Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss PeregrineI know. I’m a bad blogger. Lately I’ve kind of become a bit of a hermit, but all that’s changing. I’ve missed you guys!

My hermit status has been good for quite a bit of reading, so this will be the first of several new book reviews.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been calling to me since it was first released, but I resisted mightily. Then I saw a second book had been released, and I figured I needed to see what was up with this monochromatic covered book.  I actually did not notice the girl on the cover is floating until I saw her photograph again inside the novel.

Riggs has built a wonderful world, and I enjoyed every minute I got to spend there with these peculiar children. The characters have depth, and reveal themselves slowly. The lush backdrop of Wales is vibrant, and the intriguing storyline captured and held my attention.

I began my adventures with Jacob late in the evening last week. I’d been to a baseball game with friends, and I needed to unwind a bit. Why I thought Jacob and these peculiar children would be something I could put down easily, I don’t know. I actually did the stereotypical, falling asleep with all the lights on, propped up in bed with the book next to me, and when I woke up, I immediately wanted to dive back in.

Jacob’s grandfather tells him stories of peculiar children he grew up with in a home during World War II.  These outlandish stories capture Jacob’s attention, and although he questions the validity of a boy with bees living inside of him, a girl who levitates, or an invisible boy, his grandfather says he’s telling the truth. Jacob believes him.

However, as happens all too often, Jacob grows up. His parents convince him these are just stories, and it isn’t real. After his grandfather’s death, Jacob searches to connect with the person who knew him best, with his heritage.  He need to find out what inspired these fantastical stories his grandfather insisted were true, so Jacob decides to travel to Wales where this home is located.

Most of us are looking at where we came from, the people and traditions that influenced the way we are raised, and that turns Jacob into someone we can see ourselves in. This fantastic search for these odd children becomes something we can believe in as well, because we’ve all gone looking for something in our family’s history.

In a world in which we’re meant to be more connected through this amazing technology at our fingertips, we feel more adrift. Genealogy studies have skyrocketed, and I think that many of us are looking for an anchor, for roots to hold us steady as the world spins faster and faster around us.

Ransom Riggs’s character is doing the same thing. Jacob’s world is spinning out of control. Decisions about his future are being made for him, and he just needs something to hold on to. Something solid and real and unchanging.

Can he find what he’s looking for in Wales? Does Jacob find the stability he needs in the home his grandfather spoke of so often? Is what he finds better or worse? Do you have to have a clear picture of the past in order to embrace your future? Maybe Hollow City will provide more answers.

One of my favorite things about this book is the photographs. Riggs found these wonderfully peculiar photos that are scattered throughout the novel, and they really enhance the story in a way that illustrations and descriptions can’t do. They add a realism to the story that makes you wonder and want to believe in these odd kids and their world.  It adds another layer to an already nuanced and engaging novel.

This quirky, strange and wonderful book turned out to be so much more than the easy, slightly spooky, read I expected. I immediately went out to purchase the next installment, and as much as I’d like to dive in right away, I’m letting Jacob and his world percolate a bit.  It isn’t like I’m going far, the final installment of the Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn is sitting on my coffee table now, just waiting for me to finish it.  And while it is separated from Jacob’s Wales by a few years, it’s still in Great Britain, so, geographically anyway, I haven’t moved much.  (Although, as characters go, Patrick Melrose and Jacob are nearly polar opposites in many ways.)

 

First Lines:

 I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.

 

‘Til next time,
Jessica

 


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TImeMark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the few books that I would put on a “must read” list for everyone.  Honestly, it moved me to tears, and I had to put it down in places because I got a little overwhelmed.

This first person narrative, told by Christopher John Francis Boone doesn’t only explore the narrator’s deep desire to uncover the culprit in the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog, it explores the mind of a 15-year-old boy who knows every prime number up to 7,057, doesn’t understand human emotions but relates well to animals (especially his pet rat Toby), hates to be touched, and despises the color yellow with a passion I reserve for…really, I don’t think I detest anything with the verve Christopher despises yellow.  Christopher struggles with the world because he sees everything, and when you see everything I can imagine the world feels too big, too much, and definitely too busy.  He likes small places, dreams of being an astronaut for the quiet stillness of space, and expounds on mathematical theory that, quite frankly, I’m not sure I really understood.

One of my favorite things, that didn’t really hit me until I finished the book, was the insight the reader has of the people who are part of Christopher’s life.  Although Christopher doesn’t understand what expressions of human emotion mean, he sees them and passes them on to the reader.  Through him, we grasp what the narrator doesn’t, Christopher’s parents’ struggle with a child who can’t stand more than the most minor touches.  You get a clear sense of their heartache when they desperately want to give their son the physical comfort that so many of us take for granted,  but Christopher cannot bear.  The reader understands the strength, courage, patience and amazing love that raising a child with these challenges takes.

All of this makes it sound like this is a dour novel, but it isn’t.  The emotion, that Christopher wouldn’t understand at all, is neatly balanced with humor and brilliance.  Christopher’s honesty and other characters reactions…most of us aren’t used to unflinching, uncompromising honesty, and the reactions he gets when he just tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, are beyond humorous.  It also gives the reader a real look at how often we aren’t completely honest.  The details we leave out to prevent embarrassment, the white lies we tell to avoid an uncomfortable situation, the conversations we skip to prevent us from dealing with confrontation.  These things aren’t necessarily dishonest, but for someone like Christopher who doesn’t understand how to lie, these every day ‘courtesies’ look like lies and dishonesty.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers the reader insights into humanity, emotion, and the strengths and failings of people all through the eyes of someone who is unable to process most of those things.  Christopher’s journey through the mystery of Wellington’s death and the truth it reveals about his neighbors, his family and himself is poignant and beautiful.  You get to see the impact he makes on those who surround him.  His uncomfortable truths push them into growth they probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.  Christopher’s awkward questions oftentimes push people into recognizing pieces of themselves that they’ve never had to think about before.  The supporting cast in this novel finds what’s really important to them, the devastation that can arise from the most well-intentioned white lies, that just because you don’t understand the way someone else cares it doesn’t mean that they don’t, and Christopher, well, he learns the most important lesson.  The one that anyone who has ever been told they aren’t enough needs to know.  Christopher learns that he can do anything.  The novel’s final paragraph tugged on my heart, but the ending….it’s….better than good.  It is inspiring.

