Tuesday, July 31, 2012

REVIEW: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels, #5.5) Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

I thought there were a few things that fell short by the end Gunmetal Magic (GM) met my expectation of an engaging and exciting read. Not to mention there were some other things that caught me by surprise in great way.

The Love Triangle

There wasn't really a love triangle and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I hate love triangles. I find them to be the laziest way to introduce conflict into a romance. Not to mention how unrealistic (in the probability sense) love triangles can be. I mean there are countless people walking around who can barely get one person interested in them let alone two. I'm glad Andrea quickly rebuffed Roman and focused on Raphael no matter how much issues she had against him. The woman knew where her heart lies even if it took her some time to accept the fact.

On the other hand, Roman was a cool dude. It caught me off guard how I came to like Roman because in book 5 when he was first introduced to the readers I found him to be a gnat — annoying and unwanted. But here in this book, every scene of him with Andrea was funny and exciting. He left both Andrea and me speechless.
He wasn’t swearing because he was freaked. He was swearing because he was excited. Wow. For once, I had no words.
— chapter 14
Dude was excited for a seemingly suicidal mission. Then there were other scenes, like the one battle on the street with a wizard and his snakes, where it was like "Oh wow, I can't believe he did that" and "OMG it worked and they're alive!"

Mixed feelings. I hate love triangles but uggggh. Andrea and Roman would have made a great couple.

The Characters

+++ Raphael

Sorry to say but I thought Raphael was slightly stale in GM. His individuality just didn't shine as it did in the other books. He wasn't outrageous as before, and his humor wasn't as funny as before. Nope, I didn't think the prank he did at Andrea's place was funny. He impressed me as a stereotypical alpha shapeshifter one see all the times in paranormal romance series. "Mine," "mine," "mine." Thanks, I got it. You want Andrea.

On the bright side, it was nice to see how quickly he stopped with the stupid fiancée mess and confessed how he still love Andrea. I didn't need Rebecca to make the love triangle that never was into a love rectangle that would have totally stank.

+++ Andrea

GM was told from 1st PoV from Andrea's side. Andrea was kick-ass like Kate but she was definitely not a clone of Kate. I liked her voice. I liked the complexity of her character. I liked her painful past, her psychological scars, her reoccurring nightmares of both old and new. She was a flawed character, and I loved her for it. I loved her how she picked herself right up. I loved she worked through her issues even though it was so easy to swim in the river of denial. This was a woman that life kicked around but still she refuse to admit defeat.

Basically, Andrea was awesome.

The Writing

The rehashing of Kate Daniels' world was skillfully and hasn't gotten old a bit. Every book, I learn some interesting about the world. In GM, I learned about the modern Library of Alexandria project.
“Yeah. Well, when it became obvious that magic was going to wreck the computer networks, people tried to preserve portions of the Internet. They took snapshots of their servers and sent the data to a central database at the Library of Congress. The project became known as the Library of Alexandria, because in ancient times Alexandria’s library was said to contain all human knowledge, before some jackass burned it to the ground. Since the tech is up, we’re going to dig through that database.”
— chapter 7
I just love how blunt the characters talk when they serve as mouthpiece for the world building.

The plot was surprisingly epic. Specifically, it was another oh-shit-the-world-is-going-to-end-again, and in Kate Daniels' world even though it happens a lot it never gets old at all. The weaving of Egyptian mythology, Norse mythology, and Cherokee mythology into GM's world was skillfully done. No confusion there to be had. The Egyptian mythology revealed more knowledge about the First to the readers. I gained an incredible insight about the great potential Curran carries with him. Let's just say Curran is definitely the perfect match for Kate.

Kate and Curran cameo

I still think Kate and Curran are the number one couple. I didn't expect them to play a big role because GM was Andrea and Raphael's love story. I was greatly surprised and quickly filled with Glee (yes, with a capital G) when GM threw Kate and Curran into the plot towards the end.
Kate stood by the door with her arms crossed.

That was an anti-Curran pose. What the hell was the Beast Lord doing here?

I padded to the door.

“First, you didn’t come home.” Curran’s voice held zero humor. “Second, I’m told that my mate is lingering in Raphael’s house. There can’t be any good reason for you to be here.”
— chapter 12
It was what pushed GM from being rounded down to 3-stars because I found the resolution of Andrea's issues were too tightly wrapped up.

I didn't think bringing someone from Andrea's horrible childhood past into her present was a good way to resolve her trust issue with shapeshifter clans. It made GM a tad too saccharine. The mended relationship Andrea and Aunt B and how it affected her status in the Pack was ample.

Plus, there was still the issue of beastkin prejudice (because Andrea is beastkin) and how it would be have been nice if the Pack officially declare their stance against beastkin prejudice and the barbaric tradition that came with it. I thought that issue was higher priority and should have been resolved instead.

