Archive | December 2014

Review – The Bat (Harry Hole #1) by Jo Nesbo

the batHarry Hole is a complicated character.  He made some major mistakes as a person and policeman in Oslo but has managed to keep his job.  We meet him as he travels to Australia to help investigate the murder of a Norwegian young woman.  He befriends his assigned partner, finds a Scandinavian woman with whom to have a very heated affair and somehow finds time to still investigate the murder.

As the first book in a series, this works.  It introduces the main character, gives us many of the details we need to start to build our picture of him and it includes a strong stand alone story to back it up.  The mystery is well done and the characters are interesting.

I will definitely continue this series and, for the most part, I really enjoyed reading The Bat.  But, I can’t bring myself to give it more than 3/5 stars.  There were a few small issues I had with the writing but I gave it a lot of leeway as it is the first novel and it was translated from its’ original language.  My biggest issue was with Harry.  He makes some pretty bad decisions.  Not just bad.  Crazy bad.  Some were almost understandable but a couple were mind-blowingly dumb.  And since I didn’t believe Harry was dumb, it made my question the writer’s path for him.

Even with the few issues, I definitely recommend reading this if you like mysteries – especially from Scandinavian writers as there is a certain flare that they can have.

Review – Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

death masksJim Butcher is doing everything he can to make me love this series and it is starting to work.

From Goodreads: “Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he’s getting more than he bargained for.
A duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards…
Professional hit men using Harry for target practice…
The missing Shroud of Turin…
A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified…
Not to mention the return of Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan, who’s still struggling with her semivampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life.
Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.”

This installment is chock full of action.  And, I absolutely did not want to put it down.  I would’ve been happy to have a day to myself to just read straight through.

One of the things that I really liked about Death Masks is that we see Harry living his life.  He wasn’t pining over Susan and letting things fall apart.  While he wants her back, his life doesn’t revolve around that thought.  We see him working, calling on his friends and fighting evil.  Even when she comes back (not a spoiler – it’s in the synopsis), he doesn’t let that get in the way of finding the shroud, fighting the vamps and saving the day.

Butcher did a great job with the story of the shroud.  We had already been introduced to Father Forthill and Michael, Harry’s friend.  Here we meet Shiro and Sanya, the other Knights of the Cross.  They were a strong addition to the story and I’d like to know more about the Knights, their abilities and where they get their power.  And, how the swords choose them.

I gave this one 4.5/5 stars. It’s so close to 5 but Harry is still too obsessed with women’s looks (at inappropriate times) for me to feel like it’s a 5-star read.  Is it getting better?  Absolutely and I fully expect to love the rest of the series.  But, it isn’t quite there yet.

Re-Read Time – A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

a christmas storyI love Christmas.  The gifts, the food and spending time with family.  One thing I look forward to each year is watching “A Christmas Story” – usually multiple times to the annoyance of said family.

In this year’s stocking, my husband gave me a copy to read.  So, on Christmas day, I spent a few hours with Jean Shepherd and his family.

Mr. Shepherd wrote several essays about his life in lower middle class America.  These essays were compiled and created the screenplay for the movie.  While the movie actually follows the stories closely, the stories are not all set around one Christmas and there were some changes.  It was heartfelt, funny and just what I wanted on Christmas day.

The first story, Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid, shares his memory of the Christmas he longed to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun from Santa along with all the subtle hints he gave his parents.  Of course, he received the classic block: “You’ll shoot out one of your eyes.”  His dad, however, came through and made sure he got his gun Christmas morning.  He proceeded to almost shoot his eye out but somehow got away with it.  Even if I had never seen the movie, I would have laughed out loud while reading this story.  It perfectly captures the feelings of childhood.  Wanting something so badly and feeling like you are being thwarted around every turn.  And just when you think all is lost, your mom or dad saves the day.

Story two, The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again, tells us about the secret decoder he finally got in the mail to use during the Little Orphan Annie Radio broadcasts.  “Drink Your Ovaltine” – a crummy commercial.  This may have been his first realization that nothing is free and the real world is just looking to sell you something.

My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art – Ahhh…the infamous leg lamp.  So sexy, so inappropriate.  Yes, his mom broke it on purpose.  Who can blame her?

