Review – Wicked by Gregory Maguire

wickedLast year I decided to re-read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and found that I was disappointed.  When I saw so many more current novels based on Baum’s story, I wanted to see what was out there and if anything clicked for me as a reader.  The natural starting point was Wicked.  Almost everyone has either read this or seen the Broadway show.  I honestly went into it without expecting too much.  Boy, was I wrong.

I loved Wicked.  To be more precise, I loved Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.  Maguire set out to tell her story since Dorothy received most of the spotlight in TWWOO.  We begin by learning of Elphaba’s birth and her early years.  As Kermit says, “It isn’t easy being green.”  She is an outcast both in the community and in her family.  Elphaba isn’t the most lovable creature but there is something about her that is special and it comes through the pages.

We follow her to boarding school in the larger city of Shiz where her assigned roommate is Galinda, a pretty, spoiled, blonde girl.  They strike up a tenuous and unlikely friendship.  Others (a motley crew) are part of their circle which is brought closer through different tragedies.  Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister, is now attending the school along with her Nanny.  Nessa was born without arms and has other physical ailments so she is treated more gently and thoughtfully than Elphaba ever was.

As an adult, Elphaba continues to be an outcast.  Sometimes by choice.  Her relationships are complicated by the fact that she is a very black or white person and she cannot look the other way when she feels that something needs to be changed.  And, even as grown ups, we do continue to try to find love.  Elphaba hasn’t had that from her family so that energy goes elsewhere.

Plus, she can’t get over those stupid, shiny shoes that her father sent Nessa in school.

This is a story about politics, power, friendship, family, love and maybe a little evil.  It is a thinking persons fantasy novel.  The wizard, cowardly lion, scarecrow, tin man and munchkins are all here in one form or another.

One question continued to go through my head while reading – what is evil?  Is it the abuse of power by taking away basic rights from other living creatures?  Is it magicking an ax to cut off someone’s arm so that you can get something that you want?  What about using sorcery to try to force others to do your bidding?  If so, it’s not Elphaba who is evil.  These acts are attributable to others.

Or, maybe there really is no evil.  There are just people who don’t have evil souls but end up going down a path that leads to destruction.

Elphaba speaks to the outcast in me, the one who is different from so many others and has a hard time trusting and making friends.  For about 90% of the book I was 100% on her side.  But, then she made a few really bad decisions and lost me a little.  I wish that the author had allowed her to continue with her true self through the very end.  It might not have tied a bow on the story quite so easily but we spent 350 pages with the real Elphaba.  I wanted to see her through and didn’t get that opportunity.

Other than a somewhat disappointing ending, this was one of my favorite reads this year.  4.5/5 stars.

Review – Hunting Ground (Alpha & Omega #2)

hunting groundThere are some authors that you just know you can count on for certain things.  Patricia Briggs is one of my go to authors when I need a pick me up – a great story without too much angst but plenty of action.  Plus, I know I can knock one of her books out in just a few hours because they are so easy to read.

Hunting Ground was no exception.  It continues the story of Charles and Anna.  They are called upon to go to a meeting of Alphas to help them understand why Bran, the Marrok and Charles’ father, wants to reveal their existence to humans.  It’s an urban fantasy so things don’t go exactly as planned.  But, there is plenty of wolf, fae and vampire action to keep you glued to the pages.

There is something about this author that makes her books feel like a warm and fuzzy blanket.  She writes strong female characters who, in many cases, are the ones who save the day.  The men, usually alphas or at least dominants, are not too overbearing.  She gives them a balanced manliness (for the most part, well, at least those that we are supposed to like.)  That sounded really cheesy after I typed it.  “A balanced manliness?”  Oh well, I can’t think of another way to say it.  They are strong men who don’t drag their women around by the hair.

Charles and Anna had to grow on me a little.  Charles is no Adam or Sam (if you are familiar with the Mercy Thompson series).  He’s his own kind of dominant wolf with a very serious personality.  Anna could have gone a little Mary Sue but Briggs found a way to keep her relatable and far enough from perfect that we don’t want to roll our eyes when she’s on the page.  I like the fact that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and use cookie cutter characters.  Each series has leads with different personalities and quirks.  It keeps it interesting.

