Review: Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christina Miller

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead by Christina Miller

Title: Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead
Author: Christina Miller
Genre(s): Adult Urban Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A little magic can go a long way — to really screwing up a girl’s life!

Mara is having the worst month of her life. At least, that’s what her cards tell her and they’ve never been wrong. She’s evicted from her apartment, loses her job and is banned from Beverly Hills. So when the tarot cards predict her imminent demise, she uses a little magic to make her world right.

Suddenly, an aunt she’s never met dies, leaving Mara as her sole heir. But when Mara moves into her inherited home, she discovers Aunt Tillie never moved out. She’s still one pissed-off old lady, even post-mortem, and she blames Mara’s magical meddling for her death.

When Mara accidentally releases a demon and awakens the spirit of the most powerful witch in history, Tillie’s ready to kill her — literally. It’s the only way she can think of to save the girl from herself. The witch and the demon, however, have other plans for Mara’s body.

Another one of my Bookbub finds, Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead is not quite as good as I had hoped it would be. Written with an engaging voice, the story is interesting but meandering.

I’m going to get technical here for a moment. Novels have a certain structure, which you can learn in a novel-writing class or one of the thousands of books written on the subject. Certain things need to happen at approximately a certain percentage through the story, or it comes out feeling like the story is going on for way too long or is way too rushed. Unfortunately, this novel drags on in the beginning and then rushes through the ending.

All of Part One should have been chopped down to only a few chapters and much of the back story cut. Part Two has an abrupt shift halfway through it, the tone going from light and airy and goofy to somewhat dark and sinister. Then the ending, the big fight with the malevolent spirit that wants to take over Mara’s life, is packed into too few chapters. The result is that the book feels inconsistent and messy.

The good thing about it, though, is that I really enjoyed the main character Mara. Her voice was interesting, her perspective and knowledge of Pagan rituals, and her earnest discussion of the supernatural goings-on was endearing. Except for her fear of rodents, she was pretty brazen and unflinching in the face of all this trouble.

I can’t say the same for her best friend, Gus. I’m sure Ms. Miller was attempting to create a sassy, fun gay California man, but to me, he was a complete jerk. He insulted Mara’s weight, made fun of her lack of boyfriend, and when she was being evicted from her apartment in an unfair situation, never once offered to help her, instead picking on her throughout. I was pleased when Part One was over and I didn’t have to put up with his jackassery any more. Mara, honey, you deserve respect, and you can do so much better than being a hag to nasty old Gus.

If you’re looking for something different in the paranormal vein and don’t mind some of the foibles of a disjointed-feeling book, I would suggest Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead. The detail about witch accouterments and rituals is fascinating in and of itself–perhaps even worth wading through Gus’s terrible attitude.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Cowards and Killers by Dennis Liggio

Cowards and Killers Cover ArtTitle: Cowards and Killers
Author: Dennis Liggio
Genre(s): Adult Urban Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Cowards and Killers in exchange for an honest review.

Michael has died, but a mysterious voice on the phone has kept him in the world. They have a simple deal for him: kill and they’ll stop his soul from going to Hell. In a suit that conceals his identity and with a black gun that never runs out of bullets, he becomes their agent. He doesn’t want to be their assassin, but he has no choice if he wants to survive. However, he is not alone in this trap; other agents are trapped in this same dilemma. They all receive calls and must kill their targets before the timer winds down. Together with another agent, he plots to rebel against the voice. But can they really do much against their fate when the voice holds all the cards? With each kill, their humanity is slipping away. Is there a way to escape this dilemma, or do all roads lead to Hell?

I liked Cowards and Killers. I was compelled to keep reading and annoyed at my general sleepiness (recall: I’m pregnant) when trying to get through the ending the night I finished it. Enough of a mystery exist around the origin of the Voice on the phone and the killings that I wanted to keep reading, to unravel the mystery, to understand what was happening.

The problem was that this book was a little long. I think it would have been better as a longer short story or maybe short novella. Intriguing ideas bound the book together, but the actual story-telling left something to be desired.

The beginning was linear without much weaving of plot threads. Much of the middle was talking, explanation, discussion of which agents could be trusted and who couldn’t. The climax was explosive and satisfying, the ending intriguing, but the wrap-up left something to be desired. The explanation we receive on who is doing the killers and who is orchestrating the events at the end is 80% complete, but there are holes. The “big reveal” at the end as to Michael’s history and previous life left me scratching my head, since I never clued in throughout the book that we needed a big reveal. Even the mysterious informational benefactor that appears in the last 25% is left as a deus ex machina to pull together bits of the plot but not ever give a full explanation (although it’s completely obvious from his name as to who he is and what faction he represents).

I have a lot of complaints, it seems, but I still liked the book. As I said, the ideas are strong and unique, but I feel that Mr. Liggio needs to work on his storytelling. Bring the exciting parts on camera rather than telling us about them, get multiple plotlines going at once, and ensure that each bread crumb being dropped gives us a tad more than the last bread crumb. If you like heaven/hell urban fantasies, you’ll probably like this one.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Gateway by Christina Garner

Gateway by Christina GarnerTitle: Gateway (Gateway Trilogy #1)
Author: Christina Garner
Genre(s): Young Adult Urban Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle | Barnes & Noble

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Gateway in exchange for an honest review.

Ember has always known she doesn’t belong in this world. But when she tries to correct the mistake, she wakes to find herself in a mental institution.

She’s soon drawn to Taren, the mysterious boy with hazel eyes. He’s not what he seems, but what is he?

When chaos erupts, they are forced to flee the institution together, and the secret that Taren has been keeping brings Ember closer to understanding her own. And leads her to… the Gateway.

I liked Gateway, but it lacked something. Although it’s full-length novel, it seemed short, as if the plot was too small. I enjoyed the world-building, and I really liked Ember, but I wished for more from this first installment in the Gateway Trilogy.

I’m particular about Young Adult books, as I’ve mentioned before. I decided to read this one because I liked the premise–demons and chaos. What’s not to love? There’s plenty of that in the book, although I wished for more revelation of the world behind the world. I’m guessing more will be uncovered as the series progresses.

One of the things I loved about the book was the main character, Ember. I’m particularly picky when it comes to my YA protagonists. I’ve never been one for teenaged drama, even when I was a teenager, so now that I’m adult, I’m fully out of that phase. (Pregnancy hormones not-withstanding–we’ll just not go there, since my condition is temporary.) But Ember never comes across as angsty or whiny. She’s always forging onward, looking to the next crisis, and generally being a badass. Even cynical old me found the romance interesting, with little to no time spent mooning over the color of Taren’s eyes or where the relationship was going. A+ on the character development.

I’ve pondered what it is about the plot that makes me feel like it wasn’t enough, but I can’t put my finger on one thing exactly. The ending seemed satisfying, although some of the prose got a little purple and over-dramatic for my taste. It just feels like there’s not enough development of the middle. Ember gets swept away into a new world after she’s committed to a mental institution, and then BAM! Time to fight the boss at the end.

If you like urban fantasy young adult books, you’ll enjoy this. The characters are interesting, and the world seems fully fleshed out. Hopefully more will be revealed in later books, and Ember continues to be a rock-steady teen protagonist.

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Review: The Foul Mouth and the Fanged Lady by Richard Raley

The Foul Mouth and the Fanged Lady by Richard RaleyTitle: The Foul Mouth and the Fanged Lady (King Henry Tapes #1)
Author: Richard Raley
Genre(s): Adult Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

King Henry Price is fourteen, he loves everything he’s not supposed to and hates everything he’s supposed to. One day after his usual hour of detention he comes home to find an enigmatic woman named Ceinwyn Dale sitting in his kitchen, telling his parents lies about a special reform school. What she tells King Henry is different, she tells him he’s a mancer, a Geomancer to be exact, that he’s special, one in million maybe. She sure ain’t a fairy giant and King Henry sure as hell ain’t Harry Potter, but why not? Got to be better than the life he’s already got.

King Henry Price is twenty-two, a recent graduate of the Asylum as an Artificer. With the special ability to create lasting items of the Mancy, he’s spurned the Artificer’s Guild and struck out on his own to found an Artificer workshop looking to do things his way. One night, a vampire baroness claiming she’s named Anne Boleyn walks into his shop, telling King Henry he’s going to help her, and she’s not taking ‘no’ for an answer. King Henry is pretty sure the whole name thing is just a joke, but only pretty sure…

Boy, did I ever like The Foul Mouth and the Fanged Lady. A few months back, I went on a Bookbub binge, and this was one of the cheap or free purchases I had sitting around on my Kobo. Sometimes they turn out all right–especially since Bookbub is known for its quality–and sometimes they don’t. This one, well, they did a good job. (I’ve decided that in 2014 I want to make my way through all my Bookbub books, so you’ll see more reviews that reference Bookbub.)

Poor fourteen-year-old King Henry and his foul mouth. He’s such a little shithead that I couldn’t help loving him. The kid doesn’t have much chance not getting picked on in a world in our times when his mother thought it would be cool to actually name him King Henry. Then again, he doesn’t do himself any favors. The story is told from the perspective of an older King Henry, who is wise (ha!) in the ways of the world and is reflecting on getting dragged off to a magic school whether he wanted to or not. The way the book is written has some more intricacies, but I will leave it to you to find out. Suffice it to say that it’s an entertaining and interesting way of relating a story.

The TVTropes.org term for an element that threatens the reader’s suspension of disbelief is “lampshade hanging,” which Mr. Raley does marvelously. Sparkly vampires and Harry Potter are handled in such an entertaining way that I felt like, yeah, vampires really are blood creatures that wear our bodies as a disguise and Hogwarts has nothing on the real magic school where artificers study their natural craft.

I also wanted to call out the world-building. This is one of those worlds I can’t help but believe exists in another universe (or does it exist in ours and I’m just not aware?). I see in my head Mr. Raley’s writing desk, the walls covered in sticky notes that explain the magic and keep track of all the little idiosyncrasies of the artificers–yet none of it is heavy-handed. It’s casual, without being confusing. Informative, without being an info-dump. It is very well done.

A few grammatical errors spoiled the fun (note the comma splice in the first sentence of the description, sad face), but I was so enamored of King Henry’s exploits that I just didn’t care. And I don’t think I need to comment on the cover. I get the vision now that I’ve read the book, but it is an eyesore that almost stopped me from trying the book out.

If you have a special place in your heart for a foul-mouthed but likeable kid telling it like it is while he’s trying to find his way in this confusing world of magic, you’ll love The Foul Mouth and the Fanged Lady. I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series and see what new mischief King Henry has gotten himself into.

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