Thursday, February 28, 2013

'The Human Division' 1 & 2 by John Scalzi

This review poses an interesting conundrum. How does a reviewer complete a review based solely on the first two segments of a book being released as an episodic narrative?

To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure and I'm willing to give it my best shot, but I warn you now... this will be the last time I volunteer for this kind of review. Trying to formulate an opinion on the first two chapters of a scifi epic is just too much and I'm not sure a whole lot can be gained from a review of this nature.

Now that I've pretty much discounted my opinion to the lowest level possible what did I think? In a nutshell Chapter One 'The B Team' was awesome! I couldn't read it fast enough. In fact, when I finished I felt like I'd experianced some of the best scifi I'd gotten my hands on in a long, long time.

Chapter Two 'Walk the Plank'...? Not awesome but definitely solid. My main complaint was actually my own fault in that I'd let too much time lapse between reading the first and second parts so while I remember what had happened in the previous piece, I felt a massive disconnect in the story. Were these entirely different groups of people being introduced? Was there a tie in? I still haven't gone back and compared the two pieces to see if maybe I'm missing something pretty big.

This, at the basest level, is why I feel so conflicted about this review. Since I haven't taken the time to read on in the series (but know that on the whole I'm usually impressed with John Scalzi's work) it's tough to make a call. Even so, I'm near positive that if I had a minute to get moving on the third installment - and actually catch up through number seven released Tuesday - I'd be in love, because the third installment will most likely do it's job helping me reconcile the previous two.

But I guess that's both the pro and the con to this kind of release. On one hand the audience is captivated by the idea of getting a brand new chapter a week. On the other, the reader needs to really feel engaged in the story being told or can lose interest quickly when one installment ends up not reading as well as the others - or when they're a space case like me and forget parts that are, more than likely, insanely important, and end up getting frustrated.  

The Bottom Line: I'm going to keep reading because the first installment was truly impressive, but if you aren't keen on picking up a chapter a week wait until May when the whole thing comes out in its entirety under one cover. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

'Wraith' by Angel Lawson

Every so often I finish a book and the last thing I want to do is type up a review. In most cases this feeling is brought on by an extremely mediocre title, a Goldilocks title if you will. Having been not too good and not too bad, 'Wraith' by Angel Lawson falls right onto that fine line and doesn't really give me much to talk about. That said, I'd be shirking my reviewer responsibilities if I left it there, so let's forge on, shall we?

The Good: The love interest, Connor, of our protagonist Jane is one of the better drawn characters of his type in the genre. Believable, well rounded and surprisingly interesting, this character carries most of the story on his shoulders and keeps it moving at a nice, page-turning clip.

The Bad: The adults in this story are, for the most part, unbelievably stupid, one-dimensional and irrelevant. The one exception here is Jane's aunt and that's only because that particular adult was an obvious introspective mirror for Jane's character.

The Bottom Line: This title would be great for a much younger reader just getting their bearings on the YA genre. As for the rest of us hardened veterans... well, it might be worth the time if you're not too concerned about some of the characters making rationale, motivated choices but love a good bad boy romance.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

'Reckless Magic' (Star-Crossed, #1) by Rachel Higginson

I finished this book sometime last week and have put off writing the review. This was mainly due to a procrastination of epic proportions and I just "couldn't find the time". Between being sick (true story), watching Star Trek Voyager like it was going out of style (well, I guess it did... like 10 years ago, but whatever, you get my point...), work and a couple of gym visits the blog got shuffled down on my list of priorities. But I did manage to get the contest wrapped up (congrats to our grand prize winner and all the runner-up winners - enjoy your titles!!) so it's not like I abandoned you guys entirely.

But I have to say, it was good to get some distance before I jumped head first into the review for 'Reckless Magic' by Rachel Higginson. If I had reviewed it the night I actually finished then what I might have written would be something like:

"Total waste of time - cookie cutter and unoriginal garbage!"

Having the chance to give my original thoughts some time to breathe has softened them up a bit, however, and before I go any further let me tell you that I've downloaded book two, 'Hopeless Magic', because I'm holding out hope (regardless of the title) that this series will improve. 

I can see your faces now, all scrunched up, confused, wanting to know why I'd go from a trash bin review to buying the second book. Well, if you've been around these parts long enough you know that I'll continue reading about any series just because I can. I hate not knowing the ending of a story - even if it's a poorly written pile of steaming sh - heh, well you get the point. The good news for the Star-Crossed series is that it isn't so much a cow pattie as it is a stale cookie: A stale cookie made from the crumbs of every other cookie that lives on the same shelf in the same super market. 

