October 31, 2018

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Requiem for the Devil"

Title: Requiem for the Devil [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2001
Age: Adult
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Imaginative story with a foot firmly planted in the Devil's mythology. Well-balanced mix of evil, angst and humour. Non-graphic sex (if you don't like erotica).
Cons: Premise requires suspension of disbelief. A couple of incidents during Lucifer and Gianna's relationship, even more so. Demons crack a couple of rape jokes (one of them not aimed at women though). An animal gets killed.
Will appeal to: Supernatural lovers, even if not keen on romance. Romance lovers looking for the ultimate forbidden one.

Blurb: Set in modern-day Washington, D.C., Requiem for the Devil depicts the end of the Devil's ten-billion-year career. For the first time in his existence, Lucifer falls in love, and this event threatens to transform his identity and perhaps even his destiny. Gianna O'Keefe is the woman who drags him out of his ancient despair and points him toward possible salvation. Yet Lucifer's path from evil is neither straight nor smooth. Pursuing love means betraying his fellow fallen angels, the loyal friends who once followed him to damnation. Divine and infernal forces seem to conspire against his and Gianna's union. Lucifer's empire crumbles around him as he dares to defy the natural order and question his fate. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: You all know that I read very few adult books, and that even in YA (or the rare NA) I do my best to read books with none-to-minimal romance - and even less sex. I made an exception for Smith-Ready's novels though (well, this one and the WVMP Radio series so far, plus her YA standalone This Side of Salvation), because the premises were awesome...and the books lived up to them.
Fun fact: Jeri also writes romance under the pen name Avery Cockburn.

DEVIL MAY CARE

I went into this book with a thirst for the strange and deadly, so to speak. Some of my favourite books are the ones where characters defy natural laws (whether as undead, time travelers, alt-reality explorers, or supernaturally-powered entities) - so I didn't even mind that I had to sit through a love story to get that 😅. Now, on the one hand, the very idea that the Devil, after ten billion years, would fall in love for the very first time is preposterous. Plus, while Gianna is remarkable in more than a way, she didn't strike me as so unique that she might be the only creature in the whole world (and time) Lucifer could love. And yet...in the context of the story, and in Smith-Ready's capable hands (though this one was her very first book!), it worked for me. Yeah, me, the ultimate romance shunner. Of course, it helped that the prose was strong without being purple, and that the author made her research, delving into both the religious and the mundane visions/interpretations of the Devil's story (see the Acknowledgments section). And of course, novel-wise, the times were probably ripe for Lucifer to fall in love, since early on we're given hints that he's starting to get bored with same old, and deep down, he's itching for something more (not going to elaborate because SPOILER). So, you might infer that Gianna is the right woman at the right time in his ten-billion-year-old existence. Even though (or exactly because?), oops, she's catholic. [...]

LOVE IS HELL

In a different author's hands, maybe Gianna could have come across as a manic pixie dream girl - only with more depth than your usual ones - and Lucifer as your typical brooding (anti)-hero. But there's something in both that elevates them over trope status, and I think it's the mixture of introspection and humour which Smith-Ready endows them with - plus her firm handling of theological issues (or what I believe is a firm handle, because I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to religion, so feel free to disprove me on that...though the author often weaves religious themes into her books - in the most open-minded of ways - so I'd bet she knows her stuff). I have to admit that parts of their relationship must be taken with more than a grain of salt (i.e., suspension of disbelief), and not only because he's the Devil (something Gianna is not even privy of till later in the story). There's an incident during their visit to the Grand Canyon that would probably have put an end to any sane relationship (at least, sane as far as the woman was concerned). And when Gianna finally faces the truth, there's another string of awkward moments (I can't be more specific because, again, SPOILER). Plus a lot of angst...for more than a reason. But, once again, the author manages to make you care for these two, and (except in a couple of instances) BELIEVE in them.

