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Review: Magic Without Mercy by Devon Monk

Monday, April 23, 2012

Magic Without Mercy (Allie Beckstrom, #8)Magic Without Mercy by Devon Monk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The best thing about this series is that the author has a very clear plan for it. It isn't one of those series where the author just created a fun character who became popular and now she's trying to trying to milk the series for all it's worth by writing the same book over and over again or just sort of figuring it out as she goes along. Every book in this series has a very strong arc and major reveals, keeping it super exciting. But of course it also makes it sad as we get closer and closer to the end of the series, I'm really going to miss these characters when it wraps up after the next book.

This book was a wild ride, as they all are. There was a lot going on with Allie's dad, St. James, Cody, Stone, tainted magic, The Veiled, why she can use magic differently than anyone else, Isabelle and Leander, Shame and Terric, Jingo Jingo, the Hounds and lots of other stuff. There were some reveals, some hints, and some new challenges as well. I can't wait for Magic For A Price in November.



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Review: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside PicnicRoadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I'm a little thrown by this one. It was cool in a lot of ways. There were a lot of really neat ideas that were fun to ponder. But I'm not sure if I liked it.

So, the backstory. This is a re-release of a book that was written by two Russian brothers, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, in the early 1970s. According to the really interesting afterword by Boris Strugatsky, by the time they actually got the story published in 1980, the brothers were really unhappy with the edits that were forced on them by various government officials and publishers. It's a pretty wild Soviet publishing battle tale, especially since the story in question wasn't even political. Yet the brothers prevailed and eventually a story was published, although not one that they were happy with. And yet it became very popular, in part because it became the basis of the movie Stalker. But luckily we now have the opportunity to read the book as the brothers originally intended, this version is "completely restored and returned to the author's version." So you should definitely look for the May 2012 publication of the book; in English it's the translation by Olena Bormashenko.

The book was a good choice for a re-release because it doesn't feel very outdated. There isn't a lot of technology mentioned in the book, it's really mostly just cars and trucks, so there isn't anything that jumps out and says "outdated." The tone is quite old-fashioned, but I think that was deliberate even when it was written. I has a feel of a 1950s sci-fi novel in some ways to me in the tone, something about the jaded prospector and then the really innocent kid who comes in at the end, calling him Mr. And of course everyone smokes, that wouldn't happen in a modern book. But generally it held up quite well.

OK, I think I'm pulling together my thoughts a bit. It's really a tough one. Summary: What I liked were the ideas. What I didn't like was the storytelling.

There were so many super cool ideas in this book. The basic concept of the roadside picnic and what that would do to us is brilliant. The idea of the Zones and the Stalkers. Following that through is just super interesting. I liked a lot of the ideas the scientist expressed about the aliens and what it might mean. But it also got a bit crazy. I liked all of the stuff found in the Zones. But there was no rhyme or reason to it. Which I guess was the point to some degree, it's supposed to be so weird that it obsesses people and makes them crazy. But batteries and bracelets are one thing, slimes and gravity zones are another. And then there's the corpses. And the thing that happens to emigrants. I don't know, it's just a little much. Yes, it all comes together for force Red into this desperate place. But the excuse of it not having to make sense because it's alien bugs me.

Which gets into my dislike, the storytelling. I was interested in Red, I couldn't help but like him and root for him. But the story was often confusing and wanders a lot and I didn't always get the point. Maybe it's just deep, and honestly, I'm not the type who's good at being analytical or picking up on literary stuff. But I was often left with a feeling of, "what was the point of that?" For example, I didn't understand the point of the whole section with Noonan, his character is left hanging. And the end was totally abrupt and kind of cheesy. Not that I expected answers, because I didn't, that wouldn't have worked with the premise. But I really enjoyed the last section all the way up until the very last passage. It was just so... I don't know. Ursula Le Guin did the intro to the book and she tells me I should love the end. But it didn't ring true to Red for me. Maybe part of the problem was that it was a novella and not a full novel, if it had been drawn out into a full book then maybe some of the things that bothered me could have been explored more completely. On the other hand, part of what was cool about the style was the snapshot-like views into what was happening in Red's life and the city around the Zone, so the shorter style did suit it.

So I guess my review is kind of a confusing mess, I'm sorry. I really just don't quite know what to think about this one. It was kind of fascinating and kind of confusing. I was never bored reading it but it wasn't a huge page-turner. It was interesting. It was definitely interesting. And it did get me very curious to try more of the Strugatsky brothers' work.

I received this book from NetGalley.



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Review: Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'ArtSacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This one was a little bit strange, but not in Moore's usual way, or not in the way that I'm used to anyway. It was a much more serious book than I've read from him before, somewhat witty, but not especially funny, but it was very interesting and often quite lovely, so that was new too.

My first impression was fantastic, what a gorgeous book this is. The cover is just stunning and really represents the story well. The book is printed in two shades of blue ink, which really sets a nice tone for a book about art using the color blue. Two different fonts were used to set the tone, a more old-fashioned serif font for the main sections, and a stark san-serif for the interludes. And then after I turned a few pages I got a great surprise, a full color print, a self-portrait of Van Gogh. And as I kept turning the pages more and more prints appeared every few pages to illustrate the story. After I finished the book I flipped through and counted and I think there were approximately thirty-two impressionist and post-impressionist paintings included in this book, pretty impressive. Most books don't even have a handful of black and white sketches, or decent covers these days, much less more than thirty major works of art used to illustrate the story. So it was definitely worth the money from the standpoint of being a lovely product. I would definitely recommend that if you don't buy or borrow the hardback, you will want to read it on a color ebook reader; as much as I love my original nook, it would be a shame to read this one in black and white, the images really illustrate the story and add a lot of value to the book.

As for the story, it started out quite slow. It wasn't funny or quirky at all at the beginning and it didn't even feel like any kind of a fantasy for quite a long time. It felt like a mystery, and there were hints of something odd going on with the Colorman, but it took quite a long time for it to develop into anything mystical. And it never really developed into funny for me, or not laugh-out-loud funny. And the slow pace continued throughout, as did the lack of laughs. I think it was just a different style of book than his lighthearted, silly somewhat farcical stories à la the Love Story trilogy or Practical Demonkeeping. I haven't read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal or Fool yet, but perhaps it's more in line with their sensibility. It's certainly a more mature novel than Bite Me or A Dirty Job. It's just a very different kind of book. There were chuckles, and it certainly wasn't overly serious, there were a lot of lighter moments, but it just more wry than funny to me, mildly amusing most of the time at best. 

The book reminded me of the historical fiction I grew up reading, like Désirée and Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess, except in this one Lucien, Bleu and the Colorman aren't real. But almost everyone else in the book is, that part is really fun. It could have come off like some of the urban fantasy novels I've read that make me nuts when the author throws in every historical figure that she's ever fantasized about and it just gets absurd; yeah sure that many famous people throughout history just happened to get turned into vampires or whatever her theme is and somehow they all ended up crossing paths with her unimportant lead character; my willing-suspense-of-disbelief gets stretched too far. But having all of these painters interact in this book works because these guys really did hang out together. Maybe not exactly the way it's portrayed here, maybe they didn't have these specific conversations, these identical relationships, senses of humor, etc., but some of the older masters did teach the younger painters, they did have relationships and interact, so it's plausible to some degree. And Moore did write the painters' characters based upon what is known about their personalities. In fact, I thought he did a better job with the actual historical painters than with the characters he created in this one. They were much more vividly portrayed than the other characters.

My biggest problem with this book wasn't with the slow pacing, which although it wasn't a huge page-turner, I was never bored either, or with the lack of huge laughs, because again, I was never bored. It was with the characterization of the main characters of Lucien, Bleu and the Colorman. The were all, well, not to be too trite in a review about a book about painting, but they were really flat. Usually Moore's characters are so vivid and 3D.  But Lucian was nothing more than a sketch in my mind. Bleu and the Colorman were seemed more like caricatures than real characters, ticking off the points of what we expect to see but not filing in the details to make real complex characters. I really liked the concept of what it turned out was going on with Bleu, it was a really good use of mythology, but the explanation of how it all came about was really weak too. And how it played out was disappointing, quite a let-down.

I think maybe Moore was more in love with telling his story about the painters, of figuring out a way to tell a story about why in the world Vincent Van Gogh would shoot himself in the chest and then walk a mile to the doctor afterwards, and he came up with a vision that he wanted to explore but he just didn't have a strong enough back story to support it, but decided to go with it anyway because the one idea was so cool. So we get this. Overall was lovely, charming, amusing, interesting, I was never bored, but it wasn't funny or a page-turner either.

(Also, and not related to the story at all, the quote from The Washington Book World on the back cover just annoys the heck out of me every time I see it, it's so pretentious. "...deftly limned protagonists...in the hyperbolic mode...cultural milieus..." so irritating!)



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Review: The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad RobotThe Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Yet another book that I couldn't resist grabbing off of the children's shelf. This is a very cute modern retelling of the Three Little Pigs story. The illustrations are very engaging and the concepts are funny, kids are sure to enjoy it. It doesn't try to be a science book, as the author explains in the afterword, but she and the illustrator did work together to portray the planets properly so that kids may absorb a little bit of knowledge while they're enjoying the cute book.



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Review: Fair Game (Alpha & Omega, #3) by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega, #3)Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was a more substantial story than the previous books in the Alpha and Omega series, because this was a pretty serious police procedural mystery, in addition to dealing with Charles and Anna's relationship. It was nice to see Anna stepping up as a confident and competent woman, and to have her be seen that way by everyone she encountered, most of all including Charles and Bran. Her strength of character may have been a tiny bit over-emphasized, but it wasn't a big annoyance. Charles's struggle with his role as Bran's enforcer made sense given his character development as well, it really used his history and nature. The resolution to his troubles may not have been as satisfying as I could have hoped for, it was a bit abrupt, but it wasn't awful. The mystery was very good overall. I really enjoyed the interaction it allowed between the humans, werewolves and fae, and the secondary characters were quite good. I did have my suspicions about how things would play out, but it there were layers to the story that kept it interesting. And the twist in the end was terrific. It will have a huge impact on the next Mercy book, but I'm sure Briggs will be explain it enough that anyone who hasn't read this yet won't feel lost. (But of course it will be more fun if you've read this first.)

Note: This book takes place just after River Marked in the Mercy Thompson series. The official timeline is on the author's forum site



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Review: Oz: Ozma of Oz by Eric Shanower

Oz: Ozma of OzOz: Ozma of Oz by Eric Shanower

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is another book that I grabbed off of the kids' shelves because it looked fun. And the story was, but the design was confusing. It's the third book in the graphic novel series of the Oz books, so it must be selling well. But I wonder who the audience for these books is because of some of the design choices.

The story was the classic Baum tale. The story editing allowed the heart, humor and drama to come through very well. So that would work for kids or for grown-up fans of the series.

But I just didn't get a lot of the artistic choices. Dorothy is incredibly unattractive, she's drawn to look like a wide-mouthed, surly-faced bratty kid. I couldn't identify with her as my hero, I wanted to push her away. Bellina was kind of freaky looking too, with big bulging, bloodshot eyes. Maybe the chicken didn't have to be pretty, although I always imagined her that way, but she looked kind of scary in a lot of the frames. And even Ozma wasn't pretty and also made bizarre mouths. I guess giving characters that big wide open mouth this is the artist's signature style, but it really put me off for this particular story.

There were scenes in the book that were great. The Wheelers had a Gothic, scary, yet pitiful aspect, very well expressed. Tik-Tok was enjoyable. Most of the scenes with the Nome king and his lands were well designed. But those were all darker scenes and characters, when it came to beauty there was no child-like wonder in this book, or fairytale charm, or lovely princesses. Oz is supposed to contrast the lovely and the haunting, but this had only one side of the coin.

Because of those choices, I just don't really get who the audience is. I think little girls would want to see prettier princesses. I'm not saying that they have to be perfect beauties, plain is fine, just that these gals are making hideous and unattractive faces throughout the whole book. People who were childhood fans of the books would probably think that a graphic novel would be a chance to provide lovely, lush drawings that they can pore over and over. Some of those drawing should certainly be dark and edgy, but the overall the look was just unattractive. So it's not a book that I want to rush out and buy for my adult friend who's a big Oz fan, it's too unattractive for that.. And I'm not going to get it for my niece because I don't think she'll be able to identify with Dorothy, who just doesn't come across as the charming, funny, lovely girl that she is in the source book. So overall the artwork took too much away from the great story for me to be able to recommend this one, it just wasn't my cup of tea.



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Library Loot: April 4-10

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

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Library Loot was the first internet meme that I participated in two years ago when I first started this blog and I'm very happy to resume the tradition now that I'm blogging again. Unlike a lot of book bloggers, In My Mailbox isn't a meme that applies to me very often, I don't get to buy books more than a few times a year and I don't get ARCs mailed to me from publishers (although I did just start getting some online from NetGalley). But I'm very lucky to have one of the best library systems in the nation at my disposal. There are 37 library systems across 10 counties in our library consortium, so it's very rare that a book that I want isn't available somewhere in the system. I reserve the books that I find out about on Goodreads, Twitter and from bloggers, and they just show up, it's like getting free gifts every week. When I saw this comic on Marg's blog I had to copy it too, I'm sure everyone is: 


OK, on to the loot! I only got 4 books this week, which is good because my shelf is still overflowing with new releases, several from an author I fell in love with recently (Sarah Zettel), a few mysteries and miscellaneous other books. Today I got:


A highly anticipated third (last) book in a series. The kid in this book is so hard to resist, the author really makes your heart break for the kid. Will he have a happy ending, despite all of the agony he's going through? I'll find out soon.


The newest book by Christoper Moore, bound to be entertaining. And bound to have a long list of people who've reserved it, so I have to get it back on time, no renewing it possible.


Another new release and third book in a series. I like but don't love this one. It's a mix of romance and urban fantasy and the mix doesn't always work well for me. I like the UF better than the romance. But it's fun.


I found out about this one from @BookaliciousPam. She wrote a column in her new blog bookalicious.org about an article in the the New York Times about Arizona removing books from the high school curriculum because they can be seen as anti-white. The article mentioned that Matt de la Peña gave up his speaking fee to buy 240 copies of his novel Mexican Whiteboy for the students of a school he visited. That made Pam really want to read his book and encourage others to do so as well, so she sponsored a reading-along on the blog. If you have a moment, please read Pam's blog and the NYT article, and consider reading the book with us as well.

So that's my haul for the week. As usual, it's an embarrassment of riches. I just love having the terribly difficult problem of deciding which terrific book to read first, don't you?

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Review: Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease Without a Wedding Ring (Jane Jameson, #3.5) by Molly Harper

Monday, April 09, 2012

Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease Without a Wedding Ring (Jane Jameson, #3.5)Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease Without a Wedding Ring by Molly Harper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a quick little online story available for free for free from the author online. Definitely fun for fans of the series, it would probably also be a good intro to the author's style and the characters for people who haven't tried the books yet. But of course I'd always recommend going back to the beginning and trying the first book, if you haven't read any of them yet. I love Jane's voice in this series, she's definitely one that a lot of women will really love, as the small town (former) librarian who's super witty but not too snarky. The story is very short, so I wouldn't worry about even bothering to download it to your kindle or nook or whatever. I read it easily on my browser on my phone. And if you don't get a chance to catch it, don't worry, it's fun, but the events are summarized in the early chapters of the fourth book. You won't miss anything but a few chuckles.

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Review: The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor

The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise if this book is fun: what if Bella from Twilight wasn't really a shy, awkward kid, but was actually a manipulative, psychotic murderer and all of her shy, bumbling ways were planned behaviors to mask her real intentions? The book very closely mirrors Twilight, very much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and that style of parody. If you like that kind of thing you'll likely get a chuckle out of this. I enjoyed the first hundred pages or so a lot. I thought that it wouldn't be as funny if I hadn't (a) read Twilight, (b) liked it, and (c) had a sense of humor about it. Diehard fans definitely won't appreciate it because it's obviously making fun of the book, although really it doesn't ridicule it that much at all, just presents a different angle and pokes gentle fun at it. But you know diehard fans won't be happy with any poking fun at their beloved characters or books. And people who hate the whole idea of Twilight will probably be annoyed by the it because it really closely matches the book. Too much, as it turns out.

By the middle of the book it got boring, it was just too close to Twilight. It wasn't quirky enough, there wasn't enough action or snark, and  there definitely was not enough Lake Woebegotten. It was just too much a scene-for-scene retelling of Twilight with a few semi-snarky comments from Bonnie and changing of the pertinent names and such to make it a parody. So they didn't play baseball, they played hockey, that is hardly interesting. 

As a fan of The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten, what would have really spiced it up was more interaction with the characters from the town. There were a few scenes throughout the book dealing with people from town, clearly leading up to something, but they really weren't utilized extensively until the end. It was also confusing as to whether this was a prequel or what. It turns out that it's really an alternate history, kind of like James Lovegrove with his Greek, Egyptian, Norse and now Astec versions of Earth. There are several people who die in both Woebegotten books, people who have different jobs, and a lot of fun parallels as well, so there are things that will satisfy fans of Zombies. But not as much as I'd hoped for, and not as much as the book needed to make it more interesting and original. By page 200 things finally picked up again, but it was quite a dry spell in between.

Overall, Zombies was just wittier. It kept me constantly amused. Maybe because I hadn't read the book it was based on? Was Zombies as faithful to the book it was based on as this one was? I have no way to compare at this point. This book just wasn't as biting and clever as I wanted it to be, but it's a fun idea pretty-well executed.

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Review: A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Devil in the Details (Jesse James Dawson, #1)A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one a lot. It felt like a very well-established world that we were just invited into, it just had a different tone than a lot of urban fantasy books. Part of that is because it was set in the real world, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Show Me State. It also came from the author's choices in establishing Jesse as a somewhat more mature man, not a young kid just starting out. He's around thirty, married and madly in love with his wife, Mira, a powerful magic user as well, and they have an adorable five year-old daughter, Annabelle. Yet he's also a cool young guy, kind of a hippie in appearance with a proclivity for tee-shirts with inappropriate sayings,  but really a modern Samurai in spirit and actions.  He's in the prime of his career as a Champion, helping people who've sold their souls to devils, reclaiming them by literally fighting for them. 

The author does a great job of establishing this really normal world of suburban life juxtaposed with the jeopardy of someone needing to fight against the evil the devils are committing and showing how Jesse and his wife, Mira,  are willing to be the ones take the risks involved in doing what's right despite the mortal jeopardy it puts him in every time. I likes the story and the twists, I liked all of the supporting characters, including Jesse's mentor, Ivan, a tough former probably-Soviet or Eastern Block agent of some sort, and Mira's best friend and Jesse's ex, Dr. Bridget. It was a little too convenient that Jesse's old neighbor and best buddy, Marty, was a welder with a passion to be a blacksmith, but it did explain how he took care of his swords and armor. And most intriguing of all was the demon, Axel, who was either trying to steal Jesse's soul or trying to help him by telling him that something sinister was going on beyond the normal contract he expected. Or both. It was a good set up for the next book. 

And again, with all of these characters and situations there were so many touches that made it feel real and down to earth, such as the mention of how bad the padding in the armor smelled of sweat and blood, that no matter what he did he could never get it clean. It was just another thing made it feel really real. There was a lot in this book that felt more mature than I expected from a new author. It wasn't perfect, there were some pacing issues, but overall I really like Jesse and this situation the author has established and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next. 

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