Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

Burn Bright Cover Review of audiobook

Burn Bright (Alpha and Omega series)

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 9 hours and 47 minutes
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

I experienced this book as an audiobook. I own a complete collection of every one of Patricia Briggs' books and I am a huge fan. I am particularly fond of Charles and Anna and the Alpha and Omega offshoot series of the Mercy Thompson Series.

The plots of all of the books in this series are essentially a combination of murder-mystery and action-adventure, which is very much an expected feature of the urban fantasy genre.

As always for the author's stories in this magical world, each book builds upon the other, with events in the Mercy series spilling over into the Alpha and Omega series, and vice versa. In that regard, it was particularly fascinating to me learning even more about Bran's love for Mercy, which builds upon the new information in that regard we learned in the most recent book in the Mercy series.

I adore the relationship between Charles and Anna, which is the centerpiece of this book and every book in this series. It is always co-equal and cooperative, with each always there for the other, rescuing each other from physical danger and supporting each other emotionally. I particularly love the way that Charles's wolf spirit within him, Brother Wolf, can communicate mentally via ESP with Anna. Charles and Anna enjoy a romantic and eternal kind of soulmate relationship.

Because this series began and has continued throughout with the two of them in partnership, as co-protagonists, versus one of them being the protagonist and the other a subcharacter as in the Mercy series, Briggs has not found it as necessary as in the Mercy series to orphan either of them from the other as Mercy is often orphaned from her husband, Alpha werewolf Adam, forcing her out on her own, having to save herself from horrendously deadly villains. I find that a fascinating uniqueness within the urban fantasy genre with its first-person point-of-view storytelling of a lone protagonist, up against a hostile world. Though, granted, a commonality in the plotting across both series is that each presents a support network for the protagonist of fascinating, compelling, and sympathetic magical characters. The difference is that Mercy accumulates her support network over time, across the whole Mercy series, and a support network is already in place for Anna and Charles that is systematically added to with each successive book.

My one disappointment with this particular book was that a subcharacter I had grown very fond of across the five books of this series is revealed as a villain. I found that quite personally painful to experience. But, since this sort of thing is not uncommon in any action-adventure plot, I am not downgrading my rating of this book because of it.

The mystery and action at the core of this book are well done and very compelling. I also enjoyed the introduction of some new and fascinating characters to this series whom I am very sure will appear in future books and add to the emotional intensity as well as fast-paced storytelling we have come to expect and greatly enjoy in this wonderful urban-fantasy series.

Finally, the narration of this entire series has been done by Holter Graham, who is phenomenal. He is capable of doing male and female voices ranging from falsetto to deep bass. He can excellently portray old people, middle-aged people, young adults and children, all with equal believability. It is pure pleasure listening to him.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald

Sir Gibbie Cover Unedited, unabridged version

Sir Gibbie (Sir Gibbie #1) by George MacDonald

Reading Level: Classic Children's Book
Release Date: May 12, 2012
Length: 361 pages
Publisher: Public Domain
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Years ago I had a very hard time collecting children's books by the 19th Century Scottish author, George MacDonald, because I had to track them down as rare, hardcover editions. Yes, from time to time children's publishers, such as Dutton and Scribner's, have brought them back into print, but "Sir Gibbie," in particular, has often gone out of print. I used to own the version edited by Newberry Medal winner, Elizabeth Yates (Dutton, New York, 1963, reprinted Schocken Books, New York, 1979), but some time back, in a move, I lost it. Interestingly, I didn't realized until recently that the version that Ms. Yates edited is abridged to a considerably shorter length than this, the original version. She also removed entirely or rewrote most of the Scottish dialogue. Michael Phillips states that the Yates 1963 edition of this book served as a model and inspiration for his own edited and abridged versions of many of MacDonald’s children's novels, including "Sir Gibbie." The version of this book that Phillips edited is titled, "Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands, George MacDonald Classics for Young Readers," (Bethany House Publishers, October 1, 1990). Another edited and abridged version of this book is: "Sir Gibbie, Classics for Young Readers Edition," edited by Kathryn Lindskoog, (P & R Publishing, 2001).