Grover Dill and The Tasmanian Devil – finally our protagonist takes out his tormentor (Grover Dill in the written story) in a flurry of fists and obscenities.  My favorite part of this story is the detail about his mom really protecting him so that his dad wouldn’t punish him for the fight.  He literally vomits in relief and, I will admit, it almost brought a tear to my eye.  Who didn’t have one of these moments in childhood?

The final story, The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds, gives much more information about the redneck neighbors and their dogs that terrorized the neighborhood.  The dogs break in the back door and steal the Easter ham from the table.  This scene (stealing the Christmas turkey) in the movie always made me chuckle.  But, while reading, I had a much more serious feeling.  These were not rich people.  They had saved and scrimped to have a nice Easter.  The entire family looked forward to a few special meals a year and this was one of them.  To have the ham taken away was horrible.  And, the Bumpus family were awful neighbors on a day to day basis.  I sighed with relief when they moved out one night and the neighborhood was able to get back to normal.

Overall, this is a wonderful book about childhood and family with a little Christmas cheer thrown in.  I do believe I will make a re-read a Christmas day tradition.  5/5 stars.

Review – I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas (Half Moon Hollow #2.7) by Molly Harper

undead christmasChristmas and Vampires. A natural combination.

From Goodreads: “College co-ed Gigi is headed home to Half-Moon Hollow for her first Christmas since her sister, Iris, was turned into a vampire by her beloved undead husband, Cal. Iris is working overtime to make this holiday as normal and special as possible. After all, it’s taken her months of working with Jane Jameson and the Hollow’s vampires to convince herself that she won’t bite her baby sister on sight.  Gigi has her own worries. She’s falling out of love with her high school sweetheart, Ben, and has no idea how to tell him. She’s got a secret job interview with terrifying teen Council official, Ophelia Lambert. And there’s a handsome but cagey vampire following her around town and then disappearing before Gigi can confirm that he’s not, in fact, a figment of her fertile imagination. Holidays with family are complicated. Christmas with an undead family can be downright dangerous.”

I love novellas as part of a series.  They can fill in stories that the writer wasn’t able to use as part of the main plot line.  Or, they can just be a fun add-on like this one.  The good news is that you don’t always have to read the full series before hand.  I hadn’t read any of these books but was able to follow along and enjoy this one just fine.  Now that I’ve been properly introduced to the characters I can’t wait to read all of them.

Merry Christmas bloodsuckers!

4/5 stars.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an e-copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review – Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen

basket case

Basket Case is the first Carl Hiaasen that I’ve read and it was pretty good.

From Goodreads: “Once a hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, “plotting to resurrect my career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff.” Jimmy Stoma, the infamous front man of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, dead in a fishy-smelling scuba “accident” may be just the stiff Jack needs-if only he can figure out what happened. Standing in the way are [among others] an editor who wants Jack to “break her cherry,” Stoma’s ambitious pop-singer widow, and the soulless, profit-hungry newspaper owner Jack once publicly humiliated. As clues from Stoma’s music give Jack Tagger the chance to trade obits for a story that could hit the front page, murder gives his career a new lease on life.”

What I liked:

– Pacing – the story moves and doesn’t lag at any point. It was so easy to read that I was finished before I knew it.

– Humor (general) – it’s meant to be funny and it was refreshing to read a mystery that was fairly light and without too much heavy emotion.

– Details about the newspaper business.  It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me but I can see how someone with the right personality would love the deadlines, the pressure and the general nosiness required to get the next story.

What didn’t quite work for me:

– Jack, the main character, is 46 years old but talks about himself as if he’s ancient.  As it’s written, I would think the target audience for Basket Case would be people in their late thirties to fifties.  As someone who fits in that category (don’t ask for more specifics) I was kind of offended that the character, and I’m assuming the author, thinks I’m close to being over the hill. Trust me, you aren’t old at 46. Far from it.

– This is somewhat of a spoiler but you’ll know it’s going to happen pretty early on – Jack starts a relationship with his editor who is in her late 20’s.  Maybe I’m a prude or out of touch.  Or both.  What does a 46-year-old man talk about with a 20-something woman?  I asked my husband this and he smirked and said, “They aren’t talking.”  Touché.  But, at some point, don’t you want to talk to the person you are spending that much time with?  And, having sex at the office?  No thanks.

Would I read another Hiaasen?  Probably…but I might look a little closer at the synopsis on the back to make sure it didn’t hit any of the wrong buttons for me.  3/5 stars.

 

 

Review – One Salt Sea (October Daye #5) by Seanan McGuire

one salt sea

“Everything Changes.”

For the last several books in the Toby Daye series, it’s been clear that we are building up to something.  One Salt Sea took several large steps in answering some questions and showing us the direction (maybe) for Toby.  We still have much more to learn but I feel that we are starting to see what and who Toby is meant to be.

The children of the Duchess of the Undersea have been kidnapped and the Queen of the Mists is suspected.  There will be a war between the land and the sea if Toby can’t find the boys and bring them home.

There is so much more to OSS than a kidnapping mystery.  Toby has to face many of her fears.  Some are more serious (like the water – she can’t quite get over being turned into a fish for so many years).  Others are kind of humorous (taking Quentin as a squire; I don’t think Toby ever imagined herself being tasked with training a pureblood Daoine Sidhe.)

It’s also becoming clear to Toby that she needs to get to the bottom of her relationship with Tybalt.  While the reader could see his feelings as far back as book one, it’s taken her much longer to start to open her eyes to their friendship and potential for even more.  Complicating matters is the fact that one of her first loves, Connor, is now a free man since Rayseline is on the run and he’s been granted an annulment of sorts.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a love triangle in the traditional sense.  Both of these men have a lot of love and respect for Toby and she loves them both as well.  But, let’s be honest, Tybalt has never really expressed his feelings outright and Connor has made it clear he wants Toby.

Toby is also learning more about her enhanced powers and the heritage she received from her mother. As we would expect, she struggles with this.  Toby’s always considered herself an outsider Changeling.  So, having blood sing to her through walls is going to take some getting used to.

With almost every series, it can take a few books before it hits its’ stride.  For me, the Toby Daye series not only hit but pounded on its’ stride with One Salt Sea.  It’s not perfect and there are a couple of things (related to Connor especially) that I kind of questioned but WOW.  I sat on the edge of my seat, laughed and cried while reading.  As I’m typing all I want to do is go pick up the next one to find out what’s going to happen.

I loved it.  5/5 stars.  I loved it!

 

Review – Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher

summer knight

Summer Knight can almost make me forgive book three.  Almost.

From Goodreads: “Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can’t pay his rent. He’s alienating his friends. He can’t even recall the last time he took a shower.

The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man.

And just when it seems things can’t get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer Harry can’t refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him–and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen’s right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen’s name.

It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving this case. No pressure or anything…”

From the start I’ve said this series is a lot of fun.  My frustrations (especially with book three) were due to some of the characterization – not the writing itself.  So, in fairness, I’ve decided to remind you of the issues I had with Grave Peril and talk about how they were improved (or not) in SK.

 #1 – Grave Peril included characters and story lines that weren’t introduced in earlier books which made the first 25-50% very frustrating to read.  For the most part, Summer Knight stuck with the characters and overall story that we knew from the series.  Any introductions made sense and seemed organic.  The only caveat is Michael.  He played a major role in GP but is basically non-existent here.  If he and Harry worked together so much then I would have expected some interaction in this story.  Grade: A-

#2 – I didn’t feel the story made as much sense in Grave Peril. Why were the bad guys after Harry, etc.?  The story is much improved in SK.  Faes playing games with those around them, the threat of war, the powers that be not appreciating those that work for and with them.  This all worked as Urban Fantasy.  Grade: A

#3 – Misogyny, chauvanism, whatever you want to call it but at the end of the day Grave Peril was offensive to women.  I have to give Butcher some credit here.  He did make improvements in this area and Harry is starting to treat the women around him with more respect.  Listen, he still likes legs and breasts (and hair and pink lips and, I could go on) but that’s okay.  What I don’t want is for him to act like he is supposed to save the women around him because they aren’t able to save themselves.  I think he’s starting to get it.  Grade: B

Overall, a very enjoyable and improved installment in the Dresden Files.  4/5 stars.