4.5/5 stars and highly recommended.  Currently this series has three books published.  I thought it was done and I was sad that when I read the third soon I would lose this part of my literary family.  But, I saw earlier this week that a fourth book is coming out next year.  Woo hoo!!!

Review – In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by Tana French

in the woodsLast year I picked up a Tana French novel and started reading.  Then I realized that it was the second in the Dublin Murder Squad series so I put it on hold until I read this one.  (Read a series out of order?  I don’t think so.)

In the Woods introduces us to Rob Ryan (aka Adam) who went missing along with two friends when they were younger.  Rob was found with blood in his shoes and no memory of what happened.  His friends were never found.  As an adult, he becomes a police officer and eventually a detective with the Dublin Murder Squad.  His partner is Cassie Maddox who has her own history.  When they are assigned to investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Rob’s hometown, things will never be the same.

Overall, this is one of the best mystery/thrillers I’ve read in the last several years.  Tana French created a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and always asking more questions.  I love it when authors don’t give us all the answers and leave something to the imagination.

Rob is a complicated guy.  He’s obviously scarred by what happened in his childhood and it affects everything in his life.  We pull for him but know that things aren’t quite right.  Although well written, his character frustrated the heck out of me.  Female readers especially will have a hard time with some of his actions.  I think my status update at one point was: “Men can be idiots sometimes.” I should have added “…when it comes to women.”

Cassie is much more relatable to me.  She has secrets and struggles but is a straight-forward character.  You can relax when she’s on the page.

The supporting cast is strong.  French uses words to draw a detailed picture of this small Irish town and its’ people.  Good, bad and ugly.

It’s not perfect.  The story drags in a couple of spots and there are a few “that was too easy” moments.  But, for a first novel, this is full of win.  4/5 stars and highly recommended.

 

Review – Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

mr. mercedes

Hi, my name is Mary and I am a Stephen King addict.  I’ve heard that the first step to deal with addiction is admitting you have a problem.  I understand that I will probably never get over this need to pre-order any new books and re-read all of my old favorites.  That’s okay.  What I really want to learn to accept is that not all of them will be 5-star favorites.

So, Mr. Mercedes…the story begins with a psycho/socio-path driving a stolen Mercedes into a crowd waiting in line at a job fair.  Men, women and children are killed and maimed.  The police investigate but somehow the perpetrator isn’t discovered.  One of the detectives, Bill Hodges, retires and his life starts to go downhill until he receives a letter from the ‘perk’ who wants to play mind games with him.

Mr. Mercedes has all of the elements of classic Stephen King.  Crazy people, creepy accessories (ice cream truck, anyone?), old cars, tough older men, young heroes.  And, for the most part, it works.  It’s an enjoyable read with an engaging story.

After finishing, I rated this 4 stars and wish that work hadn’t kept me from writing my review right then.  Because as I look back, I’m tempted to lower it to 3.  Usually I find little fault with King’s writing.  It doesn’t work for everyone but it clicks for me.  This time, I found some of the phrasing cliché and overused in current novels.  (Letting out a breath that you didn’t know you were holding was the most obvious example.)  King is better than that.

And, as much as I hate to say it, I felt that this novel was a set up for a series.  King wrote one of my favorite (it may actually be at the top) series, The Dark Tower.  The difference is that the story seemed organic and as you read you knew that the wind was blowing the story at King instead of him deciding to write a series.  Does that make any sense?  It’s a feeling that readers get.  And, again, I hold King to a higher standard and just feel that he’s better than that.

Recommended to King fans but I don’t think this one is destined to become a classic.

Review – Poison Promise (Elemental Assassin #11)

poison promisePOISON PROMISE IS OUT TODAY!

It’s official.  I can’t quit Gin Blanco and the Elemental Assassin series.  Is it my addiction?  My kryptonite?  I don’t know and I don’t care.

