Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs

Title: Alpha & Omega
Author: Patricia Briggs
Series: Alpha & Omega, Book 1 (Mercy Thompson World, Book 2)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 7 August 2007

In Cry Wolf, New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs started a new urban fantasy series set in the world of Mercy Thompson — but with rules of its own. Now, read "Alpha and Omega," the novella that inspired the new series, and see how it all began...

Anna Latham never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack... and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the Chicago pack, she's learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. But when she discovers wrongdoing in her pack, she has to go above her Alpha's head to ask for help.

Charles Cornick is the son — and enforcer — of the leader of the North American werewolves. Now his father has sent him to Chicago to clean up a problem there. Charles never expected to find Anna, a rare Omega wolf — and he certainly never expected to recognize her as his mate...

This novella was originally published in the anthology, On the Prowl.

I've reviewed this novella before, but as I spent most of that "review" giving a blurb on the story I thought I'd try again. I'll also get into my issues with the narration - as this is my first time listening to the audio-book.

If you've read Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs, this novella takes place following the major events in the story. Charles, Bran's son and enforcer/executioner, is sent to Chicago to deal with some issues that have arisen there.

Anna's a member of the Pack in Chicago. Submissive, so she's been told, and abused by her pack, it took all her courage to call Bran and alert him to some of the happenings. When she finds out this is going to place her in the direct path of one of the most dominant wolves she's ever met, Anna's understandably worried.

Anna's not a kick-ass heroine, at least not right away. She's been beaten down, abused, hurt, and cowed. Three years of this has really done a number on her self-esteem and her reactions. I was nearly as angry as Charles when I would see her cringe from him, worried about how he might use his power over her, how he might hurt her. But, god, she's strong. They haven't buried her in herself yet. She still has a kernel, just a small tiny flame of her old self, defiance and pride and a knowledge of her own self-worth hidden away inside of her. Even still, her transformation to healthy and secure in herself takes time. Perhaps slightly spoilerish, but it's well into the 2nd full-length book, Hunting Grounds before Anna's pretty much shed all the abuse that was heaped on her. Her slow, gradual change is so incredibly believable to me. That she fights for herself, to get back what she's lost is something that I think is so incredibly strong. I can't help but love her.

Charles, what can I say about Charles? I admit that my opinion of him was a little skewed before I started this because of Mercy's thoughts about him. Charles doesn't say four words when one will do; doesn't share of himself too terribly much. So that left Mercy with little idea of how to understand and relate to him. He's such a refreshing surprise in this book. I love that, unlike the Mercy Thompson series (which is in 1st person POV), we get both Anna's and Charles' POVs here (3rd person POV). He's everything I expected of him, with little things that surprised me. I like those little things because they add character and nuance. They make him more real.

Though fated-mate/insta-bond is not my favorite thing, I do love how it's handled here. And I was rooting for them from the first moment. They're so perfect for each other, and I couldn't wait to see them grow together - to see Charles 'court' her.

Though this is just a novella, the plot was really interesting to me. I'm sure this has something to do with the fact that it's a resolution to another aspect of the events that happened in Moon Called. It's not drug out, and it's not rushed. It was nice to see how things are resolved in the Packs, how Bran deals with ruling and running all the Packs in North America and how seriously he (and his sons) take those responsibilities.

In my first review I said how I'd been nervous to start this series because I loved the Mercy Thompson series so much. I worried it wouldn't live up to it. That it'd detract from the world, or my love of the characters. I delayed reading it for YEARS. I was so, so wrong. This is just as good as Mercy - more romantic, especially right away - it might even be better. O_O

The novella does end rather abruptly, as it picks up immediately in Cry Wolf. I know that Patricia Briggs has said she'd never do something like this again, but if you look at this novella as a mini-story to start Cry Wolf I think everyone would be more satisfied.

Now. Onto the narration. This novella is narrated by Holter Graham. I was kind of bummed because I was hoping that the same person that does the Mercy Thompson series would do this one (as I was pretty happy with her narration in Moon Called). But I decided to just see how it went.

Good lord. The narration was awful to the point of distracting. Mr. Graham has this incredibly irritating pacing tic that had him taking odd pauses every few words. The speech pattern actually, quickly, reminded me of Christopher Walken's. Then I couldn't stop hearing that. But when he got to Charles' voice (not his narration, but when he actually spoke) I nearly rolled my eyes right out of my head. Who would have thought that a man would be so horrible at the male characters' voices?? It shocked the hell out of me, because I was actually pretty good with how he was doing the women's voices.

It seemed like he was trying to make Charles especially (but Bran's too) voice too deep, too slow, with those weird pauses it made him sound like he was translating in his head before speaking, like English was his second language (and I'm sure it's not his first, but he's lived in the US for 200 years I think he probably talks it about as good as anyone). So it frustrated and irritated me.

Read the novella. It's a nice cap to Moon Called, and definitely read it if you're planning to read the novels in this series. It's necessary and so much fun seeing Charles and Anna's first meeting.

Grade (Story): A-
Grade (Narration): D-

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Title: Moon Called
Author: Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 31 January 2006

Mercy Thompson's life is not exactly normal. Her next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she's fixing a VW bus for a vampire. But then, Mercy isn't exactly normal herself.

Wow. So there's really not a good cover-blurb for this book. What the heck? I guess, if they're going for tease, it's hitting the mark. *frowns*

I can't remember who first told me to read this book. I wish I could because it has given me endless hours of entertainment over the years. Patricia Briggs is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I'm not sure I can do her books justice (which is why I haven't even tried to review them before now).

This book's fate rested squarely on Mercy's shoulders when I first read it. And, did she ever deliver. Mercy's nearly a perfect heroine for me (I do have a few - incredibly - minor issues that become more prevalent later in the series but I'm not going to get into them now). She's smart, can make mistakes, takes her share of blame, isn't uber-strong, isn't weak, knows when to back down in a world of stronger beings, knows when to fight, and even better she knows when to quietly sneak around the tough obstacle. She's loyal and caring, with a huge heart, but she's nobody's fool. I was immediately drawn to her.

For once I could see why all these super-sexy alpha men were attracted to her as well. I suppose one could say there's a love-triangle in this series. I never saw it that way, because for me there was only ever one option...however there is something like a triangle. And though I normally HATE love-triangles, I love how this one plays out. I love how Mercy handles both her suitors and maintains her integrity. She balances an incredibly fine line at times, but she does it perfectly.

At first glance the world may seem like a million other urban-fantasy worlds that have been created, but I'm incredibly impressed with the world that Patricia Briggs has created. Not only are there werewolves, but there are vampires, fae, humans, witches, and mentions of ghosts and demons. The politics in, and between, these groups makes for some awesome stories. Something that I always appreciate is consistency in the world. If you tell me something, I want it to be true. I'm not saying there can't be exceptions, but I want to know the 'rules' for lack of a better word - much like I know physics, laws and social customs for our world. The Mercy Thompson world is one of the most consistent worlds I've ever read. I am always comfortable here, even when I'm learning something new. I trust Patricia Briggs.

The mystery is the driving force of the plot, and while I was intrigued, I did feel it ended a bit abruptly. I was okay with that because I was able to dive into book 2 right away, but I do wish that there had been a little more time spent in the denouement. For me, though, this book is all about the characters and the world overall.

I love it. I find that I can't say anything better than that.

Grade: A

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Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Title: Cress
Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles, Book 3
Genre: Young Adult Science-Fiction
Release Date: 4 February 2014

Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

After the intense enjoyment I got out of both Cinder and Scarlet, I was PUMPED to read this book. I looked forward to the release, and even paid nearly $9 for the ebook - when my limit is more like $5.

To say I was disappointed is a bit of an understatement.

I've now waited eleven days to try and write this review. It's not that the book is bad, because it's not. But it definitely is a transition book. There's, almost quite literally, absolutely nothing happening throughout this whole book. I was bored out of my mind while reading.

So it's a bridge book. Lots of series have them. I get it, there's stuff that has to happen to get us to the climax. I just wish it'd been done so that I felt some investment, or felt like there was something going on. 85% of the book I was wondering when the hell something was going to happen other than traveling from here to there - this close to the end, traveling's not what I want to read about.

Another problem for me with this book was Cress herself. She names herself a damsel-in-distress. I can't stand damsels-in-distress. I want my girls to save themselves. To be a little fair to Cress, she does a pretty good job of contributing to the saving, and planning, and I think there's a good opportunity, and that Meyer is setting this up, for Cress to realize her own agency. Unfortunately, it didn't happen enough for me in this book.

In fact, there were a lot of character issues, in that I didn't feel like characters were acting 'in-character' or realistically. This one is harder for me to talk about without spoilers, so I'm going to be fairly vague. Something traumatic happens to one of the main characters - disabling traumatic - and it's just shrugged off. No big deal. 'Oh, I lost a leg ? No big deal. I'll just attach this wooden crutch to my knee and carry on walking.' WHAT? I can't buy that anyone could deal with this kind of thing so easily. I don't care how capable you are, or how much of a front you may be putting on. Nope, not buying it.

All that being said, the world still fascinates me. The story is still, over-all, interesting, and I can't wait for the final book: Winter. We got to meet Winter in this book, and I'm already half in love.

Long story, short: Slow, slow book - until the last 15%, where it picks up considerably and became fun to read again. Honestly, so little happens in this book though, that I think you could read a few key chapters, or maybe even the last 15%, and be prepared to finish out the series next year when Winter releases.

Grade: D+

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Title: Scarlet
Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles, Book 2
Genre: Young Adult Steampunk
Release Date: 5 February 2013

The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Though I greatly enjoyed Cinder, I did have some issues with it. The sense of place wasn't entirely clear, the secondary characters weren't exactly well-developed, and the whole 'draft' issue pretty much just irritated me. I'm glad that I didn't have any of these issues in Scarlet.

I did have a slight problem with the pacing in the beginning of the book. The first 100 or so pages felt somewhat choppy with the switching between four character point-of-views. Happily, I was invested, immediately, in each of the POV characters so it made it easier for me to overlook this.

Scarlet quickly endeared herself to me. We join her as she's determined to find her grandmere, who has been missing for a few weeks. Things quickly spiral out of control and she finds herself in the company of an intriguing, unknown man named Wolf. I was rooting for her from the beginning. She was always smart and competent. Though she did have some damsel-in-distress moments, I loved how she continued to fight - even for someone she wasn't entirely sure of, Wolf.

Wolf is such a great character. I'm shipping them SO HARD. His confusion as he travels with Scarlet, his fighting against and with his instincts, his absolutely protective personality and too-few smiles make me utterly enamoured of him. He's so tentative, like an injured animal, but utterly sure of himself at the same time. I love the dichotomy of Wolf.

Then there's Captain Thorne. I admit, I was unsure of how I felt about him in the beginning, but I quickly grew to love him. He's so cocky and fun, so up for an adventure and unapologetically selfish. I still don't want him to end up with Cinder, unlike some of my friends, but I can't wait to see what happens with him. The way that he ends up part of Cinder's group, how his loyalty begins to transfer to her after being with her for a while; he just insinuated himself into my heart.

I couldn't end this review without talking about Cinder. I loved her in the first book, and I LOVE HER EVEN MORE here. She's just starting her real journey after finding out who she actually is. She's got questions, and concerns; worries and fears, but she forges ahead on her own path until she feels sure of what she's doing. It's not always a neat trip, she makes mistakes and some choices that I might not agree with, but I can't help but admire her.

Immediately upon finishing this I wanted to dive right into Cress, thank goodness it's already out, but I forced myself to write this review first. So forgive me if it's a little incoherent. Marissa Meyer's got me hooked. Her world is original and intriguing, and her characters - my god, her characters are FAN-TASTIC. I can't get enough of them.

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Darkhouse by Karina Halle

Title: Darkhouse
Author: Karina Halle
Series: Experiment in Terror, Book 1
Genre: Paranormal Horror
Release Date: 12 May 2011

There’s always been something a bit off about Perry Palomino. Though she’s been dealing with a quarter-life crisis and post-college syndrome like any other twenty-something, she’s still not what you would call “ordinary.” For one thing, there’s her past which she likes to pretend never happened, and then there’s the fact that she sees ghosts.

Luckily for her, that all comes in handy when she stumbles across Dex Foray, an eccentric producer for an upcoming webcast on ghost hunters. Even though the show’s budget is non-existent and Dex himself is a maddening enigma, Perry is instantly drawn into a world that both threatens her life and seduces her with a sense of importance. Her uncle’s haunted lighthouse provides the perfect catalyst and backdrop for a mystery that unravels the threads of Perry’s fragile sanity and causes her to fall for a man, who, like the most dangerous of ghosts, may not be all that he seems.

So many of my friends love this series. I finally got around to trying it, and while I'm not immediately enamoured of it I am intrigued enough to want to continue. Perry is a fantastic main character, and I can see the potential for the ghost story-lines. Plus I'm told that it gets better and better. Considering this is something I say about one of my favorite series...well, I'll definitely be continuing.

I think your enjoyment of this book is going to ride or die on whether you like Perry. Personally I loved her. From nearly the beginning I could relate to her, understand her, and empathize with her. Perry's always been a bit different. Her childhood held some aspects that I think her family would like her to never revisit; and her teen years were filled with self-hatred, drugs, and depression. Now she's stuck in a job she doesn't like, in an industry she's not sure she's even interested in. I really liked how no-nonsense Perry is. She's straight-forward, honest with herself, and somewhat sarcastic in her thoughts. Plus she can take care of herself; Perry doesn't need anyone else to save or protect her. Which is a good thing when she gets in deeper with a ghost story than she ever imagined.

And here's where Dex comes in. I'm, honestly, not sure what to make of him. There are moments when I glimpse someone that I want to know more, someone that I almost think I could like. Then he goes and does something that irritates me. When I wasn't fluctuating between liking and being irritated by him, I spent most of the book just feeling 'meh' about him. Regardless how I feel about him though, I do have to admit that he and Perry are a good team. I like how they work together, except for a few things that Dex does while they're ghost-hunting that really irked me.

Speaking of the ghost-hunting, I was a little disappointed in this aspect of the story-line. Yes, it was creepy as heck during most of Perry's encounters. There were things that happened to Perry that would have freaked me out had they happened to me. The resolution of it just felt so abrupt, and ... not really resolved. Yes, I know this is a 9-part series so it's probably supposed to feel that way, but I guess I was hoping for more. This entire book felt like the 'meet-cute' of Dex and Perry, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like this was a teaser. Something like 'Here's what you're going to get...what you might see more of...who these people might be.' Darkhouse has its creepy moments - some seriously freaky - and with one character I love and another I'm more than a bit curious about, I'll definitely be continuing on in the series.

Can I just say, also, how much I love that the cover fits the book so beautifully?

Grade: B-

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