Review: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet

27015399

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 24 to 26, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

Blech.

*ahem*

I mean, it’s not for me.

More on this later.

* * * * *

It is now later, and while I’ve had time to process, my initial kneejerk reaction still stands. This book just isn’t for me, in so many ways. I won’t go into lots of details because that could take awhile, but the main thing is the writing does not work (for me). I found it too awkward and modern, and it clashed too much with the culture and setting of the story.

This story takes place in a world that’s heavily influenced by ancient Greece–think ancient Greece plus sword & sorcery–but the characters’ speech and personalities are very distinctly modern. Not just their sentiments and motivations, but their actions and behavior too. I struggled with this all through the read and never got past it enough to get into the story, so I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters… or anything else.

While the setting was supposed to be ancient, the speech and interactions were decidedly not what you’d expect people from that time to sound like. Sure this is a fantasy, so of course you can mix modern speech with an ancient setting–lots of authors have done it, or so people keep telling me. Maybe, maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward or jarring. I found it distracting and it kept me from taking the story seriously.

Something else about the writing I found awkward was the author trying too hard to work in references to ancient Greece. Olives, goat cheese, agora, cyclops, minotaurs. It was like yes, I got it–very very Greek indeed. The whole book is jam-packed with these very, very Greek things, plus references to the gods, to remind you that this is, in fact, almost like ancient Greece. Almost, but not quite.

“Now that that’s settled, you’re coming with me.”
“Never in a billion suns. Not even if Zeus showed up as a swan and tried to peck me in your direction. I wouldn’t go with you even if my other option was Hades dragging me to the Underworld for an eternal threesome with Persephone.”

[…]

“You either have an Olympian-sized sense of self-importance, or you’re overcompensating for a lack of confidence.”

[…]

Our gazes collide, and something in me freezes. His eyes remind of Poseidon’s wrath–stormy, gray, intense–the kind of eyes that draw you in, hold you there, and might not let you go.

[…]

If looks could kill, I’d be dead. I don’t respond well to threats, even ocular ones, and my spine shoots straighter than Poseidon’s trident.

[…]

Have I cheated death again? Hades must be allergic to me.

[…]

I cheated death again. Hades must really not want me.

There’s a ton more, but I didn’t highlight them all–that would take weeks. If I remember correctly, the phrase “dive-bombing” was used to describe a reaction to falling in love. And now I’m just nitpicking, so I’ll stop there.

Overall, not a terrible book, but it’s definitely for the more romance-inclined reader who can overlook these things.

Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

18076541

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.

Review: Origins (Alphas, #0.5) by Ilona Andrews

27257359

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 09 to 14, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I quite enjoyed this intro to a relatively new series by Ilona Andrews, and I should mention this is not the kind of thing I thought I’d like.

It starts with a kidnapping… :/

And it’s billed as a paranormal romance… :/

But after picking up and putting down countless books in an attempt to find something good that could hold my attention for more than a page or two, I finally had to return to Ilona Andrews, knowing that they never fail to deliver. I decided to go with this one for the simple reason that its cover looked interesting.

Overall, I think it’s a bit too rushed, and so much of the world(s) is either hastily explained (without giving you a good grasp of the existence of these worlds) or not explained sufficiently. Maybe if this book was a full-length novel, these strange alien worlds would develop gradually along with the plot and characters. I think if this series continues, it would definitely improve because the writing has all the familiar signs of a pair of authors who know their audience and know what to deliver and how to do it. They just need more room to expand on their ideas.

All through the read, I got the sense the Andrews wanted to test some limitations of the genre and take this story down a darker path that’s just as psychologically challenging as it’s physically challenging. And one of the things they put to the test was the romance starting off with a kidnapping, followed by imprisonment. I know… :/. So then how could this be a “romance,” right? I was unimpressed myself and had to make an effort to keep reading, but then the thing at end happened which made me think well, different. It was pleasantly different, as well as unexpected, and I thought it tied the story together really well. I trust the Andrews enough to not royally screw this up, whatever the tenuous “this” is.

The tone for much of the story is tense with some humorous moments in between to break up the hostility, and sometimes there’s sexual tension that borders on being unbearable due to the kidnapping and imprisonment–’twas a tad uncomfortable during those moments–but both main characters seem to have enough sense and chemistry to make their interactions interesting, and they seem grounded in reality enough to keep their budding whatever from becoming too cringe-worthy. The strength lies in these two holding the story together, and for me it worked.

Other than that, I think this story is a fun read and I’m cautiously optimistic of this series’ prospects, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to these two authors by now that entering a new world of theirs and encountering hostile natives is just another adventure.

