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Book Review – The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson @BrandSanderson

February 14, 2014 Leave a comment

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Description:

WINNER, 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella 
Nominee, 2013 World Fantasy Award for Novella 

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, The Emperor’s Soul showcases a fascinating magic system as the clock ticks down for a condemned criminal.

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create–to Forge–a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal counselor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…

*

Well, no wonder Brandon Sanderson’s novella The Emperor’s Soul earned a Hugo – it’s a really good book, and I loved the creativity of the magical system it explored. It sure left me wanting more long after I’d finished it. I even checked Brandon Sanderson’s catalog to see if he might have written a sequel in the interim (from it’s release in November, 2012).

It amazes me, really, the creativity of fantasy/sci fi authors like Mr Sanderson. He explained in his afterword that he got the idea after visiting a museum in Taiwan and seeing the red signature seals you see in Chinese artwork. He went from that to – What if the stamp wasn’t just the signature of the artwork’s creator? What if stamping a work allowed someone to change the entire history of an object (for example, an empty wall becomes an exquisite wall painting once you add the history that a master artist once spent weeks convalescing in the room)? And a step further – is it possible for a master of the craft to do the same for a brain-damaged person, rebuild the person’s entire history and personality from scratch? Just blew my mind.

If you’re after an afternoon or two of “blowing your mind”  too – keep this book in mind. Maybe, if there are enough people wishing for more Shae, Gaotona and Emperor Ashravan – a follow-up might just materialize!

The Emperor’s Soul) by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment) is available on Amazon, B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo books

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Book Review – The Curse of the Wendigo (Monstrumologist #2) by Rick Yancey

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

The Curse of the Wendigo (Monstrumologist #2) by Rick Yancey

Book Description:

Rick Yancey’s first gothic suspense tale, The Monstrumologist, earned him a prestigious Michael L. Printz Award. The second installment of this acclaimed series, Curse of the Wendigo, finds young Will Henry on the hunt for a supernatural beast plaguing New England in the late 1800s.

Will and his mentor, the domineering Dr. Warthrop, are enlisted to help the doctor’s former fiancée. It seems her husband has been lost in the Canadian wilderness. And to make matters worse, there are reports that a Wendigo – a creature who gorges on human flesh – is on the loose.

*

I found Rick Yancey’s gothic horror story The Monstrumologist to be pretty bloody brilliant, so the second book in the series certainly had a lot to live up to.  And live up it did (although my favorite is still the first book). Do you want something scary to read tonight that will keep you up, keep you turning the pages in suspense, fire up your adrenaline? Add this to your TBR list (but if you haven’t yet, read book #1 first!)

Just a note though – while I think Curse of the Wendigo is an EXCELLENT sequel (serving up new monsters with a great heaping side of blood and gore, plus trips to the Canadian wilderness and 1800 Victorian New York) and I’d highly recommend it to any “mature” literary horror fan,  I really don’t think it should be marketed to young readers. Yes, the hero in the book is a 12-year-old orphan, but the situations he and his guardian Dr. Warthrop find themselves in are truly horrifying.  Stomach churning-, nightmare inducing- horrifying.

Maybe the problem is that Rick Yancey is such an amazing writer – the setting, the rich (aka gruesome) imagery, the atmosphere, the dialogue, the characters all felt very intense and real. If this book were a movie, I’d be watching it through my fingers – wincing at certain scenes (i.e. the autopsy scene!) while scared out of my mind (but loving every minute, mind you.) It’s very graphic & violent (in a literary Dickensian way), and terrible things happen to a lot of innocent people, and no wonder young Will was a traumatized mess in the end!

Once I’ve recovered, Book #3 The Isle of Blood next!

Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is available on Amazon, B&N Nook, Kobo books and iTunes iBooks.

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Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham

August 24, 2013 Leave a comment

The Racketeer by John Grisham

Book Description:

Given the importance of what they do, and the controversies that often surround them, and the violent people they sometimes confront, it is remarkable that in the history of this country only four active federal judges have been murdered.

Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.

Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge’s untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status? Former attorney. Current residence? The Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm’s situation isn’t looking too good these days, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve. He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge’s body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price — especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett’s death. And the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday . . .

Nothing is as it seems and everything’s fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller.

*

Okay, how did The Racketeer end up one of Amazon’s mystery/thriller Best Books of the Month picks for October 2012? Must’ve been a lean month or maybe they were judging it by the first half of the book (which was great) and ignored how things went downhill in the second half? I don’t get it. I was so annoyed I wanted to chuck my copy out the window by the time I was done…

The Racketeer introduces the main character, Malcolm Bannister, to us as this 43 y/o black lawyer who is halfway through his ten-year sentence for racketeering. Malcolm explains that he is innocent and reveals the circumstances behind his unjust incarceration. He’s lost his wife to divorce and missed out on his son’s growing up years. Malcolm came across as a disillusioned (ex-idealistic) good & honest guy, so I was really rooting for him when Malcolm reveals that he has a final card to play in his bid for freedom.

Here’s the situation: a federal judge is found murdered –  the FBI is stumped, no leads, no suspects – but guess what, Malcolm just happens to know who did it, and why. Malcolm is willing to name names BUT only for the right price (aka his freedom). Like I said, it’s a GREAT start. There’s suspense, excitement, I’m devouring pages, hoping Malcolm gets some redemption, marveling at how clever he is….  and had things stayed the course, I would have declared The Racketeer one of John Grisham’s best legal thrillers to date.

But. And that’s a big BUT.

But in the second half, John Grisham pulls the rug out from under us. I don’t want to spoil things, so I won’t go into details, but apparently, much of what we’d been told earlier by Malcolm ranged from half-truths to lies.  Needless to say, I was pretty much pissed off for much of the second half of The Racketeer (hence, wanting to throw my copy out the window). The plot changes were so bizarre and came out of left-field. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know the main character anymore – Malcolm was turning out the opposite of who he claimed to be, and was off stalking this new character we’d never heard of, and unbelievably, the ‘love of his life’ pops up too (a woman who was barely mentioned in the first half, nary a hint that there was anything more between them other than some flirting). The ending was something out of Wild Things (the movie) mashed with The Sting (the movie). Bizarre, just bizarre.

Malcolm may have sailed off into the sunset much like Neve Campbell’s character in Wild Things, but as far as I was concerned, he’d turned from hero to zero. Good riddance to him. And good riddance to this book too – word of advice, don’t bother.

The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday) is available on Amazon, B&N, Apple iBooks, Book Depository

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Book Review – I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: The Search for Sam by Pittacus Lore

August 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Book Description:

Before Number Four, there were One, Two, and Three. Until now we’ve only known that the Mogadorians caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. But all of that is about to change. . . .

In this heart-racing companion novella to the New York Times bestselling I Am Number Four series, discover what happened to Malcolm Goode — the one human on Earth who can help the Garde learn the truth about their past and help them save our planet.

No one has seen Sam Goode’s father, Malcolm, since he mysteriously disappeared years ago. Sam had always fantasized that he was abducted by aliens. But that was before he knew the truth: aliens do exist, and some of them seek to destroy our world. That was before he himself became another one of their captives. Now father and son are both missing. . . .

But when a rogue Mogadorian named Adam, who now has Number One’s memories, decides the only way to make up for his past atrocities is to return home and infiltrate the Mogadorian stronghold, he’ll find the key to saving both Sam and Malcolm’s life.

*

I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: The Search for Sam picks up almost immediately from the cliffhanger where The Lost Files: The Fallen Legacies left off. The events in The Search for Sam eventually parallel the last part of The Rise of Nine (the 3rd novel-length book in the series), but it’s not necessary that you’ve read The Rise of Nine first.

In the previous novella The Fallen Legacies, the Mogadorian-with-a-heart-of-gold Adam was left for dead by his father and brother… and since Adam is pretty much the only likable character I’ve met in the series, I was plenty glad that his character survived to live another day. Honestly, if he had died, I would have just given up on the series. The Rise of Nine was so bad, with the surviving Garde continuing to act like spoiled immature idiots and the main Mogadorian villain Setrakus Ra turned out to be so lame. At this point, I’m pretty much only interested in finding out what happens to Adam next.

Adam continues to be a character I can root for, at least, and there’s some interesting developments in this novella about his relationship with the long-dead Garde One whose memories Adam shares after the mind-meld experiment in  The Fallen Legacies. I’m glad that Adam’s character continues to grow and mature, and maybe, he’s also a favorite character of the writers… since he’s really written much better, more defined, than the other Garde characters.

It’s kind of misleading to have titled this The Search for Sam though, since the novella is pretty much still Adam’s story, even though we do meet Sam’s missing dad Malcolm Goode. So, fans of the Sam character may be a bit disappointed since he doesn’t even figure in the story until the very last pages.

At any rate, this one ends in another cliffhanger as to Adam’s fate, and was much too short besides. I really wish that the author (s) had just combined the Lost Files stories into one book, or at least, Adam’s story into one full length novel. His story is definitely the most interesting for me in the I Am Number Four universe.

I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: The Search for Sam by Pittacus Lore is available on Amazon as a Kindle Edition ($3.99).

You can also get the ebook at B&N, Kobo, Sony and the Apple iBookstore.

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Book Review – The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling (Writing as Robert Galbraith)

July 23, 2013 Leave a comment

The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling (Writing as Robert Galbraith)

Book Description:

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 2013 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide.
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

*

Okay, I never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling until it leaked out that this was really by JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym. When I found out, of course I had to get my own copy (together with a LOT of her other fans, sending the book up the bestseller lists!)

So, after practically devouring the book for the last three days – what can say? I liked it, really liked it – I forgot that this was written by JK Rowling even. I have no idea how some people are saying that they recognize JK Rowling’s style, since I couldn’t tell at all… Honestly, I’d had liked it even if  it really was written by a debut author named Robert Galbraith.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a good old-fashioned whodunit in the vein of PD James and Agatha Christie, very English – London front and center –  with a complex-enough puzzle, plenty of interesting suspects, good characters who I cared about almost from the start, and good story-telling that just sucked me into the page … in short, I really look forward to the next installment!

More reasons why I’m recommending this!

  • Very likable detective in  the PI Cormoran Strike – he reminded me a bit of Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody (from the Harry Potter books) but maybe only because I knew this was JK Rowling going in
  • Very engaging (and smart!) sidekick in Strike’s temporary secretary Robin (she was my fave character  - and I’ve got high hopes that she’ll play a more prominent role in future books)
  • Surprise (to me) ending – I had NO IDEA who the killer was (even with the plentiful clues). I like being surprised :)
  • And, a nice break from the gory details, violence and sex that’s pretty typical of the Scandinavian crime novels I’d been reading recently!

The Cuckoo’s Calling (book 1 of the Cormoran Strike series) by JK Rowling (Writing as Robert Galbraith) (Mulholland Books) is available on the ff sites: Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes iBooks, Diesel, Sony and The Book Depository.

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Book Review – The Paparazzi Project by Kristina Springer (@TinaSpringer)

May 18, 2013 Leave a comment

The Paparazzi Project by Kristina Springer

Book Description:

Livvie Peterson thought taking Interpersonal Communications her junior year would be an easy A. But when the first assignment is given, her world flips upside down. Here’s the deal: the class is assigned a six-week project and is split into three groups— Paparazzi, Tabloid, and Celebrities. The Paparazzi follow around the Celebrities taking pictures and grabbing any kind of quotes they can. The Celebrities try to navigate being tailed on a daily basis. And the Tabloid receives all the information collected by the Paparazzi and decides what makes the weekly summary report. Sounds harmless…and it’s all just pretend anyway, right?

