Lilian Jackson Braun: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

•March 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

1194772._UY200_.jpgThe Cat Who Could Read Backwards: Cat Who #1
by Lilian Jackson Braun
(cozy & cat mystery)

This is quite an amusing book. I really enjoy seeing the start of the detective duo, Koko & Qwilleran. I can’t say that it’s my favorite cozy mystery, though, because parts of the style of it are a little dated. However, from what I’ve read, the author started this series and then took a hiatus before restarting the series. I enjoyed the later Cat Who books I read a lot, so I’m guessing that the early books will just feel a bit… older than the ones I’m familiar with.

But, don’t take this as dislike for the book. I really enjoyed it. It’s just not going on my keeper shelf, which is true of a lot of books I like reading. (The keeper shelf is reserved for books I love reading.) I’m giving it 4 stars, but those are a solid 4 stars.

There was one thing that I particularly enjoyed about the way this book was written. It’s a silly little thing, but I was thoroughly amused by the chapter titles being written backwards. Made me laugh every time I started a new chapter.

As to the story, I did enjoy it. I didn’t guess whodunnit, but I did feel that Qwill’s suspicions in Act Three were wrong, and that he didn’t have the right person figured for the murders. (I was right on that count, at least.) I’m not going to go into the plot much (you can Google that if you want to), but I did really enjoy the titular cat was worked into everything. Also, it certainly seems like the author had a Siamese cat. I have a cat who is part Siamese, and she exhibits some of the same traits (which none of my other cats have done). Especially the talking. Wow, that part of the book was accurate.

In any case, if you are a cat lover who reads mystery books at least on occasion, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Enjoy!

C.S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy

•March 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

HorseThe Horse and His Boy: Chronicles of Narnia #5
by C.S. Lewis
narrated by Alex Jennings
(fantasy, children’s classic)

This one is hard to review. I really enjoy the story, but now that I’m older I can’t help but see the prejudice written in against the Calormens. And whether it’s prejudice because of their darker skin or their different religion, I can’t tell.

On the other hand, to me this sets up the part in “The Last Battle” with Emeth (a Calormene warrior) very nicely. For all I know, the whole prejudice in “The Horse and His Boy” could be written in such a way as to provide a contrast between Aslan and Tash in preparation for “The Last Battle.” It was published 5th of the 7 books, after all. Lewis could easily have planned the conclusion of the series before writing this book.

And lastly, this book was initially published in 1954. While that is not an excuse for bigotry, we must remember that it was a different world then. Without having grown up in the context in which this book was written, I can’t fully judge its motivations. Besides, while the prejudice is undeniable, to me it doesn’t feel malicious. (YMMV, of course.) That – along with the fact that the story is wonderfully written – allow me to still give this a 4-star rating on Goodreads. (For further reading on this aspect of the book/series, I suggest you start here.)

As I’ve mentioned, the story is great. It’s a classic adventure/escape/journey story, but with talking horses and a strong female character. (Strong girls are more common in modern books, but they’re darned hard to find in classic lit.) If you haven’t read it, I do think you should, but you should read the Narnia series in the order in which it was written. At least your first time through, that is. Once you know the stories you can read them in any order you like.

The narration was fine. I wasn’t generally partial to Jennings’ female voices, but I loved the different accents he gave people. And his animal voices were great. Definitely worth a listen.

Kelley Armstrong: A Darkness Absolute

•March 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

darknessA Darkness Absolute: Rockton #2
by Kelley Armstrong
(contemporary fiction, thriller)

This is the second of the Rockton novels by Kelley Armstrong, and I do recommend reading it second. While you could read this one without having read the first one, you will miss a lot of backstory and character development. Also, there is the matter of spoilers for the plot of the first book if you read them out of order. (Not too many spoilers, but some.)

I did really enjoy this book. It was a lot of fun to read, and I finished it in under a week, with most of that week spent reading only on my lunch breaks. The pacing was good, the plot was good, and the characters behaved in a believable fashion. My biggest issue with the book was, I think, what my biggest issue with the whole series is going to be: you can never be quite sure when one of the characters is lying. But then, when you have a town made up entirely of people on the run from something, there’s going to be a lot of secrets or half-truths or outright lies. It didn’t hinder me from enjoying the book, but it did flavor my opinion of the characters.

One thing that should be mentioned with a review of this book are trigger warnings. Yes, it should be implied from the book jacket blurb that there will be some sensitive issues in this book. It starts with the main characters finding a girl who has been held captive and raped for over a year. And there is violence and murder. However, it was all handled very well by the author. Kelley Armstrong can write graphic scenes when she wants to. In this book, it seems she didn’t want to. A lot of things (such as the details of what happened to the kidnapped girl) are implied without being described in detail. The same is true of the violence – some of it is described, but a lot is implied instead. What it comes down to is this: it is a book that I can recommend to all except the most traumatized readers (who probably shouldn’t be reading this genre anyway).

I have heard that there are at least 2 more books in this series, which makes me happy. This is an enjoyable series, and I enjoy reading some of Kelley’s work in a different setting than the paranormal romance I first read (and loved) of hers. (I still love the Otherworld books, but variety is great too.)

Anthology: Glitter & Mayhem

•March 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Glitter.jpgGlitter & Mayhem
edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, & Michael Damian Thomas
(short stories, paranormal, urban fantasy)

This is an interesting anthology compilation. Like you would expect from a compilation (especially one with different authors, instead of many short stories written by the same author) each one had a different feel to it, and a different style of writing. Some were awesome, and some were completely not my style. Your mileage may vary, however; I just read an Amazon review where the reviewer liked some stories I thought were just okay, and said the only “bad” story in the bunch was the one which is my favorite.

But for ease of review, I’m going to go through the table of contents and give you my thoughts on the stories that way.

Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster by Christopher Barzak ~ Very amusing take on the classic “12 Dancing Princesses” story. That’s one of my favorite fairy tales, and this version of the story was an enjoyable read and a good way to start the antho.

Apex Jump by David J. Schwartz ~ Fun story. I enjoyed it, though I was quite content with leaving the story where it finished. It didn’t leave me wanting more.

With Her Hundred Miles to Hell by Kat Howard ~ I have a love-hate relationship with this one. I really enjoyed it, and it seems like the author had a great understanding of what was going on. However, I didn’t quite get what was going on. (Based on other reviews, this was not my issue alone.) I enjoyed what I understood of it, but I wanted to know more.

Star Dancer by Jennifer Pelland ~ I enjoyed this, but not as much as many of the others. Very MIB feel at times, but at other times it had an “it’s edgy because drugs! and sex!” feel (which made it seem anything but edgy).

Of Selkies, Disco Balls, and Anna Plane bu Cat Rambo ~ I enjoyed this one a lot. It makes me wonder if there is a world behind this story where I can read more about either these characters or ones like them.

Sooner Than Gold by Cory Skerry ~ One of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES in this antho. I love it. I want more. Sadly, I don’t think there is more… I think the author has mostly done other short stories, and while I will be picking up those magazines as well, it looks like there aren’t any full-length novels set in this world. If you know of any full-length novels by Cory Skerry, PLEASE LET ME KNOW ASAP.

Subterraneans by William Shunn & Laura Chavoen ~ This one was weird. Enjoyable, but weird. Once through was fine for me, though. I don’t need more from this setting.

The Minotaur Girls by Tansy Rayner Roberts ~ I enjoyed this one, though I almost felt that a short story was the wrong setting for it. I mean, it worked, but it felt like there was a lot more there and it might have been better suited as a novella. On the other hand, there were mythology references that I only get now that I’m reviewing it, so maybe I should re-read it for a better understanding of it.

Unable to Reach You by Alan DeNiro ~ This one was really weird and hard to understand. And I wanted to scream at the main character for being dumb at least a couple of times.

Such & Such Said to So & So by Maria Dahvana Headley ~ I loved the premise of this one. The drinks are written in a very clever way. (No spoilers.) I’m not 100% sure I actually understood this story, but that’s okay. It was written well enough that I could enjoy it without being sure I “got it”.

