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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston – Or the All Seasons Witch…


Pro: A solid read
Con: Pace may drag for some; a few odd thought moments

The Bottom Line: While not *quite* my cup of tea, there are plenty out there who will enjoy it.

This book was displayed on our “If You Liked Outlander” endcap at work. Which made sense I suppose. We’re back in time, we’re in Ireland (yes, I am aware Outlander takes place in Scotland), and we have a man and woman thrown together who will hopefully fall in love with one another.

Morgana is a witch – this much is clear. But in the world she lives in, such a thing is hidden away. In order to help keep her safe and cared for, her mother agrees to a marriage between Morgana and Cai Jenkins, a widower from far away who doesn’t know anything about Morgana. He’s only ever seen her at the marketplace, but from those small encounters he believes the two might come to love each other. But there’s something lurking in the place that Cai lives. It wants something that Cai has. Morgana, with all her power, may be the only thing that can stop it.

The book alternates between Cai’s point of view and Morgana’s. There are a few awkward things with this. Morgana’s point of view is done in first person, so we get everything, “I stirred the pot,” etc. Cai’s, however, is third person, so “he did this,” and so forth. At times Cai took some getting used to because the narrator seemed to start off very distantly – very omniscient – before sinking back into Cai’s thoughts so we’re more in tune with him. It felt odd at times, though ultimately not too much of a big deal.

It can take a bit of getting used to Morgana for some people. Morgana hasn’t spoken since her father left when she was a child. As it’s frequently stated in the book, it’s not that she can’t speak – she just chooses not to. This means when we’re in her point of view, we get almost zero dialogue. The only dialogue around is from other people, but when it’s just her and Cai or her and another character, it’s all one-sided. I personally didn’t have an issue with it, but I know the lack of dialogue can drive some people batty.

As for the story itself, it’s pretty simple. Cai hopes Morgana will eventually fall for him, Morgana does find herself falling for Cai, but the two have a very bumpy relationship throughout. Meanwhile, an evil presence wants a very special well that sits on Cai’s property and does whatever it can to drive Morgana away since her attachment to Cai and her power pose an impediment. When these two things aren’t being brought to light, there’s a lot of introspection and walking about the wilderness. There are a few issues, though.

First is that when one character attacks Morgana, she keeps thinking, “He was so nice – how could he go so bad like that?” And yet even after it’s 110% clear the evil person was behind it, she still doesn’t connect the dots. It’s also very clear early on who the antagonist is, and Morgana knows this – yet does nothing to stop or even slow her. Granted, Morgana doesn’t exactly know how to wield her power with ease, once she knows there’s something nasty trying to get to Cai and the magical well, one would think she ought to do everything she can to at least put up some kind of protection. But I guess without the bad things occurring we wouldn’t have much of a book.

The other issue I have is really more of a plot hole. It’s stated several times that Morgana has to be accepted by the Witches of the Well in order to wield the well’s power. And it really sounds like she has to be cool with them or A.) Bad Things Will Happen, or B.) she gets zero chance at handling the well’s power. So why does the antagonist want it? She won’t be able to use it – right? Doesn’t she need the OK from the Witches of the Well to handle the power? I never understood that. I just kept thinking, “Why are they so worried? If Morgana has to do all this stuff to play with the well, isn’t the other chick just going to get kicked out? Or killed?” Maybe there’s a loophole I don’t know about, which I guess there is because at one point the bad witch absolutely just strolled in an used the well, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

On the whole, though, it’s a fairly good read. You have to be able to handle relatively slow-paced stuff, plenty of description (but it’s good description), and all the aforementioned stuff, but this kind of thing is good for those that like magic realism books. So I feel like if you enjoyed books like Garden Spells or Chocolat, this is up your alley.


NT

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bet Me - Cute Shoes


Pros: A book with a woman at a healthy size instead of that 00 crap.
Cons: How many times can the whole guys-betting-on-women stuff be done?

The Bottom Line: Cute. Not phenomenal, but cute.

When I was in a writing program, before each residency we read from one of the chosen genres that time around. At that time, it was Romance’s turn and they chose Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise. Not a bad choice.

Our main girl is Minerva Dobbs (or just Min) who overhears a bet being made between ex-boyfriend/dirtbag David and playboy Calvin. Ten thousand dollars says Cal can’t get Min into bed within a month. Now the hitch – what exactly does Min hear? Does Calvin really take the bet? And why on Earth do they keep bumping into each other for? Is it really fate?

That’s the book in a major nutshell, really. There’s Min’s friends, her sister’s wedding, everyone’s parents, David, and Calvin’s ex-girlfriend to deal with. While it isn’t a layered book, obviously, it does well in keeping from turning boring. I mean, after all, who reading this hasn’t heard of the whole men-betting-on-women plot? It’s one of those books you read for fun, to enjoy yourself while you’re on break at work or just kicking back and drinking a cup of coffee.

Likewise, the characters aren’t horribly 3D either, but I doubt you’ll much care because they’re fleshed out enough to get all the points across. You quickly start to hate David, you think Cal’s ex-girlfriend has major issues, and even if you don’t believe in one of Min’s friends hooking up ridiculously fast with one of Cal’s buddies, it’s no big deal. Hey, nothing wrong with hoping and believing in the fairy tale, right? It’s all about the happily ever after.

There’s plenty of sexual tension in the book, but very little sex (in case you’re curious). Half the time you’re just hanging out with Min and her friends, Min and Cal, or Min elsewhere probably thinking about Cal. Yet it’s still rather entertaining, though I still wish Min would have lost it on her mother the same way she stood up to Cal’s parents. Which, by the way, leads me into the size issue of Min. I’ve read other romance books and remember hearing about flat stomachs, trim waists, blah blah blah. Here, I was delighted to find that Min was a lovely-sized girl, likely a 10 or 12. I wanted her to freak out on her mother because her mom kept telling her she was fat – a ridiculous claim because 10 or 12 is NOT fat by any means. Frankly, I’ve heard that’s the size most women either are, or should be. It was just nice for a change to read about a heroine who wasn’t a size 4 and under (while I, ironically, am a size 4 – metabolism through mom). And anyway, starving oneself is not going to make you lose weight anyway, so that’s a pathetic “diet option.”

Er, right, the book. Sorry about that. I’m just sick of the stereotype crap. Anywho, it’s a fun book. Bright and chipper, with the necessary amount of tension and happy clapping at the end (no, no one actually claps, but you might in a sort of “yay!” fashion). Actually, I think the part I liked the best was the last chapter where you get to hear what happened to everyone once the happily ever after part went through. I always have loved the end tidbits that let you know where everyone went.

So yeah. Go read it. Enjoy. Oh, and about the title - Min has a lot of fun, unique shoes. And yes, there is a reason for them.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Silence of the Lambs - Hardly Any Lambs, Actually...


Pros: Loved the characters, interesting read, nicely done
Cons: Verb tense switching, can easily be substituted for the more visual movie

The Bottom Line: When you're done, go check out the real Death's Head Moth - it's super cool looking...

A week or so ago I had to leave the house for a few hours so it could be shown to potential buyers. Now, I’ve got a list of books I want to read, so whenever I leave the house for showings, I head to the library and scope out new possibilities. Except half the time I end up ordering books from other libraries anyway. Still, this time I was hoping that Hannibal would be on the shelf for me to read. I'd seen the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to see how its paper counterpart would treat me. That’s right – enough of this Fear Street kid stuff and into bigger and better things.

Well, much to my dismay, Hannibal wasn’t there. But Silence of the Lambs was. I actually hadn’t intended to read all of it…but I figured why not? Might as well read this first anyway and see how the novel by Thomas Harris differs from the movie. Haha…

Clarice Starling, FBI agent in training at Quantico. Pretty student with exceptional skills. Jack Crawford, head of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science section has noted Starling’s dedication and has come up with an assignment for her. No one has successfully interviewed the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal. Lecter has killed nine (known) people and had a taste of most of them. However, he is also highly intelligent when it comes to psychology, and it may be possible for him to add some insight into the FBI’s latest case.

Buffalo Bill, as the media has dubbed him, has been snatching up women, skinning them in various places, and dumping their bodies in the river. There is no pattern, no understood motive, and no way to find out where he will strike next or where he is located. What began as a simple interview with Dr. Lecter turns into a multi-state hunt by Clarice, seeking out clues to Dr. Lecter’s words that can lead to the capture of Buffalo Bill. There is more to this than just kidnapping and murdering women, and to figure it out, she has to get inside Lecter’s head – after allowing him inside hers – and must overcome her own prejudices, self-criticism, and ignorance of others to save Buffalo Bill’s latest prey.

If you are like me and happen to be curious of how this compares to the movie, let’s just say you can watch the movie and not miss much of anything. At all. The movie actually follows the book as close as I’ve ever seen a movie version do before. There are only minor alterations, and they only add to the movie.

In this way, I am a little disappointed. I was hoping for more details, more interaction between Lecter and Starling, things that weren’t in the movie that would have been great there. No such luck. The description is actually pretty cut and dry. That’s not to say it isn’t good description; some of the ways Starling sees Crawford were good and I enjoyed her little thoughts that popped up from time to time. And I never knew Lecter had six fingers.

Taking the movie out of the equation, it’s a good book. Good story, steady plot, very nice pacing, and dialogue that went right with the characters. One thing I particularly liked is some of the detail Harris put in when it came to guns, the moth, etc. It makes me wonder how much research Harris did before working this novel out. Unless it’s all fake, but somehow I doubt that. Real life detail always adds an extra bit of zing to a book. I’m certain I’d be a lot more excited about this book had I never seen the movie. However, I did like other parts of this book because they explained things to me I don’t believe I ever caught in the movie. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t know, but I never understood what Starling was doing asking questions near the end in the little town in Ohio when she knew the SWAT teams were moving in on another house near Chicago. Now I do. Hooray.

One thing Harris did that I don’t really get and wasn’t really fond of was switch his tenses. Most of the time a chapter would start out in present tense “The desk faces east and Crawford stands next to it,” and then a few paragraphs later would slip right into past tense, “Starling walked from the room and went down the hall.” I failed to see the purpose of this. Personally, I don’t like tense flopping unless it’s used to emphasize something, but it didn’t seem to do that here and I can’t exactly figure out why Harris did it. To get us back into the moment quicker? To lure us in more somehow? I can only speculate. I got used to it after a while, but it still struck me as odd.

I very much liked Clarice Starling in this book. She was bright, strong, and a much cooler Starling than I ever took Jodie Foster for. I never liked her in that role and was excited when Julianne Moore took it in Hannibal. Starling to me was much younger here, sharp and ready to go. Lecter, admittedly, was creepier in this book because I couldn’t picture him as Anthony Hopkins, haha. Hopkins was simply great and creepy in his own way, but this Lecter and the way he was described, was just…something that could lead to skin crawling. I enjoyed all the character insights Harris gave his readers.

A very good and compelling book. It can be difficult to put down at times – especially when you’re looking forward to the Lecter-Starling chit-chats. Now to read Hannibal and then revert back and check out the newest Thomas Harris installment, Hannibal Rising.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In The Woods - What's In There?


Pros: Fascinating in a strange way
Cons: Problems with main character, ending leaves a lot to be desired

The Bottom Line: If you like mysteries (or that CSI stuff), give it a try. If not, *shrug*

I know this blog is called "A Bookseller Recommends," but let's face it - it's pretty much turned into a review blog at this point. After all, I'm bound to run out of recommendable goodies at some point. So, time to review one I’m not so happy about.

When I read the blurb for Tana French’s In the Woods I was immediately intrigued. A boy found alone in the woods with his two friends missing? Four scratches cutting through the back of his shirt? His shoes filled with blood? Whoa – what happened?? And now, years later when the same boy, Adam Rob Ryan, has become a detective, a girl is killed in those same woods. Is there a connection? Could he finally remember what happened all those years ago in the woods, and will it help catch the young girl’s killer?

Hmph.

Ok, now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I gave this book four stars because overall, that is what it deserves. French has some impressive description going on, and as a writer who struggles with good description, I give credit where it’s due, certainly.

On the same note, I enjoyed her female character, Cassie, a great deal. She had her secrets, but she was strong, smart, and knew when to pick her battles. Even though she’s dealt with some sticky situations of her own, she’s managed to keep her head on straight.

While some may find the book to be a semi-slow read, and though a few times I did get a little Monty Python “Get on with it!” impatient, as a whole, I was intrigued, stuck in the whole case with everyone else. This isn’t fast, dashing murder mystery adventure. Rather, it’s more realistic in that the detectives got stuck several times with no leads, nothing to do, and were trying to find their way through the mire of all their troubles. There was clue searching, forensic dealings with a normal time frame (none of this CSI crap), interrogations, and legal hang-ups. Murder cases don’t solve themselves overnight (most of the time anyway), and this one spans weeks. You’re not following every single cup of coffee – but you do follow them when it’s important.

Half of the book focuses on the case and its difficulties. The other half focuses on the main character, Ryan, and his problems with the case and its relations with his past, as well as his relations to his partner Cassie. This is where some of my problems begin. I can appreciate Ryan’s issues, his angst, and the ways this new case is sort of screwing with his brain. However, the way French began the book kind of threw me off. In some ways Ryan seemed a little bipolar in that the way I initially got a dark vibe from him and thought of him in that light the remainder of the book. As such, it became really weird when he joked like any other fun guy with Cassie. He joked, laughed, and acted like there were no problems in his life at all. I know, people can do that, but because as a reader I was so immersed into his thoughts all the time (which were never, ever nearly that chipper) it just seemed really weird. And the way he described himself, it didn’t seem like he was the guy that could joke. I was just thrown off a lot of the time.

My second main problem is the red herrings that French threw in there – if they were red herrings at all. At one point there was almost a Stephen King-like creature that could have been stalking the woods. There are at least three very strong incidences that point to this, and yet it is never explained nor debunked, and in the end I really wanted to know what the point of it was. Likewise, the whole previous case involving Ryan when he was a child. I ask – what was the point of it? Just to get him screwed up further? To ruin him? Show his problems? I have major, major issues with the ending because of these things. By page 300 I was getting really impatient and when page 418 rolled around I wanted at least one of three things to happen in order for me to be at least partially satisfied. None of them happened. In some ways, it’s almost like there was no resolution at all.

I’ve read that in order to have a good story, your reader needs to feel satisfied at the end. Like something has been accomplished. Nothing, to me, was accomplished save maybe one important thing, while the rest just floundered and either annoyed me greatly or bored me. I know, not all stories have happy endings and this particular book reflected life as it often tends to pan out. However, while I’m often able to accept an ending where the hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset, successful, stories that are dreary like a clouded day that reflect life at some of its low points without any oomf to the end annoy me greatly (as I’ve said). Heck, if I wanted something like this, I could watch the news.

That’s why the last star isn’t there. A not-so-great hero and a scant ending. Still, I can’t deny the meat of the rest of the book. I give this a tentative recommendation. It’s good – you just can’t expect a filling end. Just keep that in mind if you decide to read the book. That way you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

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