Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW | The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve by Justin Cronin
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Horror
Series: The Passage #2
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Scott Brick

WHY?: I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Passage, and wanted to know what was happening with those crazy kids from California.

SYNOPSIS:  Is there really any way to summarize this book coherently? Ahem. It's set about 5 years post book one, mostly. The gang from the first book are all split up.  Alicia and Peter joined the military at the settlement in Texas, Amy is living at a convent,  Michael's working on an oil rig, etc... Besides Peter and Alicia no one seems to still be pursuing what they learned about the Twelve in The Passage.  However, events are conspiring to get the gang back together again and engaged, whether they like it or not. There are even some surprise visitors from book one!  A lot of the action goes down in my state of residence (Iowa), which was ....exciting? terrifying?  

NOTE: SPOILERS AHOY!! There will certainly be spoilers for The Passage below and undoubtedly some for The Twelve as well.   Proceed with caution if you are Spoiler Phobic!

THOUGHTS:
Justin Cronin has created such a crazy dystopian epic and in The Twelve he continued to surprise me with where he took the story.  This is most definitely a good thing and when he gets in a storytelling rhythm, it is impossible to put this book down.  By the end of this second installment I was hooked to move on to the finale, "The City of Mirrors". With all that said, The Twelve didn't entirely work for me and I was often pretty frustrated with it.  It had some of the same problems as The Passage but exacerbated, so I can't give it full marks.  

Part of the problem may be mine.  It took me a long while to get into this book and part of that was because I needed a study guide for The Passage.  He devotes a bunch of pages to expanding the backgrounds for minor characters from the first book which I didn't entirely remember and, with the gang from book one split up in this book, I lost some of my context clues for who is who and what happened with what.  I don't know how folks who were reading this series in real time managed but perhaps they don't have the memory equivalent of a gerbil like I have.  

However, while I am happy to own up to my memory deficiencies, part of the dragging effect of the first part of the book can be laid solely on how Cronin decided to move forward.  In many cases, he did not move forward, but introduces a whole slew of new characters and goes back to fill in more story from just after the outbreak of the virus.  It's not that it isn't mildly interesting and I appreciate getting some more details on how things got from the outbreak to the future explored in book one. However, part one of The Passage was my least favorite part and we get a WHOLE LOT more of that here.  It also stops the flow that had started by the end of The Passage.  The gang of characters I had gotten to know intimately were on the cusp of the next stage of their quest and all of that.... gets chucked to the side.  Seriously, some of the main characters from book one unceremoniously die in the 5 year period between books.  It is not until the original cast are semi-reunited and moving back toward the goal that was established in book one that this read started working for me.  That doesn't happen until the 60% mark or thereabouts.  

The book still gets 3.5 stars though because once you hit that spot and the narrative gets moving, it really is spectacular.  Every time I expected Cronin to zig, he zagged and he is great with developing his main cast. And honestly, the first part of the book is in no way bad.  He's a fabulous writer and incredibly good at setting a scene and developing a character, even if they are only meant to stick around for a chapter or two.  (It is dangerous to get too attached to any characters in these books!) I simply prefer when he stays focused on what I think of as the main cast and story line. It's like he can't decide whether he is writing a literary opus or a propulsive horror/thriller story.   Anyway, I'm nervous and hopeful  and curious about where things ended and will definitely be picking up the final book in the trilogy. 

Finally, AND THIS WILL GET SPOILERY, I had a bunch of questions.  So what's up with Wallgast still being around and why is he just now revealing himself to Amy?  I vaguely remember there may have been some ambiguity around his death scene so he could have been turned instead of dying of radiation I suppose?  And does Amy escort him to heaven or something?  Or is that just a dream?  And what's up with Amy. Cronin makes a big deal of aging her appropriately, hints strongly that her and Peter may be in love and then almost immediately turns her into a full on viral? And poor Peter.  Dude is a girl magnet but has only seemed to really return the feelings of two women...both of which turn into monsters who feel unworthy of him and therefore push him away.  Sheesh.  Or am I completely reading that wrong?  Why did he even bother aging Amy etc.. if he was just going to...Oh never mind, I'll read the next book.

I should also comment on the audio version of the book.  Scott Brick is the narrator and he is a hugely popular reader but I don't love him.  He does okay but there is something about how he reads that rubs me the wrong way.  And there was one tiny thing that drove me crazy.  The character of Alicia is often called "Leesh" or at least that's how he said it in book one and how I imagined it.  In this book he calls her "Lish" which may be how it's written but it's different than the first book and sounds way odd to my ears.  Does anybody know an Alicia that goes by "Lish"?  Perhaps I am just sheltered. 

FINAL VERDICT:  When the book is focused on it's main cast and quest story line, it is really amazing but it gets bogged down by a lot or extraneous characters and story tangents. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: Tor.com | The Bibliosanctum | The Book Smugglers

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday in the Garden | Green?


OUTSIDE

It's the most terrifyingly awesome time of year, at least in Iowa.  It's awesome because Spring IS happening.  Some green is starting to peek out of the ground and smart critters who have either been asleep for the last 4 months or else frolicking in Southern climes start showing up in numbers.  My dentist has a persistent crabapple out in front of their office and it was crawling with robins and cedar waxwings this week.  
Garlic

Chives
Crocus

I planted a bunch of bulbs around where two of my Golden's ashes are buried (Darwin and Casey)

This time of year is terrifying because the weather is unpredictable. As you can tell from the pics, most things are mulched with leaves.  Do I go ahead and clear them since things are coming up?  But what about the fact that we went from being in the 50s and 60s to a couple of single digit days this week?  I looked back at my posts from last year around this time and I had already planted sugar snap peas and done some of my clean up by now...

