Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Discovery - K. C. Neal [Pyxis]

The Discovery - K. C. Neal [Pyxis]
Source: Kindle
Originally Reviewed: December 27, 2014
Rating: ★★★☆☆

So… what to say about Pyxis. It’s a YA novel, that’s to be sure. Throughout the book we see how our heroine, Corinne, has to manage both her increasing knowledge about the Pyxis, and her day-to-day life as a high school student and part time employee at her dad’s bakery.

In fact, that’s where the whole thing begins. Her grandmother had this box which held a number of bottles, which Corinne had thought were food dyes. She uses two of these bottles in goods she makes for a school bake sale. Suddenly, she goes from barely noticeable to one of the most popular girls in school – though temporarily, and only to those who ate a certain color treat.

Throw that in with the weird dreams that she and her almost-would-have-been-not-quite-sure-what-he-is-possibly-boyfriend Mason end up sharing, and we get swept up in conspiracy, magic, and miracles.

Points to consider:

The Good: I feel as if the characters introduced in this book were realistic, and handled the things thrown at them aptly for their age – which is a huge pitfall I see a lot of YA authors fall into, especially in their first works.

The Bad: I know Corinne has a best friend, somebody important in her life aside from Mason. Who that person is… she gets plenty of screen time in the beginning before Mason comes on scene, but once Mason is present, it’s like she gets completely shuffled off to the side. Considering the role she’s supposed to play… tsk tsk Ms. Neal.

The Good: It’s original. I can honestly say I can’t think of another book I have read that tackles the whole “cosmic force of evil” quite the same way Neal does. Of course, the theme is quite common (to be honest you’d have to be hard-pressed to find a book today with an original theme), but the approach is novel and interesting. I’m quite interested in finding out more about the Pyxis (the box and the human role).

The Bad: I finished this book about a week ago, and while I can tell you what the Pyxis is and what it contains, and some of the main details in the book, some of the more vague, but still supporting and important bits of information elude me. This is not good. I do not like having to re-read previous books in order to remember what’s going on and be able to understand the next one.

The Good: There are nasty elements, conflicts and hurdles that Corinne and her friends have to deal with – both as high schoolers and as the center of this whole cosmic woogy. I love being able to read something where the characters personal lives do not get completely ignored for the sake of the main story line. In fact… oh, I won’t even go there. I’ll just say familial relations take a very interesting turn towards the end ;)

The Bad: The two lives are almost too separate, one having very little if anything at all to do with the other. On one side you have high school drama, relationships with the immediate family, homework, job – everything a normal 16 year old girl would be dealing with. On the other side you have the Pyxis, strange smoke/fog, possible Armageddon… you get the picture. Yet, with the whole world at stake, you’d think the whole world would be touched a little more by what’s going on.

This book definitely deserves a solid 3-star rating. It had its ups and downs, but it gave me no reason to want to put it down and not pick it back up again when I had some more down time. I wanted to finish it, wanted to know more about this strange and unique experience Neal has created for us.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Gray Witch's Grimoire - Amythyst Raine

The Gray Witch's Grimoire - Amythyst Raine
Source: Kindle
Originally Reviewed: August 1, 2014
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I had high hopes for this book. I really did. After reading the pages available as a preview, and going through the reviews available on Amazon, I was excited! Finally, a book that took (what I believe to be) a realistic perspective on Witchcraft – that all parts of it are to be respected, not feared.

I wish I could say I wasn’t disappointed. For one, its short. Less than 200 pages. (If I had the ability to focus I once did, I could read it in one sitting.) For another, it doesn’t really address Gray Witchcraft. It reads like a basic introduction to Witchcraft for the average seeker rather than someone who’s experienced in the Craft and wants to dive a little deeper into areas not typically covered.

I can appreciate her opening with “Magickal Principles” and a “Code of Ethics” for us “gray witches”, but that doesn’t even cover a full dozen pages. After that, it’s discussion on some symbols, and basic Witchcraft beliefs.

I understand this is titled as a Grimoire, so I’m not taking issue with the fact the rest of the book is full of correspondences. However, they are correspondences that can be found with just a few keystrokes on Google, with no real link to the concept of Gray Witchcraft.

