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Black Dagger Brotherhood #9: Lover Unleashed: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood by J R Ward
Black Dagger Brotherhood #9: Lover Unleashed: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood

Gypsi, March 31, 2011

J. R. Ward's novels are my guilty pleasure. I don't care for romance novels, and I had to have my arm twisted by a friend to agree to try the first one. Once I did, though, I was hooked. Ward has created an alternate reality that is at once believable and mind blowing. She changed the vampire mythology just enough to make it fresh, and was able to back up her changes credibly. Her characters are generally multifaceted, flawed and alive and she manages to weave intricate plots around the Brotherhood and their world that keep the reader interested until the very end You know it has to be good if, despite the romance and sex elements, my husband and I both wait impatiently to read the latest installment. Her writing, her world and the deep appeal of the characters is just that good.

And then came Lover Unleashed.

In this series, each book focuses on the love interest on one of the Brotherhood (Rhev being the exception) and, as the series has progressed, spends equal time dealing with various other issues going on with the other Brothers, the vampire community, or the fight with the lessers. Lover Unleashed is different in that the focus is on a female this time--V's twin, Payne--but spends almost equal time rehashing issues with V as well.

Payne's romance with Manny was nice, but nothing earth shaking. I had been expecting Manny back since V's story, and enjoyed the well-played irony of it. Sadly, the strong and interesting Payne first seen in the previous book, did a reprisal of Cormia's role and was a wide-eyed innocent, blushing and bashful, excited by everything around her, with only rare glimpses of the powerful female she had seemed to be. Manny's treatment was almost identical to Butch's revere and careful treatment of Marissa. Not a bad thing, of course, but stale. Then there was the whole "Sexual Healing" business between them that was really pretty silly. I was reminded of when Laurel K. Hamilton quit writing plots and started writing sex scenes with some dialog in between (the last of those I tried to read, several years ago, I literally threw across the room in disgust). This silliness is what I would expect from Hamilton, not from a writer with Ward's talent.

The plot recycling didn't stop there, unfortunately, nor did the disappointments.

With V and his inability to deal with the stress around him, he imitates both Z and Phury from previous novels, and his and Jane's marital difficulties strongly resemble the emotional difficulties experienced by Z and Bella. As for the resolution. . . while I was glad it was all resolved, I wasn't so keen on the way it got there. I felt kind of icky as a result of reading some of it.

Qhuinn reacts to his heartbreak in a manner not unlike Z's early behavior. Of course, I was only half reading that. By now, the Blay/Qhuinn drama is old and boring and should have been ended at least one book ago, if not two. And she expects us to put up with it longer? Great.

I must say, though, that the introduction was a great short story and I was very interested to see what happens to the new character, Xcor, that she introduced with that story.

It sounds like I didn't enjoy Lover Unleashed, but to a certain extent I did, certainly as much as an average 3 star fluff novel. I read it in two days, all 500+ pages of it, and found parts of the conclusion satisfying. I especially liked the brief looks into the lives of the Brothers--Rhage making popcorn, for example--and wished that there had been more of this kind of exchange.

Ward still has the ability to juggle multiple plot lines with ease, and there were still flashes of the humor and verve that makes her books so fun. On the whole, though, there just wasn't enough life and sparkle to Lover Unleashed. It fell flat in so many ways.

I've grown to care about these characters, to admire Ward's writing, and to look forward to each new release. Lover Unleashed simply didn't live up to the expectations I have for Ward, for her talent and her abilities. The first several books in this series were stellar, top notch all the way, but I've been seeing a gradual decline in the quality. I worry, seeing the plot lines being recycled, that she is running out of ideas, or perhaps spreading herself too thin, what with both sets of novels under this pseudonym and the others she writes as Jessica Bird. I fear that she'll do what Hamilton did and give up writing plots all together and trust her name and her sex scenes to sell the books. I hope next year's book will prove me wrong. If not, it will be my last
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American Vampire #01 by Scott Snyder and Stephen King and Rafael Albuquereque
American Vampire #01

Gypsi, March 25, 2011

There are two stories, told simultaneously in American Vampire. The first, Snyder's part of the novel, is the story of Pearl trying to make her way in Hollywood during the 1920's. Pearl falls victim to a vampire attack and a strange man vampire, Skinner Sweet, helps her out. Sort of. Pearl seeks revenge, thanks to Sweet's gift, and the reader watches her go from lovely, gentle flapper one moment to disgustingly grotesque and violent the next--and cheers for her the whole way.

The story that begins with the second chapter is written by Stephen King, and is Skinner Sweet's back story, taking place some forty years early in the Wild West. Through it, the reader finds out how and why Sweet became a vampire, and what is motivating him--and what makes an American Vampire different from the European vampires. As is to be expected, a hard new country like the United States creates a hard new kind of vampire. In addition, he writes an excellent introduction, validating the graphic novel as a medium. A very good read for those not convinced that it is a legitimate literary medium.

The stories are told alternating, first a chapter about Pearl, then a chapter about Sweet, so that they finish up together in the last two chapters. It may sound awkward, but the back-and-forth flow was actually excellent, with a certain amount of parallels between the two stories. Both Snyder and King write a good story, with solid characters, riveting plot lines and some terrifying instances.

Albuquereque brings it all to life with his drawings, full of bold lines and brilliant colors and lots of scary bits and gore. His vampires are frightening and horrible and they do unspeakable (but not undrawable) things to their victims. As the reader takes in the background, and sees the horror of the scenes, at times it's enough to turn the stomach. On the other hand, his ladies are very lovely, he drew some strong heroes and used some very effective, unusual angles and compositions. As for Skinner Sweet. . . well, darn it, despite King's introduction all about how American Vampire reclaims the evil vampire from the sexy mold it's been placed in of late, Albuquereque draws Sweet as rather desirable. Even seeing Sweet at his worst, I could turn the page and see him turn on the charm and forget just how evil he really was--and then be whammed again by his horrible actions. I think that was the artist's intent: another way to show just how dangerous these American vampires are.

The collaboration between these three was wonderful and produced a story both haunting and satisfying. American Vampire does reclaim the vampire from it's present fictional state, and successfully gives it new blood with this new American breed. I look forward to following Sweet's further adventures in American history, with pleasant trepidation because I expect the story will be creepy and icky but sensational, just like this volume.
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Juniper Berry by M P Kozlowsky
Juniper Berry

Gypsi, March 24, 2011

(Review based on reading ARC.)

Subtitled "a tale of terror and temptation", Juniper Berry is a modern day fairy tale. Our heroine is the brave preteen, Juniper Berry. Juniper is the daughter of film actors, who have become very famous over the course of the past few years. The more famous they have become, the more odd they have acted and the more they have distanced themselves from her. She is sad and lonely and would willingly give up everything to have her old life back.

One day she spots a boy about her age, trespassing in her woods. Over the course of conversation with her new friend, she discovers that his parents, too, are famous and distant. Even worse: Giles has seen them doing something very odd in Juniper's woods.

Piecing together the unthinkable, Juniper and Giles set out to save their parents from whatever influence is causing this behavior. What they discover changes them both, and Juniper faces tough choices, terrible temptation, but comes through a true fairy tale heroine.

Juniper Berry is told from an omniscient narrator and occasionally uses words that I feel are probably not in the vocabulary of a 9-12 year old. This happens early in the book, though, and the narration evens out as the story builds. It has a good pace, and the story unfolds smoothly. The characters of Juniper and Giles are particularly appealing, making their weaknesses seem all the more vulnerable and believable. Juniper's parents are truly horrible, and the reader is able to feel Juniper's mix of hurt and confusion, making the redemption of said parents even sweeter.

Like most fairy tales, Juniper Berry has a moral, and it is spelled out very plainly at the end by the wood chopper (yes, there IS a wood chopper, told you this is a fairy tale!), Dmitri:

"There will always be temptation, wherever we go in life, with whatever we do. There will always be an easier way out. But there's nothing to gain from that. We have to overcome such urges; we have to be stronger. I fought hard and won."

While the moral of this story is a good one, it came across a bit preachy to me. I felt like this moral of resisting temptation and winning as a result was obvious from Juniper's actions and didn't need to be spelled out. However, I am not one of the targeted age-group; I am an adult reader.

This was Kozlowsky's first novel, and overall he did well. There are a few things (namely vocabulary and blatant moralizing) that I think could be improved, and I expect will be improved with his next publication. I hope he is published again soon, and would look forward to reading another of his fairy tales.
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Ziska (Echo Library)
Ziska (Echo Library)

Gypsi, March 21, 2011

Marie Corelli was a highly popular writer of sensational novels in the Victorian era. She combined high melodrama with an attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral project and other spiritual aspects not generally associated with Christianity. With Ziska, Corelli uses the medium of novel writing as a vehicle for just that crusade.

The plot of Ziska takes place in the British society's "Season" in Cairo. According to Corelli, t is just the same as the London Season, only with slightly looser morals, giving the greater opportunity to find husbands for daughters past their prime on the marriage market. The Princess Ziska has appeared on the scene, and taken this tight community by storm. Nothing is known about her, except that she is unusually beautiful and has stolen the hearts of all the young men, the Scottish laird Denzil Murray in particular. When Murray's best friend, the famous French painter Armand Gervase, arrives in Cairo, complications arise. Gervase immediately falls for Ziska, makes no pretense that he (unlike Murray) does not have pure intentions, and feels that he knows her from somewhere.

Marie Corelli
Murray's mentor and friend, Dr. Maxwell Dean acts as the mouthpiece for Corelli's unconvetional spiritual beliefs, and through him the reader begins to see that there is something not quite human and Ziska and that she and Gervase are somehow destined to be together.

A good portion of this novel is given over to soliloquy in which Corelli expresses her opinion about various things. The first 21 pages, for example, are a roast of the British tourist in Egypt, and of how said tourist wants to make all foreign lands into another version of England. It made for amusing reading, but I did begin to wonder if I had stumbled onto a book of essays instead of a novel.

The rest of the book is much taken up with much discussion of reincarnation and of a slightly different take on Christianity. It was interesting the first time, but Corelli has her characters discuss this time and again, and for paragraphs and pages, and by the end, I was skimming large parts of conversations.

The actual storyline was rather thrilling, in the way of a Victorian sensational novel, despite the fact that Dr. Dean spells it out for the reader several times. Had it not been for his "spoilers" and for the recurring, yawn-inducing philosophizing, this would have been a rather good read. There was drama and humor and emotion, as well as interesting characters, but there was just way too much laborious, stilted conversations about spiritualism that kept interrupting the flow and made Ziska a struggle to finish.
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A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley
A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel

Gypsi, March 21, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third in Bradley's series about the precocious Flavia de Luce, a pre-teen chemistry savant growing up in a small English village in the 1950's. Flavia is an engaging character, and she charmed me immediately when I read her first adventure, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The novels are told from Flavia's point of view, and her voice is at once amusing and real. Her appeal has not diminished in this third novel, and it is pure reading pleasure to see what mischief she will create.

In A Red Herring Without Mustard, Flavia finds yet another dead body and sets off to solve the mystery before her frenemies from the police can. As is usual with Flavia, she withholds evidence, generally gets in the way and succeeds in a spectacular manner.

The tension between Flavia and her sisters heats up considerably in this novel. Not having siblings myself, I don't know if it's typical to be quite as brutal in pranks and revenge as the de Luce sisters are. It is funny at times, but also very sad as these girls react in various ways to growing older without their mother. Flavia's relationship with her father begins to subtly change, a very welcome development, and makes for some beautiful moments.

I did have two qualms about A Red Herring Without Mustard. First, was the location of a certain bit of the theft. (I think I can safely say that without spoiling any of the plot.) It was difficult for me to believe that anyone would choose a location with such a high chance of being seen, where one so obviously did not belong. For me, this weakened the plot a bit, but there was enough strengths that I could overlook it relatively easily.

My second concern is the number of dead bodies that Flavia keeps finding. If she finds one a book, it won't be long before the entire village is dead. And if, as has been the case, Bradley keeps bringing in characters from out of town to kill, the series will quickly loose both it's appeal and it's validity. The similarity between A Red Herring Without Mustard and The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, for instance, is rather great (Flavia befriends a stranger from out of town and solves a new character's murder) on the surface. One wonders if perhaps Flavia might not need to take a vacation from corpses and turn to general crime instead?

Overall, A Red Herring Without Mustard is a charming, "cozy" mystery that invokes the feeling of different time and place in such a way as to make me want to visit. Flavia is an endearing heroine and, despite my mild complaints, I look forward to reading her adventures and following her as she grows up and matures.

Note: This is the third in the series and to get full enjoyment from it, the series should be read in order.
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