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We stand in the sun and look back in our tracks
An image of self in grays and in blacks
Laughter and joy hold us in their sweet thrall
But even in wonderland shadows must fall

Book Review: “Becoming Alpha” by Aileen Erin

October 21, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Becoming Alpha (Alpha Girl, #1)Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book really have mixed feelings about. On the positive side, the plot is reasonably interesting and the characters are nicely distinct from each other. There are a few characters that are a bit too one-dimensional – such as the requisite spoiled rich girl at the boarding school – but the primary characters have more to do mention to them and are well enough written that I actually care about what happens to them.

On the downside, a fair amount of the plot in the book is fueled by one of my absolute least favorite tropes: people not talking to each other and thus misunderstanding what’s happening. When the book starts, we meet Tessa, the girl who gets visions when she touches people or objects. We eventually learn that she is half bruja – a Mexican witch – who, it is strongly hinted, is supposed to take over her family’s coven soon. Her parents, however, have not told her this and while she knows that others and her family supposedly have similar gifts, she doesn’t believe that brujas are anything more then people essentially play-acting at spirituality. Similarly, when her father takes a job at a special boarding school for werewolves, all she is told is to stay out of the woods after dark, avoid the wolves in the area, and stay away from all of the students at her father’s school. Nobody explains to her why. Of course, she meet one of the boys from the school and he ends up biting her lip as they are kissing. This leads to several scenes of various people freaking out, without explaining to her why. She becomes quite ill and has to be hospitalized – and it’s only after she has spent a fevered week there that she can’t remember that anyone tells her that werewolves are real and she is now one of them.

The same problem plagues the romance. She and the boy who bit her are very clearly meant for each other, but both of them seem to have an inability to talk to the other and instead will overhear snippets of conversation or see part of a situation (such as one of them hugging somebody else) and storm off before finding out what was actually happening. This results in one refusing to speak to the other while the other is trying to explain what the deal was, with the inevitable reconciliation to follow – lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s a good thing that the characters are as interesting as they are, and the world is as well drawn as it is. Aside from the main romance, the relationships are reasonably well done, and Tessa’s burgeoning friendship with her suitemate Meredith is fun and very reminiscent of campus life.

As for the rest the story, aside from the drama that is created by not talking to each other, it’s interesting enough that I’m going to keep reading the series and see what happens. Hopefully, as the relationships mature, they will develop better communication skills!



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Book Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” by Maggie Stirfvater

October 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Well! That was an interesting ride! Following what I had found to be a rather confusing second episode, this third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” series really picked the story back and kept it moving through the entire book. We got to see lot more interaction between the main characters, and each of them went through some significant personal trials and challenges that cause some profound changes in our main characters.

One of the most interesting things about the book is that the characters spend a great deal of time moving between reality and the unreality of Cabeswater and the ley line, so the book kept me somewhat off-balance as I was reading it – but in a good way.

Something I hadn’t picked up on initially with the first two volumes in the series is that each volume is covering a season. The first takes place during the spring, the second in the summer, this one in the fall and presumably the next one will be at winter.

As in the previous books, on the last page we get a wicked, wicked twist that is making me dread how long the time will be until the fourth book is released, because I very much want to find out what happens with this new situation.

A few oddities in the book, one of the characters – Colin Greenmantle – starts off seemingly quite menacing and yet ends up the story in a way that struck me as completely out-of-character for the way he was described in the previous book and the way he’s initially portrayed in this one, and while he certainly sustains a few jolts, none of it seems strong enough to warrant the change in his personality. I think he’s probably the weakest character in the series thus far, though his wife. I found his wife, Hyper, more interesting even though she plays a much less significant role in this book. I also noticed that the author seems to like to comment on people’s teeth often enough that it actually became something of a distraction, though not enough to damage enjoyment of the book in any way. It’s just odd.

Overall, I found to be a much stronger story then “The Dream Thieves” but not quite as strong as “The Raven Boys.” I am very much looking forward to the fourth chapter as it will be quite interesting to see where these characters and up and how they have been changed from the beginning of the series by the time all is said and done.



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Book Review: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

October 5, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, but flawed follow-up to the excellent “The Raven Boys.”

I have absolutely loved the first book in the series “The Raven Boys, so this one had quite a bit to live up to. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make it. The story is still quite good and held my interest well, and there’s a lot of interesting character development along the way, but there were just a number of things about the book that felt off or out of place, and the author used one technique heavily throughout the book that I’ve always found to be rather annoying.

