Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: Infinity Bell: A House Immortal Novel (Book 2) by Devon Monk

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

LOVED IT! This second book of the House Immortal trilogy was just as awesome as the first. Infinity Bell picks up right where House Immortal, the first book, left off. And like the first, it too ends on a cliffhanger (aaargh!), leaving the reader eagerly panting for the third and final book in the series, due September 2015, to wrap everything up.

Matilda Case and her brother Quinten return to their family farm, with a plan to fix time and save the the world. Quinten believes he can travel back in time to change the events that caused the break in the first place. But can such a thing really be done when one doesn't possess a little blue police box? ;) Besides, we all know that changing history can have unexpectedly drastic and dramatic consequences, right?

Caught in a race against time, and willing to do whatever necessary to save the lives of those she loves, Matilda jumps right into the heart of the matter, quite literally. With Slater Orange still on her tail, time is ticking away as Matilda struggles to set things right while trying to avoid a raving lunatic hell bent on taking everyone down with him. Can she do it? And if so, what will the world be like upon her return?

The same cast of characters from the first book, plus an interesting new addition, are back in this one and they're just as fun, strong, and exciting this time around, perhaps even more so. As the main character, Matilda is fiercely loyal, brave, and headstrong... but also kind and caring. I was completely enthralled by her and her plight. And we get to know Quinten much more in this book than we did in the first, since he was in captivity then, and he's just as brilliant as previously described... not to mention loyal and headstrong just like his sister. And Abraham... oh what can I say about Abraham except hot hot hot! The burgeoning relationship between him and Matilda is bittersweet, and I look forward to seeing how things progress between the two of them.

Heart pounding non-stop action from beginning to end, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat. And beyond... as I often found myself walking into walls, bunny gates, etc. because I simply couldn't put it down. :)

Science fiction and urban fantasy fans who enjoy unique world building, riveting action, and great writing, should definitely check this one out. I do recommend reading them in order though, so House Immortal first, followed by Infinity Bell, and then pre-order Crucible Zero so it'll be waiting for you on release day. Enjoy!!

Thanks to Penguin Group and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

REVIEW: House Immortal by Devon Monk

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Wow! Cliffhanger alert! Lucky thing I've got the second book, Infinity Bell, here ready and waiting to go. I'm gonna start on it next.

House Immortal is the first book in what looks to be a fantastic trilogy. Filled with strong, intriguing characters, and a very well drawn world, it's unique, original, fast paced and exciting... definitely one of my favorites reads of the year thus far!

Matilda Case isn't completely human. Although she looks mostly human for all intents and purposes, she's actually stitched together from various parts and pieces, like a modern day Frankenstein, albeit without the bolts. But her extreme strength, not to mention the stitches running along her body and down the side of her face, would give her away to anyone who looks closely enough.

In a future world where all the resources of the world are controlled by eleven powerful Houses, these stitched-together immortal beings, thirteen in number and known as the galvanized, are actually prized commodities owned by the heads of the Houses.

Matilda has remained below their radar thus far, living off the grid on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with an assortment of peculiar animals stitched together by dear old dead dad. She's not yet been claimed by any House, and her existence is known only to a select few. But all that is about to change as one very greedy head of House will go to any lengths to discover the secrets of this modern galvanized girl.

Friday, March 06, 2015

REVIEW: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

This is the second novel in the entertaining Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series featuring former Field Agent turned Junior Archivist Eliza Braun and her partner, Archivist Wellington Books.

The suffragist movement is experiencing a bit of a shock as many prominent women in the movement are disappearing in a most unusual way, via a sizzling bolt of lightning. The only thing these women seem to have in common is their affiliation with the suffragist movement. But what's the reason behind these abductions? And what's happening with the stolen women... where exactly are they disappearing to?

On the request of her old friend and fellow New Zealand native, Kate Sheppard, also a very important figure in the movement, Eliza Braun is anxious to get the bottom of the abductions before people she cares for go missing too. Agent Books is as eager as ever to be by Eliza's side... completely for her protection of course. ;)

But as things go from bad to worse, and more and more women go missing, Braun and Books have to wonder what they're up against, and hope they can get to the bottom of the mystery before that dazzling bolt of lightning strikes them next.

This was another fun adventure in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. I really like the chemistry between Eliza and Wellington, and their escapades never cease to amuse me. The steampunk world here is vivid and real and very well incorporated into the story. The author seamlessly transports us back to Victorian London not only thru various gadgets and gizmos of the steampunk era, but also through the language, dress, and mannerisms of the characters. A very well done book with interesting and engaging characters. I look forward to reading more in this series.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

REVIEW: Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land by Pieter van Dokkum

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

This is one of the few non-fiction books I've read this year. I usually stick to fiction for the escape from reality it provides, but I do like to indulge in some good non-fiction now and again, especially if it relates to a subject I am particularly passionate about. And dragonflies are indeed one of those passions... beautiful, splendid, awe-inspiring dragonflies!!!

I have been an avid lover of dragonflies for a long time. When I lived in the Boston area, I was surrounded by many more dragonflies than I have been since moving to California, probably due to the lack of ponds, marshes, and streams in the immediate vicinity of where I live now. And I do very much miss seeing them on a daily basis, precluding winter of course, like I used to.

Dragonflies are often seen as a symbol of change, reflecting a profound understanding on the deeper meaning of life, due to their metamorphosis from nymph to adult, and the fact that their underwater nymph stage is very different from their adult life spent soaring through the air. There is plenty of other symbolism associated with the dragonfly, but more often than not, these symbols deal with self-actualization and strength, particularly the strength to make positive change in yourself. This site describes a lot of the symbolism I've come to associate with dragonflies over the years. When I moved from Massachusetts to California, and made some major life changes in the process, I got a dragonfly tattoo on my ankle which spoke to me of these very same changes I was experiencing in my own life. But I digress...

I found this book quite informative and interesting, filling me in on several facts about these graceful, elegant insects, all without getting too bogged down with scientific and technical terms. For example, did you know that the majority of a dragonfly's lifespan is actually spent underwater in their nymph stage? The adult dragonfly, once it's gone through it's metamorphosis, is usually only a few months beyond that. This book is not a field guide, but instead geared towards the layman dragonfly lover or beginning hobbyist, those who love these mysterious and transformative creatures as much as I do, and want to learn as much as they can about them. It's filled with page after page of beautifully photographed images, all while explaining their life cycle, hunting habits, mating habits, and lots more. If you live in the Northeastern United States, you may recognize a lot of the dragonfly species photographed within its pages as this is where the author hails from, and he claims that about 1/3 of the photographs were taken from the pond near his home. The remainder come from various locations in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and The Netherlands.

I think this would make a great coffee table book, the pictures within so fascinating to look at again and again. At the end of this 176 page volume is an appendix with specific recommendations for further reading, especially useful if you wish to further study dragonflies in the field.

This book will be published in March 2015, by Yale University Press, and I may well pick up a hardcover copy at that time. For now however, I am extremely grateful to NetGalley and Yale University Press for allowing me to review an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of this exquisite, exceptional book.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars
In her first novel for middle-grade readers, bestselling author Alice Hoffman tells a bewitching story of love and friendship that is truly magical.

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

This was an entertaining and well-written children's book. While older readers may well enjoy it, some may also find the plot a bit too predictable and simplistic. But seeing as how this book is geared towards children age 10 and up, a bit of simplicity is to be expected.

To that end, the story was hauntingly beautiful, the characters well defined, and the world building superb. I'm originally from Massachusetts and have visited the Berkshires of western Massachusetts on several occasions, and the small town feel of Sidwell, MA came through vividly in the writing. Twig was a easy character to like; smart and imaginative, but also devoted and determined, a great protagonist to root for. Were it not for her ingenuity, her brother James would not have found the happily ever after he was looking for. And it was indeed a fairy tale ending for all.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Random House Children's for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Neil Gaiman takes us on a moving and fantastic journey, through the mind of a middle aged man who's returned to his childhood home while back in town for a funeral, and his visit to the old Hempstock farm at the end of the lane. Though most all of the housing and landscape has changed significantly over the intervening decades, the old Hempstock farm stands just as he remembered it. It's as if time's stood still down that narrow lane... past the brambles and briar roses, the hazels and the wild hedgerow.

At the farm, our protagonist is greeted by Old Mrs. Hempstock, who informs him that his old friend Lettie isn't available but invites him to sit by the duck pond for a spell nonetheless, and he fondly recalls how Lettie used to refer to the duck pond as an Ocean. As he sits and reflects, an entire sequence of events passes before his eyes, as if it all happened only yesterday.

He's brought back to the time a few days before he meets eleven year old Lettie Hempstock and the rest of her strange and unusual family. When one of their boarders commits suicide, an odd chain of events is set into motion, beginning with the appearance of a peculiar woman named Ursula Monkton whose only desire is to grant the people of town all that they desire. But we all know the saying to be careful what you wish for, right?

The three women of the Hempstock farm—young Lettie, her mother Mrs. Hempstock, and grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock—each possess curious skills of their own, and endeavor to right the wrongs committed by the unnatural being. Though they claim not to do "spells", the three Hempstock women appear to represent the Triple Goddess—Maiden, Mother, and Crone—and the workings they perform are of a magic older than time itself. There were many other Pagan undertones to this story that delighted me equally, one of the foremost being how when Lettie was injured, she was returned to the Ocean for the water to heal her.

This story was deep and moving on so many levels that it sits with you awhile. Even after I'd finished reading, I found myself contemplating something that occurred and then proceeded to see it in an entirely new light. A day later and some of the more subtle nuances of the story are coming to me even now. A wonderful adult fairy tale I can wholly recommend to any fantasy fan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Southern Spirits by Angie Fox

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Verity Long is on the verge of losing her grandmother's family home after her ex-fiancé's dragon of a mother decides to stick her with the full cost of the wedding for running out on her son at the altar. Now Verity's in dire straights and would do just about anything to secure the funds to save the family home that means so much to her. Including taking a job with the enemy!

When Verity unknowingly dumps an urn full of ashes onto the rose bushes at the back of her property, she suddenly finds herself in possession of a very unusual gift. With the help of her new ghost friend, Frankie the German, she's now got the ability to see the spirit world. And wouldn't you know it, Beau's brother just so happens to have a ghost problem at the old distillery he acquired. So when Ellis Wydell approaches Verity with an offer that would allow her to save her home, she knows she can't turn it down. Who cares that angry ghosts now haunt the old distillery.... or that most of the rest of the small town of Sugarland has spurned her. For Verity knows what she wants, and she wants to keep her house no matter what the cost!

This was a fast, fun read, and while not quite literary with regards to the writing, it held my interest nonetheless. There were several parts where the writing seemed a bit awkward, but I could maybe blame that on the fact that I just finished reading two very well-written pieces of work, so the writing here seemed a bit more amateurish in comparison. Despite that, it was still an engaging read, and I was rooting for the main character the whole way through.

I did hate how she was taken advantage of by the Wydell family though, and that hate cemented a strong sense of injustice for what she was going through. If the story hadn't progressed as it had, I would've found myself quite turned off by such an injustice, and her inability to right it. But fortunately, everything works out for her in the end and I found a smile on my face as the story came to a close.

Southern Spirits is the first book of a new series, and despite having several of the author's Accidental Demon Slayer books on Mt TBR, this was actually the first book I've read by her. I will definitely pick up the second book of the Southern Ghost Hunter Mystery series when it's released in the Fall. Though it looks like Ms. Fox just released a short story in this universe a few days ago to tide us over: A Ghostly Gift.

Thank you to Angie Fox, Season Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

It's 1869 and Edward Clark lives a comfortable life as a reporter for the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia. He's happily engaged to a pretty, delicate girl named Violet Willoughby and has pretty much moved on from the tragedy that struck his young life at only 10 years of age. But when Edward's editor assigns him the task of writing a series of articles exposing the many fraudulent mediums overrunning the city, Edward is set on a downward spiral that has him not only witness to a murder, but also one of it's primary suspects.

As one of the city's few legitimate mediums, the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, which occurred in a locked séance room, has all of its participants under suspicion. With the help of Ms. Lucy Collins, a medium who uses sleight-of-hand to prey on the unwary, and his friend Inspector William Barclay, Edward is determined to clear his name. But the secrets they unearth go much deeper than any of them expected, and the possible ties Edward's past—a tragedy he's kept secret from both his fiancée and closest friend—may tear his comfortable world apart.

I really liked this book a lot! The story was exciting, captivating, and fun. I'm a sucker for all things ghostly and supernatural so it was not only the subject matter that appealed to me but also the mystery behind it—who killed the medium Lenora Grimes Pastor inside that locked room?

The author, Alan Finn, writes extremely well and has a masterful command of language and how to use it, keeping the reader fully engaged without getting too wordy or revealing too much. The timing and suspense is perfect. The author knows the exact right words to use at the right time to elicit the desired effect, and he knows exactly how to set the right mood with his words. This book's prose truly flows like like classic literature in my opinion. Just check out his gorgeous website which just oozes with atmosphere.

Edward's character did grate on my nerves at times however because he continually left his fiancée in the dark, not only about his past, but also about everything he was doing with Lucy to try to clear his name and solve the murder of Mrs. Pastor. A relationship built on so many lies is doomed to failure, which leads you to wonder, just who did Edward eventually marry anyway? Though the story was written as a memoir with Edward looking back on an event that took place in his life 50 years in the past, that tidbit of information was never definitively stated, and I was left to wonder if the author did this intentionally, or if I just missed some subtle hint in the Foreword or Postscript.

I did see reference on his Goodreads Author page that the author working on a sequel to Things Half in Shadow. Woot woot!! I'm very much looking forward to that. (Do check out the video trailer on that page too if you didn't already do so at his website.)

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.