Thursday, May 5, 2011

River Marked Review by Elizabeth L.

River Marked by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★★

Mercy Thompson has been tricked. She's been fooled into believing that a shot gun wedding to Adam was her own idea. But her mother and Adam's daughter are far more cunning then she gave them credit for. She should have known better. On the bright side, everything turned out better than she could have expected and her and Adam get to sneak away to a campground on the Columbia River in a gorgeous new RV. As soon as she learned that the RV was lent to them by a fairy and that the state of the art campground was owned by a fairy, her and Adam should have turned right around back to the Tri-Cities. Fairies don't just do favors. They always expect something in return. Sure enough, turns out something evil is lurking in the waters. It soon marks Mercy's leg, and the idyllic honeymoon turns into something entirely different. It becomes a struggle to survive and save lives.

Mercy has grown to accept that her life will be full of danger and death, but this outing offers something more. Answers. The local tribe of Native Americans throws in their lot with Mercy to avenge the death of one of their own and to make the river safe once more. Among them, yet apart, Coyote appears. As in THE Coyote. He has answers, if he chooses to share them that is. He sheds light on Mercy's past and the father she never knew. He also provides some help with a certain walking stick that is inordinately fond of showing up in random places, not always trying to trip Mercy, but usually succeeding none the less. For a piece of wood it is very helpful. With Mercy and Adam trying to save the innocent as well as each other, this is going to be Mercy's toughest battle yet. Without a pack, without knowledge of those whom she must trust, with magic she never knew she possessed, a very magical fake Stonehenge and some nasty otters, her goodbye letter to Adam might end up being read this time.

With a long running series you always run the risk of it going stale. Look at Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels. The most recent book in her series lacked a plot, I think mainly due to the fact she has reached an unwieldy number of characters that everyone cares about and that must be included. That's a sarcastic must by the way. Catching up with everyone took up all 300 some pages with nary a hint of plot. Charlaine needs to break the mold, do something different and escape all her characters that are controlling her narrative. Charlaine, look to Patricia Briggs. Patricia Briggs did just that in River Marked. Briggs took Mercy and Adam away from the pack and into unfamiliar territory. Not only did this allow us to see how the couple actually function as a couple, but it allowed a breather from pack politics and vampire machinations. Charlaine, take note! That little scene with Stefan, we got caught up with him and then moved on to a story with structure, we didn't spend an entire book dealing with Stefan's depression and worsening state that resulted from his maker's betrayal.

What else made this novel work for me? Well, we finally had some answers! Mercy was able to find out more about her powers and what she is capable of. She's been in desperate need of a "How to be a Shifter" guide for awhile, and Coyote got to be that guide. The evil that was faced, while yes, it did tie into the fae, it wasn't solely fae, it was something else. Her books tend to be vampire/fairy/vampire/fairy, alternating the menace from book to book. It's a little nice to say, evil river demon isn't it? Such a refreshing new evil. I really have fallen for this series, and that walking stick, and I felt that this was an enjoyable quick read, yes, I did ignore homework, which is a rarity for me. River Marked also provided breathing space for character development without a pack breathing down our neck. Briggs has an innate ability to let her characters grow and change naturally. We have seen the bond between Mercy and Adam grow, we have read along with all Mercy's exploits, and I have to say, if Briggs keeps this up and is able to keep these characters real and the stories fresh, I'll be reading it for a long time to come.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

River Marked Reviewed by Misty B.

River Marked by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★★

This one...started off a little weak to me. I love these books (it's easily my favorite urban fantasy series), so I was awaiting its release pretty eagerly -- it's not often I pre-order books, afterall. I was so ready to jump back in, but this one was kind of a slow burner. I did end up liking it, as always, but there were some things that left me feeling a little let down.

Let's start with the things I really liked:
Stefan is back! It may be a somewhat minimal role, but I was suffering some serious Stefan withdrawal. And I actually like the reasons he was gone, because it made it more true. I was just talking about this the other day (with Miss Eliza, if I'm not mistaken), and Patricia Briggs is really good at making me feel the impact of serious things that happen in the books because she realizes that they are lives that are being messed with. Yes, I know they are fictional lives, but all the same -- if something traumatic happens in 1 book, it shouldn't be completely forgotten by the next. There are aftershocks, always. Things change people. Mercy went through something completely horrible, and Briggs saw it through in a really authentic way; she didn't brush it under the rug once it had served its literary purpose. The same is true of Stefan, and I applaud her more for showing the same diligence and veracity with even her minor characters. It lends everything strength, and makes me feel like she's not going to be the type of author (*cough*Laurell K Hamilton*cough*) who keeps raising the stakes and raising the stakes and raising the stakes -- only to have her characters discover some superpower or some magical something that saves the day, and then move on like it never happened or doesn't matter. If there's no danger and no real impact, what's the point? I hate Deus Ex.*

Sorry, didn't mean to go off on a tangent there... Moving on.
Another thing I really liked, and I have to warn you, it's the teensiest bit spoilery, and it's a really cute part of the book that I don't want to spoil for you, so if you haven't read it yet, scroll past this next bit real quick...
Are they gone? Okay, I loved Mercy's surprise wedding. That was the cutest effing thing ever, and it so perfectly suited the characters and the story. Again, it's another of those little touches that makes the book and the world feel real to me, and makes me believe that it really is real to Briggs, and that she knows these characters inside and out. It made me smile and feel a little squishy, it was so sweet and cute. And I'm not so prone to squishiness.

Alright, spoilers over. Now we get into the mixed stuff. I did like that Mercy's Native American heritage was explored, and that the insertion of this new mythology is going to expand the world and give Mercy something new to work out. But there was part of me that disliked it a little bit too, or at least, the way it was handled. I really liked the parts that dealt with Mercy's father -- that was fascinating and funny. But there's part of me that feels like Briggs started with the bar too high, and it tread a little too close to that Laurell K Deus Ex territory that I asterisked up there ↑↑ (yes. I did just use "asterisked" as a verb. My adv. comp. teacher would kill me if he knew.) I would have liked a little more build up to the craziness, but I did like what happened. I just wonder where there is to go from here. I don't doubt that there is somewhere to go, but I just don't want to see this go the way of Anita Blake. That's all I'm saying.

Along the same lines, Briggs hit one of my major pet peeves (and whaddya know? It's another one Laurell K is good for...) I absolutely hate when an author feels the need to continually cover ground that's already been covered. This probably isn't fair, it's probably not solely the fault of the author -- publishers want to sell books, namely the one that just came out -- they don't want people to have to deal with the pesky idea of starting a series from the beginning; that might discourage sales (thought it might encourage library visits...). Therefore, there tends to be a lot of redundancy and blahblah to get through in each successive book in a series, mainly to bring new readers up to speed. I haaaaaaaaate this. I get the reason for it, but it lessens my hatred not a jot. If you want to know what's happening in a series, read the goddamn series. I don't want to be told the same things over and over and over. It makes me feel like: a) the book's not being written for me or for the characters, but for the next available wallet, and b) the writer either doesn't trust themselves to get the point across and make everything clear, or doesn't trust the reader to get it. Briggs did a fair bit of this in River Marked (and she writes fairly short books, so there wasn't a lot of room to waste on this kind of nonsense); she also extended it to a continual repetition of the bond between Mercy and Adam. We. Get. It. Show, don't tell, damn it.

Now, I'm probably just being super sensitive because this is such a big pet peeve of mine. Many people may not be bothered by it, or even notice it for that matter. But I think it bears warning, in case you're a little angerball like me who will feel the need to compose angry letters in your head that you're never going to send.
I don't think that these negative traits were bad enough in this book to keep me from enjoying or recommending the book, but I am going to be watching you, Ms Briggs, so I'm putting you on notice -- trust your reader, trust your self, and tell your publisher to stuff it. Readers want a good book, not a good primer for the series. [Don't let it happen again. I don't like scolding you like this.]

So there you have it. It's a mixed-bag review, but I love this series, and this book is no exception, for the most part. I may be a little, eensy, weensy bit wary for the future of the series, but I recommend it wholeheartedly for now

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight Reviewed by Elizabeth L.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★★

Need not want. That's the way of the witch. You are respected and well regarded, but not really liked. Who would like the person who knows all your dirty little secrets and does what needs to be done? There is also a certain amount of fear underneath, because though a witch's job has little to do with magic, there's always the threat of it. Worn to the bone by the needs of the People of the Chalk, Tiffany doesn't have time for sleep, especially when the rough music starts. Mr. Petty has been singled out by the villagers, an abusive man; he has taken things too far this time with his daughter Amber. While Tiffany doesn't necessary support or condemn the villagers and their plan to oust Mr. Petty, she knows one thing, evil though he may be, Mr. Petty doesn't deserve to die and die he will in this environment of fear and hate. She must help him escape. The day after the incident with Mr. Petty, Tiffany is called to the home of the Baron. Once everyone thought that one day she would be the mistress of the manner. But being the two different people didn't mean they were the two right people for each other and Roland is deep in preparations for his wedding to Letitia while his father slips away. Letitia of the typical fairy-tale-princess-looks and the pretty gowns and the jewels, not that Tiffany is jealous or anything. But while Roland is away in the great city of Ankh Morpork, his father, the Baron, finally dies peacefully. But his nurse, a vengeful and hateful woman claims that Tiffany killed him for his wealth. Tiffany, being unable to deal with these absurd accusations leaves to find Roland and break the news to him. Telling Roland doesn't go as she had planned, instead she ends up in prison with her faithful Nac Mac Feegles. But there is one thing to say about prison, it's safe. There in Ankh Morpork she felt the rising fear and hatred she's been feeling for weeks. People are starting to believe the old stories of evil witches and gingerbread cottages, of the cacklers, of the fact "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But there was a stench of rotting and hatred and a man in black only she could see. A man with holes where his eyes should be. Tiffany soon learns that this Cunning Man must be stopped or soon more hatred, fear and suspicion will spread. Her own life could be in danger as Roland himself turns against her. But she soon learns she has unexpected allies, who, even if they did inadvertently release the Cunning Man, are willing to help watch him burn. Because if he doesn't, everyone else will.

Tiffany has grown up. She has seen the best and the worst of mankind and she takes care of them all. Just because a person appears beyond redemption doesn't mean they aren't worth fighting for, that way leads cackling. She takes everyone's pain away and leaves no comfort for herself. This is a far darker and more disturbing tale of Discworld then has been seen in the annals of Tiffany Aching. But then, the Cunning man is one of the most terrifying villains seen yet. Sure she kissed the Winter away and walked in the lands of fairies and DEATH, but those creatures were more creatures of myth and fairy tale than a man who through his own hatred and his own dark past is able to corrupt and despoil those who come in contact with him, though he is long dead. While it was bittersweet reading this book, in that it is the end of Tiffany's story, I couldn't help feeling a sense of completion. It's rare that a book ends on just the right note, but Pratchett has succeeded perfectly, the right note which is a bite of a susurration. While I was sad not to see more of the other witches, I think it was key that the final tale was Tiffany's and Tiffany's alone. We have passing vignettes of favorite characters, but in the end it's only Tiffany and her actions that matter. Actions both past, present and future. The Cunning Man brings out the worst of humanity; he preys on man's treatment of man and their fear of the unknown. The evils of the past are bound to repeat, there will always be witch hunts, even if they aren't literally so. But the genius of Pratchett is that he has taken the concept of the wicked witch, turned it on its head and made us see that these women of fairy tale who are feared are the ones who have it right. You must care for them that can't. You don't burn down old ladies' houses and kill their cats, you don't run people out of town, you show kindness, even if it must be said in a stern tone of voice. If we were all to act as the witches did, if we were to learn not to repeat the past and practice a little kindness, the world might be a better place, and that is indeed great magic.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Changeless Review by Misty B.

Changeless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★★

This book was one of my most eagerly awaited books of 2010, and with good reason.  When I read Soulless, Alexia Tarabotti quickly climbed pretty damn near the top of the heap of my favorite characters.  I was in love, a smitten kitten.  But Gail Carriger didn't stop there, because she gave me Lord Akeldama and Lord Maccon, Professor Lyall and Ivy Hisselpenny.  And Biffy!  Spiffy Biffy, I adore you, too.  Could it get any better?
Yes, it could, because she added to the bunch Madame Lefoux, yet another character after my heart.  Carriger excels at writing not only exceptional characters, but exceptionally, deliciously eccentric ones, and you know I love me some eccentric.  For all of their forward, anachronistic tendencies, they still seem somehow at home in Carriger's Victorian steampunk world, and I appreciate that.  I also appreciate that she had a character named Featherstonehaugh, which is very fun to say in my head.  (Festenhew, if you were wondering.  No joke.)

But I really didn't mean to start this review on a tangent.

In Changeless, Alexia Tarabotti is a Tarabotti no more; she has married Lord Maccon and stepped into her role as Lady Maccon and the Queen's muhjah , and seems to have everything under control.  But when something goes wrong with her husband's former pack in Scotland, Alexia, with an impressive -- if univited -- entourage in tow follows him to Scotland where she finds herself perhaps a little more out of her depths than she's used to.

It was fun to see Alexia sleuthing again, and making the most of her scientific mind (with a plethora of new toys at her disposal AND another forward-thinking though slightly suspect woman as her companion).  The mystery was fun, but more fun, as always, was the interactions between the characters.  Even though Ivy started getting on my nerves a little bit (gasp), she had some of the best lines, ever.  Take:

(Upon seeing men in kilts)
Miss Hisselpenny did not seem to know where to look.  Finally she settled on staring up at the candelabra in abject terror.  "Alexia," she hissed to her friend, "there are knees positively everywhere!  What do I do?"


"Oh dear.  Has something untoward ensued?  Everyone is gesticulating."

 She's just the perfect foil for any seriousness to say this?  intelligent conversation that may go on from time to time.  She's the fanning upper-class version of slapstick.  I can't stay mad at her, even when she is annoying.  And she's on the bottom of the totem of favorite characters, so it just gets better from there.  These are the types of "people" you want to invite into your brain [readthisreadthisreadthis:] and keep there [loveitloveitloveit:].  If you haven't picked up the first book in the Parasol Protectorate, kick yourself and then go get it.

I feel, though, like I need to address the end of the book, and I'm really not sure how to do that, so I'm going to tiptoe and talk in circles here a bit.  Excuse me.  There's a part of me that is so damn frustrated with the way this book ended (I wanted to reach through the pages and shake a certain character.  Hard.  Teeth-rattlingly hard), but at the same time, I don't think it could have ended any other way, and I would have felt like it was a cop out not to have ended the way it did.  So as much as I want to be frustrated and angry with Carriger, I can't, because I think she wrote the ending that was supposed to be there.  I respect that; not enough authors do that.
But it also means that I am tearing at my skin like a mental patient with the anxious need to get my hands on book three.  Like you have no idea.  I keep looking at Changeless like it's going to morph into the [stunning:] cover of Blameless.  I neeeed it.  It's like I'm turning into Gollum: I just want to hold it and stroke it and call it my preciousss.  But first I want to read it.
I need to read it.
I don't think there's any better endorsement.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Changless Review by Elizabeth L.

Changeless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★★

Gail Carriger has added the one thing these books needed to be perfect, a little Egyptian mysticism. Though I find it cruel to put the sample for Blameless in the back and then make us wait till September!

Marital bliss can't last long when a surly regiment of werewolves shows up on your doorstep, your husband disappears to the wilds of Scotland and a bizarre plague of humanization strikes London, making werewolves and vampires alike mortal, and shuffling off the ghosties. But Alexia would not be Alexia if she didn't set right to figuring out what's up. After stopping off at a milliner's, always a trying experience with Ivy in tow, Alexia makes the acquaintance of Madame Lefoux, a dashing haberdasher prone to wearing male attire who happens to be a great inventor on the side. In fact, she's invented the parasol to beat all other parasols, making this umbrella indispensable to Alexia. After an explosive attack while leaving Madame Lefoux's establishment, and rumors that the humanization proceeded her husband to Scotland, Alexia decides that the safety of the supernaturals as well as her husband are at stake and to Scotland she must go. Of course, if she must go by dirigible, her long held wish, well then she must. She didn't count on the entourage of a love sick claviger, an engaged Ivy, one of her sisters and Madame Lefoux.

Attempted poisonings and dangerous dirigible daring do lead to a welcome return to Terra Firma. But if Alexia thought the troubles before where anything to the troubles to come she was mistaken. Her husbands old pack are not all that welcoming, and they seem to have collected a lot of Egyptian antiquities on their way home for being stationed in India. But if it's the last thing she does Alexia will get to the bottom of everything, little knowing of the shock in store.

Gail Carriger has outdone herself in creating a rollicking good read, with a tighter more thrilling mystery and even more memorable characters than in her first book, Soulless. From creating a proto telegraph telephone to dirigibles riding on aether, she has not bogged down her book with too much unintelligible speculative steampunk gadgetry. She has made an accessible world that you never want to leave and makes the wait for Blameless excruciating. Plus, delving deeper into the mysteries of what exactly a preternatural is, and unearthing Egyptian myths, sheer perfection. There's nothing I love more than Egypt, and while, throwing Egypt in delights me, I find it truly satisfying when it works so well with the plot and advances the narrative. Egypt for Egypt is all well and good, Egypt for a purpose, all the better. If there was one complaint I could make, aside from the cliffhanger, it is not enough Lord Akeldama. But I can't in good conscious make this complaint with the arrival of Madame Lefoux. She is so mysterious and kind of glamorous, and her openly defining the stereotypes of the day is just wonderful. I hope she continues to play in important part in the story. Also, am I the only one who instantly saw Emma Fielding as Miss Galindo from Cranford as Madame Lefoux? Maybe it's the hat thing, maybe it's the cravat thing, but I think she would be perfect.