Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mysterious Journey to the North Sea (Part One) by Hideyuki Kikuchi (4/5 stars)

This is the seventh book in Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D series. I liked it I really, really liked it. For some reason I have a soft spot for this series. Because it is translated, the language is always a little clunky and doesn’t have the flowing beauty that I imagine it would in Japanese. Anyone, who’s read it in Japanese, can chime in on this!

In this book D comes upon Win-Lu after she has been captured while trying to sell a mysterious pearl. D makes a promise to deliver the pearl back to the girl’s sister Su-In. Su-In later hires D to help protect her from all the meanies that come after the pearl.

This was my favorite Vampire Hunter D book to date. There are a ton of new characters, each of them with very creative and interesting powers. The description in the book is great. I love Su-In; she is not the archetypal female character that these books normally deal with. Su-In is strong and courageous with certain soft aspects to her personality that are surprising. I feel like this is the most “human” D has been portrayed in any of these books. D actually engages in everyday activities and shows some emotion towards the other characters.

My only disappointments with this book were that it ended in the middle of a fight scene (luckily I didn’t start reading this one until I had part 2) and that you don’t find out much about the pearl. Really nothing is resolved in the first book; so when it says it is part 1, it definitely is only a part of the story. I also agree with another review I read that sometimes it is easy to confuse Glen and D; they are both described similarly throughout the book. I am very excited to hear that the next Vampire Hunter D anime is supposed to be based on this book.

Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War by Clive Barker (4/5 stars)

This is the second Abarat book by Clive Barker and starts shortly after where the last one left off. I listened to this book on audio book and, like audio book of Abarat, the audio book was very well done.

Once again we follow Candy on her efforts to elude Christopher Carrion. Candy bumps into a cast of great new quirky characters as she tries to flee Carrion’s minions. John Mischief and crew are still trying to find Fennigan Hob. Will Christopher Carrion be able to bring about Permanent Midnight? What is Candy Quackenbush’s real identity? These are all things that are visited in this book.

This is a great book, it is very creative, and still reminds me a bit of Alice in Wonderland. This book is definitely written by a horror author; there is a sort of cloud of evil or despair over the story as you read it. While this is a great book, really young children would probably find it too scary and some of the ending fight scenes are pretty-darn gory.

I really love Barker’s bad guys. I just can’t emphasize enough how much depth the bad guys have. Especially with Christopher Carrion; you can never figure out if he is really bad to the core or if maybe he was just born into a bad family. The ending surprised me a bit, as the whole mystery surrounding Candy didn’t end up exactly how I thought it would.

There were a couple things that really disappointed me; this book still had a very open ending. There is a lot in Abarat that needs to be resolved at the close of the book. That was very disappointing to me since I haven’t seen (or heard of plans for) another Abarat book. I didn’t like how it ended for Candy’s mother either. I guess I just have to live with that since Barker seems more about realism than happy endings. I was also curious as to why Rojo Pixler and the Commexo kid weren’t mentioned much in this book. In the last book Rojo looked like a big contender for a parallel bad guy; that was dropped in this book.

All the above being said; this was still a very good book and a great follow-up to Abarat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo (3/5 stars)

I have heard of this book numerous times before. So when I saw it on the buy one get one table at Borders I decided to get it because there was another book on there that I wanted.

This is not the type of book I normally read but once in a while I like to throw in something different to give me a new perspective on things and clear out my "fantasy reading" palate.

This book describes the journey of a boy, Santiago, from his life as a shepherd to the realization of his "Personal Legend". That's basically what the book goes through, that's it.

This book reminded me a lot of a parable or fable. It was written in a very simplistic, straight forward style. I think a relatively young child could read and, to some depth understand, the book. The moral of the book seems to be to never give up your dreams; things that come between you and your dreams are there for a reason. There are probably a number of other symbolic instances in the book but, truth be told, I didn't find it intriguing enough to spend a lot of time analyzing the book.

It is a very short book and a quick read. It felt more like reading a novella than an actual book. It reminded me of a book that probably wasn't that tough to write and makes me wonder about all the hubbaloo about it. Maybe people should spend more time reading books in general.

That being said the book does have a sense of peace about it. When you finish the book you are relatively happy and have a peaceful feeling about life in general. This book gives you a sense of "everything happens for a reason", yet empowers you to feel like you *can* make a difference in your life and those around you.

For some reason the feeling this book left me with reminded me of how I felt after reading the Kushiel's Dart trilogy. In some odd way Santiago reminded me of Phedre'. Anyone who has read both books is probably thinking I am nutsy. But think about it; both characters seem to go through life with a sort of grace, both characters take a lot of hard knocks but keep on reaching for what they see as right, and both characters seem to end up happy with their lives thus far.

One thing about this book really bothered me and that was the obsessive use of the capitalized term "Personal Legend". This phrase was used too frequently throughout the book and described often; it made me feel like Coelo was either 1) trying to dumb down the book for the readers or 2) coin his own personal self-help phrase. If it was 1) he should assume his audience is a bit brighter than he did and if it is 2) I don't appreciate reading a fiction book that is trying to sell its own self-help series.

I was very surprised that a treasure really existed. Given the tone of the book I expected the treasure to be the journey itself, or some similar high-handed drivel.

Anyway, the book was okay. It was a quick read but I have a feeling that most people out there who read a lot will wonder what the big deal is. For those who are solely "bestseller readers" this may be a more significant piece of work. If it ends up becoming a classic and being required reading in schools, I think the kids should be grateful since it is a very quick and easy read.

The Harlequin by Laurell K. Hamilton (3/5 stars)

Okay so I am sucker. I asked for this hardcover Anita Blake book for Christmas; after swearing never to buy another hardcover book from Hamilton again. Although I guess *I* didn't buy it.

This is the 15th (yes, count them, 15th) book in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. In this book both Anita and Jean Claude are contacted by the Harlequin who is some type of elite vampire special force that the vampire council sends out to get people they don't like. Somehow this is mixed up with some vampires from Malcom's Church of Eternal Life getting framed for murder. The book follows Anita, Jean-Claude, and the whole complicated bunch of their associates as they try to figure out how to survive the Harlequin, how to figure out what the Harlequin wants, and how this all ties into the Church of Eternal Life. Also Marmee Noir makes a couple more appearances as her interest in Anita grows.

Good Stuff:
- Anita is actually at her office; yes she does work.
- Edward is in this book...I don't think that needs any more explanation.
- Olaf is in this book. He is here in all his glorious creepiness; still he is a very interesting character.
- There is a plot, kind of.
- There is a lot more action; the guns are out in full force.
- Requiem is developed more as a character
- Nathanial is becoming a force to be reckoned with
****Two spoilers, but the best positives*****
- The nasty ardeur that has forced Hamilton's hand into so many gratuitous sex scenes is finally looking up. What you mean that arduer can be love and not just lust? You mean people can love things and other people without screwing them? Yes, that is what it happening. Maybe she heard the readers cry for some sanity.
- Could Richard actually be out of the loop for good? Oh that would be wonderful!
****End spoilers****

- Still lots of rambling metaphysical scenes in this book
- Still lots of whining from Anita about how she hates sleeping with so many different guys
- The addition of a couple newbies added to Anita's already long list of bedding partners.
- Where is Anita's friend Ronnie; did they ever make up after their huge fight?
- The intense conversation that Anita and Asher were supposed to have (despite him almost killing her in the last book) is completely absent; in fact Asher is only present in passing.

So in summary this book is better. It is still definitely not up to par with the earlier books; but it is getting there. There is a lot more action, a lot more gore, and a lot more horror in this book. There is also the presence of Edward and Olaf that make things way more interesting. These two items hark back to the early books of the series.

Still there is a lot of metaphysical baloney; all of the stuff about Anita having multiple strands of lycantropy in her bloodstream had best be leading somewhere because a lot of time is spent on this. There is a lot of sex, and it is with different men than in the past books. The minimal presence of Asher and Jason is very noticeable in this book. Although the changes that are brought about to the ardeur at the end of the book lead me to think that there might be an end to this sex-filled escapade; maybe this is a trend toward future books being filled with all the supernatural action-filled-gore that made these book so great in the beginning.

If you are still reading this series, this could be the change of pace you are looking for. I have my fingers crossed that the next book continues on the improvements of this one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Two Swords by R.A. Salvatore (3/5 stars)

The Two Swords is the third (and last) book in The Hunter's Blade trilogy from R. A. Salvatore. This book, while slightly better than the last book, was just okay.

In this book the dwarves work to defend Mithril Hall against orc invasion. Drizzt and Innovindel continue their battle to rescue the Pegasus Sunrise and to deplete what orc forces they can.

