review

Under the Spell Thief’s Spell

This is one for the kiddies…  it is for beginning chapter book readers.  The Spell Thief by Tom Percival looks like the first in a series (the ARC I got has a little from book 2 as a preview).  While is isn’t complicated and doesn’t have the heft of something like Harry Potter for character development, dialogue or plot, if you keep in mind that it is aimed a very beginning readers, it is delightful.  The story if of a little boy, Jack of Jack-in-the-beanstalk fame, and his fellow young friends: Red (yes, Little Red Riding Hood), Rapunzel and Hansel & Gretel.  They live in a little town with a delightful tree that records their stories.  They are at war with trolls and 29623561Jack’s father is off mining moonstone, which keep trolls at bay.  One day, a ship from a far away land arrives with another little boy, Anansi.  Jack catches him talking to a troll and sets out on a quest to find out if Anansi is a troll spy.  He meets a young saw witch named Lily and tries to get her help.

In the end, I think it will be something that will be super fun for my little guy to read once he is old enough.  A tiny bit of exposure to the characters would add in on the fun, as it would be easier to understand why Rapunzel has such long hair or why Hansel & Gretel are always finishing each others sentences.  But, hard core knowledge of the fairy tales they come from isn’t necessary.  Again, it is important to remember the target audience for this; if you picked it up expecting an adaption like Wicked or some other “fractured fairy tale” (which is apparently new lingo), this isn’t that.  Instead, the characters and their story are merely a delightful device to explain what they have in common and where they all come from.  There is a little bit of magic to keep things interesting and to, hopefully, spark an interest in reading things more magical and more complicated.

It has messages of friendship and the value of listening as well as a few others.  The little illustrations are cute enough to keep my 3-year old looking at the page while I read and I loved the way Lily was drawn.  I certainly will look forward to other installments.  The Spell Thief cast a delightful, albeit simple, spell.

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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!

Will we be Blest with a sequel?

Blest by Blaise Lucey started off slow, but boy, it is take off in the end.  After the first half, I found I had trouble putting it down.  I love stories about angels and demons falling in love – and this one was no exception.  While I had some little issues with the beginning, specifically pace (insta-love) and world-building (background for it), by the time I was half-way through I was so very sucked-in I was sitting on the edge of my chair while reading because I was desperate to know what happened next.

Since the book begins with the first half, however, let me address a few of the short-comings.  First, there was a lot of love between two character who merely spent a few minutes, and one afternoon, together.  Even for the PNR stuff that I read, which is usually all about insta-love, that is giving the relationship development shot-shrift.  There is no reason why the characters couldn’t have developed the feelings over a little bit of time, a month or two for example.  Then, frankly, some of the vitriol towards Jim by the demon kids would have been more on display and a deeper connection to Claire and Jim would have been easier to feel.  There was no need for their birthdays to be quite so early in the school year – or the story – a little more of the suspense as to why the two characters were this books version of Romeo and Juliet would have only added to the plot. The acceptance of why they were different was also a little quick (and this is the second book I’ve finished in the last 3 days that treated this the same) – way too quick  – like, the Flash might as well be moving in slow motion compared to the speed at which they all accept the supernatural and paranormal and that angels and demons are real.  It was just too quick.  It didn’t give me time as a reader to adjust and again, I think a little more page time spent on that would have added to the overall plot and pace of the story.  Once things got going though, there were a bunch of reveals – and that was great as I felt much more involved in the story and it was easier to stay engaged.  I am just a little curious – as I don’t see this being billed as the start of a series, and lots of loose ends were tied up, but there is still certainly loose ends that aren’t tied up, including the events of the epilogue, so I hope there is at least one more coming.

Despite the need to pay attention to some of the terminology, lest you get lost, this reminded me much of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments – and some of the hints that were dropped had me holding my breath that the reveals weren’t going to be the same as with City of Bones, and thank goodness, they weren’t.  But to me, Blest had tones of City of Bones with the love between our main protagonists and the good vs evil nature of things.  Unlike Mortal Instruments, however, I have enough details to hold me to book 2 (assuming there is one **fingers crossed**) and enough to make at least another good book or two out of the things that aren’t solved and the stuff we don’t know.  And some of what we don’t know has such potential – like the back stories to the parents of all our teenage cast, the mythology of the Tribunal and how the demons were originally banished, exactly what the feathers that each of Claire and Jim have that are “opposite” the rest of their respective wings… there quite a bit of fodder to serve as the basis for some excellent follow-up books.

Even out the pace a little with the second, balance the relationship building and world building to give me more, and we may have a new favorite YA/Angel and demon series!  At least, I really hope there will be a second!

p.s. LOVE the cover!!

Angels Everywhere

Dark Hope, by Monica McGurk, is the first installment in the Archangel Prophecies series.  Like many other reviews for debut novels, I am struggling a little with my thoughts on the book.  I enjoyed it enough that I am looking forward to reading the next one (or ones since as per goodreads, there are only two listed at the moment, but I am guessing there are plans for more).  But I also would love to see a few things done slightly differently, as I think that would enhance my enjoyment of the books.

I will start by saying that this isn’t the most original – there are tons of YA stories centered around the love of an angel and a human girl.  And most of them involve a plot involving fallen angels and the end of the world (or saving it).  The human girl is always important to the saving or not saving.  And the love is almost always taboo for some reason.  Not being the most original isn’t a bad thing here.  It is a tested formula.  There are a bunch of great books that follow this same generic formula.  Why fix something that isn’t broken.  It works.  It works when things are done right. And here, the story and the characters are interesting, easy to get to know, and for the most part well written.

