Book Review: How To Be Death

ImageTitle: How To Be Death

Author: Amber Benson

Genre: Urban Paranormal Fantasy / Mystery

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: All Calliope Reaper-Jones ever wanted out of life was a fabulous job in New York City and a really hot boyfriend. But now, she’s the brand-new President of Death, Inc. With the Board of Death breathing down her neck and her dad’s copy of How to be Death (A Fully Annotated Guide) unopened, Callie’s really feeling the tension. And when the guide book is stolen at a fancy formal dinner, Callie has to figure out how to be the boss–before the powers held within the book get out and destroy humanity forever…

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

Let me first say that I am SO MAD at WordPress’ posting tools. I’ve already written this review once, but just as I was finishing up, I hit a wrong button and my entire review disappeared. I tried to undo the last changes…. but WordPress had already saved over the draft with a new copy. So now I’m re-writing it.

Screw you WordPress posting tools *shakes fist*.

That aside, I loved this book. In my opinion it was much better than the previous three, and a good part of that is because of the way Amber Benson handled the plot. Rather than the usual Calliope Reaper-Jones novel plot, this one was a “Who done it?” murder mystery. It was like watching a Holiday Special episode of your favorite TV show: The characters you love are all there, it’s in the same universe, but the plot was so wildly different than what you’re used to. It was fun.

The basic plot goes like this: Each year on Halloween the office of Death throws a big party for all the supernaturals to attend. Callie doesn’t really want to go, but she really doesn’t have a choice. She’s hosting. Unfortunately, this is also the single time of the year that all the supernaturals lose their magic abilities (and therefore immortality) and are completely vulnerable. It’s also the one night of the year that Death’s Handbook can be handed over to Death (which aside from all the rules and information one could ever want on how to actually be Death, also contains instructions for starting the Apocalypse). Whoever holds the book at the stroke of midnight then owns the book for the next year, and has completely dominion over Death and all it’s sub-offices.

Unfortunately, Callie’s in for one hell of a night. She’s vulnerable this one night, and like usual, there are a whole host of people vying to snag her job. What ensues is a grand murder-mystery as Callie and her supernatural friends fight to keep, and then get back, Death’s Handbook as unknown parties start killing off supernaturals – and even try to kill Callie.

I love murder-mysteries and I will admit that I totally got caught up in this one. The plot was so complicated and intriguing that by the end I had no clue who was perpetrating all of these crimes and I couldn’t wait to find out.  I was also extremely happy to see Callie and Daniel back together throughout this story as they dealt with the aftermath of Callie’s sexcapade with Frank in the last novel. For once you could really tell how much they both loved each other, and how hurt they were by the events in Serpent’s Storm.

Callie really matured a lot during this particular novel, and it was a relief to see her step out of her “whiney juvenile” voice and start acting a bit more “I am Death and I am going to kick your ass.” I’m really looking forward to seeing her grow in the next novel (which I don’t have yet. D: ). Unfortunately, most of the other characters were one-offs for this particular novel, or simply didn’t get as much screentime as Callie – but I didn’t really feel the loss from their lack of presence. The plot carried well even with their short cameo’s.

I can honestly say that if you enjoy murder-mysteries, you’ll probably love this addition to Callie’s story. Just don’t go into this expecting your typical Calliope Reaper-Jones novel. (It’s so much better.)

Book Review: Serpent’s Storm

ImageTitle: Serpent’s Storm

Author: Amber Benson

Genre: Urban Paranormal Fantasy

Rating: 3 or 5 Stars (dual rating)

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Description/Synopsis: Calliope just wants to make it big in the Big Apple like any other working girl. But Callie is also Death’s Daughter, no matter how much she tries to stay out of the family business. And now her older sister has made a deal with the Devil himself to engage in a hostile takeover of both Death Inc. and Heaven-once they get Callie out of the way.

