beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

everything we keepIt’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write anything.  Luckily, nightly reading has still been a priority and keeping me sane!

This year, I’ve been pretty obsessed with old school YA mystery like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  They’re quick, interesting, intelligent and as a bonus, the whole family enjoys the audio books.  While I do enjoy a good “adult” book now and then, the emotional strength needed for books like The Girl on the Train or Little Bee has just been too much for me this year.  Even finishing The Maze Runner series proved too much emotionally, which led to a good browsing through the Kindle Unlimited section one night and an introduction to Kerry Lonsdale, a writer from California.

Lonsdale’s debut novel, Everything We Keep, follows Aimee and her childhood sweetheart through a compelling tale of love, betrayal, mystery and self-awakening.  Lonsdale weaves a tale that is as romantic as it is mysterious.  This story twists and turns in so many delicious directions that it’s impossible to put down while the characters are so perfectly flawed that you can’t help falling in love with them.

While most series start strong and fizzle out, Everything We Left Behind was even stronger (and better) than Everything We Keep.   It feels like Lonsdale really hit her stride with Everything We Left Behind as she takes Aimee and James through a few more twists and turns.  While these books aren’t high suspense thrillers, aren’t true mysteries or even true romance novels, they do borrow a little bit from each genre to create a good story.

If you’re looking for a little down time with a book by the fire but need some space from the big emotional riveting books this Christmas break, check out Everything We Keep, Everything We Left Behind or All the Breaking Waves.

Cheers!

Book Review · Bust · Summer Read

Review of Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

I just finished reading the 2013 novel, Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman.  After reading, I scoped out the reviews on Amazon and was completely surprised by 2 things:

  1. the very low number of reviews on Amazon for a book that is 3 years old (only 132 at the time of writing this post)
  2. all of the 4-5 star reviews

For me, this book ranks a solid 2 stars.  It is full of inconsistencies that disjoint and disrupt the flow of the story, starting with the title itself. Little Wolves surprisingly has nothing to do with Wolves.

While it started out heavy with action (a murder-suicide), the momentum of the book quickly transitioned into a muddled collection of memories, flashbacks, references to Beowulf, random tall tales Clara remembered from her father, references to darker character histories that were never fully explained, random references to Werewolves and Wolf People, a broad parade of one-and-done characters who add nothing to the plot, all while limping along with the actual story.  It was like a high school student’s book bag exploded and the contents of every book combined in random quantities to create Little Wolves.

Writing this review, it has become apparent that the WHO and the WHAT of this book wasn’t obviously clear. Who was the main character? Clara? Seth? Grizz? Was the book about a murder-suicide and what drove a young man to commit such a heinous crime? Was it about Clara’s search for her family history? Was it a thriller about a very messed up small town that held violent secrets that everyone knew about but kept hidden?

The extent of the secrets the characters hold is never fully fleshed out and none of the character’s stories ever fleshed out into a whole tale, not to mention the endless characters parading through this book.  I couldn’t figure out why Clara’s father was obsessed with werewolf stories and keeping any information about her mother completely secret, why her husband was obsessed with seeing the Devil and what it brought to the story, why Seth did what he did, why Lee was consistently described as mentally slow but never demonstrated this trait at any point in the book, why Clara couldn’t ever find the lone mountain the city of “Lone Mountain” was named after.  Little Wolves would have been a much stronger tale with fewer characters whose back stories, relationships and purpose were more clearly defined.

To give you an idea of just how muddled this book was, I kept expecting Clair to turn into a werewolf.  Spoiler alert…she didn’t.  Bummer.  Overall, this book was a bust for me and I couldn’t strongly recommend it to anyone.

The weekend wasn’t a total HopsnLit bust, however.  After trying one for the first time this weekend, I can definitely recommend a Bellini.  Unlike Little Wolves which was dark, deep and violent and left me in a funky mood, Bellini’s are crisp, refreshing and light, and left me in a very cheerful disposition.

Until next time, happy reading.

Cheers!

 

beach read · Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Greek Mythology · Mythology · Secret Hideout · series books · Summer Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians vs Harry Potter

PERCY JACKSON THE LIGHTNING THIEFAnticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting.  I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.

Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like  “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.”  Amazon was right.  I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down.  I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading!  These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.

After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event.  When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps.  This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.

After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books.  Yes, they both involve magic.  Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on.  Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick.  But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.

While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life.  Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures.  His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on.   Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar.  I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale.  It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.

While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.

Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God.  While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother.  Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to.  Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.

The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location.  As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself.  The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.

The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world.  These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations.  The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.

And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth.  Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts.  This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group.  For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder.  She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.

Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age.  Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song.  Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties.  Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.

And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines.  While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings.  They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.

All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods.  I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

ps.  Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine.  Opa!

 

Bad Ass Women · beach read · Mimosas · Self Help · Summer Read

The Doctor Is In

If there is one type of book I can’t resist, it’s a good old fashioned self help book.  I just can’t help it.  They’re fun, easy to read and occasionally you’ll find a gem in the heap of unconventional life advice.  Self help book are like the flea market of literature.  You never know what treasures you’ll pull out of the pile.  We’re at the beach again this week and my trusty Kindle companion has been Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  Prior to reading “The Doctor Is In”, my knowledge of Dr. Ruth consisted of: cute little old lady with a funny accent giving sex advice.  Post read, I want Dr. Ruth to be my spirit animal. the doctor is in

At only 4’7″ tall, this German Jew refugee has led enough life for ten people.  After escaping Germany on a kindertransport and earning a degree in housekeeping from her Swiss boarding home, she relocated to Israel, becoming a sniper (!) for the Israel army.  In Israel, she became a teenage bride and migrated to France with equally young husband.  After a brief marriage, Dr. Ruth chose her education over marriage and spent the next five years in France.  After another marriage, the birth of her first child and relocating to America, Dr. Ruth found her home and a slew of degrees in New York.  It wasn’t until her 50’s that this wickedly funny therapist found her calling and catapulted to fame on her radio show.  The rest as they say, is history…a history spanning over three decades, 35 books, and countless tv and radio shows.  Dr. Ruth is now a staple of American pop culture!

With a history like hers, it would have been very easy for Dr. Ruth to settle where she was and stick with her lot as a child refugee, a migrant house keeper, a poor single working mom.  Instead, she made the best out of every situation, often edging her way into opportunities, experiences and adventures that were both interesting, scary, and worth the risk she took to get there.

After reading countless self-help books written by numerous bad-ass women, I can say that Dr. Ruth without a doubt, takes the cake.  While most self-help books for women encourage confidence and taking risks, Dr. Ruth’s age and background bring a depth of energy, experience and reality that can be somewhat lacking in other books of this sort.  Yoga books in this genre, in particular, can be harder to connect to.  The author’s story can feel out of touch or out of reach, particularly when they pack up their life and spend months at yoga retreats in exotic locations.  As an ambitious woman with loads of impatient energy and an honest writing style, Dr. Ruth is easily relatable.  We’ve all employed a sneaky trick or two to catch a man,  plotted and schemed for way to advance our careers or relationships, and jumped into things head first while still feeling totally unprepared , scared, worried, and impatient.  This complete relatable-ness makes reading “The Doctor Is In” comparable to sharing secrets with a giggling grandmother over mimosas at a bridal shower.  It’s fun, it’s enlightening and it’ll leave you in a good mood.

Happy reading my friends!

 

 

 

beach read · Book Review · Fruit Beer · Historical Fiction · Sangria · Summer Read · WWII

Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake

The House by the Lake - Ella Carey - Book Cover

There’s nothing quite as inexplicable as staying up all night to finish reading a good book.  It’s not like the book is going anywhere…and the story won’t change…but I still can’t put it down.

This weekend, I went on a bit of a book bender and read The House By the Lake and Everything We Keep.  A historical fiction that bounces between pre-WWII Europe and San Francisco, The House on the Lake was a quick, if not totally satisfying, read.  The story follows Anna, a successful café owner, as she journeys through pieces of her Grandfather Max’s life and attempts to patch together his life story while holding hostage her own broken heart. Continue reading “Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake”