Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review - Johannes Cabal the Necromaner by Jonathan L. Howard (5/5 stars)

I got this book on loan from a friend. It sounded right up my alley, a darkly humorous book about a necromancer. It was a wonderful book; creative and intriguing, with just the right touch of dark humor combined with thoughtfulness to give it a darkly ironic, yet meaningful feel.

Johannes Cabal sold his soul to Satan in return for the knowledge of Necromancy. Now he finds that not having a soul is causing problems with his research and he wants his soul back. He makes a deal with Satan...if he can sign over 100 souls to Satan in the time of one year than he can have his soul back. Johannes gets the help of a dark carnival and proscribes his undead brother to assist with the set up. Now him, his brother, and a carnival of dark things are wandering the landscape in search of souls. Of course, nothing ever goes how Johannes plans and Satan never plays fair.

This was a wonderful book. Johannes is a conceited and somewhat bad man, but he isn't evil. Howard gives Johannes enough feeling and humanity that you always kind of understand where Johannes is coming from. Johannes isn't after power, he merely wants to defeat death. The cast of characters in this book is fabulous; they are all well characterized with interesting histories. Even the briefest characters really come alive on the page.

A number of darkly humorous things happen on their journey. Of course the story is incredibly engaging and quite the page turner. The whole time you are wondering what will happen to Johannes; will he get 100 souls? will he find a loop hole in the contract? To add to these questions, as the journey continues Johannes's brother becomes increasingly upset about the morality of what they are doing and this adds a lot of tension to the story.

Howard's writing style took a little bit to get used but after the first couple chapters I found it to be very readable and loved the detail he puts into describing his surroundings.

While, for the most part, this book is a darkly humorous story about one necromancer's quest to outwit Satan; it touches on a number of issues dealing with morality and death. And despite Johannes's cold and abrupt manner you can't help but understand him by the end of the book and perhaps even find him somewhat likable.

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot. There is not a thing I would change about it. I think this is something that most adults would find an interesting read. If you like dark humor you are sure to get into this, if you like reading about the supernatural this is a great read too. I recommend picking it up because it is engaging, creative, humorous, different, and yet meaningful. The sequel to this book Johannes Cabal the Detective comes out on July 13th, 2010 and I am eager to read it.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer 

Waiting on Wednesday - 6/30

Okay "Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine.

This week my Waiting on Wednesday book is "Ghost Story" (Dresden Files, Book 13) by Jim Butcher.  I love this series and it just keeps getting better and better.

Ghost Story (Dresden Files, Book 13) by Jim Butcher Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: Roc Hardcover
Release Date: March 29th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0451463791

Synopsis from "It has been officially confirmed via Jim Butcher's Twitter page that Ghost Story takes place immediately after the ending of Changes, with him comparing it to the transition between Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III. He has also stated "there's a train coming at him", referring to the cliffhanger ending of the previous novel."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review - Devoured by Amanda Marrone (3/5 stars)

I love fairy tale retellings, so I was excited to read this modern day retelling of Snow White.  This ended up being an okay book but definitely didn't blow me away.  The book was fairly engaging but not all that fairy tale like; I found the interpretation of the fairy tale to be a bit bizarre.

Megan's life changed as a result of a horrible car crash.  Her father is in a coma, her mom is obsessed with doing dancing routines with their dog, and Megan is haunted by the ghost of her twin sister Remy.  When Megan's boyfriend Ryan gets a job with his best friend Samantha to work at The Land of Enchantment (a fairy tale themed amusement park); Megan decides to get a job there too in order to keep on eye on Ryan and his supposed "friendship" with Samantha.  Once Megan accepts the job things start getting bizarre.  Remy's ghost really starts cranking up the heat and showing Megan gory and bizarre images; then Megan meets Luke who can also see Remy's ghost.  Megan also meets the overly jealous Ari.  Now it is up to Megan to figure out what Remy wants before things get out of hand and people start dying.

The premise of this novel is a bit bizarre.  Just the fact that Megan gets a job with her boyfriend because she doesn't trust him doesn't make her a very likable character.  The whole point of this book is to show how jealousy can destroy a person and it does that in spades.  Oh and also supposedly there is a curse that involves a magic mirror that has been influencing Ari's family. 

