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Book Review: The Underworld King by Ranjit More (Series, #1)

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

A Hindu god holding a sword and staring at a lizard.Summary:
Drumila, four-armed king of the daityas, seeks to take them above ground to escape their enemy the naagas, giant flame-breathing serpents.  Meanwhile, Krishna (the highest-ranking god) sends his daughter, Nandini, to Earth in human form to weaken Drumila and keep him from crossing the barrier from Earth into the higher plains.  Unfortunately, Nandini ends up liking Drumila a bit more than they bargained for.

Review:
I was excited to have a fantasy based in a non-European mythology submitted to me, and wow is this different from the typical European-based fantasy.  In a good way.  This is a dense, different fantasy with a strong learning curve unless the reader is already very familiar with Hinduism.

The basic story reads just like mythology.  This has pros and cons.  On the plus side, it feels quite fantastical.  On the minus side, some of the plot points can be cringe-worthy (such as an unwanted kiss that could have turned into a rape if the female character hadn’t suddenly 180ed from zero interest to desire) and the characters can be a bit two-dimensional.  This will bother some readers, but those who enjoy mythology, in spite of its shortcomings, will appreciate this read.  Personally, I generally prefer if authors update and modernize their mythological rewritings a bit more, but not all readers feel that way.

The author is well-aware that Hindu mythology won’t be familiar to many Western readers, so he offers an extensive footnotes that are well hyperlinked in the ebook that explain both definitions of words and various aspects of Hindu mythology.  This means that the reader learns a lot but it does also slow down the reading of the book and breaks up the immersion in the world.  The footnotes are a good idea but perhaps if some of the words and concepts were better incorporated and explained within the writing itself then there could be fewer footnotes that offered greater explanations of more value.

The ending is a bit abrupt.  It’s clear this is intended to be the first book in a series, but an extremely abrupt ending like this one makes it difficult to feel like the reader got a full book out of the deal.  It feels more like the pilot of a tv show than the first book in a series.

I would give this book a more full review, but it has been pulled from publication since the review copy was sent to me.  I really wish when authors and/or publishers choose to do this that they would notify those of us with review copies.  While I enjoyed the read enough to not regret reading it, it feels rather silly for me to bother reviewing a book no one else can get their hands on anymore.

Overall, this is a fantasy book set firmly in the tradition of Hindu mythology that will best appeal to readers who enjoy the traditional features of mythology and don’t mind an abrupt ending.

3 out of 5 stars

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

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Book Review: The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair (Series, #1)

November 6, 2014 2 comments

Book Review: The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair (Series, #1)Summary:
Logan finds himself a single dad after his young son’s mother abandons him on his doorstep, so he moves back to his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, looking to provide his young son with some stability.  He has a bad rep from his teen years in Salem to get over, though, and he hopes his new job as a television producer at the local tv station will help.  He wasn’t expecting his downstairs neighbor Melody Seabright, however.

Melody, who seems incapable of holding onto a job for any length of time, gets him to get her a meeting with the owner of the tv station and somehow convinces him to give her her own tv show, The Kitchen Witch.  The only problem is she can’t cook, and whether or not she’s really a witch is up for debate.

Can Melody learn how to cook and hold onto the job? Or are both of their jobs now in jeopardy?  And why does Logan keep thinking about such an unpredictable woman when he knows he needs to provide stability for his son?

Review:
I picked this up on a free book cart at a local library because the cover and title were cute, and I definitely am periodically in the mood for some lighthearted paranormal romance.  I was a bit disappointed to find this isn’t really a paranormal romance, but I still enjoyed the contemporary tale it told, primarily due to its featuring a good-hearted single dad.

Logan is a contemporary romance character who will make many readers’ hearts beat a bit faster.  He’s cute, young, has a high-powered job, lives in the quirky town of Salem and enjoys it, and is an awesome single dad to his young son.  Having him be a bad boy who overcame it for his son is the perfect last touch for a contemporary romance.  I can see many readers enjoying fantasizing about him.

Melody may be a bit more hit and miss with readers.  The delightfully clumsy bit has been used a lot in romance recently and may feel a bit been there done that.  Her apartment is divinely adorable, though, and she has some curves that are always looked upon as a good thing.  Her difficult relationship with her own father adds some depth to the character, but some readers might have trouble sympathizing with a poor little rich girl, although I do think that Blair handled this particular aspect well.

Blair also writes children characters beautifully.  The son sounds like a child, and yet still has the proper astuteness and vocabulary for his age.  The only negative I can say about him is that I honestly already forgot his name.  However, I enjoyed his presence every time he popped up into the story.

The plot is where things get a bit shaky.  The book is definitely marketed as a paranormal romance, and there are hints at the beginning of the book that Melody might be a witch, but that never comes to fruition.  The best I can tell is that she’s learned how to act and sound like a witch by virtue of living and working in Salem.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it was disappointing given that I thought I was getting a paranormal story.  I also thought that if the book is going to have Logan suspicious Melody is a witch, at some point he should definitely find out once and for all whether she is one.  I think perhaps the book was trying to say she’s just a regular girl with some knowledge of Wicca (which isn’t the same thing as being a paranormal romance witch, since Wicca is a religion and doesn’t actually involve paranormal romance style magic but it’s still a reveal I would have been happier with).  However, that also is never firmly revealed.  Just what type of witch, if any, Melody is is just a plot idea that is dropped and never fully dealt with, which is a bit frustrating.

A bigger plot issue to me though is that this book falls into the romance trope of everyone can see the couple should be together but the couple makes up fake obstacles to stand in their way and they just have to come to their senses and deal with their own stupidity to get over it.  (I really wish there was a shorter way to describe that particular trope…..)  It is just a trope that really bugs me.  I don’t mind real obstacles in the way of a couple, but the couple just being idiotic and making up their own obstacles feels to me like the author stirring up fake drama to make the book longer.  Also, I am 100% a-ok with a couple meeting, working out some realistic difficulties, and then being together.  Things that are overly dramatic for the sake of drama just rub me the wrong way.  Some readers may be ok with this trope, but for those who aren’t, be aware that this is where the plot eventually goes.

Having been to Salem multiple times, I can say that the author clearly did her research, as she depicts the culture and feel of Salem quite well.  She also understands the layout of the town and even gives a realistic vague-ish location for Logan and Melody’s house.  (In the few blocks nearish the House of the Seven Gables, in case you’re wondering).

The sex scenes were good, not ridiculous.  They weren’t mind-blowingly hot, but they were fun to read and well-written.

Overall, this is a good contemporary romance featuring a lovable single dad love interest that is mismarketed as a paranormal romance.  Those looking for paranormal romance should be aware that this fits in much better with the contemporary romance crowd.  Additionally, those who are frustrated by couples keeping themselves apart for no reason should be aware that this is the romance trope found in this particular book.  Recommended to those looking for a steamy contemporary read featuring a heartthrob single dad and a realistically quirky New England town.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library free book cart

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Reminder: I Will Be Accepting Review Requests November 1st through December 31st for Review in 2015

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Just a quick reminder that Opinions of a Wolf will be OPEN to review requests November 1st through December 31st.  All requests accepted will be reviewed during 2015 right here on this blog.

On November 1st a post will go live with full details on how exactly the review request process will work this year.  There are two big changes for the review process this year.

  1. All requests will be submitted via a submission form. I will NOT be accepting requests via email or comments on the blog.
  2. I will only be accepting a maximum of 6 books for 2015.

I read and review review request books from indie authors only.  Indie authors are defined (by me) as self-published or backed by a small, independent publishing house.  These reviews are a two-pronged labor of love for me.  First, as an indie author myself, I know many reviewers do not accept indie books.  So I want to give you a place to send your books.  Second, as a reader, I also want to do a service to the reading community by providing only 100% honest reviews of these books.  If I say an indie book is good, they know they can trust it, since I’m not afraid of giving a negative review to an indie author.  The value of your book being reviewed here is that everyone will know the review was honest from someone who reads a lot of indie work.  Even a negative review proves that it’s not just your family and friends reviewing your work.  Please remember that I am a real person trying to do a helpful thing for the community for free and engage with me from a place with that in mind.

