Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Amazon Vine Review Book...

Pell Ridley does the unthinkable on her wedding day: she takes a horse, her dowry money, and her youngest brother Bean and runs away to the Salisbury Horse Fair, hoping to make her fortune on her own. Having grown up in a family of nine (plus Bean), with a drunk preacher for a father and a mother who was worn out from childbearing/rearing, Pell has decided that she'll have none of that. With her knack for horses, she feels certain a better life can be had far away from her family. But she's scarcely gone a few days when her promised wages disappear, along with her horse and Bean. The only option left open to this girl of the 1850s is to set out on foot to look for her younger brother, her only companions her dog Dicken and her courage to keep going.
Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell has a ton of potential to be a rousing good tale but unfortunately the story sort of meanders from one place to another, with characters appearing and reappearing in haphazard form. Pell herself is a good enough character, filled with plenty of brains and spunk, but the love interest of Dogman just doesn't resonate (especially when his big secret is revealed). Bean doesn't speak at all, which makes him a hard character to warm up to, and Pell's other brothers and sisters wander in and off the landscape, leaving me scratching my head as to why she eventually feels so compelled to search them out. Oh, and the gypsy family? Well, I understood well enough why they were there, but like most of the others in this short book, I just was never made to care that much about any of them.
It's not that The Bride's Farewell is a bad book, or even badly written. It's just that I kept thinking that all the loose threads would tie up in an unexpected, exciting way (perhaps in the way of Holes by Louis Sachar), and they just didn't. I saw what was coming early on. I really wanted Pell to have a major epiphany or some grand adventure but the storyline is much too subtle for that. I kept feeling as though when a storyline did come to a conclusion, it wasn't one that made me think "Ah ha!" or feel surprise. Matter of fact, I really didn't feel much of anything. The setting could have been anywhere (in fact, I felt it might have made more sense set in the USA), and the time period felt much more medieval than Victorian. Having read earlier works by Rosoff, I suppose I was expecting more...just more. Rounding up from 2.5 stars because I can't put my finger on just what went wrong, only what was missing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ann Rinaldi's The Letter Writer

The Letter Writer places the fictional character, young Harriet Whitehead, in the midst of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831. Harriet, a sort of family stepchild, sympathizes with the slaves her family holds, including the "girl" assigned to her, Violet. Harriet also despises her elder half-brother Richard, a minister with a firm hand, and her half-sister Margaret, with whom she has never gotten along. She does, however, get along with her "stepmother" (known as Mother Whitehead)and it is with Mother Whitehead that she spends a good deal of time, writing letters for the mostly blind older woman. In the course of daily life on the plantation, Harriet meets and comes to know Nat Turner, a slave who would lead the bloodiest rebellion against owners in history. Harriet doesn't see Turner as a threat at first; his preaching and polite ways make him seem approachable and reasonable. But it is this facade that eventually convinces Harriet to do something for Turner that she realizes way too late may have led to the massacre itself.

Rinaldi always does impeccable research for her novels, and her insertion of Harriet into this story is seamless and realistic. Rinaldi also says in her Author's Notes that she purposely didn't treat Turner one way or the other, leaving the reader to decide if he was a hero or a murderer. But it's this detail that makes the novel feel as though it's lacking depth. Harriet is a great voice to tell this horrific story, but I needed more: more interaction among the characters, more reasons for characters' actions, more inner voice. While I felt she did a credible job, nothing felt fleshed out and the ending was way too "fairy tale" (to use her own words).

Even though I did end up liking this novel quite a bit, I find myself missing the Rinaldi I used to read, the one who expanded the stories,adding to them in such a way that I felt the characters came alive from the pages. This one felt rushed, as have the last few of hers I've read. That said, Rinaldi is still head and shoulders above most young adult historical fiction writers. I'm rounding 3.5 stars up to 4 based on the research and my fondness for Rinaldi overall.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Morganville Vampires, Book 6

Book #6 in the Morganville Vampires series picks up a month or so after book #5: Bishop is in charge of Morganville, and he is cutting no one, vamp or human, any slack as he exercises his evil muscles. Claire's at his beck and call, Shane and his father are imprisoned, Michael belongs to Bishop, and Eve is alone at the Glass House. Things seem desperate as Claire's 17th birthday arrives, until at last, Myrnin reveals that he isn't really on Bishop's side and that Amelie and her vamps are re-forming. But the race is still on to find a cure for the disease affecting the vamps, rescue Shane and his father, and destroy Bishop before he destroys Morganville.
Before you begin Carpe Corpus, make sure you've got a dedicated block of time because the action and the pages will fly once you start. It's one dangerous situation after another as plans go awry and major twists are thrown. Not only must Claire find a way to help Amelie, she's got to contend with her overprotective parents (I just kept wondering why on earth they'd even been brought into Morganville--they seemed so pointless most of the time) and try to regain Eve's skeptical trust. Finding a stopping point wasn't an easy task, I can assure you.
The relationship between the four friends has never been stronger as Carpe Corpus unfolds, but the relationship between Shane and Claire goes even further, advancing to its next natural level, complete with lots of deep emotion. While I have to question whether or not having sex was a good idea, I can say it was realistically shown and featured what seems to be a real love. Certainly for this reader, I was captured by the genuineness of emotion, but would have to recommend that these novels might be best read by older teens.
So what can I say at the conclusion of Carpe Corpus? I've already pre-ordered Fade Out, Book 7, and will be anxiously awaiting reuniting with my friends in Morganville. Fun reading and great action--it doesn't get much better than this.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...

Lord of Misrule, Book 5 in the Morganville Vampires series, picks up with the town of Morganville literally burning around the heads of our quartet of friends: Claire, Shane, Michael, and Eve. Amelie, the vampire in charge of Morganville, must fight against her father, Bishop, in order to maintain control of the town, and she must rely on not just Claire and her friends but also the loyalty of the other vamps in town, including the ever unpredictable Myrnin. But as time passes, it becomes clear that Bishop's got his own hold on some of the vamps, and many of the humans are in revolt as well. Claire and her friends must make life or death decisions in order to protect not only themselves but the ones they love from certain destruction in the vampire battle.

Lord of Misrule is fast paced and action packed; filled with its own drama, it's also a bridge to the ultimate fate of the vampires in Morganville. Claire's called upon to help Amelie but finds herself in grave danger, facing down Bishop and his minions even while enduring a major storm. The chaos keeps coming and naturally the book ends on a cliffhanger, making it very good for me to have #6 close at hand. I love the depth of the relationship between Claire and Shane, and I love how Claire's learned to stand up for herself and those she loves. Her parents are fairly extraneous to the story but everyone else is present and accounted for; I can hardly wait to find out what side Myrnin is really on. Definitely fun and entertaining and I'm ready for more!

A Fun MJ Tribute

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is set in a nation rebuilt after disaster; for a long time the people of Panem struggled against hunger as they worked to regain their lives. The Twelve Districts of Panem eventually overcome their difficulties with the help of the government, but a price must be exacted in order for no one to forget how and why survival occurred: Once a year, every year, a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen from each District to participate in The Hunger Games, where only one will survive.
Katniss has spent much of her life protecting her family after the death of her father, becoming an expert with a bow and arrow in order to bring in food and money for her mother and younger sister Prim. In the last year she's eligible for the Games, the unthinkable occurs: Prim's name is called. Katniss immediately volunteers in place of her sister and is sent away to the Capitol, along with the boy who has been chosen, in order to prepare for the ultimate killing game. Katniss and Peeta are from District Twelve, a District that's known only one winner in the last several years, and it's under his tutelage that the two must train. When Haymin, the mentor, discovers Peeta's crush on the harsh Katniss, he decides that will be their angle: star-crossed lovers having to compete against twenty two other "tributes" and finally, against one another. The Games are brutal, controlled by Gamemakers intent on ramping up the violence and misery in order to force the tributes to kill or be killed. Will Katniss and Peeta be able to survive until the end...and if they do, will either be able to kill the other in order to be declared the winner?
The Hunger Games is told in first person present tense by Katniss as she experiences her selection for the Games, her complete makeover in order to win sympathy from the national audience watching her every move, and her fight to stay alive and protect those she loves. At first I felt things were moving too slowly as we went through all the steps leading up to the Games, but as Katniss appears in the arena, I realized that all of the build-up was necessary in order for the audience to understand the transformation Katniss must experience. The utter brutality she faces as she attempts to simply stay alive is compelling reading; Katniss must decide what she's willing to do in order to survive. The idea that all of this is somehow "entertainment" for a nation is both disturbing and yet plausible, and the cold, calculated moves on the parts of the tributes are bone chilling. I wanted her to win desperately, but somehow find a way to outsmart the cruelness of the Games and I found myself feverishly turning pages in order to find out what was going to happen next.
The Hunger Games is a glimpse into what we could become if we allow our baser instincts to take over, and it is peopled with children who are too easily lost in order to satisfy the sadistic whims of government and nation. Hopeful and bereft, you're going to be waiting on your doorstep for the next installment in this planned trilogy. I'll be right there with you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Morganville Vampires, Book Four: Feast of Fools

I'm devouring this series! These books seem to be the perfect summer fare for me: light, intriguing, quick, fun. On to my thoughts on finishing book four:

Claire, Claire, Claire...are you ever going to keep yourself out of trouble? Somehow I doubt it. In this fourth book of the Morganville Vampire series, we pick up almost immediately where Book 3 leaves off: Claire and her housemates are dealing with the arrival of her parents to Morganville when, out of the blue, Amelie's father (read: Big Daddy of All Vampires) arrives at the Glass House with two of his cronies, demanding food and Amelie. Turns out he's not there for a friendly visit, of course; he's there to wrangle control of Morganville from his daughter, and he doesn't give a flip who he hurts (or kills) in the process.

There is a lot of action in Feast of Fools, with Michael conflicted over his vampiric nature, Eve losing her estranged father, Shane forced to attend a vampire ball as the escort of the dangerous Ysandre, and Claire still working with the increasingly volatile Myrnin on a cure for the disease affecting the vamps. The relationship between Shane and Claire continues to grow (rather nicely, as a matter of fact), and Claire's self-confidence increases despite her misgivings for belonging to Amelie. The height of the action hits when Amelie is forced to give a ball for her father, and sides are chosen as to whom loyalty will be given. Claire's knowledge brings her into the center of things, and once again we're left on a major cliffhanger (and I'm left checking my mailbox every few hours, waiting on my Amazon shipment that contains book #5!).

Feast of Fools is a very interesting installment in the series; we see Claire maturing constantly as she tries to figure out the complex intricacies of the vampire society and her place in it. The addition of her parents has left me a bit puzzled because it honestly feels as though Claire is the parent and her parents are the clueless ones. I like how the series develops its characters as the stories move along, and I like how, despite the turmoil going on in Morganville, there are some rather "human" stories, such as Michael playing guitar in Common Grounds. I may as well confess it now: I'm hooked, and I'll be reading this series until it bleeds me dry. Great, great fun.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vamps, Vamps, Everywhere! (Okay, I'm out of ideas for titles, people)

Book Three of the Morganville Vampires series picks up just after Claire Danvers, the almost seventeen year old early admittance college student, signs a contract with the Founder, aka the Head Vampire, Amelie. Basically, what's she done is sign away her life, but she's done it for a good cause: she believes that her actions will save her three housemates from the vampires. Only now one of the housemates, Michael, IS a vampire, and Shane and Eve are violently against making any deals with the undead. So what has Claire done?

Welcome to Morganville, a town run by vampires and a place where you might find yourself as lunch if you aren't careful. Claire, unfortunately, hasn't been very careful, but her new contract with Amelie aims to fix that. And in fact, things start off well, in that Claire is bumped into more accelerated classes, which she finds pleasing; the downside is that she is given as an apprentice to Myrnin, a slightly odd, vaguely dangerous vampire. It's imperative that Claire learn as much as she can from Myrnin, but as the sessions go on, it becomes clearer that there is something more wrong than usual with the vamp. Will Claire survive her lessons with him? What is he trying to teach her? All her questions lead to a big conclusion that ultimately puts Claire and the entire vampire community in danger.

As per usual, I raced through Midnight Alley. I love that the story moves along so quickly and I love the interactions between the four roomies. If I get frustrated at times, it is with the continuing presence of the annoying Monica and the illogical turns Claire sometimes takes. There's some minor drug use going on in this one, and the user will undoubtedly surprise some people. But overall this series just continues to improve and capture me from the first pages. This book actually earns a very solid 4.5 stars. On to the next!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two About the Civil War

First up: An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi

It's not a surprise that I love Ann Rinaldi. I've loved her writing since I first read Wolf by the Ears and My Father's House many years ago. So even now I get excited when I pick up a book of hers that I haven't read. Below are my thoughts on this one, which turned out to be pretty good overall.

An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi is rather unique in that it begins with President Lincoln's assassination, focusing on his wife Mary's loss and the attempts of her friend Lizzy to get to her during the hours following. From there, the narrative splits into two very distinct tales, both of lonely young girls who grew up feeling as outsiders within their own families; finally the story rejoins the women as they meet later in life and form an odd yet strong bond. It's this particular stance to the storytelling that makes An Unlikely Friendship so personal and it's Ann Rinaldi's depth of research and gift of writing that makes it so compelling.

The first person narratives of first Mary Todd and then Lizzy Hobbs Keckley show how very differently the two young women grew up, yet both were eerily similar in their immediate family circumstances. Both struggled to find her place within the confines of the family she'd been born into, and both had difficulty learning to keep to themselves. Both share stories of how they found love with members of their families yet still felt distant. Both were headstrong young women who suffered losses yet somehow remained strong; when they meet later in Washington after Lincoln becomes President, they each discover that there is a kindred spirit in the other, despite the fact that one was raised in relative luxury while the other was a house slave. Rinaldi does a splendid job of bringing both ladies to light and showing them as real people, just as she always done in her fine historical fiction. Recommended for all ages.

Secondly, I read How I Found the Strong by Margaret McMullan in one afternoon. Excellently written! Below is the review for this gem.

Sometimes a book doesn't need to be very long to get its message across, and How I Found the Strong is a powerful reminder of this. I read it in one afternoon but I'm pretty sure its impact will stay with me a very long time.

Beginning at the start of the Civil War, we meet young Frank "Shanks" Russell as he wistfully watches his elder brother and father march off to fight for the Union. Left at home with his mother, his grandparents, and Buck, the slave not much older than he is, Shanks longs for his neighbor Irene as he begins to watch his world disintegrate into hunger and blood. First he loses his grandparents and then he has to struggle to help his pregnant mother; all of the things Shanks suffers through start to make him question whether or not slavery is worth everything it is costing him and the U.S. It is to Buck that he turns, and it is Buck who helps Shanks learn to stand up for what is right.

Powerful, yes, but also revealing; as Shanks grows up, he must come to terms with the idea that the world as he's known it is not what he'd hoped but he's got to find out what means the most to him. Excellently written and illuminating, this is one I can recommend without reservation.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Morganville Vampires, Book Two

The second book in the Morganville Vampires series picks up almost immediately where the first book left off (and that's a very good thing, as the first closed on a major cliffhanger!). The four roommates find themselves at the mercy of Shane's crazed vampire-hunting father and his gang, and the focus is on Michael, whom Shane's dad has rightly determined isn't alive. But the conclusion is actually wrong, in that Michael is a ghost, not a vampire, and before the other three roomies can intervene, Shane's dad does the unthinkable and offs Michael. From that grim beginning, The Dead Girls' Dance takes off with more drama and danger in the town of Morganville.
There are lots of dangerous situations in Book Two, and a major race against time to save Shane, wrongly accused of killing a vampire and sentenced to death. The reappearance of Amelie gives another dimension to the vampires in that while she's not exactly warm, she's at least a little accessible and helpful. The best addition is Sam, a solitary vampire with ties to Michael; his appearance gives hope that possibly the vampires and the humans of Morganville may eventually be able to live together with a little more trust.
I'm not really sure why this novel is titled The Dead Girls' Dance in that the actual dance is a very, very small portion of the book, and not all that central to the action. That aside, it would be nice to see a book where Claire doesn't spend so much time getting beaten up in some way, and with maybe a bit of personality redemption for Monica. I love how Eve and Claire take charge of the situation and do all they can for their roomie, even putting themselves in grave danger. These novels are very action packed and often a situation will seem to have no positive resolution, keeping me on the edge of my seat and racing through the pages. I like the love stories going on in the background as well, but would hate to see everyone tied up in relationships too quickly.
Book Two is a wild ride that kept me up past my bedtime to finish. I'm excited that I have the next two books in the series here to get to this summer. This is a good, intriguing vampire series that will keep you entertained fully.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Glass Houses Review

The first book in Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, Glass Houses, focuses on Claire Danvers, a sixteen year old genius who is early-admitted to college at Texas Prairie University. Claire's a misfit in more ways than one, and when she inadvertantly makes THE popular girl look foolish in front of her clique of friends, Claire becomes the vicious target of Monica Morrell. After several bruises and threats, Claire realizes she can no longer live in the dorm and seeks a room through an ad. And though the three roomies already living in The Glass House have reservations about taking on an underage roommate, they decide to give Claire a chance at safety for at least a month. Problems over, right? Oh, did I forget to mention the vampires that run the town?

The storyline in Glass Houses is very dark, and things don't get better as the novel moves along. Claire, for all her youth and innocence, figures things out pretty quickly, and her crush on Shane, one of her roommates, is sweet yet tentative. There is a lot of hiding, running, and some violence; like some other reviewers, I have to say that Monica and her gang were far more vicious than the vampires. Claire's relationships with the goth Eve and the ghost Michael solidify quickly, and even if her parents arrive to order her home, it's pretty easy to see that Claire's coming into her own. The story ends on a major, major cliffhanger; of course I'm quite glad I happen to already have book two ready and waiting.

Glass Houses isn't without its faults; Claire is very lucky very often, and her reluctance to deal with Amelie is naive. The supernatural aspect tied to Morganville itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but then again, this is a paranormal novel so that can be excused. Caine gives her characters a strong sense of realism, even though a few secondary characters come off as over-the-top. That said, I am hooked enough to go straight into the second book in order to find out just how several threads left hanging will be resolved. This one's sure to appeal to all young adults interested in the paranormal.



After looking at some of the reviews for Swoon by Nina Malkin, I was a little wary about launching into it. But I suppose that was a good thing since others' disappointments made me lower my expectations, leaving me very pleasantly surprised once I finished this very intriguing novel. Swoon is quite different from most young adult paranormals out there, thus making it new and enticing, filled with teens that might actually be more comfortable in Gossip Girl than sharing space with psychics and a golem.
Swoon begins with Dice (yes, the nicknames grate after a while) discovering that her best friend/cousin, Pen, is sharing her body with a spirit from 1769 following a mishap from the very tree where the spirit, Sinclair Youngblood Powers, was hanged. Realizing this is just the beginning of the predictament,however; after allowing Sin to tell her his tale, Dice decides she must exorcise him from Pen's body by following Sin's explicit instructions. Unfortunately, Sin uses the ritual to claim an actual body for himself, and sets forth to wreak havoc in the lives of the descendants of the people who hanged him.
Swoon is the name of the town where all this mayhem takes place; filled with lots of rich kids who dabble in sex and drugs, Swoon is an unlikely setting for a paranormal romp. The fact is, I liked Dice and her friends, and even the deceitful Sin. Even though the psychic aspect is a little random at times, I was just as caught up with wanting Sin to remain in Swoon due to his charm and yet knowing that he was a destructive force that needed to leave. There is quite a bit of sex and sexual tension going on, most of it a direct result of Sin's interventions, and there is a lot of casual drug use, too; something to think about before suggesting this book to younger teens. I absolutely never bought into the idea that Dice's parents would leave a seventeen year old on her own in a house in Connecticut all week, every week; that defied all logic (especially given what we learn about Dice's experiences in NYC later on), as well as several Children's Services laws. I also found the segment where Dice and Sin (Pen) time travel a bit unbelievable (Just show up in a tavern, get close, and boom! you're in 1769!). Likewise, I had to wonder at the addition of Dice's epilepsy into the story--honestly, what was the point? But setting that aside, Swoon is actually a good paranormal with interesting characters and a different storyline. Swoon actually garners 3.5 stars from me, but feeling generous, I'll round up to a solid 4.0. Recommended for older teens who enjoy all things paranormal.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Let the Reading Frenzy Continue With...

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I always know I'm in for a special treat whenever I begin a book written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Somehow she gets into the hearts of her characters and pulls their problems, hopes, and experiences to the surface bit by bit, dragging the reader along until you realize you've been inside the very skin of the characters. So it was with Wintergirls, her newest novel and quite possibly her finest to date.

Wintergirls is the story of anorexic Lia, whose former best friend Cassie is found dead in a hotel room. Despite the estrangement between the girls, Cassie, obviously drunk and in pain, repeatedly called Lia's phone in the hours before her death; Lia had ignored the calls and the guilt threatens to consume her. Both girls had suffered from eating disorders, and Cassie's ultimately led to her death; even knowing this, Lia finds herself falling back into the old patterns of not eating and over-exercising, hoping to find control over one aspect of her life. We can almost visibly see Lia's spiral into desperation in her feeble attempts to reach out to someone totally unsuitable and her denial that she is hurting herself or anyone she loves.

Wintergirls is a realistic story and one that many people might identify with, even if they haven't experienced an eating disorder. It's incredibly hard to be vulnerable, and Anderson captures the terror and angst Lia feels brilliantly. I particularly liked the relationship between Lia and her step-sister Emma because it showed that there was yet hope in Lia's life. I was a little dismayed that cutting was also highlighted but perhaps cutting is also a hallmark of anorexics (since I'm unfamiliar with anorexia's specifics). But this book is so absorbing and well-written on so many levels that there really is nothing to complain about. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Devil's Lexicon

After forcing myself through the first chapter of The Demon's Lexicon, I very nearly wall-banged it. Being thrown head first into the lives of two magician fighting brothers with action coming fast with no explantion, I wasn't so much confused as I was just...well, underwhelmed. When the brother/sister duo of Jamie and Mae arrived sporting odd piercings, pink hair and forced conversation, I almost figured someone else was going to have to review The Demon's Lexicon because I just couldn't figure how I'd ever get into Nick and Alan's weird behavior. But willing to be fair, I went ahead and read another chapter, and then another, and before I knew it, I was in over 100 pages. The pages were flying by. And I was intrigued.
The Demon's Lexicon is different than most young adult paranormals out there today in that it focuses on "magicians" (spell casters) and the demons being called into human lives to give the magicians their power. Nick and Alan have been raised to fight these dark forces by their father who became a victim to the menaces early in their lives. They are also on the run since their mum, who has retreated into madness, has something valuable that the magicians want back. Jamie and Mae show up, somehow deducing that the brothers fight the forces of evil, hoping that Alan and Nick will help Jamie remove the third tier demon mark he's received. In the process, Alan himself becomes a victim of a demon mark, and now it's a race against time for the only cure: killing a magician and using its blood to erase the marks before the demons can take over the boys' bodies.
The Demon's Lexicon is a dark, dark book; Nick in particular is very hard to like and understand with his stand-offishness and cold calculations. There are several small mysteries that must be solved along the way to finding the cure, and each of these peel back a layer as to why Nick, Alan, and their mother are the way they are. The writing is clunky at times, especially in the beginning of the book; I felt like I was reading a manic blow-by-blow that needed more depth. But as I continued on, I realized that Ms. Brennan had crafted a fairly intricate world that did explain itself as the story developed. In fact, I was very surprised at a big revelation; perhaps because I literally raced through the second half of the book I didn't see the signs of what was coming, but it was entirely believable in the context of what had happened. My advice would be to give this book at least three chapters to capture you because my rating went from a definite two stars early on to a solid 4 (and possibly even a 4.5) by the time I'd closed the last page.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gifts of War Review

Set during World War I (a period I admit I know little about), Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford tells the story of Hal Montgomery, a bright young British officer who participates in the great Christmas Truce between the Brits and the Germans in 1914. During the truce, he meets an amiable German officer who asks if Hal can somehow get word to the German's English fiancee that he is alive and still in love with her; he gives Hal a photo of himself to prove his loyalty. Hal agrees and is almost immediately seriously wounded, sending him back to England to recover. It is during this period of recovery that Hal seeks out Sam, the fiancee, at first with good intentions, but he soon finds himself falling in love with her. The majority of the novel then follows Hal as his great lie brings him what he wants, yet at what cost?
Told in first person, Gifts of War is like chatting with a friend; Hal shares his innermost griefs and desires fully with the reader. Hal's a sympathetic character, despite his great flaw, and I wanted things to work out well for him. As he rises through the ranks of Military Intelligence, there are adventures that show his deductive skills, but for all his superior intellect, Hal dwells in a fantasy land of hope and maybes. Sam's honesty that she does not love him holds no sway over his feelings for her and her child as he continues to provide them with a home and family life, hoping beyond hope that eventually she will find it within to love him as fiercely as she did Wilhelm, her German lover.
I enjoyed this book but somewhere about midway I began to wish Hal would just realize that he couldn't make Sam love him, no matter what he did for her and her family. Hal plods along guiltily, unable to let go of his dream, even though it is obvious that Sam, while feeling affection and even passion for him, just will never love him. The best parts of the book involved letters from Hal's vibrant younger sister Izzy, a nurse on the front lines who is candid and full of life.
I liked Gifts of War for lots of reasons, however. I liked the interactions between the characters, Hal's job at Military Intelligence, Sam's son Will, and the idea that a novel could come out of a real truce between armies of warring nations. If the ending felt a little false in what Hal does, I could see him reasoning through the details in his own way and coming to just such a conclusion. It is a tragic tale in some ways, and an affirmation that living a lie is detrimental on so many levels. As a lover of historical fiction, I find Gifts of War to be a fine addition to the genre and a welcome look at a relatively overlooked period.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Need by Carrie Jones