The writing is pretty average and the book itself is fairly engaging.  I never really got bored with it but the plot is a bit confused.  First Megan is trying to figure out what Remy is trying to tell her, then she is convinced that letting her dad die is the way to get Remy of her case.  Somehow this all leads up to a serial killer being on the loose.  Woven into all this is a lot of teenage angsting about how Megan should be faithful to Ryan even though she has the hots for Luke and Ryan obviously wants to get with Samantha anyway.  I personally don't get into all the teenage relationship blather, but that is probably because I am not a teenager anymore...actually I don't think I got into when I was a teenager either...

The characterization is okay, I liked Luke a lot but the rest of the characters are pretty grey in tone. 

Overall the book was okay.  It was a fairly engaging read and was interesting.  It was not at all fairy-tale like but was done more like a ghost/serial killer murder mystery kind of thing.  It was actually pretty creepy at parts.  It loosely ties into the Snow White story.  Everything about this book was just okay.  If you are into murder mysteries and fairy tale retellings you might really enjoy this book.  I personally didn't love it and won't be reading anything else by Marrone.  I would recommend Beastly by Alex Flinn or Briar Rose by Jane Yolen if you are into modern day fairy tale retellings that actually stick with the fairy tale and have some depth of meaning to them.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The Young Adult Reading Challenge
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge
- Summer Romance Reading Challenge

Teaser Tuesday - 6/29

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This week my teaser comes from "Johannes Cabal the Necromancer" by Jonathan L. Howard.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer 

Here it is: "Johannes Cabal. Johannes Cabal.  I'm sure I know that name." Lord Satan was actually pleased to have something to distract him from the dull day-to-day administration of the Enternally Damned in all their massed homogeneity. Pg. 10

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review - Best Android Apps by Mike Hendrickson, Brian Sawyer (4/5 stars)

I got an advanced e-copy of this book through netgalley (dot) com.   I was excited to see which apps they picked for best apps.  I have been using the Android platform since the first G1 phone was released through T-mobile.  I now use a Nexus One.  I go through new apps/games every couple months to see what is out there and, as I said, was curious to see how they went through the massive amount of apps.  They do a pretty darn good job and the every day user should be pleased with this guide.

This is an interesting book and starts out by going through the best overall apps for the Android platform.  After that the book is broken down into sections (business, communications, lifestyle, entertainment, games, utility/tool, and reference apps) and they go through the best apps for each thing.

At the end of the book the QR Codes are listed in alphabetical order for all of the apps that were presented in the book.  If would have been nice to have the QR code right at the bottom of the app after it is discussed, but the page it is on is referenced so it's not a big deal.

This book goes through a broad range of apps.  We are talking any thing from sky maps to server access, to app organization to clothing organization.  Some of them you will never need, some of them you already use, and some of them will be extremely useful to you.  The authors do a pretty good job of providing free alternatives as runners up to the apps that cost something.

The format is basically the app name, cost, developer, version, a quick description of the app, and then many screenshots of the how the app works.  There are a ton of screen shots in this book and it is a very effective way to see the apps. 

A couple of the apps that they mention that I totally agree with as being awesome are:
- Newsrob (RSS feed reader)
- MyCloset (clothing organization)
- Astrid (task manager)
- Pandora (internet radio)
- Weatherbug (weather app)
- Many Others

There are a couple that I was disappointed that they didn't include.  For example they recommend Compare Everywhere as a cost analysis tool; I have used both Compare Everywhere and Shop Savvy, and personally get more hits and better information from Shop Savvy.  They also didn't mention Hungry! which is an awesome grocery shopping app that I use all the time.  I frequently use Calorie Counter which allows you to keep both food and exercise diaries.  But that is a pretty short list and I definitely did find some apps in this book that I will find useful in the future that I didn't know existed.

Now the question is, is it worth spending the money to buy this book?  That depends on the type of person you are.  If you are like me and already spend a lot of time going through apps as they become available then this guide may not tell anything you don't know.  The other thing to consider is that there are a number of websites that list the top Android Apps for this or that and those are free (if possibly biased or skewed to a certain demographic group).  If you are the type of person who doesn't want to spend a ton of time looking for apps but wants to get the most out of your Android phone then this book could be very useful to you.

