Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Grimm Agency #1 - Free Agent

Free Agent (Grimm Agency, #1)Free Agent by J.C. Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Free Agent has everything I look for in a modern fantasy: a well-imagined and unique intersection between the fairy tale world and ours, a kick ass heroine who is far from infallible, and enough twists to populate a pretzel factory.

I enjoyed seeing J.C. Nelson turn popular tropes on their head, reimagining roles for princesses and princes, magic apples, Little Red Riding Hood, that stayed true to their fantastical origins while modernizing and adding his own unique take. The world felt complete and well thought out, though I have a feeling there's still lots in Kingdom we haven't even brushed the surface of yet.

The story begins with an introduction into Marissa's life as an agent and one of her most common jobs - princess matching. The pacing is a little slower here and for a second I almost thought this would turn into a romance. Hang in though, because after the first visit to Wolf Town, the story takes a sharp veer for exciting and events reach an epic scale of dire anticipation that doesn't let up until the very end. I stayed up after a late night shift to read the last third of the book straight through because I had to know what happened next.

For me, the only weakness is an otherwise great book was the somewhat lackluster romance component. I had a hard time buying Marissa's acknowledgment of her loneliness in the beginning of the book given her denial of the other aspects of her life. She and Liam never seemed to truly click to me - (view spoiler) Although I'm happy she finds some happiness with him at the end, their reconciliation jumped a little too fast from 'hatred' to 'unquestioning love'. Over all though, my feelings about this small component did not take away from my love for the rest of the book.

Nelson does a great job dropping hints about a sequel throughout and I can't wait to pick up Armageddon Rules and see what happens to Marissa next.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

The Girl with Ghost EyesThe Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Richly detailed in the tradition of wuxia novels with a more modern Americanized feel. Reading this felt like dropping into the middle of a movie. I could almost pictures the sights, sounds, and smells of old Chinatown.

Li-lin is not your typical overpowered heroine. She must use her weakness and her wits more than her martial arts strength to overcome her opponents. In the beginning, she runs away a lot. Some of the language around her repeated decisions to flee began to sound repetitive, but I admire her ability to assess and pull back from a risky situation rather than blundering further into trouble.

The spirits featured in the story are also varied and interesting, from a tiger who has changed his ways through Buddhism to her father's detached eye to a flock of prophetic spirit gulls. The promise they extract from Li-lin before agreeing to help her leaves the story perfectly primed for a sequel.

The strength in this novel lies in the immersive world building and colorful descriptions of the Daoist customs of its main characters and the spirits that inhibit Chinatown's spirit world. Sometimes the story felt in turns scattered or repetitive, though this may just a symptom of trying to work in so much into one book. Li-lin is also at times perhaps a bit too naive (e.g. the contract). The fast pacing and attention-grabbing narrative pulled me through those places though, eager to reach the resolution.

If you enjoyed the spirit realm depicted here, give The Ghost Bride a try. Meanwhile, I feel like watching some wuxia. :)

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Mistborn #3 - Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hero of Ages is a triumphant conclusion to the original Mistborn trilogy. Although quite hefty in size, each chapter brought a new revelation and an answer to the puzzle that had been built up in the previous two books.

Sanderson's attention to detail and intricate plotting is truly impressive. The chapter lead-ins may have been a little too directly explanatory in comparison to the way they were treated in the previous books for my tastes. But along with the detail in the text, they provided a clear background to everything that had occurred thus far and the intricate way Ruin had entangled himself in everything.

All of his characters have grown substantially from the first novels. In particular, Spook and Sazeed shared the main stage here with Vin and Elend. Feelings of pride and dread accompany Spook's evolution from quiet background character to Kelsier successor, as the reader knows that something more menacing is at work behind the scenes. Sazeed, meanwhile, I found a little frustrating at times. His moment of doubt and search for truth seemed forced. Though this may just be because I don't enjoy reading about depressed characters.

Other truths uncovered in this book include the origin and mythos of the kandras, the secret of the mist, and the truth about that most precious of allomantic metals. If you enjoyed the first two books, you can't miss this one.

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

That Christmas Feeling

It's the time of year again for markets and craft sales galore.  The search for gifts and holiday cheer brought me out to two events this weekend - a) the Arboretum Holiday Sale and b) the Holiday Market at Union Depot.

The Aboretum
Not so secret confession - I love the Arboretum sales.  They have one every season with appropriately themed wreaths and flower arrangements, herb mixtures, and crafty items.

We hiked in for this one as the car entry fee is a little steep if you're only planning on shopping and not taking in the rest of the grounds.  The unseasonable warmth for December and melting snow/ice made it a not unpleasant walk.  (Though I have two large cracks in the soles of my shoes that have apparently negated their otherwise waterproof properties.)

Total haul: a fuzzy llama-deer wreath for D's mom and an assortment of things from the Herb Society including body jam, salt scrub, a stress-reliever eye pillow with chamomile, peppermint, and flax, and some sweet spice infused vinegar.  I almost sprung for some adorable penguin cards from the photography sale, but balked at the price.

Union Depot
In an effort to combat sudden onset Grinch-ness this morning, I managed to drag myself out to the Union Depot.  Their motto is 'your hub for the holidays' and they advertised a European-style Christmas market as well as musical entertainment and the North Pole Express.

While the tickets for the train were all sold out, we hoped to catch a glimpse of it on the tracks.  No such luck, though we did spot some steam in the distance.  The Holiday Market was similarly lackluster with about 8 stalls in total and a limited appeal.  The music was a windup monkey with a reel of holiday songs.

 I think my expectations were set a bit too high this year after seeing what other cities have to offer.  There is still Holidazzle though.  They removed the admission fee this year and moved it to a larger venue, so I'm hopeful that we can hold our own in the holiday celebrations game.

...and in the end...
On the way back from the Union Depot, I realized something important was missing in my annual holiday routine.  No wonder I felt like such a Grinch.

I popped in my Trans Siberian Orchestra cd and everything was right again with December.  Who needs holiday markets when they have Carol of the Bells?

What gets you in the holiday spirit?

Tea Source: Seasonal Teas

I discovered Tea Source two years ago through a Nanowrimo write-in.  Before that I was a one-dimensional tea drinker.  Green tea in bags and the occasional Jasmine or Genmaicha at a restaurant (Chinese or sushi, respectively).  Now I have a shelf devoted to loose leaf tea and I'm sipping on a gunpowder green mixed with lemon juice as I write this.

This winter, Tea Source has four seasonal selections available: Frosted Citrus (Green), Winter Berry (Black), Pistachio Shortbread (Black), and 20 Below (Herbal).

 Frosted Citrus
Anything citrus or orange flavor is usually risky for me, but I enjoyed this light tea.  It had a few notes of sweet vanilla and the citrus was subtle rather than overpowering.  It's not a must-buy for me, but I would drink it again.

Winter Berry
This tea was a perfect blend of tart, fruit, and spice for me.  I like the cranberry notes and it had a few warm spiced accents without overwhelming the pot.  This is a definite pick up for me and I would drink all times of the year.

Pistachio Shortbread
We just tried this tea today.  It smelled delicious - the marzipan and almond really come through in the scent.  Unfortunately in flavor it fell a little flat for me.  Like some of the other cookie flavored teas I've tried, there was a heavier flour and sweet note to it that clung to my tongue.  Usually I'm a big almond fan, but this one is a pass for me.

We haven't tried the herbal yet (20 Below), but it's next on my list.

What are your favorite beverages this time of the year?