Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Burned by Karen Marie Moning

Title: Burned
Author: Karen Marie Moning
Series: Fever, Book 7
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 20 January 2015

It’s easy to walk away from lies. Power is another thing.

MacKayla Lane would do anything to save the home she loves. A gifted sidhe-seer, she’s already fought and defeated the deadly Sinsar Dubh—an ancient book of terrible evil—yet its hold on her has never been stronger.
When the wall that protected humans from the seductive, insatiable Fae was destroyed on Halloween, long-imprisoned immortals ravaged the planet. Now Dublin is a war zone with factions battling for control. As the city heats up and the ice left by the Hoar Frost King melts, tempers flare, passions run red-hot, and dangerous lines get crossed. Seelie and Unseelie vie for power against nine ancient immortals who have governed Dublin for millennia; a rival band of sidhe-seers invades the city, determined to claim it for their own; Mac’s former protégé and best friend, Dani “Mega” O’Malley, is now her fierce enemy; and even more urgent, Highland druid Christian MacKeltar has been captured by the Crimson Hag and is being driven deeper into Unseelie madness with each passing day. The only one Mac can depend on is the powerful, dangerous immortal Jericho Barrons, but even their fiery bond is tested by betrayal.

It’s a world where staying alive is a constant struggle, the line between good and evil gets blurred, and every alliance comes at a price. In an epic battle against dark forces, Mac must decide who she can trust, and what her survival is ultimately worth.

First things first, this cover. I hated it from the moment it was revealed. I mean, COME ON! We'd gone from beauties like this:

Beautiful. Each and every one of them. Then we get that monstrosity up there. It telegraphs sex. I guess that's pretty fitting because it's damn near all anyone in this book thinks about. That cover did not fill me with a great deal of hope, though. Not that I had a whole lot of it to begin with. Iced made me rage. I won't get into it here, but you can check out my review. Then there was the whole testing of the bond between Mac and Barrons that's alluded to in the blurb. I went into this book with some serious reservations. On the other hand, this is Karen Marie Moning! The author that blew me away in the original five books of the Fever series! I have faith! I had hope! I couldn't wait to see her make me eat my words of hate and irritation at Iced.

I'm avoiding SPOILERS for Burned in this review, but fair warning - there are going to be SPOILERS for Darkfever through Iced discussed.

Burned did not do that for me. While I didn't finish it wanting to throw it out the window, stomp on it, burn it, and then scatter the ashes, I also didn't finish with that beautiful feeling of having stepped from a world that amazed, having just listened to the most incredible story, told by a girl with verve, audacity, passion and brains.

I want to end this review on a positive note, I want to think positively about where the series is going in the future - so, I'm starting with the negatives. It took me about 3 days to read this book, only reading a few hours a day, because I spent the entire time taking notes. In the end I have over fifteen pages of notes on this book, and a severe disappointment - but again, I have hope (why, yes, I might be a masochistic optimist) for the future of the series.

Instead of the consuming story I had hoped for, I was treated to 400 pages of the author explaining everything that I, as a reader, was too dense to understand in Iced, sprinkled with a few truly great moments and teasers. Yes, I complained - a lot - about the adult, immortal men in Iced lusting over Dani, a 14-year-old-girl and abusing her. Yes, I said, on more than one occasion, that if KMM wanted to include sex (or innuendo) in this series I wanted it to wait until Dani was older. I don't think that's too much to ask. I was told by the author in interviews that I'd read the story wrong.

That went over well.

So, KMM took to Burned to explain exactly how wrong I was. Every.Single.Thing I had an issue with in Iced is contemplated, dissected, discussed and thought about. That's not even counting the moments where previous canon is being re-written. Things that were clearly stated in the previous six books were suddenly not the same. Facts are twisted. All of it telling me how wrong I was in my interpretation of the events that occurred. From multiple character points-of-view. There were meta-speeches in characters minds repeating the same words I've read KMM say in interviews. I can't even say how much this pisses me off. SHOW me I was wrong, don't tell me; don't have (multiple) characters TELL me. I want to SEE that I was wrong, not hear it. I've been hearing you, KMM, say how wrong I was for the last couple of years. Luckily, this is the only real rage-inducing thing I experienced while reading, and I'm pretty much over it. I get it. I do. KMM took a lot of flack and answered a lot of questions about the choices she made in Iced. Pedophilia was brought up frequently, frequently enough for her to address it in a FAQ (which has since been removed from her blog). That's bound to put anyone on the defensive. So I'm trying not to be too mad about this. I just wish that she'd not felt the need to cram this stuff down my throat and let the story speak for itself.

They fence me in with teenage rules that don’t hold me for shit, seeing how I grew up. You can kill but don’t cuss. Break any rule necessary to save the world but don’t watch porn or even think about having sex. How do they come up with this stuff--hold parental powwows for brainstorming diametrically opposed ethics?

You probably know, if you've read my Iced review, that Ryodan was my biggest problem in its pages. The vibe that he gave off when he was with Dani - one of waiting for her to grow up (she's FOURTEEN, and he's been watching her a LONG time), so he could have the woman she'd become - squicked me out. Then there's the abuse: holding her without food or water for three days, because reasons; slamming her face into a stone pillar, repeatedly; breaking her finger...Yup. I hated him. I hated everything about him. Prior to Iced I had kind of liked Ryodan. I didn't know enough to love or hate, but I was leaning towards like. Then all of that went down - and honestly that felt kind of out of character, too - and I'm not sure I'll ever like the bastard again. I can love an asshole - see Barrons; I can get down with manipulative - see Barrons again; I can handle secretive - hello? Barrons still; but abusive and a pedo vibe? Not so much.

"That's not why I watched over her."

"Bullshit. We all saw the woman she could become."

Anyway, that's rehashing the past. However, that's something that KMM excels at in Burned, so I guess I'm not too far off point. In these pages we learn that everything we thought we knew...we were wrong. Ryodan's not an abusive asshole - he didn't mean to break her finger, he forgot how fragile humans were; he didn't hold her for three days, chained in his basement, because he's a controlling freak - he did it for her own-fucking-good. There wasn't a pedo-vibe to his interactions with her, he was a guardian angel, protecting her, being her pillar, holding the roof up while she re-laid her foundation. What-the-eff-ever. I'm not buying what you're selling, KMM. No matter how many different characters sit and extol Ryodan's virtues, realizing what a nice guy he is.

I find myself questioning everything I thought I knew about Ryodan. Running prior conversations through my mind, realizing the man I believed moderately intelligent and highly manipulative of others--to their own detriment and destruction--is in fact highly intelligent and enormously manipulative of others, but I've begun to suspect it's because he's trying to fix what he perceives as the things they want fixed but don't know how. He sees the bird's-eye view and takes the hard, catalytic actions. Unsettling, disturbing to those of us that don't, makes it easy to call him bastard, heartless.

But why would he bother?

There are only two possibilities: either he wants whatever goal he will achieve by altering that person, or, unfathomable as it is, he cares about the world he pretends to scorn, and the people in it.

Now, maybe, just maybe, if I'd been shown that I was wrong about Ryodan, instead of having every character possible think about it, talk about it, and reflect on it, then I might have eaten my words. I still would have hated what he'd done, but I might have grown to like him again. There was one moment in the book where we were shown that Ryodan might be kinder than we've previously seen - his interaction with Jo - however, it's so heavy-handed, especially on top of all the virtue-extolling everyone else is doing, that it just made me roll my eyes. Take away? Ryodan's not a bad guy. In fact, he's a saint. Check.

This is already getting long, so I'm just going to skip to what I feel like was the checklist for this book.

1. Ryodan's an abuser and giving off strong pedo-vibes? No! He's a nice guy! Here, let me tell you! Check.
2. Dani's too young? We can fix that. Into the Silvers, you go, my girl. Check.
3. We miss Mac! Ahh. Well, she can be the narrator again. Check.
4. What's she been up to? Recap. Recap some more. Recap again. Recap stuff you just were there to experience. Check.
5. End scene of Iced, with Mac holding the Spear on Dani and being pissed at her, not make sense? Explain it away. She didn't know. Don't mind the previous stuff you've been told. It'll change as needed. Check.
6. Christian's too creepy. Can't have that. Fixed. Check.
7. Pedophilia? No way! Meta-speeches by several characters. That'll get the point across. Check.
8. More about the Nine - we must have it! Insert plot-device to allow us to spy on them, getting much more intimate with their thoughts and feelings - which apparently they talk about in private. Check.

One last thing I'm going to complain about...no, two last things. One: Mac's boring internal monologues got on my last nerve. I skimmed a lot of them. There were pages and pages and pages of her telling me stuff I already knew. I know some people complained about these in the first five books, but I swear she wasn't this bad. I guess I'll find out when I re-read. I haven't re-read the books in several years (granted I've re-read them several dozen times so I know them well) but I don't need to be hand-fed every single bit of information. And I know what a freaking linchpin is!

Two: the focus on sex! O.M.G. Honestly. I get it. If I were around Barrons, or probably any of the Nine, sex would be one of my main goals, too. But there's a freaking catastrophe happening around every corner! How about focusing on some of them? The random inserts of sex, thoughts of sex, and voyeuristic viewing of sex throughout the book was just...gratuitous.

Okay, I lied. I'm going to talk about one more thing I didn't like. Going back to the Dani-age thing. Yes, I wanted her older, but I wanted to see her grow up and become the woman she was meant to be. Even if it was in snatches, gradually, whatever. I didn't just want it to happen. And the way it happened? Not loving it. I see where KMM is going with this, and I get it, but I think it's the easy way out - and I never thought of KMM taking the easy way.

Shit. I lied again. Last thing. I promise. I hate, hate, hate, hate that Barrons calls Mac, Ms. Lane still! The intimacy that was gained in Shadowfever is apparently gone. Now they're "islands." Then there's some irritating, manufactured drama that is completely pointless. I could not believe how much drama Mac allowed this to cause.

Speaking of Mac (no this isn't another "thing"), she's no longer the kick-ass, Mac 5.0. She reverted to Mac 2.4 or something. She's passive, in the extreme, a mere narrator for events happening around her, and lacking in any initiative. Apparently, she's done what she came to do, and the rest of the time she's going to sit around watching her version of "reality tv" - and don't get me started on that. She's just lost everything that made me love her. Every once in a while I would catch a thought or action that flitted through her head, but mostly I was amazed that this was the same Mac I'd previously fell in love with.

One thing I do know is things can always get worse, most often at the precise moment you've decided they can't.

And so I remain, as Barrons would pithily say, idiotically passive.

The other effect her passivity has is making her interactions with Barrons seem ... less, somehow. He's the same asshole that I love, but without Mac strong it makes him seem even more an asshole. Of course while Mac is being an idiot - and trust me, she's an IDIOT at times - Barrons really shines, too. Actions speak. I've always trusted his.

Okay. I'm done now with that. I swear. Onto the good - and there are tidbits of good in this novel. They're what is going to make me pick up the next book (where I'm hoping and praying that KMM gets back on track). Unfortunately, most of them could be considered spoilerish - and I'd never do that to you guys. So, I'll be as vague as possible and see what I can do.

I started with a checklist - how about a much more enjoyable list?

1. WeCare - I'm still super interested in this! I need to know what their deal is, who they are, and what they're up to. I feel like they're going to be a problem for Mac and Co. at some point.

2. Mac/Sinsar Dubh - Holy.Shit. I did not see that coming! This storyline is the one I wanted to see the most of in Burned. It wasn't really dealt with a whole lot, so I'm hopeful that the future installments really delve into it. There's some really interesting evolutions and stuff going on here that I need to know more about.

3. Christian - Despite the 'quick fix' I feel that he got for part of his problem, he's not out of the woods yet. I can't help it. I love this guy. I want to see him conquer his demons. I want to see him thrive.

4. Lor - Who knew he'd end up being one of my favorites. Funny as hell, he was one of the bright spots in this book.

5. New Unseelie - YES! That's all.

6. Mac's ... entourage - MUST KNOW MORE! MORE!!!

7. Unseelie King/Concubine - consistently the best scenes. I love them separately, and even better, together. They have real issues that need solving, and I can't wait to see them do it. I hope we get to see them conquer their hurdles. Plus I just want more of the UK, and all his incarnations. There's definitely some interesting stuff going on here.

8. Barrons - He's Barrons. 'Nuff said. One of the few characters that maintained their personality. He is who is he. Period. And I love him. Forever. A quote from a friend of mine, Casey strikes me as absolutely perfect in regards to Barrons: I think Barrons is totally off the charts in terms of sex appeal but I hate all of broody silence and secrets. He makes me feel equal parts I need to punch you in your face/please wear my thighs as earmuffs. Hell, yes. This. For sure.

"Son of a bitch, Mac's ass is--"

"Mine," Barrons says flatly. "You will never go there. You have a problem with Mac, you work it out with me. I am her shield, I am her second fucking skin."

Sexy. That is so damn sexy.

There's actually quite a lot in that list of things that I loved, liked, or am interested in. However, they were bright, shiny moments in a otherwise dull book. The plot was nearly non-existent, Burned suffered from 'middle-book-syndrome', and there's virtually no movement on any of the interesting plot-lines. My big hope is that now that KMM has 'fixed' everything, Feverborn will get everything back on track. Though there was a lot I was disappointed in, I can actually see how it could - mostly - be brought back to the glory that was the first five Fever books. And I'm hopeful. And a masochist, because I'll definitely be reading the next one.

Grade: C-/D+

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 2 January 2012

Four minutes changes everything. Hadley Sullivan 17 misses her flight at JFK airport, is late to her father's second wedding in London with never-met stepmother. Hadley meets the perfect boy. Oliver is British, sits in her row. A long night on the plane passes in a blink, but the two lose track in arrival chaos. Can fate bring them together again?

There's a lot to like in this book, unfortunately I think some of my personal history came to bear and left me feeling less than enamoured with The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Usually when I start a review I have a pretty good idea where I'm heading, what rating I'm going to give it, and how I - ultimately - feel about it. Here, I'm just not so sure. I know I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. And honestly it was a bit too short for me to really develop any strong feelings at all. The upside of that is that it's a quick, easy read.

My biggest problem was Oliver, the hero. He has this ... belittling sense of humor that hit a little too close to my abusive past. It could just as easily be read as playful ribbing, but having been made to feel stupid over and over and over again - well, I know the damage those little comments can do on a person's self-esteem. He never had a serious conversation, all his responses were glib and sarcastic, and I don't think he ever really gave a truthful answer. That can make for fun encounters, laughing or whatever, but it's not something to help one get to know a person.

Then there's Hadley herself. She came across as self-centered, spoiled, and heedlessly cruel. Her parents have divorced and she's so mad at her father for leaving her family, and she takes it out on everyone around her. Her father - by refusing to see him, talk to him, or acknowledge that he's getting married; her mother - by being short, cruel and unthinking in her interactions with her. And then there's Oliver himself, whom - once she finds out what he's going through - can only think of herself and how he's reacting to her.

I enjoyed how the relationship was healed between Hadley and her father, and her mother for that matter. Even if it was a little too neat and pat. I feel like I would have enjoyed this story a whole lot more if the romance wouldn't have been the sole focus, and the family angle would have been given a bit more depth.

The really nice thing is that this was an incredibly quick read. Though close to 50% of the book is either taking place real-time on the plane or in flashbacks to the plane, and I thought the flight was never going to end, it still read really quickly and easily. I like Jennifer E. Smith's writing style and am looking forward to reading something else by her - where maybe I'll like the characters a bit more.

Grade: C-

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff

Title: Is a Worry Worrying You?
Author: Ferida Wolff
Release Date: 8 September 2011

This critically acclaimed title addresses common childhood worries--a bully, a first day at school, and a monster residing under the bed--with the not-so-common worries--an eagle making a nest in your hair, a rhino walking down the street, and a herd of elephants waiting for their tea. This entertaining and humor use of perspective and creative problem-solving will appeal to children and parents looking for help in dealing with a universal issue.

Cute book with the intention of helping kids understand worries, and how to deal with them.

I requested this as something to maybe help my own kids if needed. The message that it imparts is something I think kids would find helpful.

The illustrations are cute and with lots of little details that make them fun to look at.

And though this is a short book, with just under 30 pages and illustrations, it does exactly what it sets out to do.

All in all, I'm definitely going to be adding this to my list of books to get for young children.

Grade: B

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: The Culling by J.C. Andrijeski

Title: The Culling
Author: J.C. Andrijeski
Series: Slave Girl Chronicles, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Release Date: 31 August 2011

Jet is a 19-year-old skag, one of the humans still living free on Earth following an invasion of creatures called the Nirreth. Squatting in the ruins of Vancouver, Canada, Jet and her family eke out an existence underground, hiding from the culler ships. No one knows where the ships take the people they take, but they never return. When a culler finds Jet, she may discover the truth the hard way.

This was the longest short book I've read in a long, long time. It felt like one long set-up and everything took F...O...R...E...V...E...R.... to happen or explain.

I spent so much time in Jet's head, with her musings, that you'd think I had a good idea of who she is, as a person; you'd be wrong. I spent so much time in Jet's head, with her musings, about the world at large that you'd think I would have a clear idea of what's happening...wrong again.

Jet is a carbon copy of every other prickly heroine in the YA world. Thrust into circumstances beyond her control, she's trained with a sword - why I'm not entirely sure - and suddenly she's likely going to end up as the spark of the rebellion against their alien overlords. I honestly can't say much more about her than that, because even though I've just finished I don't remember anything else about her.

I'm still not sure what's happening in the world. At one point she mentions that it's warming the whole world over - that the Nirreth (the aliens that invaded several (how many? Not sure) years ago) ruined our world because they like it warmer so they're making it warmer. But then she talks about wearing a "winter coat," which threw me. Then there's the poisoned water, poisoned earth, poisoned air, meat, food. I have no idea how that happened.

Apparently the aliens are keeping the humans as pets, or something, and they've created domed (maybe) cities where they have fake skies, have bred T-Rex, and have decided they like watching humans fight. I don't even pretend to understand.

I skimmed a good portion from the 30% mark on, because it just didn't make sense, and it was rambling.

Additionally there were just too many inaccuracies that made me unable to suspend my disbelief for the rest of the story.
**140 square miles is not a large city by "old Earth" standards
**Doing what is expected of you, what you're told and what you're directed to do is passive.
**I still don't know how a bow (and arrows) can fit in a "tube," in a backpack.
**If aliens can catch your "bio-readings" without you actually being visible, and they have "heat sensors" to find you - isn't it probably likely that hiding is a bad idea?
**Your spine is in the middle of your back - no need to clarify that.

Needless to say, I hope, I won't be continuing this.

Grade: F

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Queenie's Brigade by Heather Massey

Title: Queenie's Brigade
Author: Heather Massey
Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Science Fiction (Romance)
Release Date: 2 July 2011

Captain Michael Drake desperately needs an army to save Earth after a crushing defeat by alien invaders. When his damaged starship docks at a remote prison colony, he discovers Earth’s last best hope—an army to replace the one he lost.

But, Queenie, the feral goddess ruling the prison, has other plans for the rugged star ship captain. After imprisoning Drake and seizing his ship, she prepares to lead her blood-thirsty band to freedom before the invaders track them down.

Despite her intentions, Queenie secretly falls for the sexy, hotshot captain. Drake makes it plain he wants to win back Earth with her by his side. But is following her heart worth betraying her people?

DNF at 38%

I was going to say that I feel badly for giving this such a low rating, because the writing and the premise is pretty intriguing. Plus there's an interesting dichotomy within Queenie herself. I think if I were reading about her alone, instead of adding in some manufactured love interest, I would be enjoying this more. As it is I find it hard to care what happens to either character.

Captain Michael Drake: Last surviving military captain in a war against the Calinthians - who have invaded Earth. He jumps his battered ship to a prison outpost, proceeds to be captured by the prisoners (who've taken over the prison), and then doesn't act anything like a decorated military captain.

The leader of the prison gang (and I'll get to her in a minute) is, of course, statuesque, beautiful, and has her breasts falling out of her jumpsuit (literally). So, naturally, he's distracted and attracted. He gives himself some grief about this, but in the end he needs her and her army to try and take back Earth. Then she brings out a member of his crew (a doctor), and proceeds to have her fingers broken, threatens to break other things, and this after the crew-member already looks pretty beat to hell. All so she can get the codes to his ship.

Which he then gives up. Seriously? This is the kind of military Earth has? One that caves without a qualm? He gives up his codes, and then he expects her to work with him, team up with him. If I were her, I'd scoff too. What kind of partner would he be? Not a good one, that's for sure.

Queenie: leader of the prison gang. She was brought up, by her mother and others, to unite the prison gangs under one leadership so they could take over, free themselves, and stop being used as cannon-fodder in a losing war. I understand that, and even empathize with it.

So, she rules with an iron fist (sometimes - I'll get to that later), and that's explains the torture of the captured crew (I guess). I have no patience for torture. Like sexual assault, and abuse, it's pretty much a final straw for me. I don't care the circumstances, I'm not really going to be able to root for you once you do something like that.

The problem with Queenie is that she's alternately portrayed as ruthless and smart - which would be awesome - and vulnerable and silly. She rules the gangs, but they're all just waiting for a chance to stab her in the back. She protects and wants to help her people. She demands obedience and that they not do anything to interfere with her mission, but she doesn't concern herself with them doing drugs. Lack of discipline, lack of order, is as much a problem to any real mission as any lack of obedience. And if a leader doesn't realize that, then they don't deserve to be leader any longer.

Every other character is a non-issue. They may as well be placeholders to give the two main characters something to react against.

Manufactured Love Story: Michael can't seem to keep his eyes off Queenie's gorgeous body - even when his crew's being tortured. Nor can he keep his libido under control. Queenie is, of course, drawn to the captain - who is like no other military person she's seen before.

She punches him in the face, several times. During her exertions her (ample) breast falls out of her shirt and all he can think about is taking it in his mouth. She flushes (Ugh. Why the need to be embarrassed. If she's the hardass that she's being portrayed as, why does she have to be virginal too - and I bet she ends up being a virgin). And then what's he do - strokes her thigh. She responds. He thinks that for her to respond like that she must still have a heart.

They're both idiots. And if they're humanity's last hope...well, we're doomed.

Grade: DNF

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: Break Out by Nina Croft

Title: Break Out
Author: Nina Croft
Series: Blood Hunter, Book 1
Genre: Paranormal / Science-Fiction Romance
Release Date: 1 July 2011

The year is 3048, Earth is no longer habitable, and man has fled to the stars where they've discovered the secret of immortality—Meridian. Unfortunately, the radioactive mineral is exorbitantly expensive and only available to a select few. A new class comprised of the super rich and immortal soon evolves. The Collective, as they're called, rule the universe.

