A work in progress!

Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Golden Lily (Bloodlines, #2)The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I thought it was really good, certainly the most substantive book Mead has published in a long time. And the longest! Maybe a bit longer than necessary, but I wasn't bored. It's definitely a lot of "tell me", not "show me", but that that makes sense because of who Sydney is, she's the intellectual, not the action hero. She's still a little bit too perfect, it would be nice to see her have a selfish moment every once in a while and to act more like a normal young woman, but I enjoy the character. And of course I still love Adrian. Eddie was great, I'd like to see more of him. Jill is still pretty bland and under-developled, but Angeline had a few moments in this one.

Overall, I like the big story arcs of Sydney having to wrestle with what it means to be a human dealing with vampires, what it means to be an Alchemist, and what her own developing abilities as a human with magical powers might mean. Her natural inclination to take care of everyone, and just to care for everyone, is in direct opposition to her career choice and beliefs as an Alchemist. It's one thing when her sense of responsibility was challenged in the Vampire Academy books. But now she really loves these people, that's a whole different level for her to try to figure out. I'm looking forward to seeing her work it through in the next book.

My only real complaint was the cover, why does Sydney look so pissed off? I thought it had to be Angeline until I looked at the cover of the last book and realized that was the same model they used before, so it had to be Sydney looking so angry. It actually upsets me every time I see it. Determined would have been fine, but she just looks like she's about to start a fight, it's unsettling.



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Review: Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane

Chasing Magic (Downside Ghosts, #5)Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


4.5 Stars. The thing I love best about Kane is that she always gets the people and the relationships so completely right. On the one hand, the world is different and magical and sometimes pretty weird. And the other hand it's completely normal, at least when it comes to people's hearts and their motivations, good and bad. The best example, of course, is Chess and Terrible, who's love feels so grounded and vivid. For example, when they go to Elder Griffin's wedding, everything between them gets all stirred up, just like any other couple. Keith, Elder Griffin's new hubby, asks Terrible, "so when are you two getting married," and his mind starts churning, he's thinking about his commitment to Chess and wanting to move forward, she's crazy-scared of what that might mean, and it totally makes sense for their characters. It felt like watching any number of friends of mine who have gone through the exact same thing; well, you know, plus overdoses, zombies, gang wars, and almost dying a few times to spice things up.

One of the other things that Kane does really well is having an interesting self-contained mystery for each book and balancing that with the continuing story arcs across the series. The last book had to do with trying to figure out who may or may not have summoned a ghost in a school in Lex's territory. This book takes an even darker tone as people who almost seem like zombies are being found wandering around town, violent and nearly unstoppable, plus a number of other people are being found horribly killed in both Bump and Lex's territories. The gruesome crimes are soon connected and of course only Chess can investigate and try to end this terrifying chain of events. At the same time, Kane manages to continue working the themes of the romance between Chess and Terrible, the situation with the sigil on Terrible's chest, Chess's drug use, Chess's history with Lex, the tension between the two gangs, Chess's history with the Church and with Elder Griffin, and many other themes into the story as well. What's really remarkable is that while juggling so many stories over five books now, she's managed to do it at a pace that is interesting and not horribly frustrating at the same time, tough to manage at a pace of a book a year or so. She layers the pieces of the story slowly and builds upon the layers so that I'm curious as to what's going to happen, with Lex or with the sigil for example, but I'm getting enough information that I'm not upset or frustrated. I even remember what's going on, remarkable with my rotten memory, so she does a great job of filling in the details without any annoying infodumps, which I really hate.

Chess's drug use was, as usual, painful to watch in this book. The overdose, her feeling like she has control of her life through using when it's so clearly out of control, it's just painful. As I said in my last review, it's such a vivid portrayal of a functioning addict, it's often more Oprah Book of the Month than typical adventure or romance novel, which just goes to show that you can always learn something while having fun. And this book really showed more of how it effects her relationship with Terrible, who's trying so hard just to love and support her. It's achingly tender, agonizing infuriating, cuts to the bone realistic.