So I'm going to trek on into this series, even though Higginson's use of the word Immortal is so wrong she felt the need to explain how the aging thing works for this group of people like five times - instead of using a word like Epoch or Aeon that at least has a sense of aging... but you know.... over a long stretch of time. Whatever - I'm over it*. I'm going to continue reading even though book one was uninspiring unoriginal. But more importantly, I'm going to read on because I honestly feel like now that Higginson's scene has been set it will get better and more unique as the series continues. 

The Bottom Line: It can only go up from here! Higginson draws on elements popular to every single other YA romance/paranormal/fantasy book in creating book one of the Star Crossed series. I can't help but feel that if you've read any other YA novel than this one isn't going to bring anything new to the table. That said, if you're looking for a new series because you're currently out of other options - well... don't say I didn't warn you. And who knows? Maybe book two will be amazing.

*Not really... but I'll pretend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Giveaway Winner Announcement

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway, and a warm welcome to all the new subscribers! With that in mind, I'm happy to announce the grand prize winner:

Congratulations to Alexa Smith!

I'll be reaching out to you, (and all those runners up) over the next few days to arrange prizes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Giveaway End Tomorrow At Midnight!

If you haven't entered yet the time is now! Check out the original post below and get your entries in today.

Again, I beg the question: Who doesn't love the word free? Well, in another effort to keep your library fat and happy I'm giving away some free books and the money to buy a title of your choice.

A few details:

Well, starting now one grand prize winner gets a $10.00 USD gift card from the eBook vendor of their choice in addition to three other eBook titles*. 10 runners up will also be chosen at random to select one free eBook title*.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and I almost forgot - Enter daily for a bigger chance to win and best of luck!

* Both the grand prize winner and runners up who qualify for a free eBook title will need to select this title from a per-determined list of titles. Title not on this list do not qualify as prizes. A list of these titles can be emailed to the contest-entrant upon request. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

'Child 44' Leo Demidov #1 by Tom Rob Smith

I'm going to tell it to you straight: This book is uncomfortable to read.

Well written? Yup.
Absorbing? Absolutely.
But no holds barred, 100% depressing.

You see, once the story gets started, we meet the main character, Leo Demidov. Leo is a terrifyingly efficient war hero in Stalin's Soviet Russia that's banked his life and the life of his family on keeping his head down and his eyes closed to the atrocities that surround, and have greatly influenced, his everyday life. But when confronted with the real cost of this lifestyle, and circumstances start turning against him, Leo is finally pushed to action.

While all that might seem like it would add up to an inspirational read, the book sticks so close to reality that there isn't any room for much more than small, meaningful gestures between individuals. In fact, it's the courageous things that people do for one another - regardless of income, neighborhood or family ties... essentially the base humanity of it all - that makes this novel's message potently clear.

The Bottom Line: Part mystery novel, part historical fiction and part cautionary tale, 'Child 44' by Tom Rob Smith is worth everyone's time. In fact, part of me believes books like this should be required reading for all humanities students as tales like this one serve as stark reminders of what can happen if we forget ourselves.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

'Whispers in Autumn' by Trisha Leigh

'Whispers in Autumn' is the first of four books that are part of Trisha Leigh's The Last Year series. The finale, 'Summer Ruins', debuts a mere four days from now (on 2/19), so I felt it was the perfect time to get involved. If I liked it than I wouldn't have an excruciating years wait between titles (I'm looking straight at you Cassandra Clare). If I didn't, well, no harm no foul.

So, will I be reading onward into 'Winter Omens'?
More than likely.

The characters are well-drawn and developed and the story line is intriguingly unique. Then there's the issue of the cliff-hanger ending which just about shoved me into the next installment. More importantly, while 'Whispers in Autumn' is firmly planted in the Young Adult category of literature, Trisha Leigh does a great job of surfacing some fairly complicated messages without over complicating the plot.

The Bottom Line: This book with its quirky, teenaged protagonist isn't for everyone - but if you're looking to sink your teeth into a new YA science fiction series with a dystopian twist, this one's for you. Fans of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone books, or the Divergent series by Veronica Roth would be an especially good fit.

Love what you see here? Subscribe here or keep in the know by following me on Twitter @TheJessle.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Win $10 or 1 of 10 Free Titles!

Again, I beg the question: Who doesn't love the word free? Well, in another effort to keep your library fat and happy I'm giving away some free books and the money to buy a title of your choice.

