Hexed (The Iron Druid Chronicles #2) – Kevin Hearne

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Summary:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

Review:

In some ways, Hexed feels like it ought to be a continuation of Hounded, like it is finishing the set-up work that the first book started. Why? It now feels like the players of this world are fully in place: we know that the Morrighan and Brighid will likely spar over the course of the series. We now know which witches will be at his side, and which witches he’ll be sparring with sporadically over the course of the series, and so on.

Why? The first third of the book feels like filler.

We get some fun character interactions, and Hearne is setting up some characters that will become important later in the series, but it’s so insignificant to the plot that none of this story is mentioned in the synopsis at all. Worse still, you could take this all out and have the story basically work as is with very few, very marginal changes. Not helping matters is that this book barely clocks 200 pages without it, it basically NEEDS to be in here to justify calling it a novel. To me, that is the very definition of filler.

But once I got past that, I enjoyed the book. I like the world that Hearne is creating and Atticus is a very likable figure. The world is unique enough and the humor of the first book is still there and if you’re looking for a more action-centric series, this will certainly fit the bill.

I think at this point I expected to be more sold on the series than I am. Will I pick up Hammered at some point? Probably. Do I feel in any rush to do so? Not really.

That said, I completely get why this series is as popular as it is though, and I do think that if you liked the first book you should give this second one a chance.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

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Traitor Angels – Anne Blankman

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Summary:

Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

Review:

Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.

Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.

First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.

Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.

I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.

Verdict: Skip it

Available Now

 

Night Watch (Watch #1) – Sergei Lukyanenko

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Summary:

Others. They walk among us. Observing.

Set in contemporary Moscow, where shape shifters, vampires, and street-sorcerers linger in the shadows, Night Watch is the first book of the hyper-imaginative fantasy pentalogy from best-selling Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko.

This epic saga chronicles the eternal war of the “Others,” an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of the Dark – the Night Watch – oversee nocturnal activity, while the agents of the Light keep watch over the day. For a thousand years both sides have maintained a precarious balance of power, but an ancient prophecy has decreed that a supreme Other will one day emerge, threatening to tip the scales. Now, that day has arrived. When a mid-level Night Watch agent named Anton stumbles upon a cursed young woman – an uninitiated Other with magnificent potential – both sides prepare for a battle that could lay waste to the entire city, possible the world. With language that throbs like darkly humorous hard-rock lyrics about blood and power, freedom and responsibility, Night Watch is a chilling, cutting-edge thriller, a pulse-pounding ride of fusion fiction that will leave you breathless for the next installment.

Review:

This is one of those books where the things that make it interesting also make it frustrating.

It is a refreshing change to read a story about a man who is not the hero and can never be the hero. It is also depressing when you are constantly being reminded that he is nothing but a pawn, knows it, hates it, and yet mostly accepts it because he sees little alternative.

There’s just something inherently depressing about this world; so much so that it makes it hard to keep a vested interest in the characters.

The book is not aided by a translation that, while assuredly faithful to the original as it can be, reads as very stilted as if the translator doesn’t understand that the meter and rhythms of the original language are only a hindrance here. There was nothing gained by refusing to soften the harshness of the style, is all.

Finally, the fact that this is not one story, but three shorts means that this feels like a loose collection of shorts that feel disconnected and only makes it that much harder to really ever gain any empathy for anyone.

This is one of those books you almost read out of academic interest because it feels so far removed from American urban fantasy. I’m not sad that I read it, but I also know I have no interest of looking at any of the other books in the series.

Verdict: Borrow it. This is very much a Your Mileage May Vary kind of book that’s hard to recommend at full price.

Available: Now

 

Skip It: The Club Dumas – Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Summary:

Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas’s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris on the killer’s trail in this twisty intellectual romp through the book world.

Review:

So the other day I was browsing Amazon Prime and I noticed that The Ninth Gate was now available to stream. I remembered it being a bit slow and kind of confusing. Still, the movie came out in 2000 and I wanted to watch it with older eyes, to see if might not have a better appreciation of it with age. Deciding to do a search on the ending (which I remembered being the most confusing aspect of it) the advice I basically got was: don’t. Read the book instead because it actually makes sense. I figured this wasn’t a bad approach to take and here we are.

Good news: the book does make sense. It won’t necessarily help you with the movie which not only excises a major subplot of the book but changes the ending entirely, but it makes sense.

There’s also some good stuff in here about the history of books, and of book forgery, all of which comes in and plays nicely at the end.

The bad news: the book is, in many ways, just as unfulfilling as the movie. That entire subplot that Polanski dropped? The one for which the book was ultimately named? It wasn’t without cause. The book itself admits that the two strands are completely separate of one another; it’s only through Corso’s eyes that there is any kind of connection at all. It seems to be included because the author wanted to talk Dumas, pad the length of the book, or both. It not a little frustrating to see that story come to an end and realize just how anti-climatic it all was.

Adding to this disappointment is that the girl figure (both in book and film) is very much a living, breathing deus-ex-machina figure. Polanski certainly believes her to be either a servant of (if not the Devil himself) and the book makes her out to be some kind of guardian/sage too: protecting him and pointing the way so speak. It doesn’t add much to the narration when everything keeps happening (or not happening) because she happens to be at every right place at every right time. If something were to come of it it might be acceptable, but the book too just overall comes to an end and it doesn’t feel like there was a reason for the pair to have ever come together.

Really, the most interesting bits of the book were the discussion of Dumas, of occult books (most of which were created by the author for the story) and the discussions of book forgery. I almost wonder if a non-fiction piece might have been more satisfying.

As it stands, the book might be worth a pick up to read it for those reasons, but the rest is such a let down that it’s hard to recommend except for one scenario: you’re planning to watch the film. The film focuses on the quest to authenticate this one copy of the book. Between the conversations that Corso has, and the notes that Corso takes, you the reader are very easily able to wrap your head around that mystery of what is going on well before the ending which ratchets up the tension at the end because you know something isn’t right. Polanski, on the other hand, changes the nature of a key conversation and doesn’t have Corso make the connection and ultimately has has to tell the audience what was going. By then though, the climax is over and the tension is hurt leaving the audience wondering what was going on. Though the two pieces are quite different, knowledge of the the book immeasurably helps enjoyment of the film.

Verdict: Skip it. Its almost a borrow it because there were some parts I genuinely enjoyed, but I can’t in good consciousness endorse only portions of a book.

Available: Now

 

 

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1) – Carrie Vaughn

If there’s one way to get me to buy a book that I otherwise hadn’t gotten around to buying it’s this: have the author be signing at an event that I’m already at. This series has been on my radar for a while, and when I realized that Carrie was going to be at Wonder Con the day I was there, I finally bit the bullet and dove in, so let’s take a look.

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Summary:

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Review:

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is one of those books that’s fairly satisfying to read as you go along, but when I started to think about it, it just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Let’s break it down:

First off, the conceit that Kitty is a “raging success” feels incredibly paper thin. Here she is, on NPR, in Denver, with a show that airs at midnight in a world where vampires and werewolves aren’t out of the closet and she’s playing human. Why would this show attract anyone other than the local geeks? It’s inferred that all these people open to her because she’s easy to talk to, but being easy to talk to and suddenly talking about the problems you have as a vampire are two very different scenarios. And then even on top of that, it’s like within what a month or two she’s suddenly in syndication? Things just don’t work that fast! To be fair, this is where suspension of disbelief comes in, and it’s easy enough to do. I just hate it when books need hand waving to set up the world, and I feel like this is what that is.

Along those lines, this world and the people that live in it just feel underdeveloped. No one outside of the obvious bad guys has any real personality to speak of. I can’t tell you anything remarkable about the werewolf hunter other than he hunts vampires. Rick the vampire likes to slink in and out of the shadows. T.J. is a wolf that is supposedly her friend, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than chastise her for not falling in line with the demands of her Alpha. The vampire characters just feel generic vampire cutouts complete with the token “vampire still dressed in the wrong century” cliche. Kitty herself doesn’t even that rounded or developed. She’s mostly likable, but there’s literally nothing in this book that isn’t directly tied to the main plot so we have no time to flesh her out or have her grow.

Well, I take it back. There is some growth, but it’s not really her. It’s her Wolf. And yes, it’s referred to as Wolf in the book. Remember how Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Gray constantly referred to her Inner Goddess? It’s kind of like that. Not only does she call her Wolf, but sections in which she shifts are done by having her talk about herself in the third person. The unfortunate thing about this is that all the growth in the book seems to be done by her wolf. It’s the wolf that goes from submissive to angry and showing signs of eventually being Alpha. Even more unfortunately, not only does it feel like it robs Kitty of that growth, it makes it feel like it’s another entity entirely that Kitty has no agency over.

Case and point: the current Alpha of her pack is a real sleeze ball who sleeps with whatever females in the pack that he wants to, more or less because he can. Throughout the book the wolf basically rolls over and opens her legs and feels happy because…submissive? It’s like the book forgets that they aren’t wolves, they’re werewolves, which means there is a human aspect and there should be free will and agency. Not only does this rob Kitty of growth, but it just adds this creepy layer to her having sex with Carl that makes it feel dangerously close to rape.

All told, this book just didn’t work for me. The genre has been around long enough now that there are just better options out there whether you prefer something character driven, rich worlds, or more intriguing plots. Unlike some of the other series I’m giving a chance, right now I can safely say I won’t be picking up Kitty Goes to Washington.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

Bookcase.Club April 2016 Review

Hey all,

Since this review is actually meant to be timely, I thought I’d post it (and going forward other non-book review posts) on a Wednesday! I’m posting this today because I have some additional thoughts on the BookCase Club that I wanted to put out there about the service itself. For the record, the books I received were “Shattering the Ley” and “The Word Exchange.” I have some interest in the former, and DNFed the latter back when it was out as a DRC.

  • Shipping was much faster this month. It shipped on the first and arrived on the fifth. I’m going to assume that this would be closer to the norm and last months was delayed due to weather.
  • I think they either need to do an overhaul on the card or jettison it all together. As it stands, this is difficult to read, looks amateurish and provides the subscriber no real useful information. As I said last month, I’d love for this card to be used to have the “expert curator” provide a few words on why they chose this book instead of simply copy and pasting the abbreviated synopsis. Even if you don’t, at least go grab something like GIMP and some free fonts and modernize it. It feels like a project I’d do in High School…and I’m the class of 1999.20160405_164645-1.jpg

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  • The website is a bear to use. Although told that you don’t need to select a subscription option to change the category of your box, you can’t save your changes without picking a category. After last month’s box, I tried to update my theme to the paranormal romance box. My account shows that I did…but I still got the fantasy box. I suspect it has to do with the fact that I immediately cancelled my subscription after making the change so that I wouldn’t have to remember to cancel down the road. I’ve e-mailed the company to see if they can at least ensure that my final box is what I asked for.
  • The genre tally this month was essentially two more sci-fi novels (some do label it as urban fantasy, but 2-1 have it shelved as science fiction). That makes 4 science fiction books in two months. This is supposed to be science-fiction/fantasy. Where’s the fantasy?! The disparity is very disappointing to me, and if you’re more a fantasy than a sci-fi fan, keep it in mind if you’re considering this box.

As I stated, I did cancel my box because I don’t think this box is a right fit for me. It may still be worth checking out to you, but right now I’d say just go on Book Outlet and buy yourself two books a month instead. It’ll set you back about the same and you’ll have two books you know you want!

Buy It: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) – Alison Goodman

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Summary:

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Review:

The Dark Days Club immediately got off to a good start by me for one very simple reason: Lady Helen liked being in Society. This is the first time in ages that I’ve picked up a YA historical fantasy and not have a girl bemoan her good luck at being born into the upper classes of Regency England. Rarely this desire is genuinely plot driven, but generally it seems to be more symptomatic of a modern writer imposing our modern views on a decidedly not modern time. Aside from the fact that marriage realistically was it for women back then, the truth was a lot of women look forward to getting married because the apron strings loosened and pressures eased. Once you were married, you had freedoms that you never had before (freedoms that even spinsters didn’t really get) and so it wasn’t so much a thing to look down on as a think to look forward to (albeit with trepidation in the event that you don’t like your intended, but that’s another story). But yeah, long story short: a heroine who likes who she is and where she is so much that down the road she considers giving up her family’s legacy to go back to it is genuinely refreshing. So well done there.

But I wouldn’t recommend it just for that, however. I like the character of Helen. She’s bright and curious, but not overly done (again, women of this time period weren’t all that well educated), she’s likable, not overly headstrong and she weighs the pros and cons before she makes a decision.

In short: she’s a character that feels strong but still of the time period and I really like that.

I also really liked the pacing of this book. Information was doled out at a great pace. Not so fast as to feel rushed or like an information dump and not so slow that you’re all but flipping pages waiting for something to happen. The story itself is interesting, I like that the legacy she wields has some rather nasty consequences and there’s even a nice bit of budding romance that I find rather believable.

All told, if you like YA fantasy, give this a look. You should enjoy yourself.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now