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review 2018-09-24 23:17
A Temple of Forgotten Spirits by William F. Wu
Temple of Forgotten Spirits - William F. Wu

This book contains the following interconnected short stories: Wild GarlicOn a Phantom TideThe Shade of Lo Man GongPagan NightDesert Night RideCaravan of DeathTong Yun GuyShaunessy FongTinsel ChinkIn the Temple of Forgotten Spirits. They capture the adventures of Jack Hong as he hitchhikes across the USA chasing after the elusive keilin (Chinese unicorn). The collection as a whole works pretty well. I think a few edits would have tightened the story up a bit so that it read smoothly as a novel. Each tale reads like a really long chapter for the most part but sometimes one story will reference actions or people we just left in the previous story. We haven’t had time to forget, so it comes off a little repetitive here and there.

And that is my only criticism of the book.

Jack Hong is an interesting character on an engaging journey. He gets a little jail time for losing a fight and that’s when Lo Man Gong appears, practically pushing him out a window into a jail break. From there, Jack follows the misty form of the keilin, not knowing what the spirit wants with him. But he has plenty of opportunities to help others along the way.

Shaunessy Fong brought in the mystery solving aspect to the novel, as well as ghosts. Jack had his first nasty shock being tossed into jail, then another shock with the escape artist spirit Gong, yet one more with keilin, and finally, now, here are some ghosts. I was waiting for Jack to faint! But he rallied and decided that perhaps he was witnessing this horrible moment of the past via the ghosts reenactment because he was meant to help them.

Desert Night Ride is set in the desert Southwest, starting in Albuquerque and ending near Salt Lake City. Throughout this entire novel, Jack is sometimes searching for his ancestral past, sometimes ignoring it, and sometimes making peace with it. This tale did a great job of showcasing this particular aspect to the greater story. Plus, it’s the desert which is a setting I always enjoy in stories.

Wild Garlic struck a different captured my mind for other reasons. Set in the Ozarks, the population is primarily White with this one Chinese wife. On his way through, Jack is first invited to have dinner with them and then later to help them calm an angry spirit. It’s only late in the story that there’s something magical about some of the characters in this tale. While the Ozarks have kept them a bit isolated from their native culture, it’s also that isolation that’s allowed them to fly under the radar.

Caravan of Death has a little time travel element to it. Here, Jack learns a bit about the Chinese work gangs for one of the big railroad companies in the 1800s. Jack also helps a woman see how her ancestry isn’t lost in her own offspring as that ancestry helped to make this country travelable.

In the Temple of Forgotten Spirits wraps up the novel quite nicely. It brings everything home while also giving Jack a new purpose, a quest to set out upon. The author took the time to add plenty of notes about his experiences that relate to a specific tale or what his historical research turned up. I really enjoyed these as well as I enjoy learning little bits from my entertainment. All told, 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Anthony Lee did OK with this narration. He starts off a little rough, sometimes putting emphasis on one word over others in a sentence, making it sound awkward. But he smooths out about 1/3 of the way into the book. His attempt at hick accents sounded off but his pronunciation of various Asian words sounded great to my untutored ears. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. 4/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Anthony Lee. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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review 2018-09-24 22:58
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

This is a cute kids’s tale. Percy is 12 and apparently gets kicked out of schools often. His mom currently has them living with a dead beat, verbally abusive man that has a body odor problem. Life is just tough on Percy. But it’s about to get a lot tougher when Greek deities and monsters pop up in his life!

There were several moments that made me laugh…. like Grover suddenly yanking off his pants. That’s the moment where Percy is all, ‘What the hell!’ but then Grover has fur and hooves below the waist, so Percy is stunned into silence. Grover is a Satyr assigned to protect Percy but he’s been keeping his Greek mythology side on the down low with a disguised lower half. Grover isn’t the only one who’s been keeping their real identity from Percy. In fact, there were a few times I thought Percy’s young mind might melt from the over load of reveals.

After a harrowing chase and the death of someone important to him, he ends up at the Half Blood training camp where he meets other kids who are half mortal and half deity. Now, I did think that Percy took that death in stride and it was a bit glossed over. I expected tears for days and scars for life but this book seems to veer wide of any serious stuff. There’s several examples of this, like Medusa and how she really came to be a snake headed monster. It wasn’t some jealousy over dating partners.

Anyhoo, pretty soon Percy gets a quest and goes on a road trip. Annabeth (a daughter of Athena) and Grover accompany him. There’s also the gifts from Luke (a son of Hermes). As Western culture has shifted further and further west, key places in Greek mythology have also shifted and several now reside in the USA. I liked this bit of world building because it meant I didn’t have to bang my head against a wall every time a Greek mythological location popped up.

Percy isn’t the only one to face their fears and take on a personal challenge in this story. His companions also suffer and have a chance at victory. There’s treachery too. Percy must figure out who his true friends are while also discovering who stole Zeus’s lightning. It’s a fun tale but I didn’t have a strong reaction to it as I did with Harry Potter. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Jesse Bernstein does a really good job. He sounds like a 12 year old boy who has gotten kicked out of a lot of places. His voice for Grover is great, as he sometimes has a little goat in it. His female voices are spot on. There’s several monsters with their various yells, hisses, snorts, etc and Bernstein carries them off without a hitch. 5/5 stars.

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review 2018-09-24 22:52
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan

Book 1 was only OK for me but since Book 2 was just sitting there on Hoopla, I thought I would give it a try. I liked it a bit better than Book 1. It seemed to move along at a swifter clip and Percy is growing up a little. After all, he’s gotten to use his sword (Riptide) a few times and beaten back several monsters.

After another boring year at a regular school, he returns to the Half Blood training camp for the summer. There he’s surprised to find out that he has to share his living quarters with Tyson, who’s a big cyclops kid with some mental challenges. Percy spends his time being embarrassed by this big one-eyed kid that follows him around. While Percy doesn’t tease him, several other kids tease one or both of them. I really like that we have this character and that Percy has to figure out how to live with him.

Pretty soon, there is a quest! A quest to save the camp! But Percy isn’t the one chosen to go on it. Alas, that honor falls to the combative Clarice, a daughter of Aires. Yet the god Hermes might have other plans for Percy and pretty soon he, Annabeth, and Tyson are on their way to save Grover (who is currently on some unnamed island in drag trying to avoid getting married or eaten).

While there were plenty of moments that made me laugh, there were also those moments were I expected more emotion or reaction from Percy. Once again, there’s the death of a character that means a lot to Percy and yet he doesn’t really put a lot of thought into it, not any tears, no grieving. So it’s hard for me to get fully sucked into a tale that doesn’t take itself seriously. Even if the author knows that all will turn out OK, the characters don’t.

I did like that the kids are getting a little older and Percy has started to notice the first niggling of some deeper emotion for Annabeth. I’m not sure if Grover will ever get a chance to grow up though. He’s pretty much just comic relief in this story.

Tyson becomes the real shining star, teaching not only Percy but some of the other kids that different isn’t so bad. Tyson has different gifts than most of the kids, and in some of them he’s quite the genius. Annabeth is a bit prejudiced towards cyclops in general due to a past bad experience. She has to face this and learn to shelve it because Tyson isn’t a jerk.

All told, it was fun and I liked it better than Book 1. Especially those Party Ponies at the end. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Jesse Bernstein continues to do great with the voices. He’s got the perfect Percy voice and his female voices are dead on. I really liked his combative voice for Clarice. All of his characters are distinct and his pacing is good. 5/5 stars.

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review 2018-09-24 22:34
Iron and Magic / Ilona Andrews
Iron and Magic - Ilona Andrews

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she's trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.

Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?

 

Buying and reading this novel was my birthday treat to myself. And what a good treat it was!

I remember wondering at one or two points in the Kate Daniels series if Kate shouldn’t have been a little more tempted by Hugh d’Ambray--I wasn’t completely sold on Curran at the beginning. Now, the Andrews give us another look at things from Hugh’s point-of-view and I had some of my questions answered.

Hugh becomes more than just a tool of Roland in this story—he acquires a backstory which helps the reader to gain some sympathy for someone who seemed altogether evil in the Kate Daniels series. He also shows hidden depths and possibilities for redemption that I would never have believed possible. Very similar with what they did with Mad Rogan in the Hidden Legacy series.

With Elara, the Andrews manage to produce a woman of sufficient depth and complexity to match Hugh—in short, someone who is at least his equal and who can’t be overwhelmed by his bigger-than-life stature and who isn’t intimidated by his fearsome reputation. I am intrigued by her and will look forward to getting to know her better in subsequent installments.

There are lots of adventures, including a pow-wow with the Bouda Clan, led by Rafael & Andrea. I’m a forever fan of the were-hyenas, so I was glad to get to see them again. As usual, the authors create a number of characters and creatures that make me want to read on as soon as possible. How is it that Hugh’s horse Bucky can glow sometimes? And is his second in command going to learn ASL to impress one of Elara’s council? Can the Iron Dogs integrate themselves into the witchy community?

An entertaining enemies-to-lovers romance with all kinds of fun by-paths to explore. Now I just have to practice patience until the release of Magic Triumphs.

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review 2018-09-24 16:39
Stolen / Kelley Armstrong
Stolen - Kelley Armstrong

It was in Bitten, Kelley Armstrong's debut novel, that thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the "other races" and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals - witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves - are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Shifters square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I just don’t know quite know why this series doesn’t grab me. It had been a year since I’d read the first book and I was actually looking forward to this second installment. The assumptions in Urban Fantasy are always ridiculous to those who don’t like the genre, but this one seemed a bit more ridiculous than most.

Take an ultra-insensitive billionaire, add his secret prison for supernatural creatures, and shake it up with the plot line of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game, and you get Stolen. The first book limited itself completely to werewolves and was all about Elena coming to terms with her life as a member of that community. Hey presto, this book suddenly produces a whole range of other supernatural folk not hinted at in book one—vampires, witches, demons, shamans and sorcerers. Might as well go whole hog, I guess.

I’m not sure why some authors can do this successfully (for me) and yet I find this version annoying. I find Elena to be a disappointing main character, not nearly as mentally strong as I would like her to be. What good is supernatural strength if you haven’t got the brains to back it up? Her relationship with Clay is also an irritant—they are incredibly irresponsible, often stopping in the middle of something crucial for a quickie. The sex seems gratuitous to me, not really moving the plot along, just thrown as “characterization” I’m guessing.

However, I haven’t given up. I will persevere with book three to see where Armstrong takes the concept from here. Just not until I’ve wrapped up all my various reading challenges for this year.

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