Book Review: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Keep by F. Paulu Wilson (Series, #1)Summary:
Captain Klaus Woermann isn’t a fan of the Nazis or the SS and doesn’t exactly keep this a secret.  But he’s also a hero from the First World War, so the Nazi regime deals with him by sending he and a small troop to Romania to guard a pass the Russians could possibly use.  They set up to guard the place in a building known as the keep.  It should be a quiet assignment, but when the German soldiers start being killed one a night by having their throats ripped out, the SS is sent to investigate.

SS Major Kaempffer wishes to solve this mystery as soon as possible so he may start his new promotion of running the extermination camp for Romania.  He is sure he can solve this mystery quickly.

Professor Cuza and his daughter Magda are Romanian Jews who have already been pushed out of their work in academia.  They also just so happen to be the only experts on the keep.  When the SS sends for them, they are sure it is the beginning of the end.  But what is more evil? The mysterious entity killing the Germans or the Nazis?

Review:
It’s hard not to pick up a book that basically advertises itself as a vampire killing Nazis and the only ones who can stop the vampires are a Jewish professor and his daughter.  I mean, really, what an idea!  Most of the book executes this idea with intrigue and finesse, although the end leaves a bit to be desired.

The characterization of the Germans is handled well.  They are a good mix of morally ethical people who are caught up in a regime following orders and see no way out (the army men) and evil men who enjoy inflicting pain upon others and are taking advantage of the regime to be governmentally sanctioned bullies, rapists, and murderers.  Having both present keeps the book from simply demonizing all Germans and yet recognizes the evil of Nazism and those who used it to their advantage.

Similarly, Magda and her father Professor Cuza are well-rounded.  Professor Cuza is a man of his time, using his daughter’s help academically but not giving her any credit for it.  He also is in chronic pain and acts like it, rather than acting like a saint.  Magda is torn between loyalty to her sickly father and desires to live out her own life as she so chooses.  They are people with fully developed lives prior to the rise of the Nazis, and they are presented as just people, not saints.

In contrast, the man who arrives to fight the evil entity, Glaeken, is a bit of a two-dimensional deus ex machina, although he is a sexy deus ex machina.  Very little is known of him or his motivations.  He comes across as doing what is needed for the plot in the moment rather than as a fully developed person.  The same could easily be said of the villagers who live near the keep.

The basic conflict of the plot is whether or not to side with the supernatural power that seems to be willing to work against the Nazis.  Thus, what is worse? The manmade evil of the Nazis or a supernatural evil?  Can you ever use a supernatural evil for good?  It’s an interesting conflict right up until the end where a reveal is made that makes everything about the question far too simple.  Up until that point it is quite thought-provoking, however.

The plot smoothly places all of these diverse people in the same space.  The supernatural entity is frightening, as are the Nazis.  These are all well-done.

One thing that was frustrating to me as a modern woman reader was the sheer number of times Magda is almost raped or threatened with rape, and how she only escapes from rape thanks to anything but herself.  In one instance, the Nazi simply runs out of time because the train is about to move out.  In another, she is saved by a man.  In a third, she is saved by supernatural devices.  While it is true that rape is a danger in war zones, it would be nice if this was not such a frequently used conflict/plot point for this character.  Once would have been sufficient to get the point across.  As it is, the situation starts to lose its power as a plot point.

The ending is a combination of a deus ex machina and a plot twist that is a bit unsatisfying.  There also isn’t enough resolution, and it appears that the next books in the series do not pick up again with these same characters, so it is doubtful there is more resolution down the road.  It is a disappointing ending that takes a turn that is nowhere near as powerful and interesting as the rest of the book.

Overall, this is an interesting fantastical take on a historic time period.  The ending could possibly be disappointing and not resolve enough for the reader and some readers will be frustrated with the depiction of the sole female character.  However, it is still a unique read that is recommended to historic fiction fans and WWII buffs that don’t mind having some supernatural aspects added to their history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Series, #4)

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

cover_shadeSummary:
Jon Evans has spent the last two years living in an enclave as a slip — someone who received a VIP pass to get into an enclave that was originally intended for someone else.  His stepmother and half brother live there as well, while his mother and older sister, Miranda, and her husband, Alex, live just outside of the enclave, working and serving it while living in filth.  Jon isn’t like the rest of them.  He can barely remember a time before the apocalypse of the moon being hit out of orbit.  The enclave and its ways seem increasingly normal, even if he is haunted by the memories of what happened in the years between the apocalypse and the arrival at the enclave.

