Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Author:  Marissa Meyer
Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends
Pages: 550
Release Date: February 4th, 2014
Source: Audio book from Audible, Purchased
In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

While I've really enjoyed the other two books in this series so far, Cress was the first ofThe Lunar Chronicles I picked up as an audio book. There may be a few points my opinions about it were a little influenced by the voices in the audio track, so that's just a little side disclaimer to anyone reading this. Like the rest of the series, Cress brings another familiar fairy tale to life, this time focusing on Cress, or the story of Rapunzel. Girl with long hair trapped in a tower (or I guess in this case, a satellite) by an evil woman.

Overall, I've enjoyed where the story has gone. I especially liked the lead in at the end towards the last book in this series, and the addition of the Snow White character. There were a few points in this book, however, where I had that unfortunate "heard it before" sensation I sometimes get with twisted fairy tales. Which was really a bummer, because Marissa Meyer is usually really good at avoiding that. Something about Cress herself just went a bit too mainstream (and by mainstream, I'm eluding to a certain Tangled version of this character...). Like I noted before, this could have just been the audio book interpreting it that way, but Cress was just the wide eyed, naive, sort of ditsy damsel in distress I've seen in other renditions. I guess it makes sense, you know, girl locked in a tower, no social interaction, big imagination. I guess I just wanted a little more from her as a person. The sort of super smart nerd element really felt like it had a lot more potential that wasn't really embraced. That's just me though.

I did like that the Rapunzel parts actually took a lot of elements from the original story. And the relationship between her and Thorne was actually pretty fun. I like that Thorne doesn't entirely play into the roll of being a hero or being a prince charming, and he can be sort of a jerk a lot of the time. I don't know, he just feels realistic to me. The audio was pretty well done in the audio book I listened to too. Made my long road trip go by super quick having such a fun book to listen to. Overall, good book, with plenty to lead into the next edition. Is it out yet? Waiting sucks...

Monday, January 12, 2015

E-Reader Reviews: Digital Adventures

Once upon a time, I snubbed my nose at the concept of e-books. When we took class votes on our favorite format to read in, I embraced the concept of "print, forever!" But then college started eating at my wallet, and a few dollars saved on a text book made a big difference. After buying a few text books, I picked up a few other e-books and...well, it went from there. I still buy print editions of my favorite novels, and I've yet to find the appeal of getting an electronic signature from an author, but when you're on the move and travel a lot, picking up a tablet with 100 books to keep by your side is a nicer thought than that stack of 10 print books. While I may never really LOVE an ebook with the same adoration I can hold a print book too, they definitely have a place in my life now. It brings up a new debate though...

....what to read them on.

The Faithful Computer
A large chunk of my e-books have been read from my computer in the past. I have both Nook and Kindle for PC, and I really love being able to type notes at a keyboard when I'm reading something heavier. My computer is still a go-to for books that need a little work, or books that require a little work from me. The size of the screen makes it easy to see pictures and diagrams, so it is really a good study tool. As I drift away from those bulky technical books though, my computer e-readers are less used. Try cuddling with a computer. It just doesn't work the same.

Nook 1st Generation
My first e-reader was a 1st generation Nook. While my entire family flaunted their Kindles, I loved that little device. Easy to read, touch screen at the bottom: it did what it was designed to do. I could read...and read...and read, without ever recharging. I think I lost the charging cable for like a month and managed to keep the life up until I found it. This was a great reader to have around and toss in a purse or backpack. While it lacked bells and whistles, it was a reliable machine. 

The Cell Phone
My cell phone often replaces an e-reader when it comes to my e-books. I always have them loaded, and if I'm standing in line somewhere, stuck in traffic, I can whip it out and read a little so I feel productive. The screen is small, but the convenience is great. One of my favorite reading apps, Oyster, was also heavily used by my phone, and the appearance was really great. The hard thing about using a cell phone to read is the phone needs to be used for a lot of other things. Yay reading, but bye bye battery life. Sad face. 

Nook Tablet
My second e-reader purchase was the Nook Tablet. Again, an older model, but you could read, you could watch Netflix, what more could you ask for? While I still keep this one around to read all my B&N books, the limited Nook marketplace left a bit to be desired for me. I guess that's the problem with upgrading from "e-reader" to "tablet" models. You still read books, but then you get distracted by all the other "toys" you want to have on it as well. The battery life on this was pretty surprising for everything I used it for though. If I tried leaving my computer off the charger it wouldn't last a day, but the tablet goes for weeks without needing a juice up. This has become a great bathtub tablet. It was cheap enough I don't feel scared treating it like a paperback, and I don't feel like I need white gloves to hold it in case I break something. You can just read, and enjoy. 

