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2011 book log

Book Log

2011 Book Log #42: Moving Target, by Elizabeth Lowell

Moving Target

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moving Target, the first of her Rarities Unlimited series, is perhaps my favorite of all of Elizabeth Lowell’s books. Not because she does anything hugely different in this book that she does from the rest of them, mind you–but more because she happens in this one to mix all of her plot and character ingredients into the exact right recipe to suit my personal tastes.

Serena Charters inherits an ancient manuscript when her grandmother is murdered. Like you do in these sorts of plots, soon discovers that she’s the latest in a long descent of women, all of whom have the name Serena, charged to guard this manuscript and keep it safe and secret. And when there’s an ongoing plot to keep something secret, there are naturally those who are out to get their hands on it. In this case, there’s a wealthy patriarch desperate to lay his hands on the Book of the Learned, no matter what it takes.

Meanwhile Erik North, our hero, is a manuscript appraiser employed by Rarities Unlimited. Erik too has been seeking the Book of the Learned for his own reasons, and, again like you do in these sorts of plots, soon enough teams up with Serena to find and protect it.

And hands down, Serena and Erik are the two big draws for me in this book. I like the female-focused backstory for Serena’s family. I like her grandmother. I like the history of the original Serena, and the scrap of mysterious cloth that’s all that remains of a dress she wove, adding a very light hint of the paranormal to an otherwise prosaic romantic suspense setup. Just as importantly, I like Erik–he’s confident, competent, has his personal form of art he likes to express, and comes across very well as an equal to Serena rather than someone in a greater position of power than her. As for the other characters, the antagonists are suitably threatening without being ridiculous or over the top, while the supporting characters at Rarities are reasonably entertaining.

All in all a fun read. I’d definitely recommend this one as the first one to hit for anyone interested in reading an Elizabeth Lowell book. Four stars.

Book Log

2011 Book Log #41: The Secret Sister, by Elizabeth Lowell

The Secret Sister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Secret Sister, published under the name of Elizabeth Lowell, is a reworked version of a novel called The Secret Sisters, published under the name of Ann Maxwell. I haven’t read the original version, but I can safely say that the Lowell version is an acceptable little romantic suspense novel.

Our heroine du jour is Christy McKenna, a fashion writer, going about her fashion writer business in New York until she gets a call from her long-estranged sister Jo. Jo needs her help, and Christy wants absolutely none of this–until an assignment from her editor forces Christy to head west anyway. Her sister’s disappearance shoves her onto the trail of not only Jo, but a hidden cache of ancient Native American artifacts as well. And our obligatory brooding hero is Aaron Cain, an outlaw archaeologist, who’s a bit unusual for a Lowell hero in that he’s actually a convicted felon. (Yet, as he is in fact the Obligatory Brooding Hero, he was convicted for assault of an Obligatory Unsavory Person Who Actually Deserved It.)

As Lowell novels go this was perfectly readable, if not outstanding or unusual. The main things that appealed to me about it were the atmospheric descriptions of the Colorado terrain and Lowell’s general competence at chemistry between her lead characters, the latter of which is why I keep reading her. Three stars.

Book Log

2011 Book Log #40: Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon

Silver Phoenix

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I heard about Silver Phoenix as yet another example of a trend that bothers the hell out of me: putting white faces on the covers of books that are not about white people. Thus, I wanted to give this book a bit of support. But, given that Cindy Pon was an unfamiliar author, I opted to check the book out of the library first and see whether this was a story I’d want to own.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I’m writing this review several months after I actually read the book, and at this point, I have to admit that I have very little recollection of what it was about–this being a measure of how little it stayed with me. So I had to refresh my memory by reading other people’s reviews of the story, which got me three overall problems I have with the book.

One, I never found any of the characters particularly well-drawn. I often have this problem reading YA, but Silver Phoenix is worse than other YA I’ve written, since the characters were ephemeral enough that I didn’t retain them at all within months of readin the book.

Two, I specifically didn’t care for the heroine’s love interest, and how he was so dismissive of her after one scene where she is almost raped. (Which some might call a spoiler, but which I’m noting here as a potential trigger warning for those who might find that scene an issue.)

And three, the heroine Ai Ling is sadly pretty much a non-entity. I’m calling her out separately from the rest of the cast because, as the ostensible protagonist of the novel, she should have stood out for me far better than she actually did. Yet the book doesn’t give her nearly as much agency as it does her love interest, Chen Yong–and much of what I do remember about the book involves Ai Ling pining after Chen Yong. Which I can do without. One star.

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2011 Book Log #39: Whirlpool, by Elizabeth Lowell


My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve posted before about my affection for Elizabeth Lowell’s books, formulaic though they are. Whirlpool is no exception, though it’s an earlier example of a formula she’s used to better effect in more recent books: i.e., an independently operating agency out to recover a Valuable Shiny Thing, a hero who’s a Reluctant Operative of the Agency and who is assigned over his protests to look out for the heroine, and of course a Heroine Who Has the Shiny Thing, and who must be protected from the Bad Guys Who Want the Shiny Thing. In this particular case, the Agency is Risk Limited; the hero, Cruz Rowan; the heroine, Laurel Swann; and the Shiny Thing, a Faberge egg that her father has foisted off on Laurel, an egg with a priceless treasure hidden inside of it. A treasure which, naturally, the Bad Guys are desperate to get hold of.

Here, however, is where the book falls down for me. I had to specifically remind myself of what this book was about, as I remembered very little of it except for the overuse of a particularly annoying trope: i.e., the Bad Guys being signified as the Bad Guys because they’re the ones having lots of kinky sex. This is emphasized almost more than the primary bad guy being obsessed with medical treatments keeping him looking far younger than his actual age, though that was played up a lot too. Overall, though, it was annoying. And there wasn’t much substance in the characterization of the Home Team to balance these problems out.

Lowell’s done better, so if you’d like to see her in better form, there are plenty of other options. For this one, two stars.

Book Log

Book Log #37: Motor City Fae, by Cindy Spencer Pape

Motor City Fae (Urban Arcana, #1)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a well-documented sucker for books involving the Sidhe, as one would guess given that I’ve actually written one! But that’s also a bane when it comes to writing reviews of similar books, on the grounds that I have to acknowledge a certain “but I would have done it differently” factor. Such is the case for me with Cindy Spencer Pape’s Motor City Fae, the first of her Urban Arcana series.

We fire this one up with a pretty standard urban fantasy/paranormal romance trope: surprise, heroine! You’re not human! You have paranormal blood and abilities, and by extension, this does mean that yes, magic is real, here’s an unbelievably gorgeous paranormal-type love interest for you, and oh hey here’s a threat to your life as well. In this particular case, the heroine is the artist Meagan Kelley and the unbelievably gorgeous love interest is the elf Ric Thornhill. Much is made over how gorgeous these two find each other, and unfortunately, I’m also well-documented as preferring less overt sex in a plot. So that this book was frequently sexually explicit was a strike against it for me. Mind you, I’m not saying the characters didn’t have chemistry or a good relationship; it’s just that it was more explicit than I tend to go for. So if you dive into this one, know that going in. People who like more explicit paranormal romance will probably eat this one up.

That said, though, I did like several other aspects of the book, I’ll grant. There’s some decently suspenseful bits here and some good action scenes, once things actually get rolling past the “how hot do the lead characters find each other?” stage. And I did appreciate the way the author acknowledged that just because the fae are magical does not mean they’re turning up their noses at the use of modern technology.

I’ve already got Book 2, so I will be reading that. But by and large, this one didn’t quite work for me. Two stars.

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Book Log #38: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

The Magicians

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

With all of the fuss I’ve seen made over Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, I feel like I rather missed something–because I outright loathed this book. And it takes a lot to make me loathe a book.

First of all, I kept seeing it get pitched over and over as “Harry Potter for grownups”, which came across to me as completely ignoring the fact that grownups all over the world have been cheerfully reading Harry Potter right alongside the children that are its primary target audience. Part and parcel with this was the corollary that The Magicians is a more grownup, nuanced, mature world, presumably because it’s darker or grittier or something, since the last couple of Harry Potters were of course all sunlight and rainbows and ponies. (Except, oh, wait a minute, no they weren’t.) I take issue in general with the idea that a book “for grownups” by definition has to be darker or grittier. Some grownups like to read stuff that isn’t unremittingly grim, and I happen to be one of them.

Second, if I’m going to have a book try to make a point to me about how very much it’s Not Being Harry Potter, you know what the last thing is that that book ought to be doing in order to keep me engaged as a reader? Reference Harry Potter repeatedly within the actual narrative, to drive home points like how our protagonists can’t just fix their teeth like Hermione Granger to make everything better. This happened at least twice that I can remember off the top of my head, and all it did for me was make the book come across as if it were jumping up and down yelling in my face, “HEY! I’M NOT BEING HARRY POTTER! LOOK HOW MUCH I’M NOT BEING HARRY POTTER! YOU KNOW WHY I’M NOT HARRY POTTER? BECAUSE LOOK HOW THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS ACTUALLY EXIST IN THIS UNIVERSE AND HOW I AM CLEVERLY REFERENCING THEM!”

And yes, the all-caps are pretty much how I felt about it, because it felt like the book was trying to drive that point home with a railroad spike into my skull, and pounding on it with a sledgehammer.

But third and most importantly, the main problem I had with this book was that I wanted to climb into its pages and punch each and every single person in the cast. All of them. I found absolutely no one in this story engaging, and I don’t care how realistic Grossman’s scenario of “in the real world, a school of magic would just generate a bunch of self-absorbed pricks with magical powers” might actually be. You know what you get in this scenario? You get a bunch of self-absorbed pricks, and the fact that they have magical powers does not in any way, shape, or form lessen their massive self-absorbed prickery.

And I don’t want to read about people like that. Especially our so-called hero Quentin, who spent the entire book being an emo little whiner and who showed no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. If he’d gained even a shred of nobility by the end, I might have thought differently about this book, but no.

To be fair, the first chunk of the story when our protagonists were going through all of their classes–despite the heavyhanded LOOK HOW MUCH I’M NOT BEING HARRY POTTER! screaming the book kept doing–was interesting. But once they graduated and we got into the sequence full of nothing but relationship angst, my urge to punch the lot of them rose dramatically. And by the time we got the big reveal of Fillory’s reality (which I can safely mention since that’s not a spoiler), I was so thoroughly disenchanted with these people that all that kept me reading to the end was a wisp of an acknowledgement that the author did have a compelling enough command of the language to keep my attention.

It’s just that no matter how well Grossman wrote, he was writing about thoroughly reprehensible characters in a setting that was unremittingly bleak. And I don’t need that in my life. The real world is bleak enough without subjecting myself to it in my reading. One star.

Book Log

Book Log #36: The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson

The Native Star (Native Star #1)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the notable huge, huge exception of Cherie Priest, steampunk is not my thing. This is not to say I dislike it–it’s just that as sub-genres of SF/F go, I don’t favor this one in particular over any other, and won’t go out of my way to read something just because it’s got the steampunk label slapped on it. If on the other hand the story sounds like it’ll engage me anyway, then if it happens to be set in a steampunk-flavored world, awesome!

Which is about what happened when I decided to read M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star. Magic is much more the emphasis here than steampunk gadgetry per se, but Hobson has both of them in this book and combines them to charming effect. Charming, too, were both of the main characters. Our heroine Emily Edwards starts off strong but clearly flawed, making a seriously ill-advised attempt to use her magic to land herself a husband in the name of taking care of her aging father, and getting herself thrown out of town in the process. Squared off against her is our hero Dreadnought Stanton, whose name is as overblown as his initial personality. Yet, as he and Emily must flee across the country with evil warlocks in pursuit, the two of them have crackling good chemistry, and I was happy to cheer them all the way.

I didn’t quite buy the villains a hundred percent; there were parts of the story where they were coming across as Evil Because They’re Supposed To Be Evil For the Sake of the Plot. But that said, the ending had some genuine weight and cost to our protagonists, which I appreciated as well. I’ll be continuing on with Book Two. Four stars.