February Round Up

So I don’t nearly have enough time to review every book that I read, unfortunately. If I did, I wouldn’t have any time to read, and my TBR (to be read) shelf keeps getting bigger all the time! So in the interest of everyone’s time, here’s a short summary of the rest of the books I read in February.

The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook – A young Princess’ betrothed arrives, prompting the revelation that she’s not, um … actually the princess. When her betrothed throws a temper tantrum and takes over the palace, it’s the decoy’s job to make sure the real princess gets the throne. This book was an awful lot of fun. [xrr rating=4.25/5]

Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E Feist – Yes, I know this is an older book, but one of my goals has been to try to read some of the major fantasy works that I hadn’t before. Feist has managed to combine science fiction and fantasy in one series.Which is quite a feat in itself. It’s also quite a great story, which is almost a miracle.  [xrr rating=4/5]

The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop – I enjoy Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy a double scoop of whole lot, but I’d never read this series. It’s not as tightly woven as BJT was, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s also kind of a scary look at what the Salem Witch Trials would have looked like.  [xrr rating=3.5/5]

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine – This is the first in the Weather Warden series. The series has been highly recommended by several authors and various blogs I follow, so I had to givei t a try. I  wasn’t disappointed, either. A unique urban fantasy. [xrr rating=3.75/5]

The Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cheryh – Another classic, this one a sci-fi. This trio of books portrays a  completely immersive alien world. Cheryh is very good at this kind of world-building, and although I didn’t fall in love with the story, I learned a whole heck of a lot. [xrr rating=2.75/5]

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I subscribed to Rothfuss’ blog based on a recommendation from Neil Gaiman, and I’ve never regretted it. Rothfuss is a hilarious guy, and his debut novel is so tightly woven you could bounce tennis balls off of it. Highly recommended. [xrr rating=4.5/5]

Review: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

At first look, The Warded Man seemed like just another fantasy novel. I was excited to have the opportunity to review this book, but I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. I read the back cover and knew that there were demons in the story. Cool. So I picked it up and started to read.

Boy, were my expectations blown out of the water. Arlen’s story drew me in. His village is attacked, his mother wounded. His father freezes rather than risk his own life, so Arlen is forced to step up and beat back the aforementioned demons, known as corelings, to save her life. When his mother dies anyway, Arlen runs away from home, vowing to find a way to fight the demons.

Leesha’s story bound me in tighter. The young and naive girl’s hopes to be a wife and mother are shattered when her betrothed spreads rumors that she’s given up the goods before the wedding. In a fury at his lies, she calls off the marriage and takes refuge with the local healing woman.

Rojer’s story sealed the deal. At 3 years old, Rojer’s family is attacked by corelings and killed. Poor Rojer is crippled in the attack, losing two fingers to one of the demons. Rojer’s mother is killed protecting him, and at her last request, the Jongleur Arrick takes the young orphan to raise him.

The book consists of three sections with several chapters each. The first section tells of the history of our three main heroes. The second section manuevers the players into position. The third brings the trio together for the first time in a resounding conclusion.

The storytelling reminded me strongly of The Wheel of Time. Maybe it’s just the classic fantasy set-up of mysterious stranger coming to help the young hero come into his own after his family is attacked by evil baddies. That’s not a bad thing, and the way that classic story is handled is unique and captivating. I enjoyed the language of the tale. It flowed smoothly and didn’t get in its own way.

The Warded Man is a fast-paced, engrossing tale of youth coming into it’s own in a harsh world. It focuses on the need to fight, even in the face of extreme adversity and the near surety of being overwhelmed. It also explores humanity’s tendency to “group-think”. There are glimpses into how rumor and religion affect the individual as well as the group.

Overall, The Warded Man is worth the read. I recommend it to anyone with a soft spot for traditional fantasy of the likes of Jordan, Eddings, Brooks, or Goodkind.

[xrr rating=4/5]

Review: Dark Haven by Gail Z Martin

Dark Haven, Book 3 of The Chronicles of the Necromancer is a book for which I have literally been waiting for a year. When I picked up The Summoner, first book in the series, I immediately fell in love with the story of Martris Drake and his struggle against his evil brother Jared.