A few details:

Well, starting now one grand prize winner gets a $10.00 USD gift card from the eBook vendor of their choice in addition to three other eBook titles*. 10 runners up will also be chosen at random to select one free eBook title*.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and I almost forgot - Enter daily for a bigger chance to win and best of luck!

* Both the grand prize winner and runners up who qualify for a free eBook title will need to select this title from a per-determined list of titles. Title not on this list do not qualify as prizes. A list of these titles can be emailed to the contest-entrant upon request. 

'Mariana' by Susanna Kearsley

Blizzards are good for a few things. Dropping a few feet of snow is one, and blowing out the power to your home is another. That's right wonderful world of T.T.P. - a little stormed named Nemo ran through my corner of New England and brought down my power for a little over 40 hours from Friday night well into Sunday afternoon. Why am I telling you this? Well, I'd irrationally banked on the possibility of having an entire weekend holed up due to inclement weather doing nothing but making progress with my literary work-in-progress, catching up on some T.V. and, oh yeah... get a few blog posts together. Unfortunately, I hadn't factored in my particular homes tendincy to lose power every time a storm even glances by.

Ultimately, I tell you this because I'm asking for your pity understanding as I scramble to review everything I've read (have to say that was one benefit of the storm... I definitely caught up on the reading list). Hopefully I'll carve out some time and get them going again with some regularity. 

All of that aside, let's talk about 'Mariana' by Susanna Kearsley, shall we?  

I'm going to give this one a solid, 'meh.' Now granted, this flavor of book is probably teetering right on the edge of what I'd usually pick up, (and I wouldn't have even come across it at all if it weren't for my future-MIL buying it on our shared Amazon account), but it seemed interesting enough. I'm sorry if my interest gets peaked when the synopsis of novel is:
As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, [Julia Beckett] finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.
Long review short, this novel was interesting... kinda. The opening was absolutely captivating but what followed was about 100 pages of borderline boring narrative, 100 pages of somewhat less boring narrative and than a truly stellar final third.... until you get to the last few pages and by the end I was absolutely confused.

Maybe I should explain that before someone points me out for being daft. I get what happened but without giving out any spoilers* that given the focus of the entire story I was more than a little miffed by the time the end came round.

Bottom Line: Read it if you love other things that Susanna Kearsley has done or historical fiction. This author has a great following and is insanely prolific. Skip it if you don't like fantasy romance or if historical fiction just isn't your thing.

*After I finished reading that last page I actually did a search on him because by the end of the book I couldn't picture what he looked like. I had a clear mental image of the other guy, but him? I'd pictured some mid to late-forties guy going gray... not, well  - and you know what? That's not surprising because according to my search I didn't find one, substantial description of what he looked like! Most of you might call that a nit-pick, but because I hadn't been able to give what's-his-face a "face" I couldn't connect with the character. That is the main reason that the ending felt like it'd been forced. Created for the soul (see what I did there?) purpose of throwing the reader an utterly unremarkable curve-ball ending. 

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Bridal Title 2: 'Wedding Planning Like A Pro: Confession of an Ex-Wedding Planner' by Tammy J. Beatty

This title takes the cake as one of the worst I've ever had the displeasure of coming across. Filled with poorly written, snooty and pushy 'advice', bad jokes and terrible tips, 'Wedding Planning Like a Pro: Confessions of an Ex-Wedding Planner' is the new heavyweight champion of the D.N.R. collection.

