Book Review - Clean Sweep

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

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Star Rating: 5/5
Number of pages: 235
Release date: December 2, 2013
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Buy the book: Amazon

Synopsis: (from Amazon) On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night...Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything..

Review: I've never read anything by Ilona Andrews before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Firstly, I smiled when I realized that the book wasn't pure fantasy. It's sci-fi too…because I apparently didn’t read the description very closely.  Andrews takes a lot of the typical fantasy tropes in this and revamps them in a really interesting way. Aliens mostly, and I kind of love that!  It just adds such a big new dimension of possibilities.

I also love the relationship that Dina, the main character, has with her inn. It's sort of a sentient being...kind of, and it's a relationship that speaks to the inner desire in a lot of us to have someone in whom we can find home.  In this case, it's just a wee bit more literal. I rolled my eyes a bit when the werewolf/vampire love triangle/rivalry began, but the story got delightfully meta at the end, which made the indulgence totally worth it. And there's a big mystery happening in the background of the book! *Gasp!* I need the next one, stat!  Honestly, I love everything about this book.  Little Beast, the characterizations, the world building blended with mythology.  I super-duper enjoyed it!

Recommend?:  YES!  Get it now!!!

Book Review - The Legend of Holly Claus

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The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan
Star Rating: 5/5
TL;DR: This book is a perfect example of what it’s supposed to be – a Christmas fairytale
Number of pages: 544
Release date: October 1, 2004
Series: n/a
Genre: Fantasy, Holiday, Children’s
Buy the book: Amazon
Tagline: “Love conquers time.”
Other notes: Illustrations by Laurel Long

Synopsis: Santa Claus is the king of Forever, land of the immortals.  When a little boy writes to Santa asking what no one else has ever asked—what he wants for Christmas—a miracle occurs: Santa and his wife are blessed with a daughter, Holly.  It is the first time a child has ever been born in Forever.  An evil wizard called Herrikhan has plans for baby Holly, however, and curses both her and the land of the immortals.  Holly’s heart is turned to ice, which preserves her compassion and innocence but also puts her at risk if she grows too warm and her heart melts.  Meanwhile, everyone who has come to celebrate the birth of the new princess is now trapped in Forever and will remain so until the curse is broken.

This book takes us through Holly’s journey of growing up in this magical land but isolated from her people and feeling unworthy of her place in Forever.  When Holly is seventeen, she embarks on a journey to the Empire City to earn her immortality and break the curse.  There, along with her magical animal friends, Holly discovers her path and more.

Review: Firstly, there are many a book reviewer who would rate this book poorly for reasons I will discuss further down.  Excepting technical aspects like spelling and grammar (I know this should be a given, but I live in both the self-published and traditionally published world), I tend to judge books based on what they’re meant to be, not an across-the-board system.  I’m not going to judge The Legend of Holly Claus by all the same standards as Clive Barker’s Abarat series, even though there are a good many similarities.  Abarat is not meant to be a fluffy, holiday tale of love and joy, whereas The Legend of Holly Claus most definitely is.  Right that said, here’s what I liked about it.

The Legend of Holly Claus is perfection when it comes to happy holiday stories. <--I don’t use the P-word lightly about entertainment.  I bought this book about ten years ago and have read it almost every year at Christmas since.  I know that 544 page count might seem intimidating, but the print is a good bit larger than your average novel, plus there are illustrations (more on that later) scattered throughout, so it’s actually a pretty quick read as novels go.  I try to read this book every year for the same reasons I watch A Muppet Christmas Carol and Elf every year, because it makes me happy and all warm and fuzzy inside and want to push my enthusiasm on others.  I sent this to a group text I have with the bestie and another of our close friends because this part always makes me laugh.

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There are loads more bits just like that too, parts that make my smile no matter how many times I read this book.  And it makes me cry too, which I hate.  For those of you not in the know, I really dislike crying.  Or rather, I dislike what comes with crying.  I know crying is healthy because it’s cathartic, but I want my catharsis to be efficient, so please don’t try and comfort me unless I reach out first, in which case I need a proper cuddle.  So get ready to feel things with this book.

I also really love the characterizations in this book.  Holly is meant to be the most compassionate being in the universe.  The book itself says, “Nicholas and Viviana, immortal beings, you are in the presence of the purest and most compassionate heart that has ever been born,” and that is portrayed so well on every page.  But I think people sometimes think compassion and purity are isolated from anger, and I don’t agree with that at all.  Civil injustices make us angry, and that is compassion.  Holly’s character gets angry at cruelty, indignant at the idea that children can go hungry and people do nothing to immediately stop it, and I think that’s such a good move by Brittney Ryan.  Holly isn’t portrayed as some insipid good-two shoes.  She teases, she defies her parents to do what she thinks is right, and I think that’s so important to the story because she is relatable.

Other than her, the characters are painted with such diverse personalities.  There’s vivacious Lexi, a fox with more personality and opinions than she knows what to do with, and bumbling Euphemia, an owl who just wants to do well but seems to always get it wrong.  Nicholas Claus (Santa) is crafted so richly as a devoted but overprotective father, but who can blame him?  He’s just trying to keep his only child from harm.  Of all the characters, however, Tundra is my absolute favorite.  He’s a wolf, so dignified with a fantastically dry wit.  And he loves Holly so dearly, but he is protective of her in a completely different way than Nicholas.  He’ll make every effort to preserve Holly’s happiness as he stands ready to defend her.

