The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

4.5 stars - slow to start but the last half - especially the last quarter - make it all worth it. 

The Taxidermist's Daughter was publicized as being in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe, which is what grabbed me. Finally, a good dark twisty novel! And it's a good thing they advertised that, or I would never have made it past chapter one. The prologue felt fake and choppy (and really can be skipped without any impact to the plot, so I recommend that). Chapter One wasn't much better, but at least the character reference improved. Once things started gathering steam, it was much more enjoyable; it took a few days for me to get past the first few chapters, but I finished the second half of the book in one sitting. 

I was also pleased that my pre-read guess at the plot was wrong. With a title like "Taxidermist's Daughter" and description of "Poe-like" I immediately went with a re-write of Cask of Amontillado and assumed we would find the Deep Dark Secret was that someone had been taxidermied and hidden away in the house, and that was the memory Connie had suppressed. 

Knowing that the ending is worth it, I encourage you to push through the lackluster beginning. I may even check out another of Mosse's books. If anyone has read them and can recommend a good one, let me know! 

- Alexis

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June in Review

I'm pretty sure June was only two weeks long - definitely doesn't feel like a whole month has passed since I last posted! Lots going on so here goes:

Serial Killers! - I read a trilogy of books by Barry Lyga, which is a YA trilogy that follows Jasper Dent, the son of a serial killer as he tries to prove he isn't following in the footsteps of Dear Old Dad. The first one caught my eye because of the title: I Hunt Killers. It was a good mix of mystery and thriller that probably is horror for the YA genre. I liked it enough to reserve the second and third books from the library. 

The second book was my favorite. And I didn't think I would ever say that about a series, ever. But the whole concept was really cool. I can't tell you what without completely spoiling things, but it's the kind of thing I would like to see again with maybe another type? (That will make sense once you read it. Really.) And the ending was great! It was quite clear that it was a hook for book 3, but Lyga did it in such a way that you're not sure if what was wrapped up just a chapter ago is really solved, and how Jasper is going to handle the current situation. 

There were things I didn't like, but nothing that ruined the experience for me, and I don't want to ruin the experience for you so I won't detail them here. Final review: 4 stars. Absolutely worth reading once. The magic is gone after you know whodunit, so I won't re-read them, but I'm glad I pulled it off the shelf.


Akitis! - Progress is happening (is progressing?). Akitis is currently having a rather infuriating chat with a crazy man. Nyria is trying to find a new hireling since Akitis killed her first choice (RIP Dailon). Every time I sit down to write more of The Shadowknives, I get excited. It's such a great feeling! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Look for some more behind-the-scenes on it soon!


Old Favorites! - Several years ago, my mom introduced me to Dick Francis' novels, which would become my all-time favorite mystery books. Most of them are stand-alone, but there are a few that share protagonists. Odds Against and Whip Hand star ex-steeplechase-jockey-turned-PI Sid Halley, and I think I've read those books 15 times each. They're still good. Parts of them are a little dated, but they hold up so well as stories I don't even care. If you're in the market for a new author, I recommend Dick Francis. Final review for Sid's stories: 5 stars. 


Kallizar! - I submitted Fire in the Blood to some more agents, and received the related rejection letters. Such is life. There are a few requests still outstanding, so we'll see what happens. 


Gaming! - The Husband and I picked up Elder Scrolls Online for the Xbox last week, so we've been running around questing it up and sometimes saving the world. It's a good game but oddly difficult to play together, considering it's an MMO. Most of the time we end up just playing at the same time and meeting up every so often in town to do trading. 


- Alexis

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A Few to Review

A while back I posted some mid-book thoughts on Dark Rooms, and not-quite-a-while-ago I mentioned I was reading Bloodrealms. I've finished both (ish) and am now prepared to imbue you with my opinions! So get ready. Or don't. Your choice.   

Let's just get to the actual reviews. 

First up - Lili Anolik's Dark Rooms

It just didn't hold up for me. As much as I tried to sympathize with the main character, and no matter how much I told myself I wanted to know whodunit, the truth is that I just couldn't care. No one was likeable, and the "mystery" wasn't gripping. I finally skipped to the end to see if Grace (whose name I just had to look up because I already have forgotten her) kept the baby or not. Found out one thing about Grace's mom which made me think for about two seconds before going, "Yeah, that makes sense and really isn't a surprise." and was disappointed in the blah ending Anolik used. I didn't see any character growth to speak of, which pretty much kills a book for me. Can't recommend it. Sad to say it. (Also, I was extremely sad to be so disappointed by a book which has a murder take place in a cemetery that is next door to the main character. There could be So Much Cool from that, but... nope.)


Next - Aurora Whittet's Bloodrealms

Short version: I think the editor was pressed for time on this one, and it shows. :(

Longer version: The beginning showed such promise! Everything building up to a fight among her four suitors to win Ash's hand, in a dark and foreboding place called the Bloodrealms. Should have been an excellent read culminating in an intense fight to the death. 


I got so tired of Ash's perpetual worrying that I skimmed the second half of the book, stopping to read the last few chapters. I read the Big Twist (which, by the way, I knew was coming since they introduced the character in the beginning), and, based on the ending of this book, I don't think I'll be picking up the last one. There just doesn't feel like a reason to - it feels more like Whittet wanted to write a trilogy so she stretched for something to fill up space in a plot she had that would have covered two books quite nicely. 

I wish Whittet the best and hope that people less bothered by grammatical errors and typos than me will enjoy the book, but this is one series that is done for me. 



