Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

From the Jacket:
Where y’at Iris?
Summer in Ondine, Louisiana, is always predictable: hot and boring.
Not this one.
This summer, Iris is fourteen. This summer, she doesn’t have to make up spooky stories for excitement. Because a real one falls right in her lap.
Years ago, before she was born, a teenager named Elijah disappeared. All that remains of him are whispers. Until this summer. A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she’s convinced it’s the ghost of Elijah.
What really happened to him?
And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris?

Set in a tiny town in Louisiana, the novel starts with Iris and her best friend Collette casting spells and raising the dead in the cemetery. It’s all fun and games in the boredom of small town summer. However, the fun stops when a ghost whispers “Where y’at Iris?”

In the beginning, this book sucks you in. After the opening chapter you are salivating to know Elijah Landry’s real story. Every person in the small town of Ondine has a piece of the puzzle to solving Eli’s disappearance. I had my own theory of what had happened to him, and in the end it proved to be right. This is one of the reasons I didn’t like this book. I don’t like being able to predict the ending. There needs to be some surprise there or it’s just anticlimactic.

I set this book down a couple of times because I was bored. There are places throughout the novel where the pace goes from super fast action scenes to a very sluggish moving scene. It made the flow of the book feel awkward.

What I really enjoyed in this book were the descriptions. If I could describe things like Saundra Mitchell, I could die a happy person. She paints such a vivid picture that the images stay in your head for a long time after you read it. I was always tempted to grab an ice cube and cool down my skin from the Louisiana heat.

On the subject of characters, I loved how the townspeople were just so realistic. Each person had particular quirks that I found to be quite entertaining. The Delancie brothers, in particular, were my favorite due to their love of blowing things up. However, the main character, Iris, did not appeal to me. She seemed too perfect to be real.

My rating for this book is 6/10. I thought it was good, but there could be some improvements.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blue Moon, by Lori Handerland

I'd heard Lori Handerland's name mentioned alongside other authors & books that I like for a while, so when I found it in a second-hand shop the other week, I decided to give it a go.
Told by Jessie, a police officer, the story begins when a wolf is hit in a car accident. Things quickly spiral out of Jessie's control from there, with a specialist called in to deal with the town's 'wolf problem', and Jessie is forced to realise that werewolves exist. Thrown into the mix is Will Cadotte, a man who Jessie first meets when he's totally naked, supposedly practising his tai chi outside his cabin. Throughout the book Jessie is torn between wanting him and suspecting him, and makes for interesting guessing as to where they will end up.

For me, as soon as I got to the wolf being hit with the car, I was thinking werewolves, given the back of the book, and the kind of books I'd heard it compared with. Then when we met Will, I was just as quick jumping to some conclusions, and it was interesting seeing how wrong they turned out to be. The werewolves are certainly not the good guys in this novel, not in any way, shape, or form. I guess that's one of the things making me mark this book down in it's star rating - I prefer to have at least a couple of the supernatural beasties being on the same side as the main characters. While it was an interesting change to see them like this, it just didn't do it for me.
Something in it's favour, though, was the number of twists and turns. It was constantly surprising me, which is very good - sometimes in these kinds of books it's often not too difficult to guess where things are going, and Ms Handerland managed to conceal her chief trouble maker really well.
Overall, I'm giving this a 6-7. I enjoyed it, but I'm kind of relieved that I got it cheap, and unlike most of my books, I won't mind setting this one back out into the world.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A quick introduction...

Hey everyone, I thought I'd just post a quick introduction.
Emily recently invited me to post some reviews here, and I jumped at the chance. I spend far too much time reading, and I'd been meaning to write some reviews this year - I hope this way I'll actually get around to doing it, because so far I've only done one on my blog!
So, I'm gapyeargirl123 here, but on most of the rest of the internet, I'm daeonica. My blog on here is more like my travel blog. My 'personal/writing' blog is on livejournal, and if you leave a comment saying how you found me, I'll add you as a friend so you can see more. The link is on the right hand side of the page, under 'daeonica'.

