Friday, October 21, 2011

Horton Hears a Who

Alas, they have dared me, double dog too.
They want me to write a poem review.
Iambic pentameter would you not know?
They ask. I deliver. So, here we go.

The doctor is funny, he rhymes quite well.
Don't think its iambic but hard to tell.
The meter shifts sometimes but that's all good.
He rhymes where he's s'posed too... rhymes where he should 

Developing characters is hard to do,
But Seuss is a master, using but few
words to convey traits that we have all seen,
people near us can be kind and/or mean

Horton is careing, but not kangaroo.
Monkeys are meanies they can't hear the Who.
Pete Townsend's not in this, don't get confused.
These Who are from Whoville they feel abused.

Horton can hear them, so he tries to help.
Will all of the meanies hear, when Whos yelp?
You will have to read it if you would know
I am not telling cuz that spoils the show.

Teaching life lessons is what Seuss books do
I recommend them from upward of two.
Youngsters will love them, of this I am sure.
Some books are passing, but this ain't du jour.

This book is timeless, it's fun and it's fine.
Parents will like it right to the last line.
Read it tonight, you're kids will be happy.
I'm sure they'll love it, the rhymes are snappy.

Okay, so I did it, now it's your turn.
Kate, you started this, it's now your concern.
Write me a rhyming review, if you dare
iambic or not, i do not really care

Jen, I see you. You have not got away.
I challenge you too, dear, do it today.
I'm sure it will be great, please don't you fret.
Know you can do it, your best write up yet!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Format: Unabridged, Audible File
 -9 hrs 50 min
Narrator: Joyce Bean

*Amazon: 3.8 out of 5 Stars (351 reviews)
*GoodReads: 4.31 out of 5 Stars (12,550 Ratings; 1,207 Reviews)
Reading is Fundamental-



*Note- Ratings and statistics current at the time of writing.

I've been told on countless occasions, that whether you liked the first two books or not, here is where the Fever series really begins to shine. I mostly agree with this assessment but it’s difficult to pin down why. Faefever is a "middle" book in every sense of the word. Third of five, it spends a great deal of time on exposition. As was true of the first two books, Karen has not really attempted to set up much of an independent story for this installment, but I think the first two had more focus than this one. Each of those culminated in a climax, that events native to the particular book, were tied to. To an extent that’s also true here, BUT Mac’s attention is spread across multiple players. The connections between her discoveries and the closing of Faefever is more tenuous than in the first two.

Despite its internally disjointed structure, this book moves the meta plot in a major way. Mac spends a great deal of time confronting the various camps searching for the Big Bad Book ("BBB") and learning new and important things. I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting, but Karen imbues each situation with just the right amount of tension to keep it interesting. We learn a lot about what have heretofore been periphery players and the more information we are given, the more questions that information seems to generate.

Interpersonal relations become considerably more defined in this book as Mac spends more time interacting with a multitude of characters. Dani, Rowena, Christian, and Jayne all get more face to face time with Mac. Barrons, of course, makes more than a couple appearances, but he is not the presence he has been in the previous books. Instead it is V’Lane that gets the lion’s share of development. Given the title of the book, I doubt that will surprise anyone.

I once again must praise Karen’s character development. I have rarely read, in ANY genre, more realistic growth of character. In this volume, Mac continues her steady evolution from pink Barbie girl to pragmatic predator. She and Barrons are two of the best rendered characters I have EVER come across.

I was somewhat shocked by the direction Faefever took as the page count wound down and I’m somewhat frustrated that I can’t expound upon that in even a general way without using a spoiler because I think it’s a tremendous selling point of this book. For those of you who have not read it yet, suffice it to say that Faefever has an element that is germaine to many of the best urban fantasy series, but I’ve never seen it depicted this way before. For the rest of you, click the link!

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

These books are dark from beginning to end and this one has absolutely the bleakest ending I have yet read in the genre. The only thing I can say about it without spoilers is that this is the quintessential cliff hanger. The book really only comes to an end in the sense that there is a final page after which you have to pick up the next book in order to go on. The internal plot of Faefever itself can only loosely be described as having been resolved. I’d have been pretty frustrated by this had I read it at the time it was originally published.

There’s NO WAY I can close this review without talking about the ending, even though some of you won’t be able to read it, but I’m going to get to that in just a second. First, I have to take Karen to task. I’ve said it in my previous reviews. Girlfriend, you were seriously brave to tell this story the way you did. I give you props for that. The cliff hanger I’m about to talk about? Again Karen, big time ballsy. Your little author’s address at the end of the book? Not so much.

Have the courage of your convictions, Karen, don’t temper the darkness with a half ass attempt at a night light. Trust your readers to trust you without having to ask them for it. I would be very surprised if you kept a single reader from walking who was inclined to do so after finishing Faefever. If they left the series here, I guarantee it wasn’t for lack of hope or faith. If they left here, it was because you offended their sensibilities and there was no way your author’s address was going to rectify the problem.

Now if THAT doesn’t make you wanna read Faefever just to find out what I’m talking about, nothing else I could say will. For those of you that have read it my personal take on the end is this...

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

A word about the narration of Faefever.  Joyce does a fantastic job with this story.  I have Faefever on my Kindle as well.  There were some periods while I was listening to the book that I had an opportunity to read along.  It was interesting to notice that Joyce made some (extreamly) minor changes to the text as she would read to make things flow more naturally.  Her pacing was excellent.

Dramatically, her southern accent is very good and worked pretty well for Mac. My only real complaint is that Joyce's voice is a little more richly sophisticated than I imagined Mac to be, but that's really a triviality.  She doesn't try to over sell her male voices so I didn't find them jarring in the least.

In closing, despite not having a clear focus, Faefever was an exciting read full of dark tension from beginning to end. I strongly recommend you have a copy of Dreamfever on hand before you come anywhere near finishing the book, because the ending is a doozy.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

Publisher: Amazon Audible
Format: Unabridged - 11 hrs 59 min
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang

*Amazon: 4.2 out of 5 Stars (103 reviews)
*GoodReads: 3.95 out of 5 Stars (2,683 Ratings; 463 Reviews)
Reading is Fundamental-

*Note- Ratings and statistics current at the time of writing.

Every now and then I read a book where it seems that the story was written for Hollywood.  You know, not a script, but told in such a way that lends itself to adaptation.  Almost as if the writer's focus is more about selling movie rights than leveraging the advanatages of print media.  Think comic book only with more words and fewer pictures (I listened to the audio, but even it has a cover picture). I've noticed a trend in the U/F genre lately where many books are being converted into graphic novels (i.e. Mercy Thompson, the Dresden Files, etc.).  Spider's Bite would make an exceptional graphic novel.

I'm not a personal friend or family member of Jennifer's, so I don't know if movie adaptation or graphic novel were first and foremost in her mind, or if she merely thinks in action based, visual terms, but I can tell you I would much rather have seen this story than read it.  That's not to say that the story was bad or that it was poorly written.  I actually enjoyed the book and will likely continue on with the series at some point, but then I "enjoy" most books.  It was a fairly average read that I think would be better suited for the big screen.

Spider's Bite is not premised on an original concept.  We have a child, orphaned by violence, who grows up to channel her pain and grief into vigilantism.  Gin a.k.a the Spider is a stone cold killer.  Except of course she isn't.  Yeah, she knocks off people for a living, but all of them deserve it.  They have to, or most of us wouldn't be able to relate, let alone like the character.  The plot itself is pretty transparent, so much so that I was a little incredulous.  Predictability is one thing, characters ignoring or disregarding things for the sake of allowing the story to move forward is another when these actions are completely out of character.  It wasn't so igregious that it ruined the book for me, but I would have prefered for Jennifer to take a better approach.

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Jennifer does have an interesting, if odd, take on "elemental" magic.  I found it somewhat strange that ice is considered a major element and water a lesser element, same for stone as opposed to earth in general.  Jennifer doesn't really explain the workings of magic in her world the way that other, better stories, in the genre do.  This is not Kim Harrison's The Hollows, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, or Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, all of which are much more thorough in explaning the inner workings of magic and what it can and can't do. It's much more like Harry Potter in that magic does whatever Jennifer says it does and she's pretty vague about it.  Some of the things she says it can do are a little wierd, but, going back to the strong visual thing, it would make a hell of a movie. 

There is a feminist undercurrent to the book that I think gets in the way of what would otherwise be a better story. Look, I'm all about empowering women, but the men in this book are fairly useless, generally wrong, and have few redeeming qualities outside their "hawtness".

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The book's pacing is a little strange, particularly near the end where it continued for a good bit after the storyline had resolved itself.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something that doesn't happen much in modern writing.  Much of the added material was unnecessary or could have been worked into the story prior to the climax.

Lauren Fortgang does a very good job with the narration of the book. She gives Gin a subtle southern accent that I found perfect for the character. As it isn’t overblown, it supports the locale of the story without detracting from the professional nature of Gin’s character. Lauren does gruff or raspy voices effectively without sounding silly or forced. Her male voices are subtly different from each other with no hint of exagerated tone. Obviously, she doesn't sound like a guy, but she doesn't sound like a girl pretending to be a guy either which is something I generally find grating. Instead she subtly deepens her voice so the listener knows a male is speaking.