To save you from an egregious waste of time, here are just a few of Tammy Beatty's words of wisdom along with my comments.
  •  Her advice: Have an iPod wedding! It's cheaper to rent a $1,000 set of speakers from Rent-a-Center and buy an iPod than to hire a DJ. You'll also have 100% control!
My advice? Cough up the cash and hire a DJ. Not only is it going to cost just about as much as renting those lousy speakers from a Rent-a-Center it will save you time and countless hours of frustration both before and during your wedding. DJ's are more than just glorified MP3 players. They help to coordinate important moments like your first dance, your best man's speech, cake cutting, and the wedding party entrance. Not only that but you're running the risk of the music getting commandeered and something really really REALLY embarrassing being played. Fork out the extra couple hundred dollars (if even) and get a reputable DJ for the evening.
  • Her advice: To save up money for your wedding, give up your daily Starbucks! You'll save about $1,000 over the course of a year!
Oh wow - $1,000! Golly, that's worth an entire year of self-punishment. Than there was her other stellar piece of money saving sage-ism: Move in together because you'll need to figure it out eventually. News flash for you Ms. Beatty - if the couple is getting married and they haven't moved in together there's probably a good reason for it. Might be religious or moral but seeing 'advice' like this in a book is borderline patronizing.
  • Her advice: Check out the following websites because they're packed with totally awesome ideas and advice: The Knot and Wedding Wire!
Did you seriously recommend that I go to two websites that any moron with an internet connection and a Google search bar can find by face rolling the keyboard? To add insult to injury she doesn't list any website during the entire book that someone couldn't, wouldn't or hasn't found on their own through any level of preliminary investigation.
  • Her advice: Buy your own flowers and look at this online guide. Isn't making your own floral arrangements fun and easy?
Are you insane Tammy? You've got to be because this isn't something everyone can do. I wouldn't even say 10% of brides could pull this off especially if all they've got to go on is this meager level of explanation. Floral arrangements are hard. Heck - I have a hard enough time jamming flowers from my fiance into a vase and having them look even remotely pretty... and that's after a florist had taken the time to arrange them into a bouquet. Never mind trying to become an overnight florist and make my own bridal bouquet. Maybe it's me, but this one stinks too.
  • Her advice: You'll want pictures of your vows, so only hire a professional photographer for the ceremony. For the reception you'll be more interested in getting pictures of your drunk guests from none other than your drunk guest so who needs a professional! Partition them on Facebook afterwards and have them send you there favorites!
So while I plan on reaching out to friends and family after the event for their favorite photos they might have snapped on their phones or personal point-and-shoots there is no way in hell I'm going to depend on a room full of people that are half (or wholly) in the bag by the end of the festivities to capture all of my most important memories of the event. Terrible assertion here and Tammy should be ashamed of herself for suggestion this as an option.

The Bottom Line: If you're planning a small, backyard affair some of these tips might be worth pursuing but with the book feeling more like an aggregate for some of the internet's worst pieces of wedding advice its no wonder that the author Tammy Beatty is, in fact, an ex-wedding planner.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Waiting List - February Edition

February. Cold and bitter February. Besides the Hallmark holiday of Valentine's and the occasional leap year "bonus day" its just the span of time spent in the pit of winter before the warm air of spring returns to my little corner of New England. As an aside, did you know that January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period*?

But cold and miserable outside is a good thing around these parts anyway - while the family goes stir-crazy I get more time to pull out the throw blankets, cozy up on the sofa with a corgi shaped foot warmer and read without feeling the pressing guilt of taking in the sun outside. Overall, its a pretty good deal.

However, before delving forward let me say one thing about January's entry. If you've got keen eyes you've probably already realized that I didn't cover 'Dead Beat' by Jim Butcher as promised. This has nothing to do with the novel itself - it was excellent per usual - but I realized something when I went to write the review. I've covered a handful of the series already and my opinion hasn't changed or wavered in the least. In fact, I've only grown more attached to the series as I get deeper into the story arch.  As such I'm going to continue reading through the remaining books but save you all from my inevitably gushing reviews. Unless something changes - I still love you Dresden but from this point on I'm going to hold off on the reviews... well... until I catch up. Then maybe I'll do a series retrospective review. That might be fun.
So here we go. If you're reading along with me here's my line-up for the next four weeks. As a word of warning, its a much beefier commitment than usual:
  • 'Whispers in Autumn' by Trisha Leigh - this was another series I'm trying out per an Amazon suggestion. Has anyone out there read anything by this author or in this series? Love to know what you think before I delve in.
  • 'Mariana' by Susanna Kearsley
  • 'Child 44' by Tom Rob Smith
  • 'The Human Division' both #1 & #2 by John Scalzi - these ones are short but look awesome!
  • 'The Witch's Daughter' by Paula Brackston
  • 'Reckless Magic' by Rachel Higginson - should have gotten to this one last month (per the book club) but... well... no real excuses I guess. Better late than never right?
  • 'Domestic Violets' by Matthew Norman
  • 'Wraith' by Angel Lawson - not sure about this one either but it's this month's book club entry so it makes the list in a defacto kinda way.  
Oh - and we can't be forgetting about the Bridal Title for the month of February. For all those interested I've got 'Wedding Planning Like A Pro: Confession of an Ex-wedding Planning' by Tammy J Beatty all lined up.       

That's it from me today. Keep warm, enjoy your heart shaped box of cheapo chocolates and have fun reading until the sun comes back!
*Lifted that sentence directly out of the February Wikipedia page - but it makes a lot of sense. Winter is cruel and cold and miserable... the only reason to track the time is to know how close you are nearing to the end.