Two-thousand-year-old Ricardo Sanchez, vampire and rogue pilot of the space cruiser, El Cazador, can't resist two things: gorgeous women and impossible jobs. When beautiful Skylar Rossaria approaches him to break a prisoner out of the Collective's maximum security prison on Trakis One, Rico jumps at the chance. Being hunted by the Collective has never been so dangerous—or so fun.

I'm so tired of these same, tired, bad tropes being brought out to play.

First - I'm not a fan of deception between my heroes, and the heroine here is hiding something BIG. Ugh. Gross.

Second - We're how many thousands of years in the future, and we're still calling women "whores". Give me a break.

Third - the hero has no common sense and does things that are likely to get him killed, apparently for the story. The heroine is unreliable, and apparently an idiot who doesn't even know what she's doing in her own training simulation.

Fourth - Get the heroine drunk trope, but not too drunk. Have hero check, several times, to be sure he's not taking advantage. Distraction. Heroine gets pissed at hero because she gave into her own desires. And then punch him.

And now - at 27% - I'm done.

Grade: DNF

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: Pack of Lies by Laura Anne Gilman

Title: Pack of Lies
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Series: Paranormal Scene Investigators, Book 2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 1 February 2011

My name is Bonita Torres, and eight months ago I was an unemployed college graduate without a plan. Now I'm an investigator with the Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations team of New York. Pretty awesome, right?

The Cosa Nostradamus, the magical community, isn't quick to give up its secrets, though. Not even to fellow members. Not even when it's in their best interests. So we've been busting our tails, perfecting our forensic skills, working to gain acceptance. The team's tight...but we have our quirks, too. And our Big Dog, Benjamin Venec...well, he's a special case, all right.

But we can't give up. We're needed, especially when a case comes along that threatens to pit human against fatae. But one wrong move could cost us everything we've worked for...

I read the first book in this series, Hard Magic in August of 2014, and I'm having trouble remembering a lot of the plot and specifics regarding the characters. It was a pleasant enough read, but definitely felt light. In fact, I even recommended it for those looking for lighter Urban Fantasy fare. After reading this book, I'm not sure I'd stick by that recommendation. This book goes to a much darker place.

*Trigger Warning*
This book contains an attempted rape, murder, and related consequences - including emotional from multiple characters, as well as discussion of and scenes involving rape culture, and victim-blamimg.

Rape is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It's not a trigger, per se, of mine, it's just so often handled badly in books with no regards to actual healing and trauma caused by attempted or actual rape; which means that I generally avoid books that have rape. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - I didn't know that it was such a central issue in this book. I may have avoided reading this book had I known, but I would have missed out on one of the best depiction of this subject I've read yet. I can count on one hand the number of books, or series, I've read that handled it with as much consideration and delicacy and care as this one.

To give a bit more description of what's going on with the case, since the blurb is so incredibly vague: PUPI (Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigators) is called in by the Council to investigate a scene where an attempted rape took place, and the woman's companion (a magical being called a ki-rin - which I'll talk more about later) killed the attacker. Tensions between fatae, the race of magical beings including the ki-rin, and humans have been escalating and this seems to be tinder on the embers that have already been burning. PUPI needs to verify what happened, and quickly, before things intensify out of control.

This aspect of the story was so well done. As I said earlier, it was handled with care. The trauma wasn't brushed under the rug, the difficulties for our investigators to actually investigate and remain somewhat impartial, the accusations that crop up both for and against victims, it's all there - sometimes it's not pretty, often it's not, but Laura Anne Gilman doesn't shy away from it at all. I will warn that it doesn't end on a particularly upbeat note. My heart broke more than once while I was reading, and even when I finished I had to agree with one of the characters that said "This job sucks." Yes, yes it does. Especially in cases like this. I ... appreciated how things are tied up. My one complaint about this aspect of the novel is that, considering how well the author handles the subject of rape, there's some - very justifiable - doubt about the victims' claims. I'd have liked things a little more clean, I guess, but life isn't usually neat and tidy.

One of the things I was having trouble remembering when I started this book was the characters and the details about them. I recognized their names when I read them, but couldn't remember much about their particular powers within the group. I do think Ms. Gilman did a pretty damn good job of bringing me back up to speed, but I'm still a little in the dark on a couple of characters. There's Ian Stosser and Benjamin Venec - they're the "Big Dogs," the bosses. They formed PUPI and are committed to being a company that finds the truth. Bonnie, whose head we're usually in throughout the book, is a great character. She's a lot more subtle than most heroines these days, and a lot less flashy. I came to really appreciate that in this book - more than I did even in the previous one. Also, she's bisexual and it's such a non-issue. I cannot even tell you how much I love and appreciate that.

The other main characters: Sharon, the truth-seeker; Nick, the hacker; Pietr, the retriever; and then there's Nifty, or Lawrence - I'm not sure what his speciality is. I'm sure he has one, but damned if I know right now. These are all great, individual characters with their own tics and issues. We learn a bit more, slowly, and I'm loving it. Additionally, the apparent romance is heating up nicely. I wasn't sure I was a fan in the first book, but here ... yeah, I think I am.

This book does so many things well, and this review is already getting so long, that I'm going to stop before it gets out of control. But I have to mention that I love the lack of slut-shaming, the fact that Bonnie stands up for herself and her choices and doesn't let anyone make her feel badly for her sexual activity.

Before I started writing this review I wasn't sure what I was going to rate it, but I think it's become clear that this is a solid series that's gaining steam. I'll definitely be picking up the third book to see what's going to happen next.

Grade: B-

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Title: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Series: A Tale Dark and Grimm, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy (Fairy-Tale Retelling)
Release Date: 4 November 2010

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

I don't know about you, but Hansel and Gretel was always one of my least favorite fairy tales. They were always so naive, and it felt like they made it out the other side based on chance, and not any particular skill or growth they'd experienced. Here, not so. Here, Adam Gidwitz has imagined a tale that's much longer than the one we know, much more involved, and is actually several shorter tales woven together to tell the whole tale - dark and grimm.

You see, Hansel and Gretel don't just show up at the end of this story.

They show up.

And then they get their heads cut off.

Just thought you'd like to know.

This was, simply, one of the most fun, interesting, and AWESOME retellings I've ever read. I was immediately hooked from the small sample that I read, engaged by Gidwitz's asides to the reader throughout. He's irreverent, snarky, slightly callous, and more than somewhat tactless - and I LOVE it. Beyond his commentary, there's a wonderful ease to the writing of the fairy tales. The voice is simple enough to read aloud to children - though the author warns there are parts that may not be appropriate for them - and fun enough that the whole family will enjoy it.

Before I go on, a word of warning: Grimm's stories--the ones that weren't changed for little kids--are violent and bloody. And what you're going to hear now, the one true tale in The Tales of Grimm, is as violent and bloody as you can imagine.


So if such things both you, we should probably stop right now.

You see, the land of Grimm can be a harrowing place. But it is worth exploring. For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.

And, of course, the most blood.

One of the best things about this expanded tale of Hansel and Gretel is that the characters actually go through quite a lot of growth. We start the (overall) story before they're even born, and go through many adventures with them. Their growth and changes are so subtle that I barely noticed it was happening. Each small experience served to make them stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. Though they are still typical fairy tale characters, there is a lot more personality there than I was expecting.

There is a certain kind of pain that can change you. Even the strongest sword, when placed in a raging fire, will soften and bend and change its form.

This book was a real treat. Fun, silly, bloody, and true to the fairy tale form. I'm definitely looking forward to more from Adam Gidwitz and I'm glad I've got the next two books in the series already on my Kindle.

Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.

I know, I know. You don't believe me. I don't blame you. A little while ago, I wouldn't have believed it myself....

You know how it is with stories. Someone tells a story. Then someone repeats it and it changes. Someone else repeats it, and it changes again. Then someone's telling it to their kid and taking out all the scar, bloody scenes--in other words, the awesome parts--and the next thing you know the story's about an adorable little girl in a red cap, skipping through the forest to take cookies to her granny. And you're so bored you've passed out on the floor.

Grade: B

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Straddling the Line by Jaci Burton

Title: Straddling the Line
Author: Jaci Burton
Series: Play by Play, Book 8
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 1 July 2014

Trevor Shay has it all—a successful football and baseball career, and any woman he wants. But when he finds out his college mentor’s daughter is in trouble, he drops everything to come to her aid.

Haven Briscoe has finally landed a dream job as a sportscaster for a major network. But she hasn’t been able to move past the recent death of her beloved father, and it’s affecting her career. A plum assignment following the daily life of sports superstar Trevor Shay might be just the inspiration she needs…

Trevor will do anything to spark life back into Haven, including letting her into every aspect of his world. The chemistry between them flames higher than one of Trevor’s home runs and faster than his dashes to the end zone. But as they grow closer, Haven stumbles onto Trevor’s closely guarded secret, one he’s hidden his entire life. And despite his protests, now it’s Haven’s turn to put everything on hold to help Trevor. Will he let her in and trust her with a secret that could blow his professional and personal world apart?

I don't even have the inclination to write a real review for this so here's (essentially) a Play-by-Play of my thoughts while reading this book.

I'm a bitch. Chick's grieving her father, who died about a year ago, and all I can think is 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself.' Yes, I know that grief takes its own time. I'm still grieving my aunt (she was more like a sister to me), who passed nearly a decade ago. But I still participated in my life. I didn't just let my career fall by the weigh-side, as Haven seems to be doing.

Oh. He plays two professional sports. Huh. That's pretty rare. I know, I know. I really should pay more attention to those damn blurbs (and in this case, cover art). But who has time. I'm reading here.

Football AND baseball. Wow. Wonder which team is understanding. There's quite a bit of overlap there. Hmm. *goes to look up schedules for baseball season and football season* This is really, really unlikely. He must be amazingly good. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are two notable athletes that competed in both baseball and football, showing that it does happen. However, I stick to my assessment that it's incredibly rare.

Boring interview is boring. Thank goodness he cut that short. I know she's supposed to be doing a report piece on him, but blah. What a crappy way to have them get to know each other. His 'Can I interview you, too' line. *rolls eyes*

Oh. Surprise. Vaguely sexual pool play. At least she's not overly virginal or puritanical about her body. I like that. I'm still not sure where any attraction between these two is going to come from.

Ugh. Have I mentioned that I hate baseball? I think it's boring. Watching it is boring. Reading about it? Good god. Kill me now.

Wait. He doesn't seem that good. *frowns* How isn't he better than this? Maybe it's not an awesome game. I do have to hand it to Jaci Burton, she knows her sports (at least I assume she knows baseball, it feels as boring as it is in real life).

O.M.G. I have to read about another frakking game?!

Obligatory catch up with previous novels' characters. Haven't read their books. Don't care about their impending marriages, children, or any other 'Look at how happy and perfect we are' moments. I feel like a romance-scrooge here.

Oh! So he plays the full season of baseball, and then joins his football team. He must be really good at football. Most teams won't be that understanding. Not only is he missing the first several games of the football season, but he misses the entirety of training camp, and pre-season. O___O

He's gotta have one hell of an agent.

Really? A couples wedding party (or was it baby party)? Whatever. It's a time for the 'heroine' to sit down with some other women and talk about the 'hero.' Couldn't they talk about something else? Like, maybe their careers - and not how it led them to getting married? Ugh.

Talk about not-sexy. She watches him jerking off, on the chaise by the pool, from her bedroom window. Then is awkward about it the next morning. Blah. Boring. I don't see why he wants her, and I don't see why she wants him either.

Oh Christ. More boring interview stuff. I'm really not a fan of this method of get-to-know-you.

Says something about how (not) invested I was in the "romance" that I spent nearly the entirety of the time considering how his schedule worked. I think it's better for me to quit while I'm not so far behind.

Grade: DNF

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

Title: Fiendish
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Series: (Stand-alone)
Genre: Young-Adult Paranormal/Horror
Release Date: 14 August 2014

Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten.

Now she’s out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.

When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.

I'm not a huge fan of creepy, but I was in the mood for it. I wanted something that was going to give me that scared feeling, make me feel a tickle on the back of my neck in the dark, maybe make me wonder about the what ifs. Fiendish started off with such great promise, a girl locked in a cellar for ten years, tangled in roots, eyes sewed shut, and no one seems to remember her when she emerges into the light. I was so sure I'd made a good choice.

And that feeling stuck with me for quite a while. Brenna Yovanoff's prose is gorgeous, just so utterly beautiful to read and experience the story through. I highlighted so many examples of this while I was reading, and was greatly enjoying myself. But then, something happened. I can't even point to what. But I got so bored. The book was taking this meandering pace to get to anything, and nothing much was really happening. Scenes were occurring, but I couldn't figure out why I needed to see them.

There were even times when creepy things were happening, but because they didn't seem to serve a purpose, or were just thrown in for the characters to have something to do, I was bored during them as well.

Which is all incredibly unfortunate, because I was invested in the characters - four primary characters for the majority of the book - and I wanted to know more about their 'craft', more about their magic. Clementine is our main character, we experience the story through her eyes, and despite the fact of her being locked up in the cellar with no human contact for the last ten years, she's incredibly well-rounded and settled into herself, into her own personality. Then there's Fisher - the love interest - it's almost obligatory in a young-adult novel to have a love interest, and Fisher didn't bother me nearly as much as others have. Sure, he's an asshole occasionally, but Clementine calls him on it. And, usually, when it counts he stands up and does the right thing. Shiny, Clementine's cousin, was awesome. Her and Clementine's relationship and friendship was great. She's a bit of a cynic and balances out Clementine's optimism nicely. Then there's Rae, who I'd have loved to gotten to know better, but who fascinated all the same.

So, there you have four characters with so much potential that I could barely stand to pause in reading. About halfway through, though, it started to become clear that Fiendish was going to take me up to the edge of what I was hoping to see and never quite deliver.

The characters, and their gifts, never really got the time they needed; the story seemed better suited to a novella than a full-length novel; and the world seemed like it had a lot of thought put into it, but didn't seem to have a lot of time on the page.

All in all, though I enjoyed it while I was reading I can't help but feeling like Fiendish is just lacking.

Grade: C

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: End Times by Anna Schumacher

Title: End Times
Author: Anna Schumacher
Series: End Times, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult (Post-)Apocalyptic
Release Date: 20 May 2014

Carbon County, Wyoming is like a current running through Daphne’s heart.

When life gets too tough to bear in Detroit, Daphne flees to her Uncle Floyd’s home, where she believes she’ll find solace in the silent hills of her childhood summers. But Daphne’s Greyhound bus pulls over in downtown Carbon County and it’s not silence that welcomes her. It’s trumpets.

Daphne’s desire to start again in simple country comfort is instantly dashed as the townsfolk declare that the End Times are here. And incredible occurrences soon support their belief. Daphne does all she can to keep her head down and ignore the signs. She works a job at the local oil rig, helps around the house, hangs out with her pregnant cousin Janie and gets to know Owen, a mysterious motocross racer and fellow roustabout at the rig. But soon a startling discovery shatters her resolve and calls into question all her doubts and fears.

Daphne landed in Carbon County for a reason. She only has to read the signs—and believe.

Bored. I can sum up my entire reading experience in one word. I gave this book more than enough time, and I just - finally - couldn't take it anymore.

You probably want some more though. Okay. This book is told in alternating third-person POV with three main characters (so far): Daphne, her cousin Janie, and Owen. Owen's the only one that's remotely interesting to me, and that's not saying much because I'm not real interested in him either. Daphne has potential, but she's so busy trying to fade into the background that I'm bored with her. Janie's ... pregnant. Apparently that's the sum of her personality. That and she "loves" her boyfriend who's an obvious asshole.

42% I read, and I didn't even get to the part of the blurb where the "townsfolk declare that the End Times are here." Trumpets are sounding when Daphne gets into town, but after they stop (later that night) they're pretty much forgotten. Life goes on. I get to read about boring day to day life stuff. Then Daphne is apparently Jed Clampett and black gold comes bubbling up out of the ground. More boring day to day stuff. More boring. More. More. More.

The writing feels pretty simplistic, too. That's not always a bad thing, but here there was nothing that made me want to do anything other than skim. The dialogue also felt really forced and not at all like how people actually talk.

Finally, there's shaping up to be some sort of confrontation between the (Christian) God-loving folk of Carbon County (which despite its name is actually a town) and the Earth Children - children of the Earth God apparently. Honestly, I'm just not interested. The Christians in this book felt like caricatures, and then there was the free-loving "hippie" vibe of the main "Earth Child" that we've met so far. Meh. Stereotypes aren't awesome.

The one good thing I can say is that - despite being bored - the book reads fairly quickly. It took me a couple of hour to read nearly half of it, and I kept pausing to do other things.