In Conclusion

I rate GM 4-stars for I really liked it. I liked Andrea and Raphael, but as I said there were a few things here and there that fell short. I'm glad Kate and Curran were there to pick up the slack, rounding the 3.5 stars to a great 4-stars.

The GM book included another story called "Magic Gifts." This story focused on Kate and Curran and the case they worked on while Andrea was working on hers. I recommend reading the "Magic Gifts" story first before the "Gunmetal Magic" story for chronological order.

Amazon GoodReads

Monday, July 30, 2012

REVIEW: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

The Dirty Streets of Heaven was unoriginal and underwhelming. It was another urban fantasy about angels and demons, meaning I didn't expect the series to break new ground. Nonetheless, the countless flaws in the book underlined how much originality the urban fantasy lacked.

The World Building

+++ the twist

TDSH put a twist on the eternal war between Heaven and Hell. Violent confrontations are prohibited, instead angels and demons fight for human souls in a supernatural court of law that is held immediately after a human death, an event commonly known as Judgement. Heaven in TDSH was like a government where bureaucracy reign supreme, while Hell was like a corporation where power is the only thing that matters.

The twist was interesting but its development made the world building mundane.

+++ Heaven

The story heavily took place in a fictitious California city where Bobby live and work. The rest of the time, it took place in Heaven — the only "magical" part of the world TDSH introduced to the reader. The story developed Heaven to be this mysterious and esoteric place high on the clouds. However, I found the place listless and unimaginative, dull as a gray sky.

Simply put, the only "magical" part of the world in TDSH was hardly magical.

The Characters

+++ Bobby

TDSH was told in 1st PoV from Bobby's side, a character who was every bit a cliché of an urban fantasy male protagonist. Bobby had scruffy look, a hero complex, an underdog persona, a snarky sense of humor, and an issue with commitment in romance. He attracted danger like he attracted women, which is to say little in the beginning but way more than he can handle later on.

To be fair, Bobby was smarter than some of the other urban fantasy male protagonists I have read. But I must reiterate: Bobby was cliché as rice is white. Even his full name "Bobby Dollar" is super common.

It wasn't till late in the book when I learned Bobby had a past as an angel avenger that Bobby began to distinguish himself, if only in a small way.

+++ Monica

Monica is Bobby's fellow angel and ex-girlfriend. They were pretty much each other's booty call, but the way Bobby regarded Monica was stupendously disrespectful and sexist. He tiptoed around her because he thought she wanted to get him back. He thought she was using sex as a way to pull him back into a relationship — as if women cannot have sex simply because they enjoy sex.

Yes, Bobby was two steps short of a bastard with Monica.

For the first third of the book, Monica was Bobby's main "love interest" (to put it kindly) but she was quickly overshadowed by the Countess of Cold Hands. And then the undercurrent of the misogyny in TDSH became a rampaging river.

+++ Caz

I loved the way the story introduced the Countess of Cold Hands: a potential villainess who is a force to be reckoned with. She was my favorite character in TDSH, but of course the book had to go and drive that one great thing about it off a cliff and into the rampaging river of misogyny.

The way the story developed Caz made her the worst character in TDSH — worse than character who betrayed Bobby at the end, worse than the character (Clarence) who was so annoying and dimwitted that I wondered why he just didn't die already. Gone was the kick-ass she-demon who wielded her sexuality as a weapon, replaced was an atrocious damsel in distress who used her sexuality as a shield. Readers learn how she was stuck in an abusive relationship one after another, that even then as a human her life was hell. Only difference between then and now is that she is literally damned to Hell which obviously changed shit.

Oh no, the book didn't stop there with Caz's fuck up of a character development.

Guess what Bobby did to her after she opened up to him? He had sex with her. Repeatedly. Girl comes crying to him, instead of consoling her, instead of offering solutions, he have sex with her repeatedly to make the pain go byebye. The fact that Bobby continued to push for an intimate relationship with Caz despite her refusal, ignoring Heaven and Hell's rules, disregarding how she's on the enemy side and how she'll be in a shittier situation — as if her afterlife wasn't already shitty enough — if her relationship with him were discovered revealed the depth of Bobby's sexism.

I stood corrected. Congratulation, Bobby. You are a complete bastard. Come and get your kick in the crotch.

I was struck aghast. The scenes with Caz and Bobby were so dreadful to read that I had to skim.

The Writing

The writing was fine, but the pacing was detracted by the enormous amount of expositions. Not that the expositions weren't interesting to read, but they didn't enhance the story. It was rather indicative of First Book Syndrome, i.e. too much world building not enough plot happening. There were long scenes of action, but they were few and far. The pacing was humdrum and left me 2-3 steps from landing into Boredom Nation.

Sadly, the biggest issue was the lack of a resolution. The villain was revealed and then the villain left and that was that. The final showdown between Heaven and Hell never happened. The suspense building up to it left me vastly disappointed. Not to mention that climax was so anti-climatic that it took me a couple pages afterward to realize that the scene I have just read was the climax.

In Conclusion

Big disappointment. The blurb misled me.
When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad.
No, it didn't. It got bad but no way did it got that bad.
You’ve never met an angel like Bobby Dollar.
No, but I have read other urban fantasies with that cliché of a male protagonist before.
And you’ve never read anything like The Dirty Streets of Heaven.
Actually, I kinda have:
Succubus Blues (Georgina Kincaid, #1) A Kiss Before the Apocalypse (Remy Chandler, #1)
Brace yourself—the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed.
Uh. It's Heaven and Hell. How is that weird?

I rate TDSH 2-stars for it was okay. I do not recommend the book unless you're specifically looking for another Urban Fantasy series with a male lead. It was not the worst Urban Fantasy series with a male lead I have read, but it was definitely not the best either. Readers sensitive to misogyny should look elsewhere.

Amazon GoodReads

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

REVIEW: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse, #1) The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Assassin's Curse (TAC) was a fun read. What a pity that the YA fantasy lacked substance.

Hollow Characters

+++ Ananna

Ananna was feisty, practical, and compassionate but these traits of her were not in good synergy. One example is when she rescued Naji from an asp after his failed attempt to assassinate her. She acted compassionately but how was it practical to save someone who was trying to kill you?

She had no problem, or I should say no hesitancy in stealing, lying, and killing when necessary. I thought killing your assassin would count as necessary. Not to mention that she trusted him too quickly. Her, the daughter of a mighty pirate family; pirates and a trusting nature doesn't usually go hand in hand.

Truly, the biggest problem I had with Ananna was how I had a hard time getting into her head — and the story was written in 1st PoV from her side. It was unfortunate because Ananna was the type of heroine I love to cheer for.  I couldn't maintain an emotional connection with Ananna so cheering for her was a tedious affair.

+++ Naji

Naji was even worse. All I got from him was a stoic and incompetent assassin. So stoic the dude might as well have been a robot. So incompetent that I thought if he taught Ananna his super-secret blood magic that only others in his super-secret assassin order know, Ananna would have seriously made a better assassin than him.

I could not understand for the life of me of why the assassins of his order, especially Naji with his mask, could be so conspicuous — an observation repeatedly made throughout the story. They didn't hide the fact they were assassin, instead chose to stand out like a peacock in a flock of geese. It seem to me that the only thing that made them assassins was their wicked-awesome blood magic, instead of the special training to hunt, hide, and kill a singular target.

+++ others

The supporting characters were also interesting, but just like the main characters the supporting characters were not fully fleshed. All the characters in TAC left me wanting more.

Hollow Plot

+++ the Hariris

Based on my understanding and TAC's lack of backstory, the Hariris sent an assassin after Ananna simply because they were irked by the fact that she spurned their son and ran away from the arranged marriage. It wasn't because they were ruthless pirates, or there was some sort of pirate's code of honor, or the possibility of war between their clan and Ananna's pirate clan if the arranged marriage failed. No, it was because they were simply irked.

+++ the curse

TAC was deliberately vague on the operation of "the impossible curse." For example, distance. In one scene, Ananna had enough Naji's unwillingness to share info and started walking away and out of the room. As a result, the curse inflicted horrible pain on Naji as punishment. In many other scenes, Ananna wasn't with Naji but the curse didn't inflict pain on him. Did that mean intention factored into the curse or was this a big plot hole?

All the readers was told that Ananna's pain was Naji's pain, her death was his death. You think the characters would have explored the curse's parameter to make sure Ananna didn't cause any unnecessary harm on Naji (the curse was one-way), but nothing of the sort occurred. The two focused so much on finding a cure for the curse that they failed to manage curse as it was. It was like sending a victim of hypothermia to the hospital to be saved but forgetting to warm up the victim and defibrillate him on the way.

+++ the romance

The blurb said there was "growing romantic tension." It's true if you ignore the fact that the romantic tension appeared at the last few pages and was purely one-sided.

The only tension that existed throughout the book, from start to finish, was of the life-threatening kind. Not only did Ananna and Naji had to contend with the curse, they had to contend with the pirates, other assassins, and mysterious magical beings from another dimension.

TBH, I'm glad TAC didn't have a romance. Ananna and Naji didn't have chemistry between them. The "growing romantic tension" at the end felt incredibly contrived.

In Conclusion

The prose was brisk, the pacing was fast, the plot was unpredictable. These things could have put TAC in the I-like-it land were it not for the ending.

The story had no ending. Oh no, there wasn't a cliffhanger; TAC simply ended in the middle of the story.

I rate TAC 2-stars for it was okay. TAC is best for readers in the mood for an action-packed, nonthinking fantasy. I recommend readers who wish to pick up the series to wait until all of the duology is available to them.

