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


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.



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.


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


    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.

    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

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books That Defied Expectation

    Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

    This week's TTT deal's with those books that weren't quite what you were expecting. In other words:
    Ten Books I Loved Less/More Than I Thought I Would (recently or all time) -- or you could do something like books I liked more/less than everyone else.
    I decided to split my list half and half:  Half are books I expected to love but didn't, half are books that I am surprised at how much I liked them.  They are all books I read (or re-read) in the last couple of years or so.

    > 0 <

    Books I Liked More Than I Expected

    1) Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

    My review for this book will publish this week and I explain this in a little more detail.  It's a very complex and intricately developed world that Lee has developed and he just chucks the reader into the deep end of the pool. I was confused a lot and normally I would be frustrated by this and would disengage but this one kept me reading on and I'm glad it did because it has a cracking ending!

    2) Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

    I'm a little wary of Urban Fantasy to begin with and then the cover of book one - the outift, the pose - really had me worried about just what kind of character Mercy Thompson was going to be - wild and impractical party girl who has a mechanics fetish?  Turns out, Mercy's awesome and way more down to earth and practical then her cover portrait suggests! 

    3) Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

    I'm not a Chick Lit OR Contemporary romance fan so I was pretty nervous about reading this book even though the premise sounded intriguing and it was recommended by people I trust.  I adored it! A lot!  

    A series about Angels?  Really?  I was dubious.  However, this turned out to be one of the bet YA series I've read in recent years!  Penryn's a great character and the Angels are deliciously evil-ish.  

    I expected this book to be about work-life balance and it sort of is but it's true heart is about feminism and what needs to change in our work culture for our society to truly become equal.  It's great and didn't get as much attention as I thought it would.  

    Books I Liked Less Than Expected

    This is a time travel adventure book and at one point they travel back to the cretaceous.  Doesn't that sound amazing??  And just look at that cover!  Sadly, I was mostly bored and irritated by this book.  Lots of other folks like it though!

    7) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    I just read this for the first time last year and it certainly a good book but I went in knowing everything about it - the themes, the exact plot -  so I think it was just a little ant-climactic.

    8) Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho

    I did actually really like this book - I rated it 4 out of 5 stars - but I expected it to completely blow my mind.  MAGIC. IN REGENCY ENGLAND. And it got such rave reviews.  Unfortunately the main female character, Prunella really stressed me out and I jut flat out did not like her nor did I find her interesting.  It put a damper on my enthusiasm for the book.

    9) Uprooted by Naomi Novik 

    This was another book that got rave reviews last year and I'm just not sure I get it.  The world that was created was developed well, but it wasn't that creative.  I hated the romance (because the Dragon was a dick), I didn't love the female protagonist (for similar reasons to Prunella), and I thought the pacing was uneven and weird.  I am ready to dodge tomatoes now, lol!

    10) Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

    I just brought this book up in last week's list but it's a good example of a book in a beloved series that I was super excited for, that disappointed the heck out of me.  Wah...Wah.

    > 0 <

    Wow, the second half reads a little like an unpopular opinions list!  What are some books that defied your expectations?

    Sunday, February 19, 2017

    REVIEW | Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

    Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
    Publication Year: 2006
    Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
    Series: Mercy Thompson #1
    Awards: None
    Format: EBook (from Library)
    Narrator: NA

    WHY?: I'm actually a bit of a noob when it comes to Urban Fantasy. For a long while I thought I hated it.  Series like Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant and Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series won me over and based on that, particularly KD, most people recommend this series.  I've been meaning to start it for a good long while.  

    SYNOPSIS:  Most of the time Mercy is a relatively talented Volkswagen mechanic in Tri-Cities, Washington.  She owns her own shop and lives mostly quietly.  But her life hasn't always been quiet because she's a walker - a shape-shifter that can turn into a coyote.  Not very strong but rare, and because of this she is mostly raised in a pack of werewolves living in the Rocky Mountains. She also happens to live right next door to the Tri-Cities Werewolf Pack Alpha. So when a teenage boy wanders into her shop she knows right off he's a werewolf even though he seems clueless.  She hooks him up with her neighbor Adam, none of them realizing that the boy brings with him a whole heap of trouble.  

    Right off the bat I have to say - is that cover ridiculous or what?  People can dress how they like but who in their right mind wears a mechanic's shirt, with nametag, in the style of some kind of deranged Daisy Duke?  And with a push-up bra no less?  Seriously what the what is going on there?  This cover is what gave me pause about reading this series for so long because while folks can dress as they like I wasn't sure I would enjoy hanging out with a person who would dress so impractically in order to work on cars.  If you have similar misgivings, let me put your mind at rest - I'm pretty sure Mercy Thompson wouldn't be caught dead in the above outfit.  She spends much of this book in a stained t-shirt and jeans and is very down to earth and practical.  I liked her.  Pretty much immediately.

    And that's important because Mercy is the heroine of and the reader's entry point into this Urban Fantasy series that takes place in a modern day U.S. that's pretty regular except that many of the supernatural denizens of the country have "come out".  I liked the conceit that they have been forced to reveal themselves to the human society because the advancement of technology and surveillance has become such that they could no longer stay hidden.  Among the werewolves and vampires, gremlins and fae, Mercy is actually pretty unique.  She's a rare kind of shape-shifter that is known as a Walker and I loved that while she's got some magic and can take the shape of coyote she's actually much weaker than most other supernatural creatures.  This being an Urban Fantasy though, she is of course a real bad-ass but most of that is because she's smart, stubborn and brave. That paired with her salt-of-the-earth persona make her a more-than-acceptable heroine to head up the cast. First hurdle of writing a good Urban Fantasy series cleared! Phew!

    The rest of the cast is okay thus far. I really liked, Adam, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack and Mercy's neighbor.  He's menacing and domineering but understated enough that it lends him, if anything, an air of more authority and also makes him more likeable.  Not as crazy about her old flame from her youth but do like the complexity and uniqueness of their former and current relationship.

    The uniqueness stems from the culture Briggs creates for her werewolves and all the other supernatural creatures, though the only other group we get a real peek at are the vampires.  Briggs has obviously taken time to really think out what kinds of societies she thinks these supernatural folk would have.  She does a great job of keeping it recognizable; i.e. she doesn't stray too far from established mythology, but she does imbue a depth and complexity to how that mythology would really work for every day living.  I look forward to getting deeper into this world!

    Finally, there's the story.  It's fine.  It's action packed and follows the formula of a mystery/crime procedural which is par for the course in many UFs.  In this first book a lot of heavy lifting must be done to introduce all the major players and the world they are playing in and Briggs does a great job doing that thoroughly while also keeping the plot moving along.  The pacing was pretty good and the mystery format kept me turning pages.

    FINAL VERDICT:  A great introductory book to what promises to be a fun Urban Fantasy series.  It is distinguished for a lead character that is easy to get behind and a complex world that really explores the mythology of supernatural societies in the midst of a modern day U.S.A. 4 out of 5 stars.
    Other Opinions Are Available: Dear Author | SF Reviews | Fantasy Cafe

    Saturday, February 18, 2017

    Saturday in the Garden | My 2017 Garden Plan, FINALLY!

    Hello!  It has been a seriously crapola week and I think I have been officially broken but I guess I shall see.  My reading and watching is likely to skew towards the seriously light and childish from here on out...


    Well, It was 60 degrees yesterday and it is 70 degrees fahrenheit today.  This is Iowa. It's February.  Armageddon is here.

    I FINALLY got my garden plan together this morning and made my list for seed ordering.  I am really behind, but I will put in my seed order this weekend and work this week to prepare my seed-starting room so I'm ready to roll next weekend.  The warm weather is making me especially anxious about being behind!

    Not very colorful I'm afraid but I'm excited about it. I've built in a couple of succession plantings which has worked well the last couple years (Beets followed by Lima Beans, Radishes followed by Green Beans).  The top of the page is south. I still need to go through last year's seeds to see what I may still have but my plan is to buy from 4 different seed companies the following varieties:

    John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds (This company is a little more expensive than others but it has some unique varieties that I really enjoy)
    • Green Onions: Fukagawa Bunching Onions
    • Bintje Dutch Potatoes
    • Jimmy Nardello Sweet Peppers
    • Pequillo Pimento
    • The Gourmet Rainbow Radish Mixture
    • Rhubarab Swiss Chard
    • Bonazza Genovese Basil
    Seed Savers Exchange (right here in Iowa - my favorite seed company!)
    • Beam's Yellow Pear Tomatoes
    • Empress Green Beans
    • Henderson Lima Beans
    • Seed Savers Lettuce Mix
    • Marigolds
    • Lavender Hyssop
    • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata - they call it Red Milkweed)
    • Purple Prairie Clover
    Burpees (thankfully nothing like the Crossfit Exercise)
    • Patio Paste Tomatoes (for containers - this is not a variety I have tried before)
    Johnny's (HUGE catalog)
    • Red Ace Beets (organic)
    Most of these are heirloom varieties but a few are hybrids.  My experience is that heirlooms can be a little more finicky if you don't find just the right variety and my space is so crappy that I've chosen are a few hybrids to try. 

