Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burning Through - Melissa Bowersock

When Jennifer and Robert Stinson bought the restored Victorian home in their new town, they had no idea about its troubled past. But the house is a perfect fit for them, as it becomes apparent in a hurry that their marriage is in trouble, too. Robert, who's in sales, is angry that he's been transferred to this podunk route in the middle of nowhere. Jen, for her part, loves the house, and seems happiest when Robert's out of town and she can concentrate on her online antiques business.

And then the fires start.

Things in the house seem to catch fire spontaneously, with no apparent cause. Each time, Jen sees a mysterious older woman near the scene of the fire, but she always disappears before Jen can catch her. She begins looking into the house's history -- and she also finds herself looking forward to seeing a particular fire captain who shows up with his crew each time they have a fire. With his help, she begins to get to the bottom of the house's mystery. But she runs the risk of seeing her whole life go up in smoke.

Bowersock does a great job of portraying the Stinsons' unraveling marriage. The unexplained fires often seem to be sparked by Robert's explosions of rage, and it's clear -- to this reader, anyway -- that the paranormal energy in the home is feeding off of his anger. I also liked the way Bowersock handled the budding relationship between Jen and Chris, the fire captain.

There's a twist at the very end that I didn't expect, but Bowersock makes it work. She's a wonderful writer, and I very much enjoyed this book.

I received an advance copy in return for an honest review.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Night Undone (Agent Night Cover Me #2) - K.S. Brooks

I wanted to get this review in before the Sochi Olympics ended, for reasons which will become apparent in a minute.

First off, this is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It's a love story about two people who happen to be spies.

When we last saw Agent Kathrin Night here at Rursday Reads, she was young and lethal, a globe-trotting spy for a United Nations agency. In this book, she is older and wiser -- and she's nursing a career-ending injury. She's also falling hard for Aleksey, the Russian agent sent by his government to keep an eye on her, and he's falling for her, too. But she's having trouble allowing herself to be vulnerable enough to admit that she loves him, let alone that her spying days are at an end. Agent Night, vulnerable? No way!

Aleksey sort of tricks her into seeing a psychiatrist who specializes in helping ex-military members adjust to civilian life. In the midst of her treatment, which isn't going fabulously well, he's called back to Russia -- but not before sharing his deepest secret with Kathrin. She wants to help him find peace with himself, and so she concocts a scheme to get them both hired on as security guards for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Kathrin mistrusts everyone who tries to help her -- the psychiatrist, her landlord in Vancouver, even Aleksey. I love that, because it makes sense, given that she has always prided herself on her independence. Accepting help is difficult for anyone used to taking care of themselves; I can imagine it would be worse for someone used to trusting no one in order to stay alive.

My favorite scene might be the one in which Aleksey returns from Russia -- in the middle of the night, without calling first. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that Brooks' sense of timing here is excellent: Kathrin goes on the offensive, which makes Aleksey go on the offensive. The scene would have been hilarious, if I hadn't been so aware that they were quite capable of killing each other.

Night Undone is an exciting, touching, and timely read.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saving Drake: a Romance - JD Mader

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.
Romance isn't in Mader's typical wheelhouse -- he usually writes gritty noir stuff. So as you might expect, Saving Drake isn't your typical romance.

Rachel meets Drake at a party. They hit it off immediately, but Drake is gun-shy about relationships -- the love of his life died in a car wreck with him behind the wheel. But Rachel is patient, and slowly, Drake comes around. Only then does she realize what she's gotten herself into with him. Then she must decide whether she loves him enough to help him conquer his demons.

Mader calls Saving Drake a "real love story," and in many ways, it is. Both characters are awash in imperfections -- as is Rachel's best friend, a randy woman who decides to conduct her own investigation into Rachel's new guy. Drake's problems with alcohol seem realistically portrayed, and the love story between the diner owner and his wife is poignant and perfect.

Two things, though. Well, three. First, I wish Clyde had made at least one more appearance later in the book -- it would have driven home Drake's anguish about his dead love that much more. Second, while the romance genre pretty much requires a "happily ever after," I wanted at least a hint that it might not be all smooth sailing for Drake and Rachel from here on out. And finally, there's a lot of alcohol in this book. A lot of alcohol. If it's a problem for you, you've been warned.

For me, though, those are all minor quibbles. The prose is stunning, as always in Mader's work; the relationships are realistic and believable; and on the whole, I very much liked Saving Drake.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Devil You Say (Realy Paranormal) - Fred Musante

The elevator pitch for The Devil You Say might be this: Rush Limbaugh meets The Exorcist. And if you're a dittohead, you'll probably hate this book.

This is Musante's second outing for Mike and Ethan Realy, fraternal twins roped into becoming paranormal investigators due to an odd clause in their father's will, and Mike's girlfriend Noelle, who's a karate expert. They're hired by conservative talk-show host Mike Baxter to investigate a ghost haunting Baxter's bunker-like mansion. Our heroes discover pretty quickly that the "ghost" is actually a demon that's been set loose on Baxter by one of his enemies. Not like a guy like Baxter would have enemies. The brothers enlist an Italian priest to conduct an exorcism -- and that's when the fun really starts.

I liked Mike, the first-person narrator, who cracks wise at the drop of a hat. I liked the team's politics, and how they're working for Baxter while holding their noses at the stream of hateful comments he spews on the radio from his in-home studio. As a Pagan, I was a little uncomfortable with the emphasis on Good vs. Evil and how easily the author reached for the usual suspects (voodoo is evil, demons exist, etc.). But hey, it's a comic novel -- it's not meant to require either deep thought or an examination of theological tropes.

As a reader, I thought the plot was well-paced and the situations believable. But I thought the priest's accent was overdone; wading through his dialogue slowed me down and even required re-reading in a few instances.

The author is calling this urban fantasy. I'd be more inclined to categorize it as contemporary fantasy with a paranormal twist. But no matter. The Devil You Say was a quick, fun read.