Book Review: “One Day in December”by Josie Silver

A novel just in time for Christmas

What do you do when you spot The One, fall irrevocably in love in the span of 60 seconds, lose them right after, spend the next year searching for them in every bus stop in London, then finally meet them again when they’re introduced as your best friend’s new boyfriend? Thus begins One Day in December and the love story of Laurie and Jack, spanning ten years of heartbreak, choosing to be happy, loss, what-might-have-beens, and finding happiness again.

Laurie James meets, or doesn’t meet, Jack O’Mara at the bus stop on December 21, 2008. She’son an overcrowded bus, on the way home from a long shift at a hotel reception desk – a job she’s working while she’s trying to get a job as a staff writer at a magazine. She looks out the window and sees the most beautiful man sitting at the bus stop. He looks up, their eyes meet, and something shifts in the universe. But as fate would have it, Laurie’s bus pulls away just as Jack gets up. Laurie spends a year looking for “Bus Boy” throughout London, roping in her best friend Sarah to help with the search. She doesn’t find him, not until that fateful day when Sarah introduces the new boyfriend that she’s head-over-heels for. “Bus Boy” is Jack, Sarah’s boyfriend.

Romance novels live and die by their characters, and One Day passes with flying colors. Laurie and Jack are fully formed and relatable: good people who genuinely care for each other and the people around them but are deeply flawed as well. The story is told from Laurie and Jack’s alternating point of views, which gives us a lot of insight into their motivations. The downside of this is that Sarah’s characterization gets lost in the shuffle. As Laurie’s BFF and Jack’s girlfriend, Sarah becomes the ultimate example of virtue and success, and any flaws she has is told to us,not shown.

The story also benefits from the longer time span. The ten years it takes for Laurie and Jack to finally be together are caused by both circumstances and their personal choices, which makes their journey all the better for it. There’s some pining to be sure, but neither one fully depends on the other for their personal growth. Josie Silver handles their will they-won’t they with a deft hand, making sure that there are no irredeemable bad guys.

One frustration of mine with regard sto romance novels is when the characters are at the mercy of the plot, where they have no agency and every roadblock to their happily ever after is an external force. I’m happy that it wasn’t the case here.

My only major regret is that the resolution happens so quickly. Laurie and Jack were separated for so long.Surely Ms. Silver could have devoted more page time to their happily ever after? As someone who got sucked into this story, I would have appreciated a longer and more substantial final act.

All in all, One Day in December is highly recommended for believers in love at first sight. And even if you don’t,it’s still recommended for its depiction of supportive female friendships and the importance of finding your own happiness and way in life even without The One.

This review was first published as part of Fully Booked’s First Look Club. Thank you very much to Fully Booked (and Ilia!) for the opportunity 🙂

Book review: “The Hangman’s Revolution” by Eoin Colfer

hangman's revolution coverI’ll say this right now: The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer, the second book in the WARP series, is the most enjoyable book I’ve read so far this 2014. (Whether that holds after The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan comes out tomorrow is another matter entirely. But I digress.)

Colfer hits another winner as The Hangman’s Revolution is even better than last year’s The Reluctant Assassin. It’s more fun, more action-packed, and an even better and tighter story overall.

The synopsis from the book jacket:

“Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent not known for obeying the rules, has arrived home after a time-trip to Victorian London, where she helped an orphan boy named Riley escape his murderous master. Present-day London is very different from the one she left. England is being run by followers of a Colonel Box, who control the territory through intimidation and terror. Chevie is absorbed by this timeline and cannot remember fully the history she once belonged to. Though a part of her senses that something is wrong, she moves on with her life as a junior cadet in the Boxite police.

The day Chevie is ordered to confront Professor Charles Smart, the inventor of the time machine, she finds herself thrust into the past. There, with the help of Riley and a few unlikely allies, she must venture into London’s catacombs and derail the plans of the charismatic leader who is intent on using his knowledge of the future to seize power.”

[I have no problems with this synopsis because it’s accurate and gives a great overview of the overall story arc.]

Reasons why I’m so happy with this book:
1. Chevie is still awesome. Riley is still awesome. I love them both. Riley’s still haunted by his memories of Garrick but he doesn’t let that stop him from training to become the best magician he can be. He’s now the proud owner and headliner of The Orient and is determined to make a name for himself. In the meantime, Chevie’s not right in the head (having two sets of conflicting personalities and memories will do that to a person) but she still manages to literally kick some Thundercat ass.

2. Dumping FBI Chevie into Cadet Chevie’s body and having both personalities and memories duke it out for supremacy was a great plot point. I haven’t seen this consequence of time travel in recent books and movies, as they all just have the original personality take over the current body (e.g. Wolverine in X-Men: Days of Future Past as he wakes up in the new present where everyone is not dead). Seeing this tackled in The Hangman’s Revolution was a nice surprise. The plot point was also handled and written very well. You can feel Cadet Chevie’s confusion and desperation to silence Traitor (FBI) Chevie and FBI Chevie struggling to overcome Cadet Chevie’s ingrained fear of Colonel Box.

3. Colonel Clayton Box is a worthy successor to Albert Garrick’s villain mantle. A sociopath with an analytical mind, Colonel Box is willing to do whatever it takes to shape the world in his own image. If that includes genocide with some coup d’etat on then so be it.

4. The new characters of Thundercats Clover Vallicose and Lunka Witmeyer are pretty darned interesting. Colfer skirts that delicate edge between amusing caricature and annoying caricature with great success.

5. Chevie’s determination at the end of the book was especially poignant. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but is taking things one disaster at a time.

The (few) slightly negative things that I spotted:
1. The Hangman’s Revolution has minimal “this is what happened in the previous book” exposition. Now, whether this is actually a good thing or a bad thing is entirely depended on whether you read The Reluctant Assassin or not. Truth be told, I’d forgotten some of the details from Assassin so I had to Google and remind myself of some of the previous story points that Riley or Chevie mentioned. Bottom line: The Reluctant Assassin is required reading if you want to understand The Hangman’s Revolution.

2. The plot “twist” as to who Box’s inside man was was just okay. Colfer tried to play it off as a big surprise but I didn’t care that much about it.

3. While the Sisters were somewhere between amusing and annoying, Otto Malarkey steps over the edge and into annoying territory. While it wasn’t enough to stop me from reading the book, he does become grating at times, especially when he becomes especially grandiose. I’m not sure if Colfer meant for him to be annoying or annoying-endearing. He does have his redeeming scenes – like when he distracts the Boxites so Riley can get away – but he’s still annoying.

Overall rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars. Yes, my dislike of Otto Malarkey merits 0.25 stars. But otherwise, the book is excellent and worthy of every bit of time spent reading it 😀

WARP #2: The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer is available from The Book Depository.

Book review: “Magnolia” by Kristi Cook

magnolia cover kristi cookIt’s not a secret that I have a soft spot for romance novels and young adult novels, so when Pinoy Book Tours offered a tour of what promised to be a cute young adult romance novel, I jumped at the chance. Today’s review is for Magnolia by Kristi Cook. The official summary reads:

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.

[Personally, the blurb is misleading. It’s not that Jemma “can’t stand” Ryder being a “golden boy” – more like she’s slightly envious of him. And Ryder doesn’t pretend that Jemma doesn’t exist – it’s Jemma that tries to not think about him because of what happened in their shared past.]

In a nutshell, the book is okay. There were some parts I loved, some I liked, and some that I wish were done better. Magnolia is good for a quick and fun break from your daily life.

