Monday, January 25, 2016

REVIEW: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

The KonMari Method of decluttering is quite simple when you think about it—simply remove from your home any items that don't spark joy. Yes, I realize that may sound a bit oversimplified but the logic behind it is thus: if an item is no longer bringing you joy, it has reached the end of it's usefulness and you should let it go without regret or guilt. You do this for all your items starting with clothes, then moving on to books, then papers, then miscellany, saving mementos for last. If you tidy completely in this fashion, following her advice, you need only do this once and clutter should never infringe on you again.

I haven't yet put the advice from this book into practice yet but am very much looking forward to doing so this week. I also picked up the companion book Spark Joy which expands on some of the frequently asked questions and includes illustrations for folding and storing, and which I'm reading now. I will update this review after I've more thoroughly begun the process.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

REVIEW: The Conquering Dark: Crown & Key, Book 3 by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

My Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
Synopsis from the Publisher:
The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.

Unfortunately, my interest in this trilogy began to wane significantly, as evidenced by the 3 months it took me to read, by the time I reached this third and final book in the trilogy, but seeing as I received it to review and I'd already read the first two, I was compelled to finish.

Although there were a few new revelations to drive the story forward, it came across to me as more of the same thing I read in the previous books. The action scenes seemed to drag on too long; they were too descriptive and wordy, and my mind started drifting before I was through. It seemed like 75% of the book was devoted to these highly detailed fight scenes and it really got tiring after awhile. Perhaps the story had just run it's course by the time the authors got to this third book, and by that time there was nothing new to add to the story but fight, fight, fight!

When compared with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels, another action-filled steampunk series, Crown & Key just doesn't measure up.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group/Del Rey Spectra for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

REVIEW: The Undying Legion: Crown & Key, Book 2 by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

A deluge of black magic is sweeping through Victorian London. It began with a single ritual murder in a London church. But that one murder has turned into many, and as the dead begin to rise and walk the streets, magical scribe Simon Archer knows he has to hunt down the necromancer behind all this dastardly activity and put an end to it.

Joining forces with the lovely alchemist Kate Anstruther, monster hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, and brilliant engineer Penny Carter, the team battles an unrelenting army of powerful gods, demi-gods, demons, and walking dead. I was happy to see the young werewolf Charlotte joining in on the action and playing a more prominent role in this book too. And Malcolm, warring with his own inner demons, as he struggles to accept Charlotte into the group was a poignant glimpse into an otherwise rough and gruff man.

This series reminds me a bit of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris, though I actually like the latter series better. In Crown & Key, it feels like there's too much unnecessary narrative during the action scenes, slowing things down so it doesn't feel quite as fast or punchy. I found myself losing focus a few times because of that and had to go back and reread. I don't really think this minor criticism however should detract from what is otherwise a really good series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group/Del Rey Spectra for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

REVIEW: The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key, Book 1 by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

It's Victorian London and Simon Archer is a scribe, a magick practitioner that uses runes and tattoos to focus his magical energy. Posing as a handsome rogue playboy to infiltrate society and hide his abilities, he and his mentor Nick Barker, attend a society ball to discover more about the pesky werewolf problem plaguing the city. While at the ball, the striking headstrong alchemist Kate Anstruther catches Simon's eye. He is intrigued at her boldness and willingness to jump in to help. Come to find out, Kate's sister Imogen is embroiled in a sinister plot devised by these very same wolves. Accordingly, the two team up, and along with partner Nick and new acquaintance Malcolm MacFarlane, a fierce Scottish monster hunter, the four are a force to be reckoned with.

I thoroughly enjoyed this start to the Crown & Key series. The action was intense with werewolves, magic, alchemy and mad science all playing a role to make this steampunk urban fantasy speed along at breakneck speed. All this action was delivered with a slight detriment to other aspects however, that being character development and world building as other reviewers have mentioned. Not that I found it completely lacking in those departments, but it was enough that I never fully embraced any one particular character. Since this is an ongoing series however, I can only hope that many of these aspects will be further expanded upon in the upcoming books in the series which I look forward to reading soon.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group/Del Rey Spectra for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 27, 2015

REVIEW: The Diamond Conspiracy: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

OMG this was the best one yet! The introduction of time travel to the mix, and the way the author handled it, was simply superb. I felt like I was in an episode of Doctor Who, a favorite series of mine to be sure.

There were new characters introduced, and the alter-ego of other characters revealed... but I cannot say more lest I spoil it for you. Simply know that even if you were slightly disenchanted by the previous novel as I was, this one takes it to 11!

As agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books have faced their share of danger, blowing things up and barely escaping with their lives. But now, the nefarious plans of an evil doctor is set to bring the British Empire under his control, and with the help of the Queen, eliminate all the Ministry agents standing in the way. Can Eliza and Wellington survive when the entire Empire is out to get them?

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.