Friday Reads: Blood Red

18693942Blood Red: Elemental Masters #10
by Mercedes Lackey
(fantasy, fairy tale retelling)

The Elemental Masters series is one of my favorites. However, while I love the series, that does not necessarily mean that I love each individual book. (Bear with me a moment – I’ll get to the actual book review shortly.) My favorite books in this series are the early ones, including the book which isn’t always counted as a part of the series because it was released by a different publisher. (THE FIRE ROSE was released by Baen books, while all the rest were released by DAW Books.) My favorites in the series are THE FIRE ROSE, THE SERPENT’S SHADOW, and PHOENIX AND ASHES. While I haven’t yet read STEADFAST and I think I may have skimmed RESERVED FOR THE CAT since I don’t remember it well, I’ve read all the rest of the series. And while they were enjoyable, they just didn’t live up to my love for those early books.

Sadly, while I enjoyed BLOOD RED, it is the same as the other later books in the series. Good, but not as good. I keep hoping for another wow in this series, but it hasn’t happened yet. I still enjoy the books, and I keep buying them, but I’m glad I started with the early books. (And frankly, looking over the reviews on FROM A HIGH TOWER, I think I might be taking a break from this series.)

BLOOD RED is a retelling of Little Red Ridinghood. However, the Little Red fairy tale part is essentially over in the first chapter or two of the book. (In my favorites, the fairy tale spans the entire story.) This is fine for the worldbuilding and background, but after that, the entire story depended on a new plot. And the plot that was provided was amusing, but not fantastic.

It was a fun read, don’t get me wrong. But I saw few to no flaws in the main character, and that makes for a boring story. Rosa, by the time we really get to meet her, is already a kick-ass monster hunter, with lots of tools and weapons to help make her job easier. She has mastered her magic. Her only hang-up is with werewolves: she has a hard time believing that any werewolves can be good. So when she meets someone she’s been told is a good werewolf, she has a bit of a “what should I do?” moment, and that’s about it. Even when she runs into the Big Bad Wolf, so to speak, she’s had no problems with any of her other adversaries so far, so there’s no belief in the reader’s mind that she might be in trouble this time, either.

I still recommend this to fans of the series, or to people who are huge fans of the fairy tale. However, don’t expect an awesome read with this one. It’s a fun read, maybe a beach read. If that’s all you’re expecting, you’ll be fine.

Side note: I did read some other reviews of this book too, and some of them were glowing about how strong and kick-ass Rosa is. That is true. But it is taken to the point of being unbelievable, and means the story has essentially no real conflict. For such an accomplished author as Lackey, I find that unforgivable.

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Friday Reads: I Am Number Four

 I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1)
by Pittacus Lore
narrated by Neil Kaplan
(YA, contemporary fantasy)

Before I get into this review, a disclaimer: I am not the target age for this book. I came to this conclusion after the main character’s second kiss. (Or so.) Many, MANY of the kisses between the MC and his girlfriend in this book are described as “lingering”. Drove. Me. Crazy. But then I stopped to think about it. The MC is a 15-year-old boy. I am not. I have had lots of kisses in my life. A 15-year-old (presumably) would not have. I was about half-way through listening to this book when I got annoyed enough about the sometimes juvenile descriptions to consider not finishing the book. And then I remembered that it was written with a juvenile MC. Fifteen is younger than most YAs I read. This is almost not even a YA book. And it shows. But, having realized that, I was better able to ignore my annoyances with repetition, and just enjoy the plot.

Well… at least mostly enjoy the plot. I have to admit that it was very predictable for me. There were only a few things that I didn’t see coming. And there were things I anticipated which sadly didn’t happen. But… the things I was hoping for wouldn’t have made as good a young-YA book, I think. They’d be better in an older-YA or an adult novel. To explain without spoilers: all books need conflict. But if you put in a big, let’s say fatal, conflict mid-way through the book, you will need a bigger conflict for the climax of the novel. And yet, perhaps in this age level book you don’t want the conflicts to be as big as some readers (say, me) expect. I mean, I have to remember that even Harry Potter didn’t have any on-screen non-villain deaths until book 4.

