Friday, July 14, 2017

Eridahn (Robert F. Young)

Robert F. Young
Del Rey
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Jim Carpenter may time travel for a living, but he's ultimately a glorified truck driver, navigating a camouflaged reptivehicle around in the Age of Dinosaurs while recording holopictures. The discovery of a fossilized modern human in the Cretaceous sends him back to ancient North America to investigate - where he stumbles across something impossible. Two human children, a boy and a girl, have been treed by a dinosaur. Skip and Deirdre claim to be the prince and princess of Mars, victims of a terrorist kidnapping. (Well, at least Skip claims that; Deirdre, as future queen, does not speak to anyone but royalty.) Whether he believes them or not, Jim can't leave them alone in the past - especially not when the terrorists come hunting for their escaped hostages.

REVIEW: An older title, it looked like a quick adventure. That's about what it is. The characters aren't especially deep, and the storytelling's rather clunky at times, with long, unnatural stretches of exposition as Jim tells tales of modern Earth and the children relate information about ancient Mars. Though not pitched at kids - nothing explicit, but there is a disturbing rape attempt as a terrorist lusts after the eleven-year-old princess - it has the kind of imagery that would linger in a young imagination: camping out and roasting marshmallows under a Cretaceous starscape, the remote-controlled robotic vehicle "Sam" (which is essentially a sidekick in everything but self-awareness), the lost Martian colony on Earth and descriptions of a "desentimentalized" Martian culture, and more. But then there's that rape thing, part of an overall sexist subtext, not to mention a rather disturbing vibe that develops between thirty-odd-year-old Jim and young Deirdre, beginning when he addresses the princess of a major planetary royal house (if not of his planet) by the over-affectionate (not to mention subtly dismissive) moniker "Pumpkin" throughout the tale. (Avoiding spoilers, that vibe takes a downright unsettling twist toward the end.) I also rolled my eyes a bit at the rather extraneous inclusion of a mysterious master alien race, the Ku, whose existence was both a plot device to explain modern humans on Mars and a way to separate us from natural evolution. (I'd say anyone who reads science fiction should be able to cope with evolution, and not require an "intelligent design" rationalization for humanity, but unfortunately I know better these days. While I don't know for sure that's why the Ku were wedged into this story, I wouldn't bet against it... but, I digress.) Those flaws aside, it reads fast and has a fair degree of action. It's not a standout title, but a passable little adventure that delivers just what it promises, if nothing more.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs) - My Review
The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
The Time Machine (H. G. Wells) - My Review

The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma (Diane Fox)

The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma
Diane Fox, illustrations by Christyan Fox
Scholastic Press
Fiction, CH Picture Book
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: As Cat tries to read the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Dog insists it must be a superhero tale.

REVIEW: This book offers some fun tweaks on the fairy tale. Cat struggles to get through the story while Dog interrupts with questions about Red's "superpowers" and nitpicks the Wolf's villainous scheme. While somewhat amusing, I felt it could've done a little more with the gimmick, and there seemed to be a lot of white space on the pages, making the tale feel thinner than it was. Not a bad read, though.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Crankee Doodle (Tom Angleberger) - My Review
Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Kevin O'Malley) - My Review
Hoodwinked (Widescreen Edition)- Amazon DVD Link

Monday, July 10, 2017

Neanderthal Seeks Human (Penny Reid)

Neanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance
(The Knitting in the City series, Volume 1)
Penny Reid
Fiction, Comedy/Romance
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Janie's just had the worst day of her adult life. First, she broke up with her boyfriend - the only boyfriend she's ever had - after finding out he'd cheated on her. Then she lost her job. And the bathroom stall was even out of toilet paper. But perhaps the worst part of it is how she won't be able to sneak peeks at her favorite lobby security guard, whom she and her friends have dubbed Sir Handsome McHotpants.
Or so she thinks...
It turns out Sir Handsome has a name: Quinn. He also has a line on a new job, a far better one than she lost. Her friends in the knitting club insist the man must be flirting with her. But she knows better; Janie's just too awkward, prone to spouting random trivia instead of meaningful conversation, to attract anyone remotely normal, let alone someone on his end of the dating pool. She's like a Neanderthal trying to blend in with humans, always a step out of sync. Is Quinn her shot to have it all, or is he really too good to be true?

REVIEW: As contemporary "chick-lit" romances go, this one hits its marks with a fair bit of style and wit. Unfortunately, it never rises above the formula. Janie's a curvy knockout who is inexplicably convinced she's unattractive, largely due to issues with intimacy caused by an unhappy childhood (involving a runaway mother and one particularly crazy criminal sister, Jem, who turns up to mess with Janie's life just as she's on the brink of happiness.) She's actually fairly smart, but spends a fair bit of the book being deliberately obtuse; when even I, as clueless a human ever to have double-X chromosomes, recognizes a man flirting, it's downright aggravating to watch the supposedly intelligent main character keep brushing it off simply to further the story. Her ex-boyfriend's a cad, naturally, and a controlling cad at that... but, in some ways, it's a lateral move to Quinn. He, also, takes over much of her life. Even her best friend Elizabeth sees herself as Janie's keeper as much as a friend. At one point, Janie becomes aware that everyone's essentially coddling her - but, skirting spoilers, not much really comes of this revelation, and it's brushed away as a non-issue. While Janie's narrative voice has some fun moments, I grew frustrated with how she was constantly protected (and constantly deliberately ignoring things that were painfully obvious; really, she was too smart to be that stupid.) As for the knitting club, I'm not quite sure why it was a knitting club, save a creative use of needles and a yarn ball in the third act; Janie doesn't knit, and the girls aren't in the story enough to be more than vague attributes attached to names. Mostly, they exist to rally around Janie when she's down and squeal over romance and sexual conquests like something from a TV show. I guess I'd hoped for a little more originality all around, and a main character who would rise a little higher than the genre standards she was stuck with.

