Monday, April 29, 2013

REVIEW: Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
read April 10-28, 2013

Black Feathers was a very thought-provoking dark fantasy that I had a hard time putting down. Part dystopian, part fantasy, 100% engrossing.

I had so much going on in my life at the time I finished this book that I didn't have time to sit down and write a proper review for it, but suffice to say, it's the kind of story that stuck with me long after I finished reading it, and I found myself going back to it in my mind again and again, reflecting on many of its twists and turns.

It's one I'd definitely like to read again and perhaps the second time around, I can write a more detailed review while all the characters and events are still fresh in my mind. It was really just that good!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

REVIEW: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars
It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural.

Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spellcasting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret.

But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.

Part fantasy, part history, 100% steampunk, A Conspiracy of Alchemists is Liesel Schwarz's debut novel and the first in an interesting new steampunk series. A provocative look inside an urban fantasy world where magic and Faerie are alive, and Alchemists fight with Warlocks for power and control. There are many other creatures that live within the Shadow realm, and a force greater than themselves that keeps the Shadow and the Light in balance.

Taking place during late 1903 Britain, the story was rich with vivid descriptions and examples of many of the important inventions of that time--the steam engine and various flying crafts for example--all of which lent a vibrant feel to the landscape and gave the reader a very strong sense of place and time.

The only trouble for me came with the characters, none of which really endeared themselves to me, at least not until much later in the story. I found Elle to be a bit overly combative, to the point where it was actually kind of irritating. Yes, I'm all for a girl who wants to buck the system and doesn't conform to a society's ideals in which she doesn't believe, but I felt she took this a bit too far, to the point where she was almost angry and mistrustful of everyone she met. I don't know, perhaps it was just a sign of the times she lived in, and the opposition she faced being one of the only woman pilots in the world.

Marsh's character grew on me after a while; he was likeable enough in the beginning but it wasn't until the end that I actually started to like him enough to root for his well-being. ;) But I think my favorite character had to be the Baroness Loisa Belododia, a Nightwalker and fairly minor character in the overall scheme of the story. I hope to see more of her in future books.

Overall, I found this was a strong start to what's sure to be an curious new series. Congratulations Ms Schwarz! You've done a commendable job here, and I believe you've definitely accomplished what you set out to:  "write a steampunk novel that resonated with female readers". I look forward to reading the second book in the series when it's released.

Monday, April 08, 2013

REVIEW: Riddle in Stone by Robert Evert

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edmund is an antiquarian and scholar who lives in the small remote village of Rood in the Far North. Though you'd usually find him immersed in his books, Edmund's actually got big dreams of one day leaving Rood and doing something really important with his life, something that will earn him the respect of the townsfolk who think he's nothing but a stuttering, bumbling idiot, and the eye of Molly, whom he's loved from afar for a long time.

When a royal proclamation from the kingdom presents itself, granting Lordship over the Highlands to the person who can locate and bring to the King the long last Star of Iliandor, Edmund thinks this is finally the chance he's been waiting for. For in his own personal library lies the precious diary of Lord Iliandor himself, beloved ruler of the Highlands who fought against and defeated the Undead King and his goblin armies in three hard-fought wars. It was at the end of the third and final war that Iliandor died in combat, and the blue jewel he wore upon his crown was forever lost to history. But a lone squire from Iliandor's army had managed to find his way back back to Rood, and he carried on his person the diary of Lord Iliandor. Written in the ancient tongue of Dunael, a language which very few living people could still read or understand, the diary included the last dying words of Lord Iliandor, and with this arcane knowledge, Edmund is certain he knows where to start looking for the prized jewel. For if he can accomplish this single task, he'll most assuredly earn the respect he's been craving all his life, plus have his own heroic tales to hold a captive audience.

Edmund sets out in the dead of the night on an epic journey to locate the lost Star of Iliandor. Shunted by a strong self of self-doubt and a negative voice in his head that keeps telling him to turn back, Edmund has his own inner demons to battle in addition to those he meets on his long trek across the wide plains and into the mountains of the Highlands where he's certain he'll find the prized jewel... But what he discovers along the way is so much more!

