Tag Archives: rating 4 of 5

Maids of Misfortune

Locke, M. Louisa. Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francsico Mystery (2009). 336 Pages*. $2.99**

From the Author’s Site

It’s the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie’s husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.

Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco’s most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe it is suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.

Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn’t leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior.

Sparks fly as Anne and Nate pursue the truth about the murder of Matthew Voss in this light-hearted historical mystery set in the foggy gas-lit world of Victorian San Francisco.

First Lines

The bastard!

Annie Fuller gasped, shocked at even allowing such an unladylike expression to enter her mind. She had been enjoying her tea and toast while sorting through her mail in splendid solitude.

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Steam & Sorcery

Pape, Cindy Spencer. Steam and Sorcery (2011). 305 Pages*. Carina Press. $5.99**

Don’t let the cover stop you. The contents of the story are much better than the cover suggests with its cheesiness.

From the Publisher

Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick*** and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she’s ever met– and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery…

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I am Tama, Lucky Cat

Heinrichs, Wendy & Yoshiko Jaeggi (illustrator). I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend (2011). 32 Pages. Peachtree Publishers. $16.95

This review is pre-release. It is due out August 1, 2011.

When I joined NetGalley.com, I spent ages scouring the books, looking for those which looked interesting. Luckily for me, I found I am Tama, Lucky Cat, fairly quickly. I am big on mythology from around the world– especially Japanese, as I was an East Asian Studies minor– so I was excited to get to see this book early*.

The Story:

Tama the Calico– and therefore Lucky– cat went in search of shelter. She was lucky enough to find a caring monk in a worn down temple. To gain entrance, she sat in front of the doorway with her paw held up in traditional maneki neko pose. She brings happiness to the monk, and one day brings him luck as her beckoning saves a wandering lord. He becomes the patron of her temple, and everyone’s luck improves.

The Illustrations:

The illustrations were well balanced to the story, with soft colors and nice composition. It is the sort of storybook which is mellow enough to make good bedtime reading.

Thoughts:

I’m always excited to see children’s books exploring mythology, especially when they do it well. With lovely illustrations, and simple-but-effective vocabulary, this book manages to convey the story in a way which kids will relate to. In the back of the book is a brief note with some information on the legend, including speculation as to which temple and which lord the legend may be about.

I’ll give this one a solid 4/5; I really liked it, and was impressed, though I was not completely blown away.

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* Disclosure: I received my copy free from the publisher through NetGalley.com

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Patient Zero

Maberry, Jonathan. Patient Zero (2009). 419 Pages. St Martin’s Griffin. $14.95

Joe Ledger: Book One

This post is long-overdue. When I read Rot & Ruin, I was thrilled. I’d found a zombie book which was also about humanity. I had to find out if the author had more in him, so I went out of my way to pick up Patient Zero from the library. I devoured it in a little under a day, and spent a little over an hour gushing about the pair of them to my mother, who has now decided that she needs to read it. And then, life happened.

I got sucked-in to a writing project– yes, I also do creative writing– and a few old forums that I haven’t been on in ages. I got extra hours at work, I’ve been on a fierce job-hunt, and reading has really fallen by the wayside. I am attempting to get myself back on track, which will likely happen as a direct result of me setting myself a posting-schedule.

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills… and there’s nothing wrong with Joe Ledger’s skills.  And that’s both a good, and a bad thing.  It’s good because he’s a Baltimore detective that has just been secretly recruited by the government to lead a new taskforce created to deal with the problems that Homeland Security can’t handle. This rapid response group is called the Department of Military Sciences or the DMS for short. It’s bad because his first mission is to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies. The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

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The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (Anthology)

Telep, Trisha (ed.) The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (2010). 592 Pages. Running Press. $13.95

Good lord that was a lot of romance. I do enjoy regency romance quite a bit; it may be my favorite historical era, and it certainly is fun. At just under 600 pages, and 23 stories, it took a while to read. It was worth it, and entertaining, to boot. My biggest complaint might be that several of the stories could have used some more space to grow; they felt rushed with the number of pages they had. Pruning the collection to 20 stories and giving the survivors the extra pages would have done wonders for several of them.

There is no good synopsis for the whole book, and indeed, several which I have found are either inaccurate or misleading, so instead I’ll say a little about each story.