A reader does need to just accept a few things though.  In this, like many of the YA supernatural persuasion (it isn’t unique to the angel sub-genre, it’s common in the vampire, werewolf, demon sub-genres as well, just to name a few) you have to just let a few things go – take them for what they are and nothing more.  For example the age difference.  Let’s face it, in almost all of these one half (and it is typically the male half) of the intended couple is much older than the other.  Like hundreds or thousands of years older.  That, if you think about it too much, yields all sorts of creepy pedophile like comparisons.  But its not like the person we are reading about takes on the attributes of a grown man.  They have the thinks (and often knowledge) that makes them the supernatural being they are, but in all other ways they are teenagers too.  They look like, and behave like, teenage boys.  Any real focus on the age difference is really misplaced.  Let’s face it, unless the pairing is always of two supernatural beings, who also happen to be about the same age, even a 200 year old supe and a 50 year old lady is cringe worthy when you focus on the age difference – so you have to take it with a grain of salt and just not focus on that.

When a prophecy is involved there will always be interpretation and mystery.  There just will be.  It’s the only way to keep the plot from being too obvious.  The best crafters of prophecy layer it with subtleties (“The one to vanquish the dark lord…”) and the clumsier crafters, well that’s like a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin factory.  And with the series being dubbed the “Archangel Prophecies”, you had better expect at least one prophecy and what I ‘ve seen so far places this on the subtle side but for me, it might be because of my complete unfamiliarity with the bible.

The parental units are not really going to be in the picture, or if they are, they aren’t going to be the typical (or real) parental unit.  That’s just how it goes.  The story can’t progress, the characters can’t disappear for days and do what ever they want, if the parental units are parenting.  As in actually there.  Staying out all night, leaving town to go to Las Vegas, being 13 and cooking your own dinner, staying out until 2 am, etc. just won’t happen when they are… well… normal.  It has something to do with letting the characters come of age in the best way (or so I read in an article about why mothers are so often absent from Disney animated cartoons) or something like that.  Although if you ask me, seeing a character punished by parents who are around, once in a while might be interesting!

It is totally a thing to shift perspectives.  And, often, without real warning (sometimes the chapters have headers that announce this, sometimes not).

Finally, you just need to accept that it isn’t all going to make sense all the time, and it isn’t always going to be the most original thing you read that day.  Especially with so many authors who have stepped from fan-fiction to publication.  On the positive side, this is one of the best results of that step that I have seen.  And trust me, there are some awful attempts to take that step put there.  While there is room for improvement, this doesn’t have the glaringly awful grammatical issues or editing issues that many of my recent reads have.  And that was a refreshing thing.  Just keep in mind, it is much harder to be really original when things start out as fan fiction.

If you can accept those limitations, and those of this sub-genre in particular, then this should be a rather enjoyable little outing.  As I mentioned, the characters were easy to get to know.  What you need to know: We have Michael, as in the Archangel, and Hope.  Hope was kidnapped as a child and ended up living with her father because he was convinced that Hope was still in danger.  Then, as a teenager, she decides she wants to go live with her mother.  She goes to school, for the first time, as a normal kid. And there she meets Michael.  We don’t see a lot of the time they spend together, getting to know each other, but it is referenced quite a bit.  So, even without all the page time, it is implied that they are really getting to know each other.  That’s good – since I hate the superficial, based on nothing but looks, kind of love, especially in YA books (in the PNR its not as awful to me since those are more about the steamy scenes than the real relationship already).  Then, it turns out that Hope is integral to a prophecy related to fallen angels recapturing heaven. And Michael wants to prevent the fallen from succeeding in the quest to get back into Heaven.  The main protagonist’s lack of any real friends is also something different from the typical YA.

There were some unique elements despite the fact that the story is fairly familiar. For example, the thought applied to getting Hope away from her Mom is certainly new – and refreshing.  They don’t just up and disappear without her mother calling the authorities.  And it was a fairly elaborate way to keep Hope’s Dad out of trouble.  The main protagonist’s lack of any real friends is also something different from the typical YA. So it felt like a fair balance between a standard overall story and some interesting details that made it different from the others like this that I have read.

The two things that I would love to have seen better done are the human trafficking sub-plot and Michael’s… mood swings and their implications.  It is a shame because I know that the human trafficking plot elements are important to the author.  But they felt a little distracting.  That is, that sub-lot didn’t feel integral enough to the overall plot.  It felt a little forced.  In fact, had it not been part of the book I don’t think it would have had any impact.  I am reminded of the moment Amy Farrah-Fowler spoils Raiders of the Lost Ark for Sheldon, telling him that it would have ended exactly the same way had Indy not been involved.  That’s sort of the same way I feel here – without the human trafficking element, there would have been basically no difference in the overall plot.  And it pains me to say this because I know the author is passionate about stopping human trafficking.  But, if it is going to follow us through the next book(s), hopefully it will be better integrated and won’t feel so forced.

The other issue relates to the dynamic between Michael and Hope.  Hi is totally obsessive and nasty and she plays right into it, letting jealousy impact her actions, and that in turn enrages him.  It’s a vicious cycle that the two are stuck in and it is all the more disturbing to see Michael, and archangel for crying out load, be so down right mean and cold to her.  I question both Hope and Michael’s actions, thoughts and interactions.  It just doesn’t seem healthy.  It feels a little like 50 Shades impacted writers – and in a really, really bad way.  I don’t ever want to see the abuse (verbal or physical) just accepted, no matter what the reason, justification, or logic that applies because it is never ok.  So, to route for Michael and Hope in future books, I for one will need to see this part of the relationship toned down significantly so that tension (which is different) doesn’t cross into abuse territory.

There has been a proliferation of angel stories into the YA genre, and there is a plethora of angel stories.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that there was just enough to the story of Hope and Michael that I am looking forward to more of the Archangel Prophecies.

It couldn’t get more superficial than this

And I thought that Bella’s love was superficial and grounded in nothing other than what the boy looks like.  This book makes that love story look like the deepest, soul reaching, romantic and well developed love story ever.  **Shudder**  I know that so many books, Para-YA and PNR especially, don’t exactly do the whole getting-to-know-you thing between the characters before they declare themselves madly in love, but here, it made even the fastest move at a snail’s pace in comparison.  And, unfortunately, it’s not smart enough or well enough written to be love-at-first sight.  Instead, it’s love at first “OMG isn’t he the most gorgeous person ever”.

I am talking about the first installment in the Guardians series, titled The Girl by Lola St.Vil.  It is not all that original a story as we are looking at a good vs evil, balance needs to be kept or the world will end, a human and an angel relationship, and a quest plus a prophecy of some sort.  Not that I need it to be that original – look at what I read for goodness sakes, mostly clones of one of a few stories with subtle differences.  Here, the difference is the idiocy and angst of some of the characters is off the charts.  Also, the inconsistent grammar, character development, and detail vomit that happen from time to time just get to be a little too much.

Believe it or not though, I am reading the next book.  Because despite all the issues I had with the first, and there were plenty (I will share just a few), I still thought it was a fun little read.  It was a great little distraction and I am interested enough in a few of the collateral characters that I want to see where the overall story takes us.  How can I have so many issues with the series after just one book yet keep reading?  It’s like watching a soap opera – the terrible acting, terrible scripts and story lines, pregnant pauses for the sake of it taking three weeks to get out a single sentence – and yet you keep watching anyway because it is still fun.  So, this is a review after all so I will share a few of the things that were (more than) a little eye roll inducing.  eye roll animated GIF Before I do that, though, let me give a 10 second synopsis.  We have angels who are trying to prevent the devil (and her minions) from letting evil take over the world.  Marcus, the leader of the angels trying to do the saving is dating another angel on his team.  His team meets Emmy, who is important because she is a clue that can lead to how to either let evil win or how to stop evil.  And Emmy falls for Marcus.  Chaos ensues.  Fights break out (not just the physical kind either) and characters die and others make-out.  And the angels have some cool powers but there are rules to the game that is being played and mostly the good guys have rules while the bad guys have very few.  Ok, I think that’s enough for the review.

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First, and worst of all, the life-changing insta-love that Marcus and Emmy, the two main protagonists, feel for each other – because the kicker is that even though I see this all the time in the stuff I read (I readily admit that I am not a great literature addict – I love Dumas, Bronte, Shelley, Dickens, Carroll, Tolstoy and more but I am addicted to the… hmmm… crap, for lack of a better word), readers typically at least see that semi-developed over the course of the protagonists encounter – they spend time together, talk to each other, get to know each other (a little)…. The point is, it becomes something that is easier to understand and substantiate.  Here, does that happen?  Nope.   They spend no time together (I am ignoring the one car ride they take, because it is so insignificant) and yet they are turning their lives upside down because of this love that they feel.  I will lump in the awful amount of immaturity and jealousy that Emmy displays into this problem as well.  It’s almost comical it is so extreme.  And since there is no real relationship to back it up, the awfulness is magnified.  Honestly, it makes me really dislike Emmy as a character.  I know she is merely 15/16, but she is really hard to stomach.  Instead, it is all about how drop-dead gorgeous he is and he’s soooo handsome **swoon** so that means I luuuuurve him.  Lust at first site is love at first sight for Emmy.  And all Emmy really cares about is what everyone else looks like.  It’s really pretty pathetic and disgusting.  Marcus has the personality of a cardboard box, but he’s pretty, so she’s in love.  Ugghhh.  You know it’s pathetic when I am comparing this to Twilight and saying that Twilight is so deep in comparison.  Because even if you adore Twilight, you have to admit, the relationship wasn’t exactly built on mutual adoration, friendship, trust… you know all those things that make for a good relationship.  Instead, it was “he’s smokin’ hot, I am in love.”  Again:  Ugghhh.

Problem two is the information vomit that the author does.  I can’t believe I am saying this – because recently my complaint has been lack of enough to keep me interested.  But clearly, I am looking for that perfect balance of enough information to understand what is going on and not too much that I have little desire to read more.  Here, we get (what appears to be anyway, although maybe I am wrong and I will have to eat my words after reading the next books) all but one of the mysteries solved in the first book.    Too much.  There’s no sense of suspense left really, at least not with respect to the world building.

Problem three is the grammar.  I am no grammar queen, I admit.  I have problems with tense sometimes and pronouns, dangling participles, etc.  But, I don’t write novels for a living.  If I did, the first thing I would do is get a book or take an English grammar class.  Come on people, learn the language you are writing!!!!!!   Better yet, HIRE AN EDITOR.  Because, you know, the best idea ever it to have your friend who thinks s/he is good at it to do it.  Pay a professional, who does it for a living!  Because they really are good at it, they don’t just think they are good at it.  While the ability to self-publish has lead to some great stories it has also lead to some really terribly written ones.  Even worse are the great stories that are written very poorly.  Because they are even more of a let down.  And don’t even get me started on the typos.  They were everywhere.  When I realize I have typos on this blog I am embarrassed and pissed off at myself.  But I write, then proof-read right away.  And it is easy to miss typos and misspellings when that is the process – my brain reads what I knew I wrote (or meant to write).  If I were attempting to put a book out in the public or if I made my living writing this little blog (gee, don’t I wish!) I would have someone who is good at proof-reading do just that before publishing.  But I guess that makes me crazy and abnormal, for thinking logically like that and thinking that I would care about the quality of my work.

Problem four is one particular scene.  That’s right.  One scene is bad enough that it is a significant enough problem to mention it by itself.  Marcus meets with the Sage and is told that he needs to use Emmy, he doesn’t need to be Image result for overdonenice to her. Then Marcus takes his girlfriend to spend time together and convince her that he loves her.   And they do all sorts of angel adrenaline junkie things (their version of sky diving and stuff).  Then, he heads off to Emmy.  And, given the sequence and what the Sage said, I assume that when in the very next scene  Marcus is confessing his undying love, that he is just going to use Emmy.  But apparently that wasn’t the case.  The melodrama, the unintentional (I assume) sap that virtually flows off the page giving the reader sticky finger, is so overdone, it’s turned a hunk of meat into a lump of charcoal.  He really does a 180, and in the most unrealistic so over the top kind of love confession it was stupid.  Not romantic but idiotic. Here’s a passage:  “Since I met you I have been unable to count in days.  I can only count your eyes.  How long until I see your eyes again?  That’s the only clock I have in my head.”  When Emmy calls him on that, he say’s it is all true.  So, here I am thinking the whole time that he is going to really turn out to be just using her.  But nope.  And, not to mention the confession about taking all the invisibility snaps so he can be a peeping tom and not be seen – that’s just creepy.  Like EL James, 50 Shades stalker creepy.  That whole scene, the dialogue, the way it came about… yikes.  Just yikes.  

Problem five is that the author completely disregards certain elements of Emmy’s home life.  Emmy end up grounded, but goes out anyway and gets beaten up and no mention of the fact that she had been punished.  Since a big deal was made about the punishment and Emmy’s not being able to read or listen to music, I thought, great, some realism.  Them two months of grounding turns into like one day and then going to West Africa and no repercussions – not even a passing mention of one.  It’s a failure to plot out (or outline) the story well enough.  It’s an oversight that felt amateur.

Problem six is the cover.  So, I got this book because it was a suggested on goodreads in the YA category.  But the cover implies something definitely other than YA.  And while the writing style and actions of Emmy are juvenile enough to justify the YA category, at least at the moment, that is not the impression I got from the cover.  And, ok, there are other version of the cover.  But the one I have is the cover shown above.  the other two cover options in goodreads are certainly more aligned with the whole YA category.

Is there anything redeeming here?  The story is just interesting enough, that despite its lack of originality, it isn’t wholly without value.  And Miku, Rio, Reese and Jay are great characters.  In fact, in many ways they are the characters that I feel I know better after finishing.  Emmy is too superficial and so green with jealousy that it is beyond annoying.  Scratching my own eyes out would probably be more pleasant than reading one more word of her jealous inner monologue.  Miku, Reese, Rio and Jay?  Like the fantastic four though.  We learn more about them, including things about some of their lives and deaths, then we do about Marcus or Mimi.  And we learn a little about what motivates them, how they think and feel.  Where the heck is that character development for Marcus and Emmy?  It’s just poorly balanced.  But, I want to see more of the wonder twins and if they ever join their powers, I want to know what happens to Jay.  So, I am already  into book two, and think unless it gets much worse (although not sure how it can) intend on riding this out until the end.   Although I do think that is a sad commentary on the series – that I am saying this has to be rock bottom so I will read because it has to get better….

Not quite Enchanted

Enchantment Lake was a fun little read.  My expectations were totally off, but still, I enjoyed it.  I just wouldn’t say I was enchanted by it.  There was a little too much going on for that.  And this is another that suffers from genre-identity-crisis.  Is it YA, cozy, children’s fiction?  Who knows.  I am going to call it cozy, but I don’t know if it is the start of a series or not.

So, first, why were the expectations off?  With a caption above the title (LOVE the cover, by the way) that says “A Northwoods mystery” I think cozy.  With a description in netgalley that calls our 17-year old protagonist Francie a “reluctant northwoods Nancy Drew”  and the following:

“What happened to her father? Who and where is her mother? Who is she, and where does her heart lie—in the bustle of New York City or the deep woods of Minnesota? With its gripping story, romantic spirit, and a sly dash of modern-day trouble (evil realtors and other invasive species),Enchantment Lake will fascinate readers, providing precisely the charm that Margi Preus’s readers have come to expect.”

I expected a little more.  I can’t say I know exactly how a publisher chooses “YA” versus “Children’s” – but I would say this is a little mature for what I think of as children (12 year olds being the target there) and it definitely falls more in line with the YA (Francie is 17 after all).  There are elements of cozies in that its a small town, there are red herrings galore, and the “who dun it” is a little out of nowhere with the detective sort of falling into the answer and not exactly being a great sleuth.  That’s one of the differences though that make the book’s description so misleading – Nancy Drew was a great detective.  Most of our detectives in the cozy genre (at least what I have read) aren’t.  They just happen to end up solving things through shear dumb luck.

