Friday, December 28, 2012

REVIEW: Timothy by Greg Herren

Timothy Timothy by Greg Herren
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author acknowledged Timonthy as a homage to his four favorite authors: Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Daphne du Maurier. I didn’t think much of this till a few chapters later when Timonthy strongly reminded me of a book I once read for my school’s summer reading.

Long story short: Timonthy is a gay fanfiction of Rebecca, paying the most homage to Daphne du Maurier. (Then again, it’s the only book I have read by one of the author’s favorite authors.)

I didn’t mind that the book was predictable for me because I read Rebecca. Timonthy and Rebecca were different in many ways, but the key pieces were there such as the distant husband, the MC dressing like the deceased spouse at the event scene, and the boat where it happened. I liked that Timonthy had the best parts of Rebecca. What I did mind, however, was that Timonthy also had some of worst parts of Rebecca.

The Flaws

+ the instant love with the MC
The elopement worked well in Rebecca’s historical setting, but not in Timonthy’s contemporary setting. Marriage, even with a pre-nup, should have been the last thing in Carlo’s mind after what happened with his deceased husband. The proverb “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” should have been Carlo’s creed.

I know marriage was unavoidable because the plot was paying homage. However, the book could have mitigated the issue if Carlo and the MC, nicknamed Mouse, married for companionship and the promise of love rather than for instant love.

+ the villain
Even dead, Timonthy still causes problems for everyone. I recall from Rebecca, the book, that Rebecca, the character, was one-dimensional. This happened in Timonthy, the book, to Timonthy the character, as well. It wasn’t for the lack of character development; the book focuses on Timonthy greatly and build him up to be a deliciously-hateful villain just like in Rebecca. But it was also the lazy kind of the hateful. Timonthy the book never once developed Timonthy the character beyond his wicked behaviors and deeds. Timonthy was an evil Gary Stu because he was an evil Gary Stu, period.

+ the distant husband
I understand that the book, being titled after the character, would focus on Timonthy, but was it necessary to have Carlo and Mouse apart for most of the story? The same as the couple in Rebecca? Carlo didn’t get much character development, and as a result his character felt bland. I found it jarring that such a major character rarely showed up in the book. It is entirely possible to have a distant, secretive character and still have him present in 100% of the book.

+ the meek MC
Mouse is an apt nickname for the MC. I liked him and his voice and how the story stuck to his 1st person POV. Nevertheless, I wished his growth to a wilful character happened faster instead late in the book. I would have enjoyed more of the book instead being rather bored for most of the book, bugged by Mouse’s naivety.

+ dishonorable mention
Last but not least, there was a supporting character who was seriously annoying like fingernails on chalkboard. She only showed up in 2-4 short scenes, but a single appearance was more than enough.
“I HAVE to play tennis this afternoon, and I didn’t WANT to cut my visit ONE minute short to have to run home and CHANGE. Oh, dear, you’re SPEECHLESS in HORROR at my CLOTHES.”
She talks like this every single fucking time. I know it was intentional to make the character a diva, but it did it in the most horrible way. I literally couldn’t stand to read her dialogue. I had to skim for the sake of my sanity.

The Plot

+ the bad prologue
The story began with a ridiculously long prologue. It lowered my expectation so much that I wanted the story to be over with already. The book would have been significantly better without it. Not to mention it ruined the ending some since it was one of those prologues where the scene happened after the story and the MC tells the story like a flashback. The prologue sucked like spoiled eggs.

+ the ending
I had mixed feelings about the ending. I liked it somewhat because of what happened to Carlo and Mouse, but, barring the terrible prologue, I would have liked it more if the closure wasn’t so weak. Specifically, the romance between Carlo and Mouse would have been convincing if they sincerely spent some time together and not the few, absurdly small scenes here and there like raisins in raisin bread. The instant love was bad enough.

The couple should have also gotten rid of the mansion and be done with Timothy and everything he corrupted once and for all. Seriously! The entire story was one long lesson of why they should. Apply the lesson, for y’all mental health’s sake already.

In Conclusion

I rate 3 stars Timonthy for I liked it. I almost didn’t like it had Mouse not grown to a willful character and saved the day. Better late than never.

If you enjoyed Rebecca, then you should consider reading this gay (smutless) fanfiction. I liked Timonthy better than Rebecca mostly because Timonthy’s ending was stronger.

Goodreads | Amazon
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

REVIEW: The Silver Scorpion by Liquid Comics

The Silver Scorpion The Silver Scorpion by Liquid Comics
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Narrative logic was clearly not a priority in this comic book. I tried ignoring the plot holes and contrivances and mindlessly enjoy the action but I couldn’t. The story was just too ridiculous to tolerate.

The Characters

+ Bashir
Starting with the worst offender, I didn’t understand why Bashir wore a flying, mini-fridge looking wheelchair in his superhero form. With his power, he was completely capable of crafting metal legs to walk, soar in the sky, kick with super strength, etc. I know the guy who gave him the power strongly advised against it, saying it would draw evil attention, but Bashir became The Silver Scorpion anyway. He started saving people, fighting organized crime, and appearing on TV. Clearly, Bashir did not listen about the attention part but apparently he chose to listen about the leg thing. Talk about missing the point!

I think the comic was trying to say, “hey, this kid in a wheelchair can become a superhero even in a wheelchair.” However, the power bestowed upon Bashir made it entirely possible for him to have legs, super-legs. It was a perfect example of the elephant in the room. As a result, Bashir’s character suffered severely for it, and it was not like he was a great character from the start.

Bashir was a jerk. He made rash decisions. He trusted too easily; who is to say the super-powered girls were good guys and not bad guys in disguise. Bashir did improve on the jerk part eventually, but he was still too headstrong for his own good. As the saying goes, “courage without wisdom is foolishness,” and Bashir was quite a fool.

+ Bashir’s uncle
The other characters were not that much better. I’ll be blunt; Bashir’s uncle was a bad parent. He recklessly allowed Bashir to become a superhero. Bashir is only the family his uncle has, and the only parent Bashir has. Did no one, Bashir or his uncle, think that super-heroing was dangerous? That Bashir had no training or experience of any kind rescuing people or fighting crimes, that he could die from if he make one wrong move, or his Uncle could be taken hostage if Bashir’s identity was revealed?

Bashir’s uncle’s parenting instinct should have risen to overprotectiveness after the accident that caused Bashir to lose his legs. But it didn’t, and it was bad character development on the story’s part.

+ Aimee and Robina
The other members of Bashir’s little superhero team were not that good either. Aimee should know that a hood is a horrible way to hide her face in her superhero costume. At least she had a personality, even if it was a stereotypical rude American tourist. Robina on the other hand was bland and forgettable.

The Plot

I liked that it was fast-paced, but I did not like how the plot smackdown logic to accomplish it. Everything happened too conveniently.

Tarek was the guy who gave Bashir his Silver Scorpion power. I didn’t understand why Tarek did not use the power to fashion a bulletproof under-clothing to wear at all time so he wouldn’t die when the gangster shot him. Tarek knew full well he was going to be shot by gangsters inevitably. It was really contrived how Bashir got his power from Tarek when Bashir just met the guy.

Speaking of encounters, Bashir, Aimee, and Robina got along too quickly to be believable. The three shared their life story almost immediately after they met. It wasn’t “let’s get to know each other,” it was “let’s tell each other our most private matters and act as if we have always been best friends instead of strangers who only have known each other for about a day.”

Then, there was the issue of where the three got captured by the main villain. Of all the bad guys they fought, bad guys who shoot first, ask questions later, the main villain just happened to be a guy who only imprisoned them once he got what he wanted from them.

These examples are only a few of the countless things that happened too conveniently. Worse, the ending was open-ended with nary a conflict resolved. The story was simply about how the three young superheroes met and overcame their first hurdle as a team, and then “The End” followed by some art pages. There’s no volume 2.

In Conclusion

I rate The Silver Scorpion 2-stars for it was okay. I liked the art and the action, but that was about it. I was disappointed by the great lack of polish because it would have been easily likeable comic book otherwise.

Goodreads | Amazon
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

NEWS: big yaoi sale & books due date

Bargains

Big Yaoi Sale (21 December 2012, via Mary @ GR) "Starting December 26th and ending December 30th we will be offering one digital title each day for only 99¢!"

From Dreamspinner homepage (December 2012) "Everything in the store will be 25% off from Dec. 20-25. All series will be 20% Dec 26-31!"

Freebies

Glitches = YA sci-fi, short story
The Goddess Hunt = YA paranormal, novella
Measure of Devotion = mm fantasy, novel
Dex in Blue = mm contemporary, novel

Funny of the Day

via Miriam
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REVIEW: Vanity Fierce by Graeme Aitken

Vanity Fierce Vanity Fierce by Graeme Aitken
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

If you have read 3-5 romances, then you have read at least one where one of the obstacles, if not the obstacle, is a “friend” of the couple who has an unrequited love for one of the couple. That “friend” is often meddlesome, selfish, and rude, serving as a contrived proof that the couple belongs together. Stephen Spear is that “friend,” and he’s worse.

This isn't really a mm-romance; the tag is for my benefit. I only tagged it as such because the book focused entirely on Stephen and his romantic troubles of his own making. Gay relationship fiction is the best I can describe this book.

The Protagonist

It only took a few seconds reading the book to understand why it is titled Vanity Fierce; Stephen was fiercely vain. No, he was not an anti-hero; anti-heroes deep down beneath their prickly exterior care about people despite their effort not to. Stephen was a villain through and through, a classic example of narcissism.

Since Stephen is the MC, the book is about him and his “romance” (and I use the term very loosely) as he tries to get the man he wants. I initially empathized with Stephen because of his overbearing, high-maintenance mother who is the giant reason for why Stephen the way he is. However, I quickly stopped when he met his romantic interest, Ant, and used subterfuge after subterfuge to attain Ant’s heart. The biggest reason why Stephen was hell-bent on Ant was because no one ever refused Stephen; he was the self-proclaimed golden boy.

Stephen is aware of why he pursued Ant, but he didn’t care. He is also aware, on occasion, that what he does to get his way is not ethical, but he quickly dismissed the thought because he believed such things didn’t apply to him, not the golden boy. He lies, he schemes, he meddles, he trespass, he snoops through other people’s stuff and steal things, e.g. a diary, that he would later use against them. The only nice thing I can say about him is that he didn’t cheat. Stealing other people’s boyfriend — yes, but cheating — no.

Never once he did show character growth. I think I saw a flicker of it at the ending, but who really knows except Stephen himself. Throughout the book, there were a few points when I thought he was going to change but that hope was always immediately dashed. It never occurred to him to use honesty as a way to get what he wanted, not until the very end when he didn’t have anything else left in his bag of tricks.

I did not like Stephen. His narcissism repulsed me, and his unrequited love irritated me. The book doesn’t portray Stephen as the villain per se, but it didn’t need to. His actions spoke for themselves.

The Other Characters

The rest of the cast were not that likable either, not even the tragic and gentle Ant who have horrible taste in boyfriends. They all annoyed me in one way or another.

The Writing

The story was told in Stephen’s 1st person PoV, and it was all “telling” and not “showing.” The writing was a step short of bad because of the “telling” and a couple steps short of the abomination that is stream of consciousness.

The story was split into three parts with the second part told in another person’s PoV, the only exception to occur in the book. It was Stephen reading a work-in-progress autobiography/diary he stole from his ex-boyfriend/Ant’s current boyfriend. I heavily skimmed that part, and I was relieved by how relatively short it was compared to the other parts.

I didn’t understand why it was included since it could have been easily reduced to a couple paragraphs of exposition since that was the main way the story was told anyway. Or it could have been removed completely since it didn’t add anything to the story except bogged it down and distracted the reader from Stephen. Maybe it was intended to be break from the exasperating Stephen, but if so, then it was bad break considering it was about another exasperating character.

What was worse was that the second part was entirely in italics, and I did not want to risk blindness. Whoever formatted the book should have known better because it was an incredibly amateurish mistake to make coming from one of the world’s biggest publishers.

In Conclusion

I rate Vanity Fierce 2-stars for it was okay — barely. I bumped it from 1.5 star because the writing was competent enough (if we ignore complete telling and the meaningless second part), and I didn’t skim as much as I should have. I don’t know why I didn’t skim more. I can only guess that the Stephen’s narcissism, the novelty of reading a villain’s PoV, was interesting enough to give a shit.

The ending was a very bittersweet HFN which I would hate if I cared about the couple, but I didn’t so I was indifferent. Also worth mentioning is that Vanity Fierce is the prequel novel to the Indignities trilogy that continues Stephen’s adventures.

Silver lining side, Vanity Fierce rekindled my hunger for sugary romance.

Goodreads | Amazon
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Friday, December 21, 2012

NEWS: widget, proper society x fight club, 12/21/2012

About my blog

*phew* Other users are having the same problem adding widgets on Blogger. I'm relieved it's not a me-thing but a genuine Blogger issue, i.e. it's their fault not mine.

Some funny shit

What are the chances that the day I changed my blog name from Book Club Fight Club to Jane Austen-inspired Tolerably Smart the next day I discover a video called Jane Austen's Fight Club. Thank you, TDR and Dangerous Footage.


Last but not least

It's December 21, 2012.

via JennyJen


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NEWS: I changed my blog's name

source: cheezburger

Hello, everyone. My book blog Book Club Fight Club is now known as Tolerably Smart. I changed my blog's name because I wasn't satisfied with it. For those who do not know, the name was taken from Jimmy Kimmel's skit with Oprah. It's funny, but it's Jimmy Kimmel's funny.

Tolerably Smart is not that original, but at least it's a funny I came up with on my own. The name was inspired from the Jane Austen's quote, "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid," in her book Northanger Abbey. I have pleasure in a good novel so I must be Tolerably Smart. Get it?

*cricket chirp*

Anyway, the other changes are the absence of the comment platform Disqus and of the related post gadget by nRelate. The former I don't think I want anymore. It's rather inconvenient to manage something that is not on the Blogger website, and it's not as if Blogger's default comment platform is insufficient; Blogger's comment platform is sufficient. All I really wanted was for the comment box to extend to the width of the post's page, and I found the customization code to do that.

As for the gadget, it's a work in progress. For some reason, Blogger doesn't seem to allow me to add page elements from external source. I might have to use another alternative and directly tweak the template code; I already found a few, but they're not as good as the gadget from nRelate.

In other news, I finished four reviews, and I will post them this month. If you have time, visit this beautiful book blog, Bookworm Dreams. I just discovered it literally a few minutes ago.

Have a happy winter holiday!
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

NEWS: affection, church, taipei, nobeast, & disney

Historic news

# Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection (29 July 2012) "These photos showcase an evolution in the way men relate to one another — and the way in which certain forms and expressions of male intimacy have disappeared over the last century."

How sweet. I wish this was acceptable and more common in today's society.

# 13th Century Church Gets New Life as a Bookstore (17 August 2012) "This Dominican church in Maastrich Netherlands was built in 1294, but when Napoleon pushed the order out in the 18th century, the church fell into disuse."


I always thought bookstores were holy places. Now I'm glad to see a literal example. How heavenly.


NSFW/WTFkery news

This Taipei Food Stand Sells Penis Pancakes (October 2012)

Um... O_o

# The art of NoBeast (16 June 2007) "a rare gay take on the unique Japanese tentacle rape fetish"

I would read those books... And anyway, Karen at Goodreads read stranger.


Pretty Pictures

# New Celebrity Disney Photos by Annie Leibovitz (3 March 2011)

My favorite is "Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella."

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

REVIEW: In Stone: A Grotesque Faerie Tale by Jeremy Jordan King

In Stone: A Grotesque Faerie Tale In Stone: A Grotesque Faerie Tale by Jeremy Jordan King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story started off slowly despite a hate crime scene which thankfully was quick to end and not graphic. It didn’t feel like a faerie tale (of the Grimm’s kind) till one-third of the book. The plot alternated between Jeremy’s perilous present (someone wants to kill him) and Garth’s tragic past (how he came to be cursed and lost his loved ones).

I hate it when the plot is not linear and half of it is in flashback, but the story managed to keep my attention which is a big compliment from me. The story balanced the present and past plot-lines very well in terms of action, intrigue, and making me attached to the characters. It even surprised me with a few twists I totally did not see coming.

The Characters

I liked the protagonist, Jeremy. He was pessimistic, he was contemplative, he was someone I quickly related to. Nonetheless, there was too much navel-gazing going on in the story. Many times, I was impatient with his narrative.

