Monday, October 29, 2012

Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts

Blood Brothers (Sign of Seven trilogy #1) (Abr.)Blood Brothers (Sign of Seven trilogy #1) by Nora Roberts
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Yay! I finished it!

Thoughts on the Story:

I loved the brotherhood bond between Cal, Gage and Fox. They had been friends for a very long time, and you could see that that bond was titanium and strengthened by their horrific mutual experience and legacy. I liked how they were three very different men, and I could see a distinction in their personalities throughout this book. I loved how the book started in the past, where we see how horrors begin in Hawkins Hollow, but also the three main characters as kids. It made me think of Stephen King's "It", "The Body", and also "Needful Things" and "'Salem's Lot". While I saw sort of an homage to King, I think Nora Roberts distinguished herself very well and gave this story her own stamp.

Additionally, I liked Quinn, Layla (writing this makes me laugh because I always thought of the Black Dagger Brotherhood when I heard their names in the same sentence, which also has a Quinn and Layla, although Quinn is spelled differently), and Cybil. I liked how their characters complemented Cal, Fox, and Gage's characters. While the other characters don't get as much page time, I got a sense for the local color and the world in which the main characters lived, how they related to their friends and family. I am a huge fan of small town fiction, and I think Roberts did a great job with creating this small town which seethes with dark secrets, anguish, but also loving families and friends, who are suffering with a difficult legacy and curse.

One of the best things about this book was the horror element. Roberts spectacularly imbues this book with a dark, horrifying atmosphere. I suppose this is a romance more than anything, but it really stands on its feet as a horror novel. The scary scenes were vivid and quite effective. I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil anyone, but wow! Stephen King would probably give Roberts a pat on the back.

I have to say that the horror aspect engaged me more than the romance. I liked the romance, but I didn't feel any strong bond or connection to Cal and Quinn as a romantic couple. It could be that I like my romance intense and this wasn't that intense. It was more everyday to me, like when you see your friends meet and get together, and eventually get married. Nothing wrong with that. Just not as enthralling as the horror aspect of this book.

Audiobook Impressions:

I had mixed feelings about the narrator. He made some of the characters sound kind of goofy, but I liked how he made Gage's voice really deep, and how he did Giles' Scottish accent. I didn't like the way he did the female character's voices. They sort of sounded like men in drag. I think I might have connected more with the females if they sounded more authentically female. I think he did a good job of making each character have a different voice, so points there. On the good side, I loved the sound effects and music. It added to the eerie feel of this story. I listened to this at bedtime, late at night, and I had a couple moments where I questioned the rationality of that. Since audio is a good way to get a book read and still stay on my reading schedule, I'll probably get the other two on audio as well.

Overall Thoughts:
I liked this book, but I didn't love it. I think the horror part makes this a higher rated book for me. As I said above, the romance was sort of average to me. Not a big draw in this book. I did love the bonds between the characters and the small town feel, so that's another plus. I want to see how this series concludes, so I'll keep reading. It was a pretty good way to spend some hours listening.

Overall rating: 3.75/5.0 stars.

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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, #1)The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Name of the Star was a hit with me.  Maureen Johnson got my attention as an author with her short story, "The Law of Suspects." It was utterly chilling and fantastic suspense. I appreciated how she writes with a respect for the intelligence of her readership, even though they are the YA audience. Like CS Lewis, I believe the best children's book is one that an adult can enjoy.  I knew I was going to follow her after reading this brilliant short story.  So when I saw this book was coming out, I was excited to read another full-length suspense novel by her.  Let's just say that she's now two for two.

Are you into Jack the Ripper?  I mean that in the best way. Meaning, do you have an interest in the mythos and story of Jack the Ripper?  Many people do, so don't be ashamed if the answer is yes. The only reason I ask is because this is a book to check out if you do.

While this book is very thrilling suspense with a supernatural twist, it's also a funny coming of age story. Our heroine Rory is from Louisiana, and she has that sparkling Southern woman vibe that I find irresistible. I love her character's voice, the down to earth way she looks at life, and how she manages to find the wry humor in her situation.  Johnson engaged me as a reader by giving me a protagonist that I started caring about on the first page of the story.  She also pulled the British card, which will get it me almost every time. Through in a modern story with a gothic atmosphere and it makes for an irresistible read.  She goes with a "Sixth Sense" theme, and like that movie, you don't quite catch on immediately, but when you do, it's a natural process.  I can't say much more about that, because as River Song from Doctor Who says, "Spoilers!" 

So yes, this was a hit for me.  Such a marvelous concoction of suspense, humor, young adult emotions and situations, and yes, out and out terror in some parts of the book. Suspense builds wonderfully, adding to that gothic atmosphere until I was anxiously waiting for the next aspect of the story to be revealed. The villain is layered and complex, slowly being exposed to show that a lot more than I thought was going on.  I really appreciated that, that wonderful feeling of finding I didn't have the answers all figured out until the very end when I was supposed to know all those things.

Well, I think I talked myself into giving this book five stars, even though I told myself I was going to be more rigorous about reviewing books and giving five stars.

People I recommend this book to:

*Ripperologists or Folks who are 'into' Jack the Ripper
*People who have an obsession with boarding school (like myself)
*People who like Southerners and Southern philosophy on life
*People who like sausage (you have to read to know where I am going with this)
*People who like ghost stories
*People who like 80s new wave like The Smiths and The Cure
*People who like a good, well-written suspense novel
*People who like fish out of water books, specifically Americans in Britain

If any of these things sound like you, read this book!  I recommend it!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon

Wolf's HourWolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if one of the Allies' greatest spies during WWII was a werewolf?

The Wolf's Hour is the story of Michael Gallatin, born Mikhail Gallatinov. His journey is sprawling and meaty, full of intense moments, both emotional and physical. Although I am not sure this technically counts as an epic, it feels very epic to me. Because there is so much to see about how Michael goes from being a privileged eight-year-old during the bloody Russian Revolution to a thirty-four year old British Secret Service spy. You might say, "That's a big jump." But when you read this book, you find out how he evolved from that boy to the man he becomes.

Things to Take Into Consideration:

*This is a bloody, gory book. There is a lot of violence. The action scenes are almost always gruesomely described. If you're really squeamish, be warned. I am not big on gore (at all), and I often winced as I read. However, it doesn't come off as gratuitous. Why? Because this is about predators, human and animals. Michael has to learn to live in the brutal world of the wolf and the more brutal (for it is often not of necessity), unnecessary viciousness of humanity. I feel that McCammon draws a contrast between wolves and humans. Wolves kill for survival. They can attack fiercely and brutally, but their motives are for living another day. Whereas the vile actions of the Nazis and some of the Russians during their Revolution depicted in this novel speak of human evil and the dark heart of human nature. To kill, maim, and to harm for paltry reasons (if there are any good ones), that's not the animal world. That's purely human. Not all humans are evil, and McCammon shows that. But those that are commit so many heinous acts that it weighs on the soul, even when reading a fiction novel set during WWII. Even Michael, a man who lived as a wolf and has a dual beast nature, is not so cruel and blood-thirsty as the Nazis, with their racial and ethnic hatred, their greed, and thirst for domination. I liked how he is asked the question about where werewolves fit in God's eye, by his tutor, Wiktor, and eventually asks himself later on in his life--to find his answer. Suddenly he realizes his place in this world of ugliness, God's wolf avenger. I have to make it clear that I despise the Nazis so much, I liked the idea of having someone like Michael around to take care of them. He realized he couldn't save everyone, but he always tried to do what was right.

*There is a fair amount of sex in this book. Michael's life plays out over nearly thirty years, and in that time, he loves and 'loves' numerous women. I'm not real big on seeing a character 'hook up' with several people over the course of a book, but I suppose that this is another layer to his character that plays out. And in all those encounters, you get the sense that Michael does respect and love women. So it wasn't exploitative, in my opinion.

*As I mentioned earlier, this book focuses heavily on the War World II time period. McCammon does not shy around the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and if that is disturbing to a reader, you might want to avoid this book. If a reader has an interest in WWII, I do recommend this book. It focuses mainly on the Nazis as the evil entity behind this war. Interestingly, it does not focus as much on the political state or evolution of Soviet Russia, or the atrocities that were committed under Stalin. While he doesn't paint the Soviet Army as the only or primary good-guys, neither does he delve deeply into that part of the WWII puzzle (and the reasons why the Soviets were able to crush the Axis on the Eastern Front). This is interesting, since Michael is Russian born, although he becomes a British citizen. But at over 601 pages, this book is plenty long enough, and I can respect that McCammon chose to focus on one aspect of the war.