I think the biggest problem I had overall was that the entire subject this book – the ability to remove things from dreams and bring them into reality – is only connected to the previous book by the very last line of that book, where Ronan reveals that he brought his pet raven out of a dream. This pushes the search for Glendower – the major plot line for the entire series and the motivation for our main characters to have gotten together in the first place – into the background, and a very little progress on that plot is made during this book. Perhaps in the next book a connection between the dream ability and the search for Glendower will be brought into the same circle, but for right now it feels like we just sort of jumped off the track of the original story into a whole new story for reasons that aren’t at all clear.

Also, much of the activity in this book keeps the four Raven boys doing things separately, and features a number of fights between them, which destabilizes the core relationship from the first book – and because the boys are all doing things separately, Blue doesn’t get invited along as much, so her presence is missing from large swaths of the story.

As for the technique that I found annoying, often times when a writer doesn’t want to reveal the identity of a character, they will be introduced and given a kind of “placeholder” name – which is generally based on something descriptive – until the point in the story where revealing their identity will have the greatest impact. I’ve never cared for it much because too often the reveal is letdown and does not carry the dramatic impact that it seems the author intends.

There are two main causes for that kind of a letdown. The first is because the character is described in enough ways through his actions or tidbits about himself that he drops as he speaking to various characters throughout the book that guessing his identity fairly easy. The second comes about because when the character’s identity is finally revealed, he turns out to be someone we’ve never heard of before nor is he connected to any of our characters in any significant way. In both cases, it ends up making the whole subterfuge of hiding his name feel pointless.

On the plus side – and there certainly is one – we do get a considerable amount of good background information on our main characters, and we get to know Persephone, Calla, and Maura much better. There’s a lot of good, tense drama – and, even though the story feels a bit out of place coming out of the first book, it’s an interesting and fun to read story. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to continue with the series, and am hoping that maybe that next book will help connect some of what happened in the first book to what happened in this one more closely.



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Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

September 30, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply excellent

I’d not previously read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, but I’d heard good things about her work, and I’d seen that she’d also worked some with Tessa Gratton, who’s books “The Lost Sun” and “The Strange Maid” I’d gladly devoured a couple months ago, so I thought it might be worth a shot to check her work out. I am quite glad I did!

The story is solid paranormal/urban fantasy, even though it doesn’t have any of the standard hallmarks like vampires, werewolves, witches, angels or demons, nor does it have any grand romance at the center to fuel the plot. instead, it offers psychics, ley lines and a long dead Welsh king, along with four very different prep-school boys, several psychics and a psychic’s daughter who amplifies spiritual energy around her and has been told that when she kisses her true love, he will die.

it all adds up to a dark and suspenseful tale of the boys’ obsession with finding the burial place of the king which is rumoured to be somewhere along a local ley line, and what that obsession does to them and those around them.

On the surface, the boys seem like they’d be easy to reduce to a stereotypes: The rich guy, the slacker, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks and the quiet one, but as written by Stiefvater they become so much more, each having multiple layers and surprising depths.

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a change of pace or something a bit darker than much of what I’ve read so far. And now I’m going to dive into the next part in the series!

READER CAUTION: The story deals in places with child abuse and there are a couple of scenes where abuse takes place.

Other books mentioned in review:

The Lost Sun (The United States of Asgard, #1) by Tessa Gratton
The Lost Sun

The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2) by Tessa Gratton
The Strange Maid



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Book Review: Wiccan Shadows by Lori J. Shiele

September 25, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, The Graveyard, Urban Fantasy

Wiccan ShadowsWiccan Shadows by Lori J. Schiele

I did not give this book is star rating as I was unable to finish it.

I didn’t get very far into the book before giving up. I know there are many flavors of Wicca, but there were some touches to the way the author was presenting it in this world that just hit me as a bit cliched and – for lack of a better term – gawkier that I prefer. Unfortunately, this lead to some giggles where you really don’t want any, like in the middle of an otherwise nice and tense “impending death” scene. This is much more a matter of personal preference than any real flaw in the writing, and had I read further, I may have found it to be less annoying as the story went on, but I didn’t really find anything else that gave me a strong enough desire to continue. YMMV.



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Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

September 22, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Steampunk

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m fairly new to the steampunk genre, and “Etiquette and Espionage” is providing me a warm welcome. The clash between manners and spycraft provides copious opportunities for good-natured humour, and the steampunk elements support the characters and the story without dominating them as I’d found happening in a couple other steampunk books I tried.

There is a “Harry Potter-ish” feel to the story, being as it is about young people in a highly specialized school running into adventures they try to resolve without the staff catching on, but the characters themselves are fresh and engaging, and the villains are written with enough dastardliness to make you want to see them get their comeuppance, without being so over the top you want to roll your eyes every time they open their mouths.

I’m definitely signing up for the next term at *this* finishing school!



