Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.
Remember when Harry Dresden used to be a P.I. wizard for hire and random Chicagoans would hire him to solve this or that unexplained problem in their life? Yeah. Me neither. This book kind of puts the final nail in that coffin for good and forever and marks the beginning of a trilogy (at least) of books which includes this one, Ghost Story and Cold Days. In Changes everything falls apart (I mean everything), Ghost Story is all about reflection and lesson learning from the whole everything falling apart scenario, and Cold Days is taking the lessons learned and trying to come to grips with a new reality. The Dresden Files series has always had a lot of through lines and connections between books but these three really seem to be more tightly bound - almost one story in three volumes so be prepared.
But back to Changes specifically. In the first few pages it is revealed that Harry has a daughter with Susan Rodriguez that he doesn't know about. And the little girl is in trouble. You can imagine how well Harry responds to the news that he has a 6 or 7 year old daughter that Susan has hid from him and that the girl (Maggie) has been kidnapped by a Red Court Vampire. He does not respond well at all. The rest of the plot involves Harry calling in all his allies and pulling out all the stops to save his child. In the end, Harry must do things that will haunt him for a long time and make him question himself like never before. Well as much as Harry does things like "question himself."
In this installment, Butcher seems to be aiming to accomplish a complete game changer. He gives Harry a child but then strips him of almost everything else. All those things we've come to associate with Harry are stripped away plus more. It's done thoroughly and well. Also if you are a Murphy fan she gets some great scenes and likely should receive the MVP award for the climax battle. If you've missed Susan Rodriguez, you'll have fun catching up with her. I only vaguely remembered her since I read books 1-10 long, long ago so I didn't really care about her in the least which made all of her and Dresden's emotional reunion, conflict and relationship drama just kind of annoying.
Which brings me to the point. Did I enjoy this installment of the Dresden Files? It was okay. It had its spectacular moments. The climactic battle scene is fantastic and I do appreciate overall what Butcher was doing to his character (aka being very very mean to him). I also like that this book has massive repercussions for the direction of the series which will be interesting to explore.
The problem is, I read the Dresden Files for non-stop action, goofy banter and generally the wild ride the books provide. Sure I'm invested in Harry and many of his allies as characters and I enjoy the occasional more serious and emotional scene. This book however dials the emo meter up to eleventy billion and my tolerance for that was particularly low while reading. There was a lot of eye-rolling. Mileage will most certainly vary regarding this complaint so it may not bother you at all.
I also felt like, probably because the stakes were dialed up so high in this one (at least for Dresden personally), that for the first time Harry came across as a Gary Stu. It dials down later in the book and I haven't really been too bothered in the subsequent books but for the first part of this book it really grated on my nerves. Every female in the book seems to be into him while he is all chivalrous and ridiculous...I will not sleep with you because you kept things from me, and I will not sleep with you because I met you when you were 8 and I will not sleep with you because...well I haven't really bothered to consider that possibility and your the only female I don't think about boobs first.
Finally, I felt like the pacing was off in this one. There was a big bad time deadline, as there always is in Dresden Files' books, but there seemed to be a lot of time for hanging around being dramatically emo about things. It finally picks up and evens out in the second half of the book but the first part dragged for me along with the other problems mentioned above.
The audio was read by James Marsters and he is really perfect for reading these books. He does a fantastic job and completely captures Dresden's voice and character. I highly recommend the audio version of the book!
FINAL VERDICT: A very up and down read for me. I appreciate what Butcher was doing in this book and there are really some spectacular moments but the overall reading experience was just okay.
I have just a one thing to say that is pretty spoilery so if you don't want to know, look away!
I'm a fan of the idea of a Murphy and Dresden romance mostly because I adore Murphy and think Harry should too. I like her more than Dresden in fact. At the end of this book we get some movement towards the happy idea of Harry and Karrin together and then Harry promptly gets shot and killed. It's a very convenient and certainly the most unusual way I've seen an author employ to draw things out. And man does Butcher keep the drawing out going - I'm two books further along and things are still very unresolved and look to even be in massive doubt. But more ranting about that in later reviews:)
I was excited to read this book for a couple of reasons. Reason one was that I had never read anything by Dianna Wynne Jones. Shameful, I know, but at least I have corrected the deficiency! The second reason, which drove my choice of Howl's Moving Castle is that I adore the Miyazaki film so much that I even own it. More about the film later in the post.
Howl's Moving Castle takes place in a somewhat recognizable world that is just a little bit slanted. Sophie is the eldest of three sisters and as such she is not expected to do much in the world. She has so embraced this idea of her own insignificance that in many ways she has given up on life. She makes hats in her family's haberdashery and doesn't even notice when her creations change people's lives. One day, inexplicably, the Witch of the waste comes into the store and places a curse on Sophie, changing her into an old woman. In a somewhat vague attempt to have the curse removed, Sophie runs into the countryside looking for the fearsome Wizard Howl and his moving castle. She finds him and discovers that Howl is not exactly who she thinks he is and somewhat more surprisingly that she is also not who she thinks she is.
My favorite part about this weird tale is how Sophie slowly gets to know herself. The change in her appearance - being in disguise - frees Sophie to be bolder and ironically truer to herself. She has strong opinions and is rather forceful about expressing them, nagging the flibbertigibbet Howl into being more responsible and less self-absorbed. She's much braver as well, running across the countryside when she thinks her sister is in trouble and even going toe to toe with the King on Howl's behalf while at the beginning of the story she was almost too timid to visit her sister at a baker across town. Her will is even strong enough to tame Calcifer, the fire demon that powers Howl's extraordinary home. Sophie also succeeds, quite quickly, in turning the castle into a home, providing structure to the household and serving to balance Howl's unpredictable ways.
Howl is also fascinating. He is playing a role that actually serves to conceal who he truly is. He works out almost right away that Sophie is under a curse and isn't really old. His dealings with the King that make him seem a coward are also a ruse that allow him to eventually defeat the Witch of the Waste. It is impossible to know how to take him - his sister back home in Wales (!) despairs of him but he cares for his mundane family and does everything he can to protect her and his niece and nephew.
Basically, neither Howl nor Sophie are your typical romantic hero and heroine and for all that their story feels more sweet. Because they do fall in love of course but it is so gradual, born out of getting to know one another. Sophie denies it the longest as she gets crabbier and crabbier every time she thinks Howl is out wooing another woman. Meanwhile Howl is slowly trying to give her everything he thinks she wants including becoming a better self.
All that unique character stuff is also wrapped up with the wonderful imagination of Diana Wynne Jones. Enchanted scarecrows with turnips for heads, enchanted dogs smitten with their mistresses, a castle that is really four things at once in four different locations and a fire demon that is really a falling star. What Calcifer is and the nature of his contract with Howl is a mystery that runs throughout.
If I have any complaints it is that the story is at times a little confusing. One example is that a connection to our world - the mundane modern world where Howl comes from and where he is known as Howell - is thrown in with very little explanation about the how the connection between the two worlds works. That's fine but it seemed like a confusing addition that didn't really add much to the story though perhaps it does in later books?
FINAL VERDICT: An imaginative story of self-discovery that has adventure, romance and an unmistakeably unique quality to it. Tells a rather classic tale in a lovely unique way.
Romance is a huge hit or miss genre for me. I really enjoy a good romance but I'm picky about what I find to be good. So finding a new favorite romance author is always VERY exciting. MacLean was brought to my attention by Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot. While she and I's book tastes don't overlap terribly, she is an outspoken feminist and fan of literary fiction so I figured if she liked MacLean, I figured her books should be a decently written and feature heroines who wouldn't make me want to scrub my brain out. I wasn't disappointed!
Calpurnia Hartwell is a well bred lady on the shelf at the age of 27. She has always played it safe and by the rules but as her younger sister prepares to marry she starts to question what having a spotless reputation has done for her and what it is she really wants from her life. She makes a list; a bucket list of sorts; of nine things she wants to experience and damn the consequences. What does she really have to lose after all? Number one on the list is to be kissed. In a fit of boldness she decides to approach the man she's had a crush on for 10 years, ever since he'd been kind to her during a disastrous ball in her first season. The Marquess of Ralston has a rake's reputation so she figures he'll be obliging. He is but he also exacts a price: he wants Callie to use her impeccable reputation to help launch his somewhat scandalous sister into society. Thus the dance begins.
The most important part of a romance for me are the characters and that is definitely a strength of this book. Callie is just a regular woman - nothing super special about her. In fact, on the surface, she's quite dull as she's always followed society's rules and as such does her best at being invisible. She's got low self esteem which I know may irritate some readers but I think it is a real problem amongst women (and men, really) and was likely especially bad in Regency Era England when women were not valued much. The book does a good job showing how irrational and crippling it is. While she is not stunningly beautiful (thank god), she's attractive enough and has a great personality and she shouldn't have had a problem finding a husband but her conviction that she is ugly convinces others she's not worth bothering with. Her "bucket list" is her declaration of liberation - she finally decides that she matters and that she deserves to find pleasure in life.
Ralston is an alpha hero but I found him to be pretty laid back for his ilk. He can be grumpy and controlling but mostly when things aren't going well. Otherwise he's charming and has a live and let live attitude. Most importantly, he always respects Callie and sympathizes with her desires to break free from her oh so proper life even if he find her exploits inconvenient.
I am a fan of the trope of a long-time unrequited crush which this romance employs to great success. Callie and Ralston fit well together as a pair. And the feminist credentials? Many of the items on Callie's list are things that were major symbols of male privilege at the time; smoke a cigar, drink whiskey etc.... It explores how stifling a woman's existence likely was at the time and gently pokes at it without being strident. It's kept light with a generous dose of humor and lots of romantic tension-based banter.
There was a thing or two I didn't love. I don't love when a heroine is challenging the hero or she's irritated with him and he shuts her up/makes her forgive/forget everything with a make out session. A little of this is fine but it happens a little too much in this book. However even with this, it was a totally delightful read!
FINAL VERDICT: An original heroine, in that she's pretty ordinary, and her journey to stop being what society expects of her makes for a really great romance!
I am completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect of writing a review for this book. It's probably fair to call it a modern classic and it's been reviewed many times by much smarter and more perceptive people than I. What can I possibly add to the conversation that hasn't already been said about this book? Undoubtedly nothing but I have thoughts and feelings that must be expressed so I'm ignoring wisdom and putting them out there regardless. Second problem is that with a book this good, nothing I say is even remotely adequate. Hopefully my dithering is enough to convince you of this book's all around awesomeness. It will easily be on my top ten reads of the year list if not of all time.
I come to this book already a big fan of westerns and that predisposed me to love it but I'm not sure you need to have an inclination towards fiction set in the American frontier. Lonesome Dove is really about people. People who've had a very different life than I've had but who still managed to seem familiar. Many of them are extraordinary though most of them are just incredibly ordinary. The book is told from many different perspectives and their voices are all completely alive. If you like inhabiting other people's skin, this book will be a satisfying and overwhelming buffet.
The plot is as winding as a cattle trail, which is mostly it's purpose. The overarching narrative is about the small Hat Creek Cattle Company nestled in the dry desert of south Texas deciding to be the first outfit to move cattle into Montana and establish a ranch there. The Hat Creek company is owned and operated by two rather famous but retired Texas Rangers, Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McCrae, less formerly know as Call and Gus.
The cattle drive is the main river of the narrative but it has several streams, the most substantial of which is the somewhat inept but earnest exploits of Sheriff July Johnson whose storyline intersects with Gus and Call's a few times. It felt like McMurtry had this loose central line of a plot which he kept in mind but didn't tie himself to, allowing his writing to flow wherever it took him. While everything does flow there are times when the tributary you are floating in is quite small indeed. We spend a a number of pages in the head of July's erstwhile wife before that line abruptly peters out. There are a couple of main perspective characters but we get inside almost all of the characters at least for brief periods. This writing style would normally drive me crazy. I tend to gravitate towards and most appreciate books (and series) that have been intricately planned out and cleverly plotted but with Lonesome Dove I was so entranced by every single thing and person that appeared that I wanted it to keep going forever. No matter where McMurtry took me, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I found the book to be a compulsive listening experience. I wanted it to be longer than it's 945 pages.
I think a key thing to know about the book is how funny it is. The tone is so incredibly perfect; it's this balance between humor and tragedy, hope and philosophy, dysfunctionality and wisdom that it seems to capture the very essence of the human experience. I know this probably sounds pretentious but the point is that the book is not at all pretentious. It's warm and down to earth. This book made me frequently laugh out loud or grin like a fool, often in public. It also brought tears and sadder emotions but the brutality that was a very real part of life in that place and time was always kept in check by the ridiculous and the heroic. Since I'm afraid I've made it sound all rambly and existential, I also need to point out that it's not that at all. It's chock full of all the things people look for in a great story; adventure, gunfights, beautiful settings, suspense and romance.
The muse or choirmaster of the book, in my mind is Gus McCrae. Gus very quickly and firmly became one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. I don't want to describe him because I will not be able to do him justice but almost every single one of the sentences from this book that are worthy of taking special note of, and there are lots of them are either said by or about Gus. He's got a wry and wicked sense of humor which has enabled him to experience many terrible things in his life and come out the other side at peace.
“If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.” - Gus McCrae
He's utterly unique and I adored him more with each page. I could have read a 1000 pages more of him extemporaneously speaking. His relationship with the taciturn and workaholic Call is also one of the more delightful and fantastic things in the book. It also has to be said that while Gus was certainly my favorite character, the book is loaded with fascinating people all of whom were worthwhile spending time with.
FINAL VERDICT: If you enjoy humor, character-driven fiction and compelling storytelling than you owe it to yourself to read this book as soon as you possibly can. I can't imagine another book that could unseat this one as my favorite read of 2015.
Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Series: Peter Grant #2, Book 1 Review
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrated by: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
This was a series that I read last year that convinced me that I actually do enjoy Urban Fantasy. It won me over with its mash-up of mystery/police procedural/ paranormal elements, its utterly charming characters and its witty humor. This is the second book in the series and Peter gets sucked into his Dad’s world when Jazz musicians around London start dying mysteriously after gigs.
This book has fewer deity diplomacy issues and focuses on the mystery of the musicians. The solution to this mystery is very unique and creative. The book also introduces some really interesting developments that were not resolved and likely will be recurring issues in future books. We get a glimpse into the state of British wizardry before World War II either killed them all or drove them crazy, leaving Nightingale as last man standing. I think this whole storyline has a lot of potential and it would be cool if it increases Nightingale’s role further.
As per usual the characters are great. Peter has a great voice and is this lovely mixture of idealism and honor and cynicism mostly directed at police bureaucracy and the stupidity of the human race.
“It’s a truism in policing that witnesses and statements are fine, but nothing beats empirical physical evidence. Actually it isn’t a truism because most policemen think the word ‘empirical’ is something to do with Darth Vader, but it damn well should be.”
“If you just warn people, they often simply ignore you. But if you ask them a question, then they have to think about it. And once they start to think about the consequences, they almost always calm down.
Unless they're drunk, of course.
Or aged between fourteen and twenty-one.
“Every male in the world thinks he's an excellent driver. Every copper who's ever had to pick an eyeball out of a puddle knows that most of them are kidding themselves.”
The way Aaronovitch writes the police and the policing, right down to the cynicism, feels very authentic and makes me curious if it is based on experience or research and imagination. Nightingale is laid up for most of this book so is not present as much as I’d like but he and Peter’s relationship as master and apprentice is developing and even some affection is beginning to show.
“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.”
Finally, Leslie makes a few short appearances and she is often in Peter’s mind. They are dealing with devastating injury she suffered in the first book and I really like that it is addressed and that Peter remains a good friend to her. In fact there is a development with Leslie towards at the very end of the book which also promises some interesting directions in future books.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a terrific narrator and really captures Peter’s voice and handles the humor very well. I definitely recommend the audio.
FINAL VERDICT: This second book in the series continues to develop the characters in interesting ways, has a creative mystery story of its own and introduces some very intriguing through plot lines. Part of me wants to read the rest now but the other part doesn’t want to catch up and have no more books to read. 4 out of 5 Stars.
Original Publication Year: 2004
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Format: eBook - Thanks to Knopf/Doubleday Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley). My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher.
Narrated by: NA
Blurb from Publisher:
In this fantastical novel, the acclaimed author of Longbourn brings us the magical story of a young girl in search of her mother...who just might be a mermaid. Malin has always been different, and when her father dies, leaving her alone, her choice is clear: stay, and remain an outsider forever, or leave in search of the mythical inheritance she is certain awaits her. Apprenticed to a series of strange and wonderful characters, Malin embarks on a grueling journey that crosses oceans and continents from the high seas to desert plains and leads to a discovery that she could never have expected. Beautifully written and hauntingly strange, The Mermaid's Child is a remarkable piece of storytelling, and an utterly unique work of fantasy from literary star Jo Baker.
I need to start this review with some speculation and a nit pick. First the speculation. I received the book as an Advanced Reader's Copy from Netgalley but the book was published in 2004. My guess is that the book is being re-printed and promoted in the wake of the success of Jo Baker's Pride and Prejudice-adjacent novel Longbourn? Perhaps it was only previously published in the U.K.? I bring it up to note that it is an earlier work by this author. I have not read Longbourn (though I'd very much like to) so didn't read this book with any expectations.
Second the nitpick which is related to the above blurb by the publisher. It's not 100% inaccurate but it paints the picture that this is a magical tale of fantasy and it isn't. There is no magic and it is not a fantasy novel. There are perhaps some surreal elements but its misleading to call it a fantasy. It is in fact rather gritty historical fiction.
I would describe the plot as a rather grim and surreal coming of age tale. Malin is growing up poor, ignorant and soon an orphan in a small isolated town in an undefined time period (probably Victorian) and no clear country (probably England). The only thing that interests her and keeps her going is her father's story that her mother was a mermaid. When a stranger comes to town and shows her some kindness, she sees her ticket out and her chance to look for her mother. She follows him out into the wide world where she quickly learns that it is no less cruel then where she grew up. She becomes a con, a sailor, a slave and a circus performer and with each she finds great sorrow and some joy.
This is a pretty dark book but it keeps from getting sunk in melancholy by the somewhat fairy tale-esque nature of Malin's "adventures". I just spent a whole paragraph above grumbling that it's not fantasy but it doesn't always feel that tethered to reality either. I don't usually enjoy dark books but this one really sucked me in and I think it was the atmosphere. It reminded me of the television show Carnivale which I adored and which also had a sort of tawdry, grim slightly fantastical feel to it. Basically the book felt like this picture:
The writing is also excellent and I really connected with Jo Baker's writing style which also undoubtedly played a part in sucking me in to the book.
Malin is a fine narrator and main character. She has just enough sense of adventure and belief in the magical that despite all the terrible things that happen to her, her voice is never melancholy. She was strong and an interesting mix of practical/competent and a little insane.
The thing that knocked the book down for me was the ending which felt very unsatisfying. The way the story is being told it seems like an old woman telling the story of her life. The book actually ends however, when she is still quite young and just felt incomplete.
Final Verdict: A unique coming of age tale with a good narrative voice, great writing that I found engrossing but ultimately I was a little unsatisfied by the abrupt ending. 3 out of 5 stars.
Original Publication Year: 1988
Series: The Deed of Paksenarrion #1
Awards: Compton Crook Award
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrated by: Jennifer Van Dyck
This is, perhaps arguably, a modern classic of the fantasy genre. I call it a classic because I feel like it shows up on people’s lists as a favorite especially amongst all the epic fantasy that was being produced in the 1980’s and 1990’s from Terry Brooks, David Eddings and many others besides. I’ve had it on my TBR for so long, it got a place on my 100 Books Project List as I felt it was important that I read it. In the end, I found this book quite odd and somewhat disappointing though I did like it.
The first thing I would characterize as unusual was that this was my first experience with what I would call “military fantasy”. Sure, a lot of fantasy deals with war but this book reminded me of a Robert Heinlein novel (like Starship Troopers) transplanted to a generic European-type fantasy setting. The military structure is basically exactly like the modern American military except with swords and horses and the person in ultimate charge being a Duke. There’s a boot camp and companies with sergeants and captains; there are non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers, a mess etc….
It is into this military environment that the sheepfarmer’s daughter, Paksenarrion or Paks, runs because she dreams of a life as a soldier. She joins a reputable mercenary company that allows women and begins her life as a soldier. This first volume details Paks first 2-3 years in the company and how ever-so-slowly, day by day, her star begins to rise and it becomes apparent that Paks is something special.
The second unusual thing, is alluded to in that last sentence. This is a VERY detailed and rather mundane narrative. The reader is with Paks from day one of her training and, it seems like, every day after that for the following three years. It gives a very clear picture of the life of a soldier – the training, the first battle, methodically looting a city, the death of comrades. There are a few fantastical happenings but the story seems to concentrate on the everyday details. Sometimes I found this very interesting and other times I found it dragged. The prose is also pretty straightforward and matter-of-fact which fits the military focus and also lends to the air of mundanity.
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far was fine and gave the book a unique flair. The methodical approach to the storytelling dragged at times but that wasn’t a major problem. A major problem was that the characters, even Paks felt very shallow. Very few of the secondary characters in the book are fleshed out in any real way and it was somewhat difficult to keep track of the rotating, basically identical-except-for-rank fellow soldiers. Paks herself is simple and straightforward with very little interest in anything beyond soldiering -she’s not interested in men, she’s not interested in religion, she’s not even that interested in the other cultures that they encounter. I in turn wasn’t that interested in her and that is what ended up making this just an okay read.
FINAL VERDICT: A unique, very detailed-oriented military fantasy that I ended up having trouble engaging with because of lackluster, generic characters. I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequels. 3 out of 5 Stars.
Lirael by Garth Nix
Original Publication Year: 2001
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen #2; Review of Sabriel
Format: Audio (cds from Library)
Narrated by: Tim Curry
Lirael is the second in the Abhorsen trilogy and begins roughly 14 years after the events of Sabriel. Touchstone and Sabriel have been King and Queen for a decade and a ½ and they’ve worked hard to restore the broken charter stones and bring a measure of peace and stability to the Old Kingdom. However, new threats are starting the be felt and it is at this juncture that we are introduced to Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr. The Clayr are soothsayers of a kind and along with the royal family and the wall and stone makers are part of the charter that governs magic in the Old Kingdom. Unfortunately, Lirael is 14 and has not yet been granted “the sight” as all Clayr are and to make matters worse she looks very different from the rest of the Clayr who are all blond and blue-eyed.
Lirael is one half of the story. The other half is Sabriel and Touchstone’s son, Sameth who is just finishing his schooling in Ancelstierre (The Old Kingdom’s non-magical neighbor) and who is meant to be the Abhorsen-in-waiting. His story begins with a battle and a hugely traumatic event which has repercussions throughout the rest of the book.
It is clear that at some point Lirael and Sameth will be joining forces but this book takes it’s time developing their characters and situation as well as slowly building the tension of the bad things to come. I thought, like Sabriel, this would be a stand-alone story but it is in fact only the first half of a two part story (finished in Abhorsen). I can see how some readers may find this slow moving, it did not bother me at all and I appreciated Nix allowing me to get to know the two protagonists and for slowly building the menace to be faced. By the end of the book, I was feeling very anxious about the crisis facing The Old Kingdom and the danger for Lirael and Sameth.
Lately I’ve been loudly bemoaning my inability to handle or feel sympathy for self-pitying teenagers. In the middle of all of this irritation enter this book with two protagonists who, you guessed it, are teenagers wallowing quite unashamedly in vats of self-pity. The thing is they didn’t annoy me. Oh sure, from time to time I wanted to poke them and tell them to snap out of it but with nowhere near the annoyance and lack of sympathy I feel with many other books. Why? Because Garth Nix is brilliant and he writes his characters with a deft hand that knows his characters are being silly and gently asks for you to cut them some slack for now because they are on a journey and they will get better.
He also does a couple of things that help keep his characters on the side of right. Lirael’s friendship with the disreputable dog and her daring and curiosity driven adventures in the library help to dispel her self-loathing and earlier pursuit of suicide – she’s an interesting person who is trapped in a situation which isn’t bad but very understandably makes her feel like an outcast and incredibly lonely.
Sameth is saved by Nix detailing the initial conflict in Ancelstierre where Sam proves himself to be smart, and confident with good leadership skills as well as being courageous and self-sacrificing - it signals to the readers that the next 300 pages of him cringing and anxious and self-absorbed are somehow not right. He has been damaged in Death and it is supremely frustrating that no one notices because they are understandably absorbed in the troubles besetting the Old Kingdom. There is also a parallel with Lirael because the expectations placed on him feel very unnatural and he has no affinity with the job of Abhorsen. It makes him feel isolated and you guessed it, lonely.
I also can’t leave off without talking about the Disreputable Dog which Lirael constructs unconsciously with a mixture of charter and wild magic. Being a dog person, I LOVED her and her relationship with Lirael. There is also some interesting mystery around who or what the dog actually is.
Finally, I once again enjoyed Tim Curry’s narration though I did not love how he voiced the disreputable dog. It is meant to be a she but he doesn’t really give her a feminine voice and I just imagined her sounding a bit different.
FINAL VERDICT: This one topped my love for Sabriel and is a great first half in what promises to be an epic story! 4 out of 5 stars.
Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Original Publication Year: 2003
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Format: Audio (cds from Library)
Narrated by: Tim Curry
Right from the start this book produced powerful emotions in me. I was so caught up in the fate of the Old Kingdom and the band of characters Garth Nix had created that I felt completely invested and anxious about how things were going to work out.
Abhorsen picks up right where Lirael leaves off and it spends most of it's time with Lirael and Sameth though there are occasional glimpses into what's going on with Sabriel and Touchstone and with Sam's friend Nick who is the unwitting slave of the evil being unleashed. This book piles on the odds against the good guys as they are facing a plot that has been in the making for hundreds of years. The action really picks up in this installment and many of the mysteries of the first book are resolved. Lirael and Sam discover their true roles and get comfortable with them as they face crisis after crisis. The book ends with a dramatic stand-off which is not without consequences.
First of all, it is so appropriate that the cover shows Lirael and the Disreputable Dog. The relationship between these two was my favorite part of the book and it is arguably the most important part. The Disreputable Dog is now firmly ensconced as one of my favorite characters of all time - definitely in the top 2 or 3 animal characters. She is goofy, loyal, fierce, mysterious, wise, disreputable and she epitomizes the love and friendship dogs offer. Just imagine if your dog could talk and had immense amounts of power and wisdom but was still, at heart, a dog. She's awesome.
Garth Nix is a great writer and extremely creative. The world of The Old Kingdom is incredibly rich and feels like a real place with a fascinating and detailed mythology. He reveals quite a bit more about the mysterious Charter which governs magic in this world - what it is and why it came to be. It's completely unique and while I normally find too much time spent on setting etc... to be dull, this is not at all. On top of being really interesting it is revealed organically as part of the story. Really everything the reader has ever wondered about the Old Kingdom is teased out and explained including Mogget's origins!
Tim Curry's narration continued to be excellent though I still wished he had done the Disreputable Dog a little differently.
FINAL VERDICT: A completely satisfying and emotional conclusion to the Abhorsen trilogy. This whole series has been superlative and has definitely become one of my favorite YA adventures! 4 out of 5 Stars!
Original Publication Year: 2015 (March 25th)
Genre(s): Historical Romance
Series: Regency Reformers #1
Format: Thanks to Entangled Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley). My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher.
Narrated by: NA
Usually I am very wary about picking up a romance novel I know nothing about. It's a genre that I am quite picky about so I try to be selective. Then on an average day I got a wild hair, as one sometimes does, and requested The Miss Mirren Mission from Netgalley and Lo and Behold... I LOVED it! Sometimes it pays to be all risky and impulsive.
The Miss Mirren Mission is a Regency Era romance which features:
Emily Mirren: Bluestocking, radical abolitionist, not interested in marriage because the only examples she's seen have been horrible.
Eric, The Earl of Blackstone: A former soldier, now spy, he's the original obsessed work-a-holic Regency England style.
They are both on a mission, she to save a friend and fight corruption, he to help England in it's war against France. When the two missions come in conflict, it turns out to be the luckiest thing to ever happen to these lovebirds.
I've given up trying to define exactly what makes me like or dislike a romance but certainly well-developed, believable characters as the main couple is pretty key. I really liked and identified with both of the main characters - we get both perspectives and their thoughts and reactions to the world and each other completely make sense. Eric is a confident and masculine man and even has his "I know what's best for her" moments but he's not an Alpha male in any real sense. Emily is more than a match for him as well so it doesn't feel like he dominates her. They can probably both be described as introverts.
Their falling in love is slow and feels totally realistic. There's talking and getting to know one another. There's lots of adorable and funny banter and flirting. Also, there's not a lot of emphasis on their beauty. Blackstone is fascinated by her curly hair and she find him non-conventionally handsome. There is no attempt to establish them as the most beautiful man and woman in Britain which is a relief - they are beautiful to each other because they are falling in love. It's nice.
The other thing I really liked about the book was that it had a good, nicely connected and complex plot that involved national intrigue but also a lot of personal connections as well. Eric served under Emily's father in the Army and revered him, loved him as a Father. Emily has a very different view of her father because he was always absent and left her in the care of a mean and wicked man. They talk and come to grips with this as the novel progresses. There's also the issue of slavery which had recently been abolished in Britain but was still a murky issue. The plot and romance were balanced perfectly I thought - I got just enough of each.
The final word on why I love this book? It kept me reading, avidly way past my best time. If I'd had a big enough chunk of time I likely would have just sat down and read it straight through. It kept me gripped and turning pages until the very end.
FINAL VERDICT: This turned out to be a great gamble and a great book - a regency era romance with a compelling hero and heroine and an involving plot to boot. 4 out of 5 Stars.
Ending a trilogy has got to be hard for a writer, especially if it’s a beloved trilogy. You have to wrap up or at least address in some way all the loose threads and bring the characters to an emotionally appropriate close. I was worried after Siege and Storm, but Ruin and Rising really delivers and keeps things interesting to the very last page.
NOTE: SPOILERS for the first two books are inevitable. Beware!
Synopsis: At the end of Siege and Storm, the Darkling had taken the heart of Ravka by surprise and left everyone fleeing for their lives in all directions. Mal and Alina are held captive by a creepy religious guy who is using Alina’s status as a Saint amongst the common people to garner support for himself. Alina and her small band remaining Grisha finally negotiate their release, and try to figure out how to take on the might of the Darkling. The odds against them are astronomical and in the middle of their struggles Alina and Mal make the most disturbing discovery of all.
There are a ton of emotional and political maneuverings in this book and fortunately, because Alina and Mal have matured a bit with their experiences, it comes across as less angsty for angst’s sake. Alina is still drawn to the Darkling but sadly he is not in the book any more than in book two. We do find out his whole back story and why he is the way he is.
Since Alina gained her power as a Sun Summoner, she has struggled with an unseemly desire for more power. While she still struggles in this book, I think she also becomes more adept at suppressing her desires while at the same time embracing her role as leader a little more naturally. The ending is also perfect in light of this over-riding theme.
And the ending? It could have gone either way and I think I could have been happy with it. It wraps things up well and no thread is left waving in the wind.
FINAL VERDICT: A really satisfying final installment in the Grisha Series which was highly readable and a well done YA fantasy.
Original Publication Year: 1996
Genre(s): Romance (Contemporary)
Format: Audio (downloaded from library)
Narrated by: Anna Fields
I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance. Heck I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction period, preferring historicals, mysteries, SFF etc…. So this really was a stretch out of my normal reading rut and is precisely why I am participating in the Eclectic Reader Challenge. For most of my life I hated beets and then one day 6 or so years ago a friend served me beets that were prepared just right and now they are one of my favorite foods. I don’t want to be so biased in my reading choices that I miss out on gems or judge a whole genre based on the literary equivalent of pickled beets…. or something.
I chose Kiss An Angel because it was near the top on a Goodreads list of Contemporary romance and had one of the highest average ratings. While, this book has not won me over to the contemporary romance genre, I do understand why it is beloved.
NOTE: There will be a few mild spoilers below, nothing huge but I can’t really talk about the book properly without revealing some of it and it is revealed in the first 20 pages.
The set-up is this: Daisy is a spoiled rich girl who has never had to work a day in her life and finds herself in deep financial troubles when her super model mother passes away. Her disapproving father (parents were never married), an American diplomat to Russia, insists that in order for him to bail her out of her troubles, she must marry a man of his choosing and stay married for 6 months. The man of his choosing is surly Alpha male Alex Markov who is, of all things, a manager of and performer in a second-rate traveling circus. As you might imagine things are rough in the beginning but guess what? Alex and Daisy find that they are a match made in heaven.
As you can probably guess, by the primary setting being a second-rate traveling circus, the characters and ambiance of the book is decidedly unique. Both of the protagonists have Baggage with a capital ‘B’ in the form of crappy parents and the main conflict revolves around them overcoming their emotional dysfunction. The second main conflict of the book is secrets – great big honking secrets that beyond just creating conflict, also provide a lot of forward momentum and drive to read. Phillips takes her time and doesn’t take the easy way out in getting these two together which I appreciate. She also does a good job of creating an extremely unlikely pair, even sans baggage, and illustrating why they are actually perfect for each other. So for the big things, mission accomplished.
I still didn’t love it though and it wasn’t all to do with the contemporary setting. I ended up liking Daisy all right but she is not the type of female character I really connect with and her transformation from spoiled rich girl to hard working, good-hearted animal whisperer frequently made me cringe. I also never really warmed up to Alex not being able to get over his level of cruelty at the beginning, his lack of humor and the fact that for the first quarter of the book he calls Daisy "angel face" (NOTE: Any guy calls me angel face he’ll have angels flying around his head after I punch him in his face). On a lighter note, this book is definitely a product of its age (pubbed in 1996) as Daisy has a fantasy about making out with a guy in a white limousine to the soothing sounds of Michael Bolton:0).
FINAL VERDICT: While Kiss An Angel was not enough to convince me that I have been missing out all these years not reading contemporary romance, it was good enough for me to not dismiss the genre in the future. If you are already a fan of this genre you will probably like this one if you haven't already read it.
Do you have any really fantastic and perhaps out of the mold contemporary romances to recommend?
Both the Read Harder and Eclectic Reader Challenges have romance categories. For the Eclectic Reader Challenge it's specifically Contemporary romance and for the Read Harder challenge it is just romance.
Original Publication Year: 2015 (February 10)
Genre(s): Fantasy, YA
Series: Seeker #1
Format: eBook - Thanks to Delacorte Books for Yong Readers for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley). My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher.
Narrated by: NA
The story begins on an ancient Scottish estate in a unspecified future or perhaps even an alternate now. Teenagers John, Quin and Shinobu are all hoping to pass their final test by combat and be initiated into the secretive and very rare ranks of the Seekers. John is denied the privilege and it is clear there is some dark history between he and the master Seeker Briac who is also Quin's father. Quin and Shinobu are initiated but find, to their horror, that being a Seeker is not what they imagined it to be. As they are dealing with this, John returns to claim one of the sacred tools of the Seekers which he believes is his by birthright and he continues to incompetently pursue this instrument for the rest of the book causing all sorts of trouble for his once girlfriend Quin.
I will be very interested to see other people's responses to this YA Sci-fi/fantasy. I had a lot of problems with it but don't know how many of them relate more to 1) not being a teenager or 2) not being in the mood for the particular tone of this book. I'd rate it a three out of five star read because it does have some marks in the good column but the strikes in the negative column were weightier.
What I liked:
What I Didn't Like:
- The tone is extremely emo and angsty, almost from page one. One of the characters tries to commit suicide for goodness' sake. It's like being thrust directly into Mockingjay without the buildup of two books to explain or give weight to the intense negative emotions all of the characters are experiencing. This is where mood and personal preference may have come into play. This tone is not my cup of tea and I was particularly not in the mood here. I did not like Mockingjay, The Order of the Phoenix is my least favorite Harry Potter - i.e. I'm not a big fan of reading about teenagers wallowing in self pity even when they have a good reason to be doing so.
- The plot relies too heavily on secrets and in many cases it's hard to even understand why they are secrets. John wants something and he was charged to get it by his dead mother and feels like he is not only justified but also entitled to the thing but he will not explain this to the girl he supposedly loves - he instead threatens and browbeats her. For her part, she has a complete lack of curiosity as to why the boy she loves is all of the sudden threatening and browbeating her and instead blindly resists his requests because she doesn't want John to experience the horrible things she has. BUT... you guessed it... she doesn't tell him about the horrible things but instead tells him vaguely and rather patronizingly that he shouldn't have it. If these two characters had interacted like actual human beings who cared for one another there would have been no plot - or it would have been very different and I may have liked it better.
- As I alluded to above, I found 3 out of the 4 POV characters, at best boring, at worst downright irritating. Quin has no personality, and is completely self-delusional but that doesn't stop her from being holier than thou whenever she gets the opportunity. Shinobu is a selfish jerk for 3/4 of the book. John at first seemed intriguing but quickly became very annoying, not because he was doing questionable things, but because he was so ridiculously stupid and incompetent at it all.
- The Romance: We are thrust right into the middle of a love triangle which isn't one of my favorite things to begin with. We have no relationship development and there is exactly zero chemistry between any of the characters.
Well looky there! I was able to pull out more things I liked than things I disliked! Unfortunately, the things I disliked had a little more affect on my reading than the good stuff.
FINAL VERDICT: I think this book will work for some readers especially if you like your YA fantasy dark and angsty. While I found some things to like I don't think I will continue on in the series.
Original Publication Year: 2012
Format: Audio (CDs from Library)
Narrated by: Joshilyn Jackson
Sunny Mann is having a spectacularly bad week. Her mother is dying, she’s nine months pregnant and her husband has just left on a mission to the moon where he will build robots that in turn will build a lunar colony. To make matters worse, a car accident reveals that her perfectly coiffed suburban housewife persona is a lie when her blonde wig flies off and she is revealed to have no hair at all. No eyebrows, no eyelashes, no nothing. Her life is unraveling or is it simply just becoming more truthful?
I think Lydia Netzer’s books are the type that you either connect with or you don’t. I do connect in a crazy intense way, despite the fact that I don’t usually love quirky. If there is one word to superficially describe this book it is quirky. It works for me, because she’s using quirkiness a bit like meaningful science fiction uses its “otherness” to reveal truths. Netzer uses the quirkiness to have fun (and it is absurdly and delightfully funny in places) but also to explore some truths of the universe without letting things get too heavy. It works for me. Really well.
The big message of the book seems to be that we’re all freaks and that trying to fit our non-cookie selves into a cookie cutter life will only hurt everyone. The book bounces back in forth in time spending time in Maxon and Sunny’s unconventional childhood and elucidating how they have come to be living the hyper conventional life of the present day. It then deconstructs this life.
In many ways, the book is also a romance. Sunny is confident and good with people, accepting and comfortable with her differences until it comes time to be a mother. The neighbor boy Maxon Mann is brilliant beyond belief but unable to really connect with or act normal around other people. He thinks in mathematical equations and sees himself and all humans as sophisticated robots with three key differences:
“There are three things that robots cannot do," wrote Maxon. Then beneath that on the page he wrote three dots, indented. Beside the first dot he wrote "Show preference without reason (LOVE)" and then "Doubt rational decisions (REGRET)" and finally "Trust data from a previously unreliable source (FORGIVE).”
Maxon believes he can design robots that will even erase these differences. He believes this is in part because HE can do them, especially when it comes to Sunny whom he loves almost from the moment they meet. Netzer is amazingly good at imagining two utterly unique souls that are absolutely perfect for one another and how they might fit together.
It wasn’t perfect and perhaps my biggest complaint is that the ending was overdone.
The narrator is the same as How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky and as with that book she takes a little getting used but once you do she’s pretty perfect.
FINAL VERDICT: A mix of meaningful, funny and unusual that really works for me. I am officially a Lydia Netzer fan and will read anything that she produces.
Original Publication Year: 2015 (JANUARY 20!)
Series: Veronica Mars #2
Format: eBook - Thanks to Knopf Doubleday for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley). My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher.
Narrated by: NA
Mr. Kiss and Tell begins a few months after the events of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Keith Mars is back on his feet and Veronica has moved into her own place, which she is sharing with a certain gentleman named Logan. (Gentleman you say? Since when? Since this book! It's like he's a grown up or something.) Her work on the case of the missing spring breakers in book one has earned her some elite friends and leads to her being hired to investigate an accusation of rape, on the grounds of the Neptune Grand Hotel, against one of its employees. The victim in this case is Grace Manning, Meg Manning's little sister who fans of the show will remember - she of the abusive religious zealot parents. The case turns out to be much larger in scope than it originally appears. At the same time Keith and Cliff have teamed up with Weevil to sue the Neptune police department for corruption.
It's hard to say too much about this book without spoiling a lot of the mystery but I'll give it a shot. This book doesn't have as many twists and turns of the first book but the mystery is still engrossing. It deals with sexual assault and since Veronica herself was a victim of rape, she is at her most fierce and determined. She finds herself wrestling with her code of honor and struggling to stay on the right side of the law. In the end, the way the case is resolved is clever and very satisfying.
The mystery is just one part of the book however. A chunk of the narrative is devoted to the fight against the corruption in the Neptune police department; there are even a few scenes that are from Keith's perspective. In the end there are some very interesting developments that should spice up future books. Another upside of this storyline is that we get a little time with Weevil.
There is also some space devoted to Veronica and Logan so LoVe fans (as I am) will be happy but its not overwhelming so if your not a fan, it shouldn't detract. Their interactions are very fun and the issues when they arise (as they ALWAYS do) are mature and make sense. Interestingly, it is Veronica that is perhaps not being fair and not dealing well and I actually appreciated this approach. She thinks little of her own safety in her impulsive rush for justice but she is fiercely protective of those she loves so her difficulty is understandable.
As hinted at above, the characterizations, the storytelling, the atmosphere continue to be spot on and fans of the show will undoubtedly enjoy this. However, while I thought book one could have been interesting for someone who hasn't watched the show or movie, this second installment I don't think would work as well. The Weevil storyline and the crusade against the police department, the victim being connected to Meg Manning, and all the history between Veronica and Logan all link back heavily to the show and movie - it's all explained but a non-fan would probably still feel they'd been dropped into the middle of something and miss some nuances.
FINAL VERDICT: This continues the book series strongly. I devoured it and will be anxiously awaiting book three!
Original Publication Year: 2014
Series: Veronica Mars #1
Narrated by: NA
This is the first in a series of novels based on the short-lived but very awesome TV show Veronica Mars created by Rob Thomas. If you are unaware, the show which aired from 2004-2007 focused on a teenaged sleuth Veronica Mars, in a SoCal town (Neptune) sharply divided along economic lines. While it might sound a little silly, it was actually smart, sharply witty and had that rare quality of making you laugh one minute and be genuinely moved the next. The franchise saw a revival in 2014 with a new movie funded by Kickstarter and the start of this series of mystery novels. The novel begins a few months after the movie ends - Veronica is now in her late twenties and has a law degree but she gets sucked back into the PI business in her home town and she has decided to stay sucked in.
With that background, the framework of this story is the disappearance of a couple of teenaged girls during spring break in Neptune. Veronica is hired by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce to find the girls because kidnappings are bad for business and the town Sheriff? Is incompetent and corrupt. Veronica’s investigation, with the help of her best friends Wallace and Mac will lead her into the shady world of Mexican Drug Cartels, reunite her with her estranged alcoholic mother Leanne and as always expose the shady underbelly of Neptune.
For fans of the show and the Veronica Mars universe, I think you will in no way be disappointed. The feel of the book, the voice of the characters, the humor, the relationships - they are all there intact and pretty near perfectly reproduced. It feels like a quality Veronica Mars episode in book form. The book is authored by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham and I’d be interested to know what the roles were. Did they actually co-author? Did Jennifer Graham write and Rob Thomas approve? It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. because however it was done it is spot on.
For folks who know nothing about the show and are just looking for a good mystery, I think you will also be entertained. The case is convoluted and has plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing. Veronica is an engaging character whether you’ve met her before or not and I think the book on its own provides plenty of insight into her complicated relationships. It’s these relationships and the character of Neptune itself that provides the solid mystery storyline with some greater interest. The book also moves at a snappy pace and was a complete page turner for me.
Final Verdict: A nourish mystery that will satisfy all and completely captures the charm and excellence of the TV show it is based on.
Tomorrow I'll post my review of Mr. Kiss and Tell the second in the Veronica Mars series which is being release on Tuesday January 20th!