Garth’s part of the story was quicker to read. For a stoic, tragic character, he was likable. It helped that the story didn’t keep him as a mystery, that answers about him were doled out at a pace to my satisfaction.

What I Didn’t Like

The story had action, but it focused more on the characters’ situation and how pitiful it was... most of the time when I could scrounge up pity. Jeremy’s unrequited love for Robbie bugged me for a long while; I pitied neither of them for that and hated Robbie for leading Jeremy and Nick on. There was a little Shakespearean vibe running through the plot that I did not care for.

The story had little sense of time. For example, late in the book, scene X happened and then a couple scenes later in scene Y I learned a season has passed since scene X... I think. I didn’t know if the protagonist was still working, whether he was paying the bills, and other things that give the story its context. At one point, I was surprised to learn he moved to another place, and I immediately thought “when?” because I didn’t skim. The lazy regard for setting in Jeremy’s plot-line disrupted the sense of suspense and danger the story was building.

The story kept my attention, but it wasn’t good enough to make me want to re-read some of the scenes for clarity or even re-read the book entirely. That is mostly due to the bittersweet ending even though it was fitting. It probably helped that the relationship between Jeremy and Garth was more platonic than romantic; I don’t know for sure if Garth ever saw Jeremy in that way. The ending would have been sadder otherwise.

Poor Nick, too; he was portrayed as the antagonist when his only crime was being Robbie’s boyfriend. I’m pretty sure the things Robbie bitched about Nick to Jeremy in small talks were false. I hope things will look up for Nick.

In Conclusion

I rate the book 2-stars for it was okay. The book could have also used a tiny more proofreading because I saw two instances of homophones mix up. Other than that, In Stone was a surprisingly decent read.

Goodreads | Amazon
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager

A Tale of Two Daddies A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curious about his playmate’s eponymous parents, a boy asks a girl many questions to which she cheerfully answers. The boy would ask two questions, and the girl would give two answers forming a cycle of questions and answers. I liked how the answers aren't always “daddy did this. poppa did that,” that there was variety to keep the narrative fresh. Instead of being repetitive and therefore dull like a rock, the narrative was rhythmic and catchy.

Each question and answer had an illustration on top. The illustrations are big and bold, simple in detail but vibrant in color. They reminded me of the clip art in Microsoft Office, to be honest; that’s a compliment. While I liked the illustrations, I found it odd how the story never showed the daddies’ face. Instead, only their body parts were shown, commonly their legs from feet to waist. I didn’t like this style of showing a child’s PoV. It weakened the mental picture of the family for me.

I rate A Tale of Two Daddies 3-stars for I liked it. I wished the illustrations showed the daddies’ face, but overall I enjoyed the book.

Amazon GoodReads
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

REVIEW: Eye of the Storm by John Goode

Eye of The Storm (Lords of Arcadia, #2) Eye of the Storm by John Goode
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Book 2 thrusted Kane out of Earth and into another world, turning the series from urban fantasy to pure fantasy. A couple scenes shined for me, but the rest of the story didn’t impress me.

The Characters

+++ the MC: Kane

I continue to think Kane as an idiot. He is frequently in danger, but he rarely seems to grasp the severity of the situation. In the rare moments when he does, he acts foolishly. I wouldn’t label Kane as TSTL (yet), but sometimes I am surprised that he is still alive.

Kane tends to whine and get distracted. He rarely thinks about anything else except his boyfriend, Hawk. I love YA and I love romance, but this YA romance heavily impressed me as teenage silliness. Kane is the star of the series, but in book 2 he wasn’t more than a momentarily empowered dude in distress who relies on luck to survive.

+++ the MC’s boyfriend: Hawk

Hawk was slightly better. He annoyed me in book 1, but he didn’t annoy me in book 2. Though, that is probably because he was comatose for most of book 2.

Honestly, I discerned no character growth for the couple. Even though I hardly liked either of them, I was disappointed that they were not in the spotlight of book 2. Half of it was about the bad guys, and I disliked them more than the couple.

+++ the bad guys

In book 1, I thought the villains were lame. In book 2, I still think they’re kind of lame but now I mostly think of them as impotent. I eye-rolled at their scenes and how they thought they were better than everyone else when they were not. Neither were convincing in their role, especially Puck as a shadow mastermind.

It didn’t make sense to me why Oberon didn’t execute Puck for his insolence in court, or why Puck didn’t kill Oberon when Oberon was knocked out, or why Oberon didn’t kill Puck after Oberon woke up. The two men hated each other enough to murder one another and knew it was only a matter of time, so why the delay? There didn’t seem to be any purpose for one man needing the other alive. I wish the book rid the two characters already.

+++ the two assassins

The two assassins confused me. First they were bad guys, then they were misunderstood guys. Later, it turned out they were romantically involved with each other. They were going to kill Hawk, but then they decided to save him. Whether they did it out of altruism or as some backup plan, I have no clue. What the series wanted to do with these characters, I have no idea.

I was surprised and tired by how much of the story was in their POV. It was only a couple of scenes, but it was way more than I care to read. When something tragic happened to them at the end, I wasn’t all that sad.

+++ the MC’s friends

I liked Ferra the Viking-inspired barbarian, but her character created a plot hole. Ferra belonged to an insular, xenophobic tribe that abhorred magic to the extent that they semi-ostracized their shamans. Shamans were a necessary evil for them. In a fight scene late in the book, Ferra used ice magic. But how could she when only the ones who could work in magic in her tribe were the shamans? Ferra wasn’t a shaman; she was a warrior, and warrior are not taught magic. Thus, the plot hole.

Fortunately, it didn’t ruin the character for me; I still liked Ferra. I also liked Molly the clockwork girl. She was like a breathe of fresh air; she was a unique character I have read about in a long time, and I read a lot. She was compelling enough to star in her own novel.

The Crystal Court could have been more imaginative. It was odd that the talking gems have social constructions like genders and patriarchy. Nonetheless, I liked the Ruber’s siblings. They could have annoyed me, but they managed to charm me with their personality. I was happy to see Ruber stayed outspoken and spunky in defiant of his overbearing father.

The Plot

+++ the plot lines

Two plot lines dominated the story: (1) Puck seek to take over fairyland (2) while Kane and his band of misfits try to rescue Hawk. It was amazingly fast-paced and had a bucketful of action. The plot alternated between multiple PoVs. Though it didn’t bother me, I would have preferred the story to stick with the good guys’ PoV.

+++ the ending

The ending was a cliffhanger, but not a strong one compared to book 1’s cliffhanger. The ending felt more like a natural end point, and though there were loose ends, I was satisfied by how much was resolved. Still, the ending was cheesy with its True Love’s Kiss scene; a Disney princess movie this book was not.

In Conclusion

I rate Eye of the Storm 2-stars for it was okay. I didn’t mind how lacking the bad guys were, but I did mind the lack of character growth from Kane and Hawk. Their friends, some of whom were newly introduced, managed to outshine the couple. It should be the star of the series and his boyfriend that makes me like the book, not their cool, more interesting friends.

If you like this series, check out the Witch Eyes series:

Witch Eyes (Witch Eyes, #1)

Amazon GoodReads
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

REVIEW: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Scent of Magic (Healer, #2) Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With book 2, the YA fantasy series continues to keep my undivided attention with its accessible writing and compelling plot. But just like what happened with book 1, as I read book 2, the story slowly diminished in credulity.

The Plot

The beginning was great. I didn’t recall much of book 1, but book 2 refreshed my memory in the first chapter. I really liked how the rehash was presented in the story: minimal, intermittently, at relevant time and place, and never once kept the plot from moving forward.

The middle of the book was not so great. Our heroes suffered a barrage of setbacks, and it was hard for me to watch.

The ending felt flat to me, and it wasn’t because of the lack of action. There was a lot of action. No, the issue I took was the amount of unnecessary drama that happened. If the characters acted on opportunities and followed through with their goals, then things would have happened much faster and the story would have been much stronger. This series seemed to fear to dish out death, and as a result things weren’t as consequential as they should have been.

When the book ended on a cliffhanger with one of the major characters in a fatal situation, I wasn’t as worried as I could have been. I didn’t go into an emotional explosion driving me to demand the next book now.

Plus, every time the story switched to another character’s PoV, it almost always ended on a cliffhanger that left the character in a fatal situation. The periodic cliffhangers irritated me at first, but I got used to them eventually. The book depended too much on cliffhangers as a vehicle to push the plot forward. This is the rest of the reason why the cliffhanger at the final chapter didn’t have much of an impact.

