Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Scarecrow King - Jill Myles

The Scarecrow KingIt should not be a surprise to anyone here that I adore a good fairytale.  It's not a secret at all, really, and I am a huge fan of the retold fairytale trend that has been sweeping the media (books, TV, movies, all of it) in recent years.  I have read many, many fairytales, but I don't believe I'm familiar with the King Thrushbeard story.  That, of course, is what The Scarecrow King is based off of.

Our heroine in Rinda, the younger princess of Balinore.  Her mother was a commoner, and while Rinda's older sister seems to have gotten their father's royal genes, Rinda herself seems to be common to the core.  Her father hates her, for a complicated medley of reasons, the primary one seeming to be that her mother died giving birth to her and Rinda reminds him too much of the woman he really loved.  So he pushes her away, and Rinda tries to get his attention by--surprise, surprise--acting out.  In her case, she enjoys spending astronomical amounts of money to piss him off.  For example, the opening scene finds her tossing pearls to fish for kicks.  Rinda's father wants her gone, so he decides to marry off both his daughters.  Imogen, the older of the two, already has a beau, so that's easy.  Rinda doesn't want to get married, and embarks on a quest to alienate every eligible man she can find, including the visiting king.  Furious, her father declares that if she won't marry any noble, then she'll marry the next man who turns up at the castle steps.  The next morning, Rinda finds herself married off to a truly terrible minstrel.

It's really no spoiler that the minstrel is the visiting king in disguise.  We know that, but Rinda doesn't, and watching her fumble her way through her supposed new life as an impoverished minstrel's life is amusing.  Her character develops so much over the course of the story, transforming from a spoiled brat into a poised young woman willing to go to amazing lengths to protect the people she cares about.  Myles' world is also incredibly rich for such a short novel.  The Birthrights of the people of Balinore are interesting, and manifest in such manifold ways that I would love to read more about them.  The Ghost Roads were an intriguing idea with a hint of menace, but nothing to drag down the spirit of the story too much.  The romance builds at a good pace--no insta-love, but no waiting until the last five pages for emotions to appear, either.

I do wish Rinda and Alek had encountered some more troubles on their journey and been forced to rely on each other a bit more.  While the part of the story which took place in the mountains was great, it wasn't really that much of a trial, except for the very end, and I would have liked to see more things happen to bind them closer together.  I also would have liked Imogen to a bit less...plastic.  She wasn't nearly as complex a character, and I would have liked to see her developed a bit more despite her relatively little page time.  Still, these are minor complaints, and I devoured The Scarecrow King in one sitting.  Which wasn't very hard, considering it's a short book, but it was so utterly charming I couldn't help myself.  I would definitely recommend this to someone looking for a short, romantic fairytale-inspired read.

4 stars out of 5.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Storm Glass - Maria V. Snyder (Glass #1)

Storm Glass (Glass, #1)
Let me begin by saying that Storm Glass was substantially better than Touch of Power, my last encounter with Maria V. Snyder's work.  However, it definitely has some serious flaws, which lead me to believe that either Poison Study, which I loved, wasn't actually as good as I remember it being, or that it was a one-hit wonder and Snyder has deteriorated since.

The plot of this book revolves around Opal Cowan, a young magician with powers linked to glass.  She first appeared in Snyder's Study series, and that's where the trouble begins.  Though this is the first book in a completely new trilogy, it absolutely cannot stand on its own.  Someone who had not read the entire Study trilogy would be utterly lost when faced with many of the characters and situations Opal faces.  Having read that first trilogy, I knew what was going on, but there was so much mentioned from it that was never explained that a new reader wouldn't know what was being discussed for a significant portion of the book.  While this means that readers of the first series don't have to hear a lot repeated, it also means that Snyder risks alienating new readers by leaving them dazed and confused about what's going on.

There are a couple of plot lines going on in this book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  One deals with the struggles of the Stormdance clan.  The glass orbs they use to trap the energy of storms have been sabotaged, and they're killing the dancers.  Opal, as a glass magician, is the obvious choice to help discover what's going on.  She's also the obvious choice to help disband a diamond smuggling and counterfeiting operation by telling which gems are glass and where they came from.  These plot lines intertwine, with characters coming and going and things generally progressing.  But about three quarters of the way through the book, Snyder introduces what looks to be another plot line, which relies entirely on material from the first three books.  Some of it is mentioned, very briefly and in passing, in Storm Glass, but not with enough sense.  Also, Opal says she's been having weird dreams related to this plot line ever since her return from the Stormdance lands, which doesn't make any sense because they're not mentioned anywhere before she announces she's been having them.  There is one weird dream she has, but it doesn't appear to be connected at all; apparently it was meant to be, but when it's actually mentioned as a tie-in, it just doesn't make any sense.

Opal is an interesting character in that she's not your typical kick-ass heroine.  She has some unique abilities, but she was also put through a lot of shit in the past, and it's left her with very little confidence in herself.  She doesn't believe that she can actually do anything worthwhile, so her development throughout the course of the story is interesting to watch.  Kade the stormdancer is awesome, and I wish he had been more prevalent in the book.  One of things I didn't like was Snyder's decision to implement the dreaded Love Triangle.  While Ulrick's character wasn't bad, I would have preferred him as a non-love interest.  He was moody and possessive and overall just not a good example of what should be looked for in a relationship.  And then when you throw in the weird Devlen element... Ugh.  I think this could have been de-complicated quite a bit.

The writing is a complicated mix.  I think it gets more complex as the book goes on, because it starts off very simplistic (not in a good way) but that might just have been me adjusting to how it was written.  I think Snyder does a pretty good job capturing Opal's emotions and thoughts, but the descriptions are somewhat lacking.  They're very much tell and very little show, and I think that might stem from the first person nature of the book.  (I generally really don't like first person narratives much at all.)

Still, I overall enjoyed this much more than Touch of Power, and I'll probably read the next book, Sea Glass, to see where Opal goes next.

3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chills - Heather Boyd (Distinguished Rogues #1)

Chills (Distinguished Rogues, #1)Ah, historical romance.  How you toy with my heart.  So, I'd previously read Boyd's An Accidental Affair, which I did not review here but would recommend to someone looking for a juicy historical romance with a pretty good plot attached to it.  I enjoyed it enough that I looked up what else Boyd has written.  (I spend my weekends devouring historical romances and books about food.  It's my "me" time.)  Chills is the first in a series that An Accidental Affair is apparently related to, but not directly situated in, so of course it was natural book to read next.

What can I say about this...?  Blah.  That's all I can say.  The book is about Constance "Pixie" Grange and Jack, the Marquess of Ettington.  Constance is recently impoverished due to her mother's gambling problem and needs to marry someone rich to cover her debts and avoid prison.  She turns to Jack's twin sister, Virginia, to help her on her husband hunt.  As the debts keep appearing, though, Constance's list of possible husbands gets shorter and shorter.  Meanwhile, Jack--who is also Constance's former guardian, following the death of their fathers--is insulted that he hasn't been included on his list.  As a subplot, Virginia has a love-hate relationship with Jack's best friend Bernard, though she has a darker past linked to her marriage to a now-deceased lord.

Anyway, Chills is downright boring.  It felt nothing happened for the entire book.  Jack and Constance spent the entire thing taking one step forward and two steps back around each other.  Virginia and Bernard's plot would have made a much more compelling main storyline, while Constance and Jack could have easily been relegated to subplot territory without losing anything.  Also, the title.  What?  What chills?  The only chill anyone gets in this book is from falling into a pond.

The long and short of it?  An Accidental Affair was enough to persuade me to read the next book in this series, hoping it will be better, but I wouldn't recommend Chills on its own merits, of which there are few.  (There are a few good kissing scenes, but they are disappointingly brief and nothing steamier comes about until the very end.)

2 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins could not be a more apt title for this book, because that is exactly what it is: the stories of the beautiful ruins of the characters' lives.  The plot revolves around three people: Dee Moray, Pasquale Tursi, and Michael Deane.  Dee first appears as a dying actress in the tiny Italian fishing town of Portovergona, where Pasquale is attempting to build a beach and a cliffside tennis court to draw American tourists to his tiny business, the Hotel Adequate View.  Michael Deane is the man who sent her there.  The story takes place in several different forms.  There is a "past" timeline, set over the course of a few days in the sixties, which is where the original action occurs; this timeline pops up every other chapter.  The chapter which do not take place in the sixties take place in a time known as "recently," with some additional characters (Michael Deane's much-aggrieved assistant, Claire Silvers, and the would-be script writer Shane Wheeler), or in other portions of the past.  There are also chapters out of books mentioned in the main course of the story, as well as a play excerpt and Shane's movie pitch.  It may seem disjointed, at first, but it all comes together beautifully (the theme word of this review, evidently) to show what each of the characters considers important, and what has shaped them into who they are.

The writing in this book was stunning.  It was, quite honestly, pure poetry.  There were times that it could have tended to be a bit "tell"-y, but Walter's narrative voice worked all of the description and action into a tight-woven tapestry that left a vivid picture of the book's events planted firmly in my head.  The language struggle is artfully and accurately portrayed--the lack of knowledge, the inability to convey the depth of emotion one desires with an inadequate vocabulary, the span of what, indeed, can be lost in translation.  The last chapter was almost complete exposition, and I normally hate that, but again, Walter paced it in a voice that left me in tears from the wealth of built-up emotion in this book and all of its beautifully ruined characters.  All of them are seriously flawed in some way, and none of them end up where they thought they would, but they all are charming and engaging, even the slimiest of them.  Walter ties up every loose end, not leaving you hanging about anyone, and weaves all of that into the sense of a larger story that all of us are involved in.

While words are easy to find when describing something you dislike, writing about something you love is typically challenging.  That's my problem in this review.  I loved Beautiful Ruins.  That's really all there is to it.

Five stars.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pink Slips and Glass Slippers - J. P. Hansen

Pink Slips and Glass SlippersThe more that I read free e-books, the more I realize why they're free.  While I've discovered some truly amazing (Intisar Khanani's Thorn was free when I got it, and was breathtaking) most of them just fall flat.  Pink Slips and Glass Slippers is no exception.

The plot revolves around Brooke Hart and Chase Allman, who both work at a pharmaceutical company called Pharmical.  Brooke is the vice president of what's essentially a customer support division, and Chase is CEO.  Brooke goes gaga over Chase at first sight, and he does the same for her.  After a bout of drunken sex at a hotel each is staying at--separately; Brooke for a wedding and Chase for a charity event--Brooke gets fired and the relationship-that-could've been goes up in smoke.  Meanwhile, Chase tries to deal with his missing, drug addict wife while raising a three-year-old son.

Overall, the plot, or shall I say plots, dragged.  They dragged on and on and on.  Not to mention that there was little no relation between them.  Hansen felt the need to info-dump every single detail about every single character, no matter how minor, and every single setting, no matter how superfluous.  For example, I don't need to know every detail about the North Carolina research triangle.  I don't need to know every single song every character listens to in the car.  I don't need to know the makes, models, and colors of the cars all of the characters drive.  These details don't build atmosphere, and they don't advance the plot.  Rather, they slow the narrative down with their unnecessary weight and left me nodding off when I should have been absorbed in a romance narrative.

That said, this is billed as a romance, and it's really not.  The romance is minimal.  The bulk of the book is Chase raising his son and Brooke trying to get her shit together, each of which could have been a compelling plot in a "literature" book, but not smashed together with a romance and ultimately kidnapping plot.

Hansen also doesn't have a very good grip on his characters.  First off, he apparently has no idea how old his female lead is.  He never explicitly states her age, which is fine, but his implications are all over the place.  Upon Chase's first appearance, Brooke knows he is forty-one, "yet he appeared her age--quite young to be running a multi-national company."  This sentence seems to imply that Brooke is a good deal younger than Chase is.  Yet later, when Brooke sees Chase with Oksana, who is twenty-six, Brooke is apparently old enough to be Oksana's mother.  Next, Chase is apparently a devoted father, but when his son is kidnapped he doesn't want to call the police because he's afraid of risking his job.  I'm sorry, but if you're a devoted parent and your child is kidnapped, you call the fucking police.  You don't go flying all over the country and having sex in the Cinderella Suite at Disney World while your kid is missing.  Almost all of the secondary characters are complete assholes, with little to no variety amongst them.  Another inconsistency, this time in plot: Brooke is "blackballed" from all the pharmaceutical companies in the area because she slept with Chase, but this happens before anyone else knows about it.  What?  How does that work out?  Did Chase's evil secretary travel back in time to deliver the news to everyone before she actually received it?  And another gap, this time in research: Disney World does not look or work anything like Hansen described it.  If you're going to make shit up, just use an imaginary location.  If you're going to use a real location, do your freaking research.

Also, the writing just isn't that good.  The transitions aren't smooth, but rather jump from one thing to another with no apparent connection between them.  The bulk of the book is all "tell" and no "show."  For example, when Hansen writes about Chase, he writes that "He had an alluring charisma, highlighted by piercing brown eyes with gold flecks."  What eyes are supposed to have to do with charisma, I don't know, but Chase never actually exhibits that supposed charisma.  In fact, he can't agree on anyone with anything, when a charismatic person would be able to persuade people to his side.  There is mixing metaphors.  There are an abundance of comma splices.  This reads much more like a very rough draft than a completed product.  A 336-page romance novel should take me a couple of hours to finish, if it's intriguing; this one took days.  And the weren't savory days, either.  Honestly, the only reason I finished the damn book is because I never leave books unfinished.

I have no idea why this book has so many five-star reviews and such a high rating on Goodreads.  My only thought is that the author got everyone he knows to rate it highly despite its overall poor quality.  I don't know that for a fact, of course, but it's been known to happen before, and I certainly wouldn't rule it out in a case like this.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Midnight Train to Paris - Juliette Sobanet (Paris Time Travel #1)

Midnight Train to Paris (A Paris Time Travel Romance)This book baffled me, and not in a good way.  It's not like I went in with crazy expectations or anything, but when it comes to time travel, I do have some expectation that it's going to be handled in a logical manner.  At least, as logical a manner as time travel can allow.  Sobanet never actually explained how her time travel works--it apparently just has something to do with a magic ring that only works on the main characters, even though someone else wears it at one point--but you know what, I'll give her that one.

What I can't give her is all of the other ridiculous happenings in this book.  Like how, in the middle of running away from kidnappers and murderers, the two main characters decide to stop and have sex.  Or how one of them suddenly gains magical powers.  Or how an "immense" castle in the French Alps has apparently gone completely undetected for more than seventy-five years.  Or how the link between twins--which the plot relies on, heavily--is inconsistently used and comes and goes at the Sobanet's whim.

Let's talk about that last one for a minute.  The book's plot revolves around two twins, Isla and Jillian.  Isla has been abducted off the titular "midnight train to Paris," the train in question being the Venice-Simplon Orient Express.  Jillian's former CIA agent ex-boyfriend shows up to give her the news, as he now works for a private investigation company which specializes in finding missing people and has been hired by Isla's fiance to find her.  Jillian insists on going with him, and from then on they rely on her "twin bond" with Isla to solve the mystery.  Oh, and Jillian and Isla also have a Dark Past.  Jillian insists that she can always sense when Isla is in danger, with an event in the Dark Past serving as one example and some others in the plot serving as others.  But...if that were true, wouldn't Jillian have sensed that Isla was in trouble when the events of the Dark Past started, and prevented them?  Wouldn't she have sensed when her sister was abducted and almost killed, instead of needing someone else to show up and tell her?  Shouldn't she have been "connected" to Isla for this entire book, rather than the bond just coming and going?  One would think.

And can I return to how horribly Sobanet handled the whole time-travel aspect?  Jillian and Samuel (the ex-boyfriend and love interest) actually change the past significantly, at least for a select group of people, and yet it has little effect on the future.  Never mind that they make it so that Jillian's grandparents never meet and Jillian shouldn't even exist.  Instead, they just get a hunky-dory ending that makes it so that Jillian's Dark Past--you know, the events that defined her as a person--never happened.  What?  Whatwhatwhat?  Never mind that they should have opened like a bajillion time paradoxes.  No, Sobanet doesn't worry about any of that, because apparently her characters' actions don't have consequences.

I didn't mind the actual writing that much.  It did bother me at first, because it's rather tell-y instead of show-y, and instead of writing an actual, emotional scene or dialogue about the Dark Past, Jillian just info-dumps it all.  But you get used to the writing style and stop noticing it after awhile.  The characters were okay, I guess.  I would have liked to see Samuel fleshed out more; he would have made a more interesting POV character than Jillian, in all likelihood.  Jillian was a complete moron who apparently doesn't have logical thought processes despite her career as an ace reporter, but whatever.  I could get past that.  It was Sobanet's awful handling of the plot itself that I couldn't get around.

Oh, and what was the point of the inclusion of the Senator Williams storyline?  I get the Dark Past purposes, but it felt the "modern" story of him could have been separated from this one and used in a separate book or something.  It just didn't fit well with the time-traveling abduction story.

1.5 to 2 stars out of 5.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicle #1)

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)I had very high expectations going into The Name of the Wind.  It was strongly recommended to me by several friends whose opinions I trust implicitly, and of course this has a very high rating on Goodreads, really the highest of every rating I've ever seen.  So...I was kind of let down that it didn't live up to those expectations.

Don't get me wrong.  The Name of the Wind is a good book.  I enjoyed reading it.  That said, I don't think it's the five-star book everyone I know made it out to be.  It's a bit unusual in that the "plot" of the story has already taken place; it's all in the past, and the hero, Kvothe, is telling his story to a scribe.  This makes it read kind of like the autobiography of a self-proclaimed hero.  This format, while unusual, didn't actually lend itself to plot extraordinarily well.  It's mostly just Kvothe going from place to place and doing stuff, most of which isn't really connected.  He's with his family.  His family gets killed, he lives as a street rat in a city.  Then he goes to the University to become an arcanist.  All enjoyable to read, but there's not compelling plot behind them.  The thing that could most easily be construed as plot, his desire for revenge against the semi-mythical Chandrian, only really comes to the surface twice in the almost seven hundred page book.  Really, all the parts I would have liked to know more about--the Chandrian, Elodin the Master Namer, the story of Taborlin the Great--were discarded almost as soon as they came up.

There is also a surplus of characters in this book, and I don't think it's well-served by it.  While several characters do come back after their initial comings and goings, most are discarded as soon as Kvothe moves on.  While this isn't exactly unrealistic, I would have liked to see a more tightly-knit cast of characters, in which everyone served more than one purpose and made multiple appearances.

As for the world...I liked it.  I didn't love it.  I thought there were some neat elements, like the Chandrian, but they weren't fully explored in this book.  Rothfuss probably comes back to them in the later books, but really, if you want to hook my attention, you have to give me more than just two mentions of the central plot-drivers.  Other than that, though, this was a very typical fantasy world.  The University reminded me of several other fantasy academic settings.  In physical form, it was reminiscent of Jordan College from Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, a huge structure that just keeps growing in a rambling manner.  In character, it reminded me mostly of Greenlaw College and Glasscastle from Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics, respectively.  The Archives had the flavor of the library of the Clare in Garth Nix's Lirael.  The magic system was interesting, but also not revolutionary.  There are actually what seem to be two concurrent systems: naming and sympathy.  Naming is nothing new in the fantasy genre at all, and sympathy--binding things to effect each other, using a weird form of belief called "Alar"--wasn't that new either, though it did go by a new name.

Also, the happenings in the present time kind of come across as more interesting.  The small town where the "present" timeline takes place is being invaded by scrael, demon-like creatures that...I don't even know.  Rothfuss doesn't explain it.  He presumably wants to keep us hanging until later books, which is extremely pretentious.  Don't mention something in the first five pages if you don't expect to explain it until a thousand pages later--three hundred pages of which aren't even included in the book you mentioned it in.

Again, that's not to say that this is a bad book.  It's quite an enjoyable read, and I would be interested in reading the second and as-of-yet unpublished third books.  However, I won't be rushing out to buy them, and I don't think it's the amazing, earth-shattering five-star book so many people think it to be.

3 stars out of 5.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Royal Passion - Jennifer Blake (Royal Seduction #2)

Royal Passion has much to offer over the first book in the set, Royal Seduction.  However, I was still less than pleased with it as a whole.  The plot follows Mara, a young woman from Louisiana who goes to France with her grandmother following a bout of depression.  While there, her grandmother gets into some trouble and Mara is conned into bargaining away her "services" in order to get them out of their sticky situation.  Those services?  Seduce the prince of Ruthenia and make sure he's in a certain place at a certain time.

