Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"The Fairy Godmother" by Mercedes Lackey

The Fairy Godmother is yet another book my fabulous Aunt loaned me while I was in college with the guarantee that I'd like the story....and somehow between classes and quarter taps I neglected to read it. A good eleven years later I finally picked it up.  And she was right.  As always.

Summary:  Everyone knows the story of Cinderella.  A beautiful young woman is forced to wait hand and foot on her nasty stepmother and wicked stepsisters until her Fairy Godmother gifts her one enchanted evening that kicks off her Happily Ever After.  It's a classic good things happen to good people tale with a satisfying side of revenge when the husband hunting step sisters see their lowly abused sister blissfully happy as she's crowned a royal princess and married to the hottest hottie of the land.  [Side bar:  do people still say hottie?] 

But what happens when the kingdom's royal prince is just a baby and there isn't a glass slipper in sight? 

Elena Klovis lives a hard life.  Her stepmother runs her ragged and her step sisters aren't any better.  What's worse, even though she dreams of finding a way to escape her days of hard labor, it seems she's doomed to a life of servitude.  When Elena's step-family skips town to avoid angry creditors, she takes matters into her own hands by showing up to the local mop fair in hope of finding employment and a chance at a happier life.  Although Elena's one of the first to arrive, she's one of the last standing when the mop fair closes at sundown.  Before she can give up, Elena spots a small cart pulled by a strange horse and an even stranger passenger.  When the woman in the cart offers Elena an apprenticeship, she thinks she's dreaming.  Little does she know that her acceptance will change the course of not only her life, but those of others all over the 500 Kingdoms. 

What I Liked:  As a former young girl, I've got a soft spot for the fairy tales made popular by Disney.  Show me a glass slipper or talking crab and I am in.

The Fairy Godmother has the trappings of a disney fairy tale but with a grown up twist.  Instead of Cinderella (or in this case Elena "Ella Cinders") marrying her Prince Charming and living the trophy wife life, she gets a job as the fairy godmother who's job is to facilitate happy endings for others in her situation.  Using magic and the unseen power of the Tradition, Elena uses her wits to craft happy endings out of tragic circumstances and teaching handsome princes to know their place.

The Fairy Godmother is clever, funny and has just enough references to modern fairy tales that I got a little giddy each time and kept wondering who would show up next.  Needless to say I've already started the second in the series.

What Drove Me Nuts:  Not a seashell bra or dinglehopper in sight.  But I hear this is a series so there's hope.

Rating:  Disney with a side of practical, sass and kick ass.  If you like the tv show Once Upon a Time this series is quite possible for you.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Caves of Ice" By Sandy Mitchell

After finishing the ebook of For the Emperor, I started this one, the second in the Commissar Cain series.

Summary: This story takes place a short time after the first book. Commissar Cain is still assigned to the 597th Valhallans and on a civilian vessel headed for the next mission. Commandeered by the Imperial Guard, the captain of the ship is not excited to be headed toward danger, but time is short and no troop ship is nearby. The regiment lands on Simia Orichalcae, an ice covered planet that reminds the Valhallans of their homeworld. Orks have crash landed and are marching to the promethium refinery looking for good fight and possibly a means to repair their ship.

The 597th dig in to repel the horde of orks and their terrifying war machine called a gargant. The mechanized walker towers over the battle and festooned with weapons, covered in thick armor. The "brave hero" Cain abuses his authority to avoid the battlefield dangers and leads a mission down into the promethium mines, justifying it by ensuring no orks had found a secret entrance into the tunnel network. Not actually expecting to find anything, Cain's team stumbles into a situation more dangerous than the raging battle on the surface. Once committed, Cain's reputation is on the line to resolve the issue.

The Adeptas Mechanicus play a big role in this book and a squad of Stormtroopers gets moment in the spotlight.

What I Liked: This story had more action and higher stakes than the first, because the enemies were less predictable. 

What I Didn't Like: Sometimes the narrator leaves Cain's perspective and follows someone else in order to flesh out the situation. These sidelines are less interesting than Cain's story.

Rating: Love it! I will definitely read the rest of the series.

Also Read by this Author: Scourge The Heritic, Innocence Proves Nothing, For the Emperor.
A side note, Sandy Mitchell is a pseudonym for Alex Stewart.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Night of the Twisters" by Ivy Ruckman

This book is one of Tami's favorites and she mentions it in an earlier post. I am interested in severe weather stories and at her suggestion I read this classic.

Summary: On June 3rd, 1980 seven tornadoes hit in and around the town of Grand Island, Nebraska. This story follows a fictional twelve year old boy as he lives through the storm. It starts in the morning, where you meet his friends and family. Dan is an ordinary boy, enjoying summer vacation at that age where life is really easy, but it doesn't feel easy.

A storm rolls in while Dan is at home with his friend Arthur visiting and Ryan the baby sleeping. Dan's mom has just left to see after an elderly Mrs. Smiley. As the boys try to watch TV, a tornado drops right on top of them. The two boys have to act immediately to save themselves and Ryan, then find their friends and family.

This story is based on true events, key parts taken from interviewing survivors. Ruckman has family living in Grand Island and leaned heavily on their stories along with others. The story as written feels real, and knowing it is based on a true story makes it all the more dramatic.

What I Liked: As this story takes place in 1980, it is fascinating to see how far we have come in communications technology and storm prediction. If a tornado were to hit in my neighborhood today, it is likely I would have much earlier received a personal message on my phone regarding a tornado watch, then warning. I could even look up real time information regarding known touchdowns. But in 1980, there was no meaningful way to anticipate a tornado strike, much less a way to get the word out to people beyond TV, radio and some sirens.

I also liked that the story was written like testimony from a twelve year old. It made me reminisce about summer vacation when I was in school and really made me empathize with someone in the middle of a disaster.

What I Didn't Like: I felt a little silly reading a book for 8-11 year olds.

Rating: Highly recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Note: The Family Channel made a TV movie of this book in 1996. It is not a good movie, and it does not use the plot from the book. I do not recommend it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First in a Series: Vampires That Don't Sparkle

The First in a Series posts are a new feature we'll be bringing to the blog to help fellow readers find a new series to enjoy.  Check our First in a Series tag or page for more suggestions on what to read next.

Before vampires were glittery teen heartthrobs, they were super sexy bad boys with a naughty side and a penchant for murder.  That's right, you heard me...before Edward Cullen there were leather pants wearing, human blood sucking pretty boys that wanted nothing more than to seduce a willing lady and kill anything that got in his way.

Enter the vampire series written with the fully mature adult in mind.  These blood sucking books have independent heroines, compelling heroes and plots that are too steamy for tv.

But don't take my word for it.  Grab the first book from one of these series and let me know what you think.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward
     Book 1:  "Dark Lover"
Six killers roam the night in Caldwell, New York.  The Black Dagger Brotherhood is a band of six warrior vampires tasked with protecting their species from brutal massacre.  The brothers use every weapon in their arsenal to fight Lessers created by the Omega.  From 40s to fists, the brothers kick ass and crack jokes while doing it.

But its not all murder, mayhem and glorious rap slang.  While the Brotherhood is a central theme in each book, the series overall is a full on romance, therefore each individual story focuses on one specific brother and his battle to find and hold on to true love.  And for super sexy alpha-males, it's not as easy as you'd think.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood series isn't for the shy or the prudish.  The books are graphic when it comes to sex and the violent scenes aren't for the faint of heart.  That being said, the books are hilarious, tender and sometimes totally ridiculous in a "I can't believe I'm reading this...must turn the page" kind of way.

Undead/Queen Betsy Series by MaryJanice Davidson
    Book 1:  "Undead and Unwed"
Betsy wakes up dead, which is traumatic, but not nearly as traumatic as waking up in shoes from Payless.  After a truly heinous week, Elizabeth "Betsy" Taylor (for real) wakes up unemployed, single and on the worst liquid diet imaginable.  And it gets worse.  She's soon faced with letting her family know she's not really dead, looking for a new home and figuring out just what parts of vampire lore are real or not.  She's also courted by the darkly handsome and bloodthirsty Sinclair, which would be great, except she's not all that interested and he won't lay off the charm.

The Undead series is like a bloodthirsty Clueless.  Betsy is endearingly self-absorbed and oblivious to the world around her.  Her reactions to the day-to-day life of a vampire are hilarious and Sinclair's reactions to Betsy's shenanigans and ridiculous priorities are down right hysterical.

While there isn't an overarching plot that ties the series together, the main characters are interesting enough to keep the reader coming back for more, if only to see what kind of shoes Betsy picks up next.

The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison
     Book 1:  "Dead Witch Walking"
After the near extinction of the human population due to genetically modified tomatoes, the supernatural beings of the world revealed their true selves.  A generation later and Witches, Vampires and Weres live (mostly) side by side with humans.  In Cincinnati, bounty hunter Rachel Morgan hires her ass-kicking skills to the Internlander community to help keep the darker of the supernaturals in line in a world where Master Vampires keep the city under their grisly, blood soaked thumbs.

The Hollows series starts at the very beginning of Vampiric Charms and follows snarky witch Rachel, foul-mouthed pixy Jenks and damaged living vampire Ivy as they break away from local law enforcement to open their own business in an old church in the Hollows.

Each subsequent book in the series follows a new case or problem that can only be solved by Rachel and the team.  The plot of each book expands upon the last in a way that builds a rich and interesting alternate history and which allows the characters to grow beyond their beginnings.