Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Curious Beginning: A Vernoica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn

Review based on an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is one of those books that fall into the category of "I really wanted to like it..." I really did. I love the cover and I've heard very good things about the author. The plot sounded interesting as well: a young lady in late 19th century London is orphaned by the death of her aunt and decides to set off to continue world travels to study science, with the occasional fling along the way. But Veronica's plans are thwarted by her attempted abduction and the help of a mysterious German baron who apparently knows who she is (and her parents!) and offers to keep her safe. Veronica accepts the help in the hopes of learning more about her past/parents, and she is deposited with Stoker, an ill-mannered, angry, reclusive natural historian. Next Veronica and Stoker know, the baron is suddenly found murdered, and Veronica and Stoker choose to go on the run, hiding and seeking the truth.

Veronica Speedwell is apparently one of those beautiful ladies that every man must admire, and she has spunk to spare. Her character felt more like a caricature of a person than an actual person. She is steadfastly, annoyingly stubborn and insistent on repeatedly getting herself into trouble. I believe this was meant to show spunk, but it just felt immature and idiotic most of the time.

Stoker is supposed to be some sort of manly, gruffy gentleman-in-a-beast's-body sort of thing, which, again, was rather two-dimensional. In light of his actual personal history -- both his upbringing and what has happened since then -- his whole personality felt forced and intended to create attraction rather than a realistic character. I also found Stoker terribly annoying.

And worst of all was the relationship between the two. It was insufferable. If I actually knew these people in real life, I would probably need to remove myself from their vicinity ... as far as possible.

The bit characters were okay -- some were even intriguing. But with the book revolving around Veronica and Stoker and their forming relationship, I just found the whole thing rather boring and uninspired. I would probably recommend to people who enjoy those types of romance stories that are surface and obvious, with cliched tension and resolution. I didn't really think the mystery was much to speak of. It... just didn't matter to me.

Overall, TWO of five stars.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mountain of Black Glass (Otherland Series #3) by Tad Williams

This book is massive and, for me, dragged a bit in the middle. However, it dramatically picks up in the second half and the ending gets rather exciting, forcing the reader (me) to pick up the next book right away (another 1000 pages). The characters are richly drawn in the Otherland series, and the 3rd book is no exception. The reader is drawn closer and closer to the characters, and Williams delves deeper into their minds and psyches. It is rather impressive how many different voices are present in the series, with each having a separate and unique personality.

The series presents chaotic situation and baffling scenario after chaotic situation and baffling scenario, yet the story as a whole continues to move forward, answering some questions and leaving more in its wake. The series shifts a bit into a more fantasy-like genre for much of book 3, but the sci-fi is still definitely present, and I am continually impressed with the depth of Williams' thinking and exploration. Although Book 3 lagged a bit in the middle for me, I am still overall very pleased with the series.

I am not saying more because ... any discussion of the plot of book 3 would be spoiler. :)
But a few thoughts for those who've read them already (highlight to see text):

I absolutely love the developing personality of the Other. It is interesting how child-like he seems and I get the feeling that he is protecting the children that have been taken hostage, even if he needs them to operate. 

I also am very interested in the developing relationship between Dread and Dulcie Anwin... and the developing case that Calliope is working through. I love that it is culminating in Sydney.

I am pleased that Jacoubian and Wells' stories developed the way they did... even in the apparent death of Jacoubian. And it's sooooo interesting that the ceremony didn't work for any of the brotherhood except partially for the one guy (whose name is evading me right now). BUT I wonder if the brotherhood may actually somehow be revived at some point in book 4 --- after all, they are, at this point, "merely code" anyway.

There is definitely more to !Xabbu than meets the eye.. his response was interesting when Renie said he was back in his real form (or however she phrased that)... and he didn't respond as expected.

Ooooh, and I loved who Emily was. But 2 questions remain at this point... if one of her other selves killed her... why was the baby she may have been carrying such a central point of her character for so long? Maybe something will develop where the presence of the baby was crucial... And the 2nd question is ... Dread said he "left something behind" with Martine when he was killed (when in Quan Li's body).... I don't think we know what that is yet... If so, I completely missed it!

Mmmmm... that's all for now. :)
This book gets another FOUR of five stars .

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights (Wrong Questions Series #4) by Lemony Snicket

The series is wonderful. I love the way Snicket writes and the way he perfectly presents the psyche of an intelligent, precocious 13-year-old in the middle of a terrible situation. I loved all the characters and thought the mystery(ies) was(were) wonderfully presented and "resolved." (Many things are not actually "resolved" in Snicket books.) I also thought Liam Aiken did a wonderful job reading the books, improving with the series. He was a perfect voice for Lemony Snicket. I will definitely be buying this series for my goddaughter! I believe this is age-appropriate for mature 8+ year olds (there is death and sadness) and middle-grade children. Of course, Snicket can be enjoyed by adults as well. :)

The book, FOUR of five stars , and the series as a whole, FOUR of five stars .

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This was as good as I wanted it to be. It is a meaty but well-paced young adult first-in-trilogy that is set in a world in which The Library is the overarching governmental institution that Rules over All, who have mandated that originals (actual books with paper pages) shall ONLY be in its possession and the rest of the world has access via ... sort of futuristic eBooks, which are almost like kindles, but are loaded with only 1 book at any given time. The two largest opposing groups are smugglers, who deal in the black trade of originals for collectors, and burners, who seek to burn originals to prove the point that The Library should not have total control over all originals. The main character is a young (18?) man who comes from a family of smugglers, yet seeks to become a member of The Library.

There's intrigue, subterfuge, discovery, friendship, enemies, frienemies, romance, and action packed into the novel. I really really enjoyed reading it. EVEN the Romance parts!! It was so well done, I didn't find it annoying at all. ;) The world is well developed and interesting, the characters are well-developed, interesting, and dynamic, and the story/plot is interesting and moves at a good pace. Definitely recommend to YA/dystopia fans! Also, I note that, although it's YA, it's probably more along the lines of [Red Rising] .. a little bit denser and more mature. Can't wait for the 2nd! It's at early reviewer phase right now, so juts a little while to wait... ;)

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Review based on ARC (advanced reader copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

I didn't really know that much about this book before starting it.. This is how it was described:
When the gleaming new Manderley Resort opens in twenty-four hours, Santa Barbara’s exclusive beachfront hotel will offer its patrons the ultimate in luxury and high-tech security. No indulgence has been ignored, no detail overlooked. But all the money in the world can’t guarantee safety. As hotel manager Tessa and her employees ready the hotel for its invitation-only grand opening, a killer is in their midst. One by one, staff are picked off with ruthless precision. And before the night is over, as Tessa desperately struggles to survive, it will become clear that the strangest and most terrible truth at Manderley is simply this: someone is watching.

With stunning ingenuity, Gina Wohlsdorf puts readers front and center as the elite resort becomes a house of horrors. Riveting to the final sentence, Security is fierce, wry, and impossible to put down. With a deep bow to the literary tradition of Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier, Wohlsdorf’s razor-wire prose blitzes readers with quick twists, sharp turns, and gasp-inducing terror. Security is at once a shocking thriller, a brilliant narrative puzzle, and a moving, multifaceted love story unlike any other.

So, I thought of it as a murder mystery with a bit of thriller thrown in. And maybe some lite horror.
In fact, this is a gory slasher novel with explicit sex scenes... which is apparently standard in the classic slasher novel.

It is gory, which doesn't actually bother me. It's explicit with exactly WHAT is being done to the victims and exactly how that looks and maybe feels. SO in that way, it's classic horror/slasher, and well done. It's not scary to the reader (well, at least not this reader), but it's a thriller, so it's tense. I never felt afraid in my empty house, but I was wound tightly while I was reading it, and eager to keep moving through the novel. As I mentioned above, there is explicit sex (though NOT by the perpetrators, so there's no rape element here). That's generally on my list of "not interested," and I didn't love it here either. I thought it was unnecessary and a bit distracting and clumsy to boot. But fortunately, Wohlsdorf moves pretty quickly through the scenes, so you're not dwelling in them. Which for me, was a definite plus. And surprisingly, it's funny. I absolutely loved the perspective. It is narrated from the perspective of someone watching the developments through security cameras and that character was probably my favorite of them all. And it's a murder mystery and a slasher thriller -- there are killings, but we don't know what's really happening or why.

The pace is good -- while I did not fly through the pages, I also did not pause much. I read the whole book in essentially one sitting, and it was a very satisfying read in the end. Entertaining, interesting (the unique point of view is a strong plus here), and, for me, well-resolved. I know some people did not love how it ended, but I thought it was as complete as it needed to be. To say any more would be spoiler, so I'll refrain.

Overall, . Recommended for horror/slasher/thriller fans. But not probably for people who don't like that/those genre(s)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

I just love the way Karlsson views life. This is the second book I've read by him, and I enjoyed this at least as much as the last. Probably more.