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Zombies vs Unicorns (Anthology)

Black, Holly & Justine Larbalestier (ed) Zombies Vs Unicorns (2010). 415 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $16.99

The thing which actually made me want to read this anthology was Diana Peterfreund’s addition “The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn,” which is set in the same universe as Rampant. However, I am glad I took the time to read this, since I enjoyed almost every story in the book (at least on some level.)

The offerings are mixed, but are all labeled as either “Team Zombie” or “Team Unicorn,” with only one (I think) that has both zombies and unicorns. Additionally, the top corners of the pages are also marked by either a Zombie or Unicorn logo, making quick-scans for specific stories easy. A few of them were sweet, one or two romantic, and a couple actually bleak. I’m glad I took the time to read this, though.

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Devil’s Bride

Laurens, Stephanie. Devil’s Bride (1998). 416 Pages. Avon. $7.99

Cynster Novels | Book One*

Sharing books with friends and roommates can be problematic; it seems silly to each have your own copies of all the books in a series, so while one of you may own the first volume, another may own the second. This works in practice until one of you moves out, or away. This is how I ended up getting Devil’s Bride for my shiny new kindle despite the fact that I own the rest of the series in print**.

Synopsis

Honoria Wetherby never intended to marry. “Devil” Cynster felt much the same way. When a series of unfortunate circumstances find them trapped in a woodsman’s cottage unchaperoned, Devil does the only thing he can think of to protect Honoria’s reputation; he declares their engagement.

Unfortunately for Devil, Honoria is determined to hold out, and rejects him at every turn. Unfortunately for Honoria, Devil sees her challenge as an invitation, and intends to convince her in any way he can.

First Lines***

Somersham, Cambridgeshire

August 1818

“The duchess is so very… very… well, really, most charming. So…” With an angelic smile, Mr. Postlethwaite, the vicar of Somarsham, gestured airily. “Continental, if you take my meaning.”

Standing by the vicarage gate while she waited for the gig to be brought around, Honoria Wetherby only wished she could. Wringing information from the local vicar was always one of her first actions on taking up a new position; unfortunately, while her need for information was more acute than usual, Mr. Postlethwatie’s comments were unhelpfully vague.

Thoughts

It is not often that romance novels stand up to re-reading; often, they are a nice enough story the first time, but approaching them again is considerably less enjoyable. Fortunately, Stephanie Laurens manges to write romance in such a way that it can be read more than once.

I vividly remember reading Devil’s Bride for the first time my sophomore year of college. I think I may have been avoiding The Aeneid, but I can’t be sure. I blame my roommates for getting me hooked on romance novels; the ultimate escapist books. Even when things are tense and stressful, you know the characters will end up together, and they will be happy.

There are some things which, depending upon taste, can be construed as positive or negative. For example, the precept is that the Cynster clan is full of handsome men who have an innate urge to conquer. They have money, power, and land. The latest generation, the “Bar Cynster,” have lived lives of relative ease, sleeping around, and enjoying rake-dom. But each of them has their meeting with “fate” in the form of a woman– typically “strong willed”– who makes them realize that they want to marry her. They then spend most of the book heading for that goal.

There are quite a few sex scenes, which are full of the classic cliches; he is experienced, she is innocent. He is “hard,” and she is “soft.” He is in control, and she is overwhelmed by the experiences. Generally your classic romance stuff.

Overall, it’s a fun book with a reasonable story– a murder mystery of sorts– though there’s not much mystery (I, at least, felt the villain was glaringly obvious from the beginning) there is quite a bit of fluffy, happy romance. It gets a 4/5– well worth the time to read it.

Also, check out the pretty covers. (Too bad the US editions aren’t like these.)

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* Strictly speaking, by publishing order, this is book one, and The Promise in a Kiss came out three years later. As far as interior chronology, it is preceded by a prequel which I will choose to address as book zero, because it is not necessary to read it first, as it was published later.

** On the bright side, knowing that my old roommate lacked volume two because she’d read my copy meant that choosing her Christmas present this year was very simple.

*** I often judge a book by its first lines (I’m sure my review format shows this habit). I find that you can tell a lot about an author by the way they open; do they throw you into the action, or spend time setting up the scene? Is it speech, or description, or some combination? How they set up says a lot about what you can expect later in the book. If this series hadn’t come highly recommended, I may not have read it.

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Love You Hate You Miss You

Scott, Elizabeth. Love You Hate You Miss You (2009). 276 Pages. Harper Collins. $16.99

From the Cover

It’s been seventy-five days. Amy’s sick of her parents suddenly taking an interest in her. And she’s really sick of people asking her about Julia. Julia’s gone now, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. They wouldn’t get it, anyway. They wouldn’t understand what it feels like to have your best friend ripped away from you.

They wouldn’t understand what it feels like to know it’s your fault.

Amy’s shrink thinks it would help to start a diary. Instead, Amy starts writing letters to Julia.

But as she writes letter after letter, she begins to realize that the past wasn’t as perfect as she thought it was– and the present deserves a chance, too.

First Lines

75 Days

Dear Julia,

Get this, I’m supposed to be starting a journal about “my journey.” Please. I can see it now:

Dear Diary,

As I’m set adrift on this crazy sea called “life,” I like to think of an inspirational poem I heard not long ago, one that made me weep because of its beauty. Today, I truly believe each day is a precious gift….

I don’t think so.

Thoughts

I wasn’t sure what to think, when I first got this book. It looked interesting enough, introspective journeys and self-discovery are fascinating when done right, and the reviews I found suggested that it was done well here. Having read it, I can agree. Amy is lost in a sea of self-doubt and loss. She’s wracked with guilt about the  death of her best friend, and she blames herself for Julia’s death.

It takes a long time for Amy to come to terms with Julia’s absence, and to begin to move on. It takes even longer for her psychiatrist to really connect with her, and yet longer for Amy to realize that she is allowed to be happy, and to move on.

This is a complicated, quietly-sad book about teenage loss, and learning to live again after losing someone you care about. It’s similar to Please Ignore Vera Dietz, without the mystery, and without the shifting POV. Love You Hate You Miss You is about Amy, and everything is in Amy’s voice. Different approaches to a similar concept, and both are great in their own way.

Amy’s voice is captivating and strong, she tells her story in her own way, and it works. It makes you hope she’ll find some peace, and some happiness, and she will maybe heal. It earns a 4/5; it’s well done overall.

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The Seduction of His Wife

Chapman, Janet. The Seduction of His Wife (2006). 331 Pages. Pocket Books. $6.99

It’s not often that I come across romance novels that I feel are worth reading more than once. Despite the beautifully and perfectly cliché title and cover, this is a good story, with a fun romance and an interesting premise.

From the Author’s Website

Sarah quite willingly – and happily – becomes a wife, a mother, and a widow all in one week by agreeing to marry by proxy Grady Knight’s eldest son, and adopt Alex’s children to secure their custody before it is publicly known Alex is dead. But sometimes even the most well-intentioned plan can backfire on its perpetrators – which Sarah discovers the day Alex Knight comes back from the dead.
So what’s a woman to do when she finds herself married to a complete stranger? Run back to her tiny island in the Gulf of Maine, and resume running a Bed & Breakfast she no longer owns? Or put up with her very-much-alive husband just long to keep Grady Knight out of trouble, then quietly divorce Alex and continue her plan to operate a set of sporting camps three miles farther up the shoreline of Frost Lake?

Bolstered by the smart, confident, feisty heroines in the romance novels she reads, Sarah decides to stay and fight for her dream – all while fighting her growing attraction to her maddening husband. Alex, on the other hand, sets out to seduce Sarah for all the wrong reasons, but quickly finds himself falling in love with her for all the right ones.

First Lines

Alex Knight fought the fatigue weighing on his eyelids and brushed an unsteady hand through his hair in an attempt to wipe the fog from his brain. He needed to stay focused on the road ahead, to avoid the final irony of cheating death in the jungles of Brazil only to die in a car wreck less than ten miles from home.

Thoughts

It’s difficult to know what to expect when reading a romance novel; will it be the same old (winning*) formula with different names and a new setting, or will it somehow put new twists on an old story to make it fresh again? Sometimes, all that really matters is that there are two characters who eventually love each other, and who live happily-ever-after (or at least for now).

It’s not often that you start with characters who are already married, who don’t really know each other, and who end up falling in love. That’s part of what makes this so interesting. Add to that a sense of humor– Sarah reads silly romance novels which Alex discovers he enjoys reading out loud to her– and a few good characters, and what you’ve got is a funny, relatively-unique (for the genre) book which is solidly written.

I also enjoyed the setting; rural, northern Maine, in a logging town. I’m from a fairly small, rural town (which had its own fair share of logging after the San Francisco Fire). It’s always sort of fun to read books which are either reminiscent of or outright about your hometown, and this book was no exception. (It helped that I have at least a passing familiarity with most of the big equipment mentioned in the book).

Because it is a romance novel, which tend to have a low re-read rate, and I did re-read it, this book gets a 4/5.

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* Romance novels are a huge market for good reason; they’re nice, fluffy books which make you feel good as they set ridiculous standards for the behaviors and relationships of men and women. The idea of boy-meets-girl-they-fight-then-fall-in-love-and-live-happily-ever-after may not be unique, but it is gratifying to know that you were right from the beginning, and they could be happy together.

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Trickster’s Choice

Pierce, Tamora. Trickster’s Choice (2003). 403 Pages. Random House. $8.95

The Daughter of the Lioness Book 1

I told myself I’d review the Tortall books  in order, but clearly that’s not happening. Alianne Cooper’s books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) are the last books set in “present” Tortall; after this, they revert to Beka’s story, which is the Tortall of the past. The reason? Pierce couldn’t bear to think about a world after Alanna’s generation was gone, or even when they were old. I understand completely. However, if you are thinking of just picking up Tamora Pierce books, these are not the ones to start with; they spoil an awful lot of plot points from earlier sets, because these come much later. If you read Tortall, it is best to start with The Song of the Lioness and move forward from there.

Synopsis

It’s not easy being the daughter of legends; her mother is the Lioness, Champion of Tortall, and her father is The Whisper Man, the Tortallan spy-master. Aly’s twin, Alan, is a knight-in training, her older brother, Thom, is a student mage, her adoptive uncles and aunts are the most powerful, and influential people of their generation. It’s no wonder that Aly feels a little lost, and unsure of what she’s going to do with her life. Frustrated by arguments with her parents, Alianne sets out from Pirate’s Swoop to Port Legann, but she never makes it. She is caught by slavers, and shipped off to the Copper Isles.

Determined to make the best of a bad situation, and survive until she can escape, and get home to her family, Aly endures her time as a slave. When she arrives in the Copper Isles, she is purchased by the Balitang family, and then approached by the Trickster, her father’s patron  god, and the deposed patron of the Copper Isles. He proposes a wager with Aly,  one which will give her a direction, and a goal (at least for the summer), and which will help him. All she has to do is keep the two Balitang daughters alive… how hard could that be?

First Lines

George Cooper, Baron of Pirate’s Swoop, second in command of his realm’s spies, put his documents aside and surveyed his only daughter as sh e paused by his study door. Alianne– known as Aly to her family and friends– posed there, arms raised in a Player’s dramatic flourish. It seemed that she had enjoyed her month’s stay with her Corus relatives.

Thoughts

I remember reading that the reason Tamora Pierce switched from quartets to pairs was that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter had proven that kids will read long books, so rather than having to force Aly’s story into four separate volumes, it could be split into just two. I am eternally grateful for this, though smaller volumes are much easier to carry around in purses or backpacks.

Aly is disappointingly perfect*. Admittedly, most of the Tortallan women are nearly perfect, but Alianne takes it a step further. Even when raised by brilliant, talented, and gifted parents, it is a little much to accept that she could be as brilliant as she is. The girl is basically a walking spy handbook. It doesn’t get any better, but as you get used to it, it’s possible to focus on other things.

Aly’s story, however, and her supporting cast are interesting enough that she can be forgiven for being too perfect. The Balitang family, and their servants, and the relationship the two have with each other is interesting, given that the context of the Copper Isles is that the two groups (the natives and the colonizers) largely hate each other. The raka— the natives– are thought of as lesser, and are largely subordinates to luarin— the colonizers– with very few exceptions. As an outsider, Aly has no attachment to either group, which both weakens and strengthens her position in the country.

When all is said and done, I do like this series (though it isn’t my favorite), and I think it is worth reading. Trickster’s Choice, the first volume, scores a 4/5.

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* I’ve heard people call her a “Mary Sue” and I don’t think I can really argue with that.

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