* * * mild spoiler * * *

Oh, and I really could do without the kid–famous last words?–not that there’s much that could be done about it since she’s already embedded too deeply in the story.

Review: Archangel’s Blade (Guild Hunter, #4) by Nalini Singh

12151120

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 24 to 27, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to: no one

There was a good reason for my abandoning this book a couple of years ago: too much pain and suffering, which isn’t exactly what I have issue with. It’s the way these things are written about that bothers me. You can’t slip in sexy times or eye-sexing in between episodes of PTSD, or while on a hunt for a depraved killer, and expect me to take the story seriously. Bad timing is incredibly bad here.

So many issues, but where to begin. I have to emphasize one thing right away though. This book is not representative of the previous three, which were good. They have their own issues, but they’re good (for PNR). This one though… There’s something about it that’s quite disjointed. It was not so much content but the pacing that did it for me. I kept getting pulled out of the story every few pages. It was to either roll my eyes or facepalm because of all the inappropriately timed sexing going on. Like seriously, is that all these characters think about? Even while chasing a bloodthirsty psychopath?

There were things that bothered me about this series as a whole, but the world building and mythology were interesting enough that they overshadowed them. This book, though again, I don’t know. It feels to me like Nalini Singh took all the problems of the previous books and ramped them up, but she neglected to bring back the things that made the previous books memorable. So all that’s left is pain and misery… and a lot of–angsty?–sex*.

As interesting as the world and mythology and angels are**, I cannot put up with Singh’s oversexed writing style anymore. It’s just so over the top and takes itself too seriously. It’s ridiculous and quite comical how dramatic everything is. Doesn’t help that the main characters keep stripping each other with their eyes. *facepalm* These two really know how to ruin a moment… and a whole book.

A big thanks to Milda for reading this book with me because otherwise I would have abandoned it for the second time.

 

* There isn’t really that much literal sex. It just feels like there is because Dmitri and Honor keep thinking about it.

** They really are–so much so that I wish another author had written this series

 

The more I think about it, the more I think this series could be amazing in Max Gladstone’s hands.

Review: Radiance (Wraith Kings #1) by Grace Draven

25645628

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 05 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group
Recommended to:

Better than I expected, but still it’s not for me.

I have no problem with the romance though, surprisingly. I thought it was actually nice and well developed. The main characters started out as unwilling participants in an arranged marriage to seal a shaky political alliance. They’re good-hearted, wholesome characters that you root for, so it’s nice to read about them learning about each other, and fortunately, much of the book is spent on them growing to like one another. Those feelings deepen later on, much later on. If I remember correctly, they don’t fall into bed until the 80% mark. So no head-over-heels insta-love here. Rather, this one’s a slow burning kind of romance.

My issue with this book is all about the writing style. I couldn’t really get into the story until near the end, and I think it’s because it’s too explain-y. For a world that’s not that complicated and characters not that complex, there sure is a lotta explainin’. The POV alternates between the leads from chapter to chapter, and too much, I feel, is revealed about each character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, wishes, goals, etc etc. So while you get a good sense of the characters… there’s almost no room left for surprise. But if you enjoy the characters, none of that would matter.

Overall, a good read (for a romance), but light on SFF elements. This book was picked for Vaginal Fantasy’s January BOTM, and I look forward to what those ladies have to say.

* * * * *

Just figured out who Brishen and the Kai remind me of (aesthetically speaking):
Anomander Rake and his people from the Malazan books.

Review: Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

71811

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: July 16 to August 24, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: friends
Recommended to: people who like PNR that’s heavy on the PN and light on the R

I’m always on the lookout for urban fantasy series that look interesting or might be good, always hopeful that the next series I pick up is The One. In my search for such books, I’ve stumbled on quite a few duds, most of them being formulaic paranormal romances where the heroine is a special magical something who draws the attention of almost every beefy alpha male werewolf, fae, vampire, garden gnome in the vicinity. I’ve read enough of these to know why they’re popular, but they’re not for me because the focus is on romance and so everything else–setting, world building, mythology, magic, actual paranormal things–takes a backseat to the romance. And so, I’ve come to not expect much from urban fantasy or things marketed as “urban fantasy” but are actually romance with some paranormal stuff thrown in.

With that said, Moon Called is mostly UF with quite a few classic PNR features, and it’s also one of the better written first books/intros in UF-PNR. I find it good overall but slow to start and took me a long time to get into. I didn’t get pulled in until near the end, and I almost gave up several times. Glad I pushed on, but it makes me not want to pick up the next book. If it’s anything like this book, I would probably DNF early on.

