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Book Review – Under Wraps – Hannah Jayne August 29, 2011

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I can’t say that I regret the time I spent with this book. I picked it up because of the controversy over the cover, and I have to agree that the cover is ridiculous as compared to the actual content. Pondering it I would have been just as likely to buy the book with an appropriate cover versus getting it just for the kick assitutude represented by the sword and leather fall back position.

This story is a highly campy urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Sophie Lawson works at the supernatural version of the DMV, the Underworld Detective Agency, where it’s paperwork and dodging slime day in and day out – usually while wearing comfortable shoes. She’s drawn into an above world murder plot and gets to hang out with the handsome and detective Parker Hayes. She’s got a fashion obsessed roommate and a kindly boss who she chains up every night…apparently it’s a werewolf thing.   Not that it always works anyway.

The world building here is all right, but nothing that blew me away. It’s campy, fun and very predictable. The interesting thing for me was that I’d recently finished Grave Witch by Kalayna Price which had a similar base plot, but it was done much better. So I think Under Wraps suffered by the comparison.

This book reminds me most in tone of the Simon Canderous novels or Touched By An Alien.. Fun, but I’ll check the next book out from the library before purchasing.

Genre:  Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Age: Older teen +

Content:  Accepted drinking, some violence and borderline torture, bad shoes, mild sexuality

Overall: 2.5/5

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Book Review – Hounded by Kevin Hearne July 8, 2011

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I was excited for this book when I saw the initial story description and having finished it I find myself seeing it as a hit and miss kind of offering. There are some great ideas which I liked very much, but also some thing that made me cringe and want to slap the narrator and occasionally the author. 😛

On a positive note I do like the pacing of the book and the wit. The widow McDunna was a complete crack up, and I like the use of the Irish mythos in a way that wasn’t over done, even if it was a bit simplistic. The explanation of why Atticus is in Arizona and what he’s chosen to do with his life makes sense to me, as does his desire to play keep away from a God that wants his head. The relationship with Oberon is good, though I do find some of the things Oberon says to be so far out of a dog’s realm of understanding that it throws me out of the story. I think if there had been more information making Oberon a specific familiar with thoughts outside of doggie comprehension that it would have made better sense, but he’s just a dog who has been affected by being around Atticus. For me that doesn’t make the jump to understanding traumatized Toto or citrus air fresheners.

I do not like how Atticus thinks and acts like an oversexed frat boy. Sex doesn’t bother me. Sex with at least two goddesses and being lusted after by others…well…kinda par for the course for the genre. Many of the heroes and heroines of UF are attractive to all sorts of folks, even if the hero/ine themselves are described as being plain or otherwise not overly attractive. So it’s a little Gary Stu, but dealable with. I despise the interactions with the EMTs and the portrayal of the same. If you are 2100 years old and as smart as Atticus is supposed to be using power you don’t have to give an EMT a wedgie twice is just plain stupid and arrogant. And I can see setting up problems with authority, again very typical, but when you get into medical folk, in particular EMTs, you’re dealing with people who work stupid hours responding to people when their lives have gone to crap. Very rarely do you find an EMT who is a jerk and even more rarely do they sit there and bicker details versus HELPING the person involved. It’s not their job to determine the legitimacy of a wound, it’s their job to save lives and treat the hurt. People who are into a job for the power over other people don’t become paramedics, EMTs or other emergency personnel. It’s fine to keep up with the times and be hip, I don’t have a problem with that. But there is a difference between acting young and keeping up appearances and thinking like a teenager. 2100 years worth of experience should, in theory, also bring with it a bit of wisdom and tolerance, Atticus shows neither.

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons with Jim Butcher, and I’d say Herne has some of the same flow, but it’s definitely Butcher lite. I’m willing to give him a couple of books to hit his stride, I’m not so turned off that I won’t pick up another one, but it could go either way for me right now. I want to see that up with the times Druid with power and a nifty sword and a soft spot for an Irish widow, but I want to see him tempered by the years he’s lived and to show wisdom through humor. Otherwise what’s the point of him being a 2100 year old Druid instead of a newbie, except that he gets to make esoteric historical references?

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Age: 15+

Content:  Abundant fantasy style sword and sorcery fights, werewolf maulings, etc.  Some sexual content, mostly FTB and nekkid goddesses, mild drinking

Overall: 2.5/5

Review : The Messenger July 6, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Fantasy, Mystery, Supernatural.
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This novel is a little slow to get started, but about 60 pages into it I really became intrigued with the story. For one thing it opens with the recruiting of a character you don’t see hardly at all later in the novel. As an editor I would have removed that “first chapter” because it set a tone for the story that was not continued later in the story. I was expecting more of a ‘ghost’ story than the supernatural thriller it became, because of the opening chapter. That said, however, the story is intriguing and I liked the twist on the Immortals idea Burke uses. The character of Tyler was also engaging, as was Amanda, although they remained a little flat. I wouldn’t say they’re complete charicatures or tropes, although you have the “awkward girl meets dashing handsome lover” theme, but Burke manages to avoid complete cliche enough to keep me reading. I loved the ‘cemetary dog’ concept and I think Shade may have been my favorite character.  I also rather liked the creepiness and dark appetites of the villian. My biggest critique of the story, I think, is that the end of the novel is very predictable in a Happily Ever After fashion and that there weren’t any true ‘keep you up with the lights on’ scares in the novel. In the end it was entertaining, readable, but an average novel.

Genre:  Fantasy, Ghost story, Mystery

Age: Pre-teen – Adult

Content:  Very little of consequence, some characters drink heavily, violence in the kidnappings and the war flashback

Overall: 3/5

Review: Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo June 29, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Inspiration, Life, Religious.
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I don’t tend to read “religious inspirational” novels all that often, as I prefer to stick to the bible and the homilies of my priest at church. Many of these type of novels tend to have a “preachy” or “conversional” aspect that I dislike. That, alone, is one of the strengths of this book. Todd Burpo never tries to convert anyone openly. There’s simply an aspect of ‘telling a life story’. In fact much of the story deals with the trials and tests of faith that the family goes through dealing with the illness of their son. It can be, at times, hard to read the raw honesty the pastor relates even knowing there’s a “happy ending” but seeing a Pastor go through the same “What are you doing to me God?” questions many people ask in his situation can be a source of comfort and camaraderie. One of the book’s messages, at its core is: Pastors and priests are human too, after all, and doubt and disbelief are a part of the human makeup as much as faith and trust.

That said, I found the book thouroughly enjoyable and I simply couldn’t put it down. I read it all night long. The prose is very readable and the human interest story holds your attention without becoming maudlin or weepy. As a practicing Catholic I found the child’s claims interesting and thought provoking as well as to what heaven may be like. You don’t necessarily have to believe what Colton says in order to have an interesting discussion about the child’s interpretation. After all, if his claims are true they are being mediated through the understanding of a child. If they’re not, it still leaves you with interesting idea to consider. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Akiane painting of Jesus, which is both a beautiful painting and another interesting point to consider. All together I think this novel is an interesting, and thought provoking Christian inspirational story. 

Genre:  Inspirational, Religious

Age: Adult, Teenager

Content:  Scary scenes of illness, Themes of death, resurrection, miscarriage, apocalypse

Overall:  4.5/5

Book Review – Right Hand Magic by Nancy A Collins June 3, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Romance, Urban Fantasy.
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I finished Right Hand Magic a couple of weeks ago, and I have to admit I found it charming.  It it the best, most dramatic urban fantasy I’ve ever read?  Nope.  But it was engaging and really fun, and sometimes fun is exactly what I’m in the mood for.

In Right Hand Magic we meet Tate, who is a trust fund baby defying her socialite parents by choosing the path of an artist, in her case an artist who builds sculptures out of metal.  When the book begins Tate has recently broken up with her boyfriend and is looking for someplace new to live, particularly if the rent price is right and she finds the right rent in the area of the city known as Golgatham.  We’re not given a LOT of background about how magic came into the world, but it’s enough to know that the supernatural exists and that it is untrusted and generally confined within Golgatham.  Usually humans aren’t welcome there, but Tate is desperate for change and at $750 a month she figures it’s worth trying something a little weird.

From this beginning Tate meets her witch born landlord, his obnoxious winged cat familiar, a cellar dwelling seer and a new housemate in the form of a were cougar escaped from the underground fighting pits.  The plot is fairly predictable, but I didn’t mind going on the journey to see just how it’d be achieved.  Tate is a really fun heroine with a spunky attitude, that never crossed over to being mean.  She is not a ‘kick ass’ heroine in the traditional UF sense of killing everything that gets in her way.  More she’s just confident in herself and works hard to achieve her goals and to take care of the people around her.  At one point she’s captured by the protagonist and even though she can’t do much, she does take the opportunity to stomp his foot and kick him in the shins, which is pretty much what I think most people would do.

Likewise the romance is cute and sweet.  You can tell it’s coming, but Tate and Hexe are cute together and it’s satisfying.   I appreciate Hexe’s characterization and his strength of person as well.  In fact the majority of the secondary characters are well done, which really rounds out the world and makes the bits that would be less believable something I’m willing to suspect disbelief for.

The magic system is fun consisting of natural abilities that come with race and then the witches, who practice Right Hand Magic, Left Hand Magic or some combination of the two.  Right Hand Magic is gentle magic, usually used for healing and blessing and undoing dark magic, where Left Hand Magic would be the a fore mentioned dark magic.  Most witches tend towards Left Hand Magic or the middle ground, but Hexe has chosen a path of only Right Hand Magic, no matter how hard it is to hold that road.

This book read fast and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Genre:  Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Age: Late Teen/Adult

Content:  Very mild Sexuality, violence, language

Overall:  4/5

Book Review: Of Saints and Shadows April 29, 2011

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Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden caught my eye as it was an urban fantasy series with a male protagonist.  These are often too rare and I loved the cover and the description of a series that combined a different take on the vampire mythos with secret societies and the underground life of the Vatican.

The set up intrigued me and the writing is good.  It flows well with some interesting characters and ideas.  However…after about 130 pages I’m putting this book down and it will be a do not finish for me.

You have to understand that I consider myself a fairly open reader and most content doesn’t bother me overly much, except I dislike gratuitous and explicit gore or sex.  in some books if I can easily skip said content I’ll finish the book anyway and just note it here for other readers.  In the case of Of Saints and Shadows the main antagonist gets off on killing other people and the more graphic and artistic it is the better.  As well it, thus far, has all the horror themes of sex=death and never go anywhere alone ever.  After seeing the death methods escalate really fast from guns to demons sucking off men’s genitals and crawling up to gore out eyeballs…  I’ve had enough.  I’ve done some forward skimming and the plot looks like it picks up from where I’m at, but I’m just not willing to wade through more blackly exploding bellies and doggie guts to get there.  Particularily not when my TBR pile is deep with books I really want to read.

For some people it may be their cup of tea and I wouldn’t say the series is unreadable, but not for the faint of heart, or those that don’t like their UF served with a large helping of artistic death al la slasher films…I’d give this one a miss.

Genre:  Horror/Urban Fantasy

Age: Adult

Content:  Sexuality, violence, language, explicit killings and torture

Overall:  DNF


Book review: “Como agua para chocolate/Like water for chocolate” April 13, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review.
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I read this book for the first time, although it’s almost sacrilege to say so as a Spanish literature major.  There were elements I enjoyed about this book, particularly how the recipes were tied into the seasons and the storyline, and Laura Esquivel’s masterful use of sensory and sensual imagery, but it’s not one of my favorites of the Spanish language canon.

I have a tough time identifying with any of the characters, as all of them are extreme examples of their characterization. Now, the extreme characterization is a stylistic element important to the social commentary in the novel. “Like water for chocolate” is an examination of the ways that mothers continue to promote anti-female social systems.  I can appreciate the message Laura Esquivel is trying to get across and the innovative twist on the dangers of denying “true love” for foolish reasons is brilliant, but I found the book to be painful to read.

