Wednesday, June 8, 2011

IMHO-In my humble opinion

Rather than do full reviews one at a time, I started doing group reviews. The opinions here are just that, my opinions. I have no intention of insulting an author or trying to persuade or dissuade a reader from reading these books. That's the great thing about books. There are enough out there that everyone can find something they like.

Shelter’s of Stone- Jean Auel

I loved the Earth’s Children series right up to The Plains of Passage. It was arguably a filler book, but in my humble opinion, it wasn’t needed. We didn’t need to retrace Jondalar’s footsteps after we’d read about his journey in detail during Valley of Horses. Shelters of was the long awaited next edition, written after Auel walked away from her writing due to a personal tragedy. That in and of itself makes me loath to point out that while her writing is still excellent, her editors and betas failed at their jobs. The book is overly long and repetitive. The song the clan sings about the origins of the earth and it’s people (and it’s one long epic poem) is repeated in near entirety at least four times. Every blade of grass and piece of rock are needlessly described in minute detail. While I loved the first three books in this series and would recommend them to anyone, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing to read it.

Turn Coat- Jim Butcher

This was Butcher's usual good solid writing, but I only gave it three stars instead of four on Shelfari for a couple of reasons. First, the story took a long time to set up and drug a bit even with rapid fire events. They were there, quick and bloody, but just not that interesting. Secondly, Laura Raith is becoming a caricature of herself, especially in the early part of the book where we hear her tired old "ooh, I'm going to seduce you if I want to," crap. And the "I can give you want you want...freedom from the pain and responsibility," wasn't compelling, just ridiculously reminiscent of Star Trek V as Spock's brother encourages everyone to share their pain.

Finally, I would have preferred if the resolution hadn't been so damned predictable. Sticking with the Star Trek analogy, we all know it's the new guy who shows up who will be the bad guy. The "villain" was easily identifiable from the moment he showed up and Anastacia's part in what happened was also predictable. Still, the Harry Dresden series is one of my favorites period and is definitely tops in urban fantasy. If you haven’t read it, go pick up Storm Front, the first, and you won’t regret it.

Proven Guilty- Jim Butcher

Yep, it was a two Harry Dresden sort of time the past couple of months, mostly because I have a horrible commute and the series is now on audio book read by the lovely and luscious James Marsters. Damn! I love me some Spike.

In this installment Harry is faced with the task of reconciling his role as a Warden after once being target number 1 of same group and with finding a black magic practitioner, a warlock, who is preying on people’s fears and causing psychic damage. Mix in a good deal of Unseelie and Seelie intrigue and meddling, one teenage daughter of Harry’s best friend, Michael (uber arch-angelesque good-guy who slays evil), tensions with Harry’s half brother and poor Wizard Dresden is having a really rotten couple of days.

The end did seemed to drag on for just a bit too long. The whole icky final scenes with Harry and Molly were just...well, icky. It doesn't matter what did or didn't happen, the truth is Butcher just didn't need to go there. It was more of a pandering to forbidden desires while letting Harry keep the high road. It just plain didn't need to be done. And can we stop with the final, let's all sit down and remind the reader of all the bad things still out there at the end so we can justify the need for the next installment? We love Harry. We want more stories about Harry. But we don't need the recap at the end of every novel.

Born of Night-Sherrilyn Kenyon

When Nykyrian decides the League of Assassins that has been his whole purpose for existence has finally asked too much of him, to kill a child, he rebels and quits. Only, no one quits the League. One may commit ritual suicide, but no one walks away. Now, hiding from the League with his own band of for pay assassins, Nykyrian takes the contract to protect a dancer whose father’s political connections have plagued her life.

While I'm a fan of the author, this book was just okay. I suppose if I'd read it in its true chronological order (first, before I'd read any other Kenyon books) I'd have liked it better. It is clearly an early book from and author who had not reached her potential. The series was published many years ago and held hostage to a failing publishing house until the rights reverted back to Kenyon a couple of years ago. Polished up and reprinted, the League series was eagerly awaited by her fans, though some of us wondered if she really needed another series.

As a fan of her Dark-Hunter books, it was fun to play "spot the character". She has recycled charactesr from this series and names for her Dark Hunters: Nykyrian is a mix of Acheron and Kyrian, names such as Julien and Syn make appearances. Though they have different names, even Nick, Liza, and Styxx make appearances. It is fun for fans and will give you a Kenyon fix as you wait for the next DH book, but it is really only okay.

A Brush With Love- Jo Barrett

This is a nice little book if you don't want to think too much. This is the second book I've read by this author and it has the same weaknesses and strengths. The characters are likable and fairly well drawn. However the plot is so trite and "convenient" that it is irritating. Why was it necessary to make the heroine's paralysis the result of PTSD? And curing it with a little tantrum and her declaring she wasn't a loser after everything else she'd endured ruined the entire story. Why can't the hero love her and have happily ever after with her still in a wheelchair? Why do we need a completely laughable and ridiculous recovery to end this book? As with her other book I read, the author writes herself into a storyline then uses a silly, hackneyed, and trite plot development to end her story.

Invincible: The Chronicles of Nick- Sherrilyn Kenyon

Yeah, it was also a two Kenyon sort of month. This book isn't great literature, but let's face it-- we don't read Kenyon for great literature. Be honest, how often do most of us really sit down to read "great literature"? It is good solid YA. The story is interesting, and the characters are well drawn and likable when they are supposed to be likable and not when they're not. There was a good deal less action in this particular installment of the series but it's still a good story.

I like this series for one main reason. It gave the fans of Kenyon's adult series back the Nick we knew and loved before she turned him dark and totally unlikable. I have become a bit worried about the effect of introducing this series on younger readers. My students are reading it too and have begun asking about the "Dark-Hunter books". Those are not appropriate for the middle school and up that this series is targeted at. Let's all just hope none of them pick up "Acheron".

As a long time fan of SK's adult Dark-Hunter series there are things about this alternate universe, or rather the universe as it exists according the the "original" Nick now known as Ambrose, that really irritate me with their cryptic nature and what it implies about well loved characters like Acheron. For example, Savitar shows up in this book and taunts Ambrose with something to the effect of Well let's ask Acheron... oh wait that's right we can't because of you. What exactly is he implying Nick/Ambrose has done to Acheron? Personally, I'd really like to smack Ambrose, but then I've wanted to slap him since Dark Side of the Moon. Kenyon has taken Ambrose/Nick's gigantic self pity party way too far and has turned him from dark, brooding and misunderstood hero to a sniveling little brat. Thank goodness this new Nick is a charming and lovable as the old Nick was.

She Walks in Beauty- Siri Mitchell

A nice little story of the late Victorian period in New York and it's society with rules that would out do even the strictures of London's Regency period. It was an entertaining read full of the silly "misunderstandings" that often are used in the place of detailed plot development. This is an inspirational/Christian fiction that seems to be minus the Christian fiction and inspiration except toward the end when it becomes a very heavy handed addition to the plot, almost as if the writer had written a nice little historical fiction story with a character who goes to church on Sunday and was told she needed to strengthen the inspirational elements, so she tossed them all in at the end.

Not to mention the over sudsy soapbox about corsets that gets dumped on the reader. Okay, corsets bad. But the broader message that one should love and accept one’s appearance does come through well, not with the horrors of the corset being slammed about the reader’s ears, but in the simple act of Clare’s taking off the corset, curling up in her dressing gown and reading her book toward the end and her shocking declaration that she would need to be remeasured because she was not wearing the corset ever again.

Somewhere to Belong- Judith Miller

Johanna and Berta are two very different young women. Johanna is a life long resident of the Amana colony and a model of young womanly behavior. For this reason she is chosen to help newcomer, Berta, to adjust to the communal, collective, God-centered life of the Amana colony after having lived her life as the daughter of a prominent Chicago physician. And to say the spoiled and selfish Berta is not happy about her new living arrangements would be a gross understatement.

Set just a few years after the Great Fire of Chicago, this historical novel is an example of a good inspirational book. Spirituality is present, woven through the fabric of the story without seeming overbearing or in your face. The only problem I had with this story, why I didn't give it 5 stars, is that the character of Berta was thoroughly unlikable for far too long in the story. More than half-way through and I still wanted to put aside the pacifistic, loving world of Amana and slap that girl silly. Even reminding myself she was very young didn't help. Miller handled Berta's transformation well. Often in such a book there is a lightening bolt moment when the character changes radically and conveniently. Berta's transformation was slower and had it's moments of backsliding. Her world was shaken a part and then a serious event occurs that is believable as the catalyst for her change.

This is an excellent departure from the usual Amish setting of the Bonnet novel.

You Don’t Even Know Me- Sharon G. Flake

This is a bit different than the books I usually read and review but I am such a fan of Sharon Flake that I couldn’t wait to pick it up. It's a good companion to What Am I With Out Him, which tells the stories of teenage girls and their relationships to boys in their lives. The problem is this book, despite it's cover, is not really one that can be sold to boys. As a middle school teacher, I can tell you that I may be able to convince a boy to take this book, but they would never finish it. Instead it will be read by girls.

The short stories in the anthology are really character sketches, portraits of young urban boys trying to find themselves and their path in the increasingly confusing and dangerous streets of major US cities. One shows us a boy whose obese adoptive father loves him like no one ever has, yet is a source of worry, fear and embarrassment for the youngster, We see a young man helping a new girl move into his building and discovers that she has a similar problem to him…a hot young mom. Both teens are faced with mothers who are still young and sexy and want to flaunt it, but the problem comes when the new mom on the block sets her sights on flaunting it with him. How does a young man say no to that, even when he knows it will hurt the woman’s daughter and his own mother. A unique look at what some would call a lucky break and others would call child abuse. A third young man struggles with the restrictions put on him by his police officer stepfather when he really just wants to get out on the street and hang with the other boys. But if he does, who will watch his two younger sisters? Where does his responsibility lie? To his family or to his own right to be young and have fun while he’s young.

This might be a great book for a boy’s literature circle, but you want to be prepared for the conversations to get uncomfortable.

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