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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Thursday, October 06, 2011

A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

A World Without Heroes (Beyonders, #1)A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A World Without Heroes is a 'grew on me' book. Initially, I was not sure I liked the tone at all. At first, I thought it would read more like a Disney film than a weighty young adult fantasy novel with potential. As I listened, my feelings started to change. The idea is not new, but the in- between steps of the journey proved interesting. While I am not extensively well read, not in the least, in epic fantasy, I appreciate the quest as a foundation for a story. Fairy tales (which I am very well-read in) have a long, extensive history of putting your average, everyday (even if they are just a down on their luck prince or princess) hero in a situation where they have to survive by their wits and a little help, and achieve a certain objective. Quest stories usually make for good reading.

That's what Jason faces. He ends up entering a magical world in the strangest of ways, and I won't say how. Believe me, it's very strange. Initially, he just wants to get home, and he struggles to make sense of this bizarre land he's entered. The thing about this book that makes it worthwhile is the characterization. Without having a main character that drew interest and loyalty, this book wouldn't have worked for me. It might have come off as trite. Although I have to say that Mr. Mull is an inventive fellow, the major pull of this story was hearing about Jason's reactions to the many misfortunes and difficult situations he faces in this novel. I like that Jason is a normal kid. He's not overly brilliant (although he is quite intelligent), athletic (although he does play baseball), perceptive, or magical in the least. But he is determined and brave, and resourceful. And his sense of humor, often verging on ironic and sarcastic, really appealed. More than anything, Jason made this book appealing to me.

The secondary characters are good too. You see a mix of folks. Some of them have very weird characteristics, such as the ability to detach their body parts at will. Others have the gift of immortality due to a cyst-like seed on the back of their necks that can be planted in soil in the event of their demise to allow them to be reborn as adults. Of course, there are plain old humans, all with distinct quirks. There is a tortured, deposed King who reminded me very strongly of King Arthur (post-Camlan). I liked him a lot. There is also an evil wizard to beat the band, truly not a nice man at all. And there is also a fellow Beyonder (from Earth). A young girl--Rache--who also entered this strange world, and who makes a very helpful companion to Jason. She has her own list of skills and a different personality than Jason that complements him as a character. Admittedly, some of these characters show more depth than others, as most of this book is spent passing through various places and on to the next adventure. Some act as allies and friends to the two Beyonders, and some as formidable foes that the two kids must outwit to achieve their goals.

Earlier I mentioned the strange tone. This book is full of weirdness. To me that's not a bad thing. It elevated this book from being okay to being interesting and one I wanted to keep listening to. The narrator's choice of different vocal stylings for various characters added to the strange flavor in a good way.

I've had the discussion with others about how contentious some readers can be towards young adult/juvenile fiction and downright dismissive of its writers. In my opinion, it takes a lot of work to craft a book for younger readers. It takes some restraint and creativity to write a story that will attract their attention without going over the line into unsuitability. I can see that Mr. Mull faced that challenge here. I'm uncertain as to where I would place this book as far as rating it for young readers. The tone seems a bit adult, with some subject matter that is quite violent and intense in parts. On the other hand, some elements are approached on the surface level so as to appeal to a younger reader; this might turn off an older, more exacting reader. This story deals with the themes of tyranny, corrupt leadership and governmental organization. The people of this magical land face an emperor who is wholly evil, one whose evil has tainted the whole land, having destroyed, seduced, or attenuated all of his enemies. Like any country with corrupt leadership, the whole society seems on the brink of ruin in many ways, with injustice fairly rampant. Mr. Mull touches on these aspects in a way that I feel is accessible to a younger reader. An older reader who appreciates young adult/children's literature will likely see this story in a slightly deeper way and still find some resonance. Mull has a character make a statement that a man comes of age at twelve in this world, and I kept reminding myself of that fact as Jason seems to be put into situations that seemed much too mature, and he is expected for the most part to comport himself as a man. And I can say that as a young adventure-loving girl many years ago, I had that wish that I would be called upon to embark on a great quest and find myself in situations that demanded great heroism and fortitude from me (as an adult I now wish I was still a carefree kid with that life that seemed too normal and boring somedays). So I imagine this book would resonate with a pre-teen or a young teen who has those sort of ideals.

As an adult, I found the use of vocabulary impressive. I think this one is good for kids in the sense that it would encourage them to look up a lot of words. I think kids would also like the creepy, crawly, icky parts, and the adventure aspects. Kids will also appreciate the humor and the snark of Jason and Rachel and some of the other characters as they interact with them, particularly the quirky ones; and how they see the world as regular kids from our own world. Kids should be able to easily put themselves in both Jason and Rachel's shoes, and appreciate this story from the standpoint of all the strange situations, often uncomfortable and frightening, that these two Beyonders face. It probably would make for an exciting read for them. Some adult readers, especially those who don't care for literature for younger readers, probably won't find much of interest here. Especially if they consider themselves exacting when it comes to fantasy literature. For myself, I try to take each book as its own entity and appreciate the unique elements therein. In this case, I did like this book, and I found it worthwhile reading, although not spectacular. It has some interesting, funny, and strange bits that worked for me.

This is the first book in a series, and I will need to seek out the next story. I want to see what Jason and Rachel will face in the next installment. And what Mull can come up with to further this story.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Occultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron

Occultation and Other StoriesOccultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laird Barron clearly knows how to unsettle his readers. If there was a universal theme of the various stories in this book, it would be that every single story was unsettling, albeit in different ways.

Mr. Barron evokes memories of reading Caitlín R. Kiernan, HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and even Algernon Blackwood in his tales in this volume. He finds the fearsome in such diverse subjects as the entities from beyond, the power of guilt, the overwhelming and uncomprehensible enormity of the natural world, and lets not forget, the darkness of the human heart. He even has shades of black magic and the diabolical in his stories. I would hesitate to compare him to the comparatively gentle horror stylings of M.R. James, other than the subtle nod to MR James in the antiquarian/bookish leanings of some of his characters. He's a bit more overt in his horror methodology than Mr. James. For all that, he never steps over the line into 'gruesome' and 'debauched.' Indeed, there are moments when sex and violence intertwine closely until they are hard to separate. Fortunately, this is done adeptly and with a subtlety that one such as I (who is admittedly quite squeamish of the combination of the two) didn't feel that she'd stepped into a no-woman's land where she felt she could no longer keep her feet traversing on the path into the dark world of horror that he creates in his stories.

This is a volume best not attempted at night. Even in the cloudless, startlingly bright, azure-skied and sun-washed landscape in which I read, I still felt those stirrings of unease that a good horror work should birth in its reader. This book is equally successful as weird fiction. I had that feeling that I didn't quite get what was going on--that there were questions unanswered, and the 'fearful unknown' was hinted at, and maybe I didn't want to go through that door that Barron leaves barely cracked.

Occultation and Other Stories exists in that gray area between modern-styled horror and the old-fashioned gothic horror that I prefer. And this was successful. I was not alienated in that I found the subject matter too extreme, too shocking, too overtly unpalatable for my tastes. Instead, this caused that shuddery feeling that I can appreciate, although some of the stories made me feel like I needed a sponge bath to remove the miasma of the dark, unfriendly organic, and somewhat visceral arena I had ventured into. But that is horror, my friends. Admittedly, I prefer my horror with an emphasis on the atmosphere, the shivers, and less on the repellent. But horror does have to take us out of our comfort zones, to make us feel unsafe, and Mr. Barron knows how to do that.

Recommended to readers who want to go to that dark, uncertain place for a few hours.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Watchman by Robert Crais

The Watchman (Joe Pike, #1)The Watchman by Robert Crais

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I'm eternally grateful to Hugh for turning me onto this series. There was a Pike-shaped hole in my life that I didn't even know was there prior to listening to this book. Now, I can't go back to that Pike-free universe. In all seriousness, I really enjoyed this book. I totally loved Pike and
Cole. They definitely have a great friendship that allows them the freedom and the support to be themselves. That's definitely a blessing.

The Characters:

First and foremost, as I said, I dug Pike. I love the strong, silent type. I like that Pike is so utterly dangerous, but also very honorable, and really a Boy Scout in the way that he truly will go to HELL and back for something he believes in. He's a real protector, but he spares no sympathy for those who pose a thread to others he feels honor bound to protect. He's very taciturn, yet I felt like I grew to know him in the important ways via flashback and by the way those in his life regard him. A man like him has a way of scaring people, but those who know him well, truly, truly respect him, and his well-chosen words and physicality. Pike has this killer edge, but also this lonely, hurting boy aspect that makes me want to give him a hug, make cookies for him, and tuck him in and read him a bedtime story. I loved the way he handled Larkin. He had a way of getting her to behave, because he saw through her games, and he gave her what she needed. To be seen and to be cared for. I can totally see why she fell for him. I did too, Larkin. Although this wasn't a hugely actiony book, I definitely got the feel that Pike was a formidable guy. He doesn't play. And I tell you, that's what I want in an action hero. Although you are scary Pike, I might call you in real life (and I don't say that to most of the guys on my dangerous hero list).

Elvis Cole has a great sense of humor. And I am a sucker for a guy with a sense of humor. In the book world, my book boyfriends are the dangerous, scary types, the truly honorable men, and the guys who make me laugh (out of that list, the last two make a guy very appealing to me in real life). So, although Pike is definitely in my dangerous hero book boyfriend list, I could see me liking a guy like Cole in real life a little more. He's also very smart and perceptive. I liked the way he handled Larkin. Her ATTITUDE didn't faze him in the slightest. And although he doesn't always get Pike, he has Pike's back for sure! He's a great friend. And I can't wait to read his books.

Larkin should have annoyed the crap out of me. She reminds me of a real heiress that I really don't think much of. God tells me I shouldn't judge, and this book helped me to deal with that, because I really don't know what it's like for the heiress girls who act crazy and are famous for being rich debs. I don't walk in their shoes. This book helped me to see what life was like for a girl like Larkin. I felt for her. I could see that she was wearing armor and that armor made her prickly and compelled her to act 'stupid.' I never would have thought she'd be a good match for a guy like Pike, but she is. I have to say I'm pretty fond of Larkin. Hope to see more of her.


Yeah, I like bodyguard stories. Especially with a hero like Pike. I liked that there was a heavy suspense element moreso than action. It wasn't just about Pike keeping Larkin safe from the bad guys, but him trying to figure out why they were trying to kill her. I think some of the plot was a bit thin in places, but I still enjoyed it, and I felt it was well-done overall. The pieces came together, and I didn't feel like I predicted what was going on. The story progression took me to a conclusion that made sense to me. I liked that although Pike has the loner vibe, he really does use his connections and rely on people he trusts to get the job done.

Crais' Writing Style:

I thought that this book was written in a very visually appealing way. Mr. Crais writes a catchy, stylish story. Not overly noirish, but a contrast between gritty and beauty and naturalism in an unexpected way and in unexpected places. Pike comes off as very iconic. Instead of being described completely, I was given enough to get an image of him in my head. His sunglasses that hide his cold blue eyes. The way his mouth twitches when he expressed the small bit of emotion on his face. His brisk, economical way of speaking. The gentleness he shows Larkin. The violent moments aren't drawn out, but quick, yet no less brutal when needed. Usually an author might over-describe these parts to intensify these moments, but Crais doesn't do that. He writes them speedy, like they happen in real life. I don't think his approach is one of action, but more of suspense, and that comes through.

Los Angeles isn't the most beautiful place to this reader. I don't care much for the city, frankly. But Crais finds the beauty in this place, but also exposes the seamy aspects that I associate with the City of Angels. The place of both exorbitant wealth and extreme poverty. Where starlets and heiresses are just a few block away from brutal gang-bangers and the ugly taint of urban decay. This place comes to life in his capable hands. If I ever miss LA (which is unlikely), I can read his books and get my fix.

I gave this one 4.5 stars because I felt some of the pivotal aspects wrap up too quickly. I wanted more page time on a few aspects that I didn't get. But overall, this was a fun ride, and Pike is my baby boy now. I want some more!


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