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Series loyalty or just insanity? June 28, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Series, Critiquing, Musings, Rants, Urban Fantasy.
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I noticed, recently, that a new Anita Blake book had come out. This one was entitled Hit List. Anita Blake was one of my first “urban fantasy” series and can be argued as one of the first that created the genre. Therefore, those of us who enjoy reading and writing in the genre are indebted to her. As well, the first 5 or 6 books were very good, the characterization was intriguing and the mysteries were engaging. Before the werewolf/woman/vampire triangle of Edward – Bella – Jacob there was the Anita – Jean Claude – Richard triangle, which spurred just as many vehement book-lover’s debates!

But then Hamilton decided to change her novel from paranormal fantasy to pointless pornography. I’m not a puritan when it comes to book content, but if it’s in the book have a danged point! You can write a pointless scene about baking a cake or a drawn out pointless sex scene and I’ll snarl equally, because I feel scenes in a novel should always advance either characterization or plot.

Which leads me to my point, why are people still reading Anita Blake? The reviews I see on amazon are negative and decry the lack of plot, novels of pure filler information, the dreadful characterization, the incomprehensible scenes and yet… they KEEP BUYING THEM? Why? Every author can have 1 or 2 duds in a series, but when you have 6 or 7 duds it’s time to give up the series and find something new.

There are so many aspiring, and GOOD, authors out there, after all. Use the money you would spend on a series you dislike and buy something you’ve never read before. You can always keep following the previously good, now bad, series at the library  on the slim chance it gets better.

This does, of course, lead me to a final question. When is series loyalty just too far? Do books really manage to get better after a set of duds, like tv series can sometimes do? (Case and point –> Battlestar Season 3, Farscape season 3 and Star Trek: TNG, season’s 1 and 2, they got better later). But at least, for tv, it’s generally free. Not so with new “episodes” of books.

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: 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

Reading Versus Listening: Book Review: Sookie Stackhouse February 2, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series.
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I’ve heard a lot of really good things about the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris.  So as an enjoyer of Urban Fantasy I picked up the first book.  I settled in to read it and I just couldn’t finish it.  It seemed a little too silly and the relationships didn’t work in my brain.  I stopped about half way through.

Then I was at the library and going through the books on tape.  I saw Dead Until Dark and on a whim decided to give it another go.  Listening to it on tape the story drew me in and I finished the whole thing and was curious about the next one.

So I picked up the next one…in book form…and I COULDN’T read it.  So swapped for tape…and it works again.  I’m not sure what it is about that series.  I kinda find them popcorn books, so maybe it’s that level of a light book works better while I’m driving and listening than when I’m sitting and putting full attention on it.

I know this isn’t a real review of the content, but it’s a musing.  Do other people hit this?  Books which are better in an audio versus a visual format?

Jana

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan December 15, 2010

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Young Adult.
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So it’s been a while since we’ve put up a review.  Crazy lives all the way around.  🙂

My choice for this review is The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  This is a YA book which I listened to as a book on tape, over about three days.  I have to give a lot of credit to the performers as it was very well done and an engaging performance.

The idea behind The Forest is a post apocalyptic world where zombies roam unchecked and a lone village, most of the inhabitants believing they are the only living people on earth, is protected by high fencelines.  When the story begins Mary has lost her father to the Unconsecrated, which is what they call zombies, and soon looses her mother.  These events start a chain reaction of events where Mary comes to question everything about the way the village is run and the very people who protect their way of life.  As well she faces the romantic advances of the man she loves and the man who loves her.  All of this leads her on a wild adventure seeking the ocean and a life beyond the forest.

The plotline is one that generally works for me.  I found the way the village was run to be believable and the characters very interesting.  My biggest problem with the story is Mary herself.  I know I was supposed to be sympathetic to her, but through the whole book she made me angry.  She was selfish and lazy and unlikable and I didn’t like watching others get hurt of killed trying to defend her when she did nothing to deserve the protection.  In the end I was kinda hoping she’d get eaten, and while she does not the ending was very unsatisfying as she got some of what she wanted but it didn’t really answer the questions I had. I’m disappointed because I really really wanted to love these books, but I won’t be reading the second one or buying this one.

 

Genre: Horror

Age: 15+

Content: Violence, limited sexuality, threatening situations, deaths

Overall: 2/5  stars

Friday Flashback: Books in series September 10, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Series.
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Flashback from April 28, 2008

I am a big fan of Jim Butcher.  I’ll just state that and get it out of the way now.  In particular I adore his Dresden files series.  This has been a matter of great amusement for several folks that know me.  In one conversation it came up that I was reading, Small Favor, number ten in Butcher’s series.  The friend I was talking to is a Robert Jordan fan and found it odd that I refused to read all 13 volumes of the Wheel of Time series, but yet I’d devoured ten Dresden books and have plans to accquire any others.  (The latest news I read on Butcher’s site (www.jim-butcher.com) was that he was signed through book fourteen.)  This set me to pondering why I was looking forward to more books in one series and running screaming from more in another.

The first difference that comes to mind is genre.  WoT is High Fantasy and Dresden is Urban Fantasy.  UF has a tendency to be a bit lighter in tone and a faster read, so I believe that contributes to my enjoyment of the set.

Next is point of view.  Many high fantasy series use an omnicient point of view where the story switches around between characters allowing the reader to see the story from many eyes and see many aspects of what’s going on.  This is interesting because of the complexity offered, but can again make for a slower read.  I find I tend to have favorite characters and I groan when their thread is abandoned for half of a book and I have to wait to pick it up again.  A first person or limited third doesn’t offer as many viewpoints and therefore fewer threads and complexity, but it tends to be easier to sink into the character point of view and follow through.  If you like the main character this will keep you well and truly hooked, and if you don’t…well, you don’t keep buying more books hoping that the threads for the characters you do like will show up in this one.

Another issue that I have is character growth.  I like seeing characters change and grow and remember the mistakes that have shaped them.  In some series the character seems to freeze in time and repeat the same mistakes over and over again, never learning or becoming better people.  It’s fine for characters to make mistakes, it’s actually part of what makes a character well rounded and relatable with, but to make the same mistake ad nauseum? That strikes me as being stupid, not funny and not a good character arc or series plot.

I also prefer series where each book is a contained episode.  They all connect together and things that chronologically happened before will be referred to, or make a difference to what follows, but each book has a starting place a plot arc, climax and closing.  The continual quest that just keeps going and going…I have patience for about 5 books and then I’m generally done.

I can think of other things, but these top my list.   What about you, gentle reader?  What aspects will keep you reading, and what will drive you away?

~J

Book Review: Rakkety Tam June 23, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books.
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Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

Genre: Fantasy

Age: 13+

Content: Violence

Overall: 5/5  paws

Review:  I discovered the Redwall series when I was in Junior High and used to fight my classmates for ‘checkout’ rights. In fact, whoever ran best in cross country used to get the first grab at the new books. I am pleased to say the books still delight me, even 15 years later. Brian Jacques’s storytelling reminds me of sitting down by a campfire or story time at school with a gifted tale teller. You know the ones, they do the voices and accents and even act out the parts as they tell the tale. Brian Jacques conveys that in text. This book made me laugh out loud, made me want to sit down to a feast (I swear! Everything in these books sounds amazing… can I have Hotroot soup and dandelion cordial? Ooo or Strawberry fizz!), and also made me tear up once or twice I will admit. Be fair warned, characters die, they fight, they thieve… but it’s all in the swashbuckling tradition and good does always triumph in Redwall tales. This particular tale delighted me with a new addition to the Redwall landscape, “highland squirrls” that are essentially Scottish Warriors with fur and a bushy tale. That is one of the most delightful aspects of the Redwall storytelling, the UK accents and cultures interwoven with the various woodland animals. The tale is much the same as most Redwall tales, vermin attack and the goodbeasts defend, but each time is as entertaining as the last. We meet all our good friends, Skipper of Otters, the Guosim, the Long Patrol… and a new season at Redwall Abbey. It’s a fun summer read, or if you’re talented with voices this would be an ideal series to read aloud to your kids. (I love the moles, burr aye! or the Hares, wot wot!)

Friday flashback: Youthful chills and thrills March 5, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books, Friday Flashback, Musings.
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Today I wanted to start one of our new “regular”, or in our case “semi-regular” postings. Wednesdays have always been our book review days, and Friday is going to be a Friday Flashback. We’ve noticed that our previous blogs from past years are being commented on over on blog.com, so Jana and I decided to re-run some of the former blogs on Fridays.

So without further ado, the first Friday Flashback: Youthful thrills and chills.

I was thinking the other day about how I ended up with a fascination for sci-fi, fantasy and the darker side of literature. My Dad reads mostly John Grisham and Michael Crichton political thrillers. I read them too, but in a book store my feet just naturally carry me into the fantasy section (or the mystery section too, but we’ll get to my other addiction another day.) Now Dad will watch fantasy and sci-fi with me, but it’s not his first choice. My mother describes all science fiction as “It’s all depressing, with all those ugly people!” Vulcans! Ugly!? Gasp!

So how did I end up loving Star Trek and tales of vampires?

It just happened.

In his book, On Writing Stephen King wrote “I was born with a fascination for the unquiet grave” (paraphrased). That really rang true with me. My youthful reading consisted of Bunnicula (a vampire bunny rabbit) and as many ‘Scary Stories to tell in the Dark’ as I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter that I spent as much time with the covers pulled over my head as sleeping, I couldn’t get enough of the thrills and chills.

One book I particularly remember was called ‘Wait til Helen Comes’. I read it 5 or 6 times as a kid, and it scared me every single time. I should go back and read it again, see if the youthful terror still gets me!

Inevitably reading turned to creating and my younger siblings became research subjects as I experimented with my own ghost and goblin creations. They, and the neighborhood kids, soon joined me in my terror filled sleepless nights and I found that being the agent of that terror was fun! Apparently they did too, since they kept coming back for more.

There’s something magical about a “scary story” that brings us back to Halloweens of our youth when familiar trees became a little more sinister, every bridge might just hide a troll and the strange house down the street hides witchy secrets. It bypasses the mundane and makes reality just a little more fantastic.

So my ‘writer’s advice’ or ‘reader’s advice’ for today is pick up some of those children’s books and young adult books you loved as a child (or some you managed to miss out on).

My list:

  • Scary Stories to tell in the Dark (Horror, elementary)
  • Wait til Helen Comes Mary Downing Hahn (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Bunnicula series James Howe (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Anything Roald Dahl, Especially The Witches (Horror/Macabre)
  • The Redwall series, Brian Jacques (Fantasy)
  • The Wild Magic series Tamora Pierce (Fantasy)
  • The Dark Moon series Meredith Ann Pierce (Fantasy)
  • Anything RL Stine. (Maybe not the best writer, but definitely some creative work) (Horror)
  • In a dark dark Room Alvin Scwartz (Children’s ‘spooky’)
  • I’m Going to Eat You Matt Mitter (Children’s ‘spooky’)

 

Wednesday Book Review: Mutineer March 3, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Critiquing, Friday Flashback, Science Fiction.
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This is a re-post from the launch of our blog 2 years ago, going along with some of the Friday Flashbacks we’ll be reposting some of our book reviews for your reading pleasure, with updated rating.

Today’s review is Mutineer by Mike Shephard

Genre: Science Fiction/Militaristic

Age: Teen, adult

Content: Violence

Overall: 1/5  paws

Review:

The plot of Mutineer had good promise. Kris is the daughter of a wealthy political family on the planet Wardhaven who rebelled against her parents by joining the military, something a respectable daughter doesn’t do. In the meantime, Kris is having to prove herself truly dedicated to the military while also avoiding multiple assasination attempts. As the plot goes on, the ‘Society of Humanity’ also is on the brink of Civil War with the outer colonies fighting against Earth and the inner colonies.
The cons:  The character development was thin and cliched, at best. The plot was slow to get into and you were left with a sense of ‘yeah right’ as Kris, a green Ensign, manages to out think her commanders, outfly a computer and outwit a group of criminals who had managed to defy several teams of planetary police. In the meantime, the action of the rescue is jarred by flashbacks to Kris losing her brother to a kidnapper many years previously. Unfortunately, the emotion is so thin that it’s difficult to feel compassion for Kris and the flashbacks seem trite and contrived to justify the heroine’s mental vacilations over rescuing the girl. The ‘rich kid rebelling’ theme is done to death, with commanding officers, politicians and even university students in a bar deciding to ‘shun’ Kris because she’s a ‘Longknife’. (Although cool name!) They constantly force her to prove herself, even though her family has a very long military history. In addition, Kris’s family is enough to make me scream. She has grandparents who she has to nearly break laws to visit, parents who are barely friendly and she describes her family as essentially a political battlefield. You have a tough time understanding why Kris would ever even bother to speak to her parents.

The pros: About halfway through the book the plot manages to pick up. I enjoyed the plot itself after Kris gets sent to a planet where she has to help with relief. Kris still manages to ‘save the day’ and show up everyone around her, but I was able to accept the idea more because her commanding officers had been assigned there mostly as punishment for screwing up or lackluster work, so their lack of efficiency was believable. The book allows for some reconciliation between Kris and a couple of her family members, but for the most part the characterization is fairly static. The main thing Kris learns is to take responsibility for how her decisions affect other’s lives, but personally and professionally she starts out a Super Soldier and ends a Super Soldier.

The Verdict: Shepherd’s plot managed to save the book, but his characterization and the emotional depth of his characters is thin, at best. I didn’t mind the read, and I’m glad I forced myself through the first half but I’m not sure I’ll be picking up any others of the series.