Existence by Abbi Glines


A high school girl loves a boy she shouldn’t. He loves her too, even though to love her is wrong because he is not human. Human girl repeatedly, and sometimes a bit too rashly, in my opinion, offers to die for love object. Sound familiar? Well it shouldn’t, because this is the totally originally and not cliché at all plot of Existence, an ebook only offering from Abbi Glines. Without giving too much away, the story’s heroine, Pagan (really, could no one talk her out of that name?), is unique because she can see souls who have died and, one day, one of the souls actually speaks to her. She falls hopelessly in love with said soul (whose name, I’m sorry to say, is Dank Walker), and then they encounter numerous obstacles in the way of (cue foreboding music) the love that the universe forbids.

I sound jaded, I know. But it is just that, if you are going to do something that has been done a lot—ahem, like a teen supernatural forbidden love story—you better have an original angle. And the thing is, Glines actually has one, but her treatment of the material does not make it feel original. It feels like we took out vampires and put in Dank Walker, whatever he is. The book’s issues have a lot to do with timing and editing. Glines makes two major errors: the first is to drag out a nonessential romantic plot in the beginning of the book; the second is that she writes her reveal of Dank’s supernaturalness like a detective fiction writer who can’t wait for the end of the book to say who the killer is. So Glines gives it away, hint by heavy-handed hit, until everyone in the book knows the secret but the heroine we are supposed to think is intelligent. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover what it’s like to slog through the middle of this book.

To compare Pagan to the lover of vampires who will not be named is to suggest that Glines’ heroine suffers from similar martyr-like symptoms, and she does. Glines does offer something of a twist on teenage wallflower “martyrdom is how I show my boyfriend I love him” at the end of this book, but not before she offers her adolescent female readers a view of a heroine whose most powerful act of bravery is to offer to throw away her own life for the sake of the boy she loves.

This review may seem a bit harsh. Perhaps it is because I saw promise in the premise of the book and it failed so completely to live up to its potential. Since is the beginning of a planned trilogy (the sequel, Predestined, is already out), we have more to come from Abbi Glines on the subject of all things relating to the soul.

Why you might love this book: Your craving for forbidden supernatural love stories is insatiable. You consume them all with abandon, no matter how sick you may feel afterwards.

Why you might not love this book: You have decided that some cravings should only be satisfied with goods of the highest quality instead of the greatest quantity.

Rating: Two out of five black cats.



Publisher: Wild Child Publishing (www.wildchildpublishing.com) (December 2011)


My dear readers (or reader, for more accuracy),

It has been quite a while since my last installment. Alas, I have been spending time with books of quite a different nature than those I review on this blog, which is both exciting and somewhat depressing, as I haven’t been getting my fix of escapist literature. But I am back, and for good reason: Maggie Steifvater’s The Scorpio Races.

The Scorpio Races tracks the parallel stories of Kate “Puck” Connolly and Sean Kendrick who are entered into an annual race involving monstrous carnivorous water horses, the capaill uisce (CAP-ul ISH-kuh), that emerge from the sea once a year on the island of Thisby. Both the island and the story are mysteriously out of time—Thisby has cars and radios, but no cell phones or internet—and out of place, attached to a vague mainland that seems something like Ireland. The island, the horses, and the race are fickle and volatile influences for Sean and Puck: they bring the greatest moments of joy in measure with unparalleled tragedy.

Steifvater, best known for her Shiver trilogy, provides an excellently paced and tightly written story in The Scorpio Races, in a story that is wholly original and unmatched by her previous writings. Her two main characters, Puck, in particular, are fully realized in a confident yet sparsely written manner. She provides us with meaningful details without overdoing it and she manages to tell a violent tale without letting the violence overpower the story.

While told from the perspectives of Puck and Sean, the novel is filled with memorable characters of both the two and four-legged variety. No stranger to describing animals as characters (i.e. Shiver trilogy), Stiefvater’s descriptions of the monstrous horses that captivate as they mutilate haunt the shoreline of the novel’s imaginary island: “Froth drips down their lips and chests, looking like sea foam, hiding the teeth that will tear into men later. They are beautiful and deadly, loving us and hating us.” Kendrick’s horse, Corr, is the heart of the depiction of the capaill uisce, and the relationship between horse and rider weighs as significantly as those between people.

One of the best things about this story, in my opinion, is the fact that I can end a review without saying “this is the first book in a planned trilogy.” The book stands alone, it needs no addendum.

Why you might love this book: Haunting and perfectly paced, a wonderful story with unforgettable characters.

Why you might not love this book: Equinophobia (fear of horses).

Rating: Five out of five black cats.


Publisher: Scholastic Press (October 2011)

ISBN-10: 054522490X

ISBN-13: 978-0545224901

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Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare (Infernal Devices #2)

Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare’s second installment in her Infernal Devices series, is easily her best work to date. In most series, the sequel (especially in a planned trilogy) often lacks any sense of urgency or completion; the author merely sets up all the pins so that they may be knocked down in the finale. While Clare certainly has left herself with plenty of pins, she offers in Clockwork Prince a complex and captivating book in its own right.

Clockwork Prince continues the story of Tessa Gray, a sixteen-year old American who, when she travels to London to live with her brother, finds herself entangled in the strange  Downworld of vampires, werewolves, demons, and warlocks. Tessa may even be a warlock, she learns, as she has the ability to shape-shift. In Clockwork Prince, Tessa and the team at the London Institute of Shadowhunters continue their pursuit of Mortmain, the adversary so carefully hidden in Clockwork Angel. Tessa, Will, and Jem delve into Mortmain’s past, through which they inadvertently learn about their own painful histories.
Clare carefully opens the doors to the mysteries behind her characters—who are Tessa’s parents, why did Will leave his family, why does Mortmain want to destroy the Shadowhunters—and offers the reader new quandaries with which to grapple. And, as readers of the first book will have seen coming, Clare expertly crafts the problematic attachments between Will, Tessa, and Jem. In the Mortal Instruments series, Clare navigated the murky hearts of Jace, Clary, and Simon, but (SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS SERIES) Simon was always just a distraction on the way to Clary getting together with Jace. With this love triangle, Clare has raised the stakes, impressively so, and the outcome is not necessarily a given.

Clare’s writing has also improved dramatically from the first series. Her sense of pacing creates dramatic tension and her characters’ dialogue feel more natural (although, if one more person “spins on her heel” to dramatically exit a room, I may lose it). My friends who are Victorian literature scholars may take issue with some of the historical liberties she has taken with her places and characters, but for the rest of us, Clare has done enough research to give us the look and feel of 19th-century London. She also offers us snippets of from period writers at the beginning of each of her chapters, and her characters discuss their favorite contemporary literature (Dickens, Tennyson), which gives the book a feeling of verisimilitude.

If you haven’t picked up this series yet, definitely give it a go!

Why you might love this book: Cassandra Clare at her best (so far)!

Why you might not love this book: If you have an aversion to historical fiction, you may not love the backdrop for the story.

Rating: Five out of five black cats!

Publisher: McElderry Books (November 2011)

ISBN: 1416975888 (ISBN13: 9781416975885)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy #1)

My favorite book of last year in the paranormal romance genre is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The funny thing is, I hated the book when I began reading. The story starts off sounding trite and ridiculous: a witch falls in love with a vampire, there’s a mysterious secret society of creatures out to destroy their love, she has a photographic memory, they’re both really into yoga? Ugh. One of the most irritating and unlikely things we are asked to believe is one that only a current or former academic might recognize: the heroine got tenure at Yale???  That’s almost as ridiculous as the fact that James Franco is currently a doctoral student in their English Department (yes, that one unfortunately is true). Needless to say, the first fifty pages of this book piqued my annoyance rather than my interest…and then something happened. I was swept away by the story, compelled to read late into the night by an increasingly complex and riveting plot.

The book follows the romance blossoming between Diana Bishop, historian and non-practicing witch, and Matthew Clairmont, scientist and vampire, as they navigate increasingly dangerous waters stirred up when Diana manages to call up a bewitched manuscript from the stacks at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Author Deborah Harkness, an actual historian who teaches European History and the History of Science at UCLA, legitimizes her characters with her extensive history chops, which is one of the reasons why this book stands heads and shoulders above so many other entries into this genre. Harkness hasn’t just “done her homework” in order to write a book; she is quite literally an expert on the subject about which she writes.

But the book’s charm lies outside of whether or not it is historically accurate. Harkness writes with such warmth about her characters that they, for lack of a better term, feel like home. The book really hits its stride in the final third, which takes place in upstate New York, where we meet several of the books most memorable characters.
As it turns out, the book is the first in a planned trilogy (the All Souls Trilogy), so we must all wait together for the next installment of the further adventures of Diana and Matthew.

Why you might love this book: Harkness has crafted a captivating and compelling story that is a pleasure to read.

Why you might not love this book: You have to get through the almost obnoxious introduction of our too perfect heroine. Once you get to know her, she’s really okay, I promise.

Rating: Five out of five black cats.



Publisher: Viking Adult (February 2011)

ISBN-10: 0670022411

ISBN-13: 978-0670022410

To Kill a Warlock by H.P. Mallory

I really wanted to love To Kill a Warlock by H.P. Mallory, the first book in the Dulcie O’Neil series, because it came very highly recommended to me by the arcane reader’s favorite source for new books. I wanted to love it so much that I went on to read all three books in the Dulcie O’Neil series just to make sure I wasn’t missing the whole point (I am nothing if not a dogged and loyal researcher). At this juncture, however, I am going to have to come out and say it: this series is just not worth reading, and I will tell you why (with a bit of exposition about my philosophy on writing and reading–with apologies to my loyal readers).

I started this blog because I find my fascination with popular paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. a hilarious juxtaposition to my hard-won credentials as an English Ph.D. and a scholar of literature. I read contemporary science fiction/fantasy for fun, while researching Shakespeare was my “work.” That being said, some of the most enjoyable literature that I have read has been the more modern fiction (The Magicians, for example, and even The Hunger Games). Good fiction isn’t and doesn’t have to be highbrow: it just has to be good.

Granted, a lot of the books I’m reviewing might not stand up to severe literary standards, and they do not have to: they are enjoyable, in part, because they are easy to read. Good fiction and good storytelling, however, should not be impeded by bad or hasty writing, and that is the problem with the Dulcie O’Neil series (now we are going back to the review).

H.P. Mallory has created a fun and interesting world in which supernatural creatures have been out of the closet for 50 years and are regulated by the Association of Netherworld Creatures (ANC) in whose employ is her heroine, Dulcie O’Neil, a sassy fairy who works as a Regulator (think law enforcement) in this world of vampires, Lokis, goblins, and witches. Even with new twists, however, the series feels like an echo, repeating (albeit with a difference) so many other books of the same ilk. While the plot travels along quickly enough, there is always a niggling sense that we, as readers, have been here before and we wonder, perhaps, if maybe we already read this book and just forgot about it.

In the book, Dulcie dreams of becoming a writer of romance novels (and even a paranormal romance), and she completes her new book in under two months, all while working full-time. I couldn’t help but wonder if both Dulcie and Ms. Mallory should reconsider their timeline and perhaps take some more time in crafting their masterpieces. Although we never read Dulcie’s book, the sense I kept getting from To Kill a Warlock was that it was hastily and unconscientiously put together (a conversation about whether this is an indictment of the whole epublishing phenom we will have to reserve for a later date). All that being said, craft improves and writing gets better, so I hope this is not the last we’ll here from Ms. Mallory.

Why you might love this book: The plot is entertaining and fans of Mallory will no doubt love it.

Why you might not love this book: The writing is weak and it distracts from enjoyment of the book.

Rating: Two out of five black cats.

Publisher: Epublished only

Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor

Reading Daughter of Smoke and Bones, the first installment in a new trilogy by Laini Taylor, is worth the frustration of the agonizing wait for the next two installments. The book, a spectacularly written YA paranormal, seamlessly integrates science fiction and reality and offers a heroine who is neither a wallflower nor defined by her sassy quips, which is often what passes for “character” in some of these hastily marketed books. In Karou, the heroine, Taylor has created a unique and captivating individual, one to whom the reader can connect and whose story we are eager to follow.

Karou, however, is only one of the many reasons why Daughter of Smoke and Bones is a must read for fans of the paranormal/scifi genre. Taylor has created a richly layered world that both complements and stands in opposition to our own, and the characters she chooses to inhabit this world are as memorable as their environs.

The difficulty in reviewing this book is not to give too much away. Karou, an art student in Prague with naturally growing blue hair, runs mysterious errands for her adopted family of otherworldly black market dealers who specialize in wishes and trade in teeth. Karou’s identity is the biggest reveal of the book, as is the truth about the black hands that have been appearing burned on doors all over the world. While some of the plot devices are not unique, Taylor has breathed new life into them, rendering them, if not original, unforgettable.

Why you might love this book: Creative and memorable in character and plot, this book is a great read.

Why you might not love this book: If you hate waiting for the next installment, you may want to hold off until Taylor complete the trilogy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 black cats.


Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN-10: 0316134023

ISBN-13: 978-0316134026

Drink Deep by Chloe Neill

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been waiting for the arrival Drink Deep, the fifth installment of Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampire series since I read all four of the previous books in the series in two days over the summer. I would also be lying if I, like most of Neill’s intelligent readers, weren’t waiting with two specific questions in mind (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the fourth book in the series):

  1. How is Neill going to bring master vampire, love interest, and man candy, Ethan Sullivan, back from the dead?
  2. How many books will it take to do so?

While I am certainly not able to answer these questions in this review, I can tell you that, as readers, we are destined to do some more waiting in this book. We are waiting, endless pages, for Merit to quit mourning Sullivan and get back to being the sassy “Ponytailed Avenger” that has made her one of the leading lights in the paranormal/urban fantasy lit market. We are waiting for Neill to allow her heroine to solve the latest “mystery” offered for this book: this time it is the natural landscape of Chicago that has gone haywire, with lakes turning black and skies turning red. Perhaps most frustrating about all of this waiting is that Neill shows her hand a bit too early in the book, and the reader will have figured out what is causing all the trouble long before the book gets around to revealing it.

All this waiting, however, is not without perks. Merit, even languishing in grief, is better than no Merit at all, and there are a number of entertaining side plots to keep us entertained. Moreover, Neill leaves the reader with a satisfying ending with a big enough cliffhanger that this reader will definitely be coming back for the next installment.

Why you might love this book: In a word: Merit. Also, you knew you were going to read it anyway!
Why you might not love this book: Neill has dug herself a bit of a hole here, as this book has to stand next to the other books in the series, and it just doesn’t have quite the same sass and style as its predecessors.

Rating: Three out of five black cats.

Publisher: Penguin USA

ISBN: 9780451234865