The protagonist, a film buff who works at a not-too-busy video store receives an invoice in the mail one day, claiming he owes a lot of money (it is written in terms of kronor, but the exact amount is not necessary to understand). When he inquires further, he discovers that everyone has been billed for essentially their life-enjoyment quotient.

So he embarks upon an investigation (casual, comprised largely of phone calls with an employee of the corporation who has issued the invoices) of how and why his invoice has amounted to what it has.

But what is brilliant about the book is how Karlsson goes about examining how someone's life could be reduced to a monetary figure. It is thoughtful, funny, surprising, and brilliant.

While somehow examining the philosophy of human happiness, Karlsson also manages to be entertaining and somehow brief. I read the small book easily in one sitting.

I just don't want to say anything else because the discoveries in this book are what make the book. But highly recommended to ... everyone? It's such a fast and easy read, I think I'd say yes. Everyone.

FIVE of five stars.

Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is a series of short stories that all consider something unique, something out-of-the-ordinary, something bizarre. Some of them were excellent, some of them were thought-provoking, and all of them were interesting. I read this series of short stories in two sittings. Although Phillips seems to be a bit infatuated with the female body and perhaps a bit falsely cavalier about sex, the stories were nonetheless well executed, well-thought out, and well-manufactured in short story form.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys speculative or unusual fiction. I will give a brief response to each of the short stories below.

FOUR of five stars.

The Knowers Phillips starts out with a sci-fi type piece where you can find out the date of your ultimate demise, and with it considers how some might react to the possibility and the way such knowledge may impact a typical relationship. The ending is unexpected and I actually kind of loved it.

Some Possible Solutions delves briefly into a few ways to "solve" some relationship "problems." The first is a bit disconcerting in the best way (you know, that creepy, crawly, under-your-skin feeling).. I believe Phillips has taken real things people think about and taken them a bit further along in their "natural conclusions" progression. Well-considered.

I didn't think I liked The Dopplegangers that much while I was reading it, but I was disarmed by where it went and am impressed in retrospect.

The Messy Throes... was funny and a bit surprising.. consider if all of a sudden you alone had not frozen in time during a diner party..

Life Care Center was probably my least favorite of the bunch... I don't know, it just felt a bit bleak and unfocused. Which was probably intentional, but I didn't really understand how it fit in with the rest.

The Joined, conversely, may be my favorite. It considers a different kind of answer to the problem of human relationship insecurities, and, once again, surprises and impresses me with its ending.

Flesh and Blood is one of the more "bizarre" ones.. It removes certain objects from the narrator's vision and follows through her responses. This was also not one of my favorites.. I think because, unlike many of the others, I was "meh" about where it went.. It was sort of predictable.. but any short story collection will have one or two of these..

When the Tsunami Came is perfect in its short and sweet honesty.

Game was another I didn't particularly like. I think I understand what Phillips was trying to do with the dual story lines, but it's one of those views of an inane relationship that just didn't strike me in any way. I couldn't wait to be done with that one.

One of Us Will Be Happy... was also not one of my favorites. It felt a little forced and aimless at the same time.

Things We Do was another meandering relationship piece that felt a bit like Game to me.. just kind of meh. I'm sure some people will like these pieces the most -- but the review of depressing relationships has never been my favorite thing in literature.

R is one of my favorites. I love the perspective. This was a sort of quick view into a dystopia where weather and it seems jobs are controlled to protect people, and how two strippers(/prostitutes?) fare in such a world after experiencing something they shouldn't have.

Children was another great one -- where might a line be between insanity and truth..

The Worst was almost a satirical look at perspective. Enjoyed in its brevity.

How I Began to Bleed Again... touches on everyday pain and losses with a touch of mysticism and leaves just enough unanswered to satisfy.

The Beekeeper was an almost light story about a developing, unlikely relationship at a time of fear and worldly problems.. I liked the story and mostly liked the ending, but it was a little abrupt -- not what happens, but what happens after. (I know that's confusing, but I don't spoil :))

The Wedding Stairs is somewhat unsettling, somewhat shocking, somewhat sad, a little confusing, and very well done. Another one of my favorites in the bunch.

The final piece, Contamination Generation was hopeful and heartbreaking and so well executed. It is not-too-distant future in a world in which we have kind of killed nature, but in which the very rich and the middle-class (?) live side-by-side and the stark differences are outlined and felt. I wanted it go to somewhere different than it did, but Phillips was correct in her decision and it was the right ending to the whole book.