The Characters

+++ the heroine: Avry

The story alternated between Avry and Kerrick’s 1st person PoV like clockwork. I liked Avry for the first half of book 2. She took initiative and no matter how big the danger she willing went into it to save her loved ones.

But, for the last half of book 2, I found her mildly annoying and maddeningly stupid. I counted at least two opportunities she had to end the big bad guy, Tohon, once and for all, but she did nothing. I understand her Healer’s code not to kill, but it didn’t stop from her knocking people out with her healing power or, if she wanted to, maiming them or, better yet, doing something to rid Tohon’s of his abominable magic.

Moreover, if I recall correctly, in book 1 Avry also had opportunities to end Tohon’s evil ways and save the world. I know Avry was trying to show mercy but by not killing Tohon when she got chance she allowed him to kill more people, hence the sole reason I thought her maddeningly stupid.

The issues I had with Avry didn’t stop there with her contemptible belief of mercy, Avry lost sight of her goal when she infiltrated Estrid’s army. She was supposed to rescue Melina, but she never did. Avry cared deeply for her loved ones, especially for her antagonistic little sister, so I couldn’t believe her oversight.

Another issue that was incredulous was how long it took for someone to see through her disguise and identify her as Avry, the last healer in the kingdoms. If strangers easily suspected her, how come the people who met her in book 1 didn’t and readily accepted her cover identity? I could not believe how long and relatively effortless her disguise lasted.

+++ the heroine’s love interest: Kerrick

I preferred Kerrick’s PoV over Avry’s. He was less much frustrating and a stronger leading character compared to Avry. I only wished he was more clever and less fatalistic. By the middle of the book, Kerrick took the spotlight away from Avry instead of sharing it. That’s how much Avry annoyed me. I even managed to forgive Kerrick for his jerk attitude in book 1.

In Conclusion

I rate Scent of Magic 3-stars for I liked it. I wavered between 2 and 3 stars but ultimately rounded up to 3 stars because of the story’s momentum. As much as the cliffhangers annoyed me, they did keep me reading further and finish the book in one sitting. Still, it was the exception not the rule; Kerrick’s PoV compensated.

If you loved book 1, you’ll love book 2. If you love this series, you should check out the Healing Wars series:

The Shifter (Healing Wars, #1)

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

REVIEW: 40 Souls to Keep by Libby Drew

40 Souls to Keep 40 Souls to Keep by Libby Drew
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review & Spoilers

The mm-romance was well written, but the characters were plain, the plot had holes, and the ending was scant.

The Characters

+ Jase, the nomad protector

While much of the story was told in Lucas’s PoV, most of the character development occurred with Jase. However, it raised more questions than answers about him. I liked Jase’s mysterious persona in the beginning but by the middle of the book it irritated me. I did like his decisive use of mind-controlling ability, but he could have been more effective with it. For one thing, he would have captured the bad guys way faster if he was more clever with it.

+ Lucas, the social worker

I liked Lucas the best but his characterization was shallow. I can count with my hands facts about Lucas and still have a couple fingers left over. I liked Lucas’ relatively fast acceptance of Jase and his paranormal explanations, but I wished Lucas kept some hidden suspicion. Jase’s goal of protecting Macy may have coincided with Lucas’ goal but they both could have different ways to protect a person. For all Lucas knew, Jase could have locked both him and Macy in a cage until the danger passed.

Both Lucas and Jase were a one-note character: the protector. The paranormal part of Jase was only the big thing that distinguished him from Lucas. They never impressed me as palpable individuals as they should have.

+ Macy, the orphan girl

I didn’t like Macy. She was a paradox. One moment she’s sucking her thumb and acting like a typical scared kid, the next she show incredible empathy and gives sage advice like an experienced therapist or a caring grandmother. She’s supposed to be this innocent angel, but the girl slightly creeped me out like something out of those possession horror movies.

The Plot

+ the plot holes

How come Jase never made an attempt to discover and reclaim his identity? How come Jase believed Philip so easily? When Philip said there were others like Jase and that some of them were evil, alarms should have rang in both Jase and Lucas when Jase told him. How come Lucas never brought up these issues to Jase? I would have thought as a social worker Lucas would have a good danger radar and a keen sense of the truth or something similar because of what his job entails.

+ the pacing

The first two chapters took place in the past and were about Jase’s origin as some amnesiac with a “Jesus complex” (Lucas’s word). These chapters were a thinly veiled prologue. Afterward, the story picked up in the present beginning with Lucas’s PoV. In spite of these things, I liked the beginning. It was dark and kind of noir-like, and I didn’t have to wait long for the action scenes.

However, by the middle of the book, the pacing became an irritating paradox. The mystery development was not moving fast enough; by fast, I mean handing out slivers of the answer pie intermittently. The romance development was moving too fast; there wasn’t a proper build up to the emotional connection. I wouldn’t say the romance was insta-love but it did border the trope.

+ the romance

The romance was flat like a tabletop, devoid of chemistry. The story convinced me that the guys made great friends, but as lovers? Not really. When they first kissed, I was indifferent instead of joyful and titillated.

+ the ending

The plot did pick up in pace and substance for the last quarter of the book, but it wasn’t enough to save the story for me. The revelation of the villain disappointed me. For a long while, the villain’s identity eluded me. But then the clues given toward the end made it possible for me to figure out the villain’s identity a couple scenes before Lucas and Jase did. It annoyed me that the couple didn’t deduce the villain’s identity sooner than I did, and that when the villain revealed their motive, it emphasized the plot holes.

For that matter, it was annoying that the couple didn’t think to carry protection, e.g. gun or taser, while they were on the hunt for the bad guys. Jase’s mind-controlling ability, while powerful, doesn’t work if he’s silenced or knocked out or shot to death; the couple should have prepared for the contingencies, but they didn’t to the detriment of my belief in them as smart characters.

The epilogue was a shade of awful. Once Jase recovered his memory, he went back home and saw that his old boyfriend, after some dutiful mourning, got a new boyfriend during his disappearance and was unnaturally quick to accept the change. It was a very anti-climatic reunion, lacking the catharsis that I wanted. Jase’s recovery of his life was as not rewarding as his Jesus-like mission to save all 40 souls built it up to be. It was as if there was really no difference if Jase remained amnesiac.

It was a ridiculous HEA.

+ the loose ends

Many questions were never answered; the book is a standalone but I can see now, after finishing the book, that the book never intended to tie all the loose ends and give a satisfactory ending. We never know why there are amnesics with frightful paranormal abilities, half of them with a Jesus-complex and half with an Anti-Christ one, running around. Or why none appear to do anything to reclaim their identity and life, but instead are bent on pursuing their magical quest, or why they believed so readily the ex-amnesics who conveniently appeared out of nowhere to act momentarily as mentor.

What very little answers were given reeked of shallow world building, and I was greatly disappointed.

In Conclusion

I rate 40 Souls to Keep 2-stars for it was okay because I didn’t actively hate it. The great writing kept my attention, but it wasn’t enough to make me like the story.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

REVIEW: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2) Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers, Rant

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

And the story sucked. The story was like a trash can full of children’s thrown-away arts and crafts topped with their snotty tissues and moldy, forgotten lunches.

The Writing

The writing was lyrical but it had the tendency to be verbose which induced skimming. I wish the book spent more time telling the story instead of waxing poetic. The writing wasn’t much of an issue for me in book 1 but here in book 2, exacerbated by other bigger issues, the writing quickly became a marsh to wade through.

Worse, the beginning of the story took a couple of chapters before reaching the heroine’s PoV. The plot capriciously alternated between the heroine, the heroine’s ex-boyfriend, the heroine’s best friend, and some random chimaera runaway slaves.

The Characters

+++ chimaera runaway slaves

The chimaeras’ scenes were short, but they still bogged the story. I think they were supposed to show an outsider’s PoV to the moral development of the Misbegotten, the ill-treated seraphim soldiers/bastard children of the seraphim emperor. Whatever the reason, I didn’t want to read about these random chimaeras.

+++ Karou’s human friends

Karou’s best friend, Zuzanna, and tag-along Mik were stupid and pitiful. Mostly stupid. These idiots should have been left in book 1, but instead they decided to chase after Karou, walking into the arms and claws of her monstrous, hostile chimaera compatriots. From the start, it was obvious to me that Karou’s human friends were cannon fodder waiting to happen, and I was half-right when they were later held hostage.

