Book Log #9: Fall of Light, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I only realized partway into Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s Fall of Light that this was actually a sequel to a previous book: A Fistful of Sky. I elected to keep reading anyway, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d read the other book first, whether this one would have made more sense.

This one’s premise was promising, I thought: Opal LaZelle is a makeup artist working on a movie set, and she’s got a thing for the man who’s playing the monster of the movie. Only something awakens to possess him when Opal goes a little overboard on mixing her magical talent in with her gift for makeup artistry–and she discovers that the location where they’re shooting is no coincidence. Makeup artist is certainly something I hadn’t seen done before in a fantasy novel, and I wanted to give this one points alone for an unusual profession for the heroine.

Unfortunately I found the read disappointing, I fear. It was admittedly a bit of a relief to have most of the cast react surprisingly well to discovering that Opal is magically gifted–but on the other hand, all of them, including Opal herself, seem surprisingly casual about the fact that something else has invaded the consciousness of Corvus Weather. Also, there are several interesting concepts the plot toys with–is the invader of Corvus truly evil? Are Opal’s past flirtations with darker magics going to unleash part of her that should never have been given form? But these concepts seem thrown forward for the reader’s consideration, and none of them get any real resolution at all.

Which isn’t surprising, given that the book overall doesn’t get any real resolution, either. Without going into spoiler territory, I’ll say right out that the ending is a cliffhanger, and I’ll have to hope that Ms. Hoffman plans a followup, if nothing else just to give these characters some closure. If one isn’t coming, I have to take this book as a standalone experience, and ultimately as such, it doesn’t satisfy. Two stars.

Book Log #8: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

One of the nice things about reading a lot of ebooks as of late is the sheer number of older classic works available in public domain electronic copies. Among these is the Feedbooks ebook edition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I decided it was high time I read it.

We all of course know the basics of the story, but what I didn’t know was that the original story is not from Jekyll’s point of view at all, but rather from that of a third party. The lawyer Mr. Utterson is an old friend of the doctor’s, and is the keeper of his will as well–but he’s recently been given a newer version that names a Mr. Hyde as the beneficiary of all of Dr. Jekyll’s worldly goods should the doctor ever die or mysteriously disappear. This, coupled with a disturbing report from another friend that Hyde has been seen in the street causing cruel hurt to a child, alarms Utterson deeply and puts him on to finding out exactly what has befallen the doctor.

What follows is mostly not surprising, aside from a few particular plot details that I won’t mention in case someone else like me who hasn’t read it yet wants to take a peek. Like many works of its era, though, a lot of the storytelling is done via the device of letters rather than shown directly on screen. For me this dampened the impact somewhat of the events described–though on the other hand, Jekyll’s explanation in his final letter of the moral experiment that led him to create his infamous potion in the first place was interesting reading.

Overall this was a much shorter story than I’d expected, though, and very quickly and easily breezed through. Three stars.

Book Log #7: ReVamped, by J.F. Lewis

ReVamped, J.F. Lewis’ second book in the Void City series, picks up pretty much right where Book 1 left off: with Eric, his vampire protagonist, getting blown up. Which, you have to admit, is a pretty tough state to come back from–but Eric isn’t just any vampire. He’s an Emperor-class vampire, with enough power and enough followers to pull off even coming back from the dead. Thus, we’ve got the stage set for Book 2.

Eric is understandably less than thrilled at having been made to explode, but that’s only the beginning of the curveballs his resurrected existence throws him. His newly vamped girlfriend, Tabitha, has dumped him in favor of a far more powerful and physically repellent vampire. His almost-a-thrall–who just happens to be Tabitha’s apparently resurrected sister Rachel–is exerting magic upon him for unknown reasons. A local demon wants him to acquire the Stone of Aeternum, conveniently enough from the very same powerful vampire to which Tabitha has given her attentions. And on top of it all, Eric’s discovered he’s suddenly got an undead car.

There are certainly plot twists galore in this installment, and things advance intriguingly not only on the Eric/Tabitha front, but also in explaining what’s going on with Rachel and quite a bit about Eric’s own background. But ReVamped didn’t have quite the same punch for me as Staked did; there were parts that matched that book, but overall it didn’t flow quite as smoothly, perhaps because Eric seemed to spend a lot more time in reaction mode rather than being proactive. Nonetheless, I’m up for Book 3! For this one, three stars.

