Book Review: Livin’ Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)

March 7, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Livin' Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)Summary:
It’s Halloween, and Pali Moon, Maui’s wedding planner, is happy to be back to planning a normal wedding after her adventures earlier in the year.  Even if she’s being sent out on Halloween night to Lahaina to look for a bridesmaid who’s gone missing.  Pali expects to find her drunk and lost, but what she finds instead is her ponytail in the backseat of her car.  Cut off.  Pali is very worried about the missing bridesmaid, but no one else–not the bride, groom, or even the police–seem to care.  When she starts getting threatening messages, Pali decides it’s up to her to figure out just how much danger the bridesmaid is in.

Review:
This second entry in this near cozy-style mystery series finds the reader again following a wedding Pali is planning gone criminal.

Perhaps some would expect every entry in a mystery series about a wedding planner to involve some wedding going haywire.  I suppose that’s fair, although personally I would prefer the source of the mystery to be a bit more shaken up.  Something like maybe Pali’s neighbor in the business district going missing, and Pali having to still manage to plan a big wedding while investigating the missing neighbor.  However, I can see how some readers would enjoy the predictability of “wedding gone awry” as a mystery plot.  In fact, it’s probably a mystery niche I was previously unaware of.  Potential readers should know, though, to expect the “wedding gone awry” plot from this series.

Even if readers are ok with the “wedding gone awry” idea being brought back in the second entry, how it goes awry could perhaps be executed a bit more uniquely.  In the first book, a groom is missing.  In the second book, a bridesmaid is missing.  The mystery would read quite differently if, for instance, the bridesmaid winds up dead at the bachelorette party, and Pali has to help clear the bride’s name in time for her wedding.  That at least wouldn’t be a missing person all over again.

That said, the reason behind the missing bridesmaid, and the plot that goes along with it is quite different from the first book.  Once the reader gets past the first 1/3 of the book or so, things definitely do start to develop differently.  The plot particularly surprised me at the end, again, in a way that seemed plausible and logical.  I just wish the beginning had been more unique.

Pali’s characterization continues along the same way as the first book.  If you liked her in the first, you’ll like her here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The romance plot is also quite similar to the first book.  Pali is still waffling between two men and doing a rather bad job of handling it in an adult-like manner.  Again, if you enjoyed the romance in the first book, you’ll enjoy it here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The setting is still as lovely as in the first book.  Hawaii and its culture are beautifully depicted.  It’s easy to feel swept away to Hawaii when reading this book.

Overall, this mystery has a plot that starts quite similar to the plot in the first book but that is saved by a drastically different ending and reasons behind the missing person.  The main character and romance continue to be a bit ho-hum, but if readers enjoyed them in the first book, they will enjoy them here.  Recommended primarily to those who greatly liked the first book in the series.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Maui Widow Waltz, review

Blog Updates

March 6, 2015 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I just wanted to take a moment to let those of you who subscribe via RSS feed or email that my blog now officially has its own url.  It is now opinionsofawolf.com not opinionsofawolf.wordpress.com.  Don’t worry, all links to the old .wordpress.com address are set to automatically forward to opinionsofawolf.com.  I’m excited to be taking this leap forward.

I have also decided to focus my free time more in on my writing.  Long-time readers know I am also a writer (see my Publications page here).  In light of this, I have decided to close up my Etsy shop.  I enjoy cross-stitching and designing patterns, but I would like to revert it back to being a hobby.  However, I have made all the patterns I designed available on my Cross-Stitch page, and I will add more as I design them. At my leisure.

I have also designed and synced an author’s twitter to this blog.  There is a link in the sidebar, or you may follow it here.  This is a public twitter that anyone may follow.  I primarily focus on tweeting about writing, books, and links to things that interest me, as well as retweeting anything I find humorous.

I also hope to start doing a monthly reading and writing reflection post.  We will all see how that goes!

Happy reading!

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)

March 3, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)Summary:
Maui wedding planner Pali Moon wouldn’t normally accept a last-minute request to plan a wedding when the groom is lost at sea, but the client wants to pay cash, and she is in debt up to her ears.  Plus, the bride assures Pali that the groom’s best friend will stand in as his proxy if the groom hasn’t been found by the wedding date.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, when a body washes up on shore….it turns out, a lot.

Review:
This would be a cozy mystery if it offered any type of recipes or patterns in the back, as it is, think of it as a light-hearted mystery with very little blood and some steamy kissing scenes.  The story transports the reader to Hawaii with lovely described settings and keeps the reader there with an intriguing plot.

