Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Mad, Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley

The Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria, #2)The Mad, Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I had hoped, I liked this one even more than Penelope and Prince Charming. It was hot without having the over eroticism that I found uncomfortable in the first book. It definitely helped that I became drawn to Grand Duke Alexander in Penelope and Prince Charming. He is a very good villain turned hero, utterly compelling, with a charisma that grabs and doesn't let go. I understood his motivations even then, and I gained a deeper understanding of him in this book. Megan is the perfect heroine for him. She is sweet and innocent, but no pushover. Her love is steadfast, and even though she doesn't always understand everything about Alex, her love for him and the desire to be fully joined with her husband in marriage, is the guiding force that pushes her to break through those quite formidable and rather intimidating barriers between her and her husband. I rooted for their happy ending, because they are one of those couples you really want to see have their happy ever after.

I love the magical aspects of this series, and the fantastic culture of the Nvengarians. They are so dramatic and fascinating. I loved the humorous aspects of their Nvengarians' intensity, how they are loud, proud, emotional people, and very endearing in their over-the-top ways. I think Ms. Ashley crafted these people in a way that feels very authentic, and she gained a fond admirer of these people in me. They stand out in many ways, both in their consistently blue eyes and black hair, and their ethos and their personality traits. It's interesting seeing Megan, who is very English, adapt to a life surrounded by these folk who are so very different. She will have quite a life as the Grand Duchess of Nvengaria.

This is one of those books that you read very quickly because the story draws you in and keeps you hooked. Not just for the romance, but for the whole story, including the cultural aspects and the light fantasy/magical elements. With two leads that are both lovable and compelling, sexy, intense romance, and great humor moments, there is much to recommend this book to readers of historical romance who like their stories nicely steamy, with some well-integrated paranormal elements. Another winner for Jennifer Ashley, who definitely has a master touch with historical romance. This is one of her earlier books, but it's worth looking up if you haven't read it.

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Walking the Edge by Zee Monodee

Walking The Edge (Corpus Brides, #1)Walking The Edge by Zee Monodee

My rating: 4,5 of 5 stars

Walking the Edge is a book tailor-made for readers who love spy fare like "The Bourne Identity" and "La Femme Nikita," with a little "Hitman" thrown in. And the bonus is the heroine is equally if not more lethal than the hero. The atmosphere is spot on, with a sophisticated European vibe that is almost obligatory with this sort of espionage storyline. This is my first read by Zee Monodee, and definitely not my last. I have met her on Goodreads and shared friendly discussions about our mutual love of dangerous heroes and romantic suspense. She definitely brings all that knowledge and appreciation for these genres to vivid life in this book. The romantic elements are authentically hot and sensual, and they fit well into this edgy, noirish suspense tale of a woman who truly doesn't know who she is and goes on a journey to find the answer to this million dollar question. There are plenty of storyline twists that kept me reading, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well and intricately plotted this story was. Normally, you read these sort of books and criticize the decisions the characters make. Not here. These people act like the pros in the field that they are. I liked that she gets that cold, hard edge that needs to be present in this kind of story. Spies don't live sunny, fluffy lives. They walk in the dark, and that darkness always tries to encroach on their heart and minds. But love can vanish away that darkness, and the time comes when tough choices have to be made to reach out for that light in the darkness. It takes one heck of a heroine to deal with this, and this book has that kind of heroine.

For readers who enjoy a tough, sophisticated, edgy heroine, this book will definitely make for a good read. Especially with an equally tough, sexy, but loving hero at her side, and lots of suspense and adventure to round out an appealing romance.

I recommend this book.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

Thanks to Zee Monodee for the opportunity to read Walking the Edge.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding the Lost by Shannon K. Butcher

Finding the Lost (Sentinel Wars, #2)Finding the Lost by Shannon K. Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked Finding the Lost much more than I liked Burning Alive. I obtained a much better sense of the world and the storyline, which is expected. More importantly, I felt a much greater connection to Andra and Paul. I admit a big part of my problem with the first book was the way a death of a character I really fell in love with was handled. But I honestly think it's also due to the fact that the author feels more comfortable with her storyline in this book, and the romance and the overall storyline are better integrated. I think the sexy/sensual elements were very well done, hot but romantic. I definitely felt the chemistry and the connection between Paul and Andra, despite the short time frame.

Andra and Paul were for the most part likable characters. Andra is tough and strong, but she isn't too hardheaded to be sympathetic. She's definitely a good match for Paul, even though she fought it more than I liked. I did get frustrated with how Andra seemed to reject her bond with Paul, but I could also understand why she couldn't give it the focus it deserved. So much of her life was about helping her sister, and finding lost children, because she couldn't let go of the guilt of her self-attributed failure to protect her sisters when they were attacked by the Senestryn. She carried that guilt like a weight on her shoulders that affected everything. Honestly believing she didn't deserve any happiness for her own outside of seeing her remaining sister, Nika, alive and well. So when she kept dissing Paul, I would feel upset with her, but I understood why. Also, I realized that it was due to Paul's unwillingness to be honest with Andra about how crucial their bond was to his well-being and life. He didn't want to put that pressure on her, and he had been rejected in the past by a bondmate, so he was sensitive to rejection and insecure about a woman wanting to stay with him as his bondmate. I got pretty frustrated with him for being so reticent about his vital situation. Maybe if he had been more honest, Andra wouldn't have made those stupid bargains to wear his Luceria for such a short time. That annoyed me, but I realize the problem wasn't just with Andra. She really didn't understand what she was doing to Paul by setting those short bargains.

As far as the action/suspense elements, I really liked them, but I felt that the story lost some cohesiveness towards the end, with some anticlimatic aspects that lessened the intensity of the storyline. It didn't ruin the story for me, but it didn't resolve as strong as it started in that regard. Overall, I am developing a strong connection to this story and series that I didn't feel with the first book. I can see why my sister is so enamored of this series now.

I admit a huge part of my liking for this story is the ancillary characters, such as Logan, Madoc, Nika, and Tynan, the other healer who helped Nika at the Sentinels home base I have to say that Ms. Butcher writes heroes very well. They are very appealing, strong, sexy, and I felt a lot of sympathy for their plight. I loved Paul and I thought he was a nice mix of alpha and beta, very endearing and sexy in his willingness to take care of Andra, and his honorable nature. However, I feel like I am going to love Madoc even more. He's definitely the tortured, edgy, scary type hero that I loved. I think his book with Nika is going to be very good indeed. I'm honestly looking forward to all the forthcoming books, and I especially want to read more about the Sanguinar people, because I find them very alluring and interesting.

I still have some questions about some aspects of this series, but I feel that reading the subsequent books will enlighten me about those. I have to say that I am glad I kept reading this series. I still feel grief about what happened in the first book, but I think I am at the stage where I can keep reading without that ruining the series for me. Happily, I can give this book four stars.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Young Sherlock Holmes: The Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

Young Sherlock Holmes: The Death CloudYoung Sherlock Holmes: The Death Cloud by Andy Lane

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

I'm going to put this book in the 'not bad, but could have been better' classification. I have my own perceptions about how young Sherlock Holmes would be and this one isn't real close to my ideas. Yeah, I'm not sure I can clarify that right now, so I won't try. I just found the book disappointing in how it did craft young Holmes.

I did like the fact that Holmes has a mentor in an American who brings to mind a cross between Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday. Mr. Crow helps to develop Holmes' signature traits, deductive reasoning and a keenly analytical mind. It was interesting seeing how Holmes went from being a 'whatever/why is this important?' kid to the man who has an insatiable curiosity about the world and the burning desire to solve any puzzle that he encounters. I also liked Holmes' sidekick Matty Arnett. I have a feeling he will be accompanying Sherlock on more adventures in this series, and I'm very cool with that. I'd also like to see more of Mr. Crow. His daughter, Virginia, doesn't have quite as concrete a role, other than the horse-mad hoyden, would-be love interest, and perhaps, her tendency to bring out the impulsive adventurer in Sherlock.

What surprised me was how violent this book is. Personally, I would be wary about letting a child younger than thirteen read this. There are some fairly descriptive acts of brutality that I think would be a bit much for a younger reader. I was concerned that the exceedingly villainous bad guys who would torture a kid with a bullwhip in a book for a younger audience. It's a pretty drawn out scene too. Not to mention a nasty fist fight that Sherlock finds himself involved in, along with numerous altercations with the Big Bad's minions who have no qualms about murdering youngsters.

The main bad guy is suitably majestic, and really quite outre' in his madness and character quirks, almost over the top, in fact. I guess that could be fun, but his bombastic speech about wreaking vengeance against the British Empire was a bit tedious. Sometimes I get impatient with the "I am an Evil Overlord" speeches.

A big issue I did have was the pacing. I don't know. It just seemed uneven. I liked the action bits, for the most part, but I wasn't keen on how long it took Sherlock to figure things out. I realize that he's a young kid and he's just in the beginning of his long career as a detective, but I think he could have been a bit brighter in some circumstances. Happily, there is a good progression in his character over the course of the book.

Yeah, I know it, it's a problem of having too high expectations. Why do I do that to myself? That can burst a bubble or two for a reader. Would I recommend this? Hmmm, only if you really want to read about a young Sherlock Holmes, and your expectations aren't too grand. If you happen to be at the library and you can't find another book with a young detective to read, then you could reach for this one and it wouldn't be too much of a waste of your free time to read.

Overall rating: 3.25/5.00 stars.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Immortal Fire by Anne Ursu

The Immortal Fire (Cronus Chronicles, #3)The Immortal Fire by Anne Ursu

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a great ending to this trilogy, providing lots of thrills, laughs, and plain good old storytelling. Ms. Ursu employs wit and charm mixed with very visual imagery that gives the reader quite an adventure. Charlotte and Zee are really brave, tough kids. I shudder to think about real kids going through what they experience. I winced at how many times poor Charlotte got wounded, and there were a few moments that just about broke my heart. This book is very true to the original myths in how petty and unflatteringly the Greek gods are portrayed. I would never substitute a modern story for the original tales, but I like how fun and accessible Ms. Ursu makes the Greek myths. I liked that the author stayed pretty true to the myths, but also made a fun, original story of her own.

I'm glad the kids get a rest from saving the world and facing mortal danger with gods and vicious creatures of myths and legends, but I will miss Charlotte and Zee very much.

I think young readers and older readers will get their time and money's worth with this book. The writing is clever and sly, with some jokes for the younger reader, and some that a mature reader will appreciate in an entirely different way. Definitely recommend the Cronus Chronicles series to fans of Greek mythology and stories that spotlight the Greek myths.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Unveiled by Courtney Milan

Unveiled (Turner, #1)Unveiled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms. Milan has lived up to the promise I saw in her writing in the short story I read in The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\ The Season for Suitors\ This Wicked Gift. I loved the way she wrote her hero and heroine, and knew she was a writer I wanted to follow. I'm glad that she had written another story that I felt that way about. Her characters are very well-crafted, deep, complex, and textured. I found myself continually evaluating things from each one's perspective, and it was difficult to 'choose sides', which is a good thing. In real life, no person is all good and bad (at least for the most part). We are a complex mix of both, and we often make decisions out of our human drives, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In the case of Ash and Margaret, I could see what drove them, and I felt for them both. Family is very important to me as well, and even though I don't always like everything my family does, I love them, and I'd do anything for them. That's why I couldn't get mad either at Ash or Margaret at the choices they made. Even though their brothers didn't always understand the sacrifices they made for them, it was both characters' choices to give up so much for the love of their siblings. In the end, I was glad that they found each other, and realized that someone saw them truly and loved them honestly. I was glad they found their other halves, because I think that this kind of love is so valuable to humans, and they both needed it. It takes a writer of considerable skill to create such real, lovable characters, and Ms. Milan shows it.

I loved the intensity of her writing, and the strength of the story here, a romance, and a good one, but something more. I liked how she integrated the sensual moments into this love story, making them intrinsic to the development of the relationship between Ash and Margaret. I liked that Ash saw Margaret and knew she was what he wanted and needed. I liked that even though it was a seemingly bad idea to fall for Ash, Margaret did anyway. I know that she had some tough choices to make, and I was glad that she was able to make a choice that was right for her, down deep, and that that choice included Ash. I was glad their feelings for each other, that trust and understanding of each other stayed true, even in the face of what seemed insurmountable. I also loved the authenticity of the Victorian setting, drawn in subtle strokes, but very evident. I could tell that the author knows her subject, and she managed to convey that without overwhelming the narrative with facts about Victorian England and inheritance law.

Giving this book five stars is a foregone conclusion, based on its many strengths, and how much I enjoyed reading it. It was deep, rich, fascinating, sensual, intense, and rewarding. All the things I love about historical romance. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hot November by Ann Charlton

Hot November by Ann Charlton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This started out a bit slow, but wow, this was a very good book. I loved the interactions between Mackenzie and Emma. They had fantastic chemistry, and a powerful bond that drew them back together when circumstances threatened to push them apart. Mackenzie is very much a manly man, and it was in an utterly appealing way. He didn't come off as macho and neanderthalish at all, even though Emma interpreted him that way at first. Instead he had a lot of the positive alpha hero traits that I hope to find in a so-called alpha hero but find lacking instead.

I loved the descriptions of the Outback, all the imagery that contributed to the theme of Heat and Fire. There was a drought and Mackenzie is part of the fire brigade, which plays a major part in this story, but it also underlines the fiery sexual tension between Mackenzie and Emma. Even though the love scenes aren't descriptive, there is plenty of heat because of the manner in which the author builds up the attraction between the couple. Also, you can see that they really grow to love each other. Emma's issues with marriage could have been annoying, but I could understand her reluctance, and it showed how much Mackenzie wanted to be with her, that he was willing to be patient and work through those with her. Her love for him helps her to realize that she wants more, and to consider what she might be giving up out of fear.

I found this book very satisfying, despite the slow start. I didn't want to put it down last night and go to bed. I had to finish it. And I was keyed up after I finished, so it took a while to go to sleep, but this is one of those books that's worth missing out on a little sleep for. I recommend it to readers of short category contemporary romance. I don't think it will disappoint. I also enjoyed Married to the Man and Titan'S Woman, and off to find more of her books. I can see she is really good at writing the manly type of hero, which is a definite plus!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Catherynne M. Valente is a unique experience. Her writing is full of magic and imagination. It doesn't always make 'sense', but it feels right. The child in me who never grew up, who loves fairy tales, lands of magic, mythical creatures, and folklore, ate up this story like the most scrumptious dessert. I listened to this on audio, and at first, I wasn't sure how well it would work. There are a lot of concepts, and they don't tie together in a straightforward fashion at first glance. If other readers are like me, I'd encourage you not to give up on it if it doesn't catch you right away on first listen. Initially, I felt that Ms. Valente didn't quite feel comfortable reading her story. However, that changed, and she seemed to get into the flow of it, using different voices, timbres, and cadences for the various characters. I could feel how much she loved this story she had written, and the characters within.

This novel is one that both kids and grown-ups with a love of fantasy and make-believe tales would love. It's a story of a young girl who is very, very brave, strong-minded, determined, but with a very big heart for a kid (who are considered to be mostly heartless, according to the narrator). She goes to Fairyland on a romp, to escape the reality of a mother who works all the time and a father who was shipped off to war. Feeling alone and too different from the other kids she went to school with, she longs for adventure and a place where normal isn't the ideal. That's when she gets swept off to Fairyland and becomes a champion for this place of magic. And we are along for the journey.

At times, I got a bit confused with the narrative, because it's not exactly a linear story. Fairyland isn't a place that always makes sense, and that could make for strange listening when I was focused on driving or getting where I was going. If the reader embraces that this isn't that kind of novel, it makes for a very satisfying reading experience. Just immersing oneself in this marvelous world where anything is possible is gratifying.

This book is suitable for a young audience, but there are elements that feel pretty sophisticated, if one is older and catches the subtext. Some younger readers might not get all those references, but that's okay. I think it's fine for them to grasp an understanding of the story at their own level. There is some violence and dark subject matter, but the message of self-sacrifice, determination, friendship, and love are very good elements for kids to experience.

At one point, I thought I'd have to take off half a star because of getting lost and things slowing down a bit, but the overall beauty and power of this story requires a five star rating for me. I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy mythopoeic/folklore-rich fantasy novels, young and older.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

Chasing Darkness (Elvis Cole, #11)Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I am reading these books out of order, but it hasn't hurt. I like Crais' spare writing style, yet how he writes description beautifully, bringing Los Angeles to life for me as I listened. I was a bit disappointed with how quickly it ended, leaving me with some questions about why the killer was operating. The same narrator as The Watchman, and he does the Cole/Pike books perfectly well, so I shall not complain.

I exhaled a dreamy sigh whenever Pike came around. He is utterly lickable. (Did I write that in my review? Pausing to drool...) Back to the review... I am quite fond of Elvis too. I don't feel that I know him as well as Pike, but that's my fault for reading these books out of order.

It was very awesome to see Carol Starkey from Demolition Angel again. She seems a little better adjusted, but smokes like a chimney. I enjoyed the banter between her and Elvis.

This one is a low four because of the sparse detail on the killer and how it wraps up. I think the characters are a strong point for me with this series, and the mystery part is sort of an added bonus, so I can can still rate this one well. It's a four because I really liked it for the reasons I mentioned. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neverwhere is one of those books that answers the 'what if' question about the city in which you live your days, going through your admittedly 'mundane' routines. In this case, London. What if there was a London Below, a strange world which consists of Underground railways, tunnels, sewers, and sometimes uncannily parallels the London that the average inhabitant thought they knew but didn't, and in a way that seems a lot more interesting? It's a scary place, not terribly clean and sanitary. But it's also a place of wonders. If you spent some time there, would you find yourself, and realize that the normal world just doesn't hold the same charm for you, now that you've realized the possibilities? With this book, you can ponder these questions for yourself through the viewpoint of Richard Mayhew.

The unknown is scary for us. Scary, but also exciting. You just have to find the courage to seek it out. That's one thing I love about books. They take me places that I'm not sure I'd want to go in real life. And in the process, they make me want to be braver than I am. Richard has to find that courage (the hard way), but he becomes a hero and a champion in his own right in the process of his journey. He faces pain, loss, and uncertainty, but he gains a lot more in return.

This is the third book I've read by Neil Gaiman (all on audio), and I really appreciate his writing. He has a wonderful way with humor, a grand sense of adventure and whimsy, and he finds the uncanny and fantastical in the everyday and ordinary. Honestly, that's why I love fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.

Although parts of this story were dark in subject matter and could have been too gruesome, the writing keeps the subject from being over the top in these areas. Subtlety in storytelling gives this reader enough to know just how bad the bad guys are, and without the scenes being too off-putting. And there is always hope that good will win out. I need that in a book.

Of course, living in the sewer and the underground aren't the most clean ways to go about one's business, but there was also an undeniable appeal to these worlds. I'm not saying you will see me taking off on a sewer adventure (not going to happen), but at least I can read about it, and think that it didn't sound quite as bad as I thought it would (for the most part).

I liked the diversity of this world. People of different colors, shapes, sizes and origins. That's how a big city like London truly is, not the monochromatic make-believe of some of the shows on TV (which I won't name) where you wonder how the characters can go seven seasons without ever encountering a person of color. And the diversity isn't just background filler. Diverse people have strong roles in this story. With this added appeal, it made the novel even more enjoyable.

Neverwhere was a fun, interesting novel, with some mystical, otherworldly elements right smack dab in the middle of the everyday. I loved that about this book. I am so glad I started reading Neil Gaiman. I recommend you give this book a try if you haven't read him yet.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron (Incarceron, #1)Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: It was hard to convey my overall views on this book. I feel like this review is very much a 'I can't put my fingers on what was wrong' type of review, so I apologize if it seems rather chaotic.

Incarceron is a book with some interesting ideas, and some intensely visual imagery. Catherine Fisher put some imagination into crafting this story, and I tip my hat to the author for that. However, my overall feeling after finishing it is disappointment. Unfortunately, there were aspects that worked for me, but as a whole creation, I wasn't impressed.

One could argue that the disconnect might be due to having listened to this on audio, but I don't think that is the cause. I liked the narrator, and this would have been a more pleasant listening experience if everything had made more sense and tied together more fluidly.

My biggest issue: I felt that the ideas didn't come together coherently. I continued to listen, hoping that I would gain that clarity I was seeking. Sadly, further listening didn't correct this deficit, and I gained little to no further evolution in my understanding. Unfortunately, my interest level suffered as a result.

I never realized the author's end-goal here. I realize this is a series, but I am a big believer that books in a series should end in such a way that they are self-contained, even if one doesn't continue the series. I hate that emotional blackmail of a cliffhanger ending or feeling I need to 'read more' to get that total picture. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I think Fisher is a good writer when it comes to imagery and ideas. But the overall plotting and story-structure of this novel was weak, in my opinion. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but this is my overall perception. Expectations are a powerful thing. For me, at least, they can make or break a book. I found myself wanting more than I was getting from this story because of the interesting ideas stimulating my imagination to believe in its potential. That was an emotional failing for this book. On an analytical level, I felt as though my thought processes were pulled in too many directions, like a flow chart that goes all wonky and it never gets to the final destination. Instead, I was on a wild goose chase to find out the overall point of the story.

Other Things I Want to Touch On:

1)I really liked the concept of the self-aware prison that had developed its own ecosystem and many generations of inhabitants. The idea of the prison recycling its inhabitants and using inorganic components when necessary was rather twisted, but it makes sense. The prison(as a 'great experiment') microcosm does shine light on the inherent flaws of any so-called utopian ideal, which I believe is doomed to fail, due to the flawed aspects of human nature.

2)I liked the idea of the lost prince who finds himself living as a pauper, with a secret destiny that calls him to something bigger.

3)There are mystical aspects with the legendary Sapphique, who is the only person who has successfully escaped the prison. But I was left with a big question mark that felt like a set-up for the next book. As I said, that is a Major pet peeve of mine.

4)The concept that a futuristic group of peoples might reject the ideals of scientific progress and retreat to the classic/archaic modes of living--that gave me something to think about, and I felt it was pretty clever.

5)I loved Claudia's relationship with her teacher, Jared. Jared is probably one of my favorite characters, in fact. Their relationship was a substitute father/daughter bond teamed with a level of deep friendship and mutual respect. This was one of the most well-developed relationships in the book, and part of why I would give this book three stars rather than 2.75 stars, which I was leaning toward doing. On the downside, I wanted to know what his chronic illness was. That lack of explanation really nagged at me as I read about his symptoms/suffering.

6)I liked Attia a lot. She was feisty, resourceful, and loyal. She turned out to be a lot more complex character than I expected. I would have liked her as a romantic interest for someone, be it Finn, Keiro, or even Jared (since I get the feeling he's not that much older than Claudia. Maybe ten years or so).

5)Finn and Claudia were okay. I agree with my GRs friend Zeek in that they never really touched me. Claudia fell flat as a character, and Finn needed more fleshing out. I was okay with the romantic possibilities between them, but I probably needed more romantic tension if that was the author's goal to develop their relationship in this direction.

6)Keiro was annoying and unlikable for most of this book. The reveal about his anxieties and self-doubt didn't endear him to me, because it was came too late and too abruptly. His motivations didn't speak to me at all. He seemed like a shallow, self-serving bully who only cared about two things: 1) Himself and 2) Finn. I do think he cared about Finn, and that was his saving grace in my mind.

Overall, I can't really cheer for this book. It left me feeling rather flat and ambivalent, with an "If Only" feeling. Sometimes you want more than a book can deliver. Such was the case here.

Will I read the next book? I'm not in a hurry to do so. If it shows up at my library on audio, perhaps.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Tme Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Definitely get out the Kleenex when you read this book, because it will make you cry. If you don't, then I think you're a more stoic person that I am!

I loved this story. It was a great pleasure to listen to it on audio, narrated by the author himself. He seems like a very interesting person to know and to talk with. All the heart of him, his soul, pain, laughter, confusion, and fire that he had in him when he wrote this story emanates from him as he narrates this novel, and I was along for the ride. I actually didn't want to get out of my car when I got home this afternoon, because I wanted to finish this novel. Fortunately, it was near the end when I got home. Even though I was happy to finish it, I wanted it to go on forever. I could easily listen to further adventures of Arnold Spirit.

On an intellectual level, I was aware of the disheartening conditions that Native Americans (or Indians as Arnold calls his people) face on many reservations in the United States, but hearing it first-hand, it struck home to me how hard that life is. It was hurtful to see that Arnold was raised not to reach for any goals, to believe that as an Indian, his future was a big, black void. That he was less than anything. I screamed, "No. No. No!" But I could understand why Arnold had to change his whole mindset and learn to hope and to believe. I think it brings home how blessed many of us Americans are. Sadly, we forget that not all Americans have even the simplest of things we take for granted, such as food to eat every day, more than one pair of clothes, a decent education (Arnold's Geometry textbook at the reservation school is thirty years old) and the ability to get to school without having to walk twenty miles. Not to mention the very short average life-span of a Spokane Indian due to the ravages of alcohol. I know what it's like to be a 'minority' in this country, and everything that comes with it, but I didn't know what it was like to be an Indian, and that was an excellent learning opportunity for me.

This book is very angsty, and it's also very funny. I felt like I was there with Arnold when he goes through his milestones and horrible tragedies. I cheered him on at his successes, and cried with him when he cried. I loved him. I still do. Arnold's a part of me now. He'll stay in my mind forever, even though I will move onto reading other books, and I'm glad for that.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

HatchetHatchet by Gary Paulsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to be honest. At first I was having a serious 'really?' moment as I started listing. The 'really?' was because this is a three-time Newberry Award winner, and I thought the prose was way too repetitive. The same word would be repeated three times. The same sentences twice. I was steeling myself to keep listening and hope it got better. It did. By the end of this novel, I totally realized why it is a Newberry Award winner.

Hatchet is a story of survival. The protagonist is a thirteen-year-old city boy who ends up stranded in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot of the small plane he's flying in has a heart attack and dies. I have to tell you, I am very impressed with this kid. I think I would have freaked like nobody's business. He does freak out at first (and I don't blame him), but ultimately shows a fortitude that inspires awe in this reader. He goes from a scared, helpless boy to a survivor. The Brian that was has to be broken down and reassembled into a Brian that can survive his new reality. He learns how to meet his needs in the harsh wilderness, and he comes out of it forever changed.

I love reading books/watching tv shows and movies about surviving. I don't know why, really. I don't even go camping or hiking, although I love the outdoors. I think it's because I love the idea of a person being resourceful and pitting their skills and mentality against the unprejudiced, often unsympathetic wild. Not conquering it, but learning to live in harmony, becoming a part of a vast ecosystem in a way that we can't do stuck in our comfortable city and surburban environs, another entity in the web of life. I would definitely recommend this book if you are of a similar mind.

I liked that Brian doesn't get it too easy. Not at all. He has to learn from his mistakes, and take the advantages that providence sends his way. He learns to keep food in his belly, to make a secure shelter, and to appreciate and anticipate the dangers of his environment. And in the process, he finds peace. He looks inside and finds his true self. That's what solitude and a oneness with nature will bring. I have always felt my most at peace in two places: in a spirit-filled church or by myself and with my heart open in prayer; and outside, surrounded by nature. So I really appreciated this aspect of the book. Brian starts out a boy who is emotionally lost at sea when his father and mother divorce, weighted down with the knowledge of his mother's infidelity; and finds that what seemed like tragedy and the end of his world will not conquer him. If he can survive the harsh elements of nature, all by himself, he can live with his family's fragmentation, and live to see the next day and the days after that.

I think this book is a metaphor for life. Life is harsh and we have to grow and change to survive it. We can't give up, descend into pity, and expect to be saved. We have to be strong and fight to save ourselves, whether it's physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Although this book had a very shaky start, I do have to agree that this is a winner. And I tell you what, this young man had a lot of lessons to teach me, lessons he learns the hard way. That's the power of a good fiction novel for me.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review is hard to write. Not because I can't think of enough wonderful things to say about this book, but because there are so many things I loved about it. I am very glad that I had the experience of listening to this book on audio. Hearing Mr. Gaiman read it is icing on the scrumptious cake. He has a beautifully expressive, soothing, and emotive voice. He wrote it, so he has the advantage of knowing exactly what emphasis to put on the different lines and passages, and how he wants the various parts read.

I had never read Neil Gaiman before this year, and it has been my pleasure to discover him. He is a wonderful fantasist, blessed with the understanding of the joy and the awe that fantasy inspires in a reader. In this case, he manages to take a very dark subject, death, and give it a sense of whimsy and beauty.

The idea of an orphan growing up in a graveyard seems morbid, however this book doesn't read that way at all (except perhaps the parts with the ghouls, but that was on purpose). Instead of reading about a lonely, abandoned child stuck in a place of death, I felt the warm, loving way the graveyard and its denizens adopted the orphaned toddler, raising him into a lovely young man. I felt as though I grew to know all the folks in the graveyard, as if they were members of a large, eccentric family. I loved how Mr. Gaiman would introduce a new ghost by what his/her tombstone said. It was just the right touch. This and the abundant personality of the ghosts helped me to avoid descending into sadness at the realization that these were all departed folks lingering on the mortal plane. It felt natural to me. That takes talent.

Similarly the whole idea of a murderer looking for an innocent child to finish what he'd started so many years ago could have been excessively dark. It was dark, but the darkness doesn't overwhelm this story, not knowing that the Bod is far from alone in the world. He has a strong wall of protection around him, in the forms of his ghostly family, his guardian Silas, his sometimes babysitter Ms. Lupesco, and the graveyard itself. And Bod grows into a young boy/man with quite a good head on his shoulders, a good heart, and one who is resourceful enough to deal with his very evil pursuer(s), and to learn from his missteps in the complicated world of the living.

I truly love this book. The mood, the story, the writing, and the narrator. It will definitely go on my favorites shelf. I think I shall have to get me a paper copy, because this is definitely one for a reread.

Highly recommended!

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill

The Cry Of The Icemark (The Icemark Chronicles)The Cry Of The Icemark by Stuart Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cry of the Icemark was a stirring military fantasy adventure. The author really took the time to bring the cultures of this novel to life. I could see that Icemark people seemed to be modelled after the Scandinavians, while Thyrrin's mother's peoples, the Hypollitan must have been based on the Amazons. And the Polipontans seemed to be like the Roman Empire. The battle scenes were fantastic--thrilling and very well-written. I got the impression that Mr. Hill took these elements very seriously and worked hard to get this part right and make it feel realistic. And I appreciated that, and I am sure that his younger readers probably do as well. Although not excessively gory, I felt all the inherent threat and bloody nature of battle. The element of loss is very evident in this story, and I definitely could appreciate the horrible odds that Thyrrin's people faced with an enormous invading force pitted against their smaller country. However, the Icemark people quickly proved that they wouldn't easily be conquered. Along with their fierce nature, there were elements of their rich sense of family and tradition, many aspects that would have been destroyed or wiped away by the Polipontans, who cared nothing for other cultures, only the assimilation of their lands and raw resources.

Thyrrin is a young heroine that I just loved. She was born to be a queen, and she showed a multi-facetedness to her character that brought her to vivid life. She's very strong and the kind of leader you want to have when you are facing a mammoth invading force who wants to wipe your people off the face of the earth. On the other hand, it's clear that she is very young and still learning a lot about leadership, courage, and humanity. I really wanted to give her a hug for all that she dealt with in this novel. I loved her friend, Oskan, Witch's Son too. He had a mystique, and a wisdom that was much greater than his young years. I also loved his wry sense of humor and the fact that he never took himself too importantly, despite his incredible latent power. He was a good companion to Thyrrin, able to deal with her sometimes hot-headed arrogance, and to soothe her very recognizable fears with the voice of reason and comfort when she seemed like she couldn't handle one more burden. In fact, most of the characters were well-drawn and excellently narrated by Heather O'Neill. This book really got me sucked in. I found myself cheering for Thyrrin and her warriors (the Hypollitan warrior woman were freaking awesome), and hating General Scipio Bellaron. I loved the werewolves and the snow leopards, both groups having a ton of personality. The vampires were nicely creepy, and the wood folk (like the Green men and nature spirits of Celtic/Norse mythology) added a sense of majestic awe to this story. This book would have great as just a straight military historical fantasy, but the supernatural elements elevated to an even more interesting level.

There was so much to like about this story. It really got me revved up. I was excited to listen to it, and sad but satisfied when it ended. It was definitely a five star listen for this reader. I look forward to the reading the other books in this series. Recommended!

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Smooth-Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Smooth Talking Stranger (Travises, #3)Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miss Kleypas, are you reading my mind? How do you get me where I live emotionally so easily? I felt as though reading this book you had delved deeply inside my psyche, laying my issues out for me to examine in the context of a character with whom I found myself identifying very deeply. You see, I too have control issues. I too am afraid to love deeply and to care, because when you do, you lose something, and you can't get it back. It seems so much easier to hide behind your fortress of heart.

Reading your book was therapy for me. Because it helped me to look at things and to realize that holding oneself in won't save you from hurt. It just makes you feel more alone and hurting than if you did open yourself to loving others.

You made me cry with Ella's feelings for Luke. I could feel from the beginning, that tender thread of love that blossomed in Ella's wary heart for that helpless bundle of humanity. Babies are the secret weapon, and I think you know that. How can you not love a baby, who looks up at you and knows only how to love and trust you? They sink beneath your skin and find your tender areas of the heart that you have no defense or protection for. And that love builds a bridge between them to you, and from there, to the rest of the world. Luke felt like the way to open Ella up so that she could love Jack. I also think that Jack fell for Ella because he saw who she truly was in the way she cared for Luke, because she forgot to keep up her armor up then. I totally, totally got that.

You also made me laugh with this story. I loved the dialogue and the conversations. They feel very genuine to me. Like people I know talk, like conversations I might have. Texas is my stomping ground, although not Houston so much. But this book felt just like the Texas I know, the folks I see and live with every day, even if I don't really know the richer echelons. But people are people, no matter what how much money they have. You captured that beautifully.

And the romance. Ma'am you have a gift for writing romance that blesses your readers. You capture that deep, irresistible powerful intensity of a love story--the steam, the emotional connection, the powerful bond between a man and a woman. This book is one of your more steamy ones, and you definitely had me fanning myself as I read.

As for Jack Travis--yeah, he's irresistible. He's a mix of charm, determination, and realness that a woman can't overlook. Ella stood no chance. I'm glad she didn't, because they were made for each other. I don't go for that slick ladies man type, but you crafted Jack with a substance that goes beyond the charm and the playboy exterior to make him a fully realized character. I liked his confidence, and I liked that he also had vulnerabilities. Even though he'd been hurt in the past, he didn't hold back from Ella. He gave of himself deeply, and that's what I love in a man. He's not just saying what you want to hear. He's there to back up his words. His actions show where his heart is. Yeah, he played around in the past. In theory, that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. But, on a realistic level, you take the good and the bad, the experiences that make a person who they are, and you love them for the unique creation that they have been made into by the experiences that have shaped them, along with their intrinsic core. That was my long, drawn-out way of saying that I loved Jack for who he was in this story, and that was a complex mix that worked very well for this story. He needed to be that man to be the right man for Ella. Yes, I can see why Jack is a favorite of many of your fans. I still love Hardy the best out of this series. I just do. Hardy....that man makes me sigh. But Jack....he ain't the slightest bit shabby!

I was surprised at the fact that I think I love Ella even more than Jack. It helps that I walked around in her skin in this book. I told you earlier that I felt a lot of identification with her, not on a superficial level. But on a deeper level, in the arena of the psyche. It was cathartic to see her work through her issues, and gave me something to think about. I loved the way she loved Luke, and I loved the way she loved Jack. I loved that she was a loyal sister and a patient daughter to a very difficult mother who needed that kind of love from her daughter. I liked that she picked herself from the ashes of a troubled childhood, and made a good life for herself, and sought mental and emotional wholeness. If she hadn't started that before she ever met Jack and Luke, then those relationships wouldn't have had the same hopeful resolution. I'm glad that's not the case.

Once again, you've given me a great read, and hours of pleasure, but also a read that engaged me fully. Thanks again, Ms. Kleypas!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson

Nearly a LadyNearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nearly a Lady is beautiful in its simplicity as a historical romance. It's about two people getting to know each other and falling in love. There is no need for madcap adventures, a cruel villain, an extraneous mystery plot, chandelier-swinging sex scenes, or convoluted excuses for the couple to spend time together. Instead, this story is organic in its development. And I appreciated that. The characters are those who you might have seen before in Regency romance, but they seem more authentic here, stripped of their pretensions, and more like real people.

Winnefred has issues with her self-worth, and who could blame her? With a father who barely noticed her (shoving her off on governesses who had no idea what to do with her), and a long-dead mother. Her father asked his friend to watch out for her as an afterthought on his deathbed. This friend wasn't exactly thrilled to be saddled with the care of a young girl, but felt honor-bound to keep his promise. He too banished her out of his mind to far away Scotland, and through his inattention, allowed his wife to cheat Winnefred out of most of her allowance so that she only had five pounds a year to live off of. So it's understandable that she isn't predisposed to trust Gideon, her erstwhile guardian's son, when he shows up at Murdoch House, claiming to be there for her assistance. However, Gideon shows how tried and true he is, that he's worthy of her trust, her friendship, and her heart.

Gideon is not without issues. In a way, his issues are probably more damaging. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a tragic battle on the ship which he captained in the Royal Navy. He lost several members of his crew, and takes personal responsibility for their deaths. To the degree that he deeply fears being responsible for anyone. His plan is to escort Winnefred and her companion, Lily, to London, see them taken care of until his brother, the Marquess of Engsly returns, and to go on to his relatively responsibility-free life. He doesn't expect this refreshingly genuine and unpretentious young woman to carve a place in his heart and his life. He doesn't want the responsibility of a wife, but soon he can't imagine life without Winnefred in it, to stay.

I can see why this book is highly rated. The writing is very good, and the relationship between Winnefred and Gideon is so rich and honest, infectiously so. You can see their love blossom as they go from strangers to friends, and fall in love before the journey is over. And on that path to love, they struggle with each other's emotional walls in a way that resonated with me. I found their emotional journey very enjoyable to read about.

Nearly a Lady is a book for readers who want something real, with a bond between the couple that is deep and emotional; for readers looking for the opportunity to see that love relationship grow from a tiny seed to a rich, full bloom over the course of the novel. I would recommend this to historical romance readers jaded with all the shenanigans and devices that can often be overused in the genre. It's easy to get tired of the 'same old thing' because it doesn't deliver, and forget why you read a genre in the first place. When it comes to romance, the joy is watching the process of a couple falling in love, and the wonderful little moments along that path. This book delivers that joy.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein

Dark GodsDark Gods by T.E.D. Klein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark Gods is a collection of novellas that bring to mind something that I could imagine HP Lovecraft writing if he was a baby boomer. Or maybe that isn't quite right. Because I think T.E.D. Klein has a subtle, grounded approach that distances him from Lovecraft's style in a crucial way for this reader. Klein seems to eschew melodrama, and Lovecraft embodies it in his writing. The similiarities to Lovecraft lie more in his overall fatalistic viewpoint and his character choices. I had to say I wasn't quite comfortable with the way race is handled in these stories. Characters are labeled far too quickly by race and ethnicity, also by social status. That definitely made me think of how Lovecraft would view the melting pot of NYC in the modern age. I want to say that this was done on purpose. That these characters in the stories are people who don't see the world in a rosy way. They don't look past skin color, ethnicity, or social status. They are way too disenchanted, too immersed in the world's darkness to see things in a higher way. The worldview also brings to mind Lovecraft. His fatalistic view of the world, in which doom is certain, in which goodness cannot prevail, and mankind is merely going through the motions. And then there are the references to those in the know when it comes to the occult and the arcane, those who have pierced the veil. The doomed fate of those who seek to know more than they should. That's here as well.

How is this different from Lovecraft? Well, I touched on that in the writing style. Mr. Klein has a smooth writing style, a modern (well at that time, which is like the late 70s/early 80s or so?) feel to his work. His ideas might bring to mind some of the pulp notions, but they are entirely his own. I'm not much for the dark, sure doom approach when it comes to horror, but for that type of story, he writes it well. Mr. Klein has a way of building atmosphere in a very subtle manner. Before I know it, I feel my stomach tighten with unease, just by a mere sentence. Things seemed normal and 'okay', and suddenly there is that suggestion of dread where I didn't see it before. And before I knew it, the point of no return had passed for the character in the story. Maybe he didn't intend for some aspects to be funny, but they were. I guess it's my weirdo sense of humor at work, because I laughed out loud at some parts, and then I almost shuddered at some other part.

What I thought about each story

"Children of the Kingdom"

This story was just kind of twisted. Some aspects were pretty sick, but kind of absurd, in that way that has you wanting to laugh until the idea that this is not played for laughs hits you. It's not so funny if you're actually in this story, and this utter weirdness is playing out around you and involves you in ways you really don't want to be involved. This story makes me think that Klein writes in a subversive way to bring race relations to the reader's mind and to make one consider how absurd racism (largely due to unfounded fears behind it) is. In this case, the main characters fear the blacks and what they seem to represent (seen as the arbiters and cause of social decay) in the neighborhood. What they should fear is lurking in the sewers, and they aren't black, and hardly even human. They are a primitive version of humanity that could care less about race, other than furthering their own once great civilization. This was an eerie and disturbing, like a stomach ache, story.


"Petey" seems to be a look at the Yuppie drive to 'have' and to 'flaunt' what one has. In this case, George and Phyllis have gotten a huge mansion way out in the boondocks for a song, and they throw a party to show it off. Actually they got the mansion for a 'steal', and they will find it's going to cost a lot more than they bargained for. Klein shows just how different his writing is from Lovecraft, even with a story that could have come out of the master of horror's imagination. In this case, this story is so subtle, it takes some careful reading to look for the threads of threat and horror. (My personal opinion is that Lovecraft is not a subtle writer) They are there, but the social commentary seems to be more of a focus in this story. However, careful reading assures the reader that they are not mistaken about the wrongness of it all. This is definitely a horror story. I felt the ending was too abrupt, and that disappointed me. But it was a good story overall.

"Black Man with a Horn"

Definitely a story that could have come out of the pulps with the fears of the Yellow invasion and the antiquated views towards black people (bestial, subhuman, you name it), also that fear of native/tribal cultures. This story felt the most like Lovecraft to me, and probably in the ways that make his stories hardest to read as far as racist elements. What I liked about this story is that the narrator is a contemporary of Lovecraft, who was seen as a protege of Lovecraft instead of a respected colleague. That smarts, and you find out more than once as you read the story. He views the world through an aging lens. One gets the impression that his views on race are expected for a man of his age, even if they made me uncomfortable. This one is a double-edged sword for me, as I liked the pulpy feel, although not the undesirable aspects (see above sentences) of pulp literature. You have an idea of what's going on here, but there's still an ambiguity to the threat. And when the story ends, that is a huge component of the unease that is left behind. It's as though you can only see what you have seen, and no more, without losing your grip on sanity. That's very Lovecraft right there.

"Nadelman's God"

This story was the most interesting, and the most disturbing one in the collection. Heavy shades of black magic here. It makes one afraid of what lurks in your imagination. Could I create something with this malevolent force behind it? On one level, I could wonder if it's Nadelman's very lack of positive belief and optimism that created the spark that brought this creature to life. If religion is seen as an opiate, could it not also serve as a protective force against something much darker, much more detrimental to mankind? Instead of belief hurting, maybe belief could protect. And its absence opens a doorway to a dark force that hates all good in the world. When this story concluded, I felt that fear like a weight on my back that it left behind.

Dark Gods is a good book to read around Halloween. It will have you reaching for lighter fare afterwards, though.

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Foundling by DM Cornish

Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo, #1)Foundling by D.M. Cornish

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Found this one at the library and picked it up for a listen. I found it quite good. The worldbuilding was thorough, including a lexicon of terms especially adapted to the storyline. It's not quite steampunk (no steam tech), but that's probably as close a designation as I can use. There is some advanced tech, including enhanced humans, and primitive gadgetry, and some mad science type elements that bring to mind the steampunk asthetic, so there you have it. Rossamund was a really great kid--quite tough for all that he goes through in this book. He had a good heart and an unshakeable sense of conscience that guides him through the murky waters of his journey from being a foundling at a home for orphans to his profession as a Lamplighter in service of the Emperor.

I liked Europe. She was a bit fussy and stuck up at times, but I think that's just her way of dealing with emotional situations that she's not comfortable with. You could tell she grew quite fond of Rossamund, and who could blame her.

Kids being abused and taken advantage of is a huge issue for me, so that horrible Captain Poundage's treatment of poor Rossamund really got my goat. I found this part so hard to deal with, knowing he was taking advantage of a child before Rossamund figures that out. I wanted to jump inside the story and beat the crap out of the guy. He truly deserved a medieval-style beatdown. I cheered loudly as Europe gave it to him later in the story. It was rough seeing this kid go through the hardships he faced, period, so I was glad that he had some people there to help him when he couldn't help himself, and he turns out to be very good at doing that, for the most part.

The concept of what a monster is leads to some interesting thoughts about right and wrong. Is a monster merely a non-human creature, or can a human be worse of a monster than a non-human creature? I think that this story proves the latter, most definitely. The worst monster of all in this book is a human man--Captain Poundage. And Rossamund is bright enough to see that from early on. He helps Europe to open her mind to see the same. Not that her profession is 100% wrong, but maybe she should think more about who/what she feels is deserving of destruction.

I liked this book a lot. I found Rossamund utterly endearing, and the adventures on which he embarked kept me listening intently, and on the edge of my seat. This is a good story for younger readers and slightly older ones (like me).

Suggested Casting:

Gemma Arterton as Europe

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Rossamund

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

The Demon's Lexicon (The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy, #1)The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book really snuck up on me. I wasn't sure at first, because the writing seemed as though a lot had been cut out initially. I didn't think I was getting the whole picture. I honestly think that this book was not written for the YA market, but it ended up as one because of the younger aged characters. I felt as though the author might have been asked to edit some parts out to make it more 'suitable' for younger readers, and I felt that initially. As CS Lewis has expressed, I think that a good children's book is one that an older person will love just as much, so I don't really agree with writing books 'younger' to make them fit into the YA genre. So that feeling I had when I first started this book sort of threw me. I have read Sarah Rees Brennan before, a short story in The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire, which I enjoyed immensely. So I knew she was a good writer. And the storyline of two brothers fighting demons and evil humans together called my name, as a huge fan of the Supernatural TV series and the Cal Leandros books by Rob Thurman. I was already excited to read this book. So, the beginning was so barebones, I got a little worried. I shouldn't have worried. This turned out to be an excellent book. So excellent, that I really can't knock it down from five stars despite its shaky start.

Ms. Brennan took a story that seemed all laid out for the reader, and gave it depths and twists that had me truly surprised. I didn't expect what happened at all. I had some ideas, and questions, and then things fell into place. I wondered about Nick, how he was so different from Alan. But I thought that maybe it was a matter of having more of his mother in him. Or maybe he was just wired differently from Alan. I think that humans are so unique, we can't expect each person to react the same way to the same set of circumstances. Even close siblings can be very different. But the twist, it makes sense.

This is an edgy book, and quite dark. I think that Brennan can definitely bring it when it comes to this kind of storyline. I don't assume that female writers don't know how to go there, and writers like Brennan show women writers do have the chops to pull off this kind of book.

That sibling bond is the lynchpin of this story. It takes what you think you know and you find you didn't know as much as you thought. You think that you know what love is capable of, but you don't have a clue. People often find their views of the world shaken by the events that occur, and from that point it's either adapt or die. It's a leap of faith to walk through a dark, twisted path, with no light in the horizon. But what choice do you have? Alan, who's so seemingly frail in need of protection, he will surprise you. Nick, who seems so strong and invulnerable, he has a core of need that shows you that strength sometimes is an illusion, maybe even a fallacy. Because we can't be a lonely, inviolate rock and survive in this world. We need an anchor. We need that tie of emotion to keep us grounded, to keep us healthy, sane, alive. Such is the case with Nick. There's definitely some symbiosis between Alan and Nick.

I'll add this series to my favorites about family and siblings because it captures so much that I love about this theme, and so starkly and beautifully. All the pieces fall into place, and the resultant picture is worthy of more than a second glance. It stands up against scrutiny in all the ways that count.

As far as the fantasy elements, very well done. Magicians equal sorcerers in this book. Magic ties heavily into demonology. The theme is inherently dark, but it's not so dark that it makes for unpalatable reading. But dark enough to be credible. Along with the fantasy are the cautions that humans of any persuasion can appreciate. Power comes at a cost. Do we really want to pay that cost? Really? Power corrupts and destroys. But love can change that prognosis in ways we never thought possible.

Yeah, it's clear that I am a fan of this book. I am highly recommending it to people who love the theme of brothers against the world, fighting the bad guys--real demons, and their own emotional ones.

Other books with similar themes you might enjoy:

Nightlife by Rob Thurman

Chimera by Rob Thurman

The Devil You Know by Felix Castor

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein (Enriched Classics)Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Mary W. Shelley explored themes that still resonate today in her proto-science fiction work, Frankenstein. Themes of the relentless drive and search for ultimate (even forbidden) knowledge; intellectual arrogance; the desire to create something enduring; the need for love and recognition; and a study in how bitterness, hatred and rage can destroy a person. What separates men from God? What separates man from monster? Can a so-called monster have the heart (the humanity) and the accompanying needs and desires of a man? Does beauty or ugliness penetrate deeper than the skin? Can one expect good to come from an act of utter selfishness?

Frankenstein is very much a philosophical work. Although there are some primordial science fiction elements, they are merely the impetus--the laying of the groundwork for this story. For it is not about how Frankenstein makes his creation. It’s about the aftermath of that act. This is a moving work of fiction that skirts the edges of horror, but the horror is more of a psychological sort. The horror is that a man would take knowledge to create a man from unliving flesh. A man so hideous in visage that people turn away in horror. This man chases after his creator, demands his love and tender regard, to merely be noticed and acknowledged by his creator; and if not that, at least the right to have a companion in his lonely life. Many times, I was deeply affected emotionally by this story. I felt so much sympathy for the creature. To be brought to life and abandoned by his creator seemed so cruel. He couldn’t help that his external appearance was ugly and a constant reminder of the unspeakable act his maker had perpetrated. He had not been given the opportunity to prove that he was something more, something worthwhile; that he was capable of deep emotions, an ability to appreciate beauty in life, to love and to give to others. This made me so very sad. There were times when I truly felt disdain towards Frankenstein. For his arrogance, for his selfishness. Although Shelley couldn’t have known about the capabilities of science now, the caution about science and its ethical considerations couldn’t be more timely. Should we create something just because we have the knowledge and skill to do so? And how often do we truly count the cost of such an action before it’s too late? Although I felt great enmity towards Frankenstein at times, I certainly didn’t condone the creature’s actions. I felt a profound sense of horror when the created man committed acts of violence to innocents around him in vengeance against his creator. I was still angry at Frankenstein for bringing it on himself, but I also felt sad for him to lose everyone he valued in his life. Surely, he couldn’t have known how horrible the results his creation act would result in. When he is given the ultimatum to create a mate for the creature, I could understand his terrible dilemma, and I still question whether his final actions were the right ones. Finally, I was back to feeling pity for the creature, deeply empathizing with him in his loneliness, how his desire for love and understanding turned into selfish rage that he truly regretted and repented for in the end.

Mary Shelley doesn’t give the answers to these moral dilemmas. She merely presents these profound queries in this narrative. Where does it place the reader in the end? Deeply entrenched within this tumultuous, roiling cauldron of emotions—fear, love, rage, regret, hope, and despair. One simply cannot be detached when reading this book.

I found this to be very readable despite the fact that it was written about two hundred years ago. I only found my interest wavering in the moments of the somewhat excessive travelogues of the natural surroundings. In my opinion, this took up too prominent a role in the narrative, and it was distracting. Despite that small shortcoming, this was powerful reading, not comfortable, but deeply involving. No easy answers, but lots of questions for each reader to process and come up with their own conclusions. I won’t forget this book.

4.5 stars.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Blackbringer Faeries of Dreamdark (Audio CD)Blackbringer Faeries of Dreamdark by Laini Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blackbringer is well done piece of fantasy fiction with faeries. The storyline is intricate and inventive. I never thought I'd read a book that was able to combine faerie lore with djinn lore, but it was done very successfully here. I liked the characters, including Magpie, the lead heroine, and her murder of crows who she travels with. They love her dearly and their love is reciprocated in spades. And there is also Talon, a Prince of a faerie warrior clan of Dreamdark, who was born with underdeveloped wings and who has always desired flight. Not only are there faeries, djinn, and talking crows, but there are also hedge imps (mostly benevolent, animal-type creatures) and devils (not benevolent--somewhere between mischevious and annoying to downright malevolent). The narrator, Davina Porter, beautifully illustrates the vitality inherent in the various characters in this novel.

Ms. Taylor has crafted her own creation myth in this story, and it was quite interesting. In this novel, the world was created through the dreaming of the djinn--which forms a tapestry which includes everything that exists in this world. However, the tapestry is unravelling through the dark methods of one who has the form of utter darkness, the Blackbringer. Fortunately, Magpie has a special ability that has kept the world tapestry together, and the potential to save it and everyone within the tapestry from the Blackbringer.

I enjoyed listening to this novel on audiobook. The creativity impressed me, and I thought Ms. Porter's narration was spot-on. Although it seemed a bit long towards the end (of course I had some long days in which I was pretty exhausted, so I can't blame that on the book alone), it was a worthwhile experience. Although this was written as a young adult novel, I think older fantasy readers would enjoy it. I am an admitted fan of YA literature, but I can fairly say that this story has elements that would appeal to older readers as easily as younger ones. I would recommend it to faerie fiction lovers, and fantasy fans in general.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Ghost Road Blues (Pine Deep, #1)Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ghost Road Blues was a great book to read during the month of October, as part of my 4th Annual October Scare fest. I love that spooky mood that comes along with the fall, when the days get shorter, the nights longer, and the weather cooler (hopefully).

Although this novel was very good, and well-written, I have to put in in the 'liked fairly well' as opposed to 'loved or really liked' category.

Let's talk about the stuff that didn't quite work for me:

*I think that this story depends a bit too much on the human evil quotient for my tastes. That doesn't make it bad at all. However, I like supernatural horror, and inhuman monsters. I know all about the evil that men are capable of. Just turn on the news or check Yahoo's home page, and you will get your fill of that. For this reader, when I pick up a fiction novel in the horror category, I want to see some nasty, unreal, supernatural baddies who scare the heck out of me, but hopefully get thoroughly vanquished by the good guys. Yeah, whatever, the cynics will revile me for my hopelessly optimistic nature. That's okay. Life sucks. We all know that. But hope is what keeps us going. Hope makes the heart keep beating. Reading about horrible people and their horrible acts on others doesn't do it for me. In this case, Maberry takes the supernatural and wraps it around a whole lot of human darkness. He does it well, I can't deny. And he doesn't make this book overflowing with gore and gratuitous violence, which is a plus. However, reading about an evil waste of skin stepfather nearly beating a kid to death, a psychopathic criminal abusing and/or murdering numerous people, a racist mob beating a black man to death is a lot to handle, and let's not forget a religious fanatic who hears the voice of God in his head and commits unspeakable acts in God's name--it's a bit much for me, even if it ties seamlessly into the story.

*I had some trouble tying all the pieces of the puzzle together. The werewolf angle came out of nowhere. I was like...huh? I think that needed a little more gradual building in the narrative. And what's going on with Terry's sister's ghost? Is she really trying to get Terry to kill himself? I felt like the secondary characters were more like chess pieces waiting to be moved around in the following books. I'm not sure I liked that feeling. I still don't understand the roles that everyone is playing here. I know it's working out to be epic, but I don't know if I like all these unanswered questions.

*I know this is a trilogy, but I was feeling a bit unsatisfied with the way this book ended. It might be my dissatisfaction with cliffhangers I'm feeling lately. I feel like I'm being coerced into reading the next books, which is probably exactly what the writer and publisher want. Fortunately, I am interested enough to keep reading. I got this feeling I was just scratching the surface in this novel. Yes, I know this is part of a series. But I honestly feel that a book in a series should be written in such a way that someone who doesn't read the whole series can still feel that they read a self-contained story. I don't like that whole, "Wait, there's more aspect" very much. With this book, I felt as though I was almost watching the trailer for the whole series. Tantalizing glimpses, but not coherent or satisfying if one doesn't watch the movie (or in this case read the whole series).

Now the good:

*Something about small town life--the reading of it, not the living in it--that gets me every time. Fans of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot will likely enjoy the view of small town life on offer in this book. Maberry's approach to characterization does bring to mind Stephen King, but it's not a copy cat. It's more of a feeling that Mr. King was an influence for Mr. Maberry. He does enough of his own thing that it feels like Maberry's work, not a King Redux. That whole fishbowl effect, where the darker natures and acts of the town's inhabitants line the bowl like the scum that builds up over time, is very evident in this novel. The vagaries of the various folk in and around Pine Deep lay important groundwork to the story, although again I could have gotten more depth here. I did feel like I could drive down A-32 and spent a couple of hours in Pine Deep.

*Atmosphere in shades. Maberry writes description beautifully. He captures the ambience of living in the rural part of Pennsylvania, with forest, swamp, river, stream, fields ripe with crops, and mountains all around. He must have traveled to this area, because this book shows a tangible familiarity with this region.

*I admired Crow, Val, and Mike as main characters. I loved the Bone Man, and cried out because of the injustice he experienced. Terry seems like a lit fuse ready to set off a powder keg. He's sympathetic, but makes me worry for the future. I liked how Maberry built up Crow's character, giving him a well-rounded feel in his love of the macabre, blues music, his car, and his love for Val and his friends, not to mention his fundamentally good heart. I liked seeing both his strengths and weaknesses. He's a really good unlikely hero.

*The ghost aspect was great. I liked this a lot more than the crazy evil humans. I sort of wish this was played up a bit more. Righteous spirit versus vengeful ghost instead of resurrected murderer who turns out to be a werewolf with godlike/demonic powers would have read so much better. Alas, it wasn't my story to tell, and who says I could tell it better than Mr. Maberry?

*The evil folks/things are very evil. The menace isn't always clear-cut, but it's very apparent. That's definitely a plus in this novel.

Wrapping Things Up:

This is my first read by Jonathan Maberry. He's a good writer and I think he has some stories to tell. This one is an interesting story, although maybe not what I expected or wanted. It was a worthwhile read, and definitely a good one for reading in October. I have the next two books, and I will read them since I want to see what happens next (a good thing as Neil Gaiman has said). I'd also like to read other books by this author.

I'd recommend this if you don't mind reading about loathesome human beings and like the small time vibe.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, #1)The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alright, I thought the narration on this book was way cheesy initially. But, like the bookcrazy girl I am who is a sucker for a good story, I got sucked in.

This book is many things:

*Fun aimed at kids, but fun that an adult who isn't terribly cynical and superior could enjoy.

*Penetrating, insightful look at human nature and society (don't laugh--it is).

*Utterly disturbing view of the unscrupulous applications of modern science. I truly did feel my stomach lurch at some of the experimentation on children that the white coats were doing. What do we allow to happen in the name of the god of progress?

*Fast-paced adventure

*An exploration of a family that doesn't meet the typical, Leave it to Beaver definition.

The six members of the Flock soon found their way into my heart. I hurt for them when they suffered, and feared for their safety, and cheered them for their successes. I loved all of them: Max, Fang (he's pretty droolworthy for a fourteen year old--I think I would be crushing if I was that age), Iggie, Gasman, Nudge and Angel (adorable and kind of scary in some ways). They make quite a team. Max is a really awesome main character. I think she's a great role model for young girls. Her self-sacrifice and her determination to protect her family is admirable. She's a sharp, adaptable girl.

Oh yeah. The flying is pretty awesome. It made me almost wish I had wings...well, sort of.


*Violence involving the kids and their scary pursuers

*Some questionable actions (that these kids exhibit to survive) that most parents probably wouldn't want promoted or justified to their kids, such as stealing and destruction of property. I think the way it was handled is okay, as long as a concerned parent makes it clear that this isn't acceptable behavior outside of the circumstances of this book.

*As I mentioned above, the author isn't shy about mentioning human experimentation, and on children, no less. A younger reader might find that pretty disturbing. I know I did, and I'm not particularly young (late thirties).

...Yeah. So I admit I got won over. This book gets four stars from me. It's actually very good. The chapters are really short, but don't let that fool you into thinking that content in this book is neglible. There is a lot to this book. It's not even what I would consider easily digestible. The author uses a lot of sophisticated vocabulary, which is great. I'm all for kids (of all ages) looking up words. Best way to expand your vocabulary.

I would recommend this to readers who are younger or who enjoy books aimed at a younger audience. It has a lot of adventure and action, and very likable characters. My eyes are on the lookout for the rest of the books in this series.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Question of Impropriety by Michelle Styles

A Question of ImproprietyA Question of Impropriety by Michelle Styles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a pleasant surprise. I picked it up off my shelf because I needed a 'Q' book for my A to Z challenge. The blurb didn't really call my name at all. However, I started reading and sunk deep into this story, leaving Texas and finding myself in Regency England. The writing flows naturally and smoothly, and the characters meant something to me. I could see where Diana was coming from with her very real issues. What happened to her was awful! And Brett wasn't the cad I expected him to be. He actually had some scruples, and was motivated by more than just his own pleasure. I started to realize that Diana really did need to come out of her self-imposed shell, because it wasn't healthy. She had let her dead fiance' steal away most of who she was as a person. Brett did have a way about him that definitely translated an irresistible vibe, and I enjoyed their flirtation and deepening relationship. I also liked the way the author turned things around. Brett was somewhat hoisted by his own petard, but in this case, it wasn't the best thing for either Brett or Diana. I was glad that he's a persistent fellow, and not one to settle. As far as any obvious flaws, I can only think of one--some parts got a little confusing as far as character motivation, but not so much that it ruined the book.

For a quick, enjoyable Regency read, I think this book will suit very well. It was nicely sensual, and the period aspects rang true. I liked both the hero and the heroine, and I wanted them to end up together. That adds up to a successful read for me. I'm glad that I have several of this author's books since I have a subscription to the Harlequin Historicals.

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