First Lines

It was 7 minutes after midnight.  The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house.  Its eyes were closed.  It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream.  But the dog was not running or asleep.  The dog was dead.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


The Infernal Devices – Trading Light for Dark

clockworkangle-265x400Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

If you’ve been reading these book reviews, you may have noticed that I jumped over from The Mortal Instruments series to The Infernal Devices series. What can I say? I’m capricious. Actually, I’ve heard from several sources that City of Fallen Angles isn’t actually that great, and that was my next book in The Mortal Instruments. It didn’t give me a big incentive to run right out and read that. Eventually, I’ll get to it though, I promise. However, word on the street is that Clockwork Angel from The Infernal Devices is really good, and I’d have to agree.

Leaving modern day New York and heading back to Victorian London made for a nice change of pace, and while Ms. Clare admits that some of her locations don’t actually exist, it doesn’t detract from the story. Clockwork Angel finds Tessa Gray embroiled in…adventures. Like, Clary in The Mortal Instruments, Tessa doesn’t go looking for excitement, but it certainly found her. As the series name implies, The Infernal Devices has a darker feel than The Mortal Instruments, and focuses more heavily on those outside the Shadowhunter society. Warlocks, Vampire and Mundanes all play heavily in the story, and I like it. There is a bit of mystery surrounding Tessa. Mangus Bane also makes a reappearance, and I enjoy his character. Although, he hasn’t quite developed the flamboyancy that is his hallmark when he gets to modern day New York.

This is a good, fast-paced read. Interesting plot lines with some great twists and turns along the way. Clare’s characters have depth and purpose. As soon as the cover closed on The Clockwork Angel I was cracking The Clockwork Prince open to find out what happens next. As with The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices moves quickly and expertly though the story arc. Clare has added much needed depth to the characters at the beginning that was lacking before, but has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction?

The Infernal Devices Book #2

The Infernal Devices Book #2

Enough comparisons however, let’s get into what makes this book tick. (I know! I couldn’t resist!) Let’s tackle the characters, in order of appearance…well, more or less, anyway. Tessa Gray, she’s resourceful and solid. She’s also American, and as a character she reflects that whole pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps vibe that is associated with the American Dream. Tessa’s perseverance in the face of adversity and determination to keep her emotional turmoil private is something that resonates. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still broken, and willfully blind to certain things, but that gives her humanity. The dark past gives her mystery.

William Herondale is the swoop-in-dashingly-to-save-the-day sort of guy, maybe. Uncovering the many layers of Will Herondale will take some work…and a shovel. Seriously, this guy has it piled on so thick that the only obvious truth is that the reader has no idea what the truth actually is about Mr. Herondale. He’s a broken man with secrets. It gives him mystery. (Are you beginning to see a pattern?)

James (Jem) Carstairs takes on the role of the strong silent type. The perfect foil to our young Herondale. Fair where Will is dark, quiet when Herondale is outspoken, thoughtful instead of brash, and with a mysterious illness that weakens him in opposition to William’s strength and health.  The pattern emerges, and I begin to wonder if Jem is a bit too likable.  Will he turn on us, or is his fatal flaw only the illness he bears with grace.

Then we have Jessamine. This poor girl hates everything about her life…with the exception of the wealth and privilege. She hates the role that has been thrust upon her and does everything in her power to ignore her duties and be the spoiled mundane she wishes she could be. In a cast of broken characters, she may be the most broken of them all. It is hidden beneath disdain and an air of entitlement, but there are glimpses of desperation. It is all very mysterious.

All these main character have so many hidden layers that it is like playing clue. The reader has no idea who actually plays which role. Hero? Villiain? Cannon fodder? Now, I’m all about leaving a bit to be uncovered later. There are another two books to come after all. However, everybody in this book has a secret or a dark past or unknown origins. All these hints but no revelations.  Really? Does everyone you know have a big dark secret that everybody knows is there but no one talks about? Get real. Of course people hide things, but everybody from the main character to the maid has a secret to hide. It makes for interesting reading, but it is completely unbelievable.

Don’t get me wrong, the plot is interesting, the characters have depth and layers and the pacing isn’t bad. In a novel containing so many supernatural beings, the unbelievable bit is the lengths to which the author went to make every major character…broken. The conflict arising in the plot doesn’t cause those living in the London Institute nearly as much angst as past events that we only glimpse do. Tension runs high because of mysterious events surrounding the Lightwood girl and William that no one discusses. Don’t even get me started on the leaders of the institute. Clare has gone from characters who developed too slowly to characters who’s profound mystery feels like the same kind of plot device that the lack of depth felt like in The Mortal Instruments.

However, that doesn’t detract from its’s enjoy ability in the least. I have to keep reading, if for no other reason than to uncover all the secrets! Time to grab my shovel and keep digging.

First Lines:

The demon exploded in a shower if ichor and guts.

‘Til next time,
Jessica


Calculated In Death

9780425250730_p0_v1_s260x420Did you think I had stopped reading?  Nope, not me.  I’m always reading something or other.  Calculated in Death, by J.D. Robb in my growing “have -read”.  I love this series.  Set in the not so distant future, Eve Dallas is a homicide detective in New York City.  I’ve lost count of the number of books in this series, but I have them all, and it takes up a considerable amount of shelf space.  One of the great things is that each book can be read as a stand alone, but if you read them in order you get to see the characters grow and change, which is always fun for me.  The first book in the collection is Naked in Death and this is where we first meet our eclectic cast of characters.  Most of the cast of favorites gets to make an appearance in the latest installment to arrive in paperback.  (It was just the latest installment, but Thankless in Death came out in hardcover before I finished reading.  I swear this woman never sleeps!)  The cast of characters has grown so extensive over the years that not everyone gets a cameo in every book, but old favorites pop up from time to time for a visit.

9780425148297_p0_v1_s260x420One of the things that I adore about this author is her characters.  They are all very easy to relate to.  Eve Dallas is strong, intelligent, funny, broken, determined, committed, stubborn, and, above all, believable.  It is easy to see something of yourself in an aspect of her personality.  Well, it is easy to see something of yourself in all of her characters.  J.D. Robb marries the suspense of a great mystery novel and realistic world building of future New York, in which it is hard to come by a hot dog that is anything but soy and harder to get real coffee, with the friendships and relationships that have been building since Naked in Death was released in 1995.  With an average of two book releases a year in this series, fans don’t have to wait long for their next dose of Dallas.  Eve’s no nonsense attitude and frequent misuse of cliche can be a bit addictive for readers looking for a suspenseful escape from reality, even as her fumbling to figure out relationships and people endear her.  Toss in handsome as sin Roarke, with his jet black hair, glacier like eyes, and hint of an Irish accent…seriously, who can resist that combo?

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention the romance?  J.D. Robb is a pen name for Nora Roberts. (Holy cow is this woman prolific! ) There’s romance.  The relationship takes a back burner to the case at hand for the vast majority of each of these novels, so, although it is written under the pseudonym of a romance author, I never think of them that way.  I read it for the suspense, the drama, the death defying stunts (there are a few of those too).  The romance is just…icing.

J.D. Robb novels are always a great escape.  They are a way to set today behind and jump into the future and someone else’s problems for a few hours.  Imagine what 2053 will really look like, and just…well, cling to the edge of your seat.  Hey, that’s my idea of a good time.

What’s your great escape novel?  Do you have any juicy mystery recommendations?

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Urban Shaman: Holey Entertaining Mashup

Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy

urbanshamanThis is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite a while.  It kept popping up on recommendation lists and in conversations about genres I enjoyed, but I never picked it up for one reason or another.  It was that fateful trip to Dallas to Half Priced Books that I finally found this sucker…well, for a price I was willing to spend.  Books are expensive and I have a habit to feed.

I know, I know.  What about the library?  I have this thing with libraries.  They are fantastic, beautiful, fascinating places.  Two issues for me though.  Issue the first, they want the books back.  When I like the book, I don’t want to give it back.  It is mine.  I want to hold it and squeeze it and call it George…or something like that.  Second, when I am given a time frame in which I have to do something, I immediately procrastinate until the very last minute.  It is a failing.  Then I end up having to give back the book that I don’t want to give back, but I never actually got a chance to read because I put it off too long.  Oh yeah, it is stupid. (Every time I say/type/read “stupid” I hear it in Debra’s voice from Empire Records.) Luckily, used book stores will let you buy used books for half off the cover price, and then buy them back from you if you don’t want to keep them (Like I ever don’t want to keep a book, pfftt).  This would be why I had to buy two new book cases this month.  (There are two bags of books to go to the used book store…probably…maybe…most likely.)

Urban Shaman is about the merging of cultures in an individual at its heart.  Joanne Walker (legally, Siobban Joanne Walkingstick, see what I mean about merging cultures?)  She has an Irish mother and a Cherokee father and she gets dumped into the deep end of being a shaman in Urban Shaman.  By trade, she’s a mechanic for the police…she also attended the police academy, so technically we discover she’s an officer although she’s never spent a day in the field and she doesn’t think of herself that way.  In her mind she’s a mechanic.  Then again, good old Joanne doesn’t think she believes in things like “gut feelings” either.  All of that changes when she sees a woman being chased, and just knows that she has to help her.  According to her she feels like she’s “going to puke” if she doesn’t help this mystery woman.  The catch is, Jo sees her from the window of a landing airplane, so location is an issue.

This book was really enjoyable.  I like Joanne.  Maybe because female, native american mechanics in this genre remind me of Patricia Briggs’s character, Mercedes Thompson.  Mercy has long been a favorite of mine.  Maybe because I just like strong female characters.  Whatever the reason, I like Jo Walker.  She’s smart and sassy.  Joanne rolls with the punches in this story, maybe a little too much though.  She takes a near death experience that awakens her shamanistic powers, healing herself as she’s discovering said powers and conversations with a Celtic god in stride with very minimal doubt or freak out.  Now, she’s told up front that doubt is going to get her killed, but hey, human here.  I’d have more than a passing acquaintance with doubt and a major melt-down or two if any of that happened.  This is only the first book though, so maybe the breakdown and freak out stage is coming.  Strength and sass can only get a character so far, at some point they have to be vulnerable and human too.  Otherwise, I’m not going to be nearly as invested in the next stage of the story.  Ms. Murphy hints at plenty of vulnerability, but we never really see anything other than the cracks in the windshield that Joanne patches over.

