Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dealing Her Final Card by Jennie Lucas

Dealing Her Final Card (Princes Untamed, #1)Dealing Her Final Card by Jennie Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the hero in this book, Vladimir shows up as a peripheral character in the last Jennie Lucas book I read, A Night of Living Dangerously, I decided to reach for this one.  It also happens that the hero is Russian (and I swoon over Russian heroes).   Talking about drama, wow!

Man, this book was sizzling. The whole scenario and the dialogue and action was crazy.  I couldn't believe the bet that Bree makes. I completely understand why. I loved that she isn't the typical, sweet, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth heroine. She has a history of being a card shark and con artist from childhood, but decides to go straight when she falls in love with Vladimir. Even though he abandons her and turns his back on her.

Their reunion is titillating, to say the least.  There are some pretty outrageous moments in this book.  A couple of scenes are just all kinds of inappropriate, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page. It works for the book, and I like that the author wasn't afraid to go there.

I liked the descriptions and imagery of St. Petersburg. I wanted to be there, feel the cold on my skin and experience the over the top luxury with my own eyes.  The Hawaii scenes were good, but since I am a contrarian who'd rather be walking around in a snow-covered vista than on a beach, I liked St. Petersburg more. Plus, it's Russia. Enough said.

Vladimir could throw money at Bree like nobody's business. He really doesn't get that she didn't want his money.  That she loved him and wanted to protect her sister.  That she had changed and wanted to do the right thing, but she was between a rock and a hard place. Vladimir is the real deal. He's really ruthless, ambitious and cutthroat (in the boardroom). He doesn't change over night.  A broken heart made a fundamentally decent young man into a shark, and it takes time for reunited love to change him back.  I felt that his character was very three-dimensional and I liked that. Bree was also well-developed.  Towards the end, she had me worried. I really thought she was going to go through with something that was just so wrong, even if she was doing it for the right reasons.

This was another book I couldn't put down.  I give it a thumbs up on the drama and the sizzling romance.  Lots of romantic tension and also tension in hoping that the characters get a clue and eventually own up to their love for each other and doing what's right out of love.  I thought this was a very good book.

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In the Sheikh's Marriage Bed by Sarah Morgan

In The Sheikh's Marriage Bed (Harlequin Presents, #2453)In The Sheikh's Marriage Bed by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How funny that I read "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" in a couple of days of each other.  I consider this a "Beauty and the Beast" style romance because the sweet, innocent heroine (Beauty) takes the place of her relative and beards the beast in his den. In this case, the beast is a gorgeous, but cold-hearted Prince Zakour (goes by Zak) who wants to make her brother pay for embezzling millions of dollars.  He refuses to let Emily go and is determined to believe she's mercenary and scheming, that her act of innocence is feigned.  He can't believe anyone can be that sweet and honest.  When she bonds with his lonely nephew, abandoned by his mother, he is skeptical, but is more than willing to utilize her skills at managing a five-year-old to his advantage.  And before he knows it, he's demanding marriage.

I liked this book. I felt that Emily was a sweet-heart. I did do a bit of eye rolling at how she constantly seemed to swoon over Zak's good looks.  Now I feel like a hypocrite. If I was in the present of Benedict Cumberbatch for days on end, I'd probably be doing the same.  But anyway, it seems a bit over the top how it was described.

Overall, the chemistry between Emily and Zak was well done.  I think that the tension of not knowing each other's feelings was believable.  When Emily's brother shows up, I liked how that was handled.  He acquits his sister with an impassioned plea, and makes Zak feel like the heel he was.  And I liked Zak's love declaration. He says that he will keep her imprisoned for ever and give her the many babies she always wanted.   Yeah, this isn't a romance for cynics. I'm not one, so it worked for me.

A good escapist Harlequin Presents is just what the doctor ordered when a reader needs a boost. Take this book and get a good night's rest, and you'll be good as new.

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A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

A Night of Living Dangerously (Mills & Boon Modern)A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jennie Lucas is the author to reach for when you want the high drama quotient and the fairy tale vibe to your Harlequin Presents.  Lilley is so starry-eyed, it will probably make a more cynical reader roll her eyes. I didn't mind it so much. I think that if I'm in the mood, it works for the story.  I felt that she definitely deserved better than she got with Alessandro, but in his defense he did try to push her away initially to protect her.  I didn't want her to go back to him when she has important news. I wanted her to go in the other direction. I think it's because I strongly like when the hero has to do the chasing. I don't like when the heroine falls into his arms so easily.  Lilley is a true love believer.  She has a heart that is so sweet and kind, I just wanted to protect her from the world.  I could identify with her fear about taking risks. I think we all feel like that sometimes. Especially when the root is a sense of inadequacy and that no one truly accepts you for who you are. I hate that Alessandro contributed to that feeling of inadequacy in how he treats her when they are married.  He needed and did receive a hard wake up call, but it came at a high price to Lilley.

Jennie Lucas can be a bit over the top sometimes, but in a way, I like that. I think the best Harlequin Presents are the ones that don't feel like real life, but take you away to 100% escapism.  When that's combined with a story full of emotional genuineness it's a great combination.  While I won't ever hang out with billionaires, I can identify with the human emotions that both Lilley and Alessandro feel, and their struggles with family and a sense of meaning for their lives.

I would have to give this four stars because it kept my eyes glued on the page, the sensuality was sizzling, and the character's emotions felt real and powerful and their story unfolded in a way that I was entranced with and didn't want to stop reading. Plus, the Cinderella vibe is very well done.