Amazon GoodReads

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NEWS: Of Silencing, Stalking, Deceiving, and Forgiving.

posted on 17 July 2012
It’s so much worse than that. Something is very wrong with us, and by “us” I mean the online community of (largely) women authors and readers. What is wrong is the “outing,” threatening, shaming, and silencing of readers who are perceived to be too critical of or hostile to authors. And for those in this online community who believe that this is not their concern or their harm, I would ask them to think again.
The conversation is still going strong.The following emoticon pretty much sum up the feelings of everyone (including me) there:

# What It's Like To Be Stalked
posted on 17 July 2012
This week, shortly after writing a status update about feeling stalked, I received a call. A woman said, "We can find you, bitch" and then hung up.
The Site That Must Not Be Linked escalate the already heinous situation.

# Should bloggers charge for reviews?
posted on 16 July 2012
The bloggers that are charging writers $95 for favourable reviews have contacted me to tell me that my comments are unethical and illegal.
Those people aren't book bloggers, they're marketers in the disguise of bloggers. I appreciate the author following up on her post by explaining the difference.

# Cash-for-reviews: thanks, we don't want them
posted on 18 July 2012
Websites, if you are charging writers for reviews, you are not a book blog, you are a marketing site. Please call yourself that, because to do otherwise muddies the waters, confuses readers and gives book bloggers a bad reputation.

# Direct from GR: Author Apologized for His Jerky Attitude
posted on 18 June 2012
He was very upfront and apologetic about what happened and seems to be sincere.
Kira, the reviewer who the author offended and ignited a shitstorm, agrees to bury the hatchet (17 July 2012).

Want more book-related news? Then visit these book blogs: Dear Author, Stumbling Across Chaos, YA Highway.

Friday, July 13, 2012

NEWS: Happy Friday the 13th, Full of Lows and Highs today

source: tumblr
# The Drama Llama Rides Again
posted on 11 July 2012

More dramas on GoodReads! Urban Fantasy author Jess Haines summarized it best.
...a Goodreads librarian (someone with greater moderating powers than the average Goodreads member) who went over a list of Steampunk titles and deleted a huge number of them. Doing that means the remaining titles show up higher on the ranking when one searches for “steampunk” in the Goodreads search engine. I’ve heard it said that the remaining titles were mostly by her author friends, so methinks there could have been something dastardly going on behind the scenes.
I missed this drama, but I'm glad it was quickly resolved. Such abuse of GR-Librarian power is intolerable.
Secondly, I would like to take a moment to express my disgust with a website that is collecting and posting the personal information (names, photographs, where they work, screenshots of their twitter feed, etc) of book reviewers who left negative reviews on Goodreads...God forbid anyone should have an opinion and—good heavens!—express it publicly!
There have been many reviewers and authors blogging their stance against the website-that-must-not-be-linked. While I love a good rant — and there have been a many good rants — I believe laughter is the best medicine for dealing with this drama llama. Here is my top three Fucking Hilarious blog-responses against the website-that-must-not-be-linked.
And finally, the honorable mention:

# Writing Series: The Cliffhanger Dilemma
posted on 6 July 2012
When it comes to series, people seem to either love or hate cliffhangers...But most series, especially those following a central character throughout, seem to have one of two endings: cliffhangers, which leave you hanging at the height of the climax, and “soft” cliffhangers*, which in my mind aren’t really cliffhangers so much as they are hooks for the following book.
Yech. Cliffhangers suck.

# What I learned in Japan about EPUB 3, Rakuten, Kobo, Kodansha, and Japanese e-publishing in general
posted on 9 July 2012
Question: What about writers? Are they thinking of ebooks?

Noma-san: Some are against, but gradually this will change. We are trying to do simultaneous paper, ebook, so get contract from author for both is way to go.

Question: Can Japanese culture be exported with ebooks?

Noma-san: "Already with manga, in Taiwan we have distribution company going to mainland China eventually, Japanese flavor needs to be added to Kobo in order to go global"

Mikitani: "I was amazed at how much manga was in FNAC in Paris, but in suburban stores, there's no shelfspace. So, selling ebooks online, where there is infinite shelfspace enables that possibility. This is great opportunity to export Japanese literature."
This is the most important part to me because I love ebooks and I love manga. Alas, the two loves hardly intersect in the publishing industry. I hope this will change soon. And by soon I mean this year.

# Updating Trashy Romance Novels to Match ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
posted on 6 July 2012
50 Shades of Grey is the iPhone of mainstream erotic literature — it changed the game, and now all the other not-entirely-explicit romance novels have to compete or die.

Luckily, Shades fans aren’t exactly the most attentive readers, so you can just find-and-replace with some BDSM terms, slick up the cover, and you’re good.
Holy Mother of All Tentacle Aliens! What madness is this? You have to see the pictures to believe it!

