eBook Review: Dreamwalker

I recently joined NetGalley and received an eBook of Dreamwalker (The Red Dragon Academy Book 1) by Rhys Bowen and C.M. Broyles in exchange for an honest review.

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Summary from Amazon:

Seven Children, Seven Powers. One Enemy. Addy Walker is a normal California surfer girl until her mother dies and her British aunt enrolls her at a boarding school called Red Dragon Academy in Wales. At first the school seems okay, if a little weird. Which other school has a sun-day when it’s not raining? But when Addy stumbles upon a hallway that leads to a different and horrible part of the school she begins to have her doubts. Addy has always had vivid dreams but now these dreams are becoming frighteningly real and she has a hard time telling dreams from reality. Was it really only in a dream that she visited the cold palace and met the man who wants her captured? He calls her a dreamwalker and it seems that this is a special and dangerous power. Is Addy really able to move between two worlds or is she finally cracking up? Dreamwalker is the first book in the Red Dragon Academy series and in it we meet Addy, as well as snooty Pippa, brainy Raj, cheeky Sam, serious Coby, shy Gwyllum and worldly Celeste—all who may have been brought to the school because of their special powers. All of whom may be in mortal danger from a terrifying tyrant who calls himself The One, in a land that seems a lot like Wales, but isn’t.

Dreamwalker starts out with a great premise. Who doesn’t love schools full of magic and powers? The characters are all interesting and different, and I see a lot of promise in their abilities and friendships as the series grows. I was also fascinated that Addy’s power is one of dreamwalking since I have such vivid dreams myself. I easily related to how she felt when she realized that what she thought was something that really happened turned out to be her unconscious mind.

However, some of the promise I saw in the series was not realized in the story itself. I felt the pacing of the book was off, some parts moved extremely slow while the emotional aspects of some serious moments moved quickly with little development of Addy’s psyche. Addy finds out some things about her past that are quite shocking and would be devastating, especially to someone who has just lost their only support system. Yet she spends little time processing these things in anyway whatsoever, let alone in a constructive way. While I understand people have a perception of children as being resilient and teenagers as being closed mouthed when it comes to emotions, the inner turmoil is still there and that is something I did not see. Personally, I wish there had been more development of the emotional side of her character verses the adventures.

And the book is full of adventures. It has treasure hunts, haunted hallways, mysterious teachers, etc. I really did enjoy some of those scenes and moments that Addy has on her adventures. The premise and even the world building are well done. It is a decently written book except for some pacing and emotional character development. It is possible that these will be improved in the next book in a series, but I’m not sure I will read them to find out. While I felt a connection to Addy’s ability in dreamwalking, I didn’t feel a connection to Addy herself. Personally, I look for connections to the characters not just the world they live in. Overall, I think the story was interesting and it kept me reading despite some drawbacks. (This may have something to do with the fact that much of the explanation for things didn’t happen until I was ninety percent of the way through the book. Ninety percent!)

If you enjoy adventure stories about schools full of children with interesting abilities, you may find this book to your liking.

P,S. I know this is basically an ARC via NetGalley, but the formatting on my mobile device was severely lacking. I spent a goodly amount of my time trying to sus out who said what. I hope these formatting kinks are worked out for the people who pay to read the story.

Theater Review: Pavlov’s Dogs Improv Comedy Show

Chris and I went to an improv show by Pavlov’s Dogs at the Dallas Comedy House. The show is called End of the Month and is an “improvised show that is built around things that happened earlier that month” on the news. Off to the side of the stage sits a TV screen with dated news headlines scrolling past. Chris pointed out that the headlines were still dated 2014 even though the headlines were centered around the upcoming 2015 Superbowl. While slightly distracting, I thought it added to the weirdness of the show. Everyone was instructed to fill out a slip of paper of something interesting that happened to them that month and then deposit it in a bucket on the stage.

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The show starts out as though the audience is watching a live news show. Headlines are pulled from the television screen to the left of the stage and the troupe members act as anchors and then proceed to act out the scenes. I really enjoyed the “bits” that the anchors were able to come up with on the spot, but the re-enactment of the news scenes made for a rough start to the show. Only when the troupe moved on to Detectives Barry and The Cobra did the show pick up speed and laughs. Playing off of TV tropes and bad cop/good cop routines Detective Barry and Detective The Cobra had the room erupting in laughter as they attempted to solve a murder.

