Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Grosvenor Square Christmas by Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly, Kate Nobel

A Grosvenor Square ChristmasA Grosvenor Square Christmas by Anna Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such an exciting free book deal on Amazon Kindle. I am an admitted huge fan of Anna Campbell, so I ran to get it when she said it was free in her newsletter. What a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed all the stories more or less equally. One caveat, if you don't care for very short romance stories at all, give this one a miss.

The premise was quite pleasing. This collection of stories revolve around the concept of a ball held by a particular doyenne of the ton known for throwing a Christmas ball where a particular couple finds their true love match.  You would think the stories would be samey with this idea. In fact, quite the contrary. Each story had a different feel. In fact, you could go down the list and suggest themes for historical romance and this short collection more or less covers the gamut.

I liked the fact that an older heroine finds a second chance at love in Shana Galen's story.  The inclusion of a Scarlet Pimpernel-type hero who rescued her and her son from the bloodthirsty French revolution and the fact that that same man has been in love with her for many years made this a delightfully romantic story. I didn't think I would enjoy having a heroine with grown sons as the main character, but it didn't bother me at all. I liked it, in fact. 

Anna Campbell's story was the most passionate.  I am not much of a fan of forbidden lovers, but she makes the desperate, illicit passion work in this story. Plus the hero is delightfully Scottish.  The heroine is of the Cinderella variety, so you have to be in the mood for a downtrodden heroine. However, the romantic in me loves how the hero makes her long-cherished wish come true at the end.

Vanessa Kelly has a nice guy hero who is sorely lacking in historical romance. Thanks to her for that. While I love bad boy, dangerous heroes, I also love sweet, kind heroes and I like the idea that the hero can be that really adorable guy that always has a kind word for a wallflower and is a really good friend. This story hit my 'aww' button.

Readers who like friends to lovers stories will enjoy Kate Noble's offering.  Our hero realizes that he took his next door neighbor and boon companion for granted when he returns to find her a diamond of the first water who has no time for him, despite her tomboy past. I liked the turnabout is fair play aspect of this story. It also reminded me of movies like Sabrina, where the hero realizes that his heroine has been there waiting for him all the time when he is about to lose her.

All in all, a very enjoyable, and quick read that this reader enjoyed when she collapsed exhausted on her bad on Christmas evening.  I am so grateful that this was a free Christmas present on Amazon.  Thumbs up!

View all my reviews

Ruse, Volume 2: The Silent Partner by Mark Waid

Ruse, Vol. 2: The Silent PartnerRuse, Vol. 2: The Silent Partner by Mark Waid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ruse is a graphic novel series that is perfect for readers who love the Victorian-set adventure vibe. There is a paranormal element that felt very light in this volume, but it's there for readers who like a bit of the weird (admittedly myself).  For readers who can't get enough of the sometimes obnoxious Sherlock Holmesian character, Simon is going to appeal. At the same time, with this edition, we see more vulnerability and the less confident person beneath the know-it-all exterior.  Emma's loyalty to the often maddening Simon is much like Watson.  It serves to make you like Simon more because you feel that if Emma likes him, then there must be something to like/love about him.  Emma is definitely long-suffering.  Simon gets her into many a dangerous situation, and he isn't very nice to her.  Much like Watson is treated by Sherlock.  The arch-nemesis adds a twist that reminds the reader of Moriarty, but takes the character in a much more interesting direction, although I admit I am rather tired of that character.  At the end of this volume, the author teases at a game-changer, so we'll see what happens next.

The chapters in this volume have some interesting story-arcs, especially the small village that our two leads end up staying in.  That was really kind of cool.  Not what I expected at all.  The other stories tie closer together to the overarching theme of this volume, and they bring to mind the high adventure classics of Victorian literature in a very pleasing fashion.

The art is well-done, but as I said for the previous volume, I find the panel progression confusing. Instead of moving left to right down the page, they often go willy-nilly from page to page and often across the page. I find myself having to backtrack and catch the flow of the story, especially last night, when my brain was fried. That is the major detractor for this series.

Ruse is a graphic novel series that I count as a major find, as such a huge fan of Victorian genre literature, and know-it-all sleuths and their long-suffering companions. The action is really good and it keeps me guessing what will happen next. I'm excited to keep reading this series.

View all my reviews

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

StardustStardust by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start my review by coming clean:  I confess I saw the movie first.  I personally think it makes for less disappointment when you watch the movie first. In this case, I would say the movie does a pretty respectable job of translating this book to a wider audience. They make the ending a bit more conventional and take out some moments that I think would be way too shocking for a movie.  Also, the characters lack the ambivalence of Neil Gaiman's written characters (another way to make the story more screen-friendly).  Gaiman tends to make characters that fall more neutral than truly good or evil, and there are more than a few in this book.

For readers who want to go right to the source material, I definitely recommend reading this book if you saw the movie.  Neil Gaiman's voice remains true here, and you can see his original vision for this 'grown up fairy tale' in his own words. 

For the fourth time, I have to say it's a pleasure to read an audiobook narrated by the author.  His voice really does soothe me.  I also loved the question and answer at the end with Gaiman.  As a person who loves both the writing and reading aspects of literature, I find a view into the creative process of the author irresistible.  He seems like a person who truly adores books, and I can't fault him for that.  And with this being a rather short book, it was interesting to hear its genesis, which was actually as a graphic novel.  One day, I hope to read the graphic novel version with illustrations that I don't doubt were gorgeous. I do own the print copy of the novel, although I chose to listen to this on audio the first time.

So as far as the storyline, I liked it a lot.  Tristran has an ordinary boy in unusual circumstances feel that grounds the reader in this story full of magic.  He's down-to-earth and like a boy thrilling for adventure.  Yvaine is both arrogant and haughty and sweet and innocent.  She feels both ancient and very young at the same time.  It makes sense that they would fall for each other, although I personally didn't feel that Gaiman spends much time on developing chemistry between them (I know he's not a romance writer, so I will give him some slack on that).  The Witch Queen was a wicked, horrible woman who deserved a worse ending than she got, especially after what she does to that precious unicorn (nobody messes with unicorns while I'm around).  I felt the climax of the final sons of Stormhold to be anticlimactic and I liked the movie version better in that regard.  I did like the resolution of Tristran's meeting with his so-called love Victoria though. For readers who want the out and out happy endings of Disney movies and kid-friendly fairy tales, they might be disappointed with the way things ended. I guess on one level I feel that Gaiman does commit some sins in that regard, but the ending felt more like a realistic ending for a fairy tale, and I liked how even with reality in play, there was some happy ending for most of its characters. I think that the underlying message of this story is that we should all reach for stars in our lives, but at the same time, keep our feet on the ground.  At least that was what I took from the story. Neil Gaiman may have intended something quite different.

My Neil Gaiman reading journey ends up with another like to his ongoing tally.

View all my reviews

The Magic Of Christmas: A Christmas Child \ The Christmas Dove \ A Baby Blue Christmas (Harlequin Historical Series) by Carolyn Davidson, Cheryl St.John, Victoria Bylin

The Magic Of Christmas: A Christmas Child \ The Christmas Dove \ A Baby Blue Christmas (Harlequin Historical Series)The Magic Of Christmas: A Christmas Child \ The Christmas Dove \ A Baby Blue Christmas by Carolyn Davidson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another late posting review.  This short story collection is great for readers who want historical western romance Christmas stories with a baby(ies) involved in the story.   

