Friday Reads: Greywalker

Greywalker (Greywalker, Book 1)
Kat Richardson
(urban fantasy)

This is the first book in a series, and while it’s obvious at the end that it is starting a series, it is not annoying about that fact. In other words, while the door is left wide open for sequels, there is no stupid cliffhanger leaving the reader dangling.

I did enjoy the premise for this book. Essentially, the main character is legally dead for a couple of minutes, and when she’s resuscitated she is able to access the ghost world — otherwise known as the Grey. (Hence the title.) It’s a little annoying that she spends a lot of the book denying that the Grey has any impact on her, when she’s so obviously (to the reader) being affected by it, but it is also completely believable that she would want to ignore anything which reminds her of the fact that she died, even just for a brief moment. I plan on eventually continuing with the series: if she’s still rejecting the Grey to the same extent in book two, then I may reevaluate my opinion of how much this colors my enjoyment of the series. (AKA: in book one, it’s okay. In book two, a lot less okay.)

The characters in the novel were fun. I liked the main character, and the bulk of the supporting cast. I especially like the guy she gets to help her with her alarm system, and while he’s “just a friend” in book one, I kinda suspect he may turn into a love interest in later books. I like the witch and the scholar couple that she gets Grey lessons from, too. (Sorry for the lack of names… I’m feeling too lazy to look up spellings.)

I do have high hopes for this series. It seems like a true urban fantasy series, and I hope that it doesn’t go the way of some other urban fantasies that turned into paranormal romance love-fests (Anita Blake, I’m looking at you). I do enjoy paranormal romances, don’t get me wrong. But I miss the good urban fantasy books that have all of the paranormal without the tons of sex. Maybe this will fill that void? Here’s hoping.

Friday Reads: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors (The Smoke Trilogy, Book 2)
by Tanya Huff
(contemporary fantasy, some horror)

In doing a bit of a search of my prior reviews, it turns out that I have done formal book reviews on SMOKE AND SHADOWS and SMOKE AND ASHES before. I have not, however, reviewed SMOKE AND MIRRORS, the second book of the trilogy. This sounds like a good time to do that, don’t you think?

Let me start by saying that SMOKE AND MIRRORS is my least favorite of the three. Not because of the characters, or the plot, or the writing – but because of the creepiness value. This is by far the scariest of the three books. (The blurb on the front mentions something about TV terror, as I recall, and book 2 of the series is the only one that I feel completely delivers that.) I have read this book three times. The first time, I got so caught up in the story – and so scared of nightmares – that I stayed up all night to finish the book. The second time I knew what was coming, and it still got to me. The third time I decided it was a good idea to read the book during daylight hours only. (This mostly worked.)

If you like paranormal creepiness, this is a good book for you. If you get scared of things that go bump in the night, you might want to read this one during the day, or skip it altogether. (For me, I love the characters enough that skipping it is not an option.)

Basic premise: the main characters are shooting a TV episode in a real haunted house. In addition to holding ghosts, the house holds “a malevolence” which is dormant when the TV crew arrives… and then gets woken up. And when it wakes, it traps the crew inside the house and tries to kill them. It’s a great premise. It’s really well done. It would (potentially) make a really good movie.

I think part of the reason why this book is so much creepier than the other two in the series is the trapped aspect. I think another part is the fact that most of this book takes place over the course of one night, while both other books in the trilogy take place over a matter of days or weeks.

One thing to remember is that while this book is my least favorite in the series, I have still read it THREE TIMES. And it’s on my keeper shelf, so I will probably read it more than once more. My biggest regret about this series is that it didn’t go past three books. I would love more, especially now (BOOK THREE SPOILER ALERT) that Tony and Lee have decided to try out a relationship. And I want to know how Tony-as-teacher works out. Sigh. Maybe the books weren’t selling well enough. Or maybe the homosexual main character thing scared away the publishers. In my ideal world, none of that would matter and I would have more SMOKE books. Or at least short stories. And if you are reading this, and know of anything more in this series beyond the trilogy I mentioned, please PLEASE let me know!

Friday Reads: Libriomancer

Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris #1)
Jim C. Hines
(urban fantasy)

This book has a very fun premise, one that I absolutely love: magic is real, and works by allowing those who can use it to pull items out of books. You could reach into Harry Potter and pull out the Elder Wand, or get the One Ring from LOTR, or Excalibur from any of the books about King Arthur. (And each version of Excalibur would have powers that vary based on which book you retrieved it from, since the different authors wrote different things.) What bookworm hasn’t wanted to be able to use the objects found in books? And this doesn’t just apply to fantasy novels, but to Westerns and Sci-Fi and history books as well.

