29 December 2011

World Builders 2011

Last year, after reading Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, I began reading his blog as well. About this time last year, I was introduced to Worldbuilders (something Rothfuss runs every year) - it's essentially a way to collect donations for those in need. Here's a little excerpt from his blog, on December 2nd.
What’s that you say? You want to make the world a better place while simultaneously winning fabulous prizes?

Well today is your lucky day.

Heifer International is my favorite charity. It helps people raise themselves up out of poverty and starvation. All over the world Heifer promotes education, sustainable agriculture, and local industry.
They don’t just keep kids from starving, they make it so families can take care of themselves. They give goats, sheep, and chickens to families so their children have milk to drink, warm clothes to wear, and eggs to eat.

There are plenty of ways to donate, too! There are auctions, you can purchase books, clothing or prints from his store (where all proceeds go to Worldbuilders, year round), and a lottery. The lottery works in this way - for every $10 donated, you are entered in a draw to win some Awesome Prizes. The prizes include a whole lot of books, rare ARC's, and some other items as well.

What I really like, though.. if you go to the main page for Heifer International and look under 'Give - Gift Catalog' you get to really see where this money goes. Whether it's a flock of geese, a trio of bunnies, or even a llama - you can check out all of these things to see just what it means, and just what it will do for these people. It's amazing, to me, and really puts things in perspective when I consider what my money can really get for another person. It can change their world.

The nice thing is too (yes, there is more) is that Worldbuilders will donate 50% of donations up to the end of January. As of this posting, too, donations are upwards of $100,000!

So if you're interested in helping those who need it, having a chance to win some awesome books and other geekery, check out this blog and others under the "Worldbuilders-2011" tag so you know where to donate and just what other Awesome Things that could be headed our way.

27 December 2011

Spectyre by Philippa Ballantine

Spectyr (Book of the Order, #2)Spectyr by Philippa Ballantine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Though one of the most powerful Deacons, Sorcha Faris has a tarnished reputation to overcome, which is why she jumps at the chance to investigate a string of murders in the exotic city of Orithal. But it is there that her lover, the shapeshifting rival to the throne, is targeted by a cruel and vengeful goddess, unwittingly unleashed by the Emperor's sister.

I read Geist, the first book in the series, in early October and knew right then that I had to read the rest of Philippa Ballantine's books as soon as I could. Geist was just that good. Spectyre, unsurprisingly, is very much the same in that sense.

With the groundwork laid on in the first novel, Spectyre continues on from where Geist left us off. We get a closer look into each character and Sorcha's partner, Merrick, gets a little more focus as well. As with the plot... I never knew just where it was all going. It is a very character-driven story and the story the characters weave together is interesting and unpredictable, without being completely unexpected. The ending, which I won't get into too much, was both surprising and left many questions. One of the most important being: When is the next one coming out? (I kid, I kid..)

Joking aside, I eagerly await the next novel in the series. There was a huge Cliffhanger Ending and, while I usually dislike such endings, it leaves me wondering what will happen to Sorcha and her companions. It's not a cliffhanger that left me upset, though - it was a fitting end to a story arc like this one.

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24 December 2011

Stained (Zombie I Am) by Mike Mauthor

Stained (Zombie I Am)Stained by Mike Mauthor

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
A swift outbreak changed Lin Matthew's world forever.
A mysterious new student enrolled in Beaver High.
And a popular television show brought betrayal hence endangering Lin and his friends' life.

Stained is a different take of a zombie tale like no other.

Stained (Zombie I Am) was introduced to me by a member of Goodreads, who had seen my review for Amanda Hocking's book, Hollowland. (You can go check it out, if you'd like. I'll wait here.) I don't often follow recommendations for zombie stories but, for someone to recommend it after reading my review, it sounded promising. I read the excerpt available on Amazon.ca and also discovered the price of the eBook being $0.99. I don't own a Kindle, but I was able to download the PC version for free. That pretty much settled it right there. That, and one really can never go wrong with a ninety-nine cent book. Ever.

The beginning chapters are interesting, and I could already tell there would be a little something different about this novel. It didn't seem like the usual post-apocalyptic zombie story. The writing style was quite different too, so that drew me in as well.

Within a few pages I began noticing more and more sentences with odd phrasing, lack of proper punctuation, wrong words, or simply a plain lack of some solid editing. I have seen this come up on other novels and I don't always mention it. It really only concerns me when it is occurring very often - even within the first few pages, or chapters, like this one. Oddly places commas didn't help much, and I just can't help but wish there was more editing or proof-reading done. It would improve the story so, so much. And I don't mean to nitpick, but I do want to share a few quotes, directly from the book, to show what I mean.
"Then the next thing he knew was that he was in a hospital, a year had passed. A year he can’t bring back. Throughout those years he was a monster, a flesh-eating monster."
“you’re driving my patient.” --[bus driver, telling Lin to hurry and sit down.]
"Lin marched through the hallway, heading toward his locker. He made it to the end of the main hallway and took a right turn. After passing about twentieth red lockets he finally spotted his."
"“I was taken Cujo for a walk,” Pete said, dropping his spoon at this half empty tray, “my dog, Jelly Beans, a Saint Bernard, broke off his leash, barking at something at the bushes. He galloped into the bushes. I—being native—went after it and Jelly Beans popped out of the bushes."  --[talking of zombie-bite stories.]

There are so many more than this, but I just can't list them all. The thing is, if I am noticing this on my first read, how was it not picked up by anyone else? Why did the author publish this? This is a Young Adult novel, though I would list it as "Teen" for both style and content, but that doesn't mean it's okay to publish work that's unfinished. To me, and I am certain this is true for others as well, it gives the work an amateurish-feel and I am less inclined to take the work seriously.

After the initial introductory chapters, once the zombie-illness-aftermath is established, the story takes a very different turn than I expected. From the beginning I knew it would be a different type of zombie story, but what I expected was more... along the lines of Lin, the main character, dealing with how the world treats him, how things changed, and so on. What we get after that, instead, feels like more of a High School Drama following the lives of Lin and company. It has the same feeling as the Jock versus Nerds, Rich/Poor, or Prince/Commoner stories, where the "infected" get shunned by the "normal" people.

We do have the zombie-issue as a base, but it doesn't seem to be the focus - and I really wish there was more of it explored,  fleshed out. For me, being out of school for a number of years now, I found myself quite bored with the talk of cliques, who the cool kids are and what they're up to. I wasn't even interested in it when I was in school!

Oh, and remember when I said that one really can never go wrong with a ninety-nine cent book? Well.. this book just isn't worth that much. It's not even finished. Give it a thorough proof-read, fix the spelling, tense, and punctuation errors and then, only then, will I say it's worthwhile.

I cannot see beyond a lot of the issues I have with it and just can't continue reading this. Calling it Quits. Clearly, I am not the Target Audience. There is nothing here for me.


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13 December 2011

Johnny Wander #1: Don't Burn the House Down.

Johnny Wander Vol. 1: Don't Burn the House DownJohnny Wander Vol. 1: Don't Burn the House Down by Ananth Panagariya

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Johnny Wander is about life after college, striking out on your own, and all the moments in between the adult stuff. This volume collects the first year of comics with additional material including never-before-seen autobio comics.

I have been following both Yuko and Ananth's work online for a number of years now, and their current project, Johnny Wander, has been a definite favourite. I have been reading the online comic since it began, and tend to go back and read it all over again every now-and-again. It's cute, funny, and very easy to relate to.

I purchased both this volume and volume 2, directly from the Johnny Wander website - there was a little bit of savings for getting both at once, plus the mention of little "extras" for those who ordered both. For me, these extras included a snicker, a little dinosaur felt sticker, and a temporary tattoo of a brontosaurus. Sure, they're not really anything major.. but it's cute and I am sure to put them to use at some point.

It's true that one can simply read all of these comics online, but there is definitely something to having a book to read, in one's hands. Plus, for all of the wonderful work both authors create, it's good to give a little something monetary back in their direction.

So, if you haven't yet done so, check out Johnny Wander. Start at the beginning, spend an hour or two, and just enjoy what there is to see. I also recommend checking out the posts below the comic (some are included in the book, while some are not.) In some cases it'll give you a little extra information behind the story, and even the comments section has some interesting conversations going on.

It'll definitely be worth your time. You don't have to tell 'em I sent you.

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11 December 2011

Seriously... I'm Kidding

Seriously... I'm KiddingSeriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
"Sometimes the greatest things are the most embarrassing." Ellen Degeneres' winning, upbeat candor has made her show one of the most popular, resilient and honored daytime shows on the air. (To date, it has won no fewer than 31 Emmys.) Seriously... I'm Kidding, Degeneres' first book in eight years, brings us up to date about the life of a kindhearted woman who bowed out of American Idol because she didn't want to be mean. Lively; hilarious; often sweetly poignant.

First off, I should mention that while I know of Ellen DeGeneres I do not follow her work or her show. (Not that I haven't seen an episode or two, but it just hasn't kept my attention.) Nor have I checked out any of her previous books, so I knew little of what to expect. I purchased her book simply because I found the description on the back cover to be amusing, and it brought a smile to my face. Instead of quotes from other authors about the book, she chose to go with her own "quotes" of compliments toward her reader. It's an interesting way to do it, and it got my attention - if the inside of the book was anything like this, well.. I was sure to enjoy it.

Well, that wasn't exactly the case.

While portions of the book made me laugh aloud, some for a few minutes at a time, there was a lot missing from this book. Many chapters seemed only added to increase the page count to something reasonable. We were given multiple "colouring pages" for children in one chapter, one that featured "sounds" for Audio readers, while another was a 140 character Tweet! What is this?

The message, apparently, is "Be Happy!" but I never really got the sense from the book. Some parts were funny, sure, but it gave nothing I did not already know. And a lot of it really wasn't all that interesting, inspirational, or even funny. Much of the book is of trivial things, and we are given little-to-no insight into Ellen's life.

I purchased this book at Chapters for $30, will a 30% discount, so the price wasn't too bad. Still, it was definitely not worth it, at all. If you really want to check out the book, read it in store or borrow it from a friend. Don't buy it - you'll just be wasting your money.

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Aaand.. We're back!

And that's the royal "we" of course.

It's still the Holiday Season and things are just a little bit hectic, especially with my sister coming over in just a few days for Christmas, but I will work on getting some semblance of order going on over here. Work is finished for the season, as of December 6th, so there has more time for reading and getting used to Not Working All of the Time. I am also behind on some reviews, so I'll be getting those up shortly. Sometime.

The next post will be about books, I promise.

11 November 2011

Not About Books

Instead, a small note.
November will be a slow review month, as in... it will continue much as it started. It is nearing the end of the season for work and the workload has increased to compensate for the lack of time. This, for me, creates a lack in time for reading. I just can't get away with it like I could, before.

I won't say the blog is on hiatus, but I would say to expect a slowing in the posts until early/mid December. In the meantime, if it suits your fancy, I have a blog on tumblr.
Spoiler: It's not about books.

7 November 2011

2011 Goodreads Reading Challenge Complete!

I joined Goodreads in early August of this year, and quickly discovered the 2011 Reading Challenge, amongst other things. I quickly set my goal to a reasonable 20 books, and as I added more and more books to the read list I quickly discovered I had already gone past this goal. So I set it to 50, then 75, and, finally, 100.

100 is a good number. I haven't read 100 books in a year before, so it was definitely a worthwhile goal. Next year I will make it more of a challenge. Something crazy.

Some highlights for the year would be Geist (Philippa Ballantine), Just a Geek (Wil Wheaton), Wake (Robert J. Sawyer), Heroes 'Til Curfew (Susan Bischoff) and the Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson.

Anyway, Goodreads also provides this neat widget where I can display the covers of a number of books. And so, I present to you the last 100 books that I have read which, as of this post, accurately displays the books I read to complete this challenge. As I continue to add more books to my list, however, the display will change.. but I'm not worrying about that too much.

Note: The is image-heavy.

1 November 2011

2011 Goodreads Choice Awards


Vote now for your favorite books!

If you're on Goodreads, check out the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards for your chance to vote for your favourite book, published this year, for each category. Or just look at all the nominees, or winner from the last two years, to add even more books to your to-read list. Like I did.

... So, so many books I must read.

The Unwritten Vol.2, Inside Man

The Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside ManThe Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man by Mike Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Tom Taylor's life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom's real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. In the final novel, it's even implied that the fictional Tommy will crossover into the real world, giving delusional fans more excuses to harass Tom.

When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that's secretly kept tabs on him all his life. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth behind his origins, Tom will travel the world, eventually finding himself at locations all featured on a very special map — one kept by the deadly group that charts places throughout world history where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality, those stories ranging from famous literary works to folktales to pop culture. And in the process of figuring out what it all means, Tom will find himself having to figure out a huge conspiracy mystery that spans the entirety of the history of fiction.

Things are finally becoming clearer in this volume, and the overall plot is definitely stronger. Still, there is a lot going on and a few storylines to keep track of. It certainly is not less complicated, than the first.

The artwork continues to shine, and remains a strong point in the work. There is such a variety, too, and it remains strong when the story calls for a stylistic change. The last story at the end of the volume was a definite favourite - it reminded me of all of the cute stories I adored as a kid, and turned it into something terrible and hilarious and wonderful. I continue to enjoy the series and look forward to the next volumes.

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28 October 2011

Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself. A heroic fantasy of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and evildoers who come together in a time of grim omens.

Where is the love?

We get the romance novels that are so over-the-top and unrealistic, with the swooning and ridiculous mouth-watering... And then we get the epic fantasy novels with no love at all.

Game of Thrones has a lot going on, and there's definitely political intrigue. We are drowning in political intrigue. It is interesting, sure, but only to a point. But there's a strong unbelievability to the story with the lack of love between characters. This really makes the novel less enjoyable because the characters come across as weak. There is something huge that's missing and, in the end, it makes them less real. (Also: Sex =/= Love.)

Adding to this is the lack of difference in character voice. True, the characters do have some distinct differences in their beliefs and... hobbies... but I don't get a sense that they're entirely different people. The character names as chapter titles was off-putting to start, but I can see the necessity. There would be awkward transition into the chapter as we try to identify the Point of View.

Two main characters have a lot more going for them, and I wish they would have had a lot more page-time. Arya Stark and Jon Snow (the bastard) are by far the strongest and most interesting characters in the series. Arya is curious, smart, and always up to some sort of fun. Jon (he's a bastard, by the way) is our key into the Night's Watch and the Wall. We are told Eddard is honourable, sure, but with the bastard son, Jon, we really see it in his character.

Sansa and Bran, on the other side of things, come across as the weakest - Sansa because she is a brainless parrot and Bran, no fault of his own, is not too good for much... yet. (Optimism?) He is always so sad, though, and to be totally honest - he's just not very interesting.

It's obvious but.. this is a long book, at 835 pages. It feels like a long book. It's long-winded and the author often takes us in circles with ideas and thoughts. Usually, this occurs right in the middle of some action - a fight scene, a chase, or a Grand Escape. The character starts reflecting, thinking about other things, their past, or admiring the scenery. This is not the time for that - it's awkward and really brings me out of the story that was hard enough to get "into" in the first place.

Worse, when certain chapters do start to get really interesting, especially the ones with Arya, it will end. Abruptly. And we'll get to spend some time in Sansa's head. That's not so much fun. Is this supposed to create tension? Suspense? Intrigue? Some other vaguely descriptive word? Whatever it is supposed to do, it's not working for me. As I near the end of the novel I skim more and more, picking out the more interesting points and trying to convince myself that finishing this book is not a complete waste of my time.

I started reading Game of Thrones in early July, after watching the series. The show, while amazing and beautiful, left much back-story to be desired and I wanted to fill in those gaps. Since I had just finished watching the series it was difficult to get into the novel. Plus, I kept picturing certain characters the way they were portrayed in the show, rather than how they were described in the book.

I lost interest in the book for some time, though that likely had more to do with how busy I was with work and how little time remained for reading. It was easier to get into the story later on, but it still wavered considerably in holding my interest. I finished it because it was the only book I brought with me to work in October. If I hadn't, I'd probably still have it sitting on my shelf waiting to be finished.

Jon is a Bastard.
George R.R. Martin will remind you of this every few pages that Jon, Eddard's bastard, is mentioned.
We should make a game of this.

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25 October 2011

The Unwritten Vol.1

The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus IdentityThe Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Collecting issues 1-5. Tom Taylor's life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom's real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. In the final novel, it's even implied that the fictional Tommy will crossover into the real world, giving delusional fans more excuses to harass Tom.

When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that's secretly kept tabs on him all his life. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth behind his origins, Tom will travel the world, eventually finding himself at locations all featured on a very special map -- one kept by the deadly group that charts places throughout world history where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality, those stories ranging from famous literary works to folktales to pop culture. And in the process of figuring out what it all means, Tom will find himself having to figure out a huge conspiracy mystery that spans the entirety of the history of fiction.

This will be the second time I have read the book, simply because I discovered there are more books in the series and picked up the next two. When I read it the first time, I had no idea it was a series - I just happened to be in a comic book store while waiting for my train, and could not leave without at least purchasing something.

We meet Tom (or Tommy) Taylor, the son of a writer who has vanished and who is named after the main character within those books. He is unhappy with his life as he follows in both his fathers' fame, and that of a fictional character. Later it is discovered he may not be who he claims, and we find out there is a lot more going on in the background than originally thought.

It's an interesting story told in a different way, and embraces both the comic form as well as prose. It is very easy to follow, and there is much to "take in". The backgrounds are well done, and there's often something to see in them - like an inappropriately-name-movie poster, to name one. There's a lot going on here, and I'll definitely be checking out the next volumes.

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22 October 2011

First Grave on the Right

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

The most noticeable thing when starting this book was the style of writing for the way the main character, Charley Davidson, speaks. The story is presented in first person and the way she talks is very... distinct. It's as if the character is trying to present herself as bold and witty, but doesn't always succeed. Sometimes it's funny, very funny, and others I find myself just shaking my head at the attempt. It's just too much of that, and not enough plot progression.

Around the half-way point for the book, I got really, really tired of Charley's attitude. She would say something that sounded (almost) sincere, in her narration, and then end it with "Not". That, to me, is very childlike behavior. I was under the impression she was in her late twenties, as a P.I., and out of college. Charley acts far younger than her age and experiences suggest, and this makes it difficult to relate to her.

Sadly, I was skimming through much of the novel - especially the chapters that contained nothing but dialogue. Charley and her best friend, Cookie, sit in a room as Charley relays memories of her own childhood. The action we get are Cookie's widening eyes, tense posture, or slight movements as she tries to feed herself. (But is just too enthralled by Charley's story!) Yes, the information is important.. but sharing it this way is incredibly boring.

Charley also lacks any real emotions and appears to be is a constant state of lusting, snarky, sarcastic, or pissed off. She is constantly getting beat up between her moments of (unreasonable and unexplained)  rudeness to other certain characters. There is a huge lack in personality in all other characters, as well - we are not given much at all in regards of who they are and what motivates their world. This is why I say Charley has unreasonable reactions - she is rude and nasty to Swopes, a coworker, and we are given nothing to back it up. Who is he? Why does Charley hate him?

And then we have Reyes, the Love Interest. Apparently, he's Hot. And our Charley is totally in lust with him because he is Hot and Mysterious. Most chapters deal with her feelings for him, which are always the same. Something about weak knees, swirls in her abdomen, and an intense heat. In the end, he's a Mysterious character with Mysterious motives and is surrounded in Mystery. It's very repetitive.

First Grave on the Right is still an "alright" read. It's simple, it's quick, and there was enough to keep me reading - if only to just figure out where it's all leading. However, unless the second book is a major improvement over the first, I highly doubt I would want to read it. It is definitely a taste I have not acquired.

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19 October 2011

Geist by Philippa Ballantine

Geist (Book of the Order, #1)Geist by Philippa Ballantine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Between the living and the dead is the Order of the Deacons, protectors of the Empire, guardians against possession, sentinels enlisted to ward off the malevolent haunting of the geists...

Among the most powerful of the Order is Sorcha, now thrust into partnership with the novice Deacon, Merrick Chambers. They have been dispatched to the isolated village of Ulrich to aide the Priory with a surge of violent geist activity. With them is Raed Rossin, Pretender to the throne that Sorcha is sworn to protect, and bearer of a terrible curse.

But what greets them in the strange settlement is something far more predatory and more horrifying than any mere haunting. And as she uncovers a tradition of twisted rituals passed down through the dark reaches of history, Sorcha will be forced to reconsider everything she thinks she knows.

And if she makes it out of Ulrich alive, what in Hell is she returning to?

It's refreshing to find a book that is truly driven by the characters. There is a real sense of who they are, what their goals are, and what drives them to do what they do. Plus, they're all interesting and strong characters that have a sense of morals and values that are portrayed in their speech and way of thinking without being stated outright. (And repeatedly. Over and over.. I have pet peeves. I know.)

Part of what I enjoyed most, and what really made the difference, is the characters are not children or young teenagers. They're all in their 20's or early 30's so their all well past the (annoying) angst-sodden period in their lives that I have read far too much about recently. (Why do so many authors go that route? But that's a rant for another time...) So, it's about time I come across something wonderful.

That's not to say Geist is perfect, though. I found, especially at the beginning, that it was difficult to get a sense of the world and what it looked like. The author really didn't focus on the look or feel of the city and it wasn't for many chapters that I really got a grasp on what the world was like. I hadn't read any descriptions of the novel before reading - aside from 'fantasy romance' I really didn't know what I was getting into. Urban fantasy, high fantasy or awesome fantasy? It really wasn't obvious from the outset.

Romance is hinted at throughout the first half of the novel and, given the set-up of the magic, it gives a sense of how the romance between characters will come about. There are some twists, which are not entirely unexpected, but it entwines nicely within the story and never seems odd or out of place. It works, and really pushes how the character-focused Geist is.

Honestly, Geist doesn't have a whole lot going against it. The characters are strong, the world is.. immense, and the potential it builds for the series is promising on many fronts. Altogether Philippa Ballantine gives us one really good book. If any of her other works are anything like this, I want to read them now.

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18 October 2011

CONTEST: Susan Bischoff's Talent Chronicles

Now, this is just cool.

Susan Bischoff is the author of the Talent Chronicles, which consists of three books. Well, rumour is that Bischoff  is running a contest on her blog for her next book in the series, Heroes Under Siege. (You should really check it out!) If you do nothing else... send an email to the address shown on the image and get that free copy of Hush Money.

I reviewed the book not too long ago and will tell you now that it is absolutely worth the read. It's a mix of romance, urban fantasy and a whole lot of action. And, after you check out the book, the contest is there for those who are up for a bit of something interesting. And the chance to be named in the next book. I am totally not being a geek about this.

17 October 2011

School Hotel

School Hotel (series 1 - 2)School Hotel by Satoshi Morie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Apparently, the School Hotel is a place where the people who can’t show their true self at school can be themselves. The story begins when Tenno Toriko, an intelligent doormat at the High School, is invited to the School Hotel.

Seriously, walk all over her. She doesn't mind at all. Until she changes her clothes and does a complete 180 personality change and starts screaming at her new-found peers. And then decides she likes being her true-self more than hiding. Within the same chapter.

Maybe I was expecting something akin to Ouran High School Host Club when I started reading. I really don't know. It wasn't... this. I don't even know what this is.

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15 October 2011

A Bride's Story, Volume #1

A Bride's Story, Vol. 1 (A Bride's Story, #1)A Bride's Story, Vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Amira is twenty years old when she marries her husband, a boy named Karluk from a neighboring village. Adjusting to life in a new household can be trying for any young bride, but Amira's husband is eight years her junior! Amira was a strong, sophisticated hunter and horsewoman in her village, but though their villages were next to each other, their customs are very different. As Amira introduces Karluk to the foods and pastimes that were popular among her comrades back home, the warmth she feels for her young husband grows

I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up this series - the title would normally be enough to drive me away completely, but the cover is just so beautiful that I had to, in the very least, open the book.

It did not take me long to finish the volume, either. The romance is very light and believable for the setting, and it seemed to take a back-seat as the story was unfolding. It's more about the world, the culture, and the people than about the romance between the new bride and her (very young) husband.

The artwork is, well.. it's amazing. It's complex and beautiful, and works perfectly with a story such as this. The expressions, too, were done very well and honestly, I spent most of my time admiring both that and the backgrounds.

Later on in the series there is a slight divergence from the main story line, and I stopped reading about the same time. It's a beautiful work with an interesting world, but the type of slow-paced stories like this are not really to my liking.

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13 October 2011

Wil Wheaton is Just a Geek

Just a GeekJust a Geek by Wil Wheaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Wil Wheaton has never been one to take the conventional path to success. Despite early stardom through his childhood role in the motion picture "Stand By Me", and growing up on television as Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", Wil left Hollywood in pursuit of happiness, purpose, and a viable means of paying the bills. In the oddest of places, Topeka, Kansas, Wil discovered that despite his claims to fame, he was at heart Just a Geek. 

In this bestselling book, Wil shares his deeply personal and difficult journey to find himself. You'll understand the rigors, and joys, of Wil's rediscovering of himself, as he comes to terms with what it means to be famous, or, ironically, famous for once having been famous. Writing with honesty and disarming humanity, Wil touches on the frustrations associated with his acting career, his inability to distance himself from Ensign Crusher in the public's eyes, the launch of his incredibly successful web site, wilwheaton.net, and the joy he's found in writing. Through all of this, Wil shares the ups and downs he encountered along the journey, along with the support and love he discovered from his friends and family.

The first book I bought when I bought my kobo was Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton. I stayed up far too late reading. It became that important to finish it.

Admittedly, I heard of Wil Wheaton only vaguely in my younger years and only watched Star Trek a handful of times. It was one of the shows my dad would be watching when all I wanted to do was watch my cartoons. (And he would tell me who the characters were and why they were important, and how upset he was when it was all over.) I saw it enough to know some of the character names, and called Patrick Steward by Picard for years whenever I referred to him... and had to be corrected repeatedly until I was brainwashed taught to get it right.

Then, some time ago when I was watching Season 3 of Felicia Day's The Guild. There was a character named Fawkes that looked.. oddly familiar, but I couldn't quite place him. I didn't think too much of it just then. It wasn't until reading the collection of stories Clash of the Geeks by Patrick Rothfuss, Wil Wheaton, et al (It's quite the list), which I was introduced to on Rothfuss' blog, that I looked up Wil Wheaton's name and came across his blog. And connected the other dots. Oh.

Now, that's not a bad "ew, omg wth" 'Oh'. It's a "Wow, why didn't I realize who he was sooner I am kind of dense" type of 'Oh'. I also learned that Wil Wheaton is a writer, too, so that was interesting. When Patrick Rothfuss later recommended Just a Geek on his blog, I knew I needed to read this book, sometime.

Well, sometime only took three months (which is pretty good, considering my skill level in Procrastination) but I finally, finally got around to it. I wasn't put-off by learning that it contained some old blog posts. And it was intriguing, as I haven't read much of Wheaton's blog in the first place. (Again, Procrastination.) So the entire book was full of content that was entirely new to me. And an introduction by Neil Gaiman? That's just neat.

There were portions of this book where I literally laughed out loud. (In the living room, where my family looked at me like I'm crazy. Which I am, but that's unrelated.) And then, moments later, be either so angry or close to tears from the raw honesty within the book. I really got the sense of a real person, with real feelings, who is now able to really express all that and not feel ashamed. And yea, he really is a geek.

The decision by Wheaton to keep his old blog posts mostly intact was a very good idea - the change in writing style is evident and really helps show the passage of time, and a difference in his way of thinking. I enjoyed the book more in the later half because of that (and had to add WWdN to my list of Blogs to Follow..) Just a Geek turned out to be a whole lot more than I thought it would be. It was a pleasant surprise, and I really cannot see a reason to not rate this book 5-stars. What was it Neil Gaiman said  in the forward? Something like "sooner or later, you're not just a geek."

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11 October 2011

Kobo eReader Touch

A few days ago, late in the evening, I made a trip to Walmart. I avoid the stores like the plague, normally, but this time I had a quest mission. To purchase the Kobo eReader Touch.

Yes, I finally caved and gave-in to acquiring an eReader for myself. For the product itself it cost me around $155 CAD (including tax), not counting any accessories. I planned to buy a case that day, but Walmart provided me with one colour option - pink. I think I'll wait...

This is the first eReader I have owned, so the entire thing is new to me and I know very little of what to expect from it. That's not to say I didn't research and compare my options. Originally, I was dead-set on owning Amazon's Kindle. Until, that is, I found out how exclusive it really is. Nook was my second choice, but I ultimately chose to go with the kobo because it seemed to provide the most options, especially eBook file types, than any of the others.

One thing I found is that the software seems very, very slow. It's slow to start up after I switch the power button, slow to open a book when I make a choice, and sometimes slow to turn the page. I don't think I am being unfair to ask for an instant response... even if only just some sort of indication (even if a quick 'loading' symbol) that my input was received. I was reading Just a Geek during the Thanksgiving weekend and I'd tap the screen to turn the page and... wait.. and.. nothing. So I'd tap the screen again. And it would jump ahead 3,4,5 pages. Kobo eReader is just a little touchy.

I don't know if this is a usual thing for eReaders - as I said, this is the only one I have purchased or used. Overall, I do find it useful and do like the product, but there are a few things I know can be improved. Hopefully future software upgrades can work out the kinks.

9 October 2011

Review: Hana to Akuma Chapters 1-42

花と悪魔 1 [Hana to Akuma]花と悪魔 1 [Hana to Akuma] by 音 久無 (Oto Hisamu)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Ten years ago Bibi, the demon, decided to leave the demon realm and come to the human world. There he found an abandoned baby and on a whim decided to keep it. Since then he lives together with Hana... but having a 14 year-old girl around you, is it really that simple?

Hana to Akuma (literally: The Flower and the Demon, Demon With Flower, the Demon's Flower) is a story following the young Hana and her trials growing up in a house of demons. I read the first volume before realizing the story is listed as a romance, which did draw some concern for me as I recalled another series.

To start off, the artwork is certainly not terrible, but it does leave something to be desired. Certain character angles come across as awkward, stiff, and give an entirely different mood than what was intended. Other portions seem crowded and rushed, and there a number of characters that do look a lot alike. I forgot who many of the characters were when their names weren't mentioned in the chapter - they really weren't all that memorable.

This series, unlike one I reviewed previously, comes across as much more innocent and sweet. Hana is 14, though looks and acts much younger, and it's really just a cute story about a human girl that gets whatever she wants, without seeming too spoiled. (Her outfits are very elaborate.) As things progress, though, relationships and events become more complex but, even at far as I have read, nothing beyond a kiss had occurred. And it seems that nothing will ever go further than that - by chapter 42 the plot is dancing in circles and moving out of the "cute" phase and into the slightly-more-serious "tedious" phase of repetition.

I had to stop reading here. Hana to Akuma didn't make it into "creepy" territory, but it certainly went right into a circle waltz. Hana is being torn every which way emotionally and, I assume it was intended to bring  the reader along with her. (It really wasn't working.) There is far more tension than necessary and characters are acting in ways to hurt each other for the sake of hurting each other. There is no reason for it aside from stalling the plot. I stopped caring for the characters at all, and just wanted the series to end.. but not enough to keep wading through the spinning plot points. It's like a manga romance is not a romance unless it fulfills its quota of plot devices. Bonus points for cramming them all into the same story arc. With a guideline like that, Hana to Akuma passes with Aces.

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7 October 2011

Review: Hana no Kishi (Series)

Hana no Kishi, Vol. 1Hana no Kishi, Vol. 1 by Mai Nishikata

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Ever since the day Ran Kurono's older brother, was killed while protecting Sei Ohtori, she has dedicated her skills and life to one day becoming the First Knight of the next head of the Ohtori family, even concealing the fact that she's a woman forever. For generations the Kurono family has served the Ohtori family as their First Knight, but 11 other lower knights with ill intentions of using the Ohtori family's authority vie for that title. Not only that, but Sei is being tested to see if she is suitable for having the title of head of the family. Upon entering Saint Locks Academy, the days of both Ran and Sei's trials begin, all the while being helped by Sei's untidy and unrefined fiance, Ibara Tennou.

Hana no Kishi is a series by Mai Nishikata (西形 まい) that spans 5 volumes. As far as I am able to tell, it is currently not licensed in North America - the only way to read the story would be by translated versions online. (I read the manga here.) It seems to now be completed, and should be available to read on various sites until (and if) it is licensed.

The series follows Ran Kurono's life as First Knight (which is similar to a body guard, or even servant in some sense) to Sei Ohtori. It's really a sweet story, focusing on the friendship between Ran and Sei, and later Ran and a number of other Knights. It's very light on the romance, which I found worked very well. The characters and situations came across as believable, in context with the story, and I found the series quite enjoyable. More so in the later volumes - the second felt somewhat weaker, though I can't really place a definite reason on the why.

The artwork is quite pleasing, too, and flows very well from frame to frame. Mai Nishikata has a good understanding of facial expressions really makes her characters beautiful without going over-the-top with it. I did notice anatomy seeming off in some scenes, especially when showing a character walking swiftly, or running. They seemed stiff and incredibly awkward. It might be intentional, to express how the character is tense, but I am not so sure.

While the series does seem a little short, it has a definite ending and does not drag on and on (and on and on and...) like some similar mangas do. It is well thought out and that's really what I appreciate about it. It is also likely I will purchase the books should the series become available in Canada.

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5 October 2011

Review: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

Wake (WWW, #1)Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math, and blind. When she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality she perceives the landscape of the World Wide Web-where she makes contact with a mysterious consciousness existing only in cyberspace.

I saw Wake on the shelves a year ago and always intended to 'pick it up next time.' When I finally did go searching for it a few days ago, I find that not only is the second book available, but the third is out in hardcover as well. So... I bought the first two and promised myself that I will purchase the third when it is available in paperback. Hopefully my memory serves me better this time around and I actually do pick it up when it comes out. (And not years later.)

Wake follows a few characters and events and, while not all interact with each other, they are tied together in other ways. I am sure this will become more important later in the series, and I am interested in seeing how it all fits together. Robert J. Sawyer does an amazing job of connecting the reader to the story. I could not put this book down until I finished - and that really didn't take long at all. It is wonderful to find a science fiction novel that is perfectly science fiction. It's intriguing and full of wondrous ideas that are explained in such a way that is easy to understand and isn't overly technical.

I often found myself considering an idea within the book, and... seeing things in a way I had not before. (And totally staring off into space like a moron.) It's really great when a book can do this, and it does not occur often enough. It was amusing, too, in more than one sense. The main character, Caitlin, was funny and intelligent, and her little puns and jokes made me smile if not laugh outright. The writing style worked well for this too, and it never came across as silly or unintended.

Fun Fact: This is one of the few books I've needed to use a dictionary to find the meaning of a word. Usually I can discern the meaning based on how it is used in a sentence - I have been reading since I was a young child and like to think I am beyond using a dictionary. This time, though... not a clue. On the first page too -- Inchoate. Never seen the word before and, even in the sentence... Made me feel very smart.

We all need to be brought down a peg or two once in a while, I suppose.

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3 October 2011

Review: Unexpected Relationships

Unexpected RelationshipsUnexpected Relationships by Graveyard Greg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description
When Burt discovers Kevin is homeless, it leads to an unexpected and unlikely relationship between the two.

Unexpected Relationships is a sweet short story from the world of Carpe Diem, a webcomic by Graveyard Greg and Redkam. It is a gay-themed story focused on the lives of various young friends, both at the gymnasium where they work/meet, and in their homes. The characters are anthropomorphic, commonly known as "furry", and are based on a variety of animal creatures (such as pandas, tigers, giraffes, or rhinos) but are realistic and human-like, at heart.

I read the webcomic, Carpe Diem, some years ago and came across a familiar image -the book cover- while looking through Smashwords for something interesting to read. I purchased the book for $0.99, and I knew from Greg's previous work that I would enjoy this one as well.

This story focuses strongly on the relationship and the love between the two people. Sex is mentioned, of course, but within the story it is never a focus and the work contains no explicit scenes. It's sweet and endearing, and the characters seem real and motivated by true experiences.

Unexpected Relationships is, as expected, pretty awesome. It is a story I would recommend for those interested in the Romance genre, even if only slightly.

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1 October 2011

Review: Demon Girl

Demon Girl (Rae Wilder, #1)Demon Girl by Penelope Fletcher

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Rae Wilder has problems. Supernatural creatures swarm the earth, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. Stalked by a handsome fairy who claims she is like him, demonkind, Rae thinks maybe it was a mistake breaking the rules by going over the Wall into demon territory. Plunged into a world of dark magics, fierce creatures, and ritual sacrifice, she is charged with a guarding a magical amulet. The changes to her mind and body are startling, but rather than accept her purpose she struggles against who she is destined to be. Throw in a big lust for a vampire who can't keep his hands off her, and life starts to get complicated. Rae is forced to make the ultimate choice: to live and die human, or embrace her birth-right and wield magics that could turn her into something wicked, a force of nature nothing can control.

The first few pages are slow but it does pick up somewhat. The writing style drew me in right away despite some odd phrasing and missing punctuation. However, that's what kept me from fully enjoying the story, as well. It's jarring and awkward in the descriptions, taking away from the action and the flow. The main character spends a lot of time thinking and considering, and her observations are not conveyed very well either. I found it difficult to keep focused and, ultimately, went searching for something more interesting.

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29 September 2011

Review: My Blood Approves Volumes 1-3 (Spoilers)

After Hollowland I was not too keen on reading anymore books by Amanda Hocking. Still, I think that it is perhaps something I am missing in her work that makes it so popular. So, I give it one more chance and take a look through My Blood Approves. The first book is a surprise, if nothing else - the story is interesting and, despite the spelling and grammatical errors, it's easy to get into the story. I purchased My Blood Approves for $0.99 on Smashwords, which is really what the book should be worth. The subsequent volumes are more expensive, however, at $2.99.

My Blood ApprovesFate (My Blood Approves, #2)My Blood Approves (Vol #1) and Fate (Vol #2)
by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads, for My Blood Approves
Teenager Alice Bonham's life feels crazy after she meets Jack. With his fondness for pink Chuck Taylors and New Wave, he's unlike anyone she knows. Then she meets his brother, Peter. Even though he can't stand the sight of her, she's drawn to him. Falling for two guys isn't even the worst of her problems. Jack and Peter are vampires, and Alice finds herself caught between love and her own blood.

The premise is nothing new, and really nothing special. I found this series more compelling than the others I've read (Switched, and Hollowland) and found it slightly easier to ignore the spelling, grammatical, and tense errors peppered throughout the book. (But only Slightly.)

One of the big issues I have with the main character is, well, her lack of character. Does Alice have no sense of self preservation? She is so flippant in her constant talk of others killing her, and even asks, dares, or begs others to do it. (In more than one instance.) Okay, okay, it's a romance about vampires, I get it. The main character has to have something odd in her head to want that kind of... relationship(?) - but it gets annoying in its repetition. Alice is just so plain and lacks any real character qualities, aside from passive, whiny, and pitiful. She can't seem to do anything for herself, from driving to cooking - someone else must do it for her. She must be genetically susceptible to the virus of Mary Sue, which seems to plague far more heroines than it should. Tragic, really.

There is also a lot of explaining regarding the brands characters wear. Every single time someone changes clothes, we get a list of brands they are wearing. A description makes sense, but this listing of brand names clothes is lazy and does no help at all. I get the sense the clothing is expensive, but the brands do nothing for me - I shouldn't need to look up brand names to figure out what characters are wearing. Dickies or Converse - just tell me it's a t-shirt, shoes, or pair of shorts, and let's move on.

Within the second book, Fate, especially, I get the impression the author doesn't entirely understand what it means to be gay, and holds onto a number of stereotypes or preconceived notions regarding those who are gay or lesbian. The following line, here..

"He sat on my bed with his back to me, and he appeared to be filing his nails, or something equally gay." - Fate (My Blood Approves, #2)

I found the observation from Alice to be somewhat odd, as many others like it littered throughout the series. Okay, yes, there is a character who is gay. We were told this in My Blood Approves, multiple times. (Awkwardly.) It felt like it was a forced addition, to add some kind of depth to the story... but it really doesn't. It's Alice realizing he's gay and "should've seen it sooner" because of  a list of trivial things that have nothing to do with a person being gay. Nail-filing? Really? That falls under personal hygiene which has nothing to do with a persons' sexual orientation.

Flutter (My Blood Approves, #3)Flutter by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Being undead doesn't make life any easier for Alice Bonham.

Her younger brother's love life is heating up, while hers is... more complicated. Mae is falling apart, her best friend Jane is addicted to vampire bites, and if Alice doesn't get her bloodlust under control, someone will end up dead. Alice volunteers for a rescue mission with Ezra. But going up against a pack of rabid vampires might be too much, even for him.

The first two volumes are by far the strongest, and Flutter takes a serious nose-dive in comparison. I will not be reading the fourth, which is out now, as I do not feel the series can be redeemed. There are so many repeating phrases that I could not help but start counting their occurrence, while reading, and it really pushes one away form the story. Too often someone speaks "not unkindly" or curls a lock of hair behind an ear, or asks "are you coming with?" The last question I find annoying on its own, but I understand some people do talk that way - especially younger people. I can't imagine a 300-year-old vampire speaking that way. I can't accept every single character in every book (that I have read) by Amanda Hocking speaking that way. That just doesn't work for me.

Anyway, Alice is a vampire now and is even weaker now than in the previous novels. She has no aspirations to become anything more than she currently is and continues to get things handed to her on a platter. She has no drive to do anything with, or for, herself. The world ends without Jack at her side. One would think becoming a vampire would do something to her, aside from make her hot, apparently.

More in the third book than in the previous, I am asking myself questions regarding the direction of the story. Normally I have a sense of a goal, quest, or change that is upcoming. Here, I don't know what Alice's goals are, where she is going, or the point of the story at all. It's getting to the point where it's Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happens. Near the half-way point for the book, I started to skim - we have gone into Angst Alley and there is a traffic jam. The plot is going nowhere. Plot lines are introduced and them completely forgotten or ignored. I began to believe that the sole point of the series is for Alice to have sex with Jack.

(Spoiler in Hollowland to follow)
And when that finally does occur, the scene seems oddly... familiar. It turns out that it is a near copy of the scene in Hollowland, between Remy and Lazlo near the end of the book.

He kissed my mouth, my neck, my shoulders, everything he could reach, and I moaned against him...Gasping for breath, he relaxed, but he propped himself up so he wouldn’t put the full weight of his body on me. He rested his forehead against my shoulder and tried to gain some composure. When he gently kissed my collar bone, my skin trembled underneath his lips. --Flutter (My Blood Approves #3) 

He kissed my mouth, my neck, my shoulders, everything he could reach, and I moaned against him... Gasping for breath, he rested his forehead against my shoulder and tried to gain some composure. When he gently kissed my shoulder, my skin quivered underneath his lips. --Hollowland

And if that's not laziness, a pure lack in appreciation or respect in ones own readers, I don't know what else could be. Is that not an insult to her readers' intelligence and a lack of care in the work she is releasing for them? Is it so difficult to write scenes of characters having sex that you need to copy from one book to another? Nearly word for word? Now I am done with your books, Amanda Hocking. Your laziness and poor quality of work gets no more money from me. Shoddy work is still shoddy whether its trying to eat your brains, suck your blood, or be a troll. Don't waste your time on any of these books. I was willing to forgive a multitude of other short-comings, but this is just pathetic.

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27 September 2011

Review: Hollowland

HollowlandHollowland by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
"This is the way the world ends - not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

Nineteen-year-old Remy King is on a mission to get across the wasteland left of America, and nothing will stand in her way - not violent marauders, a spoiled rock star, or an army of flesh-eating zombies.

The last book by Amanda Hocking that I read was... not as enjoyable as I would like. Zombies and Horror are not my usual reads but the description caught my attention and seemed interesting enough. It was not until I was a few pages in that I checked who the author was. Oh. Well, her work deserves another chance, I suppose. I shouldn't judge all of what she does on one book, after all... (Plus, I have been hearing Good Things about Amanda Hocking, so perhaps there is just something I missed before.) And then I come across missing words, misspelled words, and odd punctuation within the first 10 pages. This is not a good starting point.

The characters are a little odd, to say the least. Lazlo follows Remy around like a lost little puppy, despite Remy treating him terribly at certain times. Remy, meanwhile, seems a stronger character in the beginning, but that seems to lessen as the story progresses - not that she is wimpy (she is the one in charge, for some reason) but there is something lost. As if her actions don't need justification - no one really speaks against her, or hold their ground with her for long. Also, the supporting characters aren't given much of a background. They have names and vague descriptions, but we aren't really shown much in depth of who they are. It's like Remy doesn't care to think of them, so they don't matter to the story at all. Is she that unobservant?

At one point, a Big Deal is made out of the car running out of gas - the driver is blamed and takes responsibility for it. And repeatedly mentions taking the blame for it. I found this... odd. In the middle of a Zombie Apocalypse, where fuel is hard to come by and stations are few-and-far-between, how is anyone at fault for a vehicle -an SUV for that matter- running out of gas? Does no one have a back-bone in this book? Did the virus deteriorate that, too?

I am able to take in that there is a virus that creates zombies - that's no problem. The unbelievability in the story comes from the characters themselves, and their reactions to the situations. It has, at times, more of an "I am doing this because the plot says I should" instead of "I am doing this according to how my experiences tell me to react." And there really isn't a big sense of character development at all. 

There was also some.. pronoun confusion in Hollowland as well. There is a male character referred to as her at one point, and that all goes back to editing and proof-reading. (I doubt it was intentional, given how it was used.) This kind of thing really bugs me, and I doubt this will be the last time I mention it. Unfortunately. 

I liked the sample available on Smashwords enough to purchase the book, but it definitely got worse from that point on. Amanda Hocking is a popular author and has many fans, so there's something there for others. I guess. Samples of her books (around 20-25% of the book) are available to read online before purchase. I'd say it's best to check those out first, along with other reader reviews, to see if any of the stories are for you. The next book in this series should be out October 2011, according to Goodreads, but I don't think I'll be picking up that one. Hollowland was a little too, well, hollow, for me. Amongst other things.

Suggestions for awesome (read: anything is better than this.) post-apocalyptic novel would be greatly appreciated. Bonus points if it's an e-book that I can check out a bit of before-hand.

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25 September 2011

Review: Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn (Omnitopia, #1)Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
It's the first quarter of the twenty-first century, and "massively multiplayer" on-line games have been around for a couple of decades. In an increasingly wired and computer-friendly world they've become a form of entertainment so popular they're giving television and films a run for the money. And the most popular gaming universe of all is Omnitopia, created by genius programmer Dev Logan.

For millions of people around the world, Omnitopia is an obsession, a passionate pastime, almost a way of life. Omnitopia is a virtual place where dreams come true-players can create their own universes within the game's structure, and participate in the profits if their piece of the universe is a hit. Ten million players routinely play in Omnitopia, and at any given time, nearly a million of them are on-line, living in a world more real to them then their own. 

Now Dev and his people are preparing to rollout a major new expansion to the Omnitopia system. And even as players, staff, the media, and the heavy hitters on the world financial scene wait eagerly for this fast-approaching and momentous event, there are others preparing to play a very different game-one that is meant to strike at the heart of Omnitopia and bring the entire system crashing down.. 

Diane Duane is one of my favourite authors since reading her novel, The Book of Night with Moon. Seeing Omnitopia Dawn on the shelf in Chapters (and I rarely see any of her books in the store - ever) I was fairly certain it would be a book that I would enjoy.

And I was right about that.

And the book was enjoyable, the game-world is vast and amazing, and, if Omnitopia existed, I am sure it would be one that I would invest both time and money into. Much of the novel was spent explaining and describing this world, as well as the lives of the game company's CEO and his rival - the CEO of a competing game company. While all of this was interesting, it did keep things moving at a slower pace than I was expecting.

The action didn't really kick-in until the end, when a battle occurred both in-game and online. This part, however, was the most confusing portion of the book. Compared to everything else it almost seemed rushed - I found myself re-reading some pages more than once as I tried to grasp what was being described to me.

Still, Omnitopia Dawn is a worthwhile read. I will purchase the next in the series, especially since I know more of what to expect, and hope it will be a less-confusing read now that the foundations have been laid out. That's really the only issue I had with the book, overall.

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23 September 2011

Review: Edge of Destiny (and my patience.)

Edge of Destiny (Guild Wars, #2)Edge of Destiny by J. Robert King

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

From Goodreads

Destiny Called - They Answered 

In the dark recesses of Tyria, elder dragons have awoken from millennial slumbers. First came Primordus, which stirred in the Depths forcing the asura to flee to the surface. Half a century later, Jormag awoke and drove the norn from the frozen climes of the Northern Shiverpeaks, corrupting sons and brothers along the way. A generation later, Zhaitan arose in a cataclysmic event that reshaped a continent and flooded the capital of the human nation of Kryta. 

The races of Tyria stand on the edge of destiny. Heroes have battled against dragon minions, only to be corrupted into service of the enemy. Armies have marched on the dragons and been swep aside. The dwarves sacrificed their entire race to defeat a single dragon champion. The age of mortals may soon be over. 

This is a time for heroes. While the races of Tyria stand apart, six heroic individuals will come together to fight for their people: Eir, the norn huntress with the soul of an artist; Snaff, the asuran ge­nius, and his ambitious assistant Zojja; Rytlock, the ferocious charr warrior in exile; Caithe, a deadly sylvari with deep secrets; and Logan, the valiant human guardian dealing with divided loyalties. Together they become Destiny’s Edge. Together they answer the call. But will it be enough?

Edge of Destiny is the second book in the Guild Wars series, bridging the gap between the online-role-playing-game, Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. It features a character from each playable race in the game in the main cast, and we are brought right into a world of conflict and tension between these races as they battle a greater evil; dragon. The characters are interesting, the settings are beautiful, and the battles are both fun to read and action-packed.

Sadly, Edge of Destiny is a terribly boring book. I have been reading this for well over a month now, and I am not even halfway through the book. More than a few pages at a time seems like a chore, and no book should feel this way.

It does all the right things, and the battle scenes really keep the novel from being a total trip through Tedium Town. Until we finish the first 1/4th of the book, that is. Despite all the beauty, the problem really is the lack of central character focus. We follow a part of 6 characters and there isn't reason given for those characters' actions. I do not know who Logan Thackeray really is, or what motivates him, and I don't care what happens to him.

I cannot finish this book. I do enjoy (and am a fan of) the game, but.. I really can't do this. This book cannot be saved.

21 September 2011

Review: Cold Magic

Cold Magic (The Spiritwalker Trilogy, #1)Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
It is the dawn of a new age... The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy. 
Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world. 

I discovered Kate Elliott's works when I picked up Spirit Gate (which I started in 2009 and never finished, due to time..) and really enjoyed both her writing style and her way of weaving worlds. Cold Magic was new and the premise seemed intriguing.

I did not immediately get into the story as is was quite slow in starting out, and even somewhat confusing in parts. My favourite portion of the novel was the last half when things finally started happening. I was disappointed, by then, that it seemed to end so soon. I have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, Cold Fire, since then. And I'll be searching out that book soon enough.

(I still don't like the cover so much but that's really a personal thing rather than relating to the book itself.)

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19 September 2011

Review: Heroes 'Til Curfew & Impulse Control

Heroes 'Til Curfew (Talent Chronicles #2)Heroes 'Til Curfew, Talent Chronicles #2 by Susan Bischoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
All Joss wants is to be left alone—with Dylan. But as more Talents are imprisoned by the government, everyone’s looking for a leader. Some look to Joss, some to Marco whose new criminal plan threatens Joss’s family and friends. Joss wants to stand up to Marco, but Dylan’s protective instincts are putting him in harm’s way. Can Joss find a way to embrace both the boy and her hero within? 

When I read Hush Money  mid-August, and posted my review, I did not expect the sequel to be out within the very same month. In fact, I did not even find out about it until a few days into September, and at that point I had to find and purchase the e-book right away. Smashwords had what I was looking for, and at a reasonable price of $2.99. Hush Money was $1.00 when I picked it up, and the slight increase in cost for this book is worth it, in every sense.

Heroes 'Til Curfew takes a slightly more adult turn from Hush Money, as the relationship between Dylan and Joss becomes more serious. It does not come across as unexpected or crude, and it seems more part of the plot rather than scenes scattered throughout a meager plot line. Romance is definitely a part of the story, but it makes sense and doesn't come across forced. (And, given my issues with certain other books, I do feel the need to mention this.) There is also a very delicate topic that comes up in the story and, while the subject disturbs me, it was dealt with seriously and carefully. I also did not get the impression that is was brought up carelessly.

Another difference in this volume, from the first, is that Marco is added in as a Point-of-View. Thankfully, he's only the focus a few times, as Susan Bischoff did an excellent job of making Marco absolutely deplorable. I could not relate to him in any way and found it difficult to follow his POV for any extended amount of time.

Again, as with Hush Money, the story and characters are both interesting and realistic. All it took was two books from Susan Bischoff to get me hooked on her work - I will definitely be picking up other books in this series and by this author. (Which I did, actually.. )


Impulse Control (Talent Chronicles, #0.5)Impulse Control, Talents Chronicles #0.5 by Susan Bischoff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
In the world of the Talent Chronicles, kids born with supernatural powers are taken from their families and forced into government research facilities called State Schools. At one such school, a dangerous experiment has killed two young inmates and threatens others. Ethan, a shape-shifter, is reluctantly recruited by his best friend Karen, a telepath, and Elle, the unique Talent he has a crush on, to thwart the faculty's plans. If they’re caught they face Detention, and Detention at a State School has a whole different meaning.  

Impulse Control is a short story and prequel to Hush Money. I found it an enjoyable and informative read regarding the world and helpful in showing us what State Schools are all about. (Rather than just being some Mysterious Thing to be Avoided.) As a plus, it's also available on Smashwords to read for free.

I don't want to go too much into the plot and spoil all the fun.. but I will say it's a nice introduction to the series for newcomers, or as an add-on for those who have read the others.

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17 September 2011

Review: Ghost in Her Heart

Ghost in Her Heart (Darklands, #6)Ghost in Her Heart by Autumn Dawn

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads
Every man has a little beast inside...every woman longs to tame him. Where will you be when the beast roars for you?

The quintessential geek, Vana had never had a lover.
The ultimate warrior, Dagon had never had a wife.
Thanks to a rift in space, she's about to become both.

As a science fiction romance, the story is.. passable. I can't help but wish there was a little more science in the fiction, however. The ideas are there but not taken far enough, and I wish the author had taken that time to go more in depth with the world and technology she created. For a brief glimpse on a world raged with war and dangerous viruses, it works well enough. The writing keeps things moving along, but does not elaborate enough on the world - I cannot even tell you the name of the planet. Or country.  It is an easy enough read, but not a book I would particularly recommend or go back to.

When I located the book on Smashwords, there was no indication that this was a book in a series, let alone #6. Even reading the story I had no idea - not until I went searching for it on Goodreads to add it to my 'read' books. Which also makes me wonder if the title is "Ghost in Her Heart" or "Ghost in My Heart"? It's just not consistent between editions.

The main issue I had with this was the grammatical errors littered throughout the novel. I noticed multiple problems in just on one read - how does one miss all this? "Where" and "were" were mixed up more than once. Does the author know what proofreading is? One can't just spellcheck and publish... And, the thing is, this really isn't the only book of Autumn Dawn's that has this issue. I have read a few pages of Solar Flare (another book not marked as a series), before realizing the book was not for me, and within the first paragraph is a sentence missing a word. Normally, this does not bug me too much - I understand these things can be missed sometimes. However, considering how many times this occurs throughout Ghost in Her Heart and, I assume, more than one of her other books, I'd say it's something that needs to be given more attention. Leaving entire words from sentences shows negligence and is, simply, really, really lazy.

This is the first, and last, book I will read by Autumn Dawn. Apparently self-publishing an e-book makes it okay to publish half-finished work. This was just disappointing.

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