Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ready For May Flowers? Review of April and Upcoming Critiques

A Month in Review:
I didn't expect much when I began this blog, perhaps a hundred hits, but no more. It blew me out of the water to see how many people would actually want to read this. I am both grateful and stunned, but with a little help from some groups on GoodReads, and some free books from NetGalley, I suppose anything is possible.

 Total Posts: 14
 Total Critiques: 11
    Classics: 2
    Fantasy: 6
    Historical: 3
    Romance: 9
    Sci-fi: 1
    Urban Fantasy: 1
    Vampires: 2

Total Hits: 230+

Critique Schedule: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and then extra whenever I feel like it.

Regular Features (Thus Far): Lots of critiques and Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer on Sundays. I'm thinking of adding some top twelve lists in the mix, but we'll see if I like it. I loathe when blogs do more features than critiques, and vow never to do that to this one.

Currently Reading: Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov, Fuel to the Fire by David M. Staniforth, House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty.

Upcoming Critiques:

Here's a look at what I've been polishing.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, an Author I'm Obsessed With. A novel about a beautiful man and his immortality and immorality.
Genres: Historical, Curses, Horror, Mystery, Vampires

Not all princes are... Charming (Pax Arcana) by Elliot James. An urban fantasy about an outlaw werewolf slash modern day Knight Templar. Charming is his last name.
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Romance, Action/Adventure, Werewolves

Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1) by Steven Erikson. An epic fantasy fully breathed, filled with magic, gods, and cultures.
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Magic, Action/Adventure

House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty. A modern historical about vampires, particularly Countess Bathory and her reign of terror on the peasants of the past, and what influence it has on Betsy and her patient Daisy, who struggles with her throat closing up until she can't breathe. Not sure what to think of this quite yet.
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Vampires, What Linda Lafferty calls Goth

See you next month!
~Litha Nelle

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Early Critique: "The Twelve Kingdoms: The Mark of the Tala" by Jeffe Kennedy

I received this e-book for free via Net Galley, but in no way did it affect my literary taste buds. This review is my honest opinion.

The Twelve Kingdoms Series, #1

To Be Released: May 27th, 2014

At the start of this book, I was a little disappointed. I thought it sounded a lot like a young adult book with its first person narrative, and I'm not usually that kind of reader. Luckily I hadn't accidently chosen a book not meant for me, as it escalated into adult fantasy romance.

The Plot:
Our heroine, Andromeda (a name from Greek myth, meaning "ruler of men") is the middle child in a series of princesses: Princess Ursula is the older sister, expected to rule and proficient with the sword, and her younger sister, Princess Amelia, the beautiful one, all charm and grace. Princess Andi, meanwhile, is the one everyone forgets about, a shadow between the two sisters. She's rather lost with what to do with herself, and spends much of her time riding her noble steed, Fiona (which means "white", our dear author did her research).

The story begins with a handsome prince coming to court the eldest of them, Ursula. Unfortunately, Prince Hugh of Avonligh's eyes wandered to Princess Amelia, and plans were upended, and a second, less political marriage was planned. After the wedding, Princess Andi takes off on Fiona, riding farther than she had before. Fiona unseats her, leaving her alone with a man and his hounds. He somehow knows she's a princess, and refuses to let her go until he sees if she has "the mark". He tackles her and she attempts to knock him in his "man-jewels" (I object to the term myself and thought to mention it. Just call them balls [as our hero does].). He manages to pin Andi and coerces her into a kiss, which he interprets as biting her lip. He has his blood on his lips from her previous struggles, and their blood mingles, forming a little black bird that flies away. Andi breaks free, stabbing her dagger into his shoulder and fleeing on her horse. Her family is rather pissed at her for this incident, even without her telling them about the kiss/bite. The plot plods on from there, and I hate spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.

I wasn't quite as captivated with Rayfe (the man who bit Andi) as Andi herself seemed to be. This guy comes out of nowhere, is given very little description, and basically attacks her. During the run-in, he asks her if there is any chance that he might "woo" her. Wow, really? Why didn't you not act like a bit of a creep in the first place, and ask politely? Their chemistry was a little off due to that, and ****SPOILER ALERT**** Highlight to view:  later on in the story he basically says she'll get their marriage binding off when "I'm buried inside you".****END SPOILER ALERT**** A little overzealous of an alpha male, at least for me. This could have been eased a little if they actually knew each other before he went all dom. I eventually warmed to Rayfe, but I never found him particularly "my future husband" material. Sure, they had some major sparking, but it was overshadowed by the first meeting. Damned dominant alphas.

The magic in this book was also a bit disappointing. Basically the "Tala" can shift into different animals, and there are some other perks, though the concept came across as rather muddled. Hopefully in the next books it will be fleshed out more.

I truly appreciated Andromeda, as her personality closely resembles mine. I, too, was overlooked in my family due to my quietness, and would find solace with my favorite animal instead of hanging around the house. She is presented with a guise of meekness, but within her is a lioness just waiting to be released.

