Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review | Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia
Jaqueline Carey
Santa Olivia #1
Published 2009 by Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
4 stars

Bite-Sized Review
Santa Olivia is the kind of story that makes you want to keep reading. If it hadn't been written by Jacqueline Carey, it isn't the sort of book I'd have picked up, but it's definitely worth a read.

King-Sized Review
Santa Olivia has been isolated from the outside world for years, ever since the influenza epidemic and the war with Mexico caused the US military to quarantine a stretch of land between the Texas and Mexico. Loup Garron, daughter of a warrior genetically engineered to be without fear, still resents the soldiers' oppression of her fellow villagers. Being literally fearless could have made her a boring character, but Carey rose to the challenge: Loup is complex and fascinating, and her reactions seem quite realistic given her nature. 

The blurb says this novel is "Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth," which is a true if slightly deceptive description. Santa Olivia has certain elements of vigilante justice, and they're quite good, but the story is really more about family and love. Military rule gives the town of Santa Olivia a dystopian atmosphere, and that makes much of what happens more believable. The general in charge of the base, a boxing fan, decreed years ago that if any champion of Santa Olivia could defeat one of his fighters, that person would win two tickets out of the quarantined area. So a lot of the book is about boxing, but it's not as boring as it sounds. There aren't play-by-play descriptions of matches or written versions of training montages; Carey's a much better writer than that. Instead, she ensures the reader experiences Loup's determination and struggles with her obstacles.

As for the werewolf bit, don't expect anyone to change into a wolf under the full moon. This is scifi, not fantasy, which means no magic and definitely no shapeshifters. There's not a lot of new technology - it's definitely more Hunger Games than Star Trek - but the main scifi element is definitely the genetic engineering that went into making Loup's father and those like him. I think that aspect will be further explored in the sequel.

Jacqueline Carey is very good at what you might call "non-mainstream" love stories. Loup and Pilar's story is very well done in a lot of ways. They complement each other; while Pilar is far softer than Loup, she understands people much better than Loup does. It's not a huge part of the story, but their relationship is important and makes Loup seem more human than her occasionally alien behavior would otherwise indicate.

Santa Olivia is a great story and definitely worth your time, as are the rest of Carey's books.

Quality: Excellent
Enjoyability: Excellent

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review | Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
John Corey Whaley
Published 2011 by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)
YA contemporary
3 stars

Bite-Sized Review
I liked this book, but didn't love it. I think I would have been happier if it had felt more complete, but while it was a good story, the ending seemed abrupt.

King-Sized Review
Where Things Come Back is told from two perspectives. First is Cullen Witter, a seventeen-year-old stifled by his tiny town in Arkansas. At the same time a depressed birdwatcher thinks he's found a species of woodpecker that was thought to be extinct, Cullen's younger brother vanishes without a trace. Cullen is a fascinating narrator, treating most of the rest of the town with contempt as their obsession with the woodpecker distracts from his family's search for Gabriel. While his chapters are mostly in first person, he occasionally shifts into third person to distance himself from the situation or to imagine some wildly unlikely outcome. Said unlikely outcome usually involved zombies, which was fun.

The second perspective was that of Benton, an uncertain missionary in Africa. This one's a little harder to describe than Cullen's without spoilers, but in some ways it was more interesting. To be totally honest, these chapters sort of straddled the border between interesting and obnoxious, though they managed to stay mostly on the interesting side. Crazy people are special like that. But interesting or obnoxious, these passages are very well written, enough that I could believe the characters believed in their motivations, even the obviously insane ones. That's pretty impressive.

The small town of Lily, Arkansas was a fascinating setting. Never having lived in a really small town like that, I had previously thought of it as something of a mythological creature, but Whaley managed to bring Lily to life in this story. The town was absolutely essential to the book, even outside the woodpecker craze. It affected the story in all of the ways the varied cast interacted, in the way they behaved, even the way they thought.

My biggest issue with this book was in the ending. Even though some of the plot was concluded, a lot of the loose ends were just left hanging, and I was left on the last page thinking, "Well, then what happened?" Even the pieces that had an ending didn't quite resolve – there was no wrapping up at all. The book just sort of ended, which I'm generally not a huge fan of.

But don't let that stop you from reading this book. It's interesting and well written. The characters are really individuals and the setting is excellent. It's a bit slow, so you might not want to pick it up if you're looking for epic battles, but it's a good book.

Quality: Good
Enjoyability: Good

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday | Grave Memory by Kalayna Price

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Kalayna Price
Alex Craft #3
Expected publication: July 3, 2012 by Roc (Penguin)

As a Grave Witch, Alex solves murders by raising the dead—an ability that comes at a cost, and after her last few cases, that cost is compounding. But her magic isn’t the only thing causing havoc in her life. While she’s always been on friendly terms with Death himself, things have recently become a whole lot more close and personal. Then there’s her sometime partner, agent Falin Andrews, who is under the glamour of the Winter Queen. To top everything off, her best friend has been forever changed by her time spent captive in Faerie.

But the personal takes a backseat to the professional when a mysterious suicide occurs in Nekros City and Alex is hired to investigate. The shade she raises has no memory of the days leading up to his brutal ending, so despite the very public apparent suicide, this is murder. But what kind of magic can overcome the human will to survive? And why does the shade lack the memory of his death? Searching for the answer might mean Alex won’t have a life to remember at all…

I really enjoyed Grave Witch, and Grave Dance was even better, so I can't wait to see where Kalayna Price takes this story in book 3! Alex is a great character, and I love the world these books are set in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review | Dark Magic by James Swain

Dark Magic
James Swain
Published May 22, 2012 by Tom Doherty Associates (Macmillan)
Mystery/urban fantasy
1 star
eARC from NetGalley

Bite-Sized Review
Dark Magic had a reasonably interesting premise, but in the execution it turned out to be just...boring.

King-Sized Review
Peter Warren is a famous stage magician by day, but by night he's a real psychic, the leader of a group of similarly talented people who try to protect the city of New York by looking into the future to see upcoming threats. However, when they see an attack that threatens millions of lives, Peter finds himself more directly involved than he ever planned.

I've had such a hard time writing this review. As you can tell, it wasn't really my cup of tea; it wasn't terribly written or anything, but because of a combination of factors, I had a really hard time finishing it.

First, the characters. Every one of them was dull and one-dimensional. People kept talking about Peter's temper and how dangerous he could be when he was angry, but I never saw any hint of that from him. He was utterly bland: friendly, generous, meticulous, probably a nice guy to know in real life, but not a very interesting character. He could have been Batman! He had the obscenely wealthy, parents murdered, trying to fight crime story going for him. And I guess you could say he was like Batman, except Adam West's Batman from the really cheesy live-action TV show from the 60s rather than Christian Bale's gritty, fascinating modern version. And the book wasn't self-aware enough to parody itself like the TV show did.

None of the other characters was any more interesting. The female characters were just absurd. They were shallow and useless, definitely Too Stupid to Live. Peter's girlfriend couldn't stick to a decision to save her life, and changed her mind about being with him at least twice for no apparent reason. But of course, being a wonderful and forgiving person, he forgave her immediately. I could say more, but since I'm starting to sound sarcastic, I should probably stop there.

The book was written more like a mystery than an urban fantasy. It's kind of a hard distinction to define, but as I'm not a fan of mysteries in general, that quality did not endear the story to me. There was no internal conflict, which I find crucial to a story, and the main storyline really seemed to plod along. The good guys were paragons of virtue, while the bad guys were evil incarnate. There was no suspense because there was never any question of how things were going to end, and I didn't care enough about any of the characters to be concerned that they might die. Basically, it really wasn't for me.

Quality: Fair
Enjoyability: Troll

Guess Who's Back?


No, really. You're supposed to guess.

Oh, sorry. I thought it was rhetorical. Um...Elvis?

What's wrong with you? Everyone knows Elvis was frozen in carbonite and sent into space.

Are you sure you're not talking about Han Solo?

No, dummy, that was a movie. I'm talking about real life.

...You know what, I'm just going to guess again. The Backstreet Boys?

So 90s
Again, not even close, although thanks for getting that song stuck in my head. What's your deal with music today, anyway?

Can't I just like music?

No. And you have one more guess.

You should have said that to begin with! If I guess right, will you let me out of the closet?

Of course not. How would I get my legal advice/captive audience?

You could always pay a lawyer...

Nonsense. Paying is for people who lack creativity.

Ugh. Fine. Are you back?

Why, yes, I am! How kind of you to finally guess.

It's about damn time. I was getting really hungry in here. And aren't you like fifteen reviews behind?

...No more talking for you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stayin' Alive

Hi everyone!

I'm really sorry for disappearing on you for the past week or so. If you were curious, yes, I am still alive. Unfortunately, my router is not so lucky, so I am somewhat lacking in internet access at home. But never fear! Thanks to Groupon, I have ordered a new router, which should arrive any day now. And then:

I'll be back.