Review: Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

October 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

The Casual Vacancy [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]

by J. K. Rowling (Author),

Tom Hollander (Narrator)

Listening Length: 17 hours and 55 minutes Release Date: September 27, 2012





Secrets, Sabotage, and Scandal or Oh the things muggles get up to…

Casual Vacancy tells the story of a small community in the aftermath of the unexpected death of one of its community leaders and council members, Barry Fairbrother. Several of Fairbrother’s peers are ready and willing to fill his empty council seat but not everyone is happy with the nominees. Suddenly this small town is like an episode of Gossip Girl as somebody claiming to be Barry Fairbrother’s ghost begins posting on the council’s website and outing all of the member’s dirty little secrets (XoXo) And while all of the adults are plotting, planning, and pointing fingers, who is watching their kids? These parents may have underestimated their teens’ resentments as they focus all of their energy on their position in the community.

I listened to the Audible audio version of this and the narration was brilliant. He didn’t really change his voice for the characters much, he simply told the story but his voice and tone was so pleasant that I was able to lose myself completely in the story. I would absolutely recommend listening to this on audio.

What’s great about Casual Vacancy is the authenticity of the characters and the way Rowling so insightfully exposes the uglier side of human nature, the fears and insecurities that sometimes motivate people to do the things they do. While Casual Vacancy is about an empty council seat, the real meat and potatoes of the story is in the interactions between these characters and the complexities of those relationships. Of all the many personalities in this story, I thought that the teenagers were written exceptionally well, not surprisingly. And although the plot revolves around the empty council seat, the children definitely play a big role in this story.

There were a lot of characters with a lot of interaction between all of them which sometimes made it difficult for me to remember who was married to who and which kid belonged to which parent but I can see that cutting even one of the many personalities would have taken something significant away from the story. The only negative about the charcaters being so genuine and familiar is that it felt a bit like spying on your neighbors. It’s all deliciously scandalous what they get up to, but only if you know them personally. Otherwise, no one really cares because they’re just like everyone else’s’ neighbors.

Where Casual Vacancy didn’t work for me was in the plot. It’s almost as if she created these complex, multi-faceted  characters and then threw together these unexceptional circumstances so they could interact. For most of the book, I was honestly pretty bored with the storyline. But about 2/3s of the way through, I began to really enjoy the story. Just getting there as a bit slow. The complex characters and wonderful writing might be enough to pull a reader through a plot that is like slogging through quicksand. The question is, was the payoff at the end enough to make that tedious journey worth it. Ultimately, for me it was.

It’s JK Rowling so it is no surprise that the writing was stellar. At one point, when I complained about how slow moving the story was, a friend asked me if I would have even kept reading if it would have been any other author. My reply was, if it had been any other author, I would have never picked this book up. I had to keep this fact in mind when listening to Casual Vacancy because I thought maybe that is why many people are having such an issue with this book. A book like this might not appeal to many of Rowling’s fan base being so far from what they enjoyed about the Harry Potter series.

There were several laugh out loud moments and I especially enjoyed some of the eccentricities of the characters. The pacing of the story was slow and steady, with emphasis on the "slow".  I did like that Casual Vacancy wrapped up all the loose ends by the end even though some of those loose ends seemed like they were tied up a little too conveniently to feel genuine. Overall, it was a lot darker than I expected which certainly increased my enjoyment of it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for fans of Harry Potter, but perhaps for fans of General fiction.


Review: Wind and Fire

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Wind and FireWind and Fire by Cheryl Landmark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars synopsis: Zardonne, Master of the Dark Rift, has ripped a hole in the fabric of Tellaron and invaded with an army of hideous demons. Oblivious to the dangers and evil brewing beyond the borders of the quiet Ardis Valley where she lives, nineteen year old Tenya toils through a life of dreary loneliness and drudgery plagued by strange, disturbing visions, yearning desperately for the beautiful mother she had not seen since she was three. Her life is abruptly turned upside down when she is abducted in the middle of the night and sent on a perilous journey that will test her courage and the fledgling powers buried deep within her. For not only does she discover that her missing mother, Elea, is a powerful sorceress able to control the forces of the wind, Tenya also learns that she herself possesses a singing power that manifests itself as white fire throughout her body. Can she find her mother, and the strength to use her own powers, in time to save Tellaron from the evil Demon Master? Her world depends upon it.

