Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #17: The Girl Who Would Be King by Kelly Thompson

girl king

This is a hard book for me to review.  There are a lot of things I like about the book, but it desperately needed a lot more editing.    There is a good original story in here, but it’s in a mess of a book.  The characters have kernels of greatness, but are too often cartoonish.

Bonnie Braverman and Lola LaFever are teenage girls.  They don’t know each other, or about each other.  When their respective mothers die, they inherit amazing superpowers.  Bonnie’s parents are killed in a car accident when she is 6.  She is raised in an orphanage, mute by choice.  When she ages out of the orphanage, she moves to New York City, with half formed plans to be a super hero.  Lola, father unknown, murders her mother at 16 and sets out of her own intending to live an exciting life of crime.  Neither girl has quite the experience they are looking for.  It becomes clear that the two girls are halves of a whole and are intended to battle.  This war has gone on for generations before them.  Inevitably, the two do meet and battle.

The narrative is split between them.  Each girl tells her story through her own eyes.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.   As I said, I wish the book had had another round of editing – not for grammar and typos but for pruning and focusing the story.

I’ll be interested to see what Kelly Thompson writes next.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #16: The Yugo – The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic

yugo toast

If only the Yugo were the worst thing we knew about the former Yugoslavia.

The Yugo was both a great idea terribly executed, and a terrible idea that was much more successful than it deserved.   In the 1980’s a few people saw a hole in the American car market – a need for a cheap compact car.   One of those people was Malcolm Bricklin.  Lets just get this out of the way, if Malcolm Bricklin asks you for money, only give him what you can afford to loose.  You are a lot more likely to have a good time than you are to get rich.  Let’s also get this out of the way, the Yugo is not the worst car in history.  The worst car in history couldn’t meet US import safety standards.  The Yugo was just in the wrong place at the right time.  Of cars sold in the US, it was at the bottom in terms of quality, but was better than many cars that were rejected by US safety regulators.

The Yugo was the state car of Yugoslavia – originally based off blueprints from Fiat and produced by Yugoslav manufacturer, Zastava.  It was a basic, no frills mode of transportation.   Bricklin discovered the car in London when negotiations to import another car fell apart.  The negotiations fell apart because Bricklin’s reputation preceded him.  By the time Bricklin got involved with the Yugo, he had a reputation as a flamboyant entrepreneur, better at vision than business.  His vision for success was rarely based in reality.

Despite the involvement of Bricklin, this wasn’t an enterprise destined to fail.  There were some very good reasons for bringing the Yugo to the US market.   For a variety of reasons, another Japanese car could not be brought to the US market.  The Yugo needed a lot of work before it would meet minimum US safety standards.  However, Zastava was willing to put in the work.  On the downside, as a Communist economy, Yugoslavia’s industry was motivated more by full employment than efficiency.   On the upside, the work force was used to working long hours and were willing to make the changes needed to improve quality.  The PR and advertising people in the US were able to spin some of the negatives into positives – such as highlighting the handcrafting that went into the Yugo manufacture.  Although described as a positive, the “handcrafting” resulted in unreliable quality and pieces that didn’t quite fit together.

The Yugo was introduced to the US at a time when Yugoslavia had just received a bumper of positive press.  The successful 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo meant that Americans had heard of Yugoslavia in a positive way.  Yugoslavia’s political distance from Moscow made them the “good communists.”  Bricklin and company did a lot to build positive buzz before the Yugo arrived in the US.  It was shaping up to be a wildly successful launch.  The problem was partly that the quality of the Yugo was over sold.  When people actually got hold of the Yugo, they were disappointed.  In addition, the Yugo was an easy target for comedians.  Yugos became equated with losers, alienating the car from one of their natural demographics – teens wanting a first car.

How many teenagers fit in a Yugo?  Who knows? No teenager would be caught dead in one.

The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History is a great read – enlightening, entertaining, and thought provoking.   The book touches on the bloody conflict that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia.  The Yugo came out about the time I was learning to drive and thinking about a car of my own.  I ended up with a used car that put the Yugo to shame.  You couldn’t run the air conditioner and drive at the same time in my car – affectionately known as the blue chicken bomb.   I didn’t think about the Yugo again until Michael Moore used a Yugo and a pizza to try to bring peace to the Balkans.  He drove a Yugo back and forth between the Yugoslav (Serbian) consulate and the Croatian consulate in DC using a pizza to attempt an equitable land division.  Moore also asked who would fix his Yugo and got officials form both consulates to roll up their sleeves.  It didn’t bring peace, but it was a rare light moment in a conflict known for inhumane brutality.   When that episode aired in 1994 (8 years after the Yugo arrived in the United States), I was in DC – motivated by the human rights violations in Bosnia to go to law school.  But that’s a different story.

By the way, I’ve been “watching” the Fast and The Furious movies while writing this review.  It’s appropriate in so many ways.  The pieces don’t fit and the movies are more interested in full employment than efficiency.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #15: The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

The Devil you know

I’ve had Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know on my TBR list for a couple of years.  After I read Teresaelectro’s review of Thicker Than Water, I couldn’t resist.   I got it at Audible, narrated by Michael Kramer.  It was great.

It’s a great first book in a series that looks like it gets more interesting.   One of the reasons I had resisted The Devil You Know was all the comparisons to the Dresden Files.  They are both in the same genre.  Harry and Felix  ‘Fix’ Castor are both hard on their friends with and have similar “investigative” styles.   But apart from some surface similarities Mike Carey and Jim Butcher are very different writers and the worlds they create are very much their own.

One of the things I found surprising was the degree to which Carey married real events with his fantasy London.  Bringing in real world events gives depth and gravity to the story.  I wasn’t surprised when I found out that Carey also wrote comics.  His writing style creates strong visual images.

The Devil You Know is a great start to a series.  If Carey had never written another Felix Castor novel, I would have been happy with the book I got.  But there is a lot of room in this universe for the story to grow.  From the review of Thicker Than Water, I can tell a lot changes.  I’m looking forward to diving in to this series.

 

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #14: The Queen of Attolia (book 2) by Megan Whalen Turner

Queen of Attolia

“There are a lot of things a person with two hands couldn’t steal,” Eddis said.
“So?”
“If it’s impossible to steal them with two hands, it’s no more impossible to steal them with one. Steal peace, Eugenides. Steal me some time.”

Eugenides, the thief of Eddis, is not where he’s supposed to be.  He has been haunting the Queen of Attolia, and pays a horrible price for his transgression.  Three interdependent kingdoms, Attolia, Eddis and Sounis are at war with each other while trying to maintain their independence from a greedy empire.

I loved the preceding book, The Thief, because it was an adventure that relied more on character than on swords (or guns).   The Queen of Attolia maintains it’s focus on character, but has more adventure.  The Thief was told entirely from Gen’s point of view.  The Queen of Attolia moves between characters.  The story telling remains tight and suspenseful.   I fell totally in love with this book, and so I find it hard to describe with out spoiling the whole story.

I read The Queen of Attolia in just a few hours, forsaking all other productivity.  I’m going to wait a few days before I buy the next book.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #13: The Thief (book 1) by Megan Whalen Turner

The Theif

Gen is a thief who bragged too loudly after stealing the king’s seal and is now languishing in the king’s jail.   He also bragged that no jail could hold him, but he languishes until the king’s magus sends for him.

“I want you to steal something.”
I smiled. “Do you want the king’s seal? I can get it for you.”
“If I were you,” said the magus, “I’d stop bragging about that.” His voice grated.
My smile grew. The gold ring with the engraved ruby had been in his safekeeping when I had stolen it away.”

We’re initially given the impression that maybe Gen isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  It does appear that his stay in jail was harder on him physically than he anticipated.  Gen isn’t who he seems to be, but he knows quite well who he is and what he’s doing.  Gen is an astute observer, allowing the reader to get to know the other characters and the world they live in without huge amounts of exposition and explanation.  There is some of that, of course, but it doesn’t feel like a slog.

The Thief is the first book of a four part fantasy adventure series.  I’m really looking forward to reading the next three books.  For a fantasy adventure, The Thief is relatively quiet and character driven.  I hear that the next three books are even better, so I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest this for fun summer reading.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #12: Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels 4) by Ilona Andrews

And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short. – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

After reading a bunch of disappointing urban fantasy, I returned to the Kate Daniels series to remind myself how it should be done.

The Kate Daniels series is a combination of urban fantasy and post-apocalypse.  The setting is a familiar urban landscape, Atlanta, made foreign by the apocalyptic return of magic to the world.  Magic once ruled the world, but faded, allowing technology to take precedence.  A few decades before the series begins, magic returns, throwing the world into chaos.  Magic comes in waves, alternating unpredictably with technology.  The return of magic, brings legendary creatures and gods, shape-shifters and vampires to the world.  The world has become unpredictable and violent.  Society has become balkanized.  Long distance travel has become difficult and long distance communication less certain.  Guns are unreliable, making swords and hand-to-hand combat more relevant.  A few spoilers for previous books and this book follow after the break. Continue reading

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #11: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

Lamb

“You think you know how this story is going to end, but you don’t.”  – Biff

Lamb is the story of Jesus (Joshua bar Joseph in the original Hebrew) as told by his childhood friend and traveling companion, Levi bar Alphaeus who is called Biff.  Biff and his gospel are missing from the New Testament for reasons made clear near the end of the book.  Levi is resurrected 2000 years after Joshua’s death and given the gift of tongues so that he can write his account.

Lamb is absurdly and sophmorically funny, thoughtful, philosophical, and towards the end, heart breaking.  As an agnostic from Texas, Jesus has never been my friend.  I like Biff’s Jesus.  He’s a real person who grows and evolves, has a sense of humor, and occasionally punches his best friend.  He knows that he’s the Messiah, but struggles with what that means and has no idea how to save his people.  Joshua is frustrated by God’s silence and mourns for the things he will not have or experience.  Biff also knows Joshua is the Messiah, but is pretty certain that he is incapable of taking care of himself.  When the time comes for Joshua to go out into the world and learn how to be the Messiah, Biff gives up his dream of being the village idiot and/or marrying Mary Magdalene (or Joshua’s mother if something happens to Joseph) to go along and keep Josh safe.  Imagine if Buffy had been written entirely from Zander’s point of view, or Harry Potter from Ron Weasley’s point of view.  Biff is not the special one, but he is interesting in his own right and profoundly loyal.  He makes fun of Joshua and keeps him tethered to the earth.  Joshua is faith and spirituality.  Biff is practicality and stratagems.

Joshua and Biff’s travels are firmly embedded in their historical context. The Jews are desperate for a Messiah to overthrow Roman rule. The rejection of Joshua’s belief that overthrowing Rome is unimportant is understandable when you see what life is like for Jews under Roman rule. Scholars have pointed out the many ways in which Christianity is similar to other contemporary religions. Joshua and Biff learn from followers of Lao Tzu, the Buddha, and from a Hindu yogi. The teachings that Joshua brings home are a product of his experiences and of the teachings of many religions. Lamb also explains why Jews eat Chinese at Christmas, so not all of the historical context is philosophical or deep.

There is a scene early in the book that foreshadows the end. Biff and Joshua have traveled with their families to Jerusalem for Passover. For the first time they are helping the men carry the sacrificial lambs to the temple for slaughter. Biff feels the lamb’s breath and heartbeat and becomes overwhelmed. He runs out of the temple with the lamb in his arms. Joshua comforts him and takes the lamb to be sacrificed. Joshua may be the special one, but there is a beauty to Biff’s mundane earthiness.

I laughed almost to the end, where my heart was ripped out, beaten, and then lovingly placed back into my chest.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #10: Discount Armegeddon by Seanan McGuire

First, I am continuing my ranting about disappointing books.  Second, I love Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, so I expected to like her new series, InCryptid, as well.

To add some context, the excellent October Daye books are emotional and fraught with loss.  I can understand why McGuire would want some relief from writing the heaviness of Daye’s San Francisco.  Unfortunately, this first book just doesn’t gel.  There are a lot of good elements, but I found it a frustrating read.

Verity Price was raised in a special family.  She comes from a long line of reformed monster hunters, who are now “crypto-zoologists.”  Instead of slaughtering monsters, they study and protect them, killing them only when there is no alternative.  In order to become former monster hunters, they broke off from a hard-line ‘all monsters are evil’ organization, the Covenant of Saint George.  The Covenant has a kill on sight policy with both cryptids and Prices.  As a result, the family is in hiding.

Verity really wants to be a professional ball room dancer, and is living in Manhattan.  There’s a lot going on.  There’s lots of clever elements – hyper-religious mice, hard working cryptids trying to blend in, free-running, sassy sayings from mothers and grandmothers, witty repartee, etc.  The problem is, Verity herself verges on too stupid too live.  She is certain of her own smarts and abilities, but she makes stupid choices that are clearly destined to go wrong.  And then there’s the rather flat love interest – Dominic, a Covenant of Saint George operative.  For whatever reason, instead of killing her, he skulks about offended by her pro-cryptid attitude, interferes with her dance audition, and sleeps with her.  And then there’s a dragon.

I have a lot of faith in Seanan McGuire, so I’m going to try the next book in the series, which was released last month.  I hope it’s better.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review # 9: Elemental Assassin books 2 – 5, by Jennifer Estep

I tried to write 4 separate reviews for books 2 – 5 of Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series.  The books, in case you want to read them, are Web of Lies, Venom, Tangled Threads, and Spider’s Revenge.  I couldn’t write four reviews because there just isn’t four books worth of plot distributed amongst them.  This review is full of spoilers, but that’s okay, because none of the reveals are worth the drama in which they are wrapped.

To recap, Gin’s family was murdered, and she was tortured when she was 13 by an unknown fire elemental.  She was taken in by the owner of a barbecue joint, who was also an assassin.  He became her mentor and handler.  Now that he’s dead, at the hands of a psychotic air elemental, Gin has been left his barbecue joint, a whole lot of money, and a file that indicates that her baby sister survived the attack on the family and that the murderer may have been Mab, the psychotic fire elemental who runs the city’s underworld.   Over four books, Gin’s clearly dead end romance with Detective Caine comes to it’s obvious conclusion as a more appropriate romantic lead comes into the picture.  The missing sister is discovered as the new one honest cop in town.  She’s also the new disapproving foil to Gin’s job as an assassin, theoretically retired.

Over the course of four books, there is a lot of recapping of what has happened previously.  Lots and lots of recapping.  There’s so much recapping, because there just isn’t that much plot.  Gin also spends a lot of time telling us she is the best assassin in the South.  For the best assassin in the South, Gin is a terrible assassin.  She leaves a lot of things up to chance and a lot of things go wrong.  She comes through on luck and the skills of her friends.  Mishaps make for good suspense, but it’s cheap suspense.  Gin might be good at killing people, but she’s a piss poor planner and strategist.  She’s like one of those characters who spends the whole book telling us they’re a genius, and then it turns out they were stupid all along.

I wish Gin lived up to her promise and potential.  She’s sassy, but not nearly as bad ass as she thinks.  She’s got some good friends who provide welcome color.  Unfortunately, the writer isn’t as good as she thinks she is either.

By the way, Gin defeats her nemesis, reconnects and reconciles with her long lost sister, and says “I love you” to the man who accepts her for who she is.  But before I finished the books I didn’t care anymore, and a couple of days after I finished the books those resolutions had failed to stick in my mind.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #8: Spider’s Bite By Jennifer Estep

Gin Blanco, aka The Spider, tells us she is the most feared assassin in the South.  We meet her first undercover in an insane asylum, where she efficiently takes out her target, a corrupt psychiatrist.   Her cover identity is as a dilettante, perpetual student, and waitress at a local barbeque joint.  The restaurant, The Pork Pit, is owned by her mentor and handler, Fletcher.  Fletcher rescued her off the street at 13 after her family was murdered.  He took her in and trained her to be an assassin, like him.   He wants her to think about retiring.    To that end, he sets up one last lucrative job.  Of course, things go horribly wrong.  Continue reading