Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Batman, Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift by Scott Snyder, Various

Batman, Vol. 6: Graveyard ShiftBatman, Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been so busy it's taken me almost a month to write a review for this. My review is based on my spotty memory. Four stars because this is a good collection of stories that reads like an anthology. It's hard to keep up with the chronology because they kind of jump around. Bats has a new sidekick, but he's trying to get rid of her (you know how Bats is about putting people in danger), especially in light of what happened to his last Robin in the recent past :( Lots of good action and plenty of Batman dealing with the tough emotional landmine he's fighting his way out of.

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Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls by Scott Snyder, Various

Batman, Vol. 2: The City of OwlsBatman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Owl/Talon storyline continues to be crazy. Wow, there are not too many enemies that can give Batman a run for his money, but the Owls definitely can. Continually, I think Gotham can't be more of a deep pit, a literal hellmouth. But the more I read Batman, the worse it gets.

The action scenes were awesome, and the whole Owl story is deeply creepy. The point of view of Alfred's father gives an interesting look into the past of Gotham and the Wayne family. I think that there are some repeat stories with this and later volumes in the Scott Snyder run of Batman. It didn't bother me though.

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Lazarus, Vol.3 by Greg Rucka

Lazarus, Vol. 3: ConclaveLazarus, Vol. 3: Conclave by Greg Rucka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is back on track after the second volume, which I believe was a misfire. It wasn't focused enough on Forever, who clearly is the heart of this series. I appreciated the storyline of all the Lazari meeting together for their conclave. Interesting contrasting their personalities with Forever's. Forever continues to have a vulnerability to her nature, despite her lethality. She really does want to be loved and cherished by her family, but it's an impossible goal. I was glad that she did choose to do the right thing (in my mind, even though it was disobeying orders). The fight between her and her friend who is another Lazarus, was incredible. You tend to think a fight like that wouldn't play well with a graphic novel, but it was done very well, with excellent play by plays. I'm really glad that I liked this so much more than Volume 3.

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Batman: Harley and Ivy by Paul Dini, Judd Winick, Bruce Timm (Illustrator), Joe Chiodo (Illustrator)

Batman: Harley & IvyBatman: Harley & Ivy by Paul Dini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this. The artwork was divine, and it shows a playful but credible Harley that's missing from the newest solo run. This volume depicts the friendship between Ivy and Harley which is mostly on Harley's side. Ivy seems to be mostly exasperated with Harley. This also shows the toxic romantic relationship that Harley has with the Joker. I can be honest and say I despise the Joker. I'm okay with him being shown as a bad boyfriend in this, because he is a terrible boyfriend, and I do believe that he brings out the worst in Harley. I much prefer her as her own woman. It bears mentioning that her original creators were Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the Batman Adventures show in the 90s, and they understand her best. I liked Ivy in this as well. She's depicted as the gorgeous and dangerous femme fatale she is. But also as a friend by necessity with Harley, barely tolerating her, but deep down I think she does like Harley. There is a cameo by the Bat and Co., which I'm a-ok with it. I am so thrilled that my library had this. I loved every minute of reading it! It makes me want to paint Harley and Ivy again!

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Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure by Bill Willingham

Legenderry: A Steampunk AdventureLegenderry: A Steampunk Adventure by Bill Willingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will always compare everything Bill Willingham does to Fables, fair or unfair. And it seems to pale in comparison. I normally love when modern writers borrow characters from the classics, and Willingham has done this with characters from the pulp action, fantasy and adventure of the 19th and Early 20th century and integrated them into the Steampunk framework of his imagination. I was more inspired by the artwork than the actual story. As far as the narrative itself, it was vaguely interesting. I think the cameos were the most fascinating aspect. If my library gets the next volume, I would read it.

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Death of Wolverine by Charles Soule

Death of WolverineDeath of Wolverine by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a very good graphic novel. I've become a huge fan of Wolverine. I guess my buddy has rubbed off on me, because he's the biggest Wolverine fan on earth. This has everything you might like about the character. You see inside his soul and you see how sucky his life is in the sense that he has to fight, it's not an option.

Wolverine has lost his healing factor, and that is a very bad thing for a person who has to fight as often and as hard as he does. Death is literally right around the corner for him. To think that just retracting his claws could lead to endocarditis, and his skeleton harbors radiation from his time at Nagasaki.

Wolverine is on the search for who called out the hit on him and who wants him dead (well, who does the most, anyway). He ends up going full circle to his own creation as a warrior of adamantium, and that leads to the event forecasted in this title. The ending is as dramatic as one could hope for with a Wolverine title. This is the best one I've read so far, but I have a lot more Wolverine to read before I'm done.

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A Yuletide SeductionA Yuletide Seduction by Carole Mortimer
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I wasn't feeling this book very much at first, but I really liked the end of the book. It was very sweet, and I'm always a sucker for a hero who's stone cold crazy about the heroine. There was a real 'aww' moment at the end. I think the plot was rather convoluted, but that's what makes Harlequin Presents books so addictive.

Jane is a caterer and a chef, and being a foodie, I'm all for that. I could have used more food descriptions. Gabe is a big businessman who makes his money buying up ailing corporations. Jane has something personal against him because of what happened between his wife and her husband. He made her life difficult in the aftermath and contributed to an already painful situation. But that doesn't stop her from being attracted to Gabe and falling in love with her.

One aspect of this Harlequin Presents that was different is that Gabe is actually a nice guy. He only appears ruthless in Jane's mind. He doesn't read that way in the story.

There is no big chemistry and tension in this book. It's more of a slow build and a sweet romance. But that's not a bad thing. I gave it an extra half star because the ending was so lovely.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Heart of the Season by Julianna Douglas

Heart of the SeasonHeart of the Season by Julianna Douglas
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

"Heart of the Season" is the second book in the Loving Hearts series by a Goodreads friend of mine, full disclosure. I can honestly say that I enjoyed this novella outside of being friends with the author. I can't say what I loved more, the hero, Zachary, an Afghanistan US Marine war vet or his dog, Akilah. Well honestly, their relationship is at the heart of this story. Julianna is clearly an animal lover, and she understands the power of the human animal bond. How having a pet can add so much to one's life and save one both physically and emotionally. That foundation of this story is a very strong one, and built on top of it is a believable romance. While this has somewhat of a happy for now feel, I do believe in the love between Zach and Jeannie. I think they are soulmates and they have a strong bond that is friendship, mutual respect, and a meeting of minds and hearts, on top of sexual attraction.

I love that Zachary is truly a very gentle man. While he's a soldier and a warrior, he's also a sensitive person. And it's okay for men to be sensitive. It's nice to be able to see that vulnerability in a hero without it seeming to compromise his masculinity. I could appreciate Jeannie even more that she respected the gentle man that Zach was. I loved how the narrative shows why Zach is the man he is due to his being raised by his grandmother, a sweet, caring woman who loved him deeply and raised him with strong values. Seeing male characters who have been raised by strong female figures depicted in a positive way doesn't get old.

I won't even lie. This book made me cry several times. I am so in love with both Akilah and Zach, and their deep friendship. I do have a weakness for beta heroes and Zach with his scars and his disability definitely snuck into my heart from practically the first page of my Kindle as I read it. Akilah is a precious furry baby. I wanted to give her a hug. The thought of what those poor dogs go through on the frontlines is heartbreaking.I can definitely see why the soldiers fall in love with them and want to bring them home. A relationship forged under those conditions will stand the test of time.

I haven't talked much about Jeannie. In a work, she was a great heroine. She's a principled, warm, caring young woman who is putting her principles to action. Going to work in an animal shelter in Afghanistan is not for the faint of heart, especially for a young woman who comes from a privileged environment. I like that she is a deep person and has the ability to look deep. Her love for animals and people is very obvious and made me loved her more.

This book even has some good action scenes on the frontline. They were well-written and it's obvious that Julianna did her research. Kudos to her for bringing a situation to light where people and animals could use some help.

While I personally am not a big fan of happy for now endings, I think this one works pretty well. I hope that we get to see more of Zach and Jeannie's developing relationship, and definitely more of Akilah.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Dark Inheritance by Chris d'Lacey

A Dark Inheritance (Unicorne Files #1)A Dark Inheritance by Chris d'Lacey
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was an impulse checkout from the library. I've been doing audiobooks while I do stuff at home. Audiobooks allow me to get some reading in and have time for completing tasks that would seem very lonely or boring if I wasn't reading as I did them. The story sounded interesting on the blurb. This was pretty good. An interesting idea, although after finishing the book, I don't feel that much more informed about the situation. It ends with a lot of questions unresolved. It's an interesting mix of science fiction and supernatural elements.

Michael's father disappeared a few years ago, and the family has been left to deal with the upheaval his disappearance caused. When Michael saves a dog from falling or leaping off a cliff, he becomes a local celebrity. The manner in which he did it, using an previously unawoken ability to bend and manipulate time and reality, brings him to the attention of a secret group called Unicorne, which seems to know more about his father's disappearance than anyone else. Michael is unwillingly drafted by this organization to solve the question of why that dog was on the cliff and how it's related to a strange Goth girl at school

I liked the creative nature of this story more than the execution. I don't care much for stories where you don't get any answers to the important questions, especially when it's done that way to keep the reader reading. I would have liked to have gotten more breadcrumbs about Michael's father, and I want to know what's going on with Amadeus Klimt.

I do think this had some thrilling and creepy moments and that was fun. The reality of the situation was especially chilling in that human evil is always disturbing to me.

Some parts were cute. I loved the camaraderie between Michael and his younger sister. I always appreciate a strong sibling bond in a book since I'm close to my sister. I think Michael's relationship with Freya had some lost opportunities. With the bombshell dropped at the end of this book, I'm guessing that will be explored further in the next book.

Let's hope my library gets the next volume.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Power Outage by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Chad Hardin (Illustrations)

Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Power Outage (The New 52)Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Power Outage by Amanda Conner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm coming to the realization that I do like the Suicide Squad incarnation of Harley more than the one in her solo outing in this run. I think that this solo series is geared towards readers who want a more goofy version of Quinn. I can deal with the fact that she's not really a hero, more appropriately classed as a villain, but her mayhem in this series is played for laughs and that's hard to get behind for me.

Many times, the story was hard to follow and downright incomprehensible. I did like the team-up with an amnesiac Power Girl, for the most part, except for a few too many crass jokes. I think that the saving grace for this volume was the incredible artwork. I was inspired to do yet another drawing of Harley Quinn. What can I say, her aesthetic really appeals to me. I will probably keep reading these, even though they aren't my favorite. At least to fill the gap between Suicide Squad volumes.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fairest, Volume 4: Of Mice and Men by Marc Andreyko (Writer), Shawn McManus (Illustrations)

Fairest, Vol 4: Of Men and MiceFairest, Vol 4: Of Men and Mice by Marc Andreyko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Huge Warning! Do not read this if you haven't read the later volumes of Fables. I made that mistake, and there's a pretty huge spoiler. I had accidentally spoiled myself already on the DC.Wikia website, but that doesn't make it any better. That aside, this was good. Kind of a freaky story. About one of Cinderella's Mice turned Human carriage drivers who becomes acquainted with the pleasures of human woman, with long-lasting consequences.

Cinderella is like a female version of Bond, in ways I don't really like. But overall, I like her lethal abilities and her spycraft. I find it really cool that her helpers are the non-human fables, like the three blind mice. Some aspects of this are pretty dark, but readers of the Fables and Fairest series should not find that surprising.

Good, but not my favorite of this series, and not on the level of Fables.

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Brainrush by Richard Bard

Brainrush (Brainrush, #1)Brainrush by Richard Bard
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

This book hovers between 3.75 and 4 stars for me. Some parts I really liked. I liked Jake a lot. He was a very good guy and some awful stuff had happened to him. I liked the different acts of the book. The author kept the story moving and incorporated lots of twists and turns so that the reader would not have time to get bored. I feel that the writing was a bit amateurish at times. The author was clearly excited about this story, and that's great. However, I think the plotting suffered at times. I am a science-oriented person, and so I wanted a specific scientific explanation for why the MRI machine rewired Jake's brain in such a fundamental way. I can buy and believe in "gift from God" scenarios, but if you make something scientific in origin, I want a little more explanation. Jake's abilities were pretty darn cool. I love when someone has enhanced mental abilities and I can't read enough of that. It was well-done how Jake's powers develop with practice, and as he pulls away the layers of his abilities.

The romance didn't really hook me, if I'm honest. I felt that the connection between Jake and his love interest, whose name I can't remember right now, was a bit thin. I think that Bard wanted us to buy into a soulmate/love at first sight connection, but I didn't really feel that. I can appreciate if they had chemistry and were willing to see where that went. One thing I loved was the kiddos that Jake bonds with, especially in light of the tragedy of his past.

The terrorist angle, I have not decided about. Some parts of that were very suspenseful and Bard gives a unique twist. It was a bird's eye view into extremism and what motivates people to become terrorists, although I still don't and probably never will understand it. On the other hand, I feel that the villain Battista, was a bit too much on the melodramatic side, especially with his sadistic henchman.

I think there is a lot to like about this book, but I feel that it does also have "First Book Syndrome." But we all have to start somewhere, and I'm definitely interested in continuing this series. I like Jake a lot, and I can't help rooting for him to save the day yet again.

Now I'm a big fan of the ragtag team-up, and I loved that aspect. If we get to see more of them working together in future books, I'm all for it.

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Nightmares! by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller

Nightmares! (Nightmares!, #1)Nightmares! by Jason Segel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a neat little audiobook. I know Jason Segel as an actor, but he's a pretty good writer as well. It was a nice bonus that he narrated the story. I only gave it three stars because it wasn't ground-breaking for me. I thought it was a cute idea, and I liked the message about conquering your deepest fears, and dealing with grief. I felt bad for Charlie's step-mother, whom he treated really awfully, because of the fact that she wasn't his mother and his dad and brother seemed to be moving on and he wasn't. I actually thought stepmom Charlotte was pretty interesting. I would have liked more interactions between her and Charlie, especially more positive when he dealt with his issues towards her. Ultimately, this never got to the point that I didn't want to turn it off when I had something else to do.

The nightmare world was a bit creepy. The descriptions and the characterizations of the the nightmare realm were on point. I think for a young reader, it might be genuinely scary. Some of the nightmare characters were actually the real draw of this book, like Meduso and his mother (you know who). And who would have thought a clown would be a good guy (yes I do have a bit of coulrophobia).

I think this is one you definitely want to get the audiobook for. I think it's the best way to experience this book.