This review has spoilers for the first book in the series. You have been warned.

One of the things that struck me when I started reading Summoner was that Gail Martin has the rare ability to make you love her characters in a short amount of time. I was immediately drawn to Kate, Tris’ younger sister. She was a vibrant piece of reality that grabbed me right at the beginning of the story. The tragedy of her murder, along with the deaths of the remainder of the royal family, dragged me kicking and screaming into the story. From that point on, I was committed. I just had to know what would happen next.

Which is probably why I devoured Dark Haven in only a couple of days, without taking the time to go back and re-read the previous two books in the series. The problem with that is some of the details of the previous plot points were fuzzy, and that’s always frustrating. I look forward to my next re-read.

Dark Haven itself is a masterful piece of the puzzle. It has as many threads as a spider’s web, and will tangle you up in it just as quickly. My only regret is that now I have at least another year before I can discover what happens next. The majority of the focus of Haven is split between Jonmarc Vahanian in his new role as lord of Dark Haven, home of the vayash moru, and the troubles of Kiara, new Queen of Margolan, as she traverses the deadly politics of her new home at Shekerishet.

We also spend a little time with Tris as he rides to war and besieges the rebellious Lord Curane’s castle; as well as some time with King Donelon of Isenholt and the problems there. To top it all off, the Flow – source of Tris’ and his mages’ power – is starting to come apart at the seams, and a violent backlash would destroy friend and foe alike.

Sadly, Dark Haven forwards the story without resolving much of anything, A couple of pairings are made official, and the game pieces seem to be aligning for a rousing face off, but readers are left wanting more. Which isn’t a bad place at all for an author to be. I can’t wait to re-read this series so I can pick up on the subtle nuances in the text, and I’ll definitely be waiting with baited breath for the next installment. I highly recommend this series.

[xrr rating=3.75/5]

Review: Dreaming Again Edited By Jack Dann

Dreaming Again is lovingly crafted from submissions edited by Jack Dann. You can tell from his introduction that this truly was a labor of love. Some of the stories are bitter-sweet, most are creepy, all are speculative fiction. I’ll admit to putting the book down half-way through. Not that I didn’t enjoy the stories, but more because my personal preferences run toward full-length novels, preferably series. Short fiction gives me just enough time to become committed and then, like the bad one night stand, leaves me frustrated and wanting more.

The stories include some from John Birmingham, Trudi Canavan, Sara Douglass, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, and a previously unpublished work from A. Bertram Chandler. Maybe I’m a naughty fiction reader but the only ones I recognize are Trudi Canavan and Sara Douglass; Ms. Douglass is the only author who’s work I’ve experienced previously.

My favorite of the ones I read was Sean McMullen’s “The Constant Past”. Maybe I just have a thing for librarians, but one who can stop a time-travelling serial killer is one that has my interest. “This Is My Blood” by Ben Francisco and Chris Lynch, about a world-hopping missionary, seriously creeped me out and I’m still wondering whether the main character survived her ordeal.

Angela Slatters “The Jacaranda Wife” is an Australian fairy tale that just happens to have been written recently instead of hundreds of years ago. I didn’t even bother to try to make sense of Lucy Sussex’s “Robots & Zombies, Inc.” because the forward described the story as one side of a conversation- a taped interview missing the questions. After the first couple of lines, I couldn’t make sense of it so I gave up.

Overall, I do intend to eventually finish the short stories contained in Dreaming Again. I think I’ll need to take them in small doses, preferably not just before bed. (I told you they were creepy.) The tales so far have been of high quality, being extremely well written. I think I’ll take a break with something from my usual genre, and then I’ll be ready to tackle the second half.

Here’s a short recap of the ones I did read:

Old Friends (Garth Nix)- Intriguing. Left me feeling like I missed a large chunk of the story, which I think is part of what the author wanted.

A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead (Richard Harland) – Basically just creepy, and didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

This is My Blood (Ben Francisco and Chris Lynch) – Made my flesh creep, but I liked it. Definitely left me wanting more.

Nightship (Kim Westwood) – Futuristic pirate gender-bender where sex is assigned based on your job/role. Interesting, but the one peek was enough for me, thanks.

The Fooly (Terry Dowling) – Creepy ghost story for creepy little ghosties. An interesting twist.

Neverland Blues (Adam Browne) – Made me sad/pitying. Makes me wonder just how twisted this author’s mind is.

The Jacaranda Wife (Angela Slatter) – The Grimm fairy tale that is only not included because it hadn’t yet been written.

The Constant Past (Sean McMullen) – My favorite of the lot, about a time travelling serial killer and the librarian who thwarts him.

The Forest (Kim Wilkins) – Scary retelling of Hansel and Gretel, with some insightful social commentary.

Robots & Zombies, Inc (Lucy Sussex) – Gave up on this one two lines in. Too confusing to read, but I thought it was an interesting format to try.

The Way to The Exit (Sara Douglass) – A historical paradox. Shows Douglass’ continuing love affair with London.

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo (A. Bertram Chandler) – Hadn’t read anything by this author before; I’m thinking I’ll look him up. Sad that he’s gone before I got a chance to “meet” him and his characters.

Lure (Paul Collins) – Scarily realistic tale of an avatar-killing virus and the social repercussions of investing too much time in a virtual world.

Empire (Simon Brown) – I liked the flash-back appeal of this story, even though I’ve never been fond of Martians.

Lakeside (Christopher Green) – Just creepy. Could have done without it.

Troll’s Night Out (Jenny Blackford) – Too short. I liked it. The afterward that told how the idea occurred to the author was almost as entertaining as the story itself.

[xrr rating=2.25/5]

Review: Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake

Usually when I receive an Advance Reader Copy of a book, it’s because I’ve signed up to receive one. In the case of Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake, however, I don’t remember doing that. That actually made me excited, though. Maybe I’m making a mark as a reviewer, finally?

Anyway, Nightwalker had the unfortunate luck to arrive in the mail on the same day as a huge ($150) order from Amazon. (I’d come into a couple of gift cards. I don’t usually have the cash on hand to order that many books from Amazon all at once.) What was that you say? Amazon sells things besides books? Pshaw!

Needless to say, it took me awhile to get on the ball to read this one. What spurred me to make the book a priority was the fact that Kim Harrison recommended it on both her mailing list and website. It was a pretty compelling read. Not ground-breaking spectacular, but good enough to keep me intrigued over the second half and through to the end.

Nightwalker seems, at first glance, to be your usual tale from a bloodsucker’s point of view. There were some interesting twists. Only one other author that I know of has done elves and vamps in the same story before (Kim Harrison herself, but in a completely different way). The first half or so of the book, though, isn’t all that remarkable. Don’t get me wrong. The storytelling is solid.

It was good. Just not remarkable. For the first half.

Once we’re over that mid-book-hump and truly get into the action, the story really started to pique my interest. I’ve seen many a tale of poor tortured vampires before, but not one of a vampire actually having been tortured. Then again maybe I just haven’t been reading the right vampire stories. I’d rather do horror or urban fantasy then paranormal romance any day of the week.

One thing I found particularly interesting was how characters who appeared to be enemies in the first half turned into allies in the second. And vice versa.  I’ll say no more about that so as not to spoil the ending. I will say that I’m pretty interested in what’s going to be happening next.

Overall, I’d have to give this book a pretty solid mid-rating. This author isn’t going to bump down any of my Top 10, but I’ll most likely be looking for the next installment of Mira and Danaus’ adventures. From a first novel point of view, I don’t think that’s a bad place to be at all.

Want to know more? Go to the author’s website.

[xrr rating=3.25/5]

Review: The Undead Kama Sutra by Mario Acevedo

The Undead Kama Sutra by Mario Acevedo will be on sale March 11th!

