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Book Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles (Audiobook narrated by Vikas Adam)

March 21, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles (Audiobook narrated by Vikas Adam)Summary:
It’s 2015, and Denny Younger of New Cardiff, California, is a caste of 8.  He loves reading and studying but he knows he will probably end up working in the shops just like his father.  But when he takes his placement test, he’s offered a position that he is promised is better, but he can’t know anything about it until he starts working, and he must leave his family behind.  Denny’s family life is in pieces, so he eagerly agrees.  Before he knows it, he is re-caste as a 5 and soon discovers that he will be traveling through time as an observer, recording family histories for the elite.  Even the smallest error in time-travel can have far-reaching consequences, and before he knows it, Denny finds himself racing against time (and other time-travelers) to fix everything.  But what does fixing everything actually mean?

Review:
I love a good time-travel book, so when Audible offered this one up to me for review, I eagerly agreed.  This is an action-packed book but with far less time-travel than it originally appears and much more parallel universes.

The basic premise of the book is that this is the year 2015 in a wold where the American Revolution never occurred.  Without the American Revolution, the British Empire ended up taking over most of the world (except East Asia).  Everyone is sorted into extremely strict castes, and family history is everything.  These people haven’t made it to the moon yet, but they have managed to discover time-travel.  And they use this discovery solely to send people called “rewinders” back in time to verify people’s ancestry to solidify their ranking in this world.  Now, this was my first major problem with the book, and it’s a plot point I just never was able to let go of.  This society acknowledges the risk of the butterfly effect and yet they brazenly send people willy-nilly through time risking everything for what? Geneaology.  And this has been going on for decades with no ill effects.  Perhaps other readers can get past the idea that a federally (er, royally) backed agency would do this, but I simply could not.

Naturally, when our brave hero goes back in time, he is the first to woops his way into a butterfly effect.  He knows he’s probably done it (he causes someone to leave a location 12 seconds late), but he still pops back up into the present to check on things.  Once there, it takes him days to figure out that he’s changed history.  Daaaaays.  It should really not take him this long to figure this thing out.  Denny causes a change.  Denny pops up to the present.  Denny has troubling connecting to his companion (a person in the present who grounds the person time-traveling), so he gets sick for a few days.  Denny then wanders through our universe’s New York City and can’t figure out what’s going on.  It takes traveling to California’s New Cardiff (in our world, Los Angeles) and seeing that his family home is gone to figure out what’s happened.  Really? A person who has been trained in time-travel takes this long to figure out this very basic time-travel problem?  It’s hard to believe, especially after we’ve been told repeatedly how smart Denny is, that he could be that stupid.

Denny then starts living in Los Angeles to investigate this parallel universe.  He naturally meets a girl and falls for her.  He then has trouble deciding whether to put everything back or not.  And of course there are other rewinders out there he must contend with.

The basic plot idea is interesting.  What would have happened if there had been no American Revolution and how would a person from that society react if they discovered a different option for their lives? But how the author gets there isn’t fully thought-out or fleshed-out enough.  There are too many logical fallacies, such as the ones I’ve laid out above.  That said, it was a fun read with a different plot than what has been coming from a lot of YA recently.  I was glad to see a scifi that contains some history for YA readers.  I also appreciated how many women characters are present in the book, including Denny’s trainer and his nemesis.  Similarly, Denny’s world is extremely lacking in diversity due to the success of the British empire and its traditionalism.  When he travels to our world, he immediately encounters greater diversity, both of race and of sexuality, and he seems to appreciate that, which is a nice touch.

The narrator does a good job both keeping a good pace and setting the tone for the book.  While I understand why the narrator uses a British accent for the British characters from the 1700s, the history geek in me was frustrated, since the stereotypical modern “British accent” didn’t exist back then.  (I knew this from my History BA, but here’s an article that explains what I’m talking about).

Overall, this book has an interesting premise and fast-moving plot.  It has some romance, but is thankfully free of any love triangles.  Time-travel fans may be frustrated by how easily characters brush off the real presence of time-travel issues.  The science of time-travel is simply not explored enough, nor is history.  However, YA readers looking for a quick read and something different in the genre will most likely enjoy it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Free download from Audible in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)

March 17, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)Summary:
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world.  She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own.  When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry.  What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.

Review:
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much.  I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.

Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie.  She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae.  (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this).  What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists.  If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists.  To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident.  It is one of the main repeated problems for this character.  Fae keep trying to rape her.

Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women.  Because the fae have fertility problems.  In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae.  Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.

These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler.  Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up.  These are key and frequent plot points in this book.

Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points.  Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology.  I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well.  Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented.  The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well.  I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.

So what about the rest of the book?  Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine.  She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses.  She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator.  What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters).  Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves.  You won’t find them.  The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.

The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting.  Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.

As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae.  Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests.  One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste.  But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.

The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time.  For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists.  She pauses at odd times.  Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book.  For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.

Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology.  Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book.  The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged.  Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Short Story: The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont by Amanda McNeil

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Note: This short story, which is humorous horror, was originally published in 2011 in the online horror magazine 69 Flavors of Paranoia (volume 3, menu 13).  I recently discovered that 69 Flavors of Paranoia is now defunct.  Their website and Facebook page are completely gone.  An investigation of their twitter finds that they did not delete their twitter but they have not tweeted since evidently announcing on January 13, 2015, that they are now out of commission (view the tweet here).  They did not give advance notice to any of the authors who had been published so that we could archive our stories from their zine, nor did they create an archive themselves.  They, in fact, completely deleted their entire website; they did not even move it to a free host.  It appears that the Internet Archive primarily archived their issue table of contents and not the stories themselves.  You can view the table of contents for the issue that contained my story here.  Since I never gave up my copyright nor can the story be read in their publication anymore, I have decided to re-publish it here myself.  I don’t feel the need to resubmit it to other magazines right now, as I have other projects I am working on.  I do hope you all enjoy it.  You can view links to the rest of my publications on my Publications page

“The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont”
By:
Amanda McNeil

Leroy never saw no need to leave these here backwoods of Vermont, kinda like m’self.  His mama birthed him here when she was only fifteen years old in the family log cabin right up on this here hill.  Her mama done whupped her good when she found out she had a bun in the oven, but her daddy put a stop to it.  Every babe is a gift from God.  Ayuh.  That’s what he’d said.  So he was birthed, and his mama done named him Leroy.

Leroy’s folks; they didn’t trust the gubmint none.  No sir.  The gubmint’s the one that’s been slowly takin Vermont from the good, rignal born, old-timers and handin it over hook line and sinkah to them dammed librals.  Leroy’s pappy–he alwuz insisted he married Leroy’s mama on purpose, but Leroy alwuz suspected that it was more of a shot gun affair–anyhow.  He alwuz tole Leroy, “Boy! Don’t you take nothin from nobody.  We’s bettah than that.  We’s take care of ourselves n our own.  Don’t you be like them dammed useless welfare folk.”

So his mama done taught him right there at home while his pappy went to work in the mill down the road n Gram cooked n kep house.  Sometimes, Grandpappy’d take him out n teach him all’s’bout huntin and fishin and survivin without the food you kin get in a grocery store.  Ayuh.  Course, ventually, the gubmint done made him go to school, but it was only down at the gubmint school close by, and well Leroy, he warn’t never near the top of his class, if you know what I’m sayin.

I was friends with good ole Leroy back in the day.  Ayuh.  You might say that.  I’d scaped from that gubmint school soon’s they let you.  Been out a few years.  Leroy, he was gettin close to it.  Anyway, Leroy’s folks n mine, they was all on us to do our share fer the families.  I’d done took to collectin fiddleheads n beer cans an sech on the side of the road when I warn’t workin in the mill with the rest of the fellers.  That sorta thing’s alwuz more fun with a buddy along, so I done asked Leroy to join me on one sech excursion on a…..well durn.  It musta been a Sat’day afternoon, cuz I don’t recollect havin gone to church in the mornin.

So, we was out on one of them thar back roads.  Y’know, the ones that alwuz have big ole ruts in em n sometimes a farmer or a backwoodsman’ll come puttin along in his ole truck with the sharp edges, nothin like them new trucks with them pussy-ass rounded edges.  An the forest, well it just come right on up near the side of the road with just them thar drainage ditches betwixt the two.  Makes fer more interestin collectin that way.  Sometimes you see a critter or some sech.  Well, it was late spring-like.  I recollect that, cuz I was collectin me some fiddleheads.  They make a durn good supper if you cook em up right good with a big ole dollop of butter, y’know.

Anyway, so I was toolin my way along in one of them drainage ditches that run along the side of them old-fashioned dirt roads.  It was real muddy-like.  Course I didn’t care cuz you gotta wursh the fiddleheads anyway, an I had me some real good boots.  Leroy, he was pokin his way along on the other side of the road.  He done got a bit further down than me when he call out to me.  “Hey, Bobby!”  He done shout it just like that.  “Hey, Bobby!”

“Yeah, what?” I done called back to him.

“Lookee here.  Lookit what I found.”

I sighed n looked up expectin a whole bunch of nothin.  Leroy, he warn’t exactly strong in the head department, if you know what I’m sayin.  Well, thar stood Leroy.  He was a scrawny kid, Leroy was.  Ayuh.  Scrawny n tall topped off with a shock of red hair, but not the tempmint to match.  Anyhow, thar stood Leroy holdin up a squirrel by the tail.  This squirrel, he wuz the deadest durn thing you ever done saw.  I mean his middle was squirshed flat.  His head and hind end looked like two hills with a valley in-between, an little bits of guts all full of road dirt was stuck to the poor thing’s middle.  I done shook my head, cuz, y’know, guts ain’t never a fun thing to see, an I said, “Leroy! Whatchoo doin pickin up the road kill?”

“Road kill?” He let out a he-haw kinda laugh an bent forward.  “This ain’t no road kill. This here’s supper!”

“Leroy, you damn fool!”  I went back to my bizness, searchin fer the good fiddleheads.  “T’ain’t right to eat roadkill.  Them critters done suffered enough gettin squirshed to death without you hackin em up and makin one of yer god-awful stews out of em.  Sides.  Poor critter’s covered in dirt!”

“Bobby, you know better than to waste perfectly good food that you don’t got to pay good money fer.”

I done fixed my gaze back up at him.  He was standin there with his feet planted a good couple feet apart lookin the most stubborn I ever done seen him.  “I don’t believe you will.  Even you ain’t that stupid.”

“It ain’t stupid to eat food God done left in the middle of the road fer ya,” his forehead had got all wrinkled and sech.

I dropped the fiddlehead I’d done plucked into my paper bag.  “Aw, now you’re just joshin me.  You know better than to eat it now.  I can see you thinkin about it.”

Leroy done stomped over from down the road so’s he was leanin down an lookin in my face real close-like.  “I’ll go eat it right now, an you kin watch me.”

Well, it ain’t easy to get good entertainment up in these here hills, so I said I’d come watch.  Leroy figured he’d just tell his mama he done got hungry and et early.  My place was the closest to whar we were, y’see.  Ayuh.  This place rightchere.  He done cooked it up right thar on that same stove.  My mama was out in the garden, an my pappy was over visitin his pappy.  I called out to my mama that we was hungry and was gonna fix us up some of the food we done found on the road.  She just sorta grunted at me.  Mama warn’t never much on words.  I got myself around and warshed and done cooked my fiddleheads up in that butter like I done tole you before right good while Leroy, he went out back to skin and prep that durn squirrel.  He come back in, an he started fricasseein it with some gravy mah mama had left over in the fridge whilst I set myself down and ate me some of them nice buttery fiddleheads.

You warnt to learn how to cook it?  I can teach you later.  Right, right, first Leroy.

So Leroy he done make himself this fricassee.  I was gettin all ready to be mad at him for wastin my mama’s gravy when he done set himself down with a bowl and a spoon, and he just started spoonin that squirrel into his mouth like it was the best dish at the church potluck.  The whole time he was starin at me with this…..weird grin.  Like he was some coyote who knew the farmer left the chicken coop open, n he was about to get himself an easy all you can eat buffet.  I got all froze like watchin that smile in that gaunt face of his.  Watchin him eat that thar fricassee.

His spoon, it clanked at the bottom of the bowl, an he done lifted the bowl up and licked it clean.  He put that bowl down, n he said, he said, “See? I done tole you.  Ain’t nothin wrong with eatin a critter, no sir no way.”

I shook my head.  “I still say. T’ain’t right,” an I got up and started to warsh the dishes when Leroy, he made this funny sound.  Kinda like he got himself stuck in a zipper.  I turned around, n thar’s Leroy, standin next to the table, holdin his bowl with a funny look on his face.  I mean, his face was all twisted up.  One eyebrow up here, another down there, his mouth in a weird twisty line, his nose wrinkled up.

“Leroy!” I snapped.  “What’s wrong with you?  If you gonna puke up that damn fricassee, you better get out the back door and out of my mama’s kitchen!”

An that.  That’s when he sorta half-pointed at his stomach.  It was wigglin.  All on its own.  Kinda like how a lady with a bun in the oven, her tummy will wiggle when the babe moves around?  Well that’s what his was doin, only his belly was flat.