A wedding planner in Hawaii is just an interesting job to begin with.  Plus, Pali has a bit of mystery to her.  She admits from the very beginning that Pali isn’t her name, but the reader never finds out (in this entry in the series anyway) what her real name is.  Why is she keeping it a secret?  Plus, Pali’s friends (and enemies) are an interesting bunch.  Her Native best friend who also runs the general store and officiates weddings is a breath of fresh air to the story. Her gay roommate may feel a bit expected at this point, but the author keeps him from verging too far into stereotype and gives of a hint of the three dimensions he could have in future installments.  The bad guys may veer a bit toward caricature sometimes, but that lends the book part of its humor and lack of tension that is key to this type of mystery.

The mystery and plot consist of two main points of conflict.  First, Pali is at risk of losing her business.  Second, the missing groom and the bride’s family may not be precisely what they appear.  This lends some realness to the character.  She has more going on than this mystery that fell in her lap.  It also gives her a reason for accepting a client who has a clear iffy feeling about them.  That said, the will she or won’t she hold onto her business lacks some real tension, as it’s fairly clear that Pali will figure a way out of losing her business.  With the missing groom conflict, while we know Pali will probably be safe, since she’s the main character, the rest of the characters are basically up for grabs for danger.  This gives it just enough tension to stay interesting but not be stressful.  Similarly, this plot was more well-written, with some unexpected yet believable twists.  It also takes into consideration the local laws of Hawaii, so events stayed grounded in the real world.

The romance consists of two potential love interests.  I am always a bit turned off when a main character has two people interested in them.  It will never not feel a bit fake to me.  However, the two potential love interests are handled in a balanced and modern way.  Neither is the clear “right choice,” and readers could easily prefer one over the other while still liking the main character with either.

I also would like to mention that there is a good minor plot involving characters revealing that they are alcoholics who have been in recovery for a while.  It’s good to see people with a mental illness that they have worked on and are actively managing in a positive way.  I appreciate this diversity being included in this book.

Given all of these positives, why is it only an average read for me?  There was nothing unexpected for this type of mystery. It is very similar to others I have read in the genre.  Additionally, the main character can kind of rub me the wrong way sometimes.  How she handles her love interests is not as up-front as it should be.  It is also unclear as to how she managed to get herself into so much debt.  It seems she might just be bad at balancing books but all for taking favors from friends.  Similarly, she’s a white woman, albeit raised in Hawaii, but she goes by a Native name and never explains why, beyond the fact that she doesn’t like her own name.  Add to this the fact that the romance didn’t really work for me, and this is why I consider this a rather average read.  It may be more than average for you, if these factors I have named are not an issue for you.

Overall, this is a light-hearted mystery that transports the reader to the tropical island of Maui.  Some readers may be a bit turned off by the main character or the romance secondary plot.  Those who enjoy a non-tense mystery set in a tropical locale will most likely enjoy the read, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Botanicaust by Tam Linsey (Series, #1)

February 27, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Botanicaust by Tam Linsey (Series, #1)Summary:
When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions.  There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary.  Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish.  They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways.  In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.

Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted.  Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis.  When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.

Review:
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future.  This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.

The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse).  As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future.  Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense.  Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense.  The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle.  This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold.  The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens.  Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives.  These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement.  At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement?  How do we maintain ethics among all of this?  The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.

The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people.  I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book.  I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me.  Then again, romance is not always logical.

The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it.  The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome.  First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science.  Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with.  It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.  Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold.  There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome.  Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:

a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)

or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.”  First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome.  This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that.  The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around.  It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second.  For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman.  A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man.  A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child.  I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain.  Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language.  It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.

It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.

Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot.  Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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ETA:
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post.  You may view it by going below.  To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version.  However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome.  This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.

Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)

February 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)Summary:
Captain Kirk and his nemesis from the mirror universe, Tiberius Kirk, pair up to hunt down the preservers, orbs left by some more intelligent race.  Kirk is teaming up with Tiberius because Tiberius holds the key to saving his wife’s and unborn son’s lives.  Their quest will reveal hidden secrets about the universe.

Review:
This is the second audiobook my fiancé and I listened to on our road trip to and from Michigan.  We listened to the previous book in the series, Dark Victory (review), on the drive out.  We listened to this one on the drive back.  (Each direction is a 13 hour drive).  Whereas the previous book kept us entertained and awake for our road trip, this one left us confused and concerned we might actually be drifting off into sleep periodically, because it made so little sense.  (For the record, we were not drifting off into sleep. This book just makes very little sense).

All of the audiobook qualities that were great about the previous book stay great here.  Shatner’s narration alternates between hilariously good and hilariously bad but mostly is just hilariously Shatner.  The sound effects continue to be stellar and one of my favorite parts of the book.  It continues to feel like listening to a Star Trek movie as a radio show, and that it was kept me going through it.

The plot, however, just makes very little sense and seems to fall apart.  Whereas in the previous book a continuing plot point is Shatner’s ruined hands, in this one it’s Shatner’s unborn (and then born) son who is all kinds of genetically messed up thanks to the poison in his mother’s system from the cloned children of Tiberius.  (Are you confused yet?)  This could possibly make for an interesting plot, but it’s dropped frequently to pursue the other plot about the preserver orb things.  We read this book and both fiancé and I are still unclear as to precisely what the orbs mean.  We’re not even sure if they’re good or bad.  This is how confusing the plot is, I can’t even properly sum it up for you folks.  In spite of the plot being really confusing, there are still some fun scenes, such as when Kirk meets his son for the first time.  It’s a short audiobook, so I’m not unhappy I listened to it, even if I mostly only understood the Kirk’s son plot.

Overall, while this provides very little clear closure to the plot point set up earlier in the trilogy, it does feature the birth of Kirk’s son and all the fun of listening to a radio show version of a Star Trek movie.  If you liked the previous books in the trilogy and don’t mind a confusing plot, you’ll enjoy finishing up the trilogy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Spectre
Dark Victory, review

Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

February 3, 2015 4 comments

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen AbbottSummary:
Abbott looks at the little discussed role of women in the Civil War by highlighting the lives of four different women spies, two with loyalties to the South and two to the North.  By following their lives through the Civil War, Abbott demonstrates the critical role women played in the Civil War that is too often silenced.

Review:
Doing Dewey’s review of this book landed it on my wishlist, and I was really pleased to receive it for Christmas.  It was everything I’d expected it to be.  A look at the Civil War through a women’s history perspective and told in an easy to follow style with lots of respect for the historical source material.

Abbott notes at the beginning of the book that she only uses quotation marks around information she is directly quoting from source material.  I knew from that second forward I was going to enjoy this work of nonfiction, because too often authors stray either too far toward hearsay and imagining how people felt or too far toward distancing themselves from anything other than the driest facts.  Abbott beautifully switches among the four different women, following the timeline of the Civil War and telling their stories simultaneously.  This lends a clearer perspective on the Civil War than I had before.  It puts a humanizing eye on real events.

So who are the four women highlighted in this book?  On the side of the North, there’s Emma Edmonds, who had already been living as a man to escape a marriage being forced upon her by her family.  Emma enlisted as a Union soldier and soon wound up spying for them — pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman to cross the lines.  There’s also Elizabeth Van Lew and her freed slave Mary Bowser in Richmond who worked together to spy on the Confederate president.  On the side of the South there’s Rose O’Neale Greenhow, a socialite in DC who used her affairs with Northern politicians to spy.  There is also Belle Boyd, a boisterous woman at first more interested in notoriety than in helping any cause but whose loyalty to the South became ever more strong.

This book makes it clear that women made ideal spies thanks to sexism.  The men of the North and South both viewed women as the “delicate sex” that would never actually participate in anything so soiled as war, so when they attempted to cross the lines, they would be let through without being searched.  The more high class a woman, the more protection she was afforded, so even though women were under suspicion, they were always treated better than men under the same suspicion.  For instance, Belle Boyd was caught red-handed as a spy once.  The penalty for a man would be death, but she was sent to prison and then later paroled and sent back to the South, basically with a slap on the wrist and demand she not do that again.  Another example, in the case of Elizabeth Van Lew,

For now, at least, her social position and gender served as her most convincing disguise. No one would believe that a frail, pampered spinster was capable of plotting treasonous acts, let alone carrying them out right under the government’s nose. (page 47)

Abbott does a good job of presenting the reality of these women’s lives and their politics matter-of-factly with little judgment from the future.  The women are allowed to basically speak for themselves, and the reader can ultimately decide how they feel about them.  Abbott maintains the historic feel by referring to African-Americans as “Negroes.”  This may bother some readers, and they should be aware to expect it.

The only element of the book that disappointed me was how the author handled Mary Bowser.  First, this woman is not one of the four featured in the book description or the title, and yet she served as a spy inside the Confederacy presidential household.  Mary Bowser was freed from slavery at a young age by Van Lew’s family.  The Van Lew’s sent her North to be educated and kept her on in the household as a free servant.  When Elizabeth heard that Confederate President Davis’s household needed more servants, she talked to Mary about her serving there.  This educated and highly intelligent woman (she was rumored to have a photographic memory) proceeded to pretend to be the stupid, subservient person the Davises were expecting through their racism, and thus was able to do things like dust President Davis’s desk and memorize upcoming troop movements to report later.  It was thanks to her work in conjunction with Elizabeth, who organized how to get the information out of the South to the North, that the Union was able to know so many of the Confederacy moves ahead of time.  Yet, she is not featured as one of the four main women in the book.  She is not listed as one of the women spies. The end of her life after the Civil War is not mentioned, not even to say whether or not Abbott was able to find any information about her.  For a book highlighting the lives of those often erased from history, writing Mary as Elizabeth’s sidekick was quite disappointing.

The book ends by telling the reader what ultimately happened in these women’s lives after the Civil War.  It’s a bit of a sad note, particularly for the Union women who fought for freedom and yet wound up with little of it themselves.

At last Elizabeth retreated, withdrawing entirely from public life. She had no target for her ferocious will. Her one political act was to attach a note of “solemn protest” to her annual tax payment, declaring it unjust to tax someone who was denied the vote. (page 426)

Overall, this book covers the history of the Civil War from the unique women’s history perspective of women spies.  Those looking for an engaging alternate way to learn about Civil War history will enjoy this book and learning about the women who had an impact on history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Dark Victory by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)

January 29, 2015 1 comment

cover_darkvictorySummary:
Our universe has been invaded by the inhabitants of the Mirror Universe–a parallel universe that is a dark, twisted version of our own.  Now, Captain Kirk, with the captains and crews of The Next Generation and Voyager must battle evil versions of themselves, led by the evil version of Kirk — Tiberius Kirk.  What nightmares does Tiberius have planned for the Federation?

Review:
Back in December, my fiancé and I road-tripped to Michigan to visit his family.  It’s about a 13 hour drive, and I had Audible credits, so I suggested we pick out a book.  We both love Star Trek so we investigated what Star Trek options are available.  This one jumped out at us for the obvious reason that it’s narrated by William Shatner himself!  Other reviewers complained about sound effects, but that just made us more excited, so we downloaded it, oblivious to the fact that it’s the second book in a series.  This book reads like a radio program version of a Star Trek movie featuring a crazy mash-up of the Original Series, Next Generation, and Voyager.

The action starts right away, which was admittedly a bit confusing, since we hadn’t read the first book.  It starts with Tiberius and his crew escaping into our own universe, and Kirk and his trying to battle them.  Also, Kirk’s hands are mysteriously mangled from something that happened in the first book.  Ultimately, we were able to catch up with the plot and follow it somewhat.  Kirk is in love with a woman who is pregnant with his baby.  Tiberius seems intent on getting to some orbs that the Federation wants to protect.  Kirk wants to stop him, but the Federation and some spy branch of theirs are trying to keep him from engaging in the fight anymore.  They even go so far as to lie to him and tell him that Tiberius is dead.  It’s a complex, twisting plot that makes some sense when listening to it, although summarizing it is nigh on impossible.  Suffice to say, that if you enjoy the concept of the mirror universe and the characters from three series all interacting together, you’ll probably enjoy this plot.  Plus, there’s also Kirk’s wedding in this book, and that is just not to be missed.  (There are horses! And red leather outfits!)

What really made the book for me was the audiobook presentation of it.  It is presented like a radio program, complete with amazing sound effects.  The communicator actually beeps! There are impact noises from shots at the Enterprise! There are even whinnies from the horses.  If you’re a more serious Star Trek fan, you might be irritated by the relative kitsch of this book and its reading, but if you enjoy Star Trek for its periodic utter ridiculous, then you’ll enjoy the way this audiobook is presented.

Shatner’s narration is sometimes good but often hilariously bad.  His voice for women is unnaturally high and soft, making me giggle each time, and mysteriously, he uses the same voice for Captain Picard as for women.  Listening to him narrate anyone who is not Captain Kirk is a bit like watching Captain Kirk “fight” in the Original Series.  I enjoyed it for its ridiculousness, not for its quality.

Overall, if you’re a Star Trek fan who doesn’t take the show too seriously, you’ll enjoy this radio program like audiobook with a plot mashing up everything from a mirror universe to somehow placing Captains Kirk, Picard, and Janeway on the same ship.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Spectre

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