A teenaged girl moves to an area of the U.S. with bad weather to live with a relative she loves but doesn't know well. Almost immediately she meets a really good looking guy who seems to want to hang out with her, but she can't figure out what's not right about him. There also seems to be someone stalking her, and did anyone notice that very large dog/wolf that came out of the woods? Thus is the set-up for...Need by Carrie Jones, a new entry into the young adult paranormal genre.
Obviously, there are similarities to Twilight, but Need stands well on its own in the paranormal ranks. Zara's stepfather has died unexpectedly and her mother, worried that Zara's not herself, sends her off to live with her step-grandmother in Maine for a bit. Though the school year has started, Zara seems to fit into her new environment fairly well, and quickly has two guys vying for her attentions. She has, however, made an enemy quickly in Megan, a girl who seems jealous at the attention she's receiving, but that's balanced out by her new friends Issie and Devyn and of course, the attention of the hunky Nick. Yet Zara still feels odd; she's convinced someone is tracking her, calling her name, and when two boys disappear locally, the whole town is on edge because "it" seems to be happening again.
It's no big surprise to say that this novel entails pixies and weres (though pixies, despite how portrayed here, seem a little tame in my own mind). Jones sets up a very creepy scenario, complete with a major snowstorm that keeps Zara separated from her grandmother; the scene where Zara and Nick are trapped in her bedroom is very compelling and downright thrilling. The writing is tight and the pages turned quickly for me, though there were a few concluding plot holes that I had to not obsess over or I'd have scored this novel lower. The major climax needed a bit of work (though I love the idea of a were-bear, lol) because it didn't seem plausible, but I liked how Zara stood up for herself and forged ahead with a plan. The relationship between Zara and her grandmother is warm and funny, and I liked the list of phobias Zara repeats to herself, even if I couldn't pronounce half of them. Overall, I can say that this is a fun paranormal romance/adventure that fills the bill for interest and atmosphere. Definitely enjoyable!
As an aside, my thirteen year old daughter is now reading this book on my recommendation and is loving it. She's heavily into Twilight and she thinks this one is living up to it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Me and My Vampires

So, here I am, finishing yet another in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series; why on earth this particular series captures me, I'll never know. It's not particularly well written and at times it's fairly annoying, with its modern/current references and the repetitions. But yet...yet...who knows why the books we read appeal to us? It is filled with luscious vampires, and it qualifies as good summer trashy reading. I wish I had some highbrow reason for liking this series (even this one, which is probably the weakest one I've read so far), but the truth is I JUST LIKE THESE BOOKS. So there.
Below is my full review, also posted on Amazon.
Lover Unbound, the fifth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, tells us the story of Vishous (V) and his path to love in the arms of Dr. Jane Whitcomb. I'll begin my review by saying that any BDB book is a treat, and I always end up loving them, despite any flaws that may appear. Unfortunately, I felt like V's story never really got to me like I'd hoped it would. Vishous is known for his technical skills, his facial tattoos, his gloved hand, and his solitary, slightly deviant sexual preferences. His past is well hidden until he discovers the very unnerving fact that he is the son of the Scribe Virgin... and he's been selected to become the Primale, a sort of breeding bull for the Chosen. V's not happy about any of this, and his anger leads to putting himself in danger while fighting lessers. When he is nearly mortally wounded, V finds himself in a human hospital under the capable hands of Dr. Jane, with whom he forms an instant bond. Naturally the Brotherhood can't leave a vampire in a human hospital, but Vishous won't leave without Dr. Jane so she is brought to the mansion unwillingly. Thus is the set up for forbidden romance between a strong vampire and a human doctor.
It's not that I didn't like this book; I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. I just didn't understand the connection between V and Jane; while I liked her, I felt like the instaneous attraction was just odd, at least in the beginning. I thought V and Jane were well-suited, however, once the relationship began to develop. I didn't care for the history of Vishous, mostly because of the way it was written; something that took place 300 years ago felt positively medieval in tone and voice. The whole Primale issue was a bit on the icky side for me as well with all the automaton maidens waiting around to be used by the males. And of course the odd way Jane and V eventually are able to be together was a bit much, even if it is very creative. But I liked how events tied up with the Scribe Virgin, and I liked the build up for Book 6. In actuality I would give this one a 3.5 if I could. On to the next!

Friday, June 05, 2009