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Daredevil, Vol. 4: Underboss by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev (Illustrator), Joe Quesada (Editor)

Daredevil, Vol. 4: UnderbossDaredevil, Vol. 4: Underboss by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is straight-up crime fiction. A new guy in town wants to take away Kingpin's supreme rule over crime in Hell's Kitchen, and is not above betrayal to do it. I haven't read the first book in this run, so there are some things I had to figure out by context. However, it's clear that Daredevil and Kingpin have reached a sort of equilibrium in their relationship, but the apple cart is about to be upset. And the bid to bring down Kingpin has far-reaching consequences.

While Batman is my favorite crime-fighting vigilante, I have to say that I have a very healthy appreciation for Daredevil. Matt Murdock's sort of a soulmate of Bruce Wayne, although their situations seem far different in some ways. Deep down, they are avowed to fight corruption and crime in their resident cities, and are willing to give every little piece of their bodies and souls in the process.

The artwork is very good. It's gritty and dark, but it fits the mood of this story. I will admit I stay far away from Mafia movies, and this feels uncomfortably close to one of those. However, I do love stories about dark avengers and seekers of justice, especially in our world where might seems to mean right far too often.

As an Elektra girl, her nice little cameo of sorts did my heart glad. I wish my library had more Daredevil. Sigh.

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Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham

Cinderella, Vol. 2: Fables are ForeverCinderella, Vol. 2: Fables are Forever by Chris Roberson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this quite a bit. It follows the superspy motif perfectly, with a solid foundation of fairy tales and folklore. It's a fun read and definitely for fans of spy thrillers. Cinderella's arch nemesis is someone very familiar, but never seen in this particular way. I can't say anything more without it being an absolute spoiler. I absolutely love the cover art by Chrissie Zullo. Her style is so distinctive. Just her artwork makes these worth checking out. A lovely adjunct to the Fables series, and this falls in shortly after Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red.

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Cinderella, Vol.2: Fables are Forever by Chris Roberson

Cinderella, Vol. 2: Fables are ForeverCinderella, Vol. 2: Fables are Forever by Chris Roberson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this quite a bit. It follows the superspy motif perfectly, with a solid foundation of fairy tales and folklore. It's a fun read and definitely for fans of spy thrillers. Cinderella's arch nemesis is someone very familiar, but never seen in this particular way. I can't say anything more without it being an absolute spoiler. I absolutely love the cover art by Chrissie Zullo. Her style is so distinctive. Just her artwork makes these worth checking out. A lovely adjunct to the Fables series, and this falls in shortly after Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red.

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Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

Half-Moon InvestigationsHalf-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very fun take on the hardboiled detective novel from the viewpoint of a thirteen-year-old Irish boy who takes a correspondence course and gets his detective license. It's very tongue and cheek, but that's a huge part of the fun of it. Colfer takes the story very seriously, in that it's serious enough for Fletcher Moon. He's really in everyway a bonafide detective. However, people don't seem to believe he's what he says he is. Fletcher's heart and soul is in detective work, but everything is rather theoretical until he gets a case that involves him up to his ears.

Kids make me laugh and I love reading middle grade stories because they're never boring. While it's been a long time since I was thirteen, I can identify with the angst of that age, and the aspects that are pretty darn funny.

The cast of characters are awesome. Fletcher is very likable, and to my surprise, Red became one of my favorite characters. He has some built in pathos in his situation as a Starkey, a family known for its criminal nature. Just because he's in the family, he's going to be seen as a criminal, even if he's honest. But it turns out the same person who frames Fletcher framed him, and together they expose a conspiracy that impacts their whole school.

I have tons of respect for Colfer as a writer. He writes books that a child and an adult can enjoy. His humor is accessible enough to entertain young readers, but sly and wry enough to appeal to an adult who likes that bit of sarcasm.

This was a great book to listen to. The narrator is probably Irish, so he had the accents down pat, and each character has a different feel to their vocalization. I would recommend this book for a fun and relatively short audiobook read. I think a family would enjoy listening to this together.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday (Courtney Crumrin, #4) by Ted Naifeh

Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday (Courtney Crumrin, #4)Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday by Ted Naifeh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Courtney goes with her great-uncle Aloysius on a trip to Eastern Europe. Of course, she manages to get herself in trouble, fighting for the underdog, including a patch of Gypsy werewolves, one of which is in love with a landowner's daughter. Oh, did I mention that Courtney has a boyfriend! But it's not as good as it sounds. Because her boyfriend is a vampire, and he's draining Courtney of her lifeforce and humanity. Courtney feels so disconnected and apathetic, this isn't sounding so bad to her. But her uncle loves her deeply, and he's not about to lose her to a creature of eternal darkness.

I think this might be my favorite in the series. I hope I am able to continue reading. I think my library is all out of these. Darn!

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Baltimore, Vol. 5: The Apostle and the Witch of Harju by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck (Illustrations), Christopher Golden (Goodreads Author), Peter Bergting

Baltimore, Vol. 5: The Apostle and the Witch of HarjuBaltimore, Vol. 5: The Apostle and the Witch of Harju by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume has a super high creep factor. Anything with secret/demonic cults I find very disturbing. We meet an order of Christian knights who are trying to do what Baltimore does, but they are quite in over their heads. We also learn the fate of one of Baltimore's greatest adversaries (not the Vampire he hunts, mind you). There's some werewolf thrown in and not a little bit of blood and gore. Definitely one of the darkest volumes in a series that ain't exactly light reading. It was very good, despite all that. I hope Mignola keeps writing about Baltimore.

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Baltimore, Vol 4: Chapel of Bones by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden (Goodreads Author), Ben Stenbeck (Illustrations), Dave Stewart (Illustrations)

Baltimore, Vol 4: Chapel of BonesBaltimore, Vol 4: Chapel of Bones by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series definitely takes me to that classic horror mood that I enjoy. To me, classic horror is the best horror there is. The modern-style stuff doesn't do it for me. I think Mignola and I have a meeting of minds on that. It's evident in his work. Baltimore is a man on a mission, and nothing will divert him from it. There are revelations about Baltimore and this story takes us full circle as it revisits a crucial scene from Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. Again, it's an opportunity to see Baltimore through the eyes of others, and to try to understand his motivations. These books are very dark, but very fascinating. The artwork is excellent, even with the limited color palette.

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Nightmares! by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller (Goodreads Author), Karl Kwasny (Illustrations)

Nightmares! (Nightmares!, #1)Nightmares! by Jason Segel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a neat little audiobook. I know Jason Segel as an actor, but he's a pretty good writer as well. It was a nice bonus that he narrated the story. I only gave it three stars because it wasn't ground-breaking for me. I thought it was a cute idea, and I liked the message about conquering your deepest fears, and dealing with grief. I felt bad for Charlie's step-mother, whom he treated really awfully, because of the fact that she wasn't his mother and his dad and brother seemed to be moving on and he wasn't. I actually thought stepmom Charlotte was pretty interesting. I would have liked more interactions between her and Charlie, especially more positive when he dealt with his issues towards her. Ultimately, this never got to the point that I didn't want to turn it off when I had something else to do.

The nightmare world was a bit creepy. The descriptions and the characterizations of the the nightmare realm were on point. I think for a young reader, it might be genuinely scary. Some of the nightmare characters were actually the real draw of this book, like Meduso and his mother (you know who). And who would have thought a clown would be a good guy (yes I do have a bit of coulrophobia).

I think this is one you definitely want to get the audiobook for. I think it's the best way to experience this book.

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The Valiant by Matt Kindt (Goodreads Author) (Writer), Jeff Lemire (Writer), Paolo Rivera (Illustrator)

The ValiantThe Valiant by Matt Kindt
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I liked this more than I thought I would. The storyline is pretty complicated and dark, with an immortal warrior facing an invincible enemy of darkness, seeing countless people dying. This time, he has formidable team mates working on his side, for reasons of their own.

Of course, my favorite character is the nanobite infected, anmesiac soldier, cause that's how I roll.

It was weird, but the art was good, and the story was interesting. I would read more of these, of there are more.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Irredeemable, Vol.8 by Mark Waid

Irredeemable, Vol. 8Irredeemable, Vol. 8 by Mark Waid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh man. Waid is without limits. I can't believe that some of the things are happening in this book. It's like a superhero fiction reader's worse nightmare. Some major comic book storylines have flirted with the idea of absolute power corrupting absolutely, but Plutonian is relentlessly evil and corrupt, both morally and mentally/morally. Unfortunately, there seems to be no contenders who can really take him on, because of their own issues or limitations. I had hoped that Plutonian would turn out to be his own worst enemy, but it seems as though he's found his feet after the last volumes. If something doesn't change, this may turn out to be one of the most tragic graphic novel series I've ever read. It's really hard to process this story, and it makes writing a review rather hard.

I'll take a bit of a break before I read Volume 9.

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Velvet, Vol.2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting (Illustrator), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Illustrator)

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead MenVelvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This second volume steps up the intensity by a big leap. Velvet is back in the game, and she has her former employees on her tail, not to mention the traitor who is trying to frame her. "The Secret Lives of Dead Men" delves deeper in Velvet Templeton's past, and her secret hurts. The reader learns that she has more than one reason to take her betrayal personal, and also we see how she embarks on the life of a spy at a young age. While Velvet can hold her own, the reader sees that she has vulnerabilities just like any other human being, despite her formidable skills.

This is fine storytelling with excellent art. I think this would be an awesome movie or limited tv series. Velvet is an excellent role for an older (fortyish actress), and she'd not only get to show some real dramatic acting, but also plenty of buttkicking.

This book has a heck of a cliffhanger that has me waiting with baited breath for the next installment.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dark Dream by Christine Feehan

Dark Dream (Dark, #7)Dark Dream by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a meaty little short story. It definitely has an insta-love vibe, I think most out of all the Carpathian novels. But the story has a lot to offer despite that. Falcon is one of the original Carpathian warriors sent out by the previous Prince Vladimir, which means he's at least a thousand years old. It's amazing that he's held onto his honor and Carpathian sense of ethics and not turned vampire. I like to think that the fact that Sara was out there in the future was one of the reasons he didn't give in, but he's very, very close to turning when he senses his Lifemate. Sara has been stalked by a vampire who killed her whole family for fifteen years. She's stayed one step ahead of him, traveling the globe and helping orphaned children. She meets Falcon and he realizes that she's his lifemate. She realizes that he's the male she's been in love with since she found his journal on one of her archaeologist parent's digs. The romance part is the easy part. The difficult part is keeping Sara safe from the vampire.

This book is full of action and some horror elements with the despicable vampire and his zombie-like human servants. While I like the romance aspects, I find the whole Carpathian culture thing very interesting. It was great to touch base with with Mikhail and Raven and Jacques and Shea. Jacques is a lot more stable than he once was. He's definitely benefited from having a lifemate in Shea. I read this after reading Dark Descent, out of the Dark Nights book. Feehan is developing the whole storyline about the Carpathians trying to find a reason for their infertility and infant mortality, and slowly but surely recruiting assets in their cause. Gary shows up briefly, and it's making me excited to read Dark Promises.

I have no issues with this book. It was a solid read.

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Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting (Illustrator), Bettie Breitweiser (Illustrator)

Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living EndVelvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Velvet is the Real Deal!!!

I picked this up because I have enjoyed other volumes by Brubaker. He definitely has the noir, crime story vibe down. This book is about a woman who everyone has been overlooked because she's the Moneypenny (as in Miss Moneypenny from the James Bond series). Nice to flirt with, make travel arrangements, and take notes in the meetings for her Director. She holds the keys to the kingdom in that way that Executive Assistants often do, but not who you would consider a field agent. Well, they learn quite to their surprise that still waters run deep. This woman is a serious bad*ss! When one of the field agents get killed and the frame starts to fit Velvet Templeton, she goes off the reservation and puts herself back into active service. It turns out she's one of the most lethal agents her agency ever ran.

I'm a huge spy fan. I especially love action-oriented spy stories. While I will occasionally sit down and watch a movie like "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (admittedly for Benedict Cumberbatch), I prefer spy stories with lots and lots of action. This one doesn't disappoint. And I love that the beginning is a bit of a misdirection. You think this is about the boys, but nope. This woman gives the boys a run for their number. Keep reading and you realize exactly why this is called "Velvet."

I loved this book. It's violent and has some sexual content, but nothing I couldn't handle. I'm giving Velvet a high-five. She's definitely a Grade A Kickbutt Artist, and she knows her spycraft just as well as James Bond. If things had went differently, perhaps Sydney Bristow might have ended up like Velvet. I'm reading Volume 2 right now and it's probably even better!

This so needs to be a movie one day!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a long while since I read this, but I remembered absolutely loving it. My memories were correct. In fact, I read every book by Diana Wynne Jones I could get my hands on growing up. I've finally gotten a chance to reread this, and I'm glad I choose the audiobook format. Jenny Sterlin was brilliant. She utilizes her voice distinctly for the varied characters. She even makes a distinction between Old Sophie and New Sophie very well. I recommend listening to the audio if you have a chance.

Howl is a real character. He's what you would rightly call an amiable rogue. Howl's imperfections are very much part of his charm. I liked how Sophie spent most of the book annoyed with Howl, but you could tell that she had fallen in love with him. She was awful jealous."I think she doth protest too much." Howl will admit that he's a coward, and he's extremely vain. He's not above manipulating people. But Sophie is a perfect match for him. She doesn't put up with his bull, but at the same time, she's good for him and both Michael, his apprentice.

I love Sophie. She's an awesome character. What pluck despite her timidity and low self-esteem. I liked how as she was under the old age spell, she came into her own and it's understandable. She was freed from the fears and restrictions that had ruled her life as the Oldest Daughter. The older you get, the less you have to lose, and the more you are willing to call it like it is, but also you realize that life is valuable and each moment could be your last. Sophie comes into her own and realizes that she has a unique ability to create magic of her own.

Calcifer is a character. He's a fire demon who has made a pact with Howl. He pretty much runs the castle, and he's incredibly grumpy about it. You could tell that Sophie and Calcifer grew quite fond of each other.

One of the things I love about fantasy most is the world-building and the way that the imagination has free reign. The descriptions of things that are completely imaginary and even from our normal lives, but with an interesting twist. Ms. Wynne Jones knew her fantasy and I could see how influential she was to Neil Gaiman as an author. That twisted convergence of fantasy and the lightest edge of the horrific. The Witch of the Waste is on the periphery of this novel, but she's a disturbing presence. Also, she's a cautionary tale to those who are corrupted by magic.

There's nothing to complex about this story. But simplicity can be gorgeous, and a well-told story outweighs author tricks that pad a novel unnecessarily. I consider this a fantasy classic.

**A note about the movie:

I do so much love the Anime version of this. It's gorgeous, and I can watch it again and again! There are some changes between it and the novel, but it's a great adjunct and exploration of the novel in a visual format. Definitely recommend it, but the source material is where you want to start. Read this book!

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom by Ted Naifeh

Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom (Courtney Crumrin, #3)Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom by Ted Naifeh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book essentially about being an outsider and being misunderstood by everyone. That's the story of Courtney Crumrin's life. Her parents don't understand her at all. She's considered the weird kid at school. When she goes back to visit her parents, she reconnects with her former best friend, and they have grown apart. He's fallen in with a bad crowd, and though Courtney tries to save him, she can't save their friendship.

I could intensely identify with Courtney in the sense I was not a popular kid. I was picked on a lot growing up. One thing that I feel was a real blessing about it, was I learned to embrace the fact that you are your own person and you can make decisions for yourself and do your own thing. Like Courtney, it made me feel lonely at time, but there were consolations.

When Courtney gets back to her Uncle Aloyisus' house, she has to deal with the popular kids of the warlock families. They take bullying to a new level when they cast a spell of one of them's younger brothers. While Courtney would rather not get involved, she knows that she has to do something to help the kid, who was turned into a Night Thing. As since she has personal experience with the Twilight Kingdom, of course she has to lead the expedition to get him back.

This book is also about making good choices. Doing the right thing even when it's hard and the rewards seem nebulous. Courtney is not what I'd call a girl scout, and she did something really bad to get revenge (or in her mind, so see justice done), she hasn't completely lost her moral compass. I liked that about this book. And of course, the Faerie elements.

I like the way Courtney is drawn. She's sassy, with her little bat barrette and Gothesque outfits. She's kind of like Daria in the way she expresses herself.

I'm really starting to like this series more. It's not an upbeat read, mind you, but it's atmospheric, and you can't help but like Courtney.

This is all in black and white, but it shows how much you can really do with chiaroscuro (light and dark shading). I'm sort of lazy when it comes to it, but it challenges me to work on this technique.

I would exercise caution if I was a parent of a prospective child reader. You might want to read this first. Some subject matter and themes are not appropriate for younger readers. I would say this is 11 and older.

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Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

Rock Hard (Rock Kiss, #2)Rock Hard by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Finally have time to write this review. I was skeptical about Nalini Singh's re-embarkation into contemporary romance, especially since I am not into the rock star sub-genre. I heard such awesome things about this book, and I admit I find office romance a guilty pleasure. I hate business, but an office background in a romance makes it seem a whole lot more interesting. I have to say this was a pleasure to read.

The Characters:

It's always a joy when you truly like the main characters in a book. I definitely loved both Charlotte and Gabriel. I think that they had phenomenal chemistry. I loved how patient Gabriel was in wooing Charlotte. I am ever captivated by a hero in pursuit who shows genuine love for his heroine. It was clear that Gabriel wasn't just trying to conquer Charlotte. He wanted all of her. And Charlotte is one of those heroines who I could definitely be good friends in real life. She's adorable. I think most of us women can admit crushing on someone who is downright unattainable. And to think her crush is crushing on her. Charlotte's down to earth and a lovely person. Her shyness is certainly understandable, and I understand how being hurt that way could make a person withdraw from life. I liked how pivotal Charlotte's friendship with Molly is to the book. It definitely feels authentic the way she would call Molly or Skype with her about what was going on in their lives.

The Storyline:

Charlotte's past is definitely dark. I feel that it's handled sensitively and Charlotte's recovery is realistic. Seeing Gabriel gently work through her issues and understanding that certain things were a trigger for her just made me love him more. I was a bit disappointed with the love scenes. they didn't quite have the impact I wanted considering the long buildup. However the proposal was lovely! I found the narrative device of email memos fun and a great way to advance the plot and set the tone and the evolution of Charlotte and Gabriel's relationship. Gabriel was scrumptious. I wouldn't say I'm into hugely muscular guys typically, but this man is ultra fine! I loved the fact that he's not merely defined by his physicality. He's also fiercely intelligent.

Overall, this is a great book. I can't give it five stars because it didn't have the strong impact that I expect from a five star romance book. However, I was immersed and drawn into this story. Just the kind of book that you want to dive into, take a few hours out of your own life and enjoy. Rather like a book version of dessert. Speaking of dessert, that was a big part of this book, and I'm all for it. When Gabriel was being beastly, he would buy Charlotte sweet treats. Charlotte is a keen baker and she also baked for Gabriel. Dessert will always be my favorite meal, so it was like two for the price of one.

Not five stars, but definitely 4.5/5.0 stars!

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Constantine, Volume 2: Blight by Ray Fawkes, Renato Guedes (Illustrator)

Constantine, Vol. 2: BlightConstantine, Vol. 2: Blight by Ray Fawkes
My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

I liked this better than the first volume. I felt it was chaotic and at times difficult to follow. The resolution of the Cold Flame arc felt a tad anticlimactic to me. I did like how it tied into the Justice League and Forever Evil arcs. It was nothing to shout about, although it gets some brownie points with the Zatanna cameo (I love her)! And it was good to get closure on Necro Nick.

I'm wishing I had written my review sooner! But maybe I didn't have much to say anyway.

I'd probably give it 3.25/5.0 stars.

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Constantine , Vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire by Ray Fawkes, ACO (Illustrations)

Constantine, Vol. 3: The Voice in the FireConstantine, Vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire by Ray Fawkes
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I still find the writing in these books confusing, but the stories kept my interest more than Blight, and I wasn't quite as lost. Constantine encounters some real characters in the magical underworld, which I always find fun in a rubbernecker sort of way.

Each story seemed better to me, and the Doctor Fate story packs a pretty good punch. Perhaps this series is finding its feet. I've been watching the NBC Constantine series on DVR, and it's a nice combo to do it this way. I definitely hold a grudge against NBC for canceling it. I don't have much more to say than that.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chains of Fire by Christina Dodd

Chains of Fire (The Chosen Ones #4)Chains of Fire by Christina Dodd
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

It's been a long time since I read the other books in this series, so I was a little lost at first. However, it came back to me pretty fast. This series really found its stride after a shaky start. Samuel and Isabelle isn't my favorite couple, but Dodd writes their romance passionately and evocatively. They've been in each others' lives for a long time and never felt a connection like the one they share with anyone else.

Samuel is a complicated person. He's not nice or honorable or kind. But he has deep principles that carry him through. And he's defined by his steadfast love for Isabelle, although he's not done a good job of showing it.

Isabelle is complex in a different way. She had the power of healing. As an empath, her gift can lead to self-trauma, so every time she heals someone, it's an act of self-sacrifice. When she first meets Samuel, she heals an emotionally broken part of him, and from that moment, they will be connected for the rest of their life. But it doesn't promise a quick and lasting happy ending.

Through circumstances beyond their control, they both end up working for the Gypsy Travel Agency, a group that was formed to rescue abandoned children called Chosen Ones. Their organization is nearly destroyed, leaving very few Chosen Ones alive. Isabelle and Samuel have an uneasy working relationship, and on one cold winter night in the Swiss Alps, everything comes to a head, and they can no longer ignore their lifelong bond.

Some parts of this book felt a little awkward, but Dodd is such an engaging writer that I am more than willing to ignore what doesn't work in this novel for what works splendidly. I loved the sense of companionship between Isabelle and Samuel (when they aren't fighting) and the other Chosen Ones. It was so much fun to revisit the past couples, and made me want to reread Aaron and Rosamund and John and Ginny's books (my two favorites). I'm excited to read Aleksandr's long awaited story, but I'm deeply worried about what's going to happen. I can't wait to see how things evolve between him and Charisma. At the same time, sorry to know that Wilder will be the last in the series.

Not a perfect book, but very enjoyable. Thus the 4.25/5.0 star rating.

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The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

The Snow QueenThe Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favorite fairy tale, hands down. If I'm honest, I'm such a huge fan of snow and cold weather. The idea of snow becoming personified makes a lot of sense, because winter does seem to have a life of its own. I love in Texas, and we don't get much winter, but I grew up with it. I miss it so much! Reading this book makes me long for a good winter.

Along with the evocative imagery of winter, there is a very emotional and spiritual love story. Kay and Gerda share a strong emotional bond, but that bond is damaged by Kay's infection with the slivers from the shattered evil mirror. His eye and his heart are pricked, and it changes the way he sees the world, and makes his loving heart grow cold towards poor Gerda. But Gerda doesn't give up on him. When the Snow Queen steals away Kay, she goes searching for him, going on quite an odyssey and meeting some very unusual people along the way. But she never gives up on him.

The lesson of sacrificial love never gets old. That kind of love can melt the fiercest frozen heart and claim back those who are lost. I loved rereading this, and the illustrations I had in my version was a lovely adjunct.

If one has not ever read this book, I highly recommend it. It's available as a free ebook as part of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tale collection.

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Dark Descent by Christine Feehan

Dark Descent (Dark, #11)Dark Descent by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm happily getting caught up on the Carpathians after a long break, and I'm enjoying the ride. The Carpathians have such a complex folklore foundation, and I like seeing it unfold in each book. While I wouldn't like some aspects of being a Carpathian lifemate, there is a whole lot to appeal as well. They really are delicious heroes. I think that this one might be one of my favorites. I loved Joie and Traian as characters, and Joie's siblings Gabrielle and Jubal definitely add to the appeal of this novel. Gary Sanders (who becomes a friend and ally to the Carpathians) has a cameo, and it was fun to see this adorable nerd again. Joie is a kickbutt heroine in her own right, a great match with Traian.

This book is actually quite horrific. The vampires are scary and downright disturbing and disgusting. They give an ugly visual picture to creepy crawly. While Traian is one of the most formidable Carpathian warriors and hunters, he has his hands full when he gets caught in the middle of a nest of master vampires who have formed an alliance. Joie forms a mental bond with Traian and that bond causes her to track him down to the ice caves in the Carpathian mountains. In the process, the Sanders discover a long lost familial relationship to the secretive mages.

I loved how the Carpathian universe is expanding to other species. The mage aspect of the story is fun. Like many of Feehan's works, this book reads like an exciting movie. The battles with the vampires would have me quaking in my books on a big movie screen. But at the same time, they were highly exciting.

I'm pretty into Jubal. I'm wondering if he'll have a story (fingers crossed). It looks like Dark Promises is about Gary and Gabrielle. I hoping that Jubal will have a storyline in this book. He's a character I definitely connected with.

For a short novel, this packed an exciting punch! I read this out of the Dark Nights ebook and I'll read Dark Dream next.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year - Secret City by Scott Snyder (Goodreads Author), Greg Capullo (Illustrations)

Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year - Secret CityBatman, Vol. 4: Zero Year - Secret City by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is essentially a new exploration of Batman's origin story. It has a few what I would consider right turns, but I suppose if you're going to re-imagine a character, that's poetic license. I think Snyder is a strong writer and the artwork is also appealing. I would say this is a good quality graphic novel. It has all the things that a Batman fan would like. Portraying Bruce Wayne as the strong character he is; the important and foundational relationship he has with Alfred Pennyworth, who is as much surrogate father as mentor and caretaker. It also portrays the broken and irredeemable nature of Gotham, which seems to attract the morally bankrupt and flamboyant criminals that Batman exists to thwart. It also shows why Batman won't give up on Gotham, even though it cost him his own mother and father.

The storyline about the Red Hood Gang was interesting and more than a little creepy (creepy in the sense of the pervasiveness and ruthlessness of the cult). I'm thinking that the leader may be the origin of one of Batman's arch-nemeses.

I've really liked the New 52 Batman that I've read so far. Each one makes me want to pick up the next.

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The Fade Out, Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips (Illustrations), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Colorist)

The Fade Out, Vol. 1: Act OneThe Fade Out, Vol. 1: Act One by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One word for this graphic novel. Atmosphere. I definitely felt like I was in the late 1940s Hollywood. But the real Hollywood, not the glamorous, shining synthetic world that so many people in the industry tried to project. The point of view is from a screenwriter deeply immersed in the studio system who was emotionally broken by his war experiences. He wakes up in a bedroom and finds the body of the starlet in the next room. The star of the movie he's been working on. The list of suspects is long, and even if they aren't the murderer, most of these people aren't blameless and are far from innocent.

People like to say that the depths of depravity in society has gotten worse. I don't think so. I think people have gotten more blatant in their dark desires, but they have been doing anything under the sun for gratification since the beginning of time. This book shows that very dark side of Hollywood that swallows people whole, brings out the very worst in its denizens, exploiting their weaknesses and insecurities and their desire to be famous regardless of the cost. It features the wolves and the lambs (although the lambs aren't without blemish), and the bottom-feeders of the industry.

The artwork was alluring and perfectly paired to the narrative. It conveys the feel of a hardboiled, noir mystery, although the artist is not afraid to use color. I love the style of the 1940s, and I found myself a student of the character design in this book. It's done in such a way that it doesn't give a misleading tone of brightness that is completely opposite to the story.

This ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, in that there is no resolution of the mystery, but instead a big breadcrumb for the reader to follow in the next volume. I need to know, so I'll keep reading.

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Ransom by Julie Garwood

Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2)Ransom by Julie Garwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another book I thought I had read. Boy was I glad that I didn't. Read this for the Julie Garwood group read, and it was delightful. Julie Garwood books are definitely comfort reads. She understands why we read romance, and one of the reasons is we want heroines who we can root for, that we fall in love with just as much as the heroes. Her heroines have this tangible sweetness that makes me want to hug them, root for them, and to fight with and for them. Gillian is no different. My heart hurt for her losses and I cheered her for her indefatigable will. To be honest, I did think she was a slightly too good for Brodick, although I did like him. Maybe that's a good thing, because the common dilemma for a romance fan is to like the hero more.

I have read the other two Highland Laird books and loved them. I don't know how this fell through the cracks! But it was perfect timing, because you need a pick-me-up sometimes when you've been reading for so long, and some of it's assigned reading. I am a die-hard romance lover, and while I enjoy other genres, I always come back to romance because it has the tried and true things that satisfy me as a reader. In this case, it's the great heroine and the story that completely immerses me and takes me away from my world--back to medieval Scotland. The romance is great, but there's so much more in addition to offer in this book.

One of the things that spoke to me strongly was the theme of family and loyalty. Gillian has lost more of her family, but she cleaves to that which is left. She lived with the hope of being reunited with her sister. Her uncle who raised her after the betrayal and death of her father has her unswerving loyalty. She faces great danger to keep him safe from her so-called guardian Baron Alford, who is essentially the Son of Satan. That doesn't mean she won't spare the time to protect a young Scottish boy who was kidnapped by Baron Alford's forces, even at the risk of her own life. She does it for because it's right, even if it's a great cost to her. Fortunately, her good deed leads her right where she needs to be, and into the sights and arms of Brodick, Laird of the Buchanans.

Brodick doesn't know what hits him (not unusual for a Garwood heroine). Before he knows it, he can't live without Gillian, even though he knows from the beginning that she's bound to return to England. He fights his love for her because he believes love makes him weak. Although he hypocritically demands Gillian's love as his due. Brodick takes her into his clan literally, and gives Gillian the family she's missing.

Brodick was a pretty good hero. Not good enough for Gillian, but I liked him. I didn't like that he tended to usurp Gillian's self-will, both because he believes he knows better, and also for her protection. He knew that she needed a protector, but the lie he told was a costly one, nearly losing the love of his life in the process.

This book has almost two romances for the price of one. The second romance between Ramsey and Brigid was fun, and it develops more slowly than the one between Gillian and Brodick. Most of the characteristic humor is evident in their interactions, since Gillian's situation is so serious, it doesn't leave as much time for humor.

Not only was the romance good, but it had genuine suspense. Gillian is in some very dangerous situations, and she makes it through between a combination of divine providence, will power, and intelligence. She hasn't had an easy life, but it's made her into the wonderful heroine she is. One who can't help but acquire the loyalty of those around her.

I was more than satisfied with this book. It took me a while to read, but that's sort of my life now. But every time I picked it up, I was deeply involved and enthralled. This was a long book, but when it ended, I wished for more. I did feel disappointment with the resolution of Gillian's search for her sister, but that's real life. And at least she found a new sister in Brigid. I can't help but give it five stars under those circumstances. Even with my increasingly stingy ratings, I can't argue myself down from there.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Batman/Superman, Vol.1: Cross World by Greg Pak and Jae Lee

Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross WorldBatman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World by Greg Pak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The artwork is a stunner in this graphic novel volume, however the story is rather incomprehensible. It's hard to track what's going on, seeing as how there are two different Batmans and Supermans (technically one is Superboy), and their behavior was different from what you expect from the characters. I think the origin story about Darkseid was pretty awesome. I'd definitely give that a higher rating than the rest of this volume. Overall, it's a three star read that could have been smashing with more effort for clarity.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire

The Dream StealerThe Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel reads like a fable, ripe with Russian culture and built on the foundation of well-known and more obscure Russian folklore. Two children in a small village in Russia called Miersk face the knowledge that the Blood Prince, a huge, demonic wolf, is coming their way and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Underneath all the fable elements, there is a strong theme of the alienation of childhood from adulthood. Children are rarely heeded, listened to, or taken seriously. Through a benign sort of emotional neglect, adults leave children to build their own worlds and societies among themselves to fill an emotional void. I'm speaking in generalities. There are plenty of wonderful parents who are intimately involved in their children's lives. There are also parents who mean well, but are weighted under by the cares of life. You can see that dynamic in this book. Pasha's father is in the shadow of his own father, a dominant and opinionated man who dismisses Pasha's concerns as being ridiculous. Other than when he is needed for chores, it appears as though Pasha is left to his own devices. Whereas Lisette's father has been soured by the loss of his beloved wife and therefore neglects his daughter and his infant son when he's not raging and yelling at Lisette. Pasha and Lisette form a friendship of necessity that becomes true as they muster their courage to save their village from the Blood Prince.

I admit I rushed through reading this because I had to return it back to the library that day. I feel that I had taken my time, I would have been better able to bask in the richness of Russian culture on display. Russian culture is my thing. I have an absurd attraction to it and the language. Some might argue that mistakes were made, but I felt it was well done. There are some very lovely and magical moments that would make for a striking animated film that I hope will be made some day. Baba Yaga plays a prominent role and while she's generally regarded as a villain, she's a huge help to the people of the village, perhaps for her own reasons.

I think I would have given this a higher rating if it had been a little deeper and richer. I am probably asking too much, since this is a children's book. For what there was, it was a lovely little fable.

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The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I started this in early August, but it took me a while to finish it. One of the reasons is it's a profoundly unsettling book. I'm a scientist by training, and I take the ethics of science pretty personally. Dr. Moreau crosses so many ethical/moral lines in his experimentation, it's not even funny. Some things just should not be done, even if it's to advance scientific knowledge. I am also a inveterate lover of animals, and I felt a horrible rage at the way Dr. Moreau was torturing animals. I feel it's fair to admit I am a meat eater, and I don't feel that eating meat is wrong. This book did make me feel extreme discomfort and think about what an animal goes through so I can eat a hamburger (something that I know intellectually but still ponder the ethics of regularly). However, there is a clear line that even both vegans and avowed carnivores can agree on: torturing animals for no reason, and inflicting pain on them because they are merely animals and don't feel pain the way humans does is terribly wrong. Also, to treat animals he had ostensibly humanized with no decency or respect was capping off the wrong that Moreau was doing. I admit I wasn't sad about Dr. Moreau's fate at all. I could feel Prendick's sense of pervasive horror acutely. Because of that, I had to put the book down at one point and didn't go back to it until yesterday/today. I listened to this on Kindle Text-to-Speech and it adds an element of horror to experiencing the book as an auditory experience.

HG Wells is a good writer. He immerses the reader fully into the story. He writes descriptively and seems to be aware of science in a way that lends credibility to the story (although my mind went to what we know about tissue matching, organ donation and graft rejections today). I felt all the emotions that Prendick felt, although not his sense of superiority that comes from being a white Englishman of the 19th century. I know I would feel the weirdness of humanlike animals put in a situation where they are forced to act human but are denied the same respect and decency that humans deserve. I believe in the quality of life for animals and as a veterinarian this is a huge issue for me. I felt so sorry and angry on behalf of the Beast Men that it was a huge discomfort factor for me as I read. That's probably a good thing. I don't think anyone should be okay with how those poor beings were treated.

There is a touch of racism but it's not as bad as some of the classic novels can be. I always notice it, because I'm a black woman, and for good reason, I am clearly sensitive to such things. It's good to read books from different periods and see how things were then and be grateful that things have changed for the better, or at times, realize things haven't changed all that much.

I wonder what Wells would say about some of the things we do in modern medicine/medical research without blinking an eye at. Thankfully, there are stringent limitations on animal research (although I admit that I think some research that takes place is beyond what I consider moral or ethical). If anything, this kind of story will make a reader feel uncomfortable and ask themselves about what is ethically okay, and challenge them to feel things from a different perspective that they might not always be sensitive to.

Prendick was mostly a sympathetic character. He was in a very extreme situation way beyond his control or comprehension, and his actions were probably what one could expect for someone put in such a horrific situation. I can see why he would remain scarred emotionally for the rest of his life. Who could blame him?

This is a book that can easily be classified as science fiction horror. The horror is psychological because of being confronted with the extremes of science and the unnatural results of it on nature. HG Wells is considered a foundational science fiction writer, and I believe he definitely writes something prophetic about biomedical research that still can serve as a warning to us in the 21st Century. There is a line and we must not cross it.

I can't give this more than 3.5 stars because of the ick factor. The writing is good but it made me feel icky inside. As an emotional reader, I have to listen to those instincts.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Code Name: Papa by Aliyah Burke

Code Name: PapaCode Name: Papa by Aliyah Burke
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Ms. Burke gave me just what I was asking for: a great interracial spy romance. And the heroine is Grade A Certified Kickbutt Artist. She reminds me favorably of one of my all time favorite heroines, Charly Baltimore from "The Long Kiss Goodnight." There's even a line about her joining the PTA and making pretty good cookies. Happy sigh!

Seriously, Indigo is the real deal. She is hardcore. She's an ex assassin who goes off the grid to raise her son by her ex-partner, Beckett. They are reunited when he's sent to retrieve her from a Mexican jail. She cannot go back to their ex-agency. She has to save her son from the people who kidnapped him. Beckett finds out he's a papa in a very explosive way. And Beckett quickly chooses that he's going to help his ex-partner and lover get their son back. They make a killer team (literally).

I love that Burke makes the action authentic. Sometimes with romantic suspense, the action takes a backburner. The spy stuff will make a spy fan happy. Indigo and Beckett really do act like operatives. It also reminded me of "Alias", which is one of my all time favorite shows. Indigo has many of the traits I loved about Sydney Bristow, although she's more emotionally closed off. The scenes in which Indigo does what she needs to do to get her son back are well-orchestrated. I liked that even though there are plenty of steamy scenes, they are appropriate to the story. No extraneous sex breaks. And while it's clear that Indigo and Beckett love each other, they have to work through their issues and put the past into perspective. You can see that they were always good together. Their romantic relationship was built on a solid foundation of mutual respect and friendship, and despite the way things ended, that didn't change, except maybe for the better.

While this read a little slow at times (It was probably me and not it. I'm a bit short attention span right now), it ends with an explosive action sequence that will make any bonafide action lover happy. And the operations felt pretty authentic to me (not that I have a spy background!).

I gave this 4.25 well deserved stars because it's a very good story. The writing flows and it has a cinematic feel. Burke know show to bring on the sexy without being kinky or off-puttingly raunchy. The characters are three-dimensional (although I wish that Indigo's physical features were more described). Beckett is likable despite the fact that he acted like a commitment-avoiding Peter Pan in the past. I couldn't hate Indigo for her choice to disappear and have her baby without Beckett, based on their situation and the way Beckett acted in the past. It was good that she got to hear Beckett's side of things and to see that Beckett had changed. He deserved the right to know his son, and clearly he would die protecting both of them.

Burke delivers on the spy romance and with a dangerous couple to boot. Pick this up when you need your kickbutt heroine action romance fix.

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Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan

Dark Hunger (Dark 14)Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm just now getting back into reading the Carpathians after such a long break. This was a good start. About Riordan, the youngest De La Cruz brother and Juliette a member of the jaguar shapeshifting species, this is a steamy and action-packed short read.

It has all of the Carpathian aspects that one would expect to see. The manner in which a Carpathian male is brought back to life by his destined lifemate. I have missed all that ritual and the culture of the Carpathians. It was interesting how Juliette and Riordan work out their new matehood. Juliette comes from a species that is highly sexual and Riordan has to get past his jealousy that Juliette was with other men. He isn't a jerk about it, but it's definitely part of his nature to be highly possessive. He loves Juliette, so he accepts that this is part of who she is. It turns out that Juliette is an excellent match for him. Strong and independent, and sensual. Juliette has some serious baggage, due to the dysfunctional social dynamics of the jaguar, the way they abuse their women. She lives with her younger sister, Jasmine and her cousin Solange, and none of them are overly fond of men, with good reason. My mind went to the fact that despite their dislike of men, they had to do their thing because of their species, physical needs. Perhaps in a longer book, Feehan could have delved into that whole jaguar dynamic. It was interesting, and seems to fit thematically with my last couple of Feehan reads, which were in the Leopard series.

This is full of sensuality that Feehan writes so well, and the action is very good and well-integrated into the story. I love reading about all the abilities of the Carpathians, and they're uniquely tailored to this story about a Carpathian with a jaguar shifter lifemate. Of course, it does end abruptly, as a short story. It left me wanting more of Juliette, Riordan, Jasmine and Solange, so that's a good thing.

I went ahead and got this in Darkest at Dawn, in which it's accompanied by Dark Secret, a more controversial Carpathian book, although it's one of my favorites.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was admittedly a slow read for me. But it's proof that some things are worth sticking in for and waiting on. At its heart, this is a moving story about a young boy who is coming to terms with his identity as an adoptee. He's asking the questions about his birth family, but that in no way invalidates his feelings or attachment to his adoptive family. On the surface, this is a mystery/adventure about a treasure hunt in a house that once belonged to a famous smuggler. Milo wanted a quiet Christmas with his family, but unexpected guests arrive and change the whole dynamic. But it turns out this is a pivotal event that will put to rest old secrets and reveal the answers to all the questions of the guests that come to stay in Greenglass House one snowy Christmas week.

While this moved slowly, and I found myself rereading several parts to make sure I understood what was happening, there is a strength to the narrative that made me want to soldier through. I found Milo adorable. He's Chinese by birth and ethnicity, and he's sick of that question of why he doesn't look like his white parents. He's a quiet and bookish kid with a big inner life, and he's ripe for an adventure. Milo meets a young girl who comes along with their cook, and they become partners in a Dungeons and Dragons-like game called "Odd Trails", which ties in very heavily with their quest for secrets about Greenglass House.

That mystery is extremely clever. Especially how the very house itself is full of clues about the mystery. I would enjoy staying at Greenglass House, and exploring its several floors that have stood the test of time, and gazing at the raging winter (I love winter) outside the beautiful stained glass windows. Any good mystery writer presents a group of suspects, and each one is interesting, with deep motives yet to be discovered.

The end was quite a lovely surprise. I hadn't suspected what we find out near the end, but it definitely makes sense, and there are seeds all along. That's the hallmark of a good mystery to my mind.

The author writes an afterword about her reasons for writing this novel, and that adds so much to the story. How this came out of her personal journey to adoption, along with other aspects of the genesis of writing this novel, in which an adoptee plays a major role.

I'm glad my library had this book, and for the recommendation from my friend Rane. While it took me a good while to read, it was definitely worth the reading. I'll look forward to reading other books by Ms. Milford.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Surrender to Seduction by Robyn Donald

Surrender to SeductionSurrender to Seduction by Robyn Donald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. This wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It has some very nontraditional aspects to the storyline, with two delays on what I'd consider a textbook romance HEA. Also, the hero does something pretty lousy to the heroine (even if he thought he had good reasons at the time). I understand his motives, but the way he made excuses about it, I didn't like it so much. Readers who like a heroine with serious commitment issues might enjoy this. Her mother has a history of running out on her family and lovers. Gerry has avoided relationships because of her fear that she can't stay in love and stay committed to a man. Bryn causes all kinds of intense emotions in her, and while she's tried to avoid him, he continually engineers situations where they are in contact, with some very calculated reasons.

It's not my favorite by this author. I think it's emotionally intense in the way her books are, but it wasn't satisfying to me. I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I like a committed HEA at the end of my book (this one has it, but there's a two year delay.) This kept my interest, so that's something.

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