Wednesday, December 3, 2014

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

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Title: An Irish Country Doctor
Series: Irish Country Books, Book 1
Author: Patrick Taylor
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 351
ISBN: 9780765319951
Publisher: Forge Books
Twitter: @torbooks
Format: Paperback
Available: January 22, 2008
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Product description:
Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and dales of Northern Ireland. The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree and little else in the way of worldly possessions, Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.

At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.

The older physician, whose motto is to never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can’t decide if the pugnacious O’Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or the best teacher he could ever hope for. Through O’Reilly Barry soon gets to know all of the village’s colorful and endearing residents, including:

A malingering Major and his equally hypochondriacal wife;

An unwed servant girl, who refuses to divulge the father of her upcoming baby;

A slightly daft old couple unable to marry for lack of a roof;

And a host of other eccentric characters who make every day an education for the inexperienced young doctor.

Ballybucklebo is long way from Belfast, and Barry is quick to discover that he still has a lot to learn about the quirks and traditions of country life. But with pluck and compassion and only the slightest touch of blarney, he will find out more about life—and love—than he ever imagined back in medical school.

An Irish Country Doctor is a charming and engrossing tale that will captivate readers from the very first page—and leave them yearning to visit the Irish countryside of days gone by.

An Irish Country Doctor is a quick, charming read, even if it is highly predictable. We follow Barry Laverty, a recent medical school graduate, as he assists the local doctor of the small Irish village of Ballybucklebo, the extremely colorful Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly. As Laverty learns the ropes of small town medicine from Fingal, he learns that sometimes not going by the book can be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to country folk. Filled with quirky characters and both funny and touching moments, I think this would probably be a big hit with book clubs and fans of the Mitford series and such.



Spoilery bits ahead!



Yet, the book proves to be a little too charming and slightly even more predictable as the story goes along, as well as taking too long to drive a point home. For instance, how many times must Laverty need to be shown that quite possibly Fingal's unorthodox doctoring ways work? It's more than you'd think. Each character fits the mold that they need to fit the most, almost to the point where they are caricatures of themselves. Fingal has all the answers. There is, of course, also the predictable love interest for Laverty. Putting this all out like this, it seems like there is not so much to like about the book, but Taylor at least keeps the story amusing throughout, so I was able to let these annoyances be.



Spoilery bits finished!



Chances are highly likely that I will be picking up the next book in the series, An Irish Country Village. This is the perfect series to read when you don't need to think too hard about what you're reading and just need some fluff.

Happy reading!




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, illustrated by Gahan Wilson

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Title: A Night in the Lonesome October
Author: Roger Zelazny, illustrated by Gahan Wilson
Copyright: 2014 (1993)
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781556525605
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Twitter: @ChiReviewPress
Format: Paperback
Available: October 1, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars


Product description:
Loyally accompanying a mysterious knife-wielding gentleman named Jack on his midnight rounds through the murky streets of London, good dog Snuff is busy helping his master collect the grisly ingredients needed for an unearthly rite that will take place not long after the death of the moon. But Snuff and his master are not alone. All manner of participants, both human and not, are gathering with their ancient tools and their animal familiars in preparation for the dread night. It is brave, devoted Snuff who must calculate the patterns of the Game and keep track of the Players—the witch, the mad monk, the vengeful vicar, the Count who sleeps by day, the Good Doctor and the hulking Experiment Man he fashioned from human body parts, and a wild-card American named Larry Talbot—all the while keeping Things at bay and staying a leap ahead of the Great Detective, who knows quite a bit more than he lets on.

Boldly original and wildly entertaining, A Night in the Lonesome October is a darkly sparkling gem, an amalgam of horror, humor, mystery, and fantasy. First published in 1993, it was Zelazny’s last book prior to his untimely death. Many consider it the best of the fantasy master’s novels. It has inspired many fans to read it every year in October, a chapter a day, and served as inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s brilliant story “Only the End of the World Again.”

Somehow over the years, Roger Zelazny has slipped by me. I've been aware of him as an author, I've just never found occasion to read any of his books. When I heard that A Night in the Lonesome October was being released, and knowing that a dear friend is a diehard Zelazny fan, I picked up a copy and suggested that she and I read the book, one chapter a night, through the month of October.

Well, I'll tell you what, I had a lot of trouble sticking to my one chapter a night. I loved this book! Seriously, at the end of my nightly chapter, I wanted so desperately to keep reading, but I restrained myself. I found the whole idea, that numerous literary figures from across the horror spectrum have come together to play the Game, fantastic. Told from the point of view of Jack's familiar, a dog named Snuff, we are lead through the month of October as he tracks down clues as to which side of the Game each of the players are on. I loved this bit, as you try to figure out, along with Snuff, who is going to be pitted against who at the end of the Game. It was also fun seeing how so many literary (and in some cases, historical) characters were woven into this book. The entire story becomes a guessing game as you try to figure out who each of the characters are (some are obvious, some not quite so)and what role they'll play in the Game. I'm not saying what the Game is, as that's half the mystery as it is played out in the book.