In spite of not being able to get into it, I did like many parts of this book, and the book as a whole would most definitely be a good read for urban fantasy/paranormal romance romance lovers. The writing is solid: interesting setting (Pacific Northwest), interesting magic and mythology (Native American shapeshifters, European vampires, fae of mysterious origins), strong female lead with an interesting background (she’s a were-coyote), and a ton of paranormal activity (mostly werewolf politics, power struggles, and conspiracies).

I liked much of this book, mostly because it has all the ingredients that appeal to me, or I should say ingredients that should appeal to me, but there’s just no heat, no pull, almost no connection–not referring to the lack of sexy times. I feel no sense of urgency to start the next book. What I do feel is an overwhelming lukewarm feeling. I mean, I appreciate Mercy as a character (auto mechanic with a degree in history) and her struggles as she live among werewolves in their male-dominated world. And then there are the worlds of the fae and vampires which she has to navigate through. We only see glimpses of fae and vampires in this book which I hope to see more of, should I continue the series.

All of this should be very interesting to me, and it is. But again, no chemistry nor urgency. I feel no desire to continue Mercy’s journey.

But in spite of that, there are a few notable moments to break up the slow pacing.

I have a degree in history, which is one of the reasons I’m an auto mechanic.

[…]

MS. THOMPSON, it said in heavy block letters, PLEASE KEEP YOUR FELINE OFF MY PROPERTY. IF I SEE IT AGAIN, I WILL EAT IT.

[…]

“Mine,” he said.

Adam’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think so. She is mine.”

It would have been flattering, I thought, except that at least one of them was talking about dinner and I wasn’t certain about the other.

[…]

My mother once told me that you had to trust that the first thing out of a person’s mouth was the truth. After they have a chance to think about it, they’ll change what they say to be more socially acceptable, something they think you’ll be happier with, something they think will get the results they want.

*

* *

* * *

* * * * spoilers * * * *

Continue reading

Review: The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1) by Paullina Simons

1655965

Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: November 20 to 23 , 2013
Read count: 1, more than enough

This book came highly recommended by friends and reviewers, but I kept putting it off. Not because of the genre or anything about the book particularly. It just never looked that interesting.

The story is set in the USSR during the German invasion. Not a setting I’m familiar with, so I had to do some background research beforehand. I had read Doctor Zhivago awhile ago and loved it because it had that perfect union of engaging story and lyrical prose that I always look for in any book, regardless of genre. The Bronze Horseman seemed like it had similar themes or, at the very least, a contemporary echo of Doctor Zhivago, which in this case I wouldn’t have minded at all.

For some reason, there had always been something holding me back from this book, and I couldn’t figure out why. The star ratings were high, like unbelievably so across the board, and reviews by critics and average readers alike were glowing (they still are). Still, I never really felt like picking up this book and didn’t know why.

And then I started reading. And everything that held me back suddenly made sense. Simply put, this book is just not for me, and I must have known that on a subconscious level.

Let me interrupt this review by saying the writing by itself is not terrible. The execution of the story, characterization (especially the two main characters), and the “romance” angle, on the other hand, are almost unbearable. I say “almost” because I did finish reading, so it wasn’t completely unbearable.

I’ll start with compliments and then ease into shortcomings.

The author’s depictions of pre-siege and post-siege Leningrad (St. Petersburg) are well done and very close to actual accounts from people who lived through the siege. A great number of people died of starvation within the city during this time. Those who survived had to scour for food any way they could. The way in which the author represents this particular era, through the perspective of one individual family, is well written and shows that she had done plenty of research. Had the story focused on the siege and its aftermath, I would have found this book a lot more interesting. So in other words, if the setting and context remain the same but the story is told from a different POV, accompanied by a completely different set of characters, it would be a richer story.

I read historical fiction for a different (hindsight) perspective of historical accounts. Already knowing what happens and the how’s and why’s of it only makes the stories more interesting, to me. History strengthens fiction by adding multiple perspectives into the mix which adds more depth to an already familiar event. When this is done well, fictional accounts read somewhat like actual historical accounts but with more depth, and this is what I look for in well crafted historical fiction. I think the Paullina Simons not only captured the events of the Siege of Leningrad but also the tense atmosphere of the era, the plight of the people, and the hopelessness of a city starving to death. If only she had approached characterization and plot with the same care.

Next comes the hard part because I really wanted to like this book. It had a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me because the things that bothered me far outweighed the things that didn’t. So here goes.

*

* *

* * *

* * * * spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

9475392

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 10 to 14, 2013
Read count: 1

Not nearly as dead as it could have been, for a zombie tale, that is. If it had been more dead, it could have been a zombie tale I’d enjoy.

As it is though, it’s a hormonal combination of teenage angst and existential crises, typical of what you’d find in a Shakespearean remake with the purpose of appealing to the current generation of YA readers. This relatively new dead spin on the Romeo and Juliet story doesn’t appeal to me personally, just as most revamps of Shakespearean “love stories” don’t appeal to me. What it comes down to is a matter of taste, really, and also because I don’t care for Shakespeare very much.

Overall though, the writing was a pleasant surprise, and many of the prosey descriptive passages depicting barren settings, like abandoned lots and other wastelands, were some of my favorite moments. YA authors are not known for their writing merits or prowess, and so I had been expecting this book to be similar to its weak-in-prose and high-in-angst forerunners. It surprised me though by being more intellectual than your average bear genre YA and more “humane,” for lack of a better word, than average zombie or monster fiction. (Despite the somewhat eye-rolling love story at the heart of it.)

The story is OK overall, but if you’re fed up with Romeo and Juliet remakes or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of zombies in the market, then you’d probably not like this book. But if you’re looking for quick and light post-apocalyptic adventure, you might want to consider it.

As decent as the story is, the characterization is very flat and typical of what you’d find in genre fiction, though not typical of what you might expect in a supposedly character-driven story. Many reviewers say the weakest point of the book is dialogue, and I agree. Too much angst and brooding, not enough getting to the point. I think the book would have been a lot better if most of the conversations between R and Julie were cut out, to be replaced with plot development. And maybe if the “love story” angle was cut out too, to be replaced with…nothing. But that’s just a matter of personal reading preference.

My biggest issue with this book is internal monologue, which seems contradictory to say since I just said I liked the writing. The thing is there are just too many internal monologues running too close together that did little to build up this dark and grim near-future post-apocalyptic world. And while I liked the airport setting, it wasn’t featured enough in between R’s long-winded internal monologues and Julie’s brooding. There’s also not enough story progression for my liking. The plot stays very much flat even as certain events are pushing the story forward, which threw the story off-balance.

And another thing, I don’t like first person POV. When the narration is literally made up of internal monologues strung together, the character spewing these words has to be really, really, extremely interesting for the story to work. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

That’s not to say this book was a terrible read. It wasn’t terrible–more contradiction? It’s just unfortunate enough to have all the things I don’t care for, all pushed into one book.

Whenever I come across a book such as this, I’m always glad I’m no longer a teenager. This book is the embodiment of almost everything I don’t like and don’t like to remember about adolescence. If it weren’t for the zombie aspects and/or post-apocalyptic setting (both flooding the market right now), this story would not stand out in the sea of generic genre fiction. It certainly would not have made an impact (or been turned into a movie) if it was adult genre fiction.

* * * * *

Maybe if I’d read this book before Raising Stony Mayhall, I would have been able to appreciate it more and find the existential concepts it introduced nuanced and interesting. Daryl Gregory is a tough act to follow. I think he ruined the whole zombie genre for me by having written such a great book and a great zombie character.

Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

41865

Rating: (nope)
Date read: October – November 2008
Read count: 1 (more than enough)

Now comes the book review I’ve been dreading. I knew I’d have to deal with it sooner or later. Oh, well.

This book is not romance nor is a tale about vampires or vampire romances. This is Stockholm Syndrome dusted with a light coating of glitter and slapped with a heavy side of high school nuances. I still maintain that whatever goes on between the teenage girl and the vampire is not romance. It’s psychological abuse, is what it is.

Original review can be found here.

Review: A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

3473

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 2007
Read count: 1

This was just OK. Rather inoffensive, and therefore not memorable. There’s a sense that it’s trying too hard to pluck at the heartstrings, which left me mostly annoyed because I can’t stand books that are emotionally manipulative.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with this writer, and now I can sort of understand why people gravitate to Sparks’ books. They’re like a light home-cooked meal: comforting, easy to get through, don’t require much energy to digest. Sometimes it’s nice to relax with a book with these quality ingredients, but such a book is not for me and it all comes down to all matter of taste and how much energy a book requires of me as a reader. I like books that make me work for it, but if I’m stuck at an airport during a snowstorm and I lost my book and the only reading material is either a SkyMall magazine or bestsellers on a rack, I would go for a bestseller… after I finish the SkyMall.

Original review can be found here.