That being said, there are a few things in the book that I think are missing from most basic Wicca/Witchcraft books on the market today – but again, nothing really specific to Gray Witchcraft. It was neat seeing how the author viewed Initiation, as that almost always ends up being a contentious subject. I enjoyed her take on how one experiences initiation not being a part of a group. I also enjoyed how she expanded on “The Metaphysical Laws of Witchcraft.” Again, something I think most books on Witchcraft are missing, but nothing special to the Gray Witch.

To wrap this up, I’ll say this: I think Amythyst Raine had a great idea, but the execution could have been done much better. The book itself is a good book – not something I would sit down and read, but definitely something I would still use as a quick reference as it has a lot of good information. If you are looking for a book that might actually be a good reference for the Gray Witch, I’d strongly suggest you search elsewhere.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Innocence - Dean Koontz

Innocence - Dean Koontz
Source: Amazon Kindle
Originally Reviewed on Goodreads: March 29, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

I'm almost ashamed to admit I've never read Dean Koontz before. Almost. After reading Innocence, I've come to believe that was subconsciously intentional.

It sucked me in. Completely. From page one, it gripped me around the heart and hooked my brain. From the second I pick it up until the moment I put it down, there is nothing but the world Koontz has created, the characters and their story woven so expertly I come away from it each time wondering if there are here, too, people hiding in hidden tunnels for legitimate fear of their lives.

It's ethereal, mystical. It's a combination of the real and the fantastical, blended so smoothly one has a hard time figuring if this is meant to be fantasy or something else entirely. Until the end, that is. At the end, the striking potential of reality ripped my heart out of my chest and left my jaw scraping the floor, somehow elated.

Now, to explain all of that? I have a very, VERY difficult time really enjoying books that have no way to hook me emotionally, engage my imagination, or of making me THINK. Sometimes I'll get one, maybe two, but it is the rare gem that manages to capture all 3. Innocence is definitely one of those books that has managed to capture all 3, and it will be read often if only due to that fact alone. The powerful imagery and richly woven story line are the icing on the cake.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor [Daughter of Smoke and Bone]

Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor [Daughter of Smoke and Bone]
Source: Kindle
Originally Reviewed on Goodreads: March 26, 2014
Rating: ★★★★☆

Well, now.

I like to read. A lot. Typically when I read a book by a new author, if I find I enjoy it, I'll set it aside and come back to it later, read it again, and think about whether or not I'll pursue additional works by the same author.

That is NOT the case here. Laini Taylor has captured my imagination with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The end is merely alluded to in the title, not to be understood until you manage to make it all the way through to the end. And what an amazing end it was.

I had my doubts early on. Karou talking about her drawings of Brimstone and the others made me think of something more along the lines of comic book characters. When the narrative went into conversations she had with these creatures, I raised my eyebrow and wondered what I had gotten myself into. And, wishes? Simple, silly wishes based off of a bead?

Then we actually get to MEET Brimstone, and the entire dynamic changes. We hear more about the other kinds of wishes, and his job of collecting teeth, we see the relationship that Karou has with the chimaera inhabiting the shop. We start getting glimpses hear and there into Karou, her life, and her "job". The split life of someone who works for creatures who don't dare show their faces outside the shop on one side, and who attends an arts school who has friends and relationships on the other side.

Of the chimaera who are merely shopkeepers and caregivers in need of teeth to carry out some unknown purpose on one side, and highly valuable members of an entire race of beings on the other side.

The intricacies of these relationships are handled very well. I was pleased with the continuity, the flow of the story and of the writing. It moved at a very good pace to keep me engaged without being overwhelmed or bored.

Then the angel appeared. It was as if from that point on, the entire story became one gigantic whirlwind of "WTF?!" - which was appropriate considering, had this all been real, Karou's life probably would be about there as well.

The ending revelation wasn't as big of a surprise as I'd hoped, and it was there that I started feeling things got a little too drawn out - a little too... cookie-cutter. From that point on until the end, everything pretty much went as expected, which was a sad turn from earlier.

No matter how you look at it, though, Taylor spins a good story. My imagination was thoroughly engaged, visualizing these characters with all these different features, the remarkable dress of Karou's, the whole idea of... well, I won't spoil that for you. It's one of the biggest curiosities of Karou's throughout the book, and now I can certainly understand why. I thought it was pretty brilliant, myself.

