Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Favorite Books of the Year

Well another year is behind us and it's time for a holiday round up of my favorite reads of 2014. I read a lot of YA this year and a lot of mysteries too, so those will be well represented. I threw this list together kind of hurriedly with all the holiday craziness going on, and I didn't have as many favorites as last year. I read a lot of books that I enjoyed, but many just didn't rise to that level. Also, in reviewing my list from last year I was kind of holding books to that standard, and there were some books I absolutely loved on that list. It was interesting to compare from year to year. You can see last year's list here.

I've included a link to my review for each one, and a link to Goodreads as well. In no particular order...

Vitro (Corpus, #2)

Vitro by Jessica Khoury is a fast paced tale of a mysterious island and a girl who must go there to find her mother... and discovers a terrifying secret in the process. It's a story told from two perspectives, and it works really well. Probably my favorite YA thriller of the year.

Vitro at Goodreads.

Get Even (Don't Get Mad, #1)

Get Even by Gretchen McNeil was another fave of 2014, about four girls who form a secret group to get back at bullies, mean girls and teachers who cross the line. I have this a very enthusiastic review as it was just a lot of fun... and I'm looking forward to the sequel big time. A great read.

Get even at Goodreads.

The Originals

The Originals by Cat Patrick was a fun read about three identical triplets- who are a little more than they seem. Turns out their clones, and they all take turns living out a single, fictional life. The girls are all distinct, and while it a sci fi premise it's mostly a coming of age story- and it's suspenseful at times too.

The Originals at Goodreads.

The Counterfeit Lady (The Victorian Bookshop Mystery, #2)

The Counterfeit Lady by Kate Parker is the sequel to The Vanishing Thief, one of my favorites of last year. This was a great mystery set in Victorian times, Georgia is an antiquarian bookshop owner and must pose as the paramour of the Duke of Blackford to solve a msytery. As in the first one, her relationship with Blackford is both professional and personal, and the tension between them is fun to read about.  Probably my favorite mystery of the year.

The Counterfeit LAdy at Goodreads.


Panic by Lauren Oliver was a fun read about a game that gets out of control- and what kids with few options and nothing to lose will do to win a ton of money. It gets a little farfetched but it's a great read and I enjoyed it a lot.

Panic at Goodreads.

Behind the Shattered Glass is the eighth Lady Emily book, and a welcome change of pace. I didn't review this one for the blog but I liked it a lot. This time a murder occurs at the estate of Emily and her husband Colin, and the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Emily and the servants downstairs, which was a nice touch. And the culprit was a BIG surprise- I was a bit shocked. The Emily books have been hot or miss for me of late- I'm happy to say this one was a favorite. I enjoyed Anglemore very much and would like to live there basically. :)

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver was a fun debut mystery and a great read set during the 1930's. Amory is a woman married to a philanderer, and has had about enough. When she goes to the seaside Brightwell hotel for a break- and accompanying an old flame- she gets involved in a mystery that hots close to home. This was one of my favorite mysteries of the year and had lots of atmosphere- a great read.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sunday Post #75 Luminaries and Snow

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It's a crisp, clear Saturday morning and it's hard to believe Christmas is this week. Where has December gone? I actually am looking forward to a white Christmas, although it can make traveling difficult. But it wouldn't be the same for me without snowflakes drifting down and the hush of new fallen snow. When I was growing up we used to have luminaries all through the neighborhood- everyone would get paper bags filled with sand and a candle and line them up along the driveways and along the road. On Christmas Eve they would be lit and it really made the evening special. Do you have a holiday tradition that you especially cherish? 

didn't read much last week but I have been planning my reads for January.  I have a few challenges in place so I'll be reading lots of vintage science fiction and mysteries in January. 

This past week I had a discussion post on my favorite Game of Thrones characters- stop by and let me know your favorites. I focused more on the secondary characters as I thought it would be fun to explore those a bit. I also had two reviews this week and have a few in the works for between now and New Years. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Discussion: Favorite Game of Thrones characters

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

As the long wait continues for The Winds of Winter, the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire, I thought it would be fun to explore some of the lesser known characters of the saga.  Arya and Jon are probably my favorite characters- I've said before that if at the end of the story, Arya and Jon are alive and more or less happy- I would be good with that. There are no shortage of great characters but I thought it would be fun to shine a light on some of the secondary characters. In some cases they play an important role, and in others they are fairly minor. But in no particular order, here are some of my favorites.

This post does have minor spoilers for A Dance with Dragons, so just a heads up. Let me know what you think, and who your favorite characters are (secondary or otherwise).

Davos Seaworth - I like Davos-  he's a regular guy, loyal and decent and he tries to do the right thing. He risks his life to save Edric Storm and I really root for him to get back to his home and be reunited with his wife, who he obviously loves. I admire his loyalty even as part of me wishes he would ditch Stannis- but then where would he be? And I'm fond of his pirate friend Salladhoor Saan- I was intrigued when Saan invited him to leave Stannis and sail with the pirates- but again he would have lost everything he loved if he did that.

"Our maester chuckled at me and told us that Prince Rhaegar was certain to defeat this rebel. That was when Stark said, 'In this world only winter is certain. We may lose our heads, it's true... but what if we should prevail?' My father sent him on his way with his head still on his shoulders. 'If you lose,' he told Lord Eddard, 'you were never here'". 
"No more than I was," said Davos Seaworth. 

