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"M" is for Malice (Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries)
"M" is for Malice (Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries)
by Sue Grafton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
59 used & new from $0.73

1.0 out of 5 stars Bad, abrupt ending, April 4, 2014
I have only read one other Alphabet mystery up to this one, but the plot sounded interesting and I had some time to kill. I found the book boring. I wound up skipping past long chunks of it that dwelled on the weather, for example. Do I really need to know exactly how the clouds looked, where the wind was coming from, what the fire did to the trees and how hot or cold it was every single day of the story? God, get ON with it. The mystery itself seemed like it was building nicely until I suddenly realized how few pages were left in the novel and my mouth fell open. Surely the author didn't really think she could wrap up the big revelation of who the killer was THAT quickly??

Well, she did and she did it badly. Kinsey has one coversation with the killer, none of the other characters react at all, then she ends things by briefly telling us how things resolved with regard to the main plot and then dwelling on a dream she had. What a waste. I am certainly not eager to try any more of this series after this disappointment but I'm sure nothing I say will dissuade the die hards.

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
by Rick Riordan
Edition: Audio CD
Price: $26.18
58 used & new from $12.19

2.0 out of 5 stars Percy Harry Jackson Potter and the Chamber of Secret Sea Monsters, October 6, 2013

I received this audiobook series unexpectedly and decided to give it a whirl. It was thought that as a Harry Potter fan I'd appreciate this series. And maybe I would -- if I WASN'T a Harry Potter Fan.

Here's how the blatant rip-off breaks down:

Percy Jackson = Harry Potter, the boy with special powers and a special destiny thanks to a prophesy made before his birth
Cronus = Voldemort, the defeated ultimate evil who is determined to rise again and wreck havoc on the world that destroyed him
Anabeth, daughter of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) = Hermione, the smart sidekick girl who always has a brilliant plan but gets too emotional in sticky situations, so that's when the male hero has to take over for her.
Grover = Ron, the male sidekick who is always in trouble and can't seem to do anything right
Clarisse = Draco Malfoy, the school (or in this case, camp) bully who is really a good person who just happens to have an evil father
Camp Halfblood = Hogwarts, the place where kids with special powers learn how to use them, which normal humans can't get into
Random Greek monsters all mashed together in modern ways = Death Eaters who menace the heroes (or change sides, and help them instead)
Various Greek gods = Moony, Padfoot & Prongs, the older generation who help the heroic kids from a distance
Chiron = Dumbledore, with hooves

Add to all this repetitive nonsense the fact that Jesse Bernstein is a horrible reader who tries and fails to do a dozen distinct voices when he can only swing one and a half. His "Australian" accent in this book and "British" accent in the first one are especially lazy and laughable. When will audiobook readers realize that it's not NECESSARY to do 1,000 different voices? If you can't manage it, then just use your own! Smart people will still be able to figure out who's talking.

Plot-wise, the story is convoluted. This second book is more streamlined than the first, but the action scenes are still kind of incoherent and hard to picture even after rewinding repeatedly, and since Percy Jackson magically became a perfect warrior right out of the gate, the stakes in each skirmish are never particularly high. And some of the modernizations are a bit clever, but most are downright silly.

I can see how some people would find this series beneficial as an introduction to Greek Mythology for children. And if it gets kids interested in classics, then awesome. I never object to seeing kids read just about any book out there. But honestly, there are so many books with ACCURATE, kid-friendly versions of Greek myths that are so much more exciting and better written than this junk. It's far from the worst series I've ever read/heard but it's a clear bid to grab cash from Harry Potter fans. I'm just glad that it wasn't MY cash, in this case.

The Lands of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones): Maps from King's Landing to Across the Narrow Sea
The Lands of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones): Maps from King's Landing to Across the Narrow Sea
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Poster
Price: $30.65
59 used & new from $16.57

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Let Your Geek Flag Fly!, July 29, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I was so thrilled when I heard about these maps because one of the frustrating things about reading GRRM's books is that the maps in the front are all black and white and a bit tough to read. Plus until now there were no city maps detailing specific streets and giving you an idea of scale and distance between one event and another. This set solves all of that! I LOVE it. The maps are easy to read and very well illustrated. I could have used a bit more detail in terms of landmarks (Example: Catelyn and Robb stop at the grave/statue of a fallen king that's so old no one knows exactly which King it is. It's not on here. Plankytown, where Quentyn Martell started his journey to Mereen, is not on here. Essos looks very empty.) but I am pretty satisfied with what is here. I was also thrilled to see so many parts of his world that were never mentioned in the books, even once! By studying these maps you learn new things and new places, lands that his characters are highly unlikely to visit but which sound horrible and fascinating and wonderful on their own! Please please pretty please George, can you write a short story or graphic novel that takes place in The City of the Winged Men??? Also, the Amazon price is excellent for what's here.

I removed a star for several reasons. 1) People who have written reviews complaining about how the maps will degrade over time because of how they're folded are right. Small white lines and tears are already forming, and as gentle as I was, I already tore one map along the crease. I am planning to make all of mine into posters, so I won't be opening and closing them repeatedly like many will but it would be nice if they had planned for all eventualities and put the maps on more flexible, lightweight paper. I have to use a lot of tape to keep these up, which will eventually ruin the borders of the maps, which means I will eventually have to frame them. Costly! 2) The "journey's" map had the potential to be the most interesting, especially seeing where people's paths cross. But it's really poorly drawn. All the lines are too confusing, the colors are too similar and there is NO KEY to easily match the colors with the character! You have to squint and rotate your map and tilt your head to figure out whose line is whose and then follow it. I gave up without finishing anyone's journey properly. That one can stay in the box.

But overall I would say that if you're a truly hardcore ASOIAF geek, you won't want to miss out on this set. It's just too, too scrumptious. It's the perfect companion for re-reading the books, and bringing the stories even more to life while we all wait for The Winds of Winter. And it's almost like having your own opening credits sequence to the TV show right there at your fingertips. I'm not sorry I bought it and I would definitely recommend it to others!

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
by Patricia Highsmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.05
72 used & new from $3.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilled to have finally gotten around to this one!, July 18, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I admit that I have been letting this book gather dust on my shelf since I bought it several years ago, but I finally decided that its time had come and lugged it with me on a month-long, multi-country vacation. It was a wise choice. I enjoyed the stories a lot more at my current age than I would have several years ago, and now that I've visited many of the locations she uses myself, the stories have more personal resonance. Her style is not for everyone! The first two collections in particular, "The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder" and "Little Tales Of Misogyny" are sure to leave some readers cold even as they delight others in their unexpected cruelty. Nearly every story in both collections ends with gruesome death or mutilation. Highsmith's longer works and novels are more satisfying and engrossing but these short offerings are the perfect way to relax on the beach before hitting the water again, or to pass time on a train or bus between cities. Anything longer would have been too hard to put down and I appreciated being able to skip around to different stories based on my current mood, instead of sticking with one long narrative.

A can't-miss for Highsmith fans! But new readers may want to try a few of her novels first.

Blood and Memory: The Quickening Book Two
Blood and Memory: The Quickening Book Two
by Fiona McIntosh
Edition: Paperback
45 used & new from $1.55

3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but certainly better than the previous one., January 20, 2013
I didn't much care for the first book in this series because I feel Fiona McIntosh is not a good writer. I had no real desire to read this one, but since I already owned it (having optimistically purchased the entire trilogy at once) I figured I might as well see what happened. It took months to read because I wasn't motivated to do so, which is why I resorted to force: I kept it in the bathroom. And so I read it in chunks (sorry for the potty pun) of ten or so pages at a time and finally completed it this week.

I don't know which of these three things happened: 1) I got so used to the bad writing that I stopped noticing it; or 2) The story became interesting enough to compensate for the bad writing and/or distract me from it; or 3) The writing actually got better. I think it must be a combination of all options. But whatever the explanation is, I actually did enjoy this book more than its predecessor. Our body-jumping hero finds himself transformed into a heroine when he's killed by a pair of women in succession. McIntosh doesn't take this plot point as far as she could have in terms of how weird it would be to suddenly change genders, let alone bodies. We also get a long-delayed explanation of why this keeps happening to Wyl and where it's leading, but it takes the entire book to get there. It's still worth comparing her to George R.R. Martin in the way that she unexpectedly kills of characters we think are going to be major plot-changers, but unlike Martin she still hasn't succeeded in creating characters who are anything but all good or all evil. And the second supervillan she foists upon us at the end of the story is nothing short of boring. Another lunatic who wants to rule the world? Yawn.

All that said, it did leave me more interested in reading the next book than the previous book did. And even though she spelled out what's supposed to happen to Wyl at the end, she also dropped hints that things won't go exactly that way, so I'm confident that there will be more surprises in store. So confident, that I may even take it out of the bathroom from time to time. ;-)

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps King's best collection of stories., January 8, 2013
I love Stephen King's short story collections even more than his full length novels. I think he really excels in condensing his storytelling skills down to the bare essentials, whereas his novels tend to be bloated and drag on and have dead spots. That's not always the case, but often enough that when he releases a new collection of shorts and you read it after reading one of his doorstop novels, it's like a quick cocktail after a long, busy workday where you had to get through a lot of things you didn't really want to do.

But of course, even all his short stories can't be that perfect mojito you're looking for every single time. Sometimes you're going to get some lazy jack and cokes in the mix. Each of his previous collections has stories I love, and stories I'd never bother to read again. If they were CDs, I'd make the great ones into a mix-tape and never stop playing it. So this collection is his best in my opinion, because there are no fillers, there are no plain shooters. It's a fluid, complex, and yes *intoxicating* blend of pure darkness that leaves you with a pleasant hangover of horror.

Each of the stories stayed with me, in one way or another. If I had to rank them I'd put "Big Driver" at the bottom of the list, simply because the subject matter is a bit cliched. Well ALL the stories have a basic plot backbone that's very "been there, done that" but King builds the rest of his skeletons with enough original elements to create creatures all his own. In "Big Driver," he takes the typical rape 'n' revenge story to another level by adding in a mother that even Norman Bates would be afraid to cross. Going up the ladder, I'd put "1922" above that one. The story of a man and his guilty conscience has images with rats and cows that remained with me long after I shut the book. And there's a Bonnie & Clyde element thrown in that adds an additional twist of sweetness, and sorrow. Next up is "A Good Marriage," which explores the side of a serial killer story we rarely see: his own family. King doesn't take this exactly where you think he's going to take this, and the descriptions of normalcy abruptly arrested by atrocity are terrifying. Finally, my personal favorite and my new favorite Stephen King story EVER: "A Fair Extension." WOW. It was the shortest read in the collection, but it stayed with me so long that I finally downloaded the audiobook for the specific purpose of listening to this story over and over and over again. I am attached to it for personal reasons, but it's quite well written and the main character is one of the most evil I've ever seen in print, this side of Iago. And the ending is so perfect that it's actually funny.

Overall I think this book will not only satiate the thirst of King's die-hard fans, but also serve as an excellent gateway for new readers, or anyone who likes the genre, but doesn't quite have the energy to tackle one of his doorstops. The collection title is perfect. The stories don't offer much hope or light, but that's just the way I like it these days. His "Author's Note" at the end offers some perspective on that, and there's another little story tucked behind it. Just indulge. Fill your glass with this homebrewed horror and let it seep into your bones.

The Leftovers
The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from $1.68

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weighed down by its own premise., December 9, 2012
This review is from: The Leftovers (Hardcover)
I waited for a long time to read this book. I wanted to get it as soon as it came out because the premise was so fascinating and I've liked Tom Perotta's books in the past. However now that I've finally obtained a copy and completed it, I feel a strange sense of let down. The biggest disappointment with this story is the premise itself. It starts off with the mass disappearance or "Rapture" of millions of people, who are never seen or heard from again. In one small east coast US town, the people left behind start picking up the pieces. Some join cults, some do a little normal teenage misbehaving, some get massively depressed and some try to pretend that everything is normal.

The problem is that NONE of these reactions required the initial world-ending premise! A formerly "good girl" teenager suddenly getting bad grades and changing her hairstyle happens every day of the week in towns all over the US. Women lose their families in horrific car accidents. People decide to join cults. It happens. If Perotta just wanted to write about people who did these things, I don't understand why he didn't simply do so and abandon the initial premise all together. The premise of so many people vanishing is too big for this book to handle, and probably too complex for Perotta himself to handle. He pretty much ignores it completely once the book reaches the halfway mark, and focuses instead only on the mundane trivium in the lives of one family and a lone woman who lives in their town. He abandons the one character who kept referring to the event and trying to prove to the town that the "Rapture" wasn't really anything of the kind, since so many "sinners" were spirited away. It becomes obvious that the character only existed to tell the lone woman the truth about the husband she's been missing so much. Once he performs his function as a plot device, he's never heard from again.

Perotta mostly ignores the various geo-political ramifications of a real event of that kind. (And the few he does mention are very unrealistic.) He's too smart a writer for me to believe that he didn't think of those ramifications, so I have to believe that he deliberately chose to ignore them, including only the things that would allow his story to function better. In doing so, he deprives his book of much-needed context and makes the entire concept pretty much a moot point. "Oh the world might be ending? No big deal, I'll just focus on trying not to bang my teenage daughter's best friend." If he had removed every single reference to the "Rapture" event from the story, the entire novel would have been basically the same -- perhaps even better. And he still could have kept the title.

I didn't dislike the story he told or the characters he used to tell it. Perotta does suburban angst better than just about anyone in the business of writing these days. But I have to give it two stars because the story he ultimately told had almost nothing to do with the selling point behind the book: the question of what happens to the people "left over" after an apocalyptic event. I don't know if he's trying to elevate himself somehow, or lost sight of the initial idea as the story unfolded during his writing process, or just got lazy and decided that the premise was beyond his willingness to execute it properly and get out of his usual suburban rut. But whatever the explanation is, it's clear that he overreached himself on this one. I hope that for his next book, he is able to stick to what he's good at, or else make a graceful departure into new territory and actually see it through to the end of the novel. The rut he's stuck in is a comfortable one and I don't think he needs to escape it. However, if he really wants to do so, then he needs to commit to an idea or resist the urge to use a big concept as a backdrop for such small things -- unless he is willing to handle the concept with the gravity it deserves.

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, Book 2)
The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, Book 2)
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.99
113 used & new from $0.28

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much politics not enough story, August 22, 2012
This book's cover is misleading. On it, the heroine Vin, who possesses supernatural powers called "Allomancy" is fighting a man in robes with tatoos on his face. In Brandon Sanderson's world, these men are known as "Obligators" and Vin doesn't fight a single one in this novel. In fact, I don't think she's even in the same room as one throughout 700+ pages of story. A story which is titled, "The Well of Ascension" instead of "The Siege of Luthadel" despite the fact that the siege takes up far more time in the story than the subplot Well does.

The aforementioned 700+ pages are a complete slog. The reader has to wade through page after page of political maneuvering, character exposition and Vin or her boytoy Elend whining about their "relationship" -- an element that remains the weakest thing in the series, for me. In the first book, I felt that their relationship never rang true. It wasn't written well enough for me to understand why they were in love or believe it as anything other than a plot device. The depiction in the second book is, if anything, worse. Their relationship seems almost platonic. I'm not saying I want the novel to morph into "50 Shades of Grey" but it would have been nice to see that these two at least had some physical passion for each other, since they don't seem to have a single other thing in common whatsoever.

Finally, once we actually do get to the subplot that the title is based on, it really makes no sense at all. I think it was rushed for this mystic thing that no one could find or understand to suddenly show up in the last 30 pages along with an unexplained fight scene and more occurrences that didn't make sense. I suppose reading the third book will clear up most if not all of what's missing in this last section, but it's annoying to have the supposed focal point of the story be so bereft of substance, while a lot of desperately boring political garbage takes up so much of the story. There are a few action scenes, but they're all undercut by character moments that do not make sense. In one memorable scene, a character with no superpowers whatsoever " . . . in one fluid stroke, he drew his sword and sheared [omitted]'s head from his shoulders." Doesn't Sanderson realize how impossible this is? Even with a heavy axe, you can't just nick off someone's entire head with "one fluid stroke" that easily. And no, there was nothing special about the sword used either.

Overall I could not be more disappointed in this book. I was really excited to read it after finishing the first one and had a lovely long plane ride with which to do so uninterrupted. I actually stopped reading this in favor of watching edited airplane movies, that's how bad it was. And I admit frankly that my eyes glazed over during a lot of the political stuff that just went on and ON . . . it involved characters we had never met before who simply were not that interesting, and had no hope of being compelling with that level of unnecessary detail and frankly mediocre writing. Sanderson's strengths in this series are in the battles, fights and descriptions of Allomancy. Mythology, character and intricate plots are where he falls short, and this book is perfectly built to display all of his weaknesses as a writer. I really hope the third one does him more credit, answers the questions and wraps things up with more of a bang than a whisper.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2012 7:02 PM PDT

