Saturday, June 26, 2010

Beautiful Creatures

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
YA Fantasy
December 2009
Grade: B-


On the surface, Ethan Wate has it all: an old Southern Lineage which makes him royalty in his small town, an ex that would happily become a current, and all the adoration that a teenage basketball star could want.

Inside, he is a mess. He still aches from the loss of his mother. The woman raising him is a vodoo witch (literally), and his father has gone awol since his mother's death. Not even his dreams are safe - he is haunted by a young woman whose face he cannot see but whose destiny he must preserve. When Lena Duchannes, niece of the town bogeyman begins attending his school (which hadn't had a new student since he was in first grade) he knows everything is about to get messier.

Lena doesn't know why she is drawn to the mortal but she definitely is. There can be no future there -- she is a caster who may very well turn dark on her 16th birthday. She could easily become a hazard to all who know her -- the last thing she needs is a human on her conscience.

But Ethan and Lena pretty quickly realize that whatever is happening is happening to both of them. Will working together help them defeat the dark?

This is a good but not great read. I felt like the authors overloaded the book too much with things it just didn't need and the end result was a fuzzy story line which fizzled rather than banged at the end. On the other hand, the idea of magical people (called Casters) who were all of one gang (werewolves, succubus and witches all together), a super natural library with a mortal librarian, seeing eye dogs that really see for their master--those were all pretty good.

Maybe not a rush to buy but a book that would make a good rainy day read.

Tea: Anything that goes well with rain!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Magic Under Glass

Jaclyn Dolamore
Grade: C-

Novels like this are strong arguments for the use of the public library. I might have spent perfectly good money had it not been for this brilliant institution.

Once upon a time, the land of Lorinar was enchanted by "trouser girls", exotic young woman from the eastern land of Tassim who danced in baggy trousers and silken slippers singing exotic songs such as "The Dragon Maidens Revenge" but that fashion has fallen out of favor. Now Nimira is reduced to singing in a penny music hall, dreaming of the days when her mother was the dancer and the money was plentiful. It seems an answer to prayer when Hollin Parry, a real life gentleman, hires her to perform with his piano playing automaton. He is convinced that the contrast between the living, breathing Nimira and the wooden prince of the piano will create a fantastic diversion for his guests.

The offer is not all it appears though. While Hollin is clearly a rich, landed gentleman it is also clear he is not in command of his own home. Miss Rashten, the head housekeeper, seems strangely more in charge than her employer. More, she has the power to forbid them both the upper levels of the house, a place that holds a strange lure for Nimira.

The job also doesn't appear as easy as it first sounded. It isn't long before Nimira discovers that two girls had been hired before her to perform with the mechanical wooden man. And that both had fled the house claiming that the automaton was haunted. When the wooden man tries to communicate with her, Nimira realizes that Hollin will never believe her without evidence, so she does what she thinks best; she communicates right back! As she and the wooden man figure a way to speak using the piano she learns he is, in fact, enchanted. And his story is a dangerous one indeed. . . .

Part Jane Eyre and part fairy tale, this book winds up thoroughly confused as to where it is going. The unique tale and location intrigue but the simplicity of the story telling and the authors inability to write a cohesive story make sure that intrigue falls flat.

In addition, the characters were difficult to grasp. Or maybe they just weren't likable. While Hollin was amiable and friendly he was also spineless and dishonest. Since he wasn't one of those sinister characters that is sugar on the outside and poison on the inside I found it very confusing. There was nothing that indicated to me why the dichotomy existed, except as it went to further the plot. That annoyed.

Nimira was odd also. While she was a better person by far than Hollin, I didn't understand her motivations. That would have been fine but she also just didn't engage my interest, which wasn't fine.

Overall, the book was flat and while the premise was interesting the execution did not live up to its promise. I would have gone with a C but it earned a minus for taking time out to do a lecture via character at the end.

Tea: Don't waste a cuppa.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lament

Maggie Stievfater
Grade: A but grudgingly
YA Fantasy

Deidre Monaghan and James Morgan are best friend with astounding musical talents. Best in their instruments -- Deidre on harp, James on the bagpipes-- it is rare that they meet anyone who can match them in talent. When Deidre meets Luke Dillon during her usual pre-show puking session she is surprised not just by his classy and compassionate handling of a truly awkward situation but by the simple fact of meeting a new talent with whom she is unfamiliar. The two go on to play a duet, one so hauntingly lovely Deidre is for the first time ever truly pleased with what she has accomplished. But the beauty of their talent has attracted the wrong kind of attention for Deidre. It begins with an odd boy with a vicious sense of humor. It escalates with four leaf clovers surrounding her wherever she goes. It ends with a betrayal -- and the murderous attention of the Faerie Queen.

This is a turn the page quick as you can type tale. You can't wait to see what happens between Deidre and Luke as they begin that dizzying dance of first love. And I truly loved how the author portrayed it. I thought she had the awkwardness, eagerness, innocence and breathless hope of the whole experience down pat. There were no heaving bosoms or out of whack sex drives, just the gentle wonder of finding out the person you find utterly fascinating finds you fascinating right back.

I really loved these two characters. Luke is everything every teenage girl dreams of but not in an obnoxious way. Yes, he has a flaw. A huge one. But he is handsome and considerate, artistic and strong, fun but able to be serious when the need arises -- like I said, the kind of hero you sigh over.

Deidre is a good heroine. Strong and caring and smart. Talented and ambitious but not overly so.

James is a great friend. A real teenager in his habits and behaviors but above and beyond in loyalty and compassion. There is a great moment in an ice cream shop that just had my heart gooing all over him.

My only reservation will be listed in the review for Ballad, the sequel.

Tea:
Earl Grey with fairy cakes. Here is a recipe link.http://www.ivillage.co.uk/food/experts/coach/articles/0,,177274_673444,00.html

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Centurions Wife

By: Janette Oke and Davis Bunn
Genre: Inspirational Romance
Grade: Writing A
Setting A
Plot A
Characterization A
Romance C/D


Alban is a Gaul but a centurion in the Roman army. A second son who was a threat to his non-warrior brother, Alban hungers for advancement in the government of occupied Judea. He knows one sure way to win it is to wed Leah, Pilate's niece. Her family has been utterly impoverished and disgraced and she now serves as maid to Procula, Pilot's wife. But occupied Judea is not a good place to be for anyone right now. The crucifixion of the Jewish spiritual leader Jesus has led to more political unrest rather than lessened it as hoped. In a land and time ruled by politicians who lived on bribes and deceptions, how can two people tossed to the bottom of the pile hope to rise again? Especially when the situation grows more and more charged with every moment.

This is a fascinating look at a portion of the occupied Roman Empire in a period of great political unrest. I had never really understood what all was happening in Jesus' time from the viewpoint of the Roman's and this gives us a look into what they were dealing with by occupying Judea. Fascinating stuff. I liked the fact that though this book has a primarily Jewish view point they do not paint the Romans as strictly villains. Both Pilate and his wife Procula come across as OK people. They are not violent, are willing to listen, are open minded as they can afford to be -- yes, they watch their backs. You would too in their position. But they aren't portrayed as monsters just because they happened to occupy a hostile land.

Alban, Linux and other Romans are also portrayed in a favorable light. Again, they are not shown to be villains but soldiers doing their duty to their own kingdom.

The "Followers of the Way" or Christians are portrayed in an interesting manner. Much of the book deals with them, with how they differ to the other Jewish communities and yet how very Jewish they themselves are. This isn't an anti-Jewish Christian group but is instead a Jewish community following a new teaching. It was VERY interesting watching them sift through the old and new to arrive at what their own beliefs are, even while everyone around them seeks to find out just how much a danger they pose.

Another aspect I found interesting was Judean politics. It is clear that the political center was the Jewish Temple and it was interesting to see how the mix of religion and politics just didn't work. The Sanhedrin were presented as a mix of both good and bad. I was glad the author took a more balanced approach, although being an inspirational it was clear who they thought was in the right.

I had only a few quibbles with the book. For a romance, we sure didn't see much of Alban and Leah falling in love. They do but it is subtle and a very small part of the plot. The other quibble is that Leah wanted to marry for love. Hearing these words come from a girl in her position just astounded me. Arranged marriages were a fact. Really. It just seemed ridiculous that this girl wanted to choose her own husband.

Overall, a great look at the history of the early Christian church with a sweet romance.

Tea: Maybe just a tiny bit of wine??

Monday, March 15, 2010

To Kiss a Frog

Elle James
Grade: C
Fantasy/Southern Romance


While visiting his uncle down in the bayou, hotshot New Orlean's lawyer Craig Thibodeaux develops a small problem: he crosses the niece of the bayous Voodoo Queen. Her response? He has till the next full moon to find a woman to love him or his curse will be upon him for life. The curse? Man by night, frog by day.

Craig quickly learns that a frog's life, especially a tiny one like him, is full of peril. He had a bit of a tumble and he can't get his hop to go right. He was almost stepped on by his uncle. A beagle nearly ate him. And this was just the first ten minutes! This is not how he wants to spend his life.

Elaine Smith has some problems of her own. Namely, walking in on her fiancee in the stairwell with the department secretary. Now she has decided to give herself a break from the office and go out to the bayou to find out what is killing some of the local animal life.

Craig's uncle quickly volunteers him to take Elaine out on the bayou in the evenings to collect her samples. And Craig finds himself drawn to practical, smart, sexy Elaine. But will this be a love that lasts? Can he woo a decent, likable woman just to break a curse? Or will it be more than that?

The romance between Craig And Elaine was a bit forced but I liked both of them as characters. They were decent people, realistic enough that you might meet them in the grocery store. The story was cute and fun. While this wasn't a book that had me begging for more it was a solid freshmen effort and I would definitely read more by this author.

Tea:
Iced tea with a sprig of mint.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Mercenary

by : Katherine Garbera
Genre: Romance
Grade: C

Ever been in a book store and been caught by a cover? That happened to me a few weeks ago. I couldn't seem to walk away from the cover to this book and finally just bought it I had never heard of the author before, so I thought maybe I had stumbled upon something really new. Upon coming home, I looked up reviews on her and believe me, a C is a banner score for her.

I'll be honest, this book probably doesn't deserve a C. The writing can be clunky, there were mistakes, there were silly conversations, lust thought -- you name it, this book probably had that problem. So why the decent grade?

Let's talk about the story first. Kirk Mann was once a military sniper but is now working for the Savage Seven, an elite team of mercenaries known for their ability to get the job down. Guarding someone like Olivia Pountuf is not normally on the agenda but she's a friend of his bosses wife and that's all the credentials she needs to push her to the top of Savage's priority list. Besides, guarding someone in South Africa, with its corrupt police departments and high crime rate isn't all a cupcake mission.

Olivia never thought she would need a body guard. Writing childrens books normally doesn't put one on a hit list. But when she witnesses something she shouldn't and then gets the goods on someone who most definitely doesn't want her to have them, her life expectancy begins to be measured in minutes rather than years. She can only be thankful that the Savage Seven are there for her. Even if her growing attraction to her body guard is rather inappropriate. . .

I loved the setting for this book. South Africa and its diamond cartel made for some interesting reading. And this book, while a pale, pale, pale image of a Brockmann almost came close to being a shadow of one. I really miss Brockmann's style of writing so it was kind of neat to have this "nowhere near as good as the original" stand-in.

There were some really bad moments though. For example: In one scene Olivia gets changed to go work out. Then she runs into Kirk, some conversation occurs ---- and Olivia gets dressed to go work out. That was the editor or proof reader not doing their job and it was a bit of a jolt. In another scene Olivia is talking about being betrayed by someone extremely close to her. Kirk's response? "Don't take it so personally." That was -- ridiculous. When you are betrayed by someone that close to you, its nothing if not personal. There were a few other ridiculous moments in the book like this that just pull you out of the story for a minute.

But I liked it. Whether there was some kind of "location porn" thing going on or whether I just clicked somehow with the authors writing, I found the book interesting and readable. In the end, that is what reading is all about.

Tea: Information from Wisegeek.com :Red tea is a popular South African beverage made from the oxidized and dried leaves of the Aspalathis linearis plant. Technically, red tea is a tisane, not a tea, since it does not contain the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the tea bush. Several South African companies produce red tea for export, since it has become popular in many other parts of the world as well; it is a common offering at tea houses and restaurants, and it can also be found in many markets.

Celestial Seasonings (oh, how I love those people!) sell several delicious red tea varieties.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dawn of Valor

by: Lindsay McKenna
Genre: Korean War Romance
Grade: B


Rachel Mckenzie is a surgical nurse whose MASH unit sits on the very edge of the battle torn line between North and South Korea. When her unit is overrun she is taken prisoner, a fact that has the military in uproar. Bad enough to let some of their doctors get taken but to lose one of the few women they had was the equivalent of a public relations nightmare. Immediately, Chase Trayhern and his squadron are ordered to bomb the convoy the prisoners are in and create a diversion for their escape. It works beautifully accept that Chase is hit and forced to parachute to safety. It turns out not to work quite that way since he lands behind enemy lines and hits his head on the way down. Rachel finds him, does some quick first aid and the two begin a trek towards freedom -- and love.

Rachel is a mix of strength and innocence. Raised to think that "good girls don't" (typical I think for her era) and experience has taught her that pilots tend to be after only one thing. While her competence in the wild and in the surgery can't be questioned, it is clear she is very inexperienced when it comes to men and love. This sets the basis for some of the difficulties she and Chase encounter on the way to the altar.

Chase for his part loves Rachel's inexperience and naivete but struggles to come to grips with her independence at work and most especially, with her comfort at being a part of the war. Convinced women belong at home his only goal is to get her to safety and back to the states. Her goal is to reach her unit and continue to make a difference in the lives of the men fighting this war.

I was surprised that Chase didn't admire what Rachel was doing more. There was, apparently, a shortage of nurses during this war and I would have thought he would admire all Rachel had done for him and for others just by being there. On the other hand, Rachel's naivete had to be enough to try the patience of a saint (which Chase definitely wasn't). But in spite of these quibbles I really enjoyed the book. My one regret was not getting a more vivid description of Korea. Still, you get a good idea of what the battles were like for the fighting men and women.

Tea: Here is a link about a Korean Tea Ceremony http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_tea_ceremony