If you're looking for the next great thing in fantasy set in modern times, this is a book you definitely need to add to your collection.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Letting Go - Maya Banks [The Surrender Trilogy]

Letting Go - Maya Banks [The Surrender Trilogy]
Source: Barnes & Noble
Originally Reviewed: March 23, 2014
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I've been a fan of Maya Banks for a long time. The "Sweet series" knocked my socks off and left me nearly drooling with every installment. The "Breathless" trilogy was as emotionally gripping as it was physical.

In this first taste of the "Surrender" trilogy, however, she falls far short of the impeccable standard she set with her previous books.

I can't really nitpick about the book, because the things that made me grind my teeth about the book unfortunately took up a good chunk of it. So many different decisions, and thoughts, and statements, were repeated. Again and again. And then, yet again.

It slowed down the story and distracted me from what should have been a delicious undercurrent to the relationship building between Joss and Dash. I actually got more out of the budding relationship between Kylie and Jensen than I did out of the two primary characters, and Jensen only made barely more than a cameo appearance.

This was my eventual reaction to a lot of the prevalent "themes" in the story.

Joss' hesitation due to Dash being dead husbands best friend: GET OVER IT!
Kylie's reaction to what Joss wants to do in her life to make her happy: GET OVER IT!
Chessy's reaction to, well, everything: Yeah, you get it. You understand, got it. No, really, I got it.

As always once the relationship between the two main characters actually gets established (this time with WAY more "filler" in the pages than I'm used to from Maya), I can't complain. The sex is hot, the necessary conflict is interesting, and the reconciliation is a struggle between pride and love.

I see a lot of "tricks" that have been used before in the other books she's written, however, which makes me think perhaps Banks should take a break, spend a few weeks in the sack with the lover of her choice, and then come back with some new, fresh and sexy ideas.

I'll probably pass on the remaining books in this series, but pick up the next one, just to see if there's been any improvement.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Coveted - Laura Thalassa [The Unearthly]

The Coveted - Laura Thalassa [The Unearthly]
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
Originally Reviewed on Goodreads: January 28, 2014
Rating: ★★★★☆

As required:
I received this book through one of the Goodreads giveaways.

Now, for the good stuff.

I haven't read the first one. Haven't even LOOKED at the first one. But after reading this, I want to. It's next on my "to buy" list.

When the "vampire" aspect was brought in, I admit I rolled my eyes - I'm not a big vampire book fan. However, Laura Thalassa definitely put a spin on the whole world that made it an enjoyable read. Seers and Witches and Fairies and... shifters? Point being, it included different types of "supernaturals" or "mythologicals" than just the requisite vampires and shifters and other "baddies" you often find. I mean hey, if you're going to go creative on one aspect of the supernatural, why not just assume they all exist as well and have as much fun as possible?

Now, while it's apparent that the heroine could be considered a young adult, this doesn't necessarily read like a YA novel, which was a VERY pleasant surprise. I find her closest friends to be a good balance for her and actually bring something to the story.

There's not a lot I can criticize about this book. I wasn't hopeful at first, but as I read I found myself engaged and unwilling to put the book down. I was worried about the relationship between Gab and Andre, but was pleasantly surprised with their interaction. For the situations they were in, the situation I picked up on them leaving just a few months ago, and for Gab's headspace, it had just the right amount of tension without going overboard and shattering that element.

I am interested in following this story futher. I want to know why the Devil is after her - and I definitely want to know about this whole "vampire/siren" thing. And what's up with the fates involvement? There are questions left unanswered that intrigue me, and I definitely want to find out more.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Divergent - Veronica Roth [Divergent]

Divergent - Veronica Roth [Divergent]
Source: Kindle
Originally Reviewed: January 27, 2014
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Look, just being honest, this one struck me as a very mediocre book. The synopsis was engaging, had me intrigued and I debated a long time before finally purchasing because I'm not typically a fan of YA fiction (which this strikes me as).

With that out of the way, I do have to applaud Roth on her imagination. It's something I'm seeing a lot these days - authors with a lot of imagination, a lot of great ideas, but lacking either the technical skill or the time to really do them justice. Roth, unfortunately, falls into this category for me.

The idea of factions is reminiscent of old-school India (and I only say that because I'm not as familiar with the cultural arrangements of modern India as I am with the historical). A few of the classes in the book escape me, but the correlations that stand out to me the most are Brahmin/Abnegation (responsible for the "morality" of the people), Kshatriya/Dauntless (the warriors), and the Untouchables/Factionless (the ones who live separate from society and have the really crappy jobs).

Implementing this kind of a system into a modern setting, very possibly in the US itself, is... sobering. The thought that a society would become so self-destructive that they would turn to a caste-like system in order to save themselves, where there is a LARGE gap between factions (socially speaking, at least) and families can be torn apart just by where interests lay... it's a bleak picture of the world in deed, and Roth does a great job of illustrating it.

With an engaging premise and a solid world to build on, I was genuinely hopeful I wouldn't be disappointed by the characters... but I was. (To be fair, this is where I am usually let down the most in a book). This is also usually why I stay away from YA reads, as due to both the age of the main characters and the age of the intended reader, things are not nearly as developed as I prefer.

For a YA read, this would more than likely be one of the more superior reads available these days. From a book fiend who has read everything from Jane Eyre at age 12 to Harry Potter at age 25, it just doesn't measure up.

Monday, January 13, 2014

He's a Magic Man - Susan Squires [Children of Merlin]

He's a Magic Man - Susan Squires [Children of Merlin]
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
Originally Reviewed: January 13, 2014
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I got this as a Goodreads Firstreads win, so I'm going to summarize a few points here while the book is still fresh in my mind since I don't have time for a fully involved review:

1. Felt like it took too long to read.
Why? I'm a fast reader. I can get through the early books of the Wheel of Time in 3-5 days. This one, at (less than) half that, took me to the far end of that scale. The first half of the book kept my interest nice and fast, but the more I read, the less I started caring about what happened to the people, or in general.

2. Been there, done that.
The descendants of Merlin, and people who get their power from Morgan La Fey. Athurian-era artifacts. Anybody remember Stargate SG-1/Atlantis?

3. The raging alcoholic.
Okay, score for throwing this in as a twist, and giving Drew the balls to do what she did. However... we're talking, what, a week? Alcoholism doesn't just go away in a week, no matter how thoroughly detoxed. Sure, throw the magic in and everything's hunky-dory, but there is such a thing as relying TOO MUCH on the magic.

4. Drew's got a pair.
This is one ballsy woman. After what we see her face early on in the book, she seems to have this bottomless pit of determination, while still maintaining a healthy dose of "what if"? (Not like she lets that stop her. Like I said, she's got a pair.) I was cheering her on through the entire detox. That gave a REAL nice balance to the whiny high schooler she became any time her gift/power was involved (No, I'm not putting that bit down - considering her familial status and everything else, it almost makes more sense than just about anything else in the book).

All in all, it felt like the first half of the book is where Squires really took her time and thought out what she was writing. Maybe even first 2/3 - then its almost as if a reminder popped up on the calender and it became, "Oh, crap! Deadline!"

I do plan on reading other books in this series, so I can get a better feel for Squires as an author.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mint Juleps and Justice - Nancy Naigle [Adams Grove]

Mint Juleps and Justice - Nancy Naigle [Adams Grove]
Source: Kindle First
Originally Reviewed on Goodreads: January 4, 2014
Rating: ★★★★

** spoiler alert **

Mike and Brooke have enough baggage between them to fill a fleet of jetliners. Between Brooke's nasty divorce and the murder of Mike's wife eight years ago, the odds are seemingly stacked against them from the start.

One thing I love about Mint Juleps and Justice is this - the characters are REAL. Brooke Justice has a real job where she interacts with real people, and has a real fun quirk of believing in good luck signs almost religiously. Mike is a former Marine who is trying to balance himself back into civilian life by running a small-town investigative firm, and giving a military pup its first year of training.

Brooke's job throws them together from day one, and in a small town, chance encounters are bound to happen on a frequent basis once you've met someone face to face. The "chance" encounters turn purposeful when Brooke's baggage forces her to seek the aid of Mike's investigative services.

However, just when things were finally getting settled for Brooke and she begins to gain confidence in her ability to have a relationship with Mike, Mike's world gets turned up-side-down when he finds out, two months after the fact, that the baggage he thought himself finally ready to let go of and move forward from has once again reared its ugly head.

Without going into too many details, the progression of the story - both the main story between Brooke and Mike, and the plots surrounding each of their individual baggage - is fluid and keeps the reader engaged. The only thing keeping me from giving this book a full 5-star review is this - I simply do not like being clued into certain things before the characters are, which is the case with Mike's baggage.

Overall, it's a nice, easy read. It's real people engaging in a real relationship with real problems that can only be overcome together. It's a story I can relate to, and that just makes it all the more engaging.