Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: True Vision

True Vision
True Vision by Joyce Lamb

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I probably would have given this book three stars up until page 307, where I promptly declared the heroine a bitch. I totally sided with the hero, Noah, and if I'd been him, I wouldn't have come back. The heroine, Charlie, should've had to go to him. And then she's all righteous, "Well, of course, I did that." I wanted to slap her.

Also, what the hell was the deal with her mother? Charlie, at times, wants to protect her despite the fact the woman hit her as a child and STILL DOES. Charlie is also incredibly loyal to her father, who didn't lift a finger to keep his wife away from his daughter. This chick needs serious therapy. It's like watching Stockholm Syndrome in action. In any other book, Charlie would've moved outta town, leaving her past & abusers in the dust, only coming back when forced to.

In addition, there's a bit of a jarring moment on page 158 where a minor character launches into a diatribe about what's wrong with newspapers today. I had to check the copyright date because I seriously thought the book was published in the late nineties. On 9/11/01, you know how I got my news? A Roswell message board because the cable went out and I was forced to beg for news from fellow fans. You know how I get my news now? Twitter and my local paper's iPhone app. And you know what all those things have? Ads. You want to get your message out to people, you better learn how to adapt to technological changes. I would have thought a self-professed billionaire would grasp that little fact.

On the positive side, the action zips along quite quickly. The illusion is helped along by the shortness of the chapters. There are sixty-eight chapters, but just 321 pages. Also, I didn't figure out ahead of time who the big bad was. I wasn't entirely sure why the big bad snapped and went on a rampage, but I certainly didn't think it was that character.

This was one of those cases where I think the author has the ability to write something great, but this was a poorly plotted book. If I came across the sequel, True Colors, I'd read it, mainly because I liked the character who will be that hero. I'm on the fence about the heroine. She already feels a bit wishy-washy to me.

Review: Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

Okay, so I'm fairly new at the whole 'reviewing ARCs for the Internet' thing. In the past, I was either blowing up Twitter (see Dragon Bound) or maintaining a covenant of secrecy between myself and the romance buyer. I didn't want to be labeled as the girl not to send books to because she told the buyer of a national chain that the last one sucked. Now, of course, it doesn't matter anymore so I'm free to blast my opinion everywhere.

I like this series and it got a good write-up in Romantic Times so when I saw it was available in NetGalley from Luna/Harlequin, I hit that request button wicked fast. Now, according to the NetGalley publisher guidelines, I'm supposed to wait until a month before the book comes out to review it. I don't particularly get the logic behind that because I'd think you'd want the buzz to start early and then carefully feed it until the book's release, but what do I know, I was just a bookseller for 9.5 years. To further make my life difficult, I'm not entirely sure when this book is/was coming out. I have it down as a June publication and NetGalley has it as June 28th, but Amazon and GoodReads says October 18th. So it's currently August 24th and God knows when you're going to be reading this. Hello from the past!

So, right, the book. First off, do not bother reading Beauty and the Werewolf if you have not at least read The Fairy Godmother. If Harlequin is smart, they will do a Fairy Godmother giveaway before Beauty comes out. Maybe they did, clairvoyance is not one of my skills. If you are already in possession of Beauty without having read any of the previous books and are being stubborn, here's basically what you need to know.

There are the Five Kingdoms, kinda like that 10th Kingdom made-for-TV movie, but much less self-aware. Hovering over these Kingdoms is Tradition. Tradition is like gravity or atmosphere, a natural force that the average Joe doesn't think about much, but that brilliant scientists study like mad. In the Kingdoms, a woman may be a wonderful person until she marries a man with a daughter and she slowly turns cruel. The youngest of the three brothers may find himself questing for a princess. Not doing a favor for the old woman in the road could have severe repercussions, you dig? Basically, Tradition tries to make fairy tales happen, even if the people at the center of these tales would much rather have ordinary lives, thank you very much. Fairy Godmothers are the ones who try to combat Tradition and manipulate it so wicked witches aren't roaming the countryside.

Now, Lackey is kinda smart here, because one would assume based on the title and main character's name that we are dealing with the Beauty and the Beast tale. In fact, Lackey starts off with Cinderella, turns to Little Red Riding Hood, and then begins to incorporate elements from Beauty and the Beast, but she mixes in other archetypes as well. The book is almost meta in the way it encourages you to pick apart the various story elements.

Despite by published by Harlequin's Luna imprint, this is not a romance and is more of a mystery set in a fantasy world with a few romantic elements thrown in. There are two main male characters, Eric the Gamekeeper and Sebastian the wizardly Werewolf. I have to admit, I wasn't entirely sure who Bella, the heroine, was going to end up with. I also had my suspicions as to who the dastardly evildoer was, but again, I wasn't certain until just before the grand reveal. Part of my uncertainty was due, again, to the way Lackey kept shifting the characters' archetypes. Eric, in particular, goes through a multitude of labels, Tradition at work.

The one quibble I had, and this is not a little one, was the fact that some of the plot elements seemed to be recycled from Lackey's older book, The Fire Rose. Wolfy wizard isolates young female in his very large residence where the only other human is a male who is assisting the wizard in some way and they are waited upon by seemingly invisible servants. During her stay at the residence, the female discovers the existence of magic (it's the exact same kind in both books) and Wolfy wizard takes her on as an apprentice. Over the course of the book, they fall in love and an evil is vanquished. Even the fate of the Wolfy wizard is kind of the same. However, I will say that the characters themselves are very different. Rosalind in Fire Rose is very prim and studious. Bella from Beauty is intelligent, but she has more street smarts and she's able to take care of herself. Fire Rose's hero, Jason, is an egotistical jackass whereas Beauty's Sebastian is more of a gentleman and a milder personality.

If I had to rec only one, I'd probably opt for The Fire Rose, simply because it stands alone quite nicely. However, fans of the Five Kingdom books will enjoy this newest installment. Quite frankly, if you're a Lackey fan, you should read Fairy Godmother anyway! This series would also appeal to fans of Kristine Grayson and possibly fans of N.K. Jemisin as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pottermore & Me

I know most of the reviews and posts I have done so far have been romance oriented, but the imaginary subtitle of this blog is "Things I Read." One of my favorite series is, of course, the Harry Potter series. I tend to look askance at anyone who says they haven't read it. I don't expect you to necessarily love it (I have my own issues with some of the later books), but how do you not at least try Sorcerer's Stone? My little brother doesn't like them at all, but he's read them and, thanks to his now-wife, he's seen all the movies. He's even been to the Harry Potter part of Orlando's Universal Studios and admits it's kinda cool. Jim Dale's Harry Potter audiobooks are also among the only audiobooks I can listen to without getting bored. The man is seriously talented.

I am getting distracted. Before you know it, I'll start raving about Ron/Hermione and how Steve Kloves is obviously a Harry/Hermione shipper and, well. Moving on.

So Harry Potter was not yet available in e-book form and J. K. Rowling had all this extra story material lying around. Earlier this year, Rowling and Sony announced they were joining forces to create Pottermore. I wasn't quite sure what Pottermore was really going to end up being, but they were doing a competition for beta spots and I'd be dammed if I didn't get one. It's Harry Potter, after all.

I got my spot on the fourth day of the competition and then I waited for my welcome email to arrive. And waited and waited and waited. They were purposely rolling out the invitations slowly as to avoid crashing the site. My email finally arrived on Saturday morning.

I admit, I was a little disappointed by how it looked. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I think I wanted it to sparkle.
Now, here's the problem. The day I got my spot was the first day that the competition was really available to us in the United States during the day. If I remember correctly, it was something like 10am EST. All the previous clues had been aired at too-fucking-earlyAM EST. Presumably, a lot of other Americans were able to get their spot on the same day and, therefore, also got their welcome email on a non-work day. As the internet-savvy know, when a large group of people, in the general vicinity of each other, all attempt to log-on to a website at the same time, bad things happen.

Like this. I've been seeing this message A LOT.
I wasn't really able to log on until Saturday night, presumably when most people either gave up or went out drinking or both. So what do I think of the whole Pottermore experience when I'm not seeing the dreaded Purple Screen of Doom? Honestly, I'm kinda meh on the whole thing.

Somewhere along the line, I read a blog post online where the author compared Pottermore to Facebook games and it really is the same kind of principle. It's basically a hidden image game with a potions component that's similar to waiting for your crops to grow in Farmville. I admit, I thought it was cool when my cauldron exploded from being overheated, but that was due more to really, really poorly written instructions rather than my own incompetence. I relied prettily heavily on the Exploring Pottermore tumblr to make sure I didn't miss anything. The creator behind that tumblr also links to some handy-dandy youtube videos that walks you through the potions.

You can also practice casting spells, but the dueling portion has been removed for the time being, which leads finding stuff and making potions the only way you can collect points for your house. Speaking of which, the Sorting Hat ceremony was pretty damn cool. It asks you seven questions (supposedly, they are different for most users) and based on your answers, you get placed in your house. Now, if you're familiar with the basic tenets of each house, there are some questions that are easy to skew if you want a particular house.  For example, one question asked me if I wanted to create a potion that would give the user wisdom, power, love, or glory. However, my very last question showed me a signpost and asked me to pick between left or right. I agonized over this choice. Left or right. In the end, I went with right because I'm right-handed and, therefore, left-brained. My theory was that most people would pick the direction associated with their handness and then the computer would associate that with the appropriate hemisphere of the brain. I may have overthought this a bit, but that's how you know I ended up in the right house.

It's just what I wanted!
It's interesting, but when you get access to the Great Hall and you can see the House Cup standings, so far, there seems to be a pretty even amount of people split between the four houses. Last I was able to check, it was like 72,000 and change in each house. I wonder whether the sorting algorithm was designed that way or if most people just happen to naturally fall into those four personality categories.

