Monday, February 29, 2016

The 52nd by Dela




- April

Not one of the sacrifices chosen over the long history had survived--until now.
On the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, the immortal Castillo family gathers in Tulum. Weary and haunted, they receive the names of fifty-two human sacrifices chosen once every fifty-two years for the Underworld, a tradition thought to have disappeared with the fall of the Aztec and Mayan empires.
Driving home one night, college freshman Zara Moss swerves to avoid hitting a ghastly figure in the road. Lucas Castillo witnesses the car crash, but when it comes time to supervise her abduction from the wreckage, he intervenes. Something is different about Zara: Lucas has been having dreams of her arrival for five hundred years.
As Lucas and Zara come together to put an end to the bloody sacrifices, they discover that the ancient tradition isn't so easily broken. The gods are angry, and they have until the Winter Solstice to drag Zara to the Underworld. (taken from Amazon description)


I really enjoyed this book.  I found myself mesmerized with the characters and watching the plot unfold.  The more interaction that Zara has with Lucas and his family, the more I was drawn in.  The historical site with the Mayans and Inca was intriguing in and of itself.  Sometimes I got a little confused when the thoughts would switch between characters and I would have to read the same passage over again.  It was easy to relate to the struggle that Zara and Lucas went through emotionally.  The farther I read, the more sucked in, I found myself wishing that I had no other responsibilities than reading the book.  When I finished, I was sad and longing for the next one, but ready to get back to my life.  I am still soo ready for the next book!


The History Major by Michael Phillip Cash



- Carrie Anne

After a vicious fight with her boyfriend followed by a night of heavy partying, college freshman Amanda Greene wakes up in her dorm room to find things are not the same as they were yesterday.  She can't quite put her finger on it.  She's sharing her room with a peculiar stranger.  Amanda discovers she's registered for classes she would never choose with people that are oddly familiar.  An ominous shadow is stalking her.  Uncomfortable memories are bubbling dangerously close to her fracturing world, propelling her to an inevitable collision between fantasy and reality.  Is this the mother of all hangovers or is something bigger happening?  (taken from Amazon description)

This book started off great.  We're just as intrigued as Amanda is, wondering what has happened to her.  She only remembers part of the fight with her boyfriend; did something happen after that?  Where is her boyfriend now?  Where's her regular roommate?  And why on earth is she registered for History 101?

Amanda decides she'd better attend class, whether she wants to or not.  From there, things only get stranger.  Is that Aristotle teaching the class?  Why is the dark shadow following her?  Most importantly, why can't she leave?

Unfortunately, at that point, I wanted to leave, too.  We all know the quote "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,"  and that's the key point of the novel.  Aristotle tells the stories of Joan of Arc and Lucrezia Borgia and we know Amanda needs to learn from them.  Amanda has trouble understanding why, though, and I did, too.  Eventually, memories fall into place and things begin to make sense to her, but I still felt a little lost.  The surreal nature of her day, mixed with the flashbacks of Joan and Lucrezia, mixed with a touch of the supernatural, all left me feeling unsettled and anxious to reach the end, in the hope everything would finally make sense to me, too.  It did, in a way, but mostly through the use of the author's note at the end.

All in all, I love Cash's books, but this one just didn't do much for me.  I typically read to be entertained, and if the book warrants an explanation, that means reading the book was more like work.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Monsterland by Michael Phillip Cash




-Carrie Anne

For a group of teenagers who regularly argue who would win the battle in a fight between werewolves, zombies, and vampires, having tickets for the grand opening of Monsterland is a dream come true.  For Monsterland is a theme park where you can run with the wolves, walk with the zombies, and party with the vampires, all in a safe environment.  What could possibly go wrong?

I loved Cash's descriptions of the teens in their day to day lives and eagerly read about the park, its founder, and all of its features.  Inevitably, it started to fall apart, though, (rather abruptly)  and my interest in the book waned.  Even though we were introduced to a few of the monsters, I didn't really care what happened to them; I don't think they were fleshed out nearly as well as the teenagers.  The scenes were action packed, but I didn't always understand the motivations of those involved.  Maybe it's simply because they were monsters?

Cash excels at having very approachable, believable characters.  There's always a little humor, and a few surprises.  This book is no exception.  The idea of a Monsterland is a clever one and I wish we would have seen more of it, but instead we rush right into its destruction.  Still, I would recommend any Monster fan give the story a try and imagine what could have been.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Harvest of a Black Earth by Patrick Crabb



-April

It is 1994 in a newly independent country of Ukraine and Dmitry Petrenko is prepared to exact his own form of justice against Alexander Orenchenko, the man whose actions ruined his and many other lives decades before.  During Dmitry's youth, the Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic was a place of famine, war, totalitarian repression, and revolt.  Some say over half the population died as a result of oppression and war between 1930 and 1950.  How did Dmitry and Alexander survive under these circumstances, only to lead Dmitry inches away from cold-blooded murder? (taken from Amazon description)

I found that I enjoyed reading this book. Although the Ukranian population suffered great atrocities during this time, I found hope, love and patriotism. Even though the subject matter was depressing, seeing things from Dmitry's point of view gave it a more inspirational feel.

There's a lot of detail so that you can actually see the landscape and atmosphere, but it doesn't bog you down.  The atrocities aren't very detailed.  They're graphic enough to make you realize what it was like in the POW camps and when they filled the mass graves.

 Dmitry is a very strong-willed and strong-hearted person.  The more I read of Alexander, the more I disliked him.  In this case, like so many others, greed and power make you do horrible things that not only effect you, but loved ones as well.

The only issue I had with the book was pronouncing the names of the people and places.  Considering it takes place in the Ukraine, that wasn't surprising.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book.


If You Were Me and Lived in Peru by Carole P. Roman



-April

I found the pictures in this book to be dark, but the brighter colors of some objects seemed to lighten the whole scene.  It was easy to read and understand.  The pronunciation key was easy to understand and made the words easy to read.  I enjoyed learning some things about Peru.

If You Were Me and Lived in Hungary by Carole P. Roman



-April

I found this book informative and interesting.  However, the majority of the pictures were really dark.  Reading this book, I discovered that one of the toys I played with as a child was created by a Hungarian man.  The pronunciation of the words was easy to figure out.

If You Were Me and Lived in China by Carole P. Roman



-April

I found this book to be a little more advanced than the rest of the series.  It was very wordy and even with all the pronunciation breakdowns, some of the letter combinations are difficult to figure out.  There are some pictures that are rather dark compared to others, making them difficult to look at.  This book was very informative.

Ten Spices for Health and Longevity by Valerie Lull


I'm a huge believer in that you are what you eat.  Whatever you put into your body will give you different results.  Changing small things in your diet can yield amazing health results. I've been studying homeopathy for years.  

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to review Ten Healthy Teas by Lull.  I loved it and I actually keep it in a handy drawer in my kitchen..  So, when her next book came up, I knew it was one that I'd want to not only read, but keep.  She was kind enough to send me a copy in exchange for a review.

In this book, Lull focuses on ten main spices: cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, turmeric and cloves.  These are every day spices that most of you already have in your kitchen.  For each spice, she gives us plenty of information.  We find out the history, use in other cultures, popular uses, common ailments that may be aided, as well as side effects.  Then she goes a step further and provides us with some recipes as well as other handy uses for the spice besides consumption.  Lastly, she'll provide drug interaction precautions.

Everything that I found in this book goes right along with all of my research and knowledge.  It's put together in a handy fashion so that you can quickly find what you want.  I do wish there had been a handy chart inserted, but that's just me and my personal preferences.  There's some really fascinating information in here.  It's well- written and interesting to read.  You aren't going to get a bunch of dry facts.  

If you're interested in learning how to change your health by changing your diet, this is a great book to start with.  Actually, I highly suggest Ten Healthy Teas if you're a tea drinker as well.  There's a lot of information contained in these books.  Even if you aren't interested in a diet change, those interested in other cultures or food study will find this a great read.  It's quick, but you'll pick up quite a lot.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Perverse by Larry Rodness

19 year old Emylene Stipe is a 2nd generation Goth who, like every teenage girl, is trying to find her place in the world.  One winter night she comes upon an old painting in an antique store and feels compelled to purchase it.  When she brings it home an image of a young woman appears in the sketch and then magically materializes in the apartment.  Emylene nick-names her 'Poinsettia' and they become fast friends.  But Poinsettia has an ulterior motive for her sudden and strange intrusion into her host's life which causes Emylene to question her entire belief system.  (taken from Amazon description)

Having read another book by Rodness that I greatly enjoyed, I was excited to tuck into this one.  Though it had some bright spots, I was disappointed in this book.

Over all, the story has a lot of meat to it.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but there's actually a really good story hidden in here.  There's the search for identity, lost love, hope, desperation, corruption.  There's a wonderful world of witchery and vampires.  We have heroes and villains and sometimes you don't know which is which.  Had the story been told in a different way, it could have been great instead of just so-so.  It could be an epic tale of good vs. evil.

The storytelling is my biggest complaint. We start off with a lot of back story on Emylene.  It's very 'once upon a time' but it's also incredibly dull.  Had I not read Rodness before, I probably wouldn't have made it past the first chapter.  But, I know he's a great writer and a great storyteller...so there had to be something better coming.  I was right.  About one third of the way into the story, it becomes very Terminator.  'Come with me if you want to live' and all that goes with that.  I nearly got whiplash with the change in storytelling, but I was thankful to finally be where Rodness does his finer work.  At this stage, the real story actually begins to unfold and I'm finally drawn in.

My second complaint is that I keep finding some pretty amateurish spots.  To me, it almost feels like Rodness created the character of Emylene years ago and began to write it, then moved on to something else, then picked it back up and continued on where he'd left off.  The change in level of talent is noticeable.  I sound nitpicky, I'm sure.  There's an entire character and pages devoted to her that have absolutely  nothing to do with the story.  There are some parts that are just really cliched and could have been changed minutely to have a much better feel for the reader.  Instead, I found myself sighing in annoyance.  With every character, we go into pages and pages of back story.  Shorten it up.  Make it more interesting.  Most of the back story isn't necessary and doesn't add to the story in any way.  It just makes me hate the characters for being so darn windy.  There are some parts that are a little difficult to believe.  An elderly man from the 'old country' who stays to himself in a dusty antique shop is an Usher fan?  I highly doubt it.  It's possible, but you haven't given me anything to support that possibility.  Then when we're nearing the end, everything is just magically tied up a little too neatly.  After that, we have an epilogue.  It takes everything I enjoyed about the end of the story and destroys it.

So, while most of my review is complaints, it's also constructive criticism.  I know that this author can write, and write well.  I know that he can be a compelling storyteller.  We actually get a good portion of that in this story, but I wish he'd go back and rewrite it.  As it was, the book was just alright.  With a few minor rewrites and changes, this could be a wonderful and thrilling tale.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Five Bloody Heads by Peter Fugazzotto

This is the third book in the Hounds of the North series.  I read the first book in the series, The Witch of the Sands, and greatly enjoyed it.  I haven't read the second book, Black River.

In this book, we continue on with Spear and his band.  They've been hired to deliver the heads of five devils who slaughtered a little girl's family.  As they find out what they're up against, will the cost be too much?

First, because this book is part of a series, it's always a question of whether you have to do background reading before delving in.  In this case, you don't.  This book works great as a stand alone.  For me, it was more a matter of remembering the characters as I was reading along.  It was almost like I'd taken a brief journey with these people before and then years later came across them once again.  'Oh!  Yeah I remember that guy!'  Though you don't need any of the background from the previous books, it is fun to have that little connection.  On the other hand, you aren't bogged down with a lot of back story.  Sometimes authors tend to go overboard in an attempt to let you know what happened before, and if you've read the previous books it can be pretty annoying.  'Yes!  I was there!  Move on already!'  In this case, Fugazzotto did an amazing job.  If you didn't know this was part of a series, you wouldn't have guessed it.

This book is NOT for young readers or those faint of heart!  There are some pretty fierce battles and a lot of brutality going on.  Now, the battle scenes are brilliantly painted and incredibly realistic, but they can still be a little difficult to stomach, especially if you have an active imagination.  Some of the characters in the book are true monsters and their treatment of others is difficult to read.  Though it's graphically violent, it's definitely necessary in this book.  There aren't really any 'good' guys, but we have to be sympathetic to our hero, Spear.  Even though Spear has done some pretty nasty things in his time, by seeing just how horrible the 'bad' guys can be, it lets you rally your forces and ride with Spear into battle.

This is a tale of bandits and brigands and fallen soldiers.  It's pretty intense with only the random humor of Bones to break it up.  It reminds me a lot of those tales of cowboys when the West was dieing.  They had this whole way of life, but everything went and changed and they found themselves lost.  It's the same here.  These previous Hounds of the North are lost and searching for a way to bring meaning back to their lives.  For each one, it's something different that they chase.  It's fascinating to watch them try to puzzle out their lives and figure out their place in the world.  It's also incredibly sad when we see the ones who just don't seem to 'get it' when it comes to what's really important.

If you read any of the previous books, you already know if this is your thing.  If not, you'll know by page two if this is something you're interested in.  It's an intense tale of lost warriors scrambling to right the world.  It's a tale of hope and loss.  It's a tale of fear.  In the words of one of my favorite characters, 'Your life will end with you'.

Friday, February 12, 2016

October 32nd by Larry Rodness

It's October 31, and insurance agent Alexander Malefant is sent to picturesque Elora during its annual Halloween festival.  No sooner does Alexander arrive than he witnesses the near-drowning of a boy bobbing for apples.  Shortly after that, a group of children are attacked by crows.  Later that evening, all the children in the village suddenly disappear.  Soon, every person becomes a suspect as residents frantically try to discover what happened to the children.  Who or what is behind these disappearances, and can they get the children back before it's too late?  (taken from Amazon description)

When I first began reading, it was reminiscent of a Supernatural episode.  I found myself wondering if I was about to read the Wicker Man version of Supernatural, sans Sam and Dean.  While this book was nothing like Wicker Man or Supernatural, it was definitely enough of a hook to interest me right away and keep me reading.

Now, the book is written in first person, present tense.  That always irks me.  There's nothing wrong with it, it's just a personal preference.  I always feel like past tense means that the story has already taken place, and it sort of lends a bit more of a feeling of truth to it.  Present tense always makes me feel like the story is currently happening, and there's absolutely no reason that I should be watching it as it unfolds.  I feel like an intruder.  I also tend to prefer third person storytelling.  Instead of getting one person's perspective of what's going on, I feel like I'm getting a more rounded version of what actually happened.  The fact is that the world can't run the way I'd like it to.  So, I have to be a bit more understanding when it comes to this sort of thing.  HOWEVER!  By the time that I finished the book, I realize exactly why it was written in first person as well as in present tense.  There was absolutely no other way that Rodness could have told this story.  So, my personal preferences aside, it was definitely the right call for the author to make in this situation.

One of the most fascinating parts of this book for me was the main character.  I was struck immediately by the way that he manipulates everything in his brain to see how it relates to him personally.  I wouldn't say he's selfish, but definitely a bit of a narcissist.  For example, he sees a little boy drowning and carefully watches the townspeople and how they handle the situation.  Later, he finds that he has a meeting with the parents of the boy to sell life insurance.  At that stage, his mind goes into figuring out how to sell them insurance, while taking the incident into account.  He believes they will either be more receptive because of the scare, or possibly more distracted and less open to listening to him because of it.  This is just an example of how Alexander is.  Whenever something happens in the story, it's all about him.  Children are missing?  Oh...Well I might as well leave town because nobody will want to meet with me.  Now, he's not really a heartless character.  He just has trouble forcing himself to care.  You see some random instances where he sort of forgets to make everything about him and plunges in to help others, making him much more likable.

As for the story line, I had lots of theories as I was reading.  Once new characters are introduced and you really start to delve in to the townspeople and their traits, your brain starts working in overdrive.  Not only are children missing, but there's a much deeper mystery to solve and we're given just enough clues to keep us absolutely lost.  Even though I thought I had a pretty good handle on where the story was headed, I was blind-sided at the end.  I actually read the last page three times because I couldn't believe what I'd just read.  OK, to be completely honest...I screamed 'Wait!  What?'  and stormed off for a few minutes before coming back and reading it two more times.  The ending didn't change from the first time I read it, but at least it gave me a chance to reach the acceptance level.

I enjoyed the plot and was ecstatic that there were some great plot twists.  All of the characters were interesting, and most of them were likable.  The mystery was intriguing, but not too easy to figure out.  There's a great bit of subtle humor running throughout the book.  The storytelling is brisk, but there's enough detail given that you can still imagine the author's world and surroundings.  Also, if you pay close attention, you may even learn a few things about physics.







Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Thoughts on K.P. Ambroziak

Who?

I'm not surprised you asked!  If I said her name on the street, I doubt many of you will know who she is.  However, I think you should fix that.  Familiarize yourself with her work.

Since I started reviewing, I've watched as writing trends changed.  When I was young, you had to send in a manuscript to a publishing house and pray for the best.  Today, we have teenagers writing books and self-publishing.  With the possibilities of self-publishing and publishing online, it has really opened up the opportunities for those who believe they have a story to tell.  In theory, this makes it an amazing and wondrous world we live in, where anyone can be a published author.  In reality, this makes it nearly impossible for the actual writers of literature to be found.  They seem to become lost in the masses.

We have people like Stephen Kozeniewski.  He writes stories you've never heard before.  Just when you thought everything had been thought of, here comes this man who has original ideas and a natural talent for sharing them with you.  How many of you know of this man?

We have Sam Goodnight.  This genius teenager spent three years writing notes and published his first book at the age of fifteen.  Fifteen!  Now here's the thing, it's not just a book.  It's an epic adventure that will take even an avid reader a week to finish.  How many of you know of Sam?

We have L. F. Falconer, who is my favorite fantasy author.  She popped on the scene a couple of years ago with the Hope series and I immediately fell in love.  I don't even like fantasy!  She has this incredible talent for merrily skipping along, humming a happy tune, when suddenly entrails are everywhere!  The real talent comes in in the fact that you don't feel shocked out of where you were.  It's like you're out for an afternoon stroll and you see an airplane about to crash.  You can't look away!  You know it will be horrifying, but you can't stop watching!  How many of you know of this lady?

So, now let's get back to K.P. Ambroziak, after my long vent.  Don't worry, that's been building up in my system for quite some time.  I should be all calm now.  *cough cough*  Anyway!  Ambroziak is one of those few authors that has really caught my attention the last few years.  Being a reviewer, I come in contact with a lot of new authors that most of the public don't.

The first book I read was The Journal of Vincent DuMaurier.  Now, this came out right at the edge of the zombie craze.  The sequel to this book followed shortly behind.  Here's the thing, she takes a look at how the zombie apocalypse would react in a world that has vampires.  Intriguing, right?  What really struck me was her style of writing.  Other than the zombie/vampire content, these books could easily have been written a hundred years ago.  The wording is beautiful.  The storytelling is superb.  The characters are dear and personal to you.  For me, reading Journals was every bit as enthralling as each episode of The Walking Dead is.

After that, I read El and Onine.  Now, this just wasn't my thing.  I'm not a huge fan of fantasy (see notes above).  However, Ambroziak's writing style, storytelling and characters made it so that I could at least finish the book.  It was a great story, it was just one that I didn't care about.  There were definitely some twists and turns.

The point of this long post?  I just finished reading Ambroziak's latest novel.  It's called The Trinity.  Watch for the review on Minding Spot!  Anyway, as I was reviewing this morning, I was really struck by what a versatile author she is.  She started off with this incredible story about zombies/vampires.  Then there's the fantasy/sci-fi.  This latest book is religious conspiracy.  It's every bit as good as Journals was.  It's such a different genre than what she's written before though.  I'm starting to wonder if this woman can write everything successfully.  There's an elegance about her that seeps into everything I've read.  I'd really love to know where she gets her ideas.  I'm anxious to see what she comes up with next.  If you haven't heard of her, she's definitely one to check out.  This isn't just popcorn fiction.  There's substance.  There's meat.

Speaking of meat...I've made myself hungry!

How Do You Review??

It's been so long since I've written a review, that I've forgotten my own personal style.  I opened my word processor to begin typing, and nothing came out!  I used to be good at this!

I did a little research online to see how you're technically supposed to do it.  I found this great article that was four pages long explaining exactly what a blogged book review should contain.  Four pages??  Alright, my reviews aren't even four pages long.  If I went through this list and added everything they suggest, my reviews would be a book in themselves.  Not only that, the result of that would definitely be a review I'm not willing to read.  If I'm spending more than five minutes reading the review, I might as well just dive into the book and wish myself the best of luck.

During the past dozen years, I've read hundreds (possibly thousands)  of book reviews.  They range from a simple 'This book sucked!' to several pages of in-depth information.  What do you normally put in your reviews?  Do you want to spend a few seconds and give your general idea of the book?  Or do you want to continuously ask yourself why you felt that way, and go in to great detail?

There are a few points that are necessities, I believe.  Of course, you need the title and author of the book.  You need a general summary.  It's great to have an idea what genre the book belonged in.  As a reader of reviews, I also like to have information about the plot and characters.  I also want to know if there was anything that made this book excel above others or whether there is a fault that is so severe that the book should never have been published.

It looks to me like most of today will be spent redefining my review process.  Though I know vaguely what sort of reviews I used to write, and would like to write, I also think this is the best time to reinvent and improve upon myself.  I'm open for suggestions!

What information do you put in your reviews?  What information are you looking for?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We're Back! No, we aren't! Yes, we are! Well...maybe??

It feels odd to be blogging again!  Wonderful, but odd!

A little over a year ago, I underwent some major life changes.  It's been a crazy long adjustment period!  I think I'm mostly at the stage where I can 'go back to work'!  

I don't promise that there will be a whole lot going on, at least for awhile, but this is just one more baby step in the right direction.  We're up and running and anything on top of that is whipped cream!


Giveaway Notice

All winners of giveaways will be notified as soon as their name has been drawn. Each winner will have two weeks to respond in order to receive their prize. Prizes cannot be delivered without an email/physical address. Any prizes that are not claimed within a two week period will be forfeited.

Notice

All books (unless otherwise specified) belong to me already, have been borrowed, or are sent to me by the author, publisher or review company for review. I do not receive any monetary rewards for reviewing books. The opinions expressed in my reviews belong solely to me.