Edmund is definitely not your typical hero. Slightly overweight and with a strong stutter, he's not taken seriously by any of his fellow townsfolk. There's a good lesson here about the underdog being able to overcome all obstacles that stand in his way and come out on top. Though with everything that gets thrown at Edmund along the way, you never really know if he's going to make it out alive or not.

I enjoyed this debut novel from author Robert Evert, and understand that it's to be the first in a new series. The book was fairly long at about 462 pages, but read fairly quickly most of the way through due to lots of action. The world building and vivid descriptions the author uses transplanted me right into the story, where I could almost sense the damp, chill air of all the tunnels through the mountains, and the eerie feeling of never knowing what lay around the next corner. However, during the first half of the book, I would sometimes find myself quickly snapped out of that world because I was starting to get tired of listening to all Edmund's self-doubt--I just wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it! Fortunately, Edmund eventually does develop a backbone along with a bit more resolve and and starts to take on the shape and characteristics of a true hero, surprising even himself, and a lot of his negativity ceases with the increase in his bravery.

I'm giving this book a solid 6 out of 10 stars (3.5 for Goodreads). I would've rated it slightly higher if I didn't find Edmund's character a bit grating. I also felt the last 1/4 of the book could've progressed a bit quicker. But that's a bit harder to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say, the action seemed to slow down a bit in the last 1/4 or so of the book so I felt some pages could've been saved there in keeping it with the pace of the rest of the story. Overall, a very strong debut novel from this author and I look forward to reading the next one.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

REVIEW: Tales of Blight and Horror by Ryan Notch

My Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Tales of Blight and Horror is a collection of three short stories, and one sneak preview, written by Ryan Notch. I picked it up for a short, quick read on the Kindle and finished it in one sitting.

A Heart Shaped Uterus was the main story of this set, and if you like your horror bizarre and a bit wacky, then this author is for you. Though the story was strange and interesting enough, the ending was a bit anti-climatic. Also includes a sneak peek into his full-length novel, Nowhere Blvd, which I added to my Kindle wish list.

REVIEW: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

The Woman in Black is a ghost story set in Victorian London. Arthur Kipps is a young lawyer who's sent to a remote village in the northeastern shores of England to settle the affairs of one of the firm's clients. As he arrives in town, he finds that the locals are pretty tight-lipped over the late Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. And rightly so! As it turns out, eerily strange things have been happening at the house, and soon Arthur himself finds he's being haunted by a strange woman in black, a woman with a pale, gaunt face and a dark air of malevolence all about her.

I have the DVD movie of The Woman in Black waiting in my Netflix queue so I wanted to read the book first, as I often do. The book itself was fairly short, only about 176 pages, and though originally written in 1983, the writing style definitely harks back to that of the more formal Victorian era in which it takes place. In that regard, it's quite different from the standard horror novel of today. Instead of creeping you out with blood and gore, the author uses amazingly vivid descriptions that evoke all sorts of chilling and spine-tingling visions. I can imagine that it would come through to the silver screen quite well and I'm now looking forward to seeing the movie.

The only real reason I didn't rate it higher is because I'm not a huge fan of the more formal writing style of Victorian times. Plus, I sometimes had to look up unfamiliar words--a simple task really since I was reading on my Kindle--but it would break the flow and I'd end up having to reread a particular passage over once I fully understood the word's meaning. Though the exact time frame the story takes place was never mentioned outright, the author writes so well that she doesn't have to; her writing takes you right there!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

REVIEW: Outpost by Ann Aguirre

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Outpost is the second book in the Razorland series and the follow-up to 2011's Enclave. I enjoyed Enclave tremendously and immediately predicted it'll be one of my best reads of 2013. Fortunately the sequel—while quite different—was just as riveting. I'd give it a 9.5 if I could—if only because I liked Enclave just a wee bit better, mostly because of it's slightly faster pace throughout—but definitely not enough to deduct a whole point for it. :)

The story begins two months after Deuce and Fade emerged Topside from the dank, dark underground tunnels of the Enclave, into a part of the city now ruled by rival gangs who fight to the death for their lives and territory. Along with unlikely allies Stalker and Tegan, whom they picked up in the city, the four teens arrive at the walled, protected community of Salvation—built on the now trice settled site of an old war fort near what was once the Canadian border—and attempt to carve out a life Topside.

But adjusting to life in Salvation is anything but easy, especially for Deuce who doesn't particularly care for this new, simpler way of life where physical strength, aptitude, and training count for nothing if you're a woman. Instead, Deuce is expected to learn to do womanly work in the home, cook, wear dresses and look pretty. Things that are definitely not in a Huntress's repertoire. Several of the more god-fearing, bible-thumping citizens of Salvation shun Deuce, claiming she's an abomination whose presence will displease the gods and bring the plague back down upon them! But who needs plague when the Freaks—now called Muties by the citizens of Salvation—have been getting smarter and are now able to think and plan—even if they still smell of rotting flesh. Little do they realize that for Salvation to survive, they are going to need a girl like Deuce to save their ass!

Though this story takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world like its predecessor, Outpost takes place completely topside, so there's a whole new world to be discovered, both by the reader as well as by Deuce and her friends, and Aguirre does a spectacular job creating this scary new world. Character development is amazing as Deuce and Fade continue to learn, grow, and adapt, and as a reader, you come to understand many of the complexities that make up their personalities—these are no one-dimensional characters! The plot is quick and snappy and I hated when I had to put this book down to actually get other things done! LOL But what I hated even more was when I finished and realized that the final book in the trilogy, tentatively named Horde, is not due out until the end of October. :o So now I have 9 more months to wait before finding out how this amazing story ends!

If you're a fan of dystopian fiction, you must read this series. Though classified as young adult, it is definitely a book for all ages (okay maybe not pre-teens LOL), but everyone else for sure!

BookCrossing journal page for this book

Friday, January 25, 2013

REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
read January 18-24, 2013

This book really didn't live up to all the hype for me. Neither of the main characters really endeared themselves to me and when I don't like the main characters, I find myself not really caring what they do.

That said, the way the story was composed, with the author making you wonder what was going on for most of the book, is what kept me reading. But then when I got to the end, whoa that really blew it for me. I didn't like the ending AT ALL! I hear they might be changing the ending for the movie though, so I'll probably see it just for comparison purposes, and to see if the characters are somehow more likeable on the big screen.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

REVIEW: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20's. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters—or Freaks—who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade's long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.

Wow, this was a fantastic read! Enclave is the first book in the Razorland trilogy, a new Young Adult dystopian series by Ann Aguirre. (Actually it was published in April 2011 so it's not really that new.) I devoured this book in only 5 days, having a hard time putting it down. It was only about 272 pages though so I'm sure there's many that could read that in a single day. ;) Though it's only January, I have a feeling this one will wind up at or very near the top of my best reads of 2013.

So what makes this novel stand out among the plethora of others like it? Yes, the whole dystopian theme has been getting an extraordinary amount of attention, some even claim it's being overdone, but you can't deny the success of books like The Hunger Games or TV series like The Walking Dead. And IMO, this stuff is a whole lot more interesting than the snooze fest that is Fifty Shades of Grey. :P
The author has taken several chilling themes—zombies, war, plague, underground societies—and given them a different spin so the story is fresh and new. And thankfully, no "love triangle"!

I'd highly recommend this series to fans of the above mentioned books and shows, and I'm looking forward to reading Outpost, the next book the series, which fortunately I already have here and waiting thanks to a thoughtful holiday gift from PaperBackSwap. :)

REVIEW: Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

This is the sixth book in the Kitty Norville series, and it was great to get back to this series after a year and a half away.

In this installment, Kitty is back home in Denver and dealing with the repercussions of her recent trip to Las Vegas where she seriously pissed off a cult of were-tigers and it's vampire priestess. With her life in danger, as well as those of the people she cares about, she sets out to track down the source of the curse that's been placed on her. Fortunately, a group of TV paranormal investigators--one of whom has real psychic abilities--is in town filming so Kitty is sure that if she can enlist their help, she can stop this thing before more people get hurt.

This was another fantastic installment in the Kitty series and I look forward to reading more. :)