Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bewitching by Alex Flinn

Bewitching by Alex Flinn is another fairy tale mashup. I've read other books in this genre by this author, so I knew to expect an enjoyable, funny story.

The bulk of this book is a Cinderella story with a twist. It starts out, though, by telling about Kendra, a plague survivor in medieval England. Through a series of events reminiscent of a different fairy tale, Kendra learns that she is a witch, and will live forever if she can manage to escape burning. Throughout the many years of her life, Kendra takes on different forms, and occasionally steps in to help out someone in need -- sometimes with disastrous consequences. Skip to the present day, where she meets two stepsisters, one beautiful and one less so, one deserving and one manipulative . . . should Kendra step in, or just watch and see how things play out? As the story unfolds, Kendra occasionally interrupts to tell about other times in history when she has helped, or tried to help, certain mortals who have caught her interest.

This is a fun read, and though there's not a lot of depth to the story, fans of the author or the genre will probably like it.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is a little bit like Harry Potter in reverse.

On Abby Hale's twelfth birthday, she goes to the Magicians' Guild to be Judged. All twelve-year-olds are Judged to determine their magical capabilities, after which they are allowed to use magic, and to apply to schools where their magical talents will be developed. Abby, however, does not have any magic. None. She is an "Ord," one of the very rare non-magical people in her world. Ords are despised and feared, because they are not only unable to work magic, they are also impervious to the magic of others. Until a few years ago, it was legal to buy and sell Ords as slaves. Now, thanks to governmental regulations, Ords are only bought and sold on the black market -- but often they are still treated as if they are sub-human. Abby is fortunate: her family still loves her, so there's no question of her parents abandoning, selling, or mistreating her. Instead, she is sent to a special school, designed to teach Ords how to function in a magically-dominated world. She soon learns that the world is a dangerous place for Ords, even at a school designed to protect them.

I wanted to love this book, but I ended up only liking it. It was a fun story -- a pleasant diversion that I don't think I'll find particularly memorable. The secondary characters, particularly Abby's siblings, were great. The ending is not a cliff-hanger, but leaves the door wide open for future volumes. I'll probably read them, and I can see myself recommending this book to kids who are looking for something like Harry Potter. As for adults, seek this out if you are a big fan of juvenile fantasy and are looking for a quick, light read.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson

I received Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I've read all of Henderson's other works, so I am basically right in the center of the target audience for this book.

Paul Falcon is a high-ranking FBI investigator. When small-town cop Ann Silver stops by his office and drops a hot lead on his desk, related to a cold case he's been trying to solve for years, Falcon finds himself interested in more than just the evidence envelope she hands over. Ann is an enigma to Falcon -- one he'd like to try and solve. Will Ann let herself get close to him, or will the secrets in her past keep them always at arm's length?

One of the most interesting things that Henderson did in this book was to make Ann the fictional author of all of Henderson's earlier works -- and to make those works based on Ann's friends' lives. On one hand, this is a clever device to allow characters from the O'Malley series and Henderson's other books to crop up as characters in this book, despite the fact that Ann was not a character in the earlier books. On the other hand, it does make Ann a bit of a Mary Sue. While she's not a perfect character (more on that later), she does have mad skillz as both a writer and a homicide investigator, as well as an intimate relationship with God and a talent for forming and maintaining close friendships. She comes across as a bit of a Superwoman.

Unlike Henderson's earlier books, the suspense element was dialed down several notches in Full Disclosure. I kept waiting for that edge-of-your-seat moment when the hired killer is holding a gun against one of the characters' heads . . . it never came. There's plenty of intrigue and several shocking revelations, but they're all in the past, not part of the main action of the story.

On a personal note, I also thought that the romance lacked heat. Ann is intensely private and afraid of commitment, and most of the story is told from Falcon's perspective. While he was fully involved in trying to make a romance happen, I found Ann's hesitant and standoffish attitude extremely off-putting. Other readers may not have this reaction, however.

So, the amount of criticism I'm leveling may make it seem like I didn't enjoy this book. On the contrary, it held my attention nicely. While I might have liked to see a little more romance and a little more suspense, I did enjoy the way characters from previous novels were woven into the story, and I liked the way the two major cases that Falcon was working intersected. I would recommend this to Henderson's hardcore fans -- but for those who like inspirational fiction and romantic suspense, I would recommend giving The Negotiator a try and working your way up to this book.

(Reviewed from an advance copy courtesy of the publisher, via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is one of those books that I didn't just want to read; I wanted to curl up inside it and live there.

There is an uneasy peace between the humans and the dragons. Forty years ago, the human queen and the dragon leader forged a treaty that has allowed the two races to coexist. Now, on the eve of the treaty's renewal, prince Rufus is found murdered, and whispers are running through the castle and the town that the dragons are to blame. In the midst of the furor is Seraphina, the assistant to the court composer. Seraphina has a secret, and revealing the truth would almost certainly cost her her life: Seraphina's mother was a dragon. Seraphina's father insists that Seraphina do nothing to attract attention to herself -- half-breeds are an almost unheard-of abomination -- but Seraphina's love for music is drawing her more and more into the spotlight. Can Seraphina find love and acceptance in spite of what she is -- and can peace between the humans and the dragons be maintained by the renewal of the treaty? Seraphina's fate and that of her country are perhaps more closely intertwined than they initially appear.

Some books have a strong plot, some have engaging characters, some have a deftly crafted setting -- Seraphina has all three. This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and I'll be watching eagerly for more books by this author.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Cat Who... series, books 17-20 by Lilian Jacksom Braun

I've now read books 1-20 of the Cat Who... series, and these past four (The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, The Cat Who Said Cheese, The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, and The Cat Who Sang for the Birds) are definitely the beginning of the end, in terms of quality and enjoyability. The plots get repetitive and confusing, and by book 20 the sentence-level writing (never a particular strength of the series) declines to the point where I am distracted from the story in places because I am trying to find a better, clearer, or more elegant way to word a sentence or phrase.

In these four books, life continues as usual in Moose County: newcomers and visitors are introduced in order to be murdered or otherwise involved in a crime for Qwilleran and the cats to solve. Hixie comes up with fantastically doomed publicity stunts for the paper. The K fund draws new businesses to the community, often more of them than you would think a small town could support. The theatre club puts on ambitious plays, some of which will never make it to opening night. Koko yowls significantly, while Yum Yum does nothing in particular. People young and old ask Qwill for advice (I'm reminded of a few lines from the song "If I Were A Rich Man" where Tevye talks about how the important men in town would ask for advice, and it wouldn't matter if he was right or wrong -- "when you're rich, they think you really know!"). Qwill buys a condo in Indian Village for the winter months so he doesn't have to pay for heating and snow removal at the barn. Polly has a heart attack, then recovers, but is now more heath-conscious and one dress size smaller. All in all, it just starts feeling all the same. There's little character development, the cats take a back seat, the interesting secondary characters make all-too-rare appearances in favor of new characters who are only there to get bumped off, and the mysteries are not compelling enough to sustain my interest. (And the title of The Cat Who Sang for the Birds has nothing to do with how Koko helps solve the mystery, which bugs me a bit.)

So, will I read more of the series? I'm to the point where I bought the books sporadically, and though there are nine more volumes (plus two ancillary works and a book of unrelated short stories), I think I may be done. Plus, I've been focusing on this series for weeks now, and I'm ready to get back to some of the children's and YA books that await my attention!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Cat Who... series, books 13-16 by Lilian Jackson Braun

Books 13-16 of the Cat Who... series (The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, The Cat Who Wasn't There, The Cat Who Went Into the Closet, and The Cat Who Came to Breakfast) are some of the strongest books in the series. This time through, I was particularly impressed by The Cat Who Went Into the Closet. The Cat Who Moved a Mountain has always been one of my favorites, as well. I found that The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, which I remembered fondly, was not quite as good as I recalled from reading it as a teen. I still enjoyed it, but not as much as some of its predecessors.

In these four books, Qwill has completed the five years of residency in Moose County stipulated in the Klingenschoen will, so he is now in complete control of his assets.  He still keeps a hands-off policy regarding his fortune, content to let the Klingeschoen Foundation handle dispersing the money among worthy causes in the community, but now he has more freedom to travel.  There's even some speculation that he might move out of Moose County, but he finds that he is now firmly entrenched in small-town life.

I'm heading into the next four books with a measure of trepidation . . . I think the series may start going downhill before too long.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Cat Who... Series, books 9-12 by Lilian Jackson Braun

Another four Cat Who... books. In books 9-12 (The Cat Who Went Underground, The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, The Cat Who Lived High, The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal), I feel like the series really hits its stride. Qwill and the cats are still living in Moose County, easily adjusting to a lifestyle of affluence -- despite the fact that Qwill has established the Klingenschoen Foundation to distribute most of his wealth to worthy causes. And the occasional dead body shows up, just to keep life interesting. The books are more about character and setting than the mystery, which is okay by me, but may frustrate readers looking for good solid whodunits.

Of these four, my favorite is The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal, possibly because it's the first book where Qwill is living in the converted apple barn. I would not mind having a home like that, let me tell you!

The other interesting thing I noticed about these four books was the introduction of what I'm calling "Qwilleran's Gambit" -- whereby Qwilleran uses research for a potential book in order to better snoop around in whatever interests him at the time. If Qwill were to actually write all of the books he starts researching, he would be a prolific author, indeed.

I'm continuing with my series reread, and I anticipate at least four more strong books before things start to go all pear-shaped, so hang in there. I'll get back to my regularly scheduled program of children's and young adult books soon!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)