The story goes something like this:  Francie is a young lady in NY City, looking to pursue her acting career when she suddenly gets a frantic call from her old aunt’s claiming that they are in danger.  Francie hops on a plane (then a bus) and travels to the remote area of Minnesota where the charming ladies tell Francie of the mysterious deaths occurring to people who live on the same lake they do.  Is it the real estate agent?  His treasure hunting son?  The handy man (well, until he turns up dead, anyway)?  The folks who want to develop the lake and build a road?  And what about this wealthy family with a former actress matriarch?  Can Francie solve it before she is next, or before her aunts are arrested or killed?

The tangential questions of who is Francie’s mother that are raised and what ever that is all about are mere distractions.  It would have been better had that just been skipped and we could focus on the mystery.  It was easy to read and the setting of the Minnesota lake brought to mind images of peaceful and tranquil vacation spots where I would love to get away from it all.  Francie’s aunts didn’t get near enough page time as they have the potential to be great comic relief.  They seem like they would be fun people in real life – we just don’t get enough of them to be sure.  With dialogue that seemed fairly natural and some insecurities that were precious, this was cute.  I wouldn’t say I was enchanted, but intrigued enough to read another, should there be one!

A Taste for Great Hexpectations

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, books are like food in a lot of ways.  The creator can possess all the requisite technical skills that would, in theory, make for a great creation but there is always room for failure because the creator is still human and can make mistakes.

Or, the execution might be flawless, but the consumer still hates it because that person has his/her own personal tastes.  And if one hates it, others might love it.  Or vice-versa.  This is true with food, music, art and yes, books.  I sometimes gander at reviews written by others when deciding what to read next.  While I tend to take suggestions from friends or folks I know share my tastes more seriously, I sometimes need some third-party sources to help me find what to read next.  I knew I was going to read Great Hexpectations by H.P. Mallory.  But exactly when I got around to it, and if I read something else first, was totally influenced by reading a few reviews of the books on the top of my “to-be-read” stacks (since I have a number of them).   I realized when looking through the goodreads reviews that there is such a huge disparity out there when it came to this book and its quality.  It has happened plenty of times: I totally fall for a book (or series) and others think it is less appetizing than Hilly finds Minnie’s chocolate pie (if you’ve seen the movie, you know which pie I am talking about…).  And it happens with books in all sorts of genres and those written by a range of authors – both established and new – critically acclaimed and not.  Although critically acclaimed is also relative since critics too are people whose views are subjective and influenced by all sorts of things – so I don’t put too much stock in “critically acclaimed” as a result.  This book, of this series, struck me as a particularly good example of this duality – tons of 5 stars and tons of 1 stars.  It was such a love-it-or-hate-it response.

For me, it was a solid 4 stars (remember, goodreads 4 means “really liked it”).  Sure, it has some issues.  But I am not reading F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It was entertaining, fun, cute, a little steamy and filled with lots of the things I like when reading.12977456  Not to mention, it did the job.  It was an escape from the day-to-day of reality.  As a lawyer by day, mother by day and night, martial artist/instructor by hobby, there is so much seriousness in my life already.  I often find my colleagues look down at my reading choices because they aren’t haughty enough.  You know, I am not reading the so-and-so non-fiction NY Times #1 book about the most depressing human rights whatever…. zzzzzzzzzzzz……. I read enough big words in my day job.  I handle enough serious issues every day at work that when I read, I want to escape reality and laugh and smile and not have to think too hard or much about what I have just read.  Great Hexpectations, like the first two Dulcie books, squarely fit that purpose.  And I am enormously grateful for that.

This installment was “more serious” (relatively speaking) since there wasn’t really much of a mystery to solve but we find Dulcie off to rescue Knight after he has disappeared.  But it was still a cute little escape.  I mean how serious can it really be when we are talking about a drunk goblin, a fairy who doesn’t know how to use her wings, and a vampire that tries to get sex through a contract?  It was nice to see Dulcie and Knight consummate their relationship – and admit to loving each other.  And, it had a funny little twist at the end, with a hell of a cliffhanger.  I am just glad that the next installments (books 5 and 6 anyway) are already published so I can pick them right up and I don’t need to wait for what happens next.  Yes, the twist/cliffhanger didn’t require a CIA analyst to figure it out or predict it.  But, it didn’t feel like a sure thing either.  Marvin’s failure to blow up Earth with his Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator was a guaranteed.  Everyone knows that Bugs will spoil his plans – we know that from the moment we first see Marvin.  But the only thing I felt was as inevitable as Bug’s saving of Earth was that Knight would someone end up freed.  So, it was enough suspense for me to keep things interesting.

My biggest issue with this one is the name.  I followed and go the references in the first two installments.  Here, “Great Hexpectations”…. not so much.  Anyone who knows the genesis of the title (besides what appears to be the author’s attempt to use “Literature” titles and twist them for this series) or the explanation/relation to the story, please feel free to let me know.  And that’s a tiny issue.  Regardless, me and my tastes are looking forward to Wuthering Frights.

 

One note:  There was a little sex in this story.  Wouldn’t you know it – right after I go and declare that it fits more with a cozy since innuendo and threats is as much action as we actually see… the author goes and gives us two pretty good hook-up scenes.  First is steamier than the second, but they are definitely there.  And the mirror is definitely foggy after them.  I may re-classify, I may not.  We’ll see after I finish the next one.

Tale of Multiple Genres

A 10896701Tale of Two Goblins by H.P. Mallory presents me with quite a dilemma : how to classify this series.  Some call the series urban fantasy (I hate that genre by the way… a lot of the stuff lumped in there was PNR, and nice and steamy PNR at that, until this new “urban fantasy” classification came along and spoiled all that good fun and turned off the hot water.  Like the stories and authors are too good for those scenes.  I blame Fifty Shades of Crap for that – good authors don’t want their stuff thought of as the same type of crap.  That’s just my guess.  Anyone know of a better reason, let me know and I will happily retract what I just said.  But for now, that’s my conspiracy theory du jour).  Some call it paranormal romance.  Some, urban fantasy paranormal.  I kind of like the goodreads list called is Magical Chick Lit.  Personally, it reminds me of the cozy mystery.

Cozy mysteries usually have even less steam than this (and it’s pretty scarce here, a few references, scenes that never lead anywhere, and a few rare curse words).  So, not really sure it belongs there.  And not PNR, well, because despite the burgeoning relationship between Dulcie and Knight, there really isn’t much “R” in that.  Well, there’s some.  But not too much.  And if that sort of thing makes you squeamish, the one scene to avoid is near the end and you can see it coming and if it’s skipped, it won’t hurt a readers ability to follow the story.  Not to mention, the formula is more like the cozy.  You know, we have a mystery and watch it trying to be solved, only to have the culprit be someone that we never ever could have guessed – because only the author knows (there were not hints, no foreshadowing, and often the character makes its first appearance when the cuff are about to come out).  But, there are definitely fantasy elements too – fairies, werewolves, loki (still don’t have a great explanation of what this means in this world yet), witches, demons, etc.  And a fair amount of magic.  We have fairy dust that lets the user do pretty much anything, vampires with super speed, witches who can cast spells, potions and travel across dimensions.  So, what to do; how to classify this series.  I am sticking with the previous decision to let these sit in mysteries because to me, they feel much more like cozy mysteries than anything.  But… I reserve the right to totally change my mind, for any reason whatsoever, at any time.  I can do that because this is my blog.  🙂

I didn’t review the first installment, To Kill a Warlock (time wasn’t my friend when I finished it).  But I really enjoyed it.  I finished that and immediately bought a whole13608100 bunch of H.P. Mallory’s other stuff (including Dulcie #2).  With fingers crossed that they would all be as cute and as much fun.  I am so glad I did – this didn’t disappoint.  In fact, I think this was probably even an improvement over the first.

We have a little mystery here – someone is after Dulcie and they are going through people in her life to get to her.  We have a little paranormal – as vamps go, Bram is pretty cool and Dulcie’s fairy powers are fun too.  We have a little romance – Knight is really into Dulcie and she is probably falling for him too.  We get more time with our main character and get to see her in action, the lines she is wiling to cross to save a friend and who she really is.  We see what, in my opinion, is the appropriate amount of crass from her too when she refers to the a*hole after her and her friends.  These aren’t huge novels nor do I think there’s any danger of them being considered great literature like Wuthering Heights or anything, but they are fun little reads and a good way to occupy time while on line at the grocery store and they made me chuckle.  So despite not knowing what the heck to call their genre, the Dulcie O’Neil books are enjoyable and I will be reading Great Hexpectations very soon!

Diverging Feelings about the Divergent Series

divergentI read all three installments of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth in quick succession, back-to-back-to-back as if they were simply parts to a larger single volume.  Since they were all read together I’m going to review them together.

A few notes first:  There are things that I will discuss and there’s no need to distinguish which book it applies to and there are others where it is absolutely critical.  So keep that in mind.  As I planned out my review I was struck by a sudden sense of déjà vu. Although it took a little while to figure out why. When I did, it’s because I realized that I had a similar reaction to the Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman (and I read that series quite some time ago). The first book was really pretty good; the second book things started to take a turn but it wasn’t bad even though it certainly didn’t live up to the expectations I had set by the first book; third book – yikes. I found myself with both series wishing in many ways that the author had stopped writing after book 2, or at least I wish I had stopped reading at the end of Book two.

I will also say that this is one of the unique instances where I saw the movie first and really wanted to read the book because I liked the movie so much. Too often today young adult book adaptations just don’t seem to live up to the quality of the book. It’s not always the case – personally, I believe the film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones wasn’t terrible, but I like the book much much better. Twilight, well let’s face it, both book and film were really pretty bad in their own rights albeit for entirely different reasons.  But, the movies were just mediocre adaptations of terrible books (I guess the terrible-ness compounded).  The Golden Compass was an absolute travesty of an adaptation, and with the star power of James Bond, I mean Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and so many others, it was just awful and my expectations were so much higher.  Ink heart?  Cute book. But the movie?  Youzers!  And that was with a pretty good performance by Helen Mirren.  Beautiful Creatures was fairly faithful to the source material but it still fell completely flat (and I love Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons so that’s a shame) and as a result, the movie totally lost the magic the book had. Percy Jackson, despite some large differences was a fun little movie (and who doesn’t love some Pierce Brosnan) but that’s the high point in this list. And it probably rates a C+ as far as adaptation quality.  Then there’s Harry Potter. Despite the fact that the film adaptations were mega hits (you should know I actually adore all of them, own multiple copies of each of the movies and watch them constantly) and despite JK Rowling’s involvement in the development of the films, I actually think they were pretty poor adaptations. Key word there is adaptations.

I give you this list (of my opinions) to help set the stage. Because I thought the movie was good. Like solid B/B+ on its own.  And, I think is quite an accomplishment really given all the crap that is made for and marketed for the YA movie-going audience.  So, when I read the first book, I totally understood the differences and necessity for them – and I really didn’t think it took away any major plot points. (This is where I am so critical of the HP films. I still love them. But there were changes, which I guess we’re for the sake of shorter running time, that would have added 4 minutes. So was the cut really necessary? And other changes that took away some of the magic of the wonderful world JKR built so painstakingly).  So, it was then followed with a solid B+ on the adaptation scale.  And that’s an even bigger accomplishment.

I liked the first book. I liked the first movie. I totally dove into the second book, with expectations of greatness.  Knowing that the second movie is already in the works only added to the excitement and anticipation.  And that’s where I fell flat on my expectations.

Because the second book was just okay. What an utter disappointment after all that setup. It started down a strange path, so that by then end of it (and the start of the third book), there was no place to go except into the land of the absurd. By the end of book three, the holes in the logic of the entire society and the socioeconomic system make a slice of swiss cheese look like it would provide good shelter from the rain.  Grrrrrrrrr.

I get that the categorization and classification into factions is a typical plot device in dystopian fiction, especially the dystopian of the YA persuasion. But here, the reasons for it, and the manner in which the sustenance of the factions survives, is beyond ludicrous. One of the things that drives me nuts about books and authors who write about physical challenges/abilities (e.g., learning a martial art) is that they have no sense of the time certain things take. And I am sorry if this will offend – but younger authors suffer from this even more. I saw a transcript of an interview with Roth and Roth talked about Tris not being able to hold a gun for a long time after she killed Will but it wasn’t that long a time. Granted it was longer than the training time (which I am sorry but there’s a reason military boot camps are longer than 4 weeks) but to condense the story across a few weeks and say that that’s such a long time means that someone’s perspective is a teeny bit skewed.  You don’t get totally proficient in fighting and being able to defend yourself or attack others so that it is second nature, a reaction without thinking, in a mere 4 weeks.  12 weeks is the current USMC boot camp time.  12.  Not 4.  It’s a lack of enough worldly experience or lack of research.  It’s ok if an author doesn’t have the right experience, but I then expect a little research.

It’s also difficult to really feel like the author had a good plan for the plot of the whole story arc from the start when the plot takes such a left turn into being about genetic engineering when there clearly is not a good understanding by the author of genetic engineering. The whole thing hit a point where by the time I got half through book 3 I was just tired and fed up and glad for it to be over.

In that same interview I referenced earlier, I found it interesting to hear the author’s take on how Tris was true to herself and her own character.  She said that the ending **spoiler ahead** where she dies was the right end for Tris because of who she was in the other two books. Poppycock!!! Who she was in the first two books: yes, someone who was courageous, and yes, someone who would stand up for others.  But it was one heck of a jump to turn Tris into some sort of sacrificial lamb, willing to sacrifice herself totally for the greater good without a whole heck of a lot of substance to support that messiah complex.  Here’s where it totally felt like the author was trying to figure out a way to throw in her religious beliefs, even though it was in a veiled way.  Now, that’s not to say that most of us would not give ourselves for a sibling, and certainly most would give anything including our own lives for our children, and lots of other members of our family and friends – it’s a natural thing to do when we love someone and if it was totally unheard of we wouldn’t have our armed forces, firefighters and police who sacrifice so much all the time and all too often they sacrifice all.  But it didn’t, in my opinion, feel like the natural thing for Tris.  She struggled with being Abnegation after all.

Never mind the fact that she also didn’t really think she wasn’t going to survive. She was pretty convinced she was going to survive the death serum. And she would have survived had she not otherwise been injured. Where I’m going with this is that there was nothing in Tris’ background or the dauntless training (that she seemed to really embrace in so many ways) that would lead me to believe it was realistic for her to have the character to take on that last mission as a suicide mission.  Not to mention, the nature of her divergent personality in a lot of ways contradicted that. In fear simulations she didn’t do the things that were dauntless like nor was she selfless. There wasn’t enough self-sacrifice in her for her to stay in the faction with her parents or that I could read in her personality and that made that ending feel very unfitting.  The reckless behavior she exhibited in the second book further underscores that point. It was reckless; it was not intentional bravery that saved others. Instead, it was a complete disregard for herself out of grief and guilt. As motivation it just doesn’t sync up with having her sacrifice herself – it was really for all the wrong reasons.  To me, a more natural ending would have had her survive the death serum, and live happily ever after with Four.

Turning back to the whole reason we were in a dystopian world to begin with, I struggle with the idea that people with “flawed genes” could be set into a confined environment and then all of a sudden after a few generations – and here’s the kicker… in Tris’ case a whole whopping single generation because remember, her mother was from the outside world – would all of a sudden magically be perfect and clean and restore the gene pool and be some magical perfectly pure person.  I have enough concern over where this particular element of the book started to go that I’m not going to even describe it any further.  It will likely turn into a treatise on political or religious views and I keep those views of mine off the Internet. Suffice it to say that I really wish the plot had taken a different direction in the reasoning for the war and the city and the factions. But it didn’t so we’re stuck with what we’ve got.  And before you jump to the conclusion, I will put it out there for you, you are right this may have colored my judgment of the series but it still didn’t change the fact that I didn’t like the third book (and I could see this awful turn coming clearly while reading the second).

I don’t know where I got the expectations for plot and story development but I bring them with me into every book that I read. Maybe it’s from all the reading I did as a little kid maybe it’s from the fact that I continue to read quite a bit of classic literature even today – for example the count of  Monte Cristo is one of just the number of books that I reread because it remains one of my all-time favorites. And the writing in that book is drastically different than so much of what we get today. It is not just the language or the words but it is the plot, and all of the intermediate steps that take us from those wonderful opening words or chapters through every element of the story, every step of the plot to the last final chapter and the end. I was left with the feeling that the author originally had a great idea for a story, which starts off with a bang by the way, and is going like gangbusters only to crash like ocean waves beating the rocks on shore.  That is, the author seems to not know how to finish and so she haphazardly comes up with something that sort of works to just get us to a conclusion.  Frankly, it’s disappointing. I don’t know if it is the time pressure to get installments out quickly or maybe it is the pressure to take stories more suited as standalone novels (even if they are a little longer) and turn them into series.  To do a series and do it well from start to finish without any faltering in the installments or the overall story arc takes a lot of work. And I am just not sure some of these authors, especially some of the beginners/younger ones, have what it takes to have each of the books in their respective series be well written, good stories, from start to finish. That is not to say that these books aren’t worth reading it is just a weakness that they have. And I wish I could say otherwise. Plenty of people can disagree with me,  it is just my opinion.

Now after all that, will I reread detergent? Probably.  Will I reread the second book? Probably not.  Will I reread the third book?  Absolutely not.  Will I re-watch the first movie? Absolutely. Will I watch the second movie? Probably. Will I watch the third? Well that is totally going to depend on the second. So all in all, the author has at least sold some books and will make some money off of the movie tickets. Therefore, depending on how you measure success, these books in some ways were success. In others, like from the purely literary perspective, I am not sure I would say they were totally successful.  All these mixed feeling about the Divergent series.  Guess it’s fitting, given the name!

The Magic of Physics

Had my college physics professor used this book to explain things, or at least reduced some of the tougher concepts down to the 18776630distilled version we get in Intangible, by C.A. Gray, I totally might have done better in class.  At least it would have held my attention longer and I wouldn’t have wanted to throw myself off the roof tops of the science building before every physics exam.  Using physics to explain magic was a brilliant way to keep the fantastical story some-what grounded in realty.  It was also a great way to allow a character to explain certain elements or foundation blocks of the world being created, without it feeling forced.

I thought there were so many wonderful aspects of this story.  The writing was good and the characters were believable.  What was I excited about?  Lots. While there are lots of things that reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, that was ok.  Let’s face it, while teleportation (or Apparition as JKR calls it) isn’t exactly a concept unique to Harry Potter, the **crack** associated with that action is something that reminds me specifically of Harry Potter.  Here’s what you get to read about (and what made me think of Harry Potter): magical creatures (the one nimbi reminded me so much of Peeves); battles with real swords and with magical force fields alike (a dime-a-dozen in this genre); a prophecy (Order of the Phoenix and Prof. Trelawney); a secret city – castle and all – in the middle of England that people can’t find or if they stumble on it, it looks old and run-down (Hogwarts or the Quidditch WC Field); books which show the reader things (Tom Riddle’s diary showing Harry the (planted) Aragog scene); magical coins that get warm under certain conditions (Dumbledore’s Army’s fake galleons); the Ancient Tongue (sounded a lot like various spells and charms – I was waiting for wingardium levosia); tapping the wall to enter the secret library (getting from the Leaky Cauldron to Diagon Alley); the Sorcerer’s Stone (do I really even need to do the comparison?) and the old grey haired wise man of Isdemus (Dumbledore, anyone?).  And there were ideas that weren’t necessarily reminiscent of Harry Potter, but were certainly not new to the genre (multiple people the prophecy could be about, even at the book’s end; use of other dimensions; the trio of kids (Peter, Lily and Cole) who almost always seem to be 2 boys and 1 girl; parent’s hiding stuff from the children; a long-lost twin; etc.). That said, there were also some unique ideas.  I point again to the intertwining of physics and actual science with the story.  And, it at least felt like the author did some excellent research in preparing to write this.

For the most part, the book was well paced and there was plenty of action and magic.  The plot is off to a good start and there’s lots of room for character development and a good base of it too.  I am hard pressed to find much to criticize.  While the earlier comparison to Harry Potter may seem like criticism, it isn’t.  While there were similarities, there were also plenty of differences and nuisances that made it clear that even if JK Rowling’s wonderful works were inspiration, there is definitely a different story at work here.  All the King Arthur mythology driving the story is a nice difference.  And there was so much of it, given to us through the wonderful device of the Riddle’s Diary like book – we learn about Lancelot, Arthur, Cecily, Morgana, Camelot, Excalibur… and it is all now there ripe for the what ever plot points the next books need.  This installment is clearly a set up for what I see goodreads has as two more books.  And it was a well crafted start.  The world building was just enough to set the tone and create a well developed picture but there is still room for so much more.  There was only one thing that felt a tiny bit off, and that was around a decision of Peter’s – because I didn’t feel we (or Lily) had quite enough history with him to justify or expect certain self-destructive behavior.  But that was easily forgotten and forgiven with the action that followed.  I also think the action, the magical battle, was well paced and written and I can’t remember reading a battle that took so much care to explain it all and have everything line up, in quite some time.  Well done!

Overall, I can’t wait to read the next installment.