Out of the three books, Cheryl St. John's story "A Baby Blue Christmas" was definitely my favorite.  In this story, we actually get two babies, newborns, who are found in the stable owned by our hero, Turner.  The heroine is related to their mom, but she allows Turner to assume she is their mother, so she can continue to care for them. Turner is a gruff hero who has a soft heart, especially for these two abandoned babies and their so-called mother.  This story shows St. John's wonderful touch a crafting endearing 'beta' heroes that make you love them.  Turner has a reason to keep at a distance from Gabrielle because of a past loss, but he really steps up and meets their needs.  I admired Gabrielle for her loyalty to the mother of the babies, and especially the babies themselves. She stops at another to ensure that they get the best start in life.  Although the babies are a huge part of the storyline, St. John doesn't stint on providing a heartwarming romance as well.  I was very happy with this story, so I gave it 4.5 stars.

Although "A Christmas Child" wasn't a bad story, it was my least favorite. The writing didn't touch me that deeply, even though I admire Carolyn Davidson's storytelling abilities generally.  On one hand, I did like Marianne a lot.  She does rather remind me of Mary, Jesus' mother, which was probably intentional. The story set up kind of brings the original Nativity story to mind, but with a different twist.  The hero is a pastor with a kind heart, who falls pretty hard and quickly for Marianne. However, I just didn't feel a big connection to this story in the way I did with the other two, and the small-mindedness of the town inhabitants towards Marianne was irritating to me.   This one rated three stars.

"The Christmas Dove" by Victoria Bylin gives us a reunion romance between two souls who knew each other when they were young and wild, and to whom maturity brings a change of heart and a depth of character.  Dylan is a great hero.  He was once a callow hellraiser who realized he was wasting his life on carousing and playing around.  Maddie was a spoiled rich girl who deigned to play around with him, even though he was way beneath her, and she runs off with a gambler when his flash attracts her adventuresome spirit.  When his lost love, Maddie returns considerably fallen from grace as an unwed mother, he shows an incredible amount of grace to her, remembering his own past.  While she hates herself for the bad decisions she makes, he supports her and builds her up with unconditional love. In return, Maddie has learned about what has true value in her life, and she has to gain the courage to reach out to a man who shows her with true love is. This story has a deeper message that speaks to me, and ties into this season very well, that no one is truly lost and beyond hope.  The writing was eloquent and touching, and the characters were very well-developed despite the story's short length.  This one earned four stars.

Overall, this was a successful and enjoyable short story collection to read around the Christmas holiday.  Each story has an enjoyable western vibe and showcase some of the feelings and impact of the holiday.  I enjoyed it, so my overall rating stands at four stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man by Mike Carey

The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside ManThe Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside Man by Mike Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eh, it's safe to say that I didn't like Inside Man as much as the first volume in this series.  I still enjoy the idea, because metafiction is very fascinating to this avid reader.  I just had too many moments of trying to figure out what where the writer is going with this book.  I feel that this volume lacked the clarity I could see in the first book. 

As before, the artwork is lovely.  I liked the use of mixed media and textures to convey the story.  The layout includes illustrated representations of articles, screen caps from message boards, and images of news reporters, which add texture to the narrative.  The exploration of folklore and fiction versus reality.  Tom is still a sympathetic character who has had his whole life uprooted and his character destroyed by the recent events in his life.  This book seemed to much like a detour, and the tone was very dark. In fact, one part of this book irritated me enormously and I still don't see the point in writing that.

Will I continue reading this? Yes. I want to know where this series is going, and since my library has these, I can check them out at my leisure and explore this series between other books.

I wasn't exactly a happy camper with Inside Man, but I think it does have something to offer a graphic novel reader.

View all my reviews

Imprisoned by a Vow by Annie West

Imprisoned by a VowImprisoned by a Vow by Annie West

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imprisoned by a Vow has Annie West's characteristic intense writing and a compelling story.  Readers who enjoy a romance between two troubled souls will probably enjoy it.

While I liked this story and I gave it four stars, it doesn't quite appeal to me the way some of this author's other books have. I think part of it was I didn't quite care for Joss for most of the book. While I love a rugged, tough hero, I liked them to have more accessibility than Joss had, especially in this kind of book. I can understand a cold as ice, impenetrable spy, but a businessman with that much ice around his heart was a little harder to reconcile.

I think that Leila makes this story. Her struggles to regain the sense of self destroyed by her cruel stepfather and her strong spirit in the face of very crushing emotional and mental abuse spoke to me.  Honestly, I think she was much too good for Joss.  I was hoping he would realize that a lot sooner than he did.  It took him a bit too long.  The ending was nice, but I would have preferred a more drawn out redemption process.

Joss goes from being Man of Ice to I Might Have a Heart way too quickly at the end. Yes, he does show some caring touches for Leila, but she was always about to explain them away as acts he did for his own convenience. As a reader who strongly appreciates "the gesture" as showing love, even as much as the words, his gestures didn't speak loudly enough for me in this book.

The passion is well written, as always.  And Leila's journey of coming back into herself was inspiring.  Annie West doesn't tend to disappoint this reader. While she didn't disappoint me with Imprisoned by a Vow, per se, I just wanted a little more out of her hero than I got.

But overall, a very good marriage of convenience turns to love story.

View all my reviews

A Historical Christmas Present by Lisa Kleypas, Lyndsay Sands, and Leigh Greenwood

A Historical Christmas PresentA Historical Christmas Present by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 4.3 of 5 stars

A Historical Christmas Present lives up to its name with three enjoyable, Christmastime historical romance stories. 

"I Will" is actually a favorite reread of mine.  I think is my third time reading this story. I loved it just as much.  I think that Ms. Kleypas found just the right story to bring the Christmas mood to this reader. This is a story about redemption and second chances. How hope comes in very unexpected packages, just like the baby born in a manger over two thousand years ago.  Kleypas gives us the unredeemable rake and matches him up with a spinster who has the key to his very hidden heart.  I loved both characters, even at their worst.  Andrew has a ways to go, but love changes him, and his transformation takes place so believably in this 100 or so pages story, a testament to Ms. Kleypas' formidable writing skills. Of course this one gets five stars.

"Three French Hens" by Lynsay Sands is my least favorite story, but it has some stiff competition. This one is a medieval-set story that brings to mind "The Prince and the Pauper", where a lowly kitchen maid is talked into masquerading as a lady when Lady Joan is forced to spend time with her betrothed during holiday celebrations.  Sands is known for her slapstick-type humor and some of that is on offer.  It's a good story, although it doesn't quite feel as period as I would have liked.  I think that she ties up the story very well, and I was happily surprised at the reveal near the end.  It's a good story, so I'd give it 3.5 stars.

Leigh Greenwood ends this collection with a pleasing note with "Father Christmas". I have an enormous weakness for western historical romances, and this story reminded me of why I love them so much.  Joe is a rough, gruff prison escapee with a heart of pure gold. The lovely ladies he gets charge of via his rascally deceased partner have him like a pile of mush in no time flat. Although love happens fast, it was completely credible.  Joe never had a home, and he finds one with Mary, her stepdaughter Sarah, the baby she's expecting, and on their small ranch property.  I just adored Joe, and Mary is a sweet, and likable heroine.  I loved little Sarah, and I enjoyed how Samson, Joe's dog, his horse General Burnside, and even an ornery cow that Joe names Queen Charlotte also have pivotal roles in this beautiful little tale.  I guess you can tell this is a five star read for me.

I was so happy to be able to fit this collection into my Christmas reads.  It was an enjoyable book that definitely added to my Christmas mood.  Thumbs up. 

Overall rating: 4.3 stars/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Ocean at the End of the Land straddles the line of magical realism and fantasy, in my opinion.  There is a good dose of reality, and did that really happen mixed in with some very visually stunning imagery.  It's also quite sober and heartbreaking in a subtle, literary fashion.

I think there is a reason that adults continue to read stories with children as the main characters. We never truly detach or divorce ourselves from our child selves.  It's therapeutic to look back at that time through the viewpoint of a child character in books and to work through the issues from our own childhood.