Some might consider the next bit a little spoilerish.



If I had one quibble about the book, it's the abrupt end. There is so much build up to the finale of the story, that when it arrives, I was left a little shocked. It may just be that I wanted more of the story, but once the Game comes to an end, it is finished. No further explanation as to what happens to the characters, nothing. The story is just done. For me, it was just a little too unexpected, but I guess it works with the way the book is written, as we're only shown this one month of the character's lives.



End of spoilerish bit.



A Night in the Lonesome October is an immensely clever and entertaining book, a perfect addition to any reading that you may be doing leading up to Halloween. I'm fairly sure this will become a favorite of mine each October.




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jackaby by William Ritter

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Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 304
ISBN: 9781616203535
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Twitter: @AlgonquinYR
Format: Hardcover
Available: September 16, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars

Product description:

"Miss Rook, I am not an occultist," Jackaby said. "I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion - and there are many illusions. All the world's a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain."

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary - including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby's assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it's an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it's a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police - with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane - deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in a debut novel, the first in a series, brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

A book described as Doctor Who meets Sherlock?! Yes, please!

However...

When I started reading Jackaby, I was immediately annoyed. This wasn't just a book written in the same flavor of "Doctor Who meets Sherlock", it is quite clearly the Doctor written as Sherlock. In my mind, Jackaby is so clearly Four written as if he were taking a turn at being Sherlock; it even seems like this could be a lost adventure of the Doctor. He even has his own female companion in Abigail Rook (the Watson to Jackaby's Sherlock). The more I read, the more difficulty I had divorcing myself from this idea. After a couple of chapters, I put the book down, not sure that I would finish it.

However...

Two days later I picked it up again, and immediately found myself annoyed all over again. Yet, I kept reading, and suddenly I found myself at the end of the book and being disappointed that I didn't have more to read! Somewhere along the way, Ritter completely won me over on his characters and story. I still think this could be reworked with very little difficulty into an adventure for the Doctor, but I thoroughly enjoyed it all the same. Eventually I no longer found myself comparing Jackaby to the Sherlock Doctor, and found myself reading him as himself; he developed his own distinct voice and look in my head.

As for the story, this is definitely a whodunit with a supernatural twist. Jackaby has the fortunate (unfortunate) ability to see things and creatures that others can not, and as such offers his services to the police to help solve crimes that fall outside the realm of the normal. Newly arrived in the new world, Abigail Rook is in search of a job, and when she answers an advert for an assistant position with Jackaby, he doesn't know what she's set herself up for. Jackaby takes her with him as he goes to investigate a murder, and in contrast to his ability to see the extraordinary, Abigail notices seemingly ordinary and mundane things, yet Jackaby finds these details important. From here, we are offered a fun and rollicking adventure as Jackaby and Abigail try to unravel the mystery of the killer before he kills again.

When all is said and done, I want a sequel. I want more Jackaby, more Abigail, more of their banter. If you are a fan of Doctor Who or Sherlock, do yourself a favor and pick up Jackaby. I hope you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Ice Dragon by George R. R. Martin, illustrated by Luis Royo

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Title: The Ice Dragon
Author: George R. R. Martin, illustrated by Luis Royo
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 128
ISBN: 9780765378774
Publisher: Tor Teen
Twitter: @torteen, @GRRMspeaking
Format: Hardcover
Available: October 21, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars

Product description:
The Ice Dragon is an enchanting tale of courage and sacrifice for young readers and adults by the wildly popular author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin. Lavish illustrations by acclaimed artist Luis Royo enrich this captivating and heartwarming story of a young girl and her dragon.

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child — and the ice dragon who loved her — could save her world from utter destruction.

This new edition of The Ice Dragon is sure to become a collector’s item for fans of HBO’s megahit Game of Thrones.

So, this is a strange little creature of a book. It is marketed as a YA, but I don't know that it is quite written as a YA. Of course, given that it was written in the 80s originally, when there was no such thing as a YA market, this also makes a little more sense. It seems to dwell somewhere in that nether region between YA and straight up adult fantasy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There is one thing that will eternally bug me about YA that is dumbed down for kids, and this is certainly not that. Martin gives us an intelligent and emotional tale of a young girl and her coming of age story as she watches her family and home being torn away from her and she learns the meaning of sacrifice.