Gin and the gang are back to fight another day.  There is a new drug in Ashland and a new (but somewhat familiar) enemy.

Ok, so I’m eating my words.  I keep saying that I’m done with this series.  The writing is somewhat repetitive with the same writing tics in each installment.  We know where Gin stashes her knives and that Finn drinks chicory coffee. Sophia’s clothes are goth and her sister, Jo-Jo, is all old south.  When you pick up an Elemental Assassin story you know that Gin will probably get the crap beat out of her but she will find a way to defeat the enemy.

Usually these things would drive me crazy and I would have to move on from the series.  But, but, but…there is just something about Gin that makes you like her.  She is tough as nails but the soft side is there if you just look for it.  Her relationship with her sister, Bria, is one of the reasons this series still works.  It’s changed Gin for the better.  And, changed Bria for the worse (but, trust me, that’s a good thing – she was a little too good for her own good.)

Owen, Owen, Owen.  What should we think of you?  Sometimes you seem to understand Gin and be man enough to be with her.  Other times, you should be kicked.  Hard.  You were well-behaved this time.  Let’s keep it that way.  Capisce?

4/5 stars.  Already waiting for the next installment like a junkie.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review – Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

robogenesisYeah, well…that was disappointing.  I read and reviewed Robopocalypse in 2012 and really liked it (4/5 stars).  So, when I saw Robogenesis on Netgalley, I hit the request button as quickly as possible.

From Goodreads: “”The machine is still out there. Still alive.”   Humankind had triumphed over the machines. At the end of Robopocalypse, the modern world was largely devastated, humankind was pressed to the point of annihilation, and the earth was left in tatters . . . but the master artificial intelligence presence known as Archos had been killed.   In Robogenesis, we see that Archos has survived. Spread across the far reaches of the world, the machine code has fragmented into millions of pieces, hiding and regrouping. In a series of riveting narratives, Robogenesis explores the fates of characters new and old, robotic and human, as they fight to build a new world in the wake of a devastating war. Readers will bear witness as survivors find one another, form into groups, and react to a drastically different (and deadly) technological landscape. All the while, the remnants of Archos’s shattered intelligence are seeping deeper into new breeds of machines, mounting a war that will not allow for humans to win again.”

One of the things that worked for Robopocalypse was that there was one primary narrator (even though it did jump stories with each chapter change).  Cormac was the thread that tied everything together.  The narrator for Robogenesis, Arayt Shah, isn’t nearly as effective.  Once again, each chapter would focus on a different character and then come back to them several chapters later.  I found myself becoming confused with the timeline and keeping track of who was who and their relationship.  The action was uneven and the story just didn’t flow very well.

I think the biggest frustration I had as a reader was that this story seemed manufactured.  Robopocalypse worked as a stand alone novel.  I don’t have a problem with writers deciding there is more story to tell and then adding to the series.  BUT…this time it seemed that the second book only came into being because the first was successful.  It was forced and didn’t really offer anything new.

There were sparks of hope.  Houdini was my favorite character this time around and probably added a full star to my rating with his story.  I wanted more of that storyline.

2.5/5 stars.  (And, yes, I will probably read the 3rd in the series when it comes out.)

Thank you to the publisher for providing an e-copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review – Shadowfever (Fever #5) by Karen Marie Moning

shadowfeverI mean, come on, THIS is 5 stars. A normal, boring review doesn’t seem appropriate so let’s set it to music.  Sing along if you know the tune.

 

 

 

 

Here’s the story of one MacKayla Lane
Who was plotting revenge on Darroc and the Fae.
All of them deserved to die, and painfully,
Mac and her spear so say.

Here’s the story, of a man named Barrons,
Who was female readers’ favorite bad boy,
What he was no longer seemed to matter,
Mac needed him to reach her joy.

Ms. Lane could track the Sinsar Dubh and stop it.
Even though he used her, he liked her tons.
Destiny had to be fulfilled.
That’s the end of this story of Mac and Barrons.

Mac and Barrons,
Mac and Barrons,
That’s the end of this story of Mac and Barrons.