Roderic, the prince in this book, is the son of Rolfe, the prince from the first book who is now King of Ruthenia.  Roderic is much less rapey than his father, which is good, but I still didn't really like him.  He was extremely manipulative, and at the end of the book I still wasn't sure if he was being truthful and sincere with Mara or not, and consequently his emotional investment in their relationship came across as a bit...blah.  Mara was extremely stubborn, to the point of it being unbelievable; she made some choices that I doubt even the most stubborn young lady would make, especially in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The cadre is present again in this story, though of course sporting a different bunch of characters.  They were all very enjoyable, as was Roderic's sister.  It was hard keeping track of them at some points, but they lent a good deal of comedic effect to the story.

I'm not sure what the whole point of the "gypsy" characters was.  It was kind of random, and didn't actually really ever tie together satisfactorily.  The explanation given--that the kings of Ruthenia were some kind of patrons to the gypsies--was half-baked at best.  And considering how little they actually played into the plot, I think the book could have been serviced just as well by Mara simply stumbling into a camp of Roderic and the cadre, rather than a camp of Roderic, the cadre, and the gypsies.

And now let us get to the part that really bothered me.  The politics.  Blake spends an awful portion of the book info-dumping on politics in France at the time of the story.  She attempts to weave the fictional country of Ruthenia into all of this, but it doesn't take exceptionally well.  Instead, it diverts attention from the primary, romantically-oriented plot and onto this weird, boring subplot.  I found myself skipping large chunks of the book when this happened, and really would have been much happier without that whole plot.  I feel like the manipulation aspect could have been just as easily implemented if the subplot focus had been on something other than politics on a massive scale.  This really, really took away from the book for me; I shouldn't have to skim huge chunks of a romance novel in order to get to the romance plot.  Overall, probably at least a hundred pages of this book could have been chopped.

2 stars out of 5.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Eternal Vows - Chrissy Peebles (The Ruby Ring #1)

Eternal Vows (The Ruby Ring, #1)Twenty-four-year-old Sarah Larker is a Bigfoot hunter whose sister went missing years ago.  Sarah's conducting research in the same area, suspecting that Bigfoot might have had something to do with her sister's disappearance.  In the process, she goes into a cave and wakes up in another world, where's she's mistaken for one Princess Gloria.  Not only that, but an immortal king wants to marry her (because he thinks she's the princess) and agreeing to wed him might be her only chance to get back home.  Once she's got the ring, she decides to stick around in hopes of finding her lost sister.

I'm honestly not sure whether this was supposed to be a satire or a serious fantasy novel.  It takes itself a bit too seriously to be a satire, and it's a bit too light to be real "epic" fantasy.  The writing is okay, but not fabulous.  It's not terribly engaging, and I found myself skimming a lot.  Peebles relies too heavily on Sarah's own internal dialogue to convey her emotions and reactions, which results in the rest of the narrative coming off as a bit flat.  Had she more fully integrated Sarah with the other characters, instead of just with herself, I think the story could have benefited from it.  Also, the dialogue isn't particularly well done.  It goes from extremely stiff to extremely informal, and the characters in the "medieval" world use modern slang too much for them to be really believable.  There's also a ton of "Is it real? Yes.  No.  Yes.  No."  That gets old really, really quick.  I know that Peebles is trying to portray the reaction of the two "real world" characters who find themselves in a fantasy world, but it quickly became annoying.  At some point you have to drop the disbelief and move into the "suspension of disbelief" territory, where the actual plot occurs.