Which brings me to the fact, that there are also things coming up indoors!  Unfortunately, looking at my seed starting picks from last year around now has emphasized how far behind I am.  None of my peppers are even sprouting yet and the tomatoes are just peeking out.



 ****CUTE BUNNY ALERT!****



WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Nothing! I've been reading and hanging with the rabbit instead of watching TV this week.

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

  • The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman: It was good though I didn't love it quite as much as book one.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins:  I rarely if ever read contemporary YA or romance and yet this is both.  It is, as advertised totally delightful even to my cynical, wizened old basically middle-aged heart.
  • Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer:  Not one of her best but I always like spending time in her creations.
  • Scandal in Spring (Wallflowers #4) by Lisa Kleypas: I was horrified to discover that I had not read the last book in the Wallflowers series. For Shame! It was good!
CURRENTLY READING
  • The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic #2) by Patrick Weekes:  Happy to be back with the gang!
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (Eon #1) by Alison Goodman:  I've so enjoyed her Dark Days Club books, I decided to try Alison Goodman's other series. Really enjoying it!
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo:  I started it as soon as my credit from Audible became available, lol.

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:



The joys of some late afternoon son and a couple of bully sticks. Don't ask what bully sticks are.
Have a Great Week!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVIEW | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Series: Six of Crows #1
Awards: A bunch of local YA awards
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrator: Jay Snyder, David LeDoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Tristan Morris and Brandon Rubin


WHY?:  Many, many reasons.  I enjoyed Bardugo's Grisha series. This book and its sequel has gotten a ton of positive buzz.  It's a heist novel.  

SYNOPSIS:  Kaz Brekker, a young ne'er do well who practically runs one of the mafia-like gangs of Ketterdam, is hired to do an impossible job.  It will make him very very rich which appeals to Kaz greatly but more importantly he has a score to settle and this one job will make that possible.  If anyone can pull this impossible job off it is Kaz and he puts together a team, each member with a part to play in the greatest heist in history.

THOUGHTS:

The first chapter of the book is basically a prologue.  It's a set-up for something that will play an important role in the coming book, and the series as a whole I'd wager, but it didn't grab me. It was full of stock characters, so uninteresting I didn't care what they did. I therefore dragged my feet like crazy and it took me like a week to get through this first chapter.  I'd listen to a couple minutes and then decide I'd rather listen to a podcast and not get back to it for a couple days.  This boredom is hard to remember because literally the very next chapter swept me away and I was completely and officially smitten with this book.  

In this second chapter, we meet Kaz Brekker, anything but a stock character.  He's devilishly clever, always two steps ahead of everyone, sardonic, enigmatic, secretive, unemotional and he walks with a limp and a cane.  He's also pretty darn scary.  I adored him pretty much immediately.  Unwrapping his story throughout the book and seeing how competent, yet broken he is, is just one of the delights this book had in store.  In this first scene with Kaz, as he verbally spars with the second-in-command of a rival gang, he is backed up by his shadow, Inej, climbing up sheer walls to keep an eye on proceedings from high ground, while trusty sharp-shooter Jesper watches his six on the ground.  These are Kaz's most loyal and trusted compatriots and when he is hired a couple of chapters later to help the merchant guild with an impossible heist, they are the first to be recruited to his gang.  

As is common with heist novels, roughly the first 1/3 of the book focuses on pulling the gang that will perform the heist together and then doing an initial smaller heist to show the players in action.  The other members of the team include: 
  • Nina Zenik: a Grisha, a heart render that can manipulate the organs of the human body.  She is hanging out in Ketterdam and working freelance for Kaz hoping to find a way to free-
  • Mathias Helvar: A Grisha hunter, raised to despise Grisha, so how he and Nina are connected is a mystery.  
  • Wylan Van Eck: Perhaps the most puzzling addition to the team.  He has a knack with explosives but is new to "The Barrel" i.e. the rough part of town and is not someone any of them know.  Why has Kaz included him?
With the team together, they are off on a journey to the legendary Ice Court, where they must infiltrate, free and return to Ketterdam with a scientist being held hostage.  It's a suicide mission but the reward is enormous and everyone on the crew has a reason to desperately need/want that reward.    

The perspective of each chapter rotates between all the characters, which is a device I really love and despite the fact that there are so many different perspectives, it felt balanced just right and was never confusing.  Bardugo also includes flashbacks, on top of the current action, to slowly reveal more and more about her characters and their connections.  It could have been too much but she somehow managed to keep the action moving while pouring on the character development.  The result is a page-turner with SO many characters to love.  Some felt a bit more developed then others, it felt like there was more back story on Kaz, Nina and Mathias than the others, but I still felt connected to all of them.

The cast is also diverse with at least half of the team coming from outside of the Kingdom in which Ketterdam sits, and it tackles the issue of brain-washing and being afraid of the unknown, particularly in Mathias' story.  So it's got some good messages and thought provocation thrown in with the intricate plot.   

It also must be mentioned that the book is set in the same universe as the Grisha trilogy and takes place slightly after the events in that series.  The original series is referenced briefly, but beyond having a little more background on what the Grisha are, it is not necessary to have read that series (though you should! it's great!).  As with those books, Bardugo does an excellent job presenting a beautifully detailed world and society.  While the Grisha series obviously borrowed from Russian and Eastern European culture, this book broadens the world a little further and brings in some other cultures.  It's an interesting world if you're new to it and should really appeal to fans as an expansion of the Grisha series!

