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Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 13-09-2012

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Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World, #1)Gun­metal Mag­ic by Ilona Andrews
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I’m fair­ly sure that I missed a Kate Daniels book, because I don’t recall some of the events referred to in this book. That annoys me, and I’ll have to go back and read what­ev­er the last one was out of order now. It’ll be worth it, though, because Ilona Andrews’ writ­ing is always fun. Gun­metal Mag­ic is no exception.

This is the first nov­el to focus on Andrea Nash, Kate Daniels’ best friend. Exposed as a shapeshifter, she’s been kicked out of the Order. She had just cho­sen to obey orders from a supe­ri­or offi­cer instead of fight­ing with the Pack, which led to a breakup with her lover Raphael. Now she has to rebuild her life from a shat­tered ruin.

Andrea is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter, abused repeat­ed­ly in her ter­ri­ble child­hood and raised to be ashamed of and hide her shapeshift­ing nature. Her rela­tion­ship with Raphael is informed by their bou­da nature, but her human side isn’t left out by any means.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy the part that Atlanta plays in Andrews’ books, but as a near-native Atlanta I’m bound to be biased in that respect.

This vol­ume and the bonus novel­la “Mag­ic Gifts” are def­i­nite­ly worth­while read­ing for any fan of the Kate Daniels series. 

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review: In Session by M.J. Rose

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 11-09-2012

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In Session: Dr. Morgan Snow with Steve Berry's Cotton Malone, Lee Child's Jack Reacher & Barry Eisler's John RainIn Ses­sion: Dr. Mor­gan Snow with Steve Berry’s Cot­ton Mal­one, Lee Child’s Jack Reach­er & Bar­ry Eisler’s John Rain by M.J. Rose
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve nev­er read any­thing by any of these authors before, so my per­spec­tive on this piece is prob­a­bly going to be skewed com­pared to that of most readers/​listeners. How­ev­er, it was free on Audi­ble briefly and looked inter­est­ing, so I added it to my library. I hap­pened to be in the car a long time today and this is what I had down­loaded on my iPad, so this is one of the things that I lis­tened to. 

I found all three sto­ries to be very engag­ing, and found myself inter­est­ed in read­ing more about each char­ac­ter involved in the sto­ries. What fas­ci­nat­ed me the most, though, was Rose’s account of how the sto­ries were writ­ten — the dif­fer­ent ways the authors chose to work with her, how she pre­pared to write from the point of view of oth­er authors’ very well-known heroes, and so on. I would rec­om­mend this to any­one inter­est­ed in writ­ing as a cre­ative endeav­or for that por­tion in particular.

The fact that the nar­ra­tors who nor­mal­ly per­form the voic­es of each char­ac­ter in their own series appeared in this per­for­mance adds an addi­tion­al touch of pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the record­ing, as well.

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Review: Forever Werewolf/​Moon Kissed

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 11-09-2012

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Forever Werewolf: Forever Werewolf\Moon KissedFor­ev­er Were­wolf: For­ev­er Werewolf\Moon Kissed by Michele Hauf
My rat­ing: 1 of 5 stars

Full dis­clo­sure: I was giv­en a copy of this book to review. I’m glad I didn’t buy it. I imag­ine I might have been harsher.

In For­ev­er Were­wolf, Tryst is just deliv­er­ing a pack­age to Wulf­siege on behalf of his father’s secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny when he gets trapped there by an avalanche. He doesn’t mind, though, because the recip­i­ent of that pack­age has a lus­cious daugh­ter, Lexi. 

Female were­wolves are rare, and those few are pro­tect­ed like the pre­cious trea­sures they are. Even though Tryst wasn’t brought up in a pack, he knows that much. He also knows there’s some­thing very strange about the fact that Lexi isn’t claimed by any of the males in the pack — in fact, they seem to give her a wide berth. She’s obvi­ous­ly high­ly intel­li­gent and com­pe­tent, and she’s beau­ti­ful. She’s far more allur­ing to him than her spoiled, pam­pered princess sis­ter could ever be.

Lexi is fas­ci­nat­ed by Tryst, despite being warned away from the half-blood­ed wolf by her ail­ing father. He seems inter­est­ed in her, as well, but she fears that’s only because he doesn’t know her crip­pling secret: she hasn’t ever shift­ed. A were­wolf who can’t shift can’t mate, so she’s use­less in the eyes of the pack.

