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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Miss Buncle's Book

Review of Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson:

Overview from Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara's bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel ... if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.
To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It's a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle's world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?
A beloved author who has sold more than seven million books, D. E. Stevenson is at her best with Miss Buncle's Book, crafting a highly original and charming tale about what happens when people see themselves through someone else's eyes.

My Review:

This next book is going to be hard to describe. It was apparently written in the 1930’s by an author that I had never heard of before. It features the story of one Barbara Buncle who is something of a spinster leaving with her maid in a small English village.

When I started to read this one, I had just finished reading one of my writing books that goes into much detail about how to write certain styles of POV (Point of View) and when you might want to use which. I think this influenced my opinion of the book.

The first chapter, I am sorry to say, was rather boring. It begins with an opening sentence of: “One fine summer’s morning the sun peeped over the hills and looked down upon the valley of Silverstream.” Boring. Of course, I had to remind myself that this was a different time and this is how many books were written at that time.

The first chapter continues on in the same veins, going on to talk about cows in the valley and then the baker and her struggle to find a good employee to deliver her buns. Even when we finally get to our heroine’s house, we hear a great deal about Dorcas, her housekeeper, and her struggles to get her work done.

Eventually, after a couple of chapters, it starts to get interesting. We learn about Barbara’s book and how she had it accepted by the first publisher she sent it to. (Not fair at all.) But it is what the book is about that turns her little village upside down.

It is all about her town and her neighbors. She wrote a book that was essential about them and what they have done. Of course, they don’t like it one bit, even if she did change a few names and characteristics.

Much to their chagrin, the book, entitled Disturber of the Peace, is a runaway best seller. Lawyers refuse to take a libel suit to court for fear of looking ridiculous and the publisher, Mr. Abbott, won’t listen to their demands that he remove it from the market, so what’s left?

Members of the town of Silverstream vow to discover once and for all who the author is and to come up with a way that they can punish him. (Only Dorcas, Barbara, and her publisher know Barbara’s identity since she used a pen name.)

And while all of this is going on, some of the real life people that Barbara has based her characters on decide to take up the author’s advice and follow the path of the characters they are based on by doing exactly the same things that Barbara has their counterparts doing. Meanwhile, Barbara is writing a sequel.

So, yes, the book started out slow but it did get interesting. I found Barbara to be a wonderful protagonist. I didn’t always appreciate the omniscient, authorial intrusion but the story and the characters more than made up for that. I liked their amusing expressions such as Dorcas saying, “I am all behind, like a cow’s tail.” It reminded me of a lot of South Eastern American expressions that amuse me.

And, to top it off, nothing in this story was really offensive to me. (Though Mrs. Featherstone Hogg might feel differently.) It was just some good, clean fun all around.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Wanderers

Review of The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney

Overview from The Wanderers is set in a world inspired by fairy tales--but with a bit of a twist! You might recognize the landscape, and you may think you know the rules, but you’ve strayed beyond the tales. Come join a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter as they fight monsters, pursue quests, and learn that sometimes, rules are no help at all.

My Review:

Cheryl Mahoney, a writer whose blog I sometimes read, sent me an email a few weeks back asking me if I would like a copy of her book The Wanders, presumably for review. Her blog “Tales of the Marvelous” features many fanciful stories that I often enjoy. And it is a free book! So of course I said, send it on over.

I imagined that I would like it since I liked her blog but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like it. I like Fantasy fiction, I do. It is not however, my favorite genre. That would be Historical Fiction but Fantasy is a close second or third.

That being said, I really liked this Fantasy book a lot. In fact, I think I loved it. It was not only good but it put a humorous twist on the genre. Sort of like Shrek but without the ogre. Wait, actually, there is an ogre but he is not a main character let alone the good guy.

So just who is our main character? Well, actually I would venture to say that there really are three. But the first one we meet is Jasper who is the wandering hero type (though he prefers the term “wandering adventurer”).

He travels throughout the land saving people who need to be rescued, usually the damsel in distress type. One day, however, as he attempts to defeat a corrupt magician who is abusing his power—and don’t they all—he befriends Tom who is your typical tabby cat. He is typical except for the fact that he is under an enchantment and is thus able to talk.

After they defeat the magician Jasper invites Tom to join him in his wandering life of adventure and Tom accepts. Although Jasper realizes that he is breaking one of his rules, this one is about travelling alone; he decides it doesn’t count since Tom is a cat.