Have I mentioned yet, how much I really loved this book?  I did.  As soon as I got past that first chapter it became an addictive listen that I didn't want to stop.  I am counting the hours until my next Audible credit pops up and I can download Crooked Kingdom.  I can't wait to get back into this world and spend more time with Kaz and the team.  Not to mention that this book ends with things very much up in the air.  

Finally, the audio was fantastic.  It has multiple narrators, all of them good, each of which help to bring their assigned character alive.  Lauren Fortgang, who I'm pretty sure does Nina's chapters, is particularly great and will be familiar if you listened to the Grisha series.  

FINAL VERDICT:  More fun than a barrel full of lemurs.  An un-put-downable YA heist novel with a well-developed and lovable cast of characters.  The sequel, Crooked Kingdom, will be going in my ears, toot sweet!  4.5 out of 5 stars.



Saturday, March 11, 2017

SATURDAY in the GARDEN | Tornadoes and Bunny!

Well I took  little unplanned hiatus from the interwebs this week.  No particular reason, just tired. *shrugs* I'm ridiculous sometimes.  Aren't we all.  Anyway, the next few weeks may be a little sparse posting and visiting wise because I have a bunch of weekend work commitments and weekends are when I do most of my internetting.
OUTSIDE

So I don't know if this really counts as "outside" because, well, this is not a wild animal but behold my new parsley munching friend!

video

And the inevitable Parsley hangover.  Isn't she cute as a damn button?  Her name is Ella and she's an 11 week old French Lop. She'll probably weigh between 12-15 lbs when she's full grown so big, for a rabbit.  I have wanted a rabbit for ages and finally bit the bullet.  I am totally in love with her.  She gives me these great frankly appraising looks that are hilarious when juxtaposed with her general adorableness.

In garden news I've got some of my seeds started and the onions have sprouted.  It's going to be a very weird gardening year with how crazy this winter has been.

Today I was giving a program on Bald Eagles and we ended it with a field trip to an Eagle nest.  While watching the eagles futz around with their nest and generally put on a show, a pair of Sandhill Cranes called from the other side of the road where we were parked watching. They eventually flew up from the creek bed they were hanging out in and proceeded to walk around with stately grace giving everyone good if distant views. VERY cool!  Also saw/heard my first Killdeers of the year. So, good day!

Finally, in other weird weather news, we had a small tornado (or something very close to a tornado) go right by my work place.  It took down a bunch of trees and cut our power for about 15 hours - exciting!  That's the closest brush I've ever had with a tornado and it was in early March for goodness sake.  


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I completed another anime, Yona of the Dawn. It was all set to be my favorite anime yet but then it just...ended.  It totally seems like it should have a 3rd season but it is marked as complete and last aired March 2015.  It doesn't end on a complete cliffhanger but there were many, many things left unresolved and just... confused. So blergh.

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

  • The Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab: I got this in Audio despite the fact that I hated the audio of the first book (liked the book but not the reader) but they switched narrators so...  This book is one I'm going to have a hard time reviewing.  In some ways I liked it better than book 1 but then there's Lila... she's the WORST.  Ihad started liking her at the end of book 1 but I really hated her in this book.  She's a anti-social sociopath - why then does EVERYONE love her?
  • Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)by Leigh Bardugo: I LOVED this book!  Need Crooked Kingdom right now!
  • A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn:  I also really loved this historical, thriller/mystery.  The two protags are Victorian natural historians! I flew through it.  Veronica's one of the best characters I've encountered in a long while
  • Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu: This was okay.  Creative, unique, loved the art.  Was not as blown away as I expected though....  Oh expectations, you are a fickle friend.
CURRENTLY READING
  • The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman: I'm pretty excited about this sequel to The Dark Days Club that is sort of a supernatural Buffy in Regency England.
  • The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic #2) by Patrick Weekes:  Happy to be back with the gang!
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: I am very close to done with this.  I rarely if ever read contemporary YA or romance and yet this is both.  It is, as advertised totally delightful even to my cynical, wizened old basically middle-aged heart.
  • Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer:  It's a good question, Georgette and I look forward to you answering it!

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!


I was about to write NADA but apparently I did add a whole slew of books before dropping off the internets...

  • The Backstagers (Vol. 1) by James Tynion, IV and Rian Sygh:  A middle grade graphic novel about theater geeks, recommended by Danya at Fine Print
  • Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell:  Also recommended at Fine Print, this is a middle grade novel about a Princess who decides to be a dragon slayer.  
  • The Grey Bastards (#1) by Jonathan French:  Recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum as being like a "shot of good tequila".  I can totally get behind this kind of intense and raucous fantasy! This book is part of the series on the blog featuring self-published works!
  • Devil in Spring (The Ravenals #3) by Lisa Kleypas:  Lark at The Bookwyrm's Hoard made me aware that a) there is a companion series to Kleypas' Wallflower series of Regency romances (which I adore) and b) this book features the son of the couple from A Devil in Winter which is my FAVORITE. Aw, yeah, I'm gonna read the heck out of this!
  • Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames:  This sounds like a humorous, grim dark, getting the band back together fantasy.  Nathan from Fantasy Review Barn recommended it very highly and I've heard good things all around!
  • Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly:  Nathan also raved, positively raved, about this book which sounds like an utterly unique fantasy novel about an oppressive government and set in a cabaret club.
  • Grave Witch (Alex Craft #1) by Kalayna Price: An intriguing sounding UF series that I'd never heard of and recommended by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings.
  • Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini:  A generally well-loved book in the pirate genre (yes it is its own genre, so say I) that I'd never heard of and which sounds awesome.  It was featured on the Reading the End podcast.  They did a segment on books about the sea and I was totally gonna steal the idea and do my own post because I love the sea but then I discovered that I'd already done a post of this, lol.  Good thing I looked:). 

    On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

    I didn't post a darn thing this week so the below are from last week ...

    TUESDAY: (FAKE) TOP TEN TUESDAY | Critters on Covers The last 10 books I've read that had an animal on the cover.  Suprisingly interesting. To me.  Possibly no one else:).
    THURSDAY: REVIEW | Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman


    HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

    Thursday, March 2, 2017

    REVIEW | The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

    The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
    Publication Year: 2016
    Genre: YA, Fantasy, Alt History
    Series: Lady Helen #1
    Awards: Nothing 
    Format: Audio (from Audible)
    Narrator: Fiona Hardingham


    WHY?: Many good reviews by bloggers I trust.  Plus - demon hunting in Regency England. No way I'm not reading that!  Tagline on one of the editions is, "Duchess or Demon Slayer - does Lady Helen have a choice?"

    SYNOPSIS: Lady Helen Wrexhall is 18 and entering her first London season.  It's an exciting time but amongst all the hubbub of social engagements, Helen has started to notice a lot of odd and mysterious things going on around her. Then a distant relation of her Aunt's, the disgraced Lord Carlston appears and informs Helen that she is destined for bigger and scarier things than marrying a Duke. Will Helen turn her back on this exciting but terrifying future or will she play it safe?  

    THOUGHTS:
    Without a doubt, I adored this book.  It's a Regency era novel with deadly demons thrown into the mix and I found it to be executed very well.  It is a book that is perfect for a very particular kind of reader.  If you like paranormal reads, you are likely to like it okay, though I've seen a number of reviews by SFF fans who found it slow-going.  Regency novel fans?  Hmmm.... I think will like this better than most SFF books as it does take pains to get the societal conventions and setting right but it may not be quite right for them.  If you are someone who loves both Jane Austen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  I predict you will flip your lid for this book!  At least, I certainly did.  I like feisty kick ass ladies as well as painstakingly described details about muslin and dance cards so this book had me covered on all points. 

    Lady Helen lives with her Aunt and Uncle because both her parents are dead and while she gets along with her Aunt, her uncle is a strict, close-minded, misogynist who brooks no appearance of impropriety.  Therefore, Helen is mostly looking forward to the season and is not opposed to finding the right gentleman to marry and therefore get out from under her Uncle's thumb. I really liked that Helen isn't really a huge rebel to begin with.  She's smart, independent, has opinions and therefore chafes under her Uncles rule but she is not really longing for a singular life.  She really just wants what most young women in the Regency era wanted, to find a good match and have the freedom of running her own household.  Sure she might prefer that household be her older brother's but marriage is not off the table.

    There is a lot of time spent on the details of a life in Regency era England - the expectations, the manners, the rhythm of life, the details of the balls -  and I loved this and thought it was balanced quite well with the more action-and-demon-packed part of the story.  It bored some reviewers but that never happened to me.  I think the time spent on Helen's normal life emphasizes what she would be giving up to join the Dark Days Club. It is impossible to be both a well bred lady and a demon hunter in Regency Era England.  Especially when one's mentor is a tall drink of well-mannered-but-may-have-killed-his-wife scandal.  Lord Carlston and Helen cannot spend time together because a) he is a man and b) he is disreputable.  This throws up many of the challenges faced by the heroine and I felt really anxious for her juggling all the balls of her life.  

    It couldn't be a Regency Era novel without there also being a romance of course and while I wasn't really into it, I liked the pairing and that it is the slowest of slow burns.  Again, the Regency era setting helps keep things relatively restrained and that appeals to me.  I am also partial, for some reason, to the passionate hero that keeps it all locked down tight so you have no idea what he's feeling except under certain extreme circumstances.  This type of person would probably drive me nutballs in real life but I like it in a romantic protagonist. There are a few intense moments but mostly it is restrained glances and touches.  

    The demon hunter world that Goodman overlays Regency England with is also very interesting and well developed.  The idea that the demons, or deceivers as they are called, inhabit regular people, like a possession, sets up some nice moral quandaries as well as the fact that only certain people can see and then fight them when they get out of hand.  Voila!  A Dark Days Club of extra strong, extra sensing folk who operate in secret.  Secret demon hunting societies will always tickle me to pieces!  I also like that each demon hunter, or Reclaimer, must have a companion who is bonded with them and that Helen's choice is her stalwart maid and friend Darby.  I really liked their relationship and that this female duo has most of the men of the Dark Days Club unhappy.

    I loved and devoured this book!  I listened to the audio version and Fiona Hardingham was a perfect narrator for this.  She is one of my favorite narrators generally and she does a great job giving voice to Lady Helen and bringing her to life.

    FINAL VERDICT:  For all you Jane Austen AND Buffy the Vampire Slayer lovers - this is your book.  A good solid Regency novel with a paranormal element mixed into the blend for a good balance of the two!  4 out of 5 Stars.

    Other Opinions Are Available: Book Smugglers | Fine Print | Fantasy Book Critic


    Tuesday, February 28, 2017

    TOP TEN TUESDAY | Critters on Covers


    The official Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is on a well deserved hiatus but unfortunately, I am addicted to making lists.  And lists of books is a whole special kind of fun. So I carry on despite having no direction. Egad!

    I was trying to think of some way to highlight some random books I've read recently and I struck on the idea, completely original and new (Not!), to pick a cover element and just list the last ten books I read that contained that cover element.  And OF COURSE, my first thought was animals.  I like 'em.  They make me happy. I like when a book has one on the cover.

    SO, here we go:

    **************
    1) Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

    The critter on the cover is imaginary and its image is impressionistic but I say it counts.  Because I'd like to tell you what a great book this is!  The bird represented on the cover is a Phoenix and it does in fact play a role in this story.  This is the second book in the Sunbolt Chronicles which follows the adventures of a young magic-wielder, Hitomi as she rebels against an evil mage.  In this book she must rescue her mentor from his clutches.  This is a YA series and it's really really great!  I highly recommend.  Start with book 1 Sunbolt, which is a novella. 

    2) Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

    This cover has a couple of howling iron wolves perched atop the coolest gate ever. I'd like to have this at the entrance to my homestead some day.  It just says "Welcome!" Ahem.  This was a nice start to what I am hoping will be a new favorite Urban Fantasy series.  My Review.

    3) Appleseed Creek Mystery Series by Amanda Flower

    This is a really enjoyable 4 book cozy mystery series set in Ohio's Amish Country.  The protagonist is a computer science professional from the city who moves to the sleepy town of Appleseed Creek to work at a small college.  She quickly finds herself making friends with the local Amish and also solving some murders.  The ubiquitous horse and Amish buggy are on all the covers. If you are looking for something light, with a likable protagonist and a nice romance subplot, you should check this series out!

    4) Crime and Poetry (A Magical Bookshop Mystery #1) by Amanda Flower

    Note that this is another cozy mystery by the same author as above.  I really like her writing and characters - fun cozies with a touch of romance.  She gets the blend just right.  This one is her newest book and is set in the charmingest of charming New England towns in a magical bookshop replete with its own tuxedo cat.  Who is not magical. Just cute.

    5) H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

    This is a non-fiction book that is in fact partially about the critter on its cover.  It's a memoir about the author dealing with the sudden death of her father.  Part of the way she does this is by training a Goshawk as a falconry bird.  It's a beautiful, gorgeous book! My Review.

    6) Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory by George O'Connor

    Hera's holding a little birdie!  Not really sure why....  I don't remember it playing a role in the story and the only bird I associate her with is the peacock because she turned hundred-eyed Argus into the very first one.  Anyhoo, this middle-grade/YA graphic novel series is pretty good to excellent with this third volume about Hera being when it becomes excellent.  My Review.

    7) Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Nathan Hale and Dean Hale

    Another horse, of course, because this middle-grade graphic novel re-telling of the Rapunzel story is set in a Wild West-esque type setting.  I really adored this ...well...adorable graphic novel and its sequel Calamity Jack.  Shannon Hale has made her name writing fairy tale re-tellings and this is the most inventive take I've read by her.

    8) Enchanted, Inc. Series by Shanna Swendsen

    This enchanted frog prince shows up on all the covers for this hybrid Urban Fantasy-Paranormal Romance-Chick Lit series.  There is an enchanted frog in book one and one of the executives of MSI, Inc. (Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc.) is, in fact, a frog but it's a very minor part.  This is a really fun and fluffy series that features a Texas girl that moves to the Big Apple and discovers that magic is real and she has the very rare ability of being immune to it.  This makes her an asset to MSI, Inc. and as soon as she starts her job with them, adventures ensure.

    9) Guardians of the West (Mallorean #1) by David Eddings

    Guardians of the West is the first book in the Mallorean, the follow-up series to David Eddings hugely popular Belgariad.  Garion and Belgarath can turn into wolves and in fact Belgarath's wife/Polgara's mother is a wolf so I guess that is why one is on this cover?  The Belgariad is awesome, I just re-read it last year and it held up and I loved it.  If you want a good old fashioned, sword and sorcery quest fantasy, the Belgariad has you covered in fine order.  I was so pleased with it, I happily jumped into the Mallorean and was bored to tears by this first book.  I haven't continued on yet and don't remember from childhood if it gets better but this first book is a total snooze.

    10) The Palace Job (Rogues of the Republic #1) by Patrick Weekes

    Unicorn!  The list is starting and ending with a mythological creature, how about that!  Ululenia, the unicorn, is actually a character in the book and can shift her shape to human, bird, whatever.  She specializes in befuddling people's minds and doing earth magic which makes her a valuable addition to this gang that is looking to steal a priceless artifact from the Palace.  This is a fun book and I'm currently reading book two in the trilogy.  It's got a nice diverse cast as well! My Review

    ************

    That's the most recent ten books I've read that have had an animal on the cover, ordered from most recent to least recent.  I read The Palace Job in late September of 2016.  It seems that animals are quite popular to include on covers. Either that or I've got a type!  What about you?  What's the most recent book you've read with a critter on the cover?  Did that critter play an important part in the book?

    Sunday, February 26, 2017

    TV REVIEW | Adventures Watching Anime


    I dearly loved animated movies as a child and it is something I've carried with me into adulthood, even middle adulthood.  Cartoons however?  Those things I could watch for hours on a Saturday morning when young?  Not so much.  The difference is that is important I think is long-arc storytelling and character development - animated movies have it (to some degree), your average Saturday morning American cartoon does not.

    So how does episodic Anime fit into this?  What is Anime?  In the last couple years I have been gently exposed to this form of entertainment and recently went on a spree.  I know next to nothing about it except that when I land on the right one, I really enjoy it. It's great escapist entertainment! The key thing that make Anime TV shows work for me is that they are more focused on long form story telling and on character development.

