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Wednesday
May102017

Book Review: Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson #10) by Patricia Briggs

  I’m bad about keeping up with series sometimes, and that can get even worse when a series had a huge lull in books I liked.  The Mercy Thompson series written by Patricia Briggs is essentially that perfect storm.  A series I really liked to start that had some really bad books in the middle.  Fire Touched (Book #9 in the series) restored my confidence a bit that things might get good again.  So, I was quite surprised to see that book 10 in the series had come out.  I decided to order it on Amazon and gave it the treatment that I give most books I start reading, I devoured it in short order, for me.  Let’s dive right into it and see what was good, what was bad and what the book did for me overall!

The Good

Normally I think these books start out really slow, but that was not the case here.  The first 15%-20% of the book was riveting and kept me turning the pages even though I was super tired.  I had planned on reading maybe the first chapter and then going to sleep, but that just didn’t happen.  This quick start was really nice, because it made me not want to shelve it early on.  The books in the series that I didn’t like suffered from starting out really slow and just staying that way.  When you start out fast, I am willing to give your book a chance to get going again if it has a slow spot, like this one did, whereas if the book was never interesting in the first place I am going to give up a lot sooner.  I think what really helped his book get out to that quick start is that Patricia Briggs didn’t feel the need to shove backstory down our throats like so many books do.  This is the 10th installment of the series, if someone is just picking up the series and starting here, then that’s on them.

The other things that this book did well was keep the characters more consistent with what had been established.  Some of the biggest fails in this series are when characters lose who they are for seemingly no reason.  Adam and Mercy have been huge sufferers from this seemingly random character change.  Character development over a series is important, but changes on a dime are just not good for keeping me engaged.  This book stayed true to Adam and Mercy very well.  Stefan, Marsilla and Wulfe also were true to who they had been as well.  Stefan even had a bit of his old self back, but it was a far cry from who he used to be.  (For the record, Stefan’s change over the series I am more than fine with.)  if the next books in the series can keep consistency in characters then the series can stay strong.

The Bad

The middle 35%-45% of this book was deathly boring.  I don’t want to get too into it, because it gives away some major spoilers, but just know that after that first 20%, you are in for a pretty slow ride for a long time.  While Briggs’ has become much more accomplished as a writer in terms of descriptions, that’s not what I came here for.  I appreciate the effort, I really do, but it feels like as more pages drag by with descriptions of scenery less of the characters are the focus of the material.  I read these books for the characters and she did such a wonderful job writing them this time that I wish she just would have stuck with that.  I’ll go to Lord of the Rings if I want things to be over the top descriptive.

The second major criticism of the book might also be my issue with the series as it is.  I’ve lost the feeling of investment in the characters in terms of true danger.  This book has had fantastical battles in every book, sometimes even more than one, and that has led me to wonder if there are any consequences to the battles that we are seeing.  When someone is captured or trapped I don’t worry that much, because we know that things will end up working out in the end.  This book makes that even more obnoxiously obvious by the use of the bonds through magic and tethering.  So not only does it not feel like the characters are really in danger, but they are not even alone.  So, it undercuts the feeling you are trying to feed to me.  You don’t need to kill off someone for me to feel like there is a big change, but some real lasting negative consequences would be a good thing.  Kate Daniels at least had Curran losing his pack, Saiman no longer talking to them and some other minor things.  It feels like these books lack even the smaller things right now.  This book tries to do this, but I feel like it pulls the punches too much and we don’t get the full force of what it was trying.  I think this series could have killed off everyone and I would have been more annoyed she ended it like that then I would be those characters died.  We need some more emotion back into this series and it’s going to take more than 1 book to do that.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good book.  I enjoyed reading it.  Book 10 was miles better than the ones in the middle of this series, but I do wonder how much longer it should go on.  Eventually so many bad things happen to people that you begin to wonder if it’s even really beyond the point of suspended believability.  I know you can’t expect realistic, but I want something with some teeth.  The strong writing though is a nice change, so I am willing to give the series a few more books to make me care again like I did in the first 3-4 books.

Overall Score: 7.5/10 – Good read, won’t knock your socks off because of the long middle section, but also won’t bore you to death.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9) by Ilona Andrews

  The 9th Kate Daniels book “Magic Binds” was one of my most anticipated books of 2016, and was actually something I was looking forward to more than any book I have read since the Harry Potter series years and years ago.  This made me a bit nervous though, as I remember the disappointment from the 6th and even more so 7th Harry Potter books after getting so hyped for them.  Combine this with the fact that urban fantasy books have a habit of getting worse as the series stretches into the later part of the series and I would lie if I didn’t say I was a bit nervous to read this, hyped, but nervous.  This book did not disappoint and I feel like it might have actually been one of the best books in the series, if not actually the best book in the series.  For such a good series though, that’s not easy to do, so what did this book do well?

What was the plot?

Kate and Curran are just about ready to get married and give the fans of the book what they have been waiting for since book 3 or 4.  Of course, things don’t happen the way they would want though because it’s Kate and Curran and everything they try to do takes many twists and turns that are unexpected and sometimes heart wrenching.  This installment is no exception as many different challenges befall Kate, Curran, Julie, Derek, Barabas, Christopher and pretty much every other character in the book.

The story starts out with wedding planning and that remains an interlaced facet of the storyline that provides some comic relief moments in a minefield of deaths, friendships becoming strained, Roland being Roland and Kate trying to find out who she really is.  As angst-ridden as it might sound though, much of those issues are sorted through action and showing instead of internal dialogue dictating what the characters are feeling and doing. The end of the book might not give you the warm and fuzzies, but it provides a perfect launch pad for the 10th installment that I want right this very second.

What did this book do well?

This is one of the easier sections to right on a review, because you don’t have to try very hard to pick out what you really could have liked in the book.  The two largest things that this book did well was walking a fine line of jumping the shark and making things real and the continued growth of characters.  As for the former, authors want their books to feel real many times so they throw the whole house and the kitchen sink at the characters and get to a point that you just kind of feel like things are happening to happen.  This book walked right up to that line, did a small dance in front of it and then gracefully retreated before it got bad.  I was very impressed with this and it really brought the book together.  In the first 25% of the book things get real, like they got really real.  While I enjoyed it I was concerned that if things went along their typical book trajectory it would get to the point of being ridiculous way to fast.  Ilona Andrews did a good job of not disappointing me though and leveled off the ratcheting up of things and didn’t make me suspend reality too much to really see these events play out.  I’m fine with suspending reality a bit, so this isn’t an issue.  I think if a book was 100% realistic it would actually be a bit boring.  You need a little bit of fantastic to really get into things, in my opinion.

The latter of the things they did well really added to the story.  The growth of characters during this book was really nice and really made you feel like you weren’t dealing with just typical troupes of characters, which is something Ilona Andrews has fallen into before.  Julie and Kate go through the biggest changes, but Curran, Ghastek and a few unexpected characters also experience some growth (I don’t want to spoil anything.) There is also a scene later in the book were something bad happens to Jim, but Jim doesn’t react in the way that is helpful for the story, but reacts in a perfectly Jim way and then back tracks a bit from pressure and realizing he was wrong.  This growth might sound like it would be rather angst-ridden and kind of ruin the story as characters constantly bemoan things in their head, but much of the growth that must happen is spurred on by events and reacting to said events.  This limited the amount of inner-dialogue and increased the amount of showing this series does.  If you are going to cause us to rethink some of these characters, I like being able to decide based on actions and not words, as it feels like I am being allowed to decide things for myself much more and not being forced to decide by an author.

What did this book not do well?

This section is much harder to write, because even the things I didn’t like that much were more out of personal preference and not something that they did wrong exactly.  I can’t get into what those were too much without spoiling the book but I will say that the two biggest issues were a decision that was made by a character later in the book and who a character ended up being.  The issues I had was that it bordered on that line of not being believable enough for me to really get on board with it.  The former was my biggest issue as I just don’t see how this would work, or why it should have worked.  They built up the framework for it through the book and really tried to sell why it would have worked, but I am just not 100% sure I am onboard with it.  The latter was more of just a “I guess that makes a lot more sense and kind of brings that characters into new light, but that’s a weird way to do it.”  I expect this plot device to be much more liked though and I won’t say I hated it, I am just on the fence about it.

If I must pick one things that the book itself did not do well it was that it lacked on the light-hearted moments a fair amount.  This book wasn’t completely devoid of humor, but it lacked the moments in previous books that really brought levity to the situations.  The few times it did try just seemed forced and like it was tacked on as more of an afterthought.  The subject matter of this book was much darker, obviously, but part of what made these books good was that it would always remind you that these characters are real and even during bad times humor and levity could be found in the dark situations.  Even if one or two more scenes had been included I would have been much happier.  Julie lacked her mischievous side, Dali didn’t really make any major mistakes or rage in a funny way and the banter between Kate and Curran was fairly limited.  Adding some of this would have been nice for thee book to do.  This could have been done without really making the book a lot longer, and at only 330 pages or so, there was the room to add without really making anyone realize the book was any longer.  It’s a small thing though, a very small thing.

So what’s the conclusion?

The 6th and 7th Harry Potter books had a ton of hype leading up to them and they fell well short of expectations in many ways.  I feared the same thing might happen here and was I not only foolish for having these fears, but Ilona Andrews turned in such a good book that it has become one of my favorite books period.  It’s one of the few series that after 9 books I could still recommend without the disclaimer that the beginning of the series was better than the later books.  Go get this book now, and if you haven’t read the other books in the series, do it and do it now.  The books get better as the series goes on and this book might be the crown jewel of the series.  Just stop reading and go get it now.

Final Score: 9.5/10 – I can’t give a book 10/10 I don’t think.  It was a very, very good book, but since I can still find a few things that I am iffy on, it would be a lie to give it a 10/10.

Wednesday
Aug172016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

  I will get this out of the way before I even start writing this: I have thoroughly enjoyed the Marvel comic book movies more than the DC counterparts up to this point.  I have very little knowledge of the comics themselves, past the general idea of them and the characters they depict, this is true for both DC and Marvel.  With all that being said, it should be a little bit more understandable to see what thoughts I have about this movie and where they are coming from.  I view this as a more typical person review, and not heavily slated towards a critic review or comic book junkie review.  I was exceptionally excited for this film and really wanted to see what could happen with it.

Plot of the Film

With Superman no longer living, more on this later, the US is concerned about what happens if a meta-human comes down and doesn’t want to be friendly.  They are worried that they have no backup plan and that they would be left wife open.  To combat this, they need their own team of meta-humans and special people to help battle and protect the United States.  They believe the perfect group to do this is a group of people in jail who have shown no contrition for their crimes.  This allows them to be wiped out at any time with no one really caring and no one being any the wiser as to what the government is actually doing.  The movie essentially follows them along the forming and first mission arcs for the group that is named Weapon X, or the Suicide Squad.

What did this film do well?

The action was good and well-paced.  It was easy to follow with the lack of complicated and excessively artistic camera shots.  You can argue if this is good or bad, but it’s something I enjoy when trying to enjoy an action movie.  I feel like the need for shaky cam, complicated angles and weird effects with the camera are more just distracting to what is happening on the screen as opposed to enhancement to the actual experience.  The runtime for the movie was 2 hours and 12 minutes and it didn’t feel exceptionally long.  I wish that it was actually longer, but I discuss that more in the next section.  As far as the action goes, I feel like the story was well fleshed out and there was enough action to keep me interested and feel like I got to see each of the superheroes, or villains… or whatever they were supposed to be called really. an adequate amount to see what they were capable of and why they were important.

The film also does a nice job with mood setting.  From the dark scenes to the small characters designs and embellishments all things go towards making you feel like you are more engrossed in the movie.  I will talk about what the film didn’t do well in soon, but it’s important to remember that during the action scenes and some of the other introduction scenes the film was completely engrossing, because of the way that it was built.  As mentioned, the filming wasn’t anything special, but this film is easy proof that set, costume and lighting design can change the perceptions of movies more than camera angles.  That’s not to say that they don’t, but with certain types of movies it’s much easier to lose yourself in certain aspects than others.  This film will likely not win any awards for set and costume design, but it should be regarded very highly, especially when compared to other blockbusters.

What did this film do poorly?

The motivations behind this movie are nearly impossible to understand and lack any kind of semblance of reality.  In superhero movies I am perfectly fine with suspending disbelief about what someone can do, but I have a much harder time when it comes to why someone is doing something.  This movie hustles through the why of each character and you are left there wondering how this actually works.  There is a point in the movie where one of the characters runs off and then magically appears back in the lineup during their awesome superhero walk scene.  It’s never explained why he comes back, he just appears back.  Besides one or two characters there seems to be almost no reason for this group to actually stay together.  As viewers we just have to take it for granted that all this will work and that is just how it will be.  It’s not my favorite kind of storytelling, and with an overly simplistic plot I’m going to focus on this side of things a bit more when not watching action scenes.

Figuring out who the characters are in this film, outside of 2 of them, is nearly impossible really.  Harley Quinn is well explained and examined.  The issue is that she is likely the most useless of all of them.  Don’t get me wrong I love her character and the actress did an amazing job, but she is never shown to have much power and isn’t known for much besides being the Jokers’ play thing.  The rest, except Deadshot, are not explained well.  Sure, some of them have awesome superpowers, but not all of them do and a few just randomly appears.  (I’m looking at your random Asian sword woman.)  Even if you get past not understanding who everyone is, you are left wondering: Why are they not using the Justice League?  Does this follow DC universe at all?  The ending of Batman v. Superman makes almost no sense now, doesn’t it? All of these questions are not something you should be wondering while enjoying some destruction, but I can’t shake any of them.

Also, where was the Joker through most of this movie?

Final Thoughts

The film was fun, but it was not great.  I was disappointed in it overall though, because I was expecting something like the first Avenger’s movie, or at least the first Iron Man movie.  I wanted a good action movie with a good story building and character development arc to prepare me for the rest of the movies that will come after it I felt like too much was trying to be built and an overly simplistic plot combined with the lack of character development/background really betrayed what could have been an amazing film.  It was still a good movie if you take it as a straight action movie, but suffers more when you start comparing it to other superhero movies, mostly in the red team’s stable.  DC has a lot of work to do to capture the magic Marvel has right now, but hopefully they are learning something from the two summer flops.

Rating: 5.5/10 (7.5 if you just take it as an action movie.)

Saturday
Aug132016

Book Review: "Monster" by Carmen Caine

  “Monster” by Carmen Caine is the 1st book in the Cassidy Edwards series.  I got this book, because it was free on Kindle Unlimited and the overlord algorithm that be suggested it for me.  The reviews seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t be awful, so I decided to give it a try.  When I was reading the book I liked it a great deal as it kept me hooked, the first time I have felt that way with a book in some time.  After getting done with it though and really thinking about it, the book lacked a lot of important things and felt more like a moderately interesting action movie than a truly great fulfilling book.

The Plot

Cassidy Edwards is your typical mana-eating half-vampire who shouldn’t exist.  Okay, so maybe that isn’t so typical.  She is a lone wolf until she gets caught up with cantankerous warlock named Lucian who has ties to nobility in England that don’t exactly make the most sense.  They work together to recapture one of the most feared vampires in the world who has just woken up from a 400-year nap.  Helping them along is a surfer werewolf, a temperamental firedrake and a drug addicted imp.  Of course, what paranormal book wouldn’t be complete with a visit from the main characters noncommittal, issue-riddled parent that got them in this mess in the first place?

What did this book do well?

It kept me flipping the pages as I mentioned.  The writing was done in a way that kept you wanting to know more, not only about the plot, and perhaps less about the plot, but more about the characters and their motivations.  You didn’t feel like the characters were in danger at any one point, but you wanted to know more about them so you could create this connection and care about them.  Many times it’s hard for the first book in a series to capture this sense of urgency, but Monster did not disappoint in this respect at all.  On this note as well I will say that the pacing of the story arch was very good.  It’s a little on the short side, less than 300 pages, but those pages were used very intelligently.  It did not feel rushed and it did not feel lacking in terms of plot developments.

The author also did a good job with building her characters’ powers.  While at the end there is some ambiguity about what is really possible for Cassidy to do, the rest of the story did a good job of foreshadowing her potential power and then showing it in just the correct amounts.  The conceptual nature of her power, and even her existence, allow for a treasure trove of possibilities and Caine does a good job of beginning to explore these possibilities without going overboard right out of the gate.  The future of the character can be taken in a lot of different ways, but Cassidy could potentially be a powerhouse character it very much just depends on how Caine writes her in the forthcoming books and how quickly she develops her skils.  This is nice to see in any kind of paranormal book as many times the lead female isn’t the most powerful person in the book or at least never seems to make headway in finding out how to really harness her power. Cassidy is still a ways from doing this, but the groundwork has been laid.

What did this story not do well?

Everything wrong with this book can really be summed up in one word: characterization.  It was bigger than just lack of character development, though make no mistake that his is also a huge problem.  The characters themselves were inconsistent and the ways that they acted seemed disjointed in many areas.  The most frustrating of this was with the main character.  Cassidy began the book talking about how guys only thought with this sexual drive and not their minds.  The point was well articulated and talked about at the beginning.  She then proceeds to act in the same manner during the entire second half of the book.  It’s like any times he is in a room with a guy she is completely useless.  This is exceedingly frustrating, because it weakens a potentially awesome character, but it also betrays what she spends the first quarter of the book talking about.  It just seems to completely fly in the face of the beginnings of the characterization of this heroine.

Many of the other characters in this book are not well investigated and as I think back more to what happened in the book and what I know about everything afterwards I feel like I really wasn’t given a lot of reason to care about the characters.  There are some real potential for character connections in this book.  Whether you like the laid-back werewolf, the petty firedrake, the charming vampire or the morose warlock, you have your choice of characters to connect with.  None of these characters are well fleshed out though and they feel very one dimensional.  All of these characters are mentioned numerous times in the book, but the words I just used to describe them are about all we really know about them.  There is no rest of the story, and that’s truly disappointing.

