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.