I would also like to note that I strongly encourage women writers and GLBTQA writers to submit to me, particularly in genres that do not normally publish works by these authors.  I was quite disappointed last year to get very few women or GLBTQA authors submitting.  Please help me get the word out that I am actively seeking works by these authors.

You may see the full list of genres I am open to reviewing here.  This list will also be on the submission form.

Remember: Don’t submit before November 1st and don’t submit in any way except using the submission form I will provide.

Good luck!

Book Review: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 9, 2014 3 comments

cover_buick8Summary:
When Pennsylvania state troopers are called in for an abandoned car, they expect it to be a simple report and transfer to impound. But instead they find a car that is slightly off.  It looks like a Buick 8 but isn’t quite one.  Plus its engine by all laws of mechanics should not work.  The troopers agree to make the Buick their responsibility, putting it in a shed and keeping an eye on it.  Because it’s not just a car. It might not be a car at all.

Review:
I was told before I read this by other Stephen King fans that it’s not one of King’s better books, but I would like to read everything he has written, so I picked it up anyway.  This is a book that builds thrills slowly and gently to a conclusion that may not seem satisfying to many readers.

The biggest thing that I think took the thrills out of the book for me is that I am not a car person.  When the narrator was describing the Buick 8, I had no idea any of it was off at all, so it didn’t give me the creeps.  When they first describe the engine, for instance, I was surprised they were freaked out by it because it just seemed like a mysterious engine to me….like all engines.  I definitely think there are more thrills to be found here if the reader is a car person.  A car person will get caught up in what’s awry with the Buick, and see it as the mystery that the state troopers recognize it to be immediately.

What this book excels at is what King always excels at.  The book establishes the place and feeling of rural Pennsylvania beautifully.  The characters all speak in accurate and easily readable dialogue.  There is a large assortment of characters, and they are easy to tell apart.  The timeline of the book is carefully selected for just the right tempo for the book.  These are all wonderful things that kept me reading and made me engaged with characters I might not normally identify with.

Some readers might find that the plot and thrills move too slowly for them.  The Buick has issues gradually over time, and the conclusion they build to might not feel like a satisfying conclusion for all readers.  Personally, I enjoy slower moving thrillers, so this worked for me, but it might not work for all.  Similarly, I believe the ending will be more satisfying to those who have read the entire Dark Tower series than to those who have not.  What is going on with the Buick is more understandable and a bigger deal if the reader is aware of all of the context provided by the Dark Tower.

Overall, if you are a car person who will appreciate a car that is slightly off and also enjoys slowly moving thrillers enhanced by a strong sense of place, this will be a great read for you.  Similarly, those who have read the Dark Tower may be interested in this book due to some possible connections to that series.  If neither of those descriptions fit you, you may want to pick up a different Stephen King book for your thrills.  He certainly has plenty to choose from.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: Breed by Chase Novak (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Peter Ganim)

October 2, 2014 5 comments

Red outline of a woman's pregnant body against a black backgroundSummary:
When Leslie married Alex, she knew they both agreed on wanting children.  What she didn’t realize, though, was how fiercely Alex, the last son in a long line of wealthy and powerful New Yorkers, would want only their own biological children.  He’s willing to try anything to get them biological children, and she feels she can’t deny him one last-ditch effort with a doctor in Slovenia that a couple from their infertility support group swears worked for them.  And the woman has the baby bump to prove it.  So they fly off to Slovenia, and from the first instant in the doctor’s office, Leslie feels that something just isn’t right….

Review:
I’m a real sucker for evil pregnancy/children stories.  Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are two of my favorite movies.  So when I heard about this new take on a classic trope, I knew I had to try it out.  The book ends up being much less about pregnancy and more about the perils of genetic modification, providing an interesting twist on the evil pregnancy trope that carries out through the childhood of the babies that were conceived.

Essentially, the parents’ genetics were so messed up by the treatments performed by the doctor that they start turning into something different from human.  Something a bit more animalistic.  The children, of course, also have some of this animalistic genetics, but most of the differences don’t show up until puberty.  This allows the children to be innocents for most of the book while their parents have gone off the rails from their very first treatment.  My favorite part of this book is how it offers a smart critique of pushing our bodies to do something they don’t want to do.  Where is that line?  How far should we push things with science and at what point will using science make us something different from human?  And is that something different going to necessarily be better?  Leslie clearly feels that her children were ultimately worth everything she, her husband, and their bodies went through, but the book itself leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.

Beyond this concept, though, the actual execution of the characterizations and the plot get a bit messy.  The writing can sometimes wander off onto tangents or become repetitive.  Some aspects of the plot are explored too much whereas others are glossed over too quickly.  The book starts out tightly written and fast-paced but toward the end of the book the plot gets disjointed and goes a bit off the rails.  Part of the issue is a bit of a lack of continuity regarding just how messed up Leslie and Alex actually are by the treatments.  Are they still at all human or are they completely untrustworthy?  Is there any possibility of redemption for them?  At first both seem equally far gone but then Leslie seems to pull back from the edge a bit, thanks to a MacGuffin.  It’s hard to be frightened of the situation if the frightening aspect of the parents comes and goes at will.

Similarly, in spite of the book wanting us to root for Alice and Adam (the twins Leslie and Alex have), it’s hard to really feel for them when they come across as extraordinarily two-dimensional, particularly Alice.  Children characters can be written in a well-rounded way, and when it’s well-done, it’s incredible.  Here, though, Alice and Adam seem to mostly be fulfilling the role of children and not of fully fleshed characters.

Most of these issues are more prevalent in the second half of the book, so it’s no surprise the ending is a bit odd and feels like it leaves the reader hanging.  I was surprised to find out there’s a sequel, as I thought this was a standalone book.  On the one hand I’m glad there’s another one, because the story isn’t finished.  On the other, I’m not a fan of such total cliffhanger endings.

Overall, the first half of the book offers up a thrilling and horrifying critique of just how far people should be willing to go to get pregnant.  The second half, however, is not as tightly plotted and drops the well-rounded characterization found in the first half of the book.  Recommended to pregnancy and/or genetic modification horror enthusiasts who may be interested in a different twist but won’t be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (Series, #6)

September 24, 2014 3 comments

A woman holding a sword stands near a dog wearing star sunglasses.Summary:
Lizzie and Dimitri are back from their honeymoon and are all moved in to their new California oceanfront home.  Lizzie is loving married life, even if she has to deal with keeping her talking dog Pirate’s pet dragon out of trouble.  But one night someone dumps a purgatory creature on their beach, and their search for who did it and why leads Lizzie right back to two of her worst nemeses: a big bad demon and her birth father.

Review:
I was really excited to be able to get an advanced reading copy of this book, since I’ve been a fan of the series from book one.  I also was happy to see that Fox wasn’t going to stop the series just because Lizzie got married.  I think more urban fantasy needs to acknowledge that you don’t have to be single or have a dramatic love life in order to be bad-ass.  This book demonstrates quite well that just because Lizzie got married doesn’t mean that the series will stagnate.

The book’s strength is its opening sequences demonstrating Lizzie’s married life, as well as the first time we see the biker witches’ new permanent digs.  Both show that while everyone is still the characters we first met and fell for, they are also progressing and changing as their life situations change.  The scenes of Lizzie and Dimitri’s new married life are a pleasure to read, seeing them settled into being a partnership and Pirate accepting of the fact that he is now banned from the bedroom.  It’s also pretty hilarious to see them trying to hide the supernatural from their homeowner’s association.  Similarly, the biker witches are still quirky and funny but now they have made a real home out of a motel, including a surprisingly beautiful magical courtyard out back.  These are the characters we love in new situations, and it’s quite well done.

The plot is a bit meh this time around.  We’ve seen this big bad demon multiple times before, as well as the problems with Lizzie’s birth family.  It feels a bit like a recycled plot, in spite of some of the finer details being different.  I think it’s high time Lizzie gets a new big bad to fight.  Additionally, I think a lot of readers will have a problem with the direction the plot goes at the end of the book.  Fox pulls up this thing that is earth-shattering to readers, and should be to the characters, but they kind of just brush it off and don’t really deal with the consequences.  I’m hoping that they will in the next book, but even if they do, it’s still a rough plot for this book.  It starts out ho-hum as something we’ve seen before then in the final third goes suddenly off the rails in a direction a lot of readers won’t like.  Kind of a difficult plot to deal with when it’s wrapped in such cute characters, scenes, and overarching series developments.

*spoilers*
For those who’ve read it, I seriously question the plot having Lizzie kill Pirate with such vehemence when she’s possessed, only to have him brought right back to life.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the idea of having Lizzie possessed after all of her loved ones were possessed by the same demon in the prior book.  That’s an interesting direction to go.  But having Lizzie actually kill Pirate? Gut-wrenching to read.  And then she faces no consequences because he is just brought back to life, and everyone instantly forgives her?  It felt like Fox ripped my heart out for no reason, and then I didn’t forgive Lizzie as fast as her family and friends seemed to.  It was a tough ending to the book.
*end spoilers

The sex scenes are the perfect level of sexy and romantic. They feel just right for newlyweds but also don’t overwhelm the plot.  One character from a prior book is explored more in-depth, and a new character is added.  I wasn’t a fan of the latter, but I enjoyed the former.

Overall, this book handles its urban fantasy heroine’s new married life quite well, balancing the romance with the fighting, dangers, and sexiness readers expect.  Some readers may be bothered by the fact that the plot starts out feeling like a do-over of previous plots, and some may be bothered by the ending of the book.  However, fans of the series should definitely pick this one up to see where Lizzie and the gang are heading, and they will be left wanting to pick up the next one as quickly as possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, review
The Last of the Demon Slayers, review
My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding, review

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Book Review: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

September 19, 2014 6 comments

A woman's jawline and neck are viewed through a shattered glass.Summary:
Annie O’Sullivan extremely forcefully declares in her first therapy session that she doesn’t want her therapist to talk back to her; she just wants her to listen.  And so, through multiple sessions, she slowly finds a safe space to recount her horrible abduction from an open house she was running as an up-and-rising realtor, her year spent as the prisoner of her abductor, and of her struggles both to deal with her PTSD now that she’s free again and to deal with the investigation into her abduction.

Review:
I was intrigued by the concept of this book.  Yes, it’s another abduction story, but wrapping it in the therapy sessions after she escapes was an idea I had not seen before.  So when I saw this on sale for the kindle, I snatched it up.  I’m glad I did, because this is a surprisingly edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Stevens deals with the potential issue of back-and-forth with the therapist by having Annie say in her first session that in order to feel safe talking about what happened to her, she needs the therapist to say very little back to her.  It is acknowledged that the therapist says some things to Annie, but it appears that she waits to talk until the end of the session when Annie is done talking.  What the therapist says isn’t recorded but Annie does sometimes respond to what she suggested in later sessions.  This set-up has the potential to be clunky, but Stevens handled it quite eloquently.  It always reads smoothly.

The plot itself starts out as a basic abducted/escaped one, with most of the thriller aspects of the first half of the book coming from slowly finding out everything that happened to Annie when she was abducted.  The second half is where the plot really blew me away, though.  The investigation into her kidnapping turns extremely exciting and terrifying.  I don’t want to give too much away.  Suffice to say that I wasn’t expecting most of the thrills to come from the investigation after the kidnapping and yet they did.

Annie is well-developed. Her PTSD is written with a deep understanding of it.  For instance, she both needs human connection and is (understandably) terrified of it, so she pushes people away.  Stevens shows Annie’s PTSD in every way, from how she talks to her therapist to how she behaves now to subtle comparisons to how she used to be before she was traumatized.

Other characters are well-rounded enough to seem like real people, including her abductor, yet it also never seems like Annie is describing them with more information than she would logically have.

I do want to take just a moment to let potential readers know that there are graphic, realistic descriptions of rape.  Similarly, the end of the book may be triggering for some.  I cannot say why without revealing what happens but suffice to say that if triggers are an issue for you in your recovery from trauma, you may want to wait until you are further along in your recovery and feel strong enough to handle potentially upsetting realistic descriptions of trauma.

Overall, this is a strong thriller with a creative story-telling structure.  Those who enjoy abduction themed thrillers will find this one unique enough to keep them on the edge of their seat.  Those with an interest in PTSD depicted in literature will find this one quite realistic and appreciate the inclusion of therapy sessions in the presentation.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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