    Update on the indoor bulb forcing for grape hyacinth? We have Flowers!!  So I am fully convinced that the only thing needed to force bulbs inside is a container filled with rocks that are submerged in water.  Just place the bulb on the top and keeping the water filled to the level of the rocks and presto-change-o - flowers!  The traditional instructions for bulb forcing are usually WAY more complicated than this and in my experience don't work as well!
    Last Week
    This Week



    I continued watching The Flash for several more episodes and think...maybe...I finished season 1?  I don't know - I kept drifting off and getting confused about what was going on so it may still be season 1.  I don't know what my affliction with this show is. Everyone else loves it  so much and it just inflicts me with narcolepsy.

    So I switched over and picked up a Netflix Original Anime (seriously Netflix is producing SO MANY shows) called Kuromukuro.  It's basically a science fiction version of Inuyasha and I'm enjoying it.  Honestly, I may just watch cartoons from here on out  - that's all my brain feels capable of handling.


    Finished Since the Last Time I Posted

    • Mr Impossible (Carsington Brothers #2) by Loretta Chase:  Regency romance set in Egypt.  It was pretty good though I expected to like it so much more.
    • Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters #2) by Amy Stewart: LOVED LOVED LOVED. 

    Currently Reading:

    • Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: A book about how to improve your relationship with food.
    I haven't really picked my next reads - I'm feeling a little slumpy - but I got the following from the library:
    • 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.
    • Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh: The premise of this paranormal romance sounds intriguing and I've been wanting to read something by Nalini Singh.
    • 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...
    • Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey:  A retelling of Shaepeare's The Tempest.  I am so here for this.

    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 Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley:  This is an author I have heard so many good things about and this books is compared to Dune and The Fall of Hyperion so Yeah, I'm gonna read the snot out of this.  Recommended by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn
    • In Calabria by Peter Beagle:  This novella sounds like it has an interesting take on the Unicorn-Human relationship and who better to write that then Peter Beagle?  Recommended by Mogsy @ The Bibliosanctum
    • The Valiant by Lesley Livingston:  Also recommended by Mogsy @ The Bibliosanctum.  Set in a Roman Empire inspired world, YA, great on Audio. There are female gladiators. The End. 
    • Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant:  I think Amazon may have recommended this to me?  Hisorical mystery series which means I'm interested. 
    • Fallen into the Pit by Ellis Peters: This is a mystery series by Ellis Peters that isn't Brother Cadfael.  One of the books in this series was recommended by Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
    • Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron: Danya at Fine Print had lots of good things to say about this start of a YA series about a girl warrior who rebels against her society.

      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: KDrama REVIEW | City Hunter (2011)
      TUESDAY: TOP TEN TUESDAY | Romance Pet Peeves

      Ear scritches are Niiiiiiiiiccccce.
      Have a Good Week!

      Monday, February 13, 2017

      TOP TEN TUESDAY | Romance Pet Peeves

      Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

      I thought I'd use this week's TTT as an opportunity to whine, lol! What better way to spend Valentine's day, really? The topic is pretty open-ended having to do with romance:
      All About Romance Tropes/Types -- top ten favorite hate-to-love romances (from books or movies or tv), top ten favorite (or least favorite) instalove romances, favorite slow-burn romances, favorite starcrossed lovers, etc. etc. Can go so many ways with this one).
      I decided to pick on a few of my pet peeves that occur pretty regularly in romance novels. Please note that these are personal preferences and pet peeves - for others these same elements might be their favorite things and that's totally cool and understandable.  I should also point out that there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule so there are definitely some books that use these tropes/writing devices that I do like.


      1) When the OTP are immediately hot-to-trot for each other.

      If they are immediately turned on?  I'm immediately turned off.  Different from insta-love though in the same family group.  MANY, perhaps a majority of romance novels take some time to make the transition to love but don't hesitate to have the hero and heroine not-so-subtly salivating over one another from page one. Some attraction is fine and natural but explicitly stated admiration of the orchestra and balcony right off - blegh!  One recent example that was just too much for me was Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis.  Heroine meets hero by running her car into his. Her car won't start so he gives her a ride home. She proceeds to initiate a hot makeout session before getting out of the car.  This happens in the first 20 pages. What the what?  Who does that? #suchaprude  This is driven in part I think, by the pressure to include numerous sexy times in romances.  If you take your time to develop the attraction naturally, how can you fit in multiple sex scenes?  It's partly why I think I prefer to read romance in books outside of the romance genres.  In books where romance isn't the main point there is freedom to develop more slowly and naturally.

      Geez!  I had a lot to say about that, lol.  I'll step off the soapbox now.

      2) No Sense of Humor

      I live for witty banter and hijinks.  A romance that is all about the angst and takes itself too seriously holds no interest for me.  Examples of this are:  Simply Love by Mary Balogh.

      3) Alpha-Holes. Most of the time.

      I feel like I've included this on many many lists or at least whined about it before. If you're going to have a domineering asshole of a hero, at least develop him enough so that his authoritarianism is understandable. My (least)Favorite Example: Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens. And Alpha-hole that I loved? Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

      4) Heroines Who Attract All the Men

      Heroines who make every boy/man they meet fall at their feet, bore me at best and infuriate me when they're written as being clueless. Example: Bella Swan in Twilight.  Three dudes have a crush on her in the first book.  I didn't read beyond that.  Interestingly, there are some heroines who I love so much that I get pissed off when every male in their vicinity isn't panting after them.  The two that come immediately to mind are on TV and NOT in romances but still:  Sam Carter of Stargate SG-1 and Dana Scully from The X-Files.  
      5) Characters that are very impulsive/thoughtless about their actions

      In my mind this is a very specific variant of a Too-Stupid-to-Live heroine. I can't think of any good straight up romance heroines like this. Maybe the female protagonist in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig.  I'm a planner and suffer from some anxiety so it stresses me out and sometimes even pisses me off when characters are reckless, especially when it has bad repercussions for those around them. I also hate when the hero then finds it adorable. Two popular books that were brought down a notch or two for me by impulsive lead characters were Uprooted by Naomi Novik and Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho. 

      6) Romances Where the Ultimate Life Fulfillment for the Heroine is having Children

      So, marriage and procreation are an ultimate goal for the majority of women, thankfully, since our species would be doomed otherwise.  However I happen to be one of those oddballs that has never wanted children so I get excited when a romance heroine has other ambitions. I can think of absolutely zero examples of a romance heroine who expresses a desire not to have kids. Graceling by Kristen Kashore, which isn't really a romance, comes the closest.

      7)  Heroines With No Independence

      What I'm getting at here is when the entirety of the heroine's storyline and motivations relate to the hero.  At this point you may be looking at me a little strangely because the development of a relationship is the whole point of a romance so I think I should qualify this by saying this isn't so much a pet peeve as I get so excited when I encounter its reverse.  Basically I love an independent heroine who has an agenda all her own.  If the hero fits into that?  Peachy!

      8) Young Love

      In the spirit of the above, I actually don't have a problem with the fact that the average age of the characters in the romances I read is early 20s.  However, since I am...ahem...a little beyond that age demographic, I find that, I really appreciate a more mature (30+) OTP.  The only one that comes to mind, and it's not really a romance, is Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I think the protagonists in Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie may be in their 30s. 

      9) REAL LIFE

      This is perhaps closely related to number two on the list but is slightly different.  I read romances for escape/fluff and nonsense.  I like the characters and the relationship to be developed realistically but I don't want their issues or circumstances to be too real.  Courtney Milan is a good example of this.  Her books have a sense of humor, they are feminist, they are well written and I do like them but they are also a little too real for me to love them.  For example, the first book of the Brothers Sinister series has been praised because the hero is a virgin and the first sex scene is terrible and awkward.  I agree that this is a scenario probably closer to reality of the time and is refreshing but I didn't enjoy it.  

      10)  When your favorite secondary character in a romance series finally gets their own book and.... it kinda sucks.

      This has happened to me twice and from really awesome romance authors.  One was Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn in her very famous Bridgerton series. Colin was my absolute favorite Bridgerton in the first three books in the series and I was SO excited to get to his book and about his love interest.  As a secondary character he was so charming and witty and warm.... and then as a primary character he turns into a bratty alpha-hole who is borderline abusive.  I've read it twice and my opinion didn't change. In fact I was perhaps more upset the second time and got pissed about different things!  The other is Beatrix's novel (Love in the Afternoonin The Hathaways series by Lisa Kleypas.   Beatrix was my favorite and her book, while not as bad as Romancing Mister Bridgerton, was a total let down.


      Anybody else out there feeling like they need to rant a bit? No?  Well then, have a lovely Valentine's Day and may all your romances be amiable and and straight out of Jane Austen!