Enter Julie, our third main character. Julie is the next damsel in distress type that Jasper will try to save; this time his goal is to free her from the witch who is holding her captive. But there is something not quite right about her and the whole situation.

Jasper sneaks out the window after discovering that his reward for rescuing her is her hand in marriage. Jasper doesn’t want to get married.

But Julie also doesn’t want to get married and so she finds Jasper and begs him to let her join their party. Reluctantly he agrees to temporarily allow her to travel with him and Tom. Along the way, all three of our main characters will find their true selves and what it is they really want out of life while having some wild adventures.

What I liked about this most of all was that it was funny. I loved the way it takes accepted Fantasy norms and pokes fun at them. This is where it reminded me of Shrek the most.

I also appreciated that the story did not have a lot of crass content or an excess of violence yet all of the regular Fantasy norms were there. The adventures the characters go on are stories in and of themselves yet they really serve to bind our three main characters together. And it was just a lot of fun to read. Unless you hate the Fantasy genre altogether, I think you will like this one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lady of Devices

Review of Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Overview from Book one of the bestselling Magnificent Devices series!
London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin's son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.
At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire's talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It's not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices . . .
When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

My Review:

Lady of Devices was special for me, in a way, and not because I am personally attached to the book. It was special—or at least different—because it is the first Steam punk novel that I have ever read.

Since I first read about this genre I have always been curious what one of its novels would be like so when a reader of Barnes and Noble’s blog recommended this book (and mentioned the fact that it was also free), I thought this would be a great way to see if this genre could appeal to me.

I love history and have always liked the Victorian era so it seemed like a natural fit. I still can’t say that I really understand what Steampunk is all about but I think I have a better idea.

So back to the book. The verdict is that I liked it a lot. It seems to be a blend of some form of alternate history where gasoline powered vehicles do not become the dominant means of transportation but rather those of steam.

Also, though Victorian standards still rule, women seem to have more options open to them in this version of London. Our heroine, Claire, is a smart and capable young lady of means who may not necessarily be the most attractive girl in London. Nevertheless, she knows what she wants to do with her life and it is not to marry some upper crust loser and live unhappily ever after. She wants to go to the university.

It seems like her mother will have the upper hand though and after her finishing school graduation she will be expected to make a suitable match. But everything changes when her father dies and leaves the family with next to nothing.

Claire is told to stay behind at their old home while her mother relocates their family. But when there old home is attached by those seeking vengeance against her father Claire is forced to move in with some ruffian children so that she can realize her dream of independence from her mother.

The story is moving and entertaining at the same time though I think I might have enjoyed it a little more if I understood more about this genre.

Claire is feisty and determined yet caring. Even when her friends let her down, she still chooses to believe in them. She was certainly a heroine who I felt invested in and wanted to succeed.

The novel itself doesn’t take too many huge leaps regarding the original feel of the period though much of the technology as well as the status of United States was different. This only made the story more interesting to me.

If you like history and are content with taking a few leaps of fantasy along with it, I think you might like this novel as well. And the best part? There wasn’t any objectionable material that I have encountered in some of the other books that I have review on here. I just might decide to read another of novel by this author in the near future. And I am definitely recommending this one.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Scavenger Hunt

Review of Scavenger Hunt by Yvonne Montgomery

Overview from Denver stockbroker, Finny Aletter, dreams of quitting her cutthroat job to restore historic houses, but the murder of her boss—and ex-lover—Elliot Fulton keeps her in the world of scavengers.

When a prized manuscript that once belonged to Elliot surfaces, Finny tops the list of possible killers.

Now, Finny must find Elliot's killer by tracing the manuscript's origin and stay one step ahead of Lieutenant Chris Barelli, the cynical homicide detective working the case, if he is to see her as more than a sexy suspect.

My Review:

This week I go back to the mystery genre. I found this one lurking in my digital library and realized that I’d never read it. And now I have remedied that problem.

However, I am not sure that was such a good idea as this one was something of a disappointment. It seemed to have so much promise that I am not entirely sure where it all went wrong. And while it is not the worst one that I have read it is not the best either.

So what was wrong with it? Well, to start off with I had a hard time liking our heroine. Her name is Finny Aletter but it is not the name that I had trouble with, even if it is a bit odd. Instead it was her attitude about certain things.

First off, at the beginning of the book, but after the murder of her boss, we discover that Finny had once had an affair with said boss. The affair ended ten years prior and I think I would have been fine with it if it weren’t with the fact that Finny seems to feel that cheating with a married man who happens to be her boss is not a big deal.

I could have accepted it much better if she had simply said, “Yes, I cheated with my boss but I have learned from my mistake and have moved on,” or something to that effect. Instead we get a woman who admits to cheating with her boss but does not seem the least bit sorry that she did it. I get the impression that our Finny feels that everyone cheats at some point or another and it just isn’t that big of a deal. So while she may not be guilty of killing him, she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for his family either.

The other thing that I didn’t like about Finny was that she never really solves the crime. She investigates, sure, but the solution to crime just falls into her lap when the guilty culprit decides to confess although Finny is already convinced that someone else did it (and the murder is aware of it as well). This problem was more noticeable, I think, than it would have been if this book were not a part of series. (It was labeled as “a Finny Aletter” mystery #1.) In my opinion a mystery series heroine ought to be much better at solving crimes.

The next problem is that we are never told how Finny will get into the crime solving business. At the beginning of the story we hear that she is planning on quitting her job but not so that she can become a detective, she intends to go into the interior decorating business. After reading this book it is still a mystery to me (pun intended) how our Finny will go from interior decorator to detective.

Finally, the swearing and sexuality were a little bit more than I would have liked and it disappointed me since it seemed like the author snuck them in a little late in story, almost as an afterthought (and one that I think she’d have done better to leave out). My afterthought at the end of all this is, I am not recommending this one.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Review of Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

Overview from Fans of the Divergent and Hunger Games series will love Wasteland, the first installment of the Wasteland trilogy, by five-time Emmy Award–nominated writer Susan Kim and Edgar Award–winning Laurence Klavan. With heart-pounding thrills, this harrowing survival story is alive with action and intrigue. Welcome to the Wasteland, a post-apocalyptic U.S. where no one lives past the age of 19. But an early death isn’t the only doom waiting around the corner: Everyone is forced to live under the looming threat of rampant disease and brutal attacks by the variants—hermaphroditic outcasts that live on the outskirts of Prin.
Esther doesn’t care that her best friend, a variant, is considered “the enemy.” She doesn’t care that Levi, who controls the Source, is the real enemy and might send his Taser boys after her if she makes one wrong move. Then she meets Caleb, and just possibly, she might have a chance at salvation.

My Review:

This week we are heading into a future where no one has ever been known to live past the age of 19. In the dystopian era of the novel Wasteland, everyone dies early from a sort of unknown plague. Despite the fact that anyone with symptoms of this plague is banished from the city of Prin, where our heroin Esther lives, it continues unabated.

Because of humanity’s relatively short life spans, “partnering” and childbirth occur earlier than in our own time and children are somewhat rare to find. As a consequence Esther’s older sister Sara is considered an old maid at eighteen and Esther will be one soon herself if she doesn’t find someone. Not that she’s in a hurry or anything.

She is still a child at heart and loves nothing more than playing an elaborate version of hide and seek with her “variant” friend Skar. Variants are a group of people who are basically born as hermaphrodites, due to what is thought to be a genetic mutation of their race, and are allowed to choose which sex they identify as. Skar identifies herself as a female which thrills Esther as it gives them something in common.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the existence of the variants, let alone the fact that Esther chooses to be friends with one. Their friendship eventually becomes downright dangerous for both of them when the variants start attacking the “norms” for no apparent reason.

And this is where I almost quit reading. At this point in the story we had already established the long and close friendship between Skar and Esther, so I kept wondering why, after the first attack, Esther didn’t go to her friend and try to find out the cause. I mean if their friendship is that important wouldn’t Esther want to get to the bottom of this so that it could be resolved as soon as possible?

Yet she doesn’t even attempt to figure it out until much later in the story. I really didn’t understand this. And as I said I almost quit reading at this point but then I decided to give the story another chance.

I am glad I did. It got much better from there on out, almost as if the authors realized their mistake and were trying to make up for it. There were a lot of surprises along the way. Things happened that I didn’t expect. Mysteries were explained in such a way that I didn’t see them coming. It was a really great ride. I am glad I gave this one a chance.

So the review overall, it turned out was mostly positive. I liked it. However I won’t go so far as to say I loved it. Still I didn’t find it as bad as some other reviewers did. I am not sure what they expected. I wasn’t expecting a great work of literature but an entertaining read. I got what I wanted.

Contains: some sexuality and violence