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review 2017-07-21 16:57
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall: A Collection of Outlander Short Stories - Diana Gabaldon

A few of these I've read already, so I'll be lazy and link to those reviews. ;)

 

The Custom of the Army - 2 stars


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/524842810?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

The Space Between - no rating

 

I didn't bother getting this when it was originally released solo and I'm glad I didn't. I don't have much interest in Joan, and even less interest in the Comte St. Germain, nor did I ever once wonder what happened to the guy or what his backstory was. So this was one long bore and I skimmed a lot of it to get to the important plot points. It was nice to see Mother Hildegard, but her role here is pretty much just cameo and doesn't make up for the rest.

 

A Plague of Zombies - 4 stars


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1900984342?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows - 5 stars


(No review for this one though. Sounds like a good reason for a reread.)

 

And reread I did and loved it just as much as the first time. Roger's father, Jerry MacKenzie, is unexpectedly launched back in time when his plane crash lands, and he goes through hell and back to get back to his time and his family. We get a few scenes of what's going on with Marjorie and baby Roger, but most of this is focused on Jerry. It's beautifully and heartbreakingly written, because if you've read the Outlander books you already know what everyone believes to have happened.

 

Virgins - 3 stars

 

Jamie and Ian are mercenaries in France. There's a lot of anti-Semantism in this one, as Gabaldon doesn't shy away from the prejudices of the time, and even our protags are guilty of it. The Jewish characters themselves though do not appear - at least to me - to be caricatures or stereotypes. Some of the Scottisms seemed strange - Ian's constantly referring to Jamie as a "wean" - I didn't think their age difference was all that great, so it felt odd. There's also this whole subplot with one of the other mercenaries who makes Gregor Clegane look like a fluffy kitty.

 

A Fugitive Green - 4 stars

 

Minnie and Hal's first meeting! I was intrigued by the backstory we got about Minnie in The Scottish Prisoner, so getting to see a more detailed telling of it was great. Minnie's wonderful and resourceful, and we even get a brief (too brief, I thought) subplot of Minnie's mom and her quest to find her. That was rather melodramatic - the mom's backstory that is - and I kept feeling like there was something more there going on than we heard

because nuns getting pregnant is not exactly unheard of so why exactly did Minnie's mom go mad because of it?

(spoiler show)

 

The ending also felt a bit rushed, so I hope this isn't the last exploration we get into these characters' backstories.

 

Besieged - 4 stars

 

Man, John can't even leave an assignment without getting pulled into a war. :P This is an interesting follow up to A Plague of Zombies, as John's still temporary military governor of Jamaica and trying his darnedest to resign that post. Enter his stepfather with some harrowing news. Loved seeing Tom Byrd again, and it was neat to see how Rodrigo is dealing after being zombified. There's your ingrained racism of the time, what with the slavery and all. I've never liked John's pragmatic view of slavery, but it is what it is, I guess? At least here, that pragmatism is a help to them.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-11 05:32
The Unsung Hero (Troubleshooters #1) (Audiobook)
The Unsung Hero - Suzanne Brockmann

This audiobook is brought to you by Patrick Lawlor and Siri. Ok, Melanie Ewbanks reads the female POVs (I googled it - she is not Siri), but true story: I was driving to a meeting at a building I hadn't been to before when I first started listening to this audiobook, so I had my GPS turned on. The first time Ms. Ewbanks took over the narration, I seriously thought that my GPS lady got bored and started to randomly narrate the book. (I googled the GPS lady too - not Ms. Ewbanks.) She improves a little as the story goes on - or I just got used to her - but if you want to know what sex scenes sound like when read to you by a Siri-esque voice, now's your chance! (I didn't, so I skipped over them. Even when Lawlor was reading them. Narrators reading sex scenes are just painful.) Patrick Lawlor did a much better job of getting into the material and bringing life and warmth to the story. Unfortunately - as happens too often with dual narrators - the narrators are clearly not in the studio together when they recorded their parts, so Lawlor still has to do female voices and Siri still has to do male voices and I have no idea why you would pay for two narrators and then split up the reading this way. Stop doing this to your listeners!