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Book Review: “Storm” by Danielle Ellison

September 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance

Storm (Salt #2)Storm by Danielle Ellison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading “Storm” I found myself on few occasions thinking that it might be nice if the author had provided a bit more of the backstory for certain events or references made in the book. Not that the story was significantly lacking in any way, but just that it might enhance the story a bit further. But the references to these events and people were sufficient enough that I had no problem following what was happening and enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that “Storm” is actually the second of a two-part series written by Danielle Ellison. I consider it a testimony to her skill that at no point did I suspect that I was reading a sequel. The story stands up that well on its own, and I had no trouble quickly getting oriented in the world that she presents, knowing (and liking) the characters that she has created and becoming invested enough in what was happening thatI found the book hard to put down.



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Book Review: “Imitation” by Heather Hildenbrand

September 15, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

ImitationImitation by Heather Hildenbrand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Imitation” was a very fast-reading book for me – I finished it in under 24-hours, so, obviously, the book is.enjoyable and held my attention. That doesn’t mean it’s not without its flaws, however. The basic premise is that wealthy clients can have a clone made of themselves, which is known as an Imitation. The original person is called the Authentic. An Authentic can use their Imitation for virtually any purpose they have in mind – from having them step in and attend an event the Authentic doesn’t want or is unable to attend, to using them as a source for harvesting organs should the Authentic need a transplant, or – as in this case – to step into the Authentic’s life and serve as a decoy when threats are made to the Authentic’s health and safety.

As the story opens, we meet Ven – the Imitation of Raven Rogan, the daughter of one of the world wealthiest man – who also just happens to be the man who created the Imitations. Attempts have been made to attack Raven, so her father sends her into hiding – though it’s never really explained exactly where she is – and Ven has been sent in to take her place. This is one place in which the story sort of falls down.

Ven has been specifically created to be able to stand in for Raven on a moment’s notice. She goes to extensive training, watching videos of Raven interacting with her friends, going shopping, and other such mundane activities. Ven is expected to have watched countless hours of these videos and be able to perfectly imitate Raven. At no point, though, is then given any real training in how Raven thinks, what her general beliefs are, her morals or ethics, or even if she has a boyfriend – much less what level of intimacy they might share. It’s one thing for Ven to know how Raven might say something – her vocal tone, the kind of attitudes she projects, etc., but it’s problematic if she doesn’t know *what* Raven would actually say in that situation. Meanwhile, Ravens father constantly chides Ven for not being enough like Raven, but seems unwilling to offer any insight or practical advice as to how she could do that better.

The romance at the center of the book is sweet, and to a great extent feels believable – except that when they meet, the man has been working as one of Raven’s bodyguards for some time, but he doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the fact that she’s not acting like her normal self – someone he obviously has very little respect for.

What really saves the book, is Ven, herself. She is an interesting, well developed character and feels like someone you might want to have as a friend. The story maintains a nice dramatic pace – there’s enough action to keep things interesting, while still allowing our characters room to breathe. Foreshadowing is nicely done, without beating us over the head with a too-obvious clues, and the dialogue doesn’t come across as stilted or overblown. It also touches on some of the ethical issues related to cloning, what rights – if any – clones have, and if there is any degree to which they are actually human, and not just a man-made creation.

While I can’t say that “Imitation” is one of my favorite books, it’s enjoyable enough that I’m looking forward to being able to check out part two.

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Book Review: “Liesmith” by Alis Franklin

September 2, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy

Liesmith: Book 1 of The WyrdLiesmith: Book 1 of The Wyrd by Alis Franklin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this as an Advanced Review Copy.

This is one of the more unique books I’ve read in quite some time. The narration combines first-person and 3rd person omniscient viewpoints, as well as a kind of stream-of-conscienceness that, in a way, lays over the whole thing. And even though that sounds confusing, it really isn’t.

The characters are well written and thankfully don’t spend too much time freaking out when they find themselves in odd situations. While it may sometimes feel like they’re a bit TOO accepting of the strange going-ons, once their ability to readily adapt to new experiences is established it’s welcomingly refreshing to just have the story move forward without all the usual folderol.

One other nice thing – even though this is listed as the first book in a series, the story ends with things open enough for more stories to be told in this universe, but solidly enough to make it a complete story with a satisfying conclusion.

The main weakness I found with the book is that it might be a bit hard for someone who isn’t at least modestly familiar with Norse Lore and Gamer culture to keep up, as there are a number of side references that might not be readily understood otherwise.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed “Liesmith,” and am hoping it won’t be too long for the next book In the series to arrive.



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Deadly Middle East respiratory virus strikes in US

May 3, 2014 | Posted in Selected Reposts

Deadly Middle East respiratory virus strikes in US (via AFP)

The first case of MERS, a dangerous respiratory virus that originated in the Middle East and has a high death rate, has been confirmed in the United States, officials said Friday. The person infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus…



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