Showing posts with label Voodoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Voodoo. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

CHOP IT UP: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

So let’s summarize this three star read.  

Brown Girl in the Ring takes on a futuristic urban Toronto where the rich and wealthy have fled the inner city to keep away from the dangerous and troubled others.  This moves leaves the violent and murderous power over the city, in all their recklessly and unsympathetic glory.  To the determinant of the remaining downtrodden and disenfranchised innocents, they are stuck in the ugly walls and rules of the new Toronto.  

In enters Ti-Jeanne, a young mother grappling with newfound motherhood and living with a hyper-shamanistic grandmother.  Said shamanistic grandmother has roots deep in Caribbean traditions, including the kind geared toward wielding magic spells.  And it's Ti-Jeanne's grandmother who drills her on the importance of carrying on their family's cultural and magical traditions, as well as suffocating Ti-Jeanne with her overprotective and overburden concerns.

Unfortunately, despite showing innate abilities to communicate with Caribbean gods and goddess, Ti-Jeanne is reluctant to take part in her grandmother's beliefs.  Until Ti-Jeanne’s baby’s father comes seeking her help.  He works for a crime boss who shuttles drugs and harvests human organs for the rich and, having been caught sniffing some of the supplies, must now bring his boss a human heart fit for a politician looking for a transplant.  Though he's not a murderer, it's either the life of the transplant victim or his own. 

Suddenly Ti-Jeanne is forced to confront her family’s roots in servicing gods and goddesses to keep him, her baby, and her family protected from the organized evil knocking at their door.  And her family's connections to this evil runs much deeper than water.  It's all blood.

So first, what I did enjoy took place in the "inactive" areas of the book. Or the beginning’s relationship-heavy slices.

I loved the time Hopkinson’s spent in laying out Ti-Jeanne and her struggles as a character. Her being a mother was an issue. Her coming to terms with her walk-out mother was another. And, as well, she had issues with her baby’s father, Tony, who was back in her life. Hopkinson took care to spend time revisiting their past relationship as lovers. She also spent time going into its downfall due to Tony’s drug addiction. The issue of Ti-Jeanne not informing Tony how her baby was theirs complicated matters. And Tony himself was well-drawn, as he fought with loving Ti-Jeanne while working for a crime boss. And it's this boss who had him by the balls every step he took. So, needless to say, their drama had my undivided attention.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Books I'm Looking Forward To Releasing In 2015

Today I shall share my break-the-wallet-on-release-day books.  Or simply put: BOOKS I CAN'T WAIT TO RELEASE THIS YEAR!  I just had to share this to keep myself accountable for my reading needs as 2015 unfolds.  Yes, yes.  I must be ready for each of these titles.  So let's go!

1. X is for… [Unannounced] by Sue Grafton

This was a breeze to conjure up.  Book number 24 in Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series is due out in August. I scream inside; as we all know I idolize Grafton and her smart-mouthed P. I., Kinsey. The series releases bi-yearly, so it’s right on time after 2013's W is for Wasted hit shelves that September. I just wonder what in the hell could the “X” in this title stand for, besides “Xylophone” or “Xenophile”?  And besides the full title, I haven't a clue what this one is about.  What's Kinsey's next case?  Where's Kinsey going to go next in her trapped-in-the-80s narrative.  I kind of like it that way, though.  The uncertainty, while having the utmost faith that it's going to be something incredibly sweet and fulfilling because Grafton and her protagonist is just that damn close to me now. I’m waiting desperately for you Mrs. Grafton!  And while I don't re-read books, I suddenly want to take this series down again.  From start to finish!  A to X.  One Kinsey Millhone one-liner after another.  I bask...

2. Devoted in Death by J. D. Robb

Well, it’s obvious at this point that I've stopped denying my need for J. D. Robb books. Yep. That’s over with. So I wait anxiously for September 8th when book number 41 in Robb’s Eve Dallas In Death series releases. Apparently, Devoted has a sort of Bonnie and Clyde setup. Two committed lovers on a cross-country killing spree. Sign me up for it!

3. The Moon Tells Secrets by Savanna Welles

Yes, yes, yes. Mrs. Welles is another pen name for author Valerie Wilson Wesley. And yes, sometimes I desire a little more out of her writing. Nonetheless, I somewhat enjoyed Welles’ first Gothic thriller, When the Night Whispers. Therefore, I'm willing to follow Wesl–err–Welles into The Moon Tells Secrets. It’s coming out on March 24, and that’s right around the corner. Apparently, The Moon Tells Secrets is about a woman raising her adopted son, a son with the ability to shift into animals. In turn, he’s hunted down by something called “skinwalker." Crazy, right? Well, the thrill to this–for me anyway–is that the cast is Black. I’m always, always there for Black characters featured in stories outside of contemporary fiction.  As well as the Black writers who take the dive to tell these unique stories. As far as I'm concerned, Black authors can do crime fiction and paranormal just as well. Needless to say, Tuesday, I'll be at Barnes and Nobles for this one. Support.

4. Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein

I've waited an entire year for book number 3 in Steve Bein’s Fated Blades series, one of the remaining remnants of urban fantasy series I find worth reading. And I’m less than a month away from its April 7th release. Color me all kinds of happy!  I can’t wait to go back to Tokyo with Bein's Detective Sergeant, Mariko Oshiro, and her infamous Inazuma blade. I just adore this series; from its protagonist to the way Bein jumps the reader back and forth through time via stories surrounding ancient Japanese blades. However, I'm hoping Bein offers Mariko a lot more spotlight this go-round. I enjoyed the last book, Year of the Demon, tremendously.  Nevertheless, I thought Mariko’s story got diluted by the time hopes to ancient Japan.  And believe me when I say that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  If you're into stories that tap into realms like legends, superstitions and Edo period Japanese tales, Bein delivers.

5. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Gladstone and Bein go hand-in-hand with me now, as both authors are my ports into the urban fantasy genre. Anyway, Last First Snow is book number 4 in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series. It'll be out in July. I don’t have too much information on the story; quite honestly, the big brute man on the cover has me worried. Nonetheless, as more details come about, I’m sure my excitement for this book will rise until I rush through the bookstore to grab it with little hesitation.

6. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

God Help the Child releases April 21. Now here’s the thing: I love Toni Morrison. I really do. However, as I mentioned before, I love her work pre-90s. Afterward, I found it difficult to get through her material. It almost feels like all the accolades and whatnot that Beloved garnered had shifted something in her writing. And while I managed through a few of her works then forward, it’s books like A Mercy that just makes me scratch my head in wonder. I never managed to finish that book, but hold on to it for the next attempt. I just never quite understood who and where that book took a claim to. And apparently I’m not the only one. Nonetheless, I do have hopes for God Help the Child. So much so that maybe I can go back and read Morrison’s Home, her 2012 release.  I suppose I'm hoping God Help the Child get me back on track with her.  It looks promising.

7. Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

All right, despite a few problems, I did enjoy the first book in Harris’ new series, Midnight Crossroad. I enjoyed the dust town and small-town cast of unique characters, and do intend to return to it all this May in Day Shift. I'm excited to see what these crazy-ass people (among other things) do next. Unfortunately, as Amazon is my only source at the immediate moment, I don’t have much information on what Day Shift is about. However, I'm still excited. As I said before, Harris is just ruthless with her characters. You never know what they'll do in her books.  She surprises me time and time again, and I like that.

8. Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Gerritsen just announced her October release on her blog, and it’s called Playing with Fire. In the same vein as her book, The Bone Garden, Playing with Fire jumps back and forth through time. It’s the story about a violinist, and how her 3-year-old daughter turns violent at the sound of a particularly piece the violinist plays. It's a piece of music she traces back to 1940’s Venice. So no, this is not a Rizzoli and Isle entry. Which is okay with me because its sounds just as Gerritsen and just as nuts.

9.  China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

I almost forgot this one!  Somebody beat me in the head because I don't understand how this one slipped me.  Well, I'm sure many more 2015 releases have already slipped around me.  Nonetheless, on to China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan.  China Rich Girlfriend is the sequel to Kwan's breakout debut, Crazy Rich Asians.  I thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians when I finally got my hands on it the winter before last.  Evidently, China Rich Girlfriend picks up on Chinese-Singaporean, Nicholas Young (heir to a magnificent fortune), and his relationship with ABC (American Born Chinese) girlfriend Rachel Chu.  After all of the gossiping, family coups, and destructive intentions to break the two apart, it appears the two are continuing forth with their wedding.  This, of course, only invites more drama.  Needless to say, I can't wait to get my hands on it in June.  For anyone who indulges in the melodrama that makes up Asian soaps, this is the author to get into!

Okay. Off the top of my head, that’s it for now. I got a few fence-riders I’ll like to mention next.

10. Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell

This is book number 23 in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta forensic thriller series. After last year’s awfulness of Flesh and Blood, I'm not sure (that’s a lie because Depraved Heart will be sought) how this one will go. I think I just want to hear myself say lie to myself, but I am worried about whether this book is going to be as awful as Flesh and Blood. Will I have to abandon it, just as I did Flesh and Blood?  Well, we'll see in November when this book releases.

11. One Night by Eric Jerome Dickey

I used to be totally in love with this guy. Then he didn't release a book for an entire year, came back, and broke my heart. The book that threw me over was An Accidental Affair (2012); this torrent story about some guy finding his girlfriend (or was it his wife?) was having an affair. So what does he do, run out and sleep with just about every woman who takes an interest in him. I didn't make it through that book before I, to be perfectly honest, returned it. The following year I bought Decadence. This featured the return of Dickey's sex-crazed protagonist Nia Simon Bijou. Needless to say, I never even cracked it. I gave the book to my mom, as I just didn't care to read about Nia and her orgies again.  I think those two books just weren't written for me, or maybe I just grew tired of this sudden slip of sex over plot. However, last year’s A Wanted Woman looked promising, but by then I was already too hurt to try. I just didn’t feel like another erotic action thriller. Which is odd because it’s a book about a hit-woman, and y‘all know I love books featuring women with guns. Nonetheless, the idea is that I'll go back to A Wanted Woman before I return to what seems like classic Dickey in One Night. Who knows?  Here's to One Night's April 21th release.

Drum, But No Drum

12. The Drafter by Kim Harrison 

The Drafter is first in Kim Harrison’s new series, and seeing I've somewhat abandoned her Rachel Morgan series, I don't see The Drafter happening. Nonetheless, it’s on my radar. How’s that for September possibilities?

13. Dead Ice by Laurell K Hamilton

My ultimate guilty pleasure. The series that I love to hate. And hate more than I love, yet find myself bewitched after Hamilton waved her wand over readers from book 1-9. I’m locked into Anita Blake and her story. Even as I want to throw up at the ridiculousness of it along the way.  Here's to gathering my pail in June.

Off Subject, But Not

Why do I want to read Nora Roberts’ Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy? Is it the covers? I don’t know, but for some reason, I really want to read these books. Help me, Jesus.

So what new releases are you guys looking for this year? 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rhodes, Voodoo Queen and Lackluster

Jewell Parker Rhodes's voodoo mystery trilogy started out with a celebrated, spirited bang; however, it ended like a teary-eyed Toni Braxton love song.  SAD PANDA INDEED!  I still recall that dazzled-tongue dude (talking about myself here) walking into a used bookstore and happening across the first book in the series, Voodoo Season.  Here he was, between the stacks, holding back a jovial scream as the synopsis read the likes of voodoo, murder mystery, and a woman of color playing as the lead.  Damnit, what more could he ask for?  So let him hear his dreams!

Well, evidently he could have asked for much more.  Hate to say it.

I’ll be first to admit that the first book in the Marie Levant Mystery series wasn’t the best piece of fiction.  To make this quick, it introduced Marie Levant, a Chicago defect who decided to port back to the South where her deceased mother’s roots lie long underneath the stretch of the famed Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.  Nevertheless, in doing so, Marie [Levant] becomes a doctor at New Orleans’s Charity Hospital.  This is where she runs across her first murder mystery case in the form of a seemingly dead girl wheeled into the ER.  However, this seemingly dead girl is pregnant and the baby is safely retrieved and later adopted by Marie.  As the police move in, and Marie’s fondness for the child increases, she implements herself in the case.  Marie discovers that the girl was a part of a prostitution ring and her state of zombification was brought by dark voodoo magic.  This investigation awakens Marie's own voodoo power, as well as her sleuthing skills that later go sour as the trilogy continues.

Voodoo Season had its airy moments, where swinging swirls of poetic narrative/dialogue took over the necessity for elaborating details needed to further character development and the mystery plot.  Some pages read like a James Patterson book; sparse on ink.  Nevertheless, it still contained those elements that I loved.  Marie Levant was black.  She is the ancestor of the famed and historically bona fide Voodoo Queen of Louisiana, Marie Laveau.  And while she has an appetite for sex, it doesn’t hinder her from being both an indomitable doctor at New Orleans’s Charity Hospital or an amateur sleuth.  Basically, Marie carried the book just fine for my personal taste.  Along with the other cast.  Though some are questionable, like Charity Hospital’s top dog, Dulac, and his penchant for being drunk on the job.  As well as the handsome Detective Reneaux who guides Marie on her case (or his case).  Topple in the subjects of cryptograms, death gods, ghosts, ancestral tales, and some Creole culture, and you can consider me absorbed.  Then there’s that extra layer where Rhodes demystifies some subjects pertaining to voodoo, or the Vodun religion.  The ending had a cinema exploitative reel to it, but that was actually my favorite part as Marie called on the darker voodoo gods to exact revenge for herself, the be-spelled prostitutes, and someone close to her who didn't survive.

The second book, Yellow Moon, turns its eye a little more toward the paranormal side of Marie's journey.  Citizens over the city of New Orleans are turning up dead, wheeled into Charity Hospital’s morgue in conditions mysteriously close to an immoderate case of exsanguination.  Puncture marks riddle their wrist, leading Marie, and our newly casted detective, Park, to attribute the cause of death to a type of vampiric draining.  Nevertheless, matters gather more interest for Marie as the ghost of these victims begin to haunt her, pushing her to seek their justice.  What Marie and Detective Park don’t anticipate is that an ancient, African vampire spirit called wazimamoto is behind the deaths.  Having a taste of Marie’s essence--or spirit--as the Voodoo Queen of Louisiana, the wazimamoto turns its sights on draining her to end Marie Laveau’s bloodline (can you keep up with the difference between Marie Levant and her ancestor Marie Laveau?).  As it comes to light, Marie realizes that the wazimamoto and her ancestor Marie Laveau are enemies from the past  And it’s this wazimamoto that’ll take several of Marie’s closest friends with it to death before she manages to pull all of her ancestor's powers together to stop it from taking hers.

Writing that short summary kind of made me realize that I liked the mystery of the book a lot more than that dull feeling I felt after finishing the last page.  I wouldn’t say that Yellow Moon was a complete dud, but I will say that it wasn’t as dark or swallowing as I’d anticipated.  Written much the same as the first book, it had that same airy quality of poetic prose/dialogue, however, not nearly as much.  Some events felt like an unnecessary action to the plot, including central characters’ death.  I say this mainly because it’s hard to grieve for characters that you’re expect to, yet have little awareness of them outside of their involvement with the main heroine.  In that respect, many should have survived just as Marie did, to sort of compound the trilogy and keep its character flavor.  In a roundabout way, I kind of want to blame this on how the books were released two to three years apart; Rhodes wasn't looking ahead.  However, the book did establish more of Marie’s inner struggles being a Voodooienne priestess, enough so that those struggles overpowered the hunt for the wazimamoto while exposing nuggets of information on the subject of voodoo.  Nevertheless, Rhodes made up for shuffles of plot verses complex inner monologue by introducing new themes.  Rich, authentic Jazz, African folklore, personal inner demons come manifested, and other cultural concerns were a few.  Quite frankly, Yellow Moon didn’t read like a mystery, which is the backbone of my interest in the series.  Rhodes can throw everything she can at me to tickle my interest--those are a given.  Nonetheless, I strongly, strongly need the careful sleight-of-hand of a mystery and Marie’s ability to think for herself to keep me holding on.  Yellow Moon could easily arrive on the doorstep of urban fantasy.

And that’s where my main draw with the last book, Hurricane, comes into play.  Hoping Rhodes would get back into the mystery element of the trilogy, I was let down in the final book.  From the beginning I knew something was off.  Marie is led by a vision/dream of some sort to town outside of New Orleans called DeLaire, bayou country.  An hour or two on the highway something (I emphasize “something”) causes her to pull onto the berm where she follows a path to a house.  Furthering her need to investigate, Marie uncovers the bodies of three people--it appears to be a family.  Father, mother and daughter.  Dead.  It quickly becomes obvious to Marie that they were murder, each one shot and killed as she looks closer.  Naturally, she sought the local’s police station.  There she meets Deet Malveaux, the town sheriff.  It seems that Deet was halfway expecting Marie’s presence, driven by the fact that his dying grandmother had a vision of Marie coming to save the afflicted community of DeLaire.  And those afflicted show up in droves when Deet takes Marie to his dying grandmother.  The announcement is made clear: Marie Laveau’s ancestor is there to heal the people of DeLaire.  Deet’s sheriff brother, Aaron, seems more or less impressed as he sets off to investigate Marie’s claims while she’s stuck at the Malveaux’s house attending to the line of ill towners.  Pushing medical science over shamanism for their illness upsets the desperate gathering.  Marie is mostly at a lost for their haggard cries for healing, but she deals.  Upon Aaron's return, Marie realizes through the ghosts of the murdered family that now accompanies him, that Aaron did nothing more but blaze a fire to destroy the crime scene.  In turn, concealing the murders.  The question now becomes why and what exactly is going on in the town of DeLaire?  And here I was hoping Marie would be stuck there surviving something out of a Stephen King novel where every bit of her wits are needed to find out DeLaire's secrets.

Unfortunately, it takes ages before DeLaire's secret is clear, and its unfolding is so rocky that I almost gave up.  In the end my attempt wasn’t to solve the crime before Marie.  It was to understand the crime and purpose of it.  While it later becomes clear, though nowhere near as believable or compelling as Rhodes may have hoped it would be, I still felt like there were no leads or further evidence for Marie to trace down toward the culprit of the events in DeLaire.  After the described visit, she goes back to New Orleans where she informs law enforcement there on the murders.  It’s proposed to the reader that an albino detective has his doubts, therefore, pushing Marie out of the precinct underneath an entailing fact that he is involved.  He's probably the only notable villain to the mystery, while coming across as uncompelling to the mystery.  Basically, he is not interesting as a character, and later his role provides absolutely no suspense to the already suspense less mystery.  While once again Marie loses someone close to her, it becomes evident at this point that her losing friends are a weak plot device.  I hardly gathered the feeling of despair through this lose; not as a means to sound unsympathetic, but as a means of sounding too aware of Rhodes’s techniques.  She needs to learn how to keep her characters around longer, moving and breathing well on their own before she kills them off.  And slices of back story won't do.  

With all that being said, it’s clear that above her two previous books in the series, the themes in Hurricane overrides all else without hesitation.  Here Rhodes explores not only the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but also environmental destruction and its proceeding domino effect.  She also explores racism a little more fatally here, as we later learn the township of DeLaire is paying the price of some rather ruthless others.  And where the wazimamoto played the malevolent spirit in Yellow Moon, the benevolence of an African water goddess spirit called Mami Wata helped encourage the power of Rhodes environmental theme.

In closing, I will more or less miss this series.  I give it kudos for Rhode’s proposal on exploring the subject of voodoo underneath a mystery and sassy lead.  But much of that execution did not totally win with me.  The balance between her need to unload on the reader certain interesting themes seemed to push aside the complexities of creating a profound mystery throughout each book.  And in essence, I needed that strong, powerful mystery to help fill in the desire to soak in the other elements provided by Rhodes.  So while the first bite was an unaware party on the taste buds, after awhile it didn't go down so easily.

Any thoughts on my take of Rhodes's series?  Have you read them or suggest any books piled with mysteries and voodoo spells gone wrong?  Add your comments here.

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