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Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Gift to Remember (A Book Set During Christmas)


Pro: A cozy read
Con: Too long, not really my cup of tea.

The Bottom Line: If you want a Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan-esque type of story, then this could be for you.

I quickly realized, as Christmas was coming up, that there was a slot in the Reading Challenge for a book that takes place during Christmas. So after digging around I decided since I'd never read a Christmas romance book, I'd do that. But then I couldn't decide which I wanted, so I ended picking up two. Surprise.

A Gift to Remember by Melissa Hill sounded cute and fun. Darcy Archer works a bookstore, is a bit of a dreamer, and has a pretty cozy little life - until she runs over some poor guy out walking his dog. When he wakes up, he has amnesia, and Darcy takes it upon herself to help him remember who he is - and the possibility is pretty impressive. Is Darcy right? And moreover - is he Mr. Right?

I liked the premise - let's face it, Darcy sounds like me. And her customers definitely sound like some of the idiot customers we get. And it also reminded me of While You Were Sleeping. After a large chunk of Darcy narration, you suddenly split off into first person with Aidan (the memory loss guy), so you get a chance to try and piece things together along with Darcy. It had it's cute moments (though most of those were dog-related) and the atmosphere was lovely...but ultimately this wasn't the book for me.

It went on for far too long. Darcy spends the vast majority of the book musing about everything. From wondering about Aidan's apartment acroutrements to watching all the storefronts fly by while she rides her bike. For a 405 page book about figuring out who a guy with amnesia is, there's not enough actual meat to make it interesting. Darcy goes and does things for Aidan. Darcy goes home and muses about things. Darcy goes and does other stuff. Darcy eventually sees Aiden for a few pages. Darcy leaves to go do more stuff. I was beginning to get impatient. Because she's busy off doing all sorts of other things for him, there's rarely any interaction between the two. And given how giant the leap was from the end chapter to the epilogue, I was disappointed.

I guess I should have known better as on the book it says, "a novel" which in my brain typically means the book is shelved in fiction rather than romance, so the romance is going to be at a minimum, but I've read other non-romance books with more romance in them. Still, I know that this is the sort of novel that plenty of people love, and though there were other elements involved that made me kind of twitch, but it was a matter of suspending disbelief and moving on. In terms of figuring out who Aiden really is, it's predictable, but only if you're already used to looking at the least common denominator, which after years of R.L. Stine, I am. So the surprise wasn't really a surprise to me at all. Still, points awarded for doing a very good red herring job that I'm sure many other people have and will fall for, and there's no shame in that at all.

For a cozy, read-by-the-fire book with a cup of cocoa an dnothing better to do, go for it. But if you want more kissing and more interaction between your leading lady and gentleman, you may want to look elsewhere.

NT

P.S. Er, can we also stop with the obsession with Jane Austin? Yes, that's Darcy's namesake, and yes, she wishes for that kind of romance too - just like so many other romance characters. There are other people to choose from, you know. Just saying.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 2 (A Graphic Novel x2)


Pro: A very good companion to the video game; well done!
Con: It bugs me when artist styles change mid-way through something.

The Bottom Line: If you need a new graphic novel series to get in on, or if you liked the video game and want to see the starting points, here you go.

Obviously this is the second volume to the Injustice series. Based upon the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game in which Superman is a totalitarian ruler and the goal is to knock him back to earth (so to speak), these graphic novels give you all the back story in great detail on how all that came to be. Made by the people who brought you Mortal Kombat, it was bound to be good.

At this point, Superman and his team are slowly but surely weeding out bad guys who are still (for some reason – stupidity I guess) are being themselves, such as warlords attacking their own people and generally being terrible as they are in the real world. Batman keeps trying to work on contingency plans in the hopes of stopping Superman in his descent into total domination. Personally, I was all for Superman’s design, although I know it will turn out poorly. Superman’s father said it best when he pointed out that Superman was trying not to lose anyone else, and by doing so, would essentially stow away the world into a box to keep it safe.

And we all know how much we humans like being tucked away into boxes without a say in things.

At one point Kaliback decides to make an appearance and attacks all over the world, thinking that because Superman is fighting so hard to bring peace everywhere that he’s not going to fight back properly. Not sure what flawed logic Kaliback is using, but it backfired in every way possible. In fact, it put Superman on a killing spree, which again I supported. Let’s be honest, I don’t know how you’re going to defeat Darkseid’s forces without straight up killing them. I guess I’ve just never been the one to be merciful to enemies who show absolutely zero mercy at any time ever. Guess that’s why I wouldn’t make a good hero. But constant killing probably didn’t do Superman’s psyche any favors. I was with him up until he started killing other heroes.

Now it’s not cool.

I’m interested to see how this story progresses (seeing as I haven’t played the game), although unfortunately my library doesn’t have the Year 2 volumes yet, so I guess I’ll have to wait. Or cheat and find all the cutscenes on YouTube, but even then I’d still probably end up reading the graphic novel. I wonder how many there will be in the end.

My only small peeve is when the artist gets switched up right in the middle and their style is completely different than the people before them. It’s kind of jarring and it took me a moment to realize I hadn’t actually skipped anything – the art style was just different. I realize that when working on graphic novels with a base as huge as DC, this sort of thing is going to happen, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So really I’ll just have to suck it up and move on. It wasn’t really that it annoyed me a great deal, it just took me aback for a bit.

Otherwise, it’s been fun to read, and a nice change for me since I typically don’t hop into graphic novels very often…or ever.

NT

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Tricky Twenty-Two (A Book With a Number in the Title)


Pro: Something to entertain for a few hours
Con: Same old, same old

The Bottom Line: I don’t know why the formula doesn’t change for these books, but it doesn’t, and that’s sad.

It’s been a handful of days and I’ve already pretty much forgotten the plot of the book. From a combination of it being the same as most of them these days to….well, that’s pretty much it, really. So I’ll go look it up real quick and plop it in here for you.

Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles) is the head honcho of the Zeta frat house. After making bail for the whole beating-up-the-dean-of-students thing, he’s on the run. Except as Stephanie snoops, there are a lot of weird things going on at the Zeta house, unexpected flocks of geese notwithstanding. Meanwhile, a slew of killings is going on that seem to have stranger connections than Stephanie first thought. And while Ranger keeps asking for her help, suddenly Joe Morelli is pushing her away. As always, things are never right in Stephanie world – until the end, of course.

Meh.

At this point I’m wondering if Janet Evanovich is stuck under contract for X amount of books or what. Even so, I don’t see why that wouldn’t give her room to change the characters up or make them grow. That’s really the biggest problem with this series. The formula is the same, same, same. Lula makes sassy jokes, Stephanie’s stun gun never $@&#! works (cripes woman, BUY A TASER!), her cars get demolished (except Big Blue, surprise, surprise), Stephanie’s skips make her look stupid, etc. The plot was different, but still leaves you making that, “Um…okay…?” face. I’m even getting bored with Ranger. You think he’d at least drag Stephanie’s ass to a shooting range, give her better gear (although she’d probably screw up and it would end up being used against her), and tell her to get her shit together before she’s killed. Heck, Stephanie doesn’t even blanch when she starts getting weird stuff in the mail. Yeah, okay, you’re used to weird stuff, but maybe you should tell somebody. Common sense.

So again, meh.

I think it’s interesting to note that I took a peek at other folk’s reviews to see what other readers had to say, and many pointed out things I hadn’t paid attention to at all. Several even question who the actual author of the book was given that there were several discrepancies that Ms. Evanovich should have known given that this is her universe, after all.

As for me? *shrug* I’ll probably keep reading them. Maybe because I’m a sadomasochist when it comes to this series. Or maybe it’s because at this point I’m so far entrenched I want to be there when it all finally ends…which hopefully it does. Because at this point I’m numb to pretty much everything from the “love triangle” to the whole car-blowing-up thing. I really only get frustrated with the never-ending stupidity. But given that the books come out with long intervals in between, I can handle it.

…That and I needed a book with a number in it.