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)

Melisandre- such an enigma. Ruthless and amoral perhaps, but I'm curious about her. We have hints of a tragic past (a slave child?) and it appears she has a flawed interpretation of her visions (and the big prophecy, for that matter), but she tried to help Jon Snow. I have a feeling she's going to play a BIG role in the next phase of Jon's life.

"All your questions shall be answered. Look to the skies, Lord Snow. And when you have your answers, send to me. Winter is almost upon us now. I am your only hope."

Val the wildling princess- she's an interesting character too, and I think there's more going on with her than is immediately obvious. Jon trust her to find Tormund, and she delivers- and after what happens at the end of A Dance with Dragons, it will be fascinating to see what she does next.

"Let me help."
"You have. You brought me Tormund.
I can do more."
Why not? thought Jon. They are all convinced she is a princess. Val looked the part and rode as if she had been born on horseback. A warrior princess, he decided, not some willowy creature who sits up in a tower, brushing her hair and waiting for some knight to rescue her.

Tormund Giantsbane on the show is nothing like the character from the books- he is much more charismatic in the books, and a hoot frankly. He has a bluff respect and affection for Jon Snow, and I really enjoy the scenes they share, especially in A Storm of Swords.

"Beside the brazier, a short but immensely broad man sat on a stool, eating a hen off a skewer. Hot grease was running down his chin into his snow- white beard, but he smiled happily all the same. Thick gold bands graven with runes bound his massive arms, and he wore a heavy shirt of black ringmail that could only have come from a dead ranger." 

Jaqen H'ghar. An assassin who helps Arya after she saves his life, and who she tricks into helping her release the northmen. On the show she tricked Jaqen into helping her escape.  Jaqen is also one of the few characters who I think the show actually improved on.

"Speak the names, and a man will do the rest."

Mya Stone, a bastard of King Robert We don't know much about Mya, but I liked her and hope she plays a larger role at some point. She shows up in A Clash of Kings and is with Sansa at the Eyrie- I can see those two causing all KINDS of trouble.

The spearwives. A favorite chapter in A Dance With Dragons was when the spearwives helped rescue Jeyne Poole. They are tough as nails and I hope we see more of them.

Jeyne Poole let out a shrill, high scream. 
"Oh, bloody shit," said Holly. "That will bring the kneelers down on us, and no mistake. Run!"

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)

Lord Tytos Blackwood - I'm not sure why, but I liked this guy. His parley with Jaime was another highlight of A Dance with Dragons for me.

"We agree on that much." Blackwood's voice gave nothing away. "What have you done with Ser Brynden, if I may ask?"
"I offered to let him take the black. Instead he fled." Jaime smiled. "Do you have him here, perchance?"
"Would you tell me if you did?"
It was Tytos Blackwood's turn to smile.

And of course no discussion would be complete without Dolorous Edd.

"We will defend the Wall to the last man!" said Cotter Pyke.
"Probably me." said Dolorous Edd, in a resigned voice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Mistletoe and Mayhem

Mistletoe and Mayhem (Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery, #18)

Mistletoe and Mayhem is a Pennyfoot Hotel Christmas story. Cecily Sinclair Baxter runs the Pennyfoot hotel on the coast of England. It seems that every year there is a murder (or two, or more) on or near the property, and Cecily has become rather adept at solving them. Her husband Baxter, of course, frowns on this but that does little to deter her.As this story opens Christmas is fast approaching and Cecily and the staff are busy making their last minute preparations. A new housemaid named Ellie has come on staff, and while she seems sweet, several of the servants realize there is more to her than meets the eye. She is heard arguing with someone and when her and the footman she was seen kissing under the kissing bough turn up dead, the place descends into chaos. Cecily is determined to solve the mystery before Christmas is ruined, but when the body count rises she may find that she has more than she bargained for.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Cecily as well as several of the servants, including the maids Gertie and  Pansy. Cecily has a support network of friends who help her parse the clues, and of course the servants are the ones who hear and see all sorts of things. The characters are likable and, for the most part, realistic. There are romantic subplots and a touching scene or two. This year there is even a special mystery guest in attendance, although the servants of course don't like him due to his reclusive nature.

I read this mainly because I read the latest book, Mulled Murder, last year around the holidays, and this year I felt like revisiting this cozy world. As others have pointed out, it's very unrealistic that there would be so many murders at the same place, every year- but then I'm reading these primarily for the characters and the setting. The nice thing about this series is that the recurring characters are charming and have problems and issues of their own- it's nice to share their triumphs and sorrows and get a taste of an old world Christmas at the same time. So it's definitely a comfort read and a chance to enjoy some down time in a charming setting.

This is a light cozy with a fun cast of characters and a nice setting. We have the ditzy, inept policeman and a few other predictable elements, but by and large this is an enjoyable read and I will probably get more of these. They're comfortable and there's something to be said for that- and this time of year, they're a great little read.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sunday Post #74 It's Friday Night

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It's Friday night and I'm relaxing and watching The Amazing Race. It's been an interesting week but I did manage to get through a few reads. My next reads are up in the air a bit... I'm not sure what I will read next. Maybe this weekend I'll pick up something new. 

The holidays are fast approaching and I enjoy everything about this time of year- the lights, the music, the hustle and bustle, picking out just the right present. The lights are twinkling and it feels great to take time and reflect and savor the moments. It is truly a special time of year, and I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays as well. 