This is a book that will be outdated quickly as the app market is constantly changing, so that is something to consider.  The screen shots are great and will really help you decide if an app is for you, especially if it is one you have to pay for.    Having the QR codes in the back is convenient and saves you the time of searching for them in Android Market. 

Overall I think this a great book for people who want an overview of the apps provided in Android Market and who want to be pointed at apps that are reliable and useful.
Best Android Apps

Review - The Wyverns' Treasure (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book 3) by R.L. LaFevers

This is the third book in the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series by LaFevers.  It was in keeping with the rest of the books in the series and was a fun and quick read.  The book takes a little over an hour to read and is aimed at younger age to middle grade children.  I got this book as an advanced reading copy from netgalley.

In this book Nathaniel and his Aunt return home to find their house ransacked...they suspect the man who did it may be the same one who tried to steal the Book of Beasts.  Then they receive a message that the Wyvern's treaty has been broken.  Aunt Phil and Nathaniel can only race to try and fix things with the Wyvern; hoping that some of the mysteries surrounding the man who is causing all the trouble will be revealed along the way.

This book dealt more with the over-arcing story involving the mysterious man that has been causing a lot of trouble.  The main story of the trouble with the Wyvern is also resolved nicely.  If you liked the previous Nathaniel Fludd books you will like this one.  Nathaniel is gradually getting more comfortable with his adventures and Aunt Phil is slowly accepting that Greasle might be a keeper.

The illustrations are wonderful and the story is action-packed and fun. 

Overall story that young to middle grade kids will really get into.  Nathaniel makes for an unlikely hero and Aunt Phil is always a lot of fun!  I look forward to the next Nathaniel Fludd adventure.

 The Wyverns' Treasure (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book 3)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review - Cheat the Grave (Fifth Sign of the Zodiac) by Vicki Pettersson (4/5 stars)

After the last book in this series "City of Souls" we were all wondering where Pettersson was going to take the story of her power-stripped heroine.  Well in this book she takes us in a new direction; it was pretty well done and made for a good addition to the series.

Joanna Archer gave up all of her superpowers to save a child and her home city of Las Vegas.  She's been abandoned by the Agents of Light and the only ones who have stood beside her are her (Olivia's) best friend Cher and Cher's mother.  Now Cher's mother is getting married to an Indian Price and Olivia/Joanna Archer has a huge event to plan.  Unfortunately Joanna/Olivia is being chased by an assassin from Midheaven not to mention the Tulpa may have figured out her identity as well.  Joanna needs help if she is going to survive as a mere mortal.  Enter the Grey Agents; neither Light nor Dark, they are the conglomeration of rogue agents.  They may be just what Joanna needs if she is going to stay alive and get Cher's mother safely through her wedding.

This was a pretty good installment in this series.  Joanna's life as Olivia take center space for the first half of the book.  Now the heir to the Archer businesses Joanna must attend meetings, etc, while still keeping up Olivia's social life.  Given this I found the beginning of the book to drag a little bit.  Joanna spends a lot of time talking about how alone she is and how no one will help her; she has a point, but I kind of felt that we could have moved through this part a bit faster.  Joanna does seem to have matured some in this book, so that was good to see.  Some of the new characters introduced with the Grey Agents are interesting and should add some fun to the book.

Once Joanna meets up with the Grey Agents things pick up pace a lot.  There are numerous fight scenes and we begin to discern the direction that Pettersson is planning to take the story in future novels.  There are a couple of wonderful surprises in the second half of the story.  Joanna takes a few trips to Midheaven and even Hunter pops into the story a bit more.

Overall I thought the book started slow but really picked up in the second half and ended up being an enjoyable read.  Definitely a transition book in this series but a good one.  I enjoyed it in the end.  Now I am eager to read what happens next.

This book goes towards the following reading challenge:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge

Cheat the Grave (Sign of the Zodiac, Book 5) 

News - Ghost Story (Dresden Files Book 13) and Cover Art

Looks like the title for Jim Butcher's 13th installment in the Dresden Files series will be titled "Ghost Story" and has a release date of March 2011.  The cover art is wonderful and in keeping with the rest of the series and can be seen below.

