she’s kept going despite that, and now there seems to be a murderer after her family. Her husband is a cheating jerk who isn’t there for their three kids or her and, when things start going weird for her, he immediately blames her for it. Contrasting her husband is Victor Ramirez, the knight in shining armor who’s had it bad for her since forever and who might be hiding something seriously dark. She calls him when she can’t reach her husband; he checks in on her and is there for her, often at her eldest son’s insistence. It’s pretty obvious they’re going to end the book a couple from the start. In the romance plot Tegan’s back story stuff results in a distrust of people that is mentioned, but essentially hand waved for Vic, and Vic despite thinking he’s bad for wanting Tegan is great with her kids and lavishes her with attention and stuff. There’s a distinct disconnect there for me.
The romance side plot is kind of expected since it’s telegraphed from the beginning, but rather than being entwined with the main plot it takes over a significant chunk of the book. The writing changes to match this and the mystery plot mostly disappears for this whole section, it gets brought up a couple of times, but it doesn’t do anything. That feels wrong for me on a couple of levels, the previously mentioned thing about this reading like two different books, and that while a big deal is made about her husband’s cheating being terrible and evidence of him being an awful human being it gets brought up when she and Vic are about to jump in bed but isn’t really treated as a big thing. It’s sort of like she gets a pass because he is terrible to her and the plot doesn’t really care about him, and that’s what doesn’t work for me.
Which kind of brings me back to the inexplicable third hand. See, my big thing here is that the mystery parts, especially the bits later in the book, are legit good for a first time author. They aren’t tied together as well as they deserve though, in part because the romance plot intrudes, but it’s pretty easy to see where the connections could have been made. There are bits that could have been included earlier to bolster the overall story and to tighten up the writing, things that are introduced at the last second could have been hinted at or hinted at more strongly. The biggest problem created by this is that it makes the murderer seem right out of left field and badly supported by the story itself. The lack of things being tied together does lead to a couple of hanging plot threads, but I’m thinking those were deliberate to set up a sequel.
Where does this leave me? The romance is bad and our protagonists’ characterization can be a little all over the place, but when the writing focuses on the mystery it’s pretty good. I would definitely want to see more build up to the climax in the next book and less focus on the protagonists’ love lives, definitely more foreshadowing the antagonist’s identity. It’s a good freshman effort and I think that Ms. Avello will improve greatly as she continues writing so, from me, Broken Red gets a three out of five.

Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.

The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?

One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.

The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.

The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand.  But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.

But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.

Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.

Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.

For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.

A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.

Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

So, I’m back after only, what two months now?  I’m not dead.  A little zombified sure, but not dead.  So, behind schedule as always, being crushed slowly by work and classes and all that.  Nothing big, just the usual.  But I do have a review for you lovely people, isn’t that exciting.  Here we go and don’t mind the rust.

Amateur detective Anne Marshall and her fiancé Jason Perry are headed down to Florida for Thanks Giving vacation with his parents only to find that his mother’s best friend Maude has been murdered.  The only clue is a fragment of a nursery rhyme pinned to her shirt.  “Pocket full of poesies.”  Anne dives into the mystery, finding out that the victim’s brother had been killed months earlier with a similar note attached to his body.

Jackie Fullerton’s Ring Around the Rosy is, at its core, a book that doesn’t seem to quite know what it is.  It combines the out matched heroine of a cozy mystery with urban fantasy’s just kind of there magic with a romance novel’s dead end love triangle.  Anne makes for an interesting heroine because she knows that she shouldn’t be digging into the police’s investigation.  Her friends tell her not to, her dead father tells her not to, but she does it anyway apparently because she’s the heroine.  So she stumbles around trying to figure out what could cause someone to try to wipe out an entire family.  And of course she’s torn between the comfortable love that she has with her fiancé and the shock of lust she feels for Detective Reynolds.  She’s also teamed up with her father’s ghost who, despite later in the novel revelations about the nature of the other side, seems to mostly exist to be a plot dump and to comfort her about her attraction to Detective Reynolds.  So the book kind of feels mushed together between several genres in ways that don’t really work for me.

The villains are also a bit of a problem.   Carl Martin is teamed up with his own ghost, Jeremiah, in trying to murder this family.  This could have been awesome if the protagonists had been aware of Jeremiah earlier in the novel.  As it stands, Carl is being pushed to take revenge for Jeremiah because of their mutual dead families and grief, but Carl and the reader are the only ones aware of Jeremiah for the first three quarters of the book.  It makes it impossible for the protagonists to figure much out, so they spend pages and pages spinning their wheels until accidents happen to move the plot along.  Plus, again, Anne’s father was following people to find out as much as he could why, after they identified Carl, wasn’t he aware of the other ghost?  Especially given that Jeremiah seems to have known everything he needed to regardless of whether he should’ve or not.