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book No. 1)
Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book No. 1)
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $5.30
133 used & new from $1.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic start to a series, August 17, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. It was recommended to me by a coworker who saw me re-reading Geroge R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" in anticipation of a new HBO season. He thought I'd like it and he made a great call. The book is a departure from most fantasy series because it does not have any people who can do "magic" in the sense of twirling wands or reciting incantations. Instead, the ingenious Brandon Sanderson has created something totally new: a system he calls "Allomancy" in which gifted people can use metal to give themselves special abilities. He has also created a world led by an immortal tyrant whom a ragtag group of people are attempting to bring down. He peppers the story with so many fantastic things, like the truly frightening creatures he calls "Steel Inquisitors" and hints at the backstory behind the immortal tyrant's rise to power. And his core group of thieves (some gifted with Allomantic powers, most not) are very three dimensional and quite relatable -- even funny, at times. It's like "Ocean's Eleven" meets steampunk dungeons and dragons. He is a gifted world builder, and creates a perfect balance between explaining enough about his world to keep you hooked on the story, while leaving many things mysterious or deliberately unexplained, so that reading the next book is no longer optional.

My only minor complaints are kind of trivial. I took issue with the headings he uses at the beginning of each chapter. They are diary entries, and we don't find out until halfway through the book where they came from, but even when that is "explained" the entries themselves are simply not as engaging or well written as the rest of the book. The sections he chose to use seem almost random. It would have been more interesting if these pieces had been put together into larger chunks for the characters to read along with the reader, and if they were better written in general. I also don't get why he writes "End of part one" etc. at the end of each section. We can tell it's ending dude; the next section is right there labeled on the adjoining page.

Not so minor: I also could have done without the love story he manufactured between the main character and a young nobleman. Of course, the nobleman isn't "typical" and of course they're practically drooling over each other at first sight. A better build-up into that relationship would have made the things that happened as a result of it later in the book easier to swallow. But aside from that, he steers very clear of typical fantasy plot cliches, and the story is brutal and realistic. It's something I can easily see myself reading again and again, if only to understand the battle scenes. He is careful to explain how Allomancy works and very descriptive about how the characters are achieving their amazing feats of derring-do, but my eyes glazed a bit on these sections because I wanted to carry on with the plot. However, upon re-reading the book, I'll definitely slow it down and try to visualize exactly what's happening, move by move, in the action sequences. I appreciate having them there, is what I'm saying, even if I didn't read them carefully the first time around.

The book was so gripping that I spent perfectly sunny vacation days reading it instead of exploring my vacation destination, which was a city I'd never been to in a country I'd never visited before. Now THAT is good writing. This first one was a gift but when I got back from vacay, I made a special trip to the store to obtain the next two and have already started the second book. I am really thrilled to have found a series worthy of sinking my teeth into that doesn't pale in comparison to George R.R. Martin's. Here's hoping that all the good things I've heard about the final two acts of this trilogy prove to be true!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2012 6:56 PM PDT

Myrren's Gift : The Quickening Book One (The Quickening)
Myrren's Gift : The Quickening Book One (The Quickening)
by Fiona McIntosh
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from $3.31

2.0 out of 5 stars 2.5 stars for effort, August 17, 2012
It was a lucky mistake that the first adult fantasy series I read was George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" because it spoiled me for what to expect from other fantasy novels. He is such a strong writer that I suppose it's not entirely fair to compare other fantasy writers with him, but it's difficult not to in this case, because so many plot elements are the same. Here we have a kingdom left in turmoil when the king and his high-ranking best friend both die, leaving heirs who don't like each other in the least. One heir gets a mysterious gift from a witch that allows him to cross over into the body of whoever kills him. It's a cool premise but McIntosh is simply not a good writer, and all of the book's flaws can be traced back to her lack of ability. She has a good story here, but she lacks the technical skill to execute it in the most appealing way possible. The book is full of fantasy cliches: silly names, love at first sight, gifted poor children, women who don't act "womanly" and are therefore desirable. On and on it goes, through every checkmark you can come up with for basic fantasy tropes. This makes it pretty predictable, unfortunately. It's almost like she wrote it as part of some paid workshop group where the "teacher" didn't want to give her his real opinion for fear of losing her fees. It's hard to understand how it got published without more editing.

Aside from the basic plot device of her hero switching bodies and figuring out how to get out of situations the new body put him into, she has no innovative or original ideas in this book. I granted 2 stars instead of one (plus the imaginary half star for effort) because there's potential here for an uncommon story. In fact, before I started reading anything I saw that potential and bought all three books in the trilogy at a used book sale. Since I already own the other two, I'll go ahead and read them. But if I didn't have them in my possession already, this book would not inspire me to go and seek them out, despite the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. I am hopeful that the rest of the story will be strong enough to distract from her lack of talent. If there are some unexpected twists and turns awaiting the main character, that might be enough to hold my interest. Here's hoping.

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