Recently I had the opportunity to read a review copy of Mario Acevedo’s new novel: The Undead Kama Sutra. This is the third book in a series about Felix Gomez, ex-soldier and current vampire PI. Following The Nymphos of Rocky Flats and X-Rated Bloodsuckers, Kama Sutra is a somewhat chaotic adventure. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I have not read the first two volumes in this series.

In this installment, Felix Gomez has traveled to the Florida Keys in search of the mysterious manuscript called The Undead Kama Sutra. This volume supposedly instructs the undead in giving their psychic and healing abilities a boost through various sexual positions. Felix thinks fellow vampire (and sexual Olympian) Carmen may have a clue to finding a few pages of the book. Distracted from his quest by the murder of an alien hidden within the body of an old friend, Felix begins to put together the pieces of the mystery: two plane crashes, three missing women, a golf resort, and the sinister retired Army Colonel Goodman.

Given the title, there’s a surprising lack of sex in this book. Felix seems to stumble from one dilemma to another without having a real plan for solving the mystery. He doesn’t appear to know how to be a hero, managing to get one woman killed and another kidnapped without having any idea of how to protect them. One could expect a vampire to be self-centered, but a supposedly higher being such as Felix shouldn’t be so damned ineffective.

There are a lot of details to Mr. Acevedo’s world. There are aliens, vampires, nymphomaniacs, and evil government officials. It’s an intriguing mix of genres. He makes a fine comment on the indifference and near outright malice of the American government toward it’s citizens. That aspect translates well to the real world. However the reader never has the opportunity to root for Felix. There’s too much else going on. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but neither does he go out of his way to make us love him either. Perhaps we were intended to fall in love with him in a previous volume.

The scene where Felix wastes his time wondering why one tryst only wanted a one-night stand when he merely wanted her for dinner anyway was a bit annoying. Did you forget, Mr. Gomez, that there are women missing? Or is your fragile vampire ego too important? That scene made for a great deal of frustration. I kept hoping for a spectacular finale in which Felix could heroically save the day with all his vampiric powers blazing. That didn’t happen. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, but that may just fuel my interest in purchasing the next volume.

I read this novel in less than a day, and may pick up the first two novels in the series to see if they’re more engrossing than this third installment. The lack of sex scenes, despite the title, was rather refreshing. This book is great fluff-reading;there’s not much there to force you to think. Acevedo didn’t make my list of must-have authors with this one, but this series would be great for those sick-in-bed-with-a-cold days.

[xrr rating=1.5/5]

Book Review: Punching In by Alex Frankel

The author of this book has previously written for Wired and The New York Times. When I received this book as an advance copy, I was thrilled at the chance to read it. I spent nearly a decade in the customer service trenches, as a manager of a fast food restaurant. And although Frankel steered clear of such low-wage jobs as those, I was still excited to see a learned interpretation of the life that many Americans lead.

Punching In CoverFor the past six years, I’ve been a member of corporate America and I have been offered a glass of the ‘company Kool-Aid’ many times in my career. I don’t see myself as a gullible person. I am a cynic, and therefore I was intrigued by the thought that someone had actually researched how companies reach out and turn their employees into dedicated converts.

I must admit that the glimpse into the different worlds was interesting, and I could tell from Frankel’s writing that he had overall enjoyed his foray into the behind-the-counter aspect of commerce. However, there was an overlay upon some points in the retelling of the author’s experiences that smelled patronizing to me.

In this book, Frankel has bared the backbone of our country: the customer service employees who are nearly overlooked in their unobtrusiveness every single day of the year. These are the people that get the small but important things done. They deserve more reverence than to be reduced to some high school science experiment. I’m willing to believe I’m being overly sensitive on that point, however, so I’ll let it go.

Overall, the narrative was mildly interesting and the language was elegant. However, I expected more insights into the different companies than were offered in these pages. Each company philosophy was presented only briefly and then the author went on to complain of how long and hard the hours were. All I could think was, well what did he expect? It just felt like there should be more to the story than that.

Final conclusion: An enjoyable read; and I’m suitably thankful that I was chosen to review this book. If you’re in HR or corporate management, I would recommend it.

[xrr rating=1.5/5]