You Might Also Enjoy:
An American Werewolf in Hoboken (Dakota Cassidy) - My Review
Stealing Mr. Right (Tamara Morgan) - My Review
Almost Perfect (Julie Ortolon) - My Review

Saturday, July 8, 2017

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)

When You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books
Fiction, MG Mystery/Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Sixth-grader Miranda found the first note in a book. It made no sense, rambling about how she had to write a letter (but not yet) and saying someone was coming to save her friend's life. What friend? Her best friend since infancy, Sal, went all moody after a strange boy punched him in the street and doesn't talk to her anymore, and her new friends aren't really the same. And who could've written it? Her overworked single mother? Mom's boyfriend Richard? Strange kid Marcus? The "laughing man" who lives by the corner mailbox and rants at traffic? None of them could've gotten into her room to place the note, could they? Then another note arrives, containing information nobody could know. The strange coincidences begin adding up as Miranda's world turns on its head. Maybe someone is warning her of a danger - but what danger? And is it already too late?

REVIEW: This is one of the stranger stories I've read in some time. Clearly inspired by Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (Miranda's favorite book, which she talks about at  borderline-spoiler length), it's both a mystery and a science fiction tale. The scale may be small, centered around Miranda's city school and small apartment and circles of friends, enemies, and familiar strangers, but the ideas are large. By placing the tale in the late 1970's, Stead removes many of the modern trappings and conveniences that would collapse the sense of wonder; Miranda has no internet to turn to for answers, no cell phone tether, and no digital distraction to keep her from noticing the many small details that add up to something profound. The cast is full of nicely rounded, human characters whose quirks hint at complicated pasts. Their relationships undergo stress and rearrangement as events unfold. The plot starts a little slow, with the bigger ideas (the mystery of the notes and possible time travel connection) as mere background noise, but as things pick up that noise grows louder until it reaches a crescendo at the rapid climax. When it all comes together, it's not just about the strange elements but the bonds of friendship and power of love. I gave it an extra half-star for how all the little pieces click together at the end, and for the many little touches that made the story and its inhabitants feel so real.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Time Keeper (Barbara Bartholomew) - My Review
15 Minutes (Jill Cooper) - My Review
The Skull of Truth (Bruce Coville) - My Review

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Golden Son (Pierce Brown)

Golden Son
(The Red Rising trilogy, Book 2)
Pierce Brown
Del Rey
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once a lowly Red of the Martian mines, Darrow allowed himself to be utterly transformed by the Carvers of the terrorist group Sons of Ares, reforging him as a Gold: the corrupted ruling class of humanity's interplanetary empire, who slaughter the lesser Colors and the weaker of their own kind as some might casually swat a fly. Against the odds, he rose to the top of the class at the Mars Institute, securing an apprenticeship with the planetary governor (and murderer of his Red wife, revolutionary Eo), Augustus. But none can rise in Gold society without making a few enemies... and even the brightest star can wane.
Two years after victory, Darrow faces defeat and disgrace, engineered by jealous advisors and the family of an old enemy, Cassius of the house Bellona. Worse, he's been out of contact with the Sons of Ares, making him fear that he's been cut off, cast adrift in a world not his own. He's come too far to give up, though, and Eo's dream of a liberated Color-free society carries him onward... even if he must make deals with many devils, and confront his own failings as leader and man.

REVIEW: The first book, Red Rising, was on the upper edge of Young Adult, as a teenage Darrow struggled to carve a place in Gold society while clinging to his Red heart and dreams. As intense and often violent as that one was, with numerous backstabbings and deaths, this one takes things to a whole new level. It isn't just fellow students who live and die around him, often by his word - it's entire ships of lowColors, whole families of Golds. Darrow thought he'd cut his teeth in the Institute, but that was just the first skirmish of the greater war, one which finds him still ill-prepared in many ways to survive, let alone win. The pace is relentless, full of names that had faded in memory since I read the first book; I recommend a reread of Book 1 if there's been a gap. Lacking the time for that (and the inclination, frankly; my reality is full enough of corrupt leadership flaunting their power and indulging in petty games regardless of civilian casualties), I was treading water for a good chunk of the book, and though I more or less oriented myself, I know there were many subtleties I likely missed for not having refreshed my memory. Darrow continues his impossible balancing act, trying to be Gold enough to gain enough power for his goals without losing himself in their games, which he knows he cannot win. His disadvantage - a Red upbringing, emphasizing family and friendship - becomes both a strength and a liability, making him enough of a wild card that he can be hard to predict... and offering enough of a weakness for enemies to exploit. With so little downtime between ambushes, attacks, and backstabs (which are as common as greetings among the Golds, and as casually engaged in), Golden Son makes for an often-harrowing read as it races toward a climactic ending... which, as a spoiler-free warning, is bleak enough that one might want to have Book 3 on hand before reaching it. Overstimulation and name confusion almost cost it a half-star, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. As disturbing as it is at times, it's nevertheless well written, and it serves its purpose in making me eager to find the third and final installment - if only on increasingly-dim hope of a brighter ending than the one found here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Red Rising (Pierce Brown) - My Review
Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
Cinder (Marissa Meyer) - My Review

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (H. C. Chester and Lauren Oliver)

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head
(The Curiosity House series, Book 1)
H. C. Chester and Lauren Oliver
Fiction, MG Historical Fiction/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: As New York City slowly recovers from the Great Depression, many relics of yesteryear have fallen by the wayside, yet Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders manages to endure. Here, visitors can witness wonders like the baseball-sized kidney stone and stuffed two-headed calf (whose second head requires regular repairs), and a stage show with some of the greatest human marvels in the world (or at least the city): Hugo the elephant man, Phoebe the fat lady, Andrew the alligator boy, and more, including four extraordinary children. Thomas can bend in impossible ways, more flexible than a snake. Sam's so strong he can barely open a door without destroying it. Phillipa can read minds... or, at least, mostly tell what someone's carrying in their pockets. And the girl Max's knives are as fast and accurate as any sharpshooter's bullet. The museum is their livelihood, but, more importantly, it's their home.
The day Mr. Dumfrey acquires the shrunken head should've been the start of a new era for the museum, a draw to restore dwindling crowds and fill draining coffers. But the death of an elderly visitor shortly after its debut leads to rumors of a curse - and hints that a murderer may be on the loose. To save Mr. Dumfrey from charges (and save their museum home), the four children set out looking for answers... but as more bodies turn up, the investigation itself becomes as dangerous as any curse.