I've been thinking of reading challenges and have decided to do the Cloak and Dagger . I've been reading a lot of mysteries so this will work out well. I think this and the Vintage Science Fiction Month in January will keep me busy. And I did my COYER sign up this week too.


Captivated Reader reviews Dashing Through The Snow, and also spotlights Compass Books in the San Francisco Airport. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: All New X-Men Vol. 5 One Down

All-New X-Men, Vol. 5: One Down

All New X- Men Vol. 5 One Down is a collection of issues 25-30 of the All new X- Men. It takes place after the events of The Trial of Jean Grey (which I reviewed here). The premise is that the original X- Men of the 1960's have been brought forward in time to the present day, in order to prevent calamity. The problem is now that they're here, no one knows how to send them back- and to make matters worse, a band of mutants from the future, calling themselves The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, have come back in time to kill the original X- Men. Make sense? Well, it's X- Men so of course there is time travel and convoluted plotlines.

The original X- Men, accompanied by their mentor Kitty Pryde, have taken refuge with the outlaw band of X- Men led by present day Cyclops. His band have set up shop in the old weapon X facility, and the original X- Men are settling in after the events of The Trial of Jean Grey, but trouble finds them again. The Brotherhood from the future come calling and cut the power to the complex, and then use shapeshifting to impersonate various members of the group. The assault is interspersed with snippets of the future, where we learn more about the Brotherhood and what their goals are. Most of this book deals with the Brotherhood's assault and the aftermath, and then the last issue switches gears and tells a more intimate story. Jean and Emma come to an  understanding after a psychic showdown, and Kitty has a date of sorts (via hologram) with Star Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Readers of the Trial of Jean Grey will remember that Kitty and Peter Quill met in that story and hit it off pretty well. This was a nice touch and I hope they continue to develop their long distance relationship. Fun stuff.

I liked that present day Cyclops and the young Jean had a conversation- finally! And afterwards Kitty warned Scott not to be alone with her again. That was done very well. Brian Bendis can write good dialogue, although it's often too wordy, but here he presents a very nice conversation that gets at several of the issues facing these characters. They have so much history between them, after all. I also like how this series, even though we're thirty issues in now, is taking its time with the story- will the original X- Men go back to the past? Are they stuck here? If so, does this change all the continuity- is everything new or possible now because of this de facto reboot? It's such a fascinating idea. Time travel and the consequences of it are at the heart of this story.

I thought this was a good collection, for the most part. The first issue is shaky- it deals with Hank McCoy (the present day Beast) wracked with guilt about bringing the original X- Men to the present, and learning that doing so may have screwed up the timestream. This is the weakest issue of the lot, and is further marred by some atrocious art. There is a sequence drawn by a bevy of guest artists, and the results are not good- it looks like a schoolkid drew the scene. Mind boggling, especially since comics are $3.99 a pop now. Other than that hiccup, the rest of the art throughout is good, and the story is good as well. A good read, and worth a look if you like the X- Men or just want a good story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It's that time again- time for COYER (Clean Out Your E- Reader) for winter 2014/2015. Hosted by Michelle at Because Reading and Berls at fantasy Is More Fun. You can check out the rules and all the details here.

I'm not a huge e- reader but I have a Nook and am slowly filling it up, so this will help me to actually read some of that stuff. The only problem is I may add more than I read! I did COYER summer vacation and it was a lot of fun, and I think this will be too.

As for goals, I'm thinking of at least 5 ebooks, only because most of my reading is print.  Or maybe I'll just play a lot of Templ Run. OK just kidding.

                                                               THE RULES

Read! Must be an ebook or an audiobook.
The books must be FREE or nearly free.
Link your reviews- two links will be randomly selected to win a $10 gift card.
Visit, chat and most of all- have fun!


Read at least 5 ebooks.
Visit and comment on 5 reviews a week
Do as many of the mini challenges as I can.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: Tarzan the Invincible

Tarzan the Invincible (Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, #14)

Tarzan the Invincible is the fourteenth Tarzan book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's not really necessary to read these in order, they all stand alone pretty well, to the best of my knowledge. I had many of these books as a kid, although I didn't read all of them- to be honest, I was drawn more to the cover art by Neal Adams than the idea of Tarzan itself. So when I decided to re- read some ERB recently, I was of course attracted to the artwork again- and this being a good example of Neal Adams' work, I chose this one.

The other thing that attracted me to the story was the lost city of Opar. The Tarzan tales have no shortage of lost cities and ancient civilizations, but Opar- that glorious ruin, long lost outpost of Atlantis- has always fired my imagination. When I read the blurb and saw that Opar, along with the beautiful La, high priestess of the Flaming god, played a prominent role in the story, I was in.

In this volume Tarzan learns that a party of communist agents (this was written in the 1930's) is out to loot the treasure vaults of ruined Opar. Wishing to warn La, the queen of Opar, he goes there only to discover that La has been deposed, and replaced as high priestess. He is quicky captured and thrown into a cell, to be sacrificed to the Flaming God- but ever resourceful, he soon escapes and flees with La. They are soon separated, in typical Burroughs fashion, and La is captured by slave traders working with the communists. The story unfold from there with lots of hair raising escapes, coincidences, and encounters with wild animals. The perspective changes as we see through the eyes of Tarzan, La, a Russian agent named Zora, and an enigmatic American who may or may not be a traitor to his country. We even get the perspective of little Nkima, a nervous monkey who idolizes Tarzan but is easily distracted, getting himself into all kinds of trouble.