Livvie is assigned as Paparazzi and when she is matched up with the über -cute Chas Montgomery as her Tabloid boss she’s pretty sure things couldn’t get much better. Livvie’s uncanny ability to capture the Celebrities in compromising photos matched with Chas’s skill of exaggerating captions and editing the photos make them an unstoppable team. And the long hours working side by side with Chas aren’t a bad bonus.

Livvie simultaneously launches an anonymous blog, leaking the class’ photos and stories on the Internet. Her rising follower number quickly becomes addicting and she possibly spills too much information online. Once she finds her own celebrity will she be able to give it back? And will Chas be gone before she ever has the chance to find out?

*

First thing – I know it’s terrible to judge books by their covers, but I almost passed this one up due to the terribly unappealing cover.

I’m glad I still read it, though, since I ended up being thoroughly charmed by The Paparazzi Project. Reading this tale of a unique Paparazzi/Tabloid/Celebrity roleplay school assignment taken too far made me wish that I was one of the kids participating in it :) Now, why didn’t we get cool projects like this back then?!

I really liked Kristina Springer’s writing style too – it’s very light, funny and breezy, but not too flippant. And she managed to make her main character Livvie Peterson real and likable, even when Livvie was getting in way over her head as a paparazzi (in her quest to out-scoop her classmates), and started crossing some major TMZ red lines with her anonymous gossip blog.

For those who like a little romance in their stories, there is a touch of that here with Livvie and her tabloid partner Chas. But for me, the appeal in the book really was the school project and how it impacted Livvie and her classmates.

I really wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Paparazzi Project to young readers. It’s a quick read, the characters are likable and it teaches some good lessons (without being preachy). It’s a fun change from the glut of uber violent, angsty YA books that are out.

(*One note though, I thought that the Interpersonal Communications teacher Mrs B was a terrible (or terribly written?) character, particularly about how she just washed her hands off the whole thing and didn’t take responsibility for her students in the end. I just wished that Ms Springer had written her to be better than a dead-beat teacher.)

The Paparazzi Project by Kristina Springer (Self-Pub) is available on Amazon and B&N.

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Book Review – Dead Ever After: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris

May 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Dead Ever After: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris

Book Description:

The 13th (and final) Sookie Stackhouse novel from the Anthony Award-winning Southern Vampire series – and the basis for the HBO series True Blood.

There are secrets in the town of Bon Temps, ones that threaten those closest to Sookie—and could destroy her heart….

Sookie Stackhouse finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance…and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.

Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.

But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough…

*

Sigh, I was really hoping that Dead Ever After – the latest and final Sookie Stackhouse book – would be one of the good ones. While there’s been several clunkers in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, there have also been books that I really loved and consider favorites. I have really enjoyed the world that Charlaine Harris’ conjured up, and ended up loving many of her characters, so it really sucks for me to report that this last book – SUCKS. Badly. Way to go out with a whimper.

The writing was terrible (!) – the main mystery plot made no sense to me (and the subplots were all a mess too), the dialogue was clunky and unnatural, there were really egregious continuity errors (i.e. Sookie suddenly can’t read shifters’ minds – so what has she been doing all these previous 12 books? guessing what the shifters were thinking?), and none of the characters were acting like themselves (starting with Sookie herself). Based on this book, looks like Charlaine Harris is super-burned out, was dying to end the series, and just couldn’t care less. This reads like a really early draft that should never have been published as is. Shame on everyone involved.

I’m not even going to complain about the guy Sookie ended up with – I wasn’t really surprised since there wasn’t anyone left for her to jump in the sack with (although I was surprised with the speed at which she switched guys). To be honest, I didn’t really give a damn anymore in the end. Sorry.

