review; Doom With a View

Title: Doom With a View (Psychic Eye Mystery #7)
Author: Victoria Laurie
Pub. Date: September, 2009
Summary: Business has been frustratingly slow for Abby. She reluctantly agrees to a job with the FBI, putting her at the center of an internal political struggle between two agents. Abby’s skills and patience are tested, but when she helps them locate three college students who’ve mysteriously disappeared, they know she’s the real deal.

Her intuition says these weren’t random abductions. With her psychic eye wide open she sets out to find a kidnapper…
Genre: Cozy Mystery

Oh, Abby Cooper, I’ve missed you so!! When I read a series, I tend to space out each book rather than reading it all at once. I suppose it’s my way of savoring it? It’s been a few months since I finished the sixth book in this series, Death Perception, and I couldn’t wait to jump back into the story.

This book picks up with a case that was first introduced in the previous book, but went nowhere. Abby, a professional psychic, and her friend Candice, a PI, are aiding the FBI in the investigation of some missing teenagers. It’s believed the kidnappings are linked because the teens were all children of senators.

Given that this book didn’t take place in Abby’s hometown, some of the best characters were unfortunately absent this time. In the case of Abby’s older sister Cat, there was a brief mention in a single sentence and that was all. However, I was really excited to learn more about Candice. She was a central character in Doom With a View and I love that she’s getting more and more time in the spotlight.

Abby’s boyfriend Dutch works for the FBI (what a cool job!!). He recently got the position and now we get to meet some really awesome characters. Despite being a huge jerk for roughly 99% of the book, Agent Harrison grew on me. Can’t wait to see him again! However, I will admit I was a little disappointed that the romance was so obvious (or maybe I’m just psychic :D!). Really, though, that was a bit of a let down and, to me, wound up feeling a bit forced and thrown together.

I wasn’t completely happy with some of the previous books, but Doomed With a View sucked me back in and I can’t wait to start the next book. Toward the end, a pretty big plan was announced and I’m both nervous and excited to see how it turns out!

These books (& cozies in general!) are so incredible. So, so much fun and just the right length for a cold and rainy day.

review; The Hunchback Assignments

Title: The Hunchback Assignments (The Hunchback Assignments #1)
Author: Arthur Slade
Pub. Date: September, 2009
Summary: The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockwork Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country.
Genre: YA, Steampunk, Sci-Fi, Awesome

Drop what you’re doing and read this now! I’ve been raving about this book for the past week and am finally able to sit down and put all my flailing into words.

“For heaven’s sake, boy, put your mask on,” Mr. Socrates snapped. “No one should see your face.”

Mr. Alan Socrates hears about an odd little child and buys him. It sounds remarkably cruel – and it is – but it’s as simple as that. He takes Modo (a terribly sweet but horribly deformed boy) to his estate, Ravenscroft, and there the child is raised.

While Modo views Mr. Socrates as his father figure, the man is hardly around. He’s always off traveling and on the rare occasions that he does decide to drop by, he quizzes Modo in order to see how his studies are going.

Modo is raised by a wonderful woman, the caretaker of the estate. Whereas Mr. Socrates only allows Modo to read “approved” material (certain articles from the newspaper, for example), Mrs. Finchley will go out of her way to sneak in a picture book or two, something fun and light-hearted. She was the first person to truly care about Modo and it broke my heart when Modo had to leave Ravenscroft.

Modo undid the knots and removed the mask, setting it on a table. He felt naked. This was not a face for the world to see, Mr. Socrates had told him so.

The masks are vital. Until Mr. Socrates decided Modo was to leave to estate, Modo had no idea what he looked like. All of the mirrors and anything remotely reflective were to be removed. I wanted to rush to Modo’s side the day Mr. Socrates forced him to see himself for the first time.

Modo has a wonderful gift: shape-shifting. He’s able to see a portrait or merely use his imagination and his entire body will change and take on the features of another person. Mr. Socrates is determined to use Modo’s ability to his advantage.

Mr. Socrates is the head of a secret organization that employs agents to do various tasks. From the time he was bought, Modo had been trained to become Mr. Socrates’ ultimate agent.

When Modo is 14, Mr. Socrates takes him to London – the very first time Modo has ever been outside – and leaves him there. …just leaves him. He tells Modo he’ll check back soon and that Modo should put his training to use and fend for himself.

At various times throughout the book I wanted to throttle Mr. Socrates. This scene was one of those times. Here was Modo, a terrified boy who has never been outside before, suddenly dropped off in the middle of London and told to have a nice life. Throughout it all, Modo was such a sweetheart, I wanted to reach into the book and give him a huge hug. :( Don’t let the jerks get you down, Modo. ♥

Modo only nodded, but smiled idiotically under his handkerchief.

Oh man. Modo’s crush on Octavia (another agent employed by Mr. Socrates) is so, so, so insanely adorable. They were just too cute. I was really hoping their romance storyline would have been given a bit more attention, but there are other books, so yay! So cute.

Dr. Hyde is a mad scientist who took orphaned children (and Prince Albert), surgically enhanced them by placing large bolts into their shoulders, and fed them all a tincture, rendering them fully conscious, yet completely unable to control their bodies. There was a fascinating chapter where a character was under the influence of the tincture. He was aware, yet could not move a limb. Instead, his body moved on its own with its own purpose.

The action was fantastic! The Iron Giant-type machine was so cool and the fact that a prince and little children were all connected to it – literally – and forced to pilot it was neat.

Mr. Socrates gathered up the paper. “As a rule, I prefer no descriptions of my agents to appear in print.”
“It won’t happen again, sir,” Modo said. “Next time I’ll just let myself burn up in the blaze.”

I adored watching Modo grow. In the beginning, he was a tiny, timid boy who had no idea what the real world was like. After Mr. Socrates comes back into Modo’s life, Modo is different – but in a good way. He’s no longer scared and naive. He’s a character you get to know and come to care about and multiple times I was honestly worried for him. I wanted things to work out for him, I was rooting for Modo the entire journey. When his transformations began to wear off or his masks slipped, I was scared for him. When he started having flutter feelings whenever he was around Octavia, I squealed in delight.

“Marvelously boring. Though there is a good sword fight at the end.”

♥ One of my favorite scenes in the book was an Octavia/Modo scene. Modo is reading Hamlet and Octavia walks in on him. She immediately begins to mock Modo for reading not just Hamlet, but Shakespeare in general. Modo unsuccessfully attempts to defend himself, but Octavia isn’t having it, although in the end she gives in and mentions the one part of the play she enjoyed.

This book was so, so, SO wonderful! I can’t wait to tear into the next!

review; The Book of Lost Things

Title: The Book of Lost Things
Author: John Connolly
Pub. Date: January, 2006
Summary: High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.
Genre: Fantasy

Everything about this book was perfect. Love, love, love. Easily one of my top reads of the year. & to think it’s been on my to read list for ages! I’m so glad I finally hunkered down and gave it a shot.

Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.

The Book of Lost Things takes place in war-torn England. German planes have destroyed a large portion of cities, but the threat of bombs means little to David: his mother is dying. She gets progressively sicker and sicker until one day when David is excused from class for the day. He immediately knew the reason for his early dismissal and blames himself for not being able to save his mother.

Life continues for David and his father and a few months later David is introduced to Rose, his father’s new girlfriend (ultimately, wife). They move to the country – the country is safer than the city his father claims – into a large old house that Rose’s family owns.

Rose’s presence in David’s life only serves to remind him of the realization that his mother is gone and he hates her for it. The arrival of David’s half-brother Georgie only solidifies that hatred and he turns to his books for comfort.

Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.

I loved that this book didn’t take long at all to get right to the story. One of my biggest peeves is when a book is unbelievably slow, only to finally get to the action two chapters from the end of the book.

The Book of Lost Things wasn’t like that one bit. As much as I enjoyed reading about David’s homelife – particularly his interactions with his stepmother, Rose – I couldn’t contain my excitement when the story delved into the “fairy tale” world. A few times I’ve talked about how fairy tales and retellings are very much in vogue right now and I loooove that. Matt & I are huge fans of Once Upon a Time and in the show, Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin is a main character. He’s by far our favorite in the show and we always go into fangirl mode during his scenes. This book was no different.

And the Crooked Man heard her dreams, because that was where he wandered. His place was the land of the imagination, the world where stories began. The stories were always looking for a way to be told, to be brought to life through books and reading. That was how they crossed over from their world into ours. But with them came the Crooked Man, prowling between his world and ours, looking for stories of his own to create, hunting for children who dreamed bad dreams, who were jealous and angry and proud. And he made kings and queens of them, cursing them with a kind of power, even if the real power lay always in his hands. And in return they betrayed the objects of their jealousy to him, and he took them into his lair deep beneath the castle…

♥ Oh, Rumpelstiltskin. I eagerly anticipated any scene the Crooked Man was in. So, so fantastic. A bit of a confession: during his scenes, I always pictured the Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon a Time. Robert Carlyle does an incredible job with that role and imagining him as the Crooked Man only made the story that much more creepy and fantastic.

David touched his fingers to the wood, pressing and knocking hoping to find some way of reopening the portal back to his old life, but nothing happened. He almost cried, but he knew that if he began crying, all would be lost. He would just be a small boy, powerless and afraid, far from home.

After a German bomber crashes into his yard, David discovers himself in another world. There are a number of magical and mythical beasts he encounters along the way (trolls, harpies, the seven dwarves), the worst of which were the Loups: human/wolf hybrids. The pack is out to gain control of the kingdom and sees this strange little boy as both a threat and food.

The Woodsman was one of my favorite characters. :) He was such a lovely man and aided David on his quest to the castle after telling him that the king has a book that could potentially help David return to England.

“You mean…they killed her?” asked David. “They ate her,” said Brother Number One. “With porridge. That’s what ‘ran away and was never seen again’ means in these parts. It means ‘eaten.'” “Um, and what about ‘happily ever after?'” asked David, a little uncertainly. “What does that mean?” “Eaten quickly,” said Brother Number One.

You won’t find a Doc or Dopey here. Instead, the dwarves are numbered and for the brief scene they’re in, they definitely made quite an impression. It turns out Snow White is a horrid, horrid girl and the dwarves felt oppressed. It’s only natural they would seek revenge… :)

They walked like prisoners who had just been told that the executioner had a little extra time on his hands and could fit in a few more beheadings before he went home for his tea.

The Book of Lost Things had the whole package: great characters, wonderful storytelling, and absolutely beautiful language. The imagery was remarkable and there were so many passages that were simply a pleasure to read.

“I have walked through your dreams,” he said. “I know everything that you think, everything that you feel, everything that you fear.”

Apart from being an awesome villain, the Crooked Man is downright intriguing. He did and said things that made me think one way, then on the next page he did something that made me feel completely the opposite. I could read an entire book solely about him and would love every minute of it.

It wasn’t like this in the stories. Soldiers and knights slew dragons and monsters. They weren’t afraid, and they didn’t run away from the threat of death.

I loved watching David grow throughout the story. In the beginning he was a lost little boy mourning the loss of his mother, and by the end of the book he’s a young man. I’ve read books where the growing up seems forced and winds up being unbelievable, but that wasn’t the case here.

There were so many wonderful things about this book. The twist-that-wasn’t-really-a-twist, the supporting characters, the setting, everything about The Book of Lost Things was fantastic. Definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this year!

review; Nevermore

Title: Nevermore (Nevermore #1)
Author: Kelly Creagh
Publisher/Pub. Date: Atheneum/August, 2010
Genre: YA
Summary: Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

His life depends on it.

Before I get into the review, it should be said that I hold Edgar Allan Poe to a ridiculously high degree. I was first introduced to him when I was in 3rd grade and since then, I have placed him atop a pedestal. He is directly responsible for my career goals and I do a great deal of what I do because of him and the effect both he and his writing have had on me. Apart from a trip to Gettysburg, the best vacation I ever took was a birthday trip to Baltimore where I visited his house and both of his graves. So awesome.

Because of this, anything that so much as references Poe (be it movie, song, book, etc) I feel compelled to seek it out. Nevermore was no different. I was a little hesitant once I read the summary – goth boy and preppy cheerleader are paired together for a project and ~sparks fly~? Please. It seems like that’s a trend in YA right now. However, I hunkered down and gave it a shot.

Once you get past the writing – and a good portion of it is awful: far too flowery and descriptive – it’s a pretty intriguing story. Varen (lol it seriously took me until 10 pages from the end to realize his name spelled Raven… yeah.) was by far my favorite character. He’s the brooding, antisocial boy who doesn’t speak to anyone and is a target for rumors. Isobel is the uber popular (& blonde!) cheerleader who has the football star boyfriend and perfect friends. The two are partnered up for an English project and that’s when the story lost me.

Isobel’s best friend Nikki immediately freaks out when she finds out Isobel’s partner is Varen and insists on telling Brad (the boyfriend). Isobel then freaks out herself and insists that Brad must not find out and makes Nikki promise not to say a word to him. Nikki (oh so clever girl that she is) runs off to tell her own friend instead, who then, in turn, tells Brad.

Brad reasonably flies off the handle and begins making threats toward Varen, keys his car, even goes to far as to have the group visit Varen at work (an ice cream parlor) and completely trash it.

…all of this over an English project. I hope I wasn’t the only one utterly confused and frustrated at this. I couldn’t understand what the problem was. Isobel would even go out of her way to lie and make excuses so that her friends wouldn’t find out she had been doing her homework.

Eventually Isobel comes to her senses and ditches her horrible friends and then we comes to the paranormal aspect of the book. There’s another world based on Poe’s tales. Poe himself was transported to this place multiple times and it eventually destroyed him. I looked forward to these chapters even though the writing was the most painful during these chapters, simply because I didn’t have to deal with Isobel’s terrible friends anymore.

The climactic fight scene at the end dragged on and on which frustrated me to no end. That should be the one part of the book I should have not been able to put down! Instead, I had to struggle to get through it (& succumbed to skimming a bit).

The Nocs, particularly Pinfeathers, were interesting! Isobel’s little brother was awesome! I can’t wait for more Varen (& it’s such a shame he didn’t get more time in the spotlight. There were some things that happened to him that I definitely wanted to find out more about – the scene with his father, for instance). I’m still not sure what to think of Isobel’s dad. I thought it was so cool that Reynolds was a character!

Despite the horrible writing, I really enjoyed this book and of course I’ll be continuing this series. Yay, Poe!

review; The Stepsister Scheme

Title: The Stepsister Scheme (Princess #1)
Author: Jim C. Hines
Publisher/Pub. Date: DAW/January 2009
Summary: What would happen if an author went back to the darker themes of the original fairy tales for his plots, and then crossed the Disney princesses with Charlie’s Angels? What’s delivered is The Stepsister Scheme—a whole new take on what happened to Cinderella and her prince after the wedding. And with Jim C. Hines penning the tale readers can bet it won’t be “and they lived happily ever after.
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Fairy tales & retellings seem to be in right now. There’s been an influx in the number of books, movies, and television shows dealing with fairy tale characters and I fully support this movement. I think it’s awesome and I’m really loving retellings with new takes on familiar stories.

I first came across this book at work a few months ago and it immediately caught my eye. Admittedly, I’m usually not one for an all-female cast of characters, but the artwork was decent enough and I was intrigued by the plot.

Earlier this week I finally sat down and read it. I had read some disappointing reviews and I completely see where the readers were coming from. The entire book could have greatly benefited from some major editing. Entire chapters read more like fanfiction than an actual, published work.

One thing I wasn’t too fond of were the names. Cinderella’s real name is Danielle, Sleeping Beauty is Talia, and Snow White is Ermilina (although she prefers Snow). I did enjoy, however, the world building and the creatures that inhabit it.

Despite being a relatively short book, it took me nearly a week to finish due to the writing. I’m debating whether or not to continue the series – they certainly seem interesting enough, but I’ve learned in the past that a good plot isn’t enough for me if the writing is horrible.

review; grace interrupted

Title: Grace Interrupted (A Manor House Mystery #2)
Author: Julie Hyzy
Publisher/Pub. Date: Berkley/April 2011
Genre: Mystery
Summary: Civil war re-enactors have set up camp on the grounds of Marshfield Manor. The group is very believable, especially when the unrest spills out of the barracks and inside the sumptuous mansion. Grace manages to settle a minor squabble, but loses the war when actor Zachary Kincade is found stabbed to death.

Jack Embers, the groundskeeper, falls under suspicion when he’s linked to the death of Zachary’s brother years ago. But there were others out for Zachary, actors who can be very convincing when the coveted role of “General” is on the line. Grace feels responsible for finding the murderer…and for the sweet tuxedo kitten found on her doorstep, Bootsie. Can she come to the rescue of her friends without putting herself in danger’s way

A Few months ago I reviewed the first book in this series. Grace Interrupted picks up shortly after where Grace Under Pressure left off. Marshfield Manor is slowly returning to normal after having been the scene of a gruesome murder and Grace is getting back into the swing of things with her newly acquired position.

The book opens with a bang. There’s an altercation between two women and one of the Civil War reenactors (a group of reenactors is staying on the grounds for a week). It turns out the guy never showed up at their best friend’s wedding. And he was the groom. Whoops.

The following day the man, Zachary Kincade, winds up dead. Two officers introduced in the previous book have returned, along with a woman named Tank. She flew in from Michigan to help bring the department to the 21st century. How this was done, I have no idea. I didn’t like Tank at all. The whole police force, for that matter. Admittedly, the only things I know about how investigations work come from Law & Order, but I had to raise an eyebrow at their conduct.

At one point Grace calls the police station and asks Tank is she could see a police report from nearly fifteen years ago. …and Tank lets her. Little things like this accumulated throughout the novel and eventually it became too much.

Bennett, the owner of Marshfield Manor, is a great character. I looked forward to any scene he was in. Also, at one point he randomly bought this car. How gorgeous is that??

There’s a subplot involving a kitten that I was pretty meh about. Grace comes home from work one day to discover a tiny little kitten sitting there, soaking wet from the storm. She, along with her two roomates, end up falling in love with newly-dubbed Bootsie and would rather not find the owner.

The one thing about this series – as opposed to other cozy mysteries I’ve read (& other series in general) – is that Grace and the obvious Love Interest didn’t immediately get together. Jack Embers is the gardener at Marshfield Manor and although there was that cliche instant connection, it wasn’t until this book that the pair finally went on a date (and that was after a series of setbacks and reschedules).

Jack and his brother Davey were both suspects in the murders (both this new one and the one from years back) and that’s certainly putting a damper on things.

Although this series isn’t spectacular or my favorite, it’s quick and fun and I was able to finish it in a few sittings. Currently, the whole series consists of these two books (Ms. Hyzy has a few other cozy series she’s working on including a White House Chef Mystery series which sounds ridiculous and fabulous), but I look forward to a third book.

review; the amber room

Title: The Amber Room
Author: Steve Berry
Publisher/Pub. Date: Ballantine Books/2003
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Summary: The Amber Room is one of the greatest treasures ever made by man: an entire room forged of exquisite amber, from its four massive walls to its finely crafted furniture. But it is also the subject of one of history’s most intriguing mysteries. Originally commissioned in 1701 by Frederick I of Prussia, the Room was later perfected Tsarskoe Selo, the Russian imperial city. In 1941, German troops invaded the Soviet Union, looting everything in their wake and seizing the Amber Room. When the Allies began the bombing of Germany in August 1944, the Room was hidden. And despite the best efforts of treasure hunters and art collectors from around the world, it has never been seen again.

Now, two powerful men have set their best operatives loose in pursuit, and the hunt has begun once more. . . .

Life is good for Atlanta judge Rachel Cutler. She loves her job, loves her kids, and remains civil to her ex-husband, Paul. But everything changes when her father, a man who survived the horrors of World War II, dies under strange circumstances—and leaves behind clues to a secret he kept his entire life . . . a secret about something called the Amber Room.

Desperate to know the truth about her father’s suspicious dealings, Rachel takes off for Germany, with Paul close behind. Shortly after arriving, they find themselves involved with a cast of shadowy characters who all claim to share their quest. But as they learn more about the history of the treasure they seek, Rachel and Paul realize they’re in way over their heads. Locked in a treacherous game with ruthless professional killers and embroiled in a treasure hunt of epic proportions, Rachel and Paul suddenly find themselves on a collision course with the forces of power, evil, and history itself.

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I adore Berry. I think he’s simply fantastic. His books are always so interesting and the pacing is perfect.

That said, this book took me over a month to finish. I have no idea what happened. It wasn’t bad, but there was something about it that stopped me from plowing through it in a weekend.

Berry always does such in-depth research and The Amber Room is no different. There were times when I was reading where I’d have to stop and head to the Internet to read more about a specific person/place or look at images. I love that about his novels; I’m always continuing the research long after the book has ended.

One of Berry’s downfalls is the sheer number of characters he includes in his books. I couldn’t keep track of all the bad guys and a few times I’d wind up confused while reading. I had no idea who was who.

It upsets me to make such a lackluster review. Steve Berry is a really great author who has some excellent books. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my favorite.