Friday, March 3, 2017

Beginning the year with books

Vampire Girl by Karpov Kinrade

Synopsis:  For fans of Twilight, A Shade of Vampire, and Outlander comes a fantasy romance with an original twist on an old tale.

You think it's safe to walk alone at night. It's not.

You think the only threat is other humans. It's not.

Monsters are real. Demons are real. Vampires are real.

And I'm about to become one of them.

My name is Arianna Spero. I was an ordinary girl, living an ordinary life, until my mother lapsed into a coma. Now, I am her only hope. She made a deal with the devil, and on my 18th birthday he came to collect. But there's a way to save her. There's something the princes of hell want more than my mother.


My take: So, I made a vow not to read any more series, but Twilight and Outlander rolled in one? I'm almost in. And four of the books are already out. I relent and buy the first one. And when Arianna talks about Fenris Vane, well, I'm seeing Jamie Frasier, not Edward.

The first book satisfied me enough to order the second book, and I have quit a lot of series after book one. (See the Cinder review in this post.) The writing was competent, and it wasn't the same old, tired vampire tale. Instead, she seemed to combine vampirism and the seven deadly sins, which makes for a nice, new twist. Arianna does seem to be an ordinary girl, although perhaps a little heavy on the waif side. But, at the very least, she's not a whining Bella, so I could like her.

I would be remiss if I didn't include a word or two from a friend of mine. She said "it seemed to try to cram too much into the series: vampires (although there wasn't enough blood sucking for me), hunky demons, hell (not enough fire and brimstone to suit me), faes, monsters, and anything else they could think of." For the record, though, she read the entire series.

If you're in the mood for YA Supernatural, you could do much worse. After all, 80% of the 760 reviewers gave it 5 stars.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Synopsis:  Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

My take: This might be my most disappointing read of the last two months. What? Heresy! This is Neil Gaiman we're talking about. Exactly.

I really looked forward to this book. First, because Neil Gaiman. Duh! Second, I have an abiding interest in mythology. In the many courses I've taken on the topic, Norse is left until the end (even after Egyptian mythology), and sometimes a whole day is spent on it. Sometimes not.  So, it seemed a perfect storm in terms of my reading list.

Sadly, this book reads like a book report. A book report by an exceptional kid, but still a book report. The deliciousness of Gaiman's voice is just missing. The tone is flat or school-boy excited.  Ok, maybe I could live with that. The truth of the matter is I didn't learn much beyond what I'd picked up in that extra day in class.  I should have saved my money and read Wikipedia.

Echoes in Death: An Eve Dallas Novel (In Death, Book 44)by J.D. Robb

Synopsis:  As NY Lt. Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke are driving home, a young woman―dazed, naked, and bloody―suddenly stumbles out in front of their car. Roarke slams on the brakes and Eve springs into action.

Daphne Strazza is rushed to the ER, but it’s too late for her husband Dr. Anthony Strazza. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, he now lies dead amid the wreckage of his obsessively organized town house, his three safes opened and emptied. Daphne would be a valuable witness, but in her terror and shock the only description of the perp she can offer is repeatedly calling him “the devil”...

My take: I no longer justify my J.D. Robb obsession. Let it be sufficient for me to say that I devoured it in a single night. And I'm liking Eve better with each new novel.

Wintersong: A Novel by S. Jae-Jones

Synopsis:  Dark, romantic, and unforgettable, Wintersong is an enchanting coming-of-age story for fans of Labyrinth and Beauty and the Beast.

The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.

My take:  I liked this book, although the author's style was a bit tedious.  Almost every description of the Goblin King (or der erlkonig) included the words long and elegant. I was tempted to start carving hash marks on the wall to keep count.

For all that, Jae-Jones tells a good story, and I couldn't wait to start reading it every night before bed time. It would have helped me if I knew more about music, but that also didn't prevent me from enjoying the novel. The ending was heartbreakingly satisfying.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles Book 1) by Marissa Meyer

Synopsis:  Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.

My take:   I read this book for a book club I recently joined. It was an OK read, and I mostly enjoyed it. However, I pretty much guessed the punchlines (all of them) about a third of the way through the novel. The discussion of the novel at the book club was animated, and there were a couple of Cinder true believers there (as in they had read all the novels and wanted everyone else to read them as well.) Despite that and my mild enjoyment of the novel, I have no great desire to read the second book. I suppose the reason for that is that the author didn't make me care about Cinder, her world, or the fate of humankind enough to go on.

The Foretelling: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Synopsis:  Born out of sorrow in an ancient time of blood and war, Rain is a girl marked by destiny. Her mother, Alina, is the proud queen of a tribe of female warriors, yet she refuses to touch or even look at her only daughter. So Rain draws on the strength and knowledge of her Amazon sisters to learn the ways of her people: how to carve spoons out of bones, ride her white horse as fiercely as a demon, and shoot an arrow straight into the heart of an enemy.

My take:  Meh. I loved The Dovekeepers, Practical Magic, and The River King. It seems like I've read this book about a hundred times. Fortunately, it was short.

Faithful: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Synopsis:  Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

My take:  Not Meh. This is Alice Hoffman as I love her. Her writing is sensitive, and the novel takes me to a place that is tender. Tender as in showing gentleness and concern or sympathy. And tender as in sensitive or painful as a result of pressure or contact that is not ordinarily sufficient to cause discomfort. This is a story of redemption, and it is brings all the joy and pain of that journey. As so many of Hoffman's novels do, it is both religious and mystical, but in a good way, not a mawkishly sentimental way.  Sometimes the raw emotions on the page are not easy ones to read, but keep reading. The metamorphosis is worthwhile.

Our Souls at Night: A novel by Kent Haruf

Synopsis:  Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

My take:  Maybe because I'm a woman of a certain age, I found this book charming and frightening in its honesty. There is something both noble and heart-wrenching about a late-in-life love affair between two souls who had resigned themselves to living out the remainder of their days in a lonely fashion. I like the idea of senior citizens finding new ways to connect. I liked the slow-paced approach to sex. I really liked the combination of elegiac and joi-de-vivre notes. What I didn't like was the sad truth of how much the world intrudes upon you no matter how old you are.

There are no great epiphanies here. Just plain truths and real emotion. Read this book.

ACADIA  by Sterling Nixon

Synopsis:  Acadia—the last human city, a fact all of its citizens were told from birth. For two hundred years, a countless host of creatures have laid siege to Acadia, leaving the land rough with the bodies of the fallen. For Cojax becoming a Validated, a true defender of the city, is his greatest ambition. That all changes when Jessica appears—a girl from outside the city walls—from a land that supposedly held no life. Her presence threatens to undermine the entire society, putting Cojax in an impossible situation. He now must choose between what is right and the survival of his people.

My take:  Dystopia based on ancient Greece with a hint of Hunger Games. What's not to like? As someone said, the director of 300 ought to pick up the option for this book. It also reminded me of Red Rising, although with fewer details and less character insight.

It had solid character development (if not as insightful as Red Rising), the writing was really pretty good, and action sequences weren't just chop-chop. The world building was top notch, and the pacing didn't slow down or get gummed up. What else do you need for a long winter's night?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Synopsis:  The Handmaid's Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment's calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid's Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.

My take:  Confession. I'm not a big Atwood fan. The Handmaid's Tale is one of the only books of hers that I've been able to finish. Several times. It was the most frightening book I'd ever read when I was in my thirties. I was between the births of my two children, and it might not have been the height of televangelism, but I knew who they were. It was a book that went against everything I believed in. I read it again when my daughter was becoming a young woman, and I was frightened for a whole new host of reasons. The book haunted Atwood herself.

I saw the movie, which didn't move me as much as it should have, but managed to stir a few of those old nightmares. Now, they're making a mini-series of it and the political climate underscores why we can never let something like this happen. EVER.

I urge every woman to read this book, take its lessons to heart, and act. . . before it's too late.