Bitsy Bling Books

A Writer's Opinion About What to Read. Book Reviews, Recommendations and Bookish Stuff.

The Never List by Koethi Zan. Eerily Similar to Ohio Kidnapping Case?

The Never List - Koethi Zan

Never get in a car with a strangerNever ignore your instinctsAnd, never leave your friends behind. The events that take place in The Never List will undoubtedly hit a nerve because they make use of the deep dark monsters that haunt most females worst nightmares. Conjured from waking fears, this dark horror mystery comes full circle leaving everyone, including the characters, wondering how they got back to the very place they swore they'd never go again. Another never. Never return to the scene of a crime

The main boogieman is Jack Derber, a respected scholar who preys on young co-eds by using various abduction M.O's, but all in the name of science.  However, the art of abduction is not the end, but the beginning of a horror trip filled with years of sadistic torture both psychologically and physically. Up until recently, I might have thought it difficult and fictionally too cunning for a single predator to hold three victims captive in a house for years. What makes this fictional horror even more chilling is its timing. It is eerily similar to the recent Ohio kidnapping case (May 6, 2013) involving victims, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight where an incredible unearthing of a real-life house of horrors occurred. It's hard not to draw comparisons and let the mind wander from fictional depiction to real-life imagination and sympathy for those victims.  

In most cases, I really like when I can connect a book to current events, but given the crimes, I'd gladly take pure fiction. Admittedly, the current event connection does heighten the fear and horror factor. However, the subject matter might be challenging for some readers to cope with if sensitive to such topics. The graphic details are after the fact descriptions, but still unsettling.

For the sake of the plot, it is important for the characters to take risks, but given their trauma it is a little hard to believe these particular woman could go through with some of the challenges of privately investigating. Without spoiling anything, several events occur that would cause anyone to crack up, but a person with phobias and severe PTSD, well, I think fiction definitely stretches the believability strand in the name of plot line in this book. But, who am I to say? As I mentioned, prior to the Amanda Berry case I would have thought the entire premise hovered mid-range on the believable scale, but humanity has proven me wrong once again! No one can say just how someone will recover or act after surviving these type of events, simply because there is not enough survivors to base a study on. Thank goodness!  I should mention there are a few twists - the first being a bit too convenient and the second is pretty good.  I admit, I guessed only half of it and was happily surprised at the reveal. 

The Sweetest Dark

The Sweetest Dark -

On a scale of one to five, The Sweetest Dark falls smack dab in the middle for me. I liked the historical aspects of the book, but wasn't as excited about the fantasy portion of the read. I have nothing against dragons, but the shifting in this book just didn't grab me. This one leans more towards the Disney-rated teen read. If you're hoping for something darker, this won't fulfill your hopes - but, it is a good book for younger readers interested in the genre. Those who like the dragon-fantasy realm will probably favor this one more than historical fiction fans. 

 

The Sweetest Dark is different because it combines historical fiction, airships, dukes, boarding schools, orphans, alchemy, magic and dragons all rolled into a single plot line. Seems impossible, but Abe does just that. What is ordinary is the obvious love triangle, poor-orphan characterization and snobby elite. It's one half Jane Eyre with equal parts alchemist meets dragon. 

Google Reader Gets Fired ~ Don't forget to Make the Switch to BLOGLOVIN'!

Google Reader (GFC) recently announced the service would cease to exist on July 1st as part of Google’s “Spring Cleaning” initiative. That means GFC follows and subscribers have two weeks to save their blog following lists. If you're like me, you follow hundreds of blogs (mostly book bloggers) and trying to import or 're-do' a list...well, the thought gave me a migraine.  Plus, as a blogger we've worked so hard to get fans to click that button to follow and read our sites.  No one wants to lose out. I actually joined Bloglovin' a few months ago. I admit I was having a love/hate relationship with Google Reader and found Bloglovin' to be easier and better to use.  It's super easy to add your blog to their site if it's not already listed, and to follow and categorize blogs. And yep, they have apps for phones and ipads too. 


How to Import Your RSS subscriptions  from Google Reader to Bloglovin’

For your blog reading enjoyment and convenience, here is Bloglovin’s new two-click RSS import:
First, click here:
Then it will bring you to this page:Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 6.40.13 PM
Click that blue button that says “Import from Google Reader”
OMG that was way too easy!  Thanks Bloglovin' and good-bye Google Reader.  I think this is the start of a wonderful blogship.


How to Move Your Google Reader RSS Feed to Bloglovin’
My new favorite reader: a Bloglovin’ tutorial
Follow ABM on Bloglovin'
Replacing google friends connect with Bloglovin'

Original post from email notice and heartifb 

Flannery O'Connor and her peacocks - her biggest life hobby
Flannery O'Connor and her peacocks - her biggest life hobby

Born of Illusion: Magicians, Mediums and Mentalists

Born of Illusion - Teri Brown
One would think that the most intriguing aspect of Born of Illusion involves mediumship and magic, but surprisingly it is the mother/daughter dynamic that carries the major weight. Anna's relationship with her mother is complicated by love, dependency, survival, deceit and admiration. The complexity is rich and thematically tuned. Unfortunately, the other relationships in the story are not as well-developed, and because of this, the love triangle treads in the shallow end of the pool. 

To my delight, the story is based loosely on bits of historical details and famous people from the era including figures such as Harry Houdini. Fans of the great magician may recall that after the loss of his beloved mother, Houdini went on a mission to expose all fraudulent individuals claiming to have psychic abilities. He attended several seances and revealed the tricks used to fool the participants. Interestingly, the lesser known Ghost Club and Society of Psychical research are also introduced. As presented in the story, these two groups historically began with similar intentions and even cross-membership, but overtime diverged. I thought this was fascinating and immediately Googled the groups. For me, it was worth reading this book just to learn new nuggets of paranormal history. Here is the link to my blog post, which was inspired by what I found in my research of the subject: The Ghost Club

The first quarter of the book moved rather slow and had me at times praying that'd it get better, which it did. Don't expect to be wowed by clever misdirection. The twist in not in the mystery or reveal, but rather grows from the coming-of-age development of Anna. Anna's character is the one who ultimately grows and by doing so, some of the others are forced to change.

All in all, a solid young adult read that slides toward the teen end of the spectrum due to the clean nature of the telling. The violence depicted includes a few thrown punches and the sexual content is merely a chaste kiss. The historical content is interesting and is easily woven into the overall plot. 

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*ARC provided by Balzer & Bray courtesy of Amazon Vine
 

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The Practical Psychic: A No-Nonsense Guide to Developing Your Natural Intuitive Abilities

The Practical Psychic: A No-Nonsense Guide to Developing Your Natural Intuitive Abilities - Noreen Renier Wasn't what I was hoping for. Really basic stuff.

The Skull and the Nightingale: A Novel

The Skull and the Nightingale: A Novel - Michael Irwin The Skull and the Nightingale captured my attention when it claimed that it fell in tradition with Liaisons Dangereuses and echoed The Crimson Petal and the White, which just happens to be one of my favorite novels of all time. I must say, with such grand references, I opened the book with high expectations. If I had a red pen, I would go back and cross out all literary comparisons along with the words, 'chilling,' 'deliciously dark,' and 'exciting.' Thus, leaving the not so captivating blurb of, 'A literary novel of manipulation, sex and seduction set in eighteenth-century England.' That accurately depicts what you can truly expect from the book.Much of the story is communicated through letters sent between characters. A few italicized letters would have added a creative element, but by using this continued mode of delivery throughout the novel...well, it becomes tedious, limits POV and kills any active tension. Several times a recap of events (out of necessity) is repeated in letter form. Sure, some detailing is left out to show the withholding of intimate details, but I certainly did not want to read any scene twice.There is potential for the plot. I believe it has all the bones needed in the basic structure for it to live up to the adjectives given, but unfortunately, the more exciting, urgent period drama twists were not taken. Half way through the book I was convinced the godfather was a sociopath, which would have been fabulous, but the old man abandons his strangeness toward the end. It turns out he's just another eccentric pervert. In fact, all the quirky characters are domesticated rather easily or written off completely. The author took the least imaginative path for the 'twist' and to my disappointment, made the plot a touch predictable. The sexual scenes consist of aggressive grunting and border on descriptions of rationalized rape.If you've read the novels mentioned above, you might find this one to be as satisfying as a tepid cup of tea.

Pretty Dark Nothing

Pretty Dark Nothing - Heather L. Reid It's true, I'm a sucker for this type of book/genre. My inner Buffy fangirl longs for paranormal high school drama presented in the delicious form of paperback fiction. Some elements in the structure of Pretty Dark Nothing are cliche and share the usual formulaic plot line and character development similar to competing books on the market i.e. love triangle, popular girl with a crisis, jock, cheerleader, bitchy mean girl and the classic brooding musician bad boy. What makes this book stand a part is the subtle differences, including death as a stalker.The eerily haunting descriptions are gripping and goosebump worthy. There is just enough of a dark veil drawn to turn the story into a hallway of horrors. Plus, Quinn doesn't possess any super power that she can call upon to battle demons. In fact, she is a hot mess most of the time and very vulnerable. Throw in Azazel, the evil spirit of the wilderness to whom a scapegoat was sent on the Day of Atonement or for those non-Christians, the prince of demons, and you've got a thematic twist of mythical proportion. This is what I like to refer to as adding depth to a seemingly basic and well-exhausted plot structure. Quinn has two options: live or die. She is tested throughout the story by deceit, abandonment, betrayal, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, humiliation...and the list goes on. In the end, she is given a choice despite it all -- Ah, the old free will card is tossed on the table. Making the larger connection: We all have demons whispering in our ears, some are louder than others. To fight or to give in? This is a struggle humanity faces every single day. This is what makes for a good and powerful story, when the reader can connect and relate fiction to real life--to see the parallels and ask questions. The moral isn't laid out and it takes some pondering to feel the true inner workings of the story. Reid delivers contemplation in a way that is entertaining, engaging, exciting, discussion-worthy and spooky as Hell.

A Fatal Likeness: A Novel

A Fatal Likeness - Lynn Shepherd Included at the end of A Fatal Likeness is an author's note that goes into detail about the research and idea for the book. I must say, I appreciate the conception, along with the research and development. The perspective is a visionary undertaking. Undoubtedly, the constructing of this piece was no easy task! However, simply compiling information and arranging neat pieces with good editing does not make a story great. In my opinion, A Fatal Likeness lacks the electricity it truly needs to jolt this one to life. Given the baited mystery and intriguing subject matter, the telling of this version is remarkably flat and academic. The text is tired, and tries too hard to seem authentic and as a result, the characters suffer unjustly. Since several characters had the same name i.e. Mrs. Shelley (we have three or four?), the individual voices and points of reference (time shifts) are critical to establish. Unique distinction through dialogue is essential and needs to be immediate for recognition. Unfortunately, this is lacking, which results in confusion. I had a difficult time, especially when coupled with picking up and putting down the book, establishing which family or Mrs. Shelley the narrator was talking to or about. Was this a flashback, an interview or present time? At first, I thought this was my fault and resulted from interrupted reading, but after awhile I became frustrated and often had to back up to get grounded. This truly takes the momentum, suspense and mystery out of a story and often, I just felt disoriented. The prolonged flatness of the characters killed it for me. I really lost interest and by the end, empathy. If I was not reading this book for review, it would have ended up in my DNF (did-not-finish) pile at the 50% page mark. With such juicy characters to work with, I'm surprised at how chaste, tedious and dry this read actually is. Overall, a rather boring and disappointing historical fiction.

The Other Typist

The Other Typist - Suzanne Rindell There's no debating that The Other Typist is smartly written. Every part is meticulously executed from the era, dress, character development and attention to detail. The point of view is personally delivered in a recantation of events from the main characters perspective, which lends to the credibility and trustworthiness of our story-teller. Without falling into the trappings of 'flashback' narrative, Rindell uses Rose's therapy purging as means to deliver the story. I rather like the approach, but it does place a certain constraint on what can be revealed. For example, we can only know or learn about the other characters from Rose - if she isn't privy, neither are we -- so we are left with her speculation, which is hardly reliable. In the end, I was hoping for more of a twist and truly expected it - but it never came, which left me disappointed. The build up was there and clues revealed, but too many holes made this story a bit dry and dissatisfying. Mostly, because important answers were never given. We get a vague idea of what happens in the end simply because of the point of view and references to a doctor, but places throughout remain too much of mystery for me. Not sure I'd compare this one to The Great Gatsby, perhaps, all it has in common is the time period. I'd lean more towards a 1920's version of Single, White Female if pressed to provide a comparison.

The Darkling: A Novel

The Darkling - R.B. Chesterton Whew-eee! It takes a lot to make me shudder, but this book did just that! I guarantee The Darkling will give you goosebumps on the warmest of summer days. Probably not the best bedtime read, unless you want some seriously creepy dreams. The southern setting coupled with a mystery and predatory evil makes it beautifully macabre. The story preys on universal fears and makes use of horror culture, such as the woods, monster under the bed and the timely arrival of an innocent stranger. It might sound cliche, but what makes this novel special is how the events are delivered, through the girth of character. Writing a good horror is harder than one might think (hence, why some end up almost humorous). The author must be aware of what scares people and why. Tension and timing is fundamental and withholding just enough to let the imagination provide the special effects is essential. Lack in these areas and the horror fizzles. Chesterton proves to be an expert and delivers a chilling tale that makes the reader think twice about going for a nice walk in the woods after dinner. The woods? Really? Everyone knows that something is going to happen, right? You may think you know what is coming, but a few twists might prove any skeptic wrong. Suddenly, every place and every person night or day, is fair game. How does Chesterton manage this? By understanding what ultimately frightens people. In this case, fear of being loved, control, helplessness, powerlessness and insecurity. Here, the thematic horror runs deeper than any ghastly gore splattered on the wall. It's the threat of undoing that is terrifying and I believe most readers will relate. If you were gleefully disturbed by or got the 'willies' from the horror movies The Omen or Orphan (Eeesssttteeerrr), then The Darklingis right up your dark alley.

15 Days Without a Head

15 Days Without a Head - Dave Cousins The trouble begins when Laurence's mom disappears or runs away. We don't really know why she doesn't come home, and the hours turn into days. Laurence, the older brother, is left to care for his bratty baby brother. He misses school, scrounges for money for food, dodges neighbors, lies and searches for his mother, all while trying to win a vacation through a radio contest. It sure is convenient he has phone cards to use at the booth! Although all the focus is placed on Laurence and his brother's two-week struggle, I was left wondering what drove the single mother to do what she did? The obvious assumption provided by the author is depression and addiction, but the actual turning point and precise moment when the decision is made to abandon the children is never witnessed. I believe a missed opportunity happened here. If included, it would have contributed incredibly to the story, both emotionally and psychologically. Without this experience, as a reader, my sympathy was lessened and my understanding, diminished. I felt I needed to see more, feel more and understand the mother better in order to relate to Laurence's bond and loyalty. Sure I cared, but I wasn't all that invested. 15 Days Without A Head is a decent, steady read that would fit well in a school library or used as a classroom reader. In fact, it's as if the book was purposefully written with this demographic in mind. I wouldn't be surprised if this one ended up on summer reading lists and those approved to be selected for book reports. It touches on several domestic issues that impact families, but without the nitty-gritty imaginary that could ruffle educational planning boards. Simply put, this book is as safe as an after school special, but does it really portray reality? It provides obvious themes that can be easily selected for discussion without profound exploration. The plot leads to formulaic questions such as what should/could have Laurence done in this situation? What was the better choice? I understand some topics can pack a powerful punch without the use of over-the-top violence or shocking situations, but despite the subject matter, 15 Days Without A Head is too sterile and transparent for my taste. Compared to the newly released [b:Sketchy|17204240|Sketchy (Bea Catcher Chronicles, #1)|Olivia Samms|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1357160082s/17204240.jpg|23681623] by Olivia Samms, where thematically the multi-layered plot addresses issues of drug abuse, recovery and neglect in a way that is also neither too graphic or shocking, 15 Days Without A Head cannot contend with similar, but harder-working novels.

Unhallowed Ground

Unhallowed Ground - Gillian White 3.5 starsIf you read the synopsis for this book at Goodreads (it is different at Netgalley), you'll notice it is a lot longer and pretty much reveals a great deal of the story. I decided to clip and snip it. I'm hoping the final released copy will be shaped up into something more eye-catching. I'm not a fan of the long-winded, detailed back cover. I suppose some readers enjoy this, but in my opinion, it gives too much away. Honestly, after reading the cliff notes, why bother to read the book? So, I did a little editing to give you a taste.Putting that aside, Unhallowed Ground by Gillian White is a tale that creeps along climaxing in horror. The chills are slow-growing and the eeriness builds over the pages. The cast is packed full of weird English people that all seem like probable suspects. However, this is a predictable misdirect and any experienced mystery/horror reader will pick up on it immediately. Likely, you won't figure out the culprit until the end simply because you're never introduced or given the opportunity to put them on the list. The person is unknown not only to the main character, but also the reader. Withholding is a tactic, and it isn't too bad in this case, but the reveal and sudden ending happens so quickly that it might be a bit hard to digest. Considering the tension and attentive detailing throughout the entire book, I was somewhat flustered when the final curtain dropped. Thematically, there is a lot going on including: abuse, loyalty, love, lifestyle, friendship etc. The psychological character development is outstanding. Setting detail and tension building are excellently crafted. My only gripe is the whodunnit twist and final outcome. To make this story truly great, Unhallowed Ground needed to drop a line and tie in the hook better for a more powerful and thematically relevant ending. Otherwise, why do all the work during the set up if it's just going to turn into a plot driven action at the end? The cast of oddballs are all provided with background for their traits and behaviors, which are readily revealed throughout the story. Well, all except for two, and they just happen to be the trigger and suspect. Their weirdness and relationship with the surroundings and people involved crave a more defined reasoning for cause and effect if understanding and/or sympathy is to be achieved.

My Ex From Hell (The Blooming Goddess Trilogy Book One)

My Ex From Hell - Tellulah Darling My Ex From Hell is more like the fan fiction-esque book from hell. This won't push the YA boundaries, but leans towards the tween/teen category. Honestly, all you have to do is read the synopsis and you'll get a good understanding of what's to come. The sarcasm, geek teen talk and over-the-top humorist approach is splattered all over the back cover. If you think, "Hey, this totally relates to my inner high-schooler," and can't wait to read more of the same for the next 272 pages, then snag this one and do the Harlem Shuffle all the way to the checkout. It's no little secret that I'm a big fan of sarcasm. I think it has a place, time and most importantly, a delivery. It can't be used on every page and in every situation, unless you're a cynical bore. I believe when using clever comic relief it needs to be carefully timed for optimal punch. In this story, there is comic vomit, so much so, that nothing can be taken seriously, which greatly reduces character credibility and the potential for an actual meaningful story. Then...sigh...here comes the easy, cookie cutter plot. Take the basic Harry Potter set up, change the gender of the characters and insert a different magical, mythological world and PRESTO! you've got another boarding school magical adventure, year one. Instead of teachers, it's guidance counselors turning into bad guy creatures. Missing students need to be saved and conveniently, the teen heroes live at an isolated boarding school that is protected from harm (sort of). Due to the writing style, absurd amount of comic saturation and teen ridiculousness, I felt this book was more fan fiction than novel. In the current form, it'd work better as a running blog story. If you like fan fiction, you might enjoy this book. However, I was less than impressed.

Sketchy (Bea Catcher Chronicles, #1)

Sketchy (Bea Catcher Chronicles, #1) - Olivia Samms Sketchy by Olivia Samms is a winner! Finally, in a sea of awkward teen heroines, Bea stands out! Samms got it right when she imagined lead character, Bea, creating a truly unique girl. Bea is not your typical cookie cutter misfit. She is unapologetic but not glorified, flawed and saddled with a distinct voice, which maintains a consistent dialogue. Her reaction and actions clearly fit with the set up situations and behaviors. She's smart, chaotic, and a mess of sorts, but nothing is so over the top to make it unbelievable and by doing so, I believe a wide audience will be able to easily connect with the character. The support characters are also individually depicted and provide just enough for the mind to create a sharp image. Sketchy is a prefect example of how character development enriches plot. It simply adds a dimension that elevates a good story to a great story. This one stuck with me because of the care obviously taken to maintain the honest tone, stay true to character development and the attention to detail. If a writer was to ask my advice on how to construct a misfit teen character that doesn't fall into the cliche culture we are being buried beneath, I would refer them to this particular book. The delineations are not huge, but just enough to separate it from the masses and own the originality. Thematically and relevancy, the plot is multi-layered and takes on several topics/concerns without being overwhelming. Issues of drug abuse, recovery, and even rape are important elements, but they are delivered in a way that is neither too graphic or shocking. Using this approach does not diminish the seriousness, but rather approaches the subjects through a different form. I felt the heart of the issues, while at the same time being able to digest without shredding my sensitivities to abuse and rape.

A Sound Among the Trees: A Novel

A Sound Among the Trees - Susan Meissner This is a mash-up of a contemporary generational story with historical fiction. A Sound Among the Trees is similar in tone to The Help by Kathryn Stockett, but the time span between past and present is greater (i.e. present and Civil War era). Keeping that in mind, it does fit in the historical fiction genre because a good portion focuses on what occurred over 20 years ago. However, it is not classical historical fiction because the historical portion is communicated through 'flashbacks, character story-telling, diaries and half the setting takes place in the present. This may or may not appeal to historical fiction genre lovers. I do think it makes for an interesting cross-over and widens the appeal.What I liked: The contemporary mash-up works and by beginning the story in the present, Meissner establishes Holly Oak (the house) as a character. It reminds me of Rose Red by Stephen King in the sense that the house is almost breathing. It's misunderstood, even by those who are closest to it. By doing so, the 'haunted' suspicion is accomplished. Each character has ghosts or something that lingers, including the house. The twist is that what is perceived changes and the haunt morphs from one thing to another. Are the characters haunted? Absolutely! By what, is to be determined. Does a cleansing occur? Yes. However, the epiphany is unique for each character, again, including the house. Also, the presentation of Southern culture is lovely, humorous, loyal and traditional. Each character is well-developed and the females display strength, intelligence, and real vulnerability that leads to flaws, all which are different, but relatable. I was able to connect and sympathize with each character without ever having to personally experience any of it.The drawbacks: Beginning the book in the present gives the author only a few options to work in the historical fiction factor: through flashbacks, remembrance stories or letters. Meissner does a fairly good job trying to break it up without compromising any particular character's personal traits. However, this creates less flexibility and a great chunk of the story has to be discovered through the reading of letters. This is presented in text change and actual form that goes on for many, many pages. Since so much must be communicated, there is a large portion where the read is taken out of the present so the reader (along with the characters) can discover the truth. The transition to the past was easy and I admit, I was captivated. It was the hurling back to the present that I found jarring. It is similar to being yanked out of a dream. It made me a bit cranky because I didn't want to wake up. I understand at some point it had to be done, but it wasn't my favorite approach.

Currently reading

Mystery Girl: A Novel
David Gordon
Progress: 30/304 pages