Tryst is warned away from Lexi by her father, head of the pack, as well, but he can’t seem to stay away from her. She’s like no oth­er woman, were­wolf or mor­tal, he’s ever encoun­tered. What is it that draws them to each oth­er? Is it worth risk­ing their lives for?

It was obvi­ous to me from the first pages of the book that Tryst and Lexi would get togeth­er, and that it would cost Tryst many bruis­es and much grief. The bad guy was all too obvi­ous, as well — if the aver­age read­er can’t iden­ti­fy him in the first men­tion, I’ll be shocked. (Per­haps I should be more spe­cif­ic and say “expe­ri­enced romance read­er” instead.)

As for Moon Kissed, it was so for­get­table that I’d have to look up the main male’s name. The female was Bel­la, some­thing I only recall due to bad mem­o­ries of Twi­light. Oh, wait, the male was Severo! Right then. Severo saves Bel­la from vam­pires who chase her, while fright­en­ing the hell out of her him­self, grop­ing her, and offer­ing absolute­ly no expla­na­tions of the strange new real­i­ties her world is sud­den­ly encompassing.

After that event, Bel­la learns that her best friend Seth’s new girl­friend is a vam­pire, some­thing Seth just hadn’t quite got­ten around to men­tion­ing. Seth explains that Severo (whose name she doesn’t yet know) is prob­a­bly a were­wolf, from her descrip­tion of him and his actions. Severo has, in the mean­time, start­ed stalk­ing Bel­la to pro­tect her from the vam­pires he’s sure will con­tin­ue to hunt her (for rea­sons unknown to him when he starts on this plan of action). After see­ing Seth with vam­pire Evie, with whom Severo has his­to­ry, Severo real­izes that Evie prob­a­bly sicced the vam­pires on Bel­la due to jealousy.

One of the many, many things that both­ered me about this book is that Bel­la is sup­pos­ed­ly a web design­er, but she nev­er seems to work. She cer­tain­ly doesn’t have a lap­top, which would be de rigeur, and she lives in a ridicu­lous­ly upscale place (an apart­ment with its very own heat­ed pool?) for some­one in that pro­fes­sion. She can afford a lot of dance lessons, too — but her real source of income or cap­i­tal is nev­er explained. Appar­ent­ly Hauf was just look­ing for a pro­fes­sion that could be “done any­where” and some­one sug­gest­ed “web design­er” so she grabbed that and ran with it.

Of course, Severo is also sup­posed to “do some­thing with real estate” — how believ­able is that as a char­ac­ter detail? I guess we’re sup­posed to just accept that he’s rich, can spend his time as he pleas­es, and let every­thing else go with­out ques­tion. How is it that he has a Brown­ie for a house­keep­er? What’s the rela­tion­ship between Faery and were­wolves and vam­pires? Who knows?

The sto­ry does not get more believ­able as it goes on. Of course Bel­la falls in love with her stalk­er and trusts him com­plete­ly. There are evil vam­pires. There’s one good vam­pire, just to show that they aren’t uni­form­ly bad. But you can tell where Severo and Bella’s rela­tion­ship is going in the ear­li­est scenes, and that’s the most impor­tant part of the book, because it’s a romance. There are com­pli­ca­tions but they’ll be over­come, or it wouldn’t be a romance.

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Review: Reese by Lori Handeland

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 30-08-2012

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ReeseReese by Lori Han­de­land
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

And now for some­thing COMPLETELY dif­fer­ent. Yes, this book is out of char­ac­ter for me, but I like Lori Han­de­land, and since I received a free copy I felt oblig­at­ed to read it and write a review. I’m keep­ing the fact that it is a west­ern romance in mind, and judg­ing it accordingly.

I don’t know from west­ern tropes, but I do know the stan­dard romance tropes, and Han­de­land hits them all. Mary is a spin­ster school­marm who is con­sid­ered too plain and too out­spo­ken to ever be attrac­tive to any man — in fact, anoth­er char­ac­ter (a real jerk) says so. It’s her char­ac­ter, more than her looks, that is the prob­lem, accord­ing to the jerk.