Okay. So far I’ve only really talked about things that annoyed me. What did I like about the book? Well, the two main characters seemed pretty believable. I did enjoy their interactions. I also liked the way the powers manifested. That was cool. Some of the secondary characters were fun, though they all only seemed mostly believable. Then again, it’s been a while since I was in high school, so I guess things could have changed. But still… maybe not quite that much. One thing that was really believable was the temper tantrum that the MC threw at one point when he thought he would have to leave. That probably felt the most real of the entire book.

I listened to the audiobook for this one, which is probably one reason why I “read” the book straight through instead of skimming. The narration was perfectly satisfactory. I know that sounds bad, but it’s not meant to be. It wasn’t spectacular narration, but it wasn’t so bad I returned the book after 20 minutes. (Yes, I have done that when warranted.) I found the writing style and quality satisfactory, and the narration perfectly matched that. I’m not going to go explicitly search out more of Mr. Kaplan’s narrations, but neither will I avoid them.

So as a wrap-up… would I recommend this book? Maybe. If you are the target age and like fantasy and/or aliens, probably. If you are an adult, I can only recommend it if you are able to remember who it was written for – fifteen-year-old boys – while you read it. I will not be continuing the series, even though from the teaser chapter at the end of the audiobook one (or more?) of the girls shares narration with Number Four in the following books. I enjoyed the premise well enough for one book, but I am not willing to read the next books with the mindset I would need in order to enjoy them. There are so many books out there written for older audiences (even just older teens!) with writing styles I know I enjoy for me to read more of a series that isn’t in a style I enjoy. It’s a good premise, though, so I hope that anyone who thinks it might fit their (or a family member’s) reading preferences will give it a try.

Friday Reads: Timebound by Rysa Walker

TimeBound (Chronos Files #1)
by Rysa Walker
narrated by Kate Rudd
(contemporary fantasy, time travel, historical fiction)

I have a lot to say about this novel. First thing: it is LONG. Frankly, too long. I enjoyed the premise. I liked the characters. But about half-way through the audiobook, I stopped caring about them because it was long and the pacing slowed down and I got bored. Eventually, I started listening again. And I got a bit further. And then I got bored again. And then I got the paper version out of the library and skimmed the ending so that at least I’d know what happened without having to slog through the rest of the audiobook. (While I love listening to books because then I can multi-task, I do sometimes get annoyed that I have to go at the reader’s speed. And yes, I know that I can listen at 1.5 or 2 times the speed and still understand the text. But then you miss the nuance of the reader’s performance, and so why bother?)

Anyway. That was only one comment I had, and the one that I feel is the most important to start with. Second thing: the premise is awesome. Just the same way that the “Back To The Future” movie premise is awesome, where you have to prevent actions taken by someone who time traveled to the past in order to keep yourself alive. Awesome idea, and this version of the idea was well crafted. Rysa did a great job on her plotting and worldbuilding. I do think that the novel itself needed some trimming – both for the length and to make the secondary plot more secondary – but that shouldn’t diminish the great initial idea.

Third thing: the characters. Some were awesome, some were good, some were merely okay. This is pretty standard, sure. For instance: there’s one point where Kate has a cat fight with another girl about her age. Said other girl seems pretty stereotypical “teenage girl baddie”. Nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, Kate’s main love interest for this book is rather well developed and doesn’t seem to be nearly as standard. (I’m not saying who, because it looks like there will be a love triangle in this series, and I’d rather you read it for yourself if you choose to, than have me tell you which guy is the boyfriend of choice in this book.) Kate herself is well developed, if sometimes a bit of a stereotype, and her grandmother is a really fun character. I really enjoy her.

I did like the narration for the book, but as I mentioned – when the book got slow, I just couldn’t keep going at the narrator’s pace and had to have the ability to skim it. I’ll certainly be open to trying more of Kate Rudd’s reads in the future, however.

Final rating for this one: probably a B minus. Good, but not great, and I’m not sold on continuing with the series. I think I heard rumors of a movie, though, and that could be worth it, depending on the screenplay.