I wasn't sure how a story like this would hold up for me as an adult, but I was surprised how much I liked it and I stayed up late to read it. The sequences in Opar, not surprisingly, were my favorites- the imagery of the ruined city, with its subhuman inhabitants and wailing cries, the beautiful priestesses and colorful domes, made me want to go there and walk the rubble choked streets, and glimpse the wonders of ancient Atlantis. I have to admit the story would have been less compelling for me without this element and the plight of La. Still, this was a fun read with a lot to recommend it. There's a touching moment when a young priestess helps the American escape, after he too is captured by the inhabitants of Opar. And there is some comic relief with little Nkima as well, who is very brave when Tarzan is around but otherwise flees in terror from the jungle dwellers who don't appreciate his sens e of humor.

The only real drawback here, other than the old fashioned style of writing, is the attitude of the times. It's not politically correct by today's standards, and while I realize it is a product of its time, it can be a bit jarring for modern readers. However, it is a fun story and a good way to spend a few hours if you want a good adventure.

The girl rose angrily from her throne. "Know, man of the outer world, that I am high priestess. I, Oah, am high priestess of the Flaming God." 
Tarzan ignored her. "Where is La?" he demanded again of Dooth. 
Oah flew into a frenzy of rage. "She is dead!" she screamed, advancing to the edge of the dais as though to leap upon Tarzan, the jeweled handle of her sacrificial knife gleaming in the sunlight, which poured through a great aperture where a portion of the ancient roof of the throne room had fallen in. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sunday Post #73 A Quiet December Morning

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

The first weekend of December is here and it's a nice morning as I write this.  It's been a quiet week on the blog but I did get through a few reads and will have a few reviews up this week. 

I'm still panning my reads for the Vintage Science Fiction Month, starting in January. I think this will be a lot of fun, exploring some older stories and revisiting other ones.  


 Tarzan the Invincible (Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, #14)


Check out the APP review of Dragonvale over at Because Reading- looks like a fun game. 

Ciao Amalfi has a post this week on walking tours in Italy and 5 gifts for the Amalfi coast lover in your life. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sunday Post #72 Post Thanksgiving Edition

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

We got a little snow yesterday but the sun is out this morning and it's a beautiful day so far. I hope that everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a great day.  Now the Christmas frenzy begins... 

SciFi Month is winding down this weekend, and what a month it's been. Reviews, giveaways, all kinds of fun and it will be missed. I discovered another cool event though- Vintage Science Fiction Month Not-A-Challenge, happening in January. This looks like all kinds of fun, so I will be participating in this (and have already started thinking of which vintage books I want to read). You can check it out here.   


Oh! The Books had a great discussion for SciFi Month. Is This Real Life? Is This Virtual Reality?

Sara at The Hiding Spot talks about their updated Book of the month program at Brilliant Books.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: Star Trek Log Five

Star Trek Log Five (Star Trek: Log, #5)

Star Trek Log Five  is a novelization of three episodes of the animated series. The Log series was written by Alan Dean Foster and these stories continued the adventures of the original Enterprise crew. The three stories in this volume are a mixed bag. The first, called The Ambergris Element, involves the Enterprise being sent to a water world to investigate seismic anomalies there. Kirk and Spock lead a small group to survey the planet, and are attacked by a monstrous sea creature in the process. They are separated from the group and when they are found, everyone is shocked to discover that Kirk and Spock have been surgically altered- to breathe underwater!

It turns out that Argo is home to an aquatic race and they altered the humans in order to save their lives. Kirk and Spock must find a way to restore themselves, and to do so they will need to enlist the help of Aquan dissidents and retrieve the venom of the creature that attacked them. Not an easy task...

This story was okay, I was interested in the underwater city but there's not much character depth here. A pretty by the numbers story, for the most part. The second tale, Pirates of Orion, was a much better story, short and taut and with more character development. This felt like a true Star Trek episode, with a crisis that must be averted and time running out. Spinning out of the events of the previous story, Spock contracts a disease fatal to Vulcans- and Kirk must obtain a rare drug that is his only hope of survival. But when pirates steal the drug from a freighter rendezvousing with the Enterprise, Kirk must act quickly to get it back and save Spock's life.

The third story was not good at all and I found myself skimming it just to be done. So on balance, even though this is a nice way to refamiliarize oneself with the original crew, there's not a lot here that is compelling. I read this as a kid and picked it up very cheap on Ebay, curious to see how it would hold up, and I was mostly disappointed, although again the middle story is not a bad read. Recommended for anyone curious about the show or a die hard Trekkie, but otherwise I would say pass on it if you're looking for a good Trek read.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Planet of Exile

Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle #2)

Planet of Exile is a story of a long lost colony stranded on a planet where seasons last for 15 years, so summer and winter are generational events. As the story opens autumn is quickly giving way to winter, and the world is rapidly changing for the colonists, known as farborns, and the indigenous people, who the colonists have dubbed hilfs (highly intelligent life forms). The colonists have been stranded on this planet for 600 years , and their population is slowly dwindling. Fewer children are born every year, there is a high incidence of miscarriage and over time other colony locations have been overrun or otherwise abandoned.

Against this backdrop we are introduced to Rolery, a hilf girl who is the daughter of a chieftain and a bit of a free spirit. Her people are nomads who have gathered to build a winter city where they can ride out the generational winter. This gathering place happens to be close to the farborn city. Not content with the drudgery of her daily life, Rolery ventures to the city of the farborns and there she encounters Jakob Agat, a leader among the farborns. Rolery and Agat form a connection after Agat saves her life, and as the story progresses they are brought together by mutual desire and the vagaries of fate. Agat needs the help of Rolery's father to bring farborn and hilf together to face their mutual enemy, the barbarian Gaal who migrate south at the onset of every winter. However it is precisely the forbidden attraction between Agat and Rolery that may prove to be the greatest obstacle to cooperation.

The Gaal migration, or Southing, threatens both Landin and the winter city as the sheer numbers of Gaal dwarf anythning previously seen. The Gaal are not the only threat to appear with the winter snows, however... the mysterious snowghouls are not far behind and are feared by everyone, including the Gaal. As mistrust and betrayal threaten to derail their alliance, the only hope for hilf and farborn alike may just be Rolery and Agat.

Planet of Exile is a straightforward story of love and hope in the face of daunting odds. It also explores the themes of acceptance and regret, and the shattering of old prejudices. The viewpoint shifts between Rolery, Agat and her father as they each struggle with the changes winter brings. Planet of Exile is a great science fiction read and at 124 pages is very short as well. It's one of my favorite stories and I thought it held up well on rereading it recently.

One thing I noticed upon re- reading this was the similarities between this story and the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin. Both stories have seasons that can last a generation, both have an impending winter that could spell doom, the Gaal could perhaps be the wildlings... and the snowghouls are an eerie threat from the north that everyone fears...could GRRM have been influenced by this story? Hard to say, but regardless Planet of Exile is a great read from one of science fictions's most celebrated authors.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sunday Post #71 Holiday Open House

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

This week will also be the last week of SciFi Month and I have a few posts planned. I have some thoughts on Planet of Exile by Ursula LeGuin, a book I reviewed for Knights of the Dinner table magazine several years ago- this is one of my favorite books and I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts for SciFi Month. Stop by and let me know what you think! 


Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle #2)


Read Me Away has a great post on why she loves science fiction

Lola's Reviews talks about her favorite genres. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Happens At Christmas

What Happens At Christmas (Millworth Manor, #1)

What Happens At Christmas was a delight to read. It's the story of a widowed woman of means, who decides she wants to marry a prince of a tiny country in Europe. She's sure he will propose over the holidays, if only she can show him a proper English Christmas- to do so she hires a troupe of actors to portray her family, as most of them are out of the country, and she doesn't consider them very proper anyway. Her sister Beryl thinks this is a very bad idea, but Camille is determined and the plan goes forward.

The actors are brought in to portray not only Camille's mother and younger sister, but the servants as well. Things get a little more complicated when grayson Elliott shows up- the long lost love of Camille's life. They had been inseparable friends growing up, and on the eve of her marriage to an older man, Grayson had professed his love for her. Camille had not reacted well and Grayson had left, and they haven't seen each other for eleven years. Camille has been widowed in the meantime, and now thinks she wants to marry Nikolai the prince- but when grayson arrives, having acquired his fortune in the intervening years, old wounds are reopened and long dormant feelings are reawakened.

Grayson still loves Camille, and when he realizes the the game that is afoot, he resolves to help in order to earn her trust, and ultimately, her heart- but he has no intention of letting her marry Nikolai. Let the games begin! I don't normally read romances, but this has a romantic comedy feel to it- a comedy of errors that I couldn't stop reading. Camille tries to keep everything running smoothly, managing a troupe of actors while at the same time entertaining Nikolai and trying to figure out what Grayson is up to. Grayson suspects something is not right with the prince, and with Beryl's help he tries to protect Camille while at the same time thwarting her plan. I was laughing throughout the book as events went from one comedic turn to another.

The fun really picks up when Camille's real family shows up and chooses to play roles in the charade as well. An absolute hoot. It does get a bit unrealistic as it goes, as everyone is keeping secrets, and a few times I thought these people just need to talk and get it all out. Wouldn't have been nearly as fun though! This is a masterful story with sparkling dialogue and wry asides, and twists and turns that come at just the right time to keep things interesting. The repartee and dialogue are an absolute highlight, it all flows so smoothly. There is a theme of redemption that runs through all the zaniness, of regrets, longing and atoning for past mistakes- in short, can one have a second chance at love?

I wasn't sure if I would like this book, and was I pleasantly surprised! The dialogue is a joy to read, and it was so fun. A perfect Christmas treat.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sunday Post #70 It's Snowing!

Hard to believe we're halfway through November already. This has been a quiet week, not much reading done, but I'm kind of at a point where my reading is wide open- not sure what I'll read next. I've got mysteries and holiday reads lined up, but I'd like to read some fantasy as well. So I'll have to see what jumps out at me. Any suggestions?

The holidays are approaching like a freight train and I'm actually thinking of putting holiday lights up early this year, and of course holiday music is in full swing on radio stations. Is it too early? I don't know- the weather's pretty frightful so why not a little holiday cheer?  We had blizzard conditions for a few days this week.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: The Secret Zoo

The Secret Zoo (The Secret Zoo, #1)

The Secret Zoo is the first in a middle grade series by Bryan Chick. It tells the story of 4 children who discover there is more to their local zoo than meets the eye. Megan is in her treefort one night and sees monkeys on the roofs of surrounding homes. She tells her brother Noah but he doesn't believe her. Shortly after this she disappears. Her brother Noah and their friends Ella and Richie are determined to find her. Their search is fruitless until one night a bird arrives at Noah’s window- a bird with a message. The message tells Noah to go to the zoo where he will find more clues. Once there he receives another message- this time a page from Megan’s journal.

It appears that Megan was investigating some odd occurrences at the zoo. Noah receives several pages from her journal, all from different animals, and he begins to realize this zoo is more than it appears. As the kids investigate the zoo they see some strange goings-on. They have an encounter with a polar bear named Blizzard and continue to receive clues as to Megan's disappearance. The animals seem to watch them and before long they run afoul of zoo security, who waste no time in evicting them.

They soon find there’s another world and a secret society and a wondrous place called the City of Species where humans and animals live together in harmony. The City ofSpecies is a neat place. The descriptions are lush and whimsical, and the author really lets his imagination run wild here (pardon the pun). I particularly liked the Forest of Flight, an immense aviary in the City that holds a multitude of birds of all kinds. The kids flee into theForest and there is a running battle of sorts as the kids and their animal friends Blizzard, Podgy the penguin and a bunch of prairie dogs try to escape a band of overzealous police- monkeys. One of the better sequences in the book.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book a great deal, however after everything is explained at the City of Species I started to lose interest. The backstory and the villain were just not compelling for me. There is a battle at the end with mild violence, and some of the later events strain credulity even in a book this whimsical. But overall it's fun and lighthearted.

There’s no shortage of imagination in The Secret Zoo. The book is charming and whimsical, and it reads fast. There’s a lot of humor as well, and the animals who help the kids are adorable. Who wouldn’t want a ferocious polar bear friend? The Secret Zoo is the first in a series. I don't feel compelled to rush out and get the second one, but I may continue with the series at some point. This one is self- contained enough that you can enjoy it as is. It's a great middle grade book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HoHoHo Readathon Wrap Up


The HoHoHo readathon has come and gone and I'm sorry to see it go. It was a lot of fun reading the posts and doing the challenges, and there was even a Twitter party. A big shout out and kudos to Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer and Jennifer at Book Shelfery for hosting this. This was my second year doing this readathon and it is a blast. I got through two books and that was pretty good for me with time constraints and work. Even better, I acquired a few other Christmas reads, so I'll spend the next month or so reading those for the holidays. Here's what I read:

What Happens At Christmas (Millworth Manor, #1)

This was a spur of the moment buy, I just liked the cover. Does it just say Christmas or what? This is more of a romance than a mystery, so not my usual read, but I enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sunday Post #69

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

The first full week of November is behind us and you can sure tell by the weather- at least around here. It has gotten colder and windy as well- this morning it is raining.  

NaNoWriMo is going well, although after a fast start I've slowed down a bit. I did take time out to revisit a story I wrote last year for the HoHoHo Readathon, and I'll be posting that on Tuesday with minor changes. It's a short little Christmas tale- let me know what you think! 

SciFi Month is in full swing, and so is the HoHoHo Readathon. I'm having a lot of fun with both- I put up a review on Friday for Vitro, which is a fast paced YA thriller that I read earlier in the year, but I wanted to share it again for SciFi Month. Also I reviewed Murder at the Brightwell, a very good mystery This week I've got some Christmas themed reads for the readathon, and I'm trying to decide what to read next. 


Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Vitro

Vitro (Corpus, #2)

Vitro by Jessica Khoury is a fast- paced, compelling story about an island with a terrible secret, and the young woman who discovers that secret. The story starts with Sophie Crue in an airport on Guam trying to find a flight to Skin Island. Her mother, a researcher on the island, has sent her an email asking her to come quickly, due to an emergency. Nobody wants to go there however, apparently the island has a bad reputation. After striking out with the local pilots, she runs into Jim Julien, a young pilot who she knows from her childhood days on Guam. Sophie grew up there but hasn't been to Guam in years, since her parents split up and she went to live in Boston with her dad. Her and Jim had been best friends once, but they're older now and have both changed in the intervening years. Jim reluctantly agrees to take Sophie to the island, and that's where the fun begins.

Things go bad quickly, and Sophie and Jim find themselves stranded on the island. Sophie soon discovers a horrifying truth- she has a sister on the island named Lux, but Lux is not just any sister. She has been developed from a test tube embryo by the company her mother works for, but she is not a regular human. And Lux may not be the only one... Sophie must unravel the mystery surrounding the Vitros, her mother and the company behind it all, while at the same time staying alive. No one wants her there, and she and Jim have to survive twists and turns and shocking betrayals

I liked Sophie a lot, she's determined and brave. We get hints of her background and learn just how hard it was for her to grow up not knowing the truth about her mom, and what she does on Skin Island. I liked Jim even more- he seemed like a real person, with real motivations and thoughts. Several times I thought that's exactly how someone might act in that situation. Both characters are very well drawn and believable. The story is told from their alternating perspectives, and this works very well here. It's probably not a spoiler to say there is a romance here- Sophie and Jim have known each other since childhood, and they spend most of the book trying to find each other again- both physically and figuratively- but it did seem like they developed feelings for each other a little fast. Certainly not insta- love, by any means, but they didn't exactly have much time for a courtship. I can accept it though just due to the sheer level of desperation they go through, and the shared history they have. It works.

I have to say something about the writing. The author does a great job evoking a sense of place -as I read I felt like I was in the tropics, with palm trees around, ocean breezes and the silvery moon overhead at night. Her descriptions are at times dripping with tropical heat, creaking bamboo and pounding surf. At the end I felt like I had been on an adventure in the Pacific! Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when they leave the island at the end and they're just exhausted from all the trauma they've been through? That's how this felt for me. That was a great feeling and is one of the reasons I recommend this book so highly. The story has a breakneck pace and I really enjoyed that it took place over just a couple of days. It never slows down and I couldn't stop reading.

We hear several times about a project going on in South America as well- apparently a reference to Jessica's other book. I have not read that but almost certainly will, as I enjoyed this so much. It's nice to have a world with a shadowy organization in the background as the common thread, even though the characters are different. I'm curious to see if she will continue to use this as a background for future novels. 


"Before she could get back on her feet, Nicholas was on her. She caught him in the stomach with her feet and threw him over her head, then rolled smoothly into a crouch. Nicholas landed heavily, howling at the pain in his arm.
"Whoa," said Sophie, her eyes wide.
"I know, right?" Jim's voice was hard." Talk about teenage mutant ninja blond. Lux, don't let him touch that detonator."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HoHoHo Read-a-thon Starting Post


The HoHoHo Read-a-thon is hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer and Jennifer at The Book Shelfery. A week of holiday reads, challenges, Twitter chats- and a chance to spread the holiday cheer!

The read-a-thon rules can be found here. Join us for a of holiday reads- it will be fun!

Here are the books I'm hoping to get to this time around.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell is a very good debut mystery set at a seaside resort in England in the 1930's. Amory Ames is unhappy in her marriage- her husband Milo comes and goes as he pleases, spending his time in exotic locales, and has quite a reputation as a philanderer. He has just returned from Monte Carlo, and Amory never knows how long he's staying or when he's leaving again. She sometimes wonders what life would have been like if she had married Gil Trent- the man she jilted for Milo five years earlier. Imagine her surprise when Gil shows up unexpectedly, looking for a favor. Gil asks her to accompany him to the Brightwell Hotel for a seaside jaunt- his sister will be there with her fiance Rupert Howe, whom Gil dislikes intensely. Gil wants Amory to pretend she is leaving Milo, and that his sister will see the light and realize that marrying Rupert would be a mistake. Amory, who is delighted to see Gil and furious at Milo, agrees- and the fun begins.

Amory and Gil arrive at the Brightwell and meet the rest of their party- and an interesting group it is. Amory dislikes Rupert almost immediately, along with several other members of the party, but the hotel is fabulous, the seaside location a welcome retreat from her boredom in the country. Amory is looking forward to a week at the Brightwell, in spite of the potential for scandal from her association with Gil. At the same time Amory is trying to sort out her feelings for Gil, and for her husband as well- does she leave Milo and and start over with Gil? Or does she stay with Milo and try to work things out? The matter is complicated when Milo arrives at the resort- and is complicated further when Rupert turns up dead!

Gil is immediately suspected by the police, and eventually arrested- he was overheard warning Rupert to stay away from his sister, and there is other incriminating evidence. Amory is shocked and dismayed, and sets out to prove Gil is innocent any way she can. Doing so however exposes her to danger as well- and when the body count rises she may have all she can do to survive her stay at the Brightwell.

I liked this book a lot, after a slightly slow start it took off for me once they arrived at the hotel. Amory is likable and smart, and doesn't take any guff. She butts heads with Inspector Jones, the investigator assigned to the case. He doesn't appreciate her asking questions and nosing around, but they develop a mutual respect as the story moves along. Their relationship and the way it develops was one of the highlights of the story for me. I didn't care for Milo very much, although he did grow on me a bit as he helps amory solve the case. Amory spends much of her time trying to sort out her feelings for Gil and Milo and you're never really sure until the end which way she's going to go. I had a definite opinion on who I preferred but you can make an argument either way.

The hotel itself is almost a character here, with its pastel colors and art deco vibe. I loved the descriptions of it, I could almost picture the sitting room and terraces. This is billed as a Christie- esque 1930's romp on the cover, and I think that's pretty apt. There are a ton of red herrings and I had my suspicions several times as to the killer, but in the end I was surprised. The end itself is a bit cliched, with a storm and power outage and surprise, the killer shows up- but I really liked this book and it's probably one of my favorites of the year. I had a great time at the Brightwell, in spite of the murders!

Teaser Tuesday #36

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate you grab your current read, open to a random page and share (2) teaser sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INLUDE SPOILERS (Make sure what you share doesn't give too much away. You don't want to ruin the book for others). Share the title and author.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Ames, but..." His eyes caught sight of my guests. 
"Mr. Ames, Mr. Trent." there was an irritatingly interested note in his voice. He stepped fully into the room, and I shut the door behind him. 
"Inspector Jones," Milo smiled. "I'm glad you could join us. The party was just beginning to get dull." 

Murder at the Brightwell  

Murder at the Brightwell

I'm using another selection From Murder at the Brightwell this week, as this book was good. My review is here

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sunday Post #68

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

November is here! 
This week I finished Murder at the Brightwell, and my review will be up Tuesday. A nice read and a great debut mystery, set during the '30's. One of my favorites of the year, probably. Later in the week I'll have a review of Vitro, a great YA read from earlier this year. 

