Today's Grateful List/22 January 2015

  • All 4 of us home!
  • My bed
  • Happy moods
  • Good books
  • Essential oils

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Red Queen (With an awesome cover!)

What a great premise Red Queen has! And even more importantly, what a very good execution for the story. Sometimes great premises get lost but Red Queen delivers. Almost entirely, with only a few minor bumps.

The story: Set in a world where people are divided and called by two different kinds of blood, Mare sees her life going nowhere. Mare's blood is Red, so she's assigned a life of servitude (if she's lucky enough to get a job) or enforced conscription into the nation's war (as her three older brothers have found themselves). The "other half" is made up of Silver blood, giving them not only nobility and/or preferred jobs, but a super power as well. Mare knows her time is up and she's months away from being sent as a soldier since she doesn't have a skill that will earn her a job, which is bad enough; then her friend, Kilorn, loses his job and is just days away from being sent to fight. Desperate, Mare goes to an undercover operative named Farley for help; one thing leads to another but life becomes even worse. When an encounter with a wealthy stranger leads to a job within the Palace, Mare hopes her fortunes are changing...until a fall that should kill her leads to her display of astonishing electrical power. Caught as a Red with a power, the royal family moves quickly to cover it up by giving Mare a new identity as a royal, turning her life upside down and inside out. But underneath it all, she's still Red...and determined to help her fellow Reds. No matter what the cost.

There's so much more going on, including an *almost* love quadrangle between Mare, Kilorn, and the two royal princes. Mare has to both deny everything she's ever known or ever been, and embrace her new life as a member of the Silvers in such a way as to cast no doubt that she belongs among them. There's a secret organization that is working to bring down the Silvers who have basically held the Reds as slaves forever, and Mare makes many, many mistakes along the way. There's a theme that gets repeated throughout: Anyone can betray anyone, and it's true with deadly consequences.

Problems? A few, but not overwhelming. Mare is headstrong yet in over her head; she's an outcast and a leader who is learning to cope with a power that is not only unknown among the Reds but possibly even among the Silvers. I did get annoyed because it's fairly easy to figure out what's going to happen but Mare can't, or won't, see it. There is also more than a few coincidences, something that bugs me in any novel. I did think the parts where Mare is learning how to be Silver dragged at times, but most of the slow parts are setting up bigger action later on. And one more thing...possible spoiler so stop reading now...one character seriously reminded me of King Joffrey of Game of Thrones fame by the time the book was done. In fact, that's the only person I could picture as the last major action took place. Kinda over the top.

Red Queen is really good, with a likable main character and an excellent plot that is revealed to be multi-layered. Of course it ends on a cliffhanger, and it's a big one. I'm eager to find out where we're going and how the evil villains will be brought down. This book kept me so entertained that I stayed up much later than I should have a few nights just to see what happened next. It's really a solid 4.75 on the Amazon rating scale.

On a side note...I adore the cover! Whoever created it deserves major props. Very intriguing and just the right amount of gory beauty.


~taminator40

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Read Between the Lines (AND READ THIS BOOK)

I'm struggling a bit in writing this review. I want it to be glowing, because this book is amazing, but I want it to be realistic because it's not an easy read in any form. I want to reassure those who think an entire book cannot revolve around one rude gesture; not only does it, this book fleshes out what that gesture means and how its intent may vary. I also want to caution those who think this is just a light-hearted look at The Finger because the issues go so, so much deeper than that. But mostly I want to say...this book is brilliant. You need to read it.

The idea of Read Between the Lines is that we're all subject to the one finger salute, but for different reasons and with varying reactions. But Knowles has taken the gesture and woven an entire world around it, highlighting the lives of several high school students, none of whom are defined by giving or getting the finger. In fact, the gesture itself becomes almost an after-thought as we become immersed into the lives and facades of Nathan, Lacy, Dylan, Jack, Grace, Stephen, and Claire (to name a few but not all). What happens inside the head of the kid who gets bullied by everyone, including his father? What does it take to become popular? When do you stop living a lie and come out? How long can you go along with your friends even when you know it's wrong?

Over the course of a couple of days, we see what these high school students go through at the hands of those who supposedly love them and those who even sometimes hate them. Each chapter is from a different point of view, yet they all overlap in at least one way, and it's often unexpected. I got fully engrossed in every story and found myself changing opinions about characters as I saw events through different eyes. I loved them all and I hated a few. The best were the honest ones; some make huge changes and some barely register a blip, but all are affected by life, by people, by events, by a finger.

I just cannot say enough good things about this book. It's original even if the stories themselves may not be. It's just the way it all works together that is utterly riveting and brilliant. I'm also incredibly jealous that I didn't write it! If you read one book this spring, make it Read Between the Lines. If you don't take my recommendation, I just may have to flip you off myself. Read it!


~taminator40

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seeking Good Young Adult Fiction?

Can we just all take a deep breath and stop comparing every new young adult novel/series to The Hunger Games? Because if I read that endorsement for a novel again, I probably won't pick it up.

Not that Seeker is a bad novel by any means. There's a lot to like in this first book of a new series by Arwen Elys Dayton. Action-packed almost from the beginning, and set in a sort of alternate universe of our world, we learn about three young padawan...oops, I mean students...who are being trained for their destinies as Seekers. Seekers, as we learn in spurts, are supposed to be the ones who right the wrongs and help those most in need through whatever means necessary. What we gather, as the story gains momentum, is that means being trained to be killers and how to use a powerful artifact known as an athame to travel THERE, a sort of time/space loophole that takes a Seeker wherever he/she is trying to go. These three students, around age fourteen or so, immediately face differing futures as one, John, is dismissed as not worthy, and the two remaining, Quin and Shinbonu, take the Oath of a Seeker given by their fathers/uncles. But far from being the Good Thing Quin and Shinbonu believed it to be, they are forced to commit atrocities designed to gain their families power and keep others from recovering stolen athames. It's enough to drive good kids crazy...and does.

There's so much going on, and way too much to recap here, so I'll give you a basic rundown of the story: Quin, the lone girl of the trio, thinks she is in love with John while Shinbonu, her sort-of cousin, looks on wistfully; the scene shifts from London to Hong Kong and back again; there's lots of violence; the parents are, in general, very very bad and/or fairly useless; there's a totally cool airship called The Traveler that circles London and is John's home; three sort of "overseers" of Seekers called the Dreads also have a part in this story (particularly the Young Dread, also known as Maud, who has a point of view). The novel moves among the points of view of the three would-be Seekers and Maud, pushing the story forward as split second decisions are made and long-term choices have devastating consequences.

So, did I like it? Well, yes. I found the story mostly engaging and highly readable. I was especially sympathetic to Maud, a young girl bound by her calling but struggling against the Middle Dread's obvious hatred of her. Dayton does a good job of world building for the most part, and her characters are often conflicted and unnerved in their actions, but steadfast to their ideals (mostly). My biggest problem is, even after 400 pages, I still didn't feel close to Quin or Shinbonu or John, and I certainly never bought into any love triangle (which was really unnecessary, by the way). There's way too many words spent on the fact that Quin and Shinbonu are cousins (or not) and it bugged me that it was set up that way so that it became an issue, especially because it's obvious that Shinbonu is in love with her. John's behavior, while explained, made me the most irritated: Is he a bad guy with good tendencies or a good guy with bad reasoning? Quite honestly, by the end of the book, I was pretty much over him and his justifications.

So the final question remains...will I read the sequels? Probably. I liked the story well enough and Dayton can certainly write action very well. But comparisons to The Hunger Games, whether in storyline, ability to fascinate, or just because it's a young adult novel, need to stop. Good, yes, but totally different and there's definitely no Katniss Everdeen to be seen anywhere.


~taminator40

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Final Book In Series

The final book in Caroline Cooney's Janie Johnson series, Janie Face to Face, wraps up the storyline that began with The Face on the Milk Carton (a book that's now twenty years old!). Set five years in the future after Janie discovers that her parents aren't really her parents, and that she was kidnapped as a toddler, Janie's now going to college and attempting to leave behind all the turmoil that came with the media sensation. After Reeve's betrayal in The Voice on the Radio, Janie's trust issues no longer allow her to see him romantically, but her relationship with her birth family has improved to the point that Janie sees herself as a Spring. Still, she's torn between the Springs and the Johnsons, and still unsure of her place. Is it any wonder that she allows a good looking young man into her life, even though her friends are skeptical of him? There seems to be something off in his attentions, and as the story progresses, more clues to something devious start to come to light. It looks like Janie's life is about to get more complicated.

Meanwhile, we get glimpses into the mind/psyche of Janie's kidnapper, Hannah Javenson, who has been living in Colorado for years, subsisting on menial jobs and blaming her parents, society, and Janie for everything that went wrong with her life. Hannah, now in her late forties/early fifties, has never amounted to anything; she's stolen identities, money, and things in her sad existence. As she ages, she begins to find ways to spy on Janie and her now elderly parents and fixates on the idea that Janie somehow stole the life Hannah should have had (even though we experience the kidnapping from Hannah's point of view early on in this book). She decides the time has come to "fix" things, and in her delusional mind, she plots revenge.

I liked this final installment, finding it entirely believable in lots of ways, even down to the....

SPOILER ALERT....

...impromptu reunion of Janie and Reeve. I could see how Janie would need Reeve as a bit of stability in her life, and I felt that even the rather rushed wedding would come off. I liked the movement between various characters' points of view, even the annoying Kathleen (who ended up adding a good deal to the overall story, despite her neediness). I loved how Janie's siblings accepted her even though they were alternately happy and irritated by her behavior. I also loved that Janie still felt loyalty and love for the Johnsons who raised her, and that there was recognition that they were blameless in such a mess. There are also attempts by Cooney to pull the timeline of the original story forward so that this installment wouldn't find Janie in her mid-thirties (for example, the explanation of no cell phones earlier, the appearance of the phone booth Janie and Reeve used, and the way Janie just ignores social media and has for a long time). If there were a few issues, such as the convenience of having the FBI on speed dial, Reeve's undying devotion, and Hannah's ability to act upon her delusions, I could overlook it because Cooney's writing is very engaging and the pages just flew by. Janie comes across as normal as a girl could be in such an awful situation, and the glimpses of others' thoughts and actions filled out the story. This is a fitting conclusion to a series that could actually have happened. Not perfect, but still good.

~taminator40

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last One of 2014

The Jewel is the first in a new series by Amy Ewing, and it's a promising beginning. Set in a society where the royalty is a bunch of pampered elitists who cannot bear children of their own, Violet is a surrogate who is expected to give birth for the royal woman who purchases her at an Auction. Violet has no say in her fate; she was chosen after "passing" a blood test at age twelve, taken forcibly from her home and made to live in a holding facility for four years, and at age sixteen, she has been prepped for her role in life. Purchased by the cold Duchess of the Lake, Violet lives in dread of the time when she will be impregnated with the Duchess's baby and forced to carry her child. Even though she lives in luxury during her time with the Duchess, she is at the command and whim of her ladyship, knowing that once her mission is accomplished, she will be sterilized and sent to live in a holding community for the rest of her life, never to marry or see her family again. To say Violet is dissatisfied is an understatement.

Told through Violet's eyes, we see the humiliation she endures, and the desperation she feels at her fate. But more than this, there's a sense of loss--Violet is only sixteen, and her life will be over within the year when she successfully bears a child. Not only is the Duchess cruel, she's almost fanatic, and her reasons for choosing Violet are only for what Violet could bring to a potential child; the Duchess's first child, a nineteen-year-old son named Garnet, has been a tremendous letdown and she will not stand for that happening again. But there's so much more going on: Violet's best friend, also a surrogate, seems to be being grossly mistreated by her mistress, a murder takes place, and there's the presence of a male "companion" for the Duchess's niece, a young man named Ash whom Violet almost immediately falls for. But when a way out of her situation is offered, Violet has to decide if it's worth the risk and if she can give up her new romance.