52 Books 2014: Week 15

Insurgent (Divergent #2)
Veronica Roth
(YA, urban fantasy, dystopian)

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I like the series plot, as near as I can tell. I like the world and the imagery. I like many of the characters. But there were many bits about this particular book that drove me a little crazy. (And talking about them will mean there are spoilers. Be warned.)

First: Tris. I understand that she has been through a lot of stuff that most people won’t ever have to go through. I realize that she is only 16. But she spent way too much time in this book getting hung up on issues that I had a hard time believing. The biggest and most annoying one was the gun thing. I found it really hard to believe that she would have that much trouble even touching a gun when she was IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR. Sure, freak out about it when you have the time to think about it. Sure, have trouble actually firing the thing. But to have trouble touching one when she seemed otherwise perfectly rational? And when she had no problem nearly killing someone with a knife? I didn’t buy that.

I also have an issue with her relationship with Tobias. I can accept that they love each other. I can’t accept that she would have been raised by such a loving (if not demonstrative) couple as her parents seemed to be, and not know how to talk to a boy she liked about important things. Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve been a teenager with a crush on a guy. But up until the end of the book (when things seemed to resolve better) it seemed that her boy-troubles were merely a good way to move the plot along and not character-realistic.

And I think my biggest issue with this book was the writing quality. I enjoy the story. But not all of the actual writing seems necessary. And my arm hurts right now from holding INSURGENT too long while I was reading the last of it. Have you seen the print on the hardbacks? (Which I got because they were a boxed set… I didn’t see a boxed set of the paperbacks.) TOO BIG, in my opinion. Not large-print big, but paper-wasting big. If you’re not going to cut some of the text through edits, at least use a smaller font so that your readers aren’t lugging around a five-pound book. (Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but still. And yes, I know that Harry Potter books had the same length issue. My same complaint stands about those books, with the possible difference that the font needed to be a little bigger on the Potter books because the readers were – marketed as – younger.)

Anyway. Did I like INSURGENT? Yes, mostly. There were moments in the middle of the books that I wondered why I bought them instead of getting them from the library, but I mostly like the book. (You can tell that the author was young, though, I feel. It feels like an early book and not a more polished book by a more experienced writer.) As I’ve said, I like the story a lot. I’m hoping that more polishing time was spent on ALLEGIANT, because I’m planning to finish the series and want to end the books on a positive note. We’ll see.

(Oh – and I stil haven’t seen the movie. I’m curious to see how that changes my take on the books. Kinda want to finish reading the whole trilogy first, though.)

STOLEN – a review

It is April, so Moonlight Gleam’s WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD Reading Challenge is on to STOLEN!

Make sure to swing by the hosting site and see what other people are saying about this book… I can almost guarantee you that I am in the minority here.

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I’ve never really cared for STOLEN. It’s (I think) the 4th of the series that I read, even though it’s the 2nd book, and I am super glad that I was hooked on the series before I got to this book. If I’d started with BITTEN I might not have gotten past STOLEN.

I have never before tried to figure out why I don’t like STOLEN, however. And this time around – which is only the second time I’ve ever read it, for all that I’ve read some of the others dozens of times – I tried to focus on that aspect. Tried to convince myself that it was just prejudice because I like Paige the best of the narrators and she’s not presented in a very favorable light in this book.

But that’s not it. However, I figured out what it IS.

I don’t like the bad guy. Yes, I know, that’s the point. But I don’t like the way he’s presented. I don’t like how much screen time he gets compared to the good guys. I don’t like having Elena on her own for nearly the entire time, without the other core characters. My favorite part of the series is how well everyone works together. How they each have their own strengths and weaknesses and how all of it ties into the plot. In STOLEN, there is very little of that (visible). The book is more about how Elena deals with this problem, or that problem. Not a lot of collaboration. Not a lot of communication. (Yes, this working together stuff does happen more at the end than during the middle. But I nearly put the book down several times in the middle because of this, so it fixed my main complaint almost too late.)

