Saturday, May 31, 2014

"The House of the Scorpion (Matteo Alcran #1)" by Nancy Farmer

The Hook: Matteo Alacran wasn't born, he was harvested.

I received this book as a gift at a present exchange in junior high, and had relatively low expectations of the book, despite the prolific awards dotting its cover. This was my first brush with dystopia, and one of my first exposures to science fiction as well. I don't think I even knew to call it "dystopia" when I finished reading it, it wasn't until the Hunger Games were the rage that I knew this actually was one. That said, this dystopia is more sci-fi than the ones you usually find, as it deals mainly with clones and futuristic technology.

The subject of clones is both taboo and intriguing in our modern world, because we do have the capabilities to clone animals, and it has been shown that clones of mice live just as long as the originals. Much of the discussion is being made as to whether we should clone extinct animals and essentially resurrect them from the dead, though the chances are slim, and it hasn't yet been done. There have been claims that human clones have been made by a religious group called the Raelian Movement, but no proof has been offered. This book was published in 2002, and it's fascinating how far the science of cloning has evolved since then, and yet how little we hear about it now.

The Plot:
Matteo Alacran is a clone, one of the few that survived being incubated in a cow's womb, to be harvested and raised as spare parts for his master. Although his brain wasn't damaged, as they do to many other clones, he lives a sheltered life with Celia, a housekeeper, in a shack set in a field of poppies. Until one day, when kids stumble upon his shack, he decides he wants to play, and breaks free from his lonely shack.

I'd never considered how someone would treat a human clone until I read this book. I would've assumed a clone would be treated humanely, because it would be a human, but I suppose the treatment of Matteo in this book would be more realistic, as some people wouldn't consider him human. While skimming the book for this critique, one of the main questions that came to my mind was how would we define human, in a society where there are identical humans walking about? I would consider a clone like Matteo a human, because of the humanness of his emotions- he could feel lonely, angry, and content depending on his day. When he was in the shack alone during the days, he longed for company, and his wish was granted. With some of the other "human" characters, you kind of wish they weren't human beings.

When you read this book, you really wonder what the future holds. If human clones are made, will they be treated like animals or humans? While there is technology to clone specific organs, is it really ethical to do so, or for that matter, is it ethical to clone anything at all?

The House of the Scorpion is a book that continues to ask questions of its readers, despite it being more than a decade old sci-fi novel designed for young adults. The characters are ones you relate to, and though the setting is futuristic and foreign, it feels familiar. I read this many years ago, but I still remembered the tale of a clone named Matteo when I dusted my copy off to critique it, proving that among the many books I read as a teen, this one you won't forget.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a solid coming of age tale dealing with topics of justice and humanity.

Content: Mild violence and abuse, Scholastic suggests grade levels 6+, or roughly ages 12+

Page Count: 380 pages in my paperback edition

Friday, May 30, 2014

Month In Review, and Upcoming Critiques

My Reading Nook
May, a Month in Review:
I think I have the hang of blogging, but then again, I'm kind of waiting on the minute when somebody pinches me and it doesn't hurt (that happens a lot, especially when I dream I'm a famous author). I learned the power of Twitter, and why you should pay attention to hashtags, as my post Why "We Need Diverse Books" outshone any other post on my blog, period. Admittedly, I'm finding it difficult to diversify my reading habits in physical books, but finding e-books with different cultures represented is a snap. I also learned why my blog wasn't getting any comments (a huge thank you to Roberta R. of Offbeat YA for bringing that to my attention [P.S. Her blog is awesome]), and promptly tried (and failed) to change my comments to Disqus, but Blogger comments seem to work just as well. Also, I quit fiddling with my blog appearance- I'm done with it for now, and I'm trying to keep the perfectionist side of me occupied with other things. I also found posting a critique every day during "Bout of Books" week didn't increase my blog views, contrary to popular opinion, but at least I have more content for people to browse. Overall, May has been kind to Victorian Soul Critiques, and I'm looking forward to see what June brings.

 Total Posts: 25
 Total Critiques: 18 (one to be published tomorrow)
    Classics: 2
    Dystopia: 2
    Fantasy: 5
    Historical: 5
    Paranormal: 1
    Paranormal Romance: 3
    Romance: 10
    Sci-fi: 2
    Urban Fantasy: 3

Most Popular Posts of the Month:

Pageviews For the Month: 410+
 Comments: 10!

Blog Schedule and Features: Critiques on Tuesdays, Thursdays, sometimes Fridays, and Saturdays. On Sundays, I rotate between the Sunday Fun Five, and Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer.

Currently Reading: Second Nature by Alice Hoffman, Thief's Magic (Millenium's Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan, and I suspect I will read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley very soon.

Upcoming Critiques:

Here's a look at what I've been polishing for the month of June:

Chasers of the Wind (Chasers of the Wind #1) by Alexey Pehov. Yes, I realize I've tempted you with this before, but when Tor books asks me to wait until two weeks before the book is released to post my critique, I gladly oblige. Sometime after 6 PM Mountain Time, on June 3rd, this book's review will grace my blog. It is epic fantasy featuring a married couple which is highly unusual. 
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Magic, Series

Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R.R. Martin. This book really doesn't need much introduction, as most of you have probably heard of the series, or its television counterpart. I began reading this shortly after I watched the first episode, and quickly abandoned the television series in favor of the books. I hadn't heard of this series before, as I wasn't on Goodreads, and I was barely out of my version of high school. This is probably the most popular fantasy series that is still being written (Mr. Martin is frequently told to write faster, but I say write more action and less wandering).
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Heroes I Love, Heroines I Love, Series

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This is an oddly controversial book: at the time it was published, people didn't like that African-Americans were represented as humans. Nowadays, people hate it because they consider it racist. I call it a product of its time, and admit it is racist, but somewhat less racist than many other novels that people consider classics. An epic romance and ode to the American South, Gone With the Wind is a book that people either love or hate.
Genres: Historical, Romance, Heroines I Love, Heroes I Love, Curses

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Another book about books, this book takes place in Barcelona in 1945, where young Daniel finds a book by an author whose works are mysteriously vanishing.
Genres: Historical, Romance, Action/Adventure, Series

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has been in the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With for some time now- I enjoyed The Blind Assassin, and quickly found more of her books to be my kind of read, including The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. It seems The Handmaid's Tale is a book rarely found in thrift shops, as I found the others first, and it really tells which of her books people treasure the most.

Of course, with any book with topics as controversial as religion, politics, feminism, and fertility, there are bound to be those who hate it. Oddly, though I am a Christian, I didn't find myself offended or put off by the author's version of a future society, because it's just that- a theory told via a novel. When you consider the crimes done in the name of faith, this is not at all far-fetched, and really- this is fiction. The author can do whatever she or he wishes through a book, but it doesn't make it true.

The Plot:
In a dystopian near-future, all hell has broken loose. Religious extremists have taken over the government by sheer force, resulting in a Pandora's box of reformation. Women are considered inferior, are given little access to anything beyond home and hearth, and the ones who can bear children are often taken to be "handmaids" (breeding stock for the wealthy and in power). Offred is one such woman, and this is her tale.

One of my favorite quotes comes from this book:

"But who can remember pain, once it's over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind."
   ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

I was scrolling through the one-star critiques on Goodreads for perspective and found a number of people felt this book hated on men, was impossibly far-fetched (must I reiterate the fiction card?), and was just plain awful because the author left out quotation marks. Do we describe books with female antagonists as hating on women? I did find most of the male characters as generally unlikable, it is told from the point-of-view of a woman who is enslaved basically as their brood mare. And if a lack of quotation marks truly causes you to write an elaborate and scathing review of this book, that's very sad (because I barely noticed it, and would offer to pencil them in for you).

I don't mean to bash people who don't appreciate this book, but sometimes the reasoning behind the reviews is a bit convoluted. I agree that men are painted negatively, and that this is a difficult book to swallow for women (brood mares are not what we want to be), for religious people (we're all secretly extremists), even for men (who are frequently portrayed as antagonists), and for people who read books solely for the fun of it (this one is hard to read without forming opinions). But sometimes, even if we read a book and loathe it, at least it provides a platform for conversation, and this book will continue to bring about a lot of them, which tells of this relatively small book's audacity.

The Handmaid's Tale tells of a society in which women hold no power, and their worth is relative to their ability to bear children. I couldn't say that it is completely original, as our history tells a similar tale, and history has a way of repeating itself. But by telling Offred's tale, the author has opened a portal for dialogue, and a cautionary tale for both the current and future readers, all while engaging the reader in an immersive world. If you need a book to widen your view of politics and religion, consider this to be your next read.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a thought-provoking and entertaining read.

Content: Sex/rape, though not graphic, violence, and dystopian ugliness. Ages 18+

Page Count: 311 in my paperback edition

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas #1)" by Dean Koontz

When I picked this up (on a whim), I didn't expect much. A book about a fry cook who can see dead people? Please. I thought I would read it because I must read more books, and I'd never read a Dean Koontz novel, so this one should do.

Fast forward to when I'm polishing off the final pages. I'm crying. I rarely cry reading books. I rarely laugh so much reading books as well. Odd Thomas merited every tear, chuckle, and grin it wrangled out of me, as I'm a tough critic when it comes to emotional response (think of me as the female Spock).

This book is one of the few that clicked with me, as I'm usually the most offbeat person in a crowd, the one with the wild hair and ultra pale acne-marked skin, the one who is a diamond peg trying to fit in a circular hole. Odd Thomas (yes, that is his name) is very much like that- different from other people. Although he claims he's just your ordinary guy, he just isn't- there may be millions of other short-order cooks, but he's probably the only one who sees (but doesn't speak with) dead people.

The Plot:
Odd Thomas is a twenty-year-old fry cook, who can see, but not talk to, dead people. A dead version of Elvis hangs with him for no apparent reason. Contrary to popular belief, he finds the dead cannot speak, and so helping them is made more difficult and more time-consuming. But things in his small town get even more strange when he begins seeing shadow figures trailing a newcomer to Pico Mundo, someone with a sinister presence. Will he be able to solve the mystery of these dark figures before they threaten those he holds dear?

Having such low expectations for this book, I was confounded when I finished it. Why had such an unassuming book made me laugh, cry, and root for someone I had known only for 446 pages? Why haven't I heard about this book before? Is this why Dean Koontz is so venerated? I was thrown for a loop, as I've read many "mainstream" authors' works before, and left the final pages with a bad taste in my mouth.

The characters leapt off the page, while feeling authentic. How many books actually have overweight people as characters? I've read a lot of books, but have found very few who actually feel a part of the story (like Little Ozzie), and when you consider the population of people who go through life struggling with weight issues, shouldn't there be more?

Overall, I found Odd Thomas a very entertaining and exceptional read. With characters you aren't likely forget, a plot that builds on issues that occur all too often in America, and a paranormal twist, this is a book I feel deserves the hype. Odd Thomas is a hero I can truly relate to, his story is engaging from the first to last page, and his tale is just beginning. If you're looking for a classic "hero's journey" yarn with offbeat elements, this is your book.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars, for an unexpected gem of contemporary significance.

Content: Violence, death, dead people, horror elements, and maybe swearing. Better read when you're age 18+

Page Count: 446 pages in my paperback edition

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Fun 5: Villains

Sunday Fun Five #2:

This is a feature I do fortnightly (every two weeks) on Sundays:
Feel free to join in if you want to, either by blogging or commenting below.
If you choose to blog this, use my photo (that I spent an hour perfecting) as shown above, and make sure to mention my site as the originator: and if people blog it, I'll make a list of websites featuring this meme to go with my post: also, post your blog site info in the comment section if you blog it. That said, I don't expect much to come of it, as I do it mainly for fun, and to give myself a break from the exhausting Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer.

A Countdown of

The Five Literary Antagonists You Hope You Never Meet

(But Kind of, Sort of, Would Like to Admire From Afar.)

5. You're a Mean One: Mrs. Danvers, from Rebecca

From the movie: Mrs. Danvers is watching you...
Call her the epitome of negative thoughts of many women who think themselves never good enough, Mrs. Danvers is a villainess of the psychological flavor. She rarely does anything truly bad, besides bullying the unnamed heroine of Rebecca into doubting her self-worth, and some other things I may not mention due to my spoiler-free policy. Her commitment to her past mistress is legendary- everything in the house is how Rebecca liked it, she says Rebecca is the greatest woman who ever walked the Earth, etc. Mrs. Danvers is one of those antagonists who aids a dead antagonist into life once more, abetting all Rebecca's ill deeds and misconduct, despite Rebecca herself being long dead. A most disturbed individual, Mrs. Danvers is one of my top female malefactors to run away from most speedily.

4. Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or Tom Riddle, from the Harry Potter Series

Arrgh!!! Where is my nose??? 
Let's face it, if you can convince people not to say your name, you deserve to be on this list. Voldemort (yes, I dare to write it) works behind the scenes of many of the Harry Potter books, but also emerges from the shadows quite frequently in them, terrorizing the "boy who lived" as well as his friends and protectors. We have the privilege of seeing glimpses of his past life, a rarity in the sometimes murky world of antagonists, who are often not given much "screen time" in books as they deserve. Voldemort is somewhat humanized, but I didn't find myself dreading him as much as...

3. Sauron, His Creepy Eye, and Wicked Bling, from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

At Last: My Love Has Come Along... From the Movie, and Etta James
The creep factor with this villain is through the roof: an entity that can see you when you are "invisible" to everyone else, while wearing the Ring (that he made). He lusts for power, willing to do anything to get more of it. Killing people who get in the way of his quest to find the Ring is his forte, as is underestimating the ones who wish to unseat him. Chilling is the only word to describe him- I shivered in my sneakers when I read about him as a twelve-year-old, and even the movies manage to capture that side of him. But, the books are always better.

2. The Lannisters (excluding Tyrion), from A Song of Ice and Fire Series

Yes, I realize this is a gross misquotation, but it's true...
I am aware of the fact that they are not one person, but really, it's the best dynastic case of villains I've seen, and so I granted them a prominent place on this list, as well as golden devil horns, excluding Tyrion, of course (because he's one of my favorite characters [I gave him a heart of gold]). We all love to loathe this family, and they truly encompass the vat of villainous sins. Incest, murder, king-slaying, greed, lust, name a wrong, and they've done it. What makes them great villains is partially their humanity: Cersei is in love with a man who could never be her husband, Jaime's goodness is a facade that he almost wishes were true, Joffrey's cruelty may seem excessive: but you've never been king at such a young age, and Tywin... well, he's an old badger trying to hold on to his power. They are both despicable and human, and we love them for it.

1. Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, Insert a Nickname Here, from the Bible, and Lots of Other Books

Image From Wikipedia/Paradise Lost
Say what you will about this nomination, but I bet you've heard the phrase, "The Devil made me do it." He is the single most prevalent villain, accused of almost every crime, most notably leading a rebellion against God. He is the ultimate "good guy gone bad": he was an angel once upon a time, but has since gone devilish. Were there bad guys before this villain? I'm afraid I wasn't around before the Bible, so I have no answers for you. Needless to say, he is a prominent antagonist in The Bible, Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, and many other books. See this Wikipedia article and look under "Literature" to see the countless appearances he's made in print. The prevalence of his name speaks loudly about the fear attached to his persona, as well as his longevity. We may forget a lot of villains we come across in books, but him? Methinks not.

So, how does my list match up with yours? Any additions to this villainous quintet?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"She: A History of Adventure (She #1)" By H. Rider Haggard

Have you ever heard the phrase, "She who must be obeyed"? Yes, it's from this book. I always thought disgruntled husbands had formed a committee and brainstormed to come up with the phrase, and perhaps they did. But this is where the phrase was first recorded, so maybe H. Rider Haggard was the first disgruntled husband, and made all the rest of male population read this book before marrying.

The phrase doesn't come up in this book until 70+ pages into the book, so if you're reading it to satisfy curiosity (as I did, partly), you will probably end up reading it fully. I picked it up at a thrift store, because I noticed there was an introduction by one of the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With, Margaret Atwood. And, naturally, there was that phrase on the back cover, and my curiosity was piqued.

The Plot:
Horace Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey, opened up a box given to Leo from his father, only to be opened when Leo turned 25 years old. The mysterious contents lead them on a voyage to Africa, where they end up stranded, only to be captured by the feared white queen Ayesha (She-who-must-be-obeyed) and her lethal tribe.

I was really disappointed in this book. It seemed like all the authors I loved adored it: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and I assume Margaret Atwood, as she wrote the foreword. I didn't. I thought it was a good story, but why does She have to be white? Yes, this was a Victorian book, and things like that couldn't be done, but I was majorly bummed out about it. Why set a fantasy kingdom in Africa, only to have white people as the main characters? Victorian era, sometimes I loathe you.

An interesting aspect is that a female holds the most power in this book, which doesn't happen often in books of this period. This was supposedly because a woman holding that much power was a woman to be feared at that time, and this could be true of some modern dreads as well. A woman has never held the highest office (President) in the United States, and frankly, I don't know why not. Do men still have this fear of women? Are women unwilling to challenge that ceiling? Do we, as Americans, feel safer with a man in charge as opposed to a woman? I am a non-political blogger, but I feel obligated to ask questions that books bring into my mind, and while I read She, there were plenty of them relating to a female's position of power.

This is a book I wanted to love, but many aspects fell short of my great expectations. People of color were portrayed as inferior or uncivilized, and not used as main characters, even though the book is set in Africa. There was great adventure, but it was somewhat predictable for me to read, and the mystery of She still manages to linger, despite reading the book fully. While I will probably not read its sequels, She has a far-reaching influence on the fantasy genre, especially on female antagonists like the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia and Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. Despite its impact on many of my favorite authors, I only grant She a three star rating, as an adventure story with supporting elements of fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars, for a good adventure with disappointing aspects.

Content: Violence, bigotry, and a Victorian mindset of Africa (in this case, it's a bad thing). Ages 16+.