    Wikipedia actually has a nice relatively concise article on Anime.  A few things I want to pull out are:

    1. In a strict sense Anime is animation created in Japan.  If the definition is relaxed it is a style of animation, that originated in Japan.  Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE) is an example of an Anime inspired work created in U.S. This show, along with the Studio Ghibli films, represent my initial encounters with Anime and I think they were good gateway drugs as it were, for me as an American.
    2. The animation is very distinctive.  Some characteristics are: bright colors, lush backgrounds, exaggerated facial features, representative facial expressions, exaggerated emotions, still images with camera movement.
    3. To quote directly from the Wikipedia article: "Once the expectation that the aspects of visual intrigue or animation being just for children is put aside, the audience can realize that many emotions such as suffering, death, pain, struggle, and joy can all be storytelling elements utilized in anime as much as other types of media." This is the most intriguing and important aspect for me.  The Anime I have watched and enjoyed the most float along a line that makes them satisfying for both young and adult - kind of like YA books.  They are simple and straightforward enough to be fun but have a depth and complexity of character and relationships that makes them satisfying. It is amazing how a set catalog of facial expressions are used to capture fairly complicated interactions.
    4. Animes can be any genre.
    5. There are different kinds of Anime (and Manga) that are not representative of different genres but of intended audiences. I just tracked this down and read about it for this post and it both elucidates and confuses things for me. I think this is useful to know and I'm hoping that it will help me be a little better at tracking down some Animes I will like, however it is still a little mystifying.This article describes things very basically though in short: a) Shonen or Shuonen: Boys under the age of 15; b)Seinen: Boys over 15; c) Shojo: Equivalent of Shuonen for girls; d) Josei: For adult women; e) Kodomomuke: For children.
    6. As with K Dramas, the heroes that seemed to be preferred romantically speaking are arrogant fellows who scowl and yell at the object of their affection rather than expressing themselves to her coherently.  They instead show their love through being possessive, protective and by the fact that they yell at her a lot.  This is likely not going to work for everyone, so be aware.  Also this is based on a pretty small sample size.
    So that's an introduction to Anime from someone who knows nothing about it!  Here are some of the recent shows I've tried, some with success, some not.

    **********

    1) Voltron: Legendary Defender (?)

    I'm pretty sure this Netflix re-boot isn't technically Anime but it does feel anime-ish to me?  But what do I know?  Nothing, that's what!  Nevertheless, I charge forth.  This is a really fun space opera about a long-sleeping civilization that awakes to challenge the evil overlords of the universe.  They fight said evil overlord by recruiting 4 teenagers and one young man as knights bonded to giant robot tigers who can combine to form an even gianter evil-fighting robot named Voltron.  The characters are great (Pidge and Hunk are my faves) and it's an iconic and cracking story. I also like that the show combines space-technology and magic.  PLUS - semi-sentient tiger robots that combine to form another even more bad-ass robot. What's not to like? This is in English.

    4 out of 5 Stars


    2) Inuyasha

    This was my first honest-to-goodness Anime.  It's on the older side, airing from 2000 to 2004, and it is quite popular and very long - 160+ episodes!  I watched the first 2 seasons subtitled (Netflix) and the rest of the series dubbed (Hulu) - both were good.

    It tells the story of schoolgirl Kagome, who lives at a shrine and one day by accident gets pulled into a sacred well.  Instead of hitting bottom she ends up 500 years in the past, roughly 50 years after the Priestess she is the re-incarnation of has died.  Almost immediately she awakens a half dog-demon boy, Inuyasha, who is under an enchantment placed on him by the Priestess before she died.  Turns out Inuyasha was after the Shikon jewel which has great power and could help him transition into full demon.  Kagome now has the Shikon jewel under her protection but in a scuffle with another demon it is broken into hundreds of shards and scattered across feudal Japan.  Kagome and Inuyasha rather grumpily team up to find and gather the jewel shards and along the way add a lecherous Monk, Miroku, a demon slayer, Sango and a young fox demon name Shippo to their gang.

    I had mixed feelings about this Anime for the first 2 seasons or so.  It is a really fun fantasy quest series that alternates between one off episodes and episodes that move the overall story arc ahead.  One of the biggest complaints from others is that it went on too long and it's a fair criticism but I mostly enjoyed it for some escapist watching all the way until the end.  The characters, both the good guys and bad guys, are great and most all have emotionally interesting and nuanced arcs of their own.  The show overall was a confusing mix for me of childish and adult themes.  Much of the humor is quite juvenile and Inuyasha can be incredibly immature but a lot of the themes and language are a good bit more complex and adult then I expect to find in kid's entertainment.  I would put it pretty solidly in YA.

    I liked it especially because it had an interesting, though often frustrating romance sub-plot.  The romance takes up just the right amount of screen time and I had no problem rooting for Kagome and Inuyasha.  The interesting AND frustrating part revolve mostly around the fact that there is a love triangle.  Inuyasha was in love with someone else when he was enchanted and while his feelings for Kagome develop he never, and I mean never, lets go of his former love.  I think in the end it worked for me and was quite affecting but during the middle parts I would get irritated with Inuyasha.  He has no problem expressing how he feels to his initial love but is completely unable to do this with Kagome.  He is just super jealous and protective of Kagome but when pushed he denies his feelings and even gets surly, so Kagome is constantly confused on where she stands with him.  It's odd but seems to be a particularly favored trope because I've run into it a few times (see #6 above).

    3.75 out of 5 Stars

    3) Kuromukuro

    This is a very new (2016) science fiction Anime featuring fighting robots and it is available on Netflix.  In my mind it is a shorter, science fiction version of Inuyasha.  The storyline is different of course but there are a lot of similar elements.  Since I was looking for something like Inuyasha this really worked for me but seasoned Anime watchers may just find it dull!

    What are the similarities?  A gang of young people, with a young sumarai Ken and young feckless woman Yukina at its core, save the world from destruction by evil beings.  The trajectory of Ken and Yukina's relationship is exactly the same as Inuyasha and Kagome's, though compressed, from how Ken and Yukina's starting character arc evolves to the end, to Ken being obsessed with a woman from his original life who miraculously shows up back from the dead, and Ken being clueless about how his obsession hurts Yukina etc...  I found it satisfying in the end but I noticed a number of folks found the end frustrating, so be aware.