Another thing I don’t like about the bad guy is his motivation. A rich guy who wants some excitement. Compared to the other bad guys in the series, I think he’s the weakest. (Series spoilers in the rest of this paragraph… you’ve been warned.) I mean, really. You have Winslow, who wants to play games, deadly though they are. On the other hand, you have Edward and Natasha, who want eternal love. You have Kristof, who wants his daughter. You have a group of humans who want to be paranormal. And you have werewolves who want revenge. If you ask me, no matter how deadly Ty’s games are, they are the most minor motivation on this list.

STOLEN does work as a book in the series, and it sets up some great parts of later books. And it introduces a much larger cast of characters than just the Pack, and in such a way that it seems logical and not to avoid getting bored of werewolves. But I still don’t like it.

Mini-Book-Review

So, I meant to write this post this morning. It’s now nowhere near morning, and I’m only just getting to it. With all that’s been going on in my personal life over the past few months (95% good stuff), blogging hasn’t been what it should be. I think I’ll be slowing it down for a while, and instead of feeling guilty for not blogging every weekday, I’m only going to plan on three posts a week — probably Monday, Wednesday, Friday. We’ll see if that works better.

So, the book review part… I don’t actually have much to say about the two books I have to talk about today. The first is Touch The Dark by Karen Chance. I wanted to like this book. I really did. There’s just one major problem: I didn’t like the direction some of the major characters took. This is more of an Urban Fantasy than a Paranormal Romance. Fine. No problem. I like both genres. But there was a seduction scene, and I didn’t believe it because I didn’t like the guy involved much. The guy I would have preferred the heroine to be with ended up doing a complete character flip, and being someone I didn’t expect him to be. (Sorry for the vagueness, but I hate spoilers.) Long story short, I nearly didn’t finish the book because I didn’t like the way the secondary characters developed. (Grade: B-)

The second book I’ll mention today is Magic Below Stairs by Carolyn Stevermer. I picked this one up from the library because it is set in the same world and with some of the same characters as Sorcery and Cecilia that Stevermer co-authored with Patricia C. Wrede. (I’ve gone on before about how much I love that book, so I won’t go into depth again now.) I knew this was a YA. Fine. I like YA. However, it’s much less YA and much more middle-grade. As in, it’s too young to be YA. I picked it up as lunch entertainment, and have practically finished the thing already. Over lunch. Fun story, great characters, but too easy a read for me. If you don’t mind reading books geared toward that age, or if you ARE that young, great. Pick this up, and I think you’ll enjoy it. But don’t expect a book written for the same age range as the letter game books that started the world. (Grade: B)

Week 10: Twelve Houses

This is my weekly 52 Books in 52 Weeks post…

Usually I would review a book here and call it good. But this week I will be reviewing a series instead. Cheating? No, not really. The book-specific review parts will be shorter than usual, for one. For two, though I have not yet re-read all 5 books in the series, I will be finishing the first in the series probably tomorrow, and then reading the second shortly after that. (I started with my favorite of them, book #3, and then kept going until there were no more books, and am now reading from the beginning to where I started.)

The series in question is the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. There are currently 5 books in the series, and if anyone knows whether there will ever be more books, I would love to know. (I tried — briefly — Googling this, but as I was very short on time I haven’t been able to discover an answer yet.)

There will be more spoilers in these reviews than I normally include. Sorry about that.

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Mystic & Rider (book 1)
by Sharon Shinn

(fantasy, light romance)

This book, for me, was everything a series opener should be: it introduces the characters you’ll follow through the rest of the books, it sets up the world quite nicely, and it has a conflict that can be concluded in one book while still leaving plenty of larger conflict for the rest of the series. Sometimes it is hard to find a book-concept that does not drown in the series-conflict. Or a series-conflict that does not seem slapped together to make the individual book-conflicts into one large story.

Senneth and Tayse are the main characters in this book, though there is less focus on them than there is on the MC’s in the later books of the series. I suspect this is because the whole world, and the whole group of friends, needed to be created. We couldn’t look back to what came before to make this story make sense. Even so, they are the best developed, theirs is the POV we see, and theirs is the romance at the heart of the story. I really enjoyed this book, enough that upon getting it out of the library I decided I wanted to own it. (I now do.)

Grade: A-

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The Thirteenth House (book 2)
by Sharon Shinn

(fantasy, light romance)

Coming after a book I liked so much, this installment was a huge disappointment. The “why” of my dislike for it is easy to sum up: the main character has an affair throughout most of the story, and it turned me off. Not to say that my MCs have to be perfect, far from it. But I had been looking on this as a romance series, which meant I was going to get a Happily Ever After, which meant… what? That the unfaithful couple were going to end up together? That they would end the affair and be with people they didn’t truly love? Since I read this around a time in my life where my own guy was being unfaithful, this was not a way to make a repeat reader out of me. I am just glad that the first book in the series was interesting enough to me that I read book 3, because — as I’ve said — that one is my favorite. This one (book 2) is my least.

Now, not to bash on the characters. Kirra is an enjoyable POV character, and it’s fun to see her viewpoint on everything. It’s hard to pin down her character type, because the people around her see her as flighty but there are many hints that she is not. Being inside her head is fun.

The plot, also, advances the story well. (Both the book-specific and the series plots.) It is well told, and I got over my dislike of the affair to buy this book as well as the rest of the series.

Grade: B-

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Dark Moon Defender (book 3)
by Sharon Shinn

(fantasy, light romance)

I love this book. I want a guy like Justin. If there is one book in this series that I wish I could claim as my writing, it is this one. Style-wise, it feels the way the others do. It is as well written, as well plotted. It doesn’t have my favorite cover art. But I love it.

Somehow, I suspect it is the romance of this book that makes me love it most. This one has the sweetest of the romances, the love that tugs at your heart and makes you believe that it’s real. And the scene where Justin essentially proposes to Ellynor in front of her family? Makes me cry every time I read it. It’s so sweet.

I do also like the several different ways this book ties into the first two. There are things hinted at in the other books that are answered here, though I don’t know if they were planned from the start or just happened to work out. Whatever the reason, this book really shines for me. And based on her website, it looks like this is one of the author’s favorites, too.

Grade: A/A+ (depends on my mood)

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Reader & Raelynx (book 4)
by Sharon Shinn

(fantasy, light romance)

(This book, for those keeping score, has my favorite cover art of the series.)

Arguably, the series-conflict ends in this book. There is a war, which is what the plots of the books before this one have all been leading up to. As such, this book ties up a lot of loose ends (though it does create a few more).

I really enjoy the character development in this book. Some people who had been minor characters become more important in this one, and we get more answers. Cammon is perhaps my second favorite character in the series, so I am glad to have his book to read. I am not as sure about Amalie, partly because her personality is rather different than mine and it took me a while to “get” her. But also partly because I was wary (the first time I read it) of having another “forbidden love” kind of thing like in book 2.

However, I love the way the war plays out. I love the way so many different characters we’ve met reconnect with each other. I love the way the book resolves itself. My favorite is still book 3, but this is a very good read.

Grade: A

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Fortune & Fate (book 5)
by Sharon Shinn

(fantasy, light romance)

Of the books out to date (and not counting a short story that I just found out about), this is the first to not follow one of the main 6 characters. And that has an impact. I like Wen, I really do. But it’s not quite the same. (It’s close enough to the same that I still want more books in the world. Don’t get me wrong.)

I find it fascinating how this book looks at the aftermath of the war. What things have changed, what things have not, and all that. It really is a study on humanity to see what we can believe will change when someone preaching hate is taken out of the picture. It is also a book that has strong themes of loyalty and belonging. While I don’t always agree with Wen’s choices, I do sympathize with them.

That said… my favorite part of the book is when Justin seeks Wen out and gets her to return to see everyone else. My second favorite part is when they go off on their rescue mission together. The romance stuff doesn’t even get considered for my third favorite part. It, to me, is the weak link in this book. But, a weak link in a strong book is still not a bad part… just not as good a part.

Grade: A-