Review: Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick

Not So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick
Amazon

Michael Swanwick takes us on a whirlwind journey across the globe and across time and space, where magic and science exist in possibilities that are not of this world. These tales are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully sesquipedalian in their verbiage.

Join the caravan through Swanwick’s worlds and into the playground of his mind. Discover a calculus problem that rocks the ages and robots who both nurture and kill. Meet a magical horse who protects the innocent, a confused but semi-repentant troll, a savvy teenager who takes on the Devil, and time travelers from the Mesozoic who party till the end of time…

I requested this book via NetGalley to review because the title and description sounded intriguing. When I started the book, however, the intrigue fell away a little.

Not So Much, Said The Cat starts with an introduction from the author, talking about his writing journey and how this collection of short fiction came to be. Unfortunately, the introduction read very self-aggrandizing and I’m still not sure if it was intended that way or just came across that way by accident.

But I put that aside and jumped into the world of the first story, and enjoyed it very much! I’ve seen other reviewers all say the same – the first story is a great start to this collection and definitely makes you want to read more.

However, the book is only 288 pages, which should be a very quick read, but it actually took me over 2 months to get through it. Which is a downside for me, but for anthology lovers maybe that would be a positive? Each story was a different genre to the last, jumping around between fantasy, sci-fi, fable-type fiction and more, to the point that I could only read one story at a time and needed several days (sometimes a week or more) between them to get my brain ready for the next genre switch.

I’m not sure why the author (or publisher) planned the stories in this way. There were several of each genre in the book and I think it would have been a more enjoyable read to have more fluid genre transitions, from fantasy through to sci-fi crossovers, then pure sci-fi through to the fable-style stories, etc. The way they were all intermixed felt very “bitty”, and frustrated me a few times that I couldn’t just relax and read several at once.

For example, “The Dala Horse” was such a swift change in genre and setting that it pulled me out of the story too much at first – I found myself thinking “wait, where am I? What setting/world is this?” instead of just enjoying the story. And “3am In The Mesozoic Bar” was a flop for me because it took too long for the story to show you what was going on. I think it (and many others) would have read differently if I’d known upfront which genre I should be expecting.

You could definitely tell the same author wrote each story, even with the different settings and protagonists the language and writing style was much the same. But that alone wasn’t enough to tie the collection together for me to read more than one at a time.

The stories themselves are mostly good – a couple are very good, then they become “ok” the further into the collection you go, with one or two not grabbing me at all. But you have to expect a mixed bag with a short fiction collection that crosses so many different worlds, genres and characters.

The ones I enjoyed (such as “The Man In Grey”, and “The Woman Who Shook The World Tree”) had strong plots, characters, and I mostly enjoyed the author’s writing style – very accurately described in the book blurb as sesquipedalian.

“An Empty House With Many Doors” was a surprising treat later in the collection. The worldbuilding was interesting and it was great to have an emotional rollercoaster through such a short story.

Overall I think the collection is an OK read, very middle of the road. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone personally, but if you enjoy mixed-genre anthologies you might feel differently about it than I did.

Rating: 3/5

I received this ebook via NetGalley. The opinions are my own and I received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon Associate: they pay me a small commission if you use my link.

Review: Henchgirl by Rita Stradling

HenchgirlHenchgirl by Rita Stradling
Amazon

The children of dragons and humans, the dracons, control eighty percent of the world’s governments. Humans worldwide are either subservient or prey. On the small vacation island of Mabi, humans call for war.

Sixteen year old Dakota Kekoa lives a double life. By day, she pretends to be a human to infiltrate Mabi Academy, a ‘human’s only’ high-school. At night, she works as a henchman for her draconic mafia family, utilizing her ability to steal and manipulate emotions.

Dakota’s life is not ideal but it is manageable, until the rich and famous half-dragon, Wyvern Manderson, shows up and starts sabotaging Dakota’s missions. And for some bewildering reason, he is always angry at her.

Within days of Wyvern’s arrival, Dakota is suspended from future missions and in desperate need of money. When Wyvern offers to hire Dakota to find his kidnapped human half-sister, she accepts despite knowing she’ll have to spend all day, every day, with Wyvern and his gigantic ego. This is not just any mission though; she is diving head first into the escalating conflict between humans and dracons. As more girls disappear and some are discovered dead, Dakota realizes her first honorable mission may also be her last.

I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley – my first book from there! My views and opinions of the book are my own, and I received no compensation for my honest review.

Henchgirl is a fantasy/YA novel, and the first book in the Dakota Kekoa series. I hadn’t read anything by Rita Stradling before, but the description about dragons (who doesn’t love dragons?!) and the gorgeous island-themed cover made me want to dive right in.

The story follows a 16 year old dracon girl, Dakota Kekoa, who works for her Grandfather as something of a collections agent. She is part dragon (as are most of her family) but her ability is particularly useful as she can manipulate souls. I hadn’t ever seen that in a book before so it was an interesting plot point!

She uses her ability to be able to remove emotions from people, or add them, for example adding fear into someone she’s trying to intimidate for her Grandfather, or removing doubt from someone to make a deal. Her gift has it’s limitations and I enjoyed seeing how Dakota dealt with those and how her family had worked to make the most of even the negative aspects of her ability.

The novel is set in the fictional islands of Mabi (which were very clearly based on Hawaii) and I really enjoyed reading about somewhere different from the usual states/cities you see in fantasy/YA novels. The cover (shown above) is also a gorgeous representation of this, however that’s the paperback cover. The ebook cover seems to have been a little whitewashed – Dakota often talks about her darker skin tone, dark eyes and hair, yet the ebook cover has a very pale white girl with light brown hair – I’m not sure why the beautiful island cover isn’t used for both versions.

That aside, I really enjoyed reading this book! The dragon “history” was unusual and interesting. For example: dragons can’t stay on the earth’s surface for long because it’s too cold for them, they live far underground near the earth’s core. There are a lot of strengths with full dragons, and part-dragons, but also a number of weaknesses and I enjoyed that balance.

Dakota is a character who I think will develop more as the series progresses. I kept having to remind myself that she was only 16 because she got a little annoying at times with her thoughts or reactions. Especially when you team it with the fact she’d been working as a henchgirl for her Grandfather for several years, yet she didn’t seem prepared at all for taking/following orders or making logical conclusions over some situations (no spoilers). But as I said, she is only 16 so reminding myself of that helped a little to ease the frustrations.

Wyvern is a character I also want to see more of. He’s interesting but has a lot of negatives – he’s the pushy/dominating/controlling kind of man I don’t find attractive at all nor want to read about. But his character does seem to be changing and “learning” as he goes, so I’m actually really interested to see where his character ends up.  Hopefully it will be a case of him changing the way he does things because he realises women aren’t objects, and not just him changing only to please one girl.

The romance elements got heavier and heavier through the book. At first the story was a fun fantasy read, but ended up feeling more like a romance novel. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the romance doesn’t become the main story – I want to read more about the girl with the interesting talent, and her siblings (who also have talents of their own), and learn more about the dragons, with the romance as a subplot not the main plot.

There were quite a few open ended plot points that I hope get answered in the next book. Specifically about Dakota’s father, something that was given to her at the end of the book (no spoilers), and why Wyvern is how he is (and why her Grandfather knows). Hopefully these get more weight to them than the romance.

The pace of the novel is a bit slow at times – I felt a couple of scenes were padding that weren’t really needed and the main plot became a back story. For trying to save someone’s life, and rescue someone in possible mortal danger, they sure do have a lot of fancy dinners and not seeming to care about saving lives until after the dinner has ended. But the plot does move at a nice pace for the most part and kept me guessing at a couple of things, which is always fun!

I definitely enjoyed the book 🙂 It was a fairly quick read and a world I definitely want to read more of. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the series stays on the fantasy track and doesn’t become mainly romance.

Rating: 4/5

I received this ebook via NetGalley. The opinions are my own and I received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon Associate: they pay me a small commission if you use my link.

Review: Misfit Flash – the good, the bad, and why I’m looking at the “Moov Now”

Flash01

I was really excited when Misfit launched the Flash last year. And I waited patiently (ish) and got one at Christmas from Brian <3 I chose “Reef”, the aqua colour.

Before deciding on the Misfit Flash I’d done quite a bit of research on other devices available at the time. I knew I wanted to wear it for swimming (my main form of exercise), I didn’t need a heart rate monitor, and I didn’t want it to cost more than $100.

I narrowed it down to the Misfit brand, which (at the time) had two devices: the Shine, and the Flash.  The Shine was $99, the Flash was $50 (at that time). I spent way too long comparing and contrasting them both, as they only seemed to have two main differences: (1) the Shine was waterproof to 50M, vs the Flash which was waterproof to 30M, and (2) the Shine was made of aluminium, whereas the Flash was made of some kind of silicone/plastic.

During my comparison I came across many reviews talking about how terrible the Shine’s strap design was – the device would fall out constantly for a lot of people, some losing the $99 device and having to buy a new one more than once! That alone ruled out the Shine for me. I liked the look of the Flash and that it had a better design for the strap to hold the device in place. I liked the aqua colour they had recently launched, and they had a holiday sale reducing the Flash to just $25. Perfect!

I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying the Flash feels cheap. I didn’t think so – at least, I was expecting it to look and feel the way it did. For the price you can’t really be surprised that it isn’t on par with it’s $99 alternative.

The Flash is made from a silicone/plastic kind of material, with a smooth touch finish. It’s light weight and feels very comfortable on the wrist. The strap has lots of different notches to adjust to wrist size, and the device stays in securely. It also comes with a clip, so you can wear it on different parts of your body depending on the exercise you’re doing – on your wrist for swimming, clipped to a shoe for cycling, etc. I liked this idea, but ultimately only ever used it on my wrist (for daily walking activity, and swimming).

The device itself has a ring of LEDs to show you how close you are to your goal – which you can set yourself, I set mine at the standard 10k steps. And also a clock which some find difficult to read, but you get used to it. Misfit use a points system for activity tracking, so your steps/activity is converted into points and the LEDs illuminate to show your percentage of progress towards a full circle of lights. I didn’t mind this design, but it didn’t motivate me to do more steps/activity to complete the circle. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I didn’t want a step counter, I was primarily looking for something to keep track of my swimming sessions.

You can press and hold the Flash to “tag” an activity (such as swimming) so it will record that activity as different points than just normal “steps”. The swimming tagging kept track of the duration of swimming, distance traveled, and calories burned. I used this feature constantly for 9 months – my main reason for buying the Flash – as I was swimming every day it was sunny enough! However, the ability to track swimming no longer works – and appears to have been completely removed for Flash owners – making the device useless for me now. More on that in a moment.

Motivation to get me to swim more often/faster/longer would have been nice, but the Flash’s LED circle only updated to count the swimming “steps” after you sync with your phone – which I only ever did at the end of the day before bed.

Speaking of bed, the Flash is also a sleep tracker. The original sleep chart has (thankfully) been replaced with a much easier to read chart that shows light sleep, deep sleep, and awake time during the night. You don’t need to tell the Flash you’re going to sleep, it automatically detects it, which is a great feature! It doesn’t like if you’re awake for too long and then go back to sleep (going to get a drink in the night, for example) and either wipes out the first sleep session, or doesn’t record the second. Not a huge deal for me, but if someone is looking for a reliable sleep tracker for showing sleep-awake-sleep times then this isn’t going to cut it.

So I was pleased with my Flash for 9 months. It worked great and tracked my swimming perfectly. Until Misfit launched their new, much more expensive, Speedo Shine.

One week before the launch of the Speedo Shine, the swimming tagging function stopped working for my Flash. I contacted customer service and they very kindly talked me through steps to resolve the issue – update the app, replace the battery, re-sync my device. Nothing worked. After 3 weeks of nothing fixing the issue they offered to send me a replacement device, and even to upgrade me to a Shine of my choice. I had a look on their site and realised the Speedo Shine was aimed at swimmers – me – and asked for that as my replacement.

“I’m sorry,” said the customer service representative, “That’s not an option. Only the original Shine could be the upgrade.”

As they still (after over a year) hadn’t fixed the issue of the Shine falling out of it’s band, I declined the upgrade and asked for a simple replacement of a new Flash in aqua.

They deactivated my original Flash before they shipped the replacement, which left me several weeks without any kind of activity/sleep tracking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it would have been nice if they’d warned me about that, or at least waited until the replacement was due to arrive.

Replacement device (they didn't send a new wristband)

Replacement device (they didn’t send a new wristband)

Happy to receive my replacement Flash, I linked it to my app, checked the swimming tagging settings – all set up normally – and went for a swim to test the swimming tagging/tracking.

I was really disappointed to find out that the swimming tagging/tracking still didn’t work. I went through the same steps the original customer service representative said – I replaced the battery, re-synced the device, and then saw there was an app update and did that.

And from that point I have no way of knowing what’s going on with my device, because the latest app update refuses to allow me to sync my device. I checked the comments on Google Play and to my dismay I realised I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue. And a lot of people had been experiencing it for much longer than I had, with no reply from Misfit about a fix.

Nice, bright replacement Flash...which showed how discoloured my wristband was. Oh well!

Nice, bright replacement Flash…which showed how discoloured my wristband was. Oh well!

I contacted customer service to tell them about the app issue, but also to tell them the replacement device hadn’t fixed the issue of not being able to track swimming any more. And this is when I realised it wasn’t an “issue”, it was more than likely something Misfit did intentionally.

The customer service representative got back to me very quickly saying that Misfit Flash is not a swimming device, and if I’d been swimming with it then I had probably caused water damage.

Hold on a second there! This is a device that they had actively marketed as a swimming tracker right up until the launch of the Speedo Shine.  Then, as I suddenly realised, the word “swimming” had been (strategically) removed from the Flash’s webpage. And due to the timing, I can only assume the swimming tracking function was permanently removed for Flash users.

“Speedo Shine is aimed at swimmers and tracks distance, time…” is the go-to line, it seems. And that would be great, if my Flash hadn’t already tracked those things for 9 months until they launched a more expensive Speedo collaboration and took away functionality from their existing Flash customers.

Looking on their Facebook page I’m not the only one upset by this. Many people who purchased Flash as a swimming tracker (right up until the Speedo Shine launched, as they were still marketing the Flash as a swimming tracker until then) are upset that the purchase they made is now useless.

Customer service made it very clear to me that the swimming functionality is gone from Flash, and no amount of complaining is going to bring it back. Which, as a previously loyal customer, sucks. And that’s why I’m now looking for a new device, from a company I can trust.

So far I’ve discovered the Moov (only $44.95 on Amazon right now), which sounded good but soon they are launching the new model: Moov Now. Which looks awesome! It can track a variety of different workouts: swimming, cycling, boxing, etc. And has a sleep tracker too. So I think that’s what I’ll be getting – it does what I need, for a price range I’m happy with. And from the description and reviews, it sounds as though it does help motivate you to work out more because it’s an actual activity tracker, not just a step counter with extras.

What do you think – do you have a great swimming tracker to recommend? Are you thinking of buying a Moov Now when they launch? I’d love to hear what you think.

I purchased this device with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am an Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.

When Will It End?!

This is only a short entry as I’m at work right now and typing this on my phone, which isn’t very condusive to writing a blog post! But I felt I needed to vent a little bit. A literary vent.

I read a lot. Across several genres and I enjoy reading immensely. While I’m doing temporary work I get through more books because I always need something to read when work gets a little slow. Which is the only reason I’m continuing to read this book, because I don’t have anything else to read with me.

I’ll do a full review later but for now I need to say, I have never in my life come across a more dull, uninteresting and frustrating novel than this. The main character is boring, uninteresting and I couldn’t care less if she croaked on the next page. In fact, I’m actually willing it so that I can just be done with the damn book.

The reviews were raving over how great it was, how this was a lierary masterpiece and kept the reader intrigued and on the edge of their seat. I’m honestly questioning if I’m even reading the same book as those reviewers because all it reads as (and I’m on page 258 so far) is drivel.

Alright, rant over…for now lol! You can obviously tell the review of this book won’t be sparkling. But, I’m trying to remain open minded and hope the story will actually get interesting and change my mind. As I’m 3/4 through though it doesn’t look very promising :/

Oh and the book? The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Book Review: Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Dark fantasy
Published: March 2009
Amazon
Book Depository

Back of the book blurb:
When magic strikes and Atlanta goes to pieces, it’s a job for Kate Daniels…

Drafted into working for the Order of Merciful Aid, mercenary Kate Daniels has more paranormal problems than she knows what to do with these days. And in Atlanta, where magic comes and goes like the tide, that’s saying a lot.

But when Kate’s werewolf friend Derek is discovered nearly dead, she finds herself with a personal stake and a while new level of problem. As her investigations lead her to the Midnight Games – the invitation-only, no-holds-barred, ultimate preternatural fighting tournament – she uncovers a dark plot that may forever alter the face of Atlanta’s shapeshifting community…

My review:
I only discovered Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series about a year ago but they hooked me fast. This is book three in the series and is just as strong as the first two.

The world that Kate Daniels lives in has enough “normal” every day markers for you to be able to picture what is being talked about (streets in Atlanta, etc). But the alterations that have come about due to the magic and tech waves are a fantastic change and they draw you even deeper into the story with each revelation. If you haven’t read any of this series, then definitely start with book one, Magic Bites, so that you can fully emerge yourself in this fantastically interesting world that Ilona Andrews has created.

This book focuses on the relationship between Kate Daniels and the shapeshifters, even though that is seemingly a secondary storyline to the goings on in the Midnight Games. I love the way that the story didn’t get overrun with fight scenes, even in a book all about fights. The descriptions and narrative held strong and I literally couldn’t put the book down until I finished it!

The fight scenes were so well detailed that you knew exactly where and what everyone was doing and the overall plot moved with perfect pace – nothing dragged and nothing felt too rushed either. Her relationship with Curran also comes into play in this book and his character is one of my absolute favourites! The two of them together in any situation is just such an interesting read – sometimes fun, sometimes serious, but always enjoyable to learn more about. Just as the world itself, and their roles in it, is so fascinating to delve into.

I enjoy the way there are light hearted moments to mix in with the serious elements, and each character is so very individual that you feel personal attachments to each of them in a different way. Kate Daniels is a very likable character and her actions, and motivations, are not only interesting to read but they draw you deeper into the story with her.

Overall, this book was a fantastic read; an excellent addition to an already strong series and I cannot wait to read the next one 🙂

Rating: 5/5

Amazon | Book Depository

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am a Book Depository and Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.

Book Review: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Wicked Lovely
by Melissa Marr
Genre: Young adult fiction
ISBN (UK): 978-0-00-726307-3
ISBN (US): 978-0061214677
Harper Collins
Published: April 2009
Amazon | Book Depository

Back of the book blurb:
The seductive worldwide bestseller.

Rule 3: Never stare at invisible faeries. Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in the mortal world.

Rule 2: Never speak to invisible faeries. One of them, a beautiful faery boy names Keenan, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.

Rule 1: Don’t ever attract their attention. Now it’s too late. Keenan is the Summer King and is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost. Without her, summer itself will perish…

My review:
I was really looking forward to reading this book for a long time so my expectations were high, and I’m happy to say they were met. I first saw mention of Wicked Lovely on Supernatural Snark in a list of books she was going to be reading, but even though it grabbed me right away I only got a copy at the start of this year (due to putting it on a Christmas gift list in case my husband was stuck for gift ideas). So it was the first book I read in 2011.

Before I started reading the book itself, I read the “about the author” page at the front and immediately liked the sound of Melissa Marr. She seems to have had a really exciting and varied life, which made me want to read the book even more. I felt ready for a story of new and exciting things, an adventure of sorts like the way she had described her life.

The flow of the story is very well written. We start with a snippet into the faery world but without much context to know what to do with that bit of knowledge yet, further drawing you into the book. Then getting to know the main character, Aislinn, and the world she lives in. I felt very much drawn into her world, feeling her ups and downs and wanting to know more about her and everything surrounding her.

Even though this is a young adult book, it kept me gripped and the pace of the story was just right – I read it in one day because I just couldn’t put it down. The characters felt very real and the amount of detail, even though vast, didn’t weigh you down or feel as though it was being dragged out. It gave so much detail but in a way that made it feel just right with the flow of the story.

There are really five characters that drew focus in the story, Aislinn, Seth, Keenan, Donia and the Winter Queen. Each felt very much an individual character and came to life on the page – there wasn’t a time where I felt one character had been rehashed to form another one. I loved the character interaction and felt very strong emotions tied to certain scenarios in the book.

My one qualm is towards the end of the book. Not the plot, that stays consistent and good. But the pace, flow and style of writing seem to suddenly change in the final 8th of the book. It almost felt as if the author had suddenly changed at times but then the next line would show that it was definitely still the same author. So I’m thinking perhaps this book was originally a lot longer than 328 pages and had to be edited down…or maybe even that she got to that point, realised the length and then sped up to cram the final parts into the story. It didn’t ruin it, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and storyline! But it did feel a bit out of place the way the flow suddenly changed and became “this happened, then this, then this, then this and this and this!” all in a very short space of time.

So, I’m afraid, a bit of a rating reduction for that point purely because it was such a noticeable change. But overall I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait to read the next one – which I shall be going to buy tomorrow 🙂

Rating: 4.5/5

Amazon | Book Depository

I purchased this book with my own money, and received no compensation for my honest review.
I am a Book Depository and Amazon affiliate, and I receive a small commission if you use my link.