The kind of books I read are almost exclusively fantasy & paranormal romance/urban fantasy. Occasionally I'll read something else, but generally I think that a book without some kind of supernatural flavour is pretty boring. From the look of what's been reviewed here so far, I think the books I'm reviewing will be a bit different - which is good, right? You want reviews of all kinds of things.
I'm not really sure what else to say here - there's some basic information in my profile if you're interested. Questions are welcome if anyone has them ;-)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The book Acheron, the end of a large story arc in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series, is split into two parts. The first half of the book catalogs Acheron's life through the eyes of his sister, Ryssa. A lot of people say they skipped the first part, because it's so depressing but its really essential for fully understanding the second part.

Kenyon has intentionally kept Acheron 's past sketchy until this point. We know he was abused some how, that he has a brother who really hates him, he wasn't always a god but we don't know how or why that changed. We know that Artemis has some power over him and we know that he loathes her, but at some point he really loved her. Burn, baby burn.

Keep going if you've read it or don't care about spoilers.

In the first half of Ash's book Kenyon delves into first person for the first time. Ryssa, Acheron's sister, does the talking for the majority of part one and Kenyon does a surprisingly good job at keeping it interesting but still meek, as is the character of Ryssa. She describes his families treatment of him and how he vanished at the ripe old age of 7 to become a sex slave on the island of Atlantis. Kenyon goes to great lengths giving us all the things we've been dying to find out about that part of her mythology. If you skip part one you pretty much miss out on all of that. You also miss out on the why of Acheron's actions and reactions for... well... the entire series, not just this book.

The overall message in the first book: The road to Tartarus is paved with good intentions. (Its a thick road.)

Between Artemis, who we know messed him up, and his sister, Acheron's life becomes a wasteland of good intentions that all play a role in the demise of his self. This is important to know, not just from being told, but from being shown. You could be told that Acheron has little trust for people but its so much more poignant when you're shown why he has such little trust. And Kenyon does a painfully good job of showing that. Just reading it was a kick in the gut, I can't imagine writing it.

In the second half of the book we jump into the present and the typical template for Kenyon's Dark Hunter novels. If you skipped out on part one you will have little appreciation for anything Ash does in the second half of his book. The love interest is Tory who is devoted to Greek mythology and finding Atlantis. In fact, that's how we met her in the first place. She was Geary's young cousin in Dream Hunter, the book which takes place in and around Greece focusing on Atlantis and not going there.

Ash meets Tory at a conference about Atlantis actually. She's discovered the location of Atlantis and Ash has to go stop her, not only because his mom would come out and destroy the world if she were freed, but to protect his own sordid past. Interesting. We always knew Ash had depth, but self preservation was previously not listed amongst his many assets. Yet Kenyon makes sense of all this in part one of the book. See? If you skipped it you might think Ash is just narcissistic and out of character.

The romance end of things is pretty typical and the story sets us up for many, many more Dark Hunter novels (yay!) Kenyon adds in volumes of new mythology points and things of interest to keep the series going. Everything is running smoothly until Ash drinks Sprite. The novel kind of goes from typical DH story to wtf?! in like, a sentence. No, she never really explains why Sprite gets him drunk, but its hilarious enough that I didn't really care for an answer to that.

(Ash is drunk and guess what that means? Simi gets drunk too. ;) I think this interaction and exchange would have been enough for me. At this point Kenyon could have built up to a vicious war with a pointless stand off ending and I would have been totally cool with it. )

More details about the past start to resurface at this point and we learn about more things that tie Ash and Tory together. It's a shame that these things weren't mentioned at all back in Dream Hunter, it would have made the foreshadowing more impressive. But Kenyon did a really good job within the book. (I'm a foreshadowing nerd, I can usually pick up on it right away, so when it surprises me I'm extra pleased.)