Dead Ever After  by Charlaine Harris is available on Amazon.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBookstore, and Kobo books.

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Book Review – Guilt: An Alex Delaware Novel by Jonathan Kellerman

March 10, 2013 1 comment

Victims

Book Description:

Jonathan Kellerman’s “psychology skills and dark imagination are a potent literary mix” (Los Angeles Times), and this intensely thrilling blend has never been so powerful as in the acclaimed author’s new novel of murder and madness among the beautiful dreamers, seductive predators, and doomed innocents adrift in the glare of Southern California’s eternal sunshine.

A series of horrifying events occur in quick succession in the same upscale L.A. neighborhood. A backyard renovation unearths an infant’s body, buried sixty years ago. And soon thereafter in a nearby park, another disturbingly bizarre discovery is made not far from the body of a young woman shot in the head. Helping LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis to link these eerie incidents is brilliant psychologist Alex Delaware. But even the good doctor’s vast experience with matters both clinical and criminal might not be enough to cut down to the bone of this chilling case—and draw out the disturbing truth.

Backtracking six decades into the past stirs up tales of a beautiful nurse with a mystery lover, a handsome, wealthy doctor who seems too good to be true, and a hospital with a notorious reputation — all of them long gone, along with any records of a newborn, and destined for anonymity. But the specter of fame rears its head when the case unexpectedly twists in the direction of the highest echelons of celebrity privilege. Entering this sheltered world, Alex little imagines the macabre layer just below the surface — a decadent quagmire of unholy rituals and grisly sacrifice.

Before their work is done, Alex and Milo, “the most original whodunit duo since Watson and Holmes” (Forbes), must confront a fanatically deranged mind of such monstrous cunning that even the most depraved madman would shudder.

*

It’s 2013, and for Jonathan Kellerman fans like me – the new year means that Mr Kellerman will have a new book out. It’s like clockwork with him. And it didn’t take him long too – Guilt, which is book #28 in Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series, was released just this February, and I wasted no time in getting myself a copy :)

In Guilt, Alex and Milo are initially called in for a super cold case – the decades-old remains of an infant is found accidentally during a backyard renovation. But things do come in three’s, don’t they, and two more bodies – a woman and another set of infant bones – are discovered in a nearby park. Are the two cases somehow connected?  Alex and Milo dig into both the past and the present, and end up entangling with Hollywood (including a pair of Jolie/Pitt-esque suspects).

I finished this one pretty quickly (in two days flat) and as a long time fan of the series, I was okay with it (except for the bland ending). It’s not the best I’ve read from Mr Kellerman, but definitely not one of the bad ones (i.e. Deception). Warning to fans who really prefer the earlier Alex Delaware books, the latest one is still more of a police procedural than a psychological thriller, so skip it if you feel really strongly about it. And my problem with the ending? It lacked suspense and danger (Very Important for crime thrillers), and involved characters I was meeting for the first time. Ergo, a distinct lack of emotional punch for such a horrible crime (baby-killer).

I did appreciate that Mr Kellerman seems to be trying to bring back the psychology aspect, even if in a peripheral or subplot way like it is in Guilt. (The previous book Victims had Alex Delaware’s psychology skills more front and center.) I personally prefer Alex when he is contributing more as a expert psychologist (like in the early books, especially when he’s working with children) instead of just being Lt. Milo Sturgis’ sounding board &/or driver &/or Google-surfing police sidekick.

Another thing I liked with Guilt was that Alex Delaware was (finally!) humbled by being very wrong about many of his conclusions. That sounds odd, I know, but I was getting fed up with how ‘Mary-Sue’ the character was, as this super-sleuth who was always right, while there seemed to be a dumbing down of Milo. I mean there was an actual scene in the book where Milo’s boss tells Alex that he’s the better detective (?! – I was very offended on Milo’s behalf).

Guilt: An Alex Delaware Novel (#28) by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books) is available on Amazon, B&N , Kobobooks and Apple iBookstore.

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