I can certainly see the tie between shamanism and the vocation of a mechanic.  Both of them are healers in their own ways.  The first deals with the spirit and the second deals with something physical and outside of the individual.  It makes sense for someone who has tried to move away from anything dealing with her culture or upbringing to be drawn to a profession like mechanic.  It is as far away as Joanne could get from healing the spirit, mind or body and still fix things.  Not just fixing anything, but repairing something that requires attention to detail, patience, experience, and knowledge.  Not coincidentally, fixing up cars doesn’t leave a lot of room for introspection either. (Not that I actually have any personal experience with this, mind you.  I can’t even change my own oil.)

Part of the appeal in this novel is the melding of cultures too, and that is a purely personal thing.  My father’s family background is Irish and Cherokee while my mother’s is Greek and a mix of a bunch of other things including Osage.  There is a rich religious, mythological, and mystical culture in all of those.  It is fascinating to read something that pulls in parts of my own heritage and uses it as plot points.  Part of me finished the book then sat back to think.  Wow, could you imagine throwing a couple of Greek gods in with all that madness?  (Hmmm…..interesting thought there.)

The plot felt forced in places though.  I don’t want to give away any more spoilers than I already have, so I’m not going into great detail here.  Let’s just say the plot has some holes that you could drive a Mack truck through.  There could be great explanations and fills in the next books though.  The characters are flat in spots where there could have been a lot of depth.  With Joanne, I gave some examples, but this is true of the supporting cast as well.  Some of it could be mystery.  There’s this Gary dude, and I think there is a lot more to him than meets the eye…otherwise he makes no sense.  Another thing, for a world in which, normal people don’t know about this, they sure are accepting of it, and there sure are a lot of people in her circle who do believe in…supernatural thingamajigs.  As I said, this is the first book, the depth could come in the subsequent books.  It certainly did with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.  All the reviews of this book have indicated that the next two in the series Thunderbird Falls and Coyote Dreams are much more engrossing novels.

Even with all the holes, I didn’t want to put this book down.  I needed to know what was going to happen next.  The action moved at a quick pace with no real sense of lagging, and the reader stays intrigued and needing to find the answers right up to the end.  I loved the fact that C.E. Murphy has obviously done her research on Celtic mythologies, because her depictions of the pantheon and elements completely sync up with everything I’ve read.   There were no discordant notes there.  (Believe me, I’ve read a lot on this subject.  I’m not an expert, but I know when something doesn’t fit with all the other stories!)  I wish the same could be said for the Native American side of things.  Joanne does point out that things seen/mentioned aren’t even Cherokee and questions that.  I found it interesting that the character has more knowledge of the Native American side of her heritage, although she’s ignored it since she was 15, and yet that rich heritage isn’t explored in this book.  Joanne doesn’t really know much about her Irish heritage, but everything is focused around that history and mythos in the novel.  I found that odd considering the title of the book, Urban Shaman.

This series has eight books that I can find, and possibly some spin offs.  The author’s site is a bit disorganized.  I couldn’t actually find a list of books that she’d authored under any of her pseudonyms, but it was fun.  Even though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I poked around for a while.  There are definitely chuckles to be had.  I also discovered that she does comic books and there are pseudonyms.  Since comic books are quickly becoming a new interest of mine…hmmm, there are thoughts again…dangerous!

Has anybody else read this author?  Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

‘Til next time,

Jessica

The reading order I’ve been able to find goes thusly:

Walker Papers #1

Walker Papers #1

Anthology:Banshee Cries Walker Papers 1.5

Walker Papers 1.5

Walker Papers #2

Walker Papers #2

Walker Papers #3

Walker Papers #3

Walker Papers #4

Walker Papers #4

Walker Papers #5

Walker Papers #5

Walker Papers #6

Walker Papers #6

Walker Papers #7

Walker Papers #7

Walker Papers #8

Walker Papers #8


City of Glass: A Fragile Peace

The Mortal Instruments Book #3 City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

So you may have noticed that I’ve become a bit obsessed. I have read nothing else since I picked up the first of the Mortal Instruments series. They really are quite good. If I didn’t know there were two more, I would tell you that City of Glass is the climax, the epic battle, the resolution, and the answer to all the questions. There are two more books. Obliviously there are still questions to be answered, and this can’t be the resolution that it feels like. I don’t even know what questions need to be answered?  It seems like it all got wrapped up so nicely!

For the first time since I got into City of Bones, I have no idea what’s coming. I’m stumped. It. Is. Awesome. In the last three books, I had a sense of what was coming. Not the shape, size, or exact color of events, but, with a reasonable amount of certainty, I knew where things were going. There weren’t many big freak outs happening here, some really good surprises, yes, freak outs, no.  The big, icky looming thing would get resolved, the sneaky agenda revealed, and everyone happy in the end… well, more or less. There were great surprises, don’t get me wrong, some heartbreaking ones at that, but the story arc followed the path I expected. Now, I’m lost without a map, and I kind of like it. (This in no way, shape, or form refers to my actual sense of direction, thank you very much.)

I’ve become kind of attached to these characters, and even though this felt like resolution to the epic fight that has been happening, they didn’t make it out unscathed. They’ve all come away with scars, and not just the ones left on them by the Marks they use to fight the demons. There is a lot of healing left to be done, and lots of change to come to grips with.  Death, betrayal, political upheaval…and that’s just the beginning.  Regular change jacks with our minds and emotions on the best of days, this kind of change…Well, I figure there will be growing pains.  Not everyone may have grown in good ways either? Okay, now I’m just grasping at straws…or am I?

There’s the emergence of a character toward the end of this book who I can see stirring the pot. Someone with very good intentions….well, you know what they say about those. This person has been an influence, maybe even a driving force the entire journey, but there’s an active role to be played now.  One of those people that you know about but you don’t really get to know very well.  I think we’ll be getting to know this character better…a lot better.  There’s been a lot of upheaval, and people aren’t as they were.  How can they be when nothing else has stayed the same? I can see this character attempting to exert former measures of control, but I don’t know how that’s going to play out at all. (Hint: I don’t think it will go over well.  Does it ever?)  It will be interesting to say the least!

Obsession aside, I may take a bit of a break from Ms. Clare’s world, just for a book or two. The characters are in a good place…I want them to be able to enjoy it for a moment. With a series like this you know the good times won’t last.  Can I stick to it, and let them have their fleeting happiness?  Will I end up caving, just because I am an impatient person who just can’t wait to find out what happens next?

First line:

The cold snap of the previous week was over; the sun was shining brightly as Clary hurried across Luke’s dusty front yard, the hood of her jacket up to keep her hair from blowing across her face.

Have you ever gotten obsessed with a book or series?  Which one?  Don’t leave me out in the cold here, my friends.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


City of Ashes

The Mortal Instruments Book #2

The Mortal Instruments Book #2

City of Ashes,the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, is fast paced, filled with great action, and (my favorite bit) character development. (When I read this, I hear “character development” in a big booming announcer voice, you know the one I mean, right?  Every. Single. Time.)  As always, I promise not to spoil the surprises for you…no matter how hard it is. I swept through this book like a wildfire. There were no slow bits, no lagging parts, just good stuff. Clary, Jace and cohorts continue to gain depth, which just makes my little character-centric heart squeal with glee.

City of Bones kicked off the series. (Yes, yes, I know the review of City of Bones just went up last week….I really do like these books that much.) City of Ashes is a great follow-up.  While I felt City of Bones began a bit slow or rather flat (I still think it may have been purposeful); City of Ashes keeps you going at double time clear to the end.  The relationships get more complicated and there is strain placed at the very heart of the characters. Their fault lines are being uncovered and bits and pieces are exposed and hammered. The cracks that were hinted at in the last book are assaulted here, and new  weaknesses exposed.  Will anyone be safe?

Maybe I’m a bit evil, but I really hope no one gets a pass here. (Insert evil laugh here.  Bwahahahaha!)  Maybe, I’ve just been watching/reading things in which the writers are not nice to their characters, but the stories are just fantastic.  The worse things are for them the harder I root for them. (Unlike my father, who likes the bad guys.  He cheers and giggles when Ursula gets ginormous and looks like she’s going to win in The Little Mermaid. That just takes cheering for the underdog a bit too far…or maybe he just  likes to stir up trouble…yeah, I’m betting on trouble too.)  Seriously though, when bad things happen to good characters, as a reader/viewer/spectator, you get behind them.  If there life just went merrily on, there would be no real reason to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, now would there?

Confession, a scene or two made me a bit misty eyed.  Unlike movies, books have always gotten to me. Characters can’t hide anything.  In the real world, people can put up a front, keep the hurt inside and stopper up the tears to keep anyone else from seeing the damage.  Characters don’t always get that option.  You get to see every scar, all the turmoil, and each teardrop they refuse to let show, and it can break your heart a bit.  As the characters here have whatever remains of their childhood innocence ripped away in various ways, they’re growing up, getting stronger, more vulnerable, and leaving behind the world they once knew.  Kind of like coming of age while avoiding dying because a variety of creatures great and small are after you…because, you know, just growing up isn’t hard enough.

Ms. Clare touches on some big issues here. Racism, for starters, and I like the way she went about it. In the first book you see some hints, but nothing really overt.  In this one she calls it for what it is, and it becomes more of an issue.  We see it through a different lens here, Shadowhunters, Mundanes, and Downworlders, vampires, werewolves, and faeries, instead of skin color, nationality or religion, but it works the same. The younger generation, follows the teachings of their elders. Then, through the eyes of an outsider who has no preconceived notions of how it is supposed to be, the walls begin to break down. It’s slow, painful, and incomplete. Just as in the real world, but it is still breaking down. I have a feeling that nothing in this world of Ms. Clare’s will be the same by the end of the series.  I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Hmm….yes, I do believe I can squeeze a trip to the bookstore in this evening.  That next book City of Glass is calling my name.  Used bookstore?  The Frugal Bookworm is my favorite used bookstore here in Tulsa, but it is a bit of a drive.  Especially, now with the ever-loving construction…well everywhere.  Next up…City of Glass, Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy, or Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness?  Not even I can tell you.

First line:

The formidable glass-and-steel structure rose from its position on Front Street like a glittering needle threading the sky.

What’s your favorite bookstore?  Where do you geek out the most when you shop?  (Hint: I geek out at bookstores…and places with Doctor Who merchandise, God help us all if I find someone selling Sherlock merchandise in a store…I really don’t know what would happen then, well, I do know my credit card statement would beat me up the next month.)

Any good words about City of Glass, Urban Shaman or Shadow of Night to get me amped up about one of them?

What is next on your to-read list?

Jessica


Book Before Movie? Movie Before Book? Decisions, Decisions

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of BonesI’m breaking my rules with this book.  There is a movie, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, being released in theaters on August 21, and normally I watch the movie first then I read the book.  This way I’m not disappointed in the movie and I enjoy the book.  Books are always better, you know that, and they have to cut so much out of the book to make the movie less than 17 hours long that I’ve generally been safe with this approach.  (Well, the only exception has been The Hunger Games I almost didn’t read that book because I watched the movie first.  However, my best friend bought the book for me as a gift, and I did end up reading it…and loving it too.)

