6 June 2012

Delays & Changes

The last few updates were previous posts I never got around to adding to the blog in a reasonable amount of time. Obviously.

Expect delays with upcoming reviews and posts for this blog - I will try to get back to it in a timely manner, but no such promises can be made.

26 May 2012

Pantheons by E.J. Dabel

Pantheons (Pantheons, #1)Pantheons by E.J. Dabel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
On the streets, they call fifteen year old orphan Isaiah Marshall the “Indestructible Diamond”. Isaiah is the leader of the “Redrovers”, a group of teenage misfits consisting of his friends Jeremy, Monty, and Pipsqueak, but when they trespass into “Kaliber Academy” to get even with the arrogant Jason Ollopa, they are in way over their heads.

Principal Webb enrolls them into the High School and Isaiah soon learns about the existence of the gods of the Ancient World. Because the gods have refused to fight the last War for fear of the Mysterious Dark, the Powers-that-Be have stripped them of their spiritual bodies and given them mortal, teenage forms.

Isaiah discovers he's not only a god, but that he's the child of the Greek goddess Metis, the son destined to overthrow his cruel and sadistic father Zeus, the Darkener of the Sky, and become the greatest god in all the Pantheons.

Isaiah is thrown into a world where the democratic Olympians, war-mongering Norse, Gothic Celts, firstborn Egyptians, the enlightened Hindu, the animal-like Aztecs, the martial artist Asians, the intelligent Babylonians, the great spirits of the Native American Indians, and the fierce Finnish will war against one another for the greatest of all prizes: the Dominion.

Pantheons was suggested to me a little bit ago, and after reading the description I was somewhat intrigued, but also a bit wary. This wariness cropped up from reading couple reviews on Goodreads, which affirmed for me that this was a book directed at teens. I haven't had too much luck with these as of late, but the reviews seemed solid and did mention there was something "different" and "unexpected" about Pantheons. After taking all this in, I did a search and found the ebook available for $1.99 CAD. Not bad at all.

My initial reaction to the main character, Isaiah, was... well, I didn't like him very much. (It was tough figuring out who he was, in the beginning.) It was difficult to really understand why he did what he did at first, but that was explained later on. He's not perfect, has things he's afraid of, and seems like a real person.

The thing is, Isaiah does not speak through much of the beginning of the book. The reason isn't given right away, but within a few chapters we find that he has a speech impediment. He cannot pronounce the letter "s", and while the character initially seems confident we find out that this is such a big issue for him, that he would prefer others to think that he cannot speak - even around his gang, his best friends. When he finally does reveal this, it's a very expected and obvious reaction, where it isn't a big deal, and his friends accept him and understand why he "kept quiet" about it. The way it is presented is not at all unexpected, but it's still an important scene.

Now, for Isaiah's speech impediment... it's definitely an interesting idea to include in the story, and it's always important show that everyone is different, and how we all need to accept each other. The way his speech issue was portrayed through the text seems unnecessarily complicated, however. The book is in first person, so much of what we get from Isaiah are thoughts and feelings about various things, but when it comes to his response in dialogue... it gets difficult. He will say "What is it?" and it is shown in the text as "What i- it?" or "Where i- -am?" for "Where is Sam?" The part that really gets confusing, though, is when it does not occur. There have been a few points in the story where Isaiah will speak normally, with no issue, and neither he or anyone else makes any note of it - which leads me to wonder if it was simply forgotten? Intentional or not, it was a bit confusing.

There are also some instances when we get into complicated words that are more dashes than letters, it's easy to get lost! When there was a lot of dialogue, I felt the story slow right down because now I need to figure out what Isaiah is saying, which isn't always obvious. Part of the issue, too, were the added words, missing words, and spelling errors. (Not too many, and I don't mean to nit-pick.) Portraying a characters' speech impediment is tough, I can totally understand that, while still keeping the book readable. Because of that, it's especially important to watch for those typos and errors and correct them. It would really improve the book overall.

With the story itself... There are a few interesting twists throughout the book, and the story keeps away from the paths that High School stories tend to go along. Pantheons really isn't a High School story, it's about Isaiah, his powers, and his friends - that's what really makes the difference. The story really didn't grab me as much as it could have, though, and I think a younger-me would appreciate the book a whole lot more. I can definitely see the appeal, though. The idea behind it all is different, and there's a lot of action to keep the adventure moving along.

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Taming Fire by Aaron Pogue

Taming Fire (Dragonprince Trilogy #1)Taming Fire by Aaron Pogue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

.99 cents for a book always works for me. I don't expect much from the story, and I am usually pleasantly surprised. This e-book was no exception, though it certainly had its own share of flaws.

One of the main issues for me was the lack of characters. We follow Daven through his Quest (versus The World) and... it's just Daven. He meets some people, and leaves them behind. He's an interesting character, though, and never came across as dull but.. it's just him. While it does work, there is a feeling that something is missing.

Still, I really enjoyed the story.

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6 January 2012

Rogue Angel: Renaissance by Alex Archer

RenaissanceRenaissance (Rogue Angel #1-3) by Alex Archer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Collect the first three tales of the Rogue Angel series/heroine for the ages, from the ages. Annja Creed is an archaeologist and explorer whose own extraordinary bloodline is linked to the powerful legend of Joan of Arc. The myths of the past lead Annja Creed to France, where the terrifying legend of the Beast of Gevaudan hints at the unimaginable.What she discovers is shattering; an artifact that will seal her destiny; a brotherhood of monks willing to murder to protect their secret; and a powerful black-market occultist desperate to put his own claim to centuries-old blood money...

I found the series while looking through Chapters in early December. The cover looked interesting, and the description on the back cover caught my attention. There were three or four books on the shelves, with no numbering on them, so I opened one up to figure out just what was available... It turned out that the book in my hands was one of the most current in the series, somewhere around number 30 or so. That in itself could be taken as a good sign for the series - something that's gone on for so long is sure to have some success.

Later that day I decided to look up the author and series on Goodreads, and perhaps order the first book, as an eBook. There is just no way that I would have room for a series that currently spans over 30 books!. It turns out the first books are not available anywhere, but I did come across Renaissance... which just so happens to be a "Collector's Edition" of the first three books, for the price of one. Not bad at all, I thought.

Through my searching I also found out that Alex Archer is the house name for the Rogue Angel series, and published by the Harlequin. (Hmm..) After the eighth book in the series it seems authors change, as well - I can't comment on that, though, as I have only read this collection.

I find it easier to review each book separately, as I go.

Destiny (Rogue Angel, #1)Destiny by Alex Archer

From Goodreads
An ancient order tied to the Vatican . . . A blood fortune buried in the caves of France . . . A conspiracy of power, greed and darkest evil . . .

Archaeologist and explorer Annja Creed's fascination with the myths and mysteries of the past leads her to a crypt in the caves of France, where the terrifying legend of the Beast of Gevaudin hints at the unimaginable. What she discovers is shattering: an artifact that will seal her destiny: a brotherhood of monks willing to murder to protect their secret; and a powerful black-market occultist desperate to put his own claim to centuries-old blood money. Annja embarks on a high-tension race across Europe and history itself, intent on linking the unholy treachery of the ages with the staggering revelations of the present. But she must survive the shadow figures determined to silence her threat to their existence.

Well, for starters, the beginning of this book is very off-putting. It's one of those series that I can tell the writing style is going to bug me endlessly. The writing itself, too, was very awkward at times and often told me who Annja was, rather than show me through her actions. In this way I found it condescending, almost as if this book were intended for a much younger, and less intelligent, audience. As an added bonus, Annja is the Maryest of all Sues. She has some type of martial art skills, can sense thugs tailing her, and was, apparently, taught most of this by nuns. All of this is told within the first few chapters, but none of this is really explained in a way that flows or makes sense. Half the problem is that we get the hefty dose of Exposition whenever she gets a moment in the midst of battle. 'Cause, you know, breaking up the fight scene for a little bit of Boring is the best thing to do when you want to keep your readers interested! Woo!

Another issue, and perhaps it is due to being in eBook format, was the odd word spacing in some places. At the start of a new section or chapter, there would be three or four words capitalized, and sometimes there would be a space after the first letter in the sentence. But not always. I got the sense that the main letter(s) may have been of a fancier font in the printed version and yet no one cared to fix it later on when made into an eBook. The thing is, though, it also appears in the middle of sentences. All of a sudden I would come across a word with a ran dom space added in the middle, making the reading slow and awkward. Plus the tense changes and weird use of is/are littered throughout... Ugh!

There are even a few instances where I wondered whether or not the author(s) were aware of their writing/voice. It's like I am being told a story buy someone who thinks both that they are clever, and that no one else can see the obvious path their story is taking. There is one instance where a sword magically disappears. I figured out where it went right away -it's not the first time it's been used in a story- but the characters hadn't a clue and argue about it for a time. Later on, while Annja is in a taxi, she starts to fall asleep and pictures herself holding the sword and.. The sword is in her hand!

I had to stop reading for a bit, there. Am I supposed to find that Not Completely Obvious? It's just getting silly. And what is with the exclamation point? I can't help but wonder what the story would be like told from her point of view, in her voice. It has to be better than this, right?

Annja herself is, as I mentioned, a Mary Sue. I have seen her in many, many stories and she has not changed at all. She is still perfect in mind and body, and turns the heads of every male in a hundred mile radius.  Everyone wants her, and her goal is to correct the wrongs of the world. The supporting cast, Roux and Garin specifically, are not too much better. Their goals, even when expressed, are still not very clear. As with Annja, their personalities are quite flat - there seems to be little consistency in their actions.

Oh, and for anyone wondering about any Romance in the novel... there isn't even a kiss scene. Unless you count that one character who woke up surrounded by naked ladies. There was nothing going on there, though, so.. it doesn't count.

Anyway, I hope Annja and her entourage find each other a personality in the next book because.. this is just awful. I think that's why I am still reading this.. it's like a disaster in progress I just have to watch.

Solomon's Jar (Rogue Angel, #2)Solomon's Jar by Alex Archer

From Goodreads
In the second installment of Alex Archer's Rogue Angel saga, which features protagonist Annja Creed (spiritual descendant Joan of Arc and her fated successor as "champion of the good"), the intrepid archeologist sets off to find Solomon's Jar, an invaluable biblical artifact that King Solomon allegedly used to entrap the numerous demons he used to build his temple in Jerusalem.

With the help of her enigmatic mentor, a centuries-old man named Roux, Creed sets off to verify if the Jar -- believed to be forever lost at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea -- was in fact recovered. Following leads from Peru to the Netherlands to Israel to Brazil, Creed struggles to stay one step ahead of gun-toting factions (including Russian mobsters, English cultists, and the fanatical followers of a charismatic kabbalist) bent on finding and exploiting the Jar's supernatural powers. But once Creed locates Solomon's Jar, will its intrinsically evil powers influence her resolve to do God's will?

Solomon's Jar begins on a stronger note than the first book, and a lot of that is due to having the groundwork already prepared, from the first novel. The writing quality may have taken a few steps up, as well, but that could easily be my own imagination. There is definitely more focus on describing locations, but that's taken almost to excess as well. (It's just not that interesting.) I also want to note that this sequel is a bit more graphic when it comes to violence, than the first novel - there is a lot more blood and death. If that's not your cup of- well, "cup of tea" really wouldn't be the most appropriate phrase to use here, would it?

We start off with Mary Annja running for her life - she is being chased by various goons just like in Destiny. The Bad Guys are bad, because we are told they are, and that's about the extent of their personalities. The plot itself, too, feels more like a movie script; the motivations of Mary are mystifying at best. She hears about Solomon's Jar and off she goes to find out more from the person with the jar, who lives in the Netherlands, for a reason that seems very close to "just because". While there she gets attacked, once again, after walking into a shop. And again shortly after that when visiting a home, as a guest. It's definitely getting that "Monster of the Week" feel to it all.

I say the novel feels like a movie script, and the main reason for that is that... it's action placed over a tissue paper plot. It's all about Mary showing off her body and Elite Fighting Skillz (that she obtained from some place or another.) Fight after fight she is proving she is sexier, deadlier, and can best all of these big trained professionals while she Saves the World. There is also repeated mention on her lack of being out of breath while doing all of these activities, while everyone else seems to be tiring and struggling to keep up. Nothing can go wrong for Mary!

I do find it odd that the main character has changed so much between the first and second novel. In Destiny, Mary was very much against killing the Main Villain, despite how he tried to kill her on multiple occasions. In Solomon's Jar, she's waving that sword around like an expert, killing off random lackeys as she sees fit, and all without even an afterthought. Here's one example..

"She knew she had every right to take their lives if they raised their weapons against her."
And all I can think is "What?! Who did Destiny Mary get replaced with?" This is her line of thought regarding random protesters from Jerusalem that (for some reason) began chasing her down. Seriously, this book is all random trivia, chase scene, fight scene, talking of Solomon's Jar, and then repeating the process ad infinitum. She has Joan's sword but when did that give her the right to kill anyone? I'm sick of being constantly reminded of her perfection and flawlessness.

Mary Sue is perfect, and Mary Sue is boring.
Convenient Plot Device is written off as being "her destiny."

There are some phrases and situations I found so genuinely funny that I laughed aloud. It's unfortunate that those situations were so few, and the plot so heavily garnished in graphic fights and walls of text that do nothing to move the story along and keep interest. I found myself skimming over so many pages of fight scenes or what felt like textbook pages about Soloman's Jar that it seemed like such a waste of time.

So.. if you buy this book as Renaissance, where you're getting three books for the price of one.. go for it. It's a good deal if you want to check out the series and see if it's for you.

I won't be coming back to it, though - I didn't even finish the last book in this trio. It's just not for me.

3 January 2012

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

Start Something That MattersStart Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Love your work, work for what you love, and change the world—all at the same time.
What most matters to you? Should you focus on earning a living, pursuing your passions, or devoting yourself to the causes that inspire you? The surprising truth is that you don’t have to choose—and that you’ll find more success if you don’t. That’s the breakthrough message of TOMS’ One for One movement. You don’t have to be rich to give back. You don’t have to retire to spend every day doing what you love. You can find profit, passion, and meaning all at once—right now.

In Start Something That Matters, Blake Mycoskie tells the story of founding TOMS, one of the fastest-growing young companies in the world, and combines it with lessons learned from such innovative organizations as Zappos, charity: water, FEED Projects, method, and TerraCycle, among others. Blake presents the six simple keys for creating or transforming your own life and business, from discovering your core story to being resourceful without resources; from overcoming fear and doubt to incorporating giving into every aspect of your life. And in the spirit of One for One, with every book you purchase, a new book will be provided to a child in need.
Start Something That Matters is the inspiring story of a movement, a manifesto for the next stage of American business, and a blueprint for the new generation of entrepreneurs who want to live a meaningful and successful life.

This book was given to me by Goodreads First Reads - it is not required that I review a book, but it is strongly suggested. Not that I need a strong suggestion to review a book.

First.. I knew nothing of Blake Mycoskie or his company, TOMS, before reading this book. The stories his tells of his own life, as well as that of others, is both amazing and inspirational. Even through this book itself, Blake uses his "One for One" model to give a book to someone who needs it, for every book purchased.

It's wonderful to see a company based upon giving to others, and find a way to do that while still making money. I could not help but think, while reading this book, that I should've paid for it - it's not right to get something like this, for free.


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