REVIEW: I wanted a light read to balance a darker, more intense paperback, and Curiosity House grabbed my attention with an interesting premise, hearkening back to the old days of offbeat tourist trap attractions that have largely succumbed in modern times. It started out decently, if a little overloaded on characters and names who ultimately have very little to do but clutter up the museum. The kids tend to be exaggerated, moreso than even in other middle grade titles, but are decently drawn enough to care about and have unique personalities. The story moves at a decent pace as the investigation takes turns, hits dead ends, and has unexpected breakthroughs. Some time after the shrunken head's first tragedy, though, cracks start appearing. The kids become selectively obtuse as the authors practically slam certain clues in the reader's face that the characters conveniently ignore, to the point I started wondering just how simple they thought middle grade readers were. Distracting cliches - the foursome have to "pair off" (if not in a romantic sense yet, more of a feel-extra-aware-of-but-don't-quite-know-just-why sense), the girls tend to be more squealy and shrieky, etc. - start gnawing on the story. An underlying sense of unlikability bordering on malice becomes apparent; though I can't put my finger on just where or how, at some point I found myself realizing that there was something about the mindset and overall tone of things that ran at odds with the otherwise light premise, something that just set my teeth on edge enough to put me at arm's length. The Big Reveal shocks the characters, but not the reader, prompting a few eye-rolls. Then the story ends without real resolution or logic, mostly because this is Book 1 of a series and there have to be some sizeable threads left dangling to justify future books. By the end, not only did it feel like it never lived up to the originality and potential promised by the premise, but much of the charm of Dumfrey and his museum felt oddly tarnished, especially if you really think about the circumstances surrounding his collection of the kids. Younger readers might enjoy it more than I did, fascinated by the strange characters and the lost world of yesteryear's "dime museums" and spectacle attractions, though I wouldn't put it past some of them to pick up the same odd vibes I did, being unable to really enjoy it without quite knowing why.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Lionboy (Zizou Corder) - My Review
The Accidental Highwayman (Ben Tripp) - My Review
Mairelon the Magician (Patricia C. Wrede) - My Review

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Site Update

I have archived and cross-linked the previous 10 reviews from the blog over on the main site.

This will be the last monthly update for a while. I need to focus more time and energy on the long-overdue site overhaul. In the meantime, this blog will remain active.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

It Came! (Dan Boultwood)

It Came!
(The It Came! series, issues 1 - 4)
Dan Boultwood
Titan Comics
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Humor/Sci-Fi
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: SEE the giant robotic alien menace from another world! GASP as England trembles in fear! SCREAM with laughter as pipe-smoking Dr. Boy Brett (of the Space University) and his assistant Doris race to protect the Earth with the wonders of Modern Science! And don't forget to BUY candy, liquor, and cigarettes in the lobby before you leave... Director Dan Boultwood presents "IT CAME!" in thrilling Eyeball-o-Rama-vision, now playing at a theater (or bookstore) near you!

REVIEW: For anyone who has watched Mystery Science Theater 3000, Svengoolie, or other homages to the B-grade cinema of yesteryear, It Came! is a brilliant spoof that's sure to please. The pipe-smoking doctor Boy Brett (yes, his first name is "Boy") is the epitome of Britishness, on top of being highly scientific; he wows Doris with facts gleaned from his years in the Space University, such as how there are hundreds of solar systems in space that all revolve around our sun. Doris is the long-suffering companion, often reduced to mere object status by Brett and everyone else. The army exists mostly to provide extra victims for the alien robot, whose evil scheme is as evil as it is schemey - but don't worry, because Brett and a host of pipe-smoking Space University scientists are on the case! Vague (and not so vague) innuendo and the odd spark of self-awareness add to the hilarity. The graphic novel also has parodies of period ads, an intermission break (encouraging guests to grab drinks in the lobby with the promise that the story will make more sense after a few), and a hilarious "preview." I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to future volumes... hoping they appear. (I had thought there were more, but so far it's just a standalone.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson) - My Review
Young Frankenstein: A Mel Brooks Book: The Story of the Making of the Film (Mel Brooks with Rebecca Keegan) - My Review
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie- Amazon DVD link

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saber Tooth (Lou Cadle)

Saber Tooth
(The Dawn of Mammals series, Book 1)
Lou Cadle
Cadle-Sparks Books
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Park ranger Hannah thought it was going to be an ordinary field trip, leading a group of teenagers into the Badlands to search for fossils with their teacher and a paleontologist. She wouldn't have even been there if her co-worker hadn't tricked her into taking the job. But something unusual happens: a broken ledge reveals a shimmering ripple that pulls Hannah, teacher Bill, paleontologist M.J., and several teens hundreds of thousands of years into the past. Stranded in a world that has never known a human footstep, the group struggles to survive in a world only known from spotty fossil records, a world of strange beasts and strange constellations - and terrible saber-toothed predators.

REVIEW: It was a discount Kindle download that promised action and danger in prehistoric America. That's about what it delivers... but pretty much all it delivers. The characters aren't especially deep or intriguing, most of the teenagers remaining little more than names with only the vaguest of (somewhat stereotypical) traits attached. Then again, the grown-ups aren't much more dynamic, particularly M.J. That leaves the plot to carry the reader forward, which it manages to do, if only just. Much of the book is more about survival than facing down the titular predator. It's not necessarily dull, but it often lacks tension and real interest. The climactic finale plays out in a rush, and the ending feels unresolved as it leads to a cliffhanger, not a conclusion - which felt rather like a cheat, as it was finally picking up to the level of action and danger it promised in the title and blurb. Aside from the vague question of where they go next and what happens now, there's no real plot thread or story arc to compel me to read further. There's no puzzle to solve about the time travel, no greater goal, so without caring much about the fairly flat characters, I have no real incentive to follow this series any further. It's not a terrible read, but it just didn't grab me, nor did I ever feel it was going anywhere I particularly needed to follow.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron) - My Review
Saturday, the Twelfth of October (Norma Fox Mazer) - My Review
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Spilling Ink (Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter)

Spilling Ink
Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter
Square Fish
Nonfiction, YA Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: What does it take to write a book? Words and ideas, obviously, but there's more to it than that. There's plotting and character creation and revision and grammar and all sorts of ways to mess up and give up... but if you don't tell your stories, who will? Popular children's book authors Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter team up to offer advice and encouragement to would-be writers of any age. All you need to start is an idea, plus a few words.

