Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Arcadia (#3 in Advent Series) by James Treadwell

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

I re-read the first two books in the trilogy in order to "prepare" for the third and final installation. I again enjoyed Advent and continued to be impressed with Treadwell's creation of the world we know so well, as affected by magic in a way that we could not predict. I love some of the people and non-peoples he created, and the depth he gave some of his characters.

I again particularly enjoyed Anarchy. I thought Treadwell did an excellent job of showing the chaos experienced by the reintroduction of magic in our world. I loved the new stories and new characters he introduced, and I liked how it all tied together in some way or another.

So I was a bit disappointed with Arcadia. Arcadia begins about a year and a half after Anarchy ends, so magic has been well-incorporated into our world, and we have well screwed ourselves almost completely trying to deal with it. It's a sort of post-apocalyptic story in that sense, which is definitely my speed. But then Treadwell focuses our attentions on a single small island off the coast of England and we don't really experience the chaos of the world. Not that that is a bad story, it's just not what I was expecting. After the development in Anarchy, I was expecting Arcadia to be a bit more... exciting.

Instead, we follow a ten-year-old boy who knows that he is likely to be the next (and last) "man" to die in his universe (the island), as a result of Them. If you have read the first 2 books, ****NOTE: THERE IS SOME SPOILER'ISH LANGUAGE IN HERE. IT'S NOT VERY SPOILER, BUT I DID HIDE IT ON SITES. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. it is clear rather quickly who They are. If not, I can imagine this might actually create some uncertainty that could have been interesting. For me, though, it felt like the first 50-60% of the book was just repetition of how boring life on the island is; how scared everyone is of Them; how likely it is that the main character is going to go off to Them anyway; how crazy his mom is; and how frustrating the rest of the characters are. Treadwell's gifted writing is still rather evident, but it was just a bit of a (long) lull.

That being said, when we MORE SPOILER>>>>  get to the mainland and see more of the after-effect of the introduction of magic, and especially when we arrive in the Valley, the magic (heh heh) of Treadwell's writing is fully exposed. I *loved* the Valley and I loved how uncertain and creepy that whole part is.

Ultimately, I felt that the end was a bit of anti-climax as well, but I also felt that Treadwell did a very good job of wrapping up... much. (but not all) All in all, I still definitely recommend the book as part of the trilogy.  It is worth completing the trilogy and, overall, the trilogy is a great one. I like that it is involved and hearty and satisfying.

So, overall, FOUR of five stars. Thanks to NetGalley for the copy!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher

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

This is a book with a fascinating subject: The existence and experience of spirits and seances and whether or not they are real (or were proven to be real and/or false). Houdini, named in the title, himself experimented with so-called psychic experiences, but as he never really did them but happened to be particularly talented at convincing people he was "the real deal," he was particularly skeptical about all others who claimed to in fact be in contact with spirits and/or the dead.

In addition to Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily involved in the whole spirit world - he was an ardent believer of contact with the dead, largely driven by various deaths in his own life and others and the loss of so many people in the recent war and epidemic.

And then there is the famed Witch of Lime Street, the wife of a Boston surgeon. She is young and smart and appears to be genuine.

In addition, Scientific American created a contest to determine whether any psychic could prove his or her merits. And of course Conan wants Margery (the Witch of Lime Street) to enter the contest, and Houdini is on the committee to determine whether she (among others) are legitimate.

So, fascinating, right?! Right up my alley. Interesting historical topic about very interesting people.... and Jaher doesn't do a bad job. He just doesn't do a particularly good job either. I found the book often dragged and spent too much time re-explaining the same inclinations of the various peoples, rather than moving more quickly through the events and analyses. Nonetheless, I enjoyed learning more about the topic and found myself repeating the information I'd learned to others in (somehow) every day topic.

Overall, a good historical account of a fascinating group of people and series of events. I would recommend to people interested in the subject, with the obvious caveat to simply "bear with" the parts that seem to drag.

Overall, THREE of five stars.

Slade House by David Mitchell

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

I have talked about and written about this book so many times since reading it, I didn't realize I hadn't yet officially reviewed it!

In short, I loved this book. It's a mini little ghost story with a lovely repeating but not really repetitious pattern.

It is almost a series of short stories, taking place every 9 years. It starts with a small black iron door. It starts with the Slade House. You may not find it, but if you do, you will be invited, expected, needed.

You're not quite sure who lives there, but you are sure that the brother and sister who crop up every 9 years play a significant role.

No more explanation. It's all spoiler other than that. But it's a quick read, an interesting read, and a thought-provoking read. It's creepy and atmospheric.. the perfect read for a dark and stormy night...

I love how it starts. I love how it middles. And I love how it ends. An easy 5 stars from me.

Note: I've only read 1 other David Mitchell book, so far. Cloud Atlas was a very good book, but a completely different type of book. I am impressed with Mitchell's ability to write different types, different characters, different perspectives. I look forward to more!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Death Before Decaf: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig

Free copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Overall, I felt that this was an "okay" cozy mystery. While I did not particularly enjoy the romantic aspect because I felt that it was a little cliched and clunky, the mystery itself was interesting and novel.

In the book, Juliet Langley has returned to her college town to work for her old crush and former co-worker, the now-owner of local coffee shop Java Jive. Juliet has returned because her life and career have crashed and spectacularly burned after a horrible relationship with an apparently horrible person has ended.

Given Juliet's experience both at Java Jive and in the food industry, her old crush and one of her best friends Pete makes her manager. Juliet, however, does not appear to remotely be a people-person and immediately pisses off pretty much everyone in her employ. This is only made worse when the chef turns up dead.

Juliet is, of course, a prime suspect. In order to try to clear her name, she delves into amateur sleuthing. With the help of a local college professor who seems perhaps much more sinister than at first glance and, of course, Pete, Juliet slowly works through a list of culprits as more people end up dead and Juliet begins to get death threats herself.