George MacDonald (December 10, 1824 - September 18, 1905) was a Christian (Congregationalist sect) minister, poet, and most famously, the author of children's books, many of them fantasies, though not this particular children's book. In regard to MacDonald's fantasy novels, he inspired fellow fantasy authors Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle. C. S. Lewis in particular stated that he regarded MacDonald as his "master."

To adult readers, Gibbie may seem to be, quite heavy-handedly, a Christ figure in this novel, and the novel may seem quite "preachy." However, taken in his own right, as the protagonist of a children's book (to the modern reader it can be read that way, though in 1879, when it was first published, it was novel read by all ages), Gibbie is one of the most sympathetic protagonists I have ever experienced. I loved reading this book as a child, again as a teenager, and multiple other times as an adult. The unabridged, unedited version of this novel may be hard to wade through for some modern readers who dislike transliteration of dialect, because this book is set in Scotland, and is filled with 19th century Scottish brogue. I personally enjoy that and can hear it in my head as I read it and am happy to finally read this book in its original form.

As for this particular edition, it was translated to digital format by a community of volunteers and, as such, is not an elaborate edition with fancy layout. But it is adequate and easily read, and certainly the price is right--it is free.

I rate this story as follows:

Overall: 5

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review: Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by M.C. Beaton AKA Marion Chesney

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime Cover Book 2 of the Poor Relations Series

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime (The Poor Relation Series #2) by M.C. Beaton AKA Marion Chesney

Reading Level: Adult Historical
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Length: 216 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This is the second book of the Poor Relation Series. It is recommended to read the books in order, as they feed into each other. Book 1 lets us know how six impoverished "poor relations" of wealthy, aristocratic families find each other and, together, attempt to alleviate the near starvation conditions under which they had been living, on their own, as they strove to keep up appearances among their social peers while living in genteel poverty. In the first book these six friends established the Poor Relation hotel, which became quite successful, but by the time that this book begins, their improvident money management has brought them to the point of being in danger of losing the hotel and being plunged back into extreme poverty.

In the first book, two members of their group, Lady Fortescue and Sir Philip, had stolen valuable items from their rich relations, which Sir Philip pawned. In this book, it is decided that someone else must take a turn filching from rich relatives, and by the drawing of straws, timid, elderly spinster, Miss Letitia Tonks, is nominated to rob her rich sister in order to replenish the depleted coffers of herself and her friends.

While visiting her selfish snob of a sister, the intrepid Miss Tonks is inspired to dress up as a highwayman and steal her sister's massive, diamond necklace and matching tiara. But as she bravely attempts the daring deed, she mistakenly holds up the carriage of handsome Lord Eston. Fortunately, he not only takes pity on her, he gallantly dons her highwayman mask, successfully pilfers the diamonds for her, and on impulse, claims a kiss from Miss Tonks's lovely, young niece, Cassandra Blessop.

Thus begins the madcap adventures of Miss Tonks and Cassandra, who opts to flee to London with her aunt to escape the callous cruelty of her grasping mother.

This Regency-era, six-book series reminds me very much of another six-book Regency series, A House for the Season, by M. C. Beaton, both of which were originally published under the pseudonym, Marion Chesney. Each book in both of these series has an overarching "comedy of errors" plot and a secondary romance plot between a young set of lovers who are not part of the main ensemble cast, who appear in each book of these series. The romance subplot in these books, including this one, is always enjoyable, but inevitably rather perfunctory and rushed, because relatively little page time is allotted to develop it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if one enjoys Georgette Heyer's Regency romps with a similar formula, primary emphasis placed on a comedy of errors and secondary focus on a romance.

Chesney has a very unique voice in her books, which provides a slightly macabre window onto the often brutal demands of daily life in the Regency period, a coarse reality that historical romance novels normally tend to gloss over.

All in all, this book, like many other Chesney Regencies, has quite a few humorous moments, and her strong suit in achieving that goal is her quirky ensemble cast. Of all of these main characters in this particular series, in my view, Sir Philip absolutely steals the show. His incessant ability to come up with outrageously amoral plots in support of his adopted family of fellow poor relations is a frequent source of outright belly laughs. In this book in particular, the hair-raising things he does to the villain of the book, the dastardly Monsieur Bonnard, are well deserved and outright hilarious.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine Miss Tonks: 4

Ensemble Cast: 4

Romantic Subcharacters: 4

Historical Setting: 4

Comedy: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 4

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Review: License to Date by Susan Hatler

License to Date Cover G-rated, chick-lit-style, romantic novella

License to Date (Better Date than Never Series #6) by Susan Hatler

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: Hatco Publishing
Length: 198 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Still reeling from dumping her fiancé four months ago, after discovering that the slimy jerk had been dating both her and her beloved step-sister, unbeknownst to either of the two women until just before the wedding, Kaitlin has no interest in dating. All she wants to do is renovate her recently purchased, 1980's-era home located right next to the Sacramento River, turning it into a safe retreat from the harsh realities of undependable men. Unfortunately for the smooth achievement of her goal, her two best girlfriends won't take, "No," for an answer, insisting that, for her own good, Kaitlin needs to start dating ASAP. Kaitlin is firm in standing up against their pleas until they offer an irresistible prize in exchange for her going on at least five dates: they will provide free labor painting her entire house, and even throw in caulking her shabby bathtub.

What's a gal to do? Give in, of course. But conditionally.

Kaitlin surrenders to her two loving, busybody besties, but is determined to outwit them at their own matchmaking game by engineering a five-date, five-night sprint to the finish line of getting their dating agreement over and done with. She will meet each of five men for a brief date, with no intention of letting the connection go beyond that for any of them.

Unfortunately for Kaitlin's heart-protection plan, she's barely at the starting gate of her dating race when, while impatiently waiting for her tardy first date to meet her at the bar of a swanky local hotel, she encounters a handsome, blue-eyed bartender close to her own age of 28, whose wit and empathy draw her unwilling romantic interest.

This is not a full-length romance novel but rather a story that is a bit longer than a novella. As such it is a fast read. Unlike this author's actual short stories, given an additional 15-20,000 words to maneuver in, the author avoids offering up "insta-love" between the protagonists in order to speed up the progress of the relationship. As is usual in all of this author's works I've read so far, and seems to be very much part of her "brand," this story is not merely a "slow burn" romance, it is G-rated, with only light kissing toward the last part of the story.

This book is as much "chick lit" as it is a romance novel in that it contains key traits of chick lit that are not hallmarks of romance, including in particular: dating disasters and the use of first-person point of view.

The romantic protagonists of this story are a bit one-dimensional, especially the hero, since we never hear his thoughts. Much like in two other stories by this author that I have read, the hero is a saintly, Beta Male. Given that Alpha Male, "Bad Boy" heroes are rife in romantic fiction, I myself enjoy that this author seems to specialize in Clark Kent type, positive heroes vs Dark Knight type anti-heroes. The latter gets rather redundant and predictable after a while in modern romance.

Personally, I'm not usually a fan of romance novels written in first person. It has a tendency to make any protagonist sound rather narcissistically immature and self-involved, and is much better relegated to the young-adult genre. However, given that this author writes romantic comedy, it is not a bad choice for the purpose of humor to use first person. It makes it easier to reveal to the reader that the protagonist will be traveling an important and interesting growth arc, which is ever-green in romance fiction. That is, the cynical, "burned by love" protagonist who has sworn to never take a chance on love again.

In addition, given the fact that, in one form or another, the key romantic conflict of every romance novel is the journey of distrust to trust, this isn't actually a cliche for a romance novel, it is a crucial element of it--rather like a dead body in a murder mystery and the need to figure out "whodunnit." The only difference from novel to novel is how well that journey is portrayed based on the uniqueness of the protagonists in a given book. This author does a good job of offering distinct characters and an intriguing version of that essential journey, which held my interest throughout. As a very jaded reader, it is high praise for me to say I didn't skim over any part of this story.

To sum up, given that this author is known for writing romantic comedy, or at the least, very mild drama, this story is true to her brand. It provides pleasant, romantic entertainment for those looking for a quick, light, angst-free, sex-free read.

I rate this story as follows:

Heroine: 3

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 3

Setting: 4

Romance Plot: 3

G-Rated: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 3.5 rounded to 4