Miscellaneous

Where all the other stuff goes

Delightful Dojo

Dojo Surprise by Chris Tougas is a delightful surprise!  Wonderfully fun to read as an adult, and cute as a button for the little ones.  My 3 year old giggled in all the right places and loved the adorable little ninjas.  The perfect balance of sto28256350ry and rhyming scheme, it was an awesome bedtime read.  The graphics reminded me of a number of current Disney offerings – I say that meaning it to be a huge compliment, by the way – and the story was just as adorable as the illustrations.

It was a quick read – like all books perfect for toddlers – but it was worth it and I look forward to reading it again.  I will admit, I can’t say the same for all books aimed at little folks like my son.  Here the rhyming was natural with the phrases easily rolling off the tongue which in turn created a fun cadence to it when read out loud.  Personally, if a writer is going to rhyme I need the words to actually rhyme – you know, sound alike – but don’t stretch it.  I don’t want to turn into someone who has to contort the pronunciation to get the rhyming scheme to continue.  Not everything has to rhyme but when the author is trying but stretches the pronunciation to get there, I am not a fan.  Cries rhymes with eyes, shock does not rhyme with amok.

The story line is also adorable – a few tiny ninjas trying to orchestrate a birthday surprise for their sensi?  Awesome!

Now I need to see if I can get my hands on the other Dojo books by Chris!  Delightful Dojo indeed!

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Bitter, Sweet, Delicious!

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg was an unexpected delight!  Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down.  It was like eating the perfect piece of chocolate cake, eager for the next bite and disappointed when you look down and the plate is clean with no more to eat.

This is the story of a young lady without a memory beyond the last few years, who manages to bake sweet treats which are, somehow, magically infused with different emotions or things like luck.  One day, her village is attacked by some marauders and while she survives, she is kidnapped and sold into slavery.  A mysterious man, not completely right in the head buys her and forces her to use her magic to make them money for different customers.  But there is a mysterious being who visits her – he is like a ghost or a spirit – and he wants her to get her memory back.

The creativity, both in the acts of the characters, and in the author’s plot and execution, is on full display.  While there was very little that was truly happy about this story, it was original and well crafted.  I found it nearly impossible to put down.  There was such a lovely mix of a few fairy tales (in their own way) and the new story here.  From the allusions to the story of Hansel and Gretel, to Alice in Wonderland, there was whimsy in the misery.  It was such an interesting juxtaposition, even knowing that whimsy was rooted in misery and had what were really in some cases evil purposes.  Seeing the power of naming something is typically reserved for books dealing with Fairies, but here it had entirely different, even though ultimately sad, purposes.  It was also a great surprise to see the direction the story ended up taking.

I particularly enjoyed reading the scenes where Maire is baking.  Seeing her work, and then learning how her magic worked, was so interesting and unique.  Like the range of treats she baked, I was filled with a range of emotions while reading the story, with all its twists and turns.  Sadness, fear, hope, love, all seem to have their moment for Maire and the reader.  The only ingredient missing?  A way for me to see that a sequel would be possible that wouldn’t distort the original story too much.  Either way, I now need to see what else there is to read by this author.  Hopefully, her other stuff is just as delicious!

Twice in a row… and two for the price of one…

I am getting behind on my reviews.  Again.  Yikes!  So, while I hate to do this, I am doing it anyway.  I am giving you all another multi-book review.  At least I am sticking to the same author/series though… and it is only 2 books…!

I read a number of books by Setta Jay (thanks Netgalley for the ability to read a bunch of them all at once!).  The two in question here are Binding Ecstasy and Piercing Ecstasy.  And these two didn’t disappoint.  Picking up right where the story has left us, we see Bastian and then Jax respectively  find their mates.  And a few others too, but the primary stories are about these two Guardians and their mates.

The series seems to improve with each installment.  It was wonderful how seemless the world-building now seems to be.  The character development is on full display and we get much more of the characters with each book.  It was easy to find pure joy in the stories here – and the caveman behavior has toned down a little – not much mind you, but I guess that is part of what I get for reading this genre.

Some of the twists and turns in these two installments were pure delights!  And it was wonderful to see some ass-kicking being done by some of the females too.  Both of these books moved their own plots, as well as the plot of the overall series, nicely along.  It was such a relief to see the overall story arc be moved forward too.  To often series like these fall into the trap where the overall story arc is barely moved forward and a reader could skip most of the non-sex chapters and still not miss much.  I find it super refreshing that the characters continue to plot ahead and so does the story here.  We see some changes to the players, real reprucissions, the author isn’t afraid to take out the bad guys, and the steaminess is super steamy!  It is also pretty amazing that seven books in and there is still real plot that doesn’t feel all stretched out to just be a platform for the author to churn out books.  Series like these tend to take that wrong turn, typically about book 7 and these haven’t so far.  I can’t wait to read Divine Ecstasy!  True to their titles, both of these books were ecstasy!

And the score is…

Sometimes when sitting down to write a review I find myself thinking like I am preparing the box score for last night’s baseball game.  But instead of ERA, base hits, errors, etc., I am thinking in terms of (1) plot development (or furtherance, depending on whether the book is the 1st or 5th or last in a series), (2) character development (ditto on the “or furtherance” part), (3) dialogue, (4) plot holes, (5) world building, (6) reality scale (to me, this is akin to the difference between animation, like Zootopia, and Tomorrowland – both fiction with fantastical elements but one is clearly trying to emulate reality in at least some aspects (Tomorrowland) whereas the other is a cartoon), (7) action (both pace and excitement levels), (8) pace of the story, and (9) if I read an “adult book” – steaminess or if I read a YA book – teenage angst.

So, how exactly did Faelorehn by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson fare?  If this were a baseball game, I would say that we are in extra innings, waiting to see how things end up.  (And we would be waiting for a little while, because while it looks like I could get at least the next book right away, I have a number of other things I need to read first)!  If it were soccer, in a non-playoff sense, I would say it was a 0-0 draw.  Why?  Well, if I were rating all 9 items (you know, like innings) above on a scale of 1-10 (worst to best) then the score would look a little like the chart below.  Which isn’t terrible, it wold be extra innings after all, where there is still a chance to add a notch to the “W” column (for the reader, since I see this as author vs reader and if the reader wins, its because they were able to enjoy a truly excellent book and if the author wins, then it was just about getting words on pages).  But, it’s close enough that there is still risk of loosing too.  It all depends on the next book, or more at bats.

Pregame (what you need to know):  Meghan is a foster child, in a big family, who all love her.  She is different though.  For as long as she can remember she sees things, thing the trees can talk to her, stuff like that.  She is a teenager, going to school, and has a small group of close friends who are all the non-popular kids.  A few of the popular kids really hate her though.  A mysterious “hobo” starts hanging around school.  She spends some time in the swamp near her house one Halloween and she starts seeing and hearing things again.  He reoccurring dream starts to change.  She gets attacked.  And that’s when she finds out she is really from a different world – she is Fae.

  Plot Dev. Character Dev. Dialogue Plot Holes World Building Reality Action Pace of Story Genre Specific
Score 5 7 7 7 7 8 4 3 3

See?  Looks a little like a score board.

Plot Development:  Book 1 was really more set up than plot development; the real “plot” could be summarized in about 3 sentences and didn’t need the whole book to flush out.  The entire plot really was:  Megahn is different and discovers why from a mystery man.  Turns out she is Fae and she needs to stay away from her real home or she will be in danger.  In the end, she is tricked into stepping into her homeland, looses her protection, and is now going to be hunted.  Oh, and she falls for the mystery man.  Ok – so that took 4 sentences.  It was missing something, something that makes even a set-up book more compelling.  It wasn’t awful, just wasn’t a thrilling enough set-up and plot to leave me starving for more and what ever comes next.

Character Development: Meghan – pretty well developed.  Cade, not so much.  But that was ok since Cade is the dark, strange, handsome mystery guy.

Dialogue:   It was decent.  I wasn’t rolling my eyes as I read stuff, an most of it felt pretty natural.  There is a “but” though.  Some of the word choices were a little… off… to have Cade say her kind has a character “flaw” or defect, when really , it’s just that they are a little different, bothered me.

Plot Holes: There weren’t too many, but the ones that existed were pretty big.

Example 1: Meghan really goes with the strange crow woman (doesn’t take a genius to figure out who she really is, by the way) after less than 30 seconds of convincing?  Nope, don’t believe it.

Example 2: Her best, closest friends don’t know her well enough, see her often enough, hang with her enough, so that she can hide/create a mysterious made up boyfriend?  Nope, don’t believe it.

World Building: This installment was mostly set up.  But it only gets a seven because the “world” was not really all that different from the real world.  And we don’t get many rules of the Fae world until the end, and even then, we get very few.  I adored the spirit guide dog though!  Need more!

Reality: Almost a little too real – very little paranormal/fairy in it.  At least until the end.  Needed more fantasy.  Although, it was nicely set up with the  real world elements, including down to the information about Meghan being placed with her family.

Action:  Lots of non-action action.  Sure, Meghan get attacked, and followed by some crows.  But she spends too much time reading, and like I said about the plot, not enough time getting into situations where I felt pulled into the world and the action and the plot.  I will read the next, but I am not yearning with every breath to see what happens to Meghan and Cade next.  Just not enough to it all for that.  Wish I could say otherwise.

Pace of Story: Super, duper, extra, awfully and tremendously ssssssslllllllooooowwww.  See all the previous items for details on this!

Genre Specific:   There’s a little bit of romance (although it is mostly implied and the reader has to infer it from the minimal actual page time Meghan and Cade have together).  Not tremendously consistent with the genre, the parents are not absentee parents.  Instead, they are present, and so are all of Meghan’s adoptive siblings.  The story is just built so that the parent’s don’t need to be absentee to move the (little bit of) plot along.  Seems that actual Celtic mythology influences the story, and that is great!  As an add, there are teenage bullies here and they are pretty awful.  But it is clear that they are bullies and their actions are not glorified, so I am ok with their presence (as well as a little bit of ass-kicking with them, since I think most bullies eventually need a whopping or they don’t learn).

There’s also the standard miscellaneous items that tend to go with a box score – in this case, the grammar wasn’t terrible and the bottom line, what isn’t evident from a perusal of just the numbers, is that I will read at least the next installment.  I just hop it has a little more plot depth, so that when the game is over, there is a clear winner.  But at the end of the 1st, score is tied, and I can’t tell which way the game is going to go!

Scared $*%&less by The Spirit Chaser

Wow.  It’s been a long time since I read something that scared the ever-livin’ you know what out of me as I read it.  The anxiety, the butterflies in my stomach, finding myself literally-sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-seat as I read, the pure hatred that I can’t speed read 1,000 words a minute because I have to know what happens next, and the creepy goosebumps because the story is scary and – like while watching any horror movie – the feeling in the pit of your stomach that you just know that things aren’t going to end well…. well The Spirit Chaser by Kat Mayor had it all in spades.  OMG.  It was Awe.Some!  And I so hope there is a sequel of some sort!  I haven’t had a book run me through this particular gamut of emotions since Michael Scott’s Image (and sequel, Reflection).  Creepy!   I would say Anna Dressed in Blood did this too, but Anna was YA (aka PG-rated) and this one had the added bonus of being adult (between all the blood-draining-from-my-face scary as crap scenes there were some rushing-blood-to-my-face steamy as crap scenes between Austin and Casey), so if you are looking for something totally scary but a little steamy too, this is where it lives!

Austin Cole is the star of a TV show called SCI – Spirit Chaser Investigations – where he and his team investigate homes and other places, looking for ghosts.  When an investigation goes wrong at a warehouse and his best psychic (and best friend) ends up injured and refuses to be part of the team anymore, Austin needs to find a replacement.  Enter Casey, a tough psychic who steps into place and becomes part of the team.  But, the warehouse was just the beginning of a terrifying story.  Two more super creepy places are tainted by so much evil that Austin, Casey and the rest of the SCI team have a huge battle to face.  There are ghosts, demons, and terrifying exorcisms between the pages.  Need to be convinced as to how creepy this book is?  All you need to do is look at the cover picture as it sets the perfect tone.

I got goosebumps more than once while reading this.  And shivered from the chills plenty of times.  The temperature in the rooms with the ghosts was not the only chilling going on while reading this.  The settings were downright disturbing and the action while trying to chase the ghosts and/or demons away was excellent.  The character building was great, and the scenes with Austin and Casey’s families made their characters so much more real and likeable.  Austin, for the most part, is a dream.  Ok, maybe he’s a little over the top in a few areas, but really he’s pretty innocent and looking to to make sure Casey is happy.  Casey and all the other characters were easy to like and despite the ghostly elements, it was also pretty easy to feel like this was grounded in enough reality to make the story that much scarier.  I loved that I was able to picture it all in my mind so easily while reading.  This would make a phenomenal scary movie!

Only criticism, in the very first chapter, the first few pages, referring to Austin as “the Spirit Chaser” instead of simply identifying him in that way and then using his name, was a little confusing and lead me to re-reading the first 5 or 6 pages twice.  That could have been avoided with a slightly more discerning editor/editing job to those few pages.  But, once I caught on to who was who, it was smooth, albeit spooky, sailing.

**spoiler alert** One of the most tragic yet brilliant parts of the story?  The heartbreak at the end.  This was also part of how I knew I found a book that I loved.  The fact that I felt so attached to the characters that the last 10 (or so) chapters were so hard to read as they were so heartbreaking, drove home the fact that I had become invested in the story and the characters.  To be honest, I don’t mind sad endings, but the “closure” here, I could have done without as it took things from sad and a little unknown to downright cruel.  I think I would have preferred the loose end of not knowing what happened to Austin than the heartbreak when I read the last chapter.  It felt like a sucker punch to the gut.  Conversely, it again was a win for the overall book because I was able to feel that strongly about the characters and story.

Bottom line, The Spirit Chaser is filled with all the frights, spookiness, sexiness, and wonder of an excellent ghost story.  I’m just glad I wasn’t sitting around a campfire having this read to me right before bed, or I might never have gotten to sleep.  I loved it!!!

 

 

 

It’s may be the beginning, but it should be the end

You know all those expressions about one door closing and another one opening, an event isn’t the end but the beginning of something new?  Clearly who ever coined those expressions didn’t do it after reading something like Blackmoon Beginnings by Kaitlyn Hoyt.  17379473Never mind that this is “book 1” of the “Prophesized Series” (apparently out of 4 – Goodreads states the following about book 4: “Reaching Retribution is the fourth and final novel in the four-part Prophesized Series”), never mind that the cover is pretty cool and enticing, never mind that the story is pretty typical and unoriginal but yet still had some promise if written (and for fuck’s sake, edited) better, never mind that this is (at least) intended to only be four installments.

After finishing this book, this is a series where the beginning could have been the end, and that would have been ok with this reader.

I am starting to feel like a broken record.  The strikes against: self-published, poorly edited, many grammatical issues, poor word choice, awkward dialogue, too much of the whole lack of self awareness by the main protagonist, everyone around the main protagonist is “hot”, what is very clearly a lack of maturity by the author, a number of jumps in the plot and jumps in the story (will explain how I am distinguishing shortly), and instant ability in self defense (and this particularly bugs me and pisses me off since I have nearly 20 years of martial arts training and I know that it takes practice – lots and lots of practice – to learn these things).  
And I feel like a broken record because these seem to be such frequent observations on these YA books, especially ones that are written by folks that are just too young to have the requisite life experience to write and get spectacular results.  I don’t mean to say that young authors can’t write well.  But, like I have said before, most teenagers just don’t have the perspective or experience to fill the gaps around the fantasy with the necessary accurate realism to
propel the writing from mediocre (or terrible) to wonderful.  

The story here is that we have an young woman, who thinks she is ordinary, without a real family.  She lives with her guardian who is absentee and she is about to graduate from high school.  When all of a sudden, she finds she has magical powers.  Said magical powers make her the subject of a prophecy that means she will save the world (or something like that).  As a result, she just picks up and moves in with a random magical family.  And of course, there is the potential for at least one love triangle.  Oh, and there is the group of bad magicians out to get the good ones.  There is a jealous ex-girlfriend for the guy our main protagonist is seemingly falling for (and all the teenage melodrama that goes with that).  So, I think all the typical YA boxes are checked.

I did not seek permission from the artist for posting this – (if you are she, and you want me to remove, please just let me know) – but I thought it was an AWESOME rendering and it came from audreybenjaminsen.deviantart.com

So, now what do I mean by jumps in the story versus jumps in the plot?  It’s kind of like this:  A plot jump would be if in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Harry had never found the mirror of erised but yet knew how it worked when confronted with Quirrell/Voldemort anyway and a jump in the story would have been the way the movie adapted the challenges that the trio went through to get to Quirrell (remember, in the book, they had Fluffy, the winged keys, the sun hating plant, the giant chess board, the sleeping Troll, the potions/logic challenge and the mirror; the movie only had Fluffy, the plant, the keys, the chessboard and the mirror); we still get to the same place without too much stress and while it would have been neat to see Hermoine logic through the potions it wasn’t necessary to the movie.  But take away the scene where Harry learns how the mirror works, and stuff stops making sense.

Examples of the story jumping and plot jumping here:  story jumping = Ryanne never explaining to Jane that she’s basically moved out of their house and in with Colton and his family.  Plot jumping = Liam, the dreamwalking mage, and everything that goes along with how Ryanne meets him the first time and how he gives her his necklace.  Story jumping = Ryanne’s instant ability to do all self-defense moves ever needed.  Plot jumping = Dravin and the Gadramicks find her and Coltin’s family not once but twice and no one knows how.  Some of these things can be glossed over and ignored.  Others, it wasn’t so easy to just accept and ignore.  And when you add the terrible dialogue between characters, and the totally unrealistic reactions of folks to each other, well, it was just a relief to get to the end of the book.

Given some time and experience, the author may develop and may end up with some well written stories she can add to her resume.  But, in the mean time, I hope the author can invest in a thesaurus (acknowledging that every character is “hot” doesn’t solve the fact that describing them all in the exact same one dimensional way, with few words (really, one = “hot”), doesn’t make for fascinating reading) and maybe by the end of book four things will have improved enough to make reading this feel less painful and and I will not be so quick to associate words like “amateurish”, “undeveloped”, “naive” and “unimaginative” with the plot, character development, dialogue and overall story, respectively.

A Little About a Lot

While my reading has suffered, my posting has suffered worse.  I just realized that I have read about a baker’s dozen books, across 4 series, and haven’t added a page or post or review on any!  So, this little “data dump” will be to give a few little tidbits on each (by no means am I catching up and reviewing 15 or so books all in one shot – that post would be epically long and take forever to finish, only exacerbating the lack of posts problem).

Here’s what I have read:

  • The Jolie Wilkins Series – all 5 – by HP Mallory
  • The Bryn and Sinjin Series – both (although I would argue these really are just an extension of the Jolie Wilkins Series) – HP Mallory
  • The Hot Damned Series – 5 of the 6 published so far – by Robyn Peterman
  • The second in the Lynburn Legacy – Untold – by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The first two in the Magisterium Series – The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet – by Holly Black

And I think I am missing something….

Anyway, let’s have a little fun with all that.  Here’s the quick and dirty on each series.  Bryn and Sinjin are hot, Hot Damned is much hotter, Jolie Wilkins has its moments, the Lynburn Legacy is a YA and therefore pretty cold but not completely as there is a love story to it, and the Magisterium The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)books are also YA and colder than Lynburn.   Jolie Wilkins is Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble (Jolie Wilkins, #1)your typical girl didn’t know she was a witch, man comes to rescue her from that boring normal non-magical life.  She is destined to be queen or something like that and save the world.  Cue the sexual tension, love story, bad guys wanting to take over the world, blah blah blah.  Not terribly unique or original, but a fun little escape just the same.

Bryn and Sinjin is a shift from the perspective.  What I mean is that instead of Jolie’s destiny being the primary focus, Bryn (Jolie’s twin sister) and Sinjin (the loveable handsome ancient Vampire who was previously in love with Jolie but lost to Rand) and their developing relationship are the focus.  Another fun little outing, a little more steam.  But a cliff hanger big enough to leave me pretty annoyed if there isn’t another.  There are only 2 listed on goodreads but I swear I saw something on facebook or somewhere about at least one more coming.  And heaven forbid, it looks like they will be from Sinjin’s perspective.  Yikes.  I personally am not a fan of the romance novel from the guy’s perspective.  Even worse, the statement on HP Mallory’s facebook page says:  “…decided to make this book (and maybe the next one.  Not sure but going to switch back and forth, I think) in Sinjin’s perspective!”  There are very few novels I have read where the flip-flop in perspective works.  So, fingers crossed that is not what we get next.

The Hot Damned series is… well… in a word: weird.  Out of the first 4, 2 is more about Dixie, the cousin of Astrid our main protagonist from 1, 3 and 4.  I 1 Astrid gets turned into a Vampire.  And kills her wack-job of a mother and her demon father.  And she meets her Hell on Heels (Hot Damned #3)destined mate, a Vampire prince.  In 2 she finds herself in Hell with a cast of characters too weird to do justice to: Mother Nature (her Grandmother), Satan (her Uncle), God (another Uncle), Dixie (cousin), Seven Deadly Sins (all more cousins), Mister Rogers, Hemingway, and others.  And we discover **spoiler alert** she is “Compassion”, a True Immortal.  In 3 Dixie is sent to Earth to find herself of something like that.  And she meets and falls in love with the Angel of Death.  In 4, Astrid’s baby with crazy growing power and all sorts of magic turns out to be the most powerful Immortal ever.  And there are Fairies with names like The Kevin (with “The” being the mark of an old fairy), trolls, demons, and all sorts of other craziness going on.  Another fun little romp, with some steam, if you can get past that there are moments when it felt like the author was trying to do too much with the vampire, demons, family tree thing.  And don’t, like I did, be expecting the Rogues that were such an issue in book 1 to really mean anything in 2 through 4, they just don’t really ever turn into anything that matters.

The second in the Lynburn Legacy, which while I am dealing with before the Holly Black books, I read after and just finished.  About 20 minutes ago.  And I am furious.  Furious at some of the characters. Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, #2) It is a little hard to consider some of the “good guys” good.  Lillian, while on the same side as our young adult Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1)protagonists is such a snotty bitch, who has delusions of grandeur, and wants to rule the town is just not quite as loathsome as Rob who wants a sacrifice of blood but otherwise feels exactly the same way. And, some of the plot holes were hard for me to deal with.  That said, I love the relationship between Kami and the other young folks the story is really about.  And the connection between Jared and Kami and the complication that Ash becomes was great.  There are really some sad moments on the pages of Untold.  And there are a TON of unanswered questions, that I hope get answered in the final book, Unmade (which I will be starting tonight). I will note that of all the 15 books I have neglected to write reviews on, this one, to me had the highest “can’t-put-it-down” rating.  I will note, however, that I liked the cover for the first book, Unspoken (seen on the left), better and like the cover of Unmade even less.  And, the short stories for this series – get them free or don’t bother.  They don’t really add to the story and they, in some cases, are super short.

And the last Image result for magicians syfyseries to get some reading time was the Magisterium by Holly Black. I admit to thinking of these books when I saw the first few episodes of the new show on SyFy – The Magicians – which I understand is based on a book of the same name by Lev Grossman.  Especially the part about the testing and kids not succeeding and getting dumped back to their old lives seemed, in so many ways,  so similar to the scenes in the Magisterium’s testing scene.  These are a little like Harry Potter (kids away at school, sorted into groups, learning magic) meets Seeker (who knows which is really the good side, which is the bad) meets a number of other things.  Biggest twist in the beginning is that the main protagonist wasn’t the big deal magician that the school’s staff was looking for.   But, there’s a big bad guy attacking children and there were some really creepy things in this book.  Not spooky ghost story creepy.  But adults praying on and using children and other stuff like that creepy.  But, interesting and Holly Black is magical herself in her ability to write something that I can conjure in my head in great detail and it is like watching a movie as I read.  It is so easy to get lost in her worlds, emersed in the characters and the story, and to become so invested that I am desperate to read what is next.  So… my message to her and her publisher:  let’s get on with it and release #3!!

I am going to try to add pages for all of these – in some form or another.  But I ask that you be patent and I will try to write more reviews and pages.  Goodness knows I need the pages as a lot of this is all swirling together into a big mixed up mess.

p.s. – to any worpress folks paying attention to my tiny little site:  I F’ing HATE, HATE, HATE, DESPISE, LOATHE, ABHOR, DETEST, [add your own synonym here] the “new posting experience”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Give me back the old way, without all the extra steps.  I beg of you.

 

New Standard in Dystopia

Wow.  What started off a little slow turned into a race to the end.  I couldn’t read it fast enough.  The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray sucked me in, and I couldn’t escape.  What a great story.  And pretty scary too as in it feels rooted in just enough reality that I felt tempted to pinch myself to make sure that I am really living the life I think I am 27108728living.

The Liberty Box is an expertly crafted, wonderfully written, and a very refreshing take the dystopian genre.  All the dystopian stories I have read to date take on the notion of factions, divisions, sectors, camps, [insert any SAT word synonym of your choice here]….  They have all started to meld together and I couldn’t tell you which story, be it the Divergent Series or Hunger Games, ended which way (without looking it up anyway, or watching the movie).  And those that haven’t ventured into the land of the factions typically involve some sort of disease (Masque of the Red Death or Legend), “game”/”test” (Maze Runner), or other singular event.  Here, Liberty Box isn’t wholly different in that there is a single event that caused the US as we know it to change.  But, the economic collapse and the idea that it is just here in the US (versus the entire world, or ignoring the fact that the rest of the world, at least at some point existed too) are both unique.  And how society is saved is quite frankly, frightening.  In part because it totally felt like something that could absolutely happen and we could all be turned into (in the words of the Crone) mindless “sheep” (although that too bears some similarity to the drug induced society of the Giver).

The plot of the story starts out like this: Kate, a young and beautiful reporter who beams into the nation’s households every night on the newscast suddenly discovers that an enemy of the state, who has been executed, is someone she knew when she was younger.  And when she starts to look into why, her fiance is killed.  Now on the run, Kate finds herself “off the grid” and away from the control of society.  Jackson, born in the US but raised in Iceland where he learned to control his mind and body from his grandfather, is back in the US for his mother’s funeral.  But, not all is as it seems in the Republic of the United States.  Yes, the former democratic US is now a republic.  Kate and Jackson find themselves in a forest with others and what they do about the world they are now faced with is the question.

To me, this seems to have the potential to be the next in the Divergent, Hunger Games movie spree.  I can totally picture the great scenery, characters, chases, and action up on the big screen.  I know I would pay to see this story brought to life.  While decidedly YA, it’s also scarier than HG or Divergent – as it seems so much more plausible and it isn’t hard to imagine someone with the financial means to create a supercomputer that can separate and segregate society the way the Potentate has done here.  It reminded me a little of  a number of movies that seemed to have just enough basis in reality to be much more frightening than the blood and gore horror movie.  They way Eagle Eye was much scarier (to me anyway) than World War Z or Saw.

Well written and well paced, there were fewer plot holes then I have found with most of the other dystopian stories I have read.  And the end was quite a surprise.  One that I can say I certainly didn’t expect or see coming.  My only critique is that the characters, Kate especially, at times felt a little two-dimensional.  It shouldn’t be that Bruce the Shark (from Finding Nemo for those who aren’t huge Disney fans like me) has more depth than some of the main protagonist.  There may be a reason for this in Kate’s case, maybe Kate is supposed to be that way because of the way she is raised.  But some of the others, especially Jackson, didn’t feel like they have quite enough personality. Regardless, I think the development for some characters needs a little work. I would love to see the great promise that some of the characters have be fulfilled.  However, this was not enough to shape the overall thoughts about the book; I believe Ms. Gray has provided yet another wonderful story and I am eager to see what happens to the characters next.

How to categorize the Grim Reaper?

I don’t often review a series at a time, instead of reviewing each individual installment.  But, in the case of the Lana Harvey series (at least as of the end of book 4), Graveyard Shift (Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc., #1)I am going to make an exception.  Not because each book doesn’t deserve its own review, but purely as a matter of efficiency and because I read them each over the course of a day or two (tops) and back-to-back so they really felt like one big book to me.  And, well, this is my little blog and I set the rules.  Ok, I feel like my 2 year old now and feel that I should be sticking my tongue out at somebody in an act of pure juvenile defiance!

The Lana Harvey series, by Angela Roquet, stands at four books so far: (1) Graveyard Shift, (2) Pocket Full of Posies, (3) For the Birds, and (4) Psychopomp.  The fifth is coming soon – Death Wish.

first things first, let’s explain what this series is all about.  It’s about a Reaper (yes, as in Grim) who is charged with transporting souls right after death to their particular after life.  And each soul’s particular  afterlife is determined by their faith while living.  So, the Christian’s version of things is right beside the Muslim, right beside the Jewish, right beside the Egyptian… (you get the idea).  Pocket Full of Posies (Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc. #2)That makes for a vast and interesting well of deities and beliefs to draw from and to build a world around.  Pretty clever, and the world building was pretty well done.  Now, this series isn’t just about the escapades around the transport of random souls in each installment.  There is an overall story arc that drives Lana and Grim and all the others, while transporting souls of course.  And it has to do with keeping Eternity from collapsing into War.  It’s pretty original.

I realize that I think I need to add another category to this little blog of mine, as this was “billed” as a horror, but it certainly didn’t meet my standards of horror.  I thinFor the Birds (Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc. #3)k of Michael Scott’s Reflection or Steven King when I think horror.  This never had the fear factor or the blood and guts spewing that I think requisite for books in the horror category.  And while one might thing that a story about a bunch of grim reapers would naturally fit into the horror category, the little bit of death and danger is no where near significant enough to justify the horror categorization.  Instead, I found myself chuckling more than cowering and smiling more than nail biting.  It wouldn’t exactly call it a dark comedy (not quite enough chuckling or LOLs for that) but there were funny moments.  And, with the exception of a few scenes in Posies, even with the “romance” that goes with the main protagonist dating I am not sure I would classify this as PNR either.  So where does that leave me?  I’m going to categorize them in the PNR category because of the second book and because it seems after four books that Lana’s love life is at least semi-important to the plot of the overall series.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed the stories, some of the installments have much sloppier editing than others and some of them were littered with grammatical issues and typos. That was kind of frustrating. I really do credit (or I guess really it should be discredit) the self-publishing trend for that.  I don’t know if these are self published books (goodreads doesn’t note the publisher but says “Kindle”) but the ability to turn out books by anybody without a professional editor is really making things hard for readers. It’s not just limited to grammatical mistakes and typos either.  No, it perpetuates much deeper issues such as keeping track of overall plot points and issues around story editing too.  I will note here, however, while there are a few blips on the radar Psychopomp (Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc., #4)from a story perspective the bulk of the issues I have with this series seem to be around the grammatical mistakes and typos.  But they weren’t big enough issues to keep me from reading all four that are currently published, and they definitely weren’t bad enough to keep me from looking forward to the fifth book.

I do wonder what’s with the quote at the beginning of each chapter? Is it an attempt by the author to show how well read she is? An attempt to show off and show the readers how well educated she is? A way to rub it in your face the fact that some of those quotes and people are unfamiliar? Frankly it feels a little… well annoying is the best word I can think of at the moment.  Again this isn’t enough to prevent me from looking forward to the next book however.

The author clearly was well researched and spent a lot of time learning what she needed to to create a detailed and fairly complicated world for our characters to be living and working in.  And the best part is, most of it works.  There are few places where I am left scratching my head thinking that there might have been an easier way to do something and something felt a little convoluted.  But overall, it worked.  The characters worked.
The story worked.  And I am happy to say that when you put all of the different faiths together there was a way to make that work. It feels mostly like the author took a very complicated puzzle and somehow managed to get all of the pieces put them together and give me a great and complete overall picture. There are funny moments and there are sad moments. There are characters you can root for and characters you can root against. And there some real human emotion coming from characters who aren’t even close to human. I have been enjoying this series very much.  I will say, one of the funniest things, throughout the series, has been the mental picture of Lana donning her “reapers robe”….  but again, it works!

So, I am not sure what else there is to ask for.  Except to hurry up and get Death Wish published!

Dragons and Dreams

Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen and C.M. Broyles is the first in a new series touted as a fantasy that “fills the hole left by Harry Potter” as it has many similarities (think boarding school in the UK, magical powers, a main protagonist not knowing about magic at first, one big bad guy to battle, a castle, etc.).  I can’t second that opinion – as the hole in my heart that Harry Potter left is too big for this book to even begin to fill.  But, I will say it clearly aspires to be the latest Harry Potter.

Let’s start with the things that give this promise – promise that the series might one day be able to fill the hole that was left by the Harry Potter movies, even if it fails to ever come close to knocking JK’s world off the throne.  The story itself, with the mirror world, and the magic that seems to come from within each character, seems to have promise.  It is a different approach – saying that each person has a power but not all magical students (and not all students there are even magical) all aren’t able to conduct spells or attend classes for and learn transfiguration.  The teachers are pretty clever.  The use of modern technology to get Addy to the Red Dragon Academy was amusing (let’s face it we all know the frustration and annoyance of dealing with pop-ups on the computer screen).  There were moments of genuine originality and playfulness.  There is room for growth – especially since we don’t yet know what every one’s powers are.  And, the satisfaction that I felt when reading the background that we get towards the end, was enough to ensure that I will definitely pick up the second installment.  Without it, I am not sure I would have felt that I want to read the second book.

Why?  Because there was great inconsistency.  While I admire writers, and I admire teams of writers even more (because it is hard enough to get a story out of your brain and onto paper, it must be infinitely harder to manage to get the same story from a team), I also expect more from a team.  This is because there is a second person to help spot the inconsistencies, the plot holes, etc. – well before an editor or read could.  So, presumably, they can spot the issues an fix them pre-publication.  But, I wonder exactly what the process was here – because the story and the writing itself felt choppy and inconsistent.  And there were what felt like moments of brilliance, coupled with moments “been there, read that” (and not just in Harry Potter, although some of the similarities are really most striking when thinking of the boy-who-lived).  There were times where it felt very well written with the grammar, sentence structure, and pacing all moved along perfectly.  Then, wham!  All of a sudden, it felt as if I was reading an entirely differently book.  I don’t know if that is because the specific writer of the passages/chapters (whatever) changed, but it there was a stark contrast in writing from one section to the next.

It also took a little while for the authors to develop the narration by Addy, the main character, that wasn’t choppy and a little tough to read.  Once that rhythm was found, things got easier and more pleasant to read.  I would chalk it up to the initial world building and introductory work that all new series need to lay out, you know – the groundwork the rest of the series will built off of – but it was less like that and more like inexperienced writing.

While there are seven students, and that leaves so much room for development, it also felt a little too ambitious.  As most of the seven students felt so peripheral that it was hard to care about them or pay much attention to them.  They might as well have not been there, they get so little attention really.  Hopefully, in the next books we will learn more about the others.  Because they are set up as being integral to defeating “The One” but we really learned very little about them, and it was hard to really care about any of them as a result.  Maybe narration by a different member of the seven would solve this (but please, no chapters alternating… there are too many characters for that; it works ok most of the time with 2 characters, but more that that…?  Yikes!).

However, there were a number of satisfactory aspects.  For example, the references to Welsh history were interesting.  Frankly, I would have liked to see more (although I admit, I wouldn’t know it if it was made up history or real, since I know nothing about Welsh history) as I am guessing like most European countries, there is rich history from which to draw.  I would love to know if any of the story pulls from Welsh mythology too….

There is so much room for growth in that we have apparently seven children with powers and only 2 of them have discovered their powers.  And, clearly there is a big baddy that needs to be defeated and who knows how many installments it will take to defeat him.  The fact that there is the possibility to introduce more dragons, in more than just a few flight scenes, is appealing (I am hoping that we will get more, I don’t know if we will or not, but doing so would add another wonderful element to the series).

There was action, magic, modern technology, dragons, magical mirrors, telepathy, adventure and more here.  And, of course dargons.  Every story is better with a little bit of dragons.  I hope we seem more – and a little more consistency in the next installments.   What is one of the best aspects – we get some much needed background and insight into the world the authors have built towards the end.  I was glad I got there – since that helped tremendously.  And made me realize that I do want to read the next book.  So, here’s to more dragons and dreams!