Monday, December 30, 2013

Shattered by Dani Pettrey

Shattered Reef is the prodigal son (or rather brother) of the McKenna family, having left home at 18 to pursue a career as a professional athlete against his family's wishes.  One night he unexpectedly appears on his sisters' doorstep covered in blood.  It isn't too long before the police come knocking on the McKenna's door to arrest him for the murder of Karli Davis, a fellow athlete. 

In addition to Reef, the McKenna family consists of Cole, Gage, Kayden, and Piper.  Also along for the ride are Jake who works at the adventure store the McKennas (minus Reef) run, police detective Landon who is also Cole's best friend, and eventually Darcy, a sports reporter.  Despite the mountain of evidence against Reef, Piper is completely convinced her brother is innocent.  The rest of Reef's family and friends have their doubts, but with Piper determined to prove her brother's innocence the rest of the group follows Piper's lead if only to protect her from getting hurt.

Christian, romance, suspense - these are the three adjectives that seem to get attached to Shattered (which is the second entry in Dani Pettrey's Alaskan Courage series) the most often.  For me the suspense aspect is what worked the best.  The victim, Karli Davis, is much more than she appears.  The investigation into her life and death leads to the world of professional winter sports, an outlaw motorcycle gang, and a suspicious pharmaceutical company.  It sounds like everything and the kitchen sink but it worked.  Each new revelation about Karli's past was intriguing.  Following the McKennas and company as they tried to work out who wanted Karli dead and why was a wild ride.  It is because of this aspect of the book that I would recommend Shattered to anyone looking for a suspense filled story with a little action and mystery mixed in.

The romance aspect of Shattered did not work as well.  Piper and Landon are the couple at the center of this story.  As Cole's best friend, Landon watched Piper grow up.  As Cole was falling in love with Bailey in Submerged (book one in the Alaskan Courage series) Landon found himself developing feelings for the woman he once considered something of a little sister.  For various reasons he decided not to act on those feelings.  In the meantime, Piper is dating Denny.  Landon does not approve of Denny.  He considers Denny to be something of a player, though the only evidence ever given to support this characterization is that Denny is wealthy and used to getting his own way.  When Denny takes Piper on a romantic picnic (and although Denny has never tried anything with Piper), Landon shows up and literally drags her away from her date.  I suppose this was meant to show how much Landon cared about Piper, but it came off as more caveman than caring.  Seriously, I reread the scene to check if he had dragged her by her hair or her arm.  Throughout their so-called romance Landon is condescending and controlling.  He may be acting out of a good place (to protect Piper) but that doesn't excuse his behavior or the way he speaks to her.

The Christian aspect was also somewhat disappointing.  There are lots of examples of people turning to God for help (and that's great), but there was also a lot of judgmental posturing.  There were two instances of this that bothered me in particular.  The first involved Kayden and Jake. 

Jake isn't from Yancey, Alaska but he has lived there for the past few years.  Still, in a small town like Yancey a person could live there for years and still be considered an outsider.  Now Jake's backstory hasn't been revealed yet (that's coming in book four I hear) but so far he appears to be a good guy.  He works at the McKenna store.  When the McKenna's need help, Jake is there to lend a hand.  While the rest of McKenna family considered Jake to be a friend, Kayden is openly hostile for no apparent reason other than that Jake isn't from Yancey.  At one point when they're discussing the investigation Kayden insinuates that Jake is a criminal because only a criminal would say whatever Jake said.  Jake says that he is not criminal and Kayden says something like "and we're just supposed to your word on that," at which point I wanted to reach through the book, shake Kayden and tell her, "Yes, you ignorant little twit, you take his word for it.  You do not have to automatically trust every stranger that crosses your path, but you also do not go around accusing people of committing crimes, especially in the absence of evidence that a crime has even been committed.  You give people the benefit of the doubt until they give you a reason to doubt them."  Okay, enough of that rant.  I just found the character of Kayden extremely annoying, bitter, and almost hateful (as in that she was full of hate).  There was no explanation for her behavior and at no point does anyone call her on her behavior.