The extreme emotional reactions of the women and the antagonistic but dutiful relationship between the mother and daughters is integral to the purpose of the novel, but it limited my ability to identify and like any of the characters. The plot, as well, was a painful tale of abuse, self-denial, loss, and suffering. Which all contribute to the overall point of the novel.  Of course,  in general, I don’t tend to like soap operas, heart-breakers and Lifetime Channel tragedies of unrequited love and abuse, while many other people love them. However, I also feel that this is one of the novels with which any well-read student of world literature should  at least be familiar. I can’t say I like “Great Expectations” or “The Red Badge of Courage”, but the social messages and the glimpses into a situation different than our own is the value of these novels.

Genre:  Adult fiction/Romance

Age: Adult

Content:  Sexuality and sensuality

Overall:  3/5

Book Review: Fairest – Gail Carson Lavine April 1, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Fantasy, Uncategorized.
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Whew…another month almost over.  I don’t know how it happens so fast…no one asked my permission.  Though here in Utah the winter is stubbornly holding on and it’s still freezing and cloudy.  Spring in Utah is a fight between Winter and Summer which Summer will eventually win, usually in about a 48 hour turn around from cold to scorching.

Anyway…bookwise I’ve been listening to many books on CD or MP3 lately as the job requires a bit of a commute.  This last week I listened to Fairest by Gail Carson Lavine.  I was in the mood for something light with a happily ever after kind of thing after reading a lot of darker bits.  I kinda wonder if that’s partially because I’m so ready for spring and happily ever afters tie into good weather in my brain.

Fairest is a retelling of Snow White and takes place in the same world as Lavine’s Ella Enchanted retelling of Cinderella.  The maid Aza is abandoned as a baby and raised by an innkeeper and his family.  Unlike the usual spin on step families the family truly loves her and she truly loves them.  (As a step mom meself it appealed immensely to me to see a happy step relationship.)  Physically Aza is an ugly kid, both in her own eyes and the eyes of other, and that theme of chasing beauty and what it means to be beautiful on the inside and the outside is really what the book is about.

The language is not overly difficult save for some of the names, the fantasy spellings are occasionally horrid, but easily readable by around 10 and up.  In a month where I just needed a little ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ this was a fun feel good listen.  The one problem I had with the audio book is that they sing all of the singing parts, which are abundant.  Initially it was kinda cute, like listening to a Bollywood film, but some of the songs are LOONG and I didn’t like the melodies they’d chosen enough to listen.  I became grateful for the fast forward button at a few points.  Despite some of that annoyance, I do really like the full cast audio for this type of book.

A great book for a lazy sunny afternoon or while on vacation.

 

Genre:  Young adult fantasy/retold fairytale

Age: pre-teens and up

Content:  Very minor violence, one character gets turned to stone but recovers, a plot for poisoning

Overall:  4/5

Book Review: Ghost Country by Patrick Lee March 9, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Science Fiction, Thriller.
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This last week I had the joy of heading out to Disney World for an Anniversary trip with my Dear Husband.  I love this trip as we escape the cold of the winter for a few days and bask in the Florida sun, and this year the Florida sun was even warm…last year not so much.  One of the best parts of away, besides the warm, is that the trip is a lovely time to read…and read…and read some more.  Both DH and I brought a stack of books and we had to buy more in the airport for the trip home, which is a sign of a good vacation to me.

One of the books I picked up in the airport bookstore was Ghost Country by Patrick Lee.  I’ve been curious about this one since reading a few blurbs about it over on Janet Reid’s blog and in a couple other places.  I’m happy to say that it was totally worth my 8 bucks and I’m going to go get the prequel.  I didn’t realize this was the second book in this set, though it’s not a problem at all to start with this book.  There were a couple things that felt like the author was assuming information I didn’t have, but they were few and far between and I really only realized The Breach was the first book about Travis Chase when I got to the last page of the book and saw an advertisement for it.

Ghost Country is the story of Travis Chase and Paige Campbell, lovers parted by unanswered questions and their own past.  Paige works in a place called Boarder Town which is the guardian of an alien phenomenon called The Breach.  Various machines referred to as ‘entities’ come through the Breach and the scientists in Boarder Town work to determine what they are and if they can be safely used by human beings.  Ghost Country picks up when an entity gives proof of a future where life as we know it is over and Paige is taking the information to the President.  Unfortunately she finds out that the President already knows what’s going on and has no intentions of stopping it…in fact he and other highly positioned people are helping it along.  A thirty second phone call involves Travis, pulling him out of a self imposed retirement to come to Paige’s aid and to work with her and another young scientist, Bethany, to unravel what is happening to the world and how they can stop the bleak future from becoming a reality.

I can’t really get into too many more plot details without spoiling the book, but it was a fun fast read.  The writing is engaging and the action keeps moving, but it’s obvious the author has thought his technology through and is a fascinating view at what happens in the minds of people when they give up on making things better.  There’s a romance angle through the book, but it’s very gentle and added to the story without the narrative stopping to let Paige and Travis deal with their issues.  They have to deal on the trot and in the end…well…they’re still dealing.

Definitely worth the read!

Genre:  Science Fiction Thriller

Age: Late teens and up

Content:  Violence, language, very mild sexuality (there’s one kiss)

Overall:  4.5/5

Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz February 9, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult.
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Hey folks,

It’s book review day again.  I have quite a few books on my list of things to review, but this most recent read hopscotched to the front of the line.  Unfortunately it didn’t jump forward for all good reasons.

Blue Bloods is a YA book detailing the lives of a group of elite New York teenagers as they come into their own as vampires and look to solve the mystery of the death of a classmate at a local hot spot.  As a summary that doesn’t sound too bad and is part of why I picked the audio book up.  I drive about 45 minutes each direction to work and I’m finding that I lurve listening to audio books during the trip – which reminds me that I need another one for tomorrow now…hrm.

Anyway…I’m digressing, back to the book.  This book is a classic example of show versus tell done totally in the wrong way and drove me completely crazy.  I kept waiting for a real rise in the action and it was just reveal after reveal mostly in the form of someone telling someone else what was going on.  Our lead character Schyler never actually figures anything out by herself, she just has people tell her stuff.  AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH.

As well these pampered rich kids make me want to kick them.  this may come, I realize, from never having been one of the rich beautiful people in the way everyone in the book is.  I was never driven around in a Silver Rolls Royce or towncar.  I have never purchased $4000 jeans…that’s like THREE house payments!  So this world of a gazillion fashion terms, day spas and power yoga is just so foreign without help that adding an urban fantasy twist to it just made me frustrated.

The urban fantasy twist, by the way, is the best part of the book.  It’s a fairly unique take on the vampire mythos, painting them as fallen angels who live through a full life from baby to ancient and at the time of their death a drop of blood is gathered and put into the next incarnation.  During the ‘sunset years’ of teens the angels come vampires learn about their heritage and begin to unlock the memories of all of their past lives.  Much of this book ties back to Egypt and Plymouth rock and the settling of America.  It’s interesting and generally well done, except very brief because they have to get back to parties in expensive dresses!

The other problem that comes with this mythos is a fairly high ick factor as people born twins are often an incarnation that is to be mated with the other.  So you get a really heavy incest vibe even if it is explained away in that they have the memories of all these other lives and vampires can’t procreate by normal means, only the implant of the blood and such, but still…if incest bothers you you’ll want to steer clear.  As well though it’s listed as YA and has teen aged protagonists there’s a lot of accepted behaviors that may be of concern to parents, namely under aged drinking, smoking and sexual activities that are just accepted as being part and parcel of the life of the glamorous and vampiric.  For being beings searching for redemption they aren’t particularly angelic.

All in all I was disappointed in the book because I really wanted to like it.  There are some questions I’d like answered and I have some interest as to how the mythos plays out it’s not enough to get me over the relatively weak writing and the show versus tell issues, which keeps me from wanting to read the other books in the series.

~J

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Chick Lit

Age: 16+

Content: Violence, sexual content, teen smoking and drinking

Overall: 2/5  stars