ARC Review: “Criminal” by Terra Elan McVoy

CriminalCriminal by Terra Elan McVoy

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A searing and gripping read that explores the depths of desperation true love can inspire, from the author of Being Friends with Boys.

Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.

So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime—a crime that ends in murder—Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.

But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about? Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers.

3 stars

Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this eARC! This title is now available.

I will be the first person to admit that I’m a fairly easy to please reader in a lot of big ways. Sadly, though I appreciated this book’s brutal honesty and unflinching storytelling, it failed me a couple of big ways.

The book opens up with a phone call. Dee and Nikki wake up to the news that the police want to talk to him about something. He tells her to follow, and she dutifully does. They make up a story on the way there to hide the truth: a cop was killed, Dee killed him, and Nikki drew the getaway car. She had no idea what was going to happen, or even what really happened, but she loves Dee and she wants to protect him. Though scared out of her wits, she goes along with his plan. But when the police start uncovering the lies and come after the people that have helped Nikki through everything Dee was never there for, she starts questioning her choices and realizing that maybe she is really being blinded by love.

To be honest, I hated Nikki from the second the story started. (Maybe it was the gratuitous sexual actions with which the book began and continued throughout the story.*)It is made clear that she’s always taken care of herself, from when her step-dad went to jail to when her mom spaced out on drugs. She pays her own bills, she has a job that she’s very good at, and she even looks after her friend Bird, Bird’s daughter and even her mother. From what is said about her, there is no doubt that Nikki should be able to stand on her own–and has done so on the past. This makes her complete devotion to Dee is ridiculously out of character. As far as I could tell, he had never done anything remotely large enough for her to destroy the self-made life she’d built for herself and made her dependent on him. Even he says he only bought her beer and weed when she asked for it. (Given the ease of which Nikki forgets her drug problem, she wasn’t really dependent on drugs anyways.) Dee is also never a fleshed out character. He wants sex, and he screams at her. That’s all there is to his character. There was just missing something from Nikki, because I never even felt sorry for her.

There is also the matter of the entire action part of this plot being over by the time the book starts. The murder is rehashed, yes, but in flashbacks. Most of it is waiting, whining and crying. (And doing other inmates’ hair in prison.) The amount of self-discovery that Nikki was undergoing was enormous, yes, but since her character never caught me I cared less and less as each paragraph flew by. It was mostly thinking and self-rumination that guided 95% of the book, and I got bored.

Don’t get me wrong, this book was beautifully written and tackled serious subjects with brutal honesty that was impressive. This just isn’t the kind of book that meshes with every kind of reader, and I admit without shame that I am not the reader for which it was intended. I tried, but I could never connect with any of the characters and so the rest of the self-exploration that occurred never felt important to me.

This book is not one for someone looking for a light read (which you can guess straightaway, let’s be honest). It is also not for someone looking for an action packed thriller. This is an examination of the human psyche that takes its strength from the exploration it takes into the human mind. If you’re looking to wax philosophical, check it out. If not, you’ve been warned.

*The act of sex is only described once, but not in the overt language used in a romance novel. However, there are a few description of sexual actions that take place before sex and a few uses of mid-vulgar language.

Review: “Mastiff” by Tamora Pierce

Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

3 stars

So, I suppose it’s time I get around to this, I’ve been done with this book for weeks, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write this review. I guess I finally ought to, just to get this out there and off my chest.

I should begin by saying that Tamora Pierce is not just my favorite author. She is my idol, and the only person whose books have never gone out of style with me. Other authors are interchangeable to me. Pierce is a rock. I also got the chance to meet her and spend 3 days with her last August, and immensely enjoyed her as a person as well. I don’t just “judge a book by its cover” with her, you can say.

That’s why Mastiff was such a painful read. Out of all the works I’ve read, the Tortall universe is my favorite. I want to drop myself right in there beside all her main characters. When Pierce returned to Tortall for Terrier, I was blazingly excited and the book did not disappoint. Bloodhound, the second book, was certainly a change of pace, but a good one for the most part. Mastiff should have been a glowing finale but to me it’s…not.

To be fair, there is technically nothing wrong with Mastiff. It’s written in the typical, amazing Tamora Pierce style. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s impossible to put down. If we were judging this book on technicality alone, it’s an immediate 5 stars. It’s the reason I couldn’t give it any less than three.

The problem is that it’s a third book. It’s the FINAL book.  The problem is that we have been set up for two large books and gotten to know the characters. The problem is that, by now, I am so invested in the characters that I wanted something grand and blinding for the finale. Maybe the fault lies entirely with my opinion, but I just don’t feel like I got it.

~MILD SPOILERS AHEAD~

The book got off to a very bad start for me. Its 3 years after Bloodhound, and Beka is burying her fiancé, who was mentally and physically abusive towards her. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems vaguely out of character that Beka would allow that to go on. Especially when she says that the only reason she even vaguely loved this guy is because of the great sex. I just couldn’t wrap my head around this for Beka. Things just go downhill from there, as the entire Corus gang minus Tunstall, Pounce, Achoo and Sabine are absent from this book except for a little bit at the beginning. I did like Farmer as a character after the fact, but when he was introduced I was just in the disposition of not liking him. Plus, I really loved Rosto, even though I knew nothing between him and Beka would never happen. I just thought SOMETHING would happen between them.

Still, up until the end of the book, I was tolerating things. I tolerated Beka’s new, bordering-on-obsession with sex. I tolerated the lack of the Corus crew and the injection of new characters I got less than a whole book to love, who played major roles when I thought they’d be taken up by characters I knew well and loved well. If the end of this book hadn’t happened, it would have managed a 4 to 4 ½ star rating, perhaps. I’ll never
know.

I’m going to try to do this without spoilers here, but…argh. Beka’s jumps out of character were bad enough, but I can’t forgive something this bad. I can’t say much, but there is a traitor at the end of the book and … it’s bad. It’s unforgivably bad. I never would have expected it, true, but not in a good way. Never before have I had such a huge desire for the book to end with “And Beka woke up to find that it was all a dream.”

I’ll repeat again that, technically, there is nothing wrong with this book. To another person, there might not be anything wrong with this book. Personally, I just wanted so much…more, for Beka. I wanted so much more for all the characters, really. I guess the ends of series can never be everything you want them to be, but Mastiff disappointed me more than most.