So that's the set up and it's a good one. I generally liked the characters and I especially liked Seth (the professor). I did not particularly like that, rather than tale responsibility for her anger issues, Juliet simply called her temper the Red Headed She Devil (Juliet is a red-head)... it was too cutesy and lame as an excuse for her poor people skills. And I did not particularly like the cliched and, somehow, also clunky romantic triangle between Juliet, Pete, and Seth that is rather unsatisfying in the end (though this is a series, so surely there is more to come).

But as I say, the mystery itself was fun and it was a good, quick read for a cold night. I would recommend to "cozy mystery" fans, especially if someone were looking for a softly-steamy romantic one with a fiery protagonist. Overall, THREE of five stars.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Witches Protection Program by Michael Phillip Cash

Book received for free from publisher in exchange for honest review; thanks to NetGalley!

This was a decent supernatural action-adventure book with some interesting characters and a creative plot.

Wes has spent his life being second to all in his family, struggling to prove that he deserves the Rockville family name as a police officer under his father's directorship. Unfortunately, on his first assignment, he makes his first huge mistake, resulting in an escaped prisoner and embarrassment to the Rockville family name. Without giving Wes a second chance, his father transfers him to a different department for his last chance in the force.

With all the pouting, grunting, and moaning to make a 13-year-old teenage girl proud, Wes goes to his new boss. There, Wes discovers that not only are there witches in the world, but they are separated into two factions (the wicked willas and the good davinas) and infiltrate every aspect of every-day-living (including hollywood and the tabloids). Grumbling every step along the way, Wes accompanies his new boss Alastair to meet an old davina Junie, who expresses her concern over what appears to be a huge willa plot.

Enter Morgan Pendragon - heir to a multi-billion dollar cosmetics corporation currently run by her aunt - and the story is on its way. Morgan is an apparent davina who is doing nothing more than just trying to stay under the radar; unfortunately, her aunt wants her to hand over the rights to run the company and Morgan does everything in her... power... to avoid doing just that. However, because of what Junie knows and Alastair/Wes suspect, Morgan will soon have to confront her aunt and her wishes, face to face.

The plot is fast, the pace is well done, and the story is fun. I liked Alastair and Scarlett (the aunt's #1 protege) in particular - they were very well written and not quite as... predictable as the others. I also thought some of the minor characters were nice additions -- Jasmine and Wu to name a couple -- and I liked some of the less conventional mini-sub-plots that Cash (author) threw in there.

What I didn't love as much were the often-stilted conversations, the over-stereotypical behaviors of many of the characters (Morgan and her aunt, in particular), and the incredibly immature, unbelievably whiney and snarky Wes who was, unfortunately, the main character of the story.

Fortunately, Wes does show some growth throughout the book and ends up much more mature and respectful by the end of the book -- which I do think was the point.

Overall, a fun, fast read that I'd recommend to anyone who felt that the plot was right up their alley. I expect this to be a series based on how it was set up, and I would definitely be curious to see how it continues!
THREE of five stars

65 new books! (used)

I .... found 65 new books this weekend. Mostly "cozy mysteries" (a new definer to me) and kids books... Darn that library book sale!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Review based on advanced review copy received for free in exchange for an honest review.

I am no stranger to Gregory Maguire. I started with Wicked, as everyone should. I was wow'd. After Alice did not completely move me, as Wicked did. However, it w
as a wonderful little novel with a lot of the magic that Maguire showed in Wicked coming through.

As the title and cover imply, After Alice is somehow a take on Alice in Wonderland. However, this story does not really track Alice, per se; rather, it tracks her awkward, chunky, physically disabled friend Ada. Ada is mentioned in Carroll's own Alice only in passing (passage at the beginning of After Alice shows only mention of Ada's long ringlets).

In Maguire's version, Ada is a difficult, perhaps abrasive, curious, but sweet-hearted child, with a near-full body back-brace and an inclination to get in trouble. Ada perhaps intentionally misunderstands the instruction to bring Alice some marmalade and uses the opportunity to escape not only the vicarage, where she lives with her noisy baby brother, but also her governess who is always attempting to correct Ada into ... well, into someone perhaps more like Alice.

Ada sees the famous white rabbit with a timeclock and, as we know Alice has done, follows the rabbit and falls down the hole to wonderland. Everything from the fall itself to Ada's experiences in Wonderland and the various "people" she meets down there are described with a very strong nod to the images and stories we know from the traditional Alice. Unsurprisingly, Maguire's take is dark. There is an ominous presence hanging over everything and even careless death occurs without the batting of an eye.

Additionally, amidst Ada's adventures, Maguire takes us back and forth between her nanny's awful day (she has lost one of her charges!), Alice's sister's day (her very teenage confusing feelings about her mother's recent passing and the attentions of an American visitor and his black adoptee), and Siam, the black child who has escaped slavery and worse under the care of Mr. Winter (the American). And there are, I believe, a few other perspectives as well. Yet Maguire is certainly a talented writer, and the varying perspectives work well together, moving together toward a climax in Wonderland and in the real world around the same time.

I enjoyed the story and the magic that Maguire weaves into the everyday, and the everyday that Maguire weaves into the magical... and I was particularly impressed with the ending.... something about it (no spoilers!) just... I don't know, it almost made me feel as if the world were unsteady for a few moments.

What I didn't love... all I really didn't love about the book might be the pacing. I say "might be" because I had so much going on in my own life while I was reading this, it is hard to tell if the book or real life was the cause of my relatively slow read. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty, enjoyable read.

I would recommend to fans of Maguire, to fans of Alice in Wonderland, and to fans of magical realism and fantasy. FOUR of five stars.