Page Count: 313 in my edition

Friday, May 23, 2014

"The Reflections of Queen Snow White" by David Meredith

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

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

When I began reading, I was interested mainly because I have an insatiable appetite when it comes to fairy tales- particularly ones that are more true to the "original" fairy tales. What you may think is a real fairy tale is most likely the sugar-coated versions we were all encountered at bedtime during our childhoods. I enjoy the "raw" ones best, the ones you find mainly in curated copies in the adult sections of bookstores. They are more gruesome, and sometimes not what you'd expect. For example: Rapunzel had a bit of an issue fitting into her clothes after frolicking for some weeks with her rescuer in the garden. And it wasn't because she'd been sneaking sweets.

This book languished a full three days on my Kindle before I couldn't stand just looking at it as I finished up my other commitments- this book boasts a slim waistline at a mere 155 pages, and the cover demanded I read it. Admittedly, it's a slow start, but once I began reading in earnest, the chapters flew by.

The Plot:
Queen Snow White has lost her King Charming, and with him, much of her will to endure the world beyond her bedchambers. Dwelling in old memories while avoiding as much of her commitments as she can, she goes to a dark corner of the palace, a place she has never had the desire to visit before- the chambers of her tormentor. And there, among the dusty belongings of a Queen long past, she sees a mirror that may just be the key to unlocking her future...

At first, I found the title a mouthful for such a small book, until I realized that it was the crux of the entire plot. Snow White must find herself (and her inner resilience) through a series of reflections of her past to break from her reverie of mournfulness. It was intriguing to see the "mirror" cast in a more divergent light than its previous, slightly sinister incarnations, as well as the dwarves having a lesser part in Snow White's life.

The story of Snow White is among the more familiar fairy tales, and beloved, but it often isn't the one people choose to retell when writing a book. (There is a reason why I have a tag dedicated to "Beauty and the Beast", while all other fairy-tale-like books are filed simply under "Fairy Tale".)  This book tells of Snow White the human, not the icon we often think of her as, delving through the depths of her character to the candid moments that reveal a surprisingly realized person. Most fairy tales retold often involve a certain level of "purifying" the main characters, making them seem so inhuman by never having them make a misstep greater than perhaps lying. This is what some readers seek, but I am not one of those readers, and this is not one of those books. Snow White in this tale is flawed, tormented, and acutely rendered.

While this may not be a fairy tale retelling to suit everyone, it is certainly one I could recommend to those seeking a truer, more humanized version of a character we often forget about as soon as the page reads, "Happily ever after."

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a more authentic interpretation to a well-loved story.

Content: This retelling includes abuse, sex, and other more difficult subjects. Ages 18+.

Page Count: 155 pages in the e-book.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)" by Jim Butcher

Book #1 of The Dresden Files

I snatched this in another Kindle Daily Deal binge (yes, I realize I have a problem), along with every other copy of the Dresden Files they had on sale. Many people seem to revere this series, as THE urban fantasy saga everyone must read, and so I was excited to read this book and begin the adventure.

My first impressions were very good. There was mystery, humor, and best of all, homicide. In addition to those lovely elements, I was introduced into a well reasoned fantastical version of Chicago, that was my kind of town (Sinatra reference). I really like it when urban fantasy incorporates fabled creatures (fairies, elves, etc.) into a modern world believably, and the author did an admirable job of that.

The Plot:
Harry Dresden is wizard (cue the "You're a wizard, Harry" HP flashbacks). Let me clarify: a wizard for hire, visible to the "muggles" (non-magical people) and yet, still enigmatic. In his line of work, he does odd jobs: finding missing objects, consulting about paranormal happenings, and advising ordinary people on how to deal with such things. And sometimes, he consults for the police department, on crimes where nothing can be explained by science. He is hired by a woman who wants to find her husband, who had been interested in the paranormal before he went missing. Before he can start that investigation, the police call him over to a murder scene, where two people's hearts have exploded from their chests, a sure sign of a powerful black mage. But soon, Harry finds himself wondering if these two separate cases might not be so unconnected as they first seemed...

As I was reading this book, I abruptly came to the realization: something was wrong with Harry Dresden. Like the loathed Edward Cullen, and many other heroes of novels, he seems to have a problem. In my humble opinion, he's a... masochist. I was struck by this realization early: why isn't Harry Dresden taking care of himself? Doesn't he realize he's in dangerous situations in his line of work?

After reading much of the novel, I still have no answers. Is it because he seems to be a tortured soul, or something like that? Or does the author have it out for his character? It seemed like Harry was always staying up late, even though he knew he had to work the next day. Or running around with a injury when he should've been taking a rest. Maybe I'm in the minority with this one, but he just seemed to gallivant about when it wasn't really necessary, even as a man who struggles to pay the bills.

I loved this:

"There came a knocking, a rapping, at my chamber door."

           ~Storm Front, page 155, a reference to "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.

If you didn't get that reference, you might find yourself inciting...

...The Wrath of the Dorkie...
Something I must address: there was a negative review on GoodReads that said Harry Dresden is a "giant dork". What I find odd about someone saying that is, he is. He's supposed to be rather offbeat, he's a wizard with infrequent social obligations. And, quite frankly, people who read this book are probably that way too, including myself. To imply it in a negative light is truly asinine, because that reviewer read it too, and therefore, there must be some strain of hideous "dorkie-ness" inside that reviewer as well. I find it odd that people use "dork" in a negative light, as I am one. There is nothing wrong with being a dork- we're all awkward at one time or another. Sure, Harry Dresden wears a duster and cowboy boots (and at times, sweatpants), but I wear a Sinatra-like fedora and tie-dye shirts- is it wrong to dress different? Is it wrong to have quirks that make us different from all the hordes of people out there? Nope. To say so would incur... the Wrath of the Dorkie.

Storm Front is a great urban fantasy, but I couldn't bring myself to rate it a full four stars. I loved Harry Dresden, but at times I found myself gritting my teeth as he misused his body, never allowing it a break that it needed. The world was widely developed, but it didn't play much part in this book. The magic was believable, and yet somehow frustrating, because it wasn't very linear or easy for the reader to follow. I truly enjoyed this book, and plan on reading the rest of the books, but I don't consider it THE urban fantasy saga for me, at this stage.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars, for an interesting beginning to an urban fantasy series.

Content: This book is intended for adults, with themes of sex and violence. Ages 18+

Page Count: 322 pages

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks

This book is, quite simply, a story about a book. If you are a book lover, you'll be likely to find the fictionalized account of the Sarajevo Haggadah's history intriguing. It is a real book, and this story is based on the story of that illuminated Jewish text that managed to survive more than 650 years of discrimination against the Hebrew people, while remaining relatively intact.

I found my copy at a thrift shop (as per usual) and began reading. It had never occurred to me at the time that manuscripts like the Sarajevo Haggadah would merit body guards, as is described in the first chapters of the story. But when you consider a priceless book of original artwork and religious significance almost 700 years old, I gather that it would be akin to protecting "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci. Since I've read this book, I haven't thought of books in the same light as I previously had, as mere entertainment and enlightenment. Books, scrolls, and manuscripts have the utmost significance to our history as portals to different periods of time, in addition to letting the dead "talk". When we burn (or throw away) a book, regardless of how many others may be out there (excepting encyclopedias), that person's "voice" grows fainter, and when it comes down to it, we're disrespecting the dead. Not that I wouldn't strongly consider burning a copy of Hilter's awful autobiography if I found one somewhere, but it too, has a reason for being still in print. The reason? Revealing the charisma that can sometimes be cloyingly attached to an egregious soul.

The Plot:
Hanna Heath is a rare book expert, who is given the task of restoring and preserving the Sarajevo Haggadah. While she cleans it with painstaking detail, she comes upon clues of its past: an insect wing, wine stains, salt, and a hair, beginning to unravel its unlikely past, and revealing how it survived the years of persecution against its people.

The way the book is written is like this: when Hanna finds a clue, the author gives a vignette of the people who owned or were around the book during that time. I truly appreciated the way it was told, but it may be frustrating to certain readers who want to know more about a select snippet, or the characters in the scene.

My first impressions of the book had been that it would perhaps be good, but after reading it, I really knew it was something special. It was a book that made me consider what books truly are, and how we, as owners of books, are so lucky to be able to hoard them and protect them so future generations might be able to read them. I think of my grandmother, who died when I was nine, and left me her tattered copy of Gone With the Wind, which had been her favorite book, and when I read it at fourteen, the feeling of really getting her. We never had a sense of closeness, but upon reading the book, I understood much more about her than I had considered previously.

Books have a way of telling about their owners, whether the clue is a name just inside, or a forgotten bookmark left to tell of where the book was bought. After reading this book, I stopped throwing out the bookmarks and erasing the names (of people or book stores) within copies of books I picked up at the thrift shop, choosing to leave them with the book for future generations to puzzle out, if they should wish to.

People of the Book is one of my favorite historical tales, because it covers a lot of history and a lot about books, and also makes you wonder about what books mean to you. While it isn't a five-star read, I highly recommend it for book and history lovers who don't mind a cohesive but separate series of stories about one book, wrapped in a contemporary tale.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a solid story of a book and its people.

Content: Violence, but little else to object to. Intended for adults, but I read it younger. Ages 16+.

Page Count: 372 in the paperback edition

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Quick Post Before I Return To My Schedule

Ha- I printed "Cicero" as "Circero" the first time. It just looked better. Now it's proper.

I must share this:

My seedlings, currently indoors, and surprisingly alive.
And these:

My super funk library, currently a mess.
The other half of my super funk library.
So, do you have "everything"? I certainly do.

By the way, my schedule:

(Underlined indicates days I always post.)

Monday: Nothing, it's Monday.
Tuesday: A book critique.
Wednesday: Nothing. Everyone else posts on Wednesday, but not me.
Thursday: Another book critique.
Friday: An occasional extra book critique, but just when I feel like it.
Saturday: Another book critique.
Sunday: Sunday Fun 5, or Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer.
The schedule is subject to change, but that is what it usually is.

See you on Tuesday,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Confessions #4: I Have Writer's Dysfunction

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #4

It is a truth I have been avoiding for quite some time. I have a severe case of... Writer's Dysfunction.

Have you ever met a person who says they're writing a book one week, and the next week you ask about it, and they say they aren't anymore? That's pretty normal for me to hear about, as I always tell people I'm writing a book, and they feel compelled to share, even if they haven't had much luck writing. Then they ask me how long I've been writing mine.

I tell them the truth, I've been wrestling with the same darn book since I was 12, so basically for ten years.

*chirp* *chirp* *chirp*

They then back away slowly, an expression of abject horror marring their countenance. I beg the Earth to swallow me whole as they begin their questions. What's it about? Why haven't you finished it yet? Why on Earth haven't you cut your losses and given up? I calmly explain I have a headache, and lope gracefully away from the awkward situation.

I've been avoiding conversations like that practically all my life, when you consider they started when I was twelve. When I was set up with a guy to go to a formal dance in high school with, someone chose to tell him about it. I was very angry with that someone. He was interested in the same polite queries everyone else was, and I was forced to answer them.

I began the book at twelve, and it is epic fantasy. It is about a girl trying to navigate a world that not even she  fully understands, your basic save the world story. Yes, it is part of a series, and I haven't decided just how many books it will be. Indeed, it is crazy that I haven't stopped yet. But "Don't Stop Me Now", because I'm having a good time writing it. Have I approached any publishers or agents? No, I'm not nearly done. When will I be done? Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Maybe next decade. Perhaps even the next century, if I'm lucky.

(Yes, another Queen song. They're just so darn catchy.)

The thing is, I can't quit. I'm entrenched in a world populated by different beings, different cultures, different languages. I dream about it every night. I live it every time I type a lovely line, witty banter, or a misstep that alters the course of my characters' collective fates. They are my people, and I can't leave them alone, no matter how much they want me to cease the slaughter (joking, I seldom kill protagonists).

So I may have Writer's Dysfunction. I enjoy this disease, unlike the others I'm said to have. We coexist quite peaceably, as long as I have a pen and a notebook on my person, at all times. Inspiration is known to strike me while I'm walking my dogs, brushing my hair, or people-watching in the car. The ideas are known to fly straight out of my head thirty seconds later, leaving no trace of what they might have been, leaving me to worry if I have some form of Writer's Dementia.

A visual feast of my work, thus far:

Topmost copy is the most recent, and thinnest at a mere 170ish pages.

Roughly ten years of work, appr. 1300+ pages, plus my snazzy chair.
A version from when I was 13-14. Not using that title anymore.
In conclusion to my confession, I must say it is a time-consuming hobby to be a writer of books. I've spent hours brainstorming my world into reality, agonizing over the placement of a comma, and dreading the demise of a beloved character who simply must be killed off. I would not wish this Dysfunction on anyone, but if you simply must become an author, there is something you need to know. Perfectionism and writing books rarely mix well. I would know, as I'm guilty on both counts.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Summoned (Summoned #1)" by Rainy Kaye

This book caught me off guard. I assumed for $0.99, you get what you pay for, which shouldn't be much, especially in the paranormal romance category. I bought it on a whim, and then decided to glance at the first pages. Which led me to glancing at the first few chapters. Which led to me putting aside the books that I've promised to review (which rarely happens), but just until The Summoned had a lull.

There was no lull. I repeat- this book was $0.99, and there was NO "LULL" of any kind, to be found.
My face after reading:------->

I'm not one to highly rate romance, especially paranormal, which is generally full of over-hyped books. But this one was exceptional. At times, it felt more urban fantasy than paranormal romance. I found myself snickering at the protagonist's vivid humor, and enjoying the misadventures of a hit-man/genie.

The Plot:
Dimitri Hayes is a genie. Unfortunately, his master, Karl Walker, doesn't just get three wishes, he has infinite ones. In addition to that misfortune, Dimitri doesn't get any magic powers, other than an incessant hum in his head that worsens every minute he doesn't complete a wish, and the ability to immediately appear in the summoning chamber whenever his master wants something else from him. This happens quite frequently. It wouldn't be too bad, but his master could be called "evil", so a regular wish involves either kidnapping or killing someone. This also leaves Dimitri with either too much or too little time on his hands, with no way to regulate a social life, since there are no vacations for genies. So he becomes a one-night-stand practitioner, at least until he meets Syd, the girl of his dreams. But the question remains, will he ever be free?

I adored the this book, and thought it would definitely top four stars, for its action-packed and witty plot. And then I reached the sex scenes. I didn't mind them, at first, because they were steamy. But there comes a point where I'm secretly wishing they would just stop already, or the author would cut the scene, because I'd rather read about Dimitri going around like a mafia man than hear about the Syd's scanty and sensual clothes (or should I say lingerie?). I understand it- they're practically rabbits in springtime, they don't believe in commitment, so on, and so forth. But really must we, the reader, hear every detail of their sex lives?

This book is still exceptional, despite a few typos and gratuitous sex. I've never put much thought into the genie myth, or the consequences that might befall a genie in the modern world, as the author so artfully laid out. For me to never reach a "lull" in the plot speaks strongly of the writer's ability to maintain tension, and a sense of action, even in mundane moments where Dimitri is going about his daily tasks. It is rare to find a book I don't want to put down, but this one was glued to my hands, despite distractions.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars, for an unexpected urban genie yarn that never bores the reader!

Content: Paranormal Romance featuring sex, kidnapping, and murder. Ages 18+.

Page Count: 237 pages of action-packed goodness.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Dragon's Bait" by Vivian Vande Velde

But Litha, it's almost a children's book! you bemoan.
Yes, but it feels more like Young Adult, practically Adult, I reply, wiping my stinging eyes from the strain of looking at a computer for the past four days. My brain needs a rest. I'll get back to writing about Adult things later. Besides, people seem to like YA more than Adult books anyhow. My book blogging prowess will be proved if I manage to write all the reviews I've promised for every day this week. Just let me critique more books about dragons. They're the only ones I truly enjoy.
Fine, you respond. But when will we get more critiques on classics?
I gaze unseeingly into the distance as my mind struggles to compute the word "classic".
*End Scene*
And that is why I am reduced to critiquing a children's book that is thinner than my little finger. I admit, my powers of writing book critiques may be challenged as this week endures, but a promise is a promise, regardless of my constant procrastination.
Proof it is thinner than my pinkie.

Dragon's Bait was a book I picked up at a thrift shop when I was a tween, but didn't read it in its entirety until I was thirteen. While it is pretty generic in theme, I feel like it is a classic, as it stands the test of time. It was written the year I took my first breath, 1992, but I could see the tweens today still easily enjoying it. It doesn't read like an "early nineties" book, it feels timeless.

The Plot:
Fifteen year old Alys is accused of witchcraft by her neighbors, after her father refused to sell his land to them. An Inquisitor is brought in to question her, and prove or disprove if she is, in fact, a witch. Everyone who disputes that she is not a witch is relatively ignored or jeered at. Witnesses claim she made a boy drop his hammer with her witch powers. It is decided they will stake her out on a remote hillside where a dragon is said to roam, effectively turning her into... Dragon's Bait.

This plot bears similarity to many stories, but foremost in my mind as I briefly re-skimmed it was the obvious resemblance to the Salem Witch Trials. The Inquisitor is a man of God, and clearly has no problem with encouraging the villagers to turn against Alys. The neighbors had a clear motive to want Alys gone, as her father is sickly, and barely scrapes by financially with her help, and without her, he would be forced to sell his land. The neighbors fabricate testimony so Alys will be charged, when they themselves are in the wrong.

When you finish the book, you are left wanting more. It is inevitable that any good book with a scant 131 pages will make you desire to see more of Alys and the dragon. But the author's gift to you is this: you get to imagine what happens after the ending, and so the book's ending is only limited by your imagination.

Rating: An easy 4 out of 5 stars, for a tiny book that is still relevant 22 years later.

Content: This is for grade levels 6+, or roughly 12 years and up.

Page Count: Tiny but powerful at 131 pages.
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