Book Log #6: Unsolicited, by Julie Kaewert

Unsolicited, the first of Julie Kaewart’s Alex Plumtree series, is a book I’ve actually had for some time and which I had the yen to re-read. Specifically, in print form–since the hero, Alex, is the young owner of a publishing company in London, and it therefore seemed wrong to re-purchase this particular volume in ebook form.

You’d think the British publishing business would be a sedate and staid affair, but as this is after all a mystery novel, you’d be wrong! It seems that Plumtree Press has scored big with its first fiction release, a novel written by an anonymous author known only as “Arthur”. Now Arthur is penning his sequel. But! He’s gone missing, and with him, the last five chapters of the novel. As Alex does his best to track down his reclusive writer and secure the missing chapters–or risk his publishing company going under–he soon discovers that there’s a lot more involved with this manuscript than just fiction. Arthur, whoever he may be, has taken actual World War II events pertaining to the kidnapping of British children and worked them into his book. Moreover, he’s about to reveal the perpetrator.

This is Kaewert’s first novel, and it shows a bit; she overuses the “if I had only known such-and-so was about to happen!” device, pretty much as code for “and something suspenseful is going to happen in the next chapter!” Plus, the book’s got issues with being dated even though it’s set in the 90’s, not that long ago. Arthur is described as being fond of communicating exclusively by fax, and in a scene where Alex’s office computer is trashed, he tells the reader in an aside that it’s a good thing that the culprit only broke the monitor instead of the hard drive where the actual data is stored–in what read to me clearly as a passage intended for readers who weren’t likely to be at all familiar with computers.

But all this said, Alex is a charmingly self-deprecating hero, and it’s refreshing to see a hero with severely bad eyesight, enough that he’s pretty much legally blind if he loses his glasses. Moreover, his devotion to Sarah, the banker who works with him on Plumtree Press’s finances and for whom he carries quite the torch, is quite sweet. So all in all, a nice read. Three stars.

Sunrise over Lake Washington

When I was walking down the hill to the bus stop, the sunrise over the lake was stunningly pretty. There was quite the cloud formation going on over the treeline and the lake, and sunlight was pretty much setting the entire thing on fire. Best of all, it was bouncing off the lake as well so there was this great lovely span of pink before me as I was heading to the corner.

My dinky little iPhone camera doesn’t really do it justice, but here it is anyway:

(ETA: Grf, for some reason the photo isn’t coming through on the version of this post mirroring out to LJ and Dreamwidth. Possibly due to a recent WordPress upgrade on my part! Anyway, if you’re looking at this from anywhere but the WordPress blog, try looking here for the picture.

ETA #2: No wait duh. I didn’t see the picture because AdBlock Plus was eating it. Oops!)

I wanted to call this out particularly because the last couple weeks of weather here have been classic Seattle winter: rainy and windy and awful. The last day or two though, it’s cleared up. And it brought us the lovely sunrise, so!

Meanwhile I would also like to note that the tally of books purchased or otherwise acquired has jumped significantly for the month! Continuing the January theme of “Buying Things Written by userinfodesperance“, I ordered the two missing books of his Outremer series from Powell’s, and a copy of Dispossession from Mr. Brenchley himself. I was particularly interested in that one, since a) its cover is the source of his userpic, and b) it involves amnesia in the plot, and y’all know what a sucker I am for an amnesia plot. ;)

I do think I’ll have to have me a Chaz Brenchley marathon sometime soon.

Also! I volunteered to do a bit of coding work for Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell, as I posted before. Took me a couple hours this past weekend to get her something approximating what she’ll need; it’ll need a bit of fine-tuning perhaps, but it’s at least in the ballpark. She kindly paid me for my time in the best way possible: a Fictionwise gift certificate! So I have a new pile of ebooks to add to the list of things purchased/acquired thus far this year:

  • Magic Bites, Magic Burns, and Magic Strikes, the Kate Daniels novels by userinfoilona_andrews. Urban fantasy. In the case of the first two, re-buys of books I’d previously purchased in paperback form
  • Dead to Me, by userinfoantonstrout. Urban fantasy. Another re-buy in ebook form
  • Unperfect Souls, by userinfomarkdf. Urban fantasy. Pre-order of the forthcoming next Conner Grey novel
  • Three Days to Dead, by Kelly Meding. Urban fantasy.
  • Deadtown, by Nancy Holzner. Urban fantasy.
  • Sentinels: Wolf Hunt, by Doranna Durgin. Paranormal Romance.
  • Exception to the Rule, by Doranna Durgin. Suspense/Romance.
  • Beyond the Rules, by Doranna Durgin. Suspense/Romance.
  • The Knights of the Cornerstone, by James P. Blaylock. Fantasy. Re-buy in ebook form, since Fictionwise was selling it for only 84 cents!

This brings the Books Acquired tally for 2010 thus far up to 22. Go me!

Book Log #5: Salvation in Death, by J.D. Robb

At this stage of the In Death series, twenty-seven books in, one of these is as good as another as far as quality goes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Eve/Roarke books are formulaic, but there’s something to be said for Nora Roberts being able to maintain a readable formula for nearly thirty novels.

This time around Eve’s investigating the murder of a priest who was poisoned right in the middle of conducting a funeral service–a deeply perplexing murder, because who would off a priest? But the matter gets more complex as she soon uncovers that the priest was not who he appeared to be, and that he was in fact apparently in hiding.

On the personal front it’s the turn of stylish ME Morris to start developing a relationship, and it’s amusing to see Eve and Peabody issuing tart commentary on the detective who’s snared his interest. Aside from that, though, no huge developments in the statuses of any of the main characters’ lives take place, so the fun here is pretty much all with the investigation. Still, though, it’s an enjoyable read. Three stars.

Book Log #4: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, by S.G. Browne

If you love you some zombies, especially in a story with a hefty helping of lulz and satire, you can’t do much better than Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament. I had great fun with this one, the story of a man who has come back to life as a zombie following the car accident that killed both him and his wife. He’s now living a miserable existence in his parents’ basement, barely surviving on the consumption of formaldehyde and his attendance at the meetings of an undead support group. But he’s growing more and more drawn to fellow zombie Rita, and more and more interested in standing up for zombie civil rights. All of which comes to a head when his support group meets Ray, who shares with them his jars of “venison”–after which they find that the death wounds they sustained are healing, that their hearts are beginning to beat again, and that…

Well. You can probably figure out what the “venison” actually is. Muahaha.

General points for not only achieving a story with zombie protagonists, but doing it in such a way as to make you totally want to root for them munching on as many of the nearest brains as possible. Mark Henry has pulled this off equally well in his Amanda Feral books, so it’s fun to see it here, too. Four stars.

Book Log #3: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig

Oh my, I’m really of two minds about this book. Going into it, even aware that I’d seen some poor reviews of it before, I was hopeful about the prospect of a plot that asserted that the Scarlet Pimpernel had been real and had in fact set off a trend of flower-themed spies during his era–and that the heroine of the meta-story, graduate student Eloise, was researching the identity of the mysterious Pink Carnation. It sounded like fun and I decided to give it a shot anyway, even knowing going in about poor reviews.

And now that I’ve read the first book I won’t exactly say that the poor reviews are justified–that wouldn’t be fair. But I will say that the book wasn’t nearly as strong as I would have liked. The meta-story involving Eloise wasn’t nearly as the story she was researching; aside from a few cliched conflict scenes she has with her future love interest, she honestly doesn’t do much, and it’s kind of surprising that the author bothered to put a framing story around the more entertaining actual story at all.

As for the main story, this is where the interest is, yes. Although here, as well, there wasn’t as much strength as I’d have liked. I have three major issues with it. One, both our hero and heroine make critical errors of judgment that should have gotten them killed. Our heroine doing so is more forgiveable, as she is a young and inexperienced girl full of her own ambition, and not nearly as trained at being a spy as she thinks she is. Our hero, on the other hand, is supposedly an experienced spy and has no excuse. Two, there’s a near-sex scene about three quarters of the way through that I found jarringly out of place with the overall flavor of the novel, not to mention the time period it was set in. And three, the final confrontation scene with the bad guy was unfortunately farcical, to the degree that the bad guy was only caught because he literally tripped over a convenient dropped object rather than any real skill on the part of our heroes.

Despite these flaws, I actually enjoyed the read. The chemistry between heroine Amy and hero Richard was fun (even given the jarringly out of place scene previously mentioned). And even though both of them were being stupid in places, there were other scenes where they achieved a rhythm that actually did hearken back to the actual Pimpernel and Zorro novels. Amy has some nifty supporting characters backing her up in the persons of her cousin Jane and their chaperone Miss Gwen, the latter of whom is a force of nature.

All in all, flawed but fun, and if you go in, go in expecting lightweight fluff. Three stars.

Book Log #2: Black Hills, by Nora Roberts

As I’ve gotten accustomed to at this point, Nora Roberts turns in a decently entertaining and suspenseful little story with Black Hills, one of her most recent works. There’s nothing here that’s particularly unusual compared to all of her other works; she certainly utilizes a lot of her familiar tropes here, such as the hero being a former cop, and focusing less on surprising you with the identity of the killer and more upon the suspense involved with setting up where and how he will strike next and how the good guys will finally track him down.

This time around, what makes the story work for me is the fact that she takes the time to show us the childhoods of Lil and Cooper, following them from when they first met as youngsters, up through when they first consummate their blossoming affections as young adults, and on up through to the current day–when Lil has established a wildlife refuge and Coop is coming back to the Black Hills to look after his aging grandparents and to put his past as a cop behind him. There’s nice character development between him and Lil through the whole book, as the two of them strive to deal with the emotional weight of their past and the simple fact that they’re still in love with each other.

Since this is of course a Nora Roberts novel, there’s a killer on the loose to spice things up. And after all the romantic suspense novels of hers I’ve read, she’s pretty much got the formula down. Again, nothing terribly unusual in this book’s particular psychopath du jour, how he perceives our heroine, and what ultimately happens to bring about his downfall… but it’s all competently executed and an engaging read. Three stars.

Book Log #1: Too Good to Forget, by Marilyn Tracy

This is a book I first read as a loaner from the fabulous userinfomamishka (who knows me all too well), and she recently found it again and loaned it to me–and I cheerfully zipped right through it. Let’s face it, folks, Marilyn Tracy’s Too Good to Forget is about as fluffy as a romance gets. And yet? It’s cheesy in all the best cheesy romance ways. It helps a lot that it employs two of my favorite cheesy plot devices: a) one of the lead characters is a writer, and b) the hero has amnesia!

In this particular case, the hero happens to be a Treasury agent who’s out on a stakeout with his partner, who gives him quite a bit of good-natured ribbing about the fact that he’s got on a swanky suit and is carrying around a paperback in his pocket because his favorite author is having a signing he wants to attend. And by “favorite author”, I mean “hot writer babe he totally is in love with, despite the fact that she’s married”. But OHNOEZ! The agents discover their boss is the bad guy they’re trying to identify–and the boss promptly shoots them both, leaving the hapless partner to die in our hero’s arms, and our hero to stumble off in a frantic haze, because he’s been shot in the head and is all angsty that his partner just got killed and his boss is a bastard and stuff.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that we have a jump cut over to the aforementioned signing, wherein our heroine is valiantly attempting to carry on the latest episode in her long-running game of Pretend She Actually Has a Husband Because It Helps Her Sell Books. Boy, is she surprised when a wounded stranger wanders into the bookstore, comes right up to her, calls her “Katherine”, and smooches her in front of her adoring fans and shell-shocked cousin! ;) ‘Cause it just so happens that our Treasury agent has the exact same name as her alleged “husband”, and he’s gone and decided he is in fact her Sam MacDonald.

You can probably figure out where the plot’s going to go from there, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Most of it has to do with Katherine and her loyal cousin frantically trying to figure out what to do with a Treasury agent who’s clearly off his rocker, and by “off his rocker”, I mean “Katherine secretly finds him totally romantic and wishes he really was her husband.” But the bad-guy boss of course resurfaces at the end, and, well, you can probably figure out what happens from there, too.

And in a lot of ways the flavor of the novel is archaic even for the year it came out, i.e., 1991; the fact that our hero could use the phrase “not worth a plugged nickel” without apparent irony made me wonder if he’d somehow gotten knocked back into 1935 or something when he got shot in the head. Yet, I didn’t particularly care; it added a sort of innocent charm to the whole thing, and made me glad to revisit it as my first read for 2010. If it were available in ebook form, I’d totally be buying it. Three stars.