EVIL LAUGHTER

RFTD is not just a romance between the Devil and a mortal. There are a number of side characters, whether human (mainly Gianna's family) or taken straightly from Christian mythology (you could say they're Lucifer's own family), who get the story going and/or provide most of the comic (if evil-tinged) relief. Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Belial, Moloch, Michael, Raphael - it's like watching an extended episode of Supernatural (except the show wasn't even on air yet when the book came out). I can't say if this novel would sit well with a true Christian (though, as I said, the author knows what she's talking about), the same way as I don't know how the show is received by observant viewers. I do believe that in the book there's at least an incident (so to speak) that would be hard for them to swallow, although it involves Lucifer and one of his comrades, so maybe they would overlook it.
On the whole, RFTD is a solid, well-written fantasy that you can enjoy whether you believe or not, oscillating between depth and humour, with an unconventional (if bizarre) romance and a satisfying (if not totally unexpected) ending. Which the author penned with a light, but beautiful touch, so there's that 🙂.

For more Adult books click here.

***

Note: this post is part of the Back to Black - Beating the Halloween Backlist series, an all-month event taking place every Tuesday of October 2018, featuring:
Thirteen Tales to Give You Night Terrors (Adult, Horror, Supernatural, Afterlife) by Troy H. Gardner et al. (Oct. 10th);
Shallow Graves (YA, Afterlife, Supernatural, Horror) by Kali Wallace (Oct. 17th);
Spellbound (YA, Supernatural, Thriller, Contemporary) by Christopher Pike (Oct. 24th);
Requiem for the Devil (Adult, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy) by Jeri Smith-Ready (Oct. 31st).

October 24, 2018

Christopher Pike: "Spellbound"

Title: Spellbound [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller, Contemporary
Year: 1988
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original (and terrifying) premise. Intriguing cast of characters with distinctive voices. Potential mixed-race romance.
Cons: As interesting and strong as it is, the very premise requires suspension of disbelief. The black character's baggage might not sit well with someone (see review for details). An animal gets killed during an experiment.
WARNING! Blood and gore. The prelude of a would-be abusive sex scene.
Will appeal to: Supernatural/mystery fans who aren't afraid of weird stuff.

Blurb: They found Karen Holly in the mountain stream, her skull crushed. There was only one witness to the tragedy, Karen's boyfriend, Jason Whitfield. He said a grizzly had killer her. But a lot of people didn't believe him. They thought Jason had murdered her in a fit of rage. And now weeks have passed, and Jason has another girlfriend, Cindy Jones. And there are the new kids in town. Joni Harper, the quiet English beauty that Cindy's brother, Alex, cannot get out of his mind. And Bala, the foreign exchange student from Africa, the grandson of a powerful shaman. Together they will return to the place where Karen was killed. Some will die. The others will come face to face with a horror beyond imagining. (Goodreads)

Review: DISCLAIMER: I love Christopher Pike's novels (with a few exceptions, but still). Usually, the more far-fetched his books are, the better I like them. This is one of those books.

YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH

This is the kind of book where the truth would stare you right in the face since the very first chapters, if the author didn't make sure that your mind refused to process it. I mean, there's definitely something amiss in a certain character, but physical impossibilities, and not getting all the answers straight away from the one person who has them, makes it so that you rule that character out as a culprit. Plus, the truth turns out to be so outrageously (and awesomely) weird that your average reader could have never connected the dots that way - at least before someone in the book finally spilled some dark secrets. To complicate the matter further, right from the start, there are two different crimes/mysteries going on, though we only realise that later. As far as stories go, this one is its own brand of mindfuck. [...]

October 17, 2018

Kali Wallace: "Shallow Graves"

Title: Shallow Graves [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kali Wallace [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Strong, complex lead. Engrossing undead coming-of-age story, unpredictable and full of compassion. Unapologetically feminist. Blissfully devoid of romance.
Cons: The darkness is not tempered by humour or comedy, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea.
WARNING! Gore, tension and some disturbing images.
Will appeal to: Horror/supernatural fans who like well-rounded, morally grey characters.

Blurb: Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how. Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious - and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs - where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous. (Goodreads)

Review: SORT-OF DISCLAIMER: I have a strong bias toward books where the main character is dead or undead. Then again, I've read a few that fared under the 3-star mark for me, so you can probably trust my judgement 😉.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MONSTERS

Shallow Graves is one of those books that creep on you. The story in itself, though interesting and punctuated by intense moments, is not its strongest suit - the main lead and the overall concept are. In an interview, the author mentioned the TV show Supernatural as a source of inspiration, but not in the same vein as Anna Dressed in Blood was clearly ripped off from influenced by it. Basically, she asked herself: "But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters?" and in response wrote a book from the monster(s)' perspective, also exploring (via the main character) the forever-shifting boundaries between the once-human and the monster itself. Mind you - among this particular cast of characters, Breezy is the only one who used to be human. But compared with the "normal" people who chase them and claim to "help" them using violence and abuse, all while having their own secret agenda, even monsters have redeeming qualities. [...]