REVIEW: Aimed at a middle-grade audience, Spilling Ink doesn't delve into deep outlining or grammar technicalities or the often-daunting statistics on finding an agent or getting published. It's more about the overall process, not to mention the joy of crafting stories, a joy that's all too often squashed by teachers more interested in grading papers than nurturing talent or parents convinced all writers are depressed alcoholics working out of hovels. The journey from a story idea or simple urge to write to a finished manuscript isn't one that can be definitively mapped, so the authors here don't try. Instead, they offer signposts, a few cautions, the odd detour, and more than one friendly rest stop where the weary or discouraged traveler can rest and recharge. Along the way are "dares" challenging the reader/would-be writer with various exercises, such as test driving different writing styles or rewriting a moment from their lives with a different ending. If you're looking for seven-point plot arcs or a rigid outlining method or a compendium of grammar rules, you'll have to do further research. This one's all (or mostly) about the joys and frustrations of storytelling, told in a way most any writer, no matter their age, can relate to.

You Might Also Enjoy:
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty) - My Review
Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly (Gail Carson Levine) - My Review
Wonderbook (Jeff Vandermeer) - My Review

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Haunted Mesa (Louis L'Amour)

The Haunted Mesa
Louis L'Amour
Fiction, Sci-Fi/Western
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Mike Raglan has made a life traveling the world, seeking lost legends and "haunted" places, but he came to the American Southwest desert on a personal matter. An eccentric acquaintance, Eric, wrote him a cryptic letter, requesting help - but he seems to have vanished without a trace. His notebook tells of strange experiences on a desert mesa, such as the uncovering of a buried kiva, or Native American worshipping place, and odd visitors. The more Mike investigates, the more he suspects he may have at last run up against a mystery even he can't debunk, mysteries tied to the legendary "Third World" spoken of in native legends… a world their ancestors reportedly abandoned due to an unnamed evil, and one that may be reaching out again.

REVIEW: I was looking for a Western title for a reading challenge, and the author looked to be one of the prominent names in the genre, so I gave this book - with its promise of an otherworldly twist - a try. It starts with some decent potential, even if the characters aren't especially original or memorable, but that potential's soon wasted.
Mike's a fairly generic hero, a self-made adventurer who can take care of himself, but who has resisted settling down and building bonds. He encounters various stock figures, including the local sheriff, a handful of shady thugs, a beautiful Native American woman (who pushes into stereotype territory, with her stilted English and limited knowledge of the white man's ways - but, then, there's a certain white male slant to the whole story, so I suppose that's to be expected), and so forth. But things become wobbly as the possibility of other worlds comes into play. Mike spends an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the same core set of ideas: what is known of the Anasazi culture (rather little), whether other worlds are real or if it's all an exceptionally elaborate kidnapping hoax, and a smattering of personal history and speculation on the nature of reality around the sides. This wouldn't be much of an issue if some manner of progress was made during these speculations, or if new information prompted them, but the vast majority of this thought process just eats pages while repeating itself, sometimes almost verbatim, and with little to no external prompt for the speculation or subject shift. He'll be driving down a highway, then suddenly thinking about how the Anasazi built in cliffs despite the energy required to haul in water and food, followed by disbelief (or belief, sometimes in the same scene and with no notable reason for the flip-flop) about the "third world" portals. Even an encounter with clearly otherworldly creatures leaves him with doubts, and yet more circular speculation. At some point, I wanted to smack him to get him to do something other than drive around and speculate, already. (Well, to be fair, he also experiences plenty of eerie feelings, more than half of which turn out to be nothing.) Around and around and around Mike goes, in the desert and in his head, only rarely making tangible progress. The climax feels a little rushed and flat as a result of all this wasted time, and the conclusion too neat.
The sense that I wasted so much time on what amounted to plot filibuster, plus an overall feel that the story didn't live up to its potential, ultimately dropped it a half-star below the bland Okay rating. Something about that waste just plain irritated me more than usual, possibly exacerbated by a sense that L'Amour, likely unintentionally, was white mansplaining native mythos.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Flight (Sherman Alexie) - My Review
The Untamed (Max Brand) - My Review
Six-Shooter Tales (I. J. Parnham) - My Review

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jim Henson's Storyteller: Dragons (Daniel Bayliss)

Jim Henson's Storyteller: Dragons
(The Jim Henson's Storyteller series)
Daniel Bayliss, et al.
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: An old storyteller relates four tales, inspired by legends and folklore from around the world, all featuring dragons.
Son of the Serpent: A Native American boy and his father have a fateful encounter with a horned sea serpent and its enemies, the thunderbirds.
The Worm of Lambton: The spoiled son of an English lord unleashes an evil upon the land, which he must confront many years later.
Albina: In Medieval Eastern Europe, a warrior woman and her reluctant companion confront a shape-shifting beast.
Samurai's Sacrifice: The daughter of an exiled samurai seeks vengeance, only to find a monstrous foe and a terrible truth.

REVIEW: The Storyteller was an interesting series, a showcase of Henson's groundbreaking puppetry and effects, though the stories told sometimes felt a little thin or incomplete, bearing fragments of cultures and mythologies that didn't quite translate. This compilation, part of a graphic novel tribute to the show, seeks to emulate the style of the original in new stories. It succeeds, with some great artwork in culturally-influenced styles, though it also retains some of that sense of incompleteness, of bits and pieces that haven't quite translated or don't quite make sense without the cultural touchstones of the original. My favorite, for art and storyline, is the first tale, with its stunning horned serpent and thunderbirds created in the Northwest Coast style, followed by The Worm of Lambton. Albina changes the genders of the heroes, but seems to be missing something. The Japanese story, feels jumbled and a touch confusing, as though it didn't start quite in the right place; there's an awful lot of backstory that must be crammed in via confused flashbacks, and the wrap-up felt a touch too neat and forced. Overall, I found it interesting, with some great artwork and intriguing world myths given new life. It certainly succeeded in capturing a mythic sense of wonder - and dragons rarely hurt a rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Tales of Great Dragons (J. K. Anderson) - My Review
Dragons - Truth, Myth, and Legend (David Passes) - My Review
Jim Henson's The Storyteller ~ The Complete Collection - Amazon DVD link

Thursday, June 8, 2017

You Don't Want a Unicorn! (Ame Dyckman)

You Don't Want a Unicorn!
Ame Dyckmkan, illustrations by Liz Climo
Little, Brown Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: You might be tempted to toss a penny into the fountain and wish yourself a unicorn friend, but don't do it. They're far more trouble than you think, as one unicorn-loving boy discovers the hard way.