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Three (and a half?) Stars for Bloodmark

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Aurora Whittet's Bloodmark and Bloodrealms books in a giveaway, and now that I've finished the first book and let it simmer in my brain for a few days, I'm ready to review it. 

I'll start with the cons, because let's get the negative out of the way first and save the good stuff for last.

There was so much potential to this book, but I was disappointed by what should have been a powerful main character. Ashling is described as a defiant, strong young woman, where in the beginning of the book she stands up against her father, the king of a werewolf clan, and defies the centuries-old tradition of arranged marriage- without being nasty or disrespectful. Good job for taking a stand! But almost immediately after that, she becomes wishy-washy to the point of boredom. She can't make up her mind about how she feels - or should feel - about Grey (the other main character and obvious love interest), She even changes her mind three times in the same paragraph. What? Some indecision is normal, understandable, especially when it's her first love and she's not sure how her family will react and even what exactly is going on with Grey himself. But there was nothing to merit the whiplash-inducing ride she took us on. 

Probably because of that, Ashling sort of fell to the wayside in my interest. Grey was far more compelling as a character. Maybe if the book had been written from his perspective, or in third person limited from Ash's perspective, it would have been easier to like Ash, but as it stands now, I found myself wishing for Grey's point of view instead. 

The ending was also a bit disappointing, mostly because the fight with the Big Bad was over much too quickly considering Ash's entire life had been building up to that moment. I thought I had skipped a few pages by accident, but no, it's just over that quickly. Some more build-up and tension and fighting would have been nice. 

There was also some railroading going on at the end. I accepted that Grey could follow Ash's trail because of her werewolfy scent, but how does that explain how he managed to track her from America to Iceland? The only thing that he says is that it took him a while to find her scent. But she got on a freaking airplane and flew halfway across the world. How could Grey possibly track her scent? Him finding a plane ticket stub or a receipt or bribing an airline official would have been more believable. 

And finally, there were "relationships" with other characters that seemed to be thrown in just for the sake of having the full gambit of possibilities - Ash's core friends who, though human, will stick with her forever; the inevitable "betrayal" of one friend when Ash makes her decision to stay with Grey (seriously, what was up with Kate? That made absolutely no sense whatsoever. She never gave any hint that she wanted Grey, or that she liked Lacey, or whatever reason she had for not staying friends with Ash.); the ex-girlfriend of the love interest who hates Ash just because; the bad/uncaring/"evil" father who doesn't seem to care about Ash's well-being (she's recovering from a silver attack and he comes in to say "Hey, remember that guy I promised you to? You'd better make good on that." Not a word on how he's glad she's alive. What?)

Ok. Now for the good stuff.

As with most YA novels, there was insta-love in this one, too. BUT- I actually liked how this one was explained. Werewolves look for their actual soul-mates, and when they find them, their souls actually bind together, creating a bond that connects them on a deeper level than regular, plain human love. Nice. Now, when there's an instant connection between Ash and Grey, and we know Grey is going to be the love interest, it's ok. And even though they don't know what's going on, we do, so we aren't left with the usual "I just love him even though I just met him and no one else can ever understand our love!" feeling. 

Grey. His character is very cool. He has some very real struggles going on between his mother's side and his father's, and he has to make a tough decision with limited knowledge. Applause for being strong enough to make that choice! Maybe he'll be able to change the Bloodsuckers? (The Bloodsuckers are Whittet's twist on vampires, but instead of the typical undead thing, they're a group of humans who prey on werewolves and drink their blood to gain their powers. More like super-humans than vampires. Very neat.)

Mund. Ash's brother is great. For one, he's willing to go through high school again just to protect his sister (a sacrifice all by itself). :) For another, he's willing to give Grey a chance despite Grey's background and Mund's instincts. His relationship with his wife Tegan is also amazing - I really liked reading their dynamic. It gave a good illustration for how the werewolf-soul-bind worked and what it meant to have that kind of bond. 


Overall, the other characters in Bloodmark made up for the frustrating parts of Ash, and as long as Whittet expands on their relationships, the Bloodmark Saga is well worth the read. 


Thoughts on Dark Rooms

I haven't finished the book yet, but I can tell you that I am reading primarily to cheer against the main character of Lili Anolik's Dark Rooms

The blurb on the back of my ARC describes this book as a murder mystery: 

Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed.

Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.

However, I found that once the murder was wrapped up by the suicide note, the main character Grace does not go into any kind of questioning or show any determination to solve the "unsolved murder" at all. In fact, nothing more is mentioned for about 80 pages; instead, the only hook that tries to keep you in place is the mysterious paternity question - which Grace doesn't seem to think about and thus has yet to be pursued in any meaningful way. 

The tipping point for me from "this could be a great book" to "I really hope Grace gets screwed out of her goal" was when she decided that her reward for solving her sister's murder was an abortion for herself:

"...I would have to forfeit my life as I knew it, keep the baby. That was my vow: make someones pay for Nica's death or pay for it myself. No justice for her, no abortion for me."

Really? I don't see how getting vengeance for your sister's death is the same thing as terminating your pregnancy - especially when you don't seem to care that you're pregnant anyway. I'm also against abortion in general, so someone who just spontaneously decides to get one "as a reward" doesn't exactly endear herself to me. Grace has given me no reason to side with her so far (actually, I care far more about Nica, and I already know her fate since that was the premise of the book). If things start to pick up now that Grace has decided to get off her mopey ass and do something, I might finish the book, but if she continues telling me the same blah story then Dark Rooms will end up on the did-not-finish pile of forgettable books... A sad fate for what could have been (and really should have been) a great mystery story.


- Alexis

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