That is why I did connect very well with the narrator of this book. I remember vivid the powerful mix of fear, curiosity, joy and the intensely visceral assimilation of all sensations from my childhood. 
Also in some of the bittersweet experiences that the narrator has. Not in a small way, our parents are godlike figures to us.  They live on pedestals and glimmer like gold, until they don't. Until something reveals their feet of clay. However, even as children, we want to keep believing in the purity of their perfection, because we can't not believe.  That dose of reality finally takes effect as we near adulthood, if we're fortunate enough to hold on to that innocent view of our parents until then..

I felt the pain of this young boy as his family is nearly torn to shreds by the arrival of a very old, very cruel force.  I felt his uncomfortable situation of being the only one in his family who sees through her seemingly benign facade.  At the same time, I felt great comfort in knowing that Hattie and her family are there to protect and even coddle him, when his own family fails.  I loved the way they take him in and feed him delicious, satisfying food that made my mouth water as I read this book.

I like that we don't quite get all the answers for who Hattie and her family are. We just know that they are old, very old, and they have enormous power. However, they are not invulnerable. 

Gaiman succeeds as he typically does in tempering the truly sinister with the sweet comfort of the familiar and childlike.  He knows how to use just the right phrasing to convey this duality in his storytelling. Even though this is an adult book, I feel that it speaks to the young girl in me. 

I can't say much more about this book because my mind is not very clear right now, and I read this last week (and there have been some busy days for me), but I can say that this was an enjoyable reading experience.  It accomplishes much in the short span of pages, and leaves this reader with even more to ponder and to ruminate on. 

This is the first book by Gaiman I've read in print. I've been getting his narrated audiobooks from the library (and enjoying them tremendously).  His writing stands up to both media formats, but I have a feeling that I will probably get this to listen to as well, because I love his soothing voice and the manner in which he uses that voice to better illustrate his words on the page for an auditory experience.

Definitely a 4.5/5.0 star read for me.

View all my reviews

Fables, Vol. 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 6: Homelands (Fables, #6)Fables, Vol. 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection of Fables stood out in that most of it takes place in the Fables homelands, other than the edition about Jack's adventures in Hollywood. I gave it five stars because the writing is excellent as always, and the story took my emotions all over the place.

Jack is not a favorite character of mine. He lacks most of what I love in a character. I love edgy heroes, but Jack is 99% rogue with maybe 1% decency in there somewhere. Everything he does is with a selfish motive, even if it ends up with good results for others. He's just a big fat jerk to me. An opportunist to the extreme. This story was still good, because of its jaundiced and truthful look at Hollywood. I love movies, have since I was a kid. I have mixed feelings about the film industry, however. There is a lot of falseness and meanness and lack of true integrity in the industry (of course there are always exceptions to the rule), and I don't mean in front of the camera. I mainly like the end product (and a part of me struggles with the sense of joy at watching a movie, knowing that some dirty dealing probably went on behind the scenes to make it). Jack fits right in with Hollywood, and his success is not a surprise. While this is Jack's story, it's tied in very well with the ongoing Fables story arc, and I liked how the tables were turned on Jack. However, he's the kind of guy who always lands on his feet. I'm sure Jack will be up to more mischief soon.

The bulk of this graphic novel is dedicated to Boy Blue's return to his homelands with the use of the magic cloak he stole from the Fabletown magical artifacts archive. He also took an enchanted sword which is absolutely lethal. His goal to kill the Adverary, save his father, Geppetto, and rescue his lost love, Little Red Ridinghood. His journeys through the homelands are fraught with danger, and he proves both his facility at taking care of himself, and his resourcefulness. I really enjoyed them. I was very troubled by the results of his arrival in the court of the Emperor (Adversary), with the loss of innocent life that results. I don't blame Boy Blue, but rather the evil whims of people who crave power and have no regard for human life. That is what I mean when I speak of these stories stirring my emotions. This graphic novel is not one that I am divorced from as I read.

I wasn't completely happy with some huge revelations that result in this book, but it's fitting for this series, and it portends some interesting future developments. Of course, I had to grab the next three in the series when I returned this to the library, although I have to work on some other books in the interim. I will happily pick them up when I get a chance (and try to write reviews right away next time).

I continue to love this series, and crave more. This was an excellent volume, so I have to give it five stars.

View all my reviews

The Twelve Nights of Christmas by Sarah Morgan

The Twelve Nights of ChristmasThe Twelve Nights of Christmas by Sarah Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Twelve Nights of Christmas is the feel-good kind of romance that a reader can pull off the shelf when they want an easy read that will infuse them with Christmas good vibrations. I endorse it with a four star rating.


Well, it's simple. The storyline is easy to follow, the characters are well-developed but surprisingly likeable, and it's a story about rekindled hope when things seem dark. Christmas to me is about hope and I love the idea that a short book can give me that feeling of Christmas with a good story.

What I liked:

Honestly, I liked that while I was prepared to dislike Zio as the hero, it didn't take too long before I realized that I did like him. In fact, I felt kind of sorry for him. He had a bad case of tunnel vision and living inside a box syndrome (enchained by his past). Because of a very rough event (actually quite horrid) as a child, he absolutely abhored Christmas. Now I am like Evie, I absolutely love the holiday, but I can understand how people can attach the day with memories of really bad events that took place around Christmas. I felt a lot of sympathy for him because of that. On top of his less-than-ideal childhood was the betrayal he faced at the hands of another person. That was sort of a case of bringing something on yourself because of the choices you made, but it was still pretty lousy to go through. But I really appreciated was how he showed some fortitude and rose to the occasion in that situation. Even though I didn't like a lot of things about his lifestyle, I feel that Sarah Morgan makes him surprisingly sympathetic. He had some hidden depths that I appreciated, and he was honestly a decent guy considering everything.

I loved Evie. Yes, she is a bit of the too good to be true heroine, but it works for this book. She had some self-esteem issues that would bother some readers, but I don't mind because I think that is true of many woman to be self-conscious about their looks and their appeal to men, especially when they were recently dumped. I think her spunk and her willingness to tell it like it is with Zio saved her from being too much of a Pollyanna. At the beginning, I had trouble understanding why she would have trusted what the sleazy lunkhead Carlos told her about staying in the penthouse. It was a bit of a contrived plot device, but the story get better from there. Most definitely, I have to say that her sweet nature was infectious. She's actually what I enjoyed the most about this book. I loved the scene at the party where she drinks too much champagne (her first experience with it), and charms everyone, including two grumpy Russian billionaires with her heretofore hidden prowess at languages and her stirring rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The scene where she takes Zio shopping to prepare for a very special event was hilarious and heartwarming. It sort of reminded me of the movie "The Gameplan" with The Rock, which turned out to be one of my favorites even though I generally avoid family movies like that (although sometimes I end up loving them very much). I guess you could say this is a less offensive version of Pretty Woman (I'm sorry, but I found that movie's storyline really offensive, but if you liked it, that's cool for you).

I should add that Evie had a lot more agency and power in this relationship that I am unfortunately used to seeing in some of the Harlequin Presents. She sort of starts out seemingly downtrodden, but it's more because of her particular goals than the fact that she has nothing to offer anyone. I think she could do anything she wanted, honestly. And she's not just eye candy. She's a very clever and deep woman, surprisingly perceptive and very emotionally healthy, considering. I enjoyed her relationship with her grandfather very much, how she values his opinion and genuinely loves him and wants him to be happy with her.