The book culminates an entire story arc, so finishing it was a bit melancholy, but we see more of Ash and Tory in future books. Like I've said, the first part of the book is the spine of it, if you skip that you miss out on too much. It ends up just being another Dark Hunter novel which is so not the case.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan

One of the many books I've read recently is The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan. Here is part of a synopsis found on Amazon:
The Kitchen God's Wife is a triumph, a solid indication of a mature talent for magically involving storytelling, beguiling use of language and deeply textured and nuanced character development. And while this second novel is again a story that a Chinese mother tells her daughter, it surpasses its predecessor as a fully integrated and developed narrative, immensely readable, perceptive, humorous, poignant and wise. Pearl Louie Brandt deplores her mother Winnie's captious criticism and cranky bossiness, her myriad superstitious rituals to ward off bad luck, and her fearful, negative outlook, which has created an emotional abyss between them. Dreading her mother's reaction, Pearl has kept secret the fact that she is suffering from MS. But as she learns during the course of the narrative, Winnie herself has concealed some astonishing facts about her early life in China, abetted by her friend and fellow emigree Helen Kwong. The story Winnie unfolds to Pearl is a series of secrets, each in turn giving way to yet another surprising revelation. Winnie's understated account--during which she goes from a young woman "full of innocence and hope and dreams" through marriage to a sadistic bully, the loss of three babies, and the horror and privations of the Japanese war on China--is compelling and heartrending. As Winnie gains insights into the motivations for other peoples' actions, she herself grows strong enough to conceal her past while building a new life in America, never admitting her deadly hidden fears. Integrated into this mesmerizing story is a view of prewar and wartime China--both the living conditions and the mind-set. Tan draws a vivid picture of the male-dominated culture, the chasm between different classes of society, and the profusion of rules for maintaining respect and dignity. But the novel's immediacy resides in its depiction of human nature, exposing foibles and frailties, dreams and hopes, universal to us all.

The story starts out from Pearl's perspective. Pearl makes it clear she has never had a very good relationship with her mother. She has found out that there is a reunion coming up because of a cousin who is getting married. Pearl then feels she has no choice but to go and is preparing for it the best she can. We then get her perspective on her mother and the difficulties of the relationship that lead her to fear telling her mother she has Multiple Sclerosis. However, this section ends with Pearl being told by Winnie, her aunt, that she has to tell her mother about MS before the New Year or Winnie will tell her mother herself.

The story then switches to the mothers perspective and her story that she feels she if forced to share her story with Pearl by Winnie. Much like Pearl was told, her mother was told by Winnie that she had to tell Pearl about her past in China or she would tell her herself. At this point we get the full story of Pearls mothers past in China during WWII and how she came to America.

During the part of Pearls mother sharing her story, the story is sort of written to the reader, but it is obvious she is talking to Pearl. The backdrop of how she is telling Pearl is revealed now and again and it becomes clear that Pearl is very entranced in the story. However, the way it is written also brings the past to life. Pearls mother reveals some big secrets that really share a lot about her personality. It's obvious Pearl didn't know any of it either.

Once her mother is done sharing her story, we get a brief part from Pearl, and then I got confused towards the end because it suddenly switched to the mother without any clear sign of that. Previously, there had been a clear sign that it had switched to her mother. In my opinion, it almost concluded too fast after her mother shared such a heavy story of her past. I would have liked to hear more from Pearl as she comes to realize her father may not have been her father after all and how her view on her mother changed as it apparently had. Especially since we get a clear idea of how her mom dealt with her daughter sharing she had MS with her. We do get a sense of what Pearl was thinking of her moms way of handling the news of MS, but again, that is another area I would have liked to hear more about from Pearl.

Overall, I found this book to be very drawing. It does start out a little slow, but once it gets going it kept my attention. The story of her mother was especially very drawing as it was apparent she had a very hard life that she had overcome. The book also leaves one wondering if Winnie was smarter than the mother and Pearl thought. We get a clear picture on how she is through out the mothers story of her life.

Despite the rushed ending, I would have to say that overall I would give this book 8 out of 10 stars. I enjoyed it quite a bit and could see why my friend recommended it.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is one of those books that you read when you are ready to read it. I was lucky enough to receive the book as a gift last year from my friend, Ren.

The story follows a Shepard who is told by a Gypsy to travel to the pyramids in order to find a great treasure. Along the way he meets a King, a Merchant, an Englishman and an Alchemist. He learns things from everyone he meets on his journey and yes, the smybolism is very blatantly intentional. At the center of all this is the message about finding your own personal legend. The question is: after you find it, are you willing to live it? Or simply dream about it.