I was contacted by the author, Cheryl Landmark, and agreed to review an e-book copy of her novel Wind and Fire.
This novel was surprisingly short considering the length of most epic fantasy books. However, this may have helped in keeping the plot moving along while maybe losing a little in actual world building. Wind and Fire is your standard epic/quest good vs evil type of fantasy that introduces us to Tenya, our 16 year old heroine, who missing her mother, is constantly bullied by her step-mother and dealing with an emotionally absent father. After Tenya is basically sold by her step-mother to a travelling hag who happens to be in the employ of the Demon Master himself, Tenya finds herself facing some pretty big obstacles and is surprised to find that she is up to the challenge. Helped along by the allies she meets during her quest, Tenya tries to use her budding powers and the visions that are her one connection to her mother to seek out and confront Zardonne, and help to free those who he has imprisoned. I would have liked to have been able to connect more with Tenya as a character, but I still very much enjoyed reading about her journey.
Overall, I think that this was an admirable effort from debut author Cheryl Landmark. Despite the rather uninspired cover and some clunky wording, the story itself was quite intriguing. I think with a little more word building and character development, Wind and Fire would have been amazing. As it is, I consider it a very good novel and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy who is looking for a quick read. And I truly look forward to seeing more of Landmark’s future work.

Rated- 3 Frankies

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The Ranting Dragon book Giveaway

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Ranting Dragon is giving away 1 copy each of Warbreaker, Hunger Games, and the Adamantine Palace in celebration of their first week online. This seems to be a very well put together fantasy book review blog that I am happy to join as well as recommend to any other fans of the genre. Click here to enter this giveaway. 

Sebastian by Anne Bishop

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Roc (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451460960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451460967
  • synopsisLong ago, to stop the onslaught of the Eater of the World, Ephemera was split into a dizzying number of strange and magical lands connected only by bridges that may take you where you truly belong, rather than where you had intended to go. Now, with the Eater contained and virtually forgotten, the shifting worlds of Ephemera have been kept stable by the magic of the Landscapers. In one such land, where night reigns and demons dwell, the half-incubus Sebastian revels in dark delights. But in dreams she calls to him: a woman who wants only to be safe and loved – a woman he hungers for while knowing he may destroy her. But a more devastating destiny awaits Sebastian, for in the quiet gardens of the Landscapers’ School, evil is stirring. The prison of the Eater of the World has weakened – and Sebastian’s realm may be the first to fall. 

I loved Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series and was looking forward to reading more of her work. I was certainly not disappointed with this first book of the Ephemera duology. 

I loved so many things about this book, my favorite being the world of Ephemera. Anne Bishop has done such an amazing job of bringing to life the magic of the world itself, Ephemera is created by the feelings and beliefs of the residents, and crossing a bridge will take you to the landscape that reflects the person you truly are inside. 

In order to stop the darkness of human feelings from overwhelming the world, landscapers shape the magic of Ephemera into building different types of landscapes, interweaving the light and the darkness into cities and farmland and everything in between. 

The conflict begins when “The Eater of the World” escapes from where its been confined for centuries and begins trying to influence the minds of everyone toward the darkness, tipping the balance and changing the face of Ephemera. Only one landscaper is powerful enough to stop this from happening, Belladonna, the cousin of Sebastian. Sebastian is a half wizard half incubus who has struggled to find a place where he belongs, that reflect those two very different sides of his nature. Along the way, he meets Lynnea, who is also searching for a place she can feel safe. The romance between them is not overdone, however, I didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked. 

Belladonna is a much more interesting character, escaped from being walled into her garden by the wizards at the landscapers school, Gloriana Belladonna learns what it means to be who she is.

The Den of Iniquity has a variety of fascinating characters, from the bulldemons to the demoncycles, to the pub owner who’s specials include Stuffed Tits and Phallic Delights. What keeps me from rating this a 5 star is that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. However, I still truly enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the next.

City Of Ghosts – Stacia Kane

September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345515595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345515599

    Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

    Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

    Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead. 

  • Not surprising, another 5 star rating from me for the 3rd book in this series. This is exactly what I’m looking for everytime I open a book by an author new to me, a story that grabs me and holds my attention, makes me laugh, cry, get angry, etc. The funny thing is, I don’t always like the main character, Chess. She really makes some awful choices. But at the same time, her character is so believable and her story so compelling that I can’t help but to root for her through all the ups and downs.

I can’t say I love the world that Stacia Kane has created with this series. Actually, its a pretty scary place but again, very believable. The Church of Truth continues to fascinate me. Chess looks at the Church as a safe haven and something she can rely on but it strikes me as something a lot more sinister. I have so many questions about the Church Of Truth and hope some of them are answered in future books in this series.

This third book City of Ghosts finds Chess working with a member of the Church’s Black Squad to look into another organization that has tried repeatedly in the past to seize control of the Church and is now active again. There is also some resolution to the Chess/Lex/Terrible love triangle.

This story is another powerful fast paced look at Downside, really an edge-of-your-seat read from start to finish. I can’t sing Stacia Kane’s praises enough and absolutely cannot wait to read more from her!

Unholy Magic – Stacia Kane

September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345515587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345515582

    For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.

    Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.

  • This series is amazing. Unholy Magic finds Chess still struggling with addiction as well as overcoming her past. Its made very clear in this book how her drug use causes her no end of problems in her life. There is a powerful scene where she goes through a horrific withdrawal, also her addiction leads to her being blackmailed and used by various people for their own benefit. I love that Kane makes her characters so realistic and believable. 

Through all the personal issues and stuggles with her relationships, there is a fast paced plot as well as a closer look at the Church of Truth. Personally, I find it horrifying that the church is able to not only punish people in life but also in the afterlife. Just the thought of fallible human beings being able to punish people after death is a scary concept. 
The plot was great.  For the Church, Chess is working on a reported haunting for a movie star family, and for Bump and Slobag, she is looking into a string of prostitute murders. This book was action packed and hard to put down. I can’t wait to see how the series continues. 
Stacia Kane has certainly found a place as one of my all time favorite authors with this series.

Unholy Ghosts – Stacia Kane

September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; Original edition (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345515579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345515575

    The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Wow, this was even better than what I was expecting. Chess works for the Church of Truth as a debunker, which means she investigates peoples claims of hauntings and either exorcises the ghost or proves it to be a false claim. 
Chess’ character is very interesting, she uses drugs to block out the memories of a very traumatizing childhood as well as some of the horrors she has to face from her job each day. I thought she was very realistic in the way she had a hard time trusting people, isolated herself, stayed away from meaningful relationships, and found it hard to make friends. Even her drug use makes sense considering her background, I hope through the rest of the series, I get to see her grow even more and overcome that addiction. 
The Church of Truth was fascinating too and we get to find out how exactly this church came to be, and as the story progresses, we learn some of the rules and expectations for this society under the rule of this Church. 
I loved all of the characters in this story, so many of them stand out to me. Of course Terrible, the drug dealer Bump’s hired thug, who is a mixture of scary, damaged, and endearing.
Bump himself who I mentally picture as a 60’s pimp with permed hair, big hat, and fur coat. Bump is selfish, overconfident, and demanding, but apparently has a soft side as well. The downside street slang is great on the audio.
I can’t wait to finish the rest of this series, I hope it continues with the same fast paced action as well as telling us more about some of the characters that we didn’t get a lot of back story on.

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