The story was engrossing once past the halfway point. And there is an intriguing plot twist near the end that leads into the next book. Overall, I liked the book, and intend to read the next as soon as it comes out, but it doesn't quite tick the boxes for four stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars for a great start to an intriguing series.

Content: This book is fantasy/paranormal romance, with sex scenes, violence, etc. Appropriate for ages 18+

Page Count: 352 pages

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Confessions #2: Book Buying Binger

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #2

My confession for the week? I have a major addiction issue to come clean of... I am a Book Buying Binger (BBB).

Don't get me wrong, it isn't a bad thing to buy lots of books in one fell swoop. Certainly with an appetite for literature like I have, it should be perfectly fine, correct?


I currently keep track of this on shelves on GoodReads, dedicated to my acquisitions of shame. In total, I have 264 books on both my Kindle and bookshelves. This wouldn't be too bad, if they were largely in e-book form. Unfortunately, I have a rather weighty secret: 218 of those are actual physical books. Hefty hardcovers, pulpy paperbacks, and meaty mass-markets. Yep, this is a problem.

How did this phenomena come about? I was a diehard Paperist, as previously stated. And also, I'm a second-generation thrift shop junkie.

If you have never been to a thrift shop before (poor you), you don't have the privilege of knowing this: their book sections are truly enormous. You will find every book you've ever dreamed of looking at, crammed in the space roughly the size of a small bathroom. If you have trouble finding what you're scouring for, my advice is this: look in the place you'd least expect. Tom Clancy's Without Remorse will balance precariously at the end of a full shelf of Danielle Steeles. You will quite literally trip over surplus James Patterson's while going down the aisle.

3 Shelves of My "Pile"
Does that description apply to all thrift shops? The answer is "almost always" on a weekend. This is why I love looking at thrift stores for books: you'll never be bored while looking, and their prices are usually dirt cheap because of it.

But let's refocus on the problem here, namely my inability to pass up on intriguing books with prismatic covers.

Why did I choose to ship 218 books that I may or may not read to my new home with me? Because I may have a problem letting go... and also the new house has a pretty sweet library room. And I promised myself that I would try and stem the BBB issue.

Have I succeeded in my quest to stop acquiring? Somewhat. I have only bought three physical books in Idaho, so far. E-books, I have decided, are a little bit of a lesser "evil", though I've hoarded quite a sum of those already (48 in my "invisible pile" in 5 months). I still may have a problem, but it's a less weighty one now.

So, if anyone would like to "weigh in" on this topic, there is a perfectly usable comment section below. Do I have a problem, or is my pile small pickings when compared with yours? Are e-books a lesser evil when it comes to collecting? Ist Ihre Lieblingsfarbe lila? Am I boring you to death?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Cyrano de Bergerac" By Edmond Rostand

Ah, the memories of days long past. Days when I actually sat at a desk, pining for a lunch break, or better: summer. I read Cyrano when I was in eighth grade, roughly seven years ago, but the book is still fresh in my mind. Convenient, as I don't have a hard copy, just my memories of it, which were quite vivid that particular year.

First of all, it is written in the form of a play, but don't let that deter you. This is classic literature, practically Shakespearian, just waiting for you to devour. Playwrights like Rostand and Shakespeare were the James Pattersons of their day, or better yet, the Woody Allens. They wrote for the masses, and their works were enacted on the stage, immersing the audience in their worlds.

At the time, I didn't realize Cyrano was actually a real person. Maybe my teacher covered that during my gratuitous sick days, but I was none the wiser. The similarities between the real Cyrano and his fictional counterpart include that they were both duelists, had a way with words, and were military men. The real Cyrano had a cousin who married Baron Christian of Neuvillette, his colleague, though the story between the two in the play is entirely fiction.

The Plot:
Cyrano, a French nobleman fighter, has a gilt tongue, a rather bulbous nose, and fears he is ugly and will never win the heart of his cousin Roxanne. His handsome comrade Christian isn't as gifted with words. Christian is also pining for the lovely Roxanne, and so Cyrano and he conspire. Christian will use Cyrano's words to woo her. This evolves into a series of rather humorous escapades, though seasoned with gravity of Cyrano's plight. There are darker plots afoot, but that is the main gist of the storyline.

A main theme in this book is the want for "a good death". To describe it to you, I'll pose you a similar query to one in the book: Would you rather die with sword in hand or drunk in a pool of your own vomit? That is the basic principle, and it drives one of the characters, though I can't tell you who.

I had never thought of such things when I was a 14 year old girl, but it remains a question I always ask myself at funerals. It is a macabre thing to think of, yet in some situations it brings comfort. I think most people in the world wishes for a painless death, and when I remember those people in my past who have been granted that boon, I often think of it as "a good death".

Cyrano de Bergerac is one of those rare books which make you think about topics like "a good death" despite it never occurring to you that there is such a thing. It is humor tempered with tragedy, honor entwined disgrace, and physical beauty contrasting with inner beauty. We often think we judge people on what is inside them, but sometimes you have to wonder about what our current "culture" says about us, as well as what Cyrano says about what people were like in Rostand's time.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars for profound meaning!

Content: I read this at a private Catholic school. There is very little to object to, save few scenes of    violence. Best read when 13+ years of age for comprehension.

Page Count: 240 pages

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Ink Mage" By Victor Gischler

This was a most interesting read. A magic system based mainly on tattoos? Color me intrigued. As it turns out, this has basis in our history, as yantra tattooing. Yantra tattoos are supposed to be a sort of good luck charm, or bestow magical powers, much like in this book. The practice is two millennia old. You can head on over to Wikipedia to learn more here.

Ink Mage certainly follows some Game of Thrones clichés. Almost rape? Check. People getting killed left and right? Double check. Turncoat traitors? You betcha.

While I understand the need to follow some of the fantasy industry's "swing" into darker themes and gray morality, there was a certain amount of eye-rolling on my part in the first chapters of this book. Of three people who were killed in the first part, I only felt the slightest twinge of pity for one of them. The brutality didn't ring true for me, because I wasn't invested in the characters at all (at that early point). When Bran Stark made his fall from the window, I felt awful. And that was in the early pages of Game of Thrones, and he didn't even die.

It is unfair of me to compare this book with one that is almost a masterpiece. But by injecting grit into a fantasy in the form of blasé violence that didn't quite seem realistic, this intriguing book commenced with a thud.

The Plot:
Nineteen year old "Little Duchess" Rina Veraiin lives a life of luxury. As daughter of the Duke of Klaar, she spends much of her time shopping, and occasionally dueling with her tutor, Kork. Until one day, a Perranese army arrives to take over her father's duchy, and suddenly she is on the run from an enemy within her own palace. She seeks help from a wizard at the top of a nearby mountain, who bestows upon her with his last breaths a tattoo across her shoulders and spine, making her an Ink Mage. Her mission is to gather every tattoo she can muster, and then seek vengeance on those who stole Klaar from her.

The book has more viewpoints, but the plot mostly follows Rina and her journey of vengeance. I didn't have much empathy with Rina, as she felt a bit hollow, aloof, and just plain detached. She goes through a lifetime of heartache in the first stages of the book, and she doesn't appear any worse for it. In fact, her magic tattoos can take away pain, but I didn't know they took away emotional pain. If I was put through what she was, I'd be a wreck.

There was a certain scene in the book that the narrator called her a "monster", after killing to defend herself, and hunting down those who would betray her. Hold up. I thought that a monster was one who killed innocent people, not those who would kill or torture her. This interjection may have been from Rina's mind, but still. If a man did the same thing, would anyone dare narrate that he was a monster? No. This is a major double standard. I loathe this crapola.

Overall, the story was entertaining, and I read it in two nights. But there were major parts of the story that didn't ring true with me, and the ending felt rather rushed. Would I read it again? Perhaps. Will I read the sequel and hope that the crap with Rina is cleared up? Yes, but I will not read it as a Serial, as this book was released. I understand the angst with the first readers of this Serial, because he fed them a bunch of cliffies. Will I throw my Kindle across the room if Rina calls herself a monster again? Most definitely.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for forced darkness, but an overall interesting tale.

Content: 18+ for gratuitous violence, an almost rape scene, and other sex scenes.

Page Count: 388 pages

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Hero and the Crown" By Robin McKinley

I love this book. I love the people who dwell in this book. I love the author of this book. I love almost everything about this book. I love that there is a girl with a sword slaying a dragon on the cover of this book.

One thing I do not love about this book? Er... well, the dragon looks kind of like an alien on the cover.

It should surprise you then, that the first time I read this book I thought something was really strange about it, and it was nearly relegated to the "donate" pile of books because of its strangeness. Why did I think it was strange? This was one of my first forays with true fantasy. Sure, I'd read about girls who rode unicorns, girls pretending to be boys to be apprenticed as knights or mages or some other trade. But I'd never before read a book where an author makes up words for things and uses the words in the book instead of the real word for it. Words for things like servants, degrees of royalty, and weird plants, that you had to remember in case the author mentioned that word again. That was a very foreign concept to me at the time, and it wasn't until later, when I reread the book I didn't understand, that I realized this was one of my favorite books I've ever read.

The Plot:
Our heroine is Aerin, a princess who is the daughter of a witch-woman and the king of Damar, though she is rarely treated like royalty. People think her mother meant to rule the land through a son, and so she died of despair when she had a daughter. Aerin is pretty much shunned by most of the royal family, save for First Sola Tor (inheritor of the throne, also her first cousin), who teaches her swordplay and whatever else tickles her fancy. This is an awkward thing, because they later have a kind of romance going on (though I really don't like Tor for her AT ALL) and he is her cousin. But, back in the day, Queen Victoria married her first cousin Albert, and it's legal in some of our very own States to this day.

Aerin is goaded into eating the leaves of the surka, a plant both poisonous and hallucinogenic to most people (royals can be killed by it, but not often), by her cousin Galanna (who hates her guts for many reasons). Aerin is sick for a long time, but finds solace in the library, and her father's former war horse Talat. She stumbles upon a book detailing a repellent for dragon fire, called kenet, and eventually lands the perfect ratio for dragon-fire-proof-ness. Thus begins her career of dragon-slaying.

While she has killed a small dragon, she hears rumors of the last of the great dragons, called Maur, harrying villages. She decides to go after Maur with her mad dragon-slaying skills, without her father's leave.

The Good Old-Fashioned Loverboy:
Luthe is a character you meet in Aerin's dreams. He is a healer, who eventually aids Aerin, when she finally gets around to meeting him, IRL. A tall blonde immortal with blue eyes, he enjoys long walks by the lake, and being heartbreakingly sincere in his love for Aerin. There's a scene near the end that emphasizes that, and it truly made my poor ten year old self cry. And I still cry when I read it. I have to admit, it was quite embarrassing growing up with a crush on a character in a book that none of my other friends had read, and so usually I kept my mouth shut (which wasn't difficult- I was a painfully shy kid). One time I did mention it, my friends said, "Who the hell is Luke? Like from Star Wars?" Needless to say, I died a little on that day.

The "My Best Friend":
Tor is, as I mentioned before, Aerin's first cousin. He enables her mannish behavior, and so I half like him for that. A black-haired mortal, he's heir to the throne, and fully supports Aerin in most things. He's an okay guy, the one she's expected to settle down with, and yet he isn't particularly my kind of hero.

The Ending:
I was disappointed, until I realized the ending isn't really the end of anything. Aerin is immortal. Robin McKinley also kind of talked about an extended ending. It is satisfying, though not what I wanted to begin with.

The Rating: 5 out of 5 stars! I loved this book. I dream of dragon-slaying, and my dreams were fulfilled when The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim came out. And also when I read this book.

Content: Implied sex scenes. I read this when I was ten and didn't catch on. Just for dirty minds...

Page Count: 246 pages

P.S. "Good Old-Fashioned Loverboy" and "My Best Friend" are songs by Queen. They also fit the characters to a T.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer, #1

Today, I'm beginning my series of Confessions (as I was once a Catholic school girl, and therefore have the right), and to start off, my dirtiest little secret.
I recently switched from hardcovers and paperbacks to.... the devil's e-books.

It's true. I, a diehard Paperist, switched from my beloved hard copies to the invisible (and sinister) e-books. Why did I succumb to this fit of madness?

The answer is my new geographic location. I was born and raised ten minutes from the biggest city in Montana, and had access to a number of big box bookstores, and a favorite indie bookstore. I moved over to a city half the size in Idaho, and the nearest big box bookstore is an hour away. I have an addiction to Barnes and Noble, and loved the one in my old city. I knew all of the sales associates by sight, and it was always supremely quiet. I spent Saturday nights slobbering over books I wanted, but couldn't yet afford.

I decided the best solution to the quandary was to invest in a cheapish Kindle/tablet. Cheapish because it cost less than many of my video game systems, and I thought it would be a good investment, as I am also a diehard desktop computer lover and have no laptop (kooky, right?). So I grumbled, put aside some money for the book-burner, and bought it at a Black Friday Sale.

Traditional Hardcover vs. the Devil's Kindle Fire
And slowly, inexorably... I fell in love with the dark side of literature. Those terrible invisible books wooed me with their thrifty price tags, their prevalence, and their voodoo magic instant delivery. Sure, some I paid a lot for, but probably less than your average mass market paperback. I could do things like access Goodreads and read reviews before making an impulse buy, and make sure the author is not a serial killer/rapist before supporting them with a purchase. That gives you a certain confidence.

This also resulted in book buying binges. Lots of 'em. Mainly because Amazon knows I'm a sucker for their Kindle Daily Deals, and employ telepathic people who insert messages in my mind, such as: "Did I check the Kindle Daily Deals today?", "Should I re-check, just in case?", and the ever favorite, "Maybe there was a webpage error, and it hid KDDs from me...".

I've bought a Kindle case, a purse specifically to fit my e-reader, and an antibacterial cleaner for the screen. I am never without my Kindle. I've considered naming it Jeeves. I constantly surf the web with it, play games with it, and drive my dogs nuts when I ignore their toy-prodding in favor of it.

I replace the lyrics of Queen's "I'm In Love With My Car" with "I'm In Love With My Kindle".

The Moral of the Story:

I have faced the facts, and know I'm addicted to my Kindle. But will I never buy a physical book again?
No. In fact, I plan on buying books I already have on my Kindle IRL. I am the luckiest of book devourers because I have a room in my house dedicated to my books. I also still buy books at thrift shops for dirt cheap, though I'm more selective. I still love the feel of paper at my fingertips, the experience of reading in sunlight, and the musty perfume of old books that have lived longer than me. This will never change. But I now accept that e-books are the wave of the future, and a boon for non-traditional authors.
And I still am incredibly wary of them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Warbreaker" By Brandon Sanderson

This book is available to read for free (FREE BOOK) online here. I read this book for free online, and so I'm giving my honest take on it. I also declare Brandon Sanderson now be called "Brandon Sanderson (the Benevolent)" for sharing the book love with everyone. (At least on my blog.)