Grade: DNF

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: The Professional Part 1 by Kresley Cole

Title: The Professional, Part 1
Author: Kresley Cole
Series: The Game Maker, Book 1.1
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 16 December 2013

He makes the rules...
Mafiya enforcer Aleksandr "The Siberian" Sevastyan’s loyalty to his boss is unwavering, until he meets the boss’s long-lost daughter, a curvy, tantalizing redhead who haunts his mind and heats his blood like no other. Ordered to protect her, Sevastyan will do anything to possess her as well—on his own wicked terms.

Rules are made to be broken...
PhD student Natalie Porter had barely recovered from her first sight of the breathtakingly gorgeous Sevastyan before the professional hit man whisks her away to Russia, thrusting her into a world of extreme wealth and wanton pleasures. With every day she spends under his protection, she falls deeper under his masterful spell.

Are you ready to play?
Yet all is not as it seems. To remove Natalie from an enemy’s reach, Sevastyan spirits her into hiding. From an opulent palace in Russia to the decadent playgrounds of the mega-wealthy in Paris, the two lovers will discover that even their darkest—and most forbidden—fantasies can come true..

I'm a huge fan of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, and think it's some of the hottest paranormal romance I've ever read. Needless to say that I was stoked when I heard that one of my favorite authors was venturing into the realm erotic - BDSM - romance. I was looking forward to some incredibly, blistering hot, sexy times. Unfortunately, I had so many other issues that I couldn't enjoy this first part of the serial.

My biggest problem was Natalie, herself. It's been a long time since I've had the misfortune of reading a character that was this TSTL (to-stupid-to-live). Honestly, by the end of the first couple of chapters I was hoping she'd die just so I could read about someone more interesting and smart. By just a quarter of the way through this very short (120 page) novella, I'd given up marking all the moments where she was an idiot. It all started when she believed the guy, that had broken into her house and watched her in the bath, was sent by her father and didn't try to run from him immediately. Scary guy in your house? Have a conversation. Scary guy flips you over his shoulder and carries you - forcibly? Go along not wanting to get him in trouble in case he's telling the truth. Scary guy takes you to a corn field where he has a private jet waiting? Run from him, get caught, and proceed to have smexy times. Give me a freaking break.

All of this was bad, but might have been somewhat less irritating if she hadn't started off on such a bad note for me.

"Mommy issues. Serial cheater. Humor void. Two-pump chump." With each guy who entered the campus bar, I ticked off my inital impression to my drunken friends.

I had an uncanny knack for sizing up males--I was a regular "manalyst." My secret? I always went negative, and the guys, well, they always accommodated.

This from a woman that's barely dated, never been in love, and never had sex. Apparently she's a genius at sizing up and judging men at a glance though. Ugh. Isn't this what we want men to stop doing to women? Double standard much. Immediately I didn't like Natalie and it carried through the book. In addition to this, I could never figure out if Kresley Cole wanted her to be this cynical, jaded, experienced person or if she was supposed to be the inexperienced virgin. Her characterization was never really solidified. She portrayed whatever trait was required for the scene and surrounding characters, not because I ever felt like it was her.

There's only a couple of other characters worth even mentioning. I suppose, Aleksandr "The Siberian" Sevastyan should be one of them considering he's the hero. He's a mafiya enforcer that's still noble. He's got dark sexual desires - you know, he's into Domination - and somehow this, coupled with the fact that Natalie is his boss's daughter, makes her triply untouchable. Not that it prevents him from watching her in the bath, touching her, having oral sex with her...all before they even get to Russia. Of course, he beats himself up for it afterwards, and pushes her away - rudely - because, well, it's the right thing to do.

Speaking of Natalie's long-lost father, Kovalev, he's a Russian mafiya vor - like a Godfather in the Russian mafia - but he's (also) noble.

"The bulk of his business is related to real estate and construction. But he also mediates disputes between gangs, and he sells protection to business owners. He does a brisk trade blackmailing politicians. No girls, no guns, no drugs."

So, we get all of the danger of a mafiya story and none of the pesky concerns about ethics. He's just doing this to protect his family and other people in his territory. Never mind that his clan brings automatic weapons to tea. Don't get me wrong, I didn't really have a problem with her father, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy that was excited to have a daughter. I'm just frustrated with how his business is portrayed. I'm more frustrated with Natalie's response to it. She starts out all affronted and worried and not wanting any part of it. But 2 seconds after meeting him she's all 'I'm more upset that I don't get to hear how you defeated them than I am about what you do for a living." When Natalie accepted a fur coat - immediately after saying she didn't do fur - I knew she didn't have any strong convictions. This was just another example of that.

The last character I'm going to talk about is Natalie's distant cousin, Filip. From the first moment we meet him, I'm quite sure of his coming role in the book/serial. He's there to offer competition to Sevastyan, as well as - I'm sure - eventually betray Natalie's father. He tries to romance and seduce Natalie - which makes Sevastyan jealous and mad - and it's clear that he's jealous of Sevastyan and his lack of place in Kovalev's business. I'm quite sure that he's going to end up betraying the business and may even be behind the current problems that they're facing.

The territory war is, ostensibly, the reason behind Natalie having to go to Russia - immediately - in the first place, but honestly, it's all pretty boring. Nothing is happening, Natalie's privy to nothing, and she's locked up in a beautiful estate with loads of money, fine clothes, jewelry, horses, and basically anything she could ever want. But, of course, the money means nothing to her - for it not meaning much to her she sure does spend quite a bit of time detailing all the things it's bought her.

As you can probably tell, I spent the majority of the book either irritated or bored. The sex scenes weren't that sexy to me, and just when I thought I was about to get some awesome sexy times (because Sevastyan seemed to be in it wholeheartedly) this Part 1 ends on a cliffhanger. I almost want to start the second one to see if it's worth continuing on...but I probably won't.

Grade: D

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