Skinny Dip ~ Carl Hiaasen

  • Title: Skinny Dip
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen
  • Series: Mick Stranahan #2
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Marine biologist Chaz Perrone can’t tell a sea horse from a sawhorse. And when he throws his beautiful wife, Joey, off a cruise liner, he really should know better. An expert swimmer, Joey makes her way to a floating bale of Jamaican pot–and then to an island inhabited by an ex-cop named Mick Stranahan, whose ex-wives include five waitresses and a TV producer. Now Joey wants to get revenge on Chaz and Mick’s happy to help her. But in swampy South Florida, separating lies from truths and stupidity from brilliance isn’t easy. Especially when you’re after a guy like Chaz–who’s bad at murder, great at fraud, and just terrible at getting caught.

Review:  How to categorize this book? It’s not a mystery – although it starts with a murder. It’s not a police procedural, although a policeman is trying to make the case against the murderer throughout the book. It’s not a romance, although it ends with a ‘happily-ever-after’. It’s not a comedy, although absurdities pile up on the pages. I’d call it a farce with environmental flavor.

In the beginning, the antagonist, biologist Chaz Perrone, pitches his wife Joey overboard from a cruise ship. He is happy with the deed done well, but unfortunately for him, Joey survives. The rest of the book is dedicated to Joey taking revenge on her inept murderer of a husband. She is also trying to figure out why he decided to murder her.

The plot line is preposterous to the point of crazy, but the value of this novel doesn’t reside in the plot, it is in the characters. They are diverse and colorful, especially the bad ones.

The antagonist Chaz is a tangle of contradictions. One moment, he is a sleek confident liar, the next – a slimy, soulless prick, cowardly but sly. Everyone holds him in contempt, his ‘friends’ and enemies alike, but somehow, his overworking sense of self-preservation always helps him to end up on top, not exactly winning but not really losing either, just biding his time. Pathetic as a villain, he is nonetheless frightening in his sordid venality – and for the lowest possible price. This self-admiring worm is the best-defined character in the novel, the focal point of the action. Every twist of the plot revolves around him.

Chaz’s partners in crime include his employer Red, a corrupt and ruthless owner of vegetable farms, and Red’s goon Tool, a hirsute ape of a man, whose conscience is stirring unexpectedly.

On the positive side, there is a Norwegian detective Rolvaag, superbly honest and tenacious like a bulldog but slightly eccentric: he keeps pythons as pets. A loner Mike is also one of the good guys. A former policeman and Joey’s savior, he is the one who fished her out of the sea. He helps her with her vengeance scheme and generally plays the role of a knight in tarnished armor.

And then there is Joey. She should be the protagonist, she almost got killed in the beginning of the story, but she is somewhat fuzzy as a character. Actually, all the female characters are fuzzy in this novel, as opposed to the male characters, each one with his sharply defined personality and quirky history.

The story is unevenly paced, sometimes galloping, sometimes crawling. Too many back stories slow down the action, and I wondered why the author included them. They are not really relevant to the proceedings. They are funny though, but for some reason, I didn’t laugh, not even once. I suspect a screwball comedy isn’t for me, although the juxtaposition of a petty criminal and the huge evil of his crime – murder, even unsuccessful – felt intriguing. I definitely wanted to know the resolution of this cat’s cradle of lies and subplots.

The setting, Everglades, Florida, plays a major role in this book. The author obviously loves its endless marches and abundant wildlife, and the entire book reads as a tribute to Everglades.

Overall – a ridiculous but absorbing read. I enjoyed it. 


 

Second Grave from the Left ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: Second Grave from the Left
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper Extraordinaire, is back in this sexy, suspenseful novel of supernatural shenanigans

When Charley is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her best friend who tells her to get dressed quickly and tosses clothes out of the closet at her, she can’t help but wonder what Cookie’s up to. Leather scrunch boots with a floral miniskirt? Together? Seriously? Cookie explains that a friend of hers named Mimi disappeared five days earlier and that she just got a text from her setting up a meet at a coffee shop downtown. They show up at the coffee shop, but no Mimi. But Charley finds a message on the bathroom wall. Mimi left a clue, a woman’s name. Mimi’s husband explains that his wife had been acting strange since she found out an old friend of hers from high school had been found murdered a couple weeks prior. The same woman Mimi had named in her message.

Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow (otherwise known as the Son of Satan. Yes. Literally) has left his corporeal body and is haunting Charley. He’s left his body because he’s being tortured by demons who want to lure Charley closer. But Reyes can’t let that happen. Because if the demons get to Charley, they’ll have a portal to heaven. And if they have a portal to heaven…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. Can Charley handle hot nights with Reyes and even hotter days tracking down a missing woman? Will Cookie ever get a true fashion sense? And is there enough coffee and chocolate in the world to fuel them as they do?

Here is your signpost for the most hilarious read of the summer: Second Grave On The Left.


Review:  I immediately fell in love with sassy and snarky Charley Davidson in First Grave on the Right. Having just finished book 2 in the series, Second Grave from the left, the love fest continues. The series follows Charley, you average everyday girl, who just happens to be THE Grim REAPER.

This book offers a heaping helping of kick ass urban fantasy and it is served up with a tall glass of humor to wash it down. I found myself laughing out loud so much that my significant other kept asking me just what was so funny.

Darynda Jones did a great job of layering the mysteries throughout the book. The primary plot revolves around Charley helping her best friend, Cookie, find a missing school mate. As she tries to unravel that mystery, she is also in a race against time to try to save Reyes by finding his corporeal body. The result is a book full of twisty, windy plots that will keep you guessing until the end.

In this book, Jones adds some layers of complexity to Charley, especially concerning her family dynamics. I love to see character development, and the family drama subplot was a great avenue for this. We also saw the intensity increase between Charley and Reyes, her interactions with his spirit practically burnt up the pages when she wasn’t frustrated at his attempt to let his body die to protect her.

This is one of those cases where it is ok to judge a book by its cover. I absolutely love the cover theme for this series. In this case, the signature color is black and it features the torso of a female in a stance with attitude, a cleverly displayed rhinestone skull belt buckle (the perfect fashion statement for a sassy grim reaper), and of course, a scythe (what reaper would leave home without it?). I like that the covers show personality, but NOT the features of the model, leaving Charley’s face open to reader interpretation.

These books are smart, sexy, and full of adventure. It is definitely made the list of my favorite series.

First Grave on the Right ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: First Grave on the Right
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.


Review:  This book has been on my to-be-read shelf for quite some time. I am glad that I finally decided to move it to the top of my list. The book was chock full of snarkorific fun. I listened to it the audio book version and I want to give props to Lorelei King for doing a fantastic job with narration.

The main character Charley is smart, sarcastic, independent young woman who makes her living as a detective who has a knack for helping to solve murders and is a regular police consultant. The fact that she is the grim reaper gives her a bit of an advantage. When the dead linger, they often become clients, along with the living. The book gets kicked off when a newly dead lawyer pays Charley an early morning visit to engage her services in solving his murder. Action and mystery ensues.

Charley’s character was really well-written. She is a tough, no nonsense female that does not take herself too seriously. She has vulnerabilities, but does not get bogged down in angst and sentimentality. The author does a great job developing the grim reaper mythology. Ms. Jones clearly planned it out her rules well and consistently stuck to them. The result is a reaper concept that melds well with the portrayal Charley’s character. The other characters in the books are a rich cast of personalities, each having a distinct voices and contribution to the plot.

The plot has no shortage of action. In fact, Charley is kind of a magnet for trouble, finding herself in a plethora of exciting and/or dangerous situations throughout the book. As a result, there is a keen level of suspense throughout the story, as the characters try to unravel the mystery at hand.

This book falls solidly into the urban fantasy genre with a leaning toward action. There is a romantic subplot (which is smoking hot!), yet it does not get in the way of the primary storyline, which is the murder mystery that Charley is working to solve. The book also offers a solid dose of humor, making it a light and quick read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys light mystery with a heavy dose of snark. Go ahead and judge this book by its cover. The cute skull sandals and nicely manicured hand holding a mini-scythe capture the whimsy of the story itself. The fonts also capture the light-hearted tone of the story and the layout is well-balanced.

I can’t wait for the next book. I hope the remainder of the series fulfills the promise of this first book.

Silent in the Grave ~ Deanna Raybourn

  • Title:  Silent in the Grave
  • Author:  Deanna Raybourn
  • Series:  Lady Juila #1
  • Genre:  Mystery, Historical, Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Library
  • Reviewed by: Val
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Review:  There were so many things that I enjoyed about this book. I liked this book as much for what it wasn’t, as I did for what it was.

For example, despite the chemistry and tension between Julia and Brisbane, the author did not give into the temptation to turn this book into a romance. Instead she focused herself firmly on the mystery and suspense, and she did a great job of building the intrigue throughout the plot.

Her approach to the mystery, itself, was well done. She anticipated readers such as me who were able to figure out the “whodunit” from the beginning. Yet, I got the feeling the Ms. Raybourn actually meant for the mystery to lie not in the WHO, such much as the HOW and WHY. Clever girl.

The book was a light read, reminding me of urban fantasy, but it was really more of a historical fiction with the smallest touch of fantasy. It was just the right balance.

The book was really well-written, especially the characters. The author set the story up just right to allow for some excellent character development, and she did not disappoint. In fact, between Julia’s crisis of personality and Brisbane’s tortured hero, Raybourn has left plenty of room for further development throughout the series.

The pacing of the story was a bit slow at times, but it was in keeping with the tone of the story, so I found it forgivable. I am definitely looking forward to continuing this series.

Cover note: This is a great cover. The pose is simple and captures the character of Lady Julia very well. The layout is well-balanced and eye-catching and the fonts fit the tone of the story without trying too hard. Finally, the shadow just above her shoulder creates a great visual element of mystery.

 

Cast in Shadow ~ Michelle Sagara West

  • Title: Cast in Shadow
  • Author: Michelle Sagara West
  • Series:  Chronicles of Elantra #1
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Seven years ago Kaylin fled the crime-riddled streets of Nightshade, knowing that something was after her. Children were being murdered — and all had the same odd markings that mysteriously appeared on her own skin…

Since then, she’s learned to read, she’s learned to fight and she’s become one of the vaunted Hawks who patrol and police the City of Elantra. Alongside the winged Aerians and immortal Barrani, she’s made a place for herself, far from the mean streets of her birth.

But children are once again dying, and a dark and familiar pattern is emerging, Kaylin is ordered back into Nightshade with a partner she knows she can’t trust, a Dragon lord for a companion and a device to contain her powers — powers that no other human has. Her task is simple — find the killer, stop the murders… and survive the attentions of those who claim to be her allies!

Review:  I have looked at this book I do not know how many times before I actually caved in and purchased it. My main resistance was the fact that it is published by Luna – a Harlequin publishing company. Didn’t want to read a romance. I decided to read it based on the reviews. I am glad I did – it does, in no way that I could see, fill the “Harelequin” mold. 

As usual, I had a bit of trouble getting into this book. I honestly cannot remember at what point it became a book I was unable to put down. Kaylin is a very passionate and feisty heroine. The mystery as to who she is and what makes her so kept me glued to the story. Unlike other stories where I just wanted to know the answer to the mystery, I really enjoyed the ride as it unfolded. After finishing the book, I still have unanswered questions – not the kind that make me angry in the “Why didn’t the author address this?” way but the kind that go “I can’t wait to read the next book to see what direction these questions take me” way.

I could not decide if I was angry or fascinated by the way the answer to Kaylin’s relationship with Severn was revealed. I will say that it came as a complete surprise and I did not see it coming. Even a tiny bit. 

I adored the different races in this book – and the characterizations that came with each. I will admit to picturing the Leotines a bit like the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. And, who among us hasn’t dreamed of having wings and the ability to fly?

The humor in this book is very subtle. In some (very few) instances I actually laughed out loud. Kaylin reacts to stress the way that I do: by making really bad jokes that cause those around her to question her sanity. Not a lot of romance here – but I can see it developing in future installments.

Indeed, I am annoyed that I have finished this. Now, I have to “get into” another novel.