It all began when I was in Dallas for the Neil Gaiman signing, I went to the Half Price Books headquarters, and came across Clockwork Angel also by Cassandra Clare.  This is the first book in the Infernal Devices series…it comes after The Mortal Instruments series, and it looked good…really good..really interesting, and I realized that if I didn’t start at the beginning there might be spoilers…I hate spoilers.  The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices are all part of the Shadowhunter Chronicles…I’m listing them below, because they are now on my literary “grocery list”.

So should I risk it?  Should I break my own rule and read the book before watching the movie?  My rule hasn’t been a secrete, I’ve proclaimed it often and sometimes loudly (I’m just not a quiet person), and since announcing my rule about watching the movie first, I have had several people inform me that I have it backwards.  Really? Can you be wrong about this kind of thing?

Well, wrong or right, I’m not able to wait.  Patience may be a virtue, but it really isn’t one I can claim….and people told me I was wrong, so I have to at least test their theory, right?  Can anyone say unnecessary justification? Basically….screw it, I’m reading the book now.

onesheetCity of Bones has that whole bit with a layer of the world beneath ours that most people can’t even see that I just can’t get enough of.  I found Ms. Clare’s world to be very well built.  There were none of those so-how-does-this-work? moments for me.  Only people with the Sight can see Downworlders, demons and Shadowhunters for what they really are.  Everyone else lives on blissfully ignorant of the war being raged around them…it isn’t a new plot device, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good one.

I like the mythology that she uses to build her world as well, and I’ve read enough to have heard mention of the Nephilim and the mortal instruments.  In this last season of the television show Supernatural they referenced the human-angel hybrid, Nephilim.  House of Night series by P.C. and Kirsten Cast also reference the creatures.  Wikipedia’s page lists a whole ton of references from Assassins Creed, The Dragoneers, X-Files, Magic: The Gathering and Hex.  Even before my trip down the fascinating rabbit hole that is Wikipedia, there was enough tickling the edges of my brain to make me want to go digging.  (Where did I read about this stuff?  The bible?   This is what happens when you pair an English Literature Major with a Minor in History…It has been driving me bonkers!)

clockworkangle-265x400WARNING!  Sometimes I’ll go off on random tangents to dig up all the information I can find whatever subject strikes my fancy at the moment. (Don’t worry,  I promise that if I go a-researching I won’t stop writing my blog….it may get a bit more…esoteric at times though, fair warning.)  Previous “hunting trips” have included gemology, theology (everything from Judeaism to Buddhism to Wicca) and how to read and write in Arabic (I did live in Saudi Arabia at one point.  I also don’t recommend trying to learn a language on your own…especially if it involves another alphabet…it is REALLY hard!)  Curious minds want to know!

Aaaaaannnnddd, back to the book!  City of Bones started out a bit slow, but picked up nicely with in the first couple of chapters.  I say it started out a bit slow, but there’s a murder in the first handful of pages, so really not that slow.   The more I think of it the more I wonder if could have been done a bit deliberately.  There’s a roughness to the beginning of City of Bones opening chapters.  You already know I’m a sucker for a well written, well rounded character, and Clarissa (Clary) Fray seemed a bit flat at first.  Something in the first few chapters just seemed off, unfinished maybe, but I think that’s intentional because there are revelations to be had, my friends.  My thoughts are either that the unfinished feel of the early chapters was an intentional device or the author was trying a bit too hard not to reveal secrets, because, without revealing spoilers, there are secrets aplenty.  With each new unveiling, the characters gain depth, the plot, as they say, thickens, and even the imagery gains sharpness that was lacking.  Friendships are built, relationships are broken, enemies made and allies gained….and nothing is really as it seems.  Excuse me while I go grab the next book City of Ashes  so I can see what happens next….

First Lines:

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest.  He stared down at the boy in the red zip-up jacket and shook his shaved head.  “You can’t bring that thing in here.”

Would you rather read the book first or watch the movie first?

Any books that are coming to the big screen that are “must reads” ?

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica

The Shadowhunter Chronicles

The Mortal Instruments Book #1

The Mortal Instruments Book #1

The Mortal Instruments Book #2

The Mortal Instruments Book #2

The Mortal Instruments Book #3

The Mortal Instruments Book #3

The Mortal Instruments Book #4

The Mortal Instruments Book #4

The Mortal Instruments Book #5

The Mortal Instruments Book #5

Coming April 2014 art by Cassandra Jean

Coming April 2014 art by Cassandra Jean

The Infernal Devices Book #1

The Infernal Devices Book #1

The Infernal Devices Book #2

The Infernal Devices Book #2

The Infernal Devices Book #3

The Infernal Devices Book #3


Affliction: The Book that Consumed Two Days of My Life…When’s the Next One?

afflictionThe Universe was telling me I had to read Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton…now….no waiting for the paperback.  See, I had a trip to Houston this week, just for the day, and apparently I’m not at my best at 4:30am.   On the way, I had work to do, and on the way home I worked on a short story I’ve been playing with…until I ran out of paper in my notebook.  I didn’t bring a book, nook, headphones, iPad and my laptop battery died.  Seriously?  I can’t remember the last time that I left home without a book in my purse or a spare notebook and pen.  Therefore, I had to buy a book at the airport.  I am not a sit quietly and do absolutely nothing kind of girl.  After scouring shelves for a paperback that caught my fancy, something blue caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.  I waffled a bit, I can’t lie.  Usually, I’ll check the hard cover out of the library, but wait to buy Ms. Hamilton’s books until they come out in paperback.  Books are expensive in hard cover, and Affliction is the 22nd Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel…I own all of them…a paperback would match the others.  The waffling lasted all of maybe five seconds before I trotted up to the counter to pay for my entertainment.

If you haven’t read any of the Anita Blake books, start at the beginning with Guilty Pleasures.  The full list, in order, is below.  Set in St. Louis, vampires have been given equal rights by the Supreme Court.  They are people now.  Lycanthropes are out there too, but they don’t have the same rights as people, at least not yet.  The characters develop so beautifully over the subsequent books, and that arc is so fun to read…and re-read again and again.  Sometimes, I’ll go back to read the early novels and I just want to give her a hug…or warn her away…or laugh because I know she is SO changing her mind about that in a few books.  LKH never disappoints, and Affliction is no exception.  Filled with bad guys (both preternatural and human), good guys, emotional landmines, and a special brand of romance, her books are fraught with one disaster or near disaster after another.  For books about the paranormal, the characters are relatable.  Anita likes to pick at her relationships, and uncovers damage, strength and insecurities that most of us would never show the world.  Some of these I can see in myself sometimes, and it makes you love or hate the characters all the more because of it.

In Affliction I found myself smacking myself in the forehead and saying out loud, “Asher, what have you done NOW.”  Mentally begging someoneguiltypleasures to pull their head out, so they can see what’s in front of them, and shaking my head because I was sure her irrational jealousy was going to get her or someone else killed.  I usually read Ms. Hamiton’s books in one shot, because I simply have to see what happens.  They are those “just one more chapter” kind of books that are hard to put back down to go back to normal life.  There are cliffhanger chapters that are nearly impossible to walk away from.  I felt bereft every time I had to walk away.  These are characters and stories I dream about if I have to sleep mid-book, and Affliction wasn’t any different than the last 21 Anita books.  This book, my schedule demanded that:

1) I put it down to sleep, at least four hours the first night.  I was NOT happy, and my dreams were filled with Anita, vampires, weres of all shapes and sizes and, of course, zombies.  You can’t have Anita without zombies.

2) I put the book down to go to work.  That’s what keeps me in books.  It was done grudgingly, and with a chapter or three read over breakfast…I may have been a bit late for work too.

3) I put to book down to talk to people who actually deserved an answer, and didn’t know better than to talk to me while I’m reading (especially the last 20 pages of a book).  I managed polite, but I don’t know about friendly.

Anita Blake is not only a vampire hunter, she’s also an Animator…she raises the dead.  Yep, that’s zombies. That’s her day…well, it is the job she gets paid for.  You have to raise zombies at night.   Until now, she’s never really been afraid of them.  She’s always known what to expect, because raising the dead is something that she had to learn NOT to do.  As she says:

Most animators need practice and training to raise the dead; I got training so I could stop doing it by accident.  A beloved dog that crawled into bed with me when I was fourteen, roadkill that followed me like I was some nightmarish Pied Piper, and finally a college professor who had committed suicide and came to my dorm room so I could tell his wife he was sorry.  I wondered if the lone shambling zombies that they’d occasionally find wondering around were accidents from untrained animators like I had been once.

These zombies are nothing she’s ever seen before, and Anita is afraid.  When The Executioner, preternatural expert and all around badass (it really doesn’t matter that she is a petite woman) has no idea what’s going on, you know you’re in trouble.  Micah’s estranged father is dying.  They knew the trip would raise issues they would rather let die, but this was not what they had in mind.  Who knew that going home would this dangerous?

Have you started to notice that I love books with great characters.  This series has great characters, in every sense.  Quirky, endearing, dangerous, maddening, lovable, frustrating, terrifying, funny, and human; more often than not these traits all come around in one person.  As I re-read that last sentence, I think of all the other characters I love and love to hate in this series and realize that I could list the whole gamut of personality and emotion here, and you still won’t know what I’m talking about until you read about them. She doesn’t shy away from any aspects of their personality, even (thankfully!) their sexuality, so be prepared.

However, good books are not driven by characters alone (although, I do think that a great character can save a mediocre plot).  I really liked the plot in this one (and all the others).  Although at first, I was sure that I knew what was going to happen.  Really wrong about huge parts of that, and I should have known better…forgive me.  I figured out who the baddie had to be, but couldn’t figure out how it happened or where the badness boost came from.  The story moves fast, and there’s sub-plots and relationship arcs and…and…nope, can’t say anything else…spoilers.  The details are great too, and you can tell that there is some serious research behind weapons, police procedure, etc.  Sometimes you even get unexpected biology lessons…no, I’m not joking.

A personal aside, to Ms. Hamilton…thank you, thank you, thank you for more of Jean-Claude in this book.  I had missed him, a lot.  I needed more of him.  I was worried that he was starting to feel ignored.  (I do know he’s fictional, thank you very much.)  Truly, you’ve made so many characters such an integral part of Anita’s life that, while I know everyone can’t be on stage all the time, I miss them when they aren’t there.  Thank goodness for re-reading old books.  They are a balm when I am missing certain characters.

Laurell K. Hamilton has another series sourrounding a Faerie princess, Merry Gentry that is definitely worth a look as well…I have all of the Merry books as well.  We’re all waiting anxiously for the next in the series.  The author is also on Twitter, @LKHamilton.  Through her tweets, I’ve been introduced to a lot of great authors, like Neil Gaiman (as I mentioned in my very first real post), and she also gives quite a bit of insight into her writing process through the tweets and her blog.  The good days and the bad.

First Lines:

My gun was digging into my back, so I shifted forward in my  office chair.  That was better; now it was just the comforting pressure of the inner-skirt holster, tucked away underneath my short royal blue suit jacket.

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica

guiltypleasures

Anita Blake Book #1

Anita Blake Book #2

Anita Blake Book #2

Anita Blake Book #3

Anita Blake Book #3

Anita Blake Book #4

Anita Blake Book #4

Anita Blake Book #5

Anita Blake Book #5

Anita Blake Book #6

Anita Blake Book #6

Anita Blake Book #7

Anita Blake Book #7

Anita Blake Book #8

Anita Blake Book #8

Anita Blake Book #9

Anita Blake Book #9

Anita Blake Book #10

Anita Blake Book #10

Anita Blake Book #11

Anita Blake Book #11

Anita Blake Book #12

Anita Blake Book #12

Anita Blake Book #13

Anita Blake Book #13

Anita Blake Book #14

Anita Blake Book #14

Anita Blake Book #15

Anita Blake Book #15

Anita Blake Book #16

Anita Blake Book #16

Anita Blake Book #17

Anita Blake Book #17

Anita Blake Book #18

Anita Blake Book #18

Anita Blake Book #19

Anita Blake Book #19

Anita Blake Book #20

Anita Blake Book #20

Anita Blake Book #21

Anita Blake Book #21

Anita Blake Book #22

Anita Blake Book #22


He’s Gone and Done It Again – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

TheOceanattheEndoftheLane_Hardcover_1359996597Neil Gaiman has gone and done it again.  I thought I was finished being impressed with him after I finished Fragile Things.  Apparently, I was wrong…like really, really wrong. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about growing up, wanting to keep some of that childlike wonder, sacrifice, human nature, friendship and family.  It is about … life.  To begin, there’s a pond that’s really an ocean, a farmhouse where the moon is always full on one side, a very “normal” type of family, and the Hemstocks.

The storytelling, oh my gosh, the storytelling in this book.  You just get drawn in and you don’t want to leave.  (Well actually in some of spectacularly creeptastic parts you REALLY want to leave, but you can’t because you absolutely have to know what’s going to happen because the protagonist is seven….SEVEN, and what seven year old actually does what you expect?)  However you don’t leave, because well, you’re reading Neil Gaiman.  If he has a book that doesn’t leave you, at some point, distinctly unsettled and/or deep in thought about something…well….I haven’t found it yet. (Don’t worry.  I’ll keep reading, just in case.)

Me, I like a good fantasy book, so I’m used to suspending reality, for a while, to live in the world the authors create for me.  Usually, I don’t think about the whys or wherefores so much.  I’ve started paying attention though.  Who better than Mr. Neil Gaiman to pay attention to WHY I’m willing to believe that his world is THE world for a while?  The stories I like the best these days are the ones that take the world we live in and twist it just a bit.  Think American Gods here, a whole different world layered over our own, sometimes one that “normal” people never see.  Kim Harrison, with the alternate world that changed because of tomatoes.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s St. Louis where vampires have been given the same rights as humans by the Supreme Court.  They make you think about possibilities long after the book is closed, and real life has intruded again.  The magic of “what if”.

The protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane  is a seven year old boy. (I may have mentioned that earlier…once or twice.)  Children are amazing little people, aren’t they?  Watching them learn about the world is an experience, wonderful, hilarious, and just plain weird in turns…and sometimes all at once.  Everything is … data.  (Have you ever used a…socially unacceptable for a two-year-old word…in front of a two-year-old?  They zoom in on that thing like a heat seeking missile, and they think this is the best word they have ever heard.  It is repeated incessantly…in front of the most inappropriate people…like the pastor, their grandparents, or your boss?  Let me tell you about The List sometime.  My niece and nephew wanted to have a shirt printed for me that said “That’s on The List”) Each bit of information they absorb informs them of what the world is, and I think what makes this book and this particular twist on the world so believable.  This childhood ability to adapt a viewpoint of the world, based on new experience. Some things are still fluid, at seven.  Our protagonist isn’t a little kid anymore, but he doesn’t struggle as much as an adult against a set idea of what is “supposed to be” either.  He sees some pretty wild and crazy stuff, but his friend is there.  She isn’t scared, so it’s okay.  There are some things our protagonist is certain are absolute truths, (I mean, I know a few seven year olds who are convinced they know EVERYTHING, don’t you?),but even these get shaken a bit.  Eventually, he’s just taking things as they come, rolling with the punches… it is all just data.  Your friend shows you an orange sky? Weird, but it is right there in front of you so, okay. Adults struggle more to accept sweeping alterations to their perception of the way things really are.

Autographed Ocean

The fantastic events that happen in The Ocean at the End of the Lane are not unbelievable because the character believes.  The fantastic is in turns disturbing, creepy, unsettling, and sometimes beautiful.  The truly scary parts, for me, came from the purely human.  It gave me goosebumps.  It still gives me goosebumps.  It takes some of those vital absolutes our protagonist has and … shakes them up, makes them less certain.  One of his absolutes turned to vapor.  Just.  Like.  That.

During my recent opportunity to attending a reading and book signing, where I got my very own copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane signed, I discovered that Neil Gaiman wrote this novel by accident.  That’s right ladies and gentlemen, this started out to be a short story for his wife, Amanda Palmer.  Then it became a novelette.  As it became longer, he said that he resigned himself to it being a novella.  Finally, he says he had to send an email saying that he had accidentally written a novel.  Maybe this is what they mean by “happy accidents.”

For all this is an “accidental” novel, there isn’t a wasted word in this beauty.  It is filled to the brim with everything that you love about reading Neil Gaiman.  I found no passages, paragraphs, scenes or even sentences that dragged. Everything has weight here.  Everything has meaning.

First Lines:

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.  It wasn’t very big.

Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly.  She said they’d come here across the ocean from the old county.

Her mother said that Lettie didn’t remember properly, and it was a long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.

Old Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother, said they were both wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn’t the really old country.  She said she could remember the really old country.

She said the really old country had blown up.

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica