Monday, March 25, 2013

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I confess I have already read book three, Third Grave Dead Ahead. It's a great thing that I liked that one enough to go back and start the series from the beginning. I am glad I did.

This was a fun book on audio. The narrator clearly had fun with her job too. She dives in headfirst into the puns and verbal wordplay, imbuing Charley's voice with all the sassiness and spunk that is so much a part of her personality. At times, her cadence was a bit strange, but overall, I thought she was a good narrator. She narrates characters of various ages, sexes and ethnicity very well.

First Grave on the Right has an interesting concept, although a main character seeing ghosts isn't novel for urban fantasy. In this case, Charley is a portal in herself, a conduit for the spirits of those who have passed on to go through in order to leave this plane and to go to their final destination. She has had this ability since she was born. Charley is a Grim Reaper. No, she doesn't carry a scythe and doesn't wear a cape. Instead, she looks like a bright light to spirits, irresistibly bright. At twenty-six years of age, she has come to terms with her identity. It wasn't easy, and still isn't. But she has developed coping mechanisms, and she has embraced her ability to help spirits move on. Just this idea is great fodder for a series. On top of that, Charley is a private eye who helps her police detective uncle solve crimes. Yes, some of the cops thinks she's weird, but she has her snark to fend them off. But how about The Big Bad? The mysterious, caped entity who has watched over her since she was a baby just born. What role does he play and how is he related to a young man she knew a long time ago who called her "Dutch?" That's a mystery you have to read the book to find out about.

I can't speak too much about Reyes, because there are too many spoilers involving him. But what I will say is that he has won me over. Reyes is smoking hot, no pun intended! He's a good foil for Charley. I also like Garrett Swopes, who has a frenemies type relationship with Charley. It's clear to me that he has a crush on her. Charley's friend and secretary, Cookie, is a lot of fun too. One thing I couldn't get past was Charley's evil stepmonster. No excuse for how she treats Charley and treated her as a very young girl with a strange ability that she couldn't help possessing. I wonder why her dad lets her get away with that.

First Grave on the Right is one of those books that will have you laughing a lot. Jones is not above a bad pun or too, but they are too endearing to be annoying. And the humor is needed, because it can be quite sad to see these specters whose lives ended in various ways, many not from natural causes. The reader cannot help but feel for Charley, since she has no buffer against the dead. It would be enough to drive a person crazy, but not Charley. It's who she is and she doesn't know any different.

On top of the humor, there are some good mystery components, and the supernatural elements are well done. Darynda Jones lays a foundation for a very good urban fantasy/paranormal mystery with this book that teases me into coming back for more.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Black Book of Secrets by EF Higgins

The Black Book of Secrets (Tales From The Sinister City, #1)The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This isn't horror, but has a sort of a Victorian Gothic feel. For a middle grade novel, it has kind of a dark, almost pessimistic tone. That is not to say that good has no chance of winning out in this book, but it has some unfortunately true insights on human nature that are far from uplifting. But what I did like about it was that the ability to choose for yourself the decisions you make, even though people like the main villain thrive on manipulating peoples' weaknesses. In the end, we can make the decision not to do wrong, even if it's harder on us in the end. At the same time, we see the effects of growing up in harsh circumstances, with parents who are cruel and amoral. How can you get an idea of right and wrong under those circumstances? Some might argue that you don't, but as Ludlow shows, most of us, except for true sociopaths, are born with a conscience, or what CS Lewis call natural law. Even if it was easier to do the wrong thing, Ludlow was troubled by his actions, as many are in the small township of Pagus Parvus, which makes Joe Zabbidou's work as the Secret Pawnbroker so much more important.

Atmosphere is crucial, and the author sets it very well in this novel. Although I initially wondered where the sinister and horrific elements would be revisited after the very chilling beginning, when I realized it wasn't that kind of book, I settled in and enjoyed it for what it was. A story about human nature and the good and the bad inherent in our humanity. Even with a lousy human being like Jeremiah Ratchet, it's clear that he still has the same basic needs, although his soul seems corrupted by avarice and selfishness. But does that mean someone should take away his ability to make the choice to do right? Ludlow watches this dilemma take place as the townspeople in Pagus Parvus look to Joe as the divine avenger when that is not his role at all. Instead he urges them to be patient and let justice do its work in the end. Anyone will agree that is not a comfortable process, as justice sometimes seems very slow to come in many circumstances.

This is an interesting book. A quick read that keeps you thinking. I wonder how a younger reader would see it, and if the lessons inherent in this book will have the same exact impact on that reader as it has on a reader of my age, who has seen a lot more of humanity in its varied humanness. In the end, The Black Book of Secrets is a thoughtful read for younger readers, that will make an older reader have something to ponder as well.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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The Six-Gun Tarot by RS Belcher

The Six-Gun TarotThe Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most enduring motifs of the Western genre is the town in the forsaken deserts of the West where people go to run from their past lives and to escape to a new one.  In this novel, Golgotha is such a place, however the voice that leads travelers into its depths is a sinister, ageless one.  A voice that also attracts all sort of supernatural phenomena.

Young Jim makes it to edge of this town, where the desert almost kills him and his beloved horse, Precious. His life is saved by a strange half-Indian man, Mutt, who turns out to be the town's deputy, and to have a supernatural heritage of his own.  Jim gets hired to work for the Sheriff, Jon Highfather, a man who has cheated death again and again. A man who is the protector for the town from the supernatural evil always lurking in the dark.

Golgotha is full of strangeness, and also flawed humans, such as a wife and mother who has an incredible legacy.  There is also a resident mad scientist, who has more interest in the dead than the living.  And did I mention that Golgotha has a very large Mormon population?  There might also be an angel lurking in the town.  But I can't confirm or deny that.

The Six-Gun Tarot was very much a surprise find for me on the new arrival shelf at my library.  I couldn't resist it, because I love the Weird West, and this book couldn't get any weirder.  Many times, this book is more horrific than anything else.  The deep, dark secret of this town is pretty darn harrowing, and the fact that its menace lurks behind a dark religious cult out to destroy the world as we know it. 

There is a lot going on in this book. I think the author does a good job of holding it all together.  The twisted threads of the story and the various character point of views come together as a cohesive whole that gave me a shuddery feeling as I read.  I was glad I feverishly finished the last 160 pages during the day yesterday, trying to get it done, since it was due back at the library.  It would have been a not so good thing to read before bed!

This isn't a feel good book, I must warn any who want to read it. It's dark fantasy/horror that seats itself very identifiably in the aesthetic of the Old West, where blood runs freely, and regret and prejudice are a part of the landscape.  Where peoples of many heritages coexist uneasily, when they aren't at each others' throats, and the time comes to band together to face a darker, far from human threat which cares nothing for humanity, or anything right or decent.  While not a feel good novel, the writing is very good and atmospheric.  Belcher inspires empathy for the flawed characters in this novel.  Their failures in some ways equip them for just the threat they face.  There are many subtle references to works of weird fiction, such as a character who has Ashton Smith in his name, and quotes from Frankenstein by Mary E. Shelly.  I want to read more stories in this town, since this threat they face in this book is neither the first, nor will it be the last.

If it's not obvious, I liked this book, even in its highly disarming moments.  Good solid, weird fiction with a very credible Western setting and iconography.  I'd recommend it to the brave reader who doesn't mind some tentacle, squirmy elements.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironskin (Ironskin, #1)Ironskin by Tina Connolly

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ironskin is a clever re-telling of Jane Eyre with a delicious heaping tablespoon of faerie thrown in.  Since Jane Eyre is tied for my favorite book of all time, I definitely loved that about this book.  I appreciated catching the references to the original novel and reading the author's original story with her own ideas based on this beloved classic. In other words, this is not a word for word redux of Jane Eyre. Instead it's a "what if?" sort of take on the novel by Charlotte Brontë.

I am captivated with the post-World War I period and the twenties, and it was a big plus that this book is set somewhere in that late 1910s-early 1920s period.  Also, the infusion of faerie into the modern period that would seem incongruous but wasn't.  The Gothic atmosphere is prominent, and the menacing allure of faerie magic.  Don't look for friendly fey in this book.  They are mean and vicious, and terribly insidious.  The fey storyline turns out to be quite interesting and unsettling.  Connolly taps into the essence of Post-War morals, the shunning of deep things and an enhanced superficiality.  Shallow above substance.  While the Great War is quite different in this book, the scars it left on society are similarly wounding to the survivors, and the society grabs onto the bright phony allure when so little of the Pre-War way of life is left behind.

Most of the characters are walking wounded, with some who seem blatantly unsympathetic.  It takes a while to see where Connolly was going, which impacted my rating, honestly.  Even until the end, I felt ambivalent, and the story was rather ambiguous.  And yet, there was something impactful about this book.  I think Connolly connected to the aesthetic in me.  The appeal was in the dreamy and artful descriptions of the house and characters and the manner in which she revealed characters, with descriptions and body language telling much of who the characters were even before they open their mouths.  Additionally, the characters' emotions were seething off the page. For this reader, that always speaks loudly when reading a novel.  Jane, a tortured heroine who is drifting and surviving, because she has no other choice. When she finds a home with Mr. Rochart and his daughter Dorie, she fears it's an elusive dream, because of persistent feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-worth. In this way she differs from Jane Eyre.  Jane Eyre is ever-aware of her shortcomings, but her sense of self is so strong.  She is a tiny ball of determination and powerful will.  She refuses to settle for less than she deserves, even if that means denying herself the man she loves.  This Jane has to grow into that, and while I wasn't happy with some of the choices she made, I was happy that she found the fighter within that was buried under a mountain of hurt.  Mr. Rochart is more vague and lacks the vibrancy of Rochester.  He's also not as abrasive as Rochester, which is an enduring part of this character's appeal to fans of the novel. But I think he's a better fit for this Jane.  He's her Rochester in the end.  Dorie had such an impact on me. The lonely, troubled child in need of love and care that Jane is able to connect with.   She is one of those younger characters that inspires the mothering urge in me. Also Poule's character.  I can't speak on her at length, since it would spoil what was a very novel part of this book.

While Ironskin was a good book, it just didn't satisfy me completely.  There was a sense of inertia when I read.  As though the story wanted to get someone but it wandered aimlessly in a series of ever-widening circles. I'm not sure if that effectively conveys how I felt as I read, but it's as close as I can articulate at this time.  The aspects of this story that appealed to me are significant, which is why I would recommend reading it.  I just wanted more momentum in this book.  Ultimately, I did appreciate the underlying themes.  It speaks on the power of substance and will over all that glitters.  Also that our wounds and scars can make us stronger, because they are tangible evidence of the inner truth. That we are survivors, down deep. We must just find that core of strength to prevail over our doubts and fears to grab hold of what we desire and need most in this life.

Overall rating:  3.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grave Mercy is a fantasy novel that feels like historical fiction. Our heroine is a young woman in 15th Century Brittany who has always been cast in the role of victim, until she is delivered to the Convent of St. Mortain, the God of Death who masquerades as a saint to appease the newer Christian church. Now she is the wolf instead of the prey. Ismae is believed to be the daughter of this god, since she even survived being poisoned in her mother's womb, although she is forever physically scarred by that poison. She seems to be resistant to poisons and heals faster. While Ismae never felt special so much as rejected, when the choice is a life away from an abusive husband, and some agency in her life, she chooses to become a novice in the convent, learning all the many skills of bringing death to those marked by her god.

Not long after her first mission, Ismae is sent to masquerade as the mistress of Gavriel Duval, the bastard brother of the young Duchess of Brittany. Her Mother Superior has tasked her with spying on Duval to see if he is faithful to the Duchy. If Mortain marks him for death, she is free to kill him. Instead of growing sure that Duval needs to die, she falls in love with him, one of the few men she has met who is decent and caring to women, when her own father hated and abused her. But love won't be easy when Ismae is surrounded by intrigue and treachery in the young Duchess's court. Will her father guide her aim true in these tortuous waters?

I enjoyed this book a lot. While the author doesn't describe every detail of the setting and appearance of the characters, I obtained a very clear picture of what was going on. Better yet, the story simmers with atmosphere, quite Gothic. While this book establishes itself as a historical fiction novel, the paranormal/supernatural vibe teases at the senses. The manner in which Ismae knows that her god has selected a target is quite eerie but doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, because the story fits so naturally in both categories, paranormal and historical fiction.

As far as Ismae's character, she is quite admirable. She's incredibly lethal, and I think a large part of her lethality is her quick mind and her observant nature. She makes a very good spy but also a bodyguard because of those skills. I liked seeing the mystery unfold through her eyes. You see that she isn't always unbiased, especially when it comes to men, considering her past painful experiences with men. I did like that her view changes as she comes to realize that not all men are bad and women aren't the superior sex, because they are just as flawed. She also comes to realize that people can use religion of any kind as a tool for power and control, but that doesn't invalidate one's personal faith in their god. While Ismae is very skilled at killing, she's not a killing machine. She has a respect for life and no desire to torture or cause suffering in others. This was necessary for the story to feel right. This reader is fascinated with assassins in literature, but she hates cruel, sadistic acts, and a good assassin should always show self control (or so this fictional assassin connoisseur believes).

Grave Mercy is a successful book, in my opinion. While this is slated as a young adult novel, it doesn't feel as though it's trying to talk down or dumb down the story. If anything, it aims for a clean feel, meaning no graphic sexuality or depictions of violence. But this book doesn't need that. The storytelling gives the reader what they would want for a story of this type. The author writes about themes that affect women, especially women in the past. How their lives and choices are restricted due to their sex, and how that impacts nearly every decision they make, even if they are allowed to have that much control over their lives.

Ismae is a heroine that a reader can cheer for. A lethal assassin with a supernatural ability who realizes the world is a lot bigger, less cut and dried place than she first assumed. And that love is definitely a possibility for the daughter of death, but her life and her choices are ultimately her own.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Among Others by Jo Walton

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Among Others is kind of like a love letter to bibliophiles, especially those who fell in love with books as a youngster, finding solace and comfort between the pages of so many different stories. In some ways, Mor's character tapped me on the shoulder, reminding me of myself as a preteen. I went through some physical problems that made life very difficult for me. In fact, (view spoiler)[ I had a hip problem that caused me to walk funny and had to use crutches before and after surgery, and people accused me of faking, as if you'd fake an injury so you could have attention you really didn't want. I also remember sitting in the library during gym hour (which was awesome since gym was always my least favorite class because all the bullies seemed to be in gym class). It was one of the few things I liked about having my hip problem, that and having a couple months out of school. I hated school, not the books but the system. But most of all, being in one of my favorite places in the world for an uninterrupted hour of reading. Whatever good books I could find in the school library. The possibilities were great, if not exactly endless, because I did eventually run out of books that I wanted to read. (hide spoiler)] I also identified with how Mor saw her life through the lens of fiction. I think that people who spend so much time reading do tend to analyze life and books in that manner.

I found myself wanting to write down all the book titles, and even looked some up on my Kindle Fire as I read. I am not a heavy science fiction reader, but I did read tons of fantasy and some sci-fi when I was younger. This book makes me want to investigate sci-fi with a renewed interest. It seems to have much to offer Mor, and perhaps I will find the same appeal with further reading. As Mor did, I read all the ones my library had, and then some of the adult books at that point. I remember that joy, which I still have, of going to the library and bookstores and finding what new books I could read. There never seemed to be enough books. The identification factor was very strong with Mor in this regard. Also having divorced parents, and how that opens a wound inside you that doesn't ever seem to heal. Lastly, a sister I love dearly. Now, my mom wasn't an evil witch. Nor was I gifted with magic powers and the abilities to see fairies (although I would love to see fairies, to be honest. I guess I'm on the wrong side of the ocean for that).

In some ways, this book has a surreal flavor. Many times I wondered how much of Mor's magic-sensing abilities and magical frame of reference was just part of her imagination's way of dealing with some events that a young person doesn't know how to handle. But, then, I think that there is too much reality to the magic here to come to that conclusion, ultimately. At any rate, I liked how at times you couldn't tell.

This lovely book is a piece of fiction that feels so intimate and personal to me. I can only believe that the author poured her own love of books and some of her own experiences with books into this book. That kind of intense realness cannot be faked. Books are such a pleasure, one that never pales. You can find so much joy and pathos in a book that it literally is like opening a door to another world, where you can escape from your own little problems enough to gain courage to face another day. Whether that's a school full of mean girls, or parents who fight more than they show affection. Or physical problems, loss, loneliness, you name it. As an adult, that allure of books hasn't palled for me. I like to think that a grown up Mor finds just as much joy and solace in her books. And I can't fault her for it. I'm the same way.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare, #1)The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on audio, and it was definitely a distinctive read.  I have to say that while I enjoyed it, it was challenging to listen to. I found it hard to visualize some concepts.  I honestly have no brain for mechanical concepts, so listening to descriptions of the mecha devices was difficult for me. I decided to stop analyzing and go with it. Not worry about trying to get a crystal clear image of those parts of the story, but just enjoy what I could understand. The ideas were interesting, but I was a bit clueless about what exactly made Clare what he was, and the exact interplay between his physiology and his abilities. At the end, I determined that he was heavily depending on the continual processing of information for his well-being, but he could think too much and end up in trouble. Perhaps he also has some enhanced sensory abilities which also make him susceptible to different environments.

While the magic system was very intriguing, it took me a long time to understand it or get a handle on it.  I absolutely loved some parts. They were darkly beautiful.  They inspired a deep sense of unease with the arcane natures of the magical acts and the beings perpetuating them, but also a sense of awe. While I have no real life interest in magic whatsoever, I do love reading about magic in this kind of fictional setting. And I thoroughly enjoyed the fact magic is so intrinsic to the fabric of Great Britain in this novel. It was very cool that the present monarch is a host for the spirit of Britannia.  I haven't encountered that concept before.

As far as characters,  Emma really came to life for me. She's such a complex person.  She's a mix of good and bad, and her manner of interacting with others can inspire winces as often as wows.  I loved how vigilant and fierce she was. She took her role as a Prime sorcerer very seriously, and her vow to protect Britain. And it often cost her personally.  The scene near the end brought shivers down my spine.  I also loved Mikhail.  He was luscious.  The way the moderator spoke his parts was utterly appealing. Especially the way he spoke to Emma and called her Prima.  It sounded like a verbal caress.  I was surprised at the direction that the author took with Emma's relationship with Mikhail. It added to the complexity of her character.  I wish I had more answers about what Mikhail is.  I have to be honest that he is a big draw for me right now, although I also find Emma very appealing as a heroine, although not always laudable in the way she acted towards some characters.  Clare was interesting. I enjoyed his deductive reasoning and analysis of the very strange situations he encountered after being recruited by Emma as the sole surviving unregistered mentath.  As I mentioned earlier, I didn't always 'get' what he was doing and how it affected him. I hope that will change with later books.  I also liked Valetinelli.  I have a fondness for roguish characters who are insanely good at being lethal. That's definitely him.  The moderator made his voice very fun. He spoke with a blatant Italian accent that was lyrical and appealing. 

I think the major reason why I didn't give this a higher rating was that I had a hard time getting a grasp on the story to the extent that I desired.  I had a lot of questions.  As far as the writing having an appeal and impact on me, that was very well done.  Saintcrow has a way of bringing magical and arcane elements to vibrant life that stays with me. That imagery was very well depicted. As a visual reader, I could feel and experience the powerful magics that the characters employed, although some parts were just plain weird and my brain didn't know what to make of those.  I also give this book points on having such a distinctive heroine. Not always pure in her motives, but underneath, driven to do what is right. That's a hard thing to conceptualize in a novel without polarizing your audience.

I have to give this 3.5 stars because it was flawed in some ways, but in others a very good book.  I will continue this series with the hopes I will be enlightened on some of the world-building particulars and to explore more of Emma, Clare, and Mikhail, and not to mention, Supernatural Victorian Great Britain.

Recommended with reservations.

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By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I by Joseph Nassise

By the Blood of Heroes (The Great Undead War, #1)By the Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I'm not a big zombie fiction fan, I couldn't resist reading this book about WWI with a supernatural/steampunk twist. And Joseph Nassise doesn't disappoint.  It's high caliber action that brings to mind movies like The Dirty Dozen, but twenty plus years sooner.  I don't know a lot about WWI, to be honest, but what Nassise writes seems credible.  I like that he takes what is known about WWI fighting and integrates some steampunkish and supernatural elements.  I think that he builds on the ever-present sense of horror that war inherently has, and that's a firm foundation for a supernatural suspense novel.  I can't verify this, but the Germans seemed kind of Nazish already, especially in the blatant defiance of human rights and experimentation on humans.  That part was rather disturbing.

  I felt the suspense element was a huge appeal of this book. I literally didn't know what would happen and I even had to put it down a few times to get a break. Although I wanted to keep reading. I find zombies really disturbing, and the fact that the Germans are using gas to turn people into zombies is pretty darn awful. I wanted the heroes to open up a can of whip@$$ all over them.

If anything could have improved this was more dialogue and interaction with the members of Burke's team. I cared about all these guys, but I think I would have liked to know more about them. I realize that this book occurs over a short period of time, but this would have enhanced my reading experience.  The main villain Richthofen was a "real you know what". He's the kind of villain you want to see get his butt handed to him. But he's a credible villain in that he's not easily defeated.  He's enough to give you nightmares, actually.  I don't think I'll have any, I hope. But just in case, I tried not to read this before I went to sleep. This book is so much scary as unnerving in that I can put myself in the soldiers' shoes and imagine that sense of constant fear that dealt with in the trenches.  If being blown up or shot or gassed to death isn't enough.  That's a chance they will be turned into zombies or see their fellow soldiers come back to try to eat them to death!  Yeah, that's pretty disturbing. 

Overall, this was a very good book. Great action moments.  I liked the lead characters, especially Burke.  The villain is nasty enough to make him a worthy antagonist.  The supernatural/steampunk parts are excellent. They tie into the WWI setting very well.  I think with more development of the secondary characters, this book would have been even more effective as a read. I will definitely continue this series, but when I'm in the mood for a creepy zombie novel with good action.


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Friday, March 08, 2013

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

The Crown Conspiracy (The Riyria Revelations, #1)The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Crown Conspiracy is perfect for readers who enjoy epic fantasy, but in a smaller package. When you have the time and energy for a 500 or more page epic, why not? But if you want a good historical fantasy tale that is shorter but doesn't lack what you enjoy in the genre, then it's great to find one. This is a good choice if you have encountered that dilemma. When I developed a renewed taste for fantasy as an adult reader, I looked at different fantasy novels that many established fans of the genre recommended, and this one continually came up. I've had this on my to read pile for years, and fortunately, my library had a copy. I had a ball reading it.


A good writer can use an economy of words and bring a character to life. Most of my favorite authors are ones who excel at this. I would say Sullivan acquitted himself very well in this area. The portrayal of characters in this novel gave me what I need but also left some mystery. Some characters more than others. He reveals most of their personalities through what they do and say, instead of in long descriptions of them or telling their histories. That's okay with me. I like a story that keeps moving.

As far as characters that stood out the most:

I definitely want to see more of Esrahraddon. But then wizards have that effect on you. The more mysterious the better. Besides Hadrian and Royce, the lead characters, I have to say my favorite was Myron. His sense of wonder about the world (which makes sense considering he was in a monastery for over 30 years and most of his life at the age of 36). He has some of the funniest lines in the book. He's utterly captivated by horses, for instance. He's never seen one before, and he thinks they are brilliant. The same goes for women. You can't help but laugh at him, but it's in a gentle way, because he's really a sweet guy.

Other characters grow on you, such as Prince Alric. He's pretty much a pompous jerk initially. But he comes into his own. You realize that he's not different from Myron. Merely a person shaped by his experiences. He comes to realize that being King is not just luxury and privilege, but also a lot of responsibility and discomfort and self-sacrifice. He learns that the hard way. He also learns who he can trust, and that is not always who he might initially think.

Hadrian and Royce are two of those amiable rogues that make fantasy so fun. They are thieves and proud. But they have honor, in their own way. I like how they end up saving a kingdom, the unlikely heroes of this piece. Although they might be criminals, they are never the bad guys in this book. I liked that distinction. Sometimes you can be on the wrong side of the law and not be a bad person (I am not advocating breaking the law, mind you). Sometimes that law isn’t necessarily fair across the board or makes it hard for you to do what’s right. Or maybe you’re just a criminal who is otherwise a decent person. I don’t see why it can’t happen, at least in theory.

I liked that the characters’ motives aren’t necessarily crystal clear initially. You have to read to see the story develop (sounds like a no-brainer) and what choices the characters make that will define them ultimately, or at least elucidate who they are. There were some nice twists and turns along the way that I wasn't expecting. While some of the secondary characters are less developed, that’s only to be expected, unless you want a 1000 page book, and I definitely don’t.

The World of this Novel and Magic:

What could have been complex world-building instead is simply explained, which is a relief. I like books that have good world-building, but I don’t like things so complicated that I can’t figure out what’s going on or I am drawn out of the story and get bored. The political themes are a constant undercurrent of the story as there is a struggle between the imperialists, nationalists, and royalists, and the main characters get caught up in this struggle on a personal level. The religious foundations and spiritual beliefs of these countries also play a role in the storyline, since the governments are more or less based on the founding/creating gods worshiped. When Myron explained all this to Royce and Hadrian, I admit I was captivated. It made sense, and at the same time, it was rather sophisticated how the ancient past related to the present of the world at the time of this book. Albeit subtle in rendering, magic is part and parcel of this world, used as another instrument to wield for everyday uses. I especially loved Esrahaddon's prison. It was unnerving and yet fascinating that magic allowed such an invention. And the fact that they would go to so much trouble just to keep one person locked up made me long for more information about this unique individual. I wish that Astria had been able to demonstrate more magical ability. She only got to do a couple of simple magical things, and with her role being so important to the story, it would have been nice to see more of her. Perhaps Sullivan didn’t want magic to be a fix all in this book. With that as a presumption, I can understand why he kept magic low key in the story overall.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with this story. I think it was a very good fantasy adventure tale. While I have read some epic fantasy stories that have more wow factor, I think this is one that sneaks in on you and delivers in a way that can’t be questioned. It harkens back to the older adventure tales, such as Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser by Fitz Leiber or even Elric of Melnibone’ by Michael Moorcock. Shorter stories that are great reads in their own way even if they don’t seem as majestic as Tolkien. From reading this work, I would say that Sullivan definitely has a love of this genre, and he created a story that treats it with respect.

I definitely want to follow this series, and it’s gratifying that these books were written in such a way that they are self-contained despite being related to each other. I would recommend The Crown Conspiracy to fantasy readers, and those who want to give the genre a try.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Ruthless Magnate, Convenient Wife by Lynne Graham

Ruthless Magnate, Convenient Wife (Pregnant Brides, #2) (Harlequin Presents, #2892)Ruthless Magnate, Convenient Wife (Pregnant Brides, #2) by Lynne Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book very charming. I guess I was just in the mood for it. Sergei comes off as ridiculously appealing, despite his flaws. This is one of those times that I can totally understand why the heroine has a hard time resisting the hero. He's got the powerful, billionaire who happens to be drop-dead gorgeous and has the sexy vibe down big time. And add on him being identifiably Russian.... He really is a sex bomb.

I really liked Alissa. She's a very sweet person. She does stand up for herself, but she's also a giving, caring person. I wanted her to get her sexy Russian billionaire, and he shows that he deserves her, which is even better.

The love scenes were sizzling, and the chemistry between Alissa and Sergei is off the charts. This is one of the books where the author just hits all the right notes for me. While I can't get over how evil Alissa's sister is, at least it doesn't wreck Alissa and Sergei's happy ending. And it was great to see Sergei's babuskha Yelena as well. Before, she was his only weakness and he adores her and would do anything for her. Now Alissa and their family adds a deeper dimension to Sergei's life. This reader loves to see a hard hero fall from an arrow through the heart.

Books like this are why I love Harlequin Presents. A quick, delicious helping of fairy tale romance. This is what Lynne Graham does best.

I have to give this one a high rating because I can't say that there was anything wrong with this book for me. Plus, I loved that I got to practice my Russian.

So, Five Stars!

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Friday, March 01, 2013

The Innocent by David Baldacci

The InnocentThe Innocent by David Baldacci

4.5/5.0 stars

The Innocent is perfect for fans of the enigmatic, laconic, capable action/thriller hero. Will Robie has already been added to my list of kickbutt artists. Robie kills people for a living on behalf of the US government. He’s very good at it. He has never failed a mission yet, until he is hired to kill someone who clearly doesn’t need killing. He has to flee the scene to stay alive, and ends up on a bus out of DC with another runaway, a young girl named Julie. When he observes that someone is trying to kill her, he takes out the assailant and gets Julie off the bus, seconds before it explodes. Normally Robie is a loner, but this time he has to take on a partner, a person to keep safe while he figures out why their paths have crossed and people seem to be gunning for them both.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Baldacci develops a story of obvious complexity with great skill. He makes it look simple with his straightforward writing. However, layers keep getting pulled away to reveal something very multifaceted as the two various characters' lives intersect in a way that seems random initially. I liked how he conveys Robie’s expertise at what he does. He’s the real deal, Robie is. He’s very observant and skilled, but understated about it. I loved the dialogue between Robie and others, particularly Julie. This book had me laughing a lot. A big, tough guy like him finds out just how mouthy a teenage girl can be (and they can be very mouthy). She’s almost like a chip off the block with her own set of survivor skills. She’s had a tough life and is just as much a survivor as Robie is himself. Although this game they are in is high stakes and playing for keeps. She needs a protector who knows a lot about getting the bad guys dead and keeping alive.

I’m really glad my library had this book. I practically devoured it. I would love to read more books about Will Robie, and hopefully Julie will show up as a cameo. I can’t believe they will see the last of each other.

Definitely recommend this to fans of literary tough guys.
Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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