Still. If you’re considering reading any of the Stephanie Plum series, I encourage you to go back to my Stephanie Plum September posts and figure out which number you’ll decide to stop reading. Because trust me, you really don’t want to continue on to where I am now.

NT

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Death Cure (A Trilogy)


Pro: A thrilling end to a thrilling series.
Con: Trust issues, a few questions, and one death

The Bottom Line: If you want dystopia but feel wary about this since it’s teen – read it anyway. These kids go through stuff that would break most adults.

Let me put this in perspective for you.

I didn’t ever intend to read this series. Nothing against James Dashner, but it just wasn’t high up on my already massive reading list. But then I saw The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials in theatres. And I wanted to know the end. Like, now. So I went to two different libraries on the opposite sides of town to get both books. This book wasn’t available, so I put a hold on it, figuring that by the time I finished the first two, I’d be able to pick this one up and read it. That is, until I looked at the queue and saw that I was 30th in line. NOPE.

So I bought the book. I don’t do that. I don’t buy the third book in a trilogy if I don’t have the first two. But that’s how badly I wanted to read this book. That’s how much I wanted to know just wtf is happening to these kids and how it’s all going to end. Now I do.

Thomas is finally free of WICKED, but there are prices to be paid. He doesn’t know who he can trust, how he’ll stay clear of WICKED, is still ignorant of his past (although maybe that’s for the best), and the world seems to be falling down around him – figuratively and in some cases, literally. He wants nothing more than to make WICKED pay for what they’ve done. But how can he? And at other times he still finds himself asking – should he?

I had trust issues throughout this book because I kept thinking, “How do I know this is for real? That these people aren’t a part of WICKED’s plan?” Eventually you have to be like Thomas and hope that for once something isn’t fake. That there are people that want to help, and that it is possible to have something go right for once.

Just like the previous two books, there’s a ton of stuff happening almost every day for poor Thomas and his crew, and things just never really get any better or easier. I sort of wished this more in the second book than this one, but it still applies – how no one completely went off on any of the WICKED people. Just simply yelling at them about what they’ve been through, how awful, sick, and twisted WICKED is. I don’t care what they were trying to accomplish – the way they were doing it…WICKED is not good. Adults would sneer and look down on Thomas and his group, and no one ever snapped back that they’d been through way more than any of those people, and all of it much more horrific.

It’s all interesting and exciting and comes together in the end, though I was kind of confused as to Teresa and her group’s escape (was it an escape? Fake? Did they decide to escape after getting their memories back? I don’t get it). I was also surprised at the lack of reaction to someone’s death near the end. Especially given Thomas’s attachment and despite previous events…I don’t know. It was just like, boom, it happened, bummer, moving on.

But no matter what, it was a really good ride. Will I have to reread it when the movie finally comes out in the future? Hell no. This story will stick to my mind like glue for a long time to come. And the only thing I ever saw coming? The truth of where the Flare came from.

NT

Future Movie Thoughts (in case you’re interested)

I do look forward to the movie. I’m very, very curious as to how they’re going to handle things, from the plot itself to character deaths. I’m sure other folks who have read these books can make guesses as to who might bite it in the end – and who we hope they might change in order to survive to the end.

But I will say one thing – I’m still glad they changed what the Flare does to a person. Because going mad in that fashion is frightening and terrible…but what the movie version does to people is far, far worse. I’ll live with Dashner’s Flare and lose my mind. But if the movie’s Flare takes root in my brain – and body – that’s when I eat a bullet.

Note:
I do know that there is a prequel that Dashner put out after this was complete - but I'm still dubbing this a trilogy and counting it for my reading challenge. So nyah nyah,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Scorch Trials (A Trilogy)


Pro: Keeps you reading, 100%
Con: Not really.

The Bottom Line: How more of these kids aren’t dead or suffering from severe PTSD or simply breaking down, I’ll never know.

Once I was done with the first book, it was time to dive into the second. I’d already seen both movies, so now I really wanted to know how The Scorch Trials compared to its film counterpart.

Holy cow, are they different. But let’s talk book first.

Thomas and the other Gladers are out of the Maze. They’ve been rescued – or so they thought. Turns out the Maze was only the first phase of the trials. Now they have another to face; the burning wasteland of the Scorch, an area of the world where sun flares have fried everything to a crisp, and where a nasty disease called the Flare eats away at people’s brains until they’re psychotic, ravaging maniacs. Good times. And if Thomas and the others survive – who knows? Maybe WICKED keeps its promises, maybe it doesn’t. Thomas doesn’t know what to trust anymore – or who to believe.

Wow this book was violent. I mean, stuff happens to these kids that only happens in horror stories. WICKED puts them through some awful, awful things in order to get what they want, ultimately justifying all that suffering with a promise of a cure for the Flare. Yeah right. I certainly don’t believe it, myself. I have my theories of what’s really going on, but even so, Dashner keeps you on your toes so you never truly have any idea of what’s happening, who to trust, what’s real, and what might happen next. In the end, all you have is Thomas to hang onto, and he’s as baffled and beaten as the rest of them.

There are so many twists and turns and weird crap happening that I truly cannot recall a time I’ve ever been so off balance by a book. I mean, yeah, I have theories, but in the end they’re weak and only vague guesses at certain pieces of the puzzle. When it comes to the big picture, I’m pretty well left in the dark. Heck, as I write this, I’m 1/3 of the way into the final book, The Death Cure, and I still don’t have any new ideas. I like it. I like that it’s totally new and not cookie-cutter stuff that makes it super predictable. I like that I’m so in the dark and Dashner does so many different things I can’t even cheat and skip ahead to discover anything because stuff can change in their world at the drop of a hat.

I do still think that the overall experiment is absurd since WICKED has no control, and by doing so they’ve put themselves in a position to be royally screwed by losing all their subjects, but I’m too well entrenched to let that bother me. So instead I just think, “You guys are fucked up,” and move on.

I paced myself with this book – and I use that term loosely. I finished this book over two days. Partly because I’d wiped myself in reading the first book the day before, and partly because I actually had to go to work.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

Now if this set of book to movie changes make readers mad, I wouldn’t be too surprised. The movie is pretty much nothing like the book, and I think they may have pulled a bit from the third book into the second movie (and I only know that because of my cheatsy sneak peeks in the third book to where I saw mention of the Right Arm). But there are tons of things they left out – but again, in many ways I can understand.

The truth is that if all of Dashner’s horror were left in the movie, that sucker would be rated R, hands down. There are hanging dead people. Kids that lose heads in what’s probably the shittiest way to have it done (no, really, they literally have their heads removed from their bodies). There are more monsters, both human and non, Thomas gets the shit kicked out of him on what seems like every page, and so on. And all the kids reading these books wouldn’t get to see the movie, and the parents that saw it would flip out with, “Oh my God – what are you reading?

That aside, there were a lot of other changes. They stuck with a lot of original shifts simply because they don’t translate well to the screen. The Scorch isn’t a purposeful trial in the movie the way it is in the book. I think they pushed along the plot more in the movie so you know earlier what WICKED is hoping to achieve, which is also fine, otherwise moviegoers might leave frustrated and confused, and then have to piece it all together a year later. I hesitate to say that it’s dumbed down; more like a lot of the tests that WICKED runs in the books are etched out entirely and we move forward to Thomas and Co. seeking escape, safety, and answers.

Oh – and I like what they did with the Flare in the movie. If you’ve played The Last of Us, think final stage of infected folks. If not, go look up cordyceps fungus. I’ll wait. Yeah, that’s kind of what they went with in the movie, and I’m totally cool with it. It’s creepier by far, and while I’ve got nothing against Dashner’s Flare, I’m bored with crazy/rage-induced viruses.

Ultimately, I’m okay with the movie and the book. The movie is almost like its own story, which is fun, and which makes me wonder how the final movie will go. Until then, I’ll discover the rest of the story in the final book.

Looking forward to how it all plays out.

NT

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Maze Runner (A Trilogy)


Pro: Good stuff
Con: Some slight far-fetchedness

The Bottom Line: If you want serious post-apocalyptic stuff or if you liked the movie but haven’t read the book yet, read the book.

