Tuesday, April 24, 2012

REVIEW: Taken at Dusk by C.C. Hunter

Taken at Dusk (Shadow Falls, #3)Taken at Dusk by C.C. Hunter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

Taken At Dusk is book 3 of the Shadow Falls series, a series that is named after the summer camp turned school for supernatural adolescents. At least I thought Shadow Falls was supposed to be a school beginning in book 2. However, it turned out at 83% in book 3 Shadow Falls was "getting the camp ready to become a full-blown school." What?!

All this time Kylie was going to a camp, not a school. Fine. Then where were the camp activities in book 3 that supposed to have the kids learning and respecting supernatural cultures and be all kumbaya and crap? Because one scene of a group activity serving another episode of "When Kylie Gets Attacked" and one scene of a camp festival serving another episode of "Everybody, Especially Those Two Boys, Loves Kylie" didn't count.

In short, TAD failed to maintain its setting.

Kylie shouldn't be worrying about her mother discovering her secret life in the supernatural world. She should be worrying about her mother discovering she have been sending Kylie to play hooky.

Kylie the Bum

So what is Kylie doing at Shadow Falls if she's not learning anything and evil dudes keep trying — oh heavens are they trying — to kill her there? It was the question that persisted in my mind as I read over 107,000 words of the novel. I hazard Kylie going to Shadow Falls was so she could discover her supernatural identity because she sure as white on rice wasn't human.

Shadow Falls was the only “safe” place Kylie knew where the supernatural races gathered. I guess Kylie didn't give a hoot whether Shadows Fall was a camp or school as long she got her answer. Because knowing what magical creature you are is somehow more important than getting your education and preparing for your future so you can have money for food, shelter, and clothes. Alrighty then. At least she has a goal.

Kylie the Wanna-be Sinner

In TAD, Kylie was presented with the theory that she may be a “protector.” I thought perhaps it was our answer. Except one teeny tiny eensy problem: What the frell is a protector?

Kylie's gal-pals said it's someone who is “super, super rare,” with strength greater than a vampire's. “They can be anything, but they’re known to be good and pure. Sort of the Mother Teresa of supernaturals,” “usually...only one protector born every hundred or two hundred years.” And that's all we ever learn because Kylie was repeatedly sidetracked by boy troubles to pursue the matter. *facepalm* The ditz couldn't keep sight of her goal.

It gets worse. The ditz took the Mother Teresa reference literal because she thought being a protector meant she to had be a nun and she didn't want to be a nun or any other sort of a saint. In her own words, she said she wanted “to sin,” i.e. to drink, to tell dirty jokes, to do things with boys (chapter 22). Sweet Jesus Honey Dews!

Putting aside Kylie's purity shit, if Kylie bothered to learn more about protectors, then she might have learned earlier on as opposed to near the end of the book that protectors weren't supernatural saints. Protectors protect people, they don't go and become nuns! This was one the many examples of Kylie being a dumbass.

Kylie the Dumbass

Another example was Kylie's insistence on helping an amnesiac ghost after Holiday told her the ghost may be a hell-bound spirit in chapter 21.

Why didn't Holiday warn Kylie about this in book 1 when Kylie first confessed she saw dead people instead chapter frigging 21 of book frigging 3? What kind of a camp counselor is she? Isn't Shadow Falls supposed to be a place of education, not keeping people ignorant?

To be fair, Holiday was redeemed after she quickly conceded the matter to Kylie. Kylie, OTOH, did nothing to redeem herself. I believe Kylie was equally at fault for failing to learn about hell-bound spirit as Holiday was at fault for failing to teaching Kylie. Kylie should've taken the time out to learn more about her ghost-whispering power instead relying on Holiday to tell her everything every time Kylie encounter something ghosty. For a girl who whined at people for not helping her, she hardly did anything to help herself.

Moreover, I couldn't believe Kylie used the stupid excuse that her heart told her it's the right thing to do by helping the ghosts. The ditz can't even decide between two boys, so her heart isn't the right body part to listen. Maybe if she'd use her brain, she would know.

Kylie the Hypocrite

If she'd use her brain, she would realize she had no business asking Ellie if Ellie had sex with Derek. Kylie wasn't with Derek, she was with Lucas. Whatever Derek and Ellie did was their own business. Derek and Kylie sharing a past didn't afford Kylie the privilege to intrude.

I was astounded to read Kylie "admitting she was a virgin to a stranger [to Ellie] didn’t sit well with her" (chapter 25) but confronting a stranger about their sexual activity was. R U FUCKING KIDDING ME? Kylie was completely blinded to her hypocrisy! I really, really, really wanted Ellie to bitchslap Kylie.

Kylie the Useless Heroine

Basically, for the entire novel, Kylie was useless. She wasn't assertive in her goal to discover her supernatural identity. She wasn't even assertive in helping the amnesiac ghost until the ghost resorted to giving Kylie visions, visions that forced Kylie to walk in the ghost's shoes in the ghost's dying moments. That's why I called BS on Kylie's excuse that she just wanted to do the right things and be altruistic. Bitch, please. It was more like Kylie wanted the ghost off of her back.