October 10, 2018

Troy H. Gardner et al.: "13 Tales to Give You Night Terrors"

Title: 13 Tales to Give You Night Terrors [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Troy H. Gardner et al. [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Horror, Supernatural, Afterlife
Year: 2015
Age: 16+ (it's more of an adult book, but it can be read by mature teens, though a few stories are a bit heavy on horror)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Revisits old horror tropes in a fresh way. Most stories are cunningly contrived, often with a nice twist.
Cons: Some of the tales have a surrealistic feel that may not be everybody's cup of tea.
Will appeal to: Readers who like both straight-up horror (though not of the extreme variety) and creepy atmospheres.

Blurb: Murder, mayhem, maniacs...Journey with us into the dark heart of horror as authors from around the globe reveal their deepest fears. We meet a pair of twins with a sick sense of humor, a troubled family tormented by ghosts, and a man who keeps a chupacabra as a pet. Plus a department store massacre, a terrifying costumed stalker, and much, much more. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have already reviewed works by two of these authors (Troy H. Gardner and Erin Callahan) in the past, that they sent me for free in exchange for a honest review. Also, I've worked with both of them as a beta-reader on a few occasions, and I especially have history with Erin. Nevertheless, I guarantee I'm going to be as honest as usual in my review.

STRANGER THINGS

Um...I might have another disclaimer to make...I'm not a horror expert. I mean, I've read a good amount of books with horror in them, but not books that revolve around horror. While reading these stories, I recognised some of the classic tropes of course, and IMO, they got a great makeover, or were given an interesting twist. For the rest, I only can trust the authors' willingness to produce original content. Oh, and this is an indie book, but the quality is (un)surprisingly good (because I'm firmly convinced that only those who have indie prejudice will find it surprising). Just a handful of (genuine) typos, the same thing I recently found more than once in traditionally published books 😏. Also notable that a couple of these stories are openly queer, which apparently is far from common in horror. This been said, here are the shorties I found more outstanding, for different reasons.
Crashing Mirrors is my favourite story in here. It starts as a classic teen comedy (with a queer twist) featuring two naughty twins intent on fooling everyone with the typical sibling switch. It ends with the most unexpected (and creepy) consequence to their scam. Warning: this one features some ableist/sexist language, that clearly serves the purpose of establishing the twins' personality.
Store Macabre is a surrealistic piece about a...should I say "possessed"? department store, where all the most shocking/horrorish stuff happens - more often than not amidst the weird detachment of bystanders - while an unnamed Assistant draws a heavy and mysterious sack to the 14th floor. While the deadly store is not a new idea, the story as a whole is imaginative, matter-of-factly absurd and tragicomical. I'm not sure I understood the ending, but after a second read, I'm not sure the ending is meant to be understood either 😉.
It's Different When You Have Your Own is as short as it is unsettling. I can't say I liked it, but one thing's for sure: I'll never forget it. Which may be either a good or a bad thing 😂. Now I wish I knew how the author got the idea. Horror doesn't necessarily resides in blood and deadly creatures... [...]

October 03, 2018

Back to Black: Introducing the 2018 Halloween Backlist

Pumpkin photo: free from Pixabay. Graphics: Offbeat YA

 Hello sweeties, and happy/scary October! 😱
 
This year, I'm attempting something I've wanted to do for a long time. Every October since I started my blog, I kept seeing my fellow bloggers celebrate Halloween with their posts. Now, while I don't really observe the festivity (so to speak) IRL, I've been toying with the idea of joining the virtual fun with a series of blog posts myself, also because I DO enjoy dark things in my reading (except the brand of body horror for which Stephen King is renowned. Sorry guys, I tried). This resolution was stated in my Goals for 2018 post as well, as it was the intention of reviewing more backlist this year (well, so far, I haven't be able to squeeze many old-ish novels in my review plan for the year - but hey, still better than the ZERO of 2017...😏). So, I decided to accomplish two goals at once, and to spotlight four old and/or old-ish books from the dark side this Halloween, one every Wednesday till October 30th itself. Here's the plan...