What really frustrated me about these characters was that they didn’t take Karou’s situation seriously or realize their own precarious place. Their attempt to inject levity into the story more than failed; it offended me.

+++ Karou’s ex-boyfriend: Akiva

The plot leaned heavily towards his PoV, and I didn’t like how it took the spotlight away from Karou, the star of the series.

Akiva was emo. For 2/3 of the story, he didn’t seem to do anything but brood, pine, and despair. Karou this, Karou that, Karou is dead again (he believes).

Then in the last third of the story, he suddenly went homicidal and unwittingly prompted another seraphim invasion. Akiva isn’t a megalomaniac dictator but based in book 1 and 2 and the various flashbacks between the two books, his action resulted the same kind of consequences that would be caused by one.

I disliked Akiva in book 1, and I continue to dislike him some more in book 2.

+++ the heroine: Karou

As if Akiva wasn’t bad enough, Karou was worse. Head-repeatedly-banging-on-desk worse. The biggest reason that kept me from hating book 1 was because of Karou. She was quirky, she was assertive, she was...kind of violent to be honest and I loved it. The girl didn’t hesitate to threaten and spill blood to get her way — not when her loved ones were on the line.

In book 2, there was none of that willfulness. She was weak, she was vacuous, she was irresolute and I hated it. I could understand Karou having weak moments after being blasted with multiple bombshells of revelation and memory-gain at the end of book 1, but this wasn’t a series of weak moment. It was a severe character regression, and it contributed to a hurricane-sized disaster of a book.

Moreover, when did Karou became a Resurrectionist? How was resurrection done? Were souls a physical object or something? I don’t recall the magical explanation in book 1 and none was rehashed in book 2. For a magical story, there was little talk about magic. Book 2 made me feel that there were logic holes in the story’s magic system.

+++ the 2nd Ex-boyfriend: Thiago

Karou threw her resurrection service and trust to Thiago, another suitor of hers. Whereas Akiva was emo, Thiago was a bastard and gave no semblance of a good reason to be trusted. Thus, it was no surprise that he betrayed her.

Throughout book 2, Thiago betrayed Karou many times but the twit kept residing at his place and didn’t do anything to fight back. Oh sure, she did make a few attempts but they were half-assed. I could understand being caught off-guard after he betrayed her for the first time (in book 2, present plot), but there was no excuse for Karou to keep falling for his betrayals — one predictable betrayal after another.

After the event of book 1 ending with Akiva’s confession of genocide (along with other instances of betrayal against her), Karou should have lost her capacity to trust. It was unnatural for Karou to remain trusting in book 2.

Karou danced to Thiago’s overt manipulations, and it was awful to watch. If she couldn’t come up with a good plan and actually fight back, the least she could have done was leave and stop resurrecting his allies/her haters. The story exemplified many times that Thiago needed her more than she needed him; Karou was the only living resurrectionist.

I kept waiting for Karou to end Thiago already because the Karou in book 1 would have done so the instant the bastard crossed her.

The Plot

+++ the rape

Lo and behold, towards the end Thiago attempted to rape Karou. Thank goodness she prevailed and finally, fucking finally, ended the bastard’s life. But holy fuck! The rape attempt astounded me. After the moment of shock, I got angry fast.

I expected better from the series. I expected the series to avoid and disdain rape as a plot device. Book 2 could have stopped there with the fuckity. But noooo. It fucking did not.

+++ the fuckity continues

At a later scene of the ending, Karou resurrected Ziri in Thiago’s body, her rapist’s body. Wait, what?! Enters a fucking ridiculous chapter of a flashback to explain why. The reasons given were abysmally contrived, as if they were pulled out at the last minute out of some godforsaken shithole.

Ziri was Karou’s third suitor, which officially made Karou in my eyes a Mary Sue. Ziri was the story’s one and only decent romantic interest, and the story fucked his character beyond comprehension!

Beyond comprehension!

In Conclusion

I rate Days of Blood and Starlight 1-star for I didn’t like. 2/3 of the story was dull and confusing; the last 1/3 was confusing, infuriating, and exasperating. There didn’t seem to be any sense in the story, and towards the ending twists and turns were thrown out haphazardly like mud. The rape part buried the book.

The series started off as a different, intriguing way to do angels and demons YA; I do like the dark fairy tale vibe. However, like most of its brethren this YA series became a Disaster with a capital D.

If you loved the first book, you’ll likely love this second book. If you’re tired of disastrous angels and demons YA, avoid.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #5)Trapped by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Trapped surprised me before I even set my eyes on the first page. The book was going to take place 12 years after the events of book 4 of the Iron Druid Chronicles. Book 4 didn't wow me as I hoped so I had a spoon of skepticism for book 5, Trapped. It became two spoonfuls of skepticism when I realized the big time leap.

Trapped proved me wrong and re-positioned the series back onto my list of top Urban Fantasy.

+ the characters

Atticus remains likable and capable as ever. I thought the best scenes in Trapped were the ones where Atticus showed off his cleverness. That always thrills me because there are never enough of them for my satisfaction.

Readers who love Oberon, Atticus's sidekick talking dog, will find this blasphemous but I don’t care for him. The news gets worse: I stopped liking him in book 4. Oberon continued to irk me in book 5. His dialogue seemed like filler and his humor forced.

Granuaile, Atticus's apprentice, was bratty for the first third of the story. When she revealed the reason for her brattiness, I got infuriated fast. She couldn't have raised the issue earlier? Before she decided to become a druid, forced to fake her death, and tag along with Atticus who make enemies of gods one after another. Really? Fortunately, Gran got over herself (or things would have gotten ugly). Towards the end, she partly made up for it by actively fighting instead being on the sideline and protected as usual. I’m glad she stood up to Atticus and made her own choices. She’s finally coming out of that loved-ones-as-potential-hostages shell.

Perun the Slavic god of thunder and lightning returned as Atticus's guest sidekick. Talk about a blast of an entrance! I liked Perun and his humor way better than Oberon. Everything he said and did had me cracking up. I was disappointed that his appearances were short and tapered off in the middle of the story.

Ex-sidekick turned traitor, Leif made a brief appearance and remained despicably opportunistic. I was a little disappointed that this loose end wasn't wrapped up in Trapped.

+ the plot

The middle of the story mildly bogged but the plot compensated with a great amount of action at the beginning and ending. Compared to book 4, the pacing in Trapped was more consistent.

The plot paused for a total of three times so one of the supporting characters could narrate their personal story. I’m still not comfortable by this series’ unique way of doing exposition/flashback. The third pause, the dwarf’s story, dragged. Though to be fair, it was cautioned upon before the dwarf began. Nevertheless, I skimmed and was relieved that the dwarf’s story preluded the climax.

If the scenes showcasing Atticus’ cleverness were the best part of Trapped, then the worst part was the romance. I wished the romance between Atticus and Gran was done away with. The love was utterly contrived, the passion nonexistence. It was uncomfortable and ridiculous watching the two profess their feelings for one another. I mean, there was more chemistry between Morrígan and Atticus than Gran and Atticus. And Morrígan would likely kill Atticus during sex being that she’s the Celtic goddess of death and war and has a fetish for blood... and maybe necrophilia. Yes, the romance is that bad when Atticus is better suited for a psychopath goddess than a nice, trusted friend who will definitely not kill him during sex.

For the first time in the series, the ending was a cliffhanger. Moreover, we never found out who in the Celtic pantheon was the traitor. I don’t like cliffhangers but the one here didn't raised my ire; reading the excerpt for next book, Hunted, mollified me. Nonetheless, I hope this won’t be habitual for the series.

In Conclusion

I rate Trapped 3-stars for I liked it. I had issues with the book here and here but none that I considered major. I definitely enjoyed Trapped more than book 4. If you’re looking for another wish-fulfillment Urban Fantasy series, I recommend Imperium.

*For further reviews of the series, click here for my review of the sequel, book 6, Hunted.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

REVIEW: Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

Katya's World Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Katya’s World is a candy of hard science-fiction. It has themes, ironies, and allegories. I could easily imagine reading this in high school and discussing the book’s literary value in English class. I would have definitely preferred reading this over Ender's Game, which I liked but not as much as KW. Yes, KW was better than Ender's Game. That’s my opinion so believe it.

