Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Winter Witch

So here's the thing about Goodreads Giveaways. I don't enter all of them - I have this ridiculous mindset that if I enter to win ALL THE BOOKS by some twist of fate I'll only win the ones I don't really want to read. So I did legitimately want to read this book. I've been (really) meaning to read Paula Brackston's The Witch's Daughter for years and I keep getting distracted. So when I saw The Winter Witch I was excited because hey, distract myself with a book I've literally been meaning to read for years with a new one by the same author.

This book hits a lot of boxes for me - Historical Fiction, specifically Celtic History, Fantasy, Magic, Witches and more importantly, latent Witches. A part of life that anyone from that culture gets. It's also a YA book, and recently I'm loving them - part work related, part they're just plain good. I love the 500 Kingdom's books, and it wasn't until after I read them I found out they were a) YA books and b) put out by Harlequins' teen branch. I've touched on this before. Still baffled. Either way, so YA books. I like them.

So here's the good - I read a lot of Historical Fiction, I got my undergrad degree in it so I have a general at least latent knowledge of history and I like it. The book was spot on for where a historical fiction book should be - it was written in a way that didn't make it seem like Brackston was throwing in historical facts just because, the details were woven in beautifully and as a HF book, it was very well done.  Morgana was a lovely character, with depth and excellent character development. Cai was also well done and gave a fascinating prospective.  The writing itself was also generally solid, and it was a very readable book.

The less good is that I actually didn't love the book. The characters other than Morgana and Cai were slightly on dimensional and it felt like some of the details were a bit thrown together. I delayed writing this review because I wasn't entirely sure why the book didn't grip me and I think it's because (this kills me to say because I hate trilogies) but I kind of wonder if this should have been book one of a trilogy.  Brackckston is clearly a fantastic writer, with creative lovely ideas and fantasic plots.  I think if there had been a bit more character development for the other characters, and a little more time given to the ending it would have been an amazing read.

*** I was sent this book by the publisher - all opinions are my own.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The River

I am putting this out there right off: I am unsure how I feel about this book.  I've been sitting on this review a little, hoping I would figure it out, but no dice, so here's what you get. First off, since I picked this book up I had A Change is Gonna Come pretty much stuck in my head. So you're welcome for that. But really, the like "It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die" probably sums up where this book is at pretty well.

So here's the thing, I ditzed out when I first requested the book, and somehow I missed that this was a Christian novel. So I was being me, and updating my status on GoodReads to having it as 'read' and lo, I saw that it was a Christian > Inspirational book. So that kind of changed my framing of how I read the book because at the same time it makes more and less sense. So again, full disclaimer, I am not Christian, and didn't realize it WAS a Christian book. So basically my take away is this book can either be read as an adventure story, or an inspirational story. I read it as the former.

This book was... emotional. For lack of a better term. There were a lot of highs and lows and even though it was a bit of a slow read, I don't mean that in any negative way. The River makes a lot of promises that it will change your worldview and it fell a bit short on that to me. It was a good book, that draws you in and you don't want to stop reading it - even when you are a bit frustrated with the writing.  Basically, I think what I'm saying is I see why people loved the book, and I see why people were totally apathetic to it. This is probably  a horrible review, but it's actually not because I've recommended this book a few times, and I would recommend it again.

**I received a free copy of the e-book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Frozen

I heard about this book a while ago, and have meant to grab a copy for a while.  I don't know what took me so long (I know, a month after publication. Slacker.).  The premise sounded fabulous - based on the true story of a dead prostitute's frozen body found propped up at city hall when suffrage was in it's height, Casanova chose to tell the story through a fictional 16 year old daughter. The basic premise is that 16 year old Sadie Rose lost the ability to speak after her mother died 11 years ago.  She was taken in by a senator, and Sadie feels pressure to be who they want her to be, even if she isn't quite sure who she is. When she finds pictures of her mother, it unlocks memories and helps her find her voice.  That's as much summary as you get, because other better people write other better summaries.

The thing about this book is that I found it... pensive. That's almost the right word, but maybe quiet works better? It's not an action packed book, full of adventure and unpredictability, it's a coming of age story that more slowly takes you on a journey. But that's also not right because that makes the book sound boring, and it isn't. Casanova does a great job with the historical setting and the resulting social details - Google tells me Casanova wrote for American girls and I find that not at all surprising. Clearly historical fiction is an area she enjoys writing about.  Frankly, that's one of the problems - I wonder if Casanova is writing a touch out of her comfort zone in terms of age bracket, because the plot at times is a bit awkward, and some of the secondary characters are a little too shallow. That being said, Sadie Rose is a great character, pitched pretty spot on to her 13-17 age range (though I admittedly would lean more to 12-15 age range for recommendations, personally).

Casanova is generally a fantastic writer - the book is beautifully written and the premise is solid. I liked this book, I just didn't love it. But that's not a bad thing, because I will 100% suggest this book to some of the teens at my library. I think younger readers will find something very appealing about Sadie's rather rapid transformation - the identifiable nature of feeling the need to figure out who you are.  All this being said, it was a quick read and an enjoyable one.

*** Review is based on an advance copy from NetGalley. Blah Blah this didn't affect my review. Promise.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

It is absolutely no secret I have one of those mild fascinations with psychopaths - not the kind where I have books and books and books on the topic, and spend my life trying to understand the mindset, but the kind where I legitimately find the idea of having on/off switches that control how and what we define as our personalities - I don't get it, so I'm fascinated by it. This book makes the claim there are times when a "me" focused philosophy is beneficial to your well being, and to that I say obviously. It's no secret that for years people have been saying top executives have a climb their way to the top no matter what mentality and it works.  Personally, I found the author's use of the game of chicken as a time when being a psychopath is a good thing - the person who keeps going straight wins over the person who swerves.  .... .... ... yes.  In theory. That's a great example. In terms of real world applications, I'm pretty sure when there are millions of lives at stake we don't really want this to be something that's a thing.  One reviewer said "One Cuban Missile Crisis is enough" and yeah, that.

That being said, I genuinely really really really liked this book. It was fascinating. I loved the comparison between psychopaths and Tibetan monks in their mutual ability to detect deep emotions that are invisible to others - the sense of isolation and self-focus making people more adept at being aware of others is an enticing thought to base something out of. Tibetan monks spend lifetimes learning to be in a relaxed state of mind, and the fact that psychopaths are in this state without any sort of practiced state of mind, but rather a state of mind naturally aimed at being observant specifically of other peoples weakness' is just plain interesting.  Some things were obvious (if you watch any tv crime drama), such as psychopaths not feeling any sort of normal reactions when viewing horrifying images implies an almost baffling self-mastery of emotions. This being said Dutton points out that they seem to be born with this capacity to not feel and react, but his comparison to high performing CEO's, high-stress surgeons and military/rescue strategists results in a interesting discussion on the nature vs. nurture standoff. What makes some people serial killers and others at times heros?

So the long and the short is I think this book is fascinating, and really a compelling study of psychopaths for the layman.  Psychopaths may well be all around us, and arguably they're some of the most productive members of society. Dutton points out we don't recognize them because they have“…the consummate ability to pass themselves off as normal everyday folk, while behind the fa├žade—the brutal brilliant disguise—beats the refrigerated heart of a ruthless, glacial predator.”

Dutton's writing was fantastic and verging on brilliant because he has a unique ability to make a non-fiction book interesting, accessible and informative in a way that doesn't make you feel like you're being talked down to. I've said for a while now that Normal is usually a lie, and damn if this book doesn't back it up.  That freaks me out a little more than I'm willing to admit.


*** Review is based on an advance copy from the publisher. Blah Blah this didn't affect my review. Promise.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Scent of Magic

So it's no real secret I like Maria V. Snyder. I blogged about her here and here and Scent of Magic didn't disappoint. I've said it before, and I'll say it again too: I'm constantly shocked and admittedly a lot impressed with what Harlequin MIRA and  Harlequin LNA are putting out on the market (no, they didn't pay me to say that. Actually I'm pretty sure they would pay me not to say that). I remember after reading the 500 Kingdom's books by Mercedes Lackey I was baffled that they were put out by Harlequin - so bravo Harlequin.  You should hire me to be a librarian, or something. So all that being said, Snyder is great, and her books are solid. Generally.

More specifically this is a great part 2 of the trilogy - character building is solid, there are the expected twists and turns and it's all in all a fun read. I really like where Snyder is taking the book - the whole Death Lily/Life Lily is a really interesting discussion point that it's entirely possible I'm reading too much into. Snyder's writing doesn't fall into the romance trap - a lot of the book is spent with the two main love interests apart from each other, and while Snyder carefully keeps them thinking of each other, they aren't wrapped up in a (usually tiring) "missing" of the other one. I was admittedly a touch annoyed at the alternating between Avry and Kerrick in the first and third person points of view - and that each portion ends with a cliffhanger gets to be a little overdone.  That being said, the adventure is exciting, and arguably most important the plot is plausible and realistic.  Blah blah blah it's fantasy-ish, but Snyder builds her books on a realistic fantasy. Is that a thing? My review, so yes. Yes it is.

As a bit of an aside, I think one of the things I like most about Snyder's writing is the attention she pays to the secondary characters - she really builds a world and it's clear she focus' on each character in a way that shows a lot of thought to their growth, change, and adaptability.

Overall thoughts: I really enjoy Snyder's writing, characters and plot development and this is pretty much exactly how I personally think a teen/YA romance/adventure book should be written. The cliffhangers? They were a bit much by the end.


*** Review is based on an advance copy from NetGalley. Blah Blah this didn't affect my review. Promise.