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Temporary Bride by Patricia Wilson

Temporary BrideTemporary Bride by Patricia Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't rate this very highly because it felt rather tame and didn't really touch my emotions. I read this on a Harlequin Presents Weekend Binge, and while I enjoy those, just picking books randomly from my Pile o' Harlequin Presents, sometimes you get this feeling of incongruity when you read a book that isn't as intense and emotional as the other ones. Unfortunately, this book felt like the ugly stepsister because I was 'feeling' the other books I read so much this weekend. 

Patricia Wilson is a proven vintage Harlequin Presents author. I really enjoy her books and she has more than a few that are all time faves for me. However, no author has a completely winning streak. This one is just decent. Not bad, but not particularly memorable.

What I liked:

*I really liked Brett, Kit's grandfather. I love how Charley immediately bonded with the old man, and how he approved of her and liked her.
*Kit's possessive/jealous leanings. I am unrepentant about my love for jealous/possessive heroes.  He could have been more demonstrative of those traits, but I liked it when I saw it.
*Overall, Charley was a heroine that I liked. She's a bit on the meek side, but that doesn't bother me as much as it might some readers.

What didn't impress me:

*Kit's way of treating Charley was weird. He sent out so many mixed signals.  He admitted at the end that he needed to stop lying and I totally agree. If I was Charley, I think I would have had whiplash at how often Kit's behavior changed.
*I didn't like the whole Antebellum thing.  I think it's my own personal issues with that time period in US History and so it rubbed me the wrong way.
*The evil other woman plot didn't impress me much.  I did like that Brett couldn't stand her but he liked Charley.

I think I have high expectations for the authors I really like, so when I read books by them that are just okay or decent, it's disappointing.  I think I might have enjoyed this more if I hadn't read it between two really intense, dramatic books.  It was a cute book overall.

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Enemies at the Altar by Melanie Milburne

Enemies at the AltarEnemies at the Altar by Melanie Milburne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty intense read.  One of those romances where extreme hate between the main couple is really suppressed longing and desire. In real life, I don't know if I think that suppressed love translates into hate, but "Hope deferred does make the heart sick."  My goodness, Andreas and Sienna are super-duper mean to each other. And Andreas is a hypocrite. He's the kind of guy who calls a woman a whore because she doesn't do what he wants her to do and she doesn't fit his mold for what he wants a woman to be.  I didn't like that about him at all.  I did like the fact that Sienna could easily trade insults with him.  It took me a while to think that I even wanted these two to be together.  There were times when I didn't particularly like either character.  Sienna says and thinks some really mercenary and selfish things, and I didn't like that about her. However, I could understand why she was so prickly and thick-skinned, considering her tough life and living with an arrested development mother with terrible morals and being rejected by her married father.  I wish that Andreas had shown more sympathy and empathy for Sienna. When he finally starts acting like a decent man, it was almost too late for me to feel I wanted him to be with Sienna.  I did like that he went after her when she left him.

I thought that despite the meanness between them, there was good chemistry and I did see their relationship change, develop and blossom. With the conclusion of the book, I had hopes that they would not take each other for granted any longer, and that love had changed both of their hearts and lives.

I don't know if this book will work for everyone. The leads are at times unlikable and mean-spirited. However, I did see a change in both characters and that their feelings for each other weren't just reluctant lust, but real love. For that reason, I gave it four stars.

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Virgin on Her Wedding Night by Lynne Graham

Virgin on Her Wedding Night (Harlequin Presents, #2915)Virgin on Her Wedding Night by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very enjoyable read by Ms. Graham.  I don't think of lovers reunited stories as my favorite, because they can have some drama elements that are problematic. However, I do like when there is an unrequited or unfulfilled love that never dies between two people. I did feel that between Valente and Caroline.  Truth is, they both made mistakes and also some lies and conniving relatives came between them.  Valente is pretty dark in some ways, his drive to destroy Caroline's parents' fortunes out of revenge.  I liked that Caroline confronted him about that.  However, Valente obviously truly loved Caroline, and even though he didn't want to admit it to himself, he never stopped loving her.

I like the descriptions and language in this novel. I think Lynne Graham is an underrated writer in the sense that because people can be snooty about category romance, it's assumed that writers in this genre just crank out books and don't put their artistic skills and talent to use.  I don't think that's the case.  I feel that when I read one of her books, she believes in what she's writing.  Her writing is very vivid and descriptive, bringing all the emotions to life and using the characters' body language to reveal who the characters are and what they are feeling.

While I didn't like the way Valente's ex-lover was handled (I'm tend to be a jealous person, working on that, so I would have been way more bothered about finding his ex-mistress's used robe in his bathroom than Caroline was).  Understandably, since she was married for four years, he would have moved on, but that was tacky, and I think he knew it. Maybe subconsciously he wanted to taunt Caroline with it, to let her feel what it was like for him, knowing she had dumped him and married someone more suitable.

Caroline's parents were a hot mess.  I liked that while this is a happy ending book, her parents' negative traits weren't glossed over.  However, Valente took responsibility for taking care of them because he knew Caroline loved her parents.  For someone who supposedly has no pity or heart, Valente was actually a good person and a good husband.  You could tell how much he loved Caroline.  Caroline had to grow up the hard way.  While she had been coddled and sheltered, she learned the hard way the cost of that life and denying her own needs to make her family happy.  I liked her a lot.

I give this books a thumbs up. Nothing much I didn't like about it (except for the tacky part with the ex-mistress).

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Ready Player One by Earnest Cline, Wil Wheaton (Audiobook Narrator)

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really glad the Action/Adventure Aficionados group chose this as a monthly reading selection. It encouraged me to grab the audiobook from my library. And this was a book I am definitely glad I read. 

I grew up in the 80s, so most of the pop culture references hit me right where I lived. I'm not much of a gamer, although we did have an Atari 2600 growing up, so I totally got some of the more obvious ancient gaming references, even though the more obscure gaming references passed me by. But that was okay, because many of the references were explained over the course of this novel.

This book will tap into the reader's hidden or untapped geeky depths. Maybe you already know you're a geek of old.  Or maybe you never realized how much of a geek you are. Either way, you will find some resonance in this novel.

To be honest, I was thrown by the this novel's rather bleak beginning.  I expected something more light-hearted. In a strange way, this book is both tragic and light-hearted fun.  The tragedy is in the fact that people hide from the world in the worlds of fiction and gaming when the world is falling apart around them.  And who can blame them, really?   Some of us know how the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, feels, having felt socially awkward and rejected by the mainstream, finding your identity in your particular fandom or sub-culture. Also, it was amazingly shocking how ruthless IOI was in getting their way.  I can be a bit suspicious and mistrustful of big business, no question about that. But I didn't expect IOI to be willing to commit murder to win the contest.  That was surprising to me.

I really liked Wade as the lead character.  He is quite cynical in a way that I found sad, but I don't live in the world he does. Maybe all belief would be snatched out of me too if I lived what he lives through (I hope not).  Even with his flaws, he's a rootable hero, and I was actually quite worried about him throughout this novel I also liked H and Ar3mis and Shoto.  I wasn't expecting a bad guy, but boy does this book have a majorly hard core bad guy and they are quite relevant to the world we live in today.

Wil Wheaton is a fantastic narrator. He imbues the characters with plenty of life, makes them believable and sympathetic when they are supposed to be, and seriously mega-jerks when they are not.

This is one of those books that I feel is enhanced significantly by the audiobook experience.  I felt even more like I was part of the book.  It's a long book, but it doesn't feel long, because the story flows so well.

Even though some aspects could be on the technical end of computer knowledge, it doesn't feel technical or dry to me.  I'm not a computer programmer by trade or aspiration, so anything that goes too much in that direction tends to go over my head. Thankfully, Cline doesn't bog down the narrative with too many technical explanations.

I found the gamescape fascinating, and I rooted for Wade and his friends to work their way through the OASIS and claim the Egg.

I think that Cline appeals to readers in that he has so many different avenues of pop culture that even if you aren't a gamer or into online culture, you can still appreciate the TV, books, music and movie tidbits from this book. I am not shamed that I have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, since I did watch the show. If folks are giving out geek creds, I have plenty in other areas.  Even if you aren't technically a geek, you might still enjoy this book. It's a fun adventure book with plenty of laughs, more sadness than I expected, and realistic characters who will have you cheering them on.

I give this one the highest of fives.

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Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis (Illustrator) Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis (Illustrator)

Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of AtlantisJustice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Wonder Woman tries to save a friend from the dark path she's chosen. And there is all-out warfare between the surface world and the Kingdom of Atlantis, when a submarine is sabotaged and fires on the underwater city. Good thing the Justice League is ready to stand in the gap!

I thought this was a pretty good graphic novel. The artwork was very well done. The opening story featuring Wonder Woman trying to redeem Cheetah was good. I didn't have a lot of information on her backstory, but now I know how Barbara Ann Minerva becomes the super-villainess Cheetah. That was pretty interesting.

I liked the large role that Cyborg plays in the battle against Atlantis invading forces. Arthur aka Aquaman is put in a very uncomfortable position of having to fight against his own people and even his brother, Orm. I especially liked when some secondary JL members were activated, including one of my personal favorites, Zatanna.

I'm not sure why I'm not enjoying the JL books as much as some other comics, since I am a huge fan of the JL from the animated shows and movies. I won't give up. Maybe it's just the writers and the stories that aren't working for me.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson

SecondWorldSecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started this on Playaway and I had to turn it off because of the disturbing scene at the beginning. I got the print copy and I'm so glad I picked this up again, because this book rocked!

Warning: If you hate Nazis, you will either love this book, or you will find your hatred for Nazis inflamed to even higher levels. The Nazis (and all their modern counterparts) seriously suck (which is putting it lightly) and inspired many violent thoughts in my head as I was reading. I think that this book might be therapeutic in that way. Having studied WWII and been sickened by the horrible acts perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews (and everyone else they deemed unfit), I have stored up a fair amount of enmity against them. At least in fiction, you can see the Nazis get theirs. And I hope that we can learn from history and not let anything like this happen ever again.

In other ways, this was a great read. Lincoln Miller, while he is from a kickbutt elite Navy SEALs background, he still feels like an everyman hero. He assumes accountability to save the world, because he is in the right place at the right time. I loved to see him think through the very desperate circumstances he faced in this book. Imagine not being able to breathe in open air? Really scary. I love a resourceful lead character, and Miller's way of thinking through situations was always credible. Miller has a strong moral compass. While he's not a believer in God, he definitely knows the difference between right and wrong, and has a sense of justice that causes him to fight the good fight and to take a hard line against bullies and murderers. He doesn't kill wantonly, but he's not going to hesitate if killing is necessary.

I liked the secondary characters, although I never did trust one of them. Arwen is awesome. I hope to see more of her. I want to see Lincoln make good on his promise to her. I loved Cowboy! He has a novella out that I will definitely be buying for my Kindle. Also liked Elizabeth a lot. She's a good action heroine, realistic and admirable. Her smarts play a crucial role in this story.

Including the Nazis, there are some aspects of this novel that are very disturbing. I found the far-reaching enormity of the conspiracy quite harrowing, although not surprising, considering how prevalent (and entrenched) racism and prejudice is in this world (and most definitely in the United States). Part of me wondered how people could willingly get in bed with the Nazis, but if your ideology is similar, I guess what they believe is just a more extreme expression of your own beliefs (terrible to consider).

The action was off the charts. I did like how Robinson is realistic in how he describes Miller's reactions to the continual stresses on his body, and how he takes measures to keep himself going when rest isn't an option. For those who like Antarctica as a setting, look no further (although they aren't there very long). There is a big body count, but it's not gratuitous, and I didn't feel sorry for the Nazi/racist bad guys at all.

I decided I was being nitpicky in not giving this five stars. It really is a fiver for me. I wouldn't change anything about the writing. It's easy to read and I liked Robinson's way of explaining things without getting too technical, and also how he keeps the action going. He has a great imagination. Some readers may find the portrayal of the Nazis as being stereotypically evil, but that wasn't a big problem for me. To me, they are the essence of evil. If a reader wants a book with more shades of gray, this probably isn't a book for them.

I'm glad that this book was chosen for the Action/Adventure Aficionados group read, because it was a very fun, exciting read. I talked to this book almost the whole way through, and I didn't want to put it down until I finished the last paragraph. Highly recommended.

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Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway (Illustrator), Alfredo Alcala (Illustrator)

Hellblazer: Original SinsHellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure I can say I like this. The subject matter is quite unpalatable, really. I do have this attraction to occult detective stories, and that's Hellblazer in a nutshell. Constantine is not what I'd call a good man. His compass is flawed, but in his own way, he does try to make things right or do the right thing, even if it's for selfish reasons. He considers himself neutral in the good versus evil war. However, his acts more often than not add to the good side of things. If not, I probably would write him off. The tragic thing about Constantine is that he has left a trail of destruction in his wake, people whose lives were destroyed or taken due in part to a connection to him. I think that this weighs on Constantine, but it doesn't seem to motivate him to change his crooked ways. I did like how he manages to manipulate demons who think they have the upper hand. I wouldn't ever recommend making deals with demons, mind you, but it's amusing that Constantine does and always pulls a fast one over them.

The artwork is vivid, but it doesn't really appeal to me (a lot of yucky imagery), although I like Constantine's looks. Sometimes he looks like Billy Idol, sometimes more like a young Sting. I can see how inspired Joss Whedon was in his crafting of Spike and Giles' characters. Spike has Constantine's punk, don't care leanings, and his use of British insults. Giles' youthful peccadilloes seems very much like Constantine's youthful dabblings in the occult.

I'll keep reading this series, but I think this is one I will have to take regular breaks in between. However, I'm enjoying getting Constantine's background, especially since I am loving Justice League Dark, and since NBC is having a Constatine series starting up this fall.

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X-Men Legacy: Necrosha by Mike Carey (Text), Laurence Campbell (Illustrator), Clay Mann (Illustrator), Yanick Paquette (Illustrator)

X-Men Legacy: NecroshaX-Men Legacy: Necrosha by Mike Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I've proven to myself that I much prefer the X-Force books to the regular X-Men crews. I don't know if it's just because the X-Force is so no-holds barred, the team members or what it is. I did like this book. I missed seeing Rogue and this has a lot of her. Interesting team dynamic, with Magneto part of the team, and a strange sort of sexual/romantic tension between him and Rogue. I was a bit weirded out by that. I was confused about some aspects, particularly Proteus's ability to take over the team members, and how he became a player in this storyline. I wasn't able to follow all the parts of the story, either. I think the writer assumed the readers had more background on current events with the X-Men than I have. Of course, I am up to speed with the X-Force storyline. Destiny is a very intriguing character. I would like to read more of her past storyline. And Blindfold is interesting as well. The artwork is gorgeous throughout the collection.

I don't think this ties in very well with the X Force, Vol. 4: Necrosha, so I would say to readers who started out following that storyline that they don't need to track this one down. If you're a fan of the X-Men, knock yourself out.

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I, Vampire, Volume 1: Tainted Love by Joshua Hale Fialkov , Andrea Sorrentino (Illustrator)

I, Vampire, Vol. 1: Tainted LoveI, Vampire, Vol. 1: Tainted Love by Joshua Hale Fialkov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is definitely for fans of Gothic vampire stories. Andrew is the reluctant monster, a morally good vampire fighting the dark aspect of his nature and using the power it gives him to do good. There is no question of his power and his determination, and the force of his love. Yet, his fatal flaw is his love for Mary, self-titled the Queen of Blood. She embraces all the darkness that becoming a vampire has created in her, and wants her vampire species to rise up and decimate humanity, while Andrew wants to protect them. Andrew travels in her wake, seeing to derail Mary's plans. Along the way, he gains allies in his fight against the bloody vampire uprising.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The artwork is dark and not very colorful, other than the red tones of blood. I think the art is a bit murky for my tastes, but I understand that author wanted to add to the dark, Gothic feel of the storyline. One real advantage of this art is it captures motions so effortlessly. The writing is excellent, and I appreciate the shifting POVs between Andrew, Mary, and other pivotal character.

While I wouldn't exactly call this scary, it definitely has sense of suspense and thrills to the storyline. The ending is quite a cliffhanger that makes the reader want to run for the next volume. I'll definitely keep following this series.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Captain America and Black Widow by Davis Bunn, Francesco Francavilla (Illustrations)

Captain America and Black WidowCaptain America and Black Widow by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another super-late review. Black Widow and Captain America team up to pursue an intergalactic 'entrepreneur' who has managed to make partnerships with all her counterparts across the multiverse. At first, I didn't get what was going on. Eventually, I got a clue that there was more than one version of Kashmir Venemma, and that Black Widow was set on eliminating each one she found.

I think this book could have been better written. The concept of multiverses is intriguing, and I was looking forward to seeing Black Widow and Captain America on a duo adventure, but mainly I just felt confused and a bit weirded out.

I liked the artwork, although the palate is limited and muted (a series of darker blues, reds, tans, blacks and browns). It works with the weirdness of this story.

I hope to read more Black Widow titles in the future.

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Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless GodCrazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I participated in a summer Bible study reading this book, and both the study was great and the reading was enlightening. The study itself was excellent, because it really helps to have other people to talk to about what's going on and how it impacts me through my identity as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Chan hasn't set out to write a book about Christian theology. Instead, he seeks to probe at the heart of the reader and ask them to search their heart and decide if their life truly shows the love they profess for God. And what does that mean, anyway? When did Following Jesus become a "ticking the boxes" or "going through the motions" exercise, instead of the manifestation of a genuine love relationship with the Savior?

This isn't always the most comfortable book to read. At times, I felt as though I couldn't live up to a standard that radical love for God seems to set. The truth is, I will always fail at that, in my own strength. Good news is God provides the resources for me to live a live of supernatural love. However, that wasn't the point of this book, and Chan clearly states that. Instead, he encourages the reader to seek out a daily, open relationship with God, and to let that impact every part of their life.

I take from this book, that being 'safe' in my walk with God doesn't represent the full dimensions of what being a believer in Jesus can bring to my life. I also ask myself what does my love for Jesus inspire me to do today and how can I tap into that love relationship with him. And from that flows the behavior that reflects my Savior.

Yeah, this is a sucky review. I know it. I'm glad that God loves me even though I don't get it right, most of the time.

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One More Valentine by Anne Stuart

One More ValentineOne More Valentine by Anne Stuart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reread on Kindle Text to Speech completed in the month of August, 2014

Anne Stuart has taken the events of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and created a "What If?" scenario that turns out to be a very satisfying romance.

James Rafferty and six of his friends were murdered in the infamous massacre, but they didn't stay gone. Every year, they came back for 48 hours between February 13 and February 15th. And the lucky ones, if they fall in love with a woman, they are able to stay and lead a normal life.

James has been doing this for sixty years. He has given up on the the idea that he can find a woman who will love him. Instead, he merely enjoys his 48hrs of existence, before next year comes after again.

This time, he has to help an old friend out of a fix, and meets Helen Emerson, not his 'type of girl' at all. But is she the woman who will finally end his limbo?

Only Ms. Stuart could take a dodgy concept like this and make me eat it up like dessert. I think a lot of that hinges on the incredible chemistry she creates between Jamey and Helen. Not to mention that Jamey is the kind of bad boy that you can't help loving, even when your rational brain tells you he's a bad bet. He's just all kinds of charismatic. Helen is very likable, a woman who holds her own against a compelling man like Jamey, without compromising who she is. I liked that she was still a virgin at the age of 29. Her experience is somewhat opposite Jamey's, coming up in a cop family and he was on the wrong side of the law.

Billy is a sweetheart. Not what you'd expect for a gangster, but that was the point of this story. Maybe those guys weren't all as bad as we think, considering they were gangsters and were part of a gangland war that tore the city of Chicago apart. Maybe some of them were family men trying to do the best they could for their situation during a tough time.

I actually liked the idea of these guys getting a 'second chance' until they made it right. I'll always be romantic enough to believe that love conquers all. In fiction, there is no getting over exploring that concept for me. In fact I seek out books where love does win out against incredible obstacles.

Another thing I love about this book is the setting of Chicago. I grew up a half hour from this great city of the Midwest, and it still holds a charm for me. Since I don't get to go back often, it's always a treat and a welcome experience to visit in the fiction I read.

As much as I admire all her work, I really do miss Ms. Stuart's contemporary romances she wrote for Harlequin. At least I can revisit those in rereads.

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All Star Western, Volume 3: The War of the Lords and Owls by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat

All Star Western, Vol. 2: The War of Lords and OwlsAll Star Western, Vol. 2: The War of Lords and Owls by Justin Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume of All Star Western continues with the high octane western action. Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham have tracked their missing fugitive to New Orleans, where they encounter vice to rival that of Gotham, and a conspiracy to murder immigrants ran by a group of white supremacists. Jonah goes undercover in the fight ring and captures the interest of a beautiful fighter who also works for the xenophobic group. They team up with a pair of vigilantes and lovers called Nighthawk and Cinnamon, whose back story is also very interesting. When the trail leads back to Gotham, following a mysterious assassin called Talon, Hex and Arkham encounter the creepy Court of Owls, and are placed in the rocky situation of standing between the Court of Owls and the cult of the Crime Bible (Lords of Crime). To round out the collection, there is short vignette about the rascal Bat Lash. He's about as rascally as you can be, but he's also possesses considerable detective skills, and uses them to get himself out of a very tight fix.

