Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Quickie Review of Saga, Volume 2, by Brian K. Vauhan

Saga, Volume 2It's probably obvious by now that I'm not as comfortable reviewing graphic novels as I am with standard novels. It's more or less an entirely different medium, and my ability to criticize it is just not very well developed. I can't, for example, effectively comment on are style or layout because my experience is simply inadequate. However, my mission on this blog is to share good stories when I find them and warn against the bad ones. This is a good story.

Saga was a weird little reading detour for me. I'm not sure why I picked it up, considering the fact that the only graphic novel series I've bothered to invest time and money in (Fables and Sandman), were ones I chose because they have legitimacy and history and dozens of great reviews to recommend them. Saga, on the other hand, is fairly new. This volume only marks issues 7-12, but every single issue is a larger than life demonstration of the upper limits of what graphic novels can do when it comes to the weird and the wonderful.

Story-wise, we are still following newborn Hazel and her family, and this volume introduces us to her paternal grandparents. What has impressed me most about the series so far is the layer of sincere emotion laying right alongside the bizarre-creepy-gross. Alana and Marco fell in love, not entirely by accident--you kind of get the sense that they really wanted to. Irrational and impulsive though they might be, they really just want to hold their family together. When that means being honest with Marco's parents, and when they seem to react badly, Marco and Alana are prepared to stand their ground.

The dialogue is the best thing about this book. It's funny without being too silly. Whenever you're in danger of taking this book too seriously, the characters are there, hanging out right on the edge of ridiculous. I particularly enjoyed meeting the author of the trashy novel that changed Alana's life. He offers this sneaky little commentary on author intention vs. reader interpretation, while never tipping us off as to what his real leanings are. This, in the same book that has robot alien sex and monster penises. It's a raunchy book, but the sex and unapologetic nudity pretty much work in context. It's not a book for children, but again, the weirdness is part of the charm.

 In any case, I fully recommend that this is not a book for everyone. It is explicit and it is violent and it is easily the strangest thing I've read this year. At the same time, if that warning doesn't put you off, I encourage you to at least give the first twelve issues of Saga a try. It's worth experiencing. 4.5 stars

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review of Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander

Moonshifted (Edie Spence, #2)It's no secret that I heartily enjoy urban fantasy, particularly the kind with kick-ass female leads and large scale monster hunts. The Edie Spence series is more of the same, except that the heroine is not particularly kick-ass at all. Edie is a nurse working third shifts at a hospital ward secretly dedicated to creatures of the night--shapeshifter, vampires, and vampire's servants. Moonshifted is the second book in the Edie Spence series.

After the events of the first book, I thought it was interesting to see that Edie is becoming even more settled into her role at the hospital, and in fact might even enjoy knowing the secrets of the supernatural world. This, despite the fact that her zombie boyfriend left her, she witnessed a brutal hit-and-run on a werewolf, and she's been asked to appear at her vampire friend's induction ceremony.

What made this book (and the first one) work for me is Edie. She's incredibly well written, and she just feels real to me. She's relatable because she's both an underdog and a bit of a screw-up, yet she's not stupid. Throughout the book, she's genuinely trying to make the best moves and work out who she can trust, but she makes mistakes and the odds are against her. In addition to the supernatural conflicts--the fight between werewolf leaders and the vampire politics, we also get a painfully realistic look at her personal life. Edie's brother is the motivating factor for her working in the supernatural ward in the first place--the powers that be keep her brother off of drugs as long as she works for them. She really and honestly loves her brother, she wants to help him, but she's also faced with the constant realization that her help can only go so far, and she can never afford to trust him completely. Plus Edie is broke, PB&J for dinner every night broke. The girl can't catch a break. My point is, there's something cathartic about seeing Edie's messed up life and her bad decisions with regard to men and her endless fight for survival as a human in a tooth and claw world. She survives on pure determination, and it's awesome.

While I obviously can't say enough about how much I like Edie, the plot of this book in itself was nothing too special. The power struggles of alphas, like we see with the werewolves, is on the point of being old hat in the urban fantasy world. Same with the vampire politics. To her credit, the author does a good job of making us question who Edie can really trust and what the smartest path for her really is. To her discredit, by the time I finished the book I was left with few truly memorable plot points to carry me forward. We'll have to see, with book three, if the originality of the plot improves.

To sum up, I've really been enjoying the fish-out-of-water nature of Edie's story, and I love her character, and for that reason I do continue to recommend this series. I expect good things from it in the future. 4 stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review of The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand

And yet more contemporary romance! Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate books are a bit like quiet, modern fairytales set in Paris, where food artists make impossibly brilliant and delicious things with chocolate. They aren't books to read if you're on a diet, because you will want chocolate, and if you're like me you will eat all of the chocolate.

Jolie is trying to talk pastry chef Gabriel Delange out of suing her father, who used an image of a lovely pastry rose on the cover of his new cook book--a rose that he has been passing off as his own work, despite the fact that it was Gabriel's personal creation. Jolie argues that he father's health is fragile and that Gabriel should not be a bully. Gabriel has a serious grudge against her father, though, and is determined not to let up. Taking advantage of the situation, Gabriel concocts a scheme that will force Jolie to work with him in writing a cookbook. After all, Gabriel has a hard time in the dating pull, and Jolie is more than a little attractive.

The second book was so magical that somehow, I expected the same sort of tone from this one. What I got instead was a more petty seeming drama and a tone of conflict similar to the first book. It works alright in it's own way, but it's just not what I prefer. I got impatient with Jolie constantly defending and protecting her father, who's deflated ego seemed to rule her life and actions. I found her very smart and enthusiastic, but her motivations were to irritating to keep her relatable.

Gabriel was charming but far more forgettable than the heroes of the previous books. I finished this book at the end of May, and already his character has faded to almost nothing. I know that he's meant as the "beast" of the piece, that he roars and throws things and traps Jolie into staying with him, because that's the only way he can hold onto a woman long enough to woo her.

As I said, this book lacked some to the enchanting qualities of the previous installment, but it's nonetheless an appetite inducing indulgence. If not perfectly memorable, it is at least perfectly readable and quite tasty. 3.5 stars.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Down London Road by Samantha Young

Marching right along with my "catch up" reviews, we have another contemporary that I read in May (lots of contemporaries coming up--hunker down, kids).

16140408I'll admit that Samantha Young's On Dublin Street series has taken me a bit by surprise. The way that the first book looked, the descriptions, and most of the reviews (both positive and negative), had me kind of convinced that it wasn't for me. And yet in the case of the first book and Down London Road, I was at least occupied if not fully entertained by the story. It's just engaging enough that it keeps you reading, though something keeps it from being elevated to my "favorite romance of all time" list.

Jo is a bartender who lives with her alcoholic mother and teenaged little brother, whom she protects at all cost. Her highest ambition in life is to marry a rich man, mostly for her brother's sake. She suffers from your text book self esteem issues--figures she pretty enough to land rich boyfriends, but not smart enough to do anything meaningful. But then along comes Cameron, and he's sexy as hell and very intriguing...but he's kind of between jobs, and ends up working at the same bar as Jo. In short, he's not at all her target guy. He's just irresistible enough to have Jo lowering, or perhaps raising her standards.

I'll say right off the bat that Jo is an annoying hypocrite at times. The book desperately wants to show us that she's not shallow, and at times I can believe that. She loves her brother, she works hard, she has all sorts of hidden talents. But when it comes to gifts and help and money, she's totally incapable of thinking logically. She's fine accepting expensive presents from the boyfriends that she dates because they're rich. She's fine with the idea of letting them support her, should one ever purpose. To her credit, she tries to put her heart into her relationships and does develop real feelings for these guys, but the term "gold digger" still applies. She's fine exchanging affection for money, but when her friends offer to help her financially, or even just to get her a better job, all of the sudden she's too proud to accept help. That's messed up. The author means us to think this of course, but I think Jo is more frustrating of a character than the author intended her to be. Like Jocelyn in the first book, Jo's emotional baggage is so obvious and so telegraphed that it actually becomes absurd. Instead of making her more three dimensional, it just serves to remind the reader that she's entirely fictional, and not very likeable to boot.

I actually did like Cameron. I felt he seemed like the typical guy, not overly perfect as men in contemporary romances can sometimes be. The moments when he was kind of a jerk to Jo? Well, I was kind of on his side, honestly. She's the kind of person that begs to be judged, and he makes up to it with hotness and a reasonable level of reliability. I like that he's unflinchingly honest, even if it means being a dick. Sometimes dicks are necessary.

I'm a little hazy on the plot details since I read this in May, and my notes are sparse and I can't recall there being a plot for the most part. Much of the internal drama centers around Jo's above mentioned insecurities, which thankfully become easier to ignore as the story progresses. The external plot is that Jo's parents are awful people, but she has Cameron and the two of them can fuck like bunnies. Jo has to deal with the fact that her mother is an apparently irredeemable alcoholic and her father is absent until he's needed as the villain of the climax of the story. She deals with that by learning to lean on Cameron, have monkey sex with Cameron, and believe in herself. The usual.

Overall this book was very readable, but probably forgettable long term. I like certain aspects of the characters but got a bit frustrated that the author used all the most obvious traits and the laziest path of character development for Jo. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Return of the Penguin, and a Quick Review of A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Here I am, returning to the world of book blogging after a long 2 1/2 month absence. Wow. When I decide to take a break from reviewing, I honestly never intended to be away for even a whole month. My original justification was that I had major readers block and I just needed a breather so I could come back fresh, and I thought two weeks would do it. Life happened, as it often does. I have no justification other than the basic fact that I was doing other things. Fun things. Important things. Non-bookish things.

The first month of my absence was spent rereading Harry Potter. just felt like the time to do that. It felt like a restful thing to do. I can't really explain the comfort of wrapping myself in the warm blanket of nostalgia, but I'm sure it's something every adult is familiar with. It was also interesting to experience these books for the first time as an adult. The last time I did a reread was just before book 6 came out (with Deathly Hallows I decided to forgo rereading and just dive right in). So it had been a minimum of five years since I touched these books. Viewing Harry Potter through new eyes, I was just as enchanted as I'd ever been, though I spot more details now, and I spot more flaws now. Finishing the series was just as bittersweet this time as it was five years ago.

Anyhow, I still really wanted to keep up with my reading and pursue this years goal to read 113 books, even though I wasn't sure when/if I'd get around to reviewing them. While finishing my HP marathon, I chose to read a lot of graphic novels in order to (almost) keep up with my goal. If that sounds a bit like cheating...I don't care. If Goodreads counts them, that's good enough for me. I plan on reviewing them all in good time as well.

That brings me to my final "housekeeping" notes before I move on to my review. While RtP is back up for review purposes, I'm going to be operating at a tempered pace while I try to resume my reading/reviewing rhythm. I'm keeping all featured posts and memes (with the possible exception of quickies like Follow Friday) are under suspension until such a time as I'm caught up on plain old book reviews.

With that in mind, I'm going to start by doing a quickie review of a book that I read all the way back in May. Yeah. Obviously I'm going to be hazy on the details, but I still wanted to cover it, since Karina Bliss is one of my all-star authors.

16160119A Prior Engagement is the final book in Bliss's Special Forces series, every one of which you should really go read like right now. They are Harlequin's Super Romance line at it's best--dramatic, heart-wrenching stories that go just a shade deeper than your average category romance. In this book. For three books, Lee was thought to be dead. His SAS buddies watched him die, or so they thought. In reality, he's been in enemy hands all this time--tortured, starved, and barely holding on to his sanity. When he's finally rescued and brought back to the world of the living, it's to discover that his once girlfriend, Jules, has betrayed him. Before he left on his last mission, he asked her to marry him. She turned him down flat. Yet now she wears his ring, spends his money, and has all of his friends believing that in her goodness.

Not only did I find the conflicts in this book intriguing, but I was surprised by how not cheesy they were. Bliss handles Lee's PTSD perfectly. He tries not to wallow, he makes a conscious effort to work through his issues on his own. He has a lot to work through, and he's developed a bit of a dark side that he needs to cope with. What I liked about Jules was how reasonable the author made her position seem. When I first read the description I thought, "What a BITCH,". But once you learn the circumstances behind her lies and half-truths, they seem almost completely justifiable. She accepted Lee's ring to honor his memory and make his friends happy. She spent his money to help Lee's father fulfill some bucket-list dream vacations, and only thinks of her own desires after the fact. She tries very hard to put things right once Lee returns, so she ends up being quite a sympathetic character.

I didn't so much care for the fact that Lee fakes amnesia and tells other lies just to screw with Jules. Again, he's been through hell and has no reason to think anything of her but the worst, but I felt his way of handling everything was a bit immature.

So in the end, this wasn't the strongest or the weakest of the four book series. As usual Bliss takes a cheesy trope like the Back-From-The-Dead hero and turns it into an enjoyable story. 4 stars.
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