Revels in the Land of Ice by Tim Pratt ~ Lots of things for me to love about this one. It’s set in my general vicinity, for one, so I recognize a lot of the landmarks. Plus, it’s story with faeries in it, and I love that. I’m planning to look for more from this author.

Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl by Sofia Samatar ~ I enjoyed reading this story and trying to figure out where it was going before it got there. But I would have enjoyed it better if I could have read the material it was referencing before I read this. (Bess is from The Highwayman, which I know kinda well but hadn’t read in ages. However, I’m not sure if the Green Girl references Ophelia from Hamlet or someone else or no one in particular.)

Blood and Sequins by Diana Rowland ~ I love the portrayal of cosplay here, though it does seem there’s some sex-as-plot-point instead of being at all believable to me. (To be fair, the narrator doesn’t believe it at first, either.) I am curious about the world behind this story, though, and may look for more.

Two-Minute Warning by Vylar Kaftan ~ This is another story that I feel was not really suited to the short story format. It left a lot of the world unexplained, and I felt that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could (should?) have because I didn’t understand the basics about what was happening.

Inside Hides the Monster by Damien Walters Grintalis ~ I remember the way this one started, and I found it interesting at the beginning. But I don’t remember how it ends.

Bad Dream Girl by Seanan McGuire ~ This is the reason I bought this antho in the first place, and it was one of my favorite stories. Then again, I have already started the InCryptid series, and so I knew what I was getting into. I think even without that knowledge I would have enjoyed the story, but there’s no way to be sure. I did appreciate the Roller Derby 101 that was a part of this story, too, though I wish I’d had that before reading Apex Jump.

A Hollow Play by Amal El-Mohtar ~ I really liked this one. Even with the paranormal aspect, it seemed like a very human story. It felt more real with better developed characters than many of the stories in this antho.

Just Another Future Song by Daryl Gregory ~ I felt that this one was dangling obscure clues just out of reach the whole time until the very end where it let the reader grab one. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if I didn’t feel like it was deliberately keeping me in the dark.

The Electric Spanking of the War Babies by Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson ~ I did not like this one. I think it was writing style, but I did not enjoy reading it. YMMV, though; it’s big into the disco lingo, and is very trippy.

All That Fairy Tale Crap by Rachel Swirsky ~ I appreciate what this story was trying to do, but I didn’t care for it. I have read so many fairy tale re-tellings that I loved that I have gotten picky, I guess. Part of why I didn’t enjoy it, though, was the continual breaking of the fourth wall. I’m very picky about that writing style, and this story didn’t do it for me.

So that’s all the stories and my brief thoughts on each! Have you read this antho, or any of the stories within? I’d be curious about your opinions of them, if so.

Rita Mae Brown: Wish You Were Here

•February 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Wish You Were Here: Mrs. Murphy Mystery #151patvkn1yl
by Rita Mae (& Sneaky Pie) Brown
(cozy mystery)

This is an amusing book. The mystery part of it fits the cozy mystery genre quite nicely. (It’s even used as an example of the genre on Wikipedia.) One of the things I like about cozies is that they aren’t too intense. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE novels that grab me and take over and won’t let me go until “THE END”… but I also love reading at my own pace. Cozies are perfect for that, and this book is no exception. Even when it got to the exciting parts, and I wanted to keep reading, I had no problems putting the book down to go do other things. You know, like go back to work after my lunch break.

The main characters are Harry (a woman, nickname courtesy of her last name) and her two pets: Tucker, a corgi, and the titular Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat. I really enjoyed the way the animals (these and others in the town) talked to each other and the humans. You can tell that Ms. Brown has pets even without the book being “co-authored” by one of those pets. The (human and non) characters were enjoyable to read about, the mystery was nicely obscured and yet wrapped up by the end of the novel, and the pacing was perfect for a cozy mystery. However, my favorite parts were the ones with the pets in them.

If you enjoy the cozy mystery genre and haven’t read this one, you definitely should. (Especially if you are owned by cats and/or dogs.) I will be continuing in the series, though I think these will be library reads for me. While I enjoy them, they are not ones that I will be re-reading (especially since the series is quite long at this point – it looks like book #26 is due to be released later this year) and so they will not be on my keeper shelf. On the other hand, I also might buy them (at least some of them) and then donate them back to my library when I’m done. I’ll probably do a combination of the above, though it’s highly unlikely that any will end up staying on my bookshelf once I’ve finished reading them. (That’s the nature of cozies for me, though. I like reading them the first time through, but don’t need or want to re-read them. Fortunately there are a LOT of cozies out there.)

Jules Verne: A Journey to the Center of the Earth

•February 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

61xqvva-ml-_sl300_A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages #3)
by Jules Verne
narrated by Tim Curry
(classic, sci-fi?, adventure)

This is a book that I have thought I’d read without having ever read before. I think this is because I saw the 2008 movie with Brendan Fraser. There are also some educated guesses you can make about the book if you know the classic adventure novel genre.

  1. The hero and company will successfully navigate their troubles and reach their approximate destination.
  2. There will be complications, but no one (important) will be killed.
  3. Our hero and company will be unable to bring back any riches from their journey, or any proof that enables them to live the rest of their lives as wealthy men (because they ARE DEFINITELY ALL MEN).

And yes, those educated guesses were all appropriate for this book as well. The one thing I did not expect – but which was a welcome (sometimes) change from my expectations – was how whiny the narrator was. I will grant that I wouldn’t want to make this journey either, and would complain bitterly about it. However, it seemed he would swing from complaining to enthusiastic adventurer without any middle ground. It was a bit disorienting at times. (On the other hand, given what was being described, I would have been annoyed if he hadn’t been excited. I just wish there was more middle ground and less complaining once they got to the exciting part of the journey.)

So: is this worth reading? If you haven’t, yes. You should definitely read this. It’s a classic for a reason. However, don’t expect it to be current on the science. It may have been considered science fiction at the time (I’m really not sure) but it doesn’t hold up to current science. If you have already read it, then it’s up to you whether a re-read is a good idea. I personally tend to only re-read classics that I really enjoyed or which have a cultural or societal reason for the re-read. (For instance, Animal Farm will probably be one I re-read periodically because of its impact on society. And many of the Hawthorn stories I’ve read are ones I enjoy reading and will revisit for the story itself.) This one, though, I’m not sure will be necessary for me to re-read. I do want to read more of Verne’s adventure novels, but I don’t know that I’ll need/want to revisit the individual stories a second time.

Elliott James: In Shining Armor

•January 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

31539781-_uy200_In Shining Armor (Pax Arcana #4)
by Elliott James
narrated by Roger Wayne

On Goodreads, I determined that I would probably give this 4.5 stars if that was an option. The reason for the lower-than-stellar yet still-quite-good rating is because I really, really enjoyed the book. I liked getting to see more of the characters were already knew, and meeting new ones as well. What I didn’t like was the too-easy healing from massive wounds. Yes, that is part of being a werewolf. And yes, I know that we tend to skip over time in which the narrative character is not conscious. However, either too little time was taken to heal from various injuries (not once, not twice, but three times) or there wasn’t a good enough job done to convince me of the passage of time.

However, that – while a complaint and, I think, a valid one – was not enough to truly hinder my enjoyment of the book. This is a worthwhile installment of a good series, and I look forward to seeing where the series plot is going. I think I can catch a glimpse of it, but I’m not sure. I’ll need at least one more book to be sure (at least in part because Mr. James is very good at hiding twists within twists, so that you figure out one part of the puzzle and miss a second part hidden deeper within the same clue).

The book plot is simple enough to detail without spoilers. (The series plot isn’t, so I’m going to be fairly simplistic here.) Essentially, John Charming’s goddaughter was kidnapped, and it’s up to him (with the help of his Valkyrie lover Sig, some Templars, and some werewolves) to get her back and get revenge on whoever kidnapped her in the first place. There is magic, shooting, and fighting along the way. John will sometimes do something off camera so that the reader is taken by surprise along with the bad guys, which is a technique used often in this series. If you’ve gotten to book 4, you are familiar with it (whether or not you like it).

I enjoy this series. A lot. Is it perfect? No. But does it need to be? Also no. While it’s not my favorite series, it is one that I am quite happy with continuing. (And also recommending to family and friends whose reading tastes match mine.)