Book Review – Hunter

Title: Hunter

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2015

I’m on record for how much I like Mercedes Lackey (generally). Hunter is no exception to this rule, though it definitely falls into the category of brain candy. Which was fine, since I was reading it on the beach – a good beach read.

Hunter is the story of a world where the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and civilization is only now starting to recover. One of the reasons for this recovery is the Hunters, people who are gifted with magic and the ability to fight the creatures that come through from the Otherworld.

Joyeaux Charmand has been training to be a Hunter since she was very young, but now has been taken from her small, tight-knit community to the big city. The Apex is the hub of civilization, where Hunters are supposed to come and be trained, and, as Joy soon discovers, where they are also celebrities and reality stars.

Determined to make her mentors and uncle proud and to protect the Cits of this new world she’s in, Joy throws herself into the fight. But it’s not as straightforward as it seems, for she has enemies she doesn’t expect, and when an attack against her goes awry, she finds herself in a fight that she isn’t sure she can win, and where not-winning means death.

I enjoyed Hunter, though, as I said, it’s brain candy. It’s written in first-person (I know! Shock!), but I was able to push past that. I will say, despite the fact that Lackey’s best writing skill is character creation, I found Joy to relatively unflawed, and not flawed with things that really affect her or other people. She is very advanced (though she is aware she must hide how she becomes so advanced), and yet this never seems to make other people suspicious (though she should be a novice at the start, despite being trained for “six months”).

Instead of connecting strongly with Joy, I connected strongest with her trainers/mentors, and with her uncle (though he gets relatively little screen time). And though I am not necessarily anti-romance, I did not feel that the romance between Joy and Josh was necessary and did, in some ways, detract a bit from the main plot. I adored all of Joy’s Hounds, supernatural creatures that come from the Otherworld to help her fight, and I loved the bits we get about Joy’s life before coming to the City, and about the training she went through there.

Over all, though, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading Elite in September. 3/5 pages.

Book Review: Horton Halfpott

TITLE: Horton Halfpott
-or- The Fiendish Mystery of Smudgwick Manor
-or- The loosening of M’lady Luggertuck’s Corset
AUTHOR/Illustrator: Tom Angleberger
FORMAT: Hardback

I first stumbled across Tom Angleburger as an author in person at the Southern Festival of Books. He was doing a presentation of another book (Origami Yoda) where he helped all the kids fold Emergency Yodas and called them all Larry. (He wouldn’t tell me why)
I was so taken by him that I bought a copy on the spot to have signed, and found out about this book in line. Too late to have him sign it if I ran and bought one for myself, so I told myself I’d read it later.

Later has clearly been a little late in coming.

The book starts with M’lady Luggertuck deciding to not lace her corset up quite so tight.
Apparently this is such an amazing thing that the shift ripples through the entire house and weird things start to happen as a result.
Horton Halfpott is the kitchen boy, assigned to perpetual dish duty (652 spoons one day alone!) in a house full of servants and opulence. He gets a pay of one penny a week, which is good for just about nothing, the least of which is helping his parents misfortune, so his family suffers away from him, dad needing medical care, and Horton hanging on because something is better than nothing, right?
This is a silly book – I’d put it in the same sort of type of writing as a Series of Unfortunate Events. In fact, one of my favorite paragraph-slash-ridiculous sentences:

Imagine how many plates, how many saucers, how many bowls, brandy snifters, butter trays, ice-cube mimbles, gin jiggers, melon ballers, salad tongs, salt cellars, teacups, teakettles, teapots, teaspoons, and tea strainers were used every day at the fancy Luggertuck table, where five-course meals were eaten three times a day, tea was served twice, and midnight snacks were offered at eleven, twelve, and one o’clock.

In the midst of M’Lady’s corset loosening, something strange starts to happen, and a detective is brought in who is pompous, arrogant, and totally useless. He does have some good lines in him, telling the stable boy once “Mr. Bump, you have about you the fragrance of equus poopus…” (horse manure) and offering him money to solve the case for him – discretely of course.

I’m not going to give it away, of course, but the case was solved, and this was the proper amount of silly for a reader of the target age of this (which is probably somewhere around ten). And the corset does, of course, get re-tightened.

I’m sorry I put it off for so long. This book deserves every bit of praise it gets. Angleberger once again proves that he’s awesome at his market. I hope he keeps writing for a lot of years.

Solidly, this book gets a 5 out of 5 pages.

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

TITLE: 84, Charing Cross Road
FORMAT: Paperback

Another find on the library date, 84, Charing Cross Road, is nothing but a series of letters that follow an aloof writer/reader and a bookstore from 1949 to 1969.

Basically, these start with her writing from NYC to London, a request with a little bookstore to find a book she’s craving because she saw their ad in a magazine and their “antiquarian” expertise is something she equates with money.

What follows is quite charming – a $5/book cap on prices, which inflates to about $50 today, that seems quaint even though it wasn’t, a friendship that includes powdered and fresh eggs and nylons when they couldn’t get them because of post-war rationing, and a friendship that continued in letters for decades, ending only in her main friend/contact’s death.

I love that the letters were all kept to the point that this book could happen.  We don’t have this kind of society anymore.  We don’t have quaint bookshops that will operate under the honor system and mail a book across the ocean and send a bill.  We have e-Commerce sites and anonymous people and warehouses and not shoppes.  Credit cards and anonymity.

This book made my heart sing and it made me happy for a time that I wish I could have been a part of.

Life today is easier, but it isn’t better.

I’m giving this a 5 out of 5.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  (Also, they’ve made it into a movie, if you’re so inclined.)

Book Review: Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman

Title: Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA

Authors: Howard Chaykin and David Tischman

Format: Trade Paperback Collection, DC Comics

Published: 2003


I absolutely love, as both a writer and a reader, stories that take historical personages and events and do something creative with them. From turning a well known or little remembered happening completely on its ear to outright bending history so much that it breaks off into an alternate timeline, those types of tales are some of my favorite. That’s why when Chaykin and Tischman’s Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA came into my possession, I was excited, even though I usually enter Chaykin’s work with trepidation and an expectation to be let down.

Let’s say that didn’t happen this time…as badly as it has in the past.

Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA is exactly what the title says it is. Famed showman P. T. Barnum and his collection of performers, including Chang and Eng the famous and real Siamese Twins, foil an assassination attempt on the life of President Grover Cleveland. Due to this, the President enlists Barnum and his traveling show to work for the United States in order to stop an evil plot to overthrow the government, a plan led by the evil Nikola Tesla. Using their own unique skills as well as the talents they all share due to living the circus life, Barnum and his crew use the traveling aspect of their show to attempt to derail the dastardly machinations Tesla has set into motion with the help of various well heeled industrialists.

There are definitely fun little things to find throughout this story, including nods to history and easter eggy references of sorts. And to see Barnum played in this way is extremely interesting. But really, beyond that, this tale is just an average trifle. The art aspires to be reminiscent of circus posters and such and, while reaching near that pinnacle at times, falls into a muddled puddle more often than not. The story suffers from the same malady as well, turning out to be a string of scene with unrealized potential strung together between speed bumps of action.

Probably the worst part of Barnum! is the completely missed opportunity of having Barnum and Tesla in a book together. Instead of giving us two very well rendered, fully realized geniuses in their own rights facing off with each other, the book instead casts Tesla as a maniacal, over the top villain with little depth and almost no discernible, believable reason for his actions. This version of Tesla seems to be an attempt to turn the historic character into a Bond villain and doesn’t even manage to make him someone who would feel right in an episode of The Wild, Wild West. I abhor using phrases over again, but there is nothing else to say except that making Tesla more than just a shade of Blofeld was nothing but a missed opportunity by the writers.

Barnum! In Secret Service to the USA manages three out of five pages. It’s a fun little read, but the inconsistencies in the flow of the story, the added impediment of the art, and the total cardboard characterization of Tesla take a great deal of ‘pow’ out of a tale that should have been a one two punch.

As for my own scale, this one rates three out of six bullets.   Read it as a distraction, take what enjoyment you can from it, but don’t plan on putting it on your ‘Oh, I want to read it again’ list. It shoots too far off the target for that.

Book Review – Soldier Boy

TITLE: Soldier Boy
AUTHOR: Brian Burks
FORMAT: Hardcover

So, remember I said I went down the whole library? Well, that includes everything but picture books. I pulled this little children’s chapter book off the shelf pretty close to last (by this time I had 18 or so in my pile), and I had hopes for it.
It starts with Johnny “The Kid” McBane, a nobody without a family fighter in Chicago. His manager wants him to throw a fight, and he doesn’t, abandoning all the money and possessions he has to run away, hop a train, and then enlist in the cavalry. He ends up out west somewhere, part of Custer’s army.

So, the author’s note at the beginning of the book (which is the only thing in the entire 150 pages that puts the book in context of a year aside from the vague Custer reference), talks about how very little was written about under aged soldiers and he really wanted to show how amazing all of this was, etc.
Except that he didn’t show how amazing anything was.
I think the book suffered badly. The things that could have had amazing details didn’t, and the things that had details didn’t often need explained. And some of them were either wrong or extraordinary claims. “Thousands of dollars were bet on this bout…” Really? Thousands of dollars in post-reconstruction America? On a nobody kid who not a lot of people knew? (At the time of this writing, $5000 in 1876 is about $106,332 in today’s money)

I missed the richness that this story desperately needed. Even as a kid, I would have found this book boring as hell. Actually, as a kid, I probably would have given up on it and not kept reading.
The author also did a stupid nod to several pet peeves of mine. So, there was zero point to any of the stuff that Johnny said to another soldier they called The Scholar. (Pet peeve #1- this goes with the old adage of “if you aren’t’ going to shoot it, don’t show the gun”) There was definitely no point in sitting around discussing “But aren’t we being mean to Indians” because that wasn’t exactly the prevailing thought of the day back then. That was seriously only put there because a modern audience would have thought that when reading (pet peeve #2- not paying attention to the society of the time in historical fiction).

In the end, this book was a flop, and I’m amazed that I managed to see it through to the end.
It’s short, even by genre standards, and I think that it seriously could have used about 20% more words (mostly as description), and a bit of deleting when it came to Johnny, who hadn’t much opinion of anything, suddenly being upset about Indians.
Also, the story pretty much is a prologue that ends when you get to the meat of the story, and for that it really sucked. That battle could have been a really amazing chapter.
I’ll give it 2 out of 5. Read it when you’re bored, but don’t go out of your way to find it.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2016

Seanan McGuire was a Guest of Honor at a recent convention I was at*, so I requested a copy of Every Heart a Doorway before I left. (It arrived the *day* I left, but let’s not discuss that unless you want me to rant at you.) I had previously attempted to read Rosemary and Rue, the first of her October Daye books, but, well, it’s a me vs. First Person POV thing and I lost.

Every Heart a Doorway was different. Written in third person, it was also much thinner than I’d expected – I hadn’t realized that it was a novella. I’m a fast reader, but once I started it, I had it finished in a little over an hour (granted, some of that was because I couldn’t put it down).

Obviously, I enjoyed the book.

Every Heart a Doorway is a story about what happens to the children who have gone through and then have returned to our world. It’s centered around Nancy, who has recently returned from the Underworld and the Halls of the Dead. And it’s centered around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the place where a former portal child has made a home for those to come after their adventures, to be in a place where they won’t be told they’re crazy or making it all up. A place where they all want, desperately, to remember their trips and to, if possible, return home.

(There is mention of a sister school, which helps those who want to forget. I hope we get a story set there as well.)

The first half of the story is the strongest, as Nancy arrives and begins, impossibly, to settle in. The second half is a murder mystery, but due to the short nature of the novella, it feels very rushed to me (as an avid mystery novel reader). I didn’t predict the murderer, but there are also very few clues to do so with.

The best things about the book are the characters, and the worlds that they came from. I love that Nancy is explicitly stated to be asexual, and that another character is trans. And while it comes up, both are minor plot points. They’re not the Defining Character Trait for these characters, and the point of the story isn’t discovering this about them.

I have hope that there will be another story (or novel, that would be exciting) set in this world. There are so many places that it could go, and so many other stories that could be told. A solid 4/5 pages.


*As a total aside, if you ever have the chance to go see her in a panel, GO. Hysterically funny, insightful, and a genuine pleasure to watch on a panel with other people.

Book Review: Spirit of Steamboat

Title: Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story
Author: Craig Johnson
Published: 2013
Format: Hardback

Longtime followers of the blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I’m a little ashamed to say that the reason I haven’t posted is that I haven’t *read* in a while. No, really. I haven’t read a book in something like nine months, and I haven’t written more than 3k since December.
And I’ve been itching to, I really have, but life has gotten in the way and I just haven’t managed a book that has held my interest into chapter two.
So, one Friday, I got off early from work (woot!) and decided to take myself on the best kind of date – the library. So I started in adult fiction and I walked the stacks slowly, running my hands down the books, touching the spines, picking stuff up and putting it back down. I took the aisles out of order, coming in in the middle, heading back and forth, dismayed at the fact that they were actually taking shelves out of my library because of a lack of books on them.
That has something to do with this book, I promise.
So anyway, the first row I went down was H-J, and this was one of the first books I touched. I liked that it was small, novella-ish. I had decided that if nothing could hold my attention that a smaller book had a better chance. The dark, teal green of the cover stood out amidst a sea of much more boring black and white and uninspiring.
Until I turned to the front cover, I hadn’t realized that it had anything to do with the TV show – a plethora (okay, two, but they’re big and the book is small) of library stickers covered up half the spine. And I haven’t watched the TV show, so I read the first paragraph of the flap and decided that I could read this without knowing that.
So in the story, Sherriff Longmire is reading Dickens on Christmas Eve (because that is the most overdone Christmas trope ever in books), and somebody shows up in his office that he’s sure he’s never seen before but is adamant that she needs to see the old sheriff and that she knows them all.
So Walt takes her to the old guy and she starts her tale of how they know her, which is pretty much the rest of the book.  [NOTE:  This story takes place at Christmas, but it is most certainly not a Christmas story.]

So, because this was the first piece of fiction that I have held attention to in *nine months* I really wanted to give this book a full five page rating, but I just can’t.
For starters, the book is shelved as a mystery – there’s a sticker from the library that says it and everything – and really the only mystery in the whole thing is who the chick is and we figure that out pretty quick. Even the acknowledgement page says that this is a “weird little book that was supposed to be a short story… and is not a mystery per say, but a thriller with mysterious elements.” And while I’m not necessarily taking off points for expecting a mystery, that’s mostly because the author told me that on the very first page.
Second of all, there was a bit of an issue with the present day/flash back thing. Like when the flashback was over, the story pretty much was, too…there was nothing at all to wrap it up at the end. So either he could have just told the story of the rescue and not flashed back or he could have put a little more meat on the story. I felt that *all* the present day stuff was rushed to get to the 1988 flight.
That said, the 1988 flight part was *fabulous* I could just about feel the snow and having come from somewhere that got blizzards, just reading about it made me cold. That’s a sign of a good author. There was the right amount of suspense and detail, the right balance of slang and explaining things for the reader, and I didn’t feel out of place trying to read about pilots and doctors and whatever else.
And the old Asian woman in the story isn’t a bad stereotype. She’s written as kind and sympathetic.

So, there are a few things that needed help, which I think are an unfortunate product of this starting as a really short story and ending up at this length, but with a little tweaking this story could be perfect.
I loved the author’s writing style, and as such have another book of his waiting for me to pick it up at the library as I type this.
I will give this book a very sold – and very happy – 4 out of 5 pages.

%d bloggers like this: