Dead Spots by Melissa F. Olson

Y'all are aware that I am a fan of the Urban Fantasy genre. Like, big time. I'm always looking for another new book to tickle my fancy and there are plenty of stories out there for me to take for a spin. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of UF debuts don't really much to offer in terms of originality or spark and so I've been getting discouraged of late, thinking "well, there's always my old standbys." That is, until I decided to pick up a largely unheard of debut by author Melissa F. Olson called Dead Spots. Read on, friends. This was a good 'un.

Vampires, werewolves, and witches are not just a story cooked up to scare you at night. A fact which Scarlett Bernard knows firsthand as she runs a type of 'house cleaning' service for the secret Old World. As a null, someone who basically defuses any type of magic just by coming within 10 feet of it, her services are highly rated and extremely rare within the magical community and as such often gets calls to clean up 'mistakes' and other messy situations before the public at large can ask any pesky questions. And she's doing pretty good at it -- or at least faking it pretty good while trying to figure out how to deal with all the hurt and loss she's been handed in the past few years. At least that's sort of working until she gets called to fix up a grisly murder scene and is caught by one very surprised detective, Jesse Cruz. Understandably, the head honchos of clan Wolf and Vampire are none too thrilled about Scarlett's new cop shadow and demand she make things right. Which she's trying to do, only how's a girl to solve a murder with absolutely no clues to go on?

Let's just say this book caught me hard. Hard enough to blow through it in one sitting that is. The story was intricate and multidimensional with plenty of fodder left unsolved for sequels to deal with. Scarlett at first glance does seem a bit predictable but she quickly reveals herself to be extremely layered and carting around a barrel full of grief and heartache. She's an exceptionally compelling individual with more to offer than she even knows herself.

My favorite aspect of Dead Spots has to be the memorable character interactions. With a perky vampire roommate, a dead scary (ha!) vampire boss, a cop with no idea what he's gotten himself into, and a somewhat complicated relationship with a werewolf named Eli, Scarlett's relationships are highly unusual and immensely entertaining. I do hope to get more of the bartender Eli in subsequent books as I have developed quite a soft spot where that werewolf is concerned. And although I didn't exactly love the squeaky, shiny persona of Jesse Cruz at first, he eventually won me over with his trademark persistence.

Dead Spots will inevitably be compared to the Sookie Stackhouse series -- and for good reason. Scarlett's youth and lack of training are very similar to Sookie's, along with the whole werewolf/vampire/witch trifecta but Melissa Olson makes the story her own with unique and believable characters and intriguing conflicts. I will definitely be back for more.

Wanna read more? Check out the first chapter here.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Cookies, Books and Bikes review
Mixed Book Bag review

book source: purchased

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Thanks to Holly I was altered to the fact that the Aussie debut, Good Oil by Laura Buzo would soon be making it's appearance in the US under the new name of Love and Other Perishable Items. I just knew it was something I had to pick up (even though frankly I was a little disappointed with the title and cover change). And just because I think the description from Goodreads is just so dang perfect, here ya go.
"Miss Amelia Hayes, welcome to The Land of Dreams. I am the staff trainer. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei and I will give you the good oil. Right? And just so you know, I’m open to all kinds of bribery."

From the moment 15-year-old Amelia begins work on the checkout at Woolworths she is sunk, gone, lost… head-over-heels in love with Chris. Chris is the funny, charming, man-about-Woolies, but he’s 21, and the 6-year difference in their ages may as well be a hundred. Chris and Amelia talk about everything from Second Wave Feminism to Great Expectations and Alien but will he ever look at her in the way she wants him to? And if he does, will it be everything she hopes?
I had heard from various trusted reviewers that Love and Other Perishable Items (aka Good Oil to the rest of the world) was a title not to be missed, especially for fans of the Melina Marchetta ilk. Well, I'm definitely in that category and I can safely say this Aussie debut completely stole my heart. Most notably however is utter realness and believablity of Amelia and Chris' characters. I know many readers will immediately latch onto their struggles because they are the crises of every single teenager and young adult. Amelia facing the hopelessness of a crush she knows she'll never, ever be able to be with and Chris for his inability to settle on a course for his future -- the sort of limbo most college students inevitably face. On the surface, their heartaches and trials seem minor and not at all earth shattering until you come to understand them as individuals and reader, I can tell you, that they also now mean the world to ME.

How I wish I could go back and read many of those books Amelia is trying to figure out for the first time again. Her visceral responses to many of the seeming injustices of the characters lives (like why oh why did Pip wind up with Estella?? I always hated that ending anyways) so resonated with me.

And Chris *sigh* At times I simply wanted to smack that boy upside the head for his seemingly unendless supply of cluelessness. For all his book smarts and sociable ease, he sure drove me up a wall with his never ending ineptitude on the female front. My heart ached for Amelia as she listened to his many confidences, knowing she'd never have a chance with him. That said, Laura Buzo did have a flash of brilliance when she decided to split the novel POV's in chunks between the two protagonists. Gaining insight into Chris' own heartaches consequently left me longing to simply scoop him up and lovingly point him in the right direction. And the ending? Well, the word bittersweet comes to mind and beyond that I'm not gonna say anything because you just have to pick it up for yourself.

My only complaint? That it ended too soon. I'd love another chance to catch up with Amelia and Chris -- especially in another ten or fifteen years to see how they are getting on. Sadly, no sequel seems to be on the horizon but you can bet that Love and Other Perishable Items will be a title that I'll return to in the future. It's got a voice I just won't be able to forget easily.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Book Harbinger review
Chachic's Book Nook review
Inkcrush review

book source: Netgalley

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
As Retro Friday reviews go, this one has been a long time coming. I find I must start with a confession: I have never read a single, solitary book by Lloyd Alexander. Baffling, no? Looking back, I find it a HUGE oversight on the part of all those librarians I unabashedly pestered as a youngster. But I'm older now, and wanted to mend my ways and after some gentle prodding from Angie's direction, decided to have a go with Westmark as it was promised to include political intrigue and high adventure. Which was basically like dangling the proverbially carrot in front of a hungry horse.

On the run and facing imprisonment (or worse) Theo runs head-long into the finest charlatan ever to walk the streets of Westmark, Count Las Bombas and his dwarf companion, Musket. Although uncomfortable with their easy style of thievery, Theo is reluctant to part company after they are joined by the street urchin Mickle and eventually travel to the palace itself to face the Chief Minster Carrabas, who is determined to take control of Westmark for himself.

Fast-paced yet utterly subtle in it's detail Westmark was a revelation to me. I don't think I have ever read anything so tightly written with such deliberate adventure but still chock-full of complex discussions on right and wrong. By allowing the reader to follow Theo on his travels through Westmark, we are able to witness as he evolves and even get frustrated as his ideas of right and wrong are challenged by every single character he meets along the way. Yet due to stellar pacing and superb writing the book is never bogged down into a preachy mess.

Weighing in at just under 200 pages, Westmark packs quite a punch. Lloyd Alexander caught me over and over again with his seemingly innocent yet startling phrases like this opening line which reads:
Theo, by occupation, was a devil.
Which although being perfectly true, doesn't exactly mean what you think it might. You see, Theo is a printer's apprentice and those apprentices go by the title of a printer's devil. Makes perfect sense, no? But at the same time extremely memorable and a technique he uses to perfection throughout the entire series. I never got tired of these little flashes of creative genius. They never failed to catch my full attention with very little effort and usually with stunning results. Matched with the cleverness of how Alexander would then bring each detail to light was absolutely lovely. If this is what every Lloyd Alexander book reads like, you can be sure I'll be blazing through his oeuvre without delay.

side note: Just after I finished reading this standout trilogy, I discovered that the library at my alma mater has a exhibit in their special collections affectionately called "the box." It is comprised of many of Lloyd Alexander's manuscripts, original artwork and even several typewriters from his private office. Anybody want to pop over to the HBLL and check it out for me? Pretty please?

series reading order:
~ Westmark
~ The Kestrel
~ The Beggar Queen

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Book Loons review