Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Pirate's Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson


4 stars for Pirate's Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans book 4) by Suzanne Johnson.

Christmas is but 8 weeks away. Yet I feel the festive mood in the air all around me as I sit curled up on my couch to read Pirate's Alley. Having pondered some, I come to the conclusion that because I read the previous 3 books of the Sentinels series over the Christmas season years ago, my mind has unconsciously associated the joyful spirit to the reading of this urban fantasy series. So the latest book 4 simply acts as a catalyst to trigger the jolly ambience.

To recap, 28-year old Drusilla Jane Jaco aka DJ, the sentinel of the New Orleans region, is the all-in-one border guard-sentinel-peacekeeper while shapeshifter Alexander Warin aka Alex is the muscle called in when peace talks fail. Since the events in book 3 Elysian Fields, they now work in a gray zone where job responsibilities are no longer spelled out clearly.

In this latest instalment, we see the holding of Interspecies Council meetings, the group's official gathering - of the preternatural bureaucrats - as a governing body where judgements are passed and examples made. There is a whole lot of political mess involving ambitious wizards, freaking elves, temperamental faeries, pretentious vampires and other smaller groups of scheming supernatural beings.

For my part, the highlight in this book is neither the council meetings nor political disarrays, but DJ’s special assignment; one which involves a flirtatious and very good looking 230-year old Frenchman who is none other than the undead pirate Jean Lafitte. Special assignment aside, it is interesting to see how DJ comes about realising the need to sort and choose between love and friendship, duty and loyalty amid the political shenanigans.

Of all the characters in the Sentinels series, I adore the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte – who usually holes up in his outpost of Old Orleans, a wild and lawless border town between modern New Orleans and the preternatural world Beyond – the most. He is ever the courtly old-world gentleman regardless of his background. So yes, I love it every time DJ comes within his sight and territory. And with a sequel titled Pirate's Alley, you can imagine the amount of quality time the two of them clock up basked in each other's company. The best part? Well, let’s just say this alluring pirate can charm his way not just into DJ's heart but mine as well.

It feels wonderful to be back in the preternatural world again, notably one where part human-wizard-elven DJ and the infamous historical undead Jean Lafitte reside, but on the flip side, the happenings in their paranormal world this time round comes across much like listening in to a radio station that has gone wild and kept looping the same songs over and over.

Politics and conspiracy plots hatched by each faction of the otherworld for their own gain has made our protagonist DJ running around in circles, from preparing to attending council meetings to finding the many – whoever – persons for that we-need-to-have-a-talk talk and then it is back all over once more. Then again, notwithstanding the merry-go-round plot, there is plenty of light-hearted humor to be found in DJ’s first person narratives and it definitely helps to alleviate the agony of subsisting in the tail chasing of a plot.

All in all, I have an enjoyable time reading Pirate's Alley. It may not be the best in the Sentinels series but definitely a story that captivates me enough to keep the pages turning.

Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 21 Apr 2015

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After vanquishing undead serial killers and discovering the dark secrets of her family history, wizard sentinel DJ Jaco must now stop the coming preternatural war in Suzanne Johnson’s Pirate’s Alley.

Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.

Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world – the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae – DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal.

Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband Quince Randolph is growing more powerful, and her best friend Eugenie has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back. And that’s before the French pirate Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest “death,” returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ’s assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.

Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.

War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won’t be that easy.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Awaken (Awaken #1) by Katie Kacvinsky


4 stars for Awaken (Awaken book 1) by Katie Kacvinsky.

What will life be like in 45 years’ time?

Remember the movie Back to the Future II, a 1989 American science-fiction adventure comedy film? It is the sequel to the 1985 film Back to the Future and the second instalment in the Back to the Future trilogy. After repairing the damage to history done by his previous time travel adventures, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his friend Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd) travel to 2015 to prevent McFly's future son from ending up imprisoned.

2015. We are now living it. Many of the futuristic things the movie makers put in 1989's Back to the Future, which at that time seem like impossible feats, have in fact turned into reality. So, life in 45 years’ time may well be what we envision it to be now. After all, are we not already living in the Information Age as characterized by the shift from traditional industry to an economy based on information computerization? So, at any rate, how hard is it to visualize the Computer Age in another four or five decades?

These bring me to the book at hand. I read it because I am deeply intrigued by the beautifully written – and touching – prologue on digital technology that changes the way of life.

Fast forward 45 years. It is now 2060. The world is changed; altered to give way to simplicity, convenience, hassle-free and instantaneous results. Gone are the days where real trees are grown in cities and paper books are made. Welcome to the new age world where synthetic trees are preferred to living ones and digital is the way to go where books are concerned and audio learning is supposedly a better way to attain and retain information.

Computers have turned living into a digital world and people are so used to the convenience of it all that they no longer mind losing that interpersonal touch. Friends are made around the world within the safe confines of homes, without ever stepping out the front doors. With equality in the virtual world, social status, wealth, looks, clothes and jobs no longer matter.

17-year old Madeline Freeman aka Maddie is used to living behind her avatars – self-created flawless digital façade – which have over the years transformed into protective walls to mask her insecurities. Then she gets to know Justin Solvi in a live chat room where students help one another on homework assignments.

Through their friendship, Maddie finds herself awaken to the truth of what it means to live. The questions start rolling. What is the use of having extensive digital friendship where there is no depth? Are the friends who are on her list of online contacts really her friends? Or are they there because she likes their online profiles and the way they advertise themselves via the layout, design and font? Does Maddie really know herself and the people around her anymore? Does she see them as who they really are or what they want her to see?

Interestingly, I like the story and even agree with the concepts that the author puts forth because it hits really close to home, to what currently is happening in our society, to what our lives are becoming with the influx of digital technology. It calls to mind memories from the past to compare against the present and possibly the future. Many of the digital issues cited in the story are real life concerns. In the years to come, what will become of us with the deeply embedded technology in our daily lives? Will there be a day when digital technology completely replaces the need for face-to-face communication? What of the people; will we become less humane and less compassionate?

Another thing I like much in the story is the way the author handles and presents conversations in Maddie's family. Though Maddie's parents, especially her father, seem controlling and demanding, they do not come across as unloving and unreasonable. In fact, I agree with the message that the author subtly puts across that there are always reasons behind the actions taken by a parent. Perhaps it is because Maddie's parents love their only daughter so much that they show their love for her in the wrong way, by making decisions for her: who she can be friends with and where she can go.

There is much maturity and depth in the writing and consequently, the characters even though this is a young adult novel. It is definitely not one of those stories where the more you read, the more juvenile and preposterous you find the plot becoming. My only grievance is, at the point in time of my reading, I am no longer a sweet eighteen; should I have been one, I will have loved the story – especially the forbidden romance – to bits.

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition
Publication date: 17 Apr 2012

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Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


4.5 stars for Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Not sure what possesses me lately but I have the sudden urge to read a classic novel. To date, far as I can remember, I have only read young adult and children’s classic books, never adult ones. So yes, it does take some time – at least for me – to warm up to the style and language of a classic novel. Nevertheless, I am able to enjoy and appreciate author Brontë's manner of writing and her powerfully expressive descriptions of the lonely moorland and its alienated inhabitants; both of which are redolent of everything that is English.

With regard to style and language, I am certainly amused by Brontë's choice of words in penning Wuthering Heights, particularly her preference in frequently using 'ejaculated' to bring across the meaning of saying something quickly and suddenly. Thus far, I have not the chance to come across this word being used in modern-day novel writing to denote anything else other than its other literal meaning with sexual connotation. Well, actually I think this is just another sign that times have changed; after all, Wuthering Heights is originally published in the year 1847.

Amusements aside, for those of you who are wondering about the meaning of Wuthering and its significance to the story, which I certainly do when I read the book, here it goes. Wuthering as used in the book title is taken to describe the turbulent and noisy winds that blow across Mr Heathcliff’s dwelling – an ancient mansion sitting on a remote moorland farmhouse – which thus earns its name as Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights is essentially a story within a story where the elderly housekeeper, Ellen Dean, eventually becomes the main narrator and tells the story of how a Mr Heathcliff comes into existence in the residence of the Earnshaws and sees to it the beginning of a wildly romantic and complex story. In truth, more of a tragedy I will say.

Before I go any further, I admit that I find it next to impossible to talk about Wuthering Heights without saying too much even though I try my best to keep spoilers at bay. So if you prefer to know nothing about the book, please stop reading right after this paragraph.

Heathcliff is a gypsy boy who is taken in and raised by this pristine family, the Earnshaws. As time passes, Heathcliff and the girl, Catherine Earnshaw, fall in love with each other. Unfortunately, due to Heathcliff’s background, the family thinks he is dirt and not worthy of the proprietor’s daughter.

Try as he may, nothing that Heathcliff does can convince the Earnshaws that he is good enough and change their opinion of him. In the end, he goes away, educates himself and returns a gentleman. But still, the people think very lowly of him. In the end, Heathcliff decides to fulfil the judgement of these people by becoming what they think of him. He turns into a brute and let loose the evil within him; he becomes a most diabolical man, delighting to wrong and ruin those he hates.

Publisher: Collector's Library; Second Printing edition
Publication date: 1 Aug 2010

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father.