Overall, Spider’s Bite is not spectacular, but it’s a fun read that was definitely worth my time. A fair start to a series.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Dhampir by Barb and J.C. Hendee

Publisher: ROC
Format: Kindle
*Amazon: 4.0 out of 5 Stars (110 reviews)
*GoodReads: 3.75 out of 5 Stars (1,952 Ratings; 187 Reviews)
Reading is Fundamental-

*Note- Ratings and statistics current at the time review was written.
** Chris' rating. Not necessarily the rating other members of the club might give.

This was Kayla's pick for our book of the month selection in August, 2011.  She's been trying to get me to read this series forever, and she finally had me over a barrel.  I tried to start reading it about a year ago, but I didn't get more than about two chapters in.  I think there are a couple of reasons for that and they ARE NOT because this is a bad book.  It's not.  I found it pretty average fair.  I will likely read the rest of the series at some point, but I won't be escalating it on my priority list so who knows when that will be.  The list is pretty long.  Since I'm on the topic of book club, let me just do a roll call of sorts. 

Sharon (my mom, not my wife) had read this one already, but agreed to re-read it since Kayla really wanted to make this her selection. Ultimately, I don't believe she got around to it, but she did read Thief of Lives (Dhampir #2) and she had already read Sister of the Dead (Dhampir #3).  There's a story here, but it basically boils down to the fact that she accidentally picked up the books out of order a while back.  She loves these books and intends to finish out the series, but she was somewhat withdrawn from the discussion for fear of spoiling the remaining books for the rest of us.

Kayla, of course thinks these are the greatest things since sliced bread. I love her dearly, so I won't hold it against her (just kidding, Boo, this one was pretty okay and I trust you when you say they get even better).

Christine also enjoyed the book but she too found it pretty average, giving it three stars.  I intended to get ratings from all of them, but somehow I got distracted and she was the only one I got.  I apparently hit the page button two fast at one point while I was reading Dhampir, and wouldn't you know that the portion I missed became relevant to my evaluation of the book.  When I brought up my issue, Christine remembered the necessary information and was able to locate it for me.

Alas, in the crush of beginning the fall semester at Nicholls, moving into the dorm, and working, Courtney didn't finish the book and elected not to stay for the meeting.  We all love you anyway Sweet heart, and will overlook your transgression, just this once.  I know you've already finished reading September's selection ;)

I should have taken better notes at the meeting, because I can't, for the life of me remember what Brandi thought of this book.  I don't think any of us actively disliked it, but I don't recall her singing it's praises either.  Sorry, Sis, I'm getting old and senile and my memory isn't nearly as good as it should be.  I do remember that you weren't a big fan of Magiere in the beginning of the book, but I can't remember if she grew enough for you to like her or not.  Now, Perks of Being a Wallflower? I remember EXACTLY where you stand on that book.

Sam, my brother-in-law (Brandi's husband) and new club member, loved the book.  In fact, after reading it, he went out and bought the rest of the series and was a fair way through it by the time we held the meeting.  Like, Sharon, he was cautious about contributing do to the spoiler factor, but he raised an excellent point about denial and human nature with regard to a criticism I had.  Honestly, the remark was so insightful that I have reevaluated that particular point and have come to the conclusion that he's right.

Okay! So on with my review.  Please note that unless otherwise indicated, the opinions I will express from this point forward are mine and might not be shared by the rest of the members of our book club.

As I've already stated, I had difficulty getting into Dhampir, which is a bit odd because it could easily be categorized as Urban Fantasy.  The thing is, it has more of a high fantasy feel with it's feudal society and focus on medieval weaponry.  I've also become accustomed to books written in the first person, which I prefer, and this one is not.

To a lesser degree, I think who the characters are at the beginning of the book (as opposed to who they evolve into) also kept me from completely committing at first.  I tend to be pretty patient when it comes to character development, so I really don't think this played a major role, BUT the protagonists ARE difficult to like at first.  I believe this was intentional on the part of the writers as it allows for a broader growth over the course of the book.

This book is written by a husband and wife team.  Unlike, Ilona Andrews, however, I don't think they manage a seamless amalgam.  Rather than character growth, portions of the book made me feel like I was reading about completely different people than at other times.  They were both teachers possibly both professors (Barb definitely was. English, go figure;) and I think this shows in their writing.  It felt somewhat stiff to me.  I'll acknowledge, however, that this COULD be due to the fact that I've been reading so much first person narrative lately.

