Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Fractured Fairy Tales

Armageddon Rules by JC Nelson

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the first book in the series, Free Agent, so I was glad that I had access to the audiobook for this next book. This book had a slightly different feel as an audiobook. The narrator is really good. She give Marissa a lot of attitude. I also like the way she characterizes the other characters. Liam sounds extra yummy and adorable. Marissa comes off as a tough cookie, but she is very caring and loyal to her friends and loved ones, a driving force to her actions.

I feel like the body count was pretty high in this book compared to the first, and there's an overall cavalier attitude about death and dying. I supposed that's to be expected, considering the business and the overall state of affairs.

I am a sucker for the fairy tale theme, and I appreciate how naturalistic this is to the overall story. In this world, fairy godparents, princesses, evil queens, and all manner of supernatural being are part and parcel.

This novel provides more insight into the mysterious Grimm and his background. I would definitely read these books in order because otherwise one would be lost. This book picks up where the first book left off.

If you can grab the audiobook, I recommend it.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Children's Treasure Trove

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books MatterThe ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter by Leonard Marcus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is required reading for an internship this summer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had no idea such a treasure trove was here in Minneapolis until I went to a talk at the University of Minnesota Library about "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter," an exhibit about children's book art and illustration. I am studying illustration and I do have a special love for picture books/graphic novels/any books with illustrations. I was excited to check it out. It was there that I discovered the Kerlan Collection, which is a repository of children's books, lovingly began by Dr. Irvin Kerlan starting in the 40s. It now contains 100,000s of children's books, and the present incarnation receives all of its works from donations by the artists. This book was published to celebrate the Kerlan and at large, the amazing world of children's book illustration. For a relatively short volume, it accomplishes a lot. It has images of pivotal children's books and their art, but clearly that's just scratching the surface, which the author, Leonard S. Marcus clearly states.

One of the best things that I've ever encountered in my life was a book. Going to the library never fails to excite me. I remember many of the books that are mentioned in this volume, and many others I made notes to read. As a maker and an artist, I loved the innovation and work that goes into creating the art and the books for kids, but also as a consumer I love exploring the books and learning about the processes and factors behind their creation.

I appreciated the historical look at children's book illustration and also how this book is intentional about looking at the multicultural efforts made in developing and creating space for diversity of experiences and ethnicities. It's so important that children are given the space and tools to develop their minds and their sense and to learn the vast possibilities of the world, and how to process the stimuli and integrate it into their knowledge base. I like that it incorporates the awareness of the strong artistic endeavor that goes into making children's book illustration and into a cohesive final product that engages the sensory organs of children, including the eyes, ears and hands.

If you're in Minneapolis when we're not on lockdown because of COVID-19, stop by and visit, it's open to everyone.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Our Lady of Poisons

The ChemistThe Chemist by Stephenie MeyerMy rating:  5 of 5 stars
My sister and I listened to this on Audiobook a few years back and I never got to write a review. So we started a re-listen together, but we never got to finish it because our schedules are not at all the same. I ended up finishing listening to it by myself. I loved this book. It was a huge departure from the Twilight series, which I also loved. It was a good idea for Meyer to go in a different direction with her writing, and I found it refreshing.
The Chemist was something completely unexpected. I didn't know much about the story, but I did want to read it because I do appreciate Meyer's writing. And this genre (thriller/suspense) is another area of reading that I highly enjoy. I also liked that the lead character who goes by Alex is a unique kind of character. She's lethal (and I mean literally), but not in the Black Widow kind of way. Her stock in trade is using chemistry to achieve certain goals, hence the name of the book. She's on the run, and the book goes into details about why, even though I won't in this review. But let's just say she got betrayed by her employer. She's been living by her wits for years now, and she's very good at keeping herself alive. When she gets contacted by her former employee, that's when everything changed.

Because I am a romantic at heart, I loved the romance that is part of the core of the book. I mean, it's not the point of the book. The book is about Alex's character arc, about her reclaiming her life and discovering the ability to love and to trust others. I don't think she had that before everything started, not really. Even so, the romance was sweet and very appealing to me. I liked that the romantic angle didn't compromise who Alex was or try to fit her into a specific role that we assume for women in our society, nor for the person she becomes involved with. Their individual curves and angles fit together very well.

While I think the action could have been better described, and even though there are some really edgy aspects to the story and content, Meyer shows a lot of restraint. I would like to see her push that and get more descriptive if she wants to lean into the thriller/suspense elements. I have to confess that I am hugely impacted by the fact that I have glommed the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz and it's reset my standards for action/thriller stories. I know that not every author has the same way of writing and I respect that. I like that each writer is unique. I am very pleasantly surprised that Meyer choose to write this book and take a huge left turn from the Twilight series.
I think that she has something good here. That's the only reason why I would critique some of the thriller/suspense elements. I think that this genre really needs showing and immersing the reader in the action as it occurs.

I did feel that the use of pronouns was excessive (sentences tended to start with "she" way too much, a weird pet peeve I admit), and that made for a very clunky start to the book.
Despite that, I found The Chemist very well-written and compelling. I am glad that there are plans to make a tv show out of the book. I will watch the hell out of that show. I'm excited to see who the cast. Since Alex is described as having some Asianness to her features, I hope they cast an actress who is Asian or at least part Asian. I hope they don't change the romance, because it was a big appeal for me.

Notes on the Audiobook Narration: The narrator has a pleasant voice and she brings Alex and the other characters to life really well. I think she nails Alex and also does a great job with the male voices. I think she could be a little more dynamic, but I'm being nickpicky, to be honest.

The flaws withstanding, I loved this book so much, I have to give it five stars. Those who really don't like Stephenie Meyer won't like the book, so don't read it if you hate her or Twilight. If the story appeals to you as a thriller/suspense book, it's worth a try. Those who want more Twilight, this isn't it. It's something else and uniquely wonderful.
View all my reviews

Friday, May 29, 2020

When Lightning Strikes

Storm's Heart (Elder Races, #2)Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reread on Audible in May 2020

So I decided to go back and re-read this one via audiobook, since I got so sucked back into this series after reading Serpent's Kiss. I reread Dragon Bound, and that inspired me to reread this one as well.

I have to say that I liked this a lot more on the reread. With hindsight, I am able to appreciate it more. I appreciate that each book is different, because the characters are different. With that perspective, there is a lot to love about this book.

I have always loved faerie themed stories, and Niniane's backstory as the lost Dark Fae heir is super intriguing. She comes off as very contemporary and trendy, very human in her values, but it is clear that this is just one aspect of her personality. Beneath is a troubled young woman who lost everything that she loved, and became a refugee from her homeland. There is an interesting metaphor in our society for many who share that commonality with Niniane. How becoming American does require that one adopt Americanness and in some ways shed one's true heritage. But many manage to keep that part of themselves and also integrate those uniquely American traits. With Niniane, it's not just adopting a certain level of human-ness, but also due to being part of the Wyr society, she in some ways adopts some of their values. This is understandable, considering she was very young when she sought refuge with Dragos from her murderous uncle and usurper Urian.

Harrison takes the bright, breezy, coquettish young public relations expert and reveals the traumatized, yet determined Dark Fae Queen who must step into her true destiny. She is paired to a taciturn, regimented, seasoned military commander with a unique heritage as the only thunderbird Wyr shifter. It seems extremely unlikely that these two would fall in love and make a connection. And all of the sudden after a peripheral acquaintanceship of many years, although Tiago is said to have mainly been stationed in South America on campaign for most of that period. Things seem to change fairly quickly right before Niniane prepares to take up the crown. Tiago finds the mating urge awakening in him. He can't keep his mind off of Niniane, and he is driven to protect her. Even to the point that he refuses to let her out of his sight when it becomes apparent that she is being stalked by an assassin. And the blazing attraction they feel for each other flares up very rapidly.

I guess one could say that the believability of their sudden attraction/love connection is questionable. But this is paranormal romance, and that's such a staple that I was okay with it. I have to say that the relationship was good, but I actually appreciated the storyline and the plot, along with the unfolding mystery about who was targeting Niniane. I forgot how that ended, so it was satisfying even on reread. I didn't like what happened with a certain character who I had grown to like quite a bit. It sucked. It was interesting seeing Carling when she's introduced versus in her own book. She's such an intriguing and compelling character.

Thea Harrison is really good with characters. I think that she does deliver what paranormal romance enthusiasts crave in heroes: ultra-possessive, highly sexed, very powerful. I would like to see just a little more depth in Tiago's character, but he does have some layers and textures that are pleasantly surprising beyond being an ancient warrior and powerful mythical beast.

I'm glad I did a reread of this book. I enjoyed it so much more this time around. I think the 4.5 star rating
is still fair.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Paint It Black

The Escape ArtistThe Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a group read for the Goodreads Action Adventure Aficionados group, and my library happened to have the audiobook, which was excellent. I honestly was somewhat underwhelmed. I liked the concept and I think Nola was an interesting character. Nola has a Lizbeth Salander feel, or if you've read any of the Informationist books by Taylor Stevens, she also reminds me of Vanessa Michael Monre. Zig was fine. I mean I liked him. He just didn't have enough charisma as a lead character for this book. I feel like this needed to be Nola's book. He was a very humane and sincere guy and I liked him. My heart broke for how he lost his daughter. I am glad he was able to get a little closure by the end of the book. I hope that Zig and Nola stay in each others' lives. I did like that Zig is a mortician. You just don't see lead characters who are morticians much. Or maybe it's just me.

I have never read Brad Meltzer, but I think I was expecting his writing to have more action. To me, the action scenes didn't have enough tension and punch to them. I didn't feel like I was there and it didn't feel cinematic to me. The action scenes were functional to me. The villains were a bit on the cardboard side except for Nola's stepfather. He was rancid. I almost expected him to be a molester, but he was just physically and mentally abusive and really twisted.

I admit that I was also rereading Orphan X around this time, and that book makes others pale in comparison. Maybe that's why I didn't feel too blown away by this book.

I think the storyline about Harry Houdini was pretty cool. It was a nice twist. I liked the background about Houdini and his determination to debunk the Spiritualist movement, which I had learned about before I read this from watching a history show. Although the reveal felt forced, and I'm not sure I am convinced that the person who turns out to be the mastermind has the smarts and the capability to pull it off. That person is a bit too lazy and basic to be the criminal mastermind behind everything. I didn't buy it, to be honest.

I kind of think that the narrators weren't into as much either. I mean Scott Brick and January LaVoy are both excellent narrators for other audiobook series that I have read and really got sucked into. In this book, they seemed more functional. I do think that January LaVoy did nail Nola's cadence pretty well.

I wasn't excited about this book. I'm not sure I would be that invested in reading a whole series about Zig unless Nola shows up in the books. I would definitely read a series about Nola.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 22, 2020

How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything

Orphan X (Orphan X, #1)Orphan X by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay so I read this on CD back in 2019 and I never got around to writing my review. I did a reread on Audible a few months ago, so this is a dual review.

My life is so blessed by this series. Evan Smoak is the hero I always wanted in my life. This is not an overstatement. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit obsessed with assassin fictional characters. I don't mean the type who kill just anyone for enough money, I like the ones who have some code they adhere to. Well Evan was taken out of a boy's group home at the age of twelve and "adopted" by his handler Jack Johns, who became his surrogate father that Evan adored as only a young child can adore their parental figure. He also taught him to be a formidable agent, to withstand untold pain, to learn how to kill in more ways than you could dream of, to be able to operate in any situation and realize that if you screwed up, you were on your own. And Even followed orders faithfully until he began to see that he wasn't necessary working for the good guys. So Evan dropped off the Orphan program radar and tried to live a 'normal' life and also became The Nowhere Man.

His story is expertly told in the first book (I have read the first three books, and I have the fourth one ready to start, hopefully this summer). Although each book manages to give readers a piece of the Evan Smoak puzzle, this book introduces a character that is surely beloved by many (including myself). It's told by flashback and also in present day. The excellent writing reveals a lethal weapon who also happens to be a deeply principled, conscientious man. He manages to be both an a way that in beautifully integrated. I love the idea of his work as The Nowhere Man. Think "The Equalizer" and you get a starting reference for Evan's practice, also he's a lot more brutal to the bad guys. But it's a way that is very easy to co-sign on. He is truly helping the helpless, the people who can't rely on the system or the police to help them. The folks who fall through the cracks.

There's a lot to love about this story, but one of the things I really loved other than the flawless character building, is the well-plotted narrative. Even though it takes some things that are pretty familiar to those who enjoy action suspense books, tv and movies, it's done in a way that feels innovative. There's plenty of gun play and description of weapons, but Hurwitz always makes it clear that the most deadly weapon is the mind. I think that it's easy to think of guns as a show of machismo and strength, but being well-armed doesn't always make you the hero or the strongest person. Evan has to do a lot of thinking and plotting to get out of the many sticky situations he encounters in this book. He deals with a fair amount of bullies and I think there is welcome commentary about that and how one can use their strength to protect others versus preying on helpless people.

At first I wasn't sure I liked the storyline about Mia and Peter, but then I realized how important it was to the evolution of Evan's character, and then I realized how much a piece of the puzzle their relationship with Evan was. The concept of him juggling all the aspect of his life at the same time really rang true although I'm hardly an assassin who is pretending to be an ordinary joe and who also helps people deal with unsolvable problems.

The action is on point and perfectly paced. The dialogue is authentic, and runs the gamut depending on the situations the characters are in. Hurwitz is very good at crafting characters of all sort, from the main character of Evan, who is perfectly nuanced and dimensional, to the incidental characters. Each interaction serving the story.

Some notes about the Audiobook:
Scott Brick is a fantastic narrator. His voice is such a fine instrument. I believe he has nailed Evan Smoak and he transmits him brilliantly in the narration. He also does an excellent job at the other characters. He transmits the menace of the bad guys and the vulnerability of the people that Evan helps. As well as the distinctive supporting characters, including young Peter and Tommy Stojack, Evan's armorer. I think that Scott Brick really sold these books to me, to the point that I have to listen to the audiobooks now, even though I know eventually I will read them as prose as well.

The Orphan X series is now become a point of comparison for me that I use for other action suspense series, and that's a good thing in most cases, except when I read a book that doesn't measure up. I definitely recommend this book and the entire series.

View all my reviews

Love or Death

The Midnight Bride (The Dead Lands, #2)The Midnight Bride by Kati Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this one for a quick romance fix back in the early part of the year. I enjoy Kati Wilde's books. They are pretty raunchy but also very romantic. Her characters have a lot of depth for such short books. The low fantasy setting stands out for paranormal romance. I always really feel the love between her characters and the strength of their emotions. Mara has to win a life or death competition. Strax took a vow that he'd make sure that no one won. But his feelings for her got in the way. Their relationship turns from an adversarial one to a relationship full of intense, powerful love that makes both of them count the cost of vows made and what they have to give up to achieve those goals. Wilde is channeling Robert E. Howard's Conan series, so she she doesn't pull her punches with the barbaric violence or the arcane dark sorcery despite the sweet, and heartfelt love story. The ending is very sweet.

View all my reviews

Dragon Bound (Elder Races, #1)Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reread on Audible done in May 2020:

I was inspired to do a reread since I finished Serpent's Kiss and absolutely loved it. This book was as fantastic as I remembered it to be. It's strange to look back at a book nine years later. Some things struck me different, but I still really love this book. This time around, Dragos didn't seem as edgy as he did the first time. I guess it's because the edgy hero is fully in vogue now. I love Pia's sass and her tendency to talk to herself. The world-building is really excellent, and I can see why it was such a firm foundation for such a long series. I have rekindled my paranormal romance love and I'm off and running.

Thoughts on the Audible version (free with Audible Escape): I enjoyed Sophie Eastlake's narration immensely. She is very good at voicing the various characters down to their specific timbre and cadence. I loved how she voiced Dragos (he definitely seems like an ancient, bossy, grumpy, sexy dragon). I would recommend checking it out.

Across the Sands of Time

Serpent's Kiss (Elder Races, #3)
Serpent's Kiss by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. It blew me away. I had that feeling I have missed about reading a great book that sucked me in. I actually savored the words and the writing. It was great as an audiobook narrated by Sophie Eastlake. She brought the characters to life for me. I mean they are vivid and wonderfully written, but hearing the dialogue was another level of experience.

This one of those books where you love the hero and heroine equally. I loved how Rune is so low key for a Wyr. His sanguine nature is well matched with Carling's melancholic personality. He's playful and he brings that out in a woman who has been so serious and is really ancient (although she looks like she's 30, she has the demeanor of an older woman). They are magic together. I felt that fate had continued to bring them together and in unique ways and cemented their bonds. I wasn't expecting the time traveling angle (and I'm kind weird about time travel romance tbh), but it really works for this book. I think Rune is very cool and I love him, but I'm really girl crushing over Carling. I love a heroine who is mature and has a thoughtful way about herself.

Compared to the first two books (honestly each one, as I'm currently doing a re-read of Storm's Heart) feels so different from each other. They are clearly related but the mood, pacing and thematic elements of each book are beautifully suited and unique to the stories being told. I really loved Dragon Bound, and I think this one might have edged it out. I feel that there was so much mutuality in their relationship, which I really love. In Dragon Bound, I do feel that Dragos had more power in their relationship (although arguably Pia has a lot of power that you might believe she would). In this book, I feel that Rune and Carling are on a more level playing field. There are moments where this might seem different in the story that I can't go into because of spoilers, but overall I think I'm right in my feelings. The steam was a perfect level, and I really felt like sighing as I read this book.

Now, for the storyline. This works just as well as fantasy as romance to me. Again, excellent world-building. I enjoyed how the world keeps expanding and we meet more of the Elder Races. I'm pretty intrigued with the characters I meet in this book who are in subsequent books, and I told me sister I will probably be binging these books all summer. It makes me glad that I didn't get a chance to read them until now, because I really need the distraction and something to take my mind off of real life.

I admit I kind of over vampires, but then I read a really well-written vampire book and I get drawn in again. I liked that this was a vampire romance in a way, but then it wasn't. It was about a really old vampire that might be facing the end, but maybe life and love has a different say. The descriptions of the past and just in general were heartbreakingly beautiful. Thea Harrison can really write. She inspired me in a way I needed right now. I've been focusing on growing as a visual artist, but words are another kind of magic that an artist can use, and wonderful writing like this makes me want to write more. Also, it's just a joy to read.

I'm sort of running out of words. Writing a review for an elegant beautiful novel deserves good words from me. Maybe I'll think of other things I want to take about and I'll add them later. If not, I'll end by saying check out this series if you haven't read it yet. Or maybe just do a reread. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Detecting is a Dirty Job

Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great Harry Dresden adventure. I listened to the audiobook read by James Marsters (the actor who is famous for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He is a excellent voice actor as well as screen actor. I really like how he voices Harry and other characters, including Karrin Murphy, Harry's friend and oftimes client who leads the SI Unit of the Chicago Police Department. I listened to Death Masks and Side Jobs on audiobook and I think I'm now hooked on listening to the audiobooks, although this series is also great for reading.

The story reveals more about Harry's complicated life and sheds more light on his extremely complicated family background. I won't say more than that because it's a huge spoiler, if you are one of the folks like myself who is still working their way through the earlier books in this long-running series. Let's just say that Harry has more family than he even expected. Harry as a character is evolving, and yet he still has some character quirks that make him feel authentic in that if he was a real guy, you'd find yourself being annoyed with him even though you would also love him as a person. He is kind of a chauvinist, to be honest. That's why I think his relationship with Murphy is so good for him. She slaps him down and gets his mind right.

In this book, we learn more about the White Court, which are vampires who live on energy, sort of what we would think of as succubi and incubi (but not overtly demonic). There are also some nasty black magic practitioners in this book. Additionally, high tension moments in which Harry and Karrin and a couple of other pivotal characters have to infiltrate a vampire nest. That was a really intense scene, but there are several others as well. Harry is always in situations that puts his physical being in jeopardy. I think he gets injured the most out of almost all the urban fantasy novel series I follow.

I liked that the undercurrent romantic feelings between Harry and Murphy is apparent in this novel, and well it should be, as this book is about the spectrum between desire and love and the many ways those emotions intertwine with the heavy plotline about white court vampires. I do ship them together, quite frankly. I think they are good for each other.

The story is nicely plotted and I didn't find anything predictable, nor was the mystery easily solved. It functions as a very good mystery novel with some great supernatural elements. The ending was nicely climactic and it sets up future books in the series while ending in a satisfying manner.

I have the next book ready to listen to on Audible. :)

View all my reviews

I'm Back to Posting Again

Just dropping a quick post to say I'm going to try to get back into posting reviews, at least while I'm out of school for the summer.  I didn't have the time or the inclination to read and review as much, and I want to get that back.  So I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things.  It feels good to be back.