November is Sci Fi Month, and I'll have a few posts going up in the next couple of weeks. It's not too late to join, you can sign up anytime this month. Also the Hohoho readathon is starting later this week, and that's been driving my book picks   


This is also NaNoWriMo month, and I'll be taking part. There's a lot going on right now, but I've been planning on doing this for a while so I want to make it happen. I have a ambitious blog schedule for November so I may have to scale things back to accommodate Nano- we'll see how it goes. 

Review: Forbidden Planet


Forbidden Planet is probably my favorite science fiction movie. It was released in 1956 and tells the story of a starship crew in the 23rd century who are sent to the distant world Altair-4 to reestablish contact with a crew that was marooned there years ago. Upon arrival they discoer there are only two survivors- the enigmatic Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira. The rest of the crew died years ago- under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Dr. Morbius doesn't seem very happy to see his rescuers however- turns out he has built a comfortable life on Altiar-4, spending his time studying the artifacts of the Krell, an ancient civilization that once called this planet home.

Commander Adams (played by a young Leslie Nielsen) is conflicted by Dr. Morbius' refusal to cooperate Complicating matters is the mutual attraction between Adams and Morbius' daughter Altaira. Adams' orders are to return any survivors to Earth, but Morbius refuses to leave. He feels he cannot leace his research, and as Adams discovers the true nature of the Krell technology, he realizes it is more than one man can hope to study. Morbius disagrees, and it soon becomes clear that they are not alone on this planet. Someone... or something... else is also there, something that kills but cannot be seen. And they may not make it off the planet alive...

My favorite part of the movie is the scene where Morbius takes Adams and his men down into the heart of the abandoned Krell machinery, and Adams realizes the true scale. Machinery so advanced it can turn the users' thoughts into reality... but with power so great, where does one draw the line?

Forbidden Planet is a phenomenal vintage science fiction movie. It's got thrills, a fw chills, and even a little humor. Perhaps best known for introducing the iconic Robby the Robot to the popular culture, it is an entertaining film and a great way to spend an hour and a half if you want to see one of the most influential sc ifi films ever made.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: The Nine Lives of Christmas

The Nine Lives of Christmas

The Nine Lives of Christmas is a holiday story of a man, a woman, and a cat who all need a little help at Christmas. Ambrose the cat is in trouble- and willing to make a deal with his maker to save his ninth (and last) life- when Zach, a firefighter in the town of Angel Falls, comes to the rescue. Ambrose has nowhere to go, no home to return to- and with the holidays approaching and nowhere else to take him, Zach grudgingly takes the cat back to his place. Ambrose immediately makes himself at home- but realizes that part of the deal is he helps Zach with something- but what does Zach need?

Zach is a nice guy and very much single- happily so. Bad experiences in the past have jaded him and he prefers to keep his relationships casual- no strings attached. He only intends to keep Ambrose for a while, until he can find a home for the cat- but when Zach meets Merilee in the pet food aisle, he finds that maybe he's not as happy as he thought he was.

Merilee is also single, and shy around guys- having had a weight problem when she was younger, she's in her mid twenties now and fit- but still nervous as all get out when she crosses paths with Zach. There's an immediate attraction- so why does he hold himself back? Little does she know that Zach has a girlfriend- and when they meet the sparks fly. That along with Zach's family issues keep him from taking the next step with Merilee- he feels he's all wrong for her, for reasons that become clear later. The girlfriedn of course is a piece of work- and she hates his new cat for one thing- and as time goes by, Zach realizes he has no intention of givin gup the cat. Ambrose, for his part, realizes that Zach and Merilee want to be together- and that his "deal" involves making that happen anyway he can.

This is a fun and heartwarming holiday tale and I enjoyed it a lot. A good read for a cold night with a blanket and a warm drink. Comfort reading I suppose, and chick lit all the way. So why did I read it? Well, the cover drew me in, and I like a good Christmas read. Zach and Merilee are both likable, and Ambrose's perspective was probably my favorite part of the story. He is full of fun observations and wry insights into human (and cat) behavior. There's a hilarious scene where Ambrose brings Zach a "gift" from outside and leaves it where Zach and his...um, sleepover guest wil lfind it. There are a few slapstick moments like this but by and large this is a relationship story. The ending is entirely predictable, but so what? The journey there is fun.

Apparently this is an upcoming Hallmark channel movie. I'm not exactly a regular watcher of that network, but I did see a blurb for it and not sure the casting works for me after reading the book. I would watch it if it was on, given how fun the story was. A good, light holiday read.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaser Tuesday #35

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate you grab your current read, open to a random page and share (2) teaser sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INLUDE SPOILERS (Make sure what you share doesn't give too much away. You don't want to ruin the book for others). Share the title and author.

" Murder? I don't see how it could have been. Who would want to murder Rupert?"
"I imagine Detective Inspector Jones would give a great deal to know just that."
"Well, this has all been fascinating," she said lightly, touching her glossy red hair, "but I'm afraid I must go to my room and dress for dinner." 
"Of course."  

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

I decided to do another selection from my current read this week - this book is good. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sunday Post #67

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

The last weekend of October is on us, and this month has flown by. I've enjoyed the fall activities and the turning leaves- October is one of my favorite months and I'll be sorry to see it go. And thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner...  

A few leaves are still falling as I write this, and the trees in the back are all golden and yellow. I didn't so much reading this week but I did finish a holiday read- my thoughts on it should be up this week. Last week I posted a few older reviews- feel free to check them out if you're interested. They're all good fall reads in their own way, I think. 


Murder at the Brightwell


 The Nine Lives of Christmas