Now, I love romance, but I was delighted by its absolute absence in KW. Very atypical for a YA, KW had no dreaded love triangle and no distracting eye candies. It was all about “holy fuck, I’m thrust into a situation beyond belief and now I gotta help save my planet from an apocalyptic war!!!” Yes, the triple exclamation points are necessary.

What few interludes the story has are short. Disaster after disaster occurred; I literally bounced my legs out of excitement as I read KW on my bed.

An Eyebrows-raising Beginning

The prologue was complete world building. The info-dumping was a lazy way to begin the story but I honestly liked it. I didn’t have to gather slivers of information and complete the world building puzzle as the plot happened. The prologue laid it all out for me: how far is this in the future, why begin colonizing planets, where is this story is taking place, etc. KW allowed me to sit back, relax, and enjoy the cinematic-like action.

Rare is the hard sci-fi I read that isn’t stuffed with dizzying expositions. I wouldn’t have wanted KW’s beginning to change in any way.

However, there was one thing...
A colonisation project was mounted. In common with all such projects, the colonists were all taken from a single ethnicity. Previous experience had shown that, in the stressful environment of a new world where disasters may occur at any time, people look for others to blame and ethnic differences were frequently where fracture lines formed.
All my brain cells commented and overloaded my capacity to form a coherent opinion. However for the sake of enjoying KW, I went along with it...hesitantly. Pretty quickly, I saw a literary message building itself. One that said to me, “Yeah, I know. It’s full of crap. And here’s why. I’m going to tell you the ‘why’ using the story’s plot.” (YMMV.)

The Characters

+++ the heroine

Katya Kuriakoya was awesome! Her self-aware detached personality may alienate readers but I loved it. I loved everything about her. I found her courageous, resilient, and pragmatic. She got dangerous and morally ambivalent things done. No matter what the odds were — and the odds were invariably high, she strived to survive. This was a tough girl through and through.

+++ the others

I liked every characters, including the cowardice, power-abusing Officer Suhkalev. I didn’t expect much from this very minor character other than as a villainous cannon fodder.

Every characters on were on different sides, and it was hard for me to choose a side. They were all strong and determined. One moment I’m on that character’s side, and the next I’m on the previously-a-bad-guy-now-maybe-a-good-guy’s side. Everyone was right to an extent and wrong to another. KW is not a black and white novel. You will feel a lot inner turmoil as you determine which side is the right side.

Or maybe there is no right side because in the end I settled for being on Kayta’s side and hoped everyone survive despite being enemies. As I said before, the characters were likable. Not everyone survives; every death saddened me. This book didn’t hesitate to pull the spectrum of human emotions from me.

Also worth mentioning is the handling of female characters. There were no damsels in distress or sexualized kickass heroines. KW was dystopian, but gender was not part of its scope (not that I personally discerned).

+++ the Leviathan

It was mysterious. It was frightening. It was indomitable. It was also a very well named villain. Speaking of names, I loved how a few of the names in KW derived from mythology.
She spoke the names softly like a prayer. “Kraken. Scylla. Leviathan.
Once the story was revealed Leviathan, it became scarier. I thought, “Oh Mother of All Tentacle Aliens, how the hell are they going to defeat this?!”

The Plot

KW was flooded with action and doused with twists. The plot was unpredictable, fast-paced, and utterly epic. Honestly, near the end I wanted the novel to ease off the action with a long interlude because it was too much of a headrush to handle in one sitting of a read.

The PoV

KW was told in Katya’s 1st person PoV, but towards the end it was occasionally interjected with others’ PoV. Usually this would annoy me but it felt natural to the story and kept my interest. It also helped greatly that the times it switched to a supporting character’s PoV it was to introduce a twist. And woah were there many twists. Nonetheless, I hope Katya remains the star throughout the series.

The Ending

The ending was one of those things-are-just-beginning-cue-dooming-theme-music kind. I didn’t mind that, but what I did mind was the flat resolution. Talk about a big disappointment. It strongly felt like the story’s engine of adrenaline sputtered out. And no, KW being the first part of a series did not mollify me.

In Conclusion

I rate KW 3-stars for I liked it. I loved everything about the KW except for open ending. I recommend the book for those who like YA science fiction to be actual science fiction instead of a facade for romance.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

REVIEW: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

The Last Concubine The Last Concubine by Catt Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

The story has a couple of flaws, and depending on readers' pet peeves the flaws can be overlooked or maddening. I managed to overlook all of them but one. And that one flaw cost this book a star.

Cultural Accuracy, the lack thereof

The book was written in an apparent Western PoV because of the egocentric way the character acted and thought. The characters didn't seriously consider the potential consequences of their action about how it might affect friends, family, and the kingdom at large. To explain it another way, the characters acted more like American-born Chinese than ancient Chinese people.

The book did get the courtly etiquette correctly, but there seemed to be a belief that genuflecting is for public display. No. People of lower position have to genuflect at every occasion, even when it is private and to their loved ones. It is especially important when their loved ones are rulers and royals. Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei were too intimate with each other too quickly.

In another example, the fact that Lan'xiu was a man and not a woman with a working reproductive system whose purpose is to pump out children was glossed over. For a HEA, they used the opportunity of Lan'xiu's bloody injury from a battle by reporting it as a miscarriage that resulted in permanent infertility. The infertility cover-up was good but it lacked the seriousness and, in fact, should have brought more troubles than it solved. It didn't matter that Hüi Wei had many children already. This was a family-oriented culture. Infertility shouldn't have been dismissed as a trivial thing.

In spite of these examples and a few more, the cultural inaccuracies were within my tolerance. YMMV.

The Transgender Issue, the lack thereof

I loved Lan'xiu. I loved how his being a transgender was largely a non-issue, in the sense that there was no angst, bigotry, and preachy talk about gender identity. I expected Lan'xiu to resent his mother for raising him as a girl so his half brother, Lord Wu Min, wouldn't kill him as a potential male rival to his half brother's inheritance. Turned out Lan'xiu loved his mother and liked being a women.

I also loved Hüi Wei's quick acceptance of Lan'xiu, mostly because that meant I didn't have to wait for smut to appear.

The only thing that bothered me about Lan'xiu was the shallow characterization of him as an Oracle. The story said he was Oracle in the beginning and didn't mention it again till near the end when Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei went to war against Wu Min. The Oracle part of the story reeked of Deus Ex Machina.

Technically Polygamy, Truly Monogamy

Lan'xiu became Hüi Wei's seventh wife which meant Hüi Wei had six other wives. In ancient China, polygamy was the norm. In a way this made the romance a menage, but it wasn't. Far from it.

Hüi Wei treated his 1st wife, the "official" wife, as a best friend much to her sadness because she really loved him. As for the other five wives, he married them out of obligation; he treated four as friendly acquaintances and one as a political burden.

Before Lan'xiu became his seventh wife, Hüi Wei didn't have sexual relations with any of the six wives for years. Though it wasn't required of the story, the romance was kept strictly between Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei.

By law, Hüi Wei had seven wives. By practice, by true love Hüi Wei had one wife: Lan'xiu.

Gay For You, Or Maybe Just Gay

Since Hüi Wei didn't have any sexual interest in his wives for years, I wasn't convinced that Hüi Wei went GFY for Lan'xiu. When Hüi Wei discovered the protagonist was male and promptly shagged him that night, my hunch that Hüi Wei was a slow-blooming gay became definite.

The hunch solidified when Hüi Wei admitted to his best friend, Lord Jiang, that he liked the gay sex.

Honestly, it did not matter to me that he was gay or GFY. However, I liked to believe Hüi Wei was gay because that meant there was zero chance he would ever be interested in his other wives who would vie for his attention and make the romance a true ménage.

The Sexual Content: I wanted more

Lan'xiu was submissive, Hüi Wei was dominant; they made clothes-ripping passionate love. I was disappointed when the smut tapered off towards the end of the story. I was hoping for a sex scene at the ending but instead got a HEA narrated explicitly, much my distaste.

There was a HEA, yet...

The story was told in 3rd PoV with Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei's as the dominant PoVs. However, the story began and ended with some italicized paragraphs of 3rd person omniscient narrative to set the tone of the book as a (pseudo) historical. I was fine with the beginning narrative, but I was infuriated by the ending narrative.

The HEA told me what happened to the couple after they won against the bad guy. It told me in explicit details what happened to every character in the story, how they lived and died, the worst being how Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei lived their life and died. Yes, the couple had a long fulfilling life, love everlasting and all, but the mentioning of their death spoiled the romance for me. TM-fucking-I.