I don’t often jump on bandwagons. Occasionally I’ll read a book to see what the hubbub is about, but not too often. My personal reading list is already too long. But after I saw The Maze Runner’s movie trailer, I decided.

That looks kick-ass. I want to see the movie first. Then I’ll read the book.

Mind you, that doesn’t happen often. …At all. But that’s what went down, and here we are.

Thomas doesn’t remember anything. Just his name. So it’s pretty disturbing when he is pulled out of a metal box and into the Glade – a place where dozens of boys currently live raising animals, tending fruit trees…and every day heading out into the Maze. The Maze always changes, and at night gruesome creatures lurk its twists and turns. The goal? Find a way out. But with the arrival of Thomas, things change, and the very next day a girl arrives in the box with a note: “She’s the last one ever.” That’s when things go from bad to much, much worse.

There is a LOT of stuff going on in here. You’re right along with Thomas for the ride as you try to figure out what’s going on, why these boys are here, and how they’re going to get out. The movie only puts you slightly ahead of the game, as it’s not entirely the same as the book (surprise). You wonder about who put them in there and the purpose of such a terrible place. And what’s more – what happens when they actually do get out. Thomas is constantly thinking, constantly questioning, and you’re doing the same thing with him.

All the characters are nicely fleshed out, and you quickly come to like guys like Newt, Minho, and Chuck. Dashner is skilled with his descriptions, as crazy as some of the things he describes are, you’re still able to picture them in your brain, though you’ll still find yourself wondering just how the Maze got built, what’s up with the Cliff and it’s long fall down, and how all these kids were supposed to figure this stuff out.

I mention a bit of far-fetched stuff, though maybe it's not really that. More like small things that popped into my head such as, “This experiment is terrible – not in a horrific way, but just as typical experiments go, the design is awful,” or “So Grievers have spikes that come out of their body – and yet people have zero problem with jumping on these things?” Or how they figure out how they’re supposed to get out of the Maze – that’s so convoluted and disjointed, no one would ever actually make those connections without prior knowledge (which is the purpose for a certain batch of chapters, I suppose, but if that never happened, the test would fail, and I guess everyone would die, but then you’re out of a solid batch of people, but what do I know?).

But those are easily set aside and you can let yourself be swept along in the insanity. I wanted to know how it compared to the movie and to see if I could glean any extra information from the book that I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting. Got it at the library around 1pm, finally finished the book around 6:30 or so. Even when you want to put it down, it’s pretty hard to do.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

So I might as well do a bit of comparison-ing. I liked both the book and the movie. The movie worked out well in the way that Warm Bodies worked out. There are a lot of things in the book that simply wouldn’t translate well over to the big screen and were perfectly fine to cut out. This may bother loyal followers of the movie, and I can understand, but the movie stands very strongly on its own two legs, and in fact, some thing that they changed I like better. Mostly because they make more sense (particularly the escape).

There are several characters that are cut out as well, but again, that’s something I’m okay with because you can do what needs to be done with the number of people that the movie uses, especially when other characters, while familiar and perhaps even close to you (so to speak), don’t really have much to offer other than dialogue and another body to fight or die. Other changes are small and okay – at least to me – such as certain deaths near the end, the map room, or the fact that Alby wasn’t a total jerk in the movie.

So go read the book or watch the movie. Either way, you’re going to have an interesting time.

After that, gear up for the Scorch.

NT

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot (A Book Set in a Different Country)

 
Pro: It's an enjoyable Highland romance - what else do you want?
Con: Nah.
 
The Bottom Line: Fun romance to read in the tub with some chocolate. Or whenever.

It started out as a joke. One of my co-workers requested I make an entire recommendation shelf devoted to romance books with giggle-worthy titles. The prank was that another co-worker's name would be on the recommendations - which he would never make. As I scanned various titles (including Wallbanger, and Sex Becomes Her), this one did indeed make me giggle, so I added it to the shelf. (Please note, I do enjoy romance and know that it's a huge industry. Our prank wasn't to make fun of that - but just to get a reaction from someone.)

To be fair, the reaction we got was pretty great.

But as I read up on the summaries of these books to at least make some sense in the recommendation (fake though they were), this one did happen to catch my interest. And I already knew Tessa Dare was an accomplished romance author. So I ended up picking up a copy from the library.

Maddie doesn't want to be out in English society. She'd rather stay away from balls and dancing and social gatherings. Instead, she aspires to be an accomplished artist and enjoys the quiet solitude of her own company. But when the pressure is on, she thinks up a quick lie that spirals out of control. She creates Captain Logan MacKenzie, a sweetheart she met while away (as her family hoped she might). For years their "correspondence" goes on as he is away in the military. Until finally she realizes she can't keep up the charade and conjures up his death. Which is fine, since he's not even real.

Until he is. And he's on her doorstep. And he's mad about everything - and ready to collect on the marriage and everything that comes with it.

I wanted to know just how the hell this guy showed up. How did someone she create become real? So I read. And it made sense. I mean, why not?

Each character's motivations work well. Logan wants a place for his men, Maddie can finally stop feeling like a fraud. Except she's not too keen on consummating the marriage and making it official. Marrying a stranger isn't exactly appealing, especially when his desires don't include her in the least. So her goal is to try and find the letters and destroy them. Then he'll have no proof over her and she can get out of this little debacle.

I had a good time reading this and I found it different in that there wasn't ever a bad guy. No clear-cut antagonist beyond Logan and Maddie's reservations around one another. Which is interesting. I kept waiting for someone to pop up and cause trouble, but it never happened. I guess it's because I'm used to those sorts of things in romance. There wasn't ever really a huge misunderstanding between the two, either - another barrier that tends to crop up in romances. I mean, there was one small one, but it wasn't anything major and was resolved pretty quickly. So it felt different, but that was all right.

It's a fun little romp if you need a good bit of romance to keep you entertained. It's your classic timid English girl and sexy Highland scot pairing, but that's always enjoyable to read - especially when the setting is out and about in the wild open world of Scotland, complete with beautiful vistas, lochs, and the occasional bog for our hero to pluck the heroine from. Enjoy.

NT

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dinosaur Lords (A Book Based Entirely on It’s Cover)


Pro: Interesting concept
Con: …Are we there yet?

The Bottom Line: “Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones,” reads George R.R. Martin’s tagline. Oh if only, Mr. Martin. If only.

I first saw the cover for this book a long while back on Twitter and made a mental note. Dinosaurs and fantasy coming together? Hell yeah I’m in. So when I finally, finally saw it in the store, I picked it up. I had high hopes. I mean the tagline alone was a huge lure. After all – Victor Milán has created a story with people fighting on dinosaurs with swords and armor. How could I not like this?
Unfortunately there’s a lot in here that just didn’t work well for me. And I hate to emphasize this but…a lot. And it really bums me out because I really hoped to have a great time reading this. Instead, I almost quit 30 pages in and decided if I wasn’t interested enough by page 100, I was going to stop altogether. The book held on – albeit barely – and I made it to the end. But I was left disappointed and don’t intend to continue with the series when the next book comes out. Because yes, it does indeed end in clearly-there-will-be-more-books fashion.

When it comes to the plot, one could describe it as Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones – however, both of those things are infinitely better. One half of the book is political intrigue that isn’t very interesting and that features characters that are equally uninteresting. There's Jaume, the best soldier in the land who follows orders even if they’re terrible and he knows it. Melodia, a princess who sounds like she could kick ass but seems more like she’s all bluster and never really does anything. Her father the emperor who is the biggest idiot in power I've ever seen, and Falk, the bad guy whose bad guy-ness isn't even hidden (which sort of ruins the whole "intrigue" bit) and despite being skilled and powerful is a total lapdog to his mom and a servant despite complaining about it all the time. Their story is slow and features zero mystery or surprises.

The other half of the book features Rob, a dinosaur master that lords hire and then shit on, something I didn’t understand (why would you be an asshole to the guy in charge of handling all your dinosaurs? Shouldn’t that be a position of honor? And actually, now I'm starting to question the title...) and Voyvod Karyl, the brooding super-badass who’s the most interesting character of the group because he isn’t an idiot and the gods clearly have designs for him. Their job? Teach a bunch of people to learn how to fight in order to defend themselves. Rob and Karyl’s ventures take multiple wholly uneventful chapters that could have easily been skipped for the sake of time and jumped forward to more interesting events.

Despite all the dinosaurs thrown at you, both in getting you to read the book and actually in the book, their inclusion is a bit of a letdown. Warriors don’t ride meat eaters as we all would expect, and the reasoning for this (which I’m sort of assuming) isn’t all that great. Instead, they’re on hadrosaurs. Go look that up. I’ll wait. True, they’re bigger and more dangerous at running people over than horses, but it’s still not all that impressive. You could take just about every dinosaur out of this book and replace it with an animal we’re all familiar with and it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.

An issue that cropped up early on that gave me a few red flags is simply the sheer number of names and point of views thrown at you in quick fashion. I feel like there should be some kind of fantasy rule of thumb that says don’t put more than 10 character on the page within the first few chapters. If I remember right, even if I skip over the Prologue, Milán dumps at least 6 or 7 different POVs by page 40. He’s certainly fine with throwing dozens of names at you in Tolkien fashion. People have multiple names/titles, and so do some of the dinosaurs. The first chapter flings you into the middle of a battle that is confusing as hell for a multitude of reasons, this being only one of them.

Now, at the beginning of the book, Milán makes it clear; this is not Earth, nor any version of it. And yet throughout the entire book we get people speaking in what is very clearly Spanish, likewise we get words that are very clearly echoes of today’s peoples – i.e. Frances (hm, French perhaps?), Anglysh (gee, English, maybe?). This totally defeats the purpose of us not thinking in terms of Earth. And I get that maybe Milán is using Spanish as his fantasy language, but that doesn’t work for me. You can’t just chuck a real language into a fantasy world. It’s distracting and totally takes you out of said fantasy world. “But Nicole, the entire book is in English!” Yeah, you’re right. It is. But when it comes to that sort of thing, I always think in my mind that the book has been translated into English so I can read it. What about Spanish readers, then? They’re not getting anything fun or special when characters just break into the language that's already on the page. Readers are supposed to decipher fantasy words through context or be told what they are later or have them purposely left to mystery. I know enough Spanish that I could read just about everything. And if he's not using Spanish as his fantasy language then...what the heck is the point? I simply don’t understand the logic behind it.

There are other, smaller points I could get into, but I won’t bother. Just know that overall, it was really disappointing. It holds so much promise and numerous possibilities, but it just fell flat. I wish Milán success, and I’m sure there will be some fans that enjoyed this and will read his second book. I just won’t be one of them.

NT

P.S. Truth strikes once again - don't judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empress Game (A Book by a Female Author)

Pro: All the good things you want in a space opera.
Con: It’s the first in a trilogy and it just came out. FRUTT!

The Bottom Line: If you like space opera or Dune, this is something you’ve been waiting for and I suggest you pick up yesterday.

Rhonda Mason was a part of the Seton Hill Creative Writing Program. So was I. Rhonda’s gone and gotten herself published and on the shelves. And every now and again when that happens, I like to pick up one of my fellow graduate’s work and take a look-see.

Ms. Mason does not disappoint.

The Empress Game deposits us into a galaxy controlled by councils made up of people from numerous planets. But there is a seat open on one of the main councils – a very powerful seat. That of the Empress Apparent. The only way to win that seat is through ritualized combat, and certain individuals have decided to bring in someone who knows how to fight and who can win. Kayla Reinumon is that ringer, but what everyone else doesn’t know is that she’s exiled Wyrd royalty. It’s cheating, and they all know it. If they fail, they die. If they win, everyone might just get what they’ve always wanted.

That’s the book in a nutshell. A terrible nutshell. Trust that I really don’t do this book justice. That’s because the setting is huge on a scope of Dune or Star Wars. Thousands of planets and peoples with all manner of technology and politics and plans. But the scope doesn’t get exhausting. You’re zeroed in on specific characters at all times, and focused on what they’re doing because it’s so danged important. You get a taste for the galaxy, but don’t drown in it.

When it comes to the story, characters, and, well, everything, this book made me mad. Why? Because I couldn’t freaking read fast enough! I’m becoming an impatient reader, and when something is good, I admit, I start cheating. I sneak peeks ahead to see if someone is going to kiss someone else, if someone dies, or what someone’s super-important backstory is. I totally cheated with this book. Several times. I just wanted to know! But the only way to get it all is to actually read it like a normal person. It’s just one of those books that make you lament that you have to go to work in the next ten minutes or that dinner is waiting for you on the table. “Just spoon it into my mouth for me, will you? I need to finish this chapter.”

All the characters are likeable. Kayla was a very strong woman with her weaker moments, just like any person would. Malkor was, in a way, sort of the stereotypical badass with a soft n’good side, but I really don’t care. I love those guys no matter where they show up or how stereotypical they might be these days. When a man sticks around with you even though there’s a possibility of nanites eating your face, that’s a winner.

There’s plenty of excitement with the occasional downtime, which gives the pacing a good feel. The fight scenes are well-executed, and you get a little bit of everything. Swords. Knives. Hand-to-hand combat. While a few plot moves are predicable, on the whole you won’t really know what’s coming. And the bad guy is excellent in the way that he’s not even a bad guy you love to hate. You just straight up hate that guy because he’s one sick sonofabitch.

My only peeves are that now I have to wait for more books. Going in I really didn’t know if there would be more or not, and given that I hate waiting, was really hoping that it would be a standalone, but alas – total cliffhanger. And the other peeve?

Let’s talk about “frutt” for a second. “Frutt” is a made up word clearly meant to replace “fuck.” Now, I don’t care if cursing is replaced, but I swear every time I saw this word my brain immediately read it as “fruit.” No joke, while writing this, I even spelled fruit first. It does kind of bug me, though, when fuck is replaced with another f-word (let’s not talk about “frack”), or when swearing elsewhere is a-okay, but for some reason in the galaxy “bullshit” made it in, but the highly versatile and fantastic to say “fuck” did not. If you’re gonna go, then go all in. Don’t pansy out on one swear word for whatever reason. Frutt that.

But if you want to watch a woman kick tons of ass, need a new galaxy to explore, and maybe even sneak in just a touch of skin (go Kayla, whoo hoo!), this should end up on your next To Read list.

NT

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alive (A Book Published This Year)


Pro: All the things.
Con: …Only if, in subsequent books, we don’t get to learn the full backstory.

The Bottom Line: If you like a nasty little packaging of horror and science fiction, then this book is for you.

I debated at first where to put this book. I considered putting it as the Book Set in the Future slot, but when I finished and given what I’d learned, I didn’t think that worked quite right. Luckily I spotted the one listed above and decided that would be better.

Describing this book is going to be tough, as Scott Sigler himself makes a request in the very back of the book urging us reviewers not to reveal too much. And I might take that to the extreme since there’s so much going on, I really don’t want to reveal a lot of things, which makes it tougher to talk about, but I’ll do my best.

A girl finds herself in a coffin. She’s twelve, and it’s her birthday. Not the best way to start the day. After panicking and realizing no one is going to come for her, she manages to break out where she finds other coffins – and her name. M. Savage. She soon discovers other things. She’s not twelve. Today is not her birthday. And she’s not the only one trapped alive in a coffin that somehow is and isn’t a coffin. After releasing other boys and girls, they all realize the same thing as Em – nothing what they thought is true, and they can’t remember any of their past. That means it’s time to find out, and that is way easier said than done.

This is the bare bones of the story, the very start of a rabbit hole that goes in a horrific circle and gets nastier each and every time. I’ve read Scott’s work before – his adult novel Infected. I never got to the rest of the series, though I was able to do some quick skimming. Scott is very good at providing readers with a wonderful blending of science fiction and horror, and there’s plenty of that here. In fact, I picked this book up at work (surprise, surprise) in the teen section, thinking, “Guess everyone’s writing teen now,” (which is true)…only to open it up and wonder how the hell this made it to the teen shelves. I mean, Hunger Games has its nasty moments, but given what the characters in this book saw in some of the rooms they passed by – yeah. No. This is some Saw-style Clive Barker type stuff. Which is why, if you’re an adult in the teen section, frickin’ go for it, man.

Piecing things together is pretty hard for a while given the information that Scott provides you. He makes you think one thing completely given all the Aztec imagery, and then suddenly, BAM – if you’re paying attention to the details you realize you’re somewhere utterly different and it’s really bizarre. I don’t feel I’m giving anything away with that Aztec bit because it’s pretty clear with the carvings mentioned and some of the names that popped up that Scott went for the Aztec inspiration. But it works because like I said, it makes things all the more confusing.

While the concept overall (once you realize where they are) has been done – and I’d list books or movies, but then I’d be giving it away – the other details, as well as the whole Aztec bit, make it very different. So does the darkness and the characters. It’s a new spin on an idea that’s been used, and that’s okay. Borrow and modify, as they would say in the art world, and oh boy, does Scott modify.

There are questions left behind, but then this is also the first book in a trilogy (grumble, grumble), so for those questions to be answered, you’ll have to wait for the next two books. I’m really hoping they get answered because if the next book just focuses on where they were headed at the end of this book and the trials they’re facing there without touching on the history of this book, well, that would be irritating. But I don’t think that’ll happen. People are acting too weird, there’s a lot still going on behind them, and there’s still the question of that one girl…

It’s a solid read with a strong female character who has to fight with things that are and what she hopes aren’t a part of her. The visuals that Scott paints are strong – if this were a movie it could be super tense and extremely freaky in several areas. I’m digging what’s going on here and I look forward to the next book (tentative release date of April 2016).

In short, people like Scott Sigler make me jealous. Jealous of his writing skills and his ability to come up with such wild stories. Perhaps someday. Until then, I’ll keep on reading and immersing myself in this world – horrific though it may be.

NT

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nimona (A Book with a One-Word Title)

 
Pro: Fun and funny
Con: I would have gone for graphic novel dimensions for larger images
 
The Bottom Line: If you want something fun to read that’s a little on the unexpected side, this is a good bet.
 
This is yet another book I saw while at work and took a peek inside. I found a girl with the ability to turn into a dragon, a bad knight turning good, and a purposely stereotypical hero with flowing, golden locks.
 
Sign me up.
 
Turns out that Nimona is a webcomic created by Noelle Stevenson that, happily, has been collected and turned into a book – or rather, a graphic novel. The title is the name of one of the main characters, a girl who is actually a shapeshifter. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s a damn good shapeshifter, and Nimona certainly knows what she’s doing.
 
She pops into the life of Lord Blackheart in order to be his sidekick. Because good villains need good sidekicks. Although Blackheart is kind of an odd villain – he has a thing about killing people, and his plans are always getting foiled (so, like most comic book villains). Nimona hopes to help him change that, though soon things are getting a wee bit out of control – including Nimona’s abilities.
 
And that’s just the story in a tiny nutshell. There’s a lot going on in here that some people might not expect from a web comic (though to be fair, we should all know better these days). I liked the blending of science and sorcery – one minute people are swordfighting and the next someone sees a laser gun on the ground and snatches that up for extra firepower. It’s a neat story, too. Definitely not something I’ve ever come across. I also enjoyed the snappy dialogue and the art itself. The interesting juxtaposition of bad guy vs good guy even though bad guy isn’t really bad and good guy works for a group that sucks is always a neat twist, though not everyone can pull it off. Stevenson does so easily.
 
Okay, so basically I liked everything about this. It was simply a really fun read that has snicker-worthy moments as well as serious moments and an ending I didn’t see coming. At all. The copy I got was from the library and in hardcover (didn’t know it was available in hardcover). While it’s pretty sizable, I wished it was larger – like hardcover graphic novel size. Some of the panels are pretty small, which is a shame because Stevenson’s drawings are so much fun. I’m sure it worked out much better online because she could upload large images and readers just had to scroll through to read them. Here they’re kind of compacted which also occasionally shrinks down the text to quite small.
 
But that’s the publisher’s decisions so, eh. What can you do?
 
If you go searching for this book, you’ll actually end up in the teen section (at least at Barnes & Noble – other bookstores may have it placed elsewhere). When in doubt, just ask. It’s worth it.
 
NT

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (A Graphic Novel)

 
Pro: My God…YES.
Con: Batman, you bitch.
 
The Bottom Line: I’d like the world to know RIGHT NOW that I side with Superman. Granted, I’m sure things get nastier later, but as we start out, I’m with the Man of Steel.
 
As per usual at work, I find myself faced with a lot of things I want to read. On one particularly slow morning, I thumbed open the first volume of Injustice. I knew all about the video game and the central plot surrounding it (tyrannical Superman + half of the Justice League vs. Batman + everyone else), but was curious as to how it all went down. This graphic novel provides the answers.
 
It starts with the Joker (as, let’s face it, all good, terrible things do), and for once, one of his nefarious plans makes it to fruition. Only this plan was against Superman. Hence the reason it succeeded. But what followed was a domino effect, complete with plenty of surprises in interesting little twists to moi, the girl who, while I may claim allegiance to geekdom and be a DC person, has never read a graphic novel in her life. (Don’t judge, I only ever saw all the movies and every single animated episode – and that shit was good. Er, the animated stuff, not all the movies. We all know about certain of those movies…)
 
Alas, this is the story of how Superman fell and how he took a good chunk of the JLA with him. And you know what? I’m with him. Given the dance that Batman does with all his enemies all the time (though, to be fair, that’s pretty much every hero and villain in every graphic novel), Superman’s actions had me going, “Oh YEAH! FINALLY someone does it!” And it made sense. I see both sides – what Bats is getting at and what Superman is aiming for. But in the end, I’m not all about protecting mass murdering psychopaths who literally have zero inclination to fix themselves. And in the end, pretty much every Gotham bad guy should have been handed the death sentence 20 times over and Bats ought to realize this. But, my ideologies aside, I’d absolutely be Wonder Woman in this scenario – except without the pining after Superman part.
 
It won’t take you long to read – at all. I picked this up at the library around 4:45, got home a wee bit after 5, and was done by 6 after plenty of interruptions by my dog and a bouncy ball. Unfortunately, now I’m waiting for the second volume to be available, and this stuff is addictive. Fun writing, quality artistry, and a solid story all come together very nicely for sheer enjoyment. This is the kind of thing that, if done right, really ought to be the Batman vs. Superman movie, but we all know Hollywood is dumb, so right now we’ll just leave it in the hands of smart videogame developers and talented graphic novelists.
 
Works for me.
 
NT

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Zoo (A Book Based on or Turned Into a TV Show)


Pros: Freaky, but intriguing, concept.
Cons: A few holes and a weird reason, but oh well.
 
The Bottom Line: It’s hard not to get at least a little weirded out while reading this book, and I was certainly a fan of the moral of the story.
 
Zoo is my first James Patterson novel, although to be fair I don’t know how much of this book he actually wrote. Given that Patterson is cranking out a novel practically every other month and that every single one of them has someone else’s name on it as well, for all I know most of this book was crafted by Michael Ledwidge.
 
But oh well. It’s a good story with an interesting premise, interesting bit of pivoting between third and first person point of view, and quite the satisfying ending.
 
The story in a nutshell: Animals are on a killing spree. They’re killing humans, and no one knows why. Only Jackson Oz seems to notice the pattern, but it may be too late before anyone believes him.
 
Oz is the only character to get the first person treatment. I’m not sure how this worked out between Patterson and Ledwidge, but it actually works. We get to be inside the head of the one guy who seems to know what’s going on while stepping back to view everything else, only peeking on occasion into the heads of other folks as well as animals.
 
This book keeps you on your toes in that you don’t know what’s causing the animals to attack. I mean, you quickly gather that it has something to do with scent, but beyond that your little mind is going to be boggled. When it’s finally revealed it seems kind of strange and I’m still not entirely sure that I’m buying what they’re selling. Especially when lions in the middle of Africa are freaking out – it seems like the ones way out in the wild would be the animals to not go berserk. The other hole includes the resolution to solve the problem (or at least, begin to solve the problem), and it starts to go away in a matter of a few days. But given that the issue is not just exterior but also involved in our sweet, sweet human skin, I don’t understand why it would. They would still smell us and that’s a problem. And with the thing so deeply embedded into every animal at this point….well…
 
…For the sake of the story, I hit the “suspend disbelief” button and went on my merry way.
 
Because it’s quite the unique ride. You want to know what’s happening. You get edgy every time an animal steps onto the page. I started to get a weird sort of feeling reading about dog packs and loyal dogs switching just like *that* and attacking their owners – all the while with my dog nestled against my leg all happy and snoozing. Meanwhile I’m sitting there thinking, “I just hope your little amygdale doesn’t get any bigger.”
 
I also really did enjoy the writing itself. Very descriptive, tense, and compelling, which made the book hard to put down. While I also don’t think the government could actively black out information about all the animal attacks given the sheer number of people with cell phones that have video capabilities and the insane, never-ending power of the internet (these days I know stuff before I ever see it on mass media just through Twitter alone), I was willing to overlook that, too.
 
So Zoo has its holes, but it’s too thrilling and different to ignore. And I think the moral of the story is pretty on point. We screwed up, but hey shit happens – except then we keep screwing up. The sad part? This does not surprise me. Not in the least. Because if there’s one thing that is true in life, it’s that humanity is f*cking stupid. There is a slice out there of folks that I know would follow the rules and be intelligent about the whole thing, but lets face it, most people would die just like they did in the book, some of which I would not feel sorry for. So the ending really worked for me, and in fact I probably would have been disappointed if suddenly, ah-ha! they came up with a cure for the whole thing and we all lived happily ever after.
 
I do feel sorry for the dogs, though.
 
NT

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Scratch Beginnings (A Nonfiction Book)


Pro: A very interesting read. Surprisingly fast, too.
Con: None

The Bottom Line: Adam shows that it is possible to scrape your way up from the bottom – it’s hard, and it sucks, but it is possible.

One day at work, a girl asked for this book for one of her school classes. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. I think if that subheading hadn’t been there, I might not have given it a second glance. After all, I get people asking for all kinds of books all the time. But with that subheader coupled with the picture of some guy standing on the side of the road with just a duffle bag made me wonder – what is this book about?

It’s about just that – Adam Shepard heads out to a random city with only the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 to his name. He can’t use family and friends for help. He can’t use his previous history to help him get a job. He’s going in on a blank slate, or at least as blank as any person can be. He becomes another homeless person lost in the masses. But his goal is to have $2,500 saved up, a functioning vehicle, and a place to call his own at the end of one year. Is it possible these days? Can hard work and sheer desire get you to a better place in life like we’re all taught to believe?

Published back in 2008, it’s not terribly old so a lot of it should still easily apply. I found this book really hard to put down as each chapter brought something new into Adam’s life. This is a look into a place that we never see. The world of homelessness. The places they can go to get help and food and shelter. What it’s really like and the reasons it’s not what many people think it is. I learned about places that hooked places up with quick and easy labor (easy as in quick to acquire for the location, not always so easy on the workers), but paid like garbage because they’re essentially the ones doing the hiring so they can get away with paying the person a lesser cut than normal. I didn’t even know places could do that (restaurants aside – and let’s face it, people shouldn’t have to rely on tips to survive, but that’s a whole other ball of wax).

And before you jump on the “Oh, well he’s a white guy anyway so he’s got an advantage” wagon, Shepard acknowledges at the very beginning of the book that he is not in the same sort of position that many others are in. He’s not a single mother, he’s not a person of color – he doesn’t have added disadvantages and he is well aware of this. But this also isn’t a book saying, “Hey, anyone can do it!” It was his own sort of documented social experiment – a personal one. He wanted to know what it was like in the dredges of society. He wanted to know if people really were getting screwed day in and day out. He wanted to know if it was possible to get out, to get up, and for at least one person to, in essence, live the American Dream.

But I’m not going to tell you if he did or not – you need to read the book for that.

I think it’s the kind of book any person could read. It’s interesting and insightful. It has funny and poignant moments like any story of human interest. Adam has his setbacks, too, from struggling to find a job to breaking his toe and facing the money-eating world that is the hospital (he didn’t know about free clinics). It’s a reminder that if you think you have it tough, there’s always a lower rung you could be on (though most of us don’t like to think about that). Ultimately, it’s a good story, a real story, and one that might have you appreciating what you have just that much more, or perhaps working a little bit harder or budgeting a little bit better to improve your own lot in life.

NT

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The District 120 Reading Challenge

Wait...I thought I was District 150? And no, that's not any sort of Hunger Games reference/pun/whatever.

Anyway, that's beside the point.

My workplace (re: bookstore) has issued a reading challenge. Given that I need to read more books in general, I'm all for it. The challenge includes a long list - 50 items to be exact - that is actually quite handy. Each one describes the type of book we should try to read, which means we can either go out and find something that matches (and in some cases, you kind of have to), whereas in others you can simply pop in any number of books that you already intended to read.

The official challenge operates on the fiscal year - basically from tax season to tax season - so it started back in April. For some strange reason it's only just recently made it's way to us, so I've already lost several months to the year-long time frame it offers. I'm going to see if I can't go ahead and finish within that time frame (ending 4/30/2016), and will go ahead and include books that I've read recently after the start date (5/3/2015), but if it doesn't work out well I'm going to go ahead and give myself until October. Why? Because A.) that's when I'm obviously starting all this and B.) I have absolutely not read that many books as of writing this. I think the total is currently at 6.

So without further ado, here is the list I'll be working off of. Feel free to join me or just follow along.

  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book with more than 500 pages
  • A classic romance
  • A book that became a movie
  • A book published this year
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book written by someone under 30
  • A book with nonhuman characters
  • A funny book
  • A book by a female author
  • A mystery or thriller
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book of short stories
  • A book set in a different country
  • A nonfiction book
  • A popular author's first book
  • A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
  • A book a friend recommended
  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
  • A book based on a true story
  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list
  • A book your mom loves
  • A book that scares you
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book based entirely on its cover
  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
  • A memoir
  • A book with antonyms in the title
  • A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
  • A book that came out the year you were born
  • A book with bad reviews
  • A trilogy
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book with a love triangle
  • A book set in the future
  • A book set in high school
  • A book that made you cry
  • A book with magic
  • A graphic novel
  • A book by an author you've never read before
  • A book you own but have never read
  • A book that takes place in your hometown
  • A book that was originally written in a different language
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A book written by an author with your same initials
  • A banned book
  • A play
  • A book based on or turned into a TV show
  • A book you started by never finished
And there you have it. There are a few that I foresee problems with - such as the book I was supposed to read in school but didn't. I was that kid who read everything, no matter how dull or annoying the book ended up being (like The Scarlet Letter or Ellison's Invisible Man) and for the life of me can't think of a single book that I was supposed to read but skipped out on. So I might have to improvise on that one. A book to make me cry will be tough, too. Only 3 books in my life have made me get all teary-eyed, and you never know what might do it.

Still, there it is, and that's what I'm doing. Tally-ho (and all that).

NT

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Plum Spooky - Beware the Pine Barrens in Jersey


Pros: I like Diesel, some funny stuff
Cons: "Er...what?" plot; I would have liked to see more of Wulf

The Bottom Line: This is one of those between-the-numbers novels, and for this one in particular, you can either take it or leave it.

If you aren't familiar with Stephanie Plum, you'd better go back and read the first book.  Or, if you don't want to do the entire series, you ought to at least go back and read the first between-the-numbers book so you at least know who Diesel is and get a better grasp of what his deal is.

In this book, you get to follow Stephanie around as she kind of follows Diesel around.  Diesel, meanwhile, is trying to follow a man named Wulf.  Wulf is working with Martin, one of Stephanie's skips, so it all works out.  Sort of.  Wulf and Martin are doing something weird in the woods.  Wulf is super dangerous, and the woods - the Jersey Pine Barrens - also happens to be where the Jersey Devil lives.  But he's not real...er, right?

Actually, the Jersey Devil doesn't really do anything aside from an extraordinarily brief cameo appearance so don't read too much into that.  There's actually not a whole lot of plot.  A lot of trying to follow Wulf, not get killed, follow Martin, and get lost in the woods a few times in the process.  Diesel does his pop-in, pop-out thing, and in the end you'll close the book wondering what the heck Wulf's nefarious plan was anyhow.  Martin mentions it, but honestly, it sounded kind of stupid.  One of those, "Really?  Is that really what's going on?  Er, that's pretty lame."  And considering the way Wulf is described, it didn't really make much sense to me.

Overall, the book is amusing in typical Stephanie Plum fashion, though some people don't like the between-the-numbers books.  These deviate from the typical ridiculousness of the regular books and take things up just one more notch with elements of the fantastic.  Diesel and Wulf are "Unmentionables."  In short, they have weird powers normal humans don't have.  Personally, I don't mind the urban fantasy element because, let's face it, the regular books aren't exactly all that plausible as it is.  Besides, I like Diesel.  I really would have liked to see more of Wulf - including seeing him in action against Diesel.  Maybe that will happen in a future book.

So would I recommend it?  Eh.  Barely.  It scrapes by with three stars.  You don't need it as a stepping stone to get from one book to the next, so if you were inclined to skip it entirely, you'd be fine doing so.  But hey, it was funny watching Stephanie kick Martin in the gonads more than once, and oh, I forgot to mention the monkeys (that's right, more than one).  Carl the monkey makes a return appearance, and he's actually much more amusing this time around.

NT

Originally published 2010 on Epinions.com

Friday, September 25, 2015

Plum Lucky - Horseshoes, Money, and Gambling


Pros: A horse and a would-be leprechaun. How is this NOT funny?
Cons: Semi-weak ending.

The Bottom Line: A hilarious little interlude between the 13th and 14th book. Too bad that makes it shorter.

Just when I was getting a little burned out on Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, Plum Lucky arrived in the stores. Since I’ve read every book so far (and intend to continue, as I have a habit of always finishing what I start), I’d put it on my “To Read” list long before it even came out.

If you’ve never read a Stephanie Plum book, I highly recommend them. I’ll give you a brief rundown, and while you could read this book without any extra knowledge, it would be a better idea to at least read Visions of Sugar Plums because a recurring character named Diesel pops up yet again in this book and she doesn’t give him a whole lot of introduction. That would be hard to do anyway because Diesel’s not exactly, um, normal. Ok, so Stephanie Plum blackmailed her cousin into giving her a job as a bounty hunter. Since then she’s been kidnapped, shot at, had numerous cars get destroyed in a multitude of ways, and in general, tends to screw up and yet make it out alive every time.

This time Stephanie finds out her Grandma Mazur has discovered a duffle bag full of money. Turns out a strange little man claims the money is his. Then Diesel pops up and informs Stephanie that he’s after the little man (who also claims to be a leprechaun). Nothing normal ever happens when Diesel is around, and Stephanie would rather say no – except now Grandma Mazur has gone missing. It’s going to take the combined efforts of Stephanie, Diesel, Lula, and Connie to find Grandma, figure out what the “leprechaun” wants, and who the money belongs to. They soon realize the problem is much bigger (in more ways than one) than they expected.

I really don’t want to give away too much, though the title and Pros have mentioned a few things that come into play during this book. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself cracking up while reading one of these books (or any book for that matter). Each book is written in first person, and the voice Janet Evanovich gives Stephanie is just fantastic. Her descriptions are wonderful and often hilarious. The situations Stephanie gets into tend to be so ridiculous, but because of Stephanie’s history, it’s not hard to believe she’d end up in them. While the main series is slightly less...fantastical, the in-between novels each deal with Diesel and the strange things that go down while he’s around. Elves (sort of). Cupids (sort of). Leprechauns (“You’re not even Irish.”). But who cares? It makes for great reading. It’s mindless fun, and who doesn’t need a little of that now and then?

Sadly, the book is rather short, and a fast reader can polish it off in a matter of hours. However, each in-between book is rather short and I’m sure Evanovich is busy working on the main series, so it’s acceptable. Hey, at least we’re getting a book, right? The ending did feel a little abrupt though, as if Evanovich was thinking, “Okay, let’s wrap this up, I need to get to work on something else.” Then again, maybe she was.

But it was hilarious, and extremely enjoyable. Read it on St. Patrick’s day and maybe you’ll find a duffle bag of money (though that’s usually cause for worry, so maybe not!)

NT

Originally published 2008 on Epinions.com

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Plum Lovin' - Feel the Love


Pros: Goofy, fun, plenty of Bob the dog.
Cons: Not especially exciting, but that's okay too.

The Bottom Line: Hey, it's Stephanie Plum.

Stephanie Plum. Woman. Bounty hunter. Has amazing luck and too many men looking to hook up with her – which isn’t too bad since they’re all exceptionally hot. Enjoys doughnuts. Often has problems and exploding cars.

If you’re not familiar with this character and all her crazy misadventures, then I recommend rewinding to One for the Money just to get a feel for who Stephanie is, how she became a bounty hunter, and who some of the other characters mentioned fit into the picture. Then you could try skipping ahead to Visions of Sugar Plums so you know who Diesel is. After that, you’d pretty much be up to speed (but you’d still be missing out on tons of hilarity by not reading any of the other books).

Plum Lovin’ is “Between-the-Numbers” book, published after Twelve Sharp. These little stories include Diesel, labeled as an “Unmentionable.” According to him, it’s better than being called a freak of nature. Unmentionables tend to have strange and unusual powers beyond what anyone else would call normal.

This time Diesel pops into Stephanie’s apartment and has a deal for her; he will give Stephanie her latest bail-bonder skipper, Annie Hart, in exchange for Stephanie’s help. Annie is being stalked by Bernie Beaner, and until Diesel can shut Beaner down, he’s hidden Annie. Great. So what does Stephanie have to help Diesel with? Easy – Annie is a “relationship expert” and since she’s tucked away, her clients still need help. It’s up to Stephanie to play matchmaker and make sure these people all have a good Valentine’s Day. Swell. Except there’s more to the story than meets the eye…

That’s one of the weird things about this novel. You already know Stephanie is looking for Annie and that Annie’s wanted with robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. But it isn’t until quite far into the book do you find out the details and the second plot going on. I think it might have been a little better had that second plot been weaved ever-so-slightly into the rest of the book, but oh well.

Otherwise, this was a decent book. No cars exploding, and no one out to kill Stephanie (for once, which was actually kind of nice come to think of it. Made for a good change). Basically, Stephanie is playing Cupid the entire time with the occasional help from Lula and Diesel. It’s fun and a refreshing switch from the typical Plum novel, and though there isn’t any major action, there is some action – a different kind and the fun kind. Like a cat getting set on fire and Stephanie pretending to get married. The novel keeps going and never slows down, even when nothing major is going on and Lula’s eating doughnuts and Stephanie is chatting with Annie’s clients.

It’s a good time with some great lines and goofy situations. A happy ending on Valentine’s Day complete with a lot of flowers for Stephanie.

NT

Originally published 2008 on Epinions.com

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Visions of Sugar Plums - It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas...


Pros: Creative and enjoyable - wish Diesel would pop into my kitchen
Cons: Faster than it should have been, not quite right for Stephanie Plum

The Bottom Line: This gets my creative thoughts stirring - I think this has a lot of potential to go somewhere else instead of just Jersey...

You know, I’m pretty much convinced that if my sister were to ever write a novel, this is the style she would write it in. …no freaking fruitcake and no goddamn partridge. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

For those of you who’ve never encountered a Stephanie Plum novel before, this actually would be an odd place to start. Normally I’d say, “Yeah, dig in” because I know people who have simply started at a number other than one and have been fine and dandy in the ways of non-confusion, but here Stephanie is already more than buddy-buddy with Joe Morelli, foregoes the explanation on how she became a bounty hunter, among other things. Janet Evanovich basically jumps right into the book, and it seems she assumes the reader already has read previous books and needs no introduction. Makes sense to me, since in the book is a list of previous novels, numbering up to eight, so I’m guessing she hadn’t popped out book number nine yet (currently she’s up to thirteen). In any case, I recommend you start elsewhere, such as book #1. If you know your Plums, stay tuned.

It’s four days until Christmas and Stephanie Plum doesn’t have a tree, presents, decorations, or anything Christmas related, basically. And now there’s a strange, albeit handsome, man kicking his boots up and making himself comfy in her apartment. The name’s Diesel and he’s, uh, well, something. Stephanie guesses maybe he’s an alien – he pops into her apartment, can unlock doors in the blink of an eye, and doesn’t set off her gut-instinct bad-guy alarm. He decides to tag along with her as she searches for Sandy Claws, a guy who stole thousands in power tools and a few gallons of paint from a hardware store.

When Stephanie isn’t falling off her roof, trying to fend off Diesel’s teasing, getting attacked by angry elves/little people, and looking for Sandy Claws, she’s trying to squeeze in the last days of Christmas shopping and tree hunting, hoping that she can somehow pull off a great Christmas and not get killed in the process.

For a long time while reading this I was wobbling back and forth from 3 stars to 4 stars. I finally decided on 3. Why? Well, while this book has a lot of good things about it, the not-so-good things simply outweigh them.

Good

The sheer creativity put into this book is a lot of fun. Elves that aren’t elves, but they’re still little people, but they riot so they’re not exactly lovable. A somewhat supernatural dude named Diesel who bounces around teasing Stephanie but has a serious side too (vaguely reminding me of the phouka in Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks). A guy who isn’t Santa Claus, but at the same time kind of is. The bad guy and what he can do, etc. etc. Stephanie’s usual problems are still, well, usual, but at the same time, the circumstances around them are just unusual, all the while the book is easily enjoyable.

Not-So-Good

Creativity is great, but in the end, this is a Stephanie Plum novel, and even as wacky as those get, there is still reality behind them, or as much reality as we allow ourselves to believe. In short, nothing remotely supernatural. So that made this a little off-kilter, and while I’m sure that’s what Evanovich meant to make, it still doesn’t quite work out. I think if this was another set of characters with everything slightly reworked in order to somehow accommodate for the interesting plot, it would be better. Having said that, even as it is, the book feels a little rushed. Again, that may have been Evanovich’s intention, as Stephanie is stuck with just a few days to get Christmas right, but even leaving the rest of the book aside, the ending was pretty anti-climactic and finished up rather quickly. The bad guy shows up and suddenly is in custody and voila, a dash of Christmas magic and it’s over with. I don’t even mind going without a full explanation concerning certain persons, but don’t deny me the apprehension of the bad guy. Come on.

I could just cop out and say 3.5 stars since the imagination takes it a notch above "Average" but the rest takes it down from being "Above Average." Still, keep in mind I thought it was rather enjoyable, I really liked Diesel, and the book essentially did what it was supposed to do; entertain me for a few hours on end.

NT

Originally posted 2006 on Epinions.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Secret Twenty-One - Why Is This Top Secret Again?

 
Pro: 4 (meh) entertaining hours
Con: Forgettable (though I guess that might not necessarily be a con…)
 
The Bottom Line: *shrug* It’s a Stephanie Plum book.
 
I think I’m desensitized to Stephanie Plum books. I think I’ve read so many at this point that they’re so predictable it doesn’t matter what happens or what decisions Stephanie (or others) make that I don’t really have much of a reaction. I’m not terribly amused, but I’m not mad either (though I will still occasionally roll my eyes when she slaps on one handcuff and not the other and the skip inevitably gets away).
 
This is book 21, and the next one won’t be out for a few months yet. I’m actually looking at the inside flap of this book because even though I read it just a few weeks ago, I’ve already forgotten the plot. This is not an exaggeration.
 
In this book, Stephanie is out to catch Jimmy Poletti, scumbag extraordinaire, but of course he’s disappeared. However, he does seem to be trying to kill Randy Briggs, who decides - for some reason – that he’ll be safe with Stephanie. Adding to the mix is someone trying to kill Ranger – which isn’t all that surprising given that he’s made plenty of enemies over the years.
 
In the end, the mystery isn’t really a mystery – I mean, it is until Stephanie walks into the person doing the killing while they’re in the midst of doing some more killing. I’m just saying that no one really figures anything out. Ranger is Ranger so he picks up on his problem pretty quickly, and everyone else is essentially, “Oh, yeah, that was me.” But I guess that’s true for a lot of Stephanie Plum novels – and mysteries I guess. Heck, even the Scooby Doo gang was surprised every time they pulled off the mask with a collective gasp of, “Mr. Withers!”
 
It’ll entertain you for a while, but there’s not a lot going on. There’s a great deal of Stephanie driving around, chatting with Lula, occasionally chatting with other people, going to her house and talking about food, going to Morelli’s house and chatting about maybe sex, and more driving around. Occasionally she tries to take someone down and fails miserably. Oh, and cars get blown up. Can’t forget about that. Frankly, if I were Porsche, I would stop sending cars to Ranger. Mostly because I’d be mad that all that hard work and dedication into a quality car was getting destroyed on a disturbingly regular basis. Like taking the time to make a really lovely ice cream sundae only to have the person you’re offering it to smack it out of your hands and onto the street. Granted, I don’t know where Ranger actually gets his cars, but that’s beside the point.
 
So read it if you want, or don’t, either way it’s not like you’re missing much. I cleaned this book up in about 4 hours, and yes I’ll end up reading the next one as well. I guess in that way I’m a bit like Stephanie – I keep doing something I should probably stop doing, but hey, at this point I’m invested, so why the hell not?
 
NT

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Takedown Twenty - In Which Stephanie Doesn't Really Take Anyone Down


Pro: Entertaining
Con: Meh

The Bottom Line: It’s the usual Stephanie Plum stuff.

I almost wonder if at this point I’ve become sort of immune to Stephanie Plum antics. Car gets blown up. She can’t catch her skips. Lula suggests they go get food. It’s book #20 now, so honestly if you’re joining in here I don’t know why. Though you could read the first book to get into the swing of things and then pretty much go wherever you want. For some bizarre reason Janet Evanovich still introduces all the characters, though by now it’s pretty much a given that people reading this book are most likely going to be those who’ve been reading it from the start.

This time Stephanie is charged with bringing in Stanley “Sunny” Sunnuchi, mob guy and favorite of the folks in the neighborhood. So this doesn’t exactly make Stephanie popular. Finding him is tough; catching him will be even tougher. Making matters more complicated is the fact that there is a serial killer on the loose, bumping off old women and leaving them in dumpsters. Sunny is annoying, but the idea that someone is killing old ladies and just dumping them really grates on Stephanie, so she’s made it her personal mission to figure out who’s killing them. Oh, and there’s a giraffe on the loose.

There’s a lot of meandering in this book. When we can’t find important people we’re visiting Morelli, going to Stephanie’s house, getting food, or cruising streets hoping to see something new. *shrug* Stephanie doesn’t actually solve anything- or even find anyone, for that matter. She just gets into messes, destroys cars, temporarily quits being a bounty hunter, debates about Ranger vs. Morelli (as usual), and so forth.

It’s not boring, per se, but just the usual stuff with the occasional actiony bit thrown in. The books don’t make me laugh like they used to and they’re pretty forgettable. I’d actually read this one as well because I did remember who the killer was and I remembered the giraffe – although what his purpose was I couldn’t recall. Already I don’t remember if Stephanie actually brought in any FTAs. …Maybe one.

I was disappointed that Grandma Bella didn’t at least come in and take the eye off Stephanie after the big reveal at the end. Then again, she probably wouldn’t believe any of that stuff anyway, so I guess it makes sense that Bella never makes a final appearance.

Otherwise, it’s a fast read that can keep you entertained for a bit before you’ll need a brand new book.

3 out of 5 stars.

NT

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