The other example of judgmental nonsense considered Meredith Blake, the district attorney prosecuting Reef and, coincidentally, Gage's ex-girlfriend.  Of course, the McKennas are mad at Meredith for prosecuting Reef which is ridiculous because (a) there was ample evidence pointing to Reef as the killer and (b) the district attorney cannot not pursue a case just because the family of the accused swears he's really good guy who would never hurt a fly.  The bigger issue is Gage's and Meredith's past together.  Without going into detail, the couple suffered a devastating loss several years earlier.  Their relationship did not survive the loss.  Now everyone has different ways of grieving and dealing with a loss.  Gage is still deeply upset, which is totally understandable.  Meredith grieved and then moved forward.  She chooses not to think too much about past and what she lost, which is also totally understandable, except that it isn't so understandable to the McKennas.  Gage and certain others attack Meredith for not grieving in the way that Gage grieves.  I found this troubling, obnoxious, and not very Christian or kind.  Gage and Meredith dealt with their pain differently but in the best way they could and neither should be judged for it, at least not by people looking in from the outside.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned complaints, I still enjoyed the Shattered.  The suspenseful story surrounding Karli Davis made it all worth it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries  What could be more perfect than mysteries at Christmas?  Christmas is the happiest time of year and all that, but the cold winter days are also the perfect setting for all things dark and twisty.  Maybe a murder, perhaps a robbery gone wrong, or maybe there could be a ghost.  However you like your mystery there is something for you in The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries.  There are ghosts, thieves and cold-hearted murderers.  There are traditional mysteries and modern mysteries, funny mysteries and seriously scary mysteries.  For added measure, Otto Penzler (the editor) threw in a few classics from the greats - Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and Arthur Conan Doyle.

I loved this.  It was perfect Christmastime / end-of-the year reading material, combining one of my favorite genres with Christmas spirit.  I don't often read short stories.  It isn't a conscious decision, it just kind of works out that way.  In any case, the short story form really worked for me in this instance, allowing me to squeeze in a complete story in between Christmas shopping, work and all the preparations that go in making this time of year so special.

The collection is divided into ten kinds of stories: traditional, funny, Sherlockian, pulpy, uncanny, scary, surprising, modern, puzzling, and classic Christmas mysteries.  Though I liked the traditional and modern stories the best (which seems odd but it is what it is), I found something to enjoy in every set.  Donald E. Westlake's The Burglar and the Whatsit was laugh out loud funny.  Joseph Shearing's The Chinese Apple was dark and definitely twisty.  There were a couple of interesting interpretations of Dickens's A Christmas Carol ghost story.  Really, I can't recommend this book enough.  There were so many great stories.

One last thought - in addition to the great stories, you get to know a little bit about each author as Penzler has kindly included a paragraph about each story's author and tidbits about the origin of the story.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Faking It by Cora Carmack

Faking It  Faking It is a new adult (I'm still getting used to the idea of this genre) romance centering around Max and Cade.  Max is a struggling musician with a body covered in tattoos and piercings.  When her parents unexpectedly come to town Max covers up her tattoos, tames her hair into a respectable shape, and enlist the clean cut Cade to pretend to be her boyfriend to satisfy her judgmental parents.  Several years earlier max lost her sister in an accident.  Mourning a sister, juggling jobs while trying to make it as a rock star, and trying to appease picky parents has left Max with trust and intimacy issues.  Cade is the Cade from Losing It (the first book in this series) who fell in love with his best friend Bliss only to find that she was in love with someone else.  His mother died when he was young and his father abandoned him, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother.  Between losing his parents and losing Bliss, Cade has abandonment issues.  When Max and Cade meet, or rather collide, the connection is immediate.  They are drawn together like magnets, but with all their issues they repel each other almost as quickly. 

This is a romance novel so the ending is not a surprise, but the journey there is pretty sweet.  I really fell in love with these characters.  They were believable and understandable.  They had real issues to overcome.  I am looking forward to reading the next entry in the series, Finding It.  This is a definite recommend for all the romantics.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reading Challenges for 2014

In 2014 I plan to once again take on a few reading challenges.  Reading challenges are great because they can hope expose one to new genres and meet reading goals.

Challenge #1: Literary Explorations Challenge
This will be my second year with this challenge.  The goal is to try books from different genres.  There are three challenge levels: Easy with 12 genres, Hard with 24 genres, and Insane with 36 genres.  I will either to do the hard or insane challenge.

Challenge #2: Mount TBR
My to-be-read pile has over 150 books.  It has been an ongoing battle to whittle it down.  I'm hoping the Mount TBR will help me do that.  Ideally I would like to get my TBR pile down to fifty or less.  I don't think that will happen this year, but hopefully I can at least make a sizable dent.

There are several level's to choose from:
  • Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile
  • Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile 
  • Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile 
  • Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles 
  • Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile 
  • El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile 
  • Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile 
  • Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile

I'm aiming to climb Mt. Vancouver level, but it would be awesome if I made it up Mt. Ararat.

Challenge #3: What's In a Name?
I am also intrigued by the What's In a Name Challenge. For this challenge the goal is to read books whose title falls into the following the categories:
  • A reference to time (Eleven Minutes, Before Ever After)
  • A position of royalty (The People’s Queen, The Last Empress, The Curse Of The Pharaoh)
  • A number written in letters (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, A Tale Of Two Cities)
  • A forename or names (Rebecca, Eleanor & Park, The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D.)
  • A type or element of weather (Gone With The Wind, Red Earth Pouring Rain)

Challenge #4: Goodreads
Lastly, I will do the general Goodreads challenge to read an overall number of books for the year.  My goal for 2013 was 60 books, as of the writing of this post I'm on book number 64.  For 2014, I'm contemplating aiming for 65 or 70.

Now that I look at this, it is quite a lot.  Wish me luck!  And if you know of any other interesting reading challenges let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

The Bookseller (Hugo Marston Series #1) I love mysteries.  I love books and books about books.  For reasons unknown I've been infatuated with Paris from a young age.  So when Mark Pryor's The Bookseller appeared on my radar, it was a foregone conclusion that I would read it. The story centers around a Paris bookseller named Max who is kidnapped in broad daylight from his bookstall along the Seine.  His friend Hugo Marston, a former FBI agent and current head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris witnesses the kidnapping and sets out to find out what happen to his friend and bring the perpetrators to justice.  

The Bookseller is the first novel by the author and the first in the relatively new Hugo Martson series.  For a first novel, it was good, not perfect, but good.  There are a bugs that need to be worked out.  For instance, the character Hugo is supposed to be from Texas and there are constant references to him being a "cowboy" although other than being from the Lone Star state there is little to support this characterization.  This seemed like a superficial characterization but then maybe that was intentional.  Maybe it was an attempt to portray how the French see Americans, especially American law enforcement.  There is an awful lot of crime and coincidences stuff thrown in the book's 300 pages - Nazi hunters and Nazi collaborators, unexpectedly valuable books, and turf wars between rival international criminal organizations.  There is a new girlfriend who turns out to have several personal and professional connections to Hugo, Max and the case.  References to Sherlock Holmes are thrown in for good measure.  Oh, and I almost forgot about Hugo's sidekick, a semi-retired CIA agent who decides it would be a good time to visit Paris.  It came together in the end but there were times when it felt a little like everything and the kitchen sink had been thrown in. But these complaints are minor.  Overall I enjoyed the book.  It is a first novel and I am willing to bet the series will improve with each new book. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Submerged by Dani Pettrey

Submerged   Bailey Craig was the bad girl in high school.  She drank a little too much and slept around.  Twelve years a later she's sober and has earned a doctorate in Russian history (or something like that).  Despite being on the straight-and-arrow she still feels tremendously guilty and ashamed about her behavior in high school.  Fortunately, Bailey now lives in Oregon, far away from her Alaskan hometown and the people who knew her (and tormented her) in high school.  She had no intention of ever setting foot back in Yancey, Alaska again.  Then she gets a phone call telling her that her Aunt Agnes, a woman who was there for her when her parents weren't, has died in a plane crash.  Bailey returns to Yancey, intending only to stay long enough to attend the funeral and settle her aunt's affairs, but then...