I am sooo excited to read the next book in this series!

Mailbox Monday - 6/28

Mailbox Monday can be found at: The Printed Page

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

This week I got 6 books.  The first three were from they were: "The Hero of Ages" by Brandon Sanderson, "Fall of Thanes" by Brian Ruckley, and "A Countess Below Stairs" by Eva Ibbotson.  The first two books finish up two fantasy series that I have been wanting to start, but have been waiting for the final books in the series before starting.  The third book I got because I absolutely loved Ibbotson's book "A Company of Swans".

The third book I got through the Amazon Vine program and this was "Belly Up" by Stuart Gibbs.  This looks like a hilarious read and I am excited to read it.

The last two books I got on loan from a friend (my mom actually) and they were: "Doppelganger" by Marie Brennan and "Tempest Rising" (Jane True, Book 1) by Nicole Peeler.

You can see more info on the books below.  I hope that you all got a lot of wonderful books and that you have a great week of reading!

The Hero of Ages (Book 3, Mistborn Trilogy) by Brandon Sanderson
The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn 
First Sentence: "Marsh struggled to kill himself."
"Who is the Hero of Ages?
To end the Final Empire and restore freedom, Vin killed the Lord Ruler. But as a result, the Deepness---the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists---is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.

Having escaped death at the climax of The Well of Ascension only by becoming a Mistborn himself, Emperor Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by the Lord Ruler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been tricked into releasing the mystic force known as Ruin from the Well. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. She can’t even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!

The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave readers rubbing their eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream."

Fall of Thanes (The Godless World, Book 3) by Brian Ruckley
Fall of Thanes (Godless World Series #3) 
First Sentence: "The movement of birds."
"The True Bloods are in disarray, their alliance crumbling and their armies humbled by the forces of the Black Road. Aeglyss, falling ever deeper into madness, casts a shadow across all. At the court of the High Thane, Anyara faces a savage struggle for survival against the na'kyrim's possessed agent: Mordyn Jerain, the Shadowhand.

In the GlasValley, Kanin, the embittered Horin-Gyre Thane, plots a desperate rising against the halfbreed. But ultimately it will be Orisian, Thane of a Blood that no longer exists, who must stand face to face with a darkly transcendent Aeglyss and make the sacrifice - of himself and others - required to end the threat he represents.

FALL OF THANES is the spectacular conclusion to the Godless World trilogy, a sweeping epic of war, politics and empire. "

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
A Countess Below Stairs 
First Sentence: "In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance."
"After the russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young russian countess, has no choice but to flee to england. penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to rupert, the handsome earl of westerholme. to make matters worse, rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancĂ©e. . . ."

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
Belly Up  
First Sentence: "I'd just been busted for giving the chimpanzees water balloons when I first heard something was wrong at Hippo River."
"12 year old Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt Fitzroy has got a murder on his hands and trouble on his tail. Henry, the hippopatamus at the brand-new nationally known FunJungle, has gone belly up. Even though it's claimed he died of natural causes, Teddy smells something fishy and it sure ain't the polar bear's lunch. Dealing with the zoo's top brass proves to be nothing but a waste of time. They want to see any trace of Henry's death disappear like yesterday's paper. So Teddy sets out to find the truth. With the help of Summer McCraken, a fiesty girl with secrets of her own, the two narrow down their prime suspects. Is it Martin Del Gato, FunJungle's head of operations who hates kids and hates animals even more? Or J.J McCraken, the owner of FunJungle and and hates animals even more? Or J.J McCraken, the owner of FunJungle and Summer's father, who has more concern for the dough he's raking in than the animals in the zoo? As their investigation goes on, Teddy gets squeezed on all sides to quit asking questions or Henry won't be the only animal in the zoo to turn up dead. The deeper Teddy and Summer get, they had better make sure they want to know what they want to know because when it comes to hippo homicide, the truth can't be kept in a cage!"

On Loan From a Friend:

Doppelganger by Marie Brennan
First Sentence: "Rain pattered steadily through the leaves of the wood and dripped to the ground below."
"When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives? Mirage, a fierce bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may be no match against magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice. To hunt the hunter and destroy her."

Tempest Rising (Jane True, Book 1) by Nicole Peeler
Tempest Rising (Jane True)  
First Sentence: "I eyeballed the freezer, trying to decide what to cook for dinner that night."
"Living in small town Rockabill, Maine, Jane True always knew she didn't quite fit in with so-called normal society. During her nightly, clandestine swim in the freezing winter ocean, a grisly find leads Jane to startling revelations about her heritage: she is only half-human.

Now, Jane must enter a world filled with supernatural creatures alternatively terrifying, beautiful, and deadly- all of which perfectly describe her new "friend," Ryu, a gorgeous and powerful vampire.

It is a world where nothing can be taken for granted: a dog can heal with a lick; spirits bag your groceries; and whatever you do, never-ever-rub the genie's lamp.

If you love Sookie Stackhouse, then you'll want to dive into Nicole Peeler's enchanting debut novel. "

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Epic Review - Kraken by China Mieville (2.5/5 stars)

I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.  I have previously read Mieville's King Rat (loved it), UnLunDun (liked it), and The City and The City (tough read, but interesting).  I have mixed feelings about this book.  Some of it is quite funny and creative, but a lot of it is just annoying.

You follow a number of different characters throughout this book.  The main character is Billy, who is a curator at the Darwin Center.  He runs tours of the facility in addition to other duties and the main draw on his tour is a giant squid that has been preserved in a large tank.  Only on his current tour, something is wrong, the squid is missing.  How does a giant squid just "go missing" from a giant tank?  Well two police officers that specialize in a rather abnormal branch of the police force suspect it may all be the fault of that silly religious squid group.  They pull Billy into a crazy underground world in London that's full of magic, mayhem, and numerous religious cults.  Billy will find that it may be up to him to stop the apocalypse itself.

I liked the first couple chapters of this book and enjoyed the ending.  The concept behind this novel is quirky and interesting and definitely creative.   All of the characters are completely off the wall.  You have Tattoo, the gangster-like character that exists only as a tattoo on a catatonic man's back.  Collingsworth, a slight female police officer who has a bad case of tourette's.  And a billion other incredibly crazy characters.  The overall concept behind this story is very thoughtful.  Basically Mieville is exploring the concept of people making things happen because that is what they believe to be true. 

There are also a ton of things I did not like about this novel.  It is a difficult and time-consuming read.  The chapters are erratic in length and the viewpoint switches between numerous characters.  There are about a million plot lines with as many characters going on at once.  Then there is the Brit-speak, this is especially bad in the beginning of the novel but gets better as it goes on.

Mieville also just throws so many random facts at the reader that after a while (between all the Brit-speak and random junk) my eyes would just glaze over and my thoughts start to wander.  Next thing I would be yawning and cursing this stupid book because it never really sticks to the story or gets to the point in any but the most meandering of ways.  This was a book I constantly had to push myself through, I had to concentrate to get it to hold my interest.  Which is really a pity because between all the extraneous junk, there is an interesting and darkly humorous story in here.

The other bothersome thing is a similarity to other works already out there.  The setting reminded me of Neverwhere by Gaiman or The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding (I know different time period).  The deal with all the gods reminded some of Gaiman's American Gods.  The crazy wackiness with which random events and different deities popped up reminded me of Simon Green's Nightside series.  And in my opinion all the aforementioned works are much more well done.  Anyone who compares Mieville's writing style to Gaiman is on crack, Gaiman writes an absolutely wonderful story and Mieville, while creative and innovative, tends to not focus on the story itself.  The setting between Neverwhere and this book are somewhat similar though.

So should you read it?  If you liked The City and The City this book is written in the same somewhat fractured and strange style, so you may enjoy it.  Just know that this book will require a lot of patience to get through.  You will have to struggle through Brit Speak and weed out all the random excess of data Mieville throws at you.  It is creative and darkly funny but a tough read.  Personally it just wasn't my thing and put me off picking up any of Mieville's future works.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge