The Coven by Chrissy Lessey

The CovenThe Coven

by Chrissy Lessey
Series: The Crystal Cove Series, Book One

Kindle Edition, 340 pg.
Tenacious Books Publishing, 2017

Read: June 27, 2017


This book takes place in a small North Carolina town where descendants of some colonial witches still live and practice their craft. For obvious reasons, they are a secret group, but highly self-regulated. Typically, the abilities travel along family lines and crop up in childhood/adolescence, at which point, the witch/warlock is initiated into the Coven and introduced to their history and practice.

Stevie is a newly-divorced mom of a young Autistic boy, still struggling to adjust to life without her husband and trying to make an emotional connection with her son, who she’s trying everything to help. She’s about to learn about her unique heritage, in a way that no one would want to.

There’s a dark witch who has just returned to town to settle some scores. Her actions will kick off many changes to the coven, as well as the populace of the town. Her return and the advent of Stevie’s ability will prove a pivotal moment in the history of this group.

There’s a rich — and frequently delightful — cast of supporting characters here. Lessey writes them well and with care. I enjoyed them all, frequently grinning at the way a couple of them behave.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of the depiction of autism — but it felt real, it felt like the fruit of good research (or first-hand knowledge), sympathetic without pandering; realistic, yet open to the possibilities of a Fantasy novel. Stevie’s relationship with Charlie, her son, was easily the best part of this book.

The stakes were high, but it there was never a feeling of actual peril, of risk, of there being a chance that things could go really bad. Still, there was plenty of heart and enough likeable characters to keep the reader engaged. A quick read that kept the plot moving at a decent pace. The Coven is the Urban Fantasy equivalent of a cozy — low risk, decent reward. I’m willing to bet Lessey grows and develops as a writer over the trilogy, and is probably worth keeping an eye on.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for honest opinion, which I appreciate.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson
eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017
Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017

Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3 Stars

Christ Alone–The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen Wellum

Christ AloneChrist Alone–The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Stephen Wellum
Series: The 5 Solas Series
Paperback, 314 pg.
Zondervan, 2017
Read: June 11 – July 9, 2017

So, Stephen Wellum tackles the solus Christus Sola, the exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ as our Redeemer. It doesn’t get the press that some of the others do, but it’s as essential to the Reformation as the rest.

He begins with survey of the Biblical material surrounding the identity of Jesus Christ — as Messiah and as God the Son Incarnate. This was some solid work — I had a hard time engaging with his writing, I can’t say why, but he just didn’t hook me. It likely had to do with the fact that this book was on the heels of outstanding works on the same idea by Machen and Vos — and a related book by Crowe. Wellum demonstrated a lot of familiarity with contemporary scholarship on the topic — from all parts of the spectrum. Every few pages, I’d come across a paragraph or so that’d be really helpful. But the rest was just something I slogged through.

Part 2 focused on Christ’s Atoning work — the heart of the book, for sure. He spends two chapters defending and articulating the doctrine of the Penal Substitution. There is much to commend here — well, much to endorse, I think it could’ve been stated in a more interesting way. The biggest issue I had with his presentation here is that he reduces everything else recorded in the gospels to an “extended prologue” to the passion narratives. That’s not a characterization on my part — he states that.

The third Part focuses on the use of the doctrine in the Reformation and today, both in reference to Roman Catholicism and the wider contemporary culture. I think there was a lot of promise to this section and I wish is was better developed. As it was, it came across half-baked. Although, at this point, I’d pretty much given up on the book and maybe it was better than I thought.

On the whole, this series has been a disappointment to me — I’m going to finish it (I own one I haven’t read yet, and my series OCD is going to compel me to get the last). This one more than the others. I wouldn’t say don’t read it — there’s some really good bits here and there, and there’s nothing wrong anywhere, in fact, it’s pretty helpful. But, I don’t know, I just can’t tell anyone to go grab it, either.

—–

3 Stars

Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson

eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017

Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017


Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3 Stars

Citizen Kill by Stephen Clark

Citizen KillCitizen Kill

by Stephen Clark

eARC, 287 pg.
WiDo Publishing, 2017

Read: June 23 – 24, 2017


Let’s get this out of the way: yeah, this title is just bad. The book is much better than you’d think from the title.

The first chapter really turned me off — the assassin spews some sort of pseudo-patriotic babble before he kills the imam (who really doesn’t seem to be that much of a bad guy) and I was starting to dread the next 250+ pages and wondered if I could fake something to get out of reading the book. Then I remembered the email from Clark a few weeks back where he said something about the assassin becoming disillusioned, and was able to push on. I’m glad I did. (I guess it’s also efficient writing — it took less than a chapter for me to be convinced that what he was up to was reprehensible)

When the inaugural parade following the ceremony is bombed, and the new president’s son is among the dead, she starts looking for new ways to combat terrorism within the US. One of the top men in the CIA has a proposal — Operation Prevent. Rather than waiting for the FBI to arrest and prosecute people after an attack, or even to try to prevent an attack. He suggests going for the people that “radicalize” US citizens into supporting terrorism or into becoming terrorists. And by “going for” I mean, assassinate. He has some pretty flimsy argument to justify the execution of US citizens without trial — and the president sends him off to make some fixes. But before long, he’s empowered (by someone else) to initiate the Operation anyway.

Enter Justin Raines — he’s currently waiting for an internal investigation into a botched CIA op to determine his future, when he’s given the opportunity to join Operation Prevent. He’s not utterly convinced it’s the way to go, but it’s the only chance he sees to stay active, so he takes the position and begins eliminating targets. But doubts start to creep in and when he’s assigned to kill a Muslim educator (who happens to be attractive and witty) everything begins to unravel.

Before long, Justin is teaming with old comrades to get more information on the Operation to expose it to the public and bring it down.

I had a lot of trouble buying some of the mechanics of the book — the Secret Service seemed to talk a lot to the president before doing something to ensure her safety, for example. The same for some other nit-picky things, but you step back from the details and it all worked pretty well (or just pretend that the details are right). Yeah, it’s depiction of the CIA and how it works internally and externally is probably closer to Covert Affairs than reality, but the USA show was a lot more entertaining than reality, so bring it on.

The characters could’ve been a little more fully developed for my tastes, but they were good enough for this kind of book. I liked the fact that it wasn’t just Justin vs. the world — he had allies, some new, some old to get through things. There were also parties acting with the similar goals that had nothing to do with him — too often this kind of story relies on a single protagonist to be the only one standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

There’s some good action and intrigue here, a story that’s timely (and, sadly, will likely be so for a while), with some good characters, a nice pace and a satisfying ending. Give this one a shot the next time you’re looking for a quick thrill ride.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post. I appreciated the book and the opportunity, but it had no bearing on what I said.

—–

3 Stars

The Bucket List by Emily Ruben

The Bucket ListThe Bucket List

by Emily Ruben

eARC, 383 pg.
Inkitt, 2017

Read: June 14 – 19, 2017


I am absolutely not amongst the audience for this book. I knew that from the title alone, much less the description. Still, I’d read Ruben’s first book and enjoyed it and was curious about her take on this idea.

This is basically a take on the dying teen romance, with a splash of the Rob Reiner movie. I’m tempted to go on a rant about the whole dying teen romance idea — The Space Between Us, The Fault in our Stars, and the like — but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t get it, it seems like a highly artificial way to inflate drama. But whatever — just because it’s an overplayed idea, that doesn’t mean the book can’t be good.

Besides, the central characters in this book are 20 and 21, so by definition this is different.

Leah is surprised one day to find the new guy moving in next door is her old best friend that she hasn’t seen for 5 years. Damon (think Ian Somerhalder) is glad to see her, but before they renew their friendship, has to warn her that he’ll be dead within a year and a half. He has some sort of brain tumor (Ruben intentionally gives few details about this) that cannot be treated. Leah decides that she’ll do what she can to renew their friendship in the time remaining.

Soon after this, the two decide that he’ll write up a Bucket List and that each day, they’ll cross an item off of it until it’s too late. This will lead to all sorts of travel, adventure, changing of existing and/or new romantic relationships and (this isn’t much of a spoiler, you can tell it’ll happen from the get-go) their eventually falling in love.

The worst part about this book is how everything that happens to them is the best, the greatest, the ____est (or the worst). Leah and Damon live in the extremes — they never have a normal day, a blah experience. It’s just too much to handle — a few things that are okay, a few things that aren’t bad mixed in with all this would make this easier to read. Yes, you could say that given the heightened situation, everything they do is given a hint of the extreme, but still . . .

The tricky thing with Damon having an unnamed disease — it’s hard to have any idea how realistic this is. But a brain tumor that causes organs to decay before death, necessitating an ethically/legally-questionable euthanasia method is stretching things beyond the breaking point. Beyond that, the amount of money that these people spend is utterly unbelievable — talk all you want about plundering no-longer-necessary college savings, it’s just not something I could buy.

There’s an element of charm to the writing — but I don’t think that this is as charming as Ruben’s first book — there’s something appealing about the earnestness of her writing. But this just wasn’t for me. Although he probably didn’t say it, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as reviewing a lecture by saying something like, ” People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I feel like that about this book — if you can find a grain of salt big enough to help you swallow the unbelievable, if you can tolerate the excess of superlatives, and like a love story in the face of certain doom, this is probably a pretty entertaining book. Was it for me? Nope. But I didn’t hate it and can understand why many would.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the publisher in exchange for this post — I do appreciate the opportunity, even if it doesn’t come across that way.

—–

3 Stars

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

—–

3 Stars