Archive | May 2013

Review – Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Lord John #2) by Diana Gabaldon

brotherhood of the bladeDiana Gabaldon never fails to deliver a well-researched and well-written novel.  Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade is no exception.  From Goodreads: “In 1758, in the heart of the Seven Years’ War, Britain fights by the side of Prussia in the Rhineland. For Lord John and his titled brother Hal, the battlefield will be a welcome respite from the torturous mystery that burns poisonously in their family’s history. Seventeen years earlier, Lord John’s late father, the Duke of Pardloe, was found dead, a pistol in his hand and accusations of his role as a Jacobite agent staining forever a family’s honor.  Now unlaid ghosts from the past are stirring.  Lord John’s brother has mysteriously received a page of their late father’s missing diary. Someone is taunting the Grey family with secrets from the grave, but Hal, with secrets of his own, refuses to pursue the matter and orders his brother to do likewise. Frustrated, John turns to a man who has been both his prisoner and his confessor: the Scottish Jacobite James Fraser.  Fraser can tell many secrets—and withhold many others. But war, a forbidden affair, and Fraser’s own secrets will complicate Lord John’s quest. Until James Fraser yields the missing piece of an astounding puzzle—and Lord John, caught between his courage and his conscience, must decide whether his family’s honor is worth his life.”

While this is an enjoyable installment that gives us further background into John’s family and personal history, something was missing for me.  I didn’t feel the same attachment to the characters and there were very few scenes that left me with ‘the feelings’ that Diana usually conveys through her writing.  There were a few lighthearted moments – John’s cousin giving birth in the church, Percy learning to dance.  And, a few heartbreaking – John finding Percy in a very compromising position that left them both with almost no options.  But, in general, it was a fairly standard historical novel with a little romance and a little mystery.

I was most impressed with John finding a way to save Percy while still preserving the honor that is so important to him.

One pet peeve – the synopsis listed above plays on Jamie Fraser as a character.  He is in about two scenes that are fairly unimportant to this story (there is a revelation to John regarding William’s birth but that is truly more about the Outlander storyline.)  I think Lord John can stand on his own and they don’t have to use Jamie as a selling point for these books.

4/5 stars because, even with flaws, Diana Gabaldon can write!

Review – Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower VI) by Stephen King

song of susannah“You know,” King said, “I’m not much good at telling stories. That sounds like a paradox, but it’s not; it’s the reason I write them down.”

“Anger is the most useless emotion,” Henchick intoned, “destructive to the mind and hurtful to the heart.”

Song of Susannah is the sixth book in The Dark Tower series and leaves us with only one more to complete the saga.  From Goodreads: “To give birth to her “chap,” demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah…and terrifying to the “daughter of none,” who shares her body and mind.  Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave…and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment “go todash” to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term.  Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn’t. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying. For another, it is inhabited by the author of a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot, a writer who turns out to be as shocked by them as they are by him.  These are the simple vectors of a story rich incomplexity and conflict. Its dual climaxes, one at the entrance to a deadly dining establishment and the other appended to the pages of a writer’s journal, will leave readers gasping for the saga’s final volume (which, Dear Reader, follows soon, say thank ya).”

“Ah, but comfort served cold was better than no comfort at all.”  Song of Susannah is a tough book to rate.  While it was tightly written and furthered the story, it also left me somewhat frustrated.  I may only be feeling the end of the series coming but there are so many plot points that need to be completed and we seem to have a long way to go.  Susannah/Mia/Detta worked as the primary character in this novel.  There were actually times I was pulling for Detta and I thought that would never happen.  Susannah really showed her strength as well.  Mia, well, she is just a mess.  We received some answers as to how Susannah came to be in this position but I have no clue as to her fate.  Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

My brow was most furrowed when King made himself a character in the novel.  I knew that it was a possibility since “‘Salem’s Lot” showed up in the last installment.  But, he took it a little further than I expected and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.  Part of me believes it is genius and the other part of me thinks that it is extremely narcissistic.  Trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible so I will only point out that Book 4 in the series was published in 1997.  King’s life was forever altered when he was struck by a minivan in 1999.  Book 5, published in 2003, first mentions King as a character.  Song of Susannah (Book 6-published in 2004) takes it even further.  It is clear that this life event had such an impact on King and his writing that he couldn’t ignore it.  There is a feeling of foreboding and fate surrounding his character (even described as a dark aura).  He has strong feelings of destiny regarding telling the Dark Tower story.  Roland is even physically based on himself. I wonder if he struggled with the realization that the story could have been left unfinished if he had actually died that day.  To be honest, it was hard to read his thoughts on his own mortality and what could have happened.  And, his guilt regarding his personal demons and his family….no words.

4/5 stars for a beautiful book that frustrated me.

Mixed Up Monday – Star Trek Into Darkness

I started this blog because of my love of reading. Hard to believe but I do occasionally do other things. Like watch television or go to the movies.

Saturday, my husband and I saw Star Trek Into Darkness. I’ve always been a fan of Star Trek – the original series/movies, TNG, etc. When JJ Abrams was picked to direct the reboot a few years ago I was more than excited. His work in television included one of my favorite shows – Alias. The first ST installment was action packed and a well thought out re-imagining of the universe. I thought it was ingenious to change Kirk and Spock’s pasts so that he would have more freedom in his storytelling.

STID was a great addition to the series. I’m going to try to stay away from spoilers but forgive me if I give anything away. Kirk is in command of the Enterprise and they are on a mission where they have to be careful about the Prime Directive. He makes a decision that goes against this basic principle and his command is taken away. At the same time, a terrorist blackmails a Star Fleet officer into a bombing. He then coordinates other attacks against Star Fleet. Kirk, along with the rest of his crew must find a way to stop him before it is too late.

Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as the villain. There were many predictions as to his character and I won’t spoil it here. But, I will say that he is familiar to fans.

Chris Pine shows a darker side to Kirk. His father’s death and then his accelerated path to becoming captain have not allowed him to build the emotional foundation he needs to be successful. As I said to a friend, it’s not surprising that he’s a bit of a jerk. He has the intellect, heart and gut feelings to be the Captain Kirk that we know but he just doesn’t have the experience. I appreciate JJ’s willingness to show that Kirk is a bit of a mess at times. This allows him to grow and come into his own in this new timeline.

Zachary Quinto as Spock is perfect. His casting was probably the most surprisingly successful to me. At first, I just couldn’t picture it but then I saw the bangs, the pointy ears and heard his logical thoughts…I was sold. The expressiveness of his face shows emotion that his words don’t provide.

Some fans of the original may be disappointed. I think this is unavoidable. JJ is making an action movie. Pure and simple. Gene Roddenberry’s original films were about the story. And, he used the films to show us his thoughts on the world. JJ is telling a story but approaches it differently.

There were a few things that I didn’t love. A tribble makes an appearance – why? It was unnecessary and I don’t want these films to be overly campy. One pivotal scene also gave the filmmakers an opportunity to really add a depth of emotion that would have made this film series more special. They kind of chose to take the easy way out and that was a little disappointing. People like to feel some sadness, anticipation and uncertainty. Everything doesn’t have to be tied up with a bow in the end. Leave us with some questions and we will come crawling back for more.

STID is heavily tied into one of the original movies and most of the references worked for me. I liked the twists that they added. But, I do hope that the remaining films in the series stand on their own – not that I don’t want to see some of the characters again but let’s use all new storylines.

Overall, I really liked it. 4/5 stars.

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Review – The Vampires (In Darkness We Must Abide #5) by Rhiannon Frater

??????????????????????????????????Season One is complete and definitely ended with a bang.  Episode 5 is full of emotion and was the best so far.  From Goodreads: “All is not well in the Socoli world. Vanora is on the cusp of adulthood and preparing to move way to attend college. Used to their sibling being their anchor to the mortal world, Roman and Alisha are already feeling adrift in their dark world. Meanwhile, the mysterious Armando, shrouded in all his secrets, draws ever closer to Vanora as her feelings for him deepen. Soon their small world will explode into chaos, leaving Vanora to wonder if all she believed to be true were lies.”

SPOILER ALERT – consider yourself warned:

Roman and Alisha did not do well while Vanora was out-of-town.  It’s hard for them to hold onto their humanity without her there to remind them of why it is so important.  It doesn’t help that they are surrounded by other vampires now that Roman has his ‘fan club’.  For most of the season, I’ve felt that Roman was the moral compass of the family and have expected him to remain one of the good guys.  Alisha, I wasn’t so sure about.

The Halloween party was the turning point for all of the major relationships.  Armando and Vanora finally give in to each other and become intimate.  It was perfect  – sweet, passionate and unavoidable.  I was heartbroken that their time together was ruined by what happened next.  Turns out there is a pedophile at work in the area (dressed as a clown – ick!)  The vampires decide to take matters into their own hands to protect the children and they hunt the predator(s) down.  Vampire adrenaline got the best of the them and they rip them to shreds.  Yes, the other vamps started it but Alisha and Roman took part as well.   And, Vanora saw it.  She feels she can no longer trust them – including Armando.  After seeing the brutalization of these men (yes, they were monsters themselves but…), she decides it’s best for her to leave them all.  While reading this scene, I had some pretty major concerns.  It was Halloween and they pull in two guys dressed as clowns.  What if they weren’t the real pedophiles but just a couple of dads out with the kids?  Or, just a couple of harmless losers dressed as clowns on Halloween.  Luckily, it does seem that they were the ‘bad guys’ but what if they hadn’t been?

The final scene between Vanora and Armando almost took my breath away.  She is on a plane leaving town and he is standing outside trying to communicate with her.  Both of them feel a sadness that came through the pages.  I think we all knew it was unavoidable but that didn’t make it any easier.  We do briefly meet Armando’s master, Aeron, and start to learn more about his master plan.  And there is another potentially crazy female vamp in his life, Lorelai.

There are so many questions I still have unanswered.  (What really happened to Vanora’s mom?  How will Vanora’s powers continue to manifest?  How will Armando deal with his split loyalties?  What happens to Roman and Alisha now?)  Season 2 cannot come soon enough.

5/5 stars for the Episode and the Season.

Check out the giveaway on Rafflecopter.

Thank you to the author for providing an ARC through the readalong in exchange for an honest review.

Review – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

nos4a2“Do you believe in a place called Christmasland?”  I do now…

NOS4A2 is Joe Hill’s third published full length novel.  It is a masterpiece of horror and drama.  This weekend, I tried to give my husband a synopsis.  Once again it didn’t turn out well so I will just let Goodreads do that for me: “Charlie Manx burned a man to death in his black 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, but that’s not the worst of it. Rumor has it that he kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place he calls “Christmasland.” The only child ever to escape was a very lucky girl named Victoria McQueen.  Vic has a gift – she can ride her bike through the Shorter Way bridge and she’ll come out the other side wherever she needs to be, even if it’s hundreds of miles away. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her ability; no one would understand.  When Charlie Manx finally dies after years in prison, his body disappears…after the autopsy. The police and media think someone stole it, but Vic knows the truth: Charlie Manx is on the road again…and he has her kid. And this time, Vic McQueen’s going after him…”

I’m not going to spoil anything because you should read this book now.  I will give you one warning, though.  Charlie Manx goes after children.  For some people, that will make this a tough book to read.  But, if you can get past the subject matter, this really is a story that will keep your heart pounding.

I’ve read Joe’s previous two novels and they were also great.  I really felt like he had a different voice than his father.  NOS4A2 takes it to another level, though.  He is starting to hit his writing stride and I’m happy to be able to follow him.  One thing that I loved about this book was that he gave nods to his father throughout (I haven’t noticed that he’s done this before and I believe it has to be intentional.)  He took characteristics / themes from King’s novels and twisted to make them his own.  Just a few examples:

  • The biggest comparison is probably to IT.  Kids and a disturbed man.  Seriously can keep you up at night.
  • A car that has special powers.  Manx has a Rolls Royce that is tied to his power.  Christine had a mind of her own.
  • St. Bernards (Cujo?) – Vic’s son’s dog is a St. Bernard named Hooper.
  • Young boy as a major character who has to deal with the crazy adults around him.  Danny in the Shining.  Jake in the Dark Tower series.  Wayne in NOS4A2.
  • Addicted parent – Jack in the Shining.  Vic in NOS4A2.
  • Crazy kids.  Children of the Corn vs. the kids of Christmasland

