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Monday, August 31, 2015

Ready for Stephanie Plum September?

I kind of feel like an asshole after my last Janet Evanovich review, so I've decided to make September Stephanie Plum Month. There was a point in time where I didn't get so annoyed with her work as I do now. In fact, I loved it and read the books one after another. I really don't know what happened. Publisher pressure? Fan pressure? Who knows. But I remember having three completely different people tell me I had to read these books, and that was before I worked at a bookstore (where people tell me I need to read this and that all the time), and that's something that hasn't happened to me before or since.

In fact, I started reading and reviewing her novels for Epinions.com back in 2006 right around the end of college. At one point I stopped reviewing them - I think around the time she slowed down in writing them, which was okay because that may have been when they started to get repetitive with little (or no) character development. Actually, I worried that Ms. Evanovich was stuck under contract or something of that sort to keep churning out these novels and it was burning her out.

But in all truth, I don't know. I don't mean for this to turn into some expose about Janet Evanovich, who has had more literary success than a huge percent of authors, and has attained a famed status that I can only dream of hitting. I'll bet she even gets fanart - and that's something I'm jealous of.

So tomorrow starts Stephanie Plum September in which each day I will post a review of a Stephanie Plum book. In order, of course. I've reviewed up to 17, plus all the in-between novels, though I've read 18 and 19 (oh, look - I even have a post about #19 in 2012). Either way, I'll have to do some reading if I want to get up to number 22 for a full September of Stephanie Plum. Library, here I come.

And you know what? Maybe I'm just an idiot and she really does have a grand time writing these novels. After all, don't think I could crank out 22 books with the same characters and different mysteries every time. Pretty sure I'd lose my mind. Or just pull a Paul Sheldon and kill off the main character to end the series once and for all.

NT

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones - The Original


Pros: A unique tale with nifty goodies
Cons: I never liked Howl

The Bottom Line: Close to five stars, but not quite - maybe I'm just picky about my books these days...

Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle has origins, and those origins are here, with the creation of Diana Wynne Jones’s book of the same title. The moment I heard the movie came from a book, I sought it out and finished the mere 212 page book in two days.

Sophie is the eldest of three, which means she won’t amount to much, or so everyone says. After her father dies, her mother Fanny sends her sisters Martha and Lettie off so they can make their fortunes and Sophie is to stay at the hat shop and become and apprentice. So Sophie makes hats. Day after day. She talks to them a little too, since there’s not much else to do while making hats. But one evening a woman comes in – a woman who turns out to be the Witch of the Waste, and when Sophie doesn’t give her what she wants, *poof!* a spell is cast and Sophie becomes an old woman. Drat.

Deciding to set out on her own even as an old woman, Sophie leaves and heads out, winding up inside Howl’s moving castle where she meets Michael, Howl’s young apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire demon. Calcifer sees Sophie is under a spell and they make a deal – Sophie breaks Calcifer’s contract with Howl and he will break her spell. Sophie agrees and announces herself as Howl’s new cleaning lady. But during her time there she learns that Howl does steal hearts – figuratively, and then breaks them, one of which may be her sister. There’s an odd and frightening scarecrow that keeps chasing after the castle. The Witch of the Waste is after Howl. Howl himself is a selfish pretty boy, whose talents are great, but redeeming qualities few. And throughout all this, Sophie learns a thing or two about herself and her own talents.

9 out of 10 times the book is better than the movie. Though this book was good in its own way, I liked the movie better. Actually, I think a meshing of the two would make things perfect, but that’s beside the point. Jones’s writing style is crisp and clear, and she gives us plenty of magical items and encounters, and people to boot. A man stuck as a dog. A scarecrow with a mind of its own. Boots that zip you ten miles over the landscape. A spell with some very unique end results. And of course, a castle that moves and has a door that opens to four locations. Delightful.

I think Howl and the very end was my only problem. Though I like all the characters and everything that is happening, it was no surprise that Howl was a spoiled pretty boy. But I expected to see some change as the book went along. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t ever recall seeing any. The things he says to Sophie are never truly mean-spirited, but I personally wouldn’t take to kindly to them either. Naturally Sophie is annoyed or angry with him most of the time, but at the end suddenly it’s as though we have a complete 180 by both characters. Actually just Sophie – there’s only one tiny instance before when we spot a change in Howl, but that’s it. Even in the book is said that he hadn’t changed much. I’m just not convinced she would fall for him, as I expected I should be.