The writers' also made an interesting choice with regard to the antagonists.  All (and there are several of them) were given a detailed back story that made them fairly sympathetic.  I can't really decide if this was a good or a bad move.  Going about it this way gave the bad guys a depth of character that is rarely developed in books these days.  At the same time, it made me want a better solution than the one that it is (predictably) implemented.

Finally, the writers intended this to be the first in a series of books (the remainder of which have long since published) so, obviously there are alot of questions that go unanswered.  Some people, might call the very end a cliff hanger, although I wouldn't.  It definitely announces that another book will follow, but it doesn't leave you in any real suspense. Overall, this is a very descent book and I do recommend it.  


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Format: Unabridged - Audible Audio / 11 hours 17 min
Narrators: Tavia Gilbert
*Amazon: 4.4 out of 5 Stars (332 reviews)
*GoodReads: 4.3 out of 5 Stars (14,203 Ratings; 1,932 Reviews)
Reading is Fundamental-


*Note- Ratings and statistics current at the time review was written.

This was my first Jeaniene Frost book, and it certainly won't be my last.  Original characters? Nope.  Twisty turny plot line? Uh uh. High tension story telling? Your joking right? Beautiful prose? You can't see, but I'm smirking at you. Well then, what was so great about this book, Chris?!

I'll say this, it might be a bit early to make this comparison, having read only one of her books, but I think that Jeaniene may be the Nora Roberts of the PnR genre.  I don't know if she intended to write camp here, or if it just worked out that way, but the ride from start to finish was a blast.  This book was pure supernatural candy and I loved every minute of it.  Alright, not EVERY minute of it, I didn't give it 5 stars, after all, but it was well worth my time.

Cat is a 22 year old vampire slayer.  She's been knocking off the oversized mosquitoes, with her mother's blessing, since she was about 16.  Then one day... errrr night... she runs into a little more than she can handle.  Cat's life will never be the same, okay, well it won't be ALL THAT different.  She'll still wack blood sucking vermin every chance she gets, she'll just do it with more pizazz. 

As I said already, Jeaniene's characters are by no means original.  Cat is your stereo typical, kick ass vampire slayer and Bones is your run of the mill bad boy love interest.  Her brilliance in constructing them is how over the top she is about it.  I know the comparison has been made about a thousand times, but think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and your pretty much there. 

Thru much of this book Cat is tempered with a believable innocence that makes her seem nearly as vulnerable as she is lethal.  This is a fantastic combination because it creates a necessary place in the story for her would be protector, Bones.  He's not just tacked on as a cosmetic piece to make the ladies all hot and bothered.  Don't get me wrong, Cat is all about girl power, but Bones gets to let his protective instincts out.  Again, think Nora Roberts.

My major complaint in this one is really a fairly minor one.  It is clear going in that Jeaneine intended to write a series, thus there are copious plot threads left dangling at the end of the book.  That wasn't so much a problem for me.  No, my major heartache is that things develope a bit to fast:

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

The danger of this kind of book is if you come in taking it too seriously based on all the positive reviews.  This isn't a very serious book (not that I'm saying it's a comedy, it certainly isn't).  As with all good camp, this book is somewhat tongue in cheek, without beating you over the head with goofiness.  If you read it for what it is, I think you'll come away happier for the experience!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic Audio
Format: Unabridged - 10 Compact Discs / 12 hours 16 min
Narrators: Jenna Lamia, Pierce Cravens, Dan Bittner, Emma Galvin

*Amazon: 3.8 out of 5 Stars (133 reviews)
*GoodReads: 3.99 out of 5 Stars (7,899 Ratings, 2,252 Reviews)
Reading is Fundamental-


*Note- Ratings and statistics at the time of review was written.

On the whole I think this was an excellent series that I highly recommend, but to me, Forever falls far short of its predecessors both as an individual story and especially as a series finale.

As this is the third and final book in the series, I'm loathe to give a synopsis because it would potentially contain spoilers for the books that come before it.  Thus, this will have to do: Forever is about werewolves, but not your typical werewolves.  I would hazard to guess that you've never seen werewolves like these before (unless of course you've read the first two books!).  The story focuses on three particular werewolves and their various interpersonal relationships.  Pretty lame, huh.  Yeah, well, that's all you get, read the series!

Having read and reviewed the first two installments (my review of Shiver is here and of Linger is here), I don't have anything new to say about Maggie's writing mechanics.  I will reiterate that she is a very good writer who does a masterful job of straddling the line between descriptive narrative and purple prose.  Her style is both fluid and mature (which is great to see out of a YA author).