This story also takes a really good look at what it’s like to have a disability.  Holly can’t go outside in warm weather because it will actually kill her.  Her heart will melt, and she will die.  She has to take precautions inside her own home (no fires, no warm breezes from the outside, no blankets) for the same reason.  She has a conversation with a sick little girl, and they understand one another because the little girl has to stay warm to get better.  And it’s not handled with kid gloves.  It’s right out there: this is a thing that happens in the world.  Different people have different needs.  As this is a children’s book, I think that’s such a great way to open up that conversation with children.  “That little girl doesn’t have any hair because the medicine she needs makes it fall out.  That little boy is in a wheelchair because some people need them to get around.”  As someone who once had tube hanging out of her chest as a child, I appreciate this.

And can we talk about these illustrations?  They are gorgeous!  I personally love pen and ink drawings, so these are right up my street.  And Laurel Long does such a lovely job with each one, providing an ambiance to the scene each one is depicting.  These are my two favorite:

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So what about things I didn’t like?  There’s not much to be honest.  The villain, Herrikhan, might be a little too cookie-cutter.  He is very much like a lot of villains I’ve seen in the past, but then you have to remember that this is a book meant for children.  Even so, children need three-dimensional characters as well, and Herrikhan is just plain evil.  Nothing else.  In addition to that, there is a part with talking dolls, and I found that massively creepy.  If I ever hear a doll start talking, that thing is going to the bottom of a lake ASAP!  I also wish the appendix in the back of the book that lists all the Immortals mentioned would provide us with more information about the person.  We get a short one or two sentence synopsis and that’s it.  The good definitely outweighs the bad here, though.

Recommend?:  Abso-freakin-lutely!  This book should be right up there with the top Christmas entertainments.

A Whole New Woooooorld!!!

New website!  Huzzah!  Raise your glasses with me!  And a blog...a blog...right.  Can someone be a natural blogger?  I mean, it doesn't happen in nature.  You don't see gazelles on the plains blogging about the hardships of life on the savannah...hipster gazelles.  That's a Disney movie waiting to happen.

Well, whether or not someone can be a natural or born blogger, I'm not one of them...unless nattering on about nothing counts.  Is that all blogging is?  The way people talk about it makes it sound so much more focused than that.  Whatever.  It's a thing I'm doing.

Speaking of new websites, it's Time to Opine (this might become a regular segment)!

Time to Opine: 1&1, website building platform and domain service provider - DO NOT USE THEM!  I repeat, do not use 1&1.  Why I dislike them will take for more time and space than I am willing to give them on this blog, but drop me a line and I will be happy to regale you with tales of the terrible.  On the other hand, Squarespace!  No, they don't pay me to say this, but they could.  I have loved them!!!  So great, so clean, so easy.  They have gobs of FAQs.  Guess how many I read?  Like, four.  Not because I'm super smart and know so much about web design.  No, I'm kind of an idiot that doesn't like to read instructions.  I like to charge forward and just start mucking about.  And I'm really pleased with the result!  Again, that's not as much a testament to my awesomeness (though I am pretty awesome at times) so much as a testament to how intuitive Squarespace has made their site.  Well done, Squarespace!  Round of applause!

Onto books!  What I'm reading right now seems like a good segment for an author.

Book Nook: Yes, I like the stupid rhymes.  My blog, my dumb names.  So I'm reading The Lunar Chronicles at the moment.  I've seen these books everywhere, all over social media, Amazon kept suggesting them to me.  The hipster in me resisted because everyone else seemed to be reading it, despite the fact that I ended up picking it up and looking it over every time I was in a bookshop.  I finally bought the first one, Cinder, while spending some birthday money, but it was still a couple of months before I read it.  I ended up reading it on the plane to San Diego.  Now, it'll help you to know that I really dislike flying.  I find it to be an incredibly stressful experience, and I have a powerful fear of crashing and dying.  I got so into Cinder during the flight, once we landed I avoided getting my stuff together as long as possible (before becoming an impediment to others) just so I could keep reading.  And I was barely nervous during the flight.  That, my friends, is the magic of reading!  Of course, I finished Cinder during the flight back and was then stuck for the next few hours without access to the next one.  I ended up reading Seraphina in between, but I'll talk about that in the next entry.  I'm just now getting into Cress, the third book in the series because I blew through the second one, Scarlet.

The series is so good!  I say I'm not generally a sci-fi fan, but I love Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who, so that may not be accurate.  The characters are all really well developed and distinctly written.  This can be especially difficult when you have a large cast of characters, as is the case in these books.  Meyer does such a great job setting scenes, and the story ranges all over the world, which is so exciting.  So far I've been in Asia, France, the Moon, and in between.  I have a particular penchant for fairytales as well, so anyone that is a folklore and fairytales junkie like me will super appreciate all the nods to the original stories that inspired the various characters.  Oh, and the dialogue is great too!  Really funny and realistic, which can also be difficult, especially if you're trying to convey a lot of information in a conversation or just complicated/convoluted plot stuff.  I love it so much.

My biggest regret is currently not having brought Cress with me to read as I wait for my car to be finished here at the shop.  Below is a link to preview of Cinder in case you're interested in seeing for yourself what that's all about.  Enjoy!