*This book is about loss, struggle, the fortitude it takes to keep going and living when everything you love and that is familiar and comfortable to you is taken away. It's very angsty and sad, in other words. Just when you have hope that things might turn out out okay, the rug gets swept out from under you. McCammon does a great job of building and sustaining that tension. In real life, there isn't a such thing as "and they lived Happily Ever After." Instead, we have seasons of joy and plenty, and then there are seasons when sorrow seems to prevail above other emotions. But we have to keep moving through those seasons and take the lessons we can from both periods in our lives. Michael shows tremendous fortitude in his life, considering all that he went through. Giving up just isn't part of his makeup. Instead, he takes those hard-won, painful lessons and uses those to grow stronger. How can you not love that about him?

*The mix of espionage with supernatural was very well done. You might be fooled into thinking that things will be much easier for Michael because he is a werewolf. Oh, no! He bleeds just like humans, he can be gravely injured, he suffers from illness and starvation. Being a wolf gives him strength and endurance more than humans, but he is not infallible. Instead, his dual nature is just one other tool in his spy armament. And even that can be a liability in some circumstance. Although I think I do like the wolf who regenerates quickly, even with life-threatening injury, and heals more rapidly than humans better, the portrayal of lycanthropy in this book is better-suited to the tone and overall story. McCammon very carefully avoids using deus ex machina, but instead relies on Michael's physical conditioning, his mental acuity, and his extreme drive and determination, along with help from the Resistance groups of various parts of occupied Europe, and his spy cohorts. The espionage unfolds very well. That razor edge of spywork, and the extreme cost that comes with it. Knowing your life could be forfeit from any mistakes or just because of the danger of the work, and also that you cannot save everyone. You have to make sacrifices so that the greater good could be done. Man, I felt that moral angst deep down as I read this book. I held my breath as Michael and his compadres dealt with the Nazis and did their dangerous work, hoping they wouldn't be caught, and if so, they would find their way to safety. With this book, there certainly are no guarantees. You don't know who will make it, including the lead character. As I said, very well done!

Concluding Thoughts:

The Wolf's Hour is compelling, involving reading. My emotions were deeply engaged, all of them. The story of Michael Gallatin, a man with many identities, drew me in. He is a great hero, and this is a great story about his life. When I finished it, I was kind of sad, because I felt as though he was part of my life for that time I spent reading this book. I highly recommend this novel!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer, #1)Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a breath of fresh air book.   I've read some disappointing books lately, and I needed a good one.  Plus I was pining for a good UF read.  I loved the easy writing flow, the funny dialogue, and the wonderful, self-deprecating hero, Sam.  Although this was released as a YA book, I think it easily could have been marketed as an adult UF novel.  I believe the older readers will enjoy it as much as teen readers because there is a lot to like in this book.

McBride keeps her world-building simple, but simple doesn't mean lacking.  She has an interesting reality here, with people born with magical abilities, specifically necromancers.  Sam is one, but he doesn't know it, because being one is quite dangerous for him.  His normal, rather boring, letdown life explodes into one of extreme danger and dread as he becomes exposed to a very dangerous, cruel, and evil enemy.  Along the way, he becomes aware of a supernatural world with its own rules.   He finds out that there are a lot of creatures out there that he didn't even know existed. That is one thing I love about UF--the normal is really far from normal when you take a close look around you.

Sam is the everyman that you like and feel protective of.  He has a rough journey in this book, but he weathers it all with grace and takes a lot of crazy stuff in stride.  I respected him for that.  I also liked his friends, specifically Ramon and Brooke.  I liked Brid too. She is pretty darn kickbutt.  Sam's mom is a sweet lady, and I would like to learn more about Sam's longlost uncle. He seems cool.

I think McBride has all the right ingredients in this story, but it doesn't add up to 'formula', but instead a fun, enthralling, sometimes scary and thrilling, and very enjoyable read.    The quote on the cover by Sherman Alexie is so true.  This book is both scary and funny, and a good balance of both.  I am a big fan of snarky dialogue in books, and she does it well. I loved all the pop culture jokes.  They were hilarious! I was quite impressed with how McBride reveals the menace of the villain and his heinous acts without going overboard.  Poor Sam and his friends are truly in jeopardy, but you manage to catch your breath with some good laughs along the way.

I was very satisfied with this book, and even if it's a one-shot, I am still happy. If she continues the series, I'd be even happier, because I do see some threads that I would love to be explored further. Although McBride does a good job of making this a self-contained read that stands on its own (cliffhangers are a freaking enormous pet peeve of mine), I could easily see her going back and writing more in this world.

I do recommend Hold Me Closer, Necromancer to UF fans of all ages. I think they'll enjoy it.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Dark Ladies: Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber

Dark Ladies: Conjure Wife/Our Lady of DarknessDark Ladies: Conjure Wife/Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I am glad I finally read this one. I've had it in my pile for a while, and in my classic horror/fantasy reading quest, Fritz Leiber definitely is a must read.

So, let's get down to business:

Review of Conjure Wife

I read this out of the Dark Ladies: Conjure Wife/Our Lady of Darkness duology, but I wanted to jot down my thoughts separately for this one before I finish the volume.

I found the writing clever. I was transplanted into the cutthroat world of college politics. Who knew that the wives could be just as fierce as their faculty husbands? And that they would resort to sorcery and witchcraft to keep their husbands (and themselves by relation) in power? Things get pretty nasty!

I think that there is some very interesting commentary about male and female relationships here. That old Venus Versus Mars argument. I felt at first that Norman was a rampant sexist (in a way that is very common even today). He had a superior attitude towards his wife, while simultaneously being in awe of her at the same time. He seemed to view her as an alien creature, constantly analyzing the way her mind worked, as if it was so different from his. I liked how his feelings of mental superiority over her backfired when he realized that she was in fact the one who was right about what was really going on, and how he had to rely on her knowledge of the situation. I liked how things turned around and it was clear how much he did care for his wife. How he fought for her well-being, willingly putting aside his hard-headed scientific skeptical thought processes to save her.

I feel that there is a heavy tone of satire cleverly mixed in with well-executed psychological horror. Norman's internal dialogue engenders a tone that is analytical and observational (although he doesn't seem to be as observant as one would think for a sociologist), wry and sarcastic at other times and quite laden with a menace that sneaks up on the reader. At first, I found him to be a bit of a pompous twit. I admit I can't stand when men treat women like their brains and mental capacities are limited. But I couldn't stay angry at him. He learned the hard way not to underestimate women, particularly his own wife. I think in this, Leiber is making a point. For all the men did have a tendency to view their spouses through a skewed lens, not realizing just how much power the women truly had in their lives and over them. Leiber seems to throw sexist ideas out with a wink and a nod, as if he expects the readers to reject those thoughts, or perhaps to poke fun at those who believe what he's saying. My take, anyway.

I wonder what the reception was to this book in the 1940s. The ideas of male/female relations are probing and insightful in a way that seems a bit subversive. But what do I know? At any rate, I liked this story very much. It's beautifully subtle in the slow building of menace and fear, and the ideas about society seem to be relevant today in how men and women and spouses relate to and view each other. Also it speaks to the often venomous way that women can sometimes turn against each other, belying what some (including myself) naively believe about the sisterhood of women. On the horror level, the truly heinous and scary nature of witchcraft used as a tool for power and control is enough to send a shiver down my spine. It makes you wonder just how much witchcraft may be going on behind the scenes today.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

Review of Our Lady of Darkness

In this story, Leiber demonstrates an incredible knowledge base about dark and supernatural fiction, going back into the 19th and early 20th century. He writes this story in the style of Lovecraft, or should I say Machen, since he wrote The Great God Pan long before Lovecraft, in which the unknown menace is slowly being revealed to the protagonist. This is a knowledge too terrible to behold. Many have been damaged and have succumbed to it in the past.

I liked the nod and the reference to all those various works of literature, and the inclusion of real life people in the world of the arts and science in this story. That was very cleverly done. This does a lot to create and flesh out the fictional world. As with the other book in the duology of Dark Ladies, "Conjure Wife", Leiber does do a good job of building menace and the tension level, and with using that thematic question ‘Is it real or am I losing my mind?

This story has an air of decadence I didn’t care for. You can see changes in the times, with the shift in values that occurred past the mid-20th Century, both good and bad. For instance, there is an air of anything goes sexuality, the rejection of anything good and decent for the sake of nihilism or the love of chaos/anarchy, and the liberal use of drugs and alcohol. The author doesn’t quite condone this in the story, but he is not shy about showing some of these aspects. Some of it gave me a bad feeling, but then I have never been one for sexual violence, darkness or depravity, in real life, or in my fiction.

Overall, I can’t say I liked this book that much. There were some appealing components, such as the literary nods and the clear evidence of Leiber’s extensive knowledge of classic dark fiction and horror, as well having his bibliophilia show through in his characters. As a huge fan of MR James, it was great to see more than a couple of references to him. Similarly, fans of Lovecraft will appreciate the nods to his pivotal work in 20th Century horror and supernatural fiction. I guess my big issue was the fact that some concepts were just too out there for me (and their explanations somewhat tedious), the overall level of moral decadence (not a big draw for me), and the slow unfolding of the plot. Sure enough, the climax is a good payoff (really quite scary), but not enough to elevate this book to a higher level. Especially after how much I enjoyed its sister story, “Conjure Wife" out of Dark Ladies: Conjure Wife/Our Lady of Darkness. It's never a good idea to compare things, but sometimes the comparison is obligatory and that one thing fails to live up to its companion in the end. Such was the case with "Our Lady of Darkness."

I would still consider this semi-required reading for the 19th-20th Century classic horror scholar or devotee. You might like it more than I did, and that would be an a good thing in the end if you find another book you love.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

Well, there you have it. My thoughts on this volume. Leiber is a good writer. He knows what he is doing and has a way with telling a scary story. I will be reading more of his books!

Although my rating for "Our Lady of Darkness" is low, I can't give this less than four stars overall, because it has an impact and seems very canonical in the development of supernatural fiction and horror from the 20th century overall. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Long After Dark by Greg F. Gifune

Long After DarkLong After Dark by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 2.58 of 5 stars

The writing in this book was very good. A dark vision, like nightmares that blended into nightmares. I'm not sure I understood what was going on after all, and that's hard to swallow. Sometimes it's good to question and ponder, but in this case, it was unsettling and unfulfilling. If the reader wants a story that is more about fears, regret, and doubt, with a pervasive sense of nebulous menace, they will probably appreciate this. For a complex mix of horror and emotional angst that ultimately makes no sense, this will qualify. If the reader wants a more coherent story that makes some sort of sense and has a point to it, instead of a sense of futility, then this won't do. At least it didn't quite do it for me.

My rating is complicated, so I am going to get mathematical here:

Writing quality: 4.25/5.0 stars
Coherency: 1.5/5.0 stars
Reader fulfillment rating: 2.0/5.0 stars

Overall rating: 7.75/15 = 51.7% ---------> 2.58/5.0 stars.

Thanks to my friend for letting me borrow this book!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

12.21: A Novel12.21: A Novel by Dustin Thomason

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

12.21 was an entertaining read.  I never got bored, that's for sure.  I'm not big on the whole Mayan Prophecy thing, so I normally wouldn't run to read this sort of thing. However, Random House offered a giveaway for the Action/Adventure Aficionados group, so I decided to give it a try. I am glad I did.

What I liked:
* I love medicine, so medical dramas in various incarnations almost always appeal.  The whole concept of an epidemic illness arising out of a connection to an ancient Maya tomb and civilization, and related to the Mayan Prophecy was a unique approach. I liked the characters' race to find out what the etiology of the infection was and how to combat it.  There was a real sense of urgency and I felt my pulse racing as I read.  History is another favorite subject, so there's a good combination here.
* This was quite readable.  The narrative was cohesive between modern day and flashbacks to the ancient Maya times (900AD),  and there was a sense of steady progression in this story that I appreciated, especially for a suspense-driven book. 
*I like that the author didn't slow down the story too much with excessive explanations, but the Maya cultural elements seemed well-researched and the science was fairly credible (except one heinous element below that I must rant about).
*Sadly, I knew little about the indigenous Maya descendants of Guatemala. That was very interesting to read about their thriving community in LA (assuming that it's real).  Also, I wasn't aware of the situation with the indigenous people in Guatemala.  It's always good to learn about different peoples and their struggles, and it will make me more sensitive about their plight.

What could have been better:
*Okay, I have a mini rant. The scene with the slaughterhouse/meat processing factory is so unrealistic it's insulting and laughable. The things that occur in that facility would never happen. I know for certain.  They had serious food safety issues going on, including commingling of meat ingredients and use of products that definitely are not approved for meat production or use in the United States. Then the author made a point of saying that kids eat that product. A lot of inspectors work very hard to make sure that products safe for consumption make it on the shelves, and that was offensive to the hard work they put in and the many safety checks that meat plants have to follow in their food safety system.  One could argue that maybe that facility was not under government oversight, but the author made a point of mentioning the USDA, so I know it was. And let's be clear that is not going to happen in a federally inspected facility.  I don't mind the line between fiction and reality blurring in appropriate settings. This wasn't one. For a medical science drama, I expect more realistic and credible use of information in a story.  Fortunately, I was able to get over my disgust with this and keep reading the book, but it affected my rating without a doubt.
*I didn't feel a heavy sense of connection to any of the main characters.  The storyline itself was more interesting to me.  Towards the end, the sense of urgency for their situation did hit me, but I can't say I fell in love with anyone in this novel. 

Overall Thoughts:
*A pretty good, readable, suspenseful novel. I liked the mix of ancient civilizations and treasure hunting with modern medical science.  There were a couple of pitfalls that lowered my rating, but overall, it was a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in the Endtime Mayan Prophecy and Meso-American ancient civilizations.  For a quick-read medical suspense story with some ancient connections, this is a pretty good one to pick up.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5.0 stars.

A special thanks to Random House for the opportunity for members of the Action/Adventure Aficionados to read this novel.

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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I sabotaged myself with this book. I got so excited about it. I read too many good reviews. When I finally read it, it couldn't live up to that high expectations.

Fundamentally, Anna Dressed in Blood was a good book. There was really some art in the writing. Full of visually evocative scenes and descriptions, this book appealed to me esthetically and it also made me feel stirrings of unease, pity, and horror. What I didn't feel was a kinship with Cas. Cas is a good guy, a good hero as well. I just didn't connect with him. I have a thing for books with a male point of view. I enjoy reading them and getting inside the head of a male protagonist. With stellar examples of monster hunters like Dean and Sam Winchester from the TV show Supernatural and Cal and Nik Leandros from the book series by Rob Thurman, Cal had some hard acts to follow. I didn't ever get beneath the surface of his sarcastic, wounded by his father's untimely death exterior. I felt like an observer. When I read books, I want to be a part of the story, and feel the emotions of the characters. That can be a dicey thing with this kind of literature, but that's one of the appeals of horror and dark fantasy. If I don't get that engagement, I feel sort of lost.

On the other side, I did feel some emotions for Anna. When we first met, I was really shocked and quite horrified. But that didn't last long (well not as much). As I came to know her, I felt pity and curiosity for her, and a strange sort of sympathy and liking. Now the author did succeed at this. I didn't understand how she could make a love story out of this idea, and she created a very young, fragile seed of one between Cas and Anna. One that I am encouraged to watch grow or at least hope for the best. Other than Cas and Anna, the characterization was sketchy. I did like that Carmel was the 'it girl' with a heart. And I liked Thomas. He's a sweetie who reminded me of my TV husband Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds for some reason.

As far as the suspense storyline, it fell somewhat short. I don't care much for modern horror, with its dependence of shock, gore, and grisly, visceral violence. I like the gothic style, where atmosphere is pivotal. What we don't see feeds our imaginations and escalates the tension we feel to a razor sharp edge. There was some of that beloved gothic appeal, but it was ruined by the injection of teen slasher style horror moments and high school "mean girl/it clique" dross. That's a big turnoff for me. While I don't feel that Blake trivializes the horrible death of teens in this book, I think that going there sort of tarnished this story for me. Also, the climax was too abrupt and I didn't quite get a strong feel or read a strong enough connection between the Anna situation and the one that had steered Cas into his career. I felt like there were embryonic tendrils there that could have bloomed beautifully with more intensive narrative. But not enough in their present form. It felt like voodoo/malevolent entity lite to me. I honestly feel that this book falls into that category of books written for the new generation of tv and movie watchers (and no offense when I say that). The stories have the basic presentation of ideas that reads like a movie, but not in the visual sense. More in the sketchbook/screenplay-basic narrative. Mainly images and snarky comments, but where's the beef fundamentally? While this is not a bad thing in itself, it's not my preferred sort of writing when it comes to novels.

I can see why this book has so much appeal. There are parts that I give an A+ too (namely the imagery and back story of Anna), but they are more sparse than I would like in a book. The overall product is vaguely unsatisfying overall. I give it four stars because of the things I liked about it. I'll keep reading this series because I do like Anna and her relationship with Cas, and Thomas, the teen who befriends Cas, sparkes with his geeky sweetness. I'd like to see what mess they get into next. And I'd like to see if Blake can develop this good idea into something more meaty in the end.

Recommend with some serious reservations.

As much as it pains me, this book turned out to be a very low rated four stars.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Affair by Lee Child

The Affair (Jack Reacher, #16)The Affair by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As my second book in the Jack Reacher series (although #16 in publication and a prequel in sequence), The Affair wasn't a shabby audio read at all. The narrator Dick Hill has a terse, noirish delivery that adds to the story. He sounds a bit older than I would associate with Reacher, but he definitely has Reacher's 'you ain't the boss of me' attitude and conveys his ruthless, efficient approach to solving injustices. I think he is a good choice to narrate for the Jack Reacher books. I do have to admit that I was giggling like a schoolgirl on the love scenes. I can't help it. Audiobook love scenes always strike me that way, and especially with an older male narrator who sort of gave them a 'dirty old man' vibe!

It's interesting. This seems like a simplistic storyline, but when everything came together, it wasn't. The Affair is the story of small town secrets tied in with the bigger and murkier waters of powerful people who feel the impunity to do whatever they want. Child kept me guessing. I went back and forth about what was going on and who was behind it. He really had me going and thinking that the killer was someone I really didn't want it to be. In the end, I was like, "So that's not the killer?" That was well done.

Child has an interesting way of being very brisk about describing some aspects of his narrative, but descriptive in a vivid, emotive way about others. I felt immersed in this small town with its racial divisions, brutal poverty and a seething sense of injustice that comes from the eternal 'haves versus the have nots'. As it does to Reacher, injustice sits heavy on my stomach, so even though Reacher can be highly ruthless, in a way it's a rewarding thing to know that there is an avenging angel out there at least in the fictional world to fight for those who have been disenfranchised and denied of their rights and their voices. I suppose that's why Reacher is around. When you have these kinds of situations with so much brutality and casual discarding of lives, it makes you want a meaty fist of vengeance like Reacher who is there to clean up the mess. His descriptions of Army/military life also grabbed my interest. I don't know if he got all that right, but it sounded plausible to me. At least some of the governmental parts struck a familiar note.

Reacher is an interesting character. He's really kind of a basic sort. His view of life is so simple and without the extra qualifiers that most characters seem to have. He understands authority, but he also has a habit of doing what he thinks is right even if that's against the dictates of authority.

Sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux was an intriguing character. Ex-marine and sheriff of Carter's Crossing, the daughter of the long-term sheriff. She's a bit of a study in contrasts. The romance between Reacher and Deveraux was fairly basic, although Child effectively conveys the attraction and mutual respect between them. Neither is a good bet for a long-term relationship, but I still wished that things might work out in that direction (view spoiler)[(even knowing this is a prequel so that wasn't in the cards) (hide spoiler)].

The Affair was a good book, but I felt an emptiness when it ended. I don't know if it was just the stripped down nature of the overall plot or that I felt unsatisfied with the overall nature of things that went down. It bothered me to see those people die like that and how it was handled. And while Reacher did what he could to make things right, it doesn't bring those people back, or prevent it from happening again. And Reacher pays a heavy price in the end to do what he did, or maybe for being the kind of man he is. Was that a deliberate thing on Child's part? Maybe. Overall, a pretty good book that I'd recommend to fans of thriller/suspense and kickbutt heroes.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Serial Games by K. Victoria Chase

Serial Games (Virginia Justice, #1)Serial Games by K. Victoria Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Serial Games is a gripping romantic suspense thriller. Maggie and Brandon are an FBI profiler and a Fugitive Retrieval Specialist US Marshal who team up to recapture a notorious serial killer who escapes custody.

What I liked about this story:

*Maggie is an appealing heroine. She is a black woman who doesn't pander to stereotypes that are all too prevalent. Not only is she reserved, cerebral, and very good at her job, she is a woman of faith who shows dedication and drive to catch a very cunning serial killer--one that she had been highly instrumental in putting away the first time. I liked how she carries herself--she's not focused on being sexy or catching a man. She's focused on doing a good job in her field, putting her intelligence and training to use to better the world, and is a bit of a workaholic--not very good at the life/work balance. Even though she has feelings for Brandon, she doesn't allow herself to be his punching bag or let him to take advantage of their attraction to each other. She juggles a family dynamic in which she feels competition with her older sister, who is a successful attorney who is also happily married with a child. Her mom constantly reminds her of her need to get married, but Maggie isn't worried about that, when her job keeps her so busy.

*Brandon is magnetic and scrumptious. He's a bit tortured after losing his fiancee' and he is nursing an anger with God as a result. He was definitely blowing hot and cold, and he knew it, but I liked the way he interacted with Maggie.

*The chemistry was great in this book. It's clean romance, but the author conveys the attraction and the developing relationship between Maggie and Brandon in an engaging way. It's good romance for Christians who have certain beliefs about how to conduct a relationship and a courtship. It's kind of hard to find books that show this well. It's usually one extreme or the other: no chemistry, and too 1950s or way too erotic with behaviors that don't fit what is expected of single Christians in a dating relationship. I liked how Chase uses kisses, dialogue, and physical interactions and body language to build the chemistry between Maggie and Brandon. I found it very believable.

*The suspense part was well done. I felt like I watching an episode of Breakout Kings or Criminal Minds. Chase doesn't make things gruesome, but she portrays the pathology and the darkness of the serial killer very realistically.

*Chase's writing style is active and her voice is confident and sophisticated. She did a good job of balancing the varied themes of this book, without sacrificing any in the end result. It's only fair to say that I am not a big fan of serial killer fiction. While I didn't think she was heavy-handed, Ms. Chase doesn't skimp or go lightweight on this aspect of the novel. On the other hand, I didn't yearn for more focus on the romance because she was spending too much time on the suspense angle. I think that while she does convey a spiritual message, she does it naturally, so I don't feel like this book was at all preachy. Instead, it's a good choice for a reader who wants a good romantic suspense novel that is on the clean side and with characters who have personal relationships with God that they are working through. A person who is open to reading a novel with a Christian message, one that isn't focused exclusively on that message, or a reader is not necessarily a Christian, might enjoy this book.

Overall Thoughts

My thanks to K. Victoria Chase for the opportunity to read Serial Games. I was happy to be able to explore some interracial romantic suspense that is clean, and not focused on eroticism. These are quite hard to find in this genre. I liked that this storyline is unique for the majority of the interracial content available. Maggie is a heroine that I could respect as a person and admire for her work ethic and her personal ethics. Brandon is definitely appealing as a hero, with a touch of the tortured aspect to his character, and also very good at his job. I felt the chemistry between them, and I can definitely see them building a life together. I would recommend this book.

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Hellboy, Vol.7: The Troll Witch and Others

Hellboy, Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and OthersHellboy, Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Others by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark and dreamy imagery. Mignola shows a love and appreciation for myth and folklore that I find endearing as a fellow aficionado.  With the inking and drawings, much is left up to the interpretation of the readers, and the writing itself is cerebral enough to appeal to a reader who likes to ponder what the point of a story is, and not feel spoon-fed.  Whenever I read some of Mignola's work, it makes me want to go out and find more of it.  That's a good thing, I think.

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