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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: “Uriel’s Fall” by Loralie Hall

November 27, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy

Uriel's Fall (Ubiquity, #1)Uriel’s Fall by Loralie Hall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tend to read book’s fast, but it’s not often one draws me in so much that I finish it in a single day. Uriel’s Fall was one such exception. It actually started out feeling like a nice bit of fluff, but developed more depth than I’d expected. Loralie Hall dose a nice job world-building, though the company Ubiquity that gives the series it’s title still feels a bit vague and undefined, and her characters have enough depth to make you care about them. She presents a rather different take on the concept of angels and demons – at least it’s one I’ve not fun into previously – which is nice. There is one rather explicit sex scene and profanity used, so it’s more appropriate for an older audience. A few things could be tightened up – some dialogues go a bit longer than really needed, but on the whole, it’s a good book and a nice fast-paced read. I’ve already picked up the companion novella and will be watching for the second novel in the series next year.

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Book Review: “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown

November 24, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Science Fiction

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Red Rising” is not an easy – or fun – book to read. It is a brutal look at society as created and ruled by the worst aspects of humankind. The story is set in the future, during a time in which man has colonized the moon and several other planets, and society is divided into a series of castes, each designated by a specific color. The color coding of people goes so far as their eye and hair color – making it almost impossible for someone to surreptitiously move into another caste. At the top of society are the Golds, followed by a veritable rainbow of Pinks, Browns, Greens, Blues, Grays and so forth, leading down to the Reds at the bottom.

The story itself takes place on Mars, where the Reds have been kept living underground, working in the mines and being told that they are pioneers who are gathering the material necessary to terraform the planet, and that once the terraforming is complete they will be the first to be able to move to the surface. This, of course, is lie, as the Golds have no intention of ever allowing the Reds to move out of the mines.

Darrow, the main character of the story, is found by a rebel faction who believe that he will be able to infiltrate the Gold society with the intent of gaining as much power as possible and then using it to subvert the social order and free the Reds from their slavery. It’s not an easy task, as Darrow will need to change virtually everything about himself – from his appearance to the way he speaks to how he treats others – everything except who he is at his core, where are the qualities that the rebels think make perfect for this mission lie.

His first test is to attend the Gold’s Institute, a school that teaches leadership in the most brutal way possible. It is up to Darrow – with no help from his rebel allies – to not only survive the Institute, but to graduate at the top of his class so that he can obtain the best apprenticeship possible, launching him on his path to gaining the power needed to overturn society – all without losing sight of who he truly is.

The story is told from a first-person perspective which – though not my favorite method of storytelling – is quite effective here. It allows us to see the world exactly as Darrow sees it and experience it as he does. The level of immersion that develops as a result can be quite disturbing at times, but I found that it provoked me to think about who I am and what I would do under similar circumstances, which is one of the best aspects good literature can have.

Pierce Brown does a great job at world building. The society he envisions, while extreme, is plausible enough to work as a foundation for the story and at the scenes he writes that take you through the various areas of the underground mines, cities and the Institute are vivid and memorable. There were several times where I felt I was “watching” the book as much as reading it, and I’m generally not a terribly usually-oriented person. I’ll be rather surprised if it isn’t eventually made into a movie.

The characters Brown writes feel authentic – with all of the messy, conflicting emotions, desires and values that we humans have. The way that friendships are made and broken have genuine emotional impact and Darrow’s motivation for taking on this task and the choices he makes as a result feel realistic.

As I said at the start, “Red Rising” is neither fun nor an easy read, but it is good and it is well worth the effort. I know I am looking forward to the next part of the story see where Darrow goes from here. This is a book I highly recommend.

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Book Review: “The Paper Magician” by Charles N. Holmberg

November 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an absolutely delightful story! “The Paper Magician” is probably one of the most imaginative tales I’ve come across in quite some time. I certainly can’t think of any other books in which the main character actually journeys through the physical heart of another character.

Ceony Twill is a magician’s apprentice – not a stage magician, but someone who can create real magic using specific materials. In her case, she uses paper. Shortly after being assigned to a her mentor, he is attacked and his heart is removed from his chest. She quickly uses her magic to give him a paper heart in the hopes that it will keep him alive while she goes to track down the thief. Upon finding the thief, however, Ceony finds herself suddenly thrown – literally – into her mentor’s heart where she must journey through all four chambers – each containing the secrets of his life – to reach the other end and exit before the thief catches up with her.

The imaginative and inventive ways that Ceony and her mentor are able to use paper to create a variety of spells – from bringing a written story to life to animating life-like creatures, and so much more – is amazing, and the detail of the journey she takes through her mentor’s heart is beautifully written, easily visualized and quite moving.

Quite simply, this is an absolutely charming book with well-rounded characters, a light sense of humor, strong dramatic scenes and well-crafted plotting. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for a bit of whimsy and wonder in the world.

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Book Review: Scala – Angelbound, Book 2

November 13, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

NOTE: I have not yet written a review for the first book in this series, though I plan to. I wanted to go ahead and post this one since I had it ready.

Scala (Angelbound, #2)Scala by Christina Bauer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the first “Angelbound” book as part of Ink Monsters “Angels & Alphas: An Angelbound and Becoming Alpha Bundle” package. Being something of a werewolf fan, I was mostly interested in the Alpha part of the book, but decided to go ahead and read for the Angels part as well since it was there. I’m glad that I did – it’s a quirky story set in one of the most warped visions of Purgatory I’ve come across that has a lot of humor to it, a spunky as Hell quasi-demon as its heroine, family secrets, romance and – of course – a great destiny to be filled.

This second book picks up shortly after the first one leaves off, and we see our heroine – Myla – adjusting to her new life. Unfortunately, an old nemesis has come back try and take “back” some things she claims Myla “stole” from her. The reader knows from the start that it’s the nemesis trying to do the stealing, but for the people living in Purgatory, it’s not so clear. Myla must gather her friends and family in order to hold on to what is rightfully hers. The middle section of the book – where some of the dramatic tension should be mounting – is pretty slow, but the first part of the book is great as is the ending. And I absolutely love Myla’s relationship with her beloved Lincoln. They are a believable couple in the kind of heightened world that the author has provided and are really cute and how they interact. This isn’t terribly long book – nor is the first one – so if you’re looking for something kind of light and fun and don’t mind a bit of a slog through a few chapters in the middle, I would definitely recommend it.

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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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