I will not get into a full discussion of the split narrative here as I spoke about it a little bit in my review of Shiver and at length in my review of Linger, but I will point to Forever, as a prime example of the style's inherent short comings.

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Things that I have complained about in the other books are still present in this book.  Not the least of which is gender confusion. I think, Maggie did a better job with this aspect in Linger than she did in Shiver, but it returns again in full measure her in Forever. Sam has consistantly been the girlie boy from the get go, but Cole is much more affected in this book than he was in the last.  I am NOT going to cite specific examples at this time because I am plannning an essay which will focus on the difficulties of authors creating convincing characters of the opposing gender.  This series of books will feature heavily in that piece.

If Forever is more of the same, why three stars instead of four? Well, to start, this one dragged a bit more than the others did.  It seems to be a fairly common complaint, that this one was slow to get started, and I appear to be in the majority (for a change) in that I feel the same way.

Where I appear to be in the minority is that, I didn't feel that this book had the same emotional impact as the earlier ones did. Spoilers inbound!

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Another major flaw I had with Forever, was the ending.  Potential ground work for a possible fourth book aside, what happens in the climax doesn't make alot of sense.  Can't say more without spoilers, soooooo...

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In the end, the final event doesn't really resolve the major situation presented in this book, or the culmination of the series as a whole.  Oh well, we at least get a relatively happy ending.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Warning! This was written for shear entertainment value, views expressed may not be the actual views of the writer.  If you have not read the Twilight books or seen the movies, you may not want to continue as I've made no attempt to hide spoilers.  You have been warned!!

* * * * * * * * * *

Like, oh my gawd, I was, ya know, like talkin' with my rainbow friend, Hodo,  from GR about writing reviews for books.

She was like, "there is no way, I can write reviews... As if! I totally, like, read waaaay to fast, and my writing is, like, totally bogus."

And I was like, "What-ever! I'm so sure you could totally, like, write a review if you wanted too. Just, like, write the way you talk, ya know? It'll be bitchin'. Duh!'"

But she was like, "As if! People totally, like, make fun of the way I talk. So, um, what-ever!"

Then, I was like, "Seriously, girlfriend, you need to own it Rainbow Gurl.  It could so totally be, like, your thing."

So she was like, "I'm so sure, betch! That would, like, be totally bunk."

And I was like,"Pffft! I'll, like, totally show you, Betch!.  It'll be killer."

* * *

So like, I don't know... a few years ago, I read this book. I think it was called, um, like "Sunset" or "Night Time" or "It's Getting Dark Outside"... something like that.  Oh c'mon, seriously!... it had that tre hawt vampire dude and that totally emo gurl in it! Um, and, like, that wolf boy too, only like, we didn't find out he was like, a wolf boy until, you know, like the second book or whatever. Ya know, um, like the book with the totally trippendicular apple on the cover.

That book was, like, totally rad, but like, I'm so suuure, a piece of fruit? Seriously?! I totally don't get it. Is it, like, supposed to make me hungry or somethin? I don't know, maybe it's, like, some stupid metaphorical crap, you know, like forbidden fruit.  Which is, like, way so weird cuz, um, like, my mom... she never told me I couldn't, like, ya know, eat an apple if I wanted to sooo... Well, there was this one time, where, like, the apples were, um, like, all moldy and stuff, and mom was like, don't eat those, and I was like, "Gah! Ma-uuum, totally, gag me with a spoon! Yeah, like I'm gonna eat one of those. Duh!"  ANYway, passion fruit...  Like, that would so totally make more sense, but what-ever.

So like, emo gurl, is, um, like, from Arizona, only like her mom is totally in luv with this baseball guy and like, so emo gurl, decides to go live with her dad in, um, this town called Forks.  It rains there, like, all the time, so that's where the way crucial vampires go, cuz ya know, sparkly skin in the sunlight and all, hellooo.  So emo gurl starts school and all the primo guys are totally like, "she's totally awesome," but she's like, "gag me, boy toys, I'm all about hawt vampire dude," only she doesn't know he's, um, like, a vampire, yet.  So, yeah, it's like that.

Anyway, like, this Stephenie chick... she's not like, ya know, the most fantabulous writer ever, but she's, like, way so easy to read, and her books are, like totally, fun. Like, totally... Um, except for like that lame-o shopping scene. I mean like, duh, prom dress shopping, and all emo gurl can think about is some stupid book? As if! Like, what a betch. Her friends are like totally in the middle of a fashion crisis, and like she just wants to go to a book store?  Really?! Um, like, if one of my chickadees, like totally bailed on me, there would be, like, soooo much trouble.

Like this one time, um, me and my bestie, Brittney were like, ya know, out shopping with Megan (gag me) and like Brittney found this trippin pair of Jimmy Choos, but like, they totally clashed with her new Louis Vuitton, and I was like, "Oh my gawd, you like totally have to get them anyway, they'll be mag with your Dolce," and Brittney was like, "yeah, but I can't carry my Dolce when I'm, like, wearing that Christian Dior," and I was like, "duh! that would be totally grody," and I'm like looking at Megan, who's totally burried in her cell, and I'm like, "Megan, helloooo! some help here, what do you think?" and Megan was like, "Oh my gawd, my mom just texted me that my dad was in a car crash, I gotta go!"  And then she, like... left. What-ever... Betch!

Gah, so frustrating... anyway, like, what was I sayin?... Oh, yeah! Um, Chica writes tasty man candy, yum!  Totally hawt vampire dude, ftw.  Um, there is NO way I play for team furball, Duh! Men are totally dawg-like enough without, ya know, shedding everywhere. Like, do you have ANY idea how hard it is to get dawg fur off of chiffon?! Barf me out!

So, um, I'm, like, readin this book and, like, there's this one part, where, like, hawt vampire dude is totally like sneakin into emo gurl's room at night and, like, ya know, um, watchin her, like sleep and stuff.  And I'm kinda like, oh my gawd, that is so, um, ya know, like creepy.  But then, I'm like, fer sure, betch, he's like totally a vampire, and he's soooooo hawt, so it's, like, all good and stuff... and um even tho, he like totally wants to, like, ya know, bite her and suck her blood, he like, totally loves her and stuff.  So then, I was like,  awwwe, that's like, soooo sweet. Seriously! Like, where can I get me some vampire lovin'?

Okay! So like there ya go! In summary, totally stay away from, like, moldy apples (bleh, grody to the max), shopping rules- bookstores drool (as if), duh! wolf hair is not a fashion accessory (I'm so sure), and creepy guys should, like totally stay out of the bedroom unless they are totally hawt vampire dudes (seriously!). I love Twilight, it's, like, soooo relevant!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

I was looking over the reviews for Bloodfever at Amazon (primarily the negative ones, as usual) and a couple of things became quickly apparent.
  1. You are more likely to dislike this book if you are a PnR junkie and you love Karen for her Highlander series;
  2. It is more likely that you disliked this book if you read it before the rest of the series had been release, particularly if Faefever (Fever #3) had not been published yet.
The first two books in this series are the ONLY Karen Marie Moning books I've read thus far and I lean a little more to the Urban Fantasy side of the genre than the PnR side.  So with respect to #1 above, I had no prior expectations coming in (other than those foisted on me by those at GoodReads who had already read the entire series) and I don't NEED to have the romance (funny how so many spell it that way when they really mean to write S*E*X) to make the story worth my time.

With respect to #2, I have to admit that I might be a whole lot less forgiving of this series if I had started it back in 2007 when these two were the only ones published and no one knew how much better they would get (note that I'm taking it on faith that they get better as I have not even started Faefever yet). It's easy to be patient knowing that at any moment I can pick up the next book and see how things progress (or pick them all up and see how it ends).  Waiting at least a year between reads would have been a lot harder to take.

Given these two observations, I think Karen took a hell of a risk writing these books the way she did.  The big problem here is no different from what I mentioned in my review of Darkfever.  That is, the series is really a single book that has been broken into five parts.  Neither of the first two installments has made much of an attempt to be its own self contained story. Personally, I believe this is poor plotting and more than a bit manipulative. It's like the writer is holding the story ransome.  I completely sympathize with people who feel cheated when they finish reading one of these.  Especially if they read them back in 2007.

Despite this fact, I really liked Bloodfever.  I tend to give more 3 star rating than 4 star ones (except lately- having found GR, I tend to read more on recommendation than I used to which naturally means I'm more likely to read a quality book than when I was picking more or less at random), so the fact that I gave this one four stars naturally means that I found it above average.

As I stated above, this book is flawed, primarily because it's not... a book, that is.  It's a section of a book. Publishing it in this manner lends itself to the insertion of filler material so that there is enough in the section that we can call it a book.  There be spoilers here, but you don't need to look at them to understand what I'm saying... Karen includes a fair amount of material that does little to move the plot forward.

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Sounds like I'm griping, doesn't it. So why four stars? Two words: character development. Oh! and a third word: REALISM.