    Where it differs?  It takes place in modern day Japan at a U.N. research facility and the bad guys are Aliens who pilot giant fighting robots and whose aim is to take over the world.  They have visited the Earth once before, 500 years in the past when Ken (Oma Kennosuke Tokisada) was a Samurai pledged to a nobleman's house.  Somehow, he was sealed in an "artifact" which re-awakens him when the aliens show up in the present day.  In some ways, it could maybe be seen as a hybrid between Voltron and Inuyasha:).  It also has a great secondary cast, with Sophie, the self-contained French warrior/teenage girl (blond above), being a particular favorite.  Of course all the Americans on the U.N. base are kind of assholes (but loveable nonetheless), lol.

    I really enjoyed this 26 episode Anime but my impression is that more experienced Anime watchers were frustrated with its lack of originality.  I think it might be a good one to start with though!  This also has some language and adult themes and is solidly YA+ in tone.

    4 out of  5 Stars

    4) Akagami no Shirayuki-hime  or Snow White with the Red Hair

    I watched the first 4-5 episodes of this 12 episode show that features a girl with unusual red hair.  She encounters and becomes friends with a Prince in episode one and quickly becomes a Court herbalist.  There is no strong over-arching plot except for perhaps the love story between the Prince and Snow White.  I found this one to be too treacly sweet and the romance too front and center for me.  Every episode seemed to have some valuable lesson about how to be a good person and a supportive friend and partner.  This perhaps should have been refreshing after the two Animes above with their emotionally immature protagonists but it just made me roll my eyes.  The tone on this one also seemed decidedly younger and the character development was shallow at best. On the plus side the animation was beautiful.  Dropped and will not continue.

    2 out of 5 Stars


    5) Kamisama Kiss or Kamisama Hajimemashita

    Like the above, I just watched the first 3-4 episodes of this one before deciding it wasn't for me.  It also seemed aimed at a younger audience and had a more frenetic and different animation style that I didn't entirely love.  It tells the story of schoolgirl Nanami, who is abandoned by her father and ends up taking refuge in and consequently becoming the God of a shrine.  As the God of this shrine she has a familiar, a fox demon name Tomoe.  Initially, they hate each other but that quickly changes to attraction.  There is no overarching story line besides clueless-girl-figures-out-how-to-be-a-God. Again the character development was pretty non-existent.  Will not continue.

    2 out of 5 Stars


    **************

    Examining what I liked and disliked from the above, I think what I am looking for in an Anime is:
    • Aimed at older young adults
    • SFF Genre
    • Engaging, overarching plot
    • Subplot but NOT main plot romance
    • Well-developed, moderately complex characters 
    I'm pretty sure none of the above would be characterized as Josei (anime aimed at adult women) so I think I will check one of those out soon.  Otherwise I think Shojo and Shuonen are probably my thing as long as they shoot more for the upper end of their intended audience age bracket.  Any recommendations?

    Saturday, February 25, 2017

    Saturday in the Garden | 70 Degrees and Snowing

    OUTSIDE

    Seeds Glorious Seeds!

    Also saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds on territory mid-week. Also, amazing huge flocks of snow geese moving through the state - the biggest I've seen in the 12 years I've lived here.  Spring is definitely on its way despite this snowy little interlude.



    WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

    Watching 

    I finished the Netflix Original Anime Kuromukuro.  I liked it, though it really did rip off Inuyasha in the relationship department.  Since finishing that, I've had trouble finding anything else I want to watch.  I've tried a few episodes of a couple more Anime that have crashed and burned.   It's reminding me a little of when I started reading Romance and was clueless about what I liked or where to go to get what I want even if I did know what that was.  If anyone with more experience, has some recommendations I'd love to hear them.  Some aspects I do know that attract me are  - fantasy/sci-fi, not too childish and frenetic, with some romance.  I've got a post in the works that will hopefully go live this week about my adventures with Anime.

    Last night I started Glitch, an Australian 6 episode show about a handful of dead people that come back to life in a small town, not as zombies, just inexplicably alive again.  What connects them?  Why are they alive again? How are they alive again?  What's up with the mysterious pharmaceutical company on the edge of town?  I ran through all the episodes but one - it was really great!  Available on Netflix.

    Reading 

    Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

    Nothing this week...

    Currently Reading:

    • Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: A book about how to improve your relationship with food.
    • The Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab: I got this in Audio despite the fact that I hated the audio of the first book (liked the book but not the reader) but they switched narrators so...
    • Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)by Leigh Bardugo: This one got off to a slow start for me but after the first quarter, I am SO hooked.   
    • The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman: I'm pretty excited about this sequel to The Dark Days Club that is sort of a supernatural Buffy in Regency England.
    • The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic #2) by Patrick Weekes: I may be reading too many heist stories at once..... NAH!  Though, seriously two of these are straight up heist stories (this one and Six of Crows) and A Gathering of Shadows is has many heist-y like elements.  To make it more interesting the main character in AGoS is Kel and in Six of Crows is Kaz.  Anyway, The Prophecy Con.  Happy to be back with the gang!

    Added to the TBR:

    This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
    • The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee:  "An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way."  It was on the Book Smugglers list last weekend and the authors "review" of the book on goodreads is "IDK. Sounds kinda dumb." which made me giggle.

      On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

      I had an internet outage for a couple of days this week.  That plus the stress/depression that crashed down this week means I missed posting a review of Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.  It will publish tomorrow.