I think this is a good, quick Christmas read for fans of Harlequin Presents and other contemporary romance fans who don't mind some of the more obvious tropes. What I appreciate about Sarah Morgan is that she writes to her audience (without insulting our intelligence) and takes the familiar about this romance subgenre and gives a fresh, enjoyable story with fantastic dialogue and back and forth between her couples. I can't give it five stars because of the things I mentioned above, like some of the implausible aspects, and because I just don't care for womanizing billionaires, honestly. But it's a very respectable four stars, and I'd recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland by Bill Willingham

Fables: Werewolves of the HeartlandFables: Werewolves of the Heartland by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I am learning my lesson not to put off reviews.  My brain isn't as sharp as I would like, so it works better to write these reviews soon after I read the books.  Fortunately, this volume of Fables stands out a bit because it focuses on Bigby Wolf and his solo adventure to Story City, Iowa, a small town with a connection to Fabletown via Bluebeard.  We have to go back in time a bit to recall Bigby's WWII adventures, which are highly related.   It's no hardship to spend time with Bigby,  because he's one wolf I rather like.  I have to admit that this story gave me the creeps though. It had a Stepford Wives meets the Young Nazis Association of Weirdness feel.  This town that Bigby visits is just wrong!  You find out just how wrong it is the more time you spend in the town. 

The other thing I would say is if you don't like nudity, don't read this book. A lot of full frontal nudity, because it's about werewolves.  It didn't bother me, but certainly there is a lot of violence in this one, and the idea of that town just gave me the creeps. 

If you've seen the tv show, Wolf Lake, you might appreciate the strangeness of this town, except it has more of an Aryan feel.  I think that the writer/artists did an excellent job of conveying that sense of wrongness of this small community.

Bigby is basically forced into the role of enforcer when things come to a head in the town.  They see him as a god in many ways. He's not willing accept their worship, but he does take on the role of an alpha of a sort, enforcing the rules of the pack and a true understanding of what it means to be a wolf, which the people of the town seem to lack.

I didn't like this as much as the other Fables that I've read. I can't really say what I didn't like that much about it, other than it just rubbed me the wrong way.  I still love Bigby and his backstory and how it relates to the current situation was very intriguing.

Good story, although I didn't like this as much as I wanted to like it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart

Snowflakes and StetsonsSnowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a nice combination, Christmas theme and western historical stories.  I would consider myself fans of all three writers in this volume, but my favorite story was by Carol Finch, one of the three I've read the least books by.  I admit that I enjoyed the contrast between the proper wealthy woman from back East and the mixed-heritage rough and tumble ex-Texas Ranger.  I also liked the fact that they were able to see past apparently superficial divides between them to the good-hearted people beneath disparate exteriors.  I felt the ending was a bit too abrupt, but I would give this one four stars for its feel good vibe and readability, and also having a great lead pair.  Also brownie points for the hero's awesome dog named Dog!

The Jillian Hart story was good and I enjoyed it.  It took me a while to get into it, and when I did, what the heroine does nearly killed the book for me.  I really dislike when you have a character who supposedly falls in love with someone and then completely disses them because of what someone has said or what their bad reputation indicated. It didn't read true to me.  I hurt for the hero in that case, and I found him a lot more sympathetic than the heroine.  Hart writes very good heroes.  Generally I like her heroines, but I didn't understand the heroine's reactions and motivations, so that spoiled the story for me with this one. I can only give it story three stars.

Cheryl St. John writes a compelling and heartwarming story for this volume.  The main couple are stranded together in the heroine's father's well-equipped Pullman during a snow storm, along with two orphaned kids.  To complicate matters, armed bandits are after a payload that the US Marshal hero is trying to protect. For a short story, this has a nice dose of western action that make this reader happy. Readers who enjoy survival stories will appreciate this. I also liked the 'don't judge a book by the cover' theme of this novel.  The heroine comes from a rich family and she seems like she might be spoiled and unlikable, but she shows a generous, some resourcefulness that definitely helps in their situation, a good heart and a strong spirit from the beginning. I liked seeing her bond with the children, and I liked the way their romance unfolded.  This one was also four stars, although I liked the Carol Finch story more.

Overall, a good Christmas short story historical romance collection with good western stories and good writing.  It was actually a quick read once I was able to focus my attention on the stories.

I did the math and this comes out to be about a 3.8/5.0 star rating but it's Christmas, so I will round it up to four stars.

View all my reviews

The Real 12 Days of Christmas by Helen Haidle

Real 12 Days of ChristmasReal 12 Days of Christmas by Helen Haidle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was having a discussion with a church friend about whether it was valuable to enjoy Christmas on a spiritual level with all the commercialism and pagan connections of the holiday. I love Christmas, and I have sense I was a child. It isn't even about getting gifts for me. It's about the wonder of the season. As a believer of Jesus, I think there is pressure going both ways for you as far as Christmas.  One one hand, you are encouraged to like the holiday season but give no relevance to Christmas or its origins. On the other hand, some Christians reject Christmas as a pagan holiday with no significance to the actual celebration of the coming of the Messiah as a human baby.  It makes you feel kind of squeezed from both sides at times. Honestly, though, I will continue to be a Christmas freak until I leave this earth.  So I appreciated when my friend loaned me this book to read about one of my favorite Christmas songs, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." 

It's a short, easy read, since it's actually a children's book. Short but very meaningful for those who profess faith in Jesus, and even to those who wonder what Christians believe.  The song dates back to a time in England where there was much religious persecution and people weren't allowed to express beliefs that didn't go along with the official state church.  People used songs to teach about their faith in code  (coincidentally, this was also done with Negro Spiritual sang in the field during the American slavery period to communicate about the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom). This code is spelled out in the song.  I won't go into that because it would spoil the joy of reading the book, since each day is explained as far as its spiritual relevance. However, I will say that this song will now mean so much more to me now when I sing it. 

Christmas is a joyful time, and it's also a tough time because of the stress associated with it. The rat race and the focus on buying presents and keeping up with the commercial cast of the holiday can steal some of that joy. However, I believe that there is simple pleasure in celebrating the holiday with songs such as this and  in allowing the power of knowing that light broke into the world in the form of God as a baby who would grow up to suffer and die for the sins of everyone who ever lived, and many Christmas songs convey exactly that. It is wonderful to know that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is also one of those songs.

View all my reviews

Fables, Volume 5: Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables, #4)Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to reading this after the huge bomb dropped at the end of Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love.  What an interesting plot reveal, and I was wondering how Willingham would follow up with in this volume.  It took me a while to get to it, and I ended up gobbling up the following volumes and Wolves of the Heartland (partly because of a due date at the library and also because the story captivates me so much).

Let's say that I was a happy camper even though this is one of the darkest books I've read so far in this series.   I will be real and say that this volume was harder to read. Willingham pulls away any sort of security that you have about Fabletown and the protection of the citizens who ran away from their original lands because of the threat of the Adversary.  Because the threat has followed them.

I couldn't stand the wooden soldiers. They were brutal and cruel and hateful. Worse because of their inhumanity.  Think of the killer computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Think of spree killers. Yeah, that's a fair association. Maybe that is some sort of metaphor for the violent psychopaths that roam this world and seem to have no intention or cause but to wreak havoc on others.  How wonderful to juxtapose the story of Snow and Bigby's awaiting a blessed arrival.   Also, the story of the last bastion against the advance of the Adversary's read like one of those great epics where the warriors have to make their last stand and you know it won't end well (think 300, Glory, The Alamo), but you cheer them on anyway. It was heartbreaking, really. To see each person fall in their defense against the enemy and for Little Boy Blue to have to stand by and watch for a very important purpose.

Honestly, I needed this story because I got to know Little Boy Blue in a different, deeper way.  I find that we often underestimate people. We assume they can't possibly have gone through tough times because they seem so innocent, so unsullied.  Oh how wrong we are about Blue.  His story is really affecting.  He has lost so much. I admire him that he has moved on to form a semblance of life.  I understand why.  He's grown to be a favored character of mine now.

This is one of those books I wish I could read again, because so much happens. I read it fast, and took it all in, but it's something that I need to cogitate on, or ruminate.  This is one of those kinds of books that has layers that I think will have more for you on each read.  Let me tell you, when I am able to,  I hope to buy copies of this whole series for my keeper collection.

Willingham, wow, he's doing it for me.  I thought I loved fairy tales before.  I finished this fairy tale audiobook that was so meh, I was wondering if they were losing their charm. But I'm glad I started reading this series when I did, because, I needed this.  I needed to know I could love books as much as I did before.  My bookloving dream was dying because I have had so much trouble connecting with books lately.  This has been a good experience for me. Even though volumes like this are 90% painful with so much violence and ugliness and loss.  I think like with Snow and Bigby's situation, there is some hope there. We have to walk through the pain to get to it, but it's there, because hope never dies.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 06, 2013

Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and Other Stories by Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm

Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and Other StoriesCinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and Other Stories by Charles Perrault

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another very late review that I am posting.  I don't have much to say about this audiobook except that it was rather mundane.  I didn't care much for the narrator.  She didn't give the stories the vivacity that I would have hoped for. As such, the stories felt rather boring. I was starting to question that my love for fairy tales had waned. Thankfully, I have also been reading the Fables series by Bill Willingham, and that series has shown me that I love fairy tales just as much as I ever did. It's just a matter of execution.

I don't think I would pick this one up if I had kids.  Most likely, the narrator's voice would not keep their interest.  She didn't keep mine.  It might put them off the magnificent timeless gems of the stories within. We can't have that.

This book is just so-so!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The House of Mystery, Volume 3: The Spaces Between

House of Mystery, Vol. 3: The Space BetweenHouse of Mystery, Vol. 3: The Space Between by Matthew Sturges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sadly, I like this series less with each book. I am not giving up on it yet, but I'm getting icky feels that leave me disenchanted.  I have to be honest and say I don't really get the kernel of thought behind the story.  I feel like it's out of reach of me and I don't think the expected revelation is coming as I read.  I feel like my chain is being tugged, and I hate being manipulated.

I feel that it teeters on the edge of being the kind of horror that doesn't appeal to me.  Stories with darkness that don't make sense.  Seeing bad things happen to good people for no good reason. Where things seem random and unclear.  I'm sure that some readers of this series understand, and if you do, I'd love to hear what you think of it.  For me, it's just starting to be the law of diminishing returns.

I think my litmus test will be the next book. If I feel that way about it, I'm going to throw in the towel on this series.

View all my reviews

Fables, Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables, #4)Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to reading this after the huge bomb dropped at the end of Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love.  What an interesting plot reveal, and I was wondering how Willingham would follow up with it in this volume.  It took me a while to get to it, and I ended up gobbling up the following volumes and Wolves of the Heartland (partly because of a due date at the library and also because the story captivates me so much).

Let's say that I was a happy camper even though this is one of the darkest books I've read so far in this series.   I will be real and say that this volume was harder to read. Willingham pulls away any sort of security that you have about Fabletown and the protection of the citizens who ran away from their original lands because of the threat of the Adversary.  Because the threat has followed them.

I couldn't stand the wooden soldiers. They were brutal and cruel and hateful. Worse because of their inhumanity.  Think of the killer computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Think of spree killers. Yeah, that's a fair association. Maybe that is some sort of metaphor for the violent psychopaths that roam this world and seem to have no intention or cause but to wreak havoc on others.  How wonderful to juxtapose the story of Snow and Bigby's awaiting a blessed arrival.   Also, the story of the last bastion against the advance of the Adversary's read like one of those great epics where the warriors have to make their last stand and you know it won't end well (think 300, Glory, The Alamo), but you cheer them on anyway. It was heartbreaking, really. To see each person fall in their defense against the enemy and for Little Boy Blue to have to stand by and watch for a very important purpose.

Honestly, I needed this story because I got to know Little Boy Blue in a different, deeper way.  I find that we often underestimate people. We assume they can't possibly have gone through tough times because they seem so innocent, so unsullied.  Oh how wrong we are about Blue.  His story is really affecting.  He has lost so much. I admire him that he has moved on to form a semblance of life.  I understand why.  He's grown to be a favored character of mine now.

This is one of those books I wish I could read again, because so much happens. I read it fast, and took it all in, but it's something that I need to cogitate on, or ruminate.  This is one of those kinds of books that has layers that I think will have more for you on each read.  Let me tell you, when I am able to,  I hope to buy copies of this whole series for my keeper collection.

Willingham, wow, he's doing it for me.  I thought I loved fairy tales before.  I finished this fairy tale audiobook that was so meh, I was wondering if they were losing their charm. But I'm glad I started reading this series when I did, because, I needed this.  I needed to know I could love books as much as I did before.  My bookloving dream was dying because I have had so much trouble connecting with books lately.  This has been a good experience for me. Even though volumes like this are 90% painful with so much violence and ugliness and loss.  I think like with Snow and Bigby's situation, there is some hope there. We have to walk through the pain to get to it, but it's there, because hope never dies.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 02, 2013

Ruse, Volume 1: Enter the Detective

Ruse, Vol. 1: Enter the DetectiveRuse, Vol. 1: Enter the Detective by Mark Waid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've really been into Sherlock Holmes lately. Well, at least more than usual.  Yes, you can rightly blame that on the BBC series Sherlock.  So when I saw this graphic novel series at my library, based on a super-sleuth along the lines of Mr. Holmes, and his trusty sidekick (in this case, a woman), I couldn't resist.  After finishing this book last night, I would definitely recommend it to Holmes fans.


*Simon Archard is arrogant, has poor people skills, and extremely well-developed deductive reasoning skills like Holmes.  His flaws nearly balance out his strengths, and he manages to be endearing because his sidekick clearly thinks so much of him.  That sympathy brings you along for the ride.
*His assistant, Emma Bishop, is long suffering and often mal-treated by her friend, although her skills do come in handy in solving their little cases. Bishop is also the narrator.
*And yes, there is a Moriarty-like arch-nemesis in the making.


*Emma is far from ordinary. She has some very special powers that she must hide or suffer dire consequences. It provides for hairy moments because she has to resort to her instincts and intellect to get Archard and herself out of tight situations instead of using her powers.
*Unless you're a Johnlock (Sherlock and John Watson shipper), there is a subtle undercurrent of romantic tension between Simon and Emma that the story plays on.  Of course, this isn't a romance, but I think that there's a 'will they or won't they' question hanging around.
*In this situation, the world is a created Londonesque city that has a potential for supernatural happenings. 

I enjoyed this graphic novel. Good adventure and good mystery stories. The illustrations are gorgeous.  The detail of the characters' features kept my eyes drawn to the page.  Each story had some good plot twists. On the negative side was the fact that it was hard to read.  Normally, the graphic novel panels go from left to right and down the page. In this book, their progression varied, even from page to page. I got confused a few times and had to retrace my steps.  Also, the lettering for the character thoughts was too small, hard to read.  That's the main reason I didn't like this more, was the confusion I felt in its organization and setup.  Overall, it's good for fans of action-adventure comics, and of course Sherlock Holmes fans.  I liked the fact that in this case, Mr. Watson's role is taken by a woman, who has something yet to pull out of the rabbit hat. Like Watson, her narrative voice kept me pulled into this story and inspires more sympathy for the arrogant Archard that I probably wouldn't have felt otherwise. I will continue this series.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The RithmatistThe Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Let me be transparent in advising readers to think twice about experiencing this book as an audiobook. I'm not sure it works that well.  It could be me. I am a very visual person when it comes to higher level concepts, especially mechanistic disciplines, such as geometry, architecture, and engineering.  The geometrical descriptions were hard to visualize and my mind started to wander at the beginning of each chapter when Sanderson uses the metafiction device of reading from a textbook of rithmatics.  Honestly, that was the major reason I didn't rate this book highly. Secondly, I didn't care for the narrator.  His voice was too bland, almost monotone or robotic.  I feel that if you are going to narrate a book, you need to give it a vitality, and this book lacked that.