Please understand that what I'm about to laud as a strength, you may (as many others have) see as a weakness. The changes in Mac's character do not represent a smooth transition.  I've seen a bunch of complaints about it, believe me.  Some people hate that she continues to show spoiled, Barbie-like characteristics. Some hate that she continues to make some pretty bone headed mistakes.  Some dislike the fact that she continues to grieve the loss of her sister. They want her to be a high speed, low drag, kick-ass-who-needs-names, heroine with flawless instincts, and they want it NOW.

Thing is, that doesn't happen over night.  In life, real change is exceedingly difficult.  People rarely get it right on their first attempt. Let me suggest the most common and probably relatable one... Ever decided you were going to get fit?  Gonna tear yourself away from the books or the TV and start exercising?  Eat better?  Eat less?  How'd that work out for ya? The hard part was just making the decision to do it, right? Yeah, okay, whatever.

For me the brilliance in this series is the GRADUAL character development. Mac is coming along, and she's doing it in a very realistic way.  She has become more capable, but she makes mistakes.  She's become less naive, but still hasn't figured out whom she should trust and whom she shouldn't.  She's become more of a "do"er but she still complains from time to time.  She's become more practical, but necessary wardrobe choices are still an afront to her tastes.  In short, she's not there yet, and if you expect her to be by the end of this "book" you're in for a disappointment.

There's one more thing I'd like to address, as I saw quite a few complaints about it, but it's strictly story based.  No way to talk about it in the abstract.  If you haven't read the book, skip over it cuz there's nothing here for you.

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All-in-all, I like Bloodfever, despite it's flaws and really appreciate this method of character development for its realism.  I'm very much looking forward to the next one, but as I have been told that the next two books end on epic cliff hangers, I will not be starting Faefever until I know I'll have time to read Dreamfever and Shadowfever too.  I'm hoping that will be this month, but I have to knock out our book club selection, three remaining Book of the Month selections for GR and two selections for the Bi-monthly Theme contest first.  Here's hoping!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead

I know it may be difficult to believe, but this is my first Richelle Mead book.  For years, I've seen the Vampire Academy books in stores, but never got around to reading one.  I probably would have started there, but Succubus Blues was one of our Book of the Month selections for August on GoodReads, so it got the nod.

This isn't the best PnR / Urban Fantasy I've ever read, but like Firelight, it is a book with amazing potential.  Unlike FirelightSuccubus Blues doesn't spend most of it's time on filler material and wasn't nearly as annoying to me.  If Firelight was a weak three stars, then Succubus Blues is a much stronger three stars (probably something closer to a 3.75).  I'm very much looking forward to the other books in this series as I hear they get better (pretty typical for series books in this genre).

Succubus Blues is told from the first person perspective of Georgina Kincaid, a long time succubus who has grown disenchanted with the lifestyle.  When local immortals start turning up dead suspicion initially falls on Georgina, but it's quickly apparent that she could never have managed the killings.  Before she knows it, Georgina is caught up in a race to determine the true identity of the killer before she loses her own life, or worse, one of the lives of her fiends... err... friends. 

Nothing really stands out for me about Richelle's writing style. Her characterization is fair, her pacing is good, and her plotting is reasonable.  I found this story somewhat predictable, but I don't really see that as a flaw (most heavy readers are good at figuring out who-done-its).

My biggest complaint is her world building.  As this is the first book in a series, I don't expect Richelle to explain everything about her world to me, but I do expect her to tell me enough for the premise to make sense.  In this book the relation between, and the purpose of, the various immortals is pretty relevant, but Richelle never gives a clear understanding of their role in the grand scheme of things.  In one particularly annoying part, Georgina says in the narrative something to the affect of, "I explained to him the rules of being a succubus..." (not a direct quote but close enough).  This caused me some degree of consternation because I kept thinking, would you explain them to me, PLEASE.

Without this background knowledge it was difficult for me to suspend disbelief as it pertained to the cooperation of the immortals portrayed in the book.  Look, I'm a lawyer.  I understand that working in an adversarial system does not foreclose friendship between opposing parties.  I've gone to lunch with opposing counsel on many occasions and consider most of them my friends outside the court room.  Richelle, implies that being an immortal in her world is similar in that the forces of good and evil are really just a bunch of beings trying to get by.  The epic battle for souls is merely an occupation.  Kind of like this (feel free to stop after about the 1:30 mark, although, this is one of my personal favorites and the end IS directly on point):

Somewhat obsurd, right?  To me, as explained thus far, the world of Succubus Blues isn't far off.  I mean we're talking about people's souls here.

My favorite stories involve a gradual fall from grace, ala The Dresden Files or The Hollows, where actions, over time, taken in the name of good result in the protagonist becoming what he or she fights against.  Similarly, I love a redemption story, where our protagonist, once of questionable morales, endeavors to rise above and attone for past actions. 

The Georgina Kincaid series appears to want to be the latter and I'm happy to continue reading to see how it progresses, but personally, I feel Richelle has created a back story for Georgina that is overly sympathetic and not quite "sell my soul" worthy.  There are alot of intervening years between Georgina's origin and where the story takes up in Succubus Blues.  Purportedly, she was at one point, the best at whatever it is that Succubi do (not the sex part, although I'm sure she's good at that too, but the soul corrupting / harvesting or whatever part), so maybe in future books she'll prove to be sufficiently evil to make a good redemption story out of it.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

First off, I found The Help quite enjoyable.  Mind you, for me, "enjoyable" and "good" aren't always the same.  Take Twilight for instance.  As most of you know I'm a HUGE fan (I even have a "Team Alice" T-shirt).  I gave high ratings to all the books in that series, specifically because I found them immensely enjoyable.  Good?  Not so much.  Stephenie's writing is pretty average, she has a strange way of structuring the plot, you REALLY have to suspend disbelief at times, she's not always internally consistence with regard to the rules she has established for her world, the list goes on and on.  Sometimes a book is just soooo... fun... I'm able to let all the other stuff go.  Other times all I can see are the flaws.  It's not really fair, but it is what it is.

The Help was not only enjoyable, it was good too.  I almost gave it five stars, but in the end, I had some minor issues that kept me from doing so.  I'm not much into historical fiction (this counts as historical fiction, right?) but this book was definitely worth my time. It's been a while since I've read anything as conventional as The Help.  Except for the occasional blip, I've primarily read Young Adult, Paranormal Romance, and Urban Fantasy for the last couple of years.  This being the case, The Help feels much more "serious" than what I've become accustomed to.  As a result, I found the few flaws I encountered harder to ignore.

Taking place in the early 60's, this book chronicles how three very different women come together to tell the story of what it means to be a black servant in white southern society. Having completed her degree at Ole Miss, "Skeeter" a young, white  woman returns to Jackson only to discover that Constantine, the black woman, who for all intents and purposes raised her, has left the employ of her family under mysterious conditions.  Skeeter quickly becomes disenchanted with the actions of her socialite friends and decides to tell the stories, both good and bad, of the colored women serving white families in the South.  Aibileen, a wise and compassionate woman of color who has raised 17 white children over the course of her life, is recovering from the death of her son and eventually agrees to help.  The pair enlist the assistance of Minny, a fiesty and temperamental black woman recently black listed from work in white homes by the Slander of Hilly Holbrook, apparent queen bee in Jackson, friend and former school mate of Skeeter.

Kathryn employs the split narrative to tell this story.  As recently discussed in my review of Linger, I don't really like the use of split narrative, but I think it was not only extremely effective in this book, but also necessary for this story to be told at all.  The differences in perspective are essential to the story and Kathryn does a marvelous job with them.  Each character used to move the plot forward (Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny) is likeable and, just as importantly, relateable each in her own way.

The Help, feels well researched.  That is, for the most part, the deep south of the early 60's seemed authentic to me, tho I have no particular expertise in this area.  Kathryn uses historical events (National Guard deployment to Ole Miss, the murder of Medgar Evers, etc.) to help sustain the atmosphere and the relevancy of her protagonists' project. Throughout the book, I felt the danger and the tension that must accompany an undertaking of the type these three courageous women embarked on.  This is a strength through most of the book, but created a kind of weakness near the end.  See the spoiler for more details.

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While I wasn't particularly bothered by them, there were some scenes in this book that surprised me for their crass natures and others that were more graphic than I would have expected from this type of book.  If you have a low tolerance for the gross, take into account that there may be some rough spots in this book for you.

As I'm sure you're aware, Hollywood has gotten a hold of this book.  In fact, I would probably never have read it if it weren't for the movie.  The preview for it is somewhat misleading with regard to the content of the story which is odd because all the scenes in the previews come from the book.  Their arrangement, however, makes the movie appear lighter than it actually is.  Having seen only the preview before reading the book, I was somewhat taken off guard (not in a bad way) by the heaviness of the story.

I'm a big fan of Emma Stone and loved seeing her play a role so very different from what I'm used to seeing her in.  But don't be fooled.  This is NOT a comedy; it has real emotional weight (think Steel Magnolias or Fried Green Tomatoes).  It had some funny moments but this was a faithful representation of the book.  I would have prefered that Celia's portion in the movie had been handled better, but I understand the limitations that the movie had to operate under.  I highly recommend this story in both its literary and motion picture formats.