Sunday, January 25, 2015

Home to Holly Springs (Father Tim, #1)Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While not technically one of the Mitford Series of books (it doesn't take place in Mitford) it follows directly after the events of Light from Heaven and it is still about the life of Fr. Tim Kavanaugh. In this book, Fr. Tim has received a cryptic two-word letter, postmarked from his boyhood home town of Holly Springs, Mississippi. The letter says "Come home" and nothing more. Feeling led by the Holy Spirit, Fr. Tim decides to drive down and investigate. His wife, Cynthia, has a broken ankle and cannot come, so he brings is loyal dog, Barnabas. While at Holly Springs he meets some new people (all very friendly) and manages to also contact some of the people he knew when he lived there. Naturally, his memories go back to his days growing up, and we get many flashbacks of his early life. While some of these are familiar from the other books, they are fleshed out more in this one, and there are many more flashbacks, filling us in on his childhood. Through the people he meets up with, including the author of the mysterious letter, we find out some jaw-dropping family history. I was absolutely stunned by a couple of the revelations. But they are not far-fetched, at all, even if they are somewhat shocking.

One of the things I have loved about these books is Fr. Tim's problematic relationship with his father. I like how he struggles with forgiveness, and is still longing to be loved by his father. We learn more about his father, coming to some understanding of why he was so cold to Tim. And one of the revelations I did not see coming! Fr. Tim will be processing what he now knows for quite some time - as will I!

The pacing of the book is excellent, with the flashbacks interspersed with the current action. The new characters are all quite believable, and as charming and idiosyncratic as those back in Mitford. Some of the revelations are pretty painful, however, so be warned. But, as with the other Mitford books, the overall tone of the book is one of love and hope.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

In This Mountain

In This Mountain (Mitford Years, #7)In This Mountain by Jan Karon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm marking this down one star, for two items, which I will get to in a moment. First of all, let me say that I really love the Mitford series, as a whole. It is comfort reading of the best kind: likable characters, problems that are usually solved satisfactorily, and an overall feeling of goodwill, which pervades the whole series. I love the relationship between Cynthia and Father Tim, and I really enjoy how faith is simply a part of these people's lives. These are characters you will enjoy spending time with.

This book is perhaps one of the darker of the series, however (dark being a relative term, of course), with Father Tim falling into depression because of a tragic occurrence. Karon does a good job depicting what life is like for someone suffering from depression (I speak from experience), but there is one thing she did that is part of why I knocked off a star: she had Father Tim stop taking his anti-depressants because he wanted to tackle it himself. This is VERY risky behavior, for someone suffering from depression! She did, at least, have him inform his doctor of his intentions, and the doctor made him promise to check back in. But still, most people can't just "shake" depression on their own, and to depict this beloved character as being able to do so sends a very dangerous message. Believe me, I prayed and tried to "get over it" myself, but without the medication I don't think I could have beaten my depression. The other thing that bothered me about Fr. Tim's depression was that the doctor didn't also prescribe counseling or therapy of some sort. Anti-depressants alone are not the answer. People need coping skills and other help to crawl out of that black hole. This is another risky portrayal. But, as I said, she did do a good job of depicting how it feels to be depressed. Fortunately, of course, he does manage to come out of it. This is Mitford, after all! ;-)

The other thing that irked me about this book was the implication that the disaster that befalls the 'bad guy' in the series (who is a woman) was God's judgment on this woman for her mocking and denying Him. This is unconscionable! God does not 'smite' those who don't believe, He loves them! The parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep are prime examples of how God feels about those who do not know Him or turn away from Him.

But, those two issues aside, this is still a great series, and I would certainly recommend them to anyone who is looking for a nice, cozy read!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Unbound

Unbound (Magic Ex Libris #3)Unbound by Jim C. Hines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars

This is the third book in the Magic Ex Libris series. I'm guessing there will be more, but this one wraps up the main story arc started in Libriomancer and continued in Codex Born. The basic tenet of the series is that magic is real, and it is expressed in Libriomancy - the extraction of objects from books via magic, a ray-gun, for example. Johannes Gutenberg was the first known practitioner of Libriomancy, and he started a secret organization called the Twelve Porters to manage the magic of books, and keeping the existence of magic a secret from the rest of the world.

The main character in the series is Isaac Vainio, who is employed by the Porters. He used to be a field agent, but was too reckless, and at the start of book one he is only a researcher, though he can still practice Libriomancy. By the end of the second book, a magical war has broken out among the Porters, the followers of Bi Shen (a Chinese version of Libriomancers) and a mysterious dark force. During the final battle of book two, Isaac is stripped of his magic, and his recent memory, to prevent the dark force from using him. His protege, a teen named Jeneta, has been possessed by the dark force and is missing.

So book three deals with the search for Jeneta, and for the identity of who it is that has possessed her, and how to combat this entity. Isaac is helped by his dryad lover and her other lover (don't ask, it's complicated), as well as Ponce de Leon. Yes, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, who is an expert in the practice of magic. Isaac feels responsible for Jeneta's possession, and is also desperate to get his magic back. The action in this book ranges beyond the Michigan Upper Peninsula, where the story begins, including a jaunt into orbit and a rather dramatic scene in Rome. We also run across Isaac's werewolf friends, and he once again manages to piss off the vampires. All in all, this is a good ending to the trilogy, though there are huge implications for future books - magic is no longer secret, for one.

The basic concepts of Libriomancy are handled well by Hines, with inherent restrictions on what can come back through books and the 'cost' of practicing magic. This consistency helps the story move along, by not giving us a simple Deus ex Magica, as it were. The characters are also nicely rounded out, though Isaac's pig-headedness did get on my nerves just a bit. Nevertheless he is still a very likable character. But, really, this series is about BOOKS. A good libriomancer knows which books will help him/her in any situation, and we are treated to a wide range of books used (including some made up for this series). Clearly, Hines is a bibliophile, and this series is really an homage to books and their 'magic'. This series is a fine addition to the 'urban fantasy' genre, and I look forward to more books to come!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Aerie

Aerie (Dragon Jousters, #4)Aerie by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the 4th, and final, book in the Dragon Jousters series. It's also the weakest, in my opinion. Not that it was bad, per se, but it took a long time for anything to happen, and the ending was too quick.

In this book, we see the two former enemy nations, Alta and Tia, trying to learn to live together. However, this seemed to be given short shrift by the author, as the book mostly focused on a new character, Peri, who wants to become another female dragon jouster. The first half of the book was about her, and also somewhat about the main character of the books, Kiron, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Aket-ten. So not a lot happened during the first half of the book, other than lots of dialog and interaction among the characters. None of this was really critical to the story, other than further character development. Not that it wasn't interesting, it just didn't move the story forward much, other than Aket-ten's desire to create a wing of female jousters.

Once the action starts, however, it really goes! The mystery of the disappearing town, and who was behind, it was very well done. We get more insight into the religion and gods of this culture. And the climactic battle at the end was truly spectacular and exciting! But, the end of the book happened immediately after, with just a few paragraphs to tie up all the loose ends. I would have liked a bit more fleshing out of the final situation. The current ending felt rushed, and only sketchily done. I was glad to see the loose ends tied up, but it just happened a bit too fast.

Overall, this was a very good series! The dragons are very cool, the cultures nicely handled, and the characters are not cardboard cut-outs. It's not quite as good as Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, but it is still VERY good. If you are into dragons, you will enjoy this series immensely.