Archive for January, 2010

Book Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa

Fireworks Over Toccoa

Jeffrey Stepakoff 
Hardcover, 272 pages
St. Martin’s Press
March 30, 2010
Note: I requested this Advance Readers’ Edition free of charge from the publishing company.

 

It’s July 1945. The fighting is over and the residents of Toccoa, Georgia are celebrating in the streets as the soldiers return home from the war.  Twenty year old Lily Davis Woodward knows she should be thrilled at the thought of her husband being among them.  But after spending only two weeks as husband and wife when they were seventeen before he was shipped overseas, Lily worries that he’ll come home a stranger.  After three years of waiting for her life to finally begin – to be a dutiful wife, to start a family, and take care of her perfect home – Lily is filled with anxiety and uncertainty just days before her husband Paul is scheduled to show up on her doorstep.

Then she meets Jake Russo, a young and handsome veteran of Italian descent (who speaks the language of the enemy), and her world is turned upside down in a heartbeat.  Jake’s family has been in the business of fireworks for centuries and the pair meet for the first time when Lily stops on the side of the road to watch some of his dazzling work as he tests his display for the upcoming July 4th town celebration.  Oblivious to the danger she’s in (“Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to stand under fireworks?”), Lily is tackled by Jake just as the debris rains down on her. 

A budding friendship quickly becomes more as Lily and Jake continue to see each other over the next few days.  As the daughter of a Coca-Cola executive/state senator father and proper southern mother, Lily knows what’s expected of her and that she’s treading dangerous ground as the affair goes on.  But she’s drawn to Jake’s passionate nature as he is drawn to her wild spirit.  They both know their time together is brief and Lily must make a choice.  Soon.  Can she give up her life and her husband, tearing her family apart in the process, for this man that she’s come to love in a matter of days?

Fireworks Over Toccoa was a delightful treat to read.  It’s not something I probably would have normally chosen, definitely not my style, but I loved every page.  Lily and Jake are wonderful characters and I was cheering for them to the end.  And even though Lily is thinking of leaving her husband who’s been away at war for this stranger, you sympathize with her completely.  And it was great to see the walls that Jake had built around himself during the war start to crack and tumble down as he opens up to Lily and gives her his complete trust.  They were both just really good people.  In fact, the whole book just seemed to radiate goodness and I have to say it left me feeling good too. 

I definitely got the impression that this would make a fantastic movie and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Jeffrey Stepakoff was a writer on The Wonder Years.  I could practically hear it being narrated, maybe in the voice of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, only a bit more southern. 

I really enjoyed his writing style.  It was very visual and descriptive (I could always picture myself in each scene – the smell of Cherokee roses, the taste of sweet summer corn, fireflies dancing in the warm, balmy Georgia air) without being too wordy.  The scenes flowed together beautifully and I can’t think of a single part that was slow for me.  One thing I noticed was that  Stepakoff tends to use long sentences (which I love, by the way) that helped me get into Lily’s frame of mind as her thoughts become frantic and torn.  And there’s so much tenderness that you can feel as you read Lily and Jakes’ thoughts, it’s easy to let yourself become swept away in their romance. 

The themes of the book really resonated with me.  Duty versus instinct, following your heart or living up to your responsibilities.  And most of all, living for the moment because life is fleeting.  When Lily asks Jake if he thinks the war changed him he says, “What I’ve come to believe is that you have to cherish…this, the present.  Life and death…it’s a matter of a breath, a hearbeat…a single footstep.”  I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time.  I know I do.

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Let’s Talk About Sex!

Here’s a random question for you all…does an author’s gender have any bearing on how much you like a book?

I recently saw a thread on the Book Blogs forum that addressed this issue and it got me thinking.  Several women said that they don’t like to read books by male writers because they felt  the writing lacked emotion, had too much cussing, or they just couldn’t get into the characters.  They said that there was just something about a woman’s voice that made them connect to the story in ways that a man’s voice couldn’t. 

Granted, a few women responded saying they prefer male authors to females, but it seemed like they were the minority.  A guy also replied saying he was the exact same way but with male authors and he hadn’t even realized it before reading the discussion, but he thought about it and realized that 90% of the books he owns were written by men.  His thought was that in general people tend to read books written by authors of the same sex.

Reading this thread, I realized that I’d never really considered this before, but I went over a mental list of my favorite authors and it seems to be pretty gender balanced.  I think men are just as capable of depicting emotion and romance and women can be just as gritty, violent and crude.  I tend to read books from many genres though, so maybe that’s why I’ve never developed a preference?  When I’m browsing for new buys I don’t even glance at the author’s name (assuming it’s a new author to me and I wasn’t drawn to it precisely because of the author) until I’ve checked out the cover, the title and the synopsis.  If the writing is good, I connect to the story and care about the characters.

To be honest, the discussion made me feel kind of sad that presumably there are many people out there that are missing out on so many wonderful books just because of the author’s gender.  I mean, I understand that it’s the general writing style that doesn’t appeal to them and they’ve probably given it several tries, but still…I guess for me, an author’s gender has never been a factor (that I’m aware of, anyway), but to each his (or her) own! 

Anyway, I thought it was quite an interesting topic so I thought I’d pass the question on to you.  Do you tend to read only male or female authors?  Had you ever even considered it before?

Book Review: The Twisted Citadel

The Twisted Citadel

Sara Douglass
Mass Market Paperback, 672 pages
HarperCollins Publishers
May 01, 2009

 

The Twisted Citadel is the second book in the Darkglass Mountain trilogy, which can be read alone but I highly recommend starting with her Wayfarer Redemption series.  I noticed that the characters kept alluding to some really big events that I missed since I haven’t read the last three books in that series yet.   On a side note, it’s kind of confusing, but the six books in that series were actually written as two separate trilogies (The Axis trilogy and the Wayfarer Redemption trilogy), but in the U.S. they were published as a six-book series instead.  Anyway…

Kanubai, the evil god of chaos, has been devoured by the glass pyramid that imprisoned him and something much worse has risen in his place. Styling himself the One, the physical manifestation of Infinity walks in the guise of a man with skin made of green glass.  After the skraelings pledge their allegiance to him, Maxel, Ishbelle, Axis, and Isaiah quickly surmise that this new enemy they face is much more powerful and dangerous than Kanubai ever was.

The One unleashes millions of skraelings to wreak havoc on Isembaard, and Maxel’s army splinters into factions as soldiers fear for their families left behind.  Maxel, having fully accepted his role as Lord of Elcho Falling, continues north toward Serpent’s Next – Ishbelle’s former home – where he will attempt to raise the lost citadel. 

The knowledge needed to unlock the key to raise Elcho Falling has been passed down for generations, but so much time has past that Maxel fears he won’t be able to access enough memories to succeed.  He looks for strength in Ishbelle, despite the countless prophecies and warnings that she will cause his demise and bring the world to ruin. 

The Lealfast, a race that is half Icari and half scraeling, want nothing more than to form a nation of their own and rid themselves of their halfling identity, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals – even betraying their allegiance to Maxel and joining forces with the One. 

As the group nears Elcho Falling, loyalties are tested, enemies are engaged, and Maxel and Ishbelle must make a choice that will either save or doom mankind.

I’m really enjoying this series so far, and this book kept the momentum going and held my interest all the way to the end.  I was very upset to learn that the third book isn’t out yet and I’ll have to wait to see what happens.  I’m still invested in the characters and what I love about the writing style is that I always know what motivates their actions. 

The only parts that were slow for me were the ones that focused on Armat – I just couldn’t get into his character for some reason.  I’m not sure if it was because he wasn’t a central character from the start or that I didn’t get a feel for his back story.  Whatever the case, I just couldn’t connect with him and I found myself reading his chapters quickly so I could get back to Axis or Maxel. 

Also, I couldn’t stand Ravenna and her incessant pleading with Maxel to set Ishbelle aside before she doomed them all.  I don’t know if that was the idea, but after a while I was thinking if she mentions that prophetic vision or how she loves Maxel and is only trying to save him one more time I would scream.

From the beginning of the first book I wasn’t really sure what to make of Ishbelle.  At times I sympathized with her but didn’t really like her, and other times I was rooting for her all the way.  By the end of this book, however, she won me over completely.  All it took was once scene of ruthless, gutsy badassery to do the trick. 

Axis, I’ve loved from the first Wayfarer Redemption book and I just found out that Maxel is actually a character in a standalone book about his seventeen years as a slave in the mines, called Beyond the Hanging Wall.  I’ll definitely be checking that one out!

Overall, I highly recommend the first two books in this trilogy, as well as the Axis trilogy, to any and all fantasy readers!

BTT: Favorite Unknown

Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not… 


Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

  

 
 

 

I can think of several good choices here but the first person I thought of was Patrick Rothfuss, author of Name of the Wind.  

Here’s a blurb from his website: 

THE POWERFUL DEBUT NOVEL FROM FANTASY’S NEXT SUPERSTAR
Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard. 

I’ve already mentioned this book in several posts because I cannot stress enough how incredible it was and how much I loved it.  Every fantasy reader should own a copy.  I couldn’t put it down and I’ve been waiting for the sequel ever since.  After I read it,  I made my husband and then my cousin who then made her husband and no one has been disappointed yet, despite the major praise I gave it beforehand.  To me, it was fantasy perfected. 

I’m sure when the sequel finally does hit the shelves I’ll devour it like a crazed person and then wait in agony until the third installment is released. 

Bravo, Mr. Rothfuss, and please keep your work coming!  I’ll be waiting with as much patience as I can muster.

Have you read this book?  Who’s your favorite unknown?

Book Review: Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy

Richelle Mead
Paperback, 336 pages
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
August 16, 2007

 

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir are no ordinary runaway teens.  Lissa is a Moroi, a living vampire with incredible powers of healing and compulsion as well as the ability to use elemental magic.  Rose is a Dhampir, half human and half vampire, who’s fiercely protective of her best friend and will do anything to keep her from harm.  The pair have fled St. Vladimir’s Academy and have been on the run for two years when the story unfolds.

They’re quickly captured and taken back to the academy in rural Montana (where young Moroi are schooled  in magic and other academic subjects and Dhampir are trained to become their guardians, protecting them from the evil Strigoi, vampires who are no longer living and thrive off killing humans and Moroi), where Rose narrowly escapes expulsion.  Instead she’s forbidden to leave her dorm room except for classes and training sessions with Dimitri, one of the school guardians who becomes her mentor.  Distracted by her intense attraction to him, Rose struggles to keep her head and protect Lissa from jealous peers and vicious rumors circulating about them both. 

Harmless rumors and idle threats soon turn to violent pranks, and Rose must tap into her newfound ability to sense Lissa’s emotions and see through her eyes in order to protect her, not only from her enemies but from herself.  The girls face a host of dangers from psi-hounds, the dreaded Strigoi, and worst of all, high school drama as Rose searches for the key to understanding the strange link that binds her to Lissa and what it means for her best friend that she shares similarities with the famed (and less than stable) St. Vladimir.

YA is a really hot genre with adults right now and since I enjoyed Harry Potter and Twilight so much I thought I’d venture out and try a few more and see if they’re too my liking.  I’m a little torn on this one though.  As entertaining as it was, Rose and her nonstop tough girl act drove me absolutely crazy.  And her obsession with Lissa was borderline creepy at times.  I know they’re best friends and she’s training to be Lissa’s guardian, but after a while I was thinking, “Yeah, I get it, you’re fiercely protective of her and you don’t care whose face you have to smash to make your point!” 

But I really liked the overall premise  and some of the other characters (particularly Dimitri and Christian, the brooding, scandalized Moroi whose Strigoi parents were murdered by guardians).    Also, all the vampire cultural taboos were fascinating (e.g. a Dhampire letting a Moroi drink blood during sex is considered the dirtiest act of all, and the term “blood whores” was thrown around quite a bit).  I got a little tired of all the high school social debacles, but I have to admit that I couldn’t wait to see what happened next and how it ended.

Hopefully Rose will grow on me because I plan on continuing the series.  I’ll also be interested in seeing how it compares to the first books in the Morganville Vampire and House of Night series, which I got for Christmas.

Have you read this or the other aforementioned series?  What’s your opinion of YA?

Book Review: Definitely Dead

Definitely Dead

Charlaine Harris  
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

March 27, 2007

Sookie’s vamp cousin Hadley has died, for the second time, and Sookie must travel to New Orleans to collect her possessions and take care of her affairs.  This proves to be a much more dangerous task than it should be after the Queen of Louisiana’s personal messenger is murdered in Sookie’s yard and she and Quinn, her latest gorgeous pursuer, are attacked by newly turned Weres. 

When she finally gets to Louisiana and begins to pack up her cousin’s things, she quickly realizes that the circumstances surrounding Hadley’s death are much more complicated than she thought after finding a gruesome surprise in the closet.  With the help of Hadley’s landlord, who is also a witch, they perform a powerful spell to try to piece together the last hours of the deceased’s life before more people are killed.

Not only does Sookie have to deal with solving the Hadley mystery and trying to save the newly married Queen of Louisiana from a dangerous plot, the Pelts are still hounding her for information about their daughter Debbie’s death.  And to top it all, Sookie finds out a shocking little secret about her heritage that suddenly makes things a whole lot more clear.

Another great Sookie Stackhouse book!  Although, through the first half of it I kept thinking I had accidentally skipped a book because of the way Hadley’s death was referred to.  It was as if I should already know all about it when I was completely in the dark.  That was a little distracting but I got over it soon enough when Quinn, the Were-tiger, entered the picture and things started to heat up.  The plot, that is! 

Eric and Bill were still around, although their roles were fairly small in this book.  I loved the parts when Sookie was at the Queen’s mansion interacting with her entourage (including a set of Saxon twins who never quite assimilated into the modern era).  After the last book in the series, which was predominantly about Weres and shifters, it was nice to finally be surrounded by vampire characters again. 

What can I say about this book besides I love the whole series!  They’re so much fun to read and Sookie is a wonderful character.  I can’t wait to read All Together Dead and see what’s been going on in Bon Temps lately.

Book Review: The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air

Stephen Hunt  
Mass Market Paperback, 608 pages
Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
March 31, 2009

 

From Stephen Hunt’s website:

Two orphans are more than they seem. And one megalomaniac will stop at nothing to find them…

When Molly Templar witnesses a brutal murder at the brothel she has just been apprenticed to, her first instinct is to return to the poorhouse where she grew up. But there she finds her fellow orphans butchered, and it slowly dawns on her that she was in fact the real target of the attack.

For Molly carries a secret deep in her blood, a secret that marks her out for destruction by enemies of the state. Soon Molly will find herself battling a grave threat to civilization which draws on an ancient power thought to have been quelled millennia ago.

Oliver Brooks has led a sheltered life in the home of his merchant uncle. But when he is framed for his only relative’s murder he is forced to flee for his life. He is accompanied by Harry Stave, an agent of the Court of the Air – a shadowy organization independent of the government that acts as the final judiciary of the land, ensuring that order prevails.

Chased across the country, Oliver finds himself in the company of thieves, outlaws and spies, and gradually learns more about the secret that has blighted his life, but which may also offer him the power to avert the coming catastrophe.

Their enemies are ruthless and myriad, but Molly and Oliver are joined by indomitable friends in this endlessly inventive tale full of drama, intrigue and adventure.

This was my first exposure to the Steampunk subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  The beginning quickly grabbed my attention and I soon found myself immersed in the steam technology-driven world of Jackals, where political and government factions vie for power and a secret, aerial court observe and intervene from the skies. 

Molly and Oliver are caught up in the struggle between the ruling monarchy (where kings’ arms are surgically removed to prevent them from ever raising a hand against the people) and the underground communityists (where people undergo horrific procedures like having one leg shortened if the person excels at running or a genius having a lobotomy, a process called “equalization”).  I wasn’t really a fan of either of these two government options so I wasn’t sure who to root for. 

The story is told from different characters’ points of view and I think my favorite parts were about Oliver, who spent most of his childhood beyond the fey mist and so is considered both contaminated and a threat to society.  He remembers nothing of his time spent behind the veil and his worst fear is being locked away in the asylum where other fey who are deemed too dangerous are doomed to rot.  I loved seeing him go from bored, sheltered orphan to dagger and pistol wielding, ruthless badass. 

The race of Steammen was really interesting and I’m not sure whether that’s a common race in this genre or not, but I thought they were a really unique part of the story. 

At times I did find myself thinking, What side are these guys on? Why is he doing this?  Who’s this guy again?  And I wished he would elaborate a bit more on certain points or give me more of a back story sometimes.  But the entire second half of the book had me completely hooked and I couldn’t wait to see who came out victorious in the end.  I loved the dystopian elements and the descriptions of the steam technology and blood machines as well as all the pop-culture references of Jackals via penny dreadfuls. 

This was a completely different style of sci-fi/fantasy than I’m used to but it was refreshing and unique.  I’ll be adding his next Jackalian book to my wish list!

Time for some updates!

Wow, December was absolutely crazy!  I went from San Diego to Las Vegas to Northern California back to San Diego to Texas and just got back from Cozumel yesterday.  Let me catch my breath!  Whew! 

Apologies for the lack of posts of late, but I have managed to squeeze in some reading time during all of my travels.  I just read The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt and Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris.  I’m halfway through Vampire Academy, almost done with The Twisted Citadel and slowly making my way through Under the Dome.  Stay tuned for reviews of those.

Christmas brought me a bounty of new, delicious books to consume (thanks Mom & Dad!):

  1. Under the Dome – Stephen King
  2. An Echo in the Bone – Diana Gabaldon
  3. The Heretic Queen – Michelle Moran
  4. Cleopatra’s Daughter – Michelle Moran
  5. The White Queen – Philippa Gregory
  6. Angel Time – Anne Rice
  7. The Source – James Michener
  8. The Last Days of the Romanovs – Helen Rappaport
  9. Blood and Ice – Robert Masello
  10. Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead
  11. Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires Book 1) – Cynthia Holloway & Rachel Caine
  12. Marked (House of Night Book 1) – P. C. Cast
  13. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
  14. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See
  15. Dracula the Un-Dead – Dacre Stoker
  16. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

It’s going to be a struggle to figure out which ones to read first! 

Also, very exciting, I received my first ARC in the mail when I was in Mexico!  It’s called Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff.  Some of his writing credits include The Wonder Years, Major Dad, and Disney’s Tarzan.  This is his debut novel.

Happy New Year to everyone!  2010 is going to be a fantastic year.