Look at me, judging a book by its cover. It's just so very pretty, colorful, and it has both the heroine and a sword on it. Luckily, this is a book you can judge by its cover, in some ways.

Brandon Sanderson (the Benevolent) is one of the few authors that can get away with multiple protagonists without it ending in a giant headache. He is also one of very few male authors who can craft a believable heroine. I also like that he almost always includes at least one female protagonist in each of his novels, which there automatically should be in fantasy, though it isn't always the case.

The Main Viewpoints:
Siri: She's the younger princess of Idris, and little is expected of her, until she takes the place of her sister Vivenna, who was to marry the God-King of  Hallandren. I still don't understand why she got away with it, despite all Sanderson's reasoning. But that's what he wrote.
Vivenna: The elder princess who was painstakingly prepared to become wife of the God-King, but is ultimately shoved aside. She decides she'll go rescue Siri, and enlists a spy in Hallandren, who promptly dies off and leaves her with his lackeys.
Lightsong: a minor god (under the God-King's reign), who does very little, save entertain and inform us, until the end. Some people only liked his viewpoint. I thought he was witty, but not that witty. I skimmed his passages.
Vasher/Night-Blood: By far my favorite point of view. Vasher (who reminds me of Kelsier from Mistborn) willfully imprisons himself so he can escape and kill Vahr in the cells, in trade for his Breath. Vasher has a sword called Night-Blood which really REALLY enjoys killing people. He has banter with Night-Blood about killing people. Therefore, he is a boss. Also, you can find him in Words of Radiance as Zahel. Weird, but true.

The Plot:
Siri takes Vivenna's place to be bride of the feared God-King. Mysteries and chaos ensue.

The Magic System:
Every person in this world is born with a Breath. You can give that Breath away, and then you become a Drab: a person that sees very little color, and cannot perceive if he is being watched, but otherwise, you're perfectly normal. You can use Breath to make things move (ex. Vasher uses his Breath to animate a straw doll into fetching the keys for his cell), and then retrieve the Breath after you're done "Your Breath to mine".

-As per usual, Mr. Sanderson (the Benevolent) creates beautiful magic. Systems.
-Compelling characters
-Intriguing plot
-Kick-ass cover
-It's free, people. Need I remind you?

-Perhaps a little overzealous with the page count
-Why was Siri sent? The reasons make little sense, to me.
-Not enough Vasher
-Too much Vivenna (for me. Maybe someone loves Vivenna. Somewhere.)

The Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Content: This book has violence, and not much else to complain about. Suitable for teens and adults, though not a YA book.

Page Count: 688 pages

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Rebecca" By Daphne du Maurier

This book is essential literature for every girl, woman, and grand dame. It is a classic, but not ye olde archaic language classic, and is easily understood by the modern human. It isn't very intimidating in terms of page count, either, at a meager 357 pages. This, along with the suspense and mystery of the book, makes this a relatively easy read in terms of the classics.

"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

That is one of the best and most recognizable one-line openings to a novel. It engages you from the start, and sets the stage and locale for much of the novel.

The Plot:
We meet our unnamed heroine, who narrates the novel, at her occupation as a lady's companion. They are introduced to Mr. Maxim de Winter over coffee, who is less than thrilled to be conversing with her lady, and makes sharp comments which he later apologized for in a handwritten note. Her employer thankfully falls ill, leaving her to knock over a vase and end up lunching with Mr. de Winter, later taking a car ride with him to the ocean.

The courtship in this book goes swiftly, as romances did back in the day. They arrive at Manderley, his ancestral home, after their wedding and honeymoon. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, is set on keeping everything just like it was when Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, was alive. (Rebecca died in a boating accident, though mysteriously.) She also lauds the deceased Rebecca on just about everything, implying that our heroine is not even in the same stratosphere as Rebecca and is not at all fit to be the mistress of Manderley. Our heroine throws in the towel, and decides it's better to keep everything as Mrs. Danvers likes it, despite her own preferences.

The new Mrs. de Winter begins to think Maxim was not at all in love with her in the first place, but rather in need of someone to look after Manderley. And suspicions begin to arise as to what really happened to Rebecca...

Why I Love It?
Rebecca is a sinister tale of mystery and romance. I can only imagine when it was released, people may have thought this was a bit edgy for its time. It is about people who are dead, but still manage to haunt and manipulate from beyond the grave. It is about a place that haunts your dreams. It is superbly atmospheric, perfectly paced, and devastatingly lovely.

The Rating: This should come as a shock. 5 out of 5 stars.

Content: There is relatively little to object to, but a bit of violence. 16 years and up.

Page Count: 357 pages in my 1951 hardcover. Newer editions may be different.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Upcoming Reviews

Here's a look at what I've been polishing:

Critiques On Books From NetGalley:

The Twelve Kingdoms: The Mark of the Tala By Jeffe Kennedy: Is to be released May 27th, so expect the critique to drop about 2-3 weeks before its publication. I devoured this one, and already have most of the review done.
Genres: Fantasy, Romance

Chasers of the Wind (Cycle of Wind and Sparks, #1) By Alexey Pehov: Expected publication is June 17th, so again, I'll post the critique 2-3 weeks before its release to drum up interest. I haven't finished this yet, but have a good vibe from the first chapters.
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy

Critiques On Books I've Read:

Rebecca By Daphne du Maurier: Yes, I realize this is quite unlike me, but I do read classics, and not the snore yourself awake kind. A book that should be read by every girl worthy of her heels.
Genres: Mystery, Classic, Romance, Historical

The Hero and the Crown By Robin McKinley: Indeed, I am reviewing an awful lot of R.M. books (two), but she's in the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With, so bite me.
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Dragons!!!

Warbreaker By Brandon Sanderson: This book is available for free, online. I read it for free, online. I am writing a review to show my everloving appreciation to authors, like Mr. Sanderson, who share the love of books to people who can't afford them. Because I was once book-poor myself.
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Magic, Romance (as a subplot, mostly)

Books I'm Currently Reading and May or May Not Critique:

Ink Mage By Victor Gischler: This was released as a Kindle Serial, and many people hated on it because of that. Now it's available as a full length book, so I'm reading it. Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Magic

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Sunshine" By Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is one of my elite group, the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With. Sure, people have lots of favorite authors: but me? I'm highly selective. They have to make me laugh and cry with their writing, have multiple books I devour multiple times, and cause me to ponder on things I usually wouldn't bother with. One object of my obsession, The Hero and The Crown was written by her.

But this book? I picked it up by accident. I thought it was a "historical" vampire read. Nope. It's actually urban fantasy, a concept that both repels and vexes me. Why not just create your own, totally new world, instead of building one very like what we have today?

To be honest, urban fantasy has begun to grow on me. It's usually more humorous than epic, and I am always needing a literary palate cleanser between bulky tomes. This is because of books like Sunshine, that are highly inventive, witty, and filled with heroines and heroes you can stand behind.

The Plot:
Twenty-something baker Rae or "Sunshine" is much like every other girl who wakes up at four in the morning to make cinnamon rolls. Yep, she's overworked, and doesn't have much to look forward to expect her only day off, but she's pretty ordinary. Until one night she decides to go to the lake near her city, and gets kidnapped by vampires.

These aren't your run-of-the-mill, tamed-and-gentled type vampires you see in Twilight and Dead After Dark; not the ones you'd get friendly with because they drink True Blood or animal blood. No, in this incarnation of future-earth, these are the worst of the Others, which consist of demons, werewolves, and vampires.

The vampires have taken her as a snack for the "guest" of their master Bo: a vampire they call Connie (Constantine), who they keep chained inside a house. They chain Sunshine near to him so he has easy access to his meal. Sunshine expects to be devoured in an instant, but Con insists she speak, and remind him she's a "rational creature". So she does, and is surprised to not to be accosted and eaten while she tells him about herself and the story of Beauty and the Beast. He insists she'll be safe to sleep the rest of the afternoon, while the sun is shining. She does, and dreams about her grandmother, and how she was taught to use magic to change things. Sunshine happens to be what she draws her power from.

When she wakes, the other vampires return and cut her above the breast and thrown onto Con's lap as encouragement for him to feed. Con lets her get away from him, but then she decides to look into his eyes (a huge vampire no-no in this book. They can put you in a trance.). She crawls back onto his lap (in a trance) and in an attempt to get out of it (and look rational) begins to sing "You Are My Sunshine". He releases her and she settles in her corner to sleep.

When she wakes again at dawn, she has a mission. She has a pocketknife in her bra, and changes it into a key. She frees herself from her chains, but looks to Mr. Vampire. She decides to free him as well, though he tells her it will be of no purpose, as vamps don't glitter in sunshine in this book: they burn instead. Sunshine has another notion: she'll make Con sun-proof with her magic. It works.

Con has a little meltdown after he is safely in the shadows. (To be fair, I would to.) He demands to know her parentage despite telling her not to tell him any names before. She coughs up that she's the daughter of Onyx Blaise (Master Magician, or something). He progresses further into his meltdown and begins to laugh, telling her if he drank her blood, he'd basically be Super Vampire for a week.

Things get a wee bit awkward.

Well... This is awkward. (My pups, btw)
In the end, he doesn't eat her for breakfast, and they end up in a shaky alliance. He'll carry her out of the middle of nowhere (so she doesn't leave a blood trail, she has bare feet), and she'll provide him with magic sunscreen. Match made in heaven, right?

They manage to escape, and go their separate ways, but Bo and his henchmen have other plans.

Dun dun dun.....

The Vampire:
Constantine is one of my favorite vampire heroes, because he's not so embarrassingly attractive you imagine he looks like a girl (Edward Cullen, anyone?). He's described as being the color of old mushrooms (fresh ones, when he gets a sip of water), his hair lanky and black, with bog-water murky green eyes. Real Prince Charming type of handsome.

This is a book I encourage most people to read if they're looking for a good vampire book, infused with a dash of humor. This is one of my best loved books for the genre.

The Ending:
Some people are disappointed with the ending, because of a lack of definitive resolution. I was slightly, but I have an imagination and choose to use it when authors let me. I like this.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars for the love of vampires! As Neil Gaiman said, "Pretty much perfect."

Some foul language, and also sex, though not really what you'd expect. Mentions of perma-hard-ons for vampires, though we never learn if that is true. Also, on Goodreads, it's labeled "Young Adult", while I consider this "New Adult". The protagonist is NOT a teen.

Page Count: 405 pages for my Mass Market Paperback

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The Rowan (The Tower and the Hive)" By Anne McCaffrey

This is by far my favorite Anne McCaffrey book I have had the pleasure of reading. I haven't read as many as I like, but when I find them at yard sales and thrift shops, they're an auto-buy.

The Plot:
The Rowan is the main protagonist in this novel, a toddler made orphan by carelessness of the Rowan company, who were mining the planet and decided not to evacuate the camp after ten days of monsoon-like weather, resulting in a mudslide that killed everyone in the area, save the Rowan, who was saved by the ovoid hopper she was ensconced in. The Rowan had telepathic Talent, and began broadcasting her distress to all who could receive it, distracting Primes (who transport many supplies between planets, via telekinesis) from their work. Eventually they locate her, intending to send her to Earth to be raised, however, many high-level Talents (mainly Primes) experience severe distress at being sent away to other planets, and the Rowan refuses to be transported. It is agreed she'll be raised on Altair, her home planet, and she is sent to live with a caretaker until she is "settled". For her adjustment, she is given a pukha, a toy that responds to the emotions of its ward with sensory receptors in its fur, which she christens "Purza".

It takes nine more years before they declare her adjusted enough to begin her training as a Prime. By that time, the Rowan is twelve, and oddly enough, begins to converse with Purza, even though it's just a toy, and they make it into a sort of nanny cam to track her adjustment. Two years later, the Rowan goes on vacation and strikes up a rivalry with her caretaker's niece, culminating in the destruction of Purza, and her childhood. Fortuitously, her father-figure Gerolaman, has acquired a barquecat, a futuristic tamed version of a bobcat, though they are discerning in who they choose as their owner. The barquecat soon accepts the Rowan, and she names him Rascal.

The Rowan begins her training in earnest, and is involved in training classes that will likely determine her "team" if she ever gets a Prime Tower of her own.

The main conflict in this book comes in the last hundred pages, and given that my hardcover copy is only 235 pages, I won't elaborate further on the plot. What I can tell you is this: the Rowan is one of my favorite heroines in sci-fi. She is powerful in her Talent and personality and it comes across through her actions and words, while most heroines are rather flat, and the author has to describe their personalities.

As ever, Anne's world-building is unique and multi-dimensional, though there is some info-dumping in the first chapters of the book. It's very clear she was and is the Queen of Sci-fi and Fantasy, and deservedly so. She tipped the balance so that girls like me could grow up reading about strong women in the genres, instead of their male counterparts (which, I have to point out, still manage to dominate the main publishers). It is worth noting that she passed away three years ago, and she continued to write until she died, an admirable feat.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars for a romantic space opera

Content: Sex, but not explicit; I read this as a teen and came away unscarred.

Page Count: 336 pages

R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey! Your words still resonate today.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"The Color of Light" by Helen Maryles Shankman

This is a book that I thought I would love, but unfortunately the author ran out of coffee halfway through, and began making rash plot decisions.

Vampires and I have simply been best friends. We both burn in sunlight (literally, have you seen my wild Irish pallor?). We met when I was a Twilight addict, then returned to love with The Historian, Dead Until Dark, and Lover Awakened. Indeed, I find blood-suckers the choicest of beaus, you can actually stake them out of their undeath when you tire of them.

The Plot:
Tessa Moss (our fickle heroine) attends Raphael Sinclair's art school, one of the very last that teaches students to paint like "The Masters". Tessa looks disturbingly similar to Rafe's lost love Sofia Wizotsky, who died in the Holocaust. Raphael strikes up a friendship with Tessa's gallery mate in an attempt to discover what her connection is to Sofia. He proceeds to basically stalk Tessa, showing up and scaring her to death. Did I mention there is a no faculty-student relations rule? Well, Rafe decides he won't actually do that, despite his salivating appetite for her. Another thing I dislike about Tessa: she's an artist's bitch. She is a slave to this has-been artist, Lucian, wanting a relationship with him, but when they finally have a "relationship" he cheats on her. She also kept him from killing himself when he became a has-been.

The plot thickens at The Naked Masquerade, a Halloween fundraiser for the art school, where you can get in for free if you arrive naked. Unfortunately, both the would-be lovers arrive clothed. Tessa's boyfriend arrives with someone else, and she's demolished because she forgot her big girl underthings at home that night. Mr. Sin comes and dances a tango with her, then absconds with her into the night. Apparently, his little dance lifted that painful sorrow on poor Tessa, and they have a heated convo about the unmistakable connection between them. The author even mentions that it was like something out of a movie. Very helpful. She leaves, he stalks her home, then orders a late-night snack ala vampire. The next time he has a chat with her, he thinks Sofia is her grandmother, but Tessa has never heard of the woman. She chooses to mention it at her family's Thanksgiving meal, leading her grandfather into a heart attack. Seriously, I'm not making this up. It's definitely Lifetime Movie Fodder.

I refuse to divulge more of the drama, as it is just that, drama and plot twists and a very confused heroine who doesn't know what the hell she wants. There is much, "Do I love him, do I love him not," going on with Rafe later on that just makes you want to push the girl off the bridge of indecision for her own health and sanity. When the Sofia Wizotsky story unfolded about halfway through, I thought this would be a four asterisk read, but as I said, the poor author ran out of Starbucks and switched to Maxwell House, leading to this novel's demise.

Rating: 2 of 5 Stars for a book that didn't fulfill its promise.

Content: Paranormal Romance, so 18+ for sexual content.

Page Count: 557 in the paperback edition

Friday, April 11, 2014

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

"A Thirst For Vengeance (The Ashes Saga, Volume 1)" By Edward M. Knight

This book was gritty, gory, and genuinely edgy.
Thank God I love all of those things about it.

The plot focuses on young Dagan, who lives a hard knock life. His mother attempts to murder him. He is left outside for wild dogs to feast on. He is rescued and then sold into slavery. The poor tot has all around abysmal fortune. His luck eventually changes and he is apprenticed to a man known only as Blackstone, who trains him to be a badass. Enough said.

The first twenty pages, I could've cared less about little orphan Dagan, but I became oddly attached shortly thereafter.

There was one paragraph in the book that irked me: "It was the silence like the one that comes after the headman's axe had fallen. It was the silence like the hollow ring of an empty barrel. It was a silence like death." A little too like The Name of the Wind for me.

The prose throughout the book is very stark, and in the first half, I noticed spelling and grammar issues, but it doesn't detract from the book. The story is told in the style of the unreliable narrator, who we have met in a bar, an older version of Dagan. You could see the author behind the scenes when Dagan said, "Let me speak of it now." There were certain redundancies in the book like this one repeated three times: "But that is not the story that is told today" could've been better as "Yet now the tale has changed". Little things like that bothered me in the first half, but the second was smooth sailing.

I recommend this book to anyone who has an e-reader and a dollar to spare. Also, if you enjoyed The Name of the Wind or The Lies of Locke Lamora, it'll be a bonus.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent indie read!

Content: Gore and rape, not particularly explicit. For mature audiences and rebellious teens

Page Count: 198 pages in the e-book

"Entreat Me" By Grace Draven

From the author of Master of Crows, you have to expect quite a lot, and rather unfairly to Grace Draven, I did expect the moon. Quite fortuitously, she delivered a shining star.
Entreat Me is her second novel, a play on Beauty and the Beast, which, like many fairytales, has been a beaten dead horse for a long time now. I was surprised that she chose such a well worn subject for a novel, but she manages to breathe new life into the story, by having our hero suggest to the heroine upon their first true meeting to bed him for her keep. Unlike many a girl, Louvaen thinks about it. Mind you, this is coming from a man with gruesome blackened claws for hands, a broken nose and two black eyes by her doing, and sinister creeping vines still writhing on his skin.
Thank God for Grace Draven, this is romance for the rest of us. Aren't you ever weary of perfect women running about with perfect men chasing them to their beds? This novel does contain two such people, but lucky for us, it doesn't fixate upon them.
This book centers more on romance than her previous book, but it didn't overwhelm the plot, which centers around the curse of the beasts, not one but two: father and son bound by words spoken by said son's mother, Isabeau. No woman born would love Ballard, and all of Isabeau's bitterness, rage, and hatred was bequeathed upon her son Gavin de Lovet who would destroy his father, and no woman would love him either. The curse transforms Ballard into a beast so ravenous he must be put in a dungeon whenever it chooses to show itself, while Gavin simply takes ill.
The widow Louvaen arrives at Ketach Tor, home of the beasts, in pursuit of her half sister Cinnia, who took off with her beau Gavin de Lovet after finding her father Mercer had sunk into debt with Jimenin, who would forgive the debt if he could have Cinnia's hand in marriage. A deal is struck between Gavin and Louvaen: Gavin has the winter to court Cinnia in exchange for gold to pay off the debt to Jimenin. Louvaen returns with the money to pay the debt, but comes back to chaperone virginal Cinnia, where she meets Gavin's father Ballard de Sauveterre, who she first met in the castle dungeon by acquainting her foot to his nose after he grabbed her in his beastly agony. The plot continues from there.
I really liked this book, but I loved Master of Crows more. However, compared with many other traditionally published romance novels, Entreat Me is a gem worth buying, and it will cost you less than many a Starbucks' beverage.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars for an excellent take on Beauty and the Beast!

Content: 18+ for sexual content.

Page Count: 360 pages 
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