A few years ago I went to Alaska.  It is one of the most beautiful places on earth that I've ever seen.  I am equally intrigued by its history.  Submerged is set in Alaska.  That and the fact that the blurb on the cover promised "romantic suspense" pretty much meant I had to read it.  It is the literary equivalent of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie.  I mean that as a compliment.  It has a simple plot, is light and quick, and has a perfect Hollywood ending.  I found this in the fiction section of a Christian bookstore, which is to say there is a heavy emphasis on redemption and religion.  There is no subtlety on this point.  Bailey's past sexual indiscretions and her eventual redemption are a major theme in the story.  This lack of subtlety is my only real criticism.  I mean, seriously high school is so over.  It's been twelve years.  Bailey has stopped drinking, found God, and has her life is well on track - get over high school already.  Anyway, notwithstanding the heavy handed handling of Bailey's past, I enjoyed the book.  It was exactly was I was in the mood for, but then I love Hallmark and Lifetime movies.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reading Challenges: Done and Done!

At the beginning of the year I took on three reading challenges.  The first was a Goodreads challenge to read 60 books in 2013.  Though I got behind for awhile, overall this was an easy challenge.  In fact, I am now  on book 62.  Next year I may aim for 70 or 75 books.  That would be a real challenge for me.

I have forgotten the details of the second challenge, as the person or group that was hosting it disappeared.  At first I was disappointed, but then I stumbled upon the Literary Exploration genre challenge.  The idea was to read books from 12 (easy), 24 (hard), 26 (insane) different challenges.  The genres were picked by the moderators of the Literary Exploration book club, but individual readers chose what books to read.  In case it isn't clear below, to complete the hard challenge for example, one would read books from the 12 genres in the easy challenge plus the additional 12 books in the hard challenge.  I started off with the easy challenge but then started reading genres from the other two challenges before I had even finished the first one.  In the end I just decided to read all thirty-six.

The best part about this challenge was that I discovered genres I had never read before, like steampunk and cyberpunk, and was re-introduced to genres I hadn't read in a long time, like poetry and drama.  The hardest genres for me were horror and true crime.  I've never been much of a horror fan and did not love the book I chose, but would be willing to try another horror novel.  As for true crime, I was afraid true crime books were all movie-of-the-week books about whatever sensational crime was most recently in the news.  Luckily I found a true crime story that didn't involve murder.  While the book I read for this genre was fine, I still can't say I'm a fan of the genre.  Perhaps that's ironic since I love mysteries, but true crime just isn't as fun or interesting to me.

Now that I have completed this challenge I'm looking forward to a month of what I'm calling "free reading," which basically I'll be reading without having a challenge dictate what kind of book I read next.  This mostly like means I'll be reading romance and mystery books, two of my favorite genres.

Here's What I read for the 2013 Literary Exploration genre challenge:

  1. Adventure – The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
  2. Auto-Biography/Biography – Mud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls
  3. Chick-LitWhere She Went by Gayle Forman
  4. Children’s Book – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
  5. ClassicsHouse of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  6. Cyberpunk Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  7. Drama Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  8. Dystopian – Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  9. Educational –  The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley
  10. Erotica – Hot Ticket by Olivia Cunning
  11. Espionage Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
  12. Fantasy – A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
  13. Graphic Novels – Captain America (Volumes 1 & 2) by Ed Brubaker
  14. Gothic – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  15. Hard-Boiled – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  16. Historical Fiction – Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore
  17. Horror – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  18. Humor – Earth the Book, from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show
  19. Literary Fiction In One Person by John Irving
  20. Magical Realism – Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  21. Mystery – Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James
  22. Noir – Toronto Noir edited by Janine Armin and Nathaniel G. Moore
  23. Non Fiction – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr
  24. Paranormal Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  25. Philosophical – Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, edited by James B. South
  26. Poetry – Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  27. Post-Apocalyptic – World War Z by Max Brooks
  28. RomanceA Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
  29. Science Fiction – The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  30. SteampunkThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
  31. Supernatural The Secret Circle by L. J. Smith
  32. Thriller – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  33. True Crime – The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
  34. Urban Fantasy – Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
  35. Victorian The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
  36.  Young Adult Looking For Alaska by John Green