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Review: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #2) by Nancy Springer

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #2)The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another very smart story, it's just fun to watch her puzzle it all out. It's kind of a mix between cozy mysteries and traditional detective stories in that it's a regular girl who becomes a "perditorian" or finder of lost things. The steps she follows and the process she takes is actually very believable. She gets scared, she flips out occasionally, she's clever but not insanely so, brave but not a superhero. Yes, it's a stretch to believe she's so independent at fourteen, but she is a Holmes after all. I just really like this girl, she's a great mix of clever and vulnerable, witty but not snarky. I also like the believable way that she's discovering the world, she's very well-read but there are so many things that a young girl of her time just has no way of knowing, books she can get her hands on may mention things like ladies of the night or white slave trade, but they don't say what they actually are, so Enola is in the dark about these things still. Even now that she's living in London and has seen some of the worst the city has to offer, she's still an innocent fourteen year-old girl in many ways and seeing how she grows into her new situation is going to be fascinating.

I'm also enjoying the way the historical lessons are layered into the story without being too preachy. I think kids (and adults) will absorb a lot of information along the way while just reading an enjoyable story. It's hard as a woman not to root for Enola and her mother in their quest for freedom from society's strangling (literally) restrictions. And this book had a lot of interesting information about what was going on at the time in London regarding the labor movement. "And after we withdrew bloodied and defeated, this is what one member of Parliament had to say, 'It is in bad taste for people to parade their insolent starvation in the face of the rich and trading portions of the town. They should have starved in their garrets.'" And another good quote, "Yet one could speak the truth and still be a villain." Just coming off of a rough election season those ideas resonated through the centuries with me.

Enola is a great hero, someone you can really root for. The books are a definitely a bit dark, the London portrayed in these stories isn't glamorous, it's poor, cold, and hungry. But kids who love the Hunger Games and heroes like Katniss for her cleverness and bravery might admire Enola as well. Her situation certainly isn't quite as desperate, and there's no thrilling romance in this one. The big difference is that Enola is taking control and doing the manipulating instead of being controlled by everyone else. That's what makes her so interesting. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how she manages to stay safe and free in the next book and what mysterious puzzle she solves next.

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Review: The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2) by Amanda Stevens

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2)The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great atmosphere, spooky, enchanting, engrossing ghost story. And yes, I did stay up until 5 a.m. to finish it and that is past even my bedtime. These are not books that are easy to put down once you've started them, I'm giving you fair warning.

The thing that bugged me in the first book, the frequent overly heavy-handed foreshadowing, was not a problem in this book. But it did bug me a bit that Amelia was so hung up on Devlin. She barely spent any time with him in the first book and she keeps repeating that she hasn't seen him or talked to him in months. It just feels forced to me at this point. They have some sort of connection but that isn't a relationship, that isn't love. It's a crush. It's too romance novel insta-love. I was pleased that they weren't together at the end of the last book, I thought they were going to have a relationship that developed slowly over the course of several books, and maybe that's what's eventually going to happen, but the constant mooning over him in this book felt a bit irritating and immature, not particularly romantic. I get that maybe the author is building up a "forbidden love" story, but right now this aspect isn't working for me. Even though Amelia is 27 years-old, when it comes to relationships she's still very young because she's been so isolated for all of her life, which is another romance novel trope that I don't enjoy. I just prefer reading about mature adults in relationships that function in realistic ways. And Amelia is so great on other levels, it feels like she's being short-changed in this way a bit.

And it was a bit rushed at the end. Suddenly everyone knows the big secret, boom, she leaves town. And the big confrontation wasn't so big compared to some of the little ones in the woods earlier, which were very suspenseful.

But basically the rest of the book was great, these are really small quibbles. The characters in the town were so vividly drawn I felt like I could paint them (if I could paint). The way the author portrays the locations and atmospheres made me feel like I was there, from the lovely and calm to the haunted and eerie to the frightening and terror filled moments (they threatened her new dog!!! - anyone who knows me knows I was truly scared), it all rang true without being overdone. Honestly, I don't like to be scared so it's a fine line between a bit of suspense and actually horror for me, I can't even read thrillers, I'm that much of a wimp, but this walked the line perfectly. I know, people who read my reviews regularly know I read a lot of dark urban fantasy, but Richard Kadrey-style dark fantasy, for example, isn't actually scary, even if it's violent, and a lot of that stuff has a bizarre dark humor that lightens the tone quite a bit. This was spookier because it didn't have the humor to break up the tension. It was eerie, which created a lot of suspense.

So to make it clear, other than a few small complaints, I liked the book a lot and I'm a big fan of the series. And my big complaint about the romantic aspect might well be more due to my personal preferences about how I like romance to be portrayed in fiction than to any issue with the author's writing, it may be a matter of what you like. But definitely don't let that turn you off of the book or series either way, this is a series about mystery, history, discovery, family, love, hate, the living and the dead and more, and I really think that most of my friends who like urban fantasy would enjoy it.

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Review: The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1) by Amanda Stevens

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Restorer (Graveyard Queen, #1)The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good spooky ghost story and mystery. I liked Amelia and I liked the atmosphere that Stevens created, it was a good balance of lovely and suspenseful. The cast of characters and the Southern setting were used to full advantage. I liked that Amelia was pretty normal, for a woman with major haunting issues of course. But the way she responded to the murders wasn't UF superhero Mary Sue perfection. She had her freak outs, she made mistakes, she felt like a real person. It definitely had that cozy mystery feeling with the regularly person getting drawn into investigating a murder, but it made sense why she was involved, much more so than most cozies. I also like that Stevens isn't rushing the romance, despite the strong connection the characters feel. I was worried that with her extensive background in romantic fiction that this wouldn't be as much to my taste (not a judgement at all, just where my preferences are these days) but it had a good balance of romantic tension but seems like the series will take some time to let the characters get to know each other.

My only real complaint was the constant heavy-handed foreshadowing technique the author used. I got it from the story, I didn't need the constantly-repeated-in-nearly-every-chapter explicitly spelled out reminders that that their destinies were already entwined but they didn't know it yet, or she should have listened to her father's rules or whatever. I got it, it was dangerous, she was dumb, yada yada, you don't have to keep spelling it out over and over again. Also, the story is from Amelia's point of view so every time she suddenly commented from this omnipotent perspective it just felt so weird, completely jerked me out of the flow of the story instead of intriguing me like it was supposed to.

Overall I thought the thing that really stood out the most was the atmosphere that the author created; it was an eerie, always looking over your shoulder, yet somehow lovely and haunting book. If you like somewhat spooky cozy mysteries with a touch of romance then I think you'll like this book.

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Review: Hex Appeal - Anthology edited by P.N. Elrod, including stories by Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher and more

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hex Appeal (Phoenix Chronicles; The Shadowfae Chronicles, #4.5; Kate Daniels, #5.6; The Dresden Files, #11.9)Hex Appeal by P.N. Elrod

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good anthology. The stories were longer, allowing a lot more space for plot development and explaining the systems of magic in each world. I'm not generally a big short story fan, I don't usually find them to be satisfying, but these were, I actually really enjoyed all of them except for one. I generally think anthologies are just a tool for introducing authors to fans. I get them out of the library just in case there's a story from one of the series that I'm following that I don't want to miss. But this one might be worth reading even if you aren't following some of the famous series.

Ilona Andrews - Takes place in the same world as the Kate Daniel's stories, but in Philadelphia, and about Saimon's cousin Adam. It was a smart way to capitalize on the familiar world that the author's had created and the already established rules of magic and science that they've spent years writing about, but no familiarity is needed for readers unfamiliar with the stories. It's a very strong story, as all of their short stories are; along with Butcher they're among the most consistent when it comes to short stories, something that few authors can pull off.

Jim Butcher - Great, as always. The third of the Harry Dresden/Irwin/River Shoulders stories. Irwin is in college now and got himself involved with a very dangerous lady. Action, humor, romance, danger, romantic love, familial love, obsessive love, and more, all in 51 pages. The guy really does just write great short stories.

Rachel Caine - A very good story. Different characters and situations than anything I've read from her before, in fact half way though I had to check to see who the author was and was very surprised it was her, I thought maybe it was one of the romance authors I've been meaning to try or something. It was also a good enough story that I was anxious about what was going to happen and wanted to read the end to get spoilers, that's very rare from a short story. It was a very substantive story with a clear plot, a lot of emotion and strong characters.

Carole Nelson Douglas - I'm a fan of the Delilah Street series. As usual, I find the lighter tone a good break in pace in a an anthology. But it was weird that she kept claiming to despise "loathe-hate" Snow since it took place after the road trip book where they had such a push-pull relationship. It was also weird that it has a major reveal about Snow in a story that a lot of fans of the series might not read; maybe it will be repeated in the next book. I always wonder how people who aren't fans of the series will react to her stories, I figure they'll either love them or hate them. They're certainly different from anything else you'll come across.

P.N. Elrod - A very good story. I've never been that into her Vampire Files books, but I look forward to trying her new Steampunk series.

Simon R. Green - Heavy-handed, as usual with his Nightside stories. If he'd just cut out 20% of the unnecessary characters and side stories and focus on the main plot, I'd like these stories and books better. But it was ok.

Lori Handeland - This one I didn't like at all. It seemed really promising until the end gutted it and made the woman into a spineless idiot. This is the kind of romance I have no respect for, where the women rationalize excuses to be used and abused.

Erica Hayes - I wasn't a huge fan of the first Shadowfae book because it was so heavily weighted toward romance more than urban fantasy, but I did like the dark world that Hayes created. This story with the same background was a better fit for my taste.

Carrie Vaughn - A good story about Odysseus Grant, a reoccurring character in the Kitty Norville books.

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Review: The Red Pyramid: The Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan

The Kane Chronicles, The, Book One: Red Pyramid: The Graphic NovelThe Kane Chronicles, The, Book One: Red Pyramid: The Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was definitely a graphic novel, it's very wordy. I'm not sure it converted very well to the action format, it just required too many words to get the story across. Or maybe the author just wasn't willing or able to edit it enough to fit the graphic novel format, because it's really a very true telling of the story in the original novel. But there were some cool visuals, like the great room in the New York nome. And having Carter's comments in blue and Sadie's in yellow was a good touch that tried to convey the back and forth narration style of the book. But I don't think it managed to get the point across sufficiently that Carter and Sadie were telling this story, it's a really important foundation of the books and only becomes completely clear at the end of this graphic novel that they were telling this story.

Plus the humor and banter that was in the book, and was conveyed best of all in the audiobook format, just didn't end up in this format at all. Even though some of Sadie and Carter's inner monologues were included, none of the banter and wit ended up in this book. It was just so serious. There was very little to show how Carter and Sadie were becoming friends and people who could count on each other. There were lots (and lots) of words for the historical and mythological aspects of the story but the relationships were neglected. In an attempt to make sure that every step of the plot in the original book was included and explained fully, the spirit of what made the book special seems to have been left out. What makes Riordan's YA books work so well is the balance of exciting adventure, emotional depth and humor. I got a bit of the emotions with the kids' feelings about their parents and about Bast. But somehow the adventure on this one was often dry, and the humor got left out.

I often find graphic novels to be a great way for reluctant readers to get introduced to wonderful books that they might not read otherwise. And maybe when they're adaptations of novels then they might get intrigued enough to dive into a text series that they never would have tried as well. But I'm not sure that this one is the going to do that job, it's just too text-heavy and too much like a novel. I'm sad to say that I think that if I was a kid reading this for the first time, don't think I'd be excited about this series. I still recommend the audiobooks for this series, they're by far the best format to best convey the humor and adventure in these books.

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Review: An Apple for the Creature, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

An Apple for the CreatureAn Apple for the Creature by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I've said in other reviews of anthologies, when they started getting popular I thought it was an annoying idea just aimed at getting fans of certain authors to buy more books. And of course that is the plan, put Charlaine Harris's name on a book and say that there's a Sookie story inside and it guarantees lots of sales. Or in this case, from what I can see in the Goodreads reviews so far, it's all about Ilona Andrews. Which is the reason I got it too, I have to admit it. But I have developed a reluctant respect for the business model because it works as intended. Not only does having a few big names on the cover sell books, but when the books are well edited it introduces readers to authors that they may not have tried otherwise. And frankly, as a library reader the expense isn't an issue for me, otherwise I couldn't justify buying books of stories that are just hit and miss.

These Harris/Kelner anthologies have been consistently among the best of the pack. The stories have been focused on the theme and the authors have been a really interesting mix. In this one, the mix of light stories, police procedurals, creepy stories, and mythology based stories worked very well. The mix helped keep the pace of the book interesting. Although I'm not a big short story fan, but the book kept my attention throughout. Of course some stories were stronger than others, but overall it was one of the more successful anthologies in terms of my enjoyment level. I was already a big fan of several of the authors, but that doesn't always translate into good short stories, so I was pleased to see how well they did this time out. The only completely new author to me was Donald Harstad, who's story was fantastic. I would absolutely would read his books if I didn't have anxiety issues, I really can't do thrillers. There were a couple others who I was familiar with but not already a fan, but their stories didn't convert me. Oh, and on a completely editorial note, I really liked that the author bios were right at the beginning of each story. I makes me nuts in anthologies when they're at the end of the chapters or at the end of the book, or worse, not included at all. I want to know who these people are, and if the stories are part of a series that I might want to buy, that's the whole point of this thing.

Charlaine Harris - It was fine, a bit preachy, but better than the attempt at mystery in the last anthology that I read. She's a good example of an author who's not great at writing short stories, in my opinion, so this was a nice improvement.

Jonathan Mayberry - It was a clever idea, but it went on much too long with the preaching as well, and then it ended very abruptly.

Donald Harstad - Gotta love a guy who thinks his wife and beagles are the most important thing to mention in his very short author's description. His law enforcement experience certainly showed in the story as well. It was a really smart take on what it would mean to be a vampire in the modern world from the perspective of police officers. It's hard to believe it was his first short story or his first foray into urban fantasy, it was very well done. I hope he considers making this the foundation for a book.

Marjorie M. Liu - A very good, creepy, and emotional story. I like that she finds so many new and original ideas for her short stories in the anthologies too; as much as it would be fun to have an episode from one of her series, I like that I never know what she's going to do next, it's makes it fun to discover.

Rhys Bowen - Pretty good, certainly appeals to the nightmares we all have about high school.

Amber Benson - I just don't like this series. I read the first book and decided not to continue with it. I tried this story but had to abandon it after a few pages, the girl is just Too Stupid To Live, much less lead anything. What's supposed to be cutesy funny is just annoying to me in this series, but it's a matter of taste.

Mike Carry - Very dark, very emotional, and smart; typical Carry while still being something quite different than anything I've read from him before.

Faith Hunter - It was fine, but I'm not familiar with the series and it didn't intrigue me to read more about it.

Ilona Andrews - Good story, as usual. It's always hard for me to judge how people who haven't read the series will feel, if they'll have a good feel for the world and characters, but I think this one is very self-explanatory. It's about Julie, Kate's ward, and is very self-contained, brief but enjoyable.

Steve Hockensmith - Kind of cute except that it doesn't hold water. If he was what he said he was in the end then he wasn't what the story was all about at all. So he just used the idea to scare the guy, but that kind of makes the whole thing seem fake.

Nancy Holder - Another good law enforcement story. I'm always amazed when authors can convey such a complete story in such a short time frame, it was quite well done. It's my favorite of her short stories.

Thomas E. Sniegoski - Wow, I didn't realize Kirby was a Frenchie! I just assumed he was a lab like Mulder. That tells you how long it's been since I looked at his website. What a cute dog!

Poor Marlowe! I did complain that he wasn't in the most recent book enough, so I guess this makes up for it. Poor baby had to go to school. Marlowe is a black Lab, modeled on Mulder, Sniegoski's beloved yellow Lab who passed away a couple of years ago. And he's a great character, the best friend of Remy, the angel/PI who's the main character in this series. But wow was that story bad timing when I was already freaking out about hiring a dog sitter for my dogs, too awful.

Toni L.P. Kelner - A good story, as usual. I haven't read her books yet, but she's a very good short story writer.

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Review: In the House of the Wicked (Remy Chandler, #5) by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Sunday, September 16, 2012

In the House of the Wicked (Remy Chandler, #5)In the House of the Wicked by Thomas E. Sniegoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure there would be another book in this series after the last one seemed to reach a bit of a resolution. Plus the author's beloved dog, Mulder, who was the inspiration for Marlowe, passed away. But clearly his new boy, Kirby, is continuing to inspire him. Loving pets is like that, heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. He even writes in the book about the girl in the story, Ashley, losing her cat, and showed the circle of life when Remy ended up getting Marlowe to comfort her. But perhaps his loss did affect him, or maybe it was just storyline dictated, but this book was lacking in interactions between Marlowe and Remy. One of Sniegoski's major strengths is his warm and humorous portrayal of the relationship between Remy and his dog, and I did miss it I'm this one.

But it was a better book than the last one (which I liked, don't get me wrong). It was more focused and consistently paced. A lot of reviews that I read complained about the changing points of view in the last one, and he did it again in this one, but I think it worked better, it was easier to follow this time. And even enough it was still dark, it was less grim. It just felt like a tighter and more focused book to me with a concept that was more clearly going somewhere.

Except for one thing. I'm kind of confused about the stuff about Squire and the multiple worlds, it just didn't feel consistent with the mythology and world building that the author had developed. It was so strictly Christian up to this point, all about the different classes of angels, Noah, Lucifer, and the Creator, etc., and that's still the major theme. So I don't get where a hobgoblin fits in, or the shadow worlds filled with giant water serpents and insects and other monsters. There was just no explanation for any of it, it was a bit bizarre. I just don't understand how it fits into this mythology except as a tool to tell this particular story. It should have been explained to fit into the world building or done in a more consistent way, I just don't get it.

But overall it was a good story. I worried about the characters and was anxious for their safety. I turned the pages quickly to see what would happen next. I chuckled a few times (the car was cool). And it left me curious to see where the author takes things next. But I do hope Marlowe is in the next book a lot more. Featuring Francis and Steven and whoever else is all very well, but for me it's all about the dog. OK fine, we all know that it's always all about the dog for me. But he really is needed in these books too, he helps keep Remy human and adds a very much need touch of comic relief and lightness to these rather dark stories.

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Review: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death Warmed OverDeath Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. A light but entertaining urban fantasy book by Anderson, but it wasn't quite up to par with what I'm used to from him. I'm used to giant scope space operas with multiple points of view and lots of depth and introspection and suspense. This was just pretty cute. From another author I might have thought that he just wanted to capitalize on the urban fantasy craze. But Anderson really does seem to enjoy exploring different genres, he also did the Terra Incognita fantasy series and has edited several anthologies of terrific urban fantasy stories.

In fact, now that I think about it, this fits right into the premise of his Blood Lite anthology series, I guess that's where he got the inspiration: a humorous, slightly dark murder mystery with lots of zombies, witches, vampires, werewolves, mummies (Ramen Ho-Tep was my favorite character), and many more fun "unnatural" people. And it is quite stylized, it isn't like he just wrote some fluff. It reminds me quite a lot of Simon R. Green's Nightside books (Green even did one of the quotes on the back cover), but not quite as flamboyant. They both like to introduce a lot of cases and showcase their little bits of cleverness, whether they're related to the main story or not. Anderson did a better job than Green of working most of the little bits together. It was all pretty cute, somewhat predictible, but full of likable characters with a charming style. I just would have liked to see him do something darker or deeper when he decided to tackle urban fantasy, he could have kept the cool cat detective and creative version of the Big Uneasy, but made it a bit more significant for my taste.

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Endgame by Ann Aguirre (Sirantha Jax #6)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Endgame (Sirantha Jax, #6)Endgame by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well the series definitely didn't go where I expected it to. For a while there it seemed like it was going the route of Jax always being the center of interstellar politics and it got to the point where it was a little much for one woman to play such a prominent role in such huge sweeping stories. It made sense to try to bring the scale of the story back down a tiny bit and focus more on the characters that we care about, while still having an important mission for them to focus on. Using the commitment Jax felt to Loras to help free his people from the slavery they were under from the chemical warfare that they had undergone was a smart storyline. It brought the series full circle in some ways, because the story with Loras went back to Jax and March's relationship with him in the first book and throughout the series. There are a lot of fans who don't like it, but I thought it was a smart choice.

There was an awful lot of military action in this book though, for a romantic sci-fi series. I'm more of a sci-fi than romance reader, but military sci-fi is not my thing and it did get to be a bit much. I did like how realistic it was. I liked the timing, she didn't try to rush things and act like rebellion and war were something that could happen quickly or without great pain and sacrifice. She also managed to show how time passed effectively without being boring. And it showed the toll that time and stress placed on Loras as a leader, on Jax having to be a soldier again and being grounded, on March trying to raise his nephew and being grounded as well, and on Jax and Vel, and of course on Jax and March. It was good storytelling. But... it just wasn't always exactly my favorite kind of storytelling. Just a matter of taste.

As for the romance aspect, I always complain about books and series that feature relationships that happen too quickly and unrealistically, sudden-love syndrome. Usually followed by ridiculous obstacles to keep the couple apart. So this series did have tons to the second, the obstacles were many and insanely frustrating. But in the end there were two well developed loving relationships that got explored because of it. I'm a huge fan of Jax and Vel, their love is so deep and real, it's been a real pleasure to watch it develop. As for Jax and March, suddenly-in-love didn't necessarily mean working thing out for these two pig-headed, determined people. Which is mostly interesting. Sometimes they were just childish and annoying, but generally it was good that they both had things that they needed to work out and that it wasn't easy, it was a real adult relationship and that's more interesting to me than an everything is easy fantasy. Jax standing up for herself, insisting that it wasn't selfish to put herself and her needs first, or that if it was selfish that was still the right thing to do, that was good reading. This notion that love has to be about sacrifice is kind of bizarre, I enjoyed the idea that maybe love is stronger when it's equal and balanced instead. And if that means walking away, then sometimes that's what you have to do.

There were some weird things in the book too. I really didn't get the stuff about her face change. That whole section seemed out of place and it just seemed like such a bizarre thing to do for one short mission. Yeah, she gets to go be anonymous now, but is that such a big deal? March's face is known. And Tarn and Leviter being there is just odd. Tarn was the most powerful guy in the entire galaxy wasn't he? What the heck is he doing there? It's never really explained.

Overall I thought it was a very good story. It showcased how much Jax has grown and matured, which seems to be the overall goal of the series. It also showcased the special relationships that the fans have come to cherish. It was a fitting end to the story.

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Review: Shadows Before the Sun by Kelly Gay (Charlie Madigan #4)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Shadows Before the Sun (Charlie Madigan #4)Shadows Before the Sun by Kelly Gay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The worst book in a series is always the travel one. The reason I love a series is the characters and the way they interact. But for some reason so many authors decide to take their characters on road trips where they're totally isolated from the other characters, as though exploring cool settings can make up for the characters that we love. I do understand in this series that the other two worlds are part of the premise that the author wanted to explore from the beginning. But at least in the last book when Charlie went to Charbydon a few of the other characters went with her. This time on Elysia she was completely isolated from everyone in her family. The only person from Earth with her was the Oracle, Alessandra, a very minor character that while somewhat interesting was certainly not someone with whom I felt any rapport previous to this book. I think it worked better than most travel books. The Circe were properly terrifying and the contrast between their cruelty and the beauty of Elysia was effective. And to some degree, Charlie being alone and isolated was also an effective storytelling technique; seeing how she handled doing everything on her own was interesting and helped her develop her abilities. But for a good portion of the book I really missed seeing her interact with the characters that bring out her best qualities.

Early on in the series I sometimes felt like the some of the use of mythology was too heavy-handed, trying to incorporate too many famous myths and religious icons, it just sometimes made it feel a bit cheesy and like it was trying too hard to be cute. But in the last book or two I've liked this aspect a lot more, things have come together better for me. I thought the trip to Elysia was good for illustrating the concept that the author created.

Overall it was an engaging book. I really do like Charlie and the other characters. The author writes a good story and I feel an emotional connection to Charlie, Hank, Emma and Rex. And Brim, don't forget the hellhound!

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Review: Two Ravens and One Crow (Iron Druid Chronicles #4.5) by Kevin Hearne

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Two Ravens and One CrowTwo Ravens and One Crow by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another terrific tale. Hearne is just a great storyteller, his writing is always perfectly smooth, with a great balance of adventure, humor and intelligence. He never fails to crack me up with the conversations that Atticus has with Oberon, I just love that dog. And the Morrigan is such an interesting character, it was fun to see a bit of a different side to her in this one as well. The story was a nice bridge between Tricked and Trapped, I really enjoyed it.

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Review: Biting Cold by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires, #6)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Biting Cold (Chicagoland Vampires, #6)Biting Cold by Chloe Neill

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've been trying really hard not to do reviews that are just complaining lately, but this one just kept rubbing me the wrong way at every turn, it was really disappoint from a book that I was really looking forward to. It just kept getting worse and worse as the book went on, it just wasn't a good book in any way.

It's weird, I remember in the first book being really annoyed because Merit whined too much, now I'm annoyed because she's way to mature. She's 28, but she analyses Ethan like she's Miss Mature and perfect, it makes me nuts. He's 400+ yet he's the immature and emotionally damaged one. And it still makes me nuts that she's so great at strategy and using weapons instantly after becoming a vampire; she was a lit grad student, it makes no sense. Maybe she has more power than most vampires, and maybe she even learns quickly, but strategic sense doesn't just happen, and there's never any substitute for age and experience (which several people in her House do have). It just makes the whole Sentinel premise make so little sense that it needs to be handled more delicately than it is here. The author has turned her into some generic urban fantasy heroine who can solve any problem, fight any foe, analyze every friend or loved-one's issues and barely break a sweat and it's just annoying. At this point there's really nothing about Merit that I relate to or connect to other than her love of junk food, which frankly is mentioned a few too many times. Just the mentions of Mallowmars alone could be a drinking game. Merit has become so hallow, she doesn't have an spirit or heart to me. She's just too good, too perfect, too predictable.

And why do authors think they need to keep having really contrived obstacles to keep the couple apart? Seriously, how many phones ringing, oops he's dead!, now he's alive but is afraid he'll hurt hurt her can we take? I've read all of the excuses so many times and it's not interesting in the least anymore. By the sixth book what would have been interesting would be a strong couple working together and actually getting to know each other instead of stupidly having more misunderstandings. It makes it impossible to root for Ethan when he's been written so immaturely from the very beginning. I want an "alpha" hero, as she keeps claiming he is, to act like a powerful and smart man. I get that he's worried about her and that it's his tendency to protect his people, but he's just acting like a jerk in every book and it isn't fun to read. He fights every step in their relationship, there's always a "good" reason. And she's always smarter than him and has to prove to him how things are supposed to be. A man who isn't willing to go after want he wants isn't sexy to me. And Merit's apparent maturity and smugness doesn't make it any better.

And then the one thing that kept me really interested for the last few books was the mystery of Tate. Which was finally revealed mid-book and completely ruined the cool manipulative fascinating guy that he'd been before and made everything about him for the rest of the book completely boring as well. I didn't care about him at all anymore, there was nothing interesting about him in the least once he became completely black and white, he was totally dull and just ruined as a character. Plus so much of the story just didn't make any sense. There were so many things that once I started thinking a about them, about the book, about the evil, about what Mallory did, that just made no sense at all.

And how about a drinking game for the number of times the word Sentinel was used? I get it, really, she's the House Sentinel. You can stop telling me. Sometimes as many as three or four times on a page.

And then she didn't do anything to figure out the big secret, it just got told to her because someone's feelings got hurt. Some big detective she is.

All of that was in between running up and down stairs, driving back and forth to see Mallory, to see the fairy queen, back and forth, back and forth, taking showers, putting on her leather jacket, don't forget your leather jacket Merit! There was so much repetitive back and forth details it was insane. I appreciate the everyday realism but it was nutty how often some things were repeated. The number of drinking games that I could have played with this book could have well and truly killed me deader than any bad guy, no sword required.

I'm trying to think of some good stuff to say, I am. OK, good stuff: how the werewolves handled Mallory was cool. And how Mallory dealt with her situation was good in general, she seemed genuine and remorseful. And Gabe is just cool. And Jeff, Jeff is cool.

And Darius has a point, how come Merit and Cadogan House are the only ones doing anything? Jonah is helping a tiny bit, her grandpa, Jeff and Catcher are still helping even though they aren't being paid, but mostly it's still just them. Why is it Merit's job or Cadogan's job to deal with any of this? Darius kind of has a point, is she really protecting her House by dragging them into the center of every battle? "I am the Sentinel of my House and a protector of this city." Are they the same thing? The author obviously thinks so but I'm not so sure. Or maybe that's what the next book is going to be about, we'll see.

I really hate to be so incredibly negative about this book. I'm one of the few people who didn't freak out after the big cliffhanger after book four, I was willing to hang in and see where the author took us. I hoped that it was an opportunity for growth for Merit and change for the series. But instead things have really stalled. Merit supposedly grew up more while Ethan was gone but she just feels more smug to me. She never makes any mistakes, even though she's practically new to this still. She's way too perfect and that isn't interesting. And I'm tired of the games with the relationship with Ethan, if that doesn't evolve into a mature partnership at this point than I really am done with this series. Instead of coming up with stupid contrived relationship obstacles, I hope the author comes up with some new situations that will be interesting and challenging for the characters in addition to the somewhat-cliffhanger at the end. I'm sure she can do it and I'm still rooting for her.

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Review: No Going Back by Mark L. Van Name

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Going BackNo Going Back by Mark L. Van Name
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not as grim as the last book in the series, Children No More, but still continued the more serious bent in Jon's character development that has taken place since the first two rather fluffy (fun) heist stories. Jon is at a point where he can no longer ignore the nightmares from his childhood, and in response he keeps throwing himself, and Lobo, into situations where he has to help people, usually children, even at great personal risk to himself. As Lobo observes, he's spinning out of control. And he won't tell Lobo why and stupidly thinks that it's OK to keep huge secrets from not only his best friend, but his greatest asset; it's hard for them to really protect each other if they can't honestly assess what each can really do. And with Jon's emotions fluctuating so wildly, from the things Lobo has been able to observe about Jon's abilities, he's very concerned about what the consequences of a blowout could mean for the world they're on when it happens. He doesn't know just what Jon can do with his abilities or if he'll care enough for his own safety to control himself. Our boys are a mess, but Jon is determined to see the job through. Even though there's yet another lovely woman involved as well. The job comes first. Because maybe, just maybe Jon may finally find some information about his past in the process and nothing is more important than that.

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Review: Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Prepare to Die!Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Unlike most people, I always thought that being a superhero would be a horrible job. Who wants to fight all of the time and be a target all of the time? So that perspective naturally fed into the approach this author took to projecting a (somewhat) realistic idea of what being a hero would really mean, with a lot of sad and dirty details in the mix. When we meet our hero he's done, beaten, worn down and just done with it all, and then we get to go back and try to figure out how he got to that point. The hero never really matured beyond the point of the sixteen year-old boy that he was at the time of the accident that made him a hero, so there's a lot of crude sexual content that makes the book not for the faint on heart. But it seemed to suit the character, who was swept out of his normal life when he was just a kid, and is still pretty young at only twenty-five at the end of the story.

I found the book to be a great page-turner, I just always wanted to find out what was going to happen/had happened to this kid. It fit into the comic book mythos in a grown-up fashion.

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Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World, #1)Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything about this book was good, these authors just know how to write. They always hit every point - humor, adventure, great characters, heart, plus a nice dose of interesting mythology, it's all here. Fans of the Kate Daniels series will not be disappointed in any way in this book featuring Kate's best friend, Andrea, and her love story with Raphael. I've always liked Andrea and wanted to know more about her and they did a stellar job here in filling filling in her background and completing her story in a satisfying way. And using Roman so much was really smart too. These authors are always clever in their novellas and short stories about fulfilling fans' curiosity about secondary characters who've peaked our interest, so it made sense to use Roman in this novel too. I just love the way they can add just a couple of sentences here and there that add so much depth to secondary characters, they just leap off the page and make them so intriguing that I can't wait to learn more about them too.

I really like that the novel wasn't just a side-story, but it also revealed some important things about a few of the characters along the way. We learned something really key about Curran, there was a lot about Roman that was really intriguing and that I wouldn't be surprised to see come up again in future Kate books, along with the obvious character development for Andrea and Raphael. The fact that the authors called this 5.5 in the Kate Daniels series and not just a separate novel placed in the world indicates that it has an important place in the development of these characters and this series; fans really don't want to miss this, both for the fun of it and for the developments that take place in the overall story arc.

And I saw (either on Twitter or the blog, I can't remember) that some fans are complaining that it's too short, which is crazy, it's a 326 page book! Maybe it just seems short somehow because there's also a really long, 105 page novella included with the book as a bonus, so somehow that makes the novel portion of the book look smaller when you get to the end and realize that you still have so many pages left to read. It isn't logical, but that's all I can think.

As for the novella, Magic Gifts, I originally read it when the authors published it for free on the website for two weeks over Christmas 2011, a truly lovely gift indeed! I said then and I'll repeat now that they always writes solid stories that are really satisfying reads, it's really impressive. The only other author that I can think of that's as consistent with short stories is Jim Butcher. And the fact that they've included this terrific, long, Kate & Curran story in addition to a complete novel is petty cool. The only odd thing is that the novella takes place before the novel and refers to things that happen in the novel (and overlap it slightly), so really you should read Magic Gifts before Gunmetal Magic. If you look the numbering on Goodreads it's even listed as 5.4 and the novel is 5.5. But it also repeats a scene from Kate's viewpoint that might take away a bit from the humor of seeing it from Andrea's viewpoint in the novel, tricky. Either way, both stories are terrific, and stand well on their own, and are even better together.

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Review: Strangeness and Charm by Mike Shevdon

Friday, August 03, 2012

Strangeness and Charm (Courts of the Feyre, #3)Strangeness and Charm by Mike Shevdon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars. This one was quite disappointing. Not only didn't it fulfill my wish of exploring the mythology and fascinating world and characters that Shebdon created with this world and the Feyre courts, but Niall was just annoying in this book. He didn't do his job well, screwed up at every turn and didn't really seem to care or want to improve. He didn't seem to care about the people he set free or the danger they were in or the danger they posed to the rest of society. He didn't care about protecting the secret of his world at all, he told Katherine about Alex without even thinking about what she would do with the information, didn't even consider the consequences. Really, he didn't seem to care about anything except Alex, which I get, but he was being such a jerk about it. And when it came to making the story interesting, or not as the case may be, he didn't even use his power until p. 192 or really mention that it was void power more than briefly before then. And he barely even used it then. He was just really unlikable this time around, I couldn't root for him at all, he was just some annoying, whiny guy, he didn't relate at all to the guy in the first two books.

Plus there was so little recap of the first two books that I felt almost no connection to the charaters or the situations at all as well. I remembered Niall and Blackbird but I didn't remember much about the courts or what brought them there. And I wasn't reminded almost at all until the end. There was almost no magic in this book other than Blackbird trying to teach Niall to use a few skills better. There was no exploring of the courts or the cool mythology that Shevdon created. It was mostly about Niall not doing his job and about his runaway daughter, Alex.

The most compelling part was about Niall's daughter Alex, I appreciated the coming into her own journey, but it wasn't enough to carry the book.   And Blackbird felt like a nagging wife, there was no sense of the incredible, dynamic woman I vaguely remember her to be. And then it the Big Bad was a couple of kids barely older than Alex, how did they know how to figure all of that stuff out much less pull it off? It was pretty hard to get worked up about them as the bad guys, even if they were mean to Alex, they were hardly compelling after the big mysterious bad guys I vaguely remember from the last books.

There just wasn't enough mystery, mythology, magic or tension in this one. It was mostly a story about a whiny middle-aged guy dealing with his pushy boss and his pushy wife and his wild-child daughter. There was some cool stuff at the end that wrapped the whole thing up, but it was really mostly a set-up for the next book. And now that I think about it, it revealed that this book was really just a transition between the last book and the next book, too. The whole thing was just about showing Niall fighting with his boss, revealing some prophesy, and the set-up at the end, a total transitional book. I'm really sorry to give such a rotten review to a book I was really looking forward to. I really hope the author gets back on stride for the next book.

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Review: Evil Dark (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation, #2) by Justin Gustainis

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Evil Dark (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation, #2)Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very enjoyable traditional police procedural with a hardboiled cop, tempered with a nice touch of warmth and wry humor. I always like the tone of this series, it rings very true to me. He just feels very real to me as a detective, from the opening with his curiosity making him stop to help the elf when he knew he shouldn't, to the tension with the FBI agents, to his relationship with his partner, everything just felt right. The mystery was high tension and interesting and held my attention throughout the book. I also enjoyed his relationship with his daughter, both the feeling of genuine love and the sense that he was just such a bewildered dad who just had no idea how to deal with her transformation; it's really relatable even though her transformation is into a vampire and most dads only have to deal with their little girls turning into women. All of the characters in the book pop off the page really well, good guys and bad, it's a very vivid story.

There was one small thing that happened that really made me think a bit. Stan was reading reading a book about a group of scientists who accidentally open a portal to hell and he was really hoping it was just fiction. It made me wonder if reading urban fantasy would be as fun if I knew it all really existed. But what else would I read? I'm a sci-fi/fantasy girl.

Anyway, I liked this book and I definitely recommend it and the first book in the series, Hard Spell, if you like somewhat darker urban fantasy.

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Review: Project Runway: The Show That Changed Fashion with Elia Mell

Monday, July 30, 2012

Project Runway: The Show That Changed FashionProject Runway: The Show That Changed Fashion by Eila Mell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a surprisingly substantive book, it took me a couple of days and a number of hours to read. I've gotten a several of this type of cross-promotional books about TV shows or by celebrities trying to take advantage of their fame, like the Cake Boss, Michael Symon, or Kat Von D, out of the library, and none of their books have taken me more than 45 minutes to flip through, even when they did have a few good stories. They just weren't actually wordy. (Admittedly Symon's was partly a cookbook with the stories as a balance, and of course Kat's had a lot of photos, as it should have, but so did this one.) I expected this book to be just a bunch pictures with captions and a handful of interviews, but it really was much more than that. Of course they couldn't interview every contestant from every season, but they gave a good sense of each season's highlights and most memorable moments, interviews with several key contestants each time and some guest judges, and some of the producers when it was relevant as well. Very occasionally a question was silly, but most of it was pretty interesting. As long as you're a fan of the series of course. This is definitely a book for fans. The format follows the conceptualization of the show, implementation of each session, and a brief summary of the spin-off shows, primarily through interviews with people who were involved with the show, and also through some short descriptions of highlights, and of course through pictures.

Jerrell had a perfect quote that explains why I, a definitely non-fashionista, like the show so much, "Something about seeing the creative process from start to finish is kind of amazing." (p144) And when you add in seeing how different people interpret doing the same challenge, it's just fascinating. I'm not a creative person, so the chance to watch artists at work, even (especially?) under such odd, pressure-cooker circumstances, just wows me. It's beyond me how they can be presented with a challenge, be given fifteen minutes usually to design, be sent off to buy fabric, have to start working, boom-boom-boom, and on the tightest of deadlines almost always create amazing things. I can't imagine anything beautiful, much less create it, but they can do it all, it's remarkable. And as Austin said (about All-Stars on p. 275), "...it's all a delirious, hysterical game! If it's not the most dangerous game, it's definitely the most glamorous, the way I play it." It's a unique experience to see behind the scenes of how such talented people work, and then to see how such different judges view the outcomes. I'm always totally surprised at what they have to say. Sometimes I totally disagree, frequently I learn something, it's never boring.

I'm so disappointed that the show Sarah Jessica Parker produced about artists with the same format only lasted two seasons, it was even more fascinating to watch. Maybe it didn't do as well because most people couldn't as easily imagine buying the end products, so much of the modern art wasn't meant to be family friendly or casually collectible. Whereas with fashion we can at least dream about owning the beautiful clothes or going to a glamourous party in a stunning gown, and we can even get some of the more affordable things the designers end up making. Mondo sells t-shirts on his site, Korto has great jewelry I'd totally buy if I was still working. Maybe the art show just had a harder time finding a mass audience. It's a shame because it was really inspiring.

Anyway, back to the book. It wasn't perfect, were two problems. The first was that while I liked the interviews with the designers a lot, it was frustrating when they were asked about what their favorite and least favorite looks were and there weren't even tiny pictures of them to remind us. Why ask if you aren't going to show us? Some of the time the looks were in the book in the winning looks list, but it was confusing because they would refer to it by a different name than the official challenge name that was listed under the photo; the editors could have made it more clear, if the designer didn't use the official name, by putting the name in brackets. And many of the designs the designers refer to were non-winning looks that aren't in the book at all. Even a one-inch square photo would have refreshed my memory of what the challenge was about and what the designer did. It would have been a busier page, sure, but instead I had to either be frustrated constantly or keep trying to google. I did google some of them, but sometimes I couldn't find them or I got tired of looking. It sounds minor, but the clothes are the whole point, I spent too much time trying to remember what happened and matching the designers with their work, it was a pain.

My only other complaint was that for the staff that didn't appear on-air they should have listed their job titles under their names. We don't know who those people are. It was off-putting, it kept making me feel like I'd missed something that I had to flip back and find, or like I was the outsider who didn't know the cool kids in school that I should have known.

As for just a few of the many specific fan-girl things that come up in the book:

It's kind of wild that in season 1 they were so new that they didn't even have a photographer on set every challenge to take pictures of the winning looks, so four of the wins aren't in the book. (Although couldn't they get screen caps? It seems like that's what they had in season 3, they were all so dark because they were against that Project Runway lit up screen, but maybe they were just taken from the audience. But a few of those looked like candid photos with the contestants taken after the runway too, it's all very odd.) Other than season 1 and 3 they had all of the professional photos.

It is really cool to know that when Victoria Beckham said that she wanted to buy Christian's work, she wasn't blowing steam. She had him over for a fitting 2 weeks later and bought several pieces. So did Heidi.

Topically (as I'm writing this at the end of July 2012), does anyone remember season 5's Olympic challenge? I liked a couple better than Ralph Lauren's from this year, at least they looked American. But it does go to show that it's harder than you imagine when you look back and see how ridiculous most of these designers' ideas of what our Olympic athletes should wear were.

I was going to say a bunch of bad things about Ivy and how bad she comes off again, but I'm really trying to keep it brief. I'll just say that she's still blaming Michael for her own bad behavior. Once again I really don't understand why anyone who saw the show and now who reads this book would ever want to work with her. And this time she had the luxury of time to think about what she was saying. Regardless of who else did what, she did and said what she did and she just looks bad, period.

Why why why hasn't anyone given Anthony a TV show?

Wow, I always thought Irina got a bit of a raw deal, I always liked her even when I re-watched her season. But she was the only winner who couldn't even be bothered to comment about her win, not even one small sentence or two for the book about the show that made her famous. Maybe she didn't understand the scope of the book. And yet everyone else participated. I can see not wanting to do an more in-depth interview maybe, but to not say thank you, or it was nice to have my parents see me win, something simple, is very odd. And bad business.

I controlled myself, I didn't keep count of how many people listed Mondo (my favorite) as one of their favorites as well, or compare how many votes he got compared to the other designers. But it's probably close between him and Christian. A lot of people rightly so, love what Christian has done both with his design work and with his brand, he's worked his tail off and it's amazingly impressive. I still think Korto doesn't get the credit she deserves, her clothes are beautiful and commercial. And I love Seth Aaron, even if he isn't my personal style, I just love seeing what he does. Andy is pretty wonderful, I always love what she does. Austin is another one who isn't my style, but I love seeing what he comes up with. And don't forget Chris March! I loved the season of Mad Fashion back on Bravo and really hope they do another season soon. And I want the season 9's DVDs to come out already so I can re-examine those guys again. That may be the best top four yet when it comes to potential career longevity, I think they're all going places.

Well, that was a really long review, I guess it just proves that it wasn't just a piece of fluff book. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy the interviews and catching up with fan favorites, getting glimpses into behind the scenes, and the retrospective on the show that we've enjoyed so much. It would absolutely make a great gift for any Project Runway way, I can easily recommend it. As much as any book of a decent size can capture nine seasons of the show, pl us a few spin-offs, this has done an enjoyable job. The one thing that would have made it better, but maybe unwieldy, would be more of the looks from each season beyond just the winning looks.

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Review: Grave Memory (Alex Craft #3) by Kalayna Price

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grave Memory (Alex Craft, #3)Grave Memory by Kalayna Price
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The good, and it's mostly good: There's a lot going on, several layers of story all at once with the main mystery, Alex's issue with the Winter Queen and having to choose a fairie court plus the games the Queen is playing with Falin, Death and the other collectors and the questions about why they're keeping him away from her, the questions of Alex's humanity or fae nature and whatever is going on with her father and his long game, but it actually all works for me. I have a terrible memory but I didn't have any trouble remembering what was happening in the story, I never felt lost or overwhelmed or frustrated because I couldn't remember something from the last book. It all played out in a way that pulled it together and reminded me without being heavy-handed. It may be a bit messy, but life isn't neat either, things don't just unfold in nice easy steps, one-two-three. I liked the way the pieces of the puzzles fit together and interwove. It all fit and fascinated for me. And boy is her dad some piece of work, trying to figure out his game may be the most intriguing part of the series. 

The supporting characters add a lot of depth to the series. She has long-term and loving relationships with her girlfriends Holly, Tamara, and her partner Rianna. And Roy the ghost who wants so badly to be a partner as well. And Caleb the much put-upon fae landlord. And Mrs. B., can't forget her, doesn't everyone really want a brownie? There wasn't enough PC in this one, but we all know I'm a sucker for dogs. The barghest appeared several times at least, though there wasn't really enough of him either, but he's more of Rianna's supporting character than Alex's. Briar was a good new character. Annoying and a bit frightening, but good.

The bad: the only thing that I felt was a little weak again was the romance, and it wasn't terrible, just predictable. The angsty love triangle thing is so overdone. Falin is the typical tortured fae knight, nothing special about him. And Death is charming, but mostly absent. They're both hot, but I've seen it all before. Alex is constantly tortured about them, nothing is ever either of their faults, they're both perfect, and they're both mostly absent in the author's attempt to stretch the triangle out over the series. And I'm much more interested in the mystery, the other characters, the fae world and the layers of the magical worlds that were being revealed than the juvenile (all of their first real) romances between two old guys and the young woman. Everything else was creative but that was just too typical. 

Plus it really bugs me that  Alex never thinks about the other guy when she's with each guy, she never worries about being torn between the two of them or feels guilty about caring for both of them, or like she's betraying the other guy. Sure, there's certainly no commitment in any way between Alex and either of the men, but she should know that they'd be hurt anyway and it should cross her mind and she should at least think about how it's possible she could have such strong feelings for two different guys. If she's going to be in love with two guys then she should think about that, but it's just swept under the table and ignored, except for the occasional mention of their jealousy of each other. The whole romance aspect of the story was basically fine, but I wish urban fantasy publishers and authors would stop pushing love triangles, it makes the heroine look so fickle.

The only other bad thing is that it always bugs me a bit when the heroine is the only person in the world with the powers she has. I just get that irritated, "what makes you so special?" feeling. She isn't just a powerful grave witch, she's a planeweaver and who knows what else, it seems like a little much. There is some indication here that things are going on with the story with her dad that will explain things more, so I'm reigning in my irritation on that, but we'll see how it plays out. 

And seriously, Laurell Hamilton has ruined sex scenes for every author, no one should ever use the phrase, "I came screaming," ever again. Please. I just can't see it without cringing. 

So, in case it isn't obvious, overall I liked the book a lot and I think the author is getting even better at storytelling as she gets more books under her belt. I'm looking forward to seeing how things unfold as this series continues. 

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Review: Fever Moon by Karen Marie Moning

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fever Moon: The Fear DorchaFever Moon: The Fear Dorcha by Karen Marie Moning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Al Rio's art really is great, it captures the darkness of what's happening in Dublin during the story without being too literally dark to enjoy, it sill has a lot of energy, movement and emotion. And when appropriate the frames are beautifully completed into real pieces of art capturing the city, the scene in a club, a church, even just the background while they're driving, but it's a completely detailed piece of art, not just sketched in background place holders. I'm not a big graphic novel fan, but obviously Al Rio was tremendously talented. He really captured the characters with a lot of emotional depth, every panel was just great. I'm sure his work will be really missed. Cliff Richards did a good job stepping in to finish the book.

The only disappointing character for me was Rowena. I can't remember clearly how she was described in the books, but as a former fighter and as the leader of the sidhe seers I always pictured her as the whip-thin tough-as-nails bitter granny type, not the fluffy granny type. Double chins didn't fit my image of her. The highly disapproving sneer worked though. I also didn't imagine Jayne as such a hunk, was that a comic book addition? I know he's been working out and all, trying to catch the bad guys and save the city, but the super chiseled eye candy look seemed a little much.

Barron's big B belt buckle just cracked me up. I can't decide if it suited his arrogance or was silly, but it was funny.

Luckily I owned the ebook for Shadowfever so I could re-read the whole end, I didn't remember any of the key points at all, I guess it didn't make such a big impression on me after all. This actually seems to take place before book five, but I was a little thrown to realize that the whole book had pretty much disappeared from my memory.

As for this book, the ending was super weak. There was no reason given for why Mac's strategy worked or why the words were an issue, a lot of things just didn't hold together with what was up to that point a cool/creepy bad guy. But in general, if you're a fan of the series you should enjoy the book. She and Barrons fight about cars, you get to see him looming over her all big and sexy (if you happen to like that kind of thing), there's a tiny bit of Dreamy-Eyed Guy, overall it's a good portrayal of the world. It's just a petty shallow story. The art deserves four stars, but I just can't give the story that many.

FYI: I've seen a couple of people complaining about Mac's big bosom hanging out in a lot of the book, but frankly that's a comic book thing, it's something that happens in almost every graphic novel adaptation. And it's actually pretty consistent with her character too, she likes tight, girly clothes that show off her figure, so I didn't have any problems with it in this book. And the guy eye candy was just as prominent, with lots of naked Velvet.

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Review: Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (White Trash Zombie, #2) by Diana Rowland

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (White Trash Zombie, #2)Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a big fan of zombie books in general, it's not generally my thing. But I am a big fan of Diana Rowland. She's consistently written books with terrific characters and very real situations, despite the fantasy set-ups of the zombies or demons or whatever she's chosen to use to create drama and excitement in their lives. And she sure didn't fail me with this one!

Angel really got put through the emotional and physical wringer in this book. She was finally setting into a job that she enjoyed and feeling that she was getting her life back on track. And BAM, it all fell apart. Suddenly the trust she thought she'd earned from so many people was gone, even her boyfriend didn't believe anything she was saying, and she was in deadly danger and all on her own again. But our tough girl just moved forward, did what she had to do to protect herself, and saved the day. But what worked so well was that it was all in believable ways, it wasn't in some crazy superhero way. She used her wit, her intelligence and her experience to prevail. And her zombie strength, speed and healing occasional, I'll give her that. But she didn't give up and she didn't give in, she fought back.

I could see so much emotional growth in this book, that was really the best part of the story. She trusted herself. There were some doubts, but mostly she was starting to understand her own worth. She refused to let Marcus or anyone else brush her off, make decisions for her, or belittle her ideas. She was upset when people kept asking her about where she went to school, it did make her feel bad, but it got her thinking about her future too. Seeing her dad and what he was going through with trying to quit drinking really emphasized for Angel what an opportunity she'd been given by being forced to start over by being turned in to a zombie. She knows that so much of her progress is because her "rehab" was forced on her, alcohol and drugs just don't work on her anymore and they make her rot faster and need brains more often, so she just doesn't use them. (Luckily she gets to eat whatever she wants when she'd depressed at least, a girl has to have some outlet!) But she's really trying to make the most of this second chance she's been given, even when it's hard. It's a very believable struggle and I just can't help but root for this chick.

The other thing that's so great about this book, and about Rowland's work in general, is the depth of the world that she creates. Every piece of the puzzle is in place, so the reader never feels for a second like she isn't reading about a completely real place. Because Rowland has been a beat cop, detective, morgue assistant and held many other jobs as well, she makes every detail of her stories come to life. Every supporting character is perfectly in place, every scene is set, but none of it is heavy-handed or wordy, it's just a perfectly painted background so you don't even realize you're absorbing it most of the time. When Angel tore up that floor and crawled into those tunnels, I felt like I was there with her. When she was sitting on the curb holding Marcus at the terribly sad crime scene, I felt like I was there. The details are just so well done. It's like Dan Dos Santos' gorgeous cover, everything pops and comes to life.

And then there's the mystery. There was a lot going on here in the zombie world, a lot that unfolded and added depth to the story beyond what was happening to our beloved heroine. I'm excited to see what happens next. And how Angel gets sucked into it and kicks butt dealing with it.

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Review: Black Blade Blues (Sarah Beauhall #1) by J.A. Pitts

Friday, July 13, 2012

Black Blade Blues (Sarah Beauhall #1)Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really neat urban fantasy book with a strong dose of Norse mythology, but what really made it shine for me was the human story. The main character is a young woman blacksmith who has no idea that any of the stories from the ancient lore could possible be true, despite spending her weekends with her friends The Black Briar clan swinging a sword in mock battles at renaissance fairs and Society for Creative Anacronism events. But when she meets a guy who says he's a dwarf who needs her to slay a dragon, all hell breaks loose for poor Sarah on fantastic side of the story.

At the same time, she's wrestling with her personal life, which is going through some turmoil as well. Sarah was raised by some emotionally suppressive and damaging people on several levels, and she has the self esteem to prove it. And she's gay and in the first relationship of her life with the outgoing and lovely Katie, a bard she met at the renaissance fairs. And boy is Sarah wrestling with the situation. Katie just told Sarah that she loves her, but there's still a part of Sarah that feels shame about what her family and community indoctrinated into her as being an inappropriate way to live. And as much as I do not believe that to be true, when I was reading the book I couldn't help but feel deeply for her and the internal battles that she was going through, for her self-esteem issues, her confusion over her identity, her hopeless love for Katie, her jealousy of Katie's friendship with her ex-girlfriend, the consequences all of this caused, Sarah's sorrow over screwing up her relationship with her boss, Julie, and on and on; there was just so much great real life depth and emotion in this book. It's funny actually, I saw a review where the guy didn't like it because he thought it was more of a romance than urban fantasy (despite the dragons, dwarves, giants, goblins, Valkyries, sword fights, explosions, helicopter crashes, etc.). Usually that's my complaint, romance usually just isn't my style. But this didn't feel like romance to me. It's certainly a more sophisticated love story than the love-at-first-sight, based on nothing, they barely know each other but somehow they both just know that this is meant to be, love stories that I really don't enjoy. This is a real adult romance with all of the bumps and bruises that go along with that. And even though it was a theme that is often explored in traditional romances, a woman who has always felt awkward for whatever reason and is now in the middle of her first adult relationship, it felt fresh and real and true. And having the relationship take place between two women gave the author a lot of issues to explore in addition to the usual issues of insecurities and first mistakes, and made the newness make more sense than in some of the romance books I've read when the woman is supposedly awkward and the guy is the most desirable guy on the planet.

I also really like how much the author seems to respect women too. It's pretty rare, from female or male authors, to see women heroes portrayed as just so darn human, really brave but also fully vulnerable, smart and witty without being obnoxious, strong and capable, occasionally stupid, and with so many well-balanced characters throughout the book. I liked what I saw from the men in the book as well, but I would like to see more from the guys as the series develops.

As for the urban fantasy aspects of the story, that was the most inconsistent part of the book. There were a lot of things that I liked, but the storytelling was a bit up and down pacing-wise. And the depth of Sarah's personal story took up a bit of the time that might have been given to developing a deeper plot. It was good, but not stellar. I liked the way the mythology was woven into the story, it wasn't too heavy-handed. And there were some great moments. Like pissing herself in terror when she first saw the dragon, that was a good realistic moment. I liked the humor of the stuff with the Valkyries. And I really liked the way she actually kept telling everyone what was really going on once she figured it out instead of the secrecy that abounds in every other urban fantasy book. She may not have known what to say in her personal life, but she was good about trusting the right people when it came to the crazy stuff that was going on, it was a refreshing change. I also like that when the battles happened it was really a mess, people died, things burned, it was a disaster, it wasn't all magically neat and clean somehow. Big stuff happened, people's lives were changed and I'm eager to see what happens next and how they deal with it. There is actually quite a bit that I'm intrigued about the more I think about the things that were revealed in the book about the dragons' society, as well as the Black Briars, so I'm definitely glad that I have books 2 and 3 already lined up to start right away.

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Review: Eternal: More Love Stories with Bite by P.C. Cast

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eternal: More Love Stories with BiteEternal: More Love Stories with Bite by P.C. Cast

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the book out if the library because Jeri Smith-Ready said that her story features the kids that are in her new WVMP novella Let it Bleed (available for free on her website and an important part of the WVMP series, you should get it). But I actually liked most of the stories that I read and added several of the authors' books to my to-read list, so the anthology model was largely successful again.

Claudia Grey - Josephine Baker helps her? Then she runs into one of her old loves, a Russian vampire, outside a German concentration camp? I wanted to give a try because her books are on my to-read list, but they have such mixed reviews from my friends already, I think I just have to pass. It wasn't awful, and I like the not-too-sentimental ending actually, but I have a feeling I'm going end up sniping too much about too-convenient coincidences and other annoyances too much to make it fun.

Lili St. Crow - a very good story, very complete and very compelling. For some reason I've never read her Dante Valentine stories (I even thought Dante was a guy) or her YA books. They have mixed reviews from my friends too, but based on this I definitely want to try them sooner than later.

Nancy Holder - Romeo and Juliet, it was OK if you like that kind of thing. It wasn't the kind of story that intrigued me enough to want to read more of her work though.

Heather Brewer - good story, good twist. It didn't have anything to do with her series, but it did remind me that I've been wanting to read it, and my friends' reviews are all excellent.

Rachel Caine - I'm a fan of her Weather Warden series and it's spin off Outcast Season series, but I read the first book of the Morganville Vampire books and while I liked it, I never felt any strong desire to read any more. It's one of those series I might get to eventually but there's no rush. So I didn't read the short story because I didn't want any spoilers. I'll get the book out of the library again if I ever get into the series.

Jeri Smith-Ready - as I said above, she mentioned the story in her new novella Let it Bleed because the characters in this story appear in that as well. This one comes first, so it's kind of fun if you read this first, but not necessary. It's quite a good little story, as usual from Jeri. I definitely felt for Cass with her ambitions, her love for her boyfriend and how trapped she was in this situation. The supporting characters were also sympathetic, which is petty amazing in such a short story; Liam, Bridget and Michael, as well as Gavin and even the grandmother all were really vivid. My only real argument is in her author's description - my greyhound is the goofiest greyhound in the whole world, Jeri! But yours may be second, I'll give you that.

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Review: Let It Bleed (WVMP Radio, #3.5) by Jeri Smith-Ready

Monday, July 09, 2012

Let it Bleed (WVMP Radio, #3.5)Let it Bleed by Jeri Smith-Ready

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really fun novella and a significant piece of the WVMP puzzle, so if you're a fan of the series (and you should be!) make your way to the author's website and download the story, at very least before you read the 4th book in November 2012. It's free, so there's no reason not to do it. This is a big transition story, it's the one where Ciara deals with her new situation. And her friends deal with it too. Some well, some not so well. Plus they're all dealing with their normal levels of craziness too. Again, some well, some not so well. And some of the not so well hits the fan. And as usual, Ciara gets to help clean it up. It's a great story. Plus Dexter the vampire dog is in a lot. I love that dog.

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Review: Year Zero by Rob Reid

Year ZeroYear Zero by Rob  Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It started off with a good chuckle--the noble opus so sublime as to trigger the dawning moment of Year Zero was the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter.  Which, I've got to say, while I might not call an opus, is a mighty fine song that is on my iPod.

My first impression was Christopher Moore meets Hitchhiker. I'm not sure why the Moore since it's sci-fi, maybe just the slapstick humor. Now I know everyone is comparing it to Hitchhiker, and really it's not fair to hold it to such a high standard, people are bound to be disappointed if it doesn't meet their expectations after reading that, so I was reluctant to mention it, but I could hardly ignore it. And some will say that it's too derivative of Hitchhiker. But really, just because that was my first thought and so many other people's thoughts doesn't make it actually true. Because once you read it (and I hope you do) you'll see that actually it's nothing like it except in tone and because it has a lot of odd, silly aliens. And the Earth is in danger. And really, every story is derivative of the seven basic stories, right? The trick is just in writing a good, entertaining tale. This definitely doesn't copy Hitchhiker's plot or jokes in any way, it's just similarly styled, so if you like that kind of humor you'll probably like this. It doesn't have Douglas's satirical depth, but it is consistently sweet and amusing.

The book definitely caters to people of a certain age with the some of the humor like Hogan's Gyros, a Magoo-like stroke of fortune, the Kotter thing, Nick Carter, etc., but I fit the demographic so I enjoyed it. On the other hand, it's a thoroughly modern use of tech with mentions of the computer audio software, iPhone, apps, Google, etc., felt very fresh, and the Nick's voice felt very young and relatively hip, if somewhat nebbishy (as intended). I hope that the mentions of technology that were used don't make it feel very dated in a few years like some books that I've read. It doesn't feel like it will because it's pretty general. It mentions iPhones but it doesn't say which one. It complains about the new Windows OS, but everyone does that. It is more obviously set in a certain time than most books, but I think it will have a shelf life.

The plot had a lot of good twists that I didn't expect from the silly way things started out. And Nick isn't as helpless and bumbling as he first appears or as the inevitable comparisons to Hitchhiker will make the reader assume he will be. The premise is silly but the plot really does hold together, it unfurls logically for all of its absurdity and humor. The author said in the (very long) introduction that his beta readers gave him a hard time about this and it was worth it, it's more than just a long series of jokes.

The supporting characters were all pretty good too. Manda was cute without being too anything. Pugwash was a good character, he started off appearing to be that guy you think you're going to hate, but he isn't actually a bad guy, just kind of distasteful and annoying. Judy was a cool shark. Paulie was even funny.

The only printing issue I had with the advanced review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley was that the cutesy little footnotes totally don't work in the ebook version, at least in the pre-release edition, because they're printed at the end of the chapter not at the end of each page, so in order to read them you have to either try to remember what the footnotes were referring to when you get to the end of the chapter, or page forward page by page to find the end of the chapter and the footnote text each time it happens because the chapters weren't marked in a way that could be selected in the ebook version that I had. This may well be corrected in the final print edition. It's not that big of a deal, the footnotes are sometimes funny, but not significant to the story. (**edit - The author reported to me that the printing problem with the ebook version has been corrected, so go ahead and buy it if that's your preferred format.)

Overall, as you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and funny and surprisingly sweet. I hope you'll give it a try.

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Review: The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Spirit War (The Legend of Eli Monpress, #4)The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like this series. It's more action than anything else, generally light and an easy read, but with touches of thoughtfulness that add enough depth to keep it interesting. And I like the way pieces of the big picture keep being gradually revealed, it definitely has kept me very curious while each individual book has had its own interesting story as well.

This one had a good twist with Josef's past. I liked how he responded to his mom and the situation on the island. And I really felt for poor Nico, finding out about the wife was rough, even though they had never even met; she's so young and naive in many ways. 

And yet, for a really long book there wasn't a lot of character development, again. It's mostly action, and filling in pieces of the puzzle. There also wasn't a lot a lot of Eli and his mischief in this one. And poor Miranda is always the last to know, about a lot of things. I'm kind of tired of her always being a dupe, I'd like to see her take control of something. I still love Gin, of course, minor character though he is; how could I resist what's essentially a giant talking mystical greyhound?

The moral questions were interesting though. When the enemy is legitimately terrifying and doesn't respect anyone's rights, is it OK to use similar tactics? It was good use of fantasy to explore real world issues through what really is otherwise just a fun story. Is there room for idealists in wartime? Are there moral lines that just shouldn't be crossed, even of it means losing? It's nice in a book when good triumphs over evil and the point gets made that morals need to be upheld and that there's always a better way to do things, but what if there isn't? What if upholding your morals actually meant losing to the monsters? Not just dying but getting enslaved or seeing the ones you love tortured? Are there really lines that shouldn't be crossed? Anyway, in the book there were the constant tensions between Spiritualists Miranda and Banage on the one side and Sara and the Council of Wizards on the other and how they think it's appropriate to use spirits. There was also Slorn vs. the Mountain and the issue of demonseeds when it comes to research and containment vs. destruction. They were interesting questions that could be interpreted to apply to issues in our world.

I really like how fully developed the world and the system of magic were. There's so much depth to the story at this point, it's quite fascinating. It has the ring of mythology with the stories of the gods and stars that are being revealed and yet there's a feeling of realism that's really interesting. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the series wraps up in Spirit's End in November 2012 and finding out what's really on the other side of the sky and how all plays out.

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My new little sweetheart of a mutt

My new little sweetheart of a mutt

Such a goober

Such a goober

Always in my heart

Always in my heart

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