On the meh side of things, you are pretty limited by what you can explore and collect. The potion ingredients regenerate so you can collect them continually for free, but other than that, once you've picked up that chocolate frog card or book, there's no reason to re-visit a chapter. The graphics are Mary GrandPre's illustrations brought to life. The Whomping Willow in Chapter 13 is amazing. The chapters are divided up into two or three moments, so it's not like you're reading the book as you make your way through Pottermore. Instead, in each moment, you can zoom in three times and the possibility exists for different items or animations at each zoom level. Oddly, there is no sound or music. This might just be a function of the beta release and it's definitely the biggest complaint I've seen so far.

There is additional new material that J.K. Rowling has contributed to the site, most notably a detailed biography of Professor McGonagall. I also enjoyed reading about the Wand lore trivia. You do get chosen by a wand at Ollivander's and I liked seeing what my wand said about me. The wand selection was another set of questions and I think my wand fits me rather well.

I can't help it, though, I giggle at the description.
I'm not quite finished with the Sorcerer's Stone yet as I was up to the last chapter when I got booted. I currently have a potion brewing at the moment, but if I can't get back onto the site shortly, it will get ruined and I only earn one house point for Ravenclaw, "just for trying." Clearly, Snape is not the Potionmaster overseeing the firsties right now. Book 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is not scheduled to be released until "early 2012." So, if you weren't lucky enough to get into the beta, don't worry. You'll have plenty of time to catch up once general registration starts in October. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I think all of us in NY remember 9/11 in different ways. For some of us, it's an anniversary that gets marked once a year by a moment of silence before life carries on. For others, it's a day that colors every breath, a scar that can still hurt. If you get a group of strangers together in New York, the question almost always comes up: Where were you when the Towers fell? It's become an ice breaker of sorts, a communal experience that links people together. If you didn't lose someone, you know someone who did.

My father works in the City, but he was up in midtown and he was able to get home to my mother & brother that night. His company had worked with Cantor Fitzgerald in the past. Cantor Fitzgerald lost over 600 of their 900-odd employees. After 9/11, they moved their offices temporarily into my dad's building.

Mom was working for an animation studio in 2001. Her co-worker was Liz Gardner, wife of Thomas Gardner, a firefighter in HazMat 001. I probably said hello to Liz once or twice when I came by to see my mom, but I never met her husband, a man who lost his life when the South Tower fell. To paraphrase what many have said, when people were running out, the firefighters were running in.

I met my best friend in 2002. On 9/11/01, she'd been living in New York for less than two months, having moved here after marrying a FDNY firefighter. She would tell me later, how she felt that day, the terror and anxiety of not knowing where her new husband was. His house was based in Brooklyn. He was far enough away that he didn't get to what's now Ground Zero until after the Towers fell. He worked the Pile, though, and when he came home, his gear would be caked with dust. If she dropped him off, they'd hose her car off before she drove away. The thick gray sediment got everywhere.

It's been a year of change for me, every month bringing something new, some new crisis or surprise to be handled or dealt with. It's been pretty evenly divided between good and bad, and so this year I decided to do something I hadn't done since 9/11/01. I watched television coverage of the event.  In 2001 and 2002, I collected books on 9/11. They're currently tucked away in a plastic bin underneath my bed. I don't read them because it's enough to know I have them. I also have a DVD of CNN coverage that I've never watched. I still remember, I don't need to be reminded.

Yet, today, spur of the moment, I decided I wanted to watch, I wanted to see it again. I watched the Smithsonian documentary, "9/11: Day that Changed the World," and it was interesting re-evaluating things from a more adult perspective. I was 19 when the Towers fell and, while I vehemently disliked Bush, I remember watching his address that night and giving him props. Watching the documentary, I gained just a little more respect for him and I could see how this was a situation he was handed, one that caught everyone in the government by surprise. I still think he was a gawdawful president, but I finally saw the man who cared about his country above all else.

The other documentary I watched was From the Ground Up, which focused on five firefighter widows and the good they've tried to bring from their husbands' senseless deaths. This was a documentary about hope and about rebuilding. There is a moment from the film that is still resounding in my head. One of the widows, Kate Richardson, is filmed while giving a tour at Ground Zero. She lost her husband Bob McPadden of Engine 23.  Framed in a window, in a room overlooking the footprints where the Towers stood, she says she had felt like her life was over, that her husband had been her future. Her grandmother shared with Kate a story about a family relative who'd written letters to the wife he'd left behind during World War II. If I die, he wrote, don't let this war ruin two lives. Kate jabbed her finger at the window and said, in essence, "They took 2977 lives that day, but I didn't let them take mine."

It is a concept that seems so simple and yet so daunting at the same time. You remember those lost by living, by making your life the very best one you can. You honor their sacrifice by being worthy of it. 

The terrorists, the rapists, the murderers, the abusers, all the horrible people and traumatic events that have occurred, they have taken so much from the world. Don't let them take you too. 

Always remember, never forget, but live beyond it all.