I really wished the HEA was left to the imagination, instead of being explicitly spelled out.

In Conclusion

I rate The Last Concubine 3-stars for I liked it.

I recommend the book to readers who prefer contemporary romance and generally avoid historical ones, and readers who want a decent plot with some D/s smut. I do not recommend the book to readers who prefer historical romance and insist on accuracy.

For similar smutty reads, try:
Fall of a State Over the Mountain of the Moon  A Tale of a Samurai Consort

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

REVIEW: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Three Dead Parts defied my expectation. I took a risk on this seemingly boring book and it paid off!

I thought it was Urban Fantasy because of the blurb and cover.... Okay, mostly because of the cover. And technically it wouldn't be inaccurate to say it is because there were vampires and Craftsman (mages), a kick-ass heroine and a chain-smoking hero among many parts of the book.

However, the book was Fantasy. TDP was set in a completely different world where gods and godly Craftsman rule. From the world-building to the plot to the character, everything was intricately and deftly developed. This book wasn't a typical fantasy, it had layers enough to arguably proclaim it as epic.

Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. However you personally classify it, TDP was a damn good book.

Slow Beginning

The beginning was slow and sort of confusing; the book relied on action and dialogue for the world building. Truth be told, I would have liked some info-dumping even though that is lazy writing. Scenes didn't connect, their purpose wasn't revealed, till the characters met and gathered in one place, the city of Alt Coulumb, where the story took place.

Multiple PoVs

The multiple 3rd PoV was another big reason for the slow beginning. Just when things started getting interesting, the story switched to another PoV to another part of the plot. Fortunately, the switching ceased to be annoying once I grasped the plot and I warmed up to the characters.

The Characters

+++ the protagonists

Tara and Abelard’s PoV were the dominant PoVs, and I enjoyed reading their side. Tara was everything I want in a kickass heroine: confident but not conceited, courageous not foolish, smart but not a know-it-all. Tara had none of those negative traits so frequently inflicted on Urban Fantasy heroines to make them flawed and real. Not to say Tara was perfect, but she was refreshing to follow.

I expected Abelard to depress and annoy me because his god died at his watch. Talk about a crisis of faith, especially when Abelard is fresh into the priesthood as a novice. The man had all the wrapping of a self-tormented, emo hero thrust into a situation beyond his capability. In short, a typical Urban Fantasy hero. Yet Abelard took actions on his own initiative. He helped Tara; he learned about the world beyond and the things in his city he never noticed before; he fought the bad guys when the bad guys ambushed the good guys.

+++ the side characters

It wasn't just Abelard; everyone had the potential to be emo. There was the pirate dude who didn't became a vampire by choice, the junkie who was addicted to the rapturous bite of a vampire because she was supernatural police for a pale imitation of dead Goddess, the Cardinal whose God died and religious order was dying. Apparently, the loss of the connection to the divine messed up most of the characters in the book.

The one character I didn't care for was Shale. His PoV could have been done without because it was confusing and seemed to be mere filler. Not that his role in the plot wasn't important, but his part would have made the same impact if it was observed or discovered by one of the dominant PoVs.

My favorite character was Kevarian, Tara’s boss, because, beside being a powerful Craftsman, she was one of those people who plan many steps ahead and well.... Suffice to say I was very glad she was one of the good guys. She is not a person to trifle with. If you think you won against her, think again... that is if you even have the luxury of minutes to reflect on where you failed before you die a horrible horrible death.

+++ the bad guys

The book had two villains. One villain was unknown and our protagonists had to discover who it was. And it wasn't a big surprise when I found out at the end. That villain was a cliché.

The other villain was introduced in the middle of the story and he was scarier and more powerful than the unknown villain. He was a manipulative deceitful megalomaniac who wanted to be the ruler of everyone and everything he could grasp. No surprise that it was Kevarian’s ex-boyfriend and present nemesis.

The Writing

The writing was little too elaborate for my liking because sometimes the imagery was overwhelming and I skimmed to get to the action or dialogue part of the scene. Thankfully, the prose was pretty clear so I always knew what the characters were doing even if I didn't know why they were doing it.

+++ the pacing

The pacing eventually picked up by a third of the story. Once Tara and Abelard started their investigation, I had a good grip on the plot. The story picked up more speed once the Megalomaniac Mage (my nickname for him) came in and the characters were in a rush to solve the mystery before Megalomaniac Mage thoroughly trapped them in his schemes.

+++ the ending

The story didn't fail to give me a satisfactory ending after an awesome climax. No sireee. It was satisfactory. Very satisfactory. I especially loved what Kevarian did to the Megalomanic Mage in the end. Let’s just say there were no loose ends left to be resolved.

Smorgasbord of Genres

When Tara and Abelard examined the fire god’s body, they gave me the impression that the story was CSI, an American TV crime show. Then in the middle of the story, it became like a lawyer show, except everyone could use magic and play underhandedly. It was essentially a fight for survival.

There was a religious element to the story but it wasn't overbearing. It was, however, a cliché that a big religious order was suffering corruption and opulence. But then again so was every big organization that existed in the story. From the magic school that didn't do expulsion so it graduated Tara and kicked her ass out literally from the sky, to the powerful firm of cutthroat Craftsman who handled cases of god-related matters. The book had themes of power, bureaucracy, and corruption.

In Conclusion

I rate Three Parts Dead 3-stars for I liked it. I’m glad I kept reading the book despite its slow and confusing beginning. The ending left me with a glow of joy. I would look forward reading a sequel if there was one.

Recommended for readers who want an urban fantasy to be heavy and epic on the fantasy side.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

REVIEW: Pressure Head by J.L. Merrow

Pressure Head Pressure Head by J.L. Merrow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Characters

+++ The Protagonist

I liked Tom but I found it hard to keep liking him, because his people-pleasing personality tired me. Despite considering his personality, I was still flabbergasted at how quickly Tom agreed to help Phil, Tom’s teen crush turned bully. Phil nicknamed Tom Poofski (Tom’s last name is Patreski) and was one of the bullies who chased Tom into a car accident which gave him a lifelong hip injury. Tom’s personality didn’t meld perfectly with his past; he got along with Phil too quickly to be believable.

Another issue was how Tom jumped into the investigation with Phil without serious consideration that they were hunting a murderer, that what they were doing was dangerous. Not to mention that Tom had a job as a plumber with appointments, which he missed intermittently. Tom essentially put his life on hold and in risk for an ex-bully. Yes, the ex-bully was still handsome as ever... and gay... and single, but still. Tom needed to re-prioritize.

Tom may have a preternatural talent for finding things and the natural charisma for easing people, especially women which induced jealousy from Phil, but investigating a homicide was beyond his capabilities. He didn’t even bother to carry a weapon at the ending in his rescue attempt.

+++ The Love Interest

Phil suffered a severe lack of character development. His attitude was distant, but that was no excuse. I knew more about Tom’s flamboyant best friend, Gary, and his ex-porn star little person lover, Darren; Gary and Darren were not suspects whose background needed to be told and had around 4-6 scenes total in the story.

There’s something wrong when I know more about minor characters than a major character who is the main character’s love interest and appears all the time in the story. The story left me annoyed with a bunch of questions about Phil.

The Writing

+++ restrictive PoV

The story was told exclusively in 1st Pov from Tom’s side. I generally prefer 1st PoV from the protagonist’s side, but it felt restrictive in this story. Tom’s obliviousness to Phil’s romantic interest, among other things, was mind-numbing.

+++ slow mystery

The red herrings were great, but the mystery could have used some speed. To be fair, the mystery was one of the faster ones I have read, and I was thoroughly engaged. The pace eventually quickened, but it felt late to me.

+++ the ending

Since not much was said about Phil, the romance was sparse. The fact that Tom and Phil only had one date didn’t help, nor did the slightly abrupt ending. I wasn’t fully convinced in their HEA as I wanted.

In Conclusion

I rate Pressure Head 2-stars for it was okay. The book was fairly well-written and engaging; its British aspect was authentic and endearing. Nevertheless, the book had a couple issues that stopped me from liking it.

I recommend the book to readers looking for a good, British mystery with a small paranormal influence.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

REVIEW: Heads or Tails by Jenna Byrnes

Heads or Tails Heads or Tails by Jenna Byrnes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

I tolerated the closet case protagonist, the protagonist’s bitchy fiancé, and the M/F graphic sex scenes between the two, but when the book piled cheating on top? Hell no. I hate cheating in my Romance.

