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ocelott (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

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Doubleblind
Doubleblind
by Ann Aguirre
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Diplomats... in... spaaaaace!, Oct. 2 2009
Every time I review one of these books, I go on and on about the narration style and Jax as protagonist. There's a reason for that: both are phenomenal. As the series progresses, we get to watch Jax grow and change, but shades of her former, more selfish self poke through often enough to highlight how difficult the progression is for her. She's still a wonderful combination of tough but broken, and her voice is inarguably what makes this series so addictive to me. The first person perspective is urgent and powerful, and I'm pretty sure if Jax were telling me in great detail about her efforts doing the laundry, I would be fascinated. The voice and narration style just suck me in at page one and don't let go until I've finished the book, at which point I turn the page, realize there's no more writing, and glare at the back cover for awhile, sulking that I don't have the next installment right now.

Readers intrigued by Vel or Jael will have lots to appreciate in Doubleblind, which delves a little deeper into both gentlemen. Some of the secrets hinted at in previous books are explored, and Vel in particular becomes an increasingly major presence in Jax's life.

The book isn't as action-packed as its predecessors, but since Jax is currently acting as a diplomat, that's probably a good thing. The pace doesn't suffer for the lack of fight scenes, though, and since the character driven nature of the books has always been primarily what's drawn me to them, I was just as delighted to read about their political and social struggles as see them get into a knife fight. Since Jax is pretty far out of her element here, it's a lot of fun to watch the inner struggle as well as the political outer conflict. It's more personal in a lot of ways, and I felt like I'd run through the emotional gamut every bit as much as the characters had by the time I'd finished the book, which in my mind is the mark of effective storytelling.

And now for the million dollar question: does the book hold up to Wanderlust? Is it as good as its predecessor? Actually, it's not. It's even better. How is this possible? Well, you'd better get your own copy to find out!

Blue Diablo: A Corine Solomon Novel
Blue Diablo: A Corine Solomon Novel
by Ann Aguirre
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare gem, May 6 2009
This book is the rarest of gems: an urban fantasy novel that doesn't involve vampires, shapeshifters, or faeries. Every single character is human, and the supernatural aspects don't necessarily translate to being able to kick the bad guys' heads in a dozen different ways without breaking a sweat. In short, Blue Diablo is what you need to check out if you've been tiring of the angsty bloodsuckers overpopulating your nearest bookstore.

I've become an Ann Aguirre fangirl, so of course I enjoyed the story. Aguirre excels at creating flawed, endearing characters, and her narration style sets readers right in the middle of the action and inside the protagonist's head.

I loved the way the magic worked in Blue Diablo. It was subtle, and required work on the part of the person using it. When Corine reads objects, she not only has to concentrate on it, the object burns her hands, leaving a whole mess of scars on her palms. Chance's luck works out nicely for him, but usually puts anyone with him at a disadvantage (ie: the falling anvil will miss him... and hit the person standing next to him). Jesse is an empath, and sometimes has problems telling his own emotions apart from other peoples'. You'll note none of these abilities are big, flashy things. Unlike superheroes, these powers are subtle things, and aren't generally a whole lot of use when it comes to actually facing down anyone with malicious intentions.

What else makes the book stand out? The setting. With flavours of Mexico and southwest USA, this is a welcome change from the gritty Chicago-esque feel of most of the urban settings we see. There are plenty of little southwest touches in there to add flavour, and that flavour is delicious.

There's of course a complex love triangle in here, with some wonderful chemistry between Corine and the two men chasing her. The dialogue is sharp and sparkly (in the non-vampiric sense of the word), and at several points in the story I giggled out loud. It's all very character driven, from relatable people, all of whom have to deal with their own various issues as well as finding out what happened to Chance's mother. The book is addictive and just a lot of fun.

Evil Ways
Evil Ways
by Justin Gustainis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.15
12 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Cracking Good Read, Jan. 22 2009
This review is from: Evil Ways (Paperback)
Written in the third person, the complex story is told from the perspective of all the major players, heroes and villains alike, which gives a lovely sense of depth and an emphasis on the mystery/crime aspect as well as a better understanding of what exactly is happening and what's at stake if Quincey and Libby fail to solve the mystery and stop the bad guys. Knowing not only who the villains are, but their plans and motivations helps ramp up the tension.

I love Quincey and Libby, and I really really love the relationship between the two of them. There's no romance here. The two are very close friends, they've worked together many times before and as a result, they're able to read each other's moods and expressions, especially in a crisis. The banter between them is wonderful, and while they're protective of each other, neither is at all interested in starting up romance (or even a little sex). It strikes me as a little sad that this is such an unusual relationship to read about, but on the up side, it's handled very, very well here. I could probably read an entire book just about Quincey and Libby hanging out on their down time.

Something else that filled me with unspeakable glee? All the fictional character cameos. From Silence of the Lambs's Jack Crawford to Millennium's Frank Black to Harry Dresden, there's no shortage of genre-related in-jokes. These are hidden references of the best sort: anyone who gets them will get a giggle, but if you miss the significance, it won't hinder your understanding of the story.

Even better than the cameos is Gustainis's depth of understanding of his genre, both in the supernatural and mystery solving. I love that there isn't one type of mysticism; the witches studies and methods vary depending on what culture and background they come from, whether it be wiccan or shamanistic or something else entirely. The magic has complex rules and limitations, and stays within there. There's no "chosen one" for whom the rules don't apply.

I think it's safe to say I very much enjoyed Evil Ways (as well as its predecessor, Black Magic Woman). Alright, the line editing could have been a little tighter, what with minor characters randomly changing names in the middle of scenes and things like that, but we can't exactly fault the author for that. The fast pace, the depth of the world, and the wonderful sense of humour made for a book I stayed up too late on more than one night reading "just one more chapter." We all know it's never just one.

Hey, Good Looking: A Novel
Hey, Good Looking: A Novel
by Fern Michaels
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
60 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Only masochists dare tread here, Sept. 20 2008
This book? It's awful. No, seriously. I knew I was in trouble at the very first sentence: "The rain that had been holding off for the graduation ceremony finally gave way to a torrential torrent, soaking the graduating class, their scrolls in hand, and their families and guests as they scrambled across the stadium field."

I assure you this wasn't a case of the writing getting better further into the book, either. It was all bad, and could easily have been used by a high school English class as an example of all the things you are never supposed to do. Ever. I'm particularly fond of Michaels's tendancy to randomly throw the word "literally" into her sentences, as in "they literally ran down the stairs." As opposed to figuratively running down the stairs, I guess?

I'll be the first to admit logic and I aren't always the best of chums, but I at least know what it looks like when it smacks me upside the head. And there really wasn't any of it to be found in Hey, Good Looking. Apparently being buried without your organs is a horrible thing because it means you're not really there. Or that you are, but it's not really you. The real you is scattered amongst the transplant recipients, all of whom should recognize you if you hunt them down. It's not really the blind guy's eyes, after all, they're Russ's eyes, and therefore they recognize things the dead guy had seen regardless of whose brain is currently attached to said eyes. Yes, perfect sense.

A good portion of the plot involves unearthing secrets from the past, most notably the elderly aunts and Marcus. When this sort of thing is done well, it makes for an incredibly satisfying story. This was not it. The aunts each had some ancient romantic history that was so huge and overwhelming, everything was easily resolved by the end of the book. Marcus's big secret was the reason why he wound up married to evil stepmother, and even with the low low freakishly low expectations I had gathered by that point, I had to set the book down to prevent myself from throwing it across the room.

Normally about this point, I try to talk about what went right with the novel, but in this case, I just can't. There was no saving grace. The prose was painful, the dialogue was stilted and consisted largely of variations on the "as you know Bob..." theme, and none of the characters had any personality. Oh, except for the "quirky" ones, who only succeeded in being annoying. You'd better believe this book is getting pitched out of my home the instant I've posted this review. And while I could go on and on about all the horrible atrocities committed within this book, I'm pretty sure you get the point by now.

Dark Lover: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood
Dark Lover: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood
by J. R. Ward
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.99
139 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Vampires and cheese, Sept. 20 2008
I had a really hard time taking this book seriously, because it is made of velveeta, there is so much cheese going on. Allow me to introduce you to the members of the Brotherhood. Aside from Wrath, we have Rhage, Tohrment, Vishous, Phury, Zsadist... and Darius. Guess which one is dead by the end of chapter two.

Once you get past the unfortunate nhames, the prose is full of lines that made me go back and read it again, just to make sure it really said what I thought it did. And it always did. Things like "If sex were food, Rhage would have been morbidly obese." "The guy was like lint in food: an irritation that made you want to spit." "He wanted to give her what females liked: a little TLC." Needless to say, I spent a lot of time laughing while I was reading this book, and I don't think I was supposed to.

The Bhrothers spent so very much time convincing themselves and each other they were bad bad very bad men, it ultimately left me unconvinced. You know how Eminem gets himself all tattooed and then uses gangster colloquisms, curses and insults people, trying so hard to look cool and edgy and mostly comes across as insecure and grasping for attention through cheap shock tactics? Yeah. That pretty much sums up the Bhrotherhood. Their attempts at gangster speak are just awkward enough to add to the overall cheese factor of the book, because you know it totally needed more of that, you feel me? True.

Ok, all of that aside, I can see why this book series has a devout following. It's fast-paced, it's sexy, and Ward has done some really creative things with vampire lore and worldbuilding. I like the idea of vampires and humans being completely different species, and once you get over being able to tell the lessers apart from normal humans because they smell like baby powder and are impotent, the idea of people giving up their souls for a greater chance to commit violence has some serious potential. It's just that you have to wade through a whole lot of bizarre to get to the good points. If you have an absurd sense of humour and enjoy watching campy movies, you might enjoy Dark Lover. Alternately, if the names of the Bhrotherhood don't make you think "say what?" you may get along nicely with this series. If you're looking for some seriously gritty, powerful urban fantasy, though, you might want to give this one a miss.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
by Justin Somper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.99
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The name alone sold me, Sept. 20 2008
I expected this to be a whole lot cheesier than it turned out being. It was a lot of fun, but not in the "you gotta laugh at it to love it" sort of way. More in the "can't stop reading because cool pirate stuff and also cool vampire stuff and non-stop action and vampirates rule!" sort of way. The story ends on a cliffhanger, and I have to admit I've already had to get my hands on a copy of the second book.

Connor and Grace are fairly typical of the "young hero" mould. She's the intelligent and far too curious for her own good specimen, and he's the naturally gifted fighter with an extra helping of sensitivity. Some of the secondary characters stood out a little more: both captains were creative, and I really liked Lorcan, Grace's seventeen-year-old vampirate bodyguard.

Should you pick up this first Vampirate book, be prepared to dig up the other two as well. There's just enough going on, plot-wise, that while the main conflict is resolved, there are enough threads left open from the various subplots that if you're anything at all like me, it'll drive you nuts until you get your hand son the next installment. This would be a particularly good choice for any young reluctant readers. There's lots of action, and do I need to go over the part where vampires + pirates = awesome, or can I just assume we've all got the jist of it now?

Street of Death
Street of Death
by Mary Ann Mitchell
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Cracktastic, Sept. 13 2008
The horror genre seems to be vastly dominated by paranormal stories involving ghosts, vampires, or sometimes unexplained bumps in the night as well as the classic mystery/thriller. Sometimes both in one book. Street of Death was a nice change of pace, a beautifully gothic tale of a young woman with a knack for unearthing peoples' horrible secrets. If Jane Eyre had been set in the terror of the Spanish Inquisition instead of rural Victorian England, it might have turned out a lot like this.

I have to say, whoever wrote the teaser on the back of the book gets a big FAIL. In eleven sentences, they manage to simultaneously make wrong/misleading statements and give away major plot points close to the end of the book. So kudos to the person who had the creative genius to screw such a brief synopsis up in two completely different ways. If anyone finds themself at all interested in reading this book, do yourself a favour and ignore the back cover, at least until you've finished.

Street of Death is not for the faint of heart. I don't think I've used the words "dark" and "gothic" enough to fully describe how well they fit. All the nasty pieces are in here, secrets (mostly) from the past: incest, murder, torture, rape... something for everyone! There's nothing explicit here, but they're all significant plot-wise.

And you know what? I absolutely could not put it down. I devoured the thing, eager to find out how all these secrets fit in together. The tone and beautiful phrasing drew me in, and the slow reveal of what exactly had happened (and was still happening, in some cases) in the family had me finally turning the last page at 4am. Morning was painful, but I didn't care, because this book must have been printed on pages made of crack, it was so addictive.

His Expectant Ex
His Expectant Ex
by Catherine Mann
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars When enough just isn't enough, Sept. 13 2008
As a general rule, I'm pretty skeptical about reconciliation stories. It takes a lot to sell me on them, mostly because if the problems in the relationship were enough to justify a divorce, it makes me wonder if the people involved are just setting themselves up for another cycle of the same. Fortunately, this was pretty well dealt with in His Expectant Ex. From the very beginning it was made clear that both Sebastian and Marianna had unresolved feelings, and throughout the course of the story, they each come to realize their part in the difficulties of their marriage.

The characters were sympathetic enough, their romance believable enough, the story pleasant enough. The tone is light and sweet, and while I don't really have any major complaints, nothing about the book really grabbed me. I had no issues putting it down, and when I did, the characters and plot didn't stay with me. It was good without being great, leaving me with very little to mock, but also very little to rave about. In the end, "pleasant enough" just isn't enough to get more than a lukewarm reaction.

In Her Name: Redemption
In Her Name: Redemption
by Michael R. Hicks
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.90
18 used & new from CDN$ 22.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious genre-bending, Sept. 13 2008
In Her Name is an ambitious story, epic in scope with a huge cast of characters. The Kreelans are a wonderfully imaginative race, original and pretty much exactly the sort of thing I like to see explored. Their world and society is fascinating, and I loved that we saw both sides of them, both as the bloodthirsty warmongers from the human perspective and from a more sympathetic angle in their own eyes.

Hicks has a knack for writing protagonists you can root for. I was particularly fond of Eustus, Reza's right hand from the Marines, and Jodi, a sarcastic and passionate pilot. The antagonists weren't quite as fully formed, but there was certainly enough there to want to see them get their villainous come-uppance.

Given the war setting, there are a good number of battle sequences, all of which are well written and fun to read. There's a good variety in the weapons and types of encounters, Hicks changing things up just enough to keep it interesting. The use of sling and stone was especially neat, and something I don't think I've seen used in a novel before.

My biggest issue with the book, I think, was the abruptness in the transitions. Since the story covers a large portion of Reza's life, there are a number of points where the narration skips several years, which is fine, but the transitions never quite felt natural. In most cases it felt like a paragraph or two had been cut off, something that would lead a little more gently into the next time warp. It was a little disorienting at times, and to a lesser extent, some of the perspective shifts had a little of that same suddenness.

In spite of its flaws, though, I did enjoy In Her Name, an intense story by a promising writer. Fans of epic fantasy as well as science fiction lovers will find an enjoyable read here, particularly those who love to visit unique worlds with some seriously beautiful worldbuilding.

The City of Ember: The First Book of Ember
The City of Ember: The First Book of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.59
271 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant worldbuilding, but..., Sept. 13 2008
Ember is a wonderful setting, a unique and intense world with vivid details. The steampunk mixture of electricity in a very low-tech world was fascinating, and the growing sense of desperation came through clearly, right up to the (supposed) cliffhanger ending.

Doon and Lina are likeable protagonists, although they seem to rely more on their respective roles than their personalities. They each had their own place to fill, and acted accordingly, and although that could be an interesting analysis of human behaviour, I never got the impression that's what DuPrau was aiming for. While the two are likeable enough, they lack the live-giving details given to the city itself, and wind up ultimately forgettable once the book is finished.

The prose is simple, a little too much so, even considering the age group the book is aimed at. The sentences are very short, and at times it felt a little like reading about Dick, Jane, and Spot. "See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" The story's concept, however, is brilliant, and The City of Ember wound up being a short, satisfying read. One of the quotes on the back cover calls the book "Science fiction for those who do not like science fiction," and while I'm skeptical as to whether or not that's actually a compliment, it's true enough. Fantasy fans will enjoy this as much as science fiction readers, and while it's very definitely written for pre-teens, older readers looking for a quick fix will find themselves wrapped up in Ember, too.

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