Kindle Fire HD 6" Tablet: The New Kid
And that brings us to my newest e-reader: The Kindle Fire HD 6". Which is probably my new best friend. Okay, I do need to confess I don't use it so much for reading as I do for...everything else. The app store is a little limited like the Nook Tablet, but there are workarounds and most things are in the Amazon store I wanted anyway. I use this for my budgetting, I use it to watch movies, and I just downloaded some audible books for my next road trip so I can keep tackling my reading list even when I can't sit and read. Yay! The size is super convenient for me because I can pretty much carry it anywhere. Super small, hangs out in my purse and saves my cell phones battery. While it doesn't have the lasting charge you get with your basic readers, this is sort of a middle ground between cell-phone/computer and e-reader. You read, you use apps. It works. 

I don't think I could ever vote on THE BEST e-reader, because different books need different environments to be read in. Would you want your textbook printed trade paperback sized? Probably not. Would it be silly to have that same paperback in a textbook form? Yeah, I think so. Having options on how to read, and where to read, is just part of the adventure. In the end, I think the goal is still the same: to pick up a good book. 

What about you. How do you read? 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Havoc by Steven F. Freeman

Author:  Steven F. Freeman
Publisher:  Createspace
Pages: 370
Release Date: July 24th, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

When Cryptologist Alton Blackwell takes his girlfriend, FBI Agent Mallory Wilson, on a surprise trip to Italy, the couple expects the vacation of a lifetime, but their pleasure is short-lived. Intent on selling Vidulum Inc.’s proprietary technology to the highest bidder, a rogue employee of the high-tech company arranges a clandestine meeting at one of Rome’s most famous tourist attractions. Rather than collecting a huge payday, however, the company turncoat encounters a lethal surprise. When Alton and Mallory rush to assist the dying scientist, they find themselves pulled into the subsequent murder investigation.

Foreign and domestic agents, corporate spies, intellectual-property thieves, and shadowy underworld figures race to acquire the technical files stored on the dead employee’s missing cellphone and reap the billions of dollars and technological superiority now at stake. 

Despite their efforts to leave the tragedy behind and continue their vacation, Alton and Mallory soon learn their own lives are in danger. They are left with no choice but to join forces with the Roman police in an effort to crack the case. While diving into the investigation, the discovery of another man in Mallory’s past disrupts Alton’s plan to move his relationship with her to a new level. 

As they encounter unexpected twists at a breakneck pace, Alton and Mallory must summon all their intellectual powers to reveal the truth behind the Vidulum employee’s death and track down the missing technological plans before a life-threatening end game can be set in motion. 

Havoc is yet another book by author Steven F. Freeman; I reviewed the first book in The Blackwell Files, Nefarious, last year, and got the chance to pick up one of the next installments. One thing I should just note up front, though, is this is book 4 in the series. One thing that was nice was it was extremely easy to pick up without reading 2 and 3, and feeling like I was missing something. Same characters, but certainly a new story. 

We have some of the same writing techniques used in this work as with the previous novel I reviewed (multiple POVs of characters, adventure, a slowly unraveling plot), but one thing that was missing was the military elements. We went from a war story, into a more adventure/who-done-it mystery.  I actually really enjoyed the transition. The adventure gives a nice plot/pacing to keep up with, and at this point in the story Malory and Alton's relationship feels much more developed. Because there are so many view points happening at once, it does take a little time to get into, but from there, it's a fun and easy read. It would be a good novel to pop some popcorn and plot down with to read through. 

While there isn't a lot plot wise that makes this book unique to me (I've unfortunately seen too many sequels that use 'put them in a foreign country!' as the leading story hook), I think the way Freeman handles the different P.O.V. adds to Havoc. Because we see things from the bad guys view as well as the good guys, it helps add the sense of suspense. You're watching the gunfight from both sides, which is always a favorite approach for me. The plot itself felt really well thought out, even if the chase through Italy thing felt overdone. The stolen files had a good background, and the technology felt advanced, yet believable. So good marks there. 

All in all, I'd consider this a good read. Freeman is a good writer who sets a nice pace through the story, and it's easy to miss bedtime once you get into the story.