Some more about the characters.  Frank and Victor are both controlling bastards.  At least Victor is a fantastical, immortal controlling bastard, which makes him a little more unusual than Frank.  Honestly, the whole story probably would have been better without Frank in it.  I would have actually liked to see some romance between Sarah and Victor, with Victor teaching her how to use her immortal powers, or Sarah learning on her own while trying to escape and exploring the new world--without Frank.  He was SO annoying that even his good intentions couldn't redeem him.  Additionally, most of the "modern" character had the exact same personality, the exact same sense of humor...they were virtual carbon copies of each other.  Not only that, but instead of wanting to focus on the actual problems at hand, all anyone wants to talk about is Frank and Sarah's relationship, if it can be called that.  The only person I was actually interest in was Victor, and we got to see shockingly little of him considering he married our heroine and was magically bonded to her.  Honestly, if you're going to create a magical bond between two characters, I expect you to actually use it well, not just here and there.  It's not realistic.  I mean, supposedly Sarah and Victor could feel everything the other experienced, but Sarah wasn't even aware Victor was following them until he told her himself.  Seriously?!

There are also a few situations that just couldn't happen.  While I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief in fantasy stories, there was one part where Sarah & Co. jump off what is described as a sixty-foot cliff into a river.  They would have died.  Plain and simple.  Only very experienced cliff divers can handle a jump from that height, and it has to be done under the utmost precision in pretty much ideal conditions.  While Sarah might have been able to survive this because she was immortal at this point, the rest of her crew would have been dead, end of story.  And just assuming that Princess Gloria will be loyal to Sarah...  What?  Why should she be?  That doesn't make any sense!  Sarah is the cause of half of her problems!

Overall, this was a frustrating book that just wandered from place to place with a vague plot but no good execution in pulling it off.

2 stars.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church - Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church Banished is a complicated book in that it is often contradictory, doesn't make sense, and is at once appalling and intriguing. Much of that can be explained in that it's about a real person, not a made-up character, and real people are often contradictory, don't make sense, and are at once appalling and intriguing in ways that fictional characters are not. With that in mind, I can excuse Drain's weird, mixed-up statements about much of what the church does, because she's a real person who honestly doesn't seem to have come to one conclusion about her experiences yet. Maybe she never will. It was still an interesting look into the psychology of someone who was in the church and then kicked out.

What I can't excuse is the writing. It's juvenile, at best, using words like "superaccomodating," which isn't even real word, and sentences like, "The whole thing was so lame," to describe an instance in which her father forced her to lie about his abuse. She uses "really" and "very" far too much. The sentences aren't complex at all, and I felt like a middle school student could have written this book. The writing was not at all engaging, and really stunted what I think this memoir could have been.

2 stars out of 5.

The Salzburg Connection - Helen MacInnes

The Salzburg ConnectionHelen MacInnes has been labeled "the queen of suspense" by some, and I think I would probably agree with that based on my impressions of The Salzburg Connection.  The plot revolves around a box hidden in an Austrian lake, and all of the people who are trying to find it or prevent it from being found.  This results in there being a lot of moving parts, but MacInnes handles it well.  She's also rather unique in the world of cold war spy novelists in that she actually has strong female characters.  Lynn adapts remarkably well to the adverse conditions she finds in Zurich and proves to be a good person to have on hand.  And Elissa... Oh, what to say about Elissa without ruining anything?  Well, she's definitely a clever character, and she does not in any way fall into the trope of the "Bond girl" that is so common throughout spy novels.

This is a somewhat dated book, having been published in 1968, but that doesn't diminish its reading quality.  It is devoid of the slick gadgets found in so many spy novels, probably because the primary characters are not spies themselves, and this makes it a much more believable narrative.  Mathison, a lawyer who is also the main character of the novel--he is the main character, despite his relatively late appearance--is just trying to figure out what he's gotten himself into and help someone out.  He doesn't want to be a spy, and he doesn't really engage in that much spy-like activity.  That's all left to other characters, making Mathison extremely engaging.  Because we experience the story mostly through his perspective, we get the real experience of what he's going through, rather than jumping right into the shocking doings of the underworld.

MacInnes also has a wonderful layering effect going on throughout the novel.  As said before, there are a lot of moving parts, and just when you think you have all of their paths figured out, she adds another dimension--some of which aren't revealed until the very end.  They aren't huge twists that will completely change the plot for you, but they do add a lot of "oomph" to the experience and make it seem a much more "full" narrative.  I didn't really buy into the romance subplot, because I felt it wasn't worked enough to be really engaging, but that wasn't the main point of the book so I can let it go.  Overall, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes spy stories, mysteries, Nazis, or novels about the complicated relations of the cold war.

4 out of 5 stars.