Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Codex Born by Jim Hines

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Isaac Vainio’s life was almost perfect. He should have known it couldn’t last.

Living and working as a part-time librarian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isaac had finally earned the magical research position he dreamed of with Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters. He was seeing a smart, fun, gorgeous dryad named Lena Greenwood. He had been cleared by Johannes Gutenberg to do libriomancy once again, to reach into books and create whatever he chose from their pages. Best of all, it had been more than two months since anything tried to kill him.

And then Isaac, Lena, and Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah are called to the small mining town of Tamarack, Michigan, where a pair of septuagenarian werewolves have discovered the brutally murdered body of a wendigo.

What begins as a simple monster-slaying leads to deeper mysteries and the discovery of an organization thought to have been wiped out more than five centuries ago by Gutenberg himself. Their magic rips through Isaac’s with ease, and their next target is Lena Greenwood.

They know Lena’s history, her strengths and her weaknesses. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, she was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies mean to use her to destroy everything he and the Porters have built. But their plan could unleash a far darker power, an army of entropy and chaos, bent on devouring all it touches.

The Upper Peninsula is about to become ground zero in a magical war like nothing the world has seen in more than five hundred years. But the more Isaac learns about Gutenberg and the Porters, the more he questions whether he’s fighting for the right cause.

One way or another, Isaac must find a way to stop a power he doesn’t fully understand. And even if he succeeds, the outcome will forever change him, the Porters, and the whole world.

And here's what I thought:  This is the second book in this series, after Libriomancer, which I really enjoyed.   In this book, Hines seamlessly picks up from where the first book left off, and while he continues that storyline, he spends some time also giving some back-story to Lena Greenwood, who we meet in the first book.

One of the things I really like about Jim Hines is that he writes a great female character; he spends a lot of time making Lena seem very realistic, in her mannerisms, and her emotions, especially.  He also treats her fairly ---- and what I mean by this is that he doesn't spend tons of time describing what she looks like, but instead, spends time creating who she is.  I'm mentioning this because it seems like there are a lot of stories where the male character is rounded out as a realistic person, while any female characters have the focus more on what they look like, and how they thus relate to the male character.   This is something I find annoying when it happens.  If you don't do this to a male character, then don't do it to a female character, okay?

But, I wouldn't expect anything less than this from Jim Hines.  I've read other books by him, and I've met him at conventions, and I read his blog on a regular basis.   He's a nice guy, and he's an intelligent guy.  And, I agree with his views on a lot of things .... especially on issues of gender.

So, that being said, I'll get back to my views on the book.  I liked everything about this book, except that it had to end, and that I now have to wait for the next book.   This is something that always happens with a good book, doesn't it?  You get all excited about it, and you sit down, and get all caught up in it, and then ..... you're done, and you have to wait for the author to write the next one.     I think Hines does a nice job of combining storytelling that has elements of humor, and drama, with characters that are interesting (and frankly, people I'd like to hang out with in real life).   I love his idea of libriomancy, where talented people can reach into books and pull things out. But, I also really enjoyed his exploration of things like werewolves, and dryads, and how these people relate to the people around them.  The background he gives Lena is really interesting, and now, I feel like I know her character so much better.  And, okay.... I also really like Smudge, the fire spider.  I mean, he's so cool.....

I get the impression that Jim Hines really enjoys writing, and that makes his books a treat to read.

First lines:  As a libriomancer and a researcher, this was one of the moments I lived for.  I loved that this brilliant, untrained fourteen-year-old girl had just shattered an entire body of magical theory.  I hated the fact that I couldn't figure out how she had done it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ----- born this way

Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addict has very generously taken up the mantle of hosting the Book Blogger Hop (thank you!).      I'm trying to get back on track with blogging, to post at least one review a week, and one other post ---- so the Hop is great incentive for me.  :)

This week's question, which comes from Kero, is: Were you a born bookworm or did somebody get you into the habit of reading?

I was born into a family of readers, so I guess being a bookworm is genetic.  My parents started me off with how to read at a very early age, and I know my older sister also helped me --- but pretty quickly, I was off and running.  Once I figured out the basics, there was no stopping me; I would read anything I could get my hands on.  Whether it was a book, or a magazine, or even the back of a cereal box, I would read it (or at least try to).    I'm the youngest in my family, and my siblings are 8 and 11 years older than me, so while there was a lot of reading material in the house, some of it was beyond where I was at, reading-wise.    However, I was always several grades ahead with my reading-level, so being surrounded by material (and a family of readers) encouraged that.

Going to the library was always a lot of fun, too.  My brother or sister would walk with me (we could walk to the library from my house, although part of the walk was on a busy road), but as soon as I could go by myself, I would go and fill up my arms with books.  My mom would also sometimes take me to the library at the Art Institute in Chicago.  Although we couldn't check out books, it was always nice to sit there and read with her.