There are many more but I won’t bore you with them.  I would love to examine both King and Hill’s writing and how their novels reflect their personal relationships.  In the acknowledgements, Joe gives a lot of credit to his mother for the finished product (specifically the final chapter).  She is also a writer and a huge influence for him.  But, it’s this quote – about his dad – that sticks with me: “In between the beginning and ending of the work, I went for a motorcycle ride with my dad.  He rode his Harley; I took my Triumph.  He told me he liked my bike, even if the engine did remind him of a sewing machine.  That’s a Harley snob for you.  It was a happy ride, following him along his back roads with the sun on my shoulders.  I guess I have been cruising his back roads my whole life.  I don’t regret it.”

5/5 stars and one of my favorites this year.  I hope Joe Hill continues to write his stories for a long, long time.

Review – ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Salem's LotSalem’s Lot was first published in October 1975 and was only Stephen King’s second published novel.  1975 – that is over 37 years.  Think about that for a second.

What astounds me is that the story still feels fresh even given the time that has passed since it was pusblished and the glut of vampire novels that have been written in the last 35 years.  And, yes, it will still scare the pants off of you.

From stephenking.com: “Author Ben Mears returns to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about a house that has haunted him since childhood only to find his isolated hometown infested with vampires. While the vampires claim more victims, Mears convinces a small group of believers to combat the undead.”

That’s a decent, quick synopsis.  But, it’s actually much more complicated than that.  Ben is a widower (lost his wife in a motorcycle accident that he survived several years earlier).  He meets Susan Norton and they promptly fall in love.  He also becomes friends with a high school English teacher, Matt Burke.  A young boy, Mark Petrie, plays a major role in the fight against the vampires and becomes an important part of Ben’s life.  Father Callahan, the local Catholic priest, is called upon as well.

I’m trying to determine exactly what I love so much about Salem’s Lot.  Yes, it’s scary and an exciting read.  However, what sticks with you long after you finish a book are the people.  In this case, I can see Ben, Susan, Matt, Mark and Father Callahan so clearly in my head.  Their fates are important to me.  The descriptions of small town life are pretty spot on and made it that much more enjoyable.  It is pretty amazing that King had this kind of talent so early in his career.  The writing isn’t quite as full and rich as some of his later novels.  But, it still packs a punch and leaves you with the feeling that you are glad it’s over (because, hey, it’s scary) but still wanting more.

5/5 stars.  A classic!

Review – The Gift (In Darkness We Must Abide, Episode 4) by Rhiannon Frater

Beautiful lonely girl  in long dress“You’re not for me, Vanora,” he whispered.  “I am not for you.”

From Amazon: “With the arrival of the new vampires, Vanora’s life has once more been changed forever. The only mortal among the undead, she feels like an outsider in her own home. As her seventeenth birthday approaches, she struggles not only with her deepening feelings for Armando, but also her own burgeoning powers.”

Each Episode of this serial is more and more action packed.  The Gift focuses primarily on Vanora’s seventeenth birthday.  SPOILER ALERT – There are actually many gifts referenced.  Vanora’s powers are a gift and they are becoming stronger with age.  Roman and Alisha are giving Vanora a car (remember being that age and the best gift your parents could give you was a car?)  And, Armando….the sweetest gift of all – a silver charm bracelet with moons and stars.  Swoon.  But, maybe the most important gift she received was the kiss from Armando.  That was a good kiss!

At the end of this episode, Vanora dreams about her mother’s death.  What does Rhiannon have in store for us with this storyline?  I cannot wait to learn more.

EVERYONE should be reading this serial.  It is full of great characters and emotion.  You will be on the edge of your seat waiting for the next installment.  5/5 stars.

Psst…I’ve alread read Episode 5 (review to come) and it is WONDERFUL!  You need to catch up now so that you will be ready when it is released.

Check out the e-book giveaway on Rafflecopter.

Thank you to the author for providing an e-copy through the IDWMA readalong in exchange for an honest review.