This book is full of action and thrills, catered for the fans of westerns. The Owls are just as creepy as they were in the Batman book I read earlier this month. The Lords are fascinating in their dedication to wrongdoing. I am kind of glad we had some heroes to take both groups on.

Need I say that I'm really enjoying this series, or is that obvious?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cable and X-Force, Vol. 1: Wanted by Dennis Hopeless (Text), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Illustrations), Salvador Larroca (Illustrations)

Cable and X-Force, Vol. 1: WantedCable and X-Force, Vol. 1: Wanted by Dennis Hopeless

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up mainly for Domino, one of my girl crushes.  I like the previous incarnation of X-Force (Yost and Kyle), and I didn't have high expectations for this (just grabbed it because this is available at my library).  However, it was pretty good.  My biggest complaint is I had trouble following the storyline.  Don't know if it was me or the layout.  I have a head cold, so it might be a problem with focusing for me right now.  I actually liked this team-up more than I expected.  I like Doctor Nemesis.  His look is iconic, and I like his mad scientist vibe. Cable is such a dynamic, powerful figure.  Hope felt underused in this, so that's a detractor for me.  The storyline was kind of crazy, about an anti-mutant fast food entrepreneur engineering a viral plague/food-born illness to start a war between mutants and non-mutants. I like a little crazy, so I was cool with this.  I just had trouble following the story.  Now that I think about it, maybe the art could be more distinctive in contrasts. The colors were all similar to me.  It looked blurry to me, and the lettering was kind of small and blocky for my tastes.

I'll keep reading this series, since my library has them.  It doesn't live up to my other X-Force team (and I really miss Wolverine and X-23), because they are a very hard act to follow.

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X-Force, Volume 3: Not Forgotten by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Clayton Crain (Illustrator)

X-Force, Vol. 3: Not ForgottenX-Force, Vol. 3: Not Forgotten by Craig Kyle

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Intense is the word for this book.  I feel like I can easily stray into broken record territory in this review, so I am forced to keep this review very short.  But the truth is I freaking love this series. The artwork is so clear and dramatic (and surprisingly bright (and fittingly so) for such a gritty storyline).  It is such a great medium for this highly active story. The cliffhanger is intense, so you want to have Necrosha on hand when you finish this one.  We soon realize that the resurrected Purifiers aren't even the biggest threat that the X-Force will face. Like they need more enemies.  Oh well.  Bring it on!  They are up for the challenge.  There is enough butt kicking in this series for any adrenaline junkie (I speak from personal experience).

If you want to see how hardcore the Marvel mutant universe can go, you need to check out these X-Force books.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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X-Force, Volume 2: Old Ghosts by Craig Kyle, Mike Choi (Illustrator), Sonia Oback (Illustrator)

X-Force, Vol. 2: Old GhostsX-Force, Vol. 2: Old Ghosts by Craig Kyle
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

"Old Ghosts" is representative of the dark and intense tone of this run of X-Force. I really like this series. I think the art and narrative mesh seamlessly to create an impressive end product. X-Force is about putting everything to the test and committing your very all to the cause. Someone is going to die if you do nothing, so do something and let it be the bad guys who die. While X-Men won't stoop to this level, there needs to be a mutant group who will do the dirty work, and that's where the X-Force comes in. And with enemies like theirs, I don't have a lot of moral misgivings about that. I love this team, and I was jazzed to see Domino show up. She fits right in with these guys. She's actually surprised at how lethal the X-Force has become, but she soon realizes exactly what they are up against.

The action is incredible, and while this book is very violent and bloody, it feels appropriate to the storyline.

I am getting over being kind of burned out on the X-Men, and reading this run of X-Force is helping me tremendously with that. At this point, I am definitely a big fan of the X-Force.

Thumbs way up.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison, Dave McKean (Illustrator)

Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious EarthBatman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My dislike of this book borders on violent. I realize what the author and artist were going for, and I appreciate the foreward and even the screenplay with commentary. I admit I gave up on reading the whole screenplay because I was tired and wasn't feeling well, and felt my time was better spent moving on. However, even gaining insight into their thought processes didn't make me like this book any more.

I am an artist, and I love art. However, I am not a fan of art becoming so all-consuming that it loses meaning to the average person. In other words, I like my art to be accessible. This book wasn't. It was full of social commentary, allusions, and symbolism, which can be good in therapeutic doses. But even medicine can be toxic when overdosed. I think that is a good way to describe my feelings for this book. It was toxic with the statements of the creators, and it killed the overall book.

Some of my individual issues:

*The lettering was nearly incomprehensible, especially the Joker's words and thoughts. I am very near-sighted, and I am getting where small print gives me fits. The Joker's print was in red, and the font was very scribbly. Everyone knows that the Joker is bat*&$# crazy. I understand where Morrison and McKean were trying to go here showing how chaotic his mind was, but it fell on deaf ears since I had trouble reading the lettering. Also obscure symbology dispersed through this volume makes no sense to me. Another place where it falls flat, since it seems to have no purpose in this volume.

*Batman was played as anal-retentive to the extreme. I'm not sure I appreciated this. Admittedly, Batman does have some psychological issues he's working through--he's a control freak and is incredibly uptight and is at times intolerant. I think his portrayal in this book was unpalatable, showing him as pathologically damaged. That isn't the Batman I know and deeply respect.

*The storyline about Arkham, the founder of the Asylum was okay. Although I didn't like what happened to his family, and the view of his relationship with his mother was way too Freudian for my tastes.

*The artwork is nebulous and difficult to cipher and track over the panels. I would almost call it abstract. Does that work for a comic book medium? I'm going to say no. If I can't follow it, it has failed to convey meaning to me.

I know that this is a very highly praised and critically-acclaimed book, but I'm not a fan of it. Art is meaning to me. While art is highly subjective, the viewer has to have a lens through which to take in and process the work. In this book, the lens is cloudy and muddled. There is no avenue to look deeper.

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Fables, Volume 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham, , Mark Buckingham (Illustrator), Steve Leialoha (Illustrator), Aaron Alexovich (Illustrator), Andrew Pepoy (Illustrator)

Fables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince (Fables, #10)Fables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Fables series has been consistently good. I didn't imagine I would enjoy Flycatcher's story so much, but it was very meaningful.  Flycatcher is very much a man of hidden sorrows.  He dropped out from his past life because of the intense grief he suffered due to the loss of his family in the Homelands.  His role as janitor in Fabletown (and his tendency to eat flies) is a way of escaping and dealing (or not dealing with his sorrow).  but the time has come for him to face his past head on.  He goes back to the Homeland and becomes an enormous thorn in the side of the Adversary.

Willingham has managed to make this series feel new and distinct in each and every volume. I like that I couldn't predict what happened next in this book. I suspected tragedy, but things are surprisingly satisfying in the conclusion, but it's also evident that the battle continues and victory isn't necessarily guaranteed for our displaced Fable friends.  The upcoming war looms even closer on the horizon.

I can't recommend this series more highly than I do.  Definitely required reading for fairy tale aficionados.

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JLA: Zatanna's Search by Gardner F. Fox, Gerry Conway, Murphy Anderson (Illustrator), Carmine Infantino (Illustrator), Gil Kane (Illustrator), Mike Sekowsky (Illustrator), Romeo Tanghal (Illustrator), Steven Utley (Introduction)

JLA: Zatanna's SearchJLA: Zatanna's Search by Gardner F. Fox

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

JLA: Zatanna's SearchJLA: Zatanna's Search by Gardner F. Fox

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If I used one word to describe this book, it would be 'dated.' The other word I'd use was 'cheesy'. I don't think these stories have aged well at all. I checked this out because I am a huge fan of the character Zatanna, and I was curious to see her search for her father Zatara played out. Now I know what happened back then, and I'm ready to move forward and explore the newer Zatanna stories.

I think there is definitely a sensibility of the earlier age, including the sexism that was evident in the early to mid 20th Century. I cringed when Zatanna is referred to as the "Maid of Magic." I was happy that in later stories, she receives her current moniker of "Mistress of Magic." It sounds better, less chauvinistic.

As far as other aspects of the story, I felt like the science and magic explanations are simplistic and the ways in which Zatanna and the other Leaguers defeat their foes are too basic for me to feel they are credible. I guess it's due to the fact that I didn't read a lot of the older comics. I don't know if that is typical for the older ones.

The artwork is okay. It's just dated and sometimes corny.

After going back in the day with the stories in this collection, I'm glad that the new comic writing is more sophisticated.

If someone asked me if this is worth reading, I'd have to say, sadly no.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

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Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

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JLA, Volume 2: The Villain's Journey rney Justice League, Vol. 2 by Geoff Johns Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee (Illustrator), Scott Williams (Illustrator), Gene Ha (Illustrator), Carlos D'Anda (Illustrator), Ivan Reis (Illustrator), Ethan Van Sciver (Illustrator), David Finch (Illustrator)

Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain's JourneyJustice League, Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey by Geoff Johns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this a lot.  I'm glad, since I wasn't that fond of the first JLA adventure I read.  This book captures the darker side of being a superhero, and asks, "What happens afterward?"  A writer whose family was caught in a crisis that the JLA successfully resolves, comes down with a mysterious affliction that causes their premature deaths. David Graves is grief-stricken and enraged by the experience, seeking revenge. He comes across a mystical force that allow him to harness the angry ghosts around him to destroy the league. 

The artwork was very good, conveying the dark storyline and the action.  I liked the way all the Leaguers were drawn.  Of course, I am a huge Green Arrow fan, so it was great to see him show up (although he is Connor, Oliver's son).

Overall, I don't have any complaints with this graphic novel.  I think that this is accessible to people who are crossing over from the DC Comics movies and TV shows to the comic books.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wolverine/Punisher, Volume 1 by Peter Mulligan, Lee Weeks

Wolverine/Punisher, Vol. 1Wolverine/Punisher, Vol. 1 by Peter Milligan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's not as predictable as one would think, putting The Punisher and Wolverine together. They are actually very different.  One is methodical and rigid in his application of violence. The other is very emotional in his application of violence, and not quite as dogmatic about the application of justice and judging others.

This book has a very pulpy feel to it. That's not necessarily bad, since we are dealing with hardened criminals (and some not-so hardened, but shady all the same). 

I don't like this incarnation of the Punisher as much as the Rucka variation, but he is true to his character.  Wolverine is always Wolverine, and you like him for who he is (good and bad).  However, their dialogue between them gets hilarious, and the laconic dialogue about crime and punishment is descriptive of their individual paths and how they intersect in this book.

I liked the different point of views of the various criminals, more of a spectrum than you would think.

I didn't love the artwork, honestly. It was a bit blocky for me.  This Wolverine is pretty homely, and the Punisher looks like a Mack Truck.

Not my favorite, but pretty good. A nice team-up comic.

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Secret Warriors, Vol.1: Nick Fury, Agent of Nothing by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Jonathan Hickman (Illustrations)

Secret Warriors, Vol. 1: Nick Fury, Agent Of NothingSecret Warriors, Vol. 1: Nick Fury, Agent Of Nothing by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am very tardy at writing this review! I have read so many graphic novels in the past couple of months, and I've just been fatigued and sadly, writing reviews has felt like a chore lately.  Having said that, I am glad to get back and review this very good graphic novel.

When one thinks of Marvel characters, your mind doesn't necessarily go right to Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, but honestly, he's a bit like the glue of the Marvel universe in some ways.  Or at least the Kevin Bacon (as in Six Degree of Separation).  Definitely when it comes to the Avengers-related storylines.  Well, in this one, it's his show.  He's a man on a mission.

SHIELD has been infiltrated and disavowed by the government.  It's essentially been rolled over into HAMMER, headed up by Norman Osborn.  Nick knows something is stinking in Denmark, and he's going to make things right.  Even though SHIELD is no more, he still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He's been a warrior, spy, and commander, so he knows what he's doing, and ruthless and determined enough to do it.

The villains are nasty and formidable. The good guys feel like underdogs, even though Nick, Dum Dum Dugan and his Howling Commandos are very skilled at taking on 'nasty' bad guys (see what they did in WWII, if you have questions about it).  Fury called in his contingency plan, activating SHIELD assets and individuals with potential.  Some of them are quite young, but needs must.  If I think really hard, it seems really scary for teens to be taking on nasty foes like the Gorgon and Lady Hydra.  However, they know what they are getting into and want this opportunity to serve their country, even knowing that some of them will die in the process.

I liked the way this book was put together. It had plenty of graphics and visuals about the enormity of SHIELD and their long-time adversary, HYDRA. Being a geek, I read each and every chart, table and map.  It helped to expand my understanding of the incredible task that Nick has set for himself.

This was a great find at the library. I'm just sad that my library doesn't have the rest of this series.  I want to finish it.  It's kind of pricy to buy, so I have decide if I'm willing to splurge to read the rest of these. I was glad I took a chance on this.  No, it's not the X-Men or The Avengers, but it was just as cool in a different way.  I didn't underestimate Fury before, but I have gained even more respect for him.

Secret Warriors is a very good adventure series with a touch of the superhero fiction vibe to satisfy comic book lovers. If you can find a copy, it's worth reading.

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Batman: Arkham City by Paul Dini Carlos D'Anda (Illustrator)

Batman: Arkham CityBatman: Arkham City by Paul Dini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To my understanding, this graphic novel is the novelization of the concept for the video game.  Immediately, you might start to think it won't be that great. Wrong!  This was good reading.  I'm not that surprised, because I have enjoyed Dini's Zatanna books.  While Batman doesn't let anyone steal the show, I liked how prominent the various narratives of villains and criminals was. It's more or less their story.  It tells how Arkham city becomes what it is, and since it's a city for criminals, there you have it.  I've fallen love with Catwoman (after watching The Dark Knight Rises), but I liked her cameo.  And I've become sort of a fan of Harley Quinn, so I appreciated her appearance. 

I'm not familiar with Hugo Strange, so this is my first exposure to the Batman adversary.  He's a manipulate and highly intelligent foe, but he's going against Batman, so he had better have his game together.

I enjoyed the artwork. It conveys the mentality and personalities of the characters.  Bruce has a different look in this, but I liked it.  The action is conveyed very well visually.

My question is, do I need to play the videogame to get closure or is there another volume in the graphic novel format? I'd better find out.

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Batman International by Mark Waid

Batman InternationalBatman International by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading the brilliant Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls, this one doesn't measure up. It's a cool idea, Batman in various international locales, doing what he does. But it was underwhelming in execution.  Probably the best story was Tao, but it still wasn't that memorable.  Overall, the artwork was beautiful, but the storylines weren't that enthralling. I'm glad that I got this one from the library.  I can be more forgiving when I read a disappointing book for free.

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Batman, Volume 1: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo (Illustrator), Jonathan Glapion (Illustrator)

Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of OwlsBatman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Court of Owls is intense psychological drama and action with the best hero ever, Batman.  Bruce Wayne feels a sense of responsibility towards Gotham, views it as his city by inheritance, since his family has spent generations defending and building the city.  At times, it feels like a losing proposition, but he is sworn to give his all for his city.  But there is another group who feels equally possessive of Gotham, and they want to shape it in their image, a destructive, corrupted image.

This entire book builds the tension up until a climax that requires finding and picking up the next volume as soon as possible.  At times, it was hard to read, seeing what Bruce was going through, the horror and intense psychological torture he was subjected to.  However, I will always believe in Batman/Bruce, and his ability to overcome all obstacles.  So I knew he'd find his way out of the situation.  Only that faith in him kept me going when things got really dire.

This is the kind of story where Batman shines.  He's pitted against a truly formidable enemy, and he has to use all his wits, strength, and fortitude to overcome.  It's never easy, but that's why we love Batman so much. He's always up for the challenge.

One day, I hope this is adapted to the screen. It would be excellent.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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