Then Leroy, he done scream and double over.  He started screamin out, “Help me! Help me, Bobby! Oh it hurts; it hurts!”

I dropped the dishrag, right there on the floor, right next to the sink.  I done grabbed him an tried to help him stand up.  “I gotcher,”  I told him.  “I gotcher.”

His eyes, they got all wide like a little kid’s do when he done first see a scary movie.  I dunno why, but I looked down.  Inside his stomach, thar was a shape of a squirrel.  I mean you could see the outline of his head all’s the way down to his fluffy little tail.  Seein that, well, I done lost my grip on Leroy, and he fell down on the floor, writhin in pain.  He looked just like a snake.  Ayuh.  He let out the biggest durn yell I ever heard.  I think the only time I ever heard one close was that time Frank down the road done got his foot stuck in a bear trap.  My mama, she must’ve started to yell an come runnin then, but I didn’t notice.  No way, no how.  Cuz right then a squirrel covered with blood an mucous an bile an whatever all else was in Leroy’s stomach done come bustin out of his gut.  Bits o’ Leroy hung from his teeth, an his beady black eyes done give me the once-over.  I ain’t never seen nothin so frightenin in all my born days then nor since.  No way.  That squirrel, well then that squirrel, it shot me a look.  That look said, it said, “Tit for tat.  Tit for tat.”  Then it skedaddled on out the door.

Leroy, he was writhin on the floor, graspin at that hole in his stomach with one hand an reachin out to me with the other.  Well, I didn’t know what to do.  Just then, my mama, she come runnin in an see the blood an guts all over her nice, clean floor.  Then she sees Leroy with his guts pourin out of him, n she starts screamin.  “What done this? What happened, Bobby? Tell me what happened!”

“It was a squirrel, mama.  A squirrel et its way out of him!”

Leroy, he was slowin down with the movin an the writhin, n he let out a gasp n collapsed back on the floor.  His eyes hangin open.

My mama.  She believed me that a squirrel done it, but we knew them thar cops from down the hill wouldn’t, so we just tole them that Leroy done gutted himself like them Japanese soldier fellers do sometimes.  I dunno if they believed us or not.  Truth be tole, no one from down off the hill missed Leroy that much.

But us?  Us good ole-fashioned Vermont folk up on the hill?  Oh we remember Leroy. Ayuh.  And that, that’s why not even the mangiest, strangest lady or feller up on this hill, no matter how hungry, no matter how skeered of the gubmint, they won’t never eat no roadkill.

© Amanda McNeil 2011

Book Review: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Ticker by Lisa MantchevSummary:
Penny Farthing, member of the wealthy elite, is full of tons of energy she mostly uses to ride her motorized high wheel bicycle and collect robotic butterflies.  Unfortunately, her clockwork heart doesn’t always entirely keep up with her. Plus she has to wind it.  Much more troubling to her, though, is the fact that the creator of her clockwork heart, Calvin Warwick, is now on trial for murdering dozens of people he abducted from the street to practice on before giving her her new heart.  When there is an explosion at her family’s factory and Warwick escapes prison immediately after being found guilty of murder (oh, and her parents disappear), Penny and her twin brother and two of their closest friends embark on a journey of intrigue to bring her parents home and Warwick to justice.

Review:
I rarely am actually interested in anything in the Kindle First email (a once-monthly email that informs Kindle owners as to four books they can access ahead of publication for free).  I am also not often into most steampunk books.  It’s an idea I love, but I often find isn’t executed as well as it should be.  When this one popped up, though, I was intrigued for its transhumanist explorations.  The book definitely explores the concept of transhumanism via the steampunk idea of augmentation, but it mostly is a story about a young girl’s first love and a bit of a mystery/thriller search for a murderer.

The basic premise that a teenager finds out that the medical device that saved her life was the result of the brutal torture and murder of dozens of people is awesome.  This is a more extreme version of the types of realizations that young adults often have.  (For instance, I will never forget the first time I realized that sometimes scientists must experiment on innocent animals in the pursuit of cures and the ethical quandary that resulted for me).  It works quite well because it is set in an alternate universe.  This allows the reader to have some distance to view the ethical issue through but the alternate universe is still similar enough to our own that it is relatable.  Penny is always firmly against any unwilling human experimentation (as she should be) but she is left wondering how much responsibility and guilt she should feel for the tortures and murders when she herself was indirectly responsible.  She is so grateful to be not only alive but able to function better than she could before.  But she is also traumatized at the thought of how she got there.  This is the book’s real strength, and I am glad it is out there for the YA audience to read.  That said, there are other elements of the book that just don’t quite work for me.

First, the level of steampunk is sometimes a bit ridiculous and isn’t explained well enough.  For instance, the world seems to have only robotic butterflies and horses.  Why is that?  For that matter, it’s deeply confusing to me why this culture would develop a robotic horse and carriage, particularly when they also have motorized bicycles (I won’t call them motorcycles, because they definitely are not nearly so eloquent nor sexy as motorcycles).  It’s not a far leap to car from there.  The reasons behind the steampunk features are simply never explored.  They just are.  This may be fine to some readers, but I found it dissatisfying.  I particularly really needed to know why the animals are robots.

Second, the society Penny lives in is clearly meant to be a parallel to the British Empire in its heyday.  It is highly stratified, classist, regal, and feels oppressive (except for Penny and her family of course *eye-roll*).  I have no problem with a book containing this type of society but it is not only never questioned it seems to be held up as an excellent way of living.  It’s great that the military just jumps right on in and solves everyone’s problems (including abducting civilians up to their sky fort).  It’s oh so wonderful that Penny’s family has all this wealth.  It’s tragic for Penny’s family that they lose some product in the factory explosion but the workers and their injuries and lives are barely touched upon.  It ends up feeling like whenever any of the elite people in the book (and most of the main and secondary characters are elite, with the exception of one young girl who is saved from her poor destitute life by the military) discusses anything bad about being the lower class, they do so in a “See, I’m a good person because I care about them” tone but not out of any sincerity.  None of them have any desire to actually change or fix anything.  Indeed, one of the main characters excitedly jumps right in when they are asked to become an honorary member of the military.  The book has the tone that the only thing wrong with this alternate universe is the fact that Warwick is a very bad man who experiments on people he snatched from the street.  Everything else is fine!  When it clearly is not.

Finally, I just don’t particularly care for the main character, Penny Farthing.  First there’s her name, which is exactly the same as the name of the style of bicycle she rides (only motorized) (info on the penny farthing).  That’s just a bit too cutesy for me.  Second, she is a person who is oblivious to her privilege of wealth and access to medical care, even when it is smacking her in the face.  She never learns, changes, or grows (beyond falling in love).  She briefly realizes “hey, maybe things have been rough on my twin brother too,” but she glosses over that quite quickly.  She also eats incessantly in a way that reminds me very much of The Gilmore Girls (here is a great article that talks about why this trope is annoying as hell).  Basically, she eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, primarily junk food, and everyone finds it “oh so adorable” that she is constantly hungry.  Oh that Penny Farthing!  And she does this all while staying the classic western media ideal of what is attractive!  Without working out! So basically she never does that annoying thing women can sometimes do which is to eat a salad and never eat a burger because she’s watching her figure (which men find annoying) but she also is definitely not fat (which men also find annoying).  She is the best of both worlds.  In Penny’s case, this mystery is explained as the fact that she needs to eat to keep her clockwork heart going.  The “science” of that drives me absolutely batty, by the way.  My best guess is that the author was possibly going for the idea of how some people, such as people with diabetes, need to eat at evenly spaced times to keep their blood sugar even.  However, no one would tell a person with diabetes to eat primarily sugary baked goods at those intervals, which is what Penny mostly eats.  Also, diabetes does not equal heart disease so…..the “science” of this makes very little sense.  It reads as an excuse to use the Gilmore Girls junk food trope.  Finally, it really bothers me that she collects the robotic butterflies.  Yes, I know people do this in the real world with real butterflies, but it has always struck me as cruel, and I think it says a lot about her character that she seems so cool with trapping what in her world are perceived of as essentially living creatures for her own amusement and collection.

All of that said, the plot and mystery of Warwick, his escape, and finding Penny’s parents is fast-paced and unpredictable without ever verging into the land of plots that make no sense.  It’s an interesting world with an engaging plot built around a cool premise.  Where it is weak is primarily in the elements that were either not sufficiently well thought-out, explored, or explained, such as the robotic animals, the functioning of Penny’s heart, etc…

Overall, this has an interesting premise and an engaging plot.  It unfortunately doesn’t explore the workings of the society or the steampunk it has created enough, and the main character can be a bit annoying and hard to root for at times.  However, those who love steampunk with a dash of mystery and romance will likely enjoy adding it to their repertoire, provided they are ok with the issues outlined above.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon Kindle First (Free copy of the book provided by Amazon to those with kindles who request it.  Requesters are under no obligation to provide a review).

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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

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: 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

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