Review:
I was a bit startled to see that this book featured yet another new perspective, particularly after the return to Miranda’s diary in the third book.  I was expecting a turn back to Alex, but instead we get Miranda’s little brother Jon’s perspective.  I can understand the reasoning for this shift.  Jon is the only young person from the original group living in the enclave.  He is a bit of an antihero throughout most of the book, providing a unique look at the privileged elite in this post-apocalyptic society but one that could be alienating to some readers.

Whereas the first two books focused on the actual apocalypse and the third on the immediate aftermath, this book looks at the new society emerging from that wasteland, and it’s not good.  It’s quite dystopian.  Not everyone who enjoys apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds also enjoy dystopian ones, so this is a bit of a risky move for a series, although it makes logical sense for the plot to progress this way.  The dystopia that Pfeffer imagines is interesting.  The elite have built up enclaves and use those who are not elite to work supporting them, basically killing themselves slowly mining coal and growing food while the elite stay safe and educated in the enclaves.  It allows for a look at social class taken to the extreme while still seeming realistic within the world Pfeffer has created.

Jon also is a realistic character.  He’s a bit spoiled rotten, after all, his brother, sister, and mother all routinely gave him extra food while they starved when the apocalypse first occurred.  He’s the result of all the coddling they gave the youngest in an effort to keep him alive and healthiest.  That said, some readers will be turned off by Jon.  He’s unequivocally a jerk throughout at least half of the book before he eventually snaps out of it.  While I personally enjoy a good antihero every now and then, not all readers will like visiting one, particularly after the more heroic presence of Miranda and Alex in the first two books.

There is one aspect of Jon’s character that really bothers me, and it has nothing to do with his snobbishness and antihero nature early on in the book.

*spoilers* 
He lets on early on in the book that something bad happened to Alex’s sister Julie.  He at one point misleads a female character to believe that he raped Julie to drive her away from him.  This is done to protect her, and the reader is led to believe through this scene that Jon obviously didn’t rape Julie.  Yet when we find out what actually happened, it’s not quite so crystal clear.  Jon basically was making out with Julie and not stopping when she asked him to the first time.  She then runs out into the storm and is killed in the tornado.  Jon states that of course he would have stopped, he was just slow about it and reluctant because he didn’t think Julie’s protests were real.  He thought she wanted him but wasn’t letting herself want him because of her religion.  This is clearly many levels of fucked up. The reader is supposed to just believe Jon that he would have stopped because he says so?  The reader is supposed to believe that Julie 100% over-reacted because Jon claims she did?  It’s a squicky scene to read about, partially because it comes across as that the reader is supposed to absolve Jon from any guilt since he clearly didn’t rape Julie.  He’s also upsetting because no one in the book treats this like the serious issue it is.  Everyone just kind of shrugs and goes oh Julie over-reacted and goes on their merry way.  Even if Jon really was about to stop when Julie ran out, he clearly needs to be spoken to about listening to your partner immediately, about seeking out enthusiastic consent, and about not victim blaming.  Particularly given that this is a YA book and what an important issue this is, the way it’s glossed over left a really sour taste in my mouth.
*end spoilers*

I’m not against the presence of an antihero, including in a YA book, but I do think that Jon’s worse qualities could have been handled with a bit more deftness.  His presence instead dances around the edges of certain issues, rather than drawing them out for examination within the context of a fun dystopia.

The plot gets a bit nuts, and one character in particularly has an ending that is rather anticlimactic.  However, the plot does eventually move everyone into a new area of the dystopia that is quite fascinating and sets the series up well for another book that will hopefully be free of Jon’s perspective, if Pfeffer does decide to write one.

Overall, readers of the beginning of the series will enjoy seeing what ultimately happens to Miranda and Alex, although they may be frustrated to have to do it through Jon’s eyes.  Jon is an antihero who may irritate some readers, and his presence brings up some issues that are then glossed over, rather than dealt with.  Recommended to readers who really want to see more of Miranda and Alex who don’t mind spending some time with an antihero.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Life As We Knew It, review
The Dead and The Gone, review
This World We Live In, review

Giveaway Winner: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley (INTERNATIONAL)

December 13, 2014 2 comments

Close-up of an elephant's eyeThe giveaway winner of one ebook version of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) by Samuel Hawley, courtesy of Samuel Hawley himself is……..