Now that I'm a librarian, I've got access to all kinds of books and reading material (which is wonderful, and also sometimes a bit awful --- too many books, too little time!)

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Friday -- and reading some good stuff!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

And here's what I thought:  I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this book at ALA, so I was able to read it before it comes out in September, 2013.   Holly Black is an author I'm familiar with, so I expected to enjoy this book --- and I did.

I liked the original idea here of the Coldtowns, where the people inside are quarantined, and where the outside world, while separated, is still very much affected.   The concept was cool, and the author did a great job of crafting the whole thing, whether it was the physical aspects of the Coldtown, or the people inside.  I also liked how she made the media an integral part of how people on the outside both romanticized and feared the Coldtowns.    I also really liked that she brought in realistic elements into the Coldtowns, like how if you entered one, you'd need to bring a lot with you, because everything worked on a barter system (smart!)

I also thought the first chapter was one of the best I've read in a long time.   It doesn't happen all the time, but it's wonderful when a first chapter starts out and you find you're reading faster and faster because you want to know what's going to happen next.    And speaking of chapters, Holly Black did something I found really added an interesting flavor: she adds a little quote at the start of each chapter.  These are quite varied, and I made sure I was reading each of them, because they were each like a little treat.  For example, "And what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead.  The communicated of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." - T.S. Eliot

As far as characters went, I thought Tana was written well.  As a main character, there's a lot of background explained for her, and I felt she was pretty realistic.   Our two main supporting characters are her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a edgy, bad-boy vampire named Gavriel.  I actually thought Gavriel was a much more interesting character than Aidan (and frankly, wished Aidan would just get eaten up and disposed of).  And, as far as vampires go, there were some interesting details in this book, which I always appreciate.   After all, how many vampire books can you read without feeling like the subject material has been beaten into a dry pulp?

However, the overall feeling I got from this book was that it was a bit of a bumpy ride.  As much as I liked some of the concepts and characters, the pacing felt really off at times.  There's no doubt in my mind that the book is well-written, and Holly Black has a deft hand with her prose.  She spent time with backstory, which I understood, but somehow, it sometimes felt a bit forced in -- kind of like when you're driving fast in the far left lane, and you come up behind someone going slow, and you have to take off your cruise control.

So, overall I thought it was okay.  This book is a nice combination of the familiar and the new, with a couple of interesting characters.  Was it the best book I've read this year?  No, but it's a pretty good one.

First lines:   Tana woke lying in a bathtub.  Her legs were drawn up, her cheek pressed against the cold metal of the faucet.  A slow drip had soaked the fabric on her shoulder and wetted locks of her hair.  The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief.  Her neck felt stiff; her shoulders ached.  She looked up dazedly at the ceiling, at the blots of mold grown into Rorshach patterns.  For a moment, she felt completely disoriented.  Then she scrambled up onto her knees, skin sliding on the enamel, and pushed aside the shower curtain.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ---- what to do when faced with a request

I feel like I've been away from my blog forever .... probably because I haven't had much to say about the books I've been reading.    I haven't participated in Book Blogger Hop for ages and ages .... but the question this time caught my eye, and it's been interesting to read what other bloggers have had to say.

Book Blogger Hop is now generously hosted by Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, and this week's question (from Elizabeth at Silver's Reviews) is:   If you don't like a book that you said you would review, do you graciously turn it down and explain why or do you struggle through it and hopefully come up with a half decent review?

I have had this happen in the past, where I accept a request for a review, and then the book just isn't my cup of tea. I usually manage to put together as balanced of a review as I can, but sometimes, I find myself making a list of what I liked and didn't like, so I can make sure I'm being fair.   I realize that every reader might have a different reaction, and just because a book didn't resonate with me when I read it doesn't mean it's a bad book -- it just means that when I read it, it wasn't my kind of book.  

I have had it happen, however, where I can't figure out how to write a review like this --- basically, where I just didn't like the book at all.    When this situation came up, I contacted the publisher who sent it to me and politely explained that I was having a really difficult time with my review, and it wound up that I just didn't post my review, and passed the book along to another reader.   I'd rather be gracious about it, and contact the publisher (or whoever sent it to me) than post a review that really doesn't have balance, or have anything positive to say.

These days, I am very careful about the books I accept for reviews.   Mostly, it's because my time is more limited than it used to be, and I can barely keep up with my own reading for my 2 library book groups, plus the other books I check out.    However, I also don't want to accept a book that I think doesn't sound like my kind of book --- it's a potential waste of my time, but even more importantly, it's a waste of the publisher or author's time if I accept it, and then wind up dragging my heels on a review.   I'd rather a book go to the right reader who's going to enjoy it.

You can see everyone's answers to the Hop question here, on Billy's blog.    

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