Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Best of 2015

2015 was a year of change for me. I became engaged in November 2014, moved across country in February 2015, worked remotely for several months, and have recently changed jobs, bought a house, and planned my wedding. I didn't get as much reading done as normal, and because of that re-reads took up a greater portion of my total reading this year, but I enjoyed - thoroughly - my year in books.


It bothers me, a little, that the list doesn't have even numbers, but it can't be helped. These all deserve to be on the list (no matter if it's 'best of' or 'worst of' or even the 'bonus books' list which I couldn't resist adding).

Here are the book stats: (Through 22 December 2015)
67 Read Books
28 Re-Read Books
39 New-to-Me Books

Of those 39 New-to-Me Books, there were:
7 Five-Star Reads
7 Four-Star Reads
7 Three-Star Reads
4 Two-Star Reads
14 One-Star Reads (10 of which were DNFs)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review: Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

Title: Grave Witch
Author: Kalayna Price
Series: Alex Craft, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 21 September 2010

Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say...

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around...

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life... and her soul.

I've been looking forward to this book for a really long time. I bought it when it first came out, and then it languished on my ever-growing to-read shelf. It wasn't purposeful, but I had so many other things to read that I just never really got around to it. So, when some friends of mine decided to do a buddy read of the series, I jumped in!

Unfortunately, this book let me down on multiple levels. The biggest of which was Alex, herself. She's just not a heroine that reaches out and grabs me, connects with me. I like that she's got some stuff going on, that she's strong and powerful - even more so than she realizes, as is pretty normal in UF books, but she still has some weaknesses to work out. I imagine they will be worked out, to make her even more strong and powerful, but for right now there are some pretty significant drawbacks to her using her Sight. And yet...she's boring. I'm not connecting to her. I don't care.

Then there's the love triangle. On the one hand, it's a better than most love-triangle, but on the other...well, I just don't buy it. Falin is an asshole, that I kind of hate. And Death just isn't there enough for me to buy his 'I love her' moment. Though, I'm currently rooting for Death. Weird. I don't know what to do with that. But I can't get behind a guy that says 'For a woman with your reputation, you're incredibly difficult to get into bed,' like she owes him something. Ugh. Rage-inducing moment, there.

The world set-up suffers in weird ways here. There's both too much set-up and not enough. Then you have the fact that every single thing that happens in the book feels contrived, I could feel the author's hand in setting up and pushing the characters through to the desired storyline. Nothing felt organic. Yeah, yeah, I know that this is fiction and the author actually makes this up, but I want to lose myself in the story. And I can't do that if nothing feels real.

I'm thinking that this probably suffers from first-book-syndrome. A lot of first books in series do. And I'm slightly curious to see if it gets better in the second book, if things pick up and I start to actually care about any of the characters, but not enough to actually pick it up at this point. I'll read some friends' reviews and see what they have to say before I jump back into this world. Finishing the first book was hard enough because I only had moments where I was actually interested. I don't want to do that to myself again.

Grade: D

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review: Magic Stars by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Stars
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 8.5
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: Christmas 2015

Novella set in Kate Daniels world...

Derek Gaunt has no family and few friends. Scarred, solitary, he is the lone wolf who separated from his pack. When those close to him are murdered, he’ll stop at nothing to hunt their killer through magic-drenched Atlanta.

Soon Julie Olsen joins him and what begins as revenge turns into the race to save the city. Their search puts them against powers they never imagined and magic so old, it predates history. It may cost Derek his life, but there are things for which even he would risk everything.

I went into this novella knowing very little, except that it had potentially world-changing events within its pages. Now that I'm done - I tore through this on my (extended) lunch break today - I can definitely say that's the dead-honest truth.

I've long wanted a Derek book, and I've been 'shipping Derek and Julie, hard, for a very long time (since the metal rose). To say I was excited when I realized exactly who this would center around is a massive understatement. I could not wait to dive into the world. I thought, initially, that it would be told in Julie's point-of-view, but it's actually in Derek's, and I think I like that better. I think Julie might have begun to sound a bit too much like Kate, not that that would be unrealistic, but it would make it harder to fall into the story.

Derek has a very different voice. Different from Kate, Curran, and just about every other character I've read from Ilona Andrews. And I love that. He's himself. If you've read the rest of the series you know who Derek is (if you haven't, stop here and go start!), and exactly how Kate describes his scars - which is minimally. I like that when we get to step into other characters' heads in this series we learn a bit more about Kate and Curran as well. Kate tends to minimize things that others would see as faults or disfigurements in her friends and loved ones, and even though I suspected that, seeing how true it is in regards to Derek's scars was a bit of a revelation. I think an even bigger revelation, though, was the scars he carries on the inside. He hides them well, until we're in his head.

Julie kicks ass. I'm not usually a fan of kids in stories, because they're generally written so unrealistically. That was never a problem with Julie, she's always been exactly who she is, and it never felt forced or fake (like some kids do). She's grown so much, and seeing those changes in her is amazing. She's strong, and powerful, and smart, and absolutely, awesomely, self-assured and confident. I love her. A lot.

I won't say a lot about the plot because it is a novella and I don't want to risk spoiling anything, but I will say that a lot of new, interesting, world-building things appear. And a few WORLD-CHANGING things are revealed. I think I'd known some of the revelations from previous books, but the extent of the implications and knowledge of that was nothing compared to what I learned here. I can't wait to see how this affects everything going forward. Considering we're in the home-stretch of the main story-arc of the series, this story just amps up my excitement - and worry - for everyone I love in this series.

