Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blue Moon by Alyson Noel

This was a little melodramatic and teenagey-angsty for me, but it was still good... especially once you got beyond the "I-can't-do-anything-productive-because-I-love-you-too-much" phase of the book. A lot of the book was predictable---certainly, nothing was particularly shocking---but, all in all, an enjoyable read for a Sunday afternoon. I would appreciate a little more depth in the characters, especially as the series continues, but I would still recommend the book to any teenager interested in immortals and fated love stores.

THREE of five stars.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The idea and the story are certainly intriguing. And there is no question that this book is a "page-turner".

However, I found myself often frustrated with words, sentences, paragraphs, and indeed entire sections that were unnecessary and seemed, to me, to merely allow the author to melodramatically and poetically expound upon some irrelevant issue, whether allegedly related to the story or pertaining to some political or social issue of the time.

To be exact, the book could have lost about 150 pages and been much better for it. I decline to include spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are happenings in the book that I would have been ecstatic to have spent more time with... and other events that left me wondering what, exactly, was the point.

Nevertheless. If you are a reader who *enjoys* reading about someone else's life and do not necessarily need to be driven along by a solid, cohesive plot, then this *is* the book for you. You will find the emotions and thoughts of the characters immersing and often moving, and you will likely shed tears more than once. For those of you who are excited about the plot of an involuntary time-traveler who suddenly and unpredictably enters and leaves his love's life, this still may be the book for you, so long as you are prepared for some unnecessary chatter, cluttering your way to the end.

All in all. I certainly recommend the book to people who enjoy reading "drama" ("real life" type of books). And if you're looking for a good love story, this will no doubt tide you over until you pick up Wuthering Heights. (seriously. pick it up.) But if you're looking for a story that's told so well you forget that you're reading? Perhaps look a little further and come back to this when your expectations can be more easily attained.

THREE and a HALF of five stars.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Par for the Curse by Toyi Ward

First, what's good. Toyi Ward wrote an intriguing story spanning several generations that is accessible to many women (though I'd venture not as many men). In reading the book, I learned more about different cultures and religions (Voodoo and Hoodoo are two real and separate practices!) and gained an understanding about why some women behave in relationships the way that they do. It was a page-turning, quick read, with a "mystery" that ends in a satisfying manner.

What's not-so-great. I found myself frustrated with the women in this story, often thinking in exasperation that they each just needed to be stronger. That being said, weaker women exist in the world and should indeed be written about--their stories told, their lessons learned (or learned by others), their experiences commiserated with. In the end, although I felt frustrated by many of the actions of the women and the decisions that they continually made, I felt that the stories were well-told and worth being told.

As a side note, it took me a few pages to realize that the characters spoke in an "accent" that I do not think in. Before coming to this realization, attempting to "hear" the characters in my inner voice was annoying; however, once I realized the tone and adjusted my inner voice, the reading came much more easily and enjoyably.

THREE AND A HALF of Five stars.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

Review based on ARC:

This book does what many books in this genre do: it offers a quick, page-turning experience with supernatural characters, "romance," and a grand climax. I would never describe the story or its telling as unique or groundbreaking. However, it offers no more and no less than it promises to. Any Given Doomsday is the first in what appears to be a relatively formulaic series, setting up characters, relationships, and of course, the premise of an impending doomsday. Although I agree with many of the reviewers that the sex scenes and reasons behind them are arguably unnecessary and pornographic, I did not think that they completely detracted from the story around them.

Lori Handeland's style is easy and thoughtless--I never found myself tripping over a passage or a word as awkward or out of place. Instead, the story flowed quickly and easily from its pages. That being said, I have no great draw toward any subsequent Phoenix Chronicles books or Handeland books. Like many supernatural-formulaic books written these days, it was enjoyable while it lasted, but not particularly memorable or lasting. If you're looking for a supernatural fantasy with stock characters and a somewhat predictable story-line, but which will allow you to pass hours of your time without much effort, this is the book for you. If you're looking for something more complex and original, I suggest passing.

THREE of Five stars.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Dangerous Affair by Caro Peacock

Review is based on an ARC.

I love a good mystery; even more, I love a good story. Caro Peacock's A Dangerous Affair is both. As with all good mysteries, the story starts further than halfway along the series of events to get the reader hooked. While the method is sound, the hook in this case is a little weak. The characters mean nothing to the reader as of yet, and we have a hard time caring how they feel about each other and what they think about the events. Fortunately, the story moves along quickly and you need not spend much time fretting about the first few pages. I was quickly drawn into the murder of one of "London's most beautiful dancers" and the whodunit aspect of the story. As time rapidly diminishes, the characters are thrown into a whirlwind of activities, accusations, and discovery of information, speeding toward their hope for justice.

Tracking a victorian music teacher through her investigatory adventures in a mere 300 pages, the reader is confronted with an intriguing political figure, a trashy dancer and her meek, sweet, perfect competition, a country boy with a heart of gold and an ear for all the town's gossip, a childish man of stature, and a surprising variety of other actors, most of whom the reader feels some connection to. I found myself engaged and moved by almost all of the characters, though, surprisingly, not the main two. I felt that the actions and emotions of Ms. Lane and her best friend Daniel necessary to the story, but I was not at all moved by their plight on a deeper level. Rather, I found myself drawn to Mr. Disraeli (incidentally, based upon a real historical figure), Amos Legge, and even Kennedy as the real heart and soul of the story.

