Review of How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner’s Guide to Necromancy #1), by Hailey Edwards

I borrowed an audio copy of How to Save an Undead Life (by Hailey Edwards) through Hoopla.

Description from Goodreads:

Grier Woolworth spends her nights weaving spooky tales of lost souls and tragedies for tourists on the streets of downtown Savannah. Hoop skirt and parasol aside, it’s not a bad gig. The pay is crap, but the tips keep the lights on in her personal haunted mansion and her pantry stocked with ramen. 

Life is about as normal as it gets for an ex-necromancer hiding among humans. Until the society that excommunicated Grier offers her a second chance at being more than ordinary. Too bad no one warned her the trouble with being extraordinary is it can get you killed. 

Review:

So, I just didn’t particularly care for this. I suppose it wasn’t bad, just not to my taste. I thought Grier was the perpetual victim and it got on my nerves. She basically spends the whole book walking heedlessly into danger, only to be saved by the strapping boy next door. She never confronted the powers that be about her situation (though she was smart enough to understand it) and then, at the end, there’s a bit about how she’s making plans of her own. But after a whole book of her floundering, I couldn’t believe a word of it. Plus, a new (and probably important character) was introduced IN THE LAST CHAPTER. 

But my biggest issue was that the whole book is predicated on the fact that Grier was supposed to have just gotten out of prison (a horrible, supernatural prison that she was never expected to leave). But the reader is just told this. It’s so remote that you forget about it. How to Save an Undead Life felt very much like a second book. As if there should be a first book that addresses how and why Grier went to prison. The whole thing felt very anchorless and baseless. I get that it’s supposed to be the mystery in the next book (or books), but the reader REALLY feels the lack of explanation in this book. 

A last small gripe, the title makes no sense to the book (as for as I can see). 

The writing and narration (by Rebecca Mitchell) were technically competent. The grammar and such is sound. No complaints on that front. All in all, others may like this more than me. But I’m glad to be finished with it.

Edit: I’ve just realized I’ve read another book by this author and in re-reading my review of it, I find that I had almost identical complaints. If I can help it, I won’t be making the mistake a third time.

Review of The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I borrowed an audio copy of The Ballad of Black Tom (by Victor LaValle) from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops. But when he delivers an occult page to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Review:

I found this a really powerful novella. It deftly shows how easily the injustice and cruelty of everyday racism can push even good men to monster-like acts. (I was going to say turn them into monsters. But I don’t think Tom is ever a monster; just emotionally beaten by the racial realities of the 1920s.) I found it especially poignant how, even after the fact, the primary white character erases Tom from the event, effectively hiding the embodiment of white America’s sins (and his own participation in it) from himself, rendering it moot. All in all, I found this atmospheric and evocative. Plus, Kevin R. Free did a great job with the narration. A+

Review of The Devil to Pay (Shayne Davies #1), by Jackie May

I borrowed an audio copy of Jackie May‘s The Devil to Pay through Hoopla.

Description from Goodreads:

As a fox shifter, Shayne Davies gets no respect in an underworld run by the fearsome and powerful—werewolves and vampires, sorcerers, demons, and mythical faerie creatures. Even at home, Shayne is still treated like the brat of the pack. Her mom constantly nags; her intended (but unwanted) mate ensures plenty of awkward silences, and Shayne is even expected to act submissive to the pack’s future alpha…a six year old.

Yeah. Time for Plan B.

All Shayne wants is to prove that she’s got what it takes to run with the big dogs, not just to feel like she matters, but, more importantly, to give a big middle finger to anybody who ever doubted her. Which is why she is constantly hounding Nick Gorgeous to make her an agent at the “Double D”, the Detroit Division of the FUA. That’s an easy “No” for Gorgeous, who keeps a strict “No Shayne Davies” policy. Well, never say never. When mysterious underworld criminals steal a load of bomb materials, the FUA picks up a messy case nobody wants to touch. It’s bad enough that a demon horde is involved, but now the annoying FBI has sent out an agent to babysit the investigation. To make matters worse, notorious master vampire Henry Stadther has control of what may be the only key to breaking the case: a human detective with a beautiful man face, but a broken past.

The whole thing’s a hopeless disaster.

So guess what, Shayne? You’re hired!

Review:

This book tricked me. When it first started I groaned and wondered if I’d manage to finish it. I didn’t have high hopes. I was annoyed that the main character broke the fourth wall to speak directly to the reader. I disliked that it seemed so focused on sex (though I appreciated that she was allowed to be sexual). I thought Shayne seemed too silly to relate to and I disliked that she was basically lying to everyone about actually working for the agency. It felt very child-like. As did the fact that the agency captain allowed her to pull the tricks she did. It was like watching an adult pander to a child. I honestly almost just gave up. 

But as I continued, I found I like Shayne a lot. Her ditzy blond routine was just that, an act. She was a lot more capable than her unreliable narration led me to believe. I appreciated that while there were hints at romance somewhere in the series, this book is UF, not PNR. And even having finished this book, I’m not sure which way the author will take it. The writing is snappy and there’s quite a lot of wit, though you sense the characters work at it. This could easily have felt like the author trying too hard, but I took it more as the characters trying to one-up each other. 

All in all, despite the rough start, I’d be more than happy to read more of May’s writing. And as Chandra Skyye did fine with the narration, I’d listen to her again too.