 

Sadly, even the best narrators couldn't have saved this book. This has three - count them - one, two, THREE - romances crammed into one long-ass boring romance novel with an attempt at an intriguing suspense subplot to thread it all together. It just doesn't work. Rating them from blandest to most promising, the romances are these:

 

3 - Charles, Cybelle, Joe - Love triangle. Bored now. Love triangle set during WW II? UGHHHH! At least it's not set in Pearl Harbor? Seriously, it's WW II and that's the best the author could think to do with these characters? STAHP. The only good thing about this part of the story is that Charles and Joe stay friends.

 

2 - Kelly and Tom - The old "girl kisses boy, boy freaks out and enlists in the Navy, boy and girl don't see each other for 16 years and in all that time they clearly barely even change since they're right back where they left off as soon as they're in the same room again" story. Yeah, nothing new here either. I did like Tom's struggles with his head injury and wondering if he's still capable of leading. I'm just not sure this story actually answers that question. I also liked Kelly's struggles with understanding her father, Charles, and getting closer to him as his health is failing.

 

1 - Mallory and David - The old "geek boy who's really a nice guy (but not a Nice Guy) stalks beautiful girl and gets her" story. Ok, stalking is a little strong. He just makes himself visible, and he's a lot more confident and self-assured than geek boys tend to be in these stories. Mallory's change of heart toward him is gradual, and while it occasionally threatens to veer into boring romance cliche territory, it mostly avoids it.

 

The terrorist stalker subplot is one I've read before also, so again, nothing new here. This was published pre-9/11, so maybe the regulations were a wee bit more relaxed then, but I doubt it. If a bomb threat gets called in, it has to be investigated. End of story. If a building needs to be evacuated in a hurry, pull the fire alarm. The ending was convoluted and eye roll worthy, and the negligence on display here by literally everyone except our protags defies logic. 

 

This series is not off to a good start, but I've seen other reviews mention the books get better after this one, so I'm going to at least give the next one a try.

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review 2017-01-22 04:07
Semper Fi
Semper Fi - Keira Andrews

4.5 stars for the war flashbacks; 3 stars for the post-war scenes

3.75 stars final rating, rounded up

 

I liked the flashbacks that started out each chapter, going back to boot camp and the various fights and shore leaves they had during the war. We meet some secondary characters that they fought with and get to see how Cal and Jim became inseparable during WWII. The flashbacks steadily grew in tension as the war progressed and they got closer to Okinawa. There was a great sense of place in them, and maybe it's just all the rain we're currently getting here in SoCal, but I felt like I was drenched right along with these guys as they suffered one monsoon season after another. They weren't too graphic, but the second to last one is the most detailed in the war horrors they faced. 

 

It's a good thing those scenes are there, because once we get to the "present" day timeline of 1948, it becomes a pretty commonplace romance. Cal secretly pines for Jim, believing Jim can never feel the same. Jim slowly comes to realize just what all these feelings he has for Cal really means, and he struggles to accept them. But there was just too much pointless sex after awhile. Which is a shame because some of those sex scenes early on were actually pretty hot, but then they just got predictable and boring, at least for me. 

 

This wasn't a gay-okay rewrite of history. They have to discuss how to keep things a secret, as homosexuality was illegal back then, and discuss living arrangements. They go through some struggles that were believable for the times. Though... for guys trying to keep things on the downlow, they choose some questionable places to have sex. Honestly, they act more like hormonal teens than grown men at times.

 

Jim's kids were mostly great. Adam's just a tike and doesn't do much. Sophie's more of a focus and is the main obstacle Cal has to overcome when he first arrives on Jim's orchard. She was written pretty well, but there were a couple of times where I couldn't really believe her dialogue as being that of an eight-year old. The sentiment behind the words was fine, but the way she expressed herself sometimes felt a little too old for her.

 

There's also a little "mystery" about Jim's wife and her death. It was interesting, and not really all that hard to figure out. It's a common enough story for soldiers returning after years away at war.

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review 2016-09-27 03:01
Code Name Verity (Audiobook)
Code Name Verity (Audible Audio) - Elizabeth Wein,Lucy Gaskell,Morven Christie

I always like learning or hearing about different aspects of WWII than we're used to encountering in TV, movies and books. This book gives us a rare glimpse into what it might have been like to be a woman pilot and woman spy for the Allied forces in WWII. On that count, this is an interesting read. I also liked the friendship between Julie and Maddie, how they helped each other and depended on each other. I especially liked that they were shown to be as tough and capable as the male heroes we always hear so much about.

 

Unfortunately, the structure in which the story is told made it hard to really settle into it. I couldn't get past the thought that the Gestapo would hardly be half as patient as the ones here, who let Julie ramble on about her friend Maddie when she's supposed to be writing her confession and giving them valuable intel. Yes, there was an attempt to lampshade this, but it didn't really help in the long run. It also didn't help that the narrator for the first part of the story sounded too composed and tranquil for someone being starved and tortured. The journal style was carried into the second half, which really just made me impatient with Maddie for writing down stuff where anyone could stumble upon it. I think the plotting and pacing would've been helped by a more traditional narrative style.

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review 2016-08-03 03:32
When Skies Have Fallen
When Skies Have Fallen - Debbie McGowan

3.5 stars

 

This reminded me a lot of Kaje Harper's Into Deep Waters. Two guys meet during WWII, fall in love and decide to make a life together. One gets injured near the end of the war. We see them as they grow older, living through the various social and political changes and victories for gay rights. They get cats. And that's pretty much where the similarities end.

 

Arty and Jim are air force technicians, Arty for the Brits, Jim for the Americans. They first see each other at a dance hall, where the attraction is instant. They officially meet later at Jim's base when Jean, a friend of Arty's, finagles a "chance" meeting on a supply run. They figure out a way to see each other, meeting in an empty field between their two bases and slowly fall in love.

 

It was refreshing to see them actually get to know each other before falling into bed. Logistically, they couldn't have risked it sooner than they did (not that that would stop some authors - and you know who you are) and so the build up of their relationship fits the times and dangers that surround them. Unfortunately, a lot of the getting to know you gets summarized, though we do still get to see enough of it to see the connection between them. That's not really an issue.

 

What was an issue for me was that they had it so amazingly easy at the start. They're both missing from their bases for hours at a time while they're rendezvousing; this is never an issue. Arty's friends and sister, and Jim's mom, are all amazingly supportive; not really an issue either as there are others who are not that they need to be careful of. But even the nurse is on their side, and the others in the hospital don't seem to raise much of a fuss about anything either. They do come up against plenty of strife later though, as England during this time was extremely homophobic, to the point that gay POWs were made to serve their full prison sentences without taking into account the time already imprisoned by the Nazis. Plus, there were the "witch" hunts, extremely reminiscent of Gestapo searching for Jews, gays and everyone else they deemed unworthy. It was unsettling to read at times, and those parts of the story were very well done with evoking the tension and dread Jim and Arty had to live in.

 

I was ready to give this 4-stars until the very end, when I thought we'd get to read about Jim and Arty finally deciding to fight the system and instead it jumps to the epilogue several years later, where England has finally decriminalized homosexuality. I wanted to see more of the fight, to see Jim and Arty standing up and being strong together as a unit, and I didn't get that.

 

And this is just a personal nitpick, but I'm not a fan of the title being repeated in the narrative of the text multiple times. Once or twice is cool, but more than that and I start to feel like I'm being knocked over the head with it. Yes, I get it, the title is metaphorical. Now leave me alone so I can read my book.

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