Pretty much every time I thought Kylie was about to become productive in her self-discovery quest, she got sidetracked with her boy troubles.

The Love Triangle, aka Kylie the Fickle Girlfriend

The series didn't just drag out the mystery of Kylie's supernatural identity, it also dragged out Kylie's love triangle. I truly thought things with Derek were over in book 2. Foolish me. Derek came back in TAD and the status quo of the love triangle reaffirmed itself.

Things started to look up when Kylie attempted to get over Derek and hooked up with Lucas. For while, I liked Lucas until I realize how Kylie tells everything to Lucas, but Lucas hardly tells anything to Kylie.

I did not like how Lucas kept silent that members of his race disapproved of his relationship with her. I didn't like how Kylie have to find out about it from Fredericka, the bitch werewolf crushing on Lucas, and Lucas's grandmother. And if what Ellie screamed at Lucas in chapter 23 was true, then Kylie should breakup with Lucas before she learn the hard way that Lucas will choose his pack over her.

Yet the ditz didn't even bat a thought at Ellie's outburst. She immediately accepted Derek's apology in the next scene. To be fair, Lucas flattered her after his apology and it couldn't be helped that Kylie was a ditz and befuddled by the seduction of corny lines.

Finally, near the end of TAD, Derek confessed his love for Kylie and the poor ditz was befuddled some more. What a girl to do with two unsuitable boys?

Things I Didn't Like

Overall, I didn't like Kylie the ditz. I didn't like the two boys mooning over the ditz. I didn't like the ditz's self-involved gal-pals Della and Miranda and their love triangles — Della with Lee and Steve, Miranda with Perry and Todd. This series is shitting love triangles!

The one character I did like TAD killed! It was Ellie. Poor vamp never got a chance. Apparently, decent people are endangered in this series.

My biggest gripe was how Kylie's supernatural identity was revealed at the end in another tiresome cliffhanger. The way it was revealed, it could have been easily revealed as early as book 2 if not book 1. Daniel, Kylie's biological father of a ghost, told her they were chameleons. Yuuuup. They're lizards.

Basically, the first 2/3 of TAD was filler while the last 1/3 was the actual story-telling.

Things I Did Like

Yet, TAD had its fun moment, if only few and far. I enjoyed the girl's silly chats, especially the one that degenerated to “Della [turning] on the computer [to look] up strange mating behaviors that included everything from exploding testicles to slinging poop with a tail.” I enjoyed the explosive end of the camp festival, courtesy of Miranda's magic misaim, where Burnett was literally hopping mad. I enjoyed the subplot romance between Burnett and Holiday — the one couple who didn't have a love triangle.

Finally, I enjoyed Kylie's public humiliation when Kylie's mother and old best friend Sara came to visit her at Shadow Falls in chapter 30. I wished it lasted longer and not besmirched by Kylie's rudeness against Sara.

In Conclusion

I rate TAD a solid 2-stars for it was okay. I recommend the TAD for readers who enjoyed book 1-2. For readers interested in the series, book 3 is a good place to start.

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REVIEW: The Prince's Groom by KT Grant

The Prince's GroomThe Prince's Groom by KT Grant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

The Prince's Groom (TPG) began with Thomas wishing he could have the same love with Martin after watching his sister, Daisy, marry Martin's fellow pirate, Chelsey — the lesbian couple from book 1. Martin then interrupted Thomas's reflection with a long make-out session that reached to chapter 2. Yet Thomas remained unsatisfied with the vague status of their relationship and soon demanded Martin to give him something that will persuade him to stay with Martin.

Thomas demanded to know more about Martin, starting with Martin's first name. They both wanted each other but Martin's silence on his past pushed Thomas away. One year later in chapter 3, the two men still pined for each other.

With such a beginning, I expected angst (and hoped it wasn't heavy) from a story of two men desiring each other but do not get together. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised at how little angst and how big the action TPG had.

With around 49,000 words, TPG was told in 3rd PoV from Thomas and Martin's sides, the two protagonists, and from Ramona's side, one of the two antagonists.

The Characters

Thomas quickly got my sympathy after he was rebuffed by Martin, but he later lost some when I read how easily he fell to Ramona's machination. I forgave Thomas for his lack of perspicacity, I couldn't forgive him for his lack of spine. Thomas standing up to Martin wasn't enough for me to view Thomas as a courageous character.

Martin, OTOH, was a strong character. My one gripe against him was how he thought he was too old for Thomas when age wasn't the issue that caused the breakup, it was Martin's closed book attitude.

Ramona was a spoiled, scheming socialite who wanted Thomas for a husband whether Thomas wanted her or not. I found her deliciously evil and enjoyed her PoV.

Things I Didn't Like

I wished I knew how old Thomas was because the story only said he was young, Martin was 41, and implied the romance was May-December. Moreover, the story didn't develop Thomas well as a "former exiled prince of the Isle of Ilgeria and longtime resident of the country of Flaundia" (chapter 1). Why was he exiled, and why was he exiled to Flaundia? The story never said.

I did not care for William. I felt bad for him for being rebuffed by Thomas after William confessed his love for Thomas, but William getting his petty revenge against Martin broke my sympathy for him. William was Thomas's secretary and he sexually serviced Thomas which led me to believe him banging Thomas was part of his job and not for love. I believe William confused the intimacy for true love. William sabotaging Martin made TPG unnecessary melodramatic. TPB would have been better if William remained a loyal servant and friend to Thomas and his crush for Thomas was done away with.

I also did not care for the two loose ends TPG had. The first loose end was between Julia's feeling for Maria and how it played a part in Julia's husband's death. Julia's subplot was barely touched upon. Developing the subplot might have made TPG unnecessary long but I would've like to see Julia have her HEA after suffering so much from her evil sister Ramona.

The second loose end was with Jaxson, the second antagonist and Martin's long-lost brother, and how he refused to reveal his reasons why he killed their parents. I wanted Martin to have closure for his tragic past.

Things I Liked

Despite the loose ends, I liked how the main conflict was resolved. The ending for Ramona was fitting. I really liked how during the climax Julia redeemed her pitiful self by stepping up to help defeat Ramona and help our heroes. Julia was my favorite supporting character in TPG.

I appreciated the rehashing of book 1 because I didn't read it. I enjoyed the Daisy and Chelsey's post-HEA. I found their scenes and the rehashing in the right amount that book 1's couple didn't pull the spotlight from book 2's couple.

Thomas was nice. Martin was a sweetheart. The romance between the two was convincing, and I liked how their separation didn't last as long as I feared.

Except for William's love subplot, I enjoyed all the twists and turns as I enjoyed all three PoVs. I like how the twists and turns quickened the pace which resulted no slow moments for me.

In Conclusion

TPG had little angst — which I didn't expect, moderate amount of action — which was more than I expected, and flushed with good smut — which I expected and successfully received. The sex scenes between William and Thomas was hot. Of course, the sex scenes between Martin and Thomas was the hottest.

I rate TPG 3-stars for I liked it.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

REVIEW: Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

Gone, Gone, Gone Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gone, Gone, Gone is around 52,500 words but its slow-going pace made it seem longer. Not that the pacing was bad — it was smooth as it could be, but it made my reading experience dull. The novel had many elements for a good drama, enough to create a tornado of it, but the plot was largely drama-less, which I didn't know whether to appreciate or to dislike.

The novel was told in 1st PoV and alternated its chapters between Craig and Lio's side. I generally disdain multiple PoVs but both characters were likable enough for me to overcome my preference for a single PoV. I liked Craig and Lio equally that I never got frustrated when one chapter of one boy's side ended and another chapter of the other boy's side began.

The Characters

+++ Craig

Craig had many quirks that would have irritated me vastly were he another character in another book. He cry for odd reasons and at odd times, which fortunately happened few and far. He frequently dwell in his head, which contributed to making the story ho-hum. He ramble a lot, something only the reader can see from Lio's side.

Craig haven't got over his ex-boyfriend who treated him badly. Granted, Cody had a mental breakdown after his dad died in 9/11 but still. I don't blame Cody, but I do blame Craig for not moving on and be with Lio earlier in the story.

Finally, Craig insisted on searching for his missing pets during the Beltway Sniper Shootings, going against his family's wishes for Craig to stay home and be safe. To say the least, Craig repeatedly made this unwise decision. He searched for his pets throughout the story — all the while random people were being shot all over the city.

So why did I like Craig regardless of his quirks? I liked Craig because he had a huge heart for pets in need and when he stood up to Lio when Lio was being insensitive. I found Craig mildly adorable.

+++ Lio

Lio was kind of like Squall from Final Fantasy VIII but without the apathy. He doesn't talk much, but he does listen attentively and care deeply. For a boy who survived cancer, whose parents were divorced, who was homesick for NYC, who attended therapy regularly, Lio remained collected. Most of the time, anyway.

My one gripe against Lio was his smoking habit, which the story didn't go in-depth or resolved. I felt Lio's smoking was his way of dealing with survivor's guilt because he survived cancer but his twin didn't.

It was kinda amusing in a way. Lio had issues but I thought it was Craig who needed therapy. At least Craig's parents thought so. Overall, Lio was a cool dude.

In Conclusion

This book was a 2.5 for me. The plot happened during the Beltway Sniper Shootings in the shadow of 9/11 that was a year before. The story dealt the two historic events gracefully, but I wish it would encompassed some action.

I appreciated how Craig and Lio being gay was a non-issue. The story focused on the two dealing with their personal matters and coming to term with their feeling for one another. The novel was romantic and poignant as it was accurately blurbed. Intense, however, the novel wasn't. I found the conflict muted, which is why I rounded down.

I rate Gone, Gone, Gone 2 stars for it was okay. I recommend the novel for those who like realistic contemporary romance, those who prefer their LGBT fiction to be non-issue, and those looking for something drama-less but still have depth after reading an angst-heavy book. FWIW, Gone, Gone, Gone was good, good, good literature.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

REVIEW: Back from the Undead by D.D. Barant

Back from the Undead Back from the Undead by D.D. Barant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoiler

With over 90,000 words, Back From The Undead was one of the best books in the Bloodhound Files series. As usual, BFTU had the series' signature twists and turns that sometime become too complex to comprehend. Fortunately, the twists and turns in this novel did not lose me. BFTU had one of the more linear plots in the series, something I was glad to get in this series.

Bonus to boot was BFTU's moderate amount of angst, compared to book 4 Better Off Undead which was angst heavy, and BFTU's high amount of humor, compared to the rest of the series. BFTU was truly a delight to read. I chuckled many times and it wasn't just because of the witty dialogue but also of the WTF scenes themselves. WTF-good, not WTF-bad.

We last left off from book 4 with Cassius confessing his love for Jace. Jace is insecure about the matter, and not necessarily because Cassius is her boss, or the fact that she yet refer to him by his first name David, or that she's a human and he's a vampire. It is mostly because her last three lovers betrayed her. What trust issues?

Anyway, there were a short scene between the two lovers but it was quickly interrupted by their job. Cassius disappeared on a case that took him away from Jace, and soon Jace was on a case herself. I felt their separation was a detriment to the story. Things didn't look good...

When it rains it pours

A direct line from the book, FYI.

Jace always get the most complicated case, an observation that was flat out acknowledged by her co-workers much to their headache. In BFTU, Jace gets the following problems:

1) Aristotle Stoker has asked Jace for her help. Aristotle Stoker is the villain Jace must capture/kill so she return to her home dimension. He is the villain who have eluded Jace for the last four books of the series. He is the villain the vampires and the lycanthropes fear like the bogeyman and Jack the Ripper and Hitler combined.

Is this a trap? 99.9% likely.

2) Stoker asked Jace to help him break up a human-trafficking ring... Except it's not humans being trafficked, it's vampires. It's not just vampires, it's vampire children. It's not just vampire children, it's vampire orphans who were cruelly abandoned by their parents in a world where vampire reproduction (the pregnant kind, not the bite-to-infect kind) is highly valued because not every pregnancy is successful and there's a magical price on the parents.

WTF? It's hard to believe since Stoker is a villain. Villains don't help people. It's impossible to believe because Stoker is a human supremacist/terrorist who thinks all the supernatural races should take a dirt bed.

Obviously, there's more to this trafficking ring than what he is saying. Honesty and villainy doesn't go hand in hand, especially in a sociopath like Stoker. Though if what Stoker says is true, Jace will need to stop the trafficking ring and capture Stoker.

3) Stoker asked Jace to come to Vancouver, Canada where the trafficking ring is located. In our dimension, America see Canada as "Our Great Neighbors to the North" where border security is laxed. In the other dimension, America see Canada as "Our Corrupt Neighbors to the North" where border security is stricter than the Korean DMZ of our world. Basically, Canada and Mexico switched stereotypes in Thropirelem (what Jace calls the alternate Earth). In Thropirelem, Vancouver is "the homicide capital of the world."

Jace will need to stop the trafficking ring and capture Stoker while avoiding the ubiquitous criminal.

4) Beside Stoker, Isamu is back too. He's the Yazuka lord of a vampire who promised to kill Jace in book 2. Looks like he might pull through on that promise... And somehow, he magically banned Jace from Heaven so she can never go there when she die.

As if Jace's life wasn't already in jeopardy, now her afterlife is too. Oh what joy. x_x

5) But hey. Why stop at two uber villains? How about throwing an ex who betrayed Jace and left her to die in book 2?

To be fair, Tanaka only did it because of the greater good. He ended up feeling so guilty that he swore to protect Jace by killing Isamu. However, Tanaka might need to aim at others to protect Jace because Isamu is small fry compared to the others...

6) There is a godlike character named Dagon in BFTU. Think Godzilla.

7) Let's also throw in one bored kitsune and two meddling deities for the heck of it.

This is not your usual trafficking ring case.

Raining Cats and Dogs

Meanwhile Jace is running out of gunpowder. She can make more if the global anti-gun spell wasn't such a bitch to deal with. Not only that, the spell started to affect Jace. The good news is that she get less nausea from being a dimensional displaced entity. The bad news is that her big advantage — her ability to splatter other supernaturals with her gun — is going away, leaving her largely defenseless.

The World-Building

I was happy at how the series went back to Oriental mythology for its world-building. At present, most Urban Fantasies relegate themselves to Western mythology. I love my angels and demons, my vampires and werewolves, but it can get stale sometime. Thus, I greatly appreciated it when BFTU incorporated kami, oni, and Yomi into its world.

Yomi, the Shinto hell, was one of my many favorite parts in BFTU.
A Christian Hell, for example, would be full of fire and torment, populated by leering, sadistic demons. Not a nice place to visit—or to have angry at you.

The Asian Hell, by contrast, is simply boring.

Now, that’s a very Eastern approach, and no doubt a room full of philosophers could spend an eternity arguing about which fate was worse: everlasting agony or never-ending dullness (or possibly being locked in a room full of arguing philosophers).
Jace didn't just visit "the homicide capital of the world [filled with vampires, lycanthropes, and golems]," she also visit Hell.

A Few Gripes, Some Mehs, and Many Spoilers

The cover-art didn't make much sense. Jace did visit a graveyard, but it was at 3 am not sunset. She did get attacked by lycanthropes but it was in the forest.

As said before, there was little of Cassius in BFTU. He didn't showed up again till the end, barring Jace's dreams. When Cassius did, the ending was a cliffhanger.

I was sad when Tanaka died because the story successfully redeemed the character. I wish things could have gone differently.

Another thing that could have gone differently was how the trafficking ring case was resolved. The vampire orphans were rescued from the trafficking ring, but they were not rescued from homelessness. At the end, they were returned to their street life on Vancouver and were still perpetually children. The only upside was that Isamu was killed so there's a little chance the evil plan will happen again. Very little because it would require the help of the god Yog-Sothoth who hardly meddle in humanoid affairs, this one time being one of those few exceptions. It was realistic the way things ended, but I thought it could have been happier, even at the risk of making the ending sickeningly sweet.

If readers love Jace's co-workers, they will be disappointed in BFTU. There were very few scenes of Gretchen. Charlie, along with Eisfanger, was with Jace on her case but Charlie didn't play a big role compared to the other books because Stoker took some of that spotlight. Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered by these changes.

Speaking of the devil, it was weird watching Stoker and Jace working together rather amicably. On one hand, I wanted to scream at Jace to shoot the guy already before he ran away again. On the other, I appreciated how they didn't antagonize one another, resulting in a low amount of angst. Angst wasn't something I wanted to get again after book 4.

Too bad Stoker was the series' villain, because he worked well with Jace. My biggest gripe about him was that I thought he needed more character development to make his change in BFTU believable.

Jace finally captured Stoker!!! To be accurate, Stoker surrendered himself. But who cares?! All that is left is Ahaseurus, the evil shaman dude who took Jace from her home dimension. It's because the shaman who dimensionally displace the person must be the shaman who dimensionally return her back. Except Ahaseurus has captured Cassius in another dimension at the cliffhanger of an ending. And just when I thought things were going right.

In Conclusion

Truthfully, BFTU was a 3.5. Many things did work for me, including the weird partnership between Stoker and Jace, the series' villain and heroine respectively. However, I wish the ending was more different. I wish the ending was a happier, more conclusive one. I really wish the ending wasn't a cliffhanger.

The reason why I rounded up my rating was because Jace shined greatly as an FBI profiler, an element that hasn't shown consistently in a big way throughout the series. Her profiling skill largely compensated the declining advantage of her gun in BFTU. Watching Jace out-scheming the other characters was a joy, especially at climax against Isamu. That and the unexpected high amount of humor the novel delivered is why I rate BFTU 4 stars for I really liked it.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

REVIEW: The Spy Who Left Me by Gina Robinson

The Spy Who Left Me (Agent Ex, #1) The Spy Who Left Me by Gina Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

The Spy Who Left Me begins with Treflee running into her estranged husband Ty at the Hawaiian hotel where he work. Treflee is on vacation with her cousin Carrie and her five bridesmaids which included Treflee, a vacation that was supposed to be Carrie’s wedding and honeymoon before Carrie dumped her fiancĂ© for cheating on her. Ty is on a spy mission working undercover with his partner Greg, a mission that was not supposed to include his divorce-demanding wife.

With less than 93,000 words and entirely set in in Hawaii, The Spy Who Left Me is about Treflee trying to divorce a husband who still loves her very much. The novel was low on angst, moderate on humor, moderate on action. There were many things going on.
All Ty had to do was avenge George Hsu, a fellow agent and friend who’d been murdered on assignment here in Hawaii. Follow Shen Lin, the little prick of a Fuk Ching Chinese crime gang member suspected of killing George on orders from the Revolutionary International Organization of Terrorists, or RIOT as they were commonly known in the espionage world. Hope Lin would provide him a way into Sugar Love Plantation, RIOT’s Hawaiian lair. Keep an eye on Hal Rogers, a Hawaiian-born CIA analyst and traitor who was planning to sell the top secret Pinpoint Project to RIOT. Complete George’s mission to stop RIOT from starting a war between China and the United States. And win back my angry wife’s love.
But, delightfully, it never got convoluted. It did, however, get implausible for a few times.

The Characters

+++ Treflee

Logically, Treflee should have returned home once she met and realized Ty was on a mission — a dangerous mission, no matter how much she needed him to sign the divorce papers. She should have returned after her first attack. She seriously should have returned after getting attacked three times in three days which through luck she survived all three with minor injuries.

Despite it all, I never labeled Treflee TSTL and that was probably because she was well aware of the danger and the poor decisions she made. The story being told in 3rd PoV from Treflee’s side helped me see why Treflee did what she did. And for the most part, Treflee was reasonable, even when readers learn of the secret she kept from Ty and how it made her unhappy with her marriage and persuaded her to divorce him.

My main complain about Treflee was that I wished she was more assertive in her divorce quest and more conscious of the reasons why she wanted to divorce Ty. Halfway through the story, Treflee reconnected with Ty and they spent the rest of the story in an affectionate mood only to be ruined several times by Ty and his spy job. I did not care much for that part of the story even thought it was sweet. I wish things were slightly more angsty, Treflee slightly more cold-shouldered against Ty.

+++ Ty

Occasionally, the story would be told in 3rd PoV from Ty's side. Ty was believable as a spy. He was competent at acting as a some smoothing talking tour guide, at quashing his wife’s plans to get leverage so she could coerced him to sign the divorce papers, at rescuing her when she unexpectedly got attacked, and at defusing spy situation when things took an unexpected turn. All except for two niggling implausible things which were 1) Ty was his real first name which made his alias imperfect and 2) he didn’t hesitate to use Treflee — a non-spy person — to help with his mission.

It did make some sense why Ty would allow Treflee to play a part his mission. Ty could keep an eye out on Treflee while working his spy job in one place, play a convincing lady’s man with Treflee as part of his cover, and convince her to not divorce him in the times she begrudgingly spent with him. However, he put Treflee at risk and though she was aware of the danger and knew a few spy things Treflee was not a spy. She was not a good liar. She was not a cop like Carrie or anything military like a few of Carrie’s bridesmaids. Treflee didn’t had a gun or even a taser — things Ty should have given Treflee to help defend herself.

I did not like Ty when he got mad after Treflee confessed her secret to him. Ty should have immediately consoled her like the victim she was. Fortunately, he got over his unappreciated anger quickly.

+++ Emmett

Emmett was Ty and Greg’s spy boss. Despite being mentioned a few times and having a total of two short scenes, Emmett got my attention because he was my least favorite character. Emmett was the one who recruited Ty who at the time was engaged to Treflee. Emmett should not have recruited Ty because single spies didn’t have loved ones that would make easy targets and easy distraction. A single spy wouldn’t have a family that would eventually loathe him for his long absences. “Emmett violated his own policy when he recruited Ty.”

Emmett played a big role for the problem between Ty and Treflee. The twist at the end, instead soothing me like it should have, the twist made me more set in my dislike for Emmett.

In Conclusion

Treflee was accurately as the novel described her. Ty convinced me that he really did love Treflee. The ending was sweet and slightly more compelling as a HEA than a HFN because of the climax. Quite the explosion the climax was, figuratively and literally. The sex content was mostly angst and flirting. The novel had only one explicit sex scene, occurring around 2/3 of the novel.

The Spy Who Left Me was mildly enjoyable, good for a light read. I rate the book 3-stars for I liked it.

The next book in the Agent Ex series will be about Greg whose real name is Drew and his estranged wife.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

REVIEW: Night School by C.J. Daugherty

Night School Night School by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Night School is the name of 110,400-ish worded novel and of a class at Cimmeria Academy exclusively for legacy student. Night School is a special class for special legacy students — basically it's 'how can we be more elitist' in action.

The kicker is that we never know why Night School is special, just that it is. Students are expelled if they "attempt to interfere with or observe Night School." Students are punished if they attempt to find out the identities of those involved in Night School. The most we ever learn about this special class is that Allie's two love interests are in it and her grandmother Lucinda, who is only mentioned in the story, has something to do with it.

I thought the special class was for legacy students who are supernatural because I saw readers shelving this book as paranormal on GoodReads. But no, there was nothing paranormal about this book whatsoever. There was a mystery, there were a few abnormal events, but nothing paranormal. This book is not YA Paranormal. I think the book is supposed to be YA Suspense.

But the genre misinformation wasn't what irked me greatly about this book, it was the lack of conflict resolution. Excluding the first two chapters, the entire story took place at Cimmeria Academy. I expected to learn what Night School is about halfway through the story, but no. Not even at the end of the story. We never know what Night School is, we never know why the villain targeted Allie, and we never know why Allie is special.

The Main Character

The novel was written in 1st PoV from Allie's side and introduced Allie as this delinquent with a taste for vandalism. The novel failed miserably at portraying Allie as a delinquent. The bad things Allie did at Cimmeria Academy were being a few minutes late to lunch and a few minutes late to class, both because Allie was new to place and didn't know how to get around yet. The other bad things were disobeying curfew time and trespassing because Allie was meeting friends, helping them, and staying alive. For a rebellious girl who got arrested three times in one year and kicked out of two schools, Allie was rather dull.

It was like the moment Allie stepped in the mysterious boarding school, Allie had a personality change. Hey, maybe that was what makes the boarding school so mysterious. Allie quickly acclimatized which was inconsistent with the novel introduction of her character as a brazen, excessive mascara-wearing, henna-dyed hair girl who loves her iPod and laptop. Cimmeria Academy has a weird ban on technology. I do not believe in its excuse of teaching the students on "how to amuse [themselves] in more traditional ways." The school didn't make much sense to me.

The Love Triangle

What also didn't make sense was Sylvain. Sylvain and Carter were Allie's love interests. Carter was the bad boy and Sylvain was the popular peer. Allie went from being disgusted at Carter's prickly attitude and dating Sylvain the sweet talker to being disgusted at Sylvain's girl-playing nature and dating Carter the misunderstood sweetheart. I didn't mind this actually; it was cliche but it wasn't irritating. The boys' reason why they took an interest in Allie were reasonable to me.

What I did mind was when at the end Sylvain decided he too was in love with Allie. The novel pushed the love triangle a few steps past my patience. The love triangle should have ended 2/3 of the book the way it was supposed to be. I do not care to seeing it be picked up again in book 2.


The writing was competent, but the plot needed a bit more work. The pacing was slow, but it was fine. I didn't feel the need to skim. I would have easily rated Night School the novel 3-stars if I knew what Night School the special class was about.

There were some twists that I didn't expect, and a few I didn't care for because they made the story more mysterious at the end when things should have been resolved. The ending was anticlimactic.

I rate Night School 2-stars for it was okay.

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REVIEW: Panda Heart by James Brock

Panda Heart Panda Heart by James Brock
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Panda Heart has a word count of less than 52,000. The novel was short, but I felt it should have been shorter. The story is told in 1st PoV from Artie's side, in a manner in which Artie was telling the story directly to reader. Artie started the story with him being shagged by some guy. I was in the mood for smut so I was happy to receive instant smut. Woot!

In the same chapter — chapter 1, Artie quickly told the reader in a flashback of how he met the blonde Adonis at a gym Artie frequent. The drawn-out flashback then merged back to present time where Artie was being shagged by the blonde Adonis. I thought this was going to be a case of instant love, definitely instant lust considering how Artie only met the blonde Adonis for the first time in Artie's life where moments later the guy shagged Artie. I was quickly proven wrong when chapter 1 ended with Artie's boyfriend Randy walking in on the two.

Artie is a cheater. But that wasn't what made me detest the story. Nor was the fact that Artie confessed to cheating many times on his past lovers beside just Randy, some of whom he cheated with were taken men. Some of his past lovers were taken men, too. What made me detest the story was how Artie narrated the story.

In chapter 2, Artie took the reader back to his childhood where he always knew he was gay and to his college years where he meet his two best friends Corey and Vivian who both were equally if not more of a screw-up than Artie. The flashback then reached the time where Artie met Randy, then dated Randy, then fought with Randy till chapter 5 where Randy walked in on Artie committing infidelity at the present. The long flashback was a horrible way for Artie to tell the story.

The flashbacks were already unbearable, Artie made the novel more unbearable by telling the entire story in tangents. Artie would tell the story, digress for a paragraph or a couple, and then get back to what was happening at the present. His tangents were not relevant, nor were they appreciated. His tangents made reading the novel a chore.

I got fed up by 1/3 of the novel and started skimming thereon. There was angst, there was cheating, there was Artie making poor choices after another. Panda Heart was about how much of a screw-up Artie was. I wasn't upset at Artie for what a douchebag he was. His awful narration make it incredibly easy for me to stay detached from him.

Blah blah blah. Lotta angst happened and at the end Randy and Artie got back together. Panda Heart was a romance novel after all. The final two chapters were contemptibly sweet.

I rate Panda Heart 1-star for I didn't like it. I recommend readers to sample before purchase to see if the narration is groovy with them.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

REVIEW: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1) The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Slight Spoilers

Feeble Latamer. Boastful Roden. Bookish Tobias. Defiant Sage. Four boys. One throne. Who will become America's Next Top Model Carthya's Next Reigning King? In ANTM the reality TV show, the contestants choose to participate and if they lose then they are sent home. In The False Prince, the contestants are coerced to participate and if they lose then they are sentenced to death. At the end, there will be only one one winner, one survivor.

The False Prince is told from Sage's side in 1st PoV as he try to survive a mad nobleman's plan to usurp the throne. The king, the queen, and the crown prince are dead. The youngest son of the royal family Jaron is lost and presumed to be dead... Or is he? The four boys coerced by Conner all look physically similar to Jaron. The winner will become the imposter puppet prince.

TFP starts off with Conner and his two henchmen, Mott and Cregan, kidnapping Sage. When Sage wakes up, he soon encounter the other orphans. Right off in chapter 3, one of the orphans gets killed — the feeble Latamer. With this quick cruel act, the story pushes the following points: 1) Conner is ruthless. 2) This is serious business. 3) There is no escape. 4) Every orphan for himself. And 5) Only one boy will survive.

Thus begins a tale of treason and treachery with an approximate word count of 77,000.
“You’re a trick to figure out, Sage. Would you ever be on my side, even if I chose you above the other boys?”

“I’m only on my side. Your trick will be convincing me that helping you helps me.”

“What if I did?” Conner asked. “How far would you go to win?”

“The better question, sir, is how far you will go to win.” I looked him steadily in the eyes as I spoke, although his back was to the fire and his eyes were set in shadow. “You killed Latamer. So we know you’re willing to murder to win.”

“I am.” Conner backed up, speaking to all of us again. “And I’m willing to lie, to cheat, and to steal. I’m willing to commend my soul to the devils if necessary because I believe there is exoneration in my cause. I need one of you to conduct the greatest fraud ever perpetrated within the country of Carthya. This is a lifetime commitment. It will never be safe to back down from my plan and tell the truth. To do so would destroy not only you but the entire country. And you will do it to save Carthya.”
The Characters

+++ Sage the defiant orphan, our hero

A thief. A liar. From start to finish, Sage was one of the best characters I have read about. One of the criteria for me to 5-stars rate a book is that the book must have a kick-ass protagonist. Sage was a kick-ass protagonist.

Sage's biggest flaw, beside being a thief and a liar, is that his cleverness sometime slips into foolishness of the life-or-death kinds. Yet for all his shortcomings, he care for the downtrodden, keep his promises, and kill only in self-defense. There was never a moment when my sympathy for Sage slipped, never a moment when I got irritated by him either. Sage is well aware of the defects in his character and quick to realize the consequences of his action. He deals with them, he get things done, he survive.

Sage acted convincingly as a poor orphan. Who have time to mope and moan about the disadvantages about one's life and the unfairness of it all when you're too busy trying to survive. Sage doesn't mope. He may worry. He may regret. He may make mistakes, get into more life-threatening situations, and bitch about them. But he never mope. He survive.

+++ Conner the ruthless noble, our villain

Conner is what we in the modern world would call a terrorist. He says his plan will save the kingdom, that what he doing is patriotic. He says he doesn't want the throne itself, that he just wants a prince who will become a king that will listen to his ever so wise advice. He says the death of three young orphans is regrettable, but the surviving one will help him save the kingdom!

I hate Conner because he's the villain, he's the reason for our hero's predicament. He fucking killed poor Latamer! But I also love Conner because he was deliciously ruthless and mad. Sage and Conner shared several traits such as a skill for scheming, but the biggest thing that separated them was genuine empathy. Empathy for your fellow humans. Sage has that, Conner doesn't. Despite whatever BS Conner spout, his action speak the loudest and it says he is self-serving and delusional.

+++ Tobias and Roden the other orphans, our hero's rivals

It would have too easy to typecast Tobias as the brainy but bashful orphan and Roden as the brawny but butt-headed orphan, but the story didn't. Tobias and Roden tried their best to out-scheme Sage and each other. All the boys knew each other's talent and knew well that there wasn't a chance to outperform their rivals' talent so they relied on psychological warfare. Our hero, Sage, may be the cleverest of them all but he is human and he cannot be cleverer than the others all the time.

+++ Imogen and Amarinda, our hero's potential love interests

I say potential love interests because in TFP neither girls liked Sage in that way. I even hesitate to say they are love interests because their role was relatively small — they were supporting characters. Plus, I believe the reason Sage paid attention to these girls because he couldn't look away from a person in hurt.

Imogen is a mute servant oppressed in Conner's castle, while Amarinda is a foreign princess betrothed to whoever becomes the king of Carthya. First impression says they are damsels in distress, but upon a further look I saw they were strong-willed. These girls didn't ask for help, they didn't need Sage to save them from their circumstance. Whatever had happened, they chose to tough it out. These girls don't want pity. What they do want is honesty, because both hate to be deceived, even for the best of intention. At TFP's end, both girls are finding it a very hard time to forgive Sage.

Anyway, I'm not sure if there will be a love triangle. My interpretation is that Sage see Imogen as a fellow downtrodden to be rescued. Amarinda, on the other hand, loved the crown prince, Darius. There were no flirting or kissing in this novel, thus no romance. If anything, I think adding romance would have weakened the plot and distracted Sage's goal to survive.

The Writing

The story was minimal on imagery and world-building, but I saw that as good things. TFP prefer the reader to learn about its world through dialogue and action. There were no info-dumping. If there was, then it would probably be the flashback that occurred in two consecutive chapters towards the end. Two consecutive chapters of a flashback may seem long in saying it as so, but I devoured these chapters quickly. They weren't long to me as a reader who generally dislike flashbacks. Basically, the novel was character-driven. Most of it took place at Conner's castle where the orphans learn how to act as Jaron.

The pacing was steady, but there was always a sense of urgency and danger underlining it. There were no slow moments for me because I was entirely captivated by the novel. The writing was straightforward, no purplish prose or corny lines. Well, maybe a few corny lines.

Twists and Turns

Slightly predictable, YMMV. There were hints found around so I got ecstatic in figuring things out before the story revealed its secrets to me. I didn't expect all the twists and turns, a few I didn't expect them to happen immediately in this novel. TFP hardly left any loose ends; there is no cliffhanger. Nevertheless, I'm dying to read the sequel because TFP ended on such a high note.


I rate TFP 5-stars for it was amazing. TFP is a popcorn fantasy. I had great joy in watching Sage maneuvering and manipulating his way around. The climax in chapter 53 was The Bomb. I kept reading it over and over again.

I recommend it for anyone who enjoys Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series. TFP is what book 4 A Conspiracy of Kings should have been imo.

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