The Good
- I really enjoyed the character development between Drizzt and Innovindel.
- The frost giant queen was a very enjoyable as a character
- You get a little closure between Drizzt and Cattie-Brie
- Well-written action scenes
- For once good does not necessarily triumph

The Bad
- This book just continues the battle from the second book
- The main characters survive unrealistic situations (I mean *really* unrealistic situations). It is as if Salvatore can't bring himself to loose any of the main characters.
- This book is a lot of strategic battle; there isn't a ton of personal quest type fights (which I like more than epic battle scenes)
- There is still a lot to be resolved at the end of this book

The Ugly
- Secondary characters are treated like fodder (similar to how we treat NPCs when playing DnD)
- Certain characters seem to be killed just because Salvatore doesn't know what to do with them
- The whole book is epic battle and more epic battle filled with mass slaughter or orcs and dwarves alike.

Overall this was an okay book. I personally don't enjoy books with epic strategic battles that much; especially when the epic battle goes across numerous books. I enjoy personal type quests a lot more. While Drizzt and Innovindel do go on a quest to save Sunrise; it is not the main focus of the book. I did like the fact that for once evil is not neatly put down; it looks like the good folk are going to have to really get their act together before they get rid of Obould...or possibly even strike a compromise with Obould. It was also nice to see that Drizzt can't beat everything he goes up against.

In all this was definitely not my favorite work of Salvatore's. It took a long time for me to get through it. I stopped reading it a number of times but was determined to finish it. Hopefully the next book will be better.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cast in Secret by Michelle Sagara (4/5 stars)

This is the third book in the Chronicles of Elantra series by Michelle Sagara. It has been getting mixed reviews but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I mean you couldn't barely pry me away from the book, so that should say something about it.

In this book Kaylin and Severn are trying to track down a couple young girls that have been kidnapped. There is some nice character development between Kaylin and Lord Nightshade. You learn a lot more about the race of the Tha'alani, which is pretty interesting. In fact a lot of the book focuses on the Tha'alani. Kaylin learns, much to her dismay, more about her magic.

Overall I really liked this book. It was interesting to learn about the Tha'alani and you get to learn some more about the history of Elantra. I really don't like Kaylin as a character too much, she has kind of grown on me like a fungus, but I love the supporting cast. I think the different races in the book are very interesting. I also really like the elemental magic in this book; it was a neat idea and fun to read about.

There are a couple of things that did irritate me about this book. We all know that Kaylin has a weak spot for children, we get it. I really don't need that beat into me anymore than it already has been. It also kind of bothers me that this book is never quit sure about Kaylin's relationship to the men around her. For some reason all the guys are very protective of her yet, you can't figure out if there is any romance there; they all treat here like she is a young teenager or something. Maybe this ambiguity in Kaylin's relationships with the men around her is part of the charm of the book.

I am interested to see how all of the story arcs tie together; the overall series sometimes seems like it doesn't know where it is going. Still I really enjoyed this book, even though I am not really sure why. I will definitely read the next book in the series.

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris (4/5 stars)

This is the third book in the Harper Connelly Mysteries. I liked this book; it was a quick, fun, and easy read!
In this book Harper and Tolliver are called to North Carolina in the winter to check on a case in which a teenage boy went missing. Harper quickly discovers that there are actually many boys missing and finds that they are actually dealing with a serial killer.

This was very well-written and fun to read. This is the type of book I read when I want something lighthearted and fun with some twists. This book definitely had the twists in there; it was a well written mystery (of course, I don't have a ton of experience reading mysteries). It kept you guessing and there was some nice character development between Tolliver and Harper (those who have read it will chuckle at my *nice* description).

This book was exactly what I expected from the next book in this series, and I wasn't disappointed at all! I look forward to reading more books in this series in the future.

Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz (3/5 stars)

I picked up this book in the used book section of my local bookstore because it looked interesting.

The book follows a group of well-off high school students who find out that their ancestors aren't quite what they thought they were and that they themselves are transforming into something different than human.

This book was okay. I'll list the positives and negatives to it below.

- Well-written
- Quick, light read
- Interesting take on vampire origin and society

- Takes a long time to set up the story; the book doesn't really get that interesting until the last forth of it.
- Switches to view points between different characters each chapter. This would be okay if the book wasn't so short and you actually got to hear each of the characters' viewpoints long enough for it to make a cohesive story.
- I personally didn't like any of the characters very much.

I am not sure if I will read the next book in the series or not. I wasn't really jumping to find out what happens to any of the characters. The book dragged on for a long time before actually getting to the main plot; it got a lot more interesting as they were trying to track down the mysterious blue blood killer. There wasn't much page space given to this though; this seemed to more be a book that set you up for more books about the main character. If I find the next book in the series used, and I am bored, I might read it.