REVIEW: This fun little book examines the down sides to an exotic pet. Sure, it's fun to ride on rainbows, but that horn really does a number on furniture and drywall, not to mention the shedding and housebreaking issues. It reads quickly and generates laughs, with bright and whimsical images.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin) - My Review
Fairy Foals (Suzanah) - My Review

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)

Every Heart a Doorway
(The Wayward Children series, Book 1)
Seanan McGuire
Fiction, YA? Fantasy
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, a girl (or a boy) discovered a doorway to a magical world. Here, they had many adventures and learned many things - but, one day, they found themselves returned to the land of their birth. It was a harsh land, a strange land, and it was no longer home, as they were no longer the children they used to be. Some went insane. Some swallowed their memories until they convinced themselves it had all been a dream. But some found their way to a special boarding school, where the headmistress helped them process their adventures and learn to cope with the knowledge that, try as they might, they probably will never find their way back to the kingdoms of fairies or the moors of vampires. Because the headmistress, Eleanor West, was once a girl who found a doorway, herself.
Nancy arrives at Eleanor West's school with hair bleached white from the touch of the Lord of Death and a suitcase packed with offensively colorful clothes by parents who just want their lost "rainbow" girl back. Rooming with Sumi, whose adventures in a Nonsense realm left an indelible mark on her personality, she struggles to adapt, even as she refuses to give up hope of returning to the Halls of the Dead. Soon after her arrival, students start dying, gruesomely mutilated - and almost everybody suspects the new girl who once danced with the Lord of Death.
This novella includes sample chapters from Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the next volume in the Wayward Children series.

REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway, a 2016 Nebula award winner, examines the psychological impact of portal adventures, the one many authors tend to gloss over or leave out. If you really had been to another world, if you really had been apprenticed to a mad scientist or courted by the Skeleton Girl or learned to run on rainbows, how could you ever return to our mundane Earth, with its immutable physics and linear time? McGuire creates an unexpected cast of decently-rounded characters, hinting at all manner of worlds from all over the map, a map whose compass includes such cardinal directions as Nonsense and Logic and Virtuous and Wicked. It's harsh and bleak and beautiful all at once, with hope being both a cruelty and a comfort. I quite enjoyed it, and will likely read more titles in this series as they appear.
As a closing note, I suppose this could be classified as a Teen title, given the age of the main characters, but the subject matter and overall tone bleed over into the adult end of the spectrum, and it's as much about mourning the loss of childhood as it is about magical worlds. So I gave it a split age rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Everworld: Search for Senna (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review
Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming (Joshua Williamson and Andre Bressan) - My Review

Friday, June 2, 2017

Stealing Mr. Right (Tamara Morgan)

Stealing Mr. Right
(The Penelope Blue series, Book 1)
Tamara Morgan
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Fiction, Romance
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: After her thief father disappeared when she was fifteen, Penelope Blue managed to scrape together a meager yet dishonest life using the skills he taught her, not to mention the help of fellow accomplices Jordan, Oz, and Riker. Together, they become the family she never had. When a persistent and disturbingly handsome FBI agent, Grant Emerson, started sniffing around their operation, costing them more than one score, Penelope decided he needed watching... extra-close watching.
Which is how she wound up married to Grant.
He knows she's a thief, and a talented one at that. She knows he has access to federal records on her father, and possibly a line on the missing millions the man was reputed to have stashed away before he vanished. It's a tense game of cat and mouse - and now, with her sights set on a very special diamond necklace, it may finally be coming to an end. Because only a fool could ever believe that a jewel thief and a federal agent could find true love in the middle of such a web of lies, and whatever else Penelope Blue may be, she's nobody's fool.

REVIEW: This book sucked me in with a fast pace, intriguing premise, and clever heroine voice, starting in the middle of a jewelry heist that quickly goes awry. Cutting back and forth between the present robbery (and subsequent complications) and the past, from Penelope's first encounter with Grant through their courtship and marriage, it keeps up a decent pace while introducing the cast of quirky characters, who tend toward tropes but are nonetheless engagingly written. Early on, Penelope and Grant are fairly evenly matched, both engaged in a complicated, teasing dance in which neither openly admits knowing the deceptions their relationship is based upon, while both have been overcome by genuine feelings neither anticipated. As the tale winds on, though, the wheels begin to wobble. Penelope slowly ceases to be a clever thief and becomes a generally naive woman who never quite grew up, who is surrounded by masculine protectors that she resents, but which she clearly needs to survive. Because a girl growing up on the streets, living by theft, is never going to be able to take care of herself without a big, strong man to do the hard stuff... As the climax unfolds, several (frequently telegraphed) revelations come out that essentially undercut much of Penelope's remaining agency and independence, in addition to just plain not making sense if you think about them much. (No details, as they constitute spoilers, but they induced several eye-rolls and incredulous groans, plus more than one head-thump against the Kindle cover in disappointment.) On top of that, a large portion of the Kindle title was simply advertising for the next installment, meaning the book itself was shorter than it appeared. I was so dissatisfied that I almost dropped the rating another half-star, but the decent character voice of Penelope Blue, not to mention some snappy interplay between the characters (before the flop of an ending), kept it afloat (if barely) at a flat three-star Okay.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Scoundrel for Hire (Adrienne DeWolfe) - My Review
Concrete Evidence (Rachel Grant) - My Review

Thursday, June 1, 2017

This Side of Wild (Gary Paulsen)

This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs
Gary Paulsen
Simon and Schuster
Nonfiction, YA Animals
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Popular author Gary Paulsen reflects on animal encounters through his life, from the dog Gretchen (who would hold long "conversations" over cups of bitter-dark coffee) to the toy poodle Corky (who proved unexpectedly brave against Alaskan grizzlies), not to mention his ongoing, frequently contentious relationship with ravens.

REVIEW: This is an interesting, if sometimes meandering, collection of stories demonstrating the intelligence, playfulness, and occasional spite of all manner of animals. In his observations, he comes to agree with a conclusion reached by an animal trainer friend of his: we do not train animals, but animals train us, having far more awareness and agency than humans like to credit to them. Paulsen sees how even wild animals learn to manipulate humans, in memorable encounters at a highway rest stop and on a desert horseback ride. He also offers glimpses into his long and colorful life, not to mention a brief detour into the true horrors of nuclear warfare, as part of his military training introduced him to facts that were deliberately withheld from the general population on warhead lethality. (It's Gretchen, the dog who appeared to have figured out a way to hold wordless talks with her people, who helps him deal with this troubling knowledge.) As usual, I enjoyed Paulsen's writing style, though the chapters sometimes wavered and wandered in their focus. Overall, though, it's an interesting collection of animal encounters, mostly domestic but a few wild, that can be enjoyed by somewhat older children and adults alike. (Some of the material is a little graphic for very young or sensitive readers.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot) - My Review
Animal Wise (Virginia Morell) - My Review
Guts (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

Me and My Dragon (David Biedrzycky)

Me and My Dragon
David Biedrzycki
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A boy wants a special pet - not a dog, not a goldfish, but a fire-breathing dragon.

REVIEW: Another quick read during some down time at work, Me and My Dragon is a simple, fun exploration of pet ownership with a draconic twist. The boy talks about the best size for a pet dragon (not too big, so it can fit in the house) and other points of care, not to mention the benefits of a fire-breathing pet... particularly when one has to deal with bullies. The illustrations are simple but amusing and bright. As someone who would've loved a pet dragon growing up, I can recommend this book to any kid who dreams of a special pet, or any grown-up who used to be that kid.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon (Jody Bergsma) - My Review
The Egg (M. P. Robertson) - My Review
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell) - My Review

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Site Update

Just got the May site update posted, so the previous ten reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main site.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Imagine a World (Sarah L. Thompson)

Imagine a World
Sarah L. Thompson, illustrations by Rob Gonsalves
Simon and Schuster
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Autumn leaves rise as butterflies... a waterfall dances... waves become snow-capped peaks... books open onto new worlds... More optical illusion art by Rob Gonsalvez meets short verses by Sarah L. Thompson.

REVIEW: Another entry in the ongoing series features yet more amazing, perception-twisting art. It's a book to be lingered over, a treat for the imagination. If you liked the others, or just enjoy good optical illusion artwork, you should enjoy this one
(On an unrelated note, if my records are accurate, this is my 1400th review.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Animalia (Graeme Base) - My Review
The Cinder-Eyed Cats (Eric Rohmann) - My Review
Imagine a Day (Sarah L. Thompson) - My Review

Friday, May 26, 2017

Starflight (Melissa Landers)

(The Starflight series, Book 1)
Melissa Landers
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Eighteen-year-old Solara knows she has no future on overcrowded Earth; her parents abandoned her at an orphanage, leaving her with no money or connections for the few available jobs, and the felon tattoos on her knuckles make her prospects even worse. In the outer realms, the frontier of terraformed worlds (conveniently beyond the reach of the Solar League law enforcement), her engineering prowess should make her invaluable - but transportation isn't cheap. She must indenture herself to a wealthy passenger traveling offworld. Unfortunately, the only one willing to take her on as a servant is Doran, spoiled son of the Spaulding interplanetary fuel empire, with whom she's had a personal rivalry ever since she got a scholarship to his elite academy. Doran treats her worse than a dog, making her wait on him and his pink-haired socialite girlfriend hand and foot. When he goes too far, threatening to dump her at a refueling stop (where her only option to afford another flight would likely be in the station bordello), Solara takes matters into her own hands with a personal stunner - but things only get worse as they find themselves aboard the Banshee, a ship of dubious legitimacy, among an eccentric crew full of secrets, not to mention enemies.

REVIEW: I wanted to like this book. (I actually want to like every book I read, but this one in particular had numerous good ratings that had my hopes up.) Parts of it were enjoyable. Ultimately, though, it just doesn't quite come together right. Solara's a tough girl, raised an orphan, used to seeing the worst in people and relying on her own wits and skills - except when she doesn't. Doran, especially early on, is borderline sadistic in his contempt for inferiors, a category that includes everyone in the galaxy save his father and his constantly-rotating current girlfriend - but, really, his life is built on insecurities and trauma. The crew is almost textbook "eccentric co-star" material, particularly the captain, who is more artificial than organic after a century or so of life on the run. There's even a useless-but-cute ship mascot, Acorn the sugar glider (which is inexplicably called a "sugar bear" at least half the time, in what I can only think is a glaring editing error.) Characters often act too immaturely given their age and experiences, and growth rarely feels organic as Solara and Doran lurch through very expected changes in their relationship; it's no spoiler or surprise that their rivalry doesn't last to the end of the book. For that matter, several of the plot twists telegraph themselves, often with an air of plot-required inevitability. One major twist toward the end (which I saw coming several light-years away) almost had me put the book down: was I really expected to swallow that stale old chestnut? The whole space/future milieu failed to convince me, full of strange idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies; the attitudes are far too modern, for instance, as is the majority of the slang. Then there's the wrap-up, the kind of scene where everyone smiles while the screen freezes and closing credits roll. Yes, by then the book had stopped feeling like an adventurous space yarn, or even an exploration of two teens growing up under extreme conditions, and took on the air of a somewhat shaky pilot episode for a TV series. (The Disney-Hyperion publisher makes me wonder if there aren't plans along those lines in the works...) There were some decent bits, and not everything felt contrived or forced, but ultimately I just didn't enjoy it it, and I doubt I'll remember it for long.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
Cinder (Marissa Meyer) - My Review
Trading in Danger (Elizabeth Moon) - My Review

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Last Dragon (Silvana De Mari)

The Last Dragon
Silvana De Mari, translated by Shaun Whiteside
Scholastic (Miramax)
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Lost and alone in a world gone to mud and flood and ruin, the elf pup Yorsh stumbles his way through human lands where his kind is feared and hated. When he falls into the reluctant company of a woman and a man, it seems mere luck - but perhaps it is prophecy. Carved in the lost Runic language beneath the city of Daligar are words that seem to apply directly to Yorsh. They tell of the last elf, who will end the age of suffering when he finds the last dragon. There's also a bit about a marriage, but Yorsh doesn't have much time to linger, with the soldiers of Daligar on their heels and the almighty judge screaming for blood.
There must've been even more Yorsh didn't see in that prophecy. Many years later, he is indeed in the company of the last dragon, in a lost library of ancient knowledge, and the rains have ended... but Daligar is more miserable than ever in the grip of the tyrannical judge. It will take all of Yorsh's untested magic and knowledge, the grit of a girl jaded by a lifetime of abandonment and hardship, and the strength of the dragon to bring the prophecy's promised happy ending to pass, if it can even be done at all.

REVIEW: This is a much odder duck of a story than it appears. At first glance, it looks fairly simple, even silly. Young Yorsh doesn't understand human ways or limitations, his misunderstandings being both a curse (as when they make things much worse for his long-suffering companions) and a boon (as when ignorance allows him to act where others would give up, and to cling to hope in the face of impossible odds.) De Mari manages a tightrope walk between keeping the tale amusing and giving the situation enough weight and depth to engage me, Yorsh's antics (usually) falling just shy of utterly irritating. Mostly, though, it seemed fairly standard for middle-grade fantasy, with largely familiar parts put together in an interesting, if not entirely unexpected, way. Then I turned the page to begin Part 2, and the story really picked up. It was no longer just about following a prophecy's breadcrumb trail to a foregone conclusion of a happy ending, but about how prejudice, hate, and fear create a vicious cycle in which everyone suffers. Nobody is immune, either. Yorsh, despite all his reading, still (and increasingly implausibly, given his extensive time reading the great library, plus his elfish ability to see glimpses of the thoughts of others) doesn't understand humans, letting misunderstanding brew into general dislike. Erbrow the dragon embodies his race's arrogance (and at least one reason they're mostly extinct); anything not magnificent enough to be a dragon is expendable, particularly if they taste good with rosemary. The humans of Daligar still hate elves, who are only memories and fairy tales anymore, but they also hate each other. These twists gave the story renewed life, building at last to a reasonably strong ending. So what held it back from the top rating? At some point, the twists started feeling a little like manipulations. I also wasn't sure I bought Yorsh's persistent naivete and the speed of his subsequent change of heart. The girl Robi also undergoes a suspiciously quick alteration in beliefs, given how long she's been under Daligar's heel and how much she's suffered. The judge never really becomes more than a madman given too much power, with rather minimal direct involvement for being the main antagonist; given how others transformed over the course of the story, I expected more from him, or at least his offspring, who in some ways suffered the worst from his instability. The conclusion also felt a little neat and flat for some reason. Overall, I found it mostly enjoyable, with a unique style. There were just a hair too many hiccups and letdowns for me to quite grant it a full fourth star in the ratings, though I expect others, particularly younger readers, will be too swept up in the adventure and more-than-fairy-tale-deep characters to notice.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Plain Kate (Erin Bow) - My Review
The Last Dragonslayer (Jasper Fforde) - My Review
Tuesdays at the Castle (Jessica Day George) - My Review

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Wee Free Men (Terry Pratchett)

The Wee Free Men
(A Discworld novel: The Tiffany Aching series, Book 1)
Terry Pratchett
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: The quaint, backwater downs of the Chalk aren't the sort of place one would associate with high magic or witches or problems greater than the odd lost sheep, yet something peculiar seems to be happening there nonetheless. First, the girl Tiffany Aching sees a couple of strange little blue men fishing in the creek - then a great monster, like something from a fairy tale, tries to grab her little brother Wentworth. This is the kind of problem that probably calls for a wizard or a witch, or at least a clever king or queen. Unfortunately, there are no wizards in these parts, and not only is chalk too soft to grow a proper witch on, but the last old woman the people thought to be a witch met an unfortunate end by fearful locals. As for the king or queen, all they have is a Baron who hardly listens to grown-ups, let alone commoner girls. Armed with a head full of words from the dictionary (because nobody told her she wasn't supposed to read it), a trusty frying pan, a talking toad (who may have been a man once), a gaggle of piskies who fight first and think later (if at all), and memories of her late Granny Aching (who always seemed to know just what to do about whatever went wrong), Tiffany sets out to save her little corner of Discworld. If she can't do it, after all, who will?

REVIEW: This book begins the Tiffany Aching series in Pratchett's greater Discworld universe, starring a bold and clever girl starting out on the path to witchhood, even if nobody will (or can) show her the way. On the surface, there's plenty of humor and fun turns of phrase, with the usual tweaking of fantasy and fairy tale tropes... but Pratchett never stops at the surface. Dig down a level, and it's a fairly solid story about a middle-grade heroine facing down a dangerous, mind-twisting enemy with some unlikely, and not always helpful, companions. Another level down, and it's the story of a girl with "First Sight and Second Thoughts," who must learn to see the world as it really is and think deeply about not just the dangers she faces but everything else: her life, her memories of Granny Aching, and the responsibilities she's shouldering, voluntarily or otherwise. Go deeper still, and you see themes of reality and illusion, individual thoughtfulness versus group assumptions and prejudices, and more. There's almost always more going on in Pratchett's characters and stories, bits and pieces that stick with you after you read them and elevate what could be standard fair or just plain silliness to another, unique level, and Tiffany Aching's debut is no exception. I expect I'll follow this series through at least one more book.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bad Unicorn (Platte F. Clarke) - My Review
The Color of Magic (Terry Pratchett) - My Review
The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes (Wade Albert White) - My Review

Friday, May 19, 2017

Swords Against Death (Fritz Leiber)

Swords Against Death
(The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Volume 2)
Fritz Leiber
Open Road Media
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In Nehwon, realm of strange magic and dark secrets, countless gods and unnumbered devils, lost secrets and found dangers, two heroes lived a legend that would tower over all others: the tall, brash Northern swordsman and skald Fafhrd, and the slight, cunning thief and magic-dabbler the Gray Mouser. Here, their adventures continue in ten more tales that take them from the great sprawling metropolis of Lankhmar to the unseen Bleak Shores, from the forgotten crypts beneath the Thieves Guild to the tower of a banished god, even as far as the throne room of Death itself.

REVIEW: These stories, like those in the first volume, are the stuff classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy is made of: swordfights, thefts, lost treasures, strange and cunning traps, and the obligatory wine and women at the Silver Eel tavern on the side. They're not particularly socially progressive, particularly with regards to women, but such were the times these stories were written in, and the state of the genre they represented. The tales are still entertaining for what they are, grand adventures brimming with imagination and some sly tongue-in-cheek pokes at the genre's grandiose nature. Fafhrd and the Mouser remain larger-than-life archetypes who are nevertheless more human (and thus more interesting to spend one's time with) than some classic fantasy characters. This volume introduces the recurring figures of Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble the Seven-Eyed, archmages to whom the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd are compelled to swear fealty to respectively, who sometimes pit the two heroes against each other in their ongoing magical rivalry. A few of the stories seemed a little short, but none of them stand out as particularly weak. Indeed, overall, I found them a little stronger than the origin stories in the first volume. They remain decent examples of classic sword and sorcery, worth reading today by anyone interested in fantasy's roots or just looking for some old-school Conanesque adventure.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard) - My Review
Swords and Deviltry (Fritz Leiber) - My Review
Hero for Hire (E. B. Pratt) - My Review

John Ronald's Dragons (Caroline McAlister)

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien
Caroline McAlister, illustrations by Eliza Wheeler
Roaring Book Press
Nonfiction, YA Picture Book
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Since childhood, John loved dragons, even if his world was devoid of them... until he grew up and discovered a dragon of his very own, in a story about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.

REVIEW: This picture book explores the life and influences of famed author J. R. R. Tolkien, who would create one of literature's great wyrms with Smaug. Bright illustrations hint at magic and wonder even in mundane settings; in the muddy trenches of war, for instance, tanks can be seen spouting flames like dragons. At the end of the book is a brief section of bonus material, discussing Tolkien's life and his influences, plus some notes from the artist; many details in the images have extra meaning. It's an enjoyable and informative read about an iconic author.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Tell Me A Dragon (Jackie Morris) - My Review
The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien) - My Review
The Dragon Machine (Helen Ward) - My Review

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Teacup (Rebecca Young)

Rebecca Young, illustrations by Matt Ottley
Dial Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: A lone boy sets out on a voyage across a wide sea, with little more than a teacup full of earth from his lost home.

REVIEW: This book is simply beautiful. The brief prose evokes a sense of wonder and of loss. Ottley's gorgeous paintings create a vast and strange world, a voyage through fear and hope and imagination, as a boy faces the unknown future after an unnamed tragedy tore him from everything he knew. It's a book that speaks to anyone of any age who has experienced loss and turmoil, who has ever been alone with memories and fear of what lies ahead.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Journey (Aaron Becker) - My Review
Imagine a Night (Sarah Thompson) - My Review
Sector 7 (David Wiesner) - My Review

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just Good Friends (Rosalind James)

Just Good Friends
(The Escape to New Zealand series, Book 2)
Rosalind James
Rosalind James, publisher
Fiction, Romance
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: California girl Kate Lamonica didn't used to take risks, but stalker Paul forced her out of her comfort zone. Now she's in New Zealand, half a world away from her old friends and old life; it's the only way to stay off Paul's radar until he gives up. It's not all bad. Her new job, accountant for a rugby team, is challenging, and the country is gorgeous and friendly. If only she could say the same for the people - or, rather, one man in particular...
Koti James dislikes the American Kate the moment he lays eyes on her - and she rejects his usual lady-melting smile. She's not his type, anyway; he usually goes for the long-legged blondes, not the short, dark ones, plus she's clearly got a chip as big as the country on her shoulder. As a star athlete with supermodel looks, he's never short on female companionship, and he certainly doesn't need a proper relationship... so why is she such a persistent thorn in his side?
Their mutual dislike comes to a head with an argument that leads to a bet: for six weeks they'll play at being friends, and nothing more. Given their animosity, they both figure the bet's as good as won - it'll be the other one who breaks and makes a pass, or walks away altogether. But irritation soon gives way to something much stronger, and more dangerous.

REVIEW: It was on sale, and I needed a palate-cleanser after a disappointing read. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be something of a letdown, as well. Neither Koti nor Kate (or any of the rest of the cast) ever come alive as people beyond the page. They spend much of the book immersed in long, wordy conversations that spell things out unnaturally. At several points, I almost saw the author standing right behind the characters, making them talk out their relationship rather than experience it. There are even multiple conversations that seem intended to let me, as a reader, know that the characters all understand the difference between stalking-level possessiveness and the normal urge to protect a loved one in a healthy relationship, not to mention the difference between a dangerous control freak and consensual dominance/submission in the bedroom. I'm a big enough girl to figure that out, and I prefer doing so from context, not with characters deliberately leading me along like a child. The plot itself feels thin, with too little going on in either characters' lives (or, at least, too little going on that makes it into the book; comments are made, particularly about Koti re-dedicating himself to rugby practice to earn a coveted national slot, but the reader doesn't see any of that, so it's just more talk), and the little we do see of them sets up elements that never come into play. Things unfold about as one might expect from the blurb, with the odd sidetrack into Maori culture, New Zealand history, and more than one steamy moment. The telegraphed climax offers no surprises, either. While it was nice "seeing" New Zealand, because it's a culture I don't see or read a lot about, I wish I'd had more interesting tour guides than these two, not to mention an itinerary with a few more twists and turns.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Wicked Games (Jessica Clare and Jill Myles) - My Review
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Bidding on Brooks (Katy Regnery) - My Review