Summary

This book has so much potential.  The plot at its base is predictable, but there are enough differences and fun things in it to make it unique and odd.  The character development and characterization of the different people though are frustrating and leave you feel unsatisfied once the whirlwind of the story ends.  At only 286 pages the book could have been longer and not felt laborious to get through.  I have hope that the second book is going to fix many of these problems though, as the pure writing talent is there, it just seems that the finer points of getting the characters more whole is lacking right now.

Overall Score: 5.5/10 (Had you asked me right after I read the book it would have be a 7.5/10).

Tuesday
Oct202015

Book Review: "Throne of Glass" by Sarah Maas

  The first book of my quest to read 100 books by the end of 2016 was “Throne of Glass” by Sarah Maas.  While the book is listed as a high fantasy book, there isn’t really a lot of fantasy elements in the book until much later in the story, and realistically you could pretty easily forget that it is fantasy at all for the first 50% of the book, That isn’t a bad thing by any means, but just something you should realize before getting into it, as it might not be the hardcore fantasy that you are looking for.  One point I won’t argue with is that it fits very well into the YA genre, and you will have to decide if that is good or bad.

The Plot

“Throne of Glass” has a fairly simple plot that arcs the entire book.  It follows 18-year old world-class assassin turned slave Celaena Sardothien as she is chose by the crown prince to represent him in a competition against 23 other competitors.  These competitors are vying for the spot of Champion, who will be the personal aide to the King of the land.  For Sardothien this is her only chance to survive and regain her freedom, because if she wins this competition she will be able to regain her freedom after for years of serving the King.  Of course, things are not this simple as magic, princes, love triangles, politics and more will get in the way of any kind of normal competition she could hope for.

What the Story Does Well

The world building that this story does is pretty good.  Considering this is just the first book in the series I will give it some passes for not explaining everything as much as would be appreciated.  It gave everyone the information it needed to though to understand what the world was like that they lived in, and did a good job of setting up the structures that are going to drive the story through the next 5 books in the series.  While the fantasy was fairly light in the book, so world building itself isn’t the most difficult, it did incorporate that angle fairly seamlessly and leave a lot of room for future development on this front.  The characters who were most central to the fantasy aspect as well fit how you would think.

The politics and games that the book deal with are quite excellent.  You can believe that Prince Dorian would act like that, that the other major players would do as they wish.  Overall, it has a very Victorian England feel to it, and does a good job of staying within that framework in terms of political moves and developments.

What the Story Does Not Do Well

The main character isn’t believable.  The excessive use of exclamation marks, the constant need to feel like the center of attention and be dressed in the best of everything, the desire for frilly romance and just many other things about her.  She is supposed to be a world-class assassin who has just spent a year in the worst slave camp at the age of 17.  You can’t tell me all that and then give me someone who feels like they would be much closer to a Disney princess than what she is supposed to be.  While she feels every bit of 18 with the mood swings, she lacks any of the refinement you would see in a world-class killer making it fairly hard to buy into her as a main character.

The love triangle is just forced and feels like a ploy to move the book along.  Everything could be fairly easily solved with this love triangle by just talking to anyone.  It feels like the author is trying to put two perfect relationships together and hopes that the reader will believe that neither of the guys involved in this would ever ask questions or force the issue in any way.  Sure, Dorian, the Crown Prince, could do whatever he wants, but his best friend would at least say something.  Also, Celeana has issues with Dorian from the outset, but ignores all of those to have a romantic relationship with him.  I’m just not seeing it go the way it did in such a short time period.  The author didn’t sell it to me.

This book was about 400 pages and either could have been 50-80 pages shorter or had a lot more development of the characters in a meaningful way.  There was a lot of times where there were scenes that didn’t advance the plot much or told us things that had already been discussed in other sections of the book.  A great way to make it shorter would be to simply get rid of the third person omniscient the book goes to randomly.  The book undercuts some of the suspense by going to this at the wrong time and not really allowing the reader to fear what might happen next.

Summary

The book was fine, but it lacked anything that really made it good for me.  If there wasn’t such good reviews for the second book in the series I might not read the second book.  For me, it falls directly in the spot that you say “I’m not sure what to do with this book.”  The characters don’t feel that believable at times, especially Celeana, the love triangle is more annoying than endearing and overall the plot just feels straight and one-dimensional.  I have been low on some first novels of series before that ended up being fantastic though, and this might be one of those times.

Overall Rating: 5/10 – Right in the middle of good and bad, very forgettable.