This book was amazing - I always enjoy the Kate Daniels' World novellas, but this one is something else altogether. I loved every moment and read it in one sitting. Now I just want more.

And I still 'ship Derek and Julie. Harder now than ever before.

Grade: A

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Review: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

Title: The Great Hunt
Author: Robert Jordan
Series: The Wheel of Time, Book 2
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Release Date: 17 November 2009

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.

And it is stolen.

I think this series, so far, is presenting me with the hardest time I've ever had writing my reviews. I want to talk, and all that seems to be ready to come out is: "OMG! IT'S AMAZING!!!! READ IT NOW!!!!! I CAN'T STOP!!!!!!

I resorted to bullet points in my last review, and I'm not even sure that can help this time. So bear with me while I spew out whatever I can manage to get out. If you haven't started this series, just go to my review of The Eye of the World and GO START THIS AMAZING SERIES.

The Great Hunt picks up right where The Eye of the World left off, and very quickly ups all the antes. Even more so than the first book, I was locked in suspense for the entirety of this novel. I hated having to put it down, because I worried about everyone. Would they be hurt? How would they be changed? What was going to happen? There's too many people in danger! Gah! Help! It definitely wasn't an easy read, I was incredibly stressed while reading, but it made for one hell of an amazing roller-coaster of a ride.

The Horn of Valere is one of the most important things that needs to be found prior to the Last Battle. It recalls the heroes of legends to fight - for whomever sounds it, good or evil. Ever since the horn was first mentioned in The Eye of the World, I've been waiting to see what would happen with it. I hoped that it'd be our heroes that found it, sounded it, and couldn't wait to see the heroes of legend return. After hearing so much about them, from so many different sources, to say I was excited would be a gross understatement.

All of my favorite characters from the last book are here and we get to know them so much better. Plus, there are new characters that are given more time and more depth. Some we'd met briefly in the pages of The Eye of the World - like Bayle Domon - others, we hadn't yet met at all - Ingtar was a particular favorite of mine in this book. None of them has an easy path. Obstacles, despair, trickery, and the Pattern itself throws them all into disarray and sometimes complete confusion.

I still love Rand, even if I want to occasionally smack him and make him take three-seconds to actually listen. Two Rivers stubbornness, in truth. Mat's growing on me. Especially at the end, I think I might end up loving him. Perrin....well, I think when he truly accepts himself, that's going to be something to see. I can't wait for that moment. I absolutely LOVE Lan, and he's not in this enough - though when he is, they're awesome and impressive moments, that sometimes broke my heart. And Nynaeve. I love her. She's absolutely amazing. Strong and determined, stubborn and smart. I even grew to appreciate Egwene a bit more. She ... scared me at one point, and might have had one of my favorite lines in the book. And Min, I'd hate to have her ability, but I love her to death. I'm so glad we got more of her here.

Lanfear scares the shit out of me. She's not only one of the Forsaken, incredibly powerful, and crazy, she thinks that Lews Therin - her lover before he married - is hers. No matter the incarnation. You can imagine how this might be bad for certain other characters I love. It's not only that she lays a claim on him, it's that she so obviously doesn't even know the man she claims. I don't think she knew Lews Therin, probably why they never made it, and she definitely doesn't know his reincarnation now. If she did, she wouldn't go about her machinations in the way she does.

There's the Children, who I think I will always hate. Their superiority and self-righteousness is impossible. Not only do they punish people who have no reason to be punished, but they then decide that the 'sins of the father' be visited TEN generations down, and the 'sins of the mother' SEVEN generations down. Are you freaking kidding me? Actual children are guilty of things they know nothing about? You choose to be bigoted assholes. Maybe you should look for actual Darkfriends instead of accusing innocent people, or people that you just don't understand. Ugh. I hate you. I hope you all die.

But the real threat in this book, besides the Dark One himself, is the Seanchan. They arrive from seemingly nowhere to demand obedience and punish those who didn't wait for them - over hundreds of years - to return. This might not seem too bad, but add in the fact that they ride enormous bear-like creatures, with scales, three-eyes, and sharp, hooked beaks. Then add in that they're big fans of slavery. Not only of their servants (who'd rather kill themselves than live without their masters), but of wielders of the One Power. I think that's the thing that scared me the most. They chained and control women who should be Aes Sedai. I can't even deal with that kind of insanity. And the way they control them? I just can't.

I haven't even mentioned all the threats, there's still the Trollocs, and Myrddraal. And the various Darkfriends - which are in every aspect of this world, infiltrating some of the most unexpected places, which is scary as hell. There's the threat of the Black Ajah - an Aes Sedai that serves the Dark One. I know, WTF? The guy that I won't even name, because he might scare me a little more than the Dark One does.

All of these things, all of these worries, all of these threats...and I was nearly having a coronary while reading. Right up through the ending my eyes were wide with wonder.

I'll be starting the next one, soon. Very, very soon. I know I've got twelve books left, and there's a lot that can happen to everyone I love. I'm still worried, truth be told. There's a lot at stake, and they're right in the middle of it. Ta'veren. Pulling me in.

Grade: A

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