The plot also was interesting. To simplify: vampires and the keepers of the magic are on the brink of a war that each thinks the other has started. In order to stop this war before it actually starts, a former magician goes back in the field to find the person who’s really behind it all.

Even as interesting as I found this novel, however, it took me a while to read all of it. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the main characters as I wanted to be. Perhaps I haven’t yet gotten the desire for re-reads out of my system, and so reading a book that references books I’ve already read was just reminding me that I really wanted to be re-reading books instead of discovering a new one. I’m not sure. I did enjoy the book, and I will be looking for the sequel when it comes out. On the other hand, I had gotten this book from the library when I read it, and I think I will be buying it for a Christmas present for one of my family members instead of buying a copy for myself. (It is purchase-worthy. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think it’s one for my personal keeper shelf, hence the gift idea.)

I think my favorite part of the whole idea was how things could get out of books accidentally. For instance, take someone who doesn’t realize she can access the magic. And let’s say this person is really into werewolf books. Well, she could – without realizing what she’s doing – reach into a book about werewolves, get bitten by one, and get infected, turning herself into a werewolf in the process.

Like I said, I really love the premise.

Weeks 38, 39 & 40: Book Review Catch-up

So, after complaining that I didn’t get a book read in time to review two weeks ago, I have three books to review this week. As a result, I’m going to do mini-reviews because there are three of them.

Mini-Review #1: Veil of Shadows by Shiloh Walker

I really enjoyed this book. It’s the second in Walker’s “Veil” series. (I’m not sure if there’s an official series name or not, but Veil is in both titles, so that works as well as anything.) The series is a fantasy romance series, and if it wasn’t set in an alternate world it could easily be described as post-apocalyptic. It’s not set in a city as we know it, or it could be called urban fantasy. But it’s not high fantasy either… nor, strictly speaking, paranormal. It’s rather difficult to categorize, actually. Other than “books I like”.

Best parts: character development, world building, twists aplenty, we get to stay in touch with the main characters from book #1.

Worst parts: not as well defined a villain as in the first book of the series, plenty of POVs so that we don’t get as fully in the MCs heads as we could.

Grade: A-

Mini-Review #2: The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey

The 500 Kingdoms series (which *is* high fantasy) is probably my current favorite Lackey series. I love her fairy tale retellings. (The Serpent’s Shadow and Phoenix and Ashes from the Elemental Masters series are probably my favorite indivual books of hers, but the rest of the series doesn’t work as well for me. The 500 Kingdoms series doesn’t have an individual book I like as much as those two, but the average rating is higher over the series.) This one, as you may have guessed, covers the Sleeping Beauty tale. However, it’s not *just* Sleeping Beauty. It’s also Snow White and the Nibelung tale, all rolled into one. And it works. I don’t think this is my favorite of the series, but it’s up there.

Best parts: the blending of fairy tales, the characteriation of the two main princes, the use of the Siegfried story in addition to the fairy tales we usually think of.

Worst parts: the ending seems a touch rushed and/or contrived (though this is practically expected, since it’s a fairy tale).

Grade: A

Mini-Review #3: Enchanted by Orson Scott Card

I like Orson Scott Card’s writing. Don’t get me wrong. However, I have discovered that I prefer his sci-fi to his fantasy. Enchanted, to me, read as a fantasy novel given a sci-fi treatment. (I actually didn’t finish it, so this may be resolved past the halfway mark.) Maybe it’s just in comparison to the books I’ve been reading lately, or maybe it’s that I’m looking for something different in fantasy novels than what Scott Card intended to write. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get into the book enough to care about the characters. Result? About halfway through I put the books down in favor of something else, and I have no desire to pick it back up. Maybe at some later date I will try reading it again and have no problem getting through it, but for now… no thanks. I’ll read something that’s easier for me to enjoy.

Best parts: the concept, the level of detail put into the setting.

Worst parts: the characters fell flat to me, more focus seemed put on detailing the setting rather than making it come alive.

Grade: C

A Different Kind of WiP

I know, Wednesdays are usually for knitting WiPs. But today I wanted to talk about my writing. Partly because, as you may have noticed, things have been rather quiet on that front lately.

One of the main reasons for the silence has been due to what stories have been inspiring me lately. The one I’ve been getting the most excited about is one I decided to write for NaNo. And NaNo is in November. So unless I want to cheat (which I haven’t yet done in the five years I’ve participated and have no intention to start this year) I can’t start actually writing until November 1.

I can plot and plan about it, though. Sadly for blog news, if I can’t actually write the story yet, I don’t feel I have much to share on here. I don’t want to talk it up too much ahead of time, because I’ve found from past experiences that I have a tendency to get over-enthusiastic about a story when I do that… and then my first draft can’t live up to my rather inflated expectations, so I get discouraged and let the story drop. Not something I enjoy doing with a story I’ve been so excited about to begin with.

What I might do, or attempt to do, is write letters from the POV of my main characters. That counts as “planning” and “character development” and not actual story words, so isn’t cheating by NaNo rules. If I do that, you can be sure I’ll post the letter(s) on here… if nothing else, as proof that yes, I am still writing.

Granted, I have been writing. I’ve been doing outlining and character notes. I haven’t written it all down yet, but I’ve been trying to create the world in my head — and so far, I think it’s working. I have a pretty good idea what I want this whole thing to look like. I think it’s going to be an urban fantasy, it’s tentatively set in Santa Cruz (living there proved to me that it fits the feel I want for this story), and unless things change drastically before November 1, it will be in third person from the POVs of both the hero and the heroine. Yes, there will be romantic elements, but it’s not planned as a romance, exactly.

Anyway, I’m very excited about this story. Hopefully enough so that I can get my 50K finished for NaNo even with all the other things I’m going to be spending time doing. Even better would be actually managing to finish the story by the end of 2010, though we’ll have to see about that one. There are still too many variables for me to make that a goal.

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 32: Discord & Bones

Here is this week’s 52 Books in 52 Weeks post…

Today we have a 2-book review!

First up… City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1)
by Cassandra Clare

(YA paranormal, romance-ish)

I enjoyed this book, but. It is YA. In places, VERY YA. However, it was amusing. There was some good world-building, and some really enjoyable characters. I wonder if I’m odd in that my favorite character was Simon, the mundane, rather than any of the paranormal characters. Clary was fun, but rather predictable. Jace was less predictable, except in his “I’m the bad boy” attitude. And the others just didn’t get as much screen time.

As to the plot, there were some elements I was expecting from the start of the story, some I saw coming about half to two-thirds of the way through, and one or two things that surprised me. I’d say it was a good blend of twist and not… some books have so much twist to them that you can barely see straight when you’re done reading them. Personally, I don’t think YAs should have too much twist, and this one has a good amount.

The writing style, in my mind, was the weak point. There was one point where the characters — all teens — are teasing each other, and using some (not too bad) swear words to do so. Instead of using the word or saying “he swore,” Clare wrote something like “he said something that rhymed with…” Not only did this wording throw me off, it threw me out of the story. And that’s never a good thing. Something else that threw me out of the story was the main character’s name: Clary. It’s short for Clarissa, I think. But in either case, both names are Way. Too. Close to the author’s first and last names. Made me roll my eyes a few times because it seemed that she was trying to make the MC herself.

All told, it was an enjoyable book, but not one that’s going on my “to buy” list. I’m very glad this was a library book for me.

Grade: B

Next book: Discord’s Apple
by Carrie Vaughn

(urban fantasy? fantastical contemporary romance?)

I did not like this book. I wanted to, but I did not. At all. Very disappointing. I didn’t even finish it.

The basic premise is that all the magical items of myth are real, and have been saved in this magical Storeroom until such a time as they are needed once again. There’s Excalibur, the Golden Fleece, Cinderella’s glass slippers, and the apple that Discord used to start the Trojan War. Now, Evie has to find a way to keep the wrong people from getting their hands on Discord’s Apple in order to prevent chaos and war.

Sounds like a great story, right?

The problem I had was the execution of it. I loved the premise, sounded like a great story. And I couldn’t get into it. I didn’t sympathize with the main characters. It didn’t phase me that Evie’s dad was sick. I tried, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about Evie at all. (I had to look up her name, because I couldn’t remember it.) The part I liked best was where Sinon and Odysseus were talking right before the final battle at Troy, with the Trojan Horse and all that. (Side note: the Greeks built it, so why don’t we call it the Grecian Horse?)

I have had this problem with Vaughn’s other popular series, the Kitty series. So I guess I’m not surprised that I didn’t like Discord’s Apple either. I had hoped, though… If you like Kitty, you’ll likely enjoy this one as well. But if you (like me) don’t enjoy Kitty, I wouldn’t bother to read this book.

Grade: C—