After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Maternity Leave by Julie Halpern


4.5 stars for Maternity Leave by Julie Halpern.

This book is a must read for all - particularly the 21st century - mommies out there. It is a realistic, down-to-earth story which most, if not all mommies, can understand and relate to. As real as it gets, it details the start of motherhood from the onset of labor right up to raising the baby at the end of the protagonist's maternity leave. Of course, in reality, we know that there is so much more beyond the first few months of paid maternity leave, but to fit in with the timeline as dictated by the book title, that is as far as the story goes.

There are a number of things I really like about this novel.

One is the overall presentation of the story. Instead of the usual numbering of chapters in ascending order, the author chooses to present her story by the '# Days Old" of baby Samuel Schwartz-Jensen. This method of chapter differentiation is certainly brilliant; not only does it aid in easy reading and monitoring of the baby's growth and development, it acts as a countdown to the end of the maternity leave.

Two is the voice of the protagonist - Annie, a 36-year old middle school English teacher - which speaks volumes with regard to the ups and downs of motherhood. The joys versus pains, togetherness versus loneliness, courage versus fear, assurances versus doubts of a full-time stay-at-home mom are creatively yet accurately laid out by the first person narrative. To my great delight, I find them to be echoes of my own sentiments and am glad that these are proof enough that I am not the odd one out!

Three is the intermittent update of facebook status. This is so in line with the lifestyle adopted by many ever since the invention of smartphones. While stay-at-home moms with newborn babies are generally too busy and tired from lack of sleep to keep up with friends, they can still connect with people through the various modes of social media.

Four is the close-to-heart way the author puts across on the dilemma which practically all parents, especially mommies, will experience when the time to return to work is round the corner. The million dollar question is "who will look after the child?". Be it going back to work or quitting the job to be a 24/7 mom, there will always be this guilt and internal struggle within a mother for whichever decision that is made because she can never know what the other outcome will be due to the opportunity cost involved.

One thing for sure which I totally agree with the protagonist is that no mommy will want to miss out on the milestones - first words, first crawling, first steps, first on solids, etc - of her own child.

Five is the similarities of 21st century motherhood experienced in present day across space and culture. Although the story is set in the Chicago suburbs, which happily coincides with the residential area of the author and her family, the difficulties and anxieties encountered in child birth, nursing and taking care of a baby are more or less the same. Gone are the days of infant formula. Now we all know that the greatest gift a mother can bestow upon her newborn baby is the mother's milk. I love the determination and perseverance of the protagonist in advocating breastfeeding.

It is remarkable that the author can write a full-length novel with the entire time span being a woman's maternity leave, that is, twelve weeks until the end of the school year on top of the twelve weeks of summer holiday. One may ask, what more is there to looking after a newborn baby than the expected endless routine of sleep, wake and feed. Well, read Maternity Leave and you will be in for a treat.

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication date: 1 Sep 2015

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The profane, profound and just plain funny story of a professional woman who thinks she's ready for a baby but her maternity leave proves otherwise.

Thirty-six-year old Annie Schwartz-Jensen and her husband, Zach, waited to have a baby until the time was perfect. Annie got pregnant as planned, she hid her puke breath from the students in her seventh grade class, and drew up a detailed birth plan. She knew what to expect. She couldn't wait to raise her child in the most expertly precise way, using the trials and errors of all the parents who came before her in her ten years of teaching. She couldn't wait to feel the unconditional love, that moment everyone told her about, when she had a baby of her own.

"Maternity Leave" begins nine months later, as Annie gives birth to Sam, who comes out perfectly formed and screaming. After all those years of dreaming about a baby, this one is real.

And he scares the living crap out of Annie.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman #2) by Graeme Simsion


5 stars for The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman book 2) by Graeme Simsion.

It seems like yesterday - though a long time ago - when I read book 1 of the Don Tillman series. Even as I decide to indulge in The Rosie Effect, I find myself fighting a losing battle against recalling the story characters from book 1 The Rosie Project; with the exception of the two lead characters, Don and Rosie, I remember pretty much zilch. But once I get down to reading, I realise that my worry about the short-term memory loss is uncalled-for as my predicament is promptly fixed by the author who has the foresight to incorporate the reintroduction of the various characters subtly through Don’s internal workings of a methodical mind.

After the Wife Project in book 1 that results in Don's participation in The Rosie Project where he helps Rosie – a 30-year old psychology graduate and PhD candidate – with the search for her biology father, Don now decides to embark on another Project, one that he is keenly interested in what with a case study progressing in his very own apartment. As with most endeavors, the new Project is no easy feat for this associate professor of genetics at Columbia who has, for the past 40 years of his life, been accused of being one with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even Asperger's syndrome. Fortunately, with problem solving one of Don’s major strengths, he proceeds to tell his story - in deadpan humor - of how he comes about solving the unique problems in his own unique way.

I have an extremely enjoyable time reading The Rosie Effect. Seeing the world through the eyes of Donald Tillman aka Don who as a scientist is hardwired to understand the science of reasoning, deduction and thought ahead of interpersonal dynamics amuses me to no end. There is so much dry humor inherent in Don’s thoughts and actions that I find myself laughing away every few paragraphs. Come to think about it, I cannot help but wonder at times if author Simsion – no offense meant – is someone whose inborn logical skills far excel his interpersonal skills and hence has the aptitude to write like one.

I always love a good story but the problem with reading a good book is that I want to finish reading the book but I do not want to finish the book. Yes, I know it sounds paradoxical but I sure all booklovers out there can relate and will agree with me. Experience has taught me well that it is highly probable that I will not be able to find another equally well written if not better story featuring a Don Tillman equivalent as the central character. So, it will be nice if a fairy comes along to sprinkle some fairy dust on my next statement.

I wish I can unread the Don Tillman series so that I can read it again for the first time.

Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 25 Sep 2014

*** Favourite quote 1 ***

I was able to reassure my mother that Rosie and I were fine, work was also fine and any thanks for my uncle’s improved prognosis should be directed to medical science rather than a deity who had presumably allowed my uncle to develop cancer.

*** Favourite quote 2 ***

‘Gene is extremely dangerous and should be avoided socially.’

‘He didn’t seem dangerous to me. He seemed very nice.’ Inge was smiling.

‘That’s why he’s dangerous. If he seemed dangerous, he would be less dangerous.’

~ The Rosie Effect
Graeme Simsion

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With The Rosie Project, "Graeme Simsion achieved the impossible and created an entirely new kind of romantic hero," Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You said. Now Don Tillman returns in the hilarious and charming sequel to the international sensation. Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he's left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

Picking up where The Rosie Project left off, The Rosie Effect is a fun, hilarious, and poignant read. "Don Tillman helps us believe in possibility, makes us proud to be human beings, and the bonus is this: he keeps us laughing like hell" (Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook).

*Blurb from FantasticFiction*

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: For You (Burg #1) by Kristen Ashley


Did Not Finish For You (Burg book 1) by Kristen Ashley.

I thought it will be nice to read romantic suspense for a change after my previous bout of science fiction fantasy with the Retrieval Artist. Oh boy, how wrong I am! Then I realise that the switch in genre itself is fine, it is my choice of author/book which is not.

For You is one of those stories that alternates between first and third person narratives. It starts off fine in the first couple of pages with events seen through the eyes of female lead character, February Owens. Then there is continuous flow of conversation - among February, her brother Morrison Owens and an old family friend, Alec Colt - that involves a lot of cussing and swearing. Needless to say, everything goes downhill from then on.

The excessive use of expletives - which I feel the story can jolly well do without - irks me so much that less than halfway into the first chapter, I am already contemplating to dump the book for good. Then curiosity gets the better of me; a quick check shows that the story receives an average rating of 4 stars out of 5. And that is sufficient to give me pause and change my mind. Gritting my teeth, I persevere to read on for I do not for the life of me want to miss out on a good tale worthy of my time.

Unfortunately, not for lack of trying, For You is seriously not my cup of time. At 7% into the story, right before chapter 2 runs out, I decide that enough is enough.

This book is not for you if you are someone who is put off by not just profanities but overuse of it in a seemingly thin plot. If you are inquisitive and like to find out for yourself, my advice is - for sanity's sake as well as your money pocket - go borrow a copy from the library instead of purchasing one.

Publisher: Kristen Ashley
Publication date: 3 Dec 2014

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Lieutenant Alexander Colton and February Owens were high school sweethearts. Everyone in their small town knew from the moment they met they were meant for each other. But something happened and Feb broke Colt’s heart then she turned wild and tragedy struck. Colt meted out revenge against the man who brought Feb low but even though Colt risked it all for her, Feb turned her back on him and left town.

Fifteen years later, Feb comes back to help run the family bar. But there’s so much water under the bridge separating her and Colt everyone knows they’ll never get back together.

Until someone starts hacking up people in Feb’s life. Colt is still Colt and Feb is still Feb so the town watches as Colt goes all out to find the murderer while trying to keep Feb safe.

As the bodies pile up, The Feds move in and a twisting, turning story unravels exposing a very sick man who has claimed numerous victims along the way, Feb and Colt battle their enduring attraction and the beautiful but lost history that weaves them together.

*Blurb from author's website*

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