Violet is immature in her actions at times, but very sincere in her beliefs. She is also loyal and assertive, to the point that she endures cruel punishments from a woman who seems a bit unbalanced in a society that devalues all life except their own. I never really bought into the "romance" between Violet and Ash because it seems pretty superficial and I sense there's something else going on with Ash (who seems to have no problem with Violet risking everything to be with him and expects her to understand his "work"). There's a physical aspect there that normally wouldn't bug me (and does add an additional twist to the story) but it just sort of reinforced my opinion that Violet is immature in her decisions. That same reinforcement exists in her relationship with Lucien, a lady-in-waiting who has chosen to help Violet out of her situation, but really strikes me as more of a bad guy in the long run (and I may end up being mistaken!). But if I keep in mind that yes, Violet has been sheltered and is now in an untenable place with a guy who is showing her attention for herself, I can understand the directions the author is taking and run with it. Less clear to me is the existence of the Augeries, a sort of forced selection ability the surrogates are trained to use which causes them pain and bleeding. We'll see where that plot point takes us.

I really enjoyed this story and the author's writing style pulled me in quickly. In fact, I fell victim to the "one more page" syndrome and ended up staying up much later than I'd planned just to see what was going to happen. When that occurs, I know I've got a winner on my hands. I am already anticipating the next entry in the series!


~taminator40

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Winter Crown

The Winter Crown picks up where The Summer Queen left off--Eleanor of Aquitaine has married Henry of Anjou, soon to be Henry II of England after receiving an annulment of her marriage with Louis of France. Far from being the glittering experience of co-rule Eleanor may have envisioned, she soon finds herself almost continuously pregnant as Henry takes care of his vast domains. Eleanor is never shy and retiring, however, and even with her numerous children, she gives Henry a run for his money in both personality and politics. What could have been a time of her life that would be easily glossed over comes alive in the capable storytelling hands of Elizabeth Chadwick; she brings Eleanor's determination, heartbreak, and haughtiness to life in ways that will have you cheering her on even when she could possibly be wrong.

I was absolutely swept away into Eleanor's world with The Winter Crown. The relationship between Eleanor and Henry is fraught with temper, both good and bad; you can feel the sparks fly whenever they are together, yet I never got the sense that Eleanor particularly liked Henry except for what he could bring her...and vice versa. Still, when his affair with Rosamund de Clifford is revealed, I could feel the humiliation and despair Eleanor tried to hide; even when she treated him horribly, I could still empathize with her. More moving, though, is the emotion Eleanor had to swallow at the early loss of her daughters to marriages for alliances; it's not something that is often discussed, being seen as a trial women and children had to endure during the era. Add in the violent times, including the death of Thomas Beckett, and the degeneration of the relationship between not only Eleanor and Henry, but between Henry and their sons, and you have a story that makes fact read like fiction in the best ways possible.

Whenever I read anything by Elizabeth Chadwick, I'm reminded that there are few historical fiction authors who can transport you into the times quite as thoroughly and as seamlessly as she does. Eleanor being one of my personal heroines, I'm particularly pleased with how she is displayed in The Winter Crown: she's a real person, capable of both subterfuge and assertiveness, but with a human side that translates across the centuries. With the end of The Winter Crown, I'm left hanging and waiting on The Autumn Throne. I feel confident that I will love the close of Eleanor's story as much as I have the first two thirds.

~taminator40

Scrooooooooooge

Who hasn't wondered what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge after the Christmas of his Reclamation? Though Dickens gives us the slightest glimpse by telling us he was as good as his word, I know I've wanted to know just what occurred. Did he never lose his temper again? Did his business thrive? With this novel, Scrooge: The Year After, author Judy La Salle fills in the blanks rather well while staying true to the era and the themes of the original.

I purposely chose to read this novel at Christmas because, well...it's originally a Christmas tale. This novel is set in November/December of 1844, the year after Marley's nocturnal visit and that of his three ghostly friends. To all accounts, Scrooge has been doing precisely what he said he would: giving to the poor, making friends, and keeping Christmas in his heart all the days. He has gone into business with his nephew, Fred, and is enjoying life. Until, that is, his business is broken into, and then a lady friend begins questioning the death of Scrooge's sister, Fan, twenty years prior. Scrooge becomes determined to find out what really happened when Fan passed, and delves into old letters and interviews with those who were there (which Scrooge, of course, was not, already having succumbed to the lure of the dollar). This marks the time when Scrooge becomes an amateur sleuth, equally afraid of knowing and not knowing the dark details of the loss of his sister.

La Salle does a remarkable job of staying true to the era and the language of the original A Christmas Carol. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but Scrooge as detective wasn't what I thought it would be. However, the story is so well written that I found myself caught up in the drama of Fan's death and wanting Scrooge to learn more quickly what occurred. I cheered him on with every revelation, wanting him to stay true to his new nature and find success in all areas of his life. There is a side bit of a long ago gamble that doesn't really add much to the overall story, but it does provide a bit of a red herring for Scrooge as he seeks the answers he needs.

This is a very enjoyable novel, and I'm pleased that La Salle helped answer a few questions I had as well as drawing me into the times so fully. I wonder if there's a possibility of more of Scrooge's tale? I know I'd love to see what happens between he and Mrs. Langstone! Full of depth and intrigue, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this What If story.

~taminator40

Sunday, November 16, 2014

First Thoughts On First Frost

I finished Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost last night and as I write this review, it occurs to me that I have several strong thoughts/opinions to share. But first, a bit of background: First Frost picks up the story of the Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney, back home in Bascom, NC, living settled, mostly happy lives in the shadow of their family legacy and the same, spirited apple tree living in the back yard. While all seems mostly well, there are undercurrents of dissatisfaction, and not just between the sisters: Bay, now 15, has revealed her feelings to Josh Matteson, who doesn't reciprocate, and nine year old Mariah, who has suddenly developed a friendship with a girl no one knows. There is also the presence of a mysterious stranger who doesn't seem to have the Waverley interests at heart.

So, on to my thoughts:

1) This book is filled with beautiful, luxurious statements that had me pausing to savor the words. A couple of my favorites: "...happiness isn't a point you leave behind. It's what ahead of you. Every single day." "...it was like she's brought the entire month of July with her." Gorgeous writing.
2) A story doesn't have to be about a big, sweeping tragedy or event to make it worthwhile. It can be about a series of small events that resonate with your life and cause you to think.
3) A touch of magical realism never hurts anything and generally helps.
4) We believe what we choose to believe.
5) Visiting with old friends, even old friends who need a good lecture, is always a welcome thing.
6) Sometimes, all it takes to get you out of a reading slump is one fantastically engaging book. This is it.

I loved this story, even if I did get frustrated at times, especially with Claire. I love all the characters, especially Evanelle and Fred; their interactions were genuine and touching. If I'm still not sure about the ending with Violet and Sydney (no spoilers here), I can still believe in it. Allen's writing is so vivid and alive, I would probably go along with an ending that involved unicorns and talking frogs (neither of which make an appearance, thankfully).

Every time Sarah Addison Allen releases a new book, I'm practically giddy until I finish it, and this is no exception. My biggest problem is that now I'll have to wait more than a year for her next entry. First Frost is as good as it gets, and I suppose I'll just have to bask in its glow until the next one.


