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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-30 06:19
November 2018 — A Wrap-Up

 

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

 

Even though I read this book in October, I forgot to include it in that month’s wrap-up. So, reviewing it now. Cinder is the story of Cinderella but one who is half cyborg and works as a mechanic. All the elements you’d expect from such a story are there, i.e., an evil stepmom, a dead dad, and a prince who is smitten with the poor girl.

 

But the same goes for the issues that the original (read Disney) version and most YAs have. For instance, the forging of an instant connection between the prince and Cindy. She is considered expendable and is extremely poor at the beginning of the story. Yet soon she not only attracts royalty, but her blood also becomes the only source that can cure the virus plaguing the country. We also come across completely irredeemable and good-spirited characters, meaning everything is black and white.

 

All that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this modern twist on an old story because I did, which is why I will be reading the next one.

 

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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

 

The story opens on a man, Johanne Cabal, the Necromancer, striding into hell and demanding to see Satan. Having sold his soul for necromancy, he now wants it back. The reason for that becomes clear only at the end of the book and that too only partially. Satan sets him to achieve a seemingly insurmountable task in return for Cabal’s soul.

As Johannes recruits, recreates, and alienates people during the journey, we meet many quirky characters. The best thing about the book is undoubtedly its sense of humor.

 

Take a look:

“I was cast down from the presence of God himself into this dark, sulphurous pit and condemned to spend eternity here—”

“Have you tried saying sorry?” interrupted Cabal.

“No, I haven’t! I was sent down for a sin of pride. It rather undermines my position if I say ‘sorry’!”

The quote above is an excerpt from the exchange between Cabal and the Devil. The one below is about a crow (one of Satan’s minion) that follows Johannes around when its master can’t spy on him:

It looked at them; first with one eye, then with the other. Then, to show it was a polymath among crows, it went back to the first eye.

Besides laughing out loud, I also learned a few new words. You can view them below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I can’t wait to read the next one!

 

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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

 

This wasn’t the first book of Ms. Valente that I read. And like that one, this book was a beautiful hot mess. Her prose is almost succulent enough that you can bite into it and yet, in the end, you will be left thinking, What did I just read? 

 

Was it a commentary on the Russian Revolution? Was the book about Russian myths? Was it a coming of age story? Or, was it simply fantasy YA? I’d say there was a bit of everything in it!

 

 

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

 

A friend who exclusively reads middle-grade fantasy is crazy about this series. Since her taste in books and mine matches, I was excited to get started with this one.

 

It left me both underwhelmed and pleasantly surprised. The writing is crisp in a way that it immerses you in the scene playing before you. Consider the lines below on how the protag had been raised by her single mother:

Maura had decided sometime
before Blue’s birth that it was barbaric to order children about,
and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question
marks.

I also loved the wry humor, which can be seen clearly in the example below:

Calla had once observed that Maura had no pets because her
principles took too much time to take care of.

What I wasn’t that crazy about was the mystery that the story is based on. I liked the characters and mostly enjoyed the book — even though I caught on to the twist pretty early. But the story failed to excite about the mystery. And there was a lot of random stuff going on. The tree that showed the future, for instance, why was it even there?

 

I’d like to continue with this trilogy though.

 

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My Soul to Keep by Rachel Vincent

 

I always enjoy reading anything by Rachel Vincent. Even though this book is majorly YA-flawed, I still enjoyed it because I am used to her writing style. No, I don’t have anything against YA, but certain things like the heroine failing to see that her bf was the demonic drug supplier can only happen in YA books.

 

Anyway, this series has grown on me and I intend to see it through.

 

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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

 

Another book set in hell. I had been looking for such books because I had landed on the square for it in book bingo. The Cabal book was enough for it but since I had already done the hard work researching them and because I had liked Fight Club, I went ahead with this one too.

 

Normally, it bugs me when a male author writes a female character who is annoyingly smart or just full of themselves. Like these lines below made me wanna smack the heroine:

Such vocabulary props served as my eye shadow, my breast implants, my physical coordination, my confidence. These words: erudite and insidious and obfuscate, served as my crutches.

And it happened many more times. Most of the time, though, the writing was good enough to rescue the book from abandonment. Consider this sample:

Trickling toenails threaten to become full-fledged avalanches which could bury us alive (alive?) in their talus of prickly keratin.

And this one:

That, I think, is the function of Hell: It’s a place of remembering. Beyond that, the purpose of Hell is not so much to forget the details of our lives as it is to forgive them.

I also learned some new words:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, so I have no clue if the jejunum (part of the small intestine that absorbs nutrients from already digested food particles) has its roots in the word, jejune, or not. But it would be cool if it did, right?

 

As you can see, I didn’t do much reading this month. How did you fare?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-21 16:38
The Tulip Tree - Voices from the past, but little else
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

Spoilers throughout.  Trigger warnings for gruesome violence mentioned and one animal death.

 

Disclosure:  I'm not sure how I acquired this book, but the paperback edition as pictured was in a large box of gothic romances stored in my workshop.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of romantic fiction.

 

As I suspected from the beginning, this is a novel I first read probably a half century or more ago, either as a book club edition or a Reader's Digest Condensed version.  The more I read of it, the more I remembered from that initial reading, though I did not recall the ending at all.  That may have been what kept me reading through to the end.

 

I rated it only 1.5 stars for a number of reasons, and I can't say I would recommend it to other readers.  It's not a bad book, but neither is it a particularly good one. 

 

And it's definitely not a gothic romance.

 

Plot, such as it is: Thirty-year-old Kimball Watts is an editor for a New York publishing house.  He and his wife Josephine have two small daughters.  Jo's adoptive parents have recently died and she has inherited their estate, a small farm in upstate New York.  With the cash proceeds from the sale of the farm, Jo and Kim purchase an old house just over the state line in New Jersey.  Kim commutes to Manhattan; Jo stays at home with the two girls.

 

The house is huge -- they aren't even sure just how many rooms it has -- and consists of two smaller pre-Revolution houses joined by a later 19th century central structure.  There's also a barn and some acreage.  The house is in some disrepair but more or less livable.

 

There are few neighbors.  The Stauffers -- George, Helen, their son Bert, and George's parents -- struck me at first as being just too weird, but they're actually "normal," by whatever standards.  They have a live-in maid, Verna, who is about 16 and is an orphan from the local Catholic girls' home.

 

Clarissa Cutler lives next door to the Wattses with her husband and two young children.  Clarissa is an albino African American; both of the children are also albinos.  Her husband Vincent is a handsome black man.

 

A few miles away there are some other neighbors who live in a small cluster of old cabins, apparently without running water or electricity or . . . anything.  They are the descendants of servants and other retainers of the huge and vacant estate across the road from the Wattses.  Among them is Benji Potter, the elderly and somewhat mysterious black man who has attached himself to the Watts home as caretaker and guardian.

 

Though written in third person, this is almost entirely Kim Watts's story.  He likes the house and wants to stay there, but Jo is superstitious and wants out.  Legally, though I'm not sure why, the house belongs to her.  Kim goes through some financial negotiations to acquire the house as community property, but that doesn't seem to help Jo accept the house.

 

Eventually Kim learns about the house's history when a weird elderly lady -- I don't even remember her name now or her connection to the house -- stops by one night unannounced and tells him about it.  There are settler massacres by Native Americans, rapes and murders and mutilations of enslaved people, family murders, and so on.  Kim tells Jo none of this.

 

But Jo just can't deal with her superstitious fear of the house, so she packs up and leaves.  Kim doesn't know what to do.

 

And then they all lived happily ever after.

 

Say, what?

 

Well, that's how the ending felt to me.  There was no build up for the way everything was resolved.  It wasn't as though a whole bunch of puzzle pieces slowly, inexorably, and logically fell into place.  Instead, the various characters did things that as a reader I expected would have some significant impact and move the story along in a specific direction, but they really didn't.

 

Spoilers ahead.

 

Clarissa is beautiful, but weird.  She wears weird clothes, wanders around outdoors in the middle of the night in diaphanous gowns and a long blonde wig.  She drives her Pontiac convertible like a bat out of hell.  Her midnight rambles are described in such a way that you think they must have some significance.  They don't.  Is she spying on the Wattses?  Is she trying to seduce Kim?  Maybe yes to both, but neither is made clear.  Is she trying to scare them out of the house?  Maybe that, too, but again it's all vague and just weird.

 

What about George Stauffer's parents?  His mother is a harridan, complaining, dominating all conversation with her rants, just a horrible person.  The father is apparently an alcoholic, since he's restricted to ginger ale while everyone else has cocktails and wine.  Are her harangues supposed to illustrate how out of touch with the middle of the 20th century she is?  Is she supposed to provide a contrast to Kim's more contemporary view of life and the world?  I don't know, because Kim doesn't really react.

 

In fact, Kim never really grows through the whole story.  There's a hint of his having had to deal with his own experience of racism and some confrontation with his guilt over his inaction, but I never saw any change in him as a result. 

 

In fact, the only character who does change is Jo, and there's never any explanation for how or why she changed.  She just . . . does.  There's never any explanation for why she was so superstitious or why she took all these little omens so seriously.  I see omens in everything, too, but I don't take them seriously.  Why did she?  And why did she stop?

 

What I realized when I finished the book last night was that none of the characters had any depth.  They were almost caricatures, set on the stage of The Spooky Old House with a Tragic Past, and then once the story of the spooky house had been told, it was all over.  The millionaire who owned the property across the road sold out to a developer and the 20th century was being rudely imposed on all the history and spookiness.  The End.

 

The writing is fine, with a lot of description of the weather and the scenery and the moods, but the structure and characterization were flawed.  And it's too late to fix it.

 

 

 

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text 2018-11-18 21:51
24 Festive Tasks - International Day of Tolerance Task 1
Social Intercourse - Greg Howard

Task 1:  Find some redeeming quality in the book you liked least this year and post about it.

 

 

Despite all the biphobia that came from the main characters (not to mention the other forms of bigotry and other general awfulness), I did appreciate that the book actually used the word "bisexual" for Jax instead of trying to go for the "only gay for you" or "turned gay" routes where we pretend straight or gay are the only options. I may not have liked how bisexuality was treated, but I do appreciate that one of the main characters was firm about being bisexual and said it repeatedly.

 

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review 2018-11-16 07:10
Thoughts: The Woman Left Behind
The Woman Left Behind - Linda Howard

The Woman Left Behind

by Linda Howard
Book 2 of GO-Team

 

 

Jina Modell works in Communications for a paramilitary organization, and she really likes it.  She likes the money, she likes the coolness factor—and it was very cool, even for Washington, DC.  She liked being able to kick terrorist butts without ever leaving the climate-controlled comfort of the control room.

But when Jina displays a really high aptitude for spatial awareness and action, she’s reassigned to work as an on-site drone operator in the field with one of the GO-teams, an elite paramilitary unit.  The only problem is she isn’t particularly athletic, to put it mildly, and in order to be fit for the field, she has to learn how to run and swim for miles, jump out of a plane, shoot a gun... or else be out of a job.

Team leader Levi, call sign Ace, doesn’t have much confidence in Jina--who he dubbed Babe as soon as he heard her raspy, sexy voice--making it through the rigors of training.  The last thing he needs is some tech geek holding them back from completing a dangerous, covert operation.  In the following months, however, no one is more surprised than he when Babe, who hates to sweat, begins to thrive in her new environment, displaying a grit and courage that wins her the admiration of her hardened, battle-worn teammates.  What’s even more surprising is that the usually very disciplined GO-team leader can’t stop thinking about kissing her smart, stubborn mouth…or the building chemistry and tension between them.

Meanwhile, a powerful Congresswoman is working behind the scenes to destroy the GO-teams, and a trap is set to ambush Levi’s squad in Syria.  While the rest of the operatives set off on their mission, Jina remains at the base to control the surveillance drone, when the base is suddenly attacked with explosives.  Thought dead by her comrades, Jina escapes to the desert where, brutally tested beyond measure, she has to figure out how to stay undetected by the enemy and make it to her crew in time before they’re exfiltrated out of the country.

But Levi never leaves a soldier behind, especially the brave woman he’s fallen for.  He’s bringing back the woman they left behind, dead or alive.



The truth is that this book probably doesn't deserve more than 3 Stars.  It isn't the best outlined, and would even come across as fairly boring to anyone looking for an action-packed story where our heroine gets left behind, and needs to fend for herself until her team comes back for her.  But the summary blurb is a little bit misleading, frankly, and the action-packed part of the book really doesn't take place until well into the last half of the book.

The Woman Left Behind had tons of potential to be a great book, but it fell short of that by maybe spending too much time on Jina's day-to-day training life with the GO-Team she's been re-assigned to work with.  This part of the book, in itself, is already a little unbelievable, and requires a very high willingness to suspend disbelief.

By narrative, Jina ends up spending six months on physical training and drone training.  In the book, there are times where you want to get on with the story.  On the other hand, I can't find myself just blowing off that first half of the book she spends challenging herself and pushing herself to physical limits she never knew she had.  And I honestly loved the camaraderie built between her and a team of macho super paramilitary men who didn't think she was going to make it in the first place.

Color me contradictory--those six months she spends getting to know her knew teammates was truly loads of fun.  I love a character driven story, and I love great character interaction, and this book certainly had that in spades.  To others, it might come off dragged out and too banal for a romantic suspense, or military romance thriller.  And once again, the entire ordeal requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief anyway--because who in their right mind actually thinks its a great idea to take a bunch of chair-bound tech geeks and force them through high impact military precision training so that they can join these elite GO-Teams in dangerous operations?

I have a hard time believing that the higher ups couldn't have just transferred in some military personnel, already trained for battle, who also have great tech skills.

But moving along, because something about that entire training sequence sort of appealed to me anyway.

Yeah, I'm kind of wishy-washy in my opinions.

And speaking of the romance, for romance lovers, this book might also kind of fall to the wayside.

While we DO have a lovely couple to focus on, we unfortunately don't get to see much of the chemistry, or the romantic bond building between Jina and Levi.  And also, Levi sort of runs hot and cold, which helps him get categorized squarely on my asshole list.  I don't care that he also had some very good personality traits, he crossed a couple lines he shouldn't have crossed and that makes him an asshole.  The way that the romance was resolved made me a bit pissy.

On the other hand, I like how Jina's own self-revelation journey/conflict was concluded.  Somehow, it seems appropriate for her.

So without a whole lot of suspense and without a whole lot of romance, and without even a focal conflict, this book, instead, ends up becoming a sort of self-journey book for Jina, as an individual.  And it's a fairly thought-provoking journey that I thoroughly enjoyed.

And we'll just kindly side-step that strange, background villain subplot that lurked along the entire book, and took up precious book space every few chapters.

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/11/thoughts-woman-left-behind.html
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-15 20:03
October 2018 — A Wrap-Up

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on November 15, 2018.

 

 

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An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

 

This book surprised me and in a pleasant way. Having never read anything by Ms. Howard, I didn't really know what to expect. What I discovered was good UF with half decent world-building. It had shades of the movie Now You Can See Me  only the magic in the book wasn't an illusion.

 

We are introduced to the major players almost immediately. They each have their motivations and that was completely okay. The world-building should have been better because as far as I can see, this book is a standalone. Even if it is to be the first in a series, then it would need to be immersive enough for readers to continue with the sequel. I think it mostly does that.

 

 

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The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

 

Wow! I mean I tried reading The War of the Worlds and failed miserably. If you can make a novel about an alien conquest sound boring, then there isn't much hope that I'd ever like anything you'd write. While playing Book Bingo, I landed on a category that fit this book beautifully. So, I decided to give Mr. Wells another go.

 

I am so glad that I did! Suspense colors the atmosphere in the story and there is a stench of violence waiting to happen. Why don't scientists ever learn? I kept cringing every time the humans faced the monsters (Moreau could give Frankenstein a run for the money)! Some were near misses and some events just foreshadowed the darkness that was to come.

 

The edition I read also came with a summary of H. G. Wells' life history. He had been involved in the formation of League of Nations. Cool!

 

 

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Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

 

This book had issues similar to that I highlighted in the review of Kat Howard's book. Say, vampires do exist and they decide to come out. Won't there be a political upheaval to makes all other upheavals look silly? Nothing like that happened in this book.

 

Meritt caught my interest because she refused to be grateful for being turned into a bloodsucking parasite. She also clashed with the authorities regularly and I liked that she wasn't ready to give in to her attraction towards the head vampire just yet. Her troubled relationship with her gold-digger and nouveau riche parents cemented her authenticity as a person. As did her bonds with her bff and grandfather. What detracted from the believability factor was how she rebelled against her new life and yet gave up so easily on her old one. What of her dissertation? What about going back to school?

 

What did bug me was the identity of the person having humans killed by her minions. As far as twists go, this one was just all right.

 

Even so, I want to read the next one in the series before I decide if I will continue with the rest.

 

 

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The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones

 

The humor in these books is always a winner. Consider the two quotes below:

 

3

 

4

 

But what I liked, even more, was that the series took a break from the disaster it had become. In case, you haven't yet read the last book or my review of it it was horrible. The author dropped a doozy of a deus ex machina on us. Then she left the readers with a huge cliffhanger that took us back to the prehistoric age (not literally)!

Guess what though? The last part did wonders for the book! I could reconnect with Charley without the usual over-the-top complications. The world was still about to end, but that wasn't going to happen just then. Charley did spend the whole book lusting after her husband even if she didn't know who he was. But that is typical behavior for her.

 

I also fell in love with Cookie all over again after reading this book. The woman has a life of her own, a daughter, and a husband. Yet she put everything on hold to come be with an amnesiac Charley. Even though she can't act worth a damn and kept slipping up and calling Charley by her real name. Cookie rocks! 

 

 

Bring on the next book!

 

 

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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Another book that I wish had read a long time ago. Now, I don't appreciate it the way it is meant to be lauded. Firstly, since it is by a female author writing epic fantasy. Yaaaaay! Then because the protagonist isn't white and male, but colored and male. Okay, this deserves a smaller yaaay. Even so, it is still a win.

 

What I wasn't a fan of was the writing style. It felt stilted and kept me from devouring the book in my usual way. Of course, the fact that I have read my fill of epic fantasy might have something to do with it. Although, this book wasn't much concerned with the affairs of the world. It focused on a character's solo journey to get rid of the darkness that he had called from another world.

 

So, I'll reserve the final verdict until I have read the next book in the series.

 

 

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Everwild by Neal Shusterman

 

I can never understand how a children's book can scare the pants off me when so many horror novels have failed to do that! Similarly, I survived watching Jessica Jones being mentally — and otherwise — raped by Killgrave repeatedly. And yet, I have to force myself to sit through one episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events!

 

The idea of kids being in control is a very scary one because they can be very cruel. At times, they won't even realize the extent of damage they are leaving on another kid's psyche. The good thing about kids managing their affairs is that they can take highly complicated concepts of morality and simplify them.

 

I had a great time reading this book for both those reasons. Can't wait to read the next one!

 

 

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Dark Crime by Christine Feehan

 

Have mostly given up on this series ever being anything but cheesy, if I ever thought so in the first place. This novella was a good surprise though. Instead of the swooning heroines, we were shown someone who could fight and hold her own. She was also the one who kept the vampires and their minions at bay while hubby went to ground.

 

Yeah, she was forced into the whole Carpathian mating for life ritual by her husband-to-be. And yes, she couldn't live without him as soon as he arrived at the scene. Little improvements, see?

 

 

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Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

 

The humor was on point, as usual. Look below for a crack or two:

 

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The relationship between Harry and his brother is slowly developing. By that, I mean they talked to each other about real stuff, like Thomas being thirsty all the time.

 

Susan was awesome!

 

The rest was pretty much as it always is:

 

Harry was trying to save a woman's life.

 

Harry couldn't hit women, even ones bent on killing him.

 

Harry defeated a threat that he couldn't possibly defeat.

 

Harry saves an adorable character who learns how to stand up for themselves and others.

 

Harry is hit with threats from all directions and lives to tell the tale.

 

 

So, this was my October in reading. How was yours?

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