On the positive end, I can see why Sanderson is a lauded author, and I can certainly see why he is qualified to teach writing.  I think that his craft is evident.  The characterization is sound, and instead of settling for thinly veiled archetype, he endows characters with added depth.  You know the ones that feel very familiar like the boy who grows up to be the hero, the spunky female sidekick, the mentor, and the dark lord? Thus he gives each one a distinctive life that works very well to make this more than just the typical coming of age fantasy novel.   Additionally, the idea of this story is intriguing.  A look at wizardry and coming of age school story becomes something different when the concept is built around a magical art of endowing chalk figure-drawing with life.

His view of the United States as an archipelago was interesting.  He doesn't describe why it's that way. It just is.  The story has a steampunk-light feel. Enough to give the vibe, but it doesn't take over or define the story. Instead, the focus is on the school and the low-level magic at work.

I liked Joel a lot as the main character.  He is the kind of hero you end up rooting for.  He's normal and the underdog, and you want him to buck the system.  Sanderson does something pretty clever here, in that the hero doesn't get his dreams come true. Instead, he's going to have to work for what he wants. That felt more realistic, and also strayed away from the expected archetypes of fantasy where the lead is the one who has the unexpected greatest power of all time.   Melody is a fun character.  She won me over with her love of unicorns and pegasi. Her feelings of being a failure and feeling forced into a mold she doesn't fit resonated with me. Yeah, she felt like someone I know, maybe myself, and I could feel her youthful angst to a nearly uncomfortable level.  It was such a cute touch how her abilities end up being strengths that were taken for granted. I also loved Professor Fitch. His nervousness was rather endearing, and I do have a fondness for nerdy professors.   

The chalkings were fairly unnerving and the accompanying villainous element was quite effectively sinister. I wasn't sure if I liked it at first, but as I listened, I was drawn into this world and it became very real. The end has a very good twist, well, I should say two piled on each other.  Sanderson surely got me!

I feel bad because I am likely underrating this book.  But I have to say that the choice of medium was a big factor in affecting my reading experience, so I have go with what I know for now.  I will probably continue this series because it was an interesting read. I think I'll go with the print version of the next book.

Overall rating: 3.75/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodness gracious, I am super late writing this review.  My schedule just exploded after the middle of October, and I had no time. Because it's been nearly a month, I don't have the best memory of all the plotlines. But I promised I would write a review for every book I read, so better late than never, and my review will be of the more general sort.

I was fortunate to find this at my library and it fit very well thematically into my October Scare Fest reading.  I enjoyed it overall.  It's an odd little book, no question about it.  I would consider it a bit of a pastiche to the famous literary figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, Sherlock Holmes, Merlin-type druids, and the Wolfman. I rather enjoyed that about this book.  What I loved the most is that the narrators are the familiars, or animal companions of the human (or humanlike characters).  They all strike up a strange sort of friendship driven by mutual interest and that old adage that drives too many middle grade friendships, especially among girls:  better to be friends with someone than to have them as an enemy.

The story's chapters are broken down into each one representing a day in October.  They are getting ready for some very important magical event that will have seemingly profound consequences. It sort of reminded me of the Highlander movie where the various characters are pairing off against each other, but this was more of a semi-good versus evil sort of standoff. Just my take. Forgive me if I am way off here.  I didn't quite understand all of that, but I don't think it was as important as the unfolding paranormal mystery as various human (or humanlike) characters start to be picked off, one by one. The main character is a dog, who is the familiar of a male wizard.  He's an endearing narrator.  I liked how he plays dumb dog when necessary, but he's not the average canine (I truly feel some dogs are incredibly intelligent, so don't assume I'm picking on dogs here).  I liked his wry and atypical friendship with a cat, who is the familiar of a witch. Along with the fact that their humans are striking up a courtship that may not end well if they end up choosing opposites sides. There is also a bat, rat, snake, and owl character.  I'm sorry I don't remember all their names.  I do remember the snake's name was Quicklime, so go figure.  Strangely enough, the humanlike character who was most developed was Larry Talbot.  Classic horror movie buffs will recognize that name as that of the Wolf Man. He did have the tragic vibe of the character in the movie, but he was quite likable.

This book isn't that deep. I mean it's a short book and probably has some hidden meaning, and I think a very prominent satirical tone that some readers will pick up on immediately.  It's not super scary, it's a bit.  Enough to make for a nice Halloween read. 

I'd say this one is worth tracking down if you can find it at your library. Unfortunately, it's out of print. 

A good read for this time of year. And fun for animal lovers like myself.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 08, 2013

First Strike by Pamela Clare

First Strike (I-Team, #5.9)First Strike by Pamela Clare
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

With this being such a short story, it's not necessary to write an expansive review. Instead, I will just give a few quick thoughts.

I am glad I read Striking Distance first because this novella feels more like a backstory that I was happy to get after the fact. If you read this first, you'll still be okay. You'll just want to dive right into the full-length follow up on Javier and Laura.

I will be honest and I say I not a big erotica fan at all (I can only count maybe two authors I read in that genre, Shannon McKenna and Lisa Marie Rice), but despite that fact, I enjoyed this book. I feel that Pamela Clare is very good at writing fulfilling romantic stories with sex that adds to the story and doesn't detract. This novella doesn't really have more sex in proportion to her books, but it just feels that way because it's short and the focus is on the sexual interactions between two strangers who decide to share a no-strings attached weekend. I don't find hook up stories that appealing (I'm a HEA, love and commitment girl), so it was great to realize that I could enjoy the interactions between these two people because I cared about them. Clare does a good job of facilitating the reader's involvement in their story.

Readers who love hot and steamy sex will definitely enjoy this novella. You could see that there was a meeting of two equals who knew what they wanted sexually and weren't afraid to go for that, despite the risks of getting caught. Along the way, they might have just discovered they wanted more. For readers who aren't into the kinky stuff, you'll be fine. I'm definitely not into non-vanilla sex in my romances, and this was well within my comfort zone. It's a bit more descriptive than Clare usually gets, but only a bit.

I'd give this 4.5 stars. I'll pretty much read anything by Pamela Clare, because she does write such enjoyable stories and manage to make a 60 page novella about a fling feel like a lot more than that. Kudos to her for that.

Thanks to Ms. Pamela Clare for the opportunity to read this novella in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings

The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (The Dark Horse Book of..., #1)The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings by Scott Allie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another library find that works very well for October Scare Fest reading.  Probably my most favorite type of horror/scary story is ghost stories. Even though ghost stories have been around, well, forever, they have the potential to be very diverse. And I feel that each one can feel different.  I haven't read very many graphic novel-format ghost stories, so this was a new one for me.  Wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I think that the authors successfully plumbed the deep waters of the ghost story, with each one in this volume having a distinct feel.

Truthfully, there were two prose narratives.  The first was a classic, "Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon.  It feels very much like a classic story, and that's good. I feel that the actual ghost was a bit unclear, but I am not unappreciative of a ghost story that depends more on atmosphere than description of the actual scare-causing element. The accompanying illustrations were lovely.  I liked it.  Definitely gave me the classic ghost story infusion I enjoy so much.  The other, "Spirit Rescue", was an interview with a medium IL Dreller.  It was interesting hearing his encounters with real-life ghosts and his insight into the modern spiritualist movement.  I do believe in ghosts in real life. And I watch all the ghost shows, so it was an interesting addition to this book.