      SUNDAY: REVIEW | Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
      TUESDAY: TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books that Defied Expectation FYI, this is the last official TTT for at least a little while.  It's taking a hiatus at The Broke and the Bookish (well deserved - those ladies haven't missed a beat for 6.5 years - WOW).  I really like making lists so I may just continue on with my own made up top tens ...or maybe not.
      THURSDAY: REVIEW | Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


      HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

      Thursday, February 23, 2017

      REVIEW | Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

      Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
      Publication Year: 2016
      Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction
      Series: The Machineries of Empire #1
      Awards: Nothing Yet
      Format: Audio (from Audible)
      Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller


      WHY?:  This book was one of the hottest Science Fiction books of 2016 and got a lot of rave reviews.  I am nothing if not a follower.  It also really sounded like an interesting story.

      SYNOPSIS:  This is a military science fiction novel at its core.  Military officer Kel Cheris is paired with the undead soul of a centuries old General to lead a fleet of spaceships to take back the Fortress of Scattered Needles from rebels.  Problem is this undead General has a reputation for being brilliant but also crazy and homicidal so Cheris must navigate the situation very carefully if she is to be successful and come out of the campaign alive.

      THOUGHTS:
      I think I want to start by talking a little about the reading experience.  I was confused.  A Lot.  Pretty much 50% of the time for the first 3/4 of the book. Lee has imagined a civilization that is complex and detailed and he doesn't spend a lot of time explaining it.  He just jumps right in and asks the reader to keep up and stop dragging him down.   Normally this would have made me frustrated to the point that I would have disengaged with the book but I didn't in this case.  I won't say I was flipping pages at a breakneck speed (or in audio land finding every spare minute to listen) but I was curious and interested and yes, engaged with the book.  

      I wondered what would have happened if I was reading rather than listening - would it have been easier to follow? would I have been more prone to drop it?  I'm not sure.  It was definitely a more intricately plotted and detailed book than I usually like to listen to and as a result, I could only listen when I was doing something relatively brainless.  For example, I sometimes will get in some reading while doing data entry at work but this book required too much attention for that.  Pretty much, driving or walking the dogs were the only activities I could do simultaneously!  The narrator was great, though.

      So, what kept me engaged, despite being utterly lost?  
      1) When boiled down, the plot is actually pretty basic.  If you look at the synopsis above, that is really all that is going on, with a pretty significant side helping of political intrigue, and as long as you can follow that and are interested in the outcome of the siege and intrigued by the mysteries surrounding Jedao (the undead General) than it should keep you reading. It definitely kept me hooked.
      2) Kel Cheris is a good solid main character and entry point into the crazy complicated world Lee has developed.  I liked her, I was rooting for her, and her relationship and interactions with Jedao are great.
      3) Jedao and his story are fascinating.  He's an unreliable and mysterious presence in the story and I definitely felt driven to find out exactly what was up with him. 
      4) Cheris and Jedao:  The two of them together have such a unique, crazy and interesting relationship.

      I did also slowly learn to appreciate the world Lee has created.  The society is ruled by a governing body known as the Hexarchate (in Jedao's time it was called the Heptarchate) which has structured the daily lives of its citizens around an intricate calendar.  Following the calendar in just such a manner is somehow tied into and is crucial to their technology and any deviations create problems in the very fabric of the civilization.  The society is also structured by sorting its citizens into different guilds or factions based on their proclivities and talents.  In my simple mind I saw this as a more complicated version of the situation in the Divergent series, lol.  For example, Cheris is a Kel which are the soldiers and officers in the military.  Once you've "enrolled" in your caste or group, you are put into intensive training and even mentally or physically altered to increase effectiveness - for example a procedure is done to the Kel so that they will follow orders no matter what. There are people of course that could go more than one direction and there is an element of choice about which faction you end up in.  For example, Cheris is also very, very good at math, so good that she could have been in numbers nerds faction (I can't remember the fancy name Lee gives them) but instead chose the Kel.  Jedao was first a member of the Shuos  - the devious deep-thinkers that are the tacticians, spies etc... but he switches and became a Kel General and proceeds to never lose a battle.  

      That's just a small peek into the incredibly creative and complex world that Lee has created.  In fact that's the ...um... easy parts.  The society and technology is fascinating and interesting to puzzle out but I found that if I didn't quite grasp the details of what was going on, I was still okay and had no trouble following the overall narrative.  I've seen it described as Military Science Fiction and Space Opera and it is in fact, a good blend of the two.

      It also packs a number of surprises.  Much of the confusion throughout most of the book is not just because it is dense and complex it is because Cheris does not have all the pieces to the puzzle and therefore the reader doesn't either.  Jedao's and even the Hexarchate itself's motivations are confusing and suspect which sets up a big reveal in the last 1/4 of the book.  It doesn't necessarily all become totally clear but the important stuff does and it is a satisfying pay-off for much of the confusion earlier in the book.  It's a shocking, strange and kind of kick-ass conclusion.  

      Ninefox Gambit is without a doubt a really impressive work of science fiction.  Lee's world is deep and fascinating and the plot is intricate and ultimately satisfying.  However, I can't give it full marks because of the frustration of confusion throughout much of the book.  The reading experience was not all it could be for me.  However, different readers mileage will vary - many may relish reading slowly and carefully and imprinting all the details.  I prefer to get pulled in and carried along on the tide of a story.  I got some of that but it was a bit of a choppy ride.

      FINAL VERDICT:  A complex and intricately plotted military science fiction/space opera extravaganza.  Takes some concentration and can be confusing but is ultimately satisfying thanks to interesting main characters and great ending.  3.5 out of 5 Stars.

      OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: NPR | The Book Smugglers | The Bibliosanctum