Monday, June 24, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods

Book: Gameboard of the Gods
Series: Age of X book #1
Author: Richelle Mead

ReviewIn a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board. [Goodreads]

I'm a HUGE Richelle Mead fan and expected to devour this book in a day or two like all of her other books. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I spent several nights discussing how I should be reading the book instead of sitting on the couch texting a friend who was also lamenting abut how she couldn't get into it. 

The Good: I love the overall concept. Religious extremists unleashed a virus called Mephistopheles that killed 50% of the worlds population, creating a time known as 'The Decline.' Canada and the US merge to create RUNA and forcibly cross-breed with EA (Eastern Alliance, mostly China and Russia) to create people that can fight the virus (Plebians). Ethnically pure bloodlines (known as Castes), were given land grants and suffer 'The Mark of Cain', essentially genetic issues due to Mephistopheles. Religion is looked upon as very dangerous in RUNA and only a few groups that are registered are allowed to worship. Everyone is microchipped, females are required to have contraception implants at age 14, cars drive themselves and there is improved technology. RUNA is a world power and looks down on those who live outside of its borders. 

The Not So Good: I'm not sure how many books are planned in this series, but there was a lot of world building throughout 400+ pages. There is a lot going on and this book needed a glossary, timeline and map. After finishing the book I've discovered a glossary on Mead's website ( I wish I had the forethought to look for this when I first started reading the book.

Ehh: The book is told through three narrators, Justin, Mae and Tessa. I love the alternating narratives (this is the first Mead book I've read written in the third person, not a problem but she really excels at first person). I really didn't love any of the main characters. Justin March: imagine a womanzing, drug addicted Patrick Jane (the Mentalist). We're told Justin is an expert on religious groups but I'd say his biggest talent is reading people. He's metro-sexual and over confident in almost everything he does. The best parts of him are the voices in his head. There are two ravens residing there that provide most of the comic relief in the book. What I found most frustrating about Justin is that he doesn't bother to try to figure out what god is after him-he explains that there are hundreds of gods that have ravens but come on-in FOUR YEARS he didn't even bother? At the end of the book he essentially does one google search and figures it out on the first try. 

As for our female protagonist Mae: she's a gorgeous super soldier with an interesting back story (and perhaps one of the most awful mothers ever). Unfortunately, we don't learn about her background until the last quarter of the book and prior to that she is written so detached and cold I just didn't care much about her. Although Justin and Mae have an explosive first meeting, the romance seems to be going nowhere (I'm sure that will change in the coming books, but right now I don't see too much chemistry between the characters).  

Finally, Tessa. She's a 16 year old girl from Central American that Justin brings to RUNA. She experiences discrimination at school due to her provincial hair style and accent. I liked her well enough, I just wish she had a few less sections and Mae had more. I'm guessing she has a big story arc in the coming books, and I'm wondering if a different god will 'elect' her at some point. 

Overall, this book didn't click with me but I'm still excited about the series and hope that since the world is established, Mead will focus on the characters and storylines.  
Grade: 3/5

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Book: Girl With A Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier

Review: When Griet's father is blinded in an accident, she is forced to work as a maid for Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his family. Griet navigates diverse personalities in the household and ends up secretly assisting Vermeer in his artist endeavors.

While I'm not an art history buff, I love historical fiction and was really interested to see how Chevalier created a backstory that explains Vermeer's famous painting. The back of this book says it's a 'sensual awakening' and I was hoping for an illicit affair between Griet and Vermeer.  Although well written, this book is slowly and boring. I kept reading and reading waiting for something to happen...and not much happens. We learn in detail about Griet's daily work as a maid, there is some discussion regarding religious tensions (Griet is a Protestant living in a Catholic household) and most of all-we learn how wonderful Griet is. She is good at apparently everything she does. She knows how to cook better than the cook, she can get the stains out of the laundry better than anyone, she picks the best meat at the market, she is the only person that can clean the studio without disrupting anything and she is so beautiful every male that isn't related to her seems to be smitten with her. I could have dealt with all of that 'fabulousness' if she also didn't happen to give painting tips to Vermeer and comment that she knew what needed to be fixed in his paintings before he did. That was a little over the top. Griet was also the voice of this book but she was very self contained. She experiences a lot of firsts in this book (first kiss, first time a male sees her hair, loses her virginity) but she never really explores this situations. I think there was a lot of lost potential. 