The good:
1. Kristi Cook paints a vivid and sweet picture of small-town living in the southern United States. You have mosquitoes, the humidity, the “y’alls”, the football crazies, and a head cheerleader who sidelines as all-star shooter. As to whether that’s an accurate picture of life in the South, I have no idea (my only point of reference is The CW’s Hart of Dixie), but Cook makes me want to visit. Continue reading “Book review: “Magnolia” by Kristi Cook”

Book review: “The Vintage Caper” and “The Marseille Caper” by Peter Mayle

At last, non-academic reading! I finally submitted my master’s thesis last April 8 (more on that in a separate post) and after several months, I had enough time to savor reading for fun. The occasional fanfiction chapter is a pick-me-up, but somehow not as satisfying as sitting down and reading a novel. Novels that were gathering dust in my do-read pile that I’ve since finished (huzzah!):

Star Wars X-Wing: Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston
Unnatural Creatures, a short story collection curated by Neil Gaiman (he also wrote the foreword)
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle

This post is a review of The Vintage Caper and its sequel The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle. I got The Vintage Caper during Fully Booked‘s atrium sale last October but only got the chance to read it a few days ago. The Marseille Caper I got via e-book. Peter Mayle’s been one of my favorite writers ever since I read A Dog’s Life way back in high school so I had high expectations for his two newest books.

The Vintage Caper stars Sam Levitt, a former corporate lawyer turned crook turned white-collar crime consultant. He’s hired by ex-girlfriend Elena Morales of Knox Insurance to track down bottles of premiere wine and champagne worth $3 million that were stolen from their client, entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. The wine chase leads him to Paris, Bordeaux, and eventually to Marseille, France and the home of the possible thief.

The Marseille Caper starts immediately after The Vintage Caper. How immediately? The first chapter of TMC is basically a continuation of the last chapter of TVC. Sam finds himself back in Marseille with an unexpected partner. He must convince a group of bureaucrats to approve his partner’s business proposal while dodging the shenanigans caused by an unscrupulous rival.


Review of The Vintage Caper:

peter mayle - vintage caper2A cute and funny read but not up to the standards of Mayle’s previous books. The Vintage Caper features a great lineup of characters. Sam Levitt is a likeable protagonist, as are his supporting cast of Sophie (his contact in Bordeaux) and Philippe (a journalist). Even the thief is likeable! You’ll end up siding with him instead of the egotistical Danny Roth. Mayle also does an excellent job of setting up the locations such that Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille  become characters in their own right. His writing makes you feel as if you’re right there with Sam, eating spectacular food and drinking Petrus. The gratuitous vintage-dropping was lost on non-wine enthusiast me but it also served the purpose of setting the tone of the book.

So what’s the downside to the book? That would be the souffle-light plot that holds this book together. It’s rather simplistic and silly, even with the twist at the end. It definitely lives up to the definition of “caper”. It feels more appropriate to call TVC a novella instead of a novel.

Rating: 3/5 stars. Epitome of the summer beach read, best enjoyed in the shade with something alcoholic in hand.

Review of The Marseille Caper:

peter mayle - marseilles caperThe Marseille Caper fares much better compared to TVC. Everything that made TVC worth reading is also in TMC – the characters, the setting, and the breezy writing style – but amped up. It’s a more satisfying and substantial read. Lots of food and wine porn but that’s to be expected.There’s no whodunnit element so it avoids that pitfall.

However, make no mistake: this book is still light, fluffy, and is held together by copious amounts of rosé. The plot is pretty straightforward – Sam has to fool a bunch of people – but that’s it. The villains are inept, Sam triumphs over them, the end. As long as you’re not expecting a “serious” book about the hero outsmarting the villain, it’s all good.

Rating: 3.5/stars. Better than its predecessor but it’s not as if that was a difficult standard to beat.

The third book in the series The Corsican Caper will be released in May 2014.

Book review: “Codex Born” by Jim C. Hines

codex born coverAfter only a year of waiting, I finally got Codex Born by Jim C. Hines in my grubby hands! Codex Born is the second book in the Magic Ex Libris series and the sequel to Libriomancer. If you haven’t read Libriomancer, I highly suggest that you do so before reading Codex Born. Codex Born jumps right into the action with minimal worldbuilding exposition since all that was taken care of in the previous book. But if you insist on reading Codex Born anyway, here are some things you need to know:

  • Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer – an individual gifted with the magical ability to pull stuff out of books. When he’s not trying to save the world, he works as a librarian.
  • Lena Greenwood is a seriously ass-kicking dryad in a relationship with Isaac.
  • Dr. Nidhi Shah is a therapist for the Porters. She’s in a relationship with Lena.
  • The Porters are an organization formed by Johannes Gutenberg. They exist to protect the world from magic, expand their knowledge of magic, and to preserve the secrecy of magic.

So what’s in Codex Born? The summary from the book jacket:

Isaac Vainio’s life is just about perfect. He should know it can’t last.

Living and working as a part-time librarian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isaac has finally earned the magical research position he has dreamed of with Die Zwelf Portenaere, better known as the Porters. He is seeing a smart, fun, gorgeous dryad named Lena Greenwood. He has been cleared by Johannes Gutenberg to practice libriomancy once again, reaching into books to create whatever he chooses from their pages. Best of all, it has been more than two months since anything tried to kill him.

And then Isaac, Lena, Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah are called to the small mining town of Tamarack, Michigan, where a pair of septuagenarian werewolves have discovered the body of a brutally murdered wendigo.

What begins as a simple monster-slaying leads to deeper mysteries and the discovery of an organization thought to have been wiped out more than five centuries ago by Gutenberg himself. Their magic rips through Isaac’s with ease, and their next target is Lena Greenwood.

They know Lena’s history, her strengths and weaknesses. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies mean to use her to destroy everything he and the Porters have built. But their plan could unleash a darker power, an army of entry of chaos, bent on devouring all it touches.

The Upper Peninsula is about to become ground zero in a magical war like nothing the world has seen in over five hundred years. But the more Isaac learns about Gutenberg and the Porters, the more he questions whether he’s fighting for the right cause.

One way or another, Isaac must find the means to stop a power he doesn’t fully understand. And even if he succeeds, the outcome with forever change him, the Porters, and the whole world.

A note about the jacket blurb: While we do discover new things about Lena and see her develop as her own person, this is still very much Isaac’s book. The blurb makes it sound like Lena takes over the story but she doesn’t.

What I loved about Codex Born:

The action never stops! Codex Born starts off a few months after Libriomancer, basically as everything is finally starting to settle down after the events in Libriomancer. Once the ball gets rolling with the wendigo murder in Tamarack, Isaac, Lena, and Nidhi have to deal with a megalomaniac father, another secret society, and their plans to destroy the Porters. They pick up some unexpected allies and frenemies too.

Less exposition! I didn’t like the massive info dumps in Libriomancer but thought them necessary since it was the first book. Since this is the second one, Hines doesn’t need the massive blocks of dialogue anymore so the story moves at a faster pace.

More information about and character development for Lena. Each chapter starts off with a small snippet of Lena’s past, starting from when she first emerged from her tree and met the farmer Frank Dearing. Time and time again, Lena proves that she’s a person and not just a construction from a book. While her sensuality is part of her, it does not define her.

New characters that felt right. We get Jeneta, a teenager who loosed a snake from Harry Potter through her smartphone, plus the werewolves Jeff and Helen.

We get a great menagerie of villains – some more human and relatable, some just utterly despicable.

The Isaac-Lena-Nidhi triangle still weirds me out, so I’m glad that the characters themselves are weirded out too. It would have been really strange for them to just accept the situation without batting an eye so it’s nice to see their internal conflicts regarding their arrangement.

Books, books, and more books! Isaac casually mentions science fiction and fantasy books left and right, some I’ve read but even more that I haven’t. He makes me want to read them all, just so that I can understand what he’s pulling out of them. It’s total book-wank and I love it!

Things that confused me/made me feel iffy about Codex Born:

Hines addressed the ebook issue somewhat but I’m not sure I like how he explained it. All of the libriomancy rules set up in Libriomancer made sense, but then Jeneta and the ebook come along and change everything. Jeneta pulled a snake out of a supposedly locked Harry Potter book via her smartphone. Does this mean that ebook Harry Potter doesn’t count as a “real book”? Is the locking format-specific? If so, then Gutenberg will have to lock all print, epub, azw, mobi, pdf, and other formats. The ebook loophole made libriomancy less magical, if that makes any sense at all. Hines doesn’t have a real explanation for it just yet – Isaac is still figuring it out, after all – so I shall reserve final judgment until he does. But for now, I’m iffy about it.

The twists and turns in the plot made me dizzy. Haha. This isn’t an actual complaint but the book now requires an immediate re-read because of the twists.

Overall verdict: 4.75 out of 5 stars.

Codex Born is a worthy sequel and the perfect bridge book for the next one in the series. I’m not sure if Hines has mentioned how many books the series will be but I’m hoping Magic Ex Libris will continue for a good long while.

Oh, and something that made me happy:

jimchines reply

Book review: The Reluctant Assassin (WARP Book #1) by Eoin Colfer

WARP 1 cover britishWith the latest draft of my master’s thesis (finally!) in my adviser’s and reader’s “to read” piles, I finally got to read for fun! First on the list was The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer, the first book in his new series W.A.R.P. I got my copy several months ago from my favorite bookstore ever (thank you Danes for getting it for me!) but only recently had the time to read it.

The synopsis from the book jacket:
Riley, an orphan living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, a former illusionist turned murderer, who now uses his conjuring skills to gain access to his victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant assistant along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to complete the grisly act when the intended prey turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP). Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern-day London-with Garrick close on his heels.

In modern London, Riley is aided by Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent. Together, Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally changed by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possess all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track down Riley and use the Timekey in Chevie’s possession to literally change the world.

Note: the synopsis is slightly misleading as yes, Riley and Garrick do find a scientist from the future but Garrick got his knowledge from a different scientist. Just clearing that up.

The Reluctant Assassin is a great time travel romp, with likeable characters, snappy dialogue, and lots of blood. Oh yes, there’s a lot more blood in this book compared to Colfer’s previous novels.

The good:
1. I liked Chevie. She was headstrong without being obnoxious, willing to let Riley take the lead in situations where his experience exceeded hers, and plenty smart. She’s obviously not happy with how she ended up in London in the first place but she tried to make the best of it.

2. I liked Riley too. He’s a genuinely good kid who just got caught up in circumstances. He gets fleshed out later on in the book, when we find out about his past and how he got involved with Garrick.

3. Garrick is one heck of a creepy villain. Kudos to Colfer for creating a great boogeyman.

4. The plot twists were nicely done. They were surprising, sure, but they didn’t come out of nowhere.

5. Excellent handling of time travel! The time travel framework for The Reluctant Assassin is similar to Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, which is a good thing because none of the side details are lost and everything makes sense. It was an integral part of the story and not a deus ex machina

The not-so-good:
1. While I love Chevie to bits, her attitude can be grating at times.

2. Garrick is built up to be so scary, it’s bordering on ridiculous. He was already unconscionably evil before the start of the book and then the wormhole shit happens and he becomes even smarter and meaner. Garrick is still an excellent villain but there are some times when his over-the-top antics actually make him less scary.

The part that made me fume in anger:
THE COVER. Oh my god, the cover for the US release! Chevron Savano is a seventeen-year-old badass FBI agent, not some model wannabe. Why in the ever-loving hell was she subjected to the infamous spine-twisting ass shot? WHYYYYY??? This sends a bad message all around, especially since this book is marketed towards teenagers. Before you say that I’m overreacting, let me introduce you to the The Hawkeye Initiative. Here’s Hawkeye doing the exact pose that Chevie is in:

WARP1 US cover Hawkeye

Enough said. Compare this to the UK cover (see the first cover I posted) which has no asses whatsoever. Whoever designed the US book cover, you have a lot to answer for. Please get it right in the second book.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars when I ignore the cover, 2.5 stars if the cover is considered.

And the winner of the “The House of Hades” giveaway is…?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to Andrea M. for winning a paperback copy of “The House of Hades” from Fully Booked! Please DM me your shipping address so that I can send you the book ASAP. Congratulations again!

Thanks so much to everyone who joined the giveaway. I hope you had as much fun joining as I had hosting it. A big THANK YOU also to Fully Booked for being awesome and sponsoring this special prize! Guys, show them some love over on Facebook and Twitter 😀

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