Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gilding Lily

Title: Gilding Lily
Author: Tatiana Boncompagni
Genre: Chick lit
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Let me say right now that I've had this book finished for about two weeks now, and have had to force myself to write the review. It's not that the book is bad; it's just that it did nothing for me. That said, let me move on to the actual review.

Gilding Lily is the story of Lily, a woman from upper-middle class roots who is catapulted into the luxe (and back-stabbing) world of the New York elite when she marries a man of that class. Somewhere around the birth of her son, she loses her sense of self and self-worth, forgetting what it is to be a strong, independent woman instead of one of the sheep clamoring for attention and photos in all the trendy magazines.

I had to fight to pick Gilding Lily up each time I put it down. When I had the book in my hand, I didn't necessarily want to put it down - that is, I didn't have to fight to read it - but honestly, if I hadn't had an obligation to read & review it (I received the book as an ARC - Advanced Reader's Copy - with the understanding it was in exchange for a review of the book), I would have put it down after the first 50-100 pages and never picked it back up.

Gilding Lily is (mostly) well-written. There were a few instances where at the end of a chapter the author hinted at something which was going to happen, and I expected that hint to be expanded upon in the next chapter only to be disappointed, finding that the chapter in question had moved on to an entirely different scene or issue in Lily's life.

So, in all, I'm giving the book 2.5 stars. I personally did not enjoy the book, but that was because of the subject matter rather than the quality of the book. I'm sure someone else, who is more into "chick lit" and the lives of the rich, shallow, and famous would enjoy it immensely.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Knight Like No Other

Title: A Knight Like No Other
Author: Jocelyn Kelley
Genre: Historical romance
Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The basis of the story: During the reign of Henry II, his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, founded the Abbey of St. Jude, where young women can, in addition to living a life of prayer and contemplation, learn the knightly skills of weaponry.

From this Abbey, expert swordswoman Avisa de Vere has been sent by the Queen to protect her godson, Christian Lovell, from the intrigue between the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett.

I thought the concept of women trained in the martial arts during the Middle Ages was interesting. Sadly, it was poorly executed in this book. The book plodded at times, and there was a fifty-page tangent which served little narratorial purpose other than to show that Avisa is a skilled fighter and a good leader.

I'm intrigued by the concept of the book, and am sticking with the series - for a while - in the hopes that the writing will improve. However, for this volume itself: don't bother. It's too poorly written to stand on its own.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dragonfly in Amber

Title: Dragonfly in Amber
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Historical, Historical romance, Time-travel
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Dragonfly in Amber is the second book in Diana Gabaldon's phenomenal "Outlander" series. At the end of Outlander, we left Claire and Jamie Fraser in an abbey in France, exiled from Scotland. At the opening of Dragonfly in Amber, we find Claire back in the highlands in 1968, investigating the fates of Jamie's men at the battle of Culloden - with her red-haired daughter Brianna: Jamie's daughter.

As the search for Jamie's men, and then Jamie himself, unfolds, Claire finds herself revealing to Brianna and their friend Roger her history with Jamie in the past - and we learn the other half of her and Jamie's adventure as they attempt to prevent the carnage they know is coming in the Jacobite rising and its culmination at Culloden.

As with Outlander, I have nothing but praise for Dragonfly. Although I did not race through Dragonfly as quickly as I did Outlander (this time it took me roughly a month to read Dragonfly's 950 pages as opposed to the week it took me to fly through Outlander's 860 pages), I still loved it. Every time I picked the book up, I could not put it down without having read at least 100 pages, if not more.

Dragonfly in Amber had me in turns gasping, laughing, and (at the end) crying. Sometimes I did all three at once. Even though I knew the battle was an inevitability - and we, as readers know this from Claire's search in Inverness from the beginning of the novel - I found myself hoping ad praying that Claire and Jamie could somehow prevent the disaster. Having been to Culloden battlefield myself, I cried at Gabaldon's description of battles and the uselessness I knew Jamie and Claire's self-appointed mission to be.

In fact, I immediately picked up the third book, Voyager, and am already 450 pages into it. Gabaldon delivers a powerful narrative, drawing the reader fully into her world: you cry with Claire, scream with rage for Jamie, and end on a hopeful note with Claire and Brianna, searching for the man whose love for them endures through the ages.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Derik's Bane

Title: Derik's Bane
Author: MaryJanice Davidson
Genre: Paranormal, paranormal romance(ish?)
Rating:3.5 stars out of 5

Derik, a werewolf from MaryJanice Davidson's east-coast Pack of Wyndham werewolves, is on a mission: he has been told to "take care of" Dr. Sarah Gunn, the reincarnation of Morgan Le Fay - lest she destroy the world. The only problem? Sarah isn't evil. In fact, she's downright cute, and too lucky for words. When Derik literally cannot kill her, he and Sarah decide to team up to take a cross-country road trip to track down and eliminate the real threat.

The story was cute. I finished it quickly, but I think if I had had to put the book down, I would have been hard-pressed to pick it back up. I didn't care overmuch what happened - I knew that Sarah and Derik would end up together and that the world would be saved. I knew the "twist" almost from the beginning.

The best way for me to describe Davidson's writing is "brain candy." I know it's empty calories, so to speak, but it's addictive in the same way cotton candy is: fluffy, full of air, saccharine-sweet, and you just can't get enough.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander

Title: Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander
Author: Ann Herendeen
Genre: Historical Romance (kind of?)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander is the story of Phyllida, an author of trashy gothic romances, and her bisexual husband, Andrew Carrington. Andrew married Phyllida in order to do his duty by his family and secure an heir. Phyllida married Andrew in order to be able to continue her career as an authoress. Both went into the marriage with open eyes, knowing Andrew would continue his dalliances with his male friends (in the titular Brotherhood of Philander). Neither expected to fall in love with the other.

Reading Phyllida reminded me greatly of quite a few fanfics I enjoy. There's a three-sided relationship: Andrew and Phyllida, Andrew and his lover(s), and his lover(s)'s friendship with Phyllida. Add in some spying and there you go. Oh, and did I mention it's a Regency novel?

The book is...okay. It is not stunning, nor is it horrible. Like I said, it reminds me very much of many fanfics I have read. The author weaves the lives of the characters - not only Phyllida and Andrew, but those of the entire Brotherhood - in and out of each other throughout the novel, and throws in a spy subplot to (it seems) draw the entire story out another two hundred pages. I would have been happy without the spy subplot, just reading the story of Andrew, Phyllida, Harry, Matthew, and the rest of the Brotherhood.

I stayed up all night to read the last two hundred pages, because I was engrossed with the characters' stories. However, I don't think I'll be borrowing this from the library again, nor will I be purchasing it any time soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Magic Burns

Title: Magic Burns
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5

In Magic Burns, the sequel to Andrews' Magic Bites, the magic in Kate Daniels' world is going crazy. More specifically, it is leading up to a flare, a period of time where the magic overtakes tech and holds steady and strong. During a flare all kinds of things can happen - including the manifestation of deities into the mortal world, bringing all their squabbles and wars with them.

I'm really liking this series, and cannot wait for the next installment! There are still a few issues in this book which I mentioned in my review of the previous book: namely, twists of storytelling which go too fast for me to follow (I could have used a turning signal, or at least a few more paragraphs) and a few editing and proofreading errors. Nonetheless, this is definitely an entertaining world which Ilona Andrews has crafted, and I enjoy reading Kate's viewpoint of her world.

I am glad that more of Kate's background is coming to light in this book. I have my guesses as to some of her secrets, and am sure that in the next book (or two or three) they will be confirmed. I am also loving the subtle, slowly growing romance between Kate and Curran, the Beast Lord.

I definitely recommend Magic Bites and Magic Burns to lovers of urban fantasy - especially dark urban fantasy, as this series is certainly not light, happy-go-lucky fare. It is real and gritty, with death and blood as much a part of Kate's world as (if not more than) love and happy endings.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Magic Bites

Title: Magic Bites
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

In this, Ilona Andrews' first novel, there is magic in the world, and it does not like technology. Set in Atlanta in the not-too-distant future, Magic Bites tells of a world where magic comes in waves, alternating with "tech" (times when technology works). Because of this influx of magic, there are certain agencies which have been created to deal with new magical problems such as harpies, dragons, and the occasional salamander-wielding arsonist. One such agency is the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, a highly-structured system which "helps" citizens who cannot afford any other aid. Another magical clean-up agency is the Mercenary Guild, to which Kate Daniels belongs.

When Kate's oldest friend and sometime-protector Greg is murdered, Kate takes on a mission to figure out why and how he died, and to avenge his murder. Kate's investigations bring her to the Order - which she left several years beforehand due to "authority issues". They put her in league with the Pack (shapeshifters who have conquered their beasts and retain their humanity), and have her facing off against the city's Masters of the Dead (necromancers and their vampire drones) in a battle for the city - and her life.

The story contained within Magic Bites is interesting, and I love Andrews' conceptualization of magic colliding with our technology-laden world. However, it all could have used slightly more editing, or more writing, or...well, something. There were a few parts where I was unclear as to how the characters got to a certain conclusion, and the narrator is constantly hinting at things which we are never told. Perhaps these hints will be further explained in forthcoming books, and I hope they are. This is an interesting series: I have already started on the next book, and hope that Andrews publishes more volumes of Kate's story.