# Conference Decorum: Where ARC Thou?
posted on 5 July 2012
Other ideas floating around in the larger discussion include some sort of tickets-for-ARCs arrangement, or scanning badges of attendees who have received an ARC. “I think a lot of this could be solved with easy solutions,” says Jensen. “But it requires work, and changes in mindset.” Most importantly, she stresses, “I don’t want anyone to be left out.”
This is a follow up on the ARC-Gate drama llama. I'm glad to see there is a resolution on the horizon.

# Personal News
The Dirty Streets of Heaven

Thank you Karen for sending me a physical ARC! I give you love. Yes, I'll be reviewing The Dirty Streets of Heaven, an angel & demon Urban Fantasy. Hurrah!

Want more book-related news? Then visit these book blogs: Dear Author, Stumbling Across Chaos, YA Highway.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

REVIEW: Sorrow's Child by Georgina Anne Taylor

The Taint: Sorrow's Child Sorrow's Child by Georgina Anne Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

I started the book with low expectations because (1) presently I can count on one hand books I liked, i.e. 3-stars+ rated, that were authored by my GoodReads friends, (2) Sorrow's Child (SC) was marketed as gothic fantasy and gothic fantasy is on the edge of my genre preference, (3) the blurb — this:
'Sorrow’s Child', the first novel in 'The Taint' series, is a dark fairytale steeped in myth and magic. In a richly gothic setting, 'Sorrow’s Child' is a coming of age story and a tale of betrayal and bloody revenge.

On the Isle of Muin, one of the thirteen scattered Meda Isles, Lilith, a young orphan and an indentured servant, is found guilty of witchcraft and is condemned to hang...
— was neither intriguing nor informative.

Simply put, I took a big-Big chance on the book of little over 84,000 words. For the first half of the book, it looked like my chance was not going to pay off.

Not until I pass into the last half of the book that SC began to entertain me. Soon, I realized SC was similar to Shadow and Bone (SaB), a highly-rated (and overhyped) YA fantasy, in many ways. And when I finished SC, I thought "Woah, now this is the way SaB should have ended. Hell yeah!"

The Blurb

ETA: The below has been fixed and no longer apply. Author has permission to use this as base for her new blurb.

I found the blurb a tad misleading. There was betrayal, but it was a plot element not a plot theme. There were bloody scenes, but nothing I considered as "bloody revenge" or even revenge. No, SC was not "a tale of betrayal and bloody revenge" IMO. But I wasn't irritated by that.

What irritated me was how the blurb didn't do the book justice. There were thrilling things going on but the blurb didn't advertise them.

+++ things the blurb should have advertised

Poor Lilith — orphan and indentured servant — is about to be hanged, guilty for being a witch. But destiny disagree.

Lilith is rescued and guided to Branwen Tower on Ivy Isle where a powerful sorcerer named Ge-Iad reside. There, the 14-years old girl discovered happiness in her new home, a place free from persecution and among her own kind where a mentor would teach her magic.

Yet the longer she lived there, the more she saw all was not well. Beneath the peace was demon summoning, corpse collection, and blood ritual. Ge-Iad wasn't truly teaching Lilith. He was planning to restore the reign of the Branwen Witch Kings and Lilith was the key to achieve his goal.

Her origin, once unknown to her, is now coming back to haunt her. For Lilith is potentially the strongest witch in the world, prophesied as the King Slayer. All magic-kinds now have their eyes on her. Without fail, Lilith must master her magic and foil the mad sorcerer's plan for kingdom domination. Because failure wouldn't mean death for her. Worse, it would mean eternal slavery to the mad sorcerer — and witches live for a very long time.

Kingdoms will fall. Kingdoms will rise. And you, Lilith, lie at the centre of it all. (chapter 20)

Why I consider SC as YA

I consider it as YA simply because of the protagonist's age. Not to mention that the blurb said the book was a "coming of age story" even though it really wasn't. There wasn't first love, finding one's place in the world, the awkwardness of adolescence, or any themes typical of a "coming of age story" found in SC.

But I thought this was to the book's benefit. Very rare it is for a YA whose central conflict was about the heroine realizing her destiny and not have it revolved around a boy or, more commonly, two boys in a love triangle.

The Writing

+++ the bads

The beginning was tedious because Lilith wasn't doing anything but following strangers' orders: come inside, address me as mistress, take a bath (though to be fair Lilith did need a bath), eat, wait here, etc. There was no building of suspense of wondering who was rescuing her.

Next, when Lilith arrived at Branwen Tower, it was the ingredients-gather and potion-making scenes that dragged the plot. It was too much details for me to care.

The problem was that the series of action seem more appropriate for a movie script than for a novel. The writing was in active voice but it didn't engage me as it should. The writing scrimped on making emotional connection; I wanted to know what the characters were feeling just as much I saw what the characters were doing. Most importantly, I wanted to know what was the point of the imagery and action; it was too much showing and not enough telling.

+++ the goods

Fortunately, the writing improved in the last half of the book. There was an abundance of dialogue, emotional connection, world-building, action — all of which contributed to a faster pace and an entertaining read.

The story was told in 3rd PoV from Lilith's side, but there were a few long flashbacks told from Esha's side. I generally dislike flashbacks, but these were done in a way that there was no rush to get back to the present which I liked. SC allowed me to read the flashbacks leisurely; I never felt the urge to skim them so I could get the story back to present time.

Although the big twist — the connection between Esha of the past and Lilith of the present — was predictable it didn't lessen the excitement of the climax for me. The excitement was found in Lilith when she stopped being passive and started taking charge of her situation.

The Characters

+++ Lilith, the heroine

I did not like Lilith in the beginning. Meek and naive, Lilith was not a heroine I could cheer for or care enough to pity. Instead of questioning strangers, she easily gave them her trust and did whatever they ordered. This came after the fact that she was betrayed by fellow servants who absolutely did not do anything to defend her and with no hesitance believed she was a witch. Granted Lilith was a witch, but she wasn't even given the benefit of the doubt and these people were supposed to be her loved ones. I dumbfounded to see Lilith could still be so trusting and it made me doubt if she had any self-preservation instinct. It was irksome watching Lilith played a passive role.

I had the same problem in SaB and its protagonist, Alina. It was not as if these two girls were dumb, they were actually intellectual. They were also strong because both girls had great magic no one else have. I was not expecting them to be ever-so-clever, but I groaned when they took what people say and do at face-value. I wanted to yell at them "Hey! You do know people can lie and be evil in the disguise of good, right?!"

Fortunately — very fortunately — Lilith grew as a kick-ass character in leaps and bounds whereas Alina grew — well I'd argue Alina didn't grew at all as a character. All it took was an attempted rape scene to shake Lilith out of her naiveté. Yes, it was crass way to deliver character development but I started to like Lilith when I saw how she recognized victim-blaming.
Lilith knew she should feel grateful to Ge-Iad for saving her, but the brutal way in which he had killed Giles [the rapist], and then blamed her for provoking the attack, had shocked her.
Rightfully so! From there, Lilith began to see things as they truly were instead of what they seem to be.

Unlike Alina, Lilith realized on her own the true face of Ge-Iad. Unlike Alina, Lilith didn't depend on a boy to rescue her. Unlike Alina, she concocted a plan to defeat Ge-Iad.

Unlike Alina, Lilith ultimately kicked ass. Go girl, swing that mighty axe!

Though I was irked by her trusting nature, it dawned on me that Lilith wasn't exactly stupid as she was really resilient. To my joy, Lilith never moped.

+++ Ge-Iad, the villain

He was similar to the Darkling in SaB in many ways — powerful, handsome, charming, domineering, nefarious, merciless, and mad. Both men wanted to enslave the heroines, to use the girls' peerless magic for kingdom domination.

Ge-Iad was the kind of villain where readers know he's bad for the heroine but we don't know exactly how bad till near the end when it is too late and only luck can save the heroine. It was the kind of evil that doesn't make itself known like a thunderstorm but creeps in slowly without great awareness like smog.

Other Issues, All Minor

+++ the servant

I didn't understand why Ge-Iad commanded Lilith to not to speak with his servant, Hesta, or otherwise "engage her attentions." Even though he lectured Lilith witch-kind are superior and that she should act according to her station, he treated her like a servant. Near the end, he wanted her to be his slave. At first, I thought Ge-Iad was just trying to assert his authority over Lilith, but then I realize what better way for him to do so then by making Lilith work alongside with Hesta as a co-servant.

I really wanted to know Ge-Iad's reason keep the two ladies apart. And why Hesta mysteriously died after Ge-Iad punished Lilith for accepting a poppet from Hesta. Though the book never said it outright, it felt obvious to me to assume Ge-Iad killed Hesta.

Once Hesta was gone, she was gone. We never find out exactly why she was gone. Hesta was an interesting character. I truly wanted to know more about her.

+++ the raven

The raven was Ge-Iad's talking familiar who guided Lilith to its master's place in the beginning of the story. It played a big role in the first few chapters so it was disconcerting when it was never heard from again till the last few chapters. I believed it was an oversight on the story's part.

+++ the sleeping potion and the axe
By your blood, spit and by the waters of your loins, you are bound to my cause. I hold your obedience. You cannot go against my plans nor can you harm me. In fact, you can’t do very much at all without my consent.
So how did the sleeping potion and axe worked if Lilith was spell-binded to do no harm against Ge-Iad? The logical reason seem to be that Ge-Iad exaggerated his claim and that the spell only worked on her magic and kept her close to him. Nonetheless, I would have like the book to explain the loopholes and not to force readers jump for conjectures however plausible they may be.

In Conclusion

The book's chapters were split into three parts. Part One I give 2-stars, Part Two 2.5-stars, Part Three 4-stars which averaged the book (rounded up) to a 3-stars.

I rate SC 3-stars for I-liked-it. All the major issues I had with SC in the beginning were fixed by the end. The writing improved, the pace quicken, the heroine grew. The ending was so good I was sad to see it wasn't longer and sad to learn the sequel of SC follow a different protagonist (two actually). Not anymore. Yay!

As I said, SC and SaB were similar in many ways, but they were different in their approach to the witches. The witches are in power in SaB but SC is what happened if the witches lost their rule over the kingdom and the regular people went on a witch-hunt. If readers can get over the tedious beginning of SC, they may find SC is better than SaB. For sure, SC's ending beats SaB's.

Amazon GoodReads

Monday, July 9, 2012

REVIEW: The Bandit King by Lilith Saintcrow

The Bandit King (Romances of Arquitaine, #2) The Bandit King by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

The second and final book in the Romances of the Arquitaine series, The Bandit King (TBK) immediately picked up where book 1 ended. However, this time the story was told from Tristan's 1st PoV instead Vianne's.

The Characters

+++ Tristan

In book 1, Tristan was a take-charge, do-whatever-it-take character. He was dangerous, he was deranged, he was completely obsessed with Vianne. In book 2, he was an emo.

In book 1, the instant love of a romance was messed up but compelling. In book 2, the instant love was pitiful and eyerolling.

I did not care for Tristan's PoV. I couldn't connect with him in book 2 as I did in book 1. I thought TBK would be more action-packed since its PoV was from a character whose thing was to scheme and kill. But to my great disappointment, TBK was actually boring. Instead of chasing Vianne and doing everything in his power to be with her like the nutbag that he was, he got played like a fool by her, which was ironic because in book 1 she was the fool and he the person who fooled her.

TBK was pretty much about Tristan running around (sometime literally) trying to find Vianne, finding out what she's up to because she never tells him anything, and hoping she'll just stay with him because she knows he's a nutbag.

+++ Vianne

I didn't understand the fuck that was going on with Vianne. I sympathized her when she finally learned about Tristan's secret, but I didn't understand her erratic treatment of Tristan. One moment she was cuddling with him, the next she threw him in jail.

Why the fuck did she married him in book 1 and stay married in book 2 if she suspected him of foul play? Tristan was no saint and hardly rational, but if she truly felt he was wrong or even dangerous for her, she could have easily divorce him or have him executed. It was not as if there was a lack of opportunities for Vianne to do away with Tristan. As far I saw, I believe she never sincerely loved him in return. Care for him, yes. Love him? Doubtful.

Vianne changed a lot in book 2 and not for the better.

The Writing

The writing was convoluted.

First example was the pseudo-French. I didn't mind the pseudo-French phrases in book 1 but in book 2 they were used a tad too much. Not only did they roughen the pace of the story, they made the story a tad pretentious.

Second example was the countries. It took me late in the story to realize they were countries not actual characters. I wish the book would have put the countries in better context, i.e. "kingdom blah-blah" instead of just "blah-blah." It's one of the books where if readers want a good sense of the geography of the story's world, they better memorize the map illustration provided at the beginning of the book.

It didn't help that the plot was worse.

The Plot

I want to say not much happened because I got bored and skimmed a couple of pages in the last half of the book, but that would be not entirely accurate. Things did happen. There was a civil war and political play going on, but I honestly didn't care.

The plot lacked direction. I got the gist of each scene, but I didn't understand how these scenes contribute to the bigger picture. I got the impression that the series couldn't decide whether it was a fantasy or a romance — the two elements often clashed and the plot stumbled because of it.

The Ending

The ending was meh. Once the war was won, Vianne abdicated the crown to her cousin who was the rightful heir and forsook her court life by running away. Tristan went after her and promised her that they would have no more to do with war, royalty, and the like — that they would live as common wanderers among the R'mini (the faux Gypsy). It was a HEA, but it was in the sense of wrapping things up rather than giving the couple true happiness.

It is my belief that Vianne still couldn't decide whether she loved Tristan or not. Tristan never grew out of his irrational love for Vianne and continued to perceive her as a demure damsel in distress.

In Conclusion

I rate TBK 2-stars for it was okay. The series was supposed to be half fantasy and half romance but it was not good at either genre. I was indifferent to both protagonists, and I could care less about the fate of their kingdom, Arquitaine the faux France.

If readers want a good fantasy-romance hybrid, I recommend the Spiritwalker Trilogy (book 1, Cold Magic). Even though I rated those books 2-stars as well, they were still hella better than this series.

Amazon GoodReads

NEWS: Two Dramas and an Instant Love

# Author Say to Reviewers: Get Right With God
posted on 9 July 2012
Another author went on a tirade this week.
Note: it's the last news piece. I agree, the review is tame. More importantly, it doesn't attack the author. The book contains a subject of sensitive nature — a school shooting — so I believe the author should have expected there will be a few readers who will find it distasteful.

posted on 9 July 2012
Now, I know the physical ARCs don't belong to me, but the intellectual content does...I don't want my ARC to go to a small used bookstore [or] a struggling public library [or] a deserving teenager—even one who is underprivileged
I don't think the author understand the difference between intellectual content and physical ARCs. One is copyright infringement and the other is ownership right, respectively. (I'm 90% sure I'm using these terms right).

I see the author is posting (ranting) from a place of emotion, a place where she doesn't want any reader to see how bad the non-final version of the story is, that she want readers to see her best work possible. I'm guessing if she had her way, there wouldn't be an ARC, both physical or digital, of her book to begin with. She should have taken the issue to her publisher instead of venting it out to reviewers.

I agree with her opinion that ARC are poor quality of the book — they're ARC after all, but I disagree with her opinion (demand) to tell reviewers what to do with ARCs.

On another point, AFAIK publishers want reviewers to pass on physical ARCs. This is the first time I'm hearing I'm this No-No rule. Mixed message, much?

source: tumblr

# Please Make YA Romance Realistic
posted on 21 June 2012
While I get that teen hormones are raging and the devastation of a breakup of a two week old “romance” is a common occurrence in the real world, I feel like in many YA books it’s taken to the extreme and it kind of drives me bat shit crazy.
I share the same complain. YA is flooded with instant love. Whatever happen to getting to know people? I don't believe in love at first sight; I believe in lust at first sight. Hormones, people. Hormones.

Want more book-related news? Then visit these book blogs: Dear Author, Stumbling Across Chaos, YA Highway.

Friday, July 6, 2012

NEWS: yaoi dream come true, ender's game copycat, amnesiac PI with hidden power

Bishie Sparkles by Karenna Colcroft
Already released
GENRE: MM Paranormal Romance

Long-time yaoi fan Grant didn't expect to be so attracted to the main character of his latest purchase—and he definitely didn't expect to wake up next to him one morning. But that’s what happened. Even the sparkles, hearts, and small animals from the manga follow Teruo around Grant’s apartment. If Grant weren’t so distracted by lust, he’d find it really annoying.

When Teruo announces that he intends to stay with Grant because he has nowhere else to go, Grant is both pleased and terrified. Grant has been alone too long, and even with the sparkles, Teruo has made his way into Grant's heart. But if Grant can’t find the words to tell Teruo how he feels, Teruo might vanish as suddenly as he appeared.

GoodReads Amazon First Impression: *squee* I'm a yaoi-fan, enough said... Okay, I'll confess. I wish I was Grant.

Insignia (Insignia #1) by S.J. Kincaid
To be released on 10 July 2012
GENRE: Young Adult Science-Fiction

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

GoodReads Amazon First Impression: I want this book now. Been finding many Ender's Game-like books this year.

Technomancer (Unspeakable Things #1) by B.V. Larson
To be released on 24 July 2012
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

A new kind of alien invasion…

When Quentin Draith wakes up in a private sanatorium, he has no memory of who he is or how he received the injuries riddling his body. All he knows is that he has to get out, away from the drugs being pumped into him and back to the real world to search for answers. His first question: How did his friend Tony’s internal organs fill with sand, killing him in a Las Vegas car crash?

After a narrow escape, he tracks down the basic facts: he is an investigator and blogger specializing in the supernatural—which is a good thing, because Quentin’s life is getting stranger by the minute. It seems he is one of a special breed, a person with unusual powers. He’s also the prime suspect in a string of murders linked by a series of seemingly mundane objects. The deeper he digs and the harder he works to clear his name, the more Quentin realizes that some truths are better off staying buried…

GoodReads Amazon First Impression: I have a weakness for amnesiac, turns into a kick-ass protagonist stories.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NEWS: walmart to library, DNF review or no, LGBT YA pride

source: from the article
# Abandoned Walmart Transformed Into A Functioning Library
posted on 28 June 2012
The International Interior Design Association recently selected the McAllen Public Library as the winner of their 2012 Library Interior Design Competition. The city inherited the former Wal-Mart after the retailer closed the store and abandoned it.
That's really cool. Wish I could visit there.

# DNFs – To Review or Not to Review?
posted on 5 July 2012
To call a person that reviews a book that they didn’t finish “unethical” is crossing the line though.
Personally, I don't do DNF review but it's only because I'm too stubborn/stupid to DNF books.

# YA Pride: 2012 LGBT YA by the numbers
posted on 25 June 2012
55 young adult books published in 2012 include LGBT main characters or are about LGBT people
I wonder what the number of books would be if we include LGBT side but still important characters.

Want more book-related news? Then visit these book blogs: Dear Author, Stumbling Across Chaos, YA Highway.