Adara, born during one of the harshest freezes that anyone could remember, was as cold and hard as the winter that she was brought into. Her family tried to no avail to get her to melt her cold heart. Her only constant companion was the ice dragon, a rare and terrible creature of power. The only person to ever befriend an ice dragon let alone ride one, Adara looked forward to winter and to every year on her birthday to see the dragon again.

However, when the war in the North finally made its way to her small village and fire-breathing dragons threatened her family and home, Adara's heart finally melts and with the help of the ice dragon, she learns the true meaning of love and sacrifice. While typing this out makes it sound a little on the sentimental side, there really isn't much sentimentality in the telling. Like all of Martin's stories, he is not shy telling about the ravages of war here. There is violence and darkness in this story to be sure, but it is tempered just as equally by the love of Adara and her ice dragon.

The design of the book is beautiful. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the entire book is printed in a blueish tone, giving it a uniquely winter-ish feel. However put this book together did a grand job.

I know there are people out there that are going to be shocked by this story, given at first glance it looks to be a charming tale about a girl and her dragon. It is, but there is so much more to it than that, and really, you should be familiar with Martin's Song Ice and Fire series, and if you are familiar with his writing, you know he can be dark, even when telling a tale such as this, so be warned. This book probably won't be for everyone, but I found it to be a wonderful addition to the Song of Fire and Ice saga.




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I'm #reading now

a little c: update

Well, I wish I had better news as things have taken a little turn for the worst. After having such a glowing report from the doctor last time, the following week I got a call saying that chemo was being postponed for a week as my neutrophil (white blood cell) count had fallen dramatically. After my weekly blood draw this week, it was discovered that those numbers had fallen even more, and now I'm in the danger zone of having almost no immune system (I'm considered neutropenic now). So, no chemo for another two weeks...

As I really shouldn't go anywhere because I need to avoid just about everyone at this point since we're well into cold and flu season, I'll have lots of time for reading at home now!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

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Title: The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly
Series: The Keepers, Book 1
Author: Ted Sanders, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Copyright: 2015
Pages: 544
ISBN: 9780062275820
Publisher: Harper
Twitter: @HarperCollins
Format: ARC provided by publisher rep for honest review
Available: March 3, 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars


Product description:
Artifacts. Miseries. Mysteries...

From the moment Horace F. Andrews sees the sign from the bus - a sign with his own name on it - everything changes. The sighting leads him underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse brimming with peculiar devices. But there he finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it?

As he works to master his newfound abilities, Horace quickly discovers that nothing is ordinary anymore. From the sinister thin man lurking around every corner to his encounters with Chloe - a girl who has an astonishing talent of her own - Horace follows a path that puts him in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between two mysterious factions.

Horace's journey leads him and Chloe deep into a place where every decision they make could have disastrous consequences. Most important, it links Horace to the Box of Promises and a future he never saw coming.

With an action-packed blend of fantasy and science fiction, Ted Sanders creates a world where everything is more than it seems and where friendship and loyalty have the greatest power of all.

I was rather excited about this book from the moment I was first told about it. An acquaintance was telling me about the book, and generally she doesn't like children's books, so when she was proving to be excited about it, I thought I should be paying attention to that. And you know what? She was right.

There is so much in this book that I liked. We're immediately introduced to Horace, our hero of the story, who immediately sees a sign that catches his eye, which immediately leads him to his first encounter with a questionable character, which is quickly followed by Horace's discovery of the the House of Answers, which immediately sets Horace on his way to adventure. This all sounds really rushed when I type it out like this, but it works. Sometimes I feel stories are too drawn out to get to the action, and sometimes they are far too rushed, but this one worked perfectly for me to get us into the story. I had an immediate feel for Harry Potter, but only in the sense that there was a very real, very close world of magic that is going on in the background of this story that the general population knows nothing about, and it's been this way for a very long time. Sanders really does a great job of a quick world building that doesn't feel forced, it just is. However, that's about as far as the HP similarities went. Horace is a really smart kid, and he's very methodical and scientific in his thinking, so when he is presented with what seems to be a magical artifact, he goes about exploring it's properties in a very scientific way, even going so far as to discuss some of his thoughts with his science teacher. Here is another something that I particularly liked about the story; there does actually seem to be some science behind the magic and fiction in the story. It makes the entire story feel really grounded for me.

Horace, Chloe (the other hero of our story), their families, and the other characters in the story also feel very real. They have their flaws, their families aren't perfect, they make mistakes. One of the things that I continually was impressed with is Horace's relationship with his family, especially his mother. One thing that I find frequently frustrating about many YA and middle grade books is the constant necessity for the kids to keep things from the adults in the stories. I assume this must be to show that a certain level of independence in a young person is a good thing, but the other thing to remember is that the kids these books are geared at are young, and don't always know best, and sometimes it's OK, even a good thing, to ask for help from the grownups in their lives. Granted, while Horace doesn't reveal everything that is going on in his life with his parents, they still play an important part in his life and he still relies on their advice. To me, this seems like a refreshing turn of events for a YA or middle grade book. On the flip side of that, with Chloe's family and he strained relationship with her father, I feel this is refreshing in its own way, as it shows kids that don't have the ideal family life or have problems at home that there can still be magic in the world and that relying on your friends can be just as important as relying on your family.

While it seems like The Box and the Dragonfly is a large book (clocking in at 544 pages!), it is paced great and never feels like it is slogging along. I read it in two sittings and was partly saddened that I got through it so quickly. Given the age group that the book is geared towards, however, I think it will move along at a great rate and kids won't feel bored reading it at all, nor will they feel like they've got a huge book to plod through.

If I had any complaint at all about the book, it's Sanders' descriptions of his characters. I never felt at any point in the book that I had a clear idea of what any of the characters looked like. While this works to some of the characters advantages and their very nature, it doesn't work for others. Other than a vague idea that Horace is a bigger kid, I have no idea what he looks like. Is he bigger as in taller, broader, or bulkier? Just telling me he's a big kid doesn't really help me put a clear picture of him together in my head. While reading, I kept having more and more differing views of how the characters look. Maybe it's just me, but I feel a more precise description of some of the characters would have gone a long way.

This one "flaw" aside (and honestly, that's not even that big of a deal), Sanders has created quite the fine world in The Box and the Dragonfly. Not one to read much middle grade anymore, I'm pleased to have read two such strong middle grade debuts this year (the other being J. A. White's The Thickety: A Path Begins). Just like that book, I'll definitely be looking forward to continue reading Horace and Chloe's adventures and will be recommending this book to all my friends with young readers!

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders will be released on March 3, 2015 from Harper.




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

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Title: The Paper Magician
Series: The Paper Magician Series, Book 1
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781477823835
Publisher: 47North
Twitter: @CNHolmberg
Format: Paperback
Available: September 1, 2014
Rating: 3/5 stars

Product description:
Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic... forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart — and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

There was so, so much potential in The Paper Magician. When I started reading, I was immediately struck by how much this read as if Gail Carriger had taken her hand at writing her version of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It had Carriger's light-hearted feel, but instead of dealing with an urban fantasy, steampunk world, this is solidly grounded in the world of magic. I found the magic system Holmberg created for her world very original; magicians can manipulate and control man-made materials (paper, glass, metal), and once a magician is bonded to a material, that is the only material that they will be able to work with magically for the rest of their lives.

Where the book started to fall apart for me was almost at the beginning, as we follow Ceony, who has worked her way to the top of her class and was hoping to become a metal magician, but since there is a lack in paper magicians, it is decided for her to be apprenticed to paper magician, Thane. However, within about a chapter, she decides that possibly she was wrong about Thane and paper magic, and seems to already be falling for him. I felt at this point I had missed some chapters; things were proceeding way too quickly to get to the main conflict of the story, and here is where Holmberg redeemed herself for me.

An Excisioner, a magician who can control blood magic (which is also highly illegal), attacks Thane and literally rips the beating heart out of his chest. Despite having almost no practice or accomplishment beyond a basic understanding of paper magic, Ceony folds a paper heart for Thane and places it in his chest, keeping him alive for a short amount of time. What follows here is what impressed me with Holmberg, as Ceony actually enters Thane's heart, where she is privy to his aspects of his life. This is actually something that I have never read the like of before and found it very intriguing. The entire concept was wildly original, at least to me. The entire second half of the book really showed Holmberg's strengths as a writer, but I'm fairly certain the first half of the book would have benefited from being about twice as long.

So, I'm very middle of the road with this book. Holmberg clearly has a grasp on her story and what she wants to tell, she just rushes too quickly to get to the point. I'll be picking up the second book to check it out, but if things are rushed again like they are in the first, I'll probably be stopping there. Like I said, Holmberg shows quite a bit of potential but she needs to work on fleshing out the bits in between the action of her books.




To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

a little c: update

Things have been looking very promising. My numbers have been slowly returning to normal, which means the chemo is doing what it's supposed to be, regardless of the effects that it's having on my body. Things have been going along as scheduled until this week, when I found out that my white blood cell count dropped significantly from last week, so the chemo session I was supposed to be starting today was pushed back at least a week until my body recovers, as a round of chemo would probably kill my immune system. **sigh**

On the plus side, I'll have plenty of time to read for the next couple of weekends! Silver lining!!

Happy reading!