I take back the nice things I said about Lex in my last review. He doesn't respect her, not really. He does understand her, but only the bad parts. Maybe they're too much alike. He takes advantage of her darkest and most negative emotions and uses them to his advantage. He sees that she hates herself and he turns that against her and Terrible. It seems like he doesn't like himself so he sees that in her too maybe. There was something in here that said that Terrible doesn't like Lex because he give Chess her drugs for free, which was a good point, an enabler really isn't a friend, especially as she's spinning more and more out of control. Yes, he's done a lot of favors for her, but I'm over him all together now.

I wonder what's going to happen with Chess and the Church? She's always taken so much pride in her work, even though her persona at the Church is so fake. But now Elder Griffin knows what she's done and is pushing her away. She continues to work for Bump and Lex and hide things from the Church that they should probably know. Her choices pull her farther and farther from anything resembling the rules and regulations. And yet, when push comes to shove, this is how she thinks about herself, "This was magic, and she could do magic; if there was one thug she could fucking do this was it. She wasn't just a junkie, she was a motherfucking Churchwitch." What's going to happen if that can't be true anymore? There wasn't any real foreshadowing about that, but if you look at the story arc, it could be pulling in that direction. There was a conversation at one point (in the last book) about witches leaving the Church. On the other hand, looking from the outside, at the Church she's always hiding, she can never be who she really is, where with Terrible, for the first time in her life, she's truly accepted and celebrated for being herself. Maybe if she wasn't always hiding she wouldn't have to be so afraid all of the time, maybe she could learn ways of being in control of her life that weren't just about pills and drugs. So maybe there's a better choice out there for her?

Anyway, this remains one of my absolute favorite series, I highly recommend it, if that isn’t obvious. The writing is just brilliant, nuanced and yet exciting at the same time, always fun and yet always thoughtful. Kane has me thoroughly hooked.



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Review: A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Shot in the Dark (Jesse James Dawson, #2)A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I really dug this book. It had me completely engrossed right away, right back in the world without any hesitation. Jesse's voice is so authentic, I never for a second doubted that this was a real guy and that these things were really happening, just like in the first book. Stewart has a real gift for making the things she's writing about seem completely real, whether it's something that is based in reality, like Jesse's home life or the Colorado woods, or something as terrifying as his nightmare come back to life to hunt him down again. I like the fact that when he gets hurt, he's hurt, he's no superhero. He has nightmares because of the terrifying things he's had to do and seen, but he still keeps trying to help people because he's one of the few people who's aware of the problem with demons and has the ability to do something about it and he thinks it's important work. He's a champion by choice, not by some magical calling or fate or destiny. He's human. It's also a terrific balance of banter. action and darkness, keeping things from getting too serious or too silly in any moment. And Axel is a great character, of course, seeing how that's unfolding and trying to figure out what's going on in the demon world is fascinating.

There is an inevitable comparison to Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden because Jesse is a guy and there a bantering, witty style. And if you like Harry then you may well enjoy this too, but it's not really the same thing. Sure, Jesse is tall and skinny and a bit awkward in some ways, and Harry does like to use a sword sometimes, but they're really totally different guys. Jesse is a modern samurai swordsman with tattoos, not a lick of magic, a happy marriage and a sweet five year-old daughter. Other than skinniness and a similarity in wit he really couldn't be any more different from Harry. There are tons of snarky urban fantasy heroines out there these days and plenty of room for all of them if they're well done. And there is definitely room for this samurai swordsman on my shelf as well, I'm a big fan and I can't wait for the next book to come out.



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Review: Accidentally Dead, Again by Dakota Cassidy

Accidentally Dead, Again (Accidentally Friends, #6)Accidentally Dead, Again by Dakota Cassidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I really liked this one I lot. It was fun that it started out seeming like the typical goofy paranormal romance, just another book in the series with the familiar friends bickering and lots of silliness. But then there are twists. Several good twists, and layers. For one thing, there was Phoebe, who wasn't the fluffy Barbie she appeared to be. She had substance and steel, a temper and a lot of passion. And a big secret of her own. And I really liked the idea of how Phoebe and Same were actually accidentally turned, the mystery that they had to investigate, and the jeopardy that they were in. And then there was the reveal about Sam and the layers that that added to the story. And then a few more twists got thrown in at the end for good measure. As usual, Dakota's light fluffy book wasn't just a silly story, it had a lot of stuff going on to keep things interesting during the laughs and adventures, and tons of heart and soul. She's just a smart chick, she knows exactly what she's doing and she does it really well and it's always a pleasure to watch her stories unfold.

I also loved that she thanked her Facebook friends and Tweeps in her dedication. And I enjoyed all of the soap opera references and TV references, it's definitely all in good fun. Anyone who does follow her on Twitter or FB knows that she really does enjoy silly TV and isn't mean spirited about it at all. I don't think she's mean spirited about anything except people who are, in fact, mean spirited, like evil ex-husbands (see the ex-Trophy Wives books) or people who are cruel to animals. And if you don't follow her, I highly recommend it, she's just a lot of fun. Her commentary about shows I don't even watch (Housewives!) is hilarious and she's just a lovely, fun person.



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Review: Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton

Friday, June 15, 2012

Kiss the Dead (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #21)Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A reluctant 3 stars, it barely deserves them. Let me just start by saying that this is not intended to be a snarky review. I don't understand the people who hate these books over and over again and keep reading them. Well, I kind of do, I find some of the well written snarky reviews to be funny, and some do point out some flaws that do need to be acknowledged, but I really don't understand why so many people who just hate this series continue to torture themselves by reading it. I will say that I stopped buying the books several books back and there is no way that I'd pay another dime for them at this point, and I'm not what I'd consider to be a hater. But if it weren't for the library there is no way I'd still be reading this sloppily written series, no matter how much I like aspects of it. And I really believe that there is no way that these books would get published if they has to be submitted as new books, and that has nothing to do with Anita's love life or the violent sex scenes. It has to do with editing. Which Hamilton seems completely opposed to. 

I liked the beginning of the book, I always enjoy the parts if the books that are more focused on Anita's police work because they're better written, they're have action, less monologues, less descriptions of eye colors and hair textures. But I was still so full of superwoman behavior it was kind of nuts; just once could someone else at least take a shot, much less make one? I get that Anita was the only supe in the room, but they were cops and the preternatural team, maybe the all didn't have to be completely useless. 

So Hamilton finally got a continuity editor, it's about time she listened to reader complaints. Unfortunately it didn't make much difference when it came to repeating herself. Anita made a big point about Zerbrowski not being her partner, then he called himself her partner over and over again. I lost track of how many times she said that Cyric was too young, she felt guilty for being with him, he takes too much energy, he can't handle her life, and wondered why she always fights against loving someone. Then how many times did she mention the guy code, and how she couldn't ask questions/keep poking even though she wanted to because it would violate the guy code, the guy code the guy code? News flash, Anita isn't actually a guy, and I fail to believe that she's the only woman in the world who can read guys like a guy. It's just more superwoman perfection, Anita can do no wrong, it's too much. Oh, and back to Cyric and his eyes, and hair, and Micah's eyes and Nathaniel's eyes and hair...  How many times is she going to explain to me why each man works out and each man's physiques? You get the point. I had to be super wordy to explain that Hamilton was super wordy and repetitive. If she ever tried to edit herself anymore at all and just cut out at least half of the descriptions and Anita's endless inner monologues then this would have been a much better book. It's a good thing to be descriptive, I like being able to picture the characters, and I want to know what people are thinking. But once is enough.

There were a lot of good things in the book. But as usual for the last few books, by the time I got to the end I was so irritated that I had a hard time remembering them. I did write down this quote, which was perfect for her and for the book, "How do you divide yourself between killing people and loving them? The best I had on that one was just to kill the bad guys, and love the good guys, and hope that the two lists never crossed." I do like her wrestling with the idea of what it means to be a monster, more because of her job as a Marshall than as a lycanthrope or as someone who is in love with the furries or vampires. That's a smart and interesting story that has been interesting to see develop over the course of the series and makes a lot of sense for someone at her point in her career. Having Larry suddenly be so awful to her was bizarre and shocking though, it made me feel like I missed a book. Continuity editor, anyone? As a fan we've watched him since the very beginning, if he's going to change that much it should be on the canvas. But when the canvas is so full of characters that don't matter, ones that do get sacrificed. 

More good things. Claudia. I've always liked her. Having a woman in the book who's smart and strong and who Anita isn't fucking is a nice change of pace. And continuing what I said above, she's someone who's been a consistent part of the series from early on, so seeing some development of her character was a great. I felt the same way about Zerbrowski. Other than the repeated awkward mentions of the word "partner" and a bit of repeating the same jokes about him more than once, I did enjoy his scenes. And I liked the addition of Brice, he seemed like a good guy. 

Although that brings up another point, it would be nice to have a man in the book who just didn't get involved with Anita just because they didn't, just once, just one guy who just wasn't interested in her. I know there's Zerbrowski, but he's happily married. The number of guys she's with at this point is just nuts. Who the heck is Dev? And God? Am I supposed to remember and care about these guys? And Domino and Jade and Crispin and Damian (someone mentioned London, Wicked and Truth in their review, not surprising I forgot about them since Anita seems to have too) and whoever the heck else barely got mentioned in this book or forgotten altogether and all of the "main" characters too. I support the idea of polyamory, and in real life I don't care what people do as long as they aren't hurting anyone, but this is nuts when it comes to storytelling. Maybe somehow Anita can care about all of these people, but as a reader I sure as heck can't keep track of all of these characters or care about them all, it's impossible. I don't know who's a vampire, who's what kind of lycanthrope, at the end when Anita was seeing through those guys' eyes I was pissed off for a while because I thought it was some new power, I didn't remember that they were more of her tigers to call or something or other and that was why she could do that. And frankly I really didn't care that much if they got killed, why would I other than the one major character who was involved, what jeopardy was there for the reader who barely has a clue who these people are? 

I'm happy for Hamilton that she has so much fun immersing herself in this world, but she doesn't seem to pay any attention to what the readers want. I don't know that any authors have an obligation to do so, I don't know. I think about what J.K. Rowling would say when parents would complain about the Potter books being too dark, that she was writing for herself and that no one was obliged to read. As long as people keep buying and reading what obligation does Hamilton have to change? None really. But I wish she would.

To be clear, the reason that I keep reading this series, and the reason that I keep bitching and moaning about all of the flaws, is that I'm frustrated because there is so much that's good about it and because the author can and should be doing so much better. She brags on twitter about how fast she bangs out these books and it shows. If she would just take some more time and edit, revise, tighten, do the things that professional authors who have to compete for shelf space do and not what authors who feel guaranteed to have their next book published no matter what crap they publish (Janet Evanovich) do then it would be so much better. The elements of really good stories are here and it sucks to see the ball continually dropped by sloppiness. Maybe if more people start doing what I did and stop buying the books she'll take the hint and continue the trend of the last two books and continue to tighten things up and write better stories. I hope so.

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Review: The Calling by Kelley Armstrong

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Calling (Darkness Rising, #2)The Calling by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to round down a little because this book had a few problems for me. First, it jumped right in and I couldn't remember any of the characters except Maya, Rafe, and eventually Daniel, and I never really remembered the others. It said something about the development of the characters in this book, they weren't rich enough for me to get a feel for who they were at all. 

It also bothered me a bit that this series had the exact same formula as the author's Darkest Powers trilogy. It isn't like she tried to hide the formula thing or anything, it's deliberate and in fact it's made clear in this book that it's part of the plot of this series that the two stories are intertwined and that the similarities are deliberate. And yet, it made this book very repetitive, and I expected and anticipated every betrayal, every reveal. 

And finally, I had to round down because not a lot happened in this book. It's a weird second book in a trilogy thing. On the one hand, Armstrong does an amazing job of writing a story about kids on the run. That's the strength of both The Darkest Powers and her Darkness Rising stories. I can't help but feel for these kids and how alone and frightened they feel, the jeopardy they're in and the way they deal with it feels so real. But that's all this book is is running around in the woods. It was very much a middle book in a trilogy, from here to there with not enough substance for me. I did enjoy it while I was reading it. I felt the anxiety the kids were feeling while they were lost and confused, but as soon as I finished and started thinking about how to review it I just felt kind of eh, that was too quick and shallow and lacking somehow. It was just too much of a transition to whatever cool stuff is going to happen in book three, as is hinted at throughout the book with the connections to the other series and most heavily foreshadowed at the end of the book. So while it left me anticipating book three, I was also just not as satisfied with this book as I'd hoped to be. 

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Review: Faery Tales & Nightmare by Melissa Marr

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Faery Tales & NightmaresFaery Tales & Nightmares by Melissa Marr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a good idea for Marr to gather her short stories from her anthologies and online ebook offerings into one book. But unfortunately for me I'd already read a substantial portion of the book since I got most of the anthologies out of the library and I actually did buy the ebooks that make up a big chuck of it. I still re-read them all and they were fine, but it didn't change my original three star rating of any of them. I did enjoy the two new stories from the Wicked Lovely world, it was nice to revisit the characters and see a bit of what happened after the series ended. But I do have to say that Seth still isn't my favorite character, he's still too perfect to really be interesting, too much of a male Mary Sue, always doing the thoughtful, cool, smart, sweet, brave, perfect thing in any situation. Nevertheless, I did enjoy seeing a bit of resolution for his situation and his relationship with Niall. And I liked the story about Keenan and Donia as well. And people who haven't read the other stories already will really enjoy reading more about Niall and Irial, and the short one about Rabbit.

Fans of the Wicked Lovely series will like this book. There really isn't much to recommend for people who aren't familiar with the series. I didn't think the independent stories were special enough on their own to invest in the book. One or two were fine, but again, I'd read one before, and regardless, they weren't anything I'm going to remember. And most of the longer stories presume familiarity with the characters and history of the series and won't make much sense to new readers. Frequently short stories set in the same world as a series are a good way for new readers to get intrigued about an author's work, but in this case I'd recommend that curious readers try  Wicked Lovely, the first book in the series. It's really a unique book in the way it captures a sense of the fairy magic. And youth. It wasn't a perfect book, and it made me feel really old, but it was special somehow.

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Review: Under a Vampire Moon by Lynday Sands

Friday, June 01, 2012

Under a Vampire Moon (Argeneau, #16)Under a Vampire Moon by Lynsay Sands
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There was a really weird  disconnect in this one for me. I was really looking forward to Christian's story. And I still love the characters and the warmth in this family. I liked the new cousins that were introduced well enough. But the plot was 1) offensive. Sure, people choose to have beards because of horrible family situations, but it's not a subject for a romantic comedy, certainly not in 2012, we've come too far to make light this topic. And 2) the plot was really inconsistent with the characters that the author created. Carolyn was abused and lied to in her marriage, isolated and unloved for years. And the vampires who came up with the idea can read her mind, so why would they think that she's going to just forgive being systematically lied to like this? Tthey aren't that dumb. I know, because it's the only way that Christian can get close to her without her running from him because he looks so young, yada yada. Except the author wrote that insecurity about being older and determination not to date a younger man into the character. I appreciate having a story about a 40-something woman, don't get me wrong. And her being concerned about the guy looking so young might be an issue to a real woman, I can relate, sure. But this whole plot was written in such a way that it made me constantly uncomfortable for Carolyn about being lied to, or made Carolyn just look really stupid for buying into the gay story. And it made the Argeneaus seem bumbling at best and callus at worst. So just saying that he had to do it to get her to give him a chance doesn't work for me, I just couldn't buy into the author's basic plot premise for this book.

And then toward the end it got even more frustrating because the whole story suddenly wrapped up in one really odd scene. Suddenly she came into her sexuality and confidence, then of all times? It was so bizarre. Just like that, voilĂ , happy ending.

This is just one of those cases where it's really just time for the series to get wrapped up already. As much as I like this family, every possible premise has been explored already. The author expanded the possibilities by creating the enforcers and the secondary, slightly more serious branch of the series focused on them, but I'd really like to see her do something new and fresh at this point. Maybe it would give her a chance to get back to her really funny, witty characters because it wouldn't be the same thing over and over again. 

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