Given all that, Ring Around the Rosy winds up being just sort of flatly mediocre.  It isn’t bad even with a few instances of overly romanticized dialogue and plot troubles, but it isn’t good either despite decent side characters and what could honestly be an interesting dynamic between Anne and her father.  So where does this leave me?  I’m honestly not sure.  As I’ve said, it isn’t a bad novel and some of my issues with it almost definitely come from having read it out of sequence, but I don’t think I would read the other two based on this one.  All in all, it’s a three out of five book that could have used some whittling down and focusing on its plot.

Halloween Giveaway

Because Halloween is awesome and books are awesome I decided to combine the two and run a giveaway from Halloween until the Saturday after.  I’ve got three prize packs up for grabs, all of them books, all of them well worth reading.  And you, my readers, get to choose which ones you want to enter to win.

The prizes are:

Murder and Mayhem:

A copy each of Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon and Erica Spindler’s See Jane Die.

Behind the Masquerade:

A copy each of Rachel Caine’s Ill Wind and Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

The final prize is a copy of Ilona Andrews’ Gunmetal Magic.

So, how do you enter to win?  It’s easy, follow this blog either by email or through WordPress, comment here telling me what prize you want to be entered for and something about Halloween, then check back Sunday evening when I post the winners.  You can get an optional extra entry by also following me on Twitter @Tymp3st, but that will not qualify you to win on its own.

Best of luck everybody and have a great Halloween!

Alright everyone, I’ve got the winners for last week’s giveaway of Tess Gerritsen’s Last to Die!

Congratulations to Michele Buxton and Kaitlyn Aucoin!

To receive your copy of Last to Die, please email me your mailing address at tympestbooks(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Last to Die Giveaway

So after over a month of life eating my spare time, between back to school sales at work and moving back to college, all it takes to get me back into the swing of things is a blue moon and a really awesome opportunity for a book giveaway.  Easy, right?

I’ve got five copies of Tess Gerritsen’s newest Rizzoli and Isles novel, Last to Die, up for grabs.   All you have to do is follow the blog and post in the comments telling me something about why you want to win.  You can even get a bonus entry if you want to follow me on Twitter @Tymp3st, but that isn’t a requirement for entry.

The giveaway will run from today until next Friday at midnight central standard time.  This giveaway will be for the United States only.

Best of luck every one and good reading.

The winner of one copy of The Square Root of Murder, as chosen by a random number generator, is Gotham Girl!  Congratulations!

You have three days to email me a mailing address at tympestbooks(at)yahoo(dot)com before another winner is chosen.

Thanks for joining everyone.

Quick Reminder

Just a quick post about the book giveaway ending tonight at midnight.  Just post something on the review for The Probability of Murder for a chance to win a copy of the first book in Ada Madison’s Professor Sophie Knowles series, The Square Root of Murder.

Best of luck everyone!

So, twenty days and no words.  Sorry guys, I’ve got no excuse and no reason to get around this one.  I do have a new review this time though, so that’s a good thing.

Another Friday party in the Benjamin Franklin lounge and Professor Sophie Knowles is looking forward to her weekend getaway with her medevac pilot boyfriend Bruce Granville when everyone’s cell phones start going off at once.  Someone’s being carried out of the library on a stretcher, dead.  Sophie’s friend Charlotte Crocker has been murdered and it looks like the librarian everyone loved might not have been as squeaky clean as Sophie thought.

Ada Madison’s The Probability of Murder is a good quick read, a soft mystery with a likeable heroine who manages to solve the crime while still worrying about her ice climbing boyfriend and being a good teacher.  The story was good, though I could have done with a bit less of Sophie doing busy work to distract herself.  I enjoyed the character interactions and would like to see more about how Sophie maintains a friendship with seemingly flighty Ariana.  Not sure how I felt about the character detail of Sophie writing word problems as a side job/ hobby, it seems like the kind of thing that would come up again later but it wasn’t used much here.  Overall, my problems with the book were more pacing related than anything.

On the other hand, I really liked the characters.  A few of the students and professors seemed like the folks that every college has which helped make Henley read true.  The atmosphere was good, very small town or artsy part of a small college town.  I’d definitely read more of the series.

I give The Probability of Murder a four out of five, it earns it.