But aside from all that, it’s a cute book. Read it to your kids, they’ll probably enjoy it. The plot may be a tad bit thick, what with the missing persons and the scarecrow’s purpose and what the bad guy was trying to do exactly. But read it yourself if you’re curious; you can’t go wrong when there’s a little fire demon involved.

NT


Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville - The Wanderer is Weary


Pro: Definitely wasn't weary reading this!
Con: None now. At the time the third book wasn't even close to coming out.

The Bottom Line: Fun times all around. Now go get the next book.

If you haven’t read the first book, Into the Land of the Unicorns then shhh! Don’t read this part!!

When we left off with Cara, she had finished her journey to the unicorn Queen, Arabella Skydancer. With her were Lightfoot, the Squijum, the Dimblethum, and Thomas the Tinker. She had found out that the man after her and her grandmother was actually her father, Ian Hunter, and that Cara herself was actually a Hunter by blood as well. Cara also now had the gift of tongues from the dragon Firethroat and is able to speak to anyone and anything in Luster. And now, she must start on her journey back home to find her grandmother, Ivy Morris, who is also The Wanderer, and bring her back to Luster.

Ok, you’re good to go now.

Bruce Coville has done it again in Song of the Wanderer. At twenty-six chapters and 330 pages, this book is twice as long as the first. But that is not in any way a bad thing. On the contrary – many times thicker books mean more goodies for the reader!

Cara is once more setting off on a journey through the land of Luster in order to find a way back to Earth and to her grandmother. She leaves with a small glory of unicorns (a glory is the name for a group of unicorns – like a herd of cows, that sort of thing), Moonheart, who is Lightfoot’s gruff uncle, Finder, a unicorn who can find almost anything, and Belle, one of the Queen’s personal guard who enjoys a good battle. For reasons unknown to Cara, Lightfoot did not return to Summerhaven due to ill feelings between him and the other unicorns, and the Dimblethum simply feels unwelcome there. However, she does still have the Squijum and Thomas the Tinker to join her on their trek across Luster.

They must find the one called the Geomancer, who will tell Cara the exact place she must cross between worlds with the use of the amulet. They must avoid getting lost in an enchanted forest. They must fight against nasty delvers. Cara must resist the ever-persistent Beloved, who is somehow able to reach her, even across worlds. And still, so many questions plague Cara: where is her mother? Is her grandmother okay? How could her father be a hunter of unicorns? Will she see Lightfoot and the Dimblethum again? And just how will she get back to Earth?

Their trails take them into the underground caves of Grimwold, along the shores of River Silver, and to the desolate lands of Northern Waste. New friends will meet and join them on the way, such as Medafil and Jaques, who has a secret of his own, and others who are not so friendly, such as the unpredictable dragon Ebillan.

Through all this Cara’s past is unraveled, as is her grandmother’s. Many twists and turns reveal secrets long kept – and the end is the last thing anyone would have expected.

And yet there is still room for more.

Though this book is mostly one long travel book without many sudden turns (the turns that occur are subtle and not really unexpected, aside from a couple here and there), but it is still highly enjoyable. A lot of questions are answered and as things progress, they just get more and more “whoa” as you read. I read this book in two days (which adds up to just a matter of hours, really), so as you can see, it is hard to put down. I especially like the way Coville portrayed the gryphon and the words the gryphon used ("Gadfingled" comes to mind), I thought it was great and fit wonderfully.

If you were to look for this book in the bookstore, you would find it in the "young reader" section - suggested ages are 9-12 (wow, it's been so long since I've been a young reader). But then there are always kids out there at various ages that wouldn't have a problem with it. My little sister is actually in high school, but she's had the first one for a while and someone (me) finally made the effort to finish what was started. It's a smooth read and the only words kids might have trouble with might be a couple of the names (and very few at that), or the words the gryphon uses when he's fussing about something. Let's face it - if your kid has no problem reading Harry Potter, then this is a walk in the park.

At the time I originally wrote this review the year was 2005 and there was no third book and this one was copywritten in 1999. And there had to be one given the sort of ending that this book has. Luckily Bruce either never completely stopped on this series or went back to it because in 2008 Dark Whispers came out and the series wrapped up in 2010. I still haven't finished it (because I couldn't), but now that I'm going through these reviews, I think I'll have to revisit the land of Luster and finally discover the whole story. After all, I want to know what they’re going to do about Beloved.

That chick needs to go.

NT


Originally published on Epinions.com

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Buccaneers of America by Alexander O. Exquemelin - Pirates Don't Say "Aargh."


Pros: Want to know about pirates from the view of someone who was there?
Cons: If you were hoping for something more story-like, this isn?t it.

The Bottom Line: Find out about the true pirates of the Caribbean!

After Wicked Charms, I figured I might as well post a piratey book, and since this review never made it to this blog during my time in college in which I took a historical course about pirates (that is not a joke - I really did), now is the best time.

Some say he was French. Others say he was Dutch. However, the fact remains that Alexander O. Exquemelin provides us with a handsome dish of pirate stories, many of which might make you think twice about all that Disney stuff.

A pirate’s life for me!

Yeah, screw that.

My copy is a translation by Alexis Brown, with an introduction from Jack Beeching. As most introductions go, the reader is given an overview of piracy and a bit of history of the times in which the chronicles by Exquemelin fall into. The introduction also gives a bit of history on Exquemelin himself – or at least what can be found about him. From there the book goes right into Exquemelin’s story, which is broken up into three main parts, and from there broken into chapters. Here, as is on the page itself, is what the three parts contain:

Part One
How the French came to Hispaniola; the nature of the country and life of the inhabitants.
Part Two
The origin of the buccaneers; their rules and way of life; various attacks on the Spaniards.
Part Three
The burning of Panama City by the English and French buccaneers, together with an account of a further voyage by the author.

Each part tells you exactly what is listed above – only in greater detail. In Part One Exquemelin describes how he came to the Caribbean, gives the reader a quick history lesson about the French vs. the Spanish when it comes to the island of Tortuga (yes, it was real), describes the island of Hispaniola, including its trees, fruits, animals, etc. (and I do mean describe), as well as the French hunters and planters that live there. The final few chapters give you everything you ever needed to know about buccaneers – who they were, how they began, and why they turned to piracy. You even get to find out where the word “buccaneer” came from! Now isn’t this interesting?

Though the first section can get a little boring from time to time, don’t worry too much because the second section gets into the actual piracy, dealing with captains and such. The reader is introduced to a French pirate by the name of Francois l’Olannais and all of his exploits, from raiding Spanish fleets to sacking and ransoming various towns. L’Olannais wasn’t a very nice guy by the way, and neither were his men, which makes for some interesting reading. After knowing l’Olannais’s fate, the next captain, Henry Morgan comes into play. Is this where the famous Captain Morgan comes from? Haha, who knows!

However, I will say that Morgan was a lot more successful than l’Olannais ever was. He had great pirating skills and managed to attack (with great success) several places – including one that might sound familiar to you…Panama anyone? Here is where you can read of the taking of a fort without firing a single shot, escaping Spanish warships, and see lists of the booty they managed to steal. Good times to be a pirate under Morgan’s leadership – and you’d probably be surprised at the number of men and ships he had following him at one point in time. Bet it’s something you’d never guess when it comes to pirates! I was certainly surprised! Much of this is mentioned in the second and then third sections, the break right between campaigns by Morgan.

The remainder of the third section, Exquemelin has broken off from Morgan’s group and set off with some others sailing from island to island and encountering various things, such as hostile natives, friendly natives, and manatees (which apparently taste like pork). The final chapter is a short account of the governor of Tortuga, who tries his hand at piracy and barely succeeds.

And that is where the book ends. Yes, it may seem abrupt, but one must remember, this wasn’t made to be a story with a plot – it is an account of a man’s life and the things he encountered and/or heard about during his time in the Caribbean. So does that make it suck? No! This is more historical than anything, and quite all right. It’s not like it leaves you on some kind of cliffhanger.

But, interesting though it may be, it can get a little tiresome with nothing but Exquemelin’s descriptions to go by. Are you an author who is confused about showing and telling? Well, this is a perfect example of telling. There is next to no dialogue and the battles aren’t quite as exciting as they have potential for. As I said though, it is more historical, though that whole concept might put some readers off. As for myself, it was a required book for a pirate class I’m taking (yes, they do offer those), and when compared to other text books one might have to read, this rocked.

Oh, and no one ever says “Arg!” in here either.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton - Slapstick in a Book


Pro: Quick, mildly entertaining read
Con: Some dumbness; characters don't take anything seriously

Bottom Line: I'm glad these books are so far apart – reading them in quick succession would get really old, really fast.

Wicked Charms is the third book in the Lizzy and Diesel series. In case you didn't already know, Diesel is a character with some above normal abilities who's showed up in Stephanie Plum novels from time to time to make Stephanie's life even more interesting than it already is (if interesting is the right word for it). Lizzy has the ability to sense objects of power, and she's only one of two people in the world to be able to do so. Diesel's cousin, Wulf, is after certain stones that embody the Seven Deadly Sins, so it's a race to see who can get what stone first.

This time we're after Greed.

The base of the story is good. Kind of Goonies-esque, if you will. There's a rich and powerful man involved who hopes to become the incarnation of Mammon, a Prince of Hell who's all about greed. There are pirates, treasure, traipsing through thick island woods (we're off the East Coast so it's not jungle), dead guys, cupcakes, and more. Characters are quirky as usual, Diesel is his sexy self although his timing for leaving people in peril is impeccable, and I still really want to see more of Wulf, but it's understandable that we don't.

It's not a difficult read and will keep you entertained for about 4 hours or so; I brought the book home and read the entire thing that night. It's not that it's, "Oh, I can't put it down" but more like, "This won't take long so I'll just get it out of the way." As I mentioned above, it's mildly amusing, but I think it would be even better if the characters weren't so stupid and occasionally over the top.

That's where the book falls down and things get annoying. There are so many moments in which people come face-to-face with awful or terrifying situations but don't have anything close to a normal reaction. Instead they're too busy making casual statements or silly quips. From seeing fresh dead bodies to having guns shoved into one's back, it doesn't matter. I can only recall two times where Lizzy has somewhat of a normal reaction, but even these are glossed over: once when she is grossed out by a dead guy (and even then all that's mentioned is that she tries not to look at it), and the next when it's mentioned that she's panicking. That's it. Otherwise it doesn't matter if people are left to drown or going to be shot in the head, it's all no big deal.

The problem with this is that is totally takes away from the tension that would normally be there. You never have to worry about characters being hurt, much less killed. I mean, these books are clearly meant to be the "read and have fun" sort, but you can still insert some tension in there so I'm at least concerned someone is going to get injured. Heck, Diesel leaves to get groceries, people break into Lizzy's house (for the umpteenth time), but they're unscathed, Diesel comes back, and basically has the air of, "What happened? Oh, okay. Let's have dessert." Really? Also, you're not going to speak in pirate dialect when in certain situations. You're just not.

And while it's deviated some from the design of Stephanie Plum books (not sure if Phoef Sutton is there for the research aspect, as I was admittedly impressed with some of the pirate information being accurate, or to help change things up a bit), it's still pretty clear that Lizzy is 50% Stephanie, Glo is Lula, Clara is Connie, and now Clara's Gramps is the male version of Grandma Mazur.

Lizzy is also a moron for wanting to publish a book but does zero research and signs the first thing put in front of her – despite knowing the guy is a scumbag and possible sociopath.

Oh, and Carl the monkey is still there grinning his monkey smile, mooning people, and giving them the finger. *sigh*

Ok. So I complain about the dumbness. A lot. And there's plenty of it. So why am I still reading these? Enough time goes by that I'm able to brace myself for the ridiculous antics because I'm in it for two things – Wulf and the overarching storyline. I'm curious to see what happens when the last stone is found (either a lot of shit will go down or it will be like all the other books and no big deal), and I like Wulf's character. Probably because he's actually got some meat to him and isn't absurd like everyone else in the book. So I'm interested to see how he does over the next four or so books. And if Janet Evanovich is now working with another writer, maybe things will change up a bit in the future.

Here's hoping.

NT

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