~taminator40

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Thousand Pieces of You

Marguerite is mourning the sudden, violent death of her father, a famed physicist who, along with her mother and a couple of graduate students, has perfected a device that allows individuals to travel to alternate life dimensions. In a desperate attempt to track down Paul, the grad student accused of killing her father, Marguerite and the remaining student, Theo, grab the Firebird devices that allow them to go to other dimensions, and take off after him, determined to bring him to justice. Of course things do not go as planned, and it doesn't take long for Marguerite to begin to question Paul's guilt and her own convictions as she first slips into a futuristic world, then into a Russian world that hasn't advanced much past the turn of the last century, and finally into an oceanographer's dimension. In all of these worlds, she is Marguerite, but a slightly different version of herself; she occupies the bodies of the other Marguerites while trying to discover whether Paul has actually betrayed her father.

Confused? Well, yeah, it is confusing, but it's also not all that hard to follow, either. While my description doesn't really do the complexity justice, I found that as I read, I really did know what was going on and did understand what Marguerite was trying to accomplish (even when she wasn't precisely sure herself). There is some technical language that really doesn't make all that much sense as far as alternate dimensions go (though really, it's a novel, so it could be done however the author decides). What bothered me was the slipping into the alternate bodies and consciousnesses of the "other" Marguerites...where did they go while OUR Marguerite occupied their bodies? I never really got a satisfactory explanation, but again, if you don't think about it too much, it works.

Marguerite's a bit hard to get to know, and her immaturity (even with two graduate students seriously interested in her seventeen-year-old self) often made me want to scream. I understood her need to avenge her father, but she's often reactive rather than proactive once she arrives in another dimension. I'm not sure I buy the relationship she forms with one of the graduate students; there just didn't seem to be much chemistry between them. But Marguerite is brave and determined, and she uncovers layers of the mystery with every dimensional jump until the final big twisty reveal (which I actually figured out ahead of time...woot! for me).

Despite my misgivings about Marguerite, I did love the storyline and Ms. Gray is a very good writer who holds the reader's attention quite well throughout. The idea of alternate dimensions is fascinating, and while I might prefer the take of Anna Jarzab's Tandem (Many-Worlds) this is indeed a good entry that keeps you entangled in the story. I'm ready for Book Two.


~taminator40

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Invisible

Full Disclosure: I didn't realize this was the second book in the series when I decided to read and review it. So perhaps I might have missed a bit of relationship building (okay, I missed a lot) and some background information that it might have been handy to know (sure, I was confused a few times). But for all that, Invisible is a rollicking good story that kept me swept up and reading, figuring out what was going on and keeping me intrigued enough to want to know more.

Joy Malone is involved with a Scribe from The Twixt, the enchanted world humans know nothing about but co-exists alongside ours. Joy has the Sight, which is normally a condition that means blinding by the Twixt, but apparently she's done things in the past that have saved her and others and resulted in her relationship with Ink, the hunky, hot, not- human Scribe. She is also friends with his sister Inq, and on good terms with a giant frog-like Bailiwick known as Graus Claude. Joy has ignited the wrath of The Tide, and they have defied an Edict of Protection by sending a lethal Red Knight to kill her. While evading the Knight, Joy becomes involved with a) a side business with the Bailiwick which puts her at risk, b) the Cabana Boys and a Den of Iniquity, c) her brother's strange behavior, and d) a wizard. When Joy's best friend Monica gets hurt during one of Joy's encounters, Joy risks her life and her relationship with Ink.

I really enjoyed this story, even if I didn't understand all the references to the first book in the series. Still, the author does an excellent job of world and character building, even if Joy at times acts rashly and a bit immaturely. But she is always loyal and brave, and above all, determined. Biggest gripes? I don't need to know what each of the Bailiwick's hands is doing every time we see him, and Ink comes off as wooden way too often (even if he is just learning to experience human emotion). But I'm in! I'm on board for the next book in the series and feel certain the first book must be just as engaging as this one since we know that the second books in trilogies often suffer from slow plot and pacing. Fun story and well worth the read.

~taminator40