The last game is one where the actors are gathered at the local watering hole to discuss their days as news anchors, detectives, and investigative reporters. During this time one member of the troupe begins to tell a story and then ends it by reading off the pieces of paper from the bucket. What would seemingly be disjointed turned into a hilarious comedy piece as the real “interesting” things that happened to members of the audience are distorted, re-enacted, and tied to earlier routines by the troupe.

While off to a rather slow and rough start, the troupe rallied as they continued to play their games on stage. I laughed really hard when the detectives where on stage and during a few of the watering hole pieces, and not just because I’d had two drinks and a bag of Skittles. Improv comedy may not be fun for everyone as it can include a lot of awkward moments, but occasionally it also results in laughing until you are in tears. In fact watching the troupe interact with each other and the audience, and listening as a room full of people gave themselves over to the moment with laughter and giggles made me long to get back into improv acting myself.

Audio Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I downloaded The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (as read by the author himself) via Audible with a free credit. I’m quite a fan of Gaiman, so when I was searching for an audio book I am always drawn to his stories and discovered this one.

ocean at the end of the lane

Summary from Audible:

Sussex, England: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie – magical, comforting, wise beyond her years – promised to protect him, no matter what.

One of the reasons that I am constantly downloading audiobooks is that I like to listen to stories as I fall asleep at night as well as listen to them as I drive around town. I started The Ocean at the End of the Lane and immediately found myself drawn to this strange otherworldly tale, at times scary and intense, always imaginative and all consuming. But soon discovered this is not a good bed time story. I would lie there at night as Chris slept soundly beside me, wide awake staring at my phone to caught up in the story, too scared to stop the story, too frightened to keep going. I would pause it, try to drift off, then worried about the boy, sit up and start it again. Restless I started a different audiobook and drifted off to sleep within a matter of minutes.

This is not a book to try to fall asleep to.

Like his other stories, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is full of strange mythologies interwoven with such relatable characters that I was pulled into the story, sucked in, and had to fight to find my way out again. Though the main part of the story happens in a man’s past when he is quite young, it is not a story for children. At the same time, Gaiman is able to capture the voice of a young boy, reminding me of how I used to view the world, that I began to recall my own childhood, well, at least all the scary moments of growing up.

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As I’ve come to expect from Gaiman, his prose is wonderful and wonderfully read by himself. The pacing of Gaiman’s writing is beyond compare and I never step outside the story to wonder what will happen because I am always entranced by what is happening, in that moment. Some times so engulfed in the story that I can’t sleep. Gaiman has such an amazing talent for voice acting that I have come to love the stories he reads himself. Just the other day I was in a bookstore and discovered a book of his I have yet to read, but didn’t pick it up because I want to find out if it is an audiobook instead. My queue in Audible is full of books by Gaiman and I don’t see that discontinuing any time soon.

I realize that my review more describes my experience reading this book than what it is about, but as far as I can tell, this is the best way to review this book. For one, to describe the story would be to ruin the magic of the tale, anything more said than the blurb ruins the world building and character building that Gaiman worked hard to create. Secondly, I’m not alone in my experiential review of this book. Patrick Rothfuss’ own meandering love story about this book is more about his experience of reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane than a typical review.

This is a story to experience. So, go out there and find your experience. Buy a copy, listen to the audiobook, fall in love with Gaiman just a little bit more.

Television Review: Endgame (2011)

Endgame (2011) is available on Hulu Plus (which we finally got working at our new place). There is only one season available and it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it was a good binge watch all the same.

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Summary from TV.Com

Arkady Balagan is a genius who found fame as the world chess champion but who, since witnessing the murder of his fiancée, has become rather agoraphobic and has been living in a posh hotel in Vancouver. Out of money and with his tab being called due he stumbles into helping find an abducted child. Realising (sic) he could make some money as an unofficial consulting detective he takes up a new profession and hires one of his chess fans to do the work which requires leaving the hotel. Arkady continues to work with Pippa Venturi, his late fiancée’s sister, to solve the murder of Rosemary Venturi, his fiancée, and her old friend Greg Lamont.

Balagan is an agoraphobic Sherlock Holmes. He is a genius who solves mysteries with chess strategic thinking. Since he is agoraphobic he enlists the help of a younger chess player, a maid of the hotel, and a bar tender in the hotel. He finds smart people to help him and doesn’t discriminate who that intelligent person is based on their job description. He is able to walk through what people probably did based on his extensive knowledge of how people work because of his chess playing background.

I like this show because I like smart people, and the entire ensemble is a cast of smart people. They all play off of each other beautifully, and there wasn’t a secondary character that I didn’t like or who was just there to fulfill some quota. They all contributed in their own way and each character pushed the show forward seamlessly. Balagan is a great character beautifully played. Sometimes he comes off as the biggest jerk, that smart kid who always thinks he is right, because he usually is. But, Balagan is smart because he understands not only the rules of a game, but how people think. His ability to understand other people gives his sometimes jerk character warmth and charm that really endured him to me.

My favorite episode was “I Killed Her” where a killer shows up at the hotel and confesses everything to Balagan, but in a way that he can’t be caught. At every turn the killer outsmarts Balagan, which was quite exciting to watch. In the end, it is Balagan’s understanding of human character that resolves the case. In a very touching scene Balagan figures out the psychology of the killer and what ultimately drives his behavior.

If you like binge watching television about smart people solving crimes in unusual ways, check out Endgame (2011) on Hulu Plus.

eBook Review: Better Off Dead by H. P. Mallory

I downloaded Better Off Dead (Lily Harper Series) by H. P. Mallory onto my AmazonKindle app because it was free and looked interesting.

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Summary from Goodreads

If there’s such a thing as luck, Lily Harper definitely doesn’t have it.

Killed in a car accident before it’s her time to go, Lily learns that the hereafter isn’t exactly what she hoped it might be.

First, there’s AfterLife Enterprises, the company responsible for sorting out the recently dead and sending them on their way to the Kingdom, (aka happily ever after,) or to the Underground City, (not so happily ever after.)

Learning that Lily’s death was indirectly their fault (her guardian angel, Bill, was MIA during her accident and was one of their employees,) Afterlife Enterprises offers Lily the chance to live again.

But, as with most things involving the afterlife, beware the fine print. Most notably, Lily will become a soul retriever, venturing into the bowels of the Underground City to retrieve souls that were mistakenly sent there by Afterlife Enterprises during a Y2K computer glitch.

Second, there’s angel Bill. As if risking her second life in the Underground City wasn’t enough, Lily’s guide to the Underground is none other than her incompetent, alcoholic, womanizing guardian angel, Bill, the antithesis of anything wholesome. With only Dante’s Inferno and Bill to help her in her quest, Lily’s future isn’t looking bright.

Finally, there’s the legendary bladesmith, Tallis Black. As Scottish as his kilts and heavy brogue, Tallis Black is a centuries-old Celt who, for reasons only known to him, offers to train Lily and act as her escort into the depths of the Underground City. Dark, brooding and definitely dangerous, Lily knows she shouldn’t trust Tallis, but she also can’t deny her attraction to him.

Between soul retrieving in hell, dealing with Bill and trying to figure out what’s in it for Tallis, Lily wonders if maybe she would’ve just been better off dead.

I really like the other H.P. Mallory series and think she is a good writer, but I have some reservations about this series and it didn’t catch my interest like her other two did. I was intrigued by the premise, I like Reaper Mystery tea cozy novels a lot, and I enjoy quirky characters which Better Off Dead has in spades. Angel Bill is quite hilarious even if he was a bit cringe worthy a few times, but in a way that made me laugh in spite of myself. He was the best parts of the book.

Lily is a well developed character who has a lot to learn about her new life. I can see her growing over the series and becoming a wonderful character. I just have a few issues with the premise of her character. My first issue is that when she becomes a Reaper she gets to choose a new body, and since she hates her old fat self she chooses to be a tall, curvy (but in all the right places), redhead- just like every other urban fantasy female lead. Her gangling movements, I’m in a new taller more beautiful body, scenes were off putting to me. It wasn’t as though she chose the right body for the job, she just chose her dream body. And I guess I would be fine with that realism, if the author addressed Lily’s hate of her old body in some way. And maybe Lily will come to realize that her old body wasn’t so bad, or learn something from this in the end, but there was no indication in the first book that this would happen. It seemed an odd point to make about the universe.

My other issue with Lily is that she is yet another virgin, and not necessarily because she wants to be, not because she is choosing for herself her own sexuality, in fact there is no female agency around her choice. I started reading another Reaper Mystery cozy tea novel that I at the same time and I really appreciated that character’s choice about her own sexuality, female agency was a real thing so it was hard not to compare the two. Perhaps Lily’s virginity would not have been such a big deal to me if I wasn’t comparing it to the other, on the other hand it was part of the plot in Better Off Dead.

H. P. Mallory sets up some great characters in Better Off Dead, they aren’t perfect and they have some room to grow. The premise remains interesting and the AfterLife was definitely different from other Reaper Mysteries that I read, so that was a huge plus. There is a kick-ass female in the story, she just happens not to be the heroine. Some of my favorite characters have started out as underwhelming female leads and have grown into amazing women, hopefully Lily is headed in that direction as well.

A Reaper Mystery tea novel about the after life, Better Off Dead has an interesting premise and some quirky characters that will keep you turning the pages.

Book Review: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

I borrowed The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman from my local library. The Magician’s Land is the third and final book in Grossman’s series The Magician’s. I’m in love with Grossman’s darkly thrilling magical universe and was both excited and sad to start the last book in the series. You can read my reviews of the The Magicians and The Magician King.

the magician's land

Summary from the author’s website:

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying. . .

Quentin finds himself shunned from the one place he dreamed about his entire life, and he survives it. More, he becomes who he always tried to be, someone who faces his trials with courage, intelligence, and sometimes maturity. But mostly, he finds himself. Quentin has actually learned from his life experiences. I love when characters grow and become who you hope they will become.

Plum, a senior at Brakebills, finds herself in the middle of an adventure at Quentin’s side While Quentin’s journey is well on its way, her’s is just beginning. I liked their mentor/mentee relationship. It was a nice break from romantic relationships, but just as meaningful and engaging. Plus, Plum is a great character and I really liked what she brought to the series. In some ways she reminded me of me, though I’m not into pranking people. But I do always have a plan, and it usually goes about as well and Plum’s do.

While Fillory is still a huge part of the story, Quentin and Plum’s quest and their magical treasure hunt adds an element of creativity and fun to the novel that I really enjoyed. The magic in The Magician’s gniverse never gets old, or boring. Grossman adds new and interesting twists that make sense with the continuity of the universe but add delightful touches to an already entertaining world.

But my favorite aspect of this series is that it is not always light and happy, that darkness pervades not just the antagonist side, but the protagonist side as well. Quentin is not perfect, nobody is perfect. Plum suffers from depression and mood swings and the desire for something more, which leads her to make unwise choices. Magic doesn’t always help the characters, some times it just makes things harder. Real life in all its glory and sadness spills itself across the pages and that is the beauty of Grossman’s characters. Not that they have magic and spells, but that they have life, and they live it.

eBook Review: Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke

Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke was a free download on AmazonKindle that I found out about through BookBub. It is the first in the series A Victorian San Francisco Story.

maids of misfortuneSummary from Goodreads:

It’s the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie’s husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.

Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco’s most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe his death was suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.

Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn’t leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior. . . .

I enjoy reading historical romance novels occasionally and Maids of Misfortune was a great find on BookBub to fulfill that need. It is light and comical with an interesting murder mystery. I enjoyed that Annie Fuller has some autonomy only because she is a widower and owns a business. There was nothing blatantly out of character for that historical time even if there is some ridiculousness surrounding Fuller’s alternate personality Madam Sibyl.

Dawson and Fuller’s romance was quaint and predictable, but a sweet and engaging read. I also liked that Dawson was competent and interesting and not some sort of smarmy stereotyped lawyer. Plus, he is actually invested in his client and goes the extra mile to help Fuller solve the mystery. The side characters were decently developed and helped keep the story moving forward in a fun manner.

If you like historical romance novels with women who are slightly ahead of their times and romantic interests that try, but don’t always succeed, in being supportive check out Maids of Misfortune.