But! It wasn’t completely horrible as I expected.

The Sexual Content

The M/M sex scenes were hot; they, thankfully, overwhelmed the two M/F small sex scenes. The D/s aspect of Jeff and Kurt’s sexual relationship surprised and thrilled me.

The Characters

Kurt was kind and dominant; he was a complete hunk. Initially, I didn’t like how Kurt seduced Jeff into cheating and yielded to be Jeff’s other man. But when Kurt made a Big Romantic Gesture at the ending by crashing Jeff’s wedding and taking Jeff away on his motorcycle, I realized how much he loved Jeff. Kurt not only won Jeff’s heart, but he also won mine.

I think it was a good choice for the story to be told from Jeff’s side in 3rd PoV, because I was able to feel sorry for him. Next to cheating, protagonists with low self-esteem is another pet peeve of mine. I was very glad when Jeff ultimately chose Love.

Though Jeff’s co-workers had a very small role in the story, Cindy and Sarah made a huge impact on Jeff. Their supportive attitude balanced Lana’s bitchiness and made the story less offensive, changing the trope from All-Females-are-Bitches to All-Exes-are-Evil.

For a short story, the character development was substantial.

In Conclusion

I rate the Heads or Tails 2-stars for it was okay. Please take heed that 2-stars for a story that has cheating is a big compliment from me.

Recommended for readers wanting a challenged (due to the cheating) but short and HEA-inclusive read.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

REVIEW: Hell's Pawn by Jay Bell

Hell's Pawn Hell's Pawn by Jay Bell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Small Spoilers

This Is Not MM-Romance

First things first, this book isn't a paranormal romance; it's urban fantasy. There's a love interest and a few sex scenes but ultimately the dude is in unavailable because Rimmon is still in love with his ex-boyfriend. Or current boyfriend depending on your interpretation; since that interpretation would mean the love interest is cheating and John, the protagonist, is the "other man," I don't apply to this interpretation.

I thought the love interest deluded himself that he was still in a relationship with his ex-boyfriend. He deluded himself on other issues too, one of which was the fact that he's an incubus and because of that he claim he is compelled to have sex with strangers. Not to mention it's his job as one of Hell's minions. Uh huh, right. Rimmon had this self-tormented persona going on, and it annoyed me.

I felt bad for John. I thought the "romance" subplot with the love interest could have been done away. I didn't think it add anything to the story except dashing readers of Romance's expectation.

The Shining Part of the Book

The world building was great! I love how the book used mythology from many parts of the world, especially when it included Eastern Asia. I could easily tell the research was done by the accurate way the gods and the afterlife worlds were depicted. The book didn't "reinvent" a facet of the mythology; it didn't have to. The book deftly tied multiple mythologies into one cohesive world.

The other fantasy part of the book, the non-mythology based part, was also well done. Keen readers might foresee the twist about the bad guys — the strange mechanical beings birthed from humankind collective desire for order, think Matrix and Terminator — but the twist didn’t strongly impress me as a cliché.

Now For the Bad News

Why didn't I rate the book higher? The characters weren't flat, the pacing didn't drag, the plot had no holes (that I was aware of). The book was told in 1st PoV exclusively from the protagonist's side, a POV I most prefer. Except for the "romance," the book was a solid read. So why didn't I rate the book higher?

The reason was John. I cheered for him but I wasn't fully enamored with the protagonist as I could have been. He didn't annoyed me; he just didn't stand out to me. He was the kind of guy you see on the streets in a busy city, walk by him, and forget about him a second later.

There wasn't much character development for the protagonist. Once John became Hell's Pawn, he did whatever was demanded of him with little thought. Not to say he was mindless or stupid — far from it, John lacked a sense of resolve. This bogged down the book for me.

To be fair, John gained his sense of resolve and some needed character development in a scene near the end as part of the rising action. Unfortunately, it occurred too late and too little. I realized that missing piece of John's characterization was a deliberate part of the story, but that was no consolation.

In Conclusion

I rate the book 2-stars for it was okay. The book was plot-driven. While engaging and lacking any glaring flaw, the book simply didn't leave a lasting impression. I was happy to read the book, but it was kind of the book I read once and then not read it again.

Readers looking for a LGBT standalone urban fantasy with a tightly wrapped HEA will enjoy Hell’s Pawn. Readers looking for a paranormal romance should look elsewhere.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

REVIEW: Geisha for Hire by Shawn Bailey

Geisha for Hire Geisha for Hire by Shawn Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Reasons To Hate This Book

1. The female characters, Jayce’s best friend and mother, were pushy and hugely insensitive to his feelings. They forced Jayce to crossdress and pimped him out as the party entertainment for drunk dudes.

2. Jayce, the main character, was basically a dumb bottom. It took him late in the story and a couple sex scenes to realize he — the adult virgin who never once found a girl sexually attractive — liked dudes, that he especially liked his boss. He is completely unaware of how attractive he is to other men and cannot recognize flirting or sexual harassment until it gets physical. And even then...

3. Reuben and Jayce weren’t an official couple until late in the story but that didn't stop Reuben from claiming Jayce in the beginning of the story. Reuben acted possessive of and aggressive towards Jayce. The alpha dude detested the sexual attention Jayce unwittingly attracted and thus Reuben was prone to stabs of jealousy.

4. Genji liked the Jayce too so, yes, there was a love triangle. The issue wasn’t completely resolved as much as, near the end, sidestepped and overlooked in favor of Jayce’s Coming-Out-To-Family issue. There was never a rejection scene between Jayce and Genji.

5. There was an extreme lack of regard for rules at the Jayce’s workplace. Given the multiple romantic entanglements between bosses and their subordinates, professionals and their clients, and the noticeable absence of female workers, the workplace truthfully served as a convenient place for hot gay guys to gather and mingle. Not that there weren't business activities going on — there were, but it was apparent that realism was not a goal of the story.

6. Speaking of realism, the Japanese characters and actions were depicted in a rather exaggerated manner.

7. A few scenes could have stand to be rewritten because they were a tad confusing. I had to reread one non-smutty scene to comprehend.

But This Is A Positive Review

In spite of all these reasons, any one of them enough on their own for me to dislike the book, I enjoyed it. No, seriously, I really did.

Reasons Why I Liked This Book

1. The female characters didn't annoyed me. I actually enjoyed the shenanigans they forced upon Jayce. In spite of their teasing, I saw that they truly loved him. I liked how they gradually made him aware that he wasn’t straight and that the guy he loved was the guy he loved.

2. Jayce was endearing and wasn't totally dumb and passive as I thought. I liked how he stood up and came out to his father near the end. I wholly expected the plot to sidestep the Coming-Out-To-Family issue and, honestly, I would have preferred it, because I wanted the story to stay silly and smutty. However, I’m glad Jayce didn’t have to hide who he was and who his lover was. It was nice bow to the HEA present.

3. Reuben didn't push or near the line that separates Alphas and Abusive Assholes. I enjoyed his reactions towards Jayce. It made for some hot smut; those pages definitely encouraged some leering and rereading from me.

4. The story was written in alternating 3rd PoV between Jayce and Reuben, with Jayce’s PoV as the dominant PoV. With a few other reasons, the story made it really obvious who Jayce was going to end up with so I wasn’t bothered much by the Love Triangle issue fizzling out at the end.

5. Once the book mentioned yaoi early in the story, I knew immediately what the book's intention was: to indulge the readers with a smutty, silly story. I adjusted my expectation and so the lack of realism barely bothered me. This book was actually a lot more realistic, beyond my low expectation, than many of the yaoi-wannabe stories I have read.

6. I thought the American characters and actions were also depicted in a rather exaggerated manner. For the most part, I thought the story did a pretty accurate and considerate job portraying culture differences. Best of all, I liked the depiction that drunk gropey men will be drunk gropey men regardless of their nationality.

7. The book compensated in other ways: the writing was decent, the pacing was fast, and the smut was ample.

In Conclusion

I rate the wannabe-yaoi book 4-stars for I really liked it, because I really did like it. So much in fact that I reread it multiple times after I finished the book.

Honestly, the high rating might have been due to my good mood at the time and the fact that it has been a long while since I read a decent smut. Nonetheless, the story left a very good impression on, and it would be definitely be one of those stories I would reread whenever I need a pick-me-up.

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