I flew through the pages even while surrounded by conversations, and I insisted on finishing the novel once I arrived at work, resigning myself to later hours worked so I could learn all that Peacock could tell me!

Highly recommend to anyone with a taste for mystery. I also note that, while the novel is set in victorian times, it is not weighed down with victorian details.

FOUR of five stars.

The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudson

Review is based on an ARC.

About halfway through the book, I had to stop reading to do laundry. Walking to the laundry room, I caught myself thinking, "How is it so good?" Then my boss called and I was interrupted from my chore for a while. Upon returning to the laundry, I realized that all I could think about was what was happening in the story and what would happen next.

I'd like to congratulate Michelle Knudson on writing an engaging, fast-paced fantasy that is neither overly simplistic nor overly weighed down with unnecessary fantasy lore (which few authors have successfully implemented). I recently found myself straying away from dragon novels because they are too often poorly done. Knudson, however, appears a master at crafting a fantastical creature that readers will want to relate to, without making the dragon too human itself.

The story follows a young "feisty" princess and a mage's apprentice as they attempt to save loved ones, kingdoms, and their world. We are accompanied by a mysterious mage (magician), sisters of all personalities, a completely understandable crush, and evil in numerous forms.

The only criticism I have is a failure to announce the characters' age. While I correctly guessed 14, I felt that putting the characters at the correct age (even approximate age) would have helped the characterization move just a little bit faster (it was finally confirmed on page 125).

All in all, a wonderful, quick read for readers craving a little more fantasy in their lives.

FOUR and a half of five stars

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

It may be Michael Harvey's debut novel, but it reads like a classic crime story. I hadn't intended to start a new book today; I intended even less to finish it. I picked up The Chicago Way as a quick distraction, imagining that I would read a few pages and then put it down for a few years until I had the time again. Instead, I found myself flying through the pages and finishing the book in a few hours.

Michael Kelly, a former Chicago cop and current private detective, is hired by his old partner to work on an almost decade-old rape case. Almost immediately after Kelly is hired, however, his partner is found dead and the real mystery begins. This was satisfying for all the reasons that I read mysteries. The characters were intriguing and engaging. The mystery was quick yet intricate enough to not be obvious. The city was dark and gritty. And there was a damsel in distress, with her dark, brooding detective and a history of his own. The perfect mystery for an afternoon of rain and tea.

Recommend to anyone who enjoys a mystery.
FOUR of five stars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Books 1-3 (Volume 1) of the Baroque Trilogy

Very intriguing and intensely cerebral, the novel is slightly weighed down by an overabundance of philosophical and scientific discourse. However, it is a truly satisfying read that I recommend to those interested in philosophy or those who are seeking to travel several decades in the baroque period (1660s through the early 1700s in this novel). You will certainly travel with the author as the details are not in short supply, and the descriptions quickly place you into the correct context.

Much of the books follow the real and imagined life of Isaac Newton and his fellow Natural Philosophers and Alchemists. Both Newton and his fellow Royal Society comrades are exquisitely intriguing, both for their minds as well as for the drama that follows them in their lives. Book two departs for a time to the life of Jack Shaftoe and Eliza. "Half-cock Jack" leads an entertaining life, with and without Eliza, leaving the reader wanting much more of his exciting adventures and witty conversations. Although we lose sight of Jack near the end of this volume, we do maintain contact with Eliza and the life that she has chosen to lead.

After the reader has resigned herself to the fact that these are separate stories of a single time period, the link between the seemingly thus far unrelated stories comes later in the volume. As the connection came later than I'd hoped, I was glad to remember that there were another 2000 or so pages in the trilogy.

FOUR and a half of five stars.

Why the Long Face? by Ron MacLean

Review is based on an ARC.

Why the Long Face is a series of short stories that view the normal through a haze. Reading reviews that cast this book as "eerie" and "surreal", I was quite excited to get started. As a longtime fan of eerie and surreal works, I was initially expecting something a little more overt. However, as I read on, I settled into MacLean's subtle approach to eerie and surreal.

The first story was, for me, a disappointment based on these descriptions because, although it arguably contains a ghost, it seemed to me a somewhat common foray into human loss.

The ensuing stories, however, were certainly more disturbing and were, after the first, a pleasant surprise. At times venturing into alternate realities, MacLean generally views ordinary life through unique lenses. A story here or there actually enters into the impossible, but mostly it is his perspective that we readers profit from.

I recommend to anyone, and highly recommend to fans of VanderMeer or Borges (with the reminder of MacLean's subtlty). I look forward to reading more MacLean.

FOUR of five stars.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Evermore by Alyson Noel

Review is based on an ARC.

To Twilight readers, this book will feel strikingly familiar at times. However, even with some of the less-than-original concepts, the story and its characters were intriguing and engaging. Better yet, once the story developed further, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was more to it than originally anticipated.

The story develops around a high school girl, more beautiful than she realizes, who has been displaced from her home and family. Enter the gorgeous, too-perfect-to-be-real, faster-than-natural, been-around-the-world guy. Of course he's inexplicably drawn to her and she to him, but she can't help but wonder what lays beneath all that meets the eye. Thus the classic girl-meets-immortal-guy, girl-falls-in-love story ensues. With entertaining characters and an enjoyable sense of humor, Noel kept me eager for more, both within the book and in anticipation of the next.

I recommend to all Twilight fans, as well as to readers who enjoy YA supernatural novels generally. Most age appropriate for middle and high school.

FOUR of five stars