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

Serpent’s Storm is the 3rd book in the Calliope Reaper-Jones series, and so far, the best one I’ve read yet. (Hence the slightly higher dual-rating). Callie’s life is thrown out of whack unexpectedly when out of nowhere – she’s become death again. How’d that happen? Someone has staged a coup in purgatory, and the real Grim Reaper (Callie’s father) is now dead.

Whether she wants the job or not, Callie steps up to the plate and starts trying to figure out what is going on. What ensues is an adventure full of double-crossing, curses, and a full out war in Purgatory and Hell.

I really have to say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than the previous two. There were a few parts that were a little lackluster (I didn’t enjoy the entirety of the dank little island village or it’s inhabitants), and I really didn’t understand why Callie had a 5-minute sexcapade with Frank in the subway. (Come on.. that was just gratuitous… it had absolutely no bearing on the story what so ever), but over all, I really liked Callie more in this story. She was a bit less whiney and self-centered this time around. Yes, she still continued to get herself in situations that could have or should have been avoided – but she also came into her own a little in this novel. She saw what needed to be done, and she did it without pausing to worry over what everyone else would say.

The result, of course, was that this book was a tad more serious than the previous two. Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty of silliness and snarky comments, but instead of throwing tantrums every five minutes, Callie was at least trying to do what was right.  It’s nice to see that Callie’s character is growing through these novels and I hope at the end she turns out to be as awesome as I’m hoping.

If you were on the fence with the previous two books of this series, give this one a try, you may like it more.

Book Review: Cat’s Claw

ImageTitle: Cat’s Claw

Author: Amber Benson

Genre: Urban Paranormal Fantasy

Rating: 2 or 4 Stars (another dual rating)

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Description/Synopsis: Calliope Reaper-Jones is Death’s Daughter. She owes a debt to Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the gate’s of hell-a debt that involves a trip to Purgatory, Las Vegas, ancient Egypt, and a discount department store that’s more frightening than any supernatural creature she’ll ever encounter.

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

Ah, another Amber Benson novel. I’ll admit that going into this series I was a little taken-aback by the writing style. As I said with the last book in the series, you really can’t go into these expecting a serious work of fiction akin to Harry Potter or The Hobbit. This is a lot like Piers Anthony’s work with the Books of Immortality and Xanth: humorous, silly, and fun. In the right mindset, however, these books are very entertaining.

I must admit though, that I don’t like Callie (the main female lead) much as a person. She’s whiny, juvenile, and a bit self-centered. Her one redeeming quality is that she constantly puts her foot in her mouth whenever she opens it, and hilarity and crisis inevitably ensue.

I found the plot to this particular story a bit more complicated than the last one, which was pleasant, though perhaps a bit too complicated to really be engaging. Even as the characters explained what was going on to the reader I had a hard time grasping just how complex it was. Too many characters, too many deceptions… at the end I was left saying “But it’s all good now, right?” I got a little lost – though I’ll admit part of that may just be that I was so exhausted yesterday I just couldn’t retain the information.

I liked that several of the characters from the first book were once again in the second book, though they didn’t seem to get as much screen time. I was overjoyed to see Daniel make another appearance – and pissed off at Callie for reacting to him the way she did. I’ll admit I’m a little attached to Daniel as a character. He’s too good for Callie – even if he is the devil’s protege.

Another character (and new addition to the story) that I really liked was Senenmut. The first impression I got of him did NOT do him justice, but by the end of the book, he was my new favorite “Daniel” of the group. I was half-hoping Callie would start falling for him, but then I was glad she didn’t. She would have ruined him. *keeps Senenmut to myself*. There’s just something strangely appealing to that kind of guy – the one who’s only waking thought is “I need to be with the one I love.” *girl sigh*. Okay, moving on.

Overall, I had an easier time getting into this book – now that I knew what to expect as far as Callie went, it was easier to ignore her annoying personality quirks and get into the meat of the story. Unfortunately, Callie is even less pleasant the second time around. I find myself disliking her more in this book than the previous one, though I’m starting to like the other whiny characters more. Weird how that works out.

I’ll be starting in on the third book in the series today – we’ll see how that goes.

Book Review: Death’s Daughter

ImageTitle: Death’s Daughter

Author: Amber Benson

Genre: Urban Paranormal Fantasy

Rating: 2 or 5 Stars (Dual rating, I’ll explain)

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Description/Synopsis: Calliope Reaper-Jones so just wanted a normal life: buying designer shoes on sale, dating guys from Craig’s List, web-surfing for organic dim-sum for her boss…

But when her father—who happens to be Death himself—is kidnapped, and the Devil’s Protege embarks on a hostile takeover of the family business, Death, Inc., Callie returns home to assume the CEO mantle— only to discover she must complete three nearly impossible tasks in the realm of the afterlife first.

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

Okay, let me explain the dual-rating above. There are aspects of this book that are both really well written, and horribly written, and depending on your state of mind going into this book, your opinion of it may waver greatly from one end of the spectrum to the other.

This book is written in the very casual, sometimes silly, and energetic voice of the main lead character, Calliope Reaper-Jones (Callie). Now, normally I’d give props to any author who could successfully write an entire book in the  voice of it’s main character – it’s hard not to slip into your own manner of speech when you’ve been writing something so long, and in this way I feel the story is well-written. However, if you happen to not like the main character, this also means that you could really hate this book.

Callie is the daughter of the Grim Reaper. She resents being immortal, she resents being related to Death, and she mostly just wants to be left alone to live a normal life.  Her comments are often sarcastic, whiny, and negative – and she has a penchant for objectifying men. If these traits bother you, you may have an extremely hard time getting through this book.

I found the plot to be extremely engaging and interesting, though some of it I considered superfluous. As the story starts, Callie is just an average girl working for a New York company as an assistant. She hates her job, she hates her boss, and has no free-time to be social. As the story progresses we learn that she is also the daughter of the Grim Reaper, though she doesn’t remember it because she cast a charm on herself in order to forget. Why did the author bother to waste a chapter on the character being normal? I don’t know. Like I said, bits of this were superfluous.

It is shortly introduced thereafter that for unknown reasons, Callie’s father and his entire board of trustees at Death Inc. have been kidnapped, and it has now fallen onto Callie to step up and become Death – a job she really doesn’t want. This request leads to an adventure as Callie tries to complete three tasks set before her in order to gain the office of Grim Reaper that leads her through Hell (literally).

All is not as simple as it seems however because Satan has also enlisted his protege (Daniel) to try and complete the three tasks as well, hoping to gain his own henchman into the office so that he can control Death. What ensues is an entangled web of mystery, ridiculous challenges, and assault as the people around Callie turn on her (sometimes seeming to contradict themselves) in order to keep her from becoming Death. Even her own family plots against her! What Callie doesn’t realize, is that there’s a third unknown party working to thwart her that is manipulating the people around her.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the complicated twisting plot. It was fun to try and guess why certain characters were acting strange at different times during the book, and trying to figure out who had kidnapped Callie’s father in the first place. I knew something not right was going on, but I couldn’t pinpoint what.

However, I also feel I have to mention that the actions and dialogue of the many colorful characters of this book left something to be desired. Like Callie, most of the characters acted juvenile (even though many of them were ancient gods). There were tantrums and whining all throughout this book that left me feeling like I wanted to scold the entire immortal realm.

The book ended up being such a mixed-bag of great plot / horrible execution that the only way I can emphasize that you must go into this book with the right mindset in order to enjoy it is this:

If you like Piers Anthony, you’ll love this. It is very reminiscent of Piers Anthony’s voice as he wrote the Books of Immortality series, and perhaps even a little bit of the Xanth series. There’s a certain quality of unabashed silliness and humor to the writing that you can’t help but enjoy the story despite the many flaws in the writing.  This book cannot be taken as a serious fantasy such as The Hobbit or Harry Potter  – it isn’t written to be serious, just fun.

If you can set aside that serious quality, you should really enjoy this book. If you’re looking forward to a serious, realistic fantasy on what it’d be like to be Death’s Daughter, you’ll be disappointed.