As far as the graphic novel stories, I enjoyed them all. The artwork was uniformly well done, showcasing the distinctive styles of all the contributors.  I enjoyed Mignola's addition, "Dr. Carp's Experiment," but that's no surprise.  I actually liked all the stories. My favorite was "Stray", which is about a poor Beagle whose dog house is haunted and has to get some professional help from a ghost hunting dog. It was cute!  Some of the stories were definitely eerie, although none were "I can't sleep" scary.

Overall a good collection, and a quick read.  Recommend to fans of both graphic novels and ghosts.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love (Fables, #3)Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was such a good GN, I started it and was sucked back into Fabletown and out of my own world.  Now, Mr. Willingham, you know how to do a fairy retelling very well.  While I found some parts of this book quite graphic and disturbingly violent, it fits in with the storyline and the series and the grim kind of world of fairy tales, and the situations that the characters find themselves in.

I never did like Bluebeard. I was prejudiced by his past of murdering his wives. It's really hard to get past that, especially in absence of a changed life and persona. That Goldilocks has some issues (even outside of her unconventional relationship with the Bear family).  As usual, Prince Charming is being a scoundrel and manipulating situations to his advantage.

Can I tell you how much I love Snow and Bigby and their relationship? My fingers are crossed that the forthcoming stories don't take their courtship into the dumpster, especially after the interesting conclusion in this volume.

I remembered why I didn't give this a higher rating. I didn't like Jack's parts as much, although they were good folktale stories.  Jack is a rascal and not in a good way.  But it's nice to get his in between story.

I feel a whole lot of affection for this series so far.  In fact, I picked up the next three volumes and Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland because I couldn't help myself.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, #2)The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Can I be honest? I feel... a bit manipulated.  I am going through a horrible reading slump right now, so I know that I am a lot less tolerant than I would have been prior to this dry spell.  So my review of this book might be a bit harsher.  I feel that despite my rather harsh criticism, I am being fair and respectful, which are crucial to me as a reviewer.

I loved the first book, The Name of the Star, and I gave it five stars. I actually thought it was quite brilliant. In comparison, my feelings are not complimentary for this second book. 

I am on the edge of giving up YA books because of reasons that this book sort of ties into. So forgive the segueway. I'll get back to my review in a little bit:

1) I am so sick of love triangles (this one doesn't quite have an in your face one. It's more of an obtuse triangle if anything).

2) Oh the high school drama! I am just sick of the whole high school setting, to be honest. This book isn't so bad in that sense. 

3)So, so, so heartily sick of cliffhangers.  Now this is where I felt manipulated. That ending was just wrong with this book.  Not well done, and contrived.  I think it ended this way so she could have a springboard for the next book. I'm not Maureen Johnson and so I don't get to tell her to write her books. But that was just pain unnecessary.  If I could issue a plea to YA authors, stop the madness with this terrible, meaningless cliffhangers. You can write a series without them. If the publishers are behind this conspiracy, tell them no!

Okay, back to the book.

So I mentioned above how I was not feeling the ending. I was actually quite mad when I finished this book.  I am doing a Bible Study and we talked about anger today, so I was glad I got that lesson prior to finishing this book. I was able to process my anger and determine the reasons for it. I felt manipulated and abused.  I felt frustrated.  I think that processing the anger has made me better able to review this book, but my reasons for feeling anger still stand. 

The storyline itself was okay.  However, it lacked the pizazz and the strength of the last book.  It was meandering and rather dull in comparison.  The word ennui is perfect for this feeling I had when I read this book. Although I can understand Rory being in a fog after the trauma she suffered, the feeling of malaise seemed to affect the whole narrative, and I didn't feel a sense of purpose or momentum as I read this novel.  That was highly disappointing and contrasts very negatively with the first book, which has such a powerful, chilling atmosphere of menace that I found wonderfully effective .  I had a feeling that this new character and her connection with Rory was going to lead to disaster, and I was right about that. But I'm not sure I really care, you know? 

What I liked just as much as the first book was the atmosphere, the presence of London as a character in this novel. It makes me want to jump on a plane and go to England right now.  In fact, London was more distinctive than the actual main character, which is a shame, because I love Rory.  In this book, Johnson seems to be going through the motions in her characterization of Rory. She is blunted and hard to connect to her as a main character in this novel.  My absolute Achilles' heel as a reader is that I can be so drawn into a story that I feel utter empathy for a character, if the writer is able to bring this character to life for me.  With Rory, that connection established in The Name of the Star felt so attenuated, it hurt this read for me.  Also, with such vibrant characters as Boo and Callum, they felt almost like the Shades of London they concern themselves with.  Other important secondary characters, the same. And Stephen, well, he's one of my favorite characters, and even he didn't feel as real to me in this book, although I still love him.

Maureen Johnson established herself as a very admirable suspense writer with the first book in this series and "The Law of Suspects", a short story I had the pleasure of reading as my introduction to her.  I feel she was off her game with this book.  That ability to catch a reader and lead them down a dark, twisted path wasn't as evident in this book. My biggest reaction is that she was going through the motions.  As a result, this reader is dismayed and disappointed.

Will I read the next book?  With that ending, I have to do so.  But my expectations are very low at this point.

Please up your game with the next book, Ms. Johnson.  I need to know that you can finish what you started in this series successfully.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Astro City, Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 2: ConfessionAstro City Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Confession takes the Astro City series to the next level with this story of a young man who comes to the big city to make his name and becomes the sidekick of the mysterious superhero Confessor.  The drawing and coloring was gorgeous and vivid.  It seemed to almost leap off the page at me.  I think this volume was more emotional and much darker than Life in the City.

This reminded me a lot of Batman, which may or may not be intentional.  I felt like the young boy was both a Batman in the making and Robin at the same time.  He has his share of anger at this father's passing and the way he feels that his dad failed him. And an anger at bullies and the unjust.  While Bruce Wayne was more angry at the criminal who murdered his parents, I think he also resented his parents for leaving him, for putting their philanthropy before him. In the Robin parallel, he takes on a mentor who is mysterious and driven, who inspires his loyalty the hard way. And from whom, he takes on a mantle and continues his legacy.

Some aspects of this novel hit home very closely. It deals with suspicion and prejudice, and the injustice that seems so intrinsic to a society. How people use ridiculous reasons to hate each other, and that allows deep injustice to occur in the world, often right under their prejudiced noses. The fact that being a hero rarely pays off materially, but requires an unflinching commitment, often at the risk of personal endangerment, and dealing with the fact that your work is often uncongratulated and the public opinion can change in an instant.

While Life in the City is a more upbeat, bright view of superheroes, this is superheroes in the dark.  There are moments that hit me hard, and I had to go back and double check that I had read the former panel right.  And I was sad to see my understanding was correct.

I think this is a seminal graphic novel work for superhero fans. Maybe I don't get an opinion (because I haven't read as many GNs as others), but that's how I feel. It shows the truth of the nitty gritty of being a superhero, and the narrator (the young man) is like a stand-in for all of us readers who were in awe of the various superheroes growing up (and even now as grown up geeks).  We can see that it's not all it's cracked up to be.  The first volume also showed this, but I still think it was more of a 50s style, everything is bright version of that. This is the version in which all the illusions are ripped away and you see the unvarnished truth.

This is a strong graphic novel and it deserves a high rating. I think if I wasn't in such a persistent reading slump, it might have been a five star book.  It caught me at a less than ideal time, so I'm going to give it a 4.25/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories

Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories Tales From the Arabian Nights: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Other Stories by Anonymous

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fact that British actor Toby Stephens narrates this was definitely a nudge to check out this audiobook from my trusty library.  Of course, I appreciate the Arabian Nights, so that's another plus.

Overall, I was a tad disappointed with this audiobook. I enjoyed Ali Baba, Aladdin and the frame story about Scheherazade, but I was bored with the seven tales of Sinbad, and the tale about the greedy man who ended up becoming blind.  They were too monotonous.  I felt my mind wandering as I listened and did my Wii Fit exercises. I wish they had picked different stories besides these two for the collection, honestly. And I could have done with more narration about Scheherazade herself as well. At least I had Toby's lovely voice to narrate for me.  Maybe a pet peeve for some, but all the voices sounded British, so it didn't feel as 'atmospheric' to me. 

This will be a short review because it's kind of a ho-hum read for me.  Nothing spectacular or really awful about it.  Although I did like that they included Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade within the production. I love that music!  I think my standard was higher since I read the Andrew Lang adaptation, and I absolutely adore the TV miniseries that came on ABC with Dougray Scott, Mili Avital, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee, and other great actors. I plan to read the huge, unexpurgated version of 1001 Arabian Nights someday before I die.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 12, 2013

BellwetherBellwether by Connie Willis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A huge thanks to Nenia for recommending this when I asked for a Nerd Romance. This was exactly what I wanted and more. I can't even begin to classify this into a genre.  It's so distinctive.  First of all, it's hilarious!  I felt like Connie Willis nailed what it's like to work in Corporate America. I could have changed the name of HiTek to the places I worked and it would have been exactly the same.  The complete waste of time exercises they come up with in the hopes that it will increase productivity (when it actually interferes with it), the jive turkey meetings, and horrible acronyms, and the fact that said environment is so fertile for folks like Flip, Desiderata, and even Dr. Bullock.  I loved the wry and deadpan humor. I mainly listened to this while I was doing my Wii Fit exercises, and this is one where you can't be quiet while you read. It made the exercise time fly by!

Sandra is a very accessible heroine.  While she does have a snarky way of looking at the world, and the narrator has her sounding a bit superior at times, her inner voice is very realistic. You don't always see people in the most charitable ways internally, even when you make an effort to treat others well.  Sandra's field of study is fascinating. She's a sociologist/statistician who investigates fads. I loved the facts about various fads throughout the many years of human history. While I feel that she is really a hater of Barbies and I like Barbies, I can't argue with her on most of what she says.  I loved how Sandra processed Flip, who is a complete slave to fads and seems about the most useless person on earth.  Flip is that person you know who just seems to make your life a living 'you know what', but then you realize that they do have a purpose in your life, and they help you to grow as a person. With that in mind, her sometimes superior way of looking at Flip and folks like her is put into complete perspective.  I also loved how Sandra is a big reader and she processes life events in light of what she's read. This book is definitely for bibliophiles.

Can I tell you I adored Bennet?  Oh my, he made my Nerd Love meter go off big time. I wanted to hug him with his horribly fashion-challenged self and his adorable Coke Bottle glasses.  Man I wish I could find a Bennett of my own. :)

The sheep storyline had me dying of laughter. Yeah, sheep aren't the brightest animals, and you really understand why they need shepherds.  I had no idea about the bellwether and it just draws the story together so well when we learn about it.

I tell you, this is a really clever and just wonderful book. It takes a lot of writing talent to take such dissimilar ideas as sheep, fads, Chaos theory and hair bobbing and actually craft a meaningful story around it.  A nice sized read.  It helped me enormously with my book reading slump because it was just so clever and vivid and kept me interested.  I never thought I'd enjoy a book about something so non-specific as research into fads. I surely did.  I definitely recommend this to readers who want something different. And for sure to those looking for Nerd Love and satire about the corporate work environment.  It hits high on every point, so five stars!

View all my reviews

Alabaster: Wolves by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Alabaster: WolvesAlabaster: Wolves by Caitlín R. Kiernan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Dancy Flammarion is quite an unusual character. A young teenager who has been on her own for a while, guided by a seraph who leads her to monsters she needs to kill.  I first became acquainted with Dancy in Alabaster, and I was drawn to her character.  I wanted to protect her, even though she is much more fierce than I could ever see myself.  In Alabaster, I wasn't quite sure of how much was real and how much wasn't, as the writing was quite surreal.  In this graphic novel, I think you pretty much know that Dancy isn't living out a psychosis of what's happening to her. Sometimes graphic novels don't tell stories well, but that is not the case with this one.  This story leads itself very well to the visual medium, so I am glad that they decided to make it into a graphic novel.

The artwork is beautiful.  Although some imagery is dark and disturbing, I still see a lot of beauty in the manner in which Dancy's fine features are drawn and painted (as well as another young woman she encounters), and even the choices of color and design in the darker scenes.  The motion of the wolves is conveyed very well, even down to their musculature and sinews. Dancy is an albino, and the artist captured this excellently, from her white hair, white skin, and to her red/pink eyes.  The artwork also brings the Gothic Southern atmosphere to vivid life.  It is spot on with that otherworldly feel of the South, where a bloody history and rich folkloric heritage (slavery and Civil War) has tinged the land in so many ways.  Even in the daytime scenes, the hot sun seems barely able to protect against the dark monsters lurking in the shadows. 

The stories are nicely sinister, with just enough menace to make sure a scary/slightly disturbing read without going over the line into the grotesque and unpalatable. The lettering captures the feel of Kiernan's prose very well, and I could clearly hear the syrupy thick Southern accents as I read.  I was holding my breath as I read, not sure if Dancy was going to make it out of the very sticky situations she faces. She's very good at what she does, but she's not invincible, so she faces very real threats along the way. I appreciate how things ended. I'm not ready to say goodbye to this special young lady.

I think this is a good read for those who are inclined more to classic horror, because it has such great atmosphere, and the storylines are tailored towards the older themes of horror. As I mentioned above, the Southern Gothic feel, but also a bit of the Lovecraftian sort of mythical feel.  It makes me think of those occult detectives who are alone in their fight against the monsters of darkness, such as Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John and Kolchak.  This is awesome because Dancy is a young woman, and she doesn't need a man to rescue her. 

I have to give this one 4.5 stars because it was very nearly perfect. I hope for more Dancy adventures in the future.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

House of Mystery, Volume 2: Love Stories for Dead People by Matthew Sturges

House of Mystery, Vol. 2: Love Stories for Dead PeopleHouse of Mystery, Vol. 2: Love Stories for Dead People by Matthew Sturges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This volume was a mix of emotions: "wow", "that's so sad", "I don't get it", and "not so much".  I do have to say that Love Stories for Dead People definitely canvasses the theme of this collection.  Love is so much more than a four letter word, with infinite potential to shape our lives for the best and worst.  This volume delves into that with a dark, twisted, and often gruesome collection of stories.

I loved the backstory on Ann, who was a pirate back in the day.  I am all for a kickbutt, take charge, dangerous woman, and that's definitely her. I can see how deeply she was hurt, and why love isn't something she focuses energy on.  And of course, I am a pirate theme lover.  As far as Miranda, once a waitress in the House and a part of the crew, what was that about??? I didn't get it!  The bits about Fig and an important person from her past were interesting. I can see that she has an ability that is going to play a huge role.  I didn't understand what Cress did to Simon, but I know it has something to do with her terrible luck with love. Simon reminds me of John Constantine so much, it isn't funny!  I loved the fact that Cress's doctor suitor looks exactly like Peter Cushing.  Anyone else pick up on that, I wonder?

I feel like I didn't understand a lot of what was going on.  The whole Cain/Abel thing and the nightmares that Harry had to battle. I could use some Cliff Notes for this book, but thankfully, I did find a Wiki, and I'll read some of that and hope I don't get too spoiled.

It's hard to give a good analysis of this book because I was feeling so lost for a lot of it. I saw a mix of nightmarish images with some events that had a little more clarity.  I think the best part of this book was getting more of a backstory on two of the main characters:  Ann and Cress, and finding out about Harry's earlier days in the House and his decision to make it into a bar. Oh and finding more about Fig's relationship with her father.

I hope I don't feel so lost in the next edition of this series.

View all my reviews