Tuesday, April 14, 2015

REVIEW: Dawn's Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series was a fun addition to the series, although I must admit that like other reviewers, I didn't like this one quite as much as the first two.

In this adventure, Eliza and Wellington set off for America to provide support to their sister office, the Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical (OSM), for a case they are currently working. The Ministry's Doctor Sound assumes this will keep his two agents out of trouble for a little while since their last case got them both in a bit of hot water with the higher ups, but what starts out simply as mysteriously disappearing ships turns into something much, much bigger, and the agents are fighting for their lives.

Because Eliza and Welly spent a lot of time working with their American counterparts and not with each other, the spark that makes these characters so lovable was missing throughout a lot of this book. Eliza and Wild Bill just didn't jive in the same way Eliza and Wellington do. The same held true for Wellington and the American librarian Felicity. Despite this, everything worked out quite well in the end for the pair, and Eliza and Wellington actually made significant progress in their burgeoning relationship.

The series as a whole is wonderfully steampunk, with all manner of gadgets and gizmos an integral part of the story. If you love steampunk and secret agents, I strongly recommend you check this series out.

Monday, March 30, 2015

REVIEW: The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

It's 1894 and twenty-five year old Sandrine Salome has just arrived at her grandmother's house in Paris, fleeing an abusive husband in New York who she believes also had a hand in her father's death.

Sandrine comes off a bit scared and intimidated at first, bemoaning the death of her father and her loveless marriage, though I do applaud her for escaping from such an uncomfortable situation. Once she's settled in Paris however, she discards her married surname, reassumes her maiden name of Sandrine Verlaine, and embarks on an empowering journey to a whole new life and attitude.

The Verlaine family history abounds with tales about the ghost of La Lune, the sixteenth-century courtesan that inhabits the female members of their family in an attempt to relive her lost passions, eventually driving them mad in the process. And Sandrine is discovering that her deep love for the arts is now exhibiting itself in a longing for painting that she didn't have previously. Even now, as Sandrine is becoming a very different person, with several new talents and traits she didn't previously possess, she refuses to acknowledge what might be happening to her, that La Lune may be attempting to possess her. And it is her close mindedness that caused me to dislike her character so much. To be fair, close mindedness is one of my biggest pet peeves. But for that reason, I never really cared for Sandrine all that much and probably can't give this book the full accolades it deserves.

I'm not sure if it was the author's intention for the reader to strongly dislike the main character, or if it was just me and my strong aversion to her close-mindedness, but I felt as strongly about her as I did Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, so I couldn't really connect to her. I actually felt sorry for her love interest, Julien, and was hoping he'd be smart enough to get away from her.

The writing style was flowery and descriptive, almost exceedingly so at times, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, the Louvre, and the amazing artwork of the time, there were scenes when it felt a bit unnecessary and over the top. This book took me 11 days to read—more than twice as long as it normally takes me to read other book of this length—and I'm sure the verbose language was a strong factor in this.

While I found the first half of this book a bit slow, things picked up about halfway through, and from that point, events got a bit more interesting for both Sandrine and Julien. I still didn't care for Sandrine however as she went about making up silly excuses in her head for what was happening to her, refusing to acknowledge the facts that were right in front of her. She even went so far as to let her grandmother be committed to a sanitarium when she tried to help her.

Up to this point, my review has focused mainly on the negatives, though I have to say that with regards to the tempo of the book, the second half redeemed it for me. And even several days after I'd finished reading, I found certain key scenes replaying in my mind. I fondly recalled the charming streets of 1894 Paris, the amazing art galleries, the bell tower in which La Lune, and later Sandrine, painted... it was the beauty of Belle Epoque Paris and the way in which the author so vividly painted these locations in the reader's mind that stuck with me. I can honestly say that I truly felt like I was taking in all the glory of Paris right alongside Sandrine as the imagery was so vividly real.

And that is why, despite my earlier criticisms about the main character, I really can't give this book any less than 6 stars (or 3 on Goodreads/Amazon) because it definitely made it over the halfway hump with its strong, haunting sense of location.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

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.