But the hero, Reese, finds her beau­ti­ful in her inno­cence, her igno­rance of her effect on him, and espe­cial­ly in the fact that she’s as stub­born as he is. The fact that they have to butt heads is an impor­tant romance trope, as I under­stand these things.

Mary believes she isn’t the kind of woman any man would want, and Reese believes he isn’t good enough for Mary, so they hold back from reveal­ing their feel­ings to each oth­er, pro­vid­ing the main con­flict in their relationship. 

There’s a plot that goes beyond Mary and Reese, obvi­ous­ly, explain­ing why the town of Rock Creek need­ed to hire Reese and his lit­tle troop of gun­men in the first place. That larg­er plot sets up the entire Rock Creek Gang series. I found noth­ing to laud or com­plain about in the main plot. It’s prob­a­bly a stan­dard accept­able west­ern, to be hon­est, and it doesn’t read so dif­fer­ent­ly than any oth­er sort of adven­ture sto­ry. It worked to set things up, but obvi­ous­ly wasn’t the main focus of the book. The ener­gy is in the romance.

I think per­haps romance fans read books like this because they’re com­fort­ably pre­dictable, like an old friend wear­ing new clothes. In any case, Han­de­land has writ­ten a sweet lit­tle love sto­ry that I didn’t mind read­ing. I could see her hand in the details, and while I would have pre­ferred read­ing more of one of her para­nor­mal series, she did a nice job with this book. Fans of west­ern romances will prob­a­bly enjoy it.

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Review: This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 28-08-2012

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This Case Is Gonna Kill MeThis Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Philli­pa Bornikova
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an unex­pect­ed delight. Lawyers? Meh. Even lawyers with para­nor­mal spice. 

But Lin­net Ellery is no ordi­nary lawyer, even for a young lawyer in a White Fang law firm. She has no end of back­bone and smarts, not to men­tion luck — or should I say Luck? Because for­tune swirls around her like nobody else, mak­ing her a nexus of events and a lit­tle too con­spic­u­ous for her very dis­creet employers. 

That’s not to say that she doesn’t make her share of mis­takes — that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? She sur­vives and learns from them, then helps oth­ers avoid the same. 

Liv­ing in a world of vam­pires, were­wolves, and Alfar (elves) might be intim­i­dat­ing to most humans, espe­cial­ly when those beings (Pow­ers) are essen­tial­ly in charge. Lin­net doesn’t let them intim­i­date her. She uses her con­tacts and plays to her strengths, win­ning more and more sig­nif­i­cant bat­tles every time she goes to bat. 

Borniko­va sets things up very nice­ly for a sequel, and I am per­son­al­ly hun­gry to read more. I strong­ly sug­gest this book to any­one who enjoys para­nor­mals, urban fan­ta­sy, or sim­ply good, humor­ous fic­tion with a dol­lop of sus­pense and a strong heroine.

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Review: Face Off by Mark del Franco

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 25-08-2012

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Face Off (Laura Blackstone, #2)Face Off by Mark Del Franco
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I went back and forth on the rat­ing for this book, but final­ly set­tled on a four. I hon­est­ly found all the con­flict to be exhaust­ing and unpleas­ant, but it was very real­is­ti­cal­ly writ­ten and I cer­tain­ly felt con­nect­ed to Black­stone. I decid­ed that if del Fran­co weren’t such a good writer, I wouldn’t be feel­ing every­thing so much.

I read Face Off right after fin­ish­ing Skin Deep, which is how I rec­om­mend that you read them. That is, after all, how the plot works. There’s a lot more of Jono Sin­clair in this vol­ume than the first, which will be pop­u­lar with romance fans. 

Dur­ing the events of Skin Deep, Lau­ra retired the Jan­ice Craw­ford per­sona. Her life should be sim­pler now that she’s just her­self and Mariel Tate, right?

Wrong, because she and Mariel Tate are being pulled in oppos­ing direc­tions by pow­er­ful forces, and she has two more-than-full-time-jobs. Toss in an order to imper­son­ate an unco­op­er­a­tive pris­on­er in order to infil­trate a ter­ror­ist group, and her life is at risk every day too.
In the midst of all this, there’s a vis­it from roy­al­ty, and her boss assigns Mariel yet anoth­er top priority.

The only respite is her grow­ing rela­tion­ship with Jono Sin­clair, who is also under­cov­er with the ter­ror­ist group. He’s the only per­son in the world who always knows who she is, no mat­ter what glam­our she’s wearing. 

Lau­ra start­ed won­der­ing how much of her­self was left behind all the per­sonas in Skin Deep, real­iz­ing that “Lau­ra Black­stone” was in dan­ger of becom­ing just anoth­er per­sona. She’s even more con­cerned about that issue in Face Off, but thanks to Jono she’s get­ting back in touch with who she is behind the masks. Will she be able to hold on to her progress? Will she be able to sim­ply sur­vive the under­cov­er assign­ment with almost no prepa­ra­tion? Or will it be the inter­nal Guild­house pol­i­tics that do her in? These ques­tions kept me read­ing and inter­est­ed. I was thrilled with how del Fran­co answered them, and I’m intense­ly curi­ous as to whether those answers leave any room for fur­ther adven­tures with Lau­ra and Jono.

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Review: Skin Deep by Mark del Franco

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 24-08-2012

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Skin Deep (Laura Blackstone, #1)Skin Deep by Mark Del Franco
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

This is an intrigu­ing begin­ning to a series. I’ve played a char­ac­ter with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties in a long-run­ning role­play­ing game, so I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in this book. I think the author did an excel­lent job of explor­ing just how much could be done with “essence” (glam­our), while set­ting believ­able lim­its to the character’s abil­i­ties. She has an excep­tion­al­ly well-trained mem­o­ry, but even she slips on a few details here and there when jug­gling too many per­sonas or with some­one very close to her for a long time.

The plot was less inter­est­ing to me, frankly, than the char­ac­ter. In fact, the details are a lit­tle fuzzy and I just fin­ished the book ear­li­er today. (Of course, I’ve read most of the next book since then, too). Even while read­ing it, though, some details strained believ­abil­i­ty. That detail took the rat­ing down a point.

Still, I was inter­est­ed enough to go right on to the next book in the series, and I intend to read more of del Franco’s work. I would rec­om­mend this book for those who enjoy urban fantasy.

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Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 23-08-2012

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Ready Player OneReady Play­er One by Ernest Cline
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Add this book to the short list of must-reads for every True Geek, right along­side Snow Crash. It’s a glee­ful homage to geek­dom and pop culture.

Wade explains to the read­er that he was born after human­i­ty wore the world out and escaped to OASIS, a mas­sive sim­u­la­tion that has replaced the inter­net and all oth­er forms of enter­tain­ment. Nobody seems to spend time in real­i­ty any more, because it sucks. There are mul­ti­ple wars going on over the few ener­gy sources that are left. Pover­ty, hunger, and home­less­ness are ram­pant everywhere. 

Most peo­ple who are for­tu­nate enough to live indoors at all are like Wade, who lives with his aunt and her lat­est boyfriend in a three-bed­room dou­blewide trail­er shared with 17 peo­ple. The trail­er is at least near the top of a stack, which is just what it sounds like: a stack of trail­ers 10 or so high, so many across and wide, so that 500 or more trail­ers are held togeth­er with rust­ed scaf­fold­ing, chains, and what­ev­er oth­er rein­force­ments peo­ple have added over the years. Stack col­laps­es are common. 

Wade spends most of his time in his hide­out, the back of an old van that’s parked in a junk­yard and crammed in a stack of vehi­cles. That’s where he keeps his com­put­er and oth­er equip­ment, so he can attend school (in OASIS, of course) and spend time research The Con­test, which is the cen­ter of his life.

The cre­ater of OASIS, James Hal­l­i­day, cre­at­ed The Con­test in his will. Who­ev­er wins it will inher­it Halliday’s vast for­tune and con­trol of OASIS. At the open­ing of the nov­el, it has been five years since Hal­l­i­day died and con­tes­tants are ridiculed in every­day soci­ety as obses­sive losers.

Wade’s quest through The Con­test and his fight to sim­ply sur­vive is far more inter­est­ing than I thought it would be. I’ll also admit to being enter­tained by the 80s triv­ia that pops up through­out the book (inte­gral to The Con­test). I’m biased, as I was a teen dur­ing those years. 

I whole­heart­ed­ly rec­om­mend this book. It’s one of the very few that I’ll be sav­ing to re-read in the future.

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Family Announcement

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Announcement, Family | Posted on 22-08-2012

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I know, I know — I’ve been post­ing a lot of reviews late­ly. They seemed more inter­est­ing than actu­al updates. Most of my time has been spent doing vol­un­teer work for Grants to You, which is inter­est­ing to do but not to describe.

How­ev­er, I have actu­al NEWS now! My baby girl and her beau are engaged! I swear, it feels like she was just learn­ing to walk last week and now she’s all grown up!

No, there isn’t a date set for the wed­ding yet. I’ll post more when there is one. But for now, I’m very hap­py for my girl and her sweet­heart. There have been lots of tears of joy around here.

Book Review: More Holmes for the Holiday edited by Martin H. Greenberg & co.

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Book Reviews, Reading | Posted on 21-08-2012

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More Holmes for the HolidaysMore Holmes for the Hol­i­days by Mar­tin H. Greenberg
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

Mar­tin H. Green­berg and com­pa­ny have pro­vid­ed a fine col­lec­tion of Sher­lock­ian hol­i­day sto­ries that fit in quite well with the tra­di­tion­al set.

“The Christ­mas Gift” by Anne Per­ry is a nice lit­tle piece about a stolen Stradi­var­ius and a cou­ple who want to mar­ry against the wish­es of the young lady’s father. There is an excel­lent red her­ring, one of the few in this anthology.

In “The Four Wise Men” by Peter Lovesey, Wat­son must answer a call to duty from his for­mer com­mand­ing offi­cer in the Army, in order to help guard a medieval trea­sure in a Christ­mas pageant. The game is soon afoot, and Sherlock’s pow­ers of obser­va­tion are as keen as ever.

Bar­bara Paul’s “Eleemosy­nary, My Dear Wat­son” gives Holmes a jew­el theft and a kid­nap­ping to solve, which he does in his inim­itable way. One clue seemed slight­ly too obvi­ous to me, but it may not to oth­er readers.

In “The Adven­ture of the Great­est Gift” by Loren D. Estle­man, Holmes receives a wax cylin­der con­tain­ing a record­ing of a song pop­u­lar in Amer­i­ca. He takes it as a warn­ing of a crime which could lead to war between Britain and France, and of course he leaps into action. This is Mycroft Holmes’ only appear­ance in the volume.

There’s plen­ty of mis­di­rec­tion in “The Case of the Rajah’s Emer­ald” by Car­olyn Wheat. Some­how, though, I sus­pect­ed one of the great rev­e­la­tions in this one from the begin­ning, but I couldn’t tell you exact­ly why. It didn’t ruin the sto­ry for me, and there was still a sur­prise at the end.

On the oth­er hand, Edward D. Hoch’s “The Christ­mas Con­spir­a­cy” man­aged to take me com­plete­ly unawares. I couldn’t fath­om why the crime would be com­mit­ted or by whom, despite hav­ing a major clue dropped by one char­ac­ter. Very well done!

“The Music of Christ­mas” by L.B. Green­wood telegraphed the iden­ti­ty of the crim­i­nal from the start, but was well worth read­ing. One of the char­ac­ters also tugged at the heartstrings.

Bill Crider’s “The Adven­ture of the Christ­mas Bear” is large­ly mem­o­rable because of the appear­ance of Oscar Wilde as a character. 

“The Adven­ture of the Naturalist’s Stock Pin” by Jon L. Breen gives us Charles Dar­win as Holmes’ client. The mys­tery is less Sher­lock­ian than some of the oth­ers, but I didn’t mind read­ing it.

Daniel Stashower’s “The Adven­ture of the Sec­ond Vio­let” was an inter­est­ing twist on a well-known Christ­mas sto­ry. I can­not say more with­out spoil­ing it, but he has a nice touch.

“The Human Mys­tery” by Tanith Lee is as dark as I expect from her, and was a depress­ing end­ing to the col­lec­tion. It was, how­ev­er, very well-written.

The anthol­o­gy left me hun­gry for more Holmes, and wish­ing that I weren’t between sea­sons of BBC’s Sher­lock or that I had anoth­er col­lec­tion of sto­ries on hand. That’s the sign of a suc­cess, I think.

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