Comment #1 Jeane!

Jeane, I’ll be providing the email you left with your entry to the author, who will send along the ebook to you himself.

Thanks for entering!

10 Last-Minute Ebook Gifts For Under $5

December 11, 2014 2 comments

It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here).  I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks.  Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute.  Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago.  Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost.  A book is a book is a book!  I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though.  I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for.  Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.

For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie. The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.
Initiate by Tara Maya
$0
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  See my full review here.

For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.
Cursed by S. A. Archer
$0
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day.  See my full review here.

For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
99 cents
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  See my full review here.

For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:

Brain in a bowl.
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
$2.50
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously.  It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women.  See my full review here.

For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
$2.99
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  See my full review here.

For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:

cover_emotional geology
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
$2.99
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.  See my full review here.

For the horror fan:

Eyes behind a beaker.Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
$2.99
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people.  She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college.  Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance.  With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester.  But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.

For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingOne Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
$2.99
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  See my full review here.

For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
$3.03
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot.  He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee.  When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character.  This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for.  See my full review here.

For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:

Road during a rainstorm.The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
$4.99
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.  See my full review here.

I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another.  Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!

Book Review: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Series, #3)

December 9, 2014 1 comment

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Series, #3)Summary:
Miranda and her mother and brothers have barely survived the long winter that came right after the moon was knocked out of orbit by an asteroid, bringing an apocalypse.  She’s been wondering for months what happened to her father and his pregnant new wife.  She’s thrilled when they show up on the doorstep when her newborn half brother, but she’s not so sure about the three extra people they’ve brought with them — an adult man and a teenage boy and his little sister.

Review:
The third book in this series reverts back to the Miranda’s journal format of the first.  While I appreciate bringing the diverse characters from the first two books in the series together, the use of Miranda’s journal exclusively in telling the story renders the tale a bit less interesting and strong than it could have been.

It should come as no surprise that a YA series featuring a girl in the first book and a boy in the second will bring the two together in the third.  I must admit that although when I finished the first book I was very eager to read more about Miranda, when I finished the second I was intrigued at the idea of a series that saw the same apocalypse lived out in different places by different people throughout.  That said, getting to know the extensive background of the love interest is appreciated and different but it is a bit jarring to go back to Miranda’s diary after getting to know Alex so thoroughly in the second book.  The book could have been much more powerful if Miranda’s journals were interspersed with chapters from Alex’s perspective.  Getting this perspective would have helped make their love seem more real, as opposed to just convenient.  (Alex is the only teenage boy Miranda has seen in a year).  Additionally, in spite of Miranda falling for Alex so fast, he mostly comes across as cold and overly religious in this book, whereas in his own book he was much more empathetic.  Certainly the need for survival will make him come across stern, and we know that Alex has a tendency to say important things in Spanish, which Miranda cannot understand.  Both of these facts means it would have worked much better to have alternating perspectives, rather than just Miranda’s.

The plot, with the exception of the instant love between Alex and Miranda, is good.  It brings everyone into one place in a way that seems natural.  The addition of new characters also breathes new life into Miranda’s situation.  Plus, Pfeffer does a good job of forcing the family out of their stasis in the home, something that both makes logical sense (these people were not preppers, they are not equipped to stay in their home forever in the apocalypse) and also keeps the plot interesting (one can only read about people holed up in a house for so long).  The plot developments also make more sense, scientifically, than in the previous books.

Religion is handled less smoothly here than in the previous two books.  Everyone but Miranda’s mother and Miranda has church on Sunday (Protestant or Catholic), and Miranda doesn’t have enough of a reaction to or thoughts about this.  She doesn’t really think about faith or spirituality.  Church is just something some other people do.  This is unrealistic.  A teen who has just gone through a disaster and sees her father suddenly take up faith would definitely at the very least have some questions.  Given that Alex has a very strong faith and they are interested in each other, one would think they would have some conversations about religion that go beyond whether or not they can have sex before they get married, yet they don’t.  The first two books sets a great stage to talk about faith in its many forms, as well as lack of faith, yet the book backs away from actually tackling this issue.  If it had, it would have offered something truly thought-provoking in the read.  Instead it’s a post-apocalyptic survivor romance.  Not a bad thing but not what I was expecting based on the first two books.

Overall, this is an interesting next entry in the series that brings Miranda and Alex back to the readers and moves the plot forward.  However, it dances around the issue of faith vs. lack of faith brought up in the first two books, eliminates Alex’s voice from the story, and suffers from some instant romance.  Those already invested in the series will still enjoy seeing what happens to Alex and Miranda, although skimming for plot points is recommended.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Life As We Knew It, review
The Dead and The Gone, review

Giveaway: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley (INTERNATIONAL)

December 6, 2014 1 comment

Close-up of an elephant's eyeIt’s the penultimate giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  I was so happy to be able to offer so many giveaways this year! Thanks to the indie authors and indie publishing houses that made it possible.

There are TWO ebook versions of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) available courtesy of the author, Samuel Hawley!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of Bad Elephant Far Stream (review) by Samuel Hawley.

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating the coolest fact you know about elephants.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: December 13th.  One week from today!

Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley

December 6, 2014 2 comments

Close-up of an elephant's eyeSummary:
When Far Stream is still a young elephant in the late 1800s, not yet full grown and learning from her mother, aunties, and grandmother, humans trap and capture her and other members of her herd.  She is shipped to America and sold to a traveling circus.  Over the years, she slowly comes to be known as a bad elephant who must be put down.  But is she really bad?

Review:
I was quite excited when this book was submitted to me for review.  A piece of historic fiction from the perspective of an animal, focusing on animal rights problems in the circus? Such a perfect fit!  This is a well-researched and written piece of historic fiction that eloquently depicts the minds of elephants as similar to and yet different from those of humans.

The book opens with a scene of a so-called bad elephant about to be executed.  The humans state they are doing so humanely and nothing can be done because the elephant has gone rogue and killed too many  humans.  The book then flashes back to see the elephant’s life from the elephant’s perspective, leaving it up to the reader to determine if the elephant is actually bad.  The humans calls her Topsy, but her elephant name is actually Far Stream.  What follows in the flashback is a delicately handled and clearly exquisitely researched tale of the life of a circus elephant in the late 1800s in the US.

From the beginning, the author makes it clear that elephants are intelligent, with lives, families, and emotions of their own.  Quite a bit of this is backed up by science, such as elephants crying and also mourning dead members of the herd.  There are also those who think that elephants might communicate via sign language and/or telepathically, and the book fully embraces both ideas.  What results in telling this tale from the elephant’s perspective is a scene of one intelligent species enslaved by another that is heartbreaking to read.  What really makes the story work, though, is that the author strikes the perfect balance between showing the horror of being a circus elephant and also not fully demonizing humans.  There are good humans (trainers and non-trainers) who love the elephants and treat them well but simply do not understand that elephants are more intelligent and have a richer emotional life than they give them credit for and by simply keeping them away from the roaming herd life they were made for they are hurting them.

Everything about the circus in the late 1800s in the US was clearly thoroughly researched by the author.  The historic setting and ways of life flow smoothly and fit perfectly within the plot.  They are presented simply as reality without any unfortunate modern commentary or forcing of unnaturally modern ideas into the plot.  Reading this book truly transported me back in time, and it was fascinating and enjoyable, as well as heartbreaking.

Although the reader knows from the beginning that Far Stream will be executed, how she gets there is still a mystery and is handled delicately enough that the plot has momentum.

The one bit that didn’t really work for me is how the book presents what appears to be elephant spirituality.  There is one scene where Far Stream and another elephant appear to hallucinate, and it is never entirely clear what actually happened.  Similarly the ending goes to an odd spiritual place that just left me confused, rather than in the strong emotional state I was in the moments immediately prior to this.  I found the elephant spirituality bits to be a touch confusing that lessened the emotional strength of the rest of the book, which came across much more matter-of-fact.  Some readers may enjoy and relate to the spiritual aspect more than I did, however.

Overall, this is a piece of thoroughly researched historic fiction with a smooth moving plot and an empathetic, well-rounded main character.  It clearly demonstrates how animals humans once thought were less intelligent and less emotional than we now know them to be came to be mistreated, setting up a precedent for that mistreatment that to some extent continues to this day.  Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historic fiction and animal main characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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