In terms of the secondary characters in this book, we didn't spend enough time with Griet's family to really care about them. When the plague hits and a member perishes, I should have felt sad but I couldn't muster up any feelings. While Vermeer himself was mostly a shadow in this book with very little dialogue, his family was mostly one dimensional. We have the shrill wife who is jealous of Griet, the good daughter, the evil daughter (who was pretty evil for a 6 year old) and the jealous cook. The exception was my favorite character in the entire book, Vermeer's mother in law, Maria Thins. She runs the household behind the scenes and assists Griet in several ways. 

Rereading my review, it may seem like I hated the book. That isn't the case. I did like it, I just think it had a lot more potential. I wish it ended with Griet leaving the house standing at the crossroads and the readers are left to determine where she ends up. The final scene ***spoiler alert** with Vermeer leaving her the pearl earrings after his death didn't seem plausible. It was my impression that his feelings for her were related to an artistic sense, he wasn't in love with 'Griet the person.' He also seemed dedicated to his family and had to know there were in dire financial straits. Why would he leave valuable jewelry (which belonged to his wife I might add) a maid that had left years before? I'm guessing we are to surmise he really did love Griet but I don't think it fit in with the story.

Grade: 3/5

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Steel's Edge

Book: Steel's Edge
Series: The Edge #4
Author: Ilona Andrews

Review: Richard Mar is on a quest to eliminate the slave trade. He is gravely injured when he is saved by Charlotte in the Edge. Charlotte is a noble healer (a few rare talent) who left the Weird a few years prior after a difficult divorce. They team up to stop the slavers and fall in love. 

I was really looking forward to this book and expected to love it. I liked it well enough but here are some thoughts.

The Good: Most of the secondary characters were great. A new character Jason was introduced and George and Jack were fantastic. I know this series is considered over, but if Andrew's wanted to continue it, the door is open. I also thought the overall arc involving the slave trade was pretty interesting. 

The Okay: Richard and Charlotte. I didn't love them and I didn't hate them. They were just both a little boring. I was surprised by this because Charlotte has one of the coolest talents out of every character-she has the ability to heal and destroy in mass quantities. She can literally cause plagues! Both characters were reserved and stoic and their romance (which mostly consisted of internal dialogue) just seemed to happen. There was very little strife getting together.

The Inconsistencies: We have been told that people with strong magic cannot go into the Broken. Rose and Declan, who both flash white in the Edge, can cross over.  Richard can only flash blue in the Edge (blue is weaker than white) but his magic is too strong to cross over. Hmm..if Rose and Declan can cross over, Richard should be able to as well. We are also reminded how the Broken has technology but no magic, while the Weird is more like the middle ages with no modern technology but magic is strong (that is how I envisioned it in the previous books). It seemed like things were pretty modern in the Weird in this book. Also, now that we know healers exist, why didn't a healer 'fix' Spider after his spinal injury? 

The Odd: Charlotte is divorced, disappears for three years and shows up again without too much trouble. I know she was introduced by a woman of high standing but it seems like people should have been gossiping a little. There was also a lot of time spent on the proper fashion in the Weird and how Charlotte knew exactly what colors and styles were popular. She was gone for three years and didn't appear to keep in touch with anyone, she should have had to catch up herself on the current styles. Another oddity: Sophie. The extent of my opinion on her is: odd. She's emotionally traumatized from her time with the slavers and I wanted to sympathize with her, she just seemed so cold and distant. If Andrew's decides to expand this series with George and Jack, I would expect to see a more mature Sophie dealing with her demons. Now that could be a great book. 

The Downright Disappointing: **Spoiler, stop reading if you don't want to know the end of the book.**  Spider has been a formidable opponent to our favorite Edgers throughout the series. He's intelligent, has a strong, scary team and is a great fighter. He was not given the final showdown he deserved. In fact it seemed like an afterthought to wrap up his storyline. First of all, the only person that recognizes him is Sophie (really?!) and she kills him very easily (really?!). I just wanted and expected something a little more dramatic and exciting. 

Overall, I like this book  but it was my least favorite of the series. 

Grade: 3/5

Fate's Edge

Book: Fate's Edge
Series: The Edge #3
Author: Ilona Andrews

Review: I loved this book. LOVED it. Hands down, my favorite book in The Edge series.

Audrey Callahan works as an insurance investigator in the pacific northwest. A former thief, she is trying to live a simple (and legal) life. When her father shows up and asks her to do one more job, she agrees under the condition her family will leave her alone forever. Kaldar Mar, our favorite Mar with his charming good looks, charm and ability to bet himself in and out of situations, is now working for the Hand. He is tasked with tracking down the item and thinks it will be easy, until he meets Audrey. When the item gets in the hands of the wrong people, they have to work together to steal it back.  

What happens when a conman and con-woman have to work together? Their games don't work very well on each other, but it doesn't mean they stop trying. Kaldar was determined to seduce Audrey and she was equally adamant she could resist him. They complimented each other perfectly and their banter back and forth was funny throughout the book. I really enjoyed the first two books, but I love how Audrey was so different from Rose and Cerise in terms of her fighting skills-she had none. Her talents were in picking locks and grifting. Andrew's perfectly balanced the romance with the action/adventure and I was excited to read sections from the perspective of George and Jack. 

Overall-GREAT read. I loved this book! Home Run!

Grade: 5 BIG STARS

The Professionals

Book: The Professionals
Series: Stevens and Windermere #1
Author: Owen Laukkanen

Review: Four college friends are pondering their job prospects in a tough market when one suggests they turn to kidnapping. What starts off as a joke turns into a full time career as they travel the country kidnapping wealthy men for ransom. Things are going smoothly until they kidnap a man in Detroit whose wife has mob ties. When they attempt to drop off the hostage and unexpected violence takes place, the FBI and mob are both after them. 

'The Professionals' is a fast paced thrilled told from alternating perspectives. The primary narrator is Arthur Pender, the 28 year old ringleader of the group. From the police side, we are with Agent Stevens, a middle aged state policeman (assisting the young and beautiful FBI agent Windermere). From the organized crime side, mob man D'Antonio. The chapters are extremely short which keeps the pace moving fast and the story moves to several areas around the country.  I was impressed by Laukkanen's ability to make me feel sympathetic toward the kidnappers for almost the entire book, even as they became more violent.  I was impressed by Arthur and his team's ability to evade authorities (and the mob), especially as everything kept falling down around them. I kept thinking they would try to change their appearances at some point (hair cuts, dye, etc) but that never happened.  I will avoid spoilers, but I was still secretly routing for Arthur at the end.  My only issue with this book was the partnership between Stevens and Windermere. They didn't have much synergy and their flirting was a little disturbing and felt out of place (he's a happily married father, she's young and in a failing relationship). This is the first book of a series with these agents so hopefully the flirting is gone in the next book.

Overall-super fun, fast paced thriller. I will definitely read the next one on this series. 

Grade: 4/5

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Book: Birthmarked
Series: Birthmarked #1
Author: Caragh O'Brien

Review: Gaia Stone is a 16-year old mid-wife. When she delivers her first baby and 'advances' it to the Enclave, she doesn't question what she is doing. This is her duty and what she's been taught is right. But when Gaia's parents are arrested and held captive inside the Enclave, Gaia must question what she's been taught and risk herself to save her family.

I love dystopian worlds and was really excited to read this. Set 300 years in the future in the mid-west, the world has run out of oil but some people have been able to find an alternative energy source. They lived in a walled city called the Enclave. They are for the most part considered wealthy and have technology advantages. People live outside of the wall in settlements and are poor and don't even have running water. The first three babies born to every mid-wife are 'advanced' (given up for adoption essentially) to families in the Enclave. When the children reach age 13, they have the choice to stay in the Enclave or return to their families-not surprisingly everyone chooses to stay in the Enclave. Gaia's two older brothers were advanced but she was not, largely due to a burn mark down the side of her face that happened when she was a baby (the Enclave doesn't accept disfigured children). The Enclave has not been keeping birth records of the babies from the outside, and now they have an inbreeding problem as well as a high rate of hemophilia. Gaia happens to have some critical information that Enclave wants. Can she free her parents and keep the information secret?

Gaia was 16 but read like a 12 year old. She was extremely naive and childish. After her parents are kidnapped, she decides she needs to go to the city to save them. That is literally the extent of her plan. No joke. I would expect a little more preparation. She meets a man in her settlement for the first time (of course she trusts him implicitly) and he tells her he can get her into the city. She accepts and quickly finds herself in the city. A lot of things just seem to happen pretty easy for Gaia throughout the book and a lot  of people are willing to help her. I couldn't really figure out why all these people were helping her, as her main goal was to rescue her parents, not to help the greater good in any capacity. When she finally is captured, she gives up the information (the same information her mother told her to destroy and she herself was willing to go to jail for), very easily. I thought she would have tried to hide the item in question a little better and put up more resistance. There was also a love story element that should be explored more in the following books. I felt bad for Leon, after everything he did to help Gaia she continued to question his motives. 

Overall-interesting world but a flat and boring main character. The 'bad' guys didn't seem that evil but there is a lot of potential for the next two books. I'm undecided if I'll read them. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Rebecca
Author: Daphne Du Maurier

Review: A young woman meets an older wealthy widow and they get married. They go back to Manderley, his large English estate, where the memory of his late wife (who died only a year ago) seems to be everywhere. 

'Rebecca' has a wonderful storyline. An unnamed young, naive woman falls for a wealthy, older man. After a whirlwind honeymoon, they move to Manderley, his large estate.  The new Mrs. Winter has difficulty settling into her new life as she is surrounded by a sinister servant, a distant husband, and a feeling that Rebecca (the first Mrs. Winter) is felt everywhere. When Mrs. Winter discovers the true details of Rebecca's death, how will she react and how will it affect her marriage? 

While 'Rebecca' is well written, it is extremely slow and boring. Most of the book is thoughts and feelings inside the narrators head. There are very few true interactions with other people. Perhaps if the narrator had a strong personality and was vivacious, this would have been okay, but instead she is weak and spineless. I'm still not sure if she was in love with Max or if she just wanted to escape her life and was in love with the life he could provide her with. Mrs. Danver's (the villainous servant who loved Rebecca and seemed to hate the new Mrs. Winters) was certainly a pain but not as sinister as she could be. Why she was allowed to continue to work at Manderley is beyond comprehension. There were several instances where she should have been fired, most notably the dress incident. **Spoiler Alert** I think what I found most shocking was Mrs. Winter's reaction to finding out her husband murdered his first wife. She was actually happy/relieved that he didn't love Rebecca and wanted to help him cover it up. Um, say what?! He killed someone. Wouldn't you be the slighted bit worried that if you made him made he might snap and kill you? She had no such reservations. 

Overall, this is a very well-written novel albeit extremely boring. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, but I can see why this is required reading for most high school English classes. 

Grade: 3/5

Entwined with You

Book: Entwined with You
Series: Crossfire
Author: Sylvia Day

Review: **This review contains spoilers**

'Entwined With You' picks up immediately after the last book ended. Eva learns that Gideon staged their breakup and that he murdered Nathan to protect her. What will happen with their relationship now? Are the police still investigating the crime? Can Eva and Gideon heal from their past and build a successful and healthy future together?

First, this series was initially marketed as a trilogy but I knew before I read this that it is now going to be a five part series. I'm okay with that, but I can see why people who didn't would be frustrated. That being said, I have been looking forward to this book for months. I loved the first book, was disappointed in the second book and had high hopes for this book. I wish I could say I loved this book but  it didn't live up to expectations. 

Similar to the last book, about 2/3 of this book had little to no plot and then there was some progression the last third. I was hoping to see how Eva and Gideon would handle the whole 'I killed someone for you' situation, but it was barely referenced and they mostly sneaked around (to hide their relationship from people and the police) and had sex. Their relationship is still completely unhealthy and seems more like an addiction to each other than a loving/caring partnership. There were several references to how virile Gideon was and a lot of pages dedicated to how hot Eva thinks he is. We get it. We're on book 3. He's a god among men. They do get engaged (and secretly married) at the end of the book and the proposal was...nothing special to say the least. 

There was too much time spent on daily activities. Eva goes to lunch with a co-worker whose wife (maybe it was his girlfriend) doesn't each carbs. I think she had 3 lunch dates with this dude. There was way too much time spent on Corinne and her obsessive behavior with Gideon. I think I'm with most readers when I say: we don't care about Corinne. At all. Someone else we don't care about? Megumi. She must have a prominent storyline in the next 2 books because she was all over this book. My sympathy for Carey took a nose dive with his storyline and I never thought I'd say this, but Eva really frustrated me as well. She is supposedly madly in love with Gideon and he is everything she ever wanted, but she still can't break off ties with Brett. She is still attracted to him, he is hot, etc etc. Eva tells us her relationship with Brett wasn't that serious but yet she cannot bring herself to cut off communications with him. The final straw was when she invited him back to her apartment. Alone! Nothing happened, but she was playing with fire. 

Finally, there was a minor subplot involving the police investigation which should play a big role in the next book. Someone knows Gideon killed Nathan and cleaned up after him. The Russian mob may also be involved. 

The most frustrating thing about this book is the ending-it literally just ends, seemingly mid chapter. 

Although I was very disappointed in this, I will definitely finish the series. 

Grade: 2/5