Eleven by Carolyn Arnold

This is another book where I am going to start by saying “I wanted to like this book but…”

Let’s start with the positive aspects before I dive into my reasons for not giving this book anything but 1 ½ to 2 stars. The story had an interesting premise. A serial killer was on the loose and one of his signatures was the coinherence symbol.

The coinherence symbol was never adequately explained to the reader in a way that tied into the actual story. In fact, I went outside the book to get some information on it in order to fill in a gap. I will also say that the story dove into what seemed to be the middle of a chapter and it took me about three chapters in before I could even begin to start to untangle what had happened. The FBI characters were literally underground, in a serial killers burial chamber talking about the crimes in the opening chapters. No set up, no introductions…it was utterly confusing.

A second weakness was the the lack of clarity about any of the characters and how one, Brandon, spoke in the first person, while everyone else spoke in the third person. It was bizarre. Brandon, a younger agent, was alternately called “Kid”, “Pending” and “Slingshot” by different people, some using more than one nickname. That was ridiculous because again, for three chapters, I had no idea they were all one and the same person. Additionally, Brandon, although he had been an agent for a minute, had already had an affair with one of his senior agents. When? How? Was this before they were both agents? Was it in high school? Who knows!

The agent named Zachery was superfluous to the whole story. He served no purpose but to make the team an even four and to irritate Brandon. I think he was supposed to be some kind of analyst but whenever real analysis was needed, they called an agent named Nadia. An agent who despite her expertise, they consistently hung up on before she could ever impart what they needed to know. That got old real fast!

Paige, the senior agent/love interest, routinely showed up to find Brandon in his boxer shorts and intimated that she was sleeping with the Supervising agent – a very irritating chain smoker named Jack. I spent chapters trying to figure out why she would sleep with such an unappealing character, as did Brandon. To his surprise and the readers, it was all a ruse! What??????

The chain smoking Jack was horrible. Ill drawn, unhelpful, irascible, unable and unwilling to work with his own agents much less local law enforcement. By the end, I was wondering if Jack would be done in by a serial killer or lung cancer and Brandon complained repeatedly about the effects of second hand smoking on his health. Additionally, his marriage fell apart in what amounted to about four pages- wife introduced, wife in peril, wife hates job, wife calls him from his office(?), disconnects her cell phone and he receives papers letting him know that the marriage is over.

I’m a masochist. I finished the book. But I didn’t like it and I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

This is a great fantasy novel in all the best ways. I found myself comparing it a little bit to a Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman with a dash of Douglas Adams. Originally written in German, it definitely has the feel of a traditional fairy tale a la the Brother’s Grimm.

The story revolves around Echo the Crat (yes, Crat, that is not a spelling error) who has been captured by the local Alchemaster of Malaisea, his name is Ghoolion, and Echo is being held and fattened up so that the Alchemaster can obtain his fat for his potion library.

As the story rolls along, we find out more about Ghoolion and how Malaisea became the illness capital of the Kingdom of Zamonia. We find out more about Echo and what it means to be a Crat. Echo has the opportunity not only to eat to his hearts content, but also to explore Ghoolion’s castle – a place the locals fear and dread.

Along the way, Echo makes friends with Leathermice (a vampiric race of mice/bats), Theodore T. Theodore (an owl with a speech impediment), Cooking Ghosts, a Snow White Widow, Ugglies, a mossback Toad and a whole host of other fantastical residents of Malaisea. There is a method and means to Ghoolion’s madness that unfolds as the story unfolds.

I try to read widely and from all genre’s. This book was given to me as a gift and I am glad I got it because I doubt I would have grabbed it off the shelf under my own volition. You know how it is – you go to your favorite bookstore and you tend to gravitate to those shelves that usually yield you a reliable selection. I am not a discerning enough fan of fantasy to always grab these novels, so often, I am introduced to authors through friends giving me gifts or making recommendations.

I have also discovered something about readers – unless they are fantasy fans from the outset, many readers are adamantly opposed to dipping their toes into this genre. I’m not sure why. Partly I think it comes from an inability or unwillingness to suspend belief. Partly because readers feel that the fantasy genre somehow translates to children’s writing. Another(no offense intended here) the genre is associated with fan geeks. For me, it has been because there aren’t many stand alone pieces in the genre. They all revolve around a series and one feels that once you have committed to one book, you just have to read the rest.

This is the beginning of a series. However, I would be very comfortable in advising those who find the ideas and story intriguing, that it can be read as a stand alone novel. There is resolution at the end of the story as well as an opening for future works. And for those who love the genre, there are future works.

The other thing I loved about this story is that it is written by a European author and translated into English. I always find it refreshing to read authors who are from other countries. Their viewpoint on the world enriches me as a reader and engages my imagination as a writer to explore the world in different ways.

This is a book for all ages. It can be read to children (although there are some parts that small children would consider frightening or scary.) It is a great novel for an older elementary schooler to cut their teeth on in adult fiction. It is great for adults because the story is engaging and fun with a bit of black humor. An easy 4 stars for all to enjoy.

Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie

I do not know what it is about this series of books. I like them very much, in fact this is the second one I have read, but I have the same problem with each one. It takes me a very long time to get into the book. This one languished on my to-read pile for months. I picked it up, read a few pages, moved on to another book. I re-started it at least eight times.

But once I started it in earnest, it only took me a few days to read it. It marks the return of Dr. Gaius Petreus Ruso, a member of the Roman legions stationed in Britannia. He is marching with the legions to a northern outpost with his trusty slave/housekeeper/lover Tilla at his side. He had been a bit bored in Deva and wanted to see some action.

The region they are headed is also Tilla’s original home. She is, as always, difficult to handle for Ruso – even more so now that she is on home turf. They wander into a new mystery when a soldier is killed and beheaded in an alley. The head is missing, the doctor who runs the outpost has lost his mind, the hospital is in disarray and someone called “The Stag Man” by the locals is sabotaging the legion.

Ruso as usual bumbles into the middle of things and figures out what is happening. Tilla and he reach a new level in their relationship and readers will learn a little more about Tilla which helps round out her character a bit more.

The chapters aren’t long – three or four pages so its not chapter length that holds me back. It is however historical fiction and you have to be in the mood to read that kind of book. Not on the same level in any way but “The Name of the Rose” gave me the same challenge. Getting into the language and historical period just took me a long time.

This book offers a lot to readers – mystery, historical fiction of an era not often represented and great characters. It is also a series (!) with at least one more book that I know of available so those that fall in love can be assured of at least three books before suffering withdrawal.