The Alchemist is a hard review to do because on one hand the book is so blatently an allegory, but on the other that allegory speaks to everyone in a different way. I guess I would sum it up as a life lesson in book form. It could have been accomplished with a few sage words I'm sure, but its important to read the entire book so you can walk away with the full effect.

Another book which accomplishes the same task is Dan Millman's Peaceful Warrior. I feel like the two are brothers in the literary world. One being a little more formal and delicate in its message while the other sort of approaches you with a barrage of tiny stories and bits of advice jammed into one solid book.

All that being said, I really can't give this book a fair review, because in order to understand it you have to read it. And you have to be ready to read it. An excellent book, however, I would recommend it to anyone who is in search of their own personal legend.

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore has the uncanny ability to make me laugh out loud while reading. And I mean really, really laugh out loud. So much that I have to put my bookmark in, close the book and finish shuddering with glee before I can continue to read. Its even worse if I'm tired... sometimes there's no turning back from a fit of Christopher Moore laughter.

Not many authors can acheive this task, but if they succeed, they are automatically entered into my book of masterful literary geniuses. Terry Pratchett and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee are the only other authors who have put me into fits of giggles while reading.

While Moore has many, many hilarious books, I'm focusing on Bloodsucking Fiends, a vampire novel (surprise, surprise... noticing a weird theme here? What can I say, I got bite by the vampire bug. Ha. Ha.) Moore takes something as dreadfully serious as vampires and turns it into an all out battle for who can be the most shameless. And make me laugh the most.

The story centers around a symbiotic relationship between a human and a vampire. Age old story, right? Not quite... Jodi needs Tommy to run her errands (yes, that's what we will call them...) during the daylight hours and Tommy... well... Tommy just wants to get laid. The antagonist? Another vampire whose stalking the pair. Our supporting characters are a pack of rabid late night Safeway employees known as 'the Animals' who bowl with turkeys, get high, and destroy lots of things on their graveyard shift.

Its hard to say which is more funny, Tommy's 'educational' experiments with Jodi (when the sun rises she's literally dead to the world) or the Animals' wiley Cheech and Chong like behavior. The real fun doesn't even start until the very end of the book when TSHTF for real. While it seems like more and more authors take an entire book to get to the point only to wrap it up within a matter of pages, Christoper Moore at least keeps you entertained all the way there.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let me Go, is set around the lives of a group of students growing up in a seemingly idyllic English boarding School set in an alternative 1990s. In my opinion, this book is best described as 'haunting' and will stay in your thoughts long after you've put the book back on the shelf.

Its hard to go into any details, as i don't want to ruin the plot, but this book encapsulates a number of broad and important themes, such as what is it that makes us human?- the soul, love, creativity etc., Is our future already determined by who/what we are? The field of medical science and Ethics?

The power of Ishiguro's writing can be best summed up with this quote :

"What I like in a good author isn't what he says, but what he whispers." Logan Pearsall Smith

Although this novel starts in a comfortable nostalgic way, there is always a shadow or hint of the true nature of this skewed world, and although Kath the narrator does touch and question these elements, her own fear of the truth makes her 'push it to the back of her mind'. As a result, the narration isn't a linear telling of the events of Kath, Tommy and Ruth at Hailsham and beyond, but a tapestry of memories and thoughts.

A natural telling of someone narrating their own story. A story which has elements that reflect the experiences of a 'normal' childhood.

Easily this novel could have focused on the more 'cold' aspects of this alternative world, giving dates and figures etc. but instead to reiterate the overall point, it barely hints at the facts of this world till the end, where previous snippets of information are finally tied together and the hard truth of Kath's fate is revealed. But instead it focuses on the 'human' story, through the telling of Kath's life - it properly shows how tragic and inevitable the fate of the donors' lifes are and the lies people tell themselves to cope with being both a donor/carer or being a normal.

Overall, an exceptional complex book which i found hard to review without going into detail.

10/10 !