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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010 Ahoy!

It certainly appears that 2009 is rapidly drawing to a close. Since the dawn of this project back in August, I've reviewed 62 books! I'm looking forward to a great year in 2010 for sure. Thank you to all of you for reading and commenting on my posts, and for sharing your blogs, insights and ideas as well.

I do have a few blog-related goals that I'm hoping to accomplish in the new year. Here are the highlights:

-Successfully complete the challenges I signed up for, and limit any new challenges until I can cross some of them off.
-Hold another contest! But what should I give away? I'm completely open to suggestions.
-Get my memes scheduled in advance- Illustrated Friday, Cha-Cha, etc.
-Build up a buffer of reviews, in case life gets in the way.

I'm sure there are others but these are the goals I'm working on right now.

Life-wise, one thing I want to be better about in the new year is taking care of the mail more regularly. Stuff comes and then it sits around, especially if it's junk mail, and then there's a huge pile of crap that needs to be gone through, which takes way more time than it would have if I'd just tossed the garbage on the day it arrived. It's a small thing but it'll make a big difference.

Anyway, this will probably be my last post before the new year. I'm out of town visiting friends for New Year's and am hoping to get a lot of reading done while I travel, so there will be a bunch of reviews and good things to look forward to once I'm back in action. Illustrated Friday is locked and loaded, so you won't completely be denied my charms (har!)

If you're going out for New Year's, be safe, if you're staying home, have fun, and I'll see everyone in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: Slave to Sensation

Title: Slave to Sensation
Author: Nalini Singh
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: It's battle royale between the braniac Psy and the shapeshifting changelings. Caught in the middle are Sascha, a Psy that can feel things, and Lucas, a leader among the changelings. Sparks fly like a penny in the light socket, and a series is born.

Slave to Sensation is the first book in another series that I resisted checking out for a really long time. I'd heard so many people sing the praises of the Psy-Changeling series and talk about how awesome it was, and I figured it'd be the most hokey thing to ever sit on a bookshelf. Well, I'm happy to say that I was wrong wrong wrong. A pro tip before I get to the review: if you're going to read this seris then you need to get the first few books and have them on hand because you absolutely will not want to stop reading after just one volume. Consider yourself warned.

For me, what set Slave to Sensation apart from other paranormal romances is that there's a really engaging, vivid and dramatic world that serves as the backdrop for the story. If you've read any of my reviews then you know that good, effective world building is a big turn-on for me in a book. I'm willing to overlook a lot (and I mean a lot) of flaws in a book if I can really get sucked into the setting.

The book takes place in the future (cue the Scooby Doo music) and reflects a slight shift from the reality that we know now- namely, business and government are run by the Psy, a race of psychic beings conditioned to feel nothing at all. The rest of the population is made up of the changelings (werecreatures of various flavors) and humans, and the peace between the groups is tedious at best. The powder keg is set to explode, though, and when a serial killer starts preying on changeling women and the law enforcement folks aren't interested, the keg is just about ready to blow.

In the midst of all this saunters Sascha Duncan, the daughter of a powerful Psy with the embarassing secret of actually being able to feel things. Among those feelings she has are really vivid, grown up thoughts about Lucas Hunter, the alpha of the local leopard pack and, to Sascha's chagrin, her mate. Watching the relationship bloom between these two and meeting the cast of secondary characters is a real treat and makes me glad that I have the rest of the series ready to read as soon as I'm done writing this.

I do have one criticism of the book, and although it's a minor one in the grand scheme of things, it does bother me. I guess I'm not effectively wrapping my head around the "Psy don't feel things" facet of the story. I mean, having a preference for one brand of cereal over another is a feeling; ambition requires feelings, politics requires feelings. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the most part but I think this part of the story just made me not connect with Sascha as a character. She's really worried about the Psy finding out about her and hauling her off to basically reformat her mental hard drive, and it was hard to take those worries seriously when it became apparent that other Psy were doing the same thing. It doesn't detract from the story, though, and isn't a reason not to read the book, but it did bother me and seemed worth mentioning.

Quibbles aside, however, this is an extremely fun book with a satisfying ending that believably tied up the loose ends. It almost got a Scandalous Books warning but just isn't quite there in th smut department. It does get pretty spicy though. Who could ask for anything more?

Overall Grade: A-

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Review: A Touch of Dead

Title: A Touch of Dead
Author: Charlaine Harris
Page Count: 192 pages
Publisher: Ace
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: 5 short stories from the world of Sookie Stackhouse; if you're new to the series, this is a good place to start.

I'm a huge Sookie fan. The books are excellent, the stories are fun and horrifying and creepy and sweet all at the same time, and the characters are ones you can relate to and love or love to hate, whichever flavor you prefer. The short stories set in Sookieland are more of the same, for the most part.

All of these stories were published in other anthologies, so it's possible they can be rereads; I know I'd encountered at least one before reading this volume.

The story arcs and timelines of the full length Sookie novels are pretty tight; as a result, the stories aren't a part of the timeline, and with one exception, don't contain information that's pertinent to the rest of the books. Some of the stories I definitely liked more than others; hell, in the introduction, Charlaine Harris tells us that she likes some of the stories better than others, so I guess the rest of us can as well.

Round 1: Fairy Dust details Sookie's attempt to find out who murdered the third of a set of fairy triplets; Claudine, her fairy godmother, and Claude, the self-obsessed stripper, being the other two. It's a quick story but does give some insight into the viciousness of the fairies that populate Sookieland. These ain't no Tinkerbells, people.

Round 2: Dracula Night is about the vampire version of Christmas, New Year's, and your birthday all wrapped up: Dracula's Birthday. Eric is a complete fanboy in this story and it reminds you of why Eric seems like a nice guy sometimes. Oh, and Sookie is completely kick ass.

Round 3: One Word Answer is the one story in this collection that adds something to the rest of the Sookie novels. Here's where we first meet Mr. Cataliades (one of my FAVORITE side characters ever, by the way) and find out what really happened to Sookie's cousin Hadley, which lays the groundwork for her going to New Orleans and getting messed up in even more shady vampire business. She also meets Quinn as a result of the events in this story. Sookie uses her brain to triumph over supernatural assholes in this story, which is always fun.

Round 4: Lucky is the most left-field of the stories and is about Sookie and Amelia-the-witch's attempts to find out who's making life miserable for Sookie's insurance agent, who happens to use magic to extra-insure his clients. It's an interesting story and is the perfect length for what it entails; the lesson that using magic has consequences is pertinent.

Round 5: Gift Wrap is the story of a particularly lonely Christmas Eve for Sookie and her great-grandfather's attempt to liven things up. It's a fun story that introduces some interesting one-time (I think?) characters. Sookie gets some from a dude that doesn't have treacherous ulterior motives, which is admittedly a nice change. Poor Sookie.

Anyway, the collection as a whole is fun, but I have to admit, I'm glad I didn't pay hardcover price for the book, which is on the short side. If it comes out in paperback it might be a fun book to have, even just for bragging rights for having all the Sookie books, but otherwise it's a great candidate to get from the library.

Overall Grade: B

Friday, December 25, 2009

Archives: Reviews Sorted by Letter Grade

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Hunger Games, The by Suzanne Collins
Iron King, The by Julie Kagawa
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Splendor Falls, The by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Veracity by Laura Bynum
Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh
Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater
Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh
Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
Dark Slayer by Christine Feehan
Darkest Whisper, The by Gena Showalter
Eternal Hunter by Cynthia Eden
Firespell by Chloe Neill
First Drop of Crimson by Jeaniene Frost
Flirting With Forever by Gwyn Cready
Forest of Hands and Teeth, The by Carrie Ryan
Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill
Good Humor Man, The by Andrew Fox
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins
Harmony's Way by Lora Leigh
Hollow Kingdom, The by Clare Dunkle
Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
Magical Christmas Cat, The by Nalini Singh, Erin McCarthy, Linda Winstead Jones, and Lora Leigh
My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne
Nick of Time by Ted Bell
Pillars of the Earth, The by Ken Follett
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The by Lauren Willig
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Spymaster's Lady, The by Joanna Bourne
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
Tiger Eye by Marjorie Liu
Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh
War Against Miss Winter, The by Kathryn Miller Haines
Werewolves by Jon Izzard
Winter in June by Kathryn Miller Haines
Winter of Her Discontent, The by Kathryn Miller Haines
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Blue Aspen by Tenaya Jayne
Bound to Shadows by Keri Arthur
Caressed By Ice by Nalini Singh
Darklight by Lesley Livingston
Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter
Her Vampire Husband by Michelle Hauf
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian
Kiss of Midnight by Lara Adrian
Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl
Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson
Masque of the Black Tulip, The by Lauren Willig
Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh
Pleasure: The Shadowdwellers by Jacquelyn Frank
Scent of Darkness by Christina Dodd
Shifter by Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, and Virginia Kantra
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh
Warlord Wants Forever, The by Kresley Cole
When Seducing a Duke by Kathryn Smith
Wild Rain by Christine Feehan
Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Beat of Temptation by Nalini Singh
Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning
Big Over Easy, The by Jasper Fforde
Dark Prince by Christine Feehan
Embrace the Night by Karen Chance
Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount-White
Gateway by Sharon Shinn
Great and Terrible Beauty, A by Libba Bray
Hourglass by Claudia Gray
Kiss of Moonlight by Stephanie Julian
Line, The by Teri Hall
Megan's Mark by Lora Leigh
Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian
Random Magic by Sasha Soren
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Touch of Darkness by Christina Dodd
Vampires by Joules Taylor
Wicked West by Victoria Dahl
A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris
Captivate by Carrie Jones
Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance
Covet by J.R. Ward
Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
Heat Seeker by Lora Leigh
Intertwined by Gena Showalter
Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep
Maverick by Lora Leigh
Stargazer by Claudia Gray
Touch the Dark by Karen Chance
Women of Nell Gwynne's, The by Kage Baker
Beauty's Curse by Traci E. Hall
Cheating, Death by Teel McClanahan III
Dusk by Lana Griffin
Evernight by Claudia Gray
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Hunting Julian by Jacquelyn Frank

Atlantis Unleashed by Alyssa Day
Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
Hidden Agendas by Lora Leigh
Need by Carrie Jones
Queene of Light by Jennifer Armintrout
Heart of Darkness by Gena Showalter, Maggie Shayne, and Susan Krinard
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Caleb by Sarah McCarty
Highlander Christmas, A by Janet Chapman
Shadow by Jenny Moss
Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis
Desire Untamed by Pamela Palmer
Sacrament by Susan Squires
Could Not Finish
Host, The by Stephenie Meyer
Original Sin by Allison Brennan

Illustrated Friday: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

I hope everyone who's into the Christmas thing is spending some time with people they care about today, but just in case you need a break from all that holiday cheer, here's something to cleanse your palate!

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is definitely truth in advertising- it's the story of the composing of Rhapsody in Blue, one of Gershwin's most famous pieces. It's a fantastic story and is told as a narrative instead of as a reference work, but the author's note at the end assures us that this is pretty much the way it happened in real life, which makes the story even more cool in my book. The illustrations bring New York City in the 1920s to life, and there's a CD included that has the song, so if you've never heard it before you have the chance to fix that right while you're reading.

Rhapsody in Blue was also one of the features in Fantasia 2000, and I managed to find the entire segment on YouTube, albeit in two pieces. Here they are, for your enjoyment:

Here's wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday. May we all be healthy, wealthy and wise and all that jazz. Regular reviews resume next week!

Merry Christmas to all...

I hope everyone is having a happy, healthy and safe holiday with family and friends. I know I am! While the annual eating marathon hasn't quite started yet, it's definitely time to relax and enjoy the day. This is my new favorite Christmas song, hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review: Magic Under Glass

Title: Magic Under Glass
Author: Jaclyn Dolamore
Page Count: 208 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Copy for review provided by Around the World Tours (Princess Bookie ARC Tours) in exchange for an honest review.

50 words or less: Nimira is a dancing girl with a dead end job when the opportunity of a lifetime falls into her lap. All she has to do is accompany an automaton while he plays the piano. Easy enough, right? WRONG.

All right, set your phasers to stun, everyone: I didn't like this book. Spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

I'm feeling really let down that I didn't enjoy this book, actually. I was so excited to see a copy available for the tour and I heard such great things from other reviewers. And yes, for the first quarter of the book or so, I was hooked, and really enjoying the story. I think my initial enjoyment of the book is one of the reasons the rest of it was such a huge letdown.

My first issue is that the length of the book did not adequately provide space and time for the world that serves as the setting of the story to be fully explored and described. We know that there are different cities and different provinces and that there's a fairy realm that's supposedly off limits by a wall, but that's pretty much all the world building we get. Not being familiar with the history of the region and the alliances and politics made it hard to care about the events of the story or to understand why anyone was choosing to act as they did.

Continuing in the vein of things I don't care about, I didn't find much to like about any of the characters. Hollin, especially, gave me the scratch- someone should tell him that Halmark doesn't make a card for getting your wife locked up in the attic by your evil nemesis. The bad guys (Smollings and whatshername, the Nurse Diesel character) weren't all that inspiring either- their rantings and ravings about the evil fairies seemed kind of paranoid at best and the ravings of lunatics at worst since we never really meet any fairies in this book at all. Again, the lack of world building makes it hard to understand why everyone's got their panties in a wad.

The most interesting facet of the story was definitely Erris, the automaton/fairy prince/emo dude. I found myself most interested in his story and how he came to be in his current situation, but no information about any of that was forthcoming.

Incidentally, although the blossoming romance between Nimira and Erris is sweet and one of the nicer storylines of the book, I was kind of grossed out by Nimira having to wind him up even after Erris is supposedly made human. It was like they had to cut right from the bloom of young love to the long-term care part of the relationship.

I think, if this book had been 400 pages long, with juicy descriptions, beautiful worlds, and a ton more details about the political situation and back stories of the characters, then same twisty, turny plot would have been fantastic and I would be raving about this book. As it is, the entire story suffered for the brevity of the story and while I want to know if Erris ever fully leaves his key-powered world behind, I will probably just ask someone who reads any future books what happens.

Overall Grade: C-

Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Deep Kiss of Winter

Title: Deep Kiss of Winter
Authors: Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter
Page Count: 426 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: Two novellas, one from each author; Untouchable, by Kresley Cole, is part of the Immortals After Dark series, and Tempt Me Eternally, by Gena Showalter, hails from the Alien Huntress series.

Hopefully, whoever came up with the concept for this book got a raise or a promotion or something, because it's pretty much perfectly executed from start to finish. If you've ever had a yen to explore the writing style and stories by either of these authors, this is an excellent opportunity to do so.

Untouchable is the story of Murdoch Wroth, a vampire, and the last single Wroth brother still walking around. Daniela is half ice Fey, half Valkyrie, and totally fed up with not being able to touch or get close to anyone; doing so literally burns her alive. Those two are fated for each other and neither one is happy about it; Murdoch, a self-professed Romeo, isn't sure how he feels about settling down, and Daniela is not about to end two thousand years of waiting with a dude whose idea of romance is "I'll call you." Even after the characters start to genuinely have feelings for each other, neither one is ready to fully commit to each other, which causes no end of pain and strife between them.

As if that wasn't complicated enough, strange things are afoot in the world of the Lore; half demon, half vampires are running around, the other Wroth brothers are settling down, and new alliances are being formed left and right. Although this story stands on its own, it references many events from the first few books in the IAD series; if you're a veteran reader, it's fun to spot them, if you're a newcomer, it'll make you want to start the series from the beginning.

Kresley Cole has an amazing gift for taking a douchebag of a hero and making him into a genuinely likeable guy at the end. Murdoch is no exception; he transforms from a self-absorbed idiot with a sex god complex into someone who is brave, loyal, honest with himself and others, and able to commit to someone on an emotional level, not just a physical one. The author works the same magic with Daniela; she transforms from "poor me, my life is terrible" into kicking ass and taking names, accepting no nonsense from anyone, not even herself. Both characters had to grow up in order to be in a successful relationship and they definitely over the course of this story.
Overall Grade: A

The second half of the book is devoted to Gena Showalter's Tempt Me Eternally, and that's an enjoyable story as well. I stand by my assessment in my review of Intertwined, I think I'm just a bigger fan of the author's books for adults than I am of her YA books, and this shows many of the reasons why.

The characters in this story, Aleaha, a human(?) woman who can take on the appearance of anyone she meets, and Breean, an alien military commander looking to move the few remaining members of his decimated race to Earth for resettlement, end up clashed together in a serious case of mistaken identity. The sparks fly between them, even though Aleaha is working to escape from Breean's clutches and Breean is trying to keep her there.

The story does assume some familiarity with the rest of the series but there is a little bit of introduction to the overall concepts and players. I'm not quite up to speed with this series so I wasn't sure what was going on at some point but for the most part, the relationship between Aleaha and Breean takes center stage, so it didn't really detract from the overall flow of the story.

Side note, but when did Mia turn into a bitch? Just saying.

Overall this was a fun story as well; Gena Showalter has a knack for taking really unusual circumstances and situations and making them work with the story. She also has a way of taking two characters who you'd think would be totally unsuited for each other and helping them see the errors of their ways and live happily ever after. My only issue with this story (and it's a small one) is that sometimes it was hard to know how this story and its events fit into the story arc of the series, but I will definitely get over it.

Overall Grade: A-

I'm participating in a blog tour for this book, so check out some of these other blogs to read their take on the book:
Parajunkee’s View: http://parajunkee.blogspot.com/
I’m Bookin’ It: http://imbookingit.wordpress.com/
My Overstuffed Bookshelf: http://myoverstuffedbookshelf.blogspot.com/
The Book Tree: http://thebooktree.blogspot.com/
What Book Is That: http://whatbookisthat.blogspot.com/
Morbid Romantic: http://www.morbid-romantic.net/
Book Junkie: http://myfoolishwisdom.blogspot.com/
Jeanne's Ramblings: http://www.jeannesramblings.com
Drey’s Library: http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com/
Poisoned Rationality: http://lastexilewords.blogspot.com
Brizmus Blogs About Books: http://brizmusblogsbooks.blogspot.com/
Found Not Lost: http://jmomfinds.amoores.com/
I Heart Book Gossip: http://juniperrbreeeze.blogspot.com/
All About {n}: http://www.bookwormygirl.blogspot.com/
The Bibliophilic Book Blog: http://www.bibliophilicbookblog.com/
Jen’s Book Talk: http://jensbooktalk.blogspot.com/
Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My!: http://writesthoughts.blogspot.com/
Readaholic: http://bridget3420.blogspot.com/
Reading with Tequila: http://readingwithtequila.blogspot.com/
Mindful Musings: http://themindfulmusingsbookblog.blogspot.com/
Pick of the Literate: http://bookrevues.blogspot.com/
Carol’s Notebook: http://carolsnotebook.wordpress.com/
Wendy’s Minding Spot: http://mindingspot.blogspot.com/
You Wanna Know What I Think?: http://www.kballard87.blogspot.com/
Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm: http://fayeflamereviews.blogspot.com/
Patricia’s Vampire Notes: http://patricias-vampire-notes.blogspot.com/
Seductive Musings: http://seductivemusings.blogspot.com/
SciFi Guy: http://www.scifiguy.ca/
The Wayfaring Writer: http://moonsanity.blogspot.com/
Book Soulmates: http://booksoulmates.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Hunting Ground

Title: Hunting Ground
Author: Patricia Briggs
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Anna and Charles continue to grow together as they try to navigate the wacky world of werewolves. Charles is in charge of getting others on board with his dad's plan to out the weres to the world; Anna is in charge of Anna and is a force to be reckoned with indeed.

I read and reviewed Cry Wolf, the first book in the Alpha and Omega series, not too long ago, and was really excited when I found this, the second book in the series, while on a random library excursion. I bring this up because I have a confession to make: this book made me commit a library sin. I am so ashamed. Don't worry, I'm hanging my head right now.

I speak, of course, of the sin of keeping books past their due date when there are holds on them because I AM NOT DONE READING, DAMNIT. Someone else wants to read Hunting Ground, and they just had to hold their horses, because I was reading it and enjoying it and wanted to know how it ended.

Hunting Ground gives the reader more of what there was to love in Cry Wolf- a sweet romance between Charles and Anna, a heroine who is kickass in her own right but is still learning the ropes of her world, supernatural shenanigans and goings-on, and enough other plot lines, supporting characters, and threads of intrigue to make this an interesting, engaging, and well thought out book.

Anna begins to truly come into her own in this book. She starts to probe at her past and her reactions to it, and certainly is not willing to let the bad choices of people she's known have a hold on her anymore. She rises to challenges that come up as being the mate of a powerful guy that tends to make others crap their pants, and she figures out plots and ploys all on her own, with minimal interference from others.

Charles continues to be his strong, serious, brooding self, but seeing how sweet and loving he is towards Anna is enjoyable. The author does a good job of making the characters multifaceted and respond to situations in a realistic way. Charles is constantly surprised that Anna is choosing willingly to be with him, but he feels blessed and never tries to push her away, which is refreshing.

The overlying story of the book, which centers around a werewolf summit where the powers that be from packs all over the world can come and voice their concerns over Bran's plan to make the existence of weres public knowledge, is engaging as well. I wanted to know what was going on with the different powers and I found the resolution of the story at the end very satisfying. I like how there are still elements we don't know, but nothing feels left over; everything is resolved and taken care of in a believeable way. And hey, cliffhangers just make me want to read the next book.

If you like romances that simmer and good mysteries with a deep vein of the paranormal, I think you'll really enjoy this series. I still haven't started the Mercy Thompson books but I have high hopes for those as well.

Overall Grade: A

Week in Review 12/14-12/20

As I promised, there was A TON more bloggy stuff going on this week!

In My Mailbox
In My Mailbox comes compliments of The Story Siren!

For Review:

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore for a blog tour
How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel, from the publisher
Anarcho Grow by T.A. Sedlak, from the author

Purchased/Paperback Swap:

Crimson by Jordan Summers- bought
The Wild Orchid: A Retelling of the Ballad of Mulan by Cameron Dokey- was supposed to be for Secret Santa but sadly, did not get here in time. Looks like it's mine now!
If Looks Could Chill by Nina Bruhns- bought
The Accidental Werewolf by Dakota Cassidy- Paperback Swap
Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler- bought

As always, the delightful Rachel at Parajunkee's View had a great idea, which was to designate which books would be appropriate for readers of all ages and which ones, suffice it to say, would not. I'm a firm believer in doing your own research and deciding for yourself if a book is something that will tickle your fancy, but consider the dandy little picture posted here fair warning- the book whose review it's attached to is probably Not Safe for Work, Not Safe for Church Functions, Not Safe to Give To Your Mom (but hey, that depends on your mom,) and basically indicates a book that has content- sex, violence, or thematic stuff- that some folks might not be keen to read. It also can help you cut to the chase if you're looking for something extra smutty, so everyone wins!

Fall into Reading Challenge 2009 Wrap-Up
Today marks the end of the Fall into Reading Challenge, and out of the ten books I challenged myself to read, I read three. Not so awesome, but one unexpected benefit of doing this challenge is it made me make decisions about books that have been on my shelf for a long time. If I'm not going to get around to reading them, what's the point of having them? I've decided, then, that the seven books I didn't get around to reading will be going to a new home (probably a library donation.) I'm glad I participated in the challenge, and will probably do so again, but I think I'll use different criteria to pick my books next time.

This Week's Posts
Blue Aspen by Tenaya Jayne
The Magical Christmas Cat by Nalini Singh, Erin McCarthy, Linda Winstead Jones and Lora Leigh
The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole
Beauty's Curse by Traci E. Hall
Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning
A Highlander Christmas by Janet Chapman
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Other Posts:
Gift Extravaganza- Urban Fantasy/PNR Fans
Gift Extravaganza- So You Want to Start a Series...
Gift Extravaganza- Reading Nonfiction Does NOT Make You a Nerd!
Gift Extravaganza- Books for Dudes
Gift Extravaganza- Illustrated Friday!
What Book is That? Reviews in Alphabetical Order
Lara Adrian Giveaway WINNER!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: 374 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: dystopian, young adult
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: Impossible. Via Goodreads: Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Katniss' sister is chosen by lottery, she steps up to go in her place.

I admit- I have a weird book hangup. When I read tons and tons and tons of excellent reviews and hype and excitement about a book, it kind of makes me put off reading it, probably because I don't want to be disappointed. That's the only reason I can think of for why I haven't read The Hunger Games yet. I'd heard all the fantastic things, about the great characters and the novel setting and the powerful narrative, but I just couldn't bring myself to get on board just yet.

The Hunger Games is everything I could want in a dystopian novel for young adults and more. From the very beginning, the story resonated with me in a very powerful way. Katniss is a heroine with a heartbreaking backstory; you can almost feel the weight of responsibility bearing down on her. At sixteen, she'd experienced things that nobody should have to experience; sadly, the worst is still ahead for her.

Peeta is a great partner for Katniss; watching her suspicions of his feelings and his motives was pretty heartwrenching. It's sad to imagine a world where things like love and loyalty and friendship and generosity are foreign concepts, but that's definitely what's going on in Katniss and Peeta's world. It'll be interesting to see how things transpire between them in the future, especially when Gale reappears on the scene.

Easily my favorite theme of the book was the role of the media and so-called "reality entertainment" in society. The descriptions of the pageantry and "celebrations" surrounding the games were simultaneously beautiful and horrifying; the idea of required viewing on TV is squicky in the extreme. Beyond that, there were scenes that were truly touching (like when the District 11 bread shows up- sob!) that had a touch of darkness about them because Katniss was aware that there was no such thing as privacy. Play up romance for better sponsorship? Sure! Murder for entertainment for the masses? You got it! A bacchanalia of greed and death? Bring. It. On.

In forensic shows and true crime shows, whenever a police office is killed in the line of duty, there's always a segment where they play footage from the funeral, usually with the officer's spouse or relatives front and center. There's a sense of the forbidden; I always get the feeling that we as the audience should not be watching, that we are not invited. That was the feeling that I got throughout much of the second half of The Hunger Games, especially when Peeta and Katniss began to get closer. I felt as voyeuristic as the audience in the book; the emotional rollercoaster this story put me on was what finally made me a believer in this series.

There's a fine line between a good series and a great series. A good series is interesting, has characters you believe in and root for, entertains you, and may teach you something. A great series has all of those things and does not give a damn about what you think or your beliefs. A great series is out to prove a point; you don't factor into the equation at all.

The Hunger Games is a Pandora's box of all kinds of horrible things; treachery, deceit, greed, callousness, you name it. And yet, just like in the box, hope is in there too. I'm reading Catching Fire as soon as possible.

Overall Grade- A+

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Some Girls Bite

Title: Some Girls Bite
Author: Chloe Neill
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Getting changed into a vampire wasn't Merit's idea, but it's become her life, in a world where vampires are out in the world. Is Merit up to the task?

More honesty, straight out of the gate: this book was rad. It was the perfect blend of sassy, smart and fun, and my first thought at the end was, I have to get the next one!

Merit has certainly had a rough go of it by anyone's standards. She's the victim of a brutal attack, changed into a vampire against her will, is plunged into a new world with rules and responsibilities of varying levels of discomfort for her, and to top it all off, everyone else around her seems to think that her being a vampire is the start of a grand new adventure, while she's feeling more like she's on a trip she didn't sign up for.

Vampire society is intricate and shot through with tradition, ritual and hierarchy; the story begins shortly after vampires have come out to the world to admit their existence. They're marketing themselves as an eccentric but harmless fringe group of society that just wants everyone to get along; Merit's getting brutalized and then changed against her will definitely does not help with that image.

To top that all off, Merit finds herself plunged into awkwardness with two powerful (and very different) gentleman vampires- Ethan, the Master of her House, and Morgan, the Second of another House. Sparks fly with Ethan; things are at more of a simmer with Morgan, and through it all, Merit has to wonder about what each guy's true motivations are and where she fits into the grand scheme of things.

Through it all, though, Merit has a strong sense of self and a really interesting level of self-reflection, both of which added to the narrative and made her a very believable character. Merit is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what's right, and that in and of itself makes her a very unusual vampire. She has a high level of physical strength, which is explored throughout the novel, but I think her real asset as a vampire is that she's not all that into being a vampire. The scene where all the other new vampires are talking about why they wanted to be turned and she has to gussy up her story so it's less...ugly...than it really was stood out to me as an example of how Merit stands apart from the rest of the House.

The supporting cast of characters was well drawn and really supplemented the story; Merit's friends are supportive and I'm as intrigued to watch the relationships develop between them as I am to know what happens at Cadogen House. The politics of the vampire world are detailed enough to be interesting but not so detailed that they bog the story down or detract from the character development. This is a very character-driven book, which is nice.

It's really difficult to explain a lot of facets of this novel without giving stuff away, and I'll warn you right now, my answers for the BWB discussion questions are a minefield of spoilers, so consider yourselves duly warned. With that said, if you like good worldbuilding, intrigue, mysteries, and just a little bit of spice, you're in for a treat here. I'm definitely a fan of this series and I really hope the gods of interlibrary loan can pull through for me and get me a copy of Friday Night Bites before the holidays.

Overall Grade: A
Blog with Bite Score: 4

Discussion Questions
  1. Obviously the issues of social status and class are used in this story, do you feel Merit is above the simplistic ideology in this book, or is she the typical character: shuns away from the idea of being better than others but loves her status, in both the vampire and human worlds?I think that Merit is very reflective; she doesn't have any illusions about the privileges she enjoyed as being a member of the Merit family but she does understand that having those privileges came with a steep price. If anything, her experiences of people just wanting to get close to her to get a piece of her family's action was a good dress rehearsal for becoming a vampire. Although her human family is kind of bitchy to her, they're nothing compared to the other members of the House- there are a lot of people who want to see her fall flat on her face. Knowing how to deal with negative people is a skill I think Merit's going to find quite useful, and hey, if she can benefit personally from her situation, why shouldn't she? It's kind of crazy to expect her to be a hermit because her family (human or otherwise) has resources.
  2. What motivations do you believe pushed Amber to behave the way she did? Her cattiness seemed rather shallow, but could it only be cattiness that had her acting the way she did in the end? I think, above all else, Amber looks out for Amber. She does what she will find most amusing at the time and takes her cues from whoever she thinks is most powerful at the moment. She was Ethan's Consort when it seemed like that was the way to go; Celina has what Amber perceives to be a good plan with plenty of goodies and power to go around, so Ethan's not the best deal anymore. Amber is drawn to power and will do anything to get it without considering who she might hurt in the process.
  3. Do you see a House of her own in Merit's future? I do, but I see her coming into power as a result of someone else's power play. I think a lot of people still think Merit can be controlled, and they would be in for a rude awakening if they put her in charge of a House and then thought to manipulate her.
  4. Which vamp are you hoping Merit ends up with? Someone who's not a douchebag would be my vote. Right now it looks like Morgan's the way to go, but I can see Merit already having a hard time letting go of Ethan, although I admit, if I walk in on the apple of my eye having sex with someone else that would probably kaibash my feelings right then and there. I think whoever she does end up with has to be ready to commit, though; reading Merit's reactions to her BFF Mallory finding true love convinced me that Merit won't stand for anything less.

Review: A Highlander Christmas

Title: A Highlander Christmas
Author: Janet Chapman
Page Count: 334 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: fantasy/paranormal romance
Copy for review was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: An ex-rocket scientist gets put on a kooky, elaborate fixup date with the dude she thinks she hates more than any other. Supposedly, hilarity ensues.

I am going to say this straight out of the gate, so there are no surprises later: this is not a positive review, and I did not enjoy this book.

In retrospect, there were a lot of warning signs that I probably wouldn't enjoy this book. The story employs one of my least favorite plot devices ever (nosy meddling mother sends supposed man of daughter's dreams to find her and bring her back to the bosom of her loved ones). The heroine shares her name with a Toyota. There's a weiner dog on the cover. Really, I'm not sure what I thought about this book would align with my interests, but there you have it.

Camry MacKeage is a basket case when we first meet her. She's in the middle of an existential crisis perpetuated by email correspondance with a French scientist who, somehow, makes her doubt everything she's been working on for pretty much her entire life. She figures the best way to deal with all of this whatnot is to quit (get fired) from her job, move back to Maine, and set up shop babysitting dogs and bartending on the weekends. While she's at it, she's not going to contact her family or anything, which is probably not what most people would do, but one fact the characters in the story had trouble understanding is that Camry is an adult and does not have to check in with Mommy and Daddy every time something goes wrong.

Alas, because she did not check in with Mommy and Daddy, Mommy and Daddy decided to send Luke Pascal Renoir, the dude on the other end of the angsty emails, to check on her, and (unbeknownst to him) to win her heart in the process. Because everyone knows, when you're a lady and things get tough, obviously you NEED a MAN to come in and sort things out for you. Get my swooning couch ready, will you?

Turns out Luke isn't just aggressive professionally, he's pretty much a douche in person; for whatever reason, he and Toyota can't keep their hands off each other and a whole bunch of really awkward scenes result from that. Throw in Fiona, Camry's niece who's actually from the future sort of, but not really, and a grizzly old prospector/relative, and somehow these two end up married and trudging through the woods, looking for a satellite that fell out of the sky and is the source of all the original consternation between them.

I didn't buy into the relationships between the characters in this book in the slightest. For someone as smart as Camry is, she doesn't know a damn thing about people. Luke wins my vote hands-down for the Smug Bastard Award of 2009. I think these people would drive each other crazy; they'd have to have sex nonstop or else they'd kill each other. I think it was about the time that Luke decided that the reason Camry was still a virgin was because she didn't want the possibility of children distracting her from her work and Camry corrected him and said no, I just want to marry who I want because the magic made my sisters marry dudes they didn't choose because they got pregnant that I wanted to give this book a long journey into the night.

Are there folks out there who would enjoy this book? Sure. Maybe it was the writing style, maybe it was the story, maybe reading some of the other books in the series would help, but as it stands right now I don't think I want to wander this little garden path any further.

Overall Grade: D

Gift Extravaganza: Illustrated Friday!

It's time for Illustrated Friday, and in keeping with the groovy theme of gift guides, this one consists entirely of illustrated books! A nice feature of illustrated books is that they make great gifts for organizations, not just for people. I teach preschool and my kids go absolutely ga-ga over beautiful, brand new hardcover books. Other organizations, like hospitals, women's shelters, community organizations, and after school programs could find a use for book donations, I'm sure, so if you're looking for a good deed to do this holiday season, pick out a book you think is truly beautiful and donate it to an organization that serves kids or families. They will definitely thank you for it, and hey, you may be inspiring a book blogger of the future!

As with the other guides, links are provided to Powell's if you're interested in any of these titles. Personally, though, I got all of the copies used for this post from the public library.

The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket and Carson Ellis with music by Nathaniel Stookey
In addition to being a funny and engaging story, The Composer is Dead is also a really clever introduction to an orchestra and its various sections. Lemony Snicket is in full form with characteristic style and panache, and the caricatures of the various sections are spot on and made me laugh on every page. Plus, it comes with a CD!

Ella's Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella by Shirley Hughes
My love of reworked fairy tales should be evident by now but this one just might take the cake. The illustrations are breathtaking- according to the book's last page, the ball scenes are inspired by Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, but all the dresses were created by the illustrator with inspiration from French designers of the time. Even if the story wasn't adorable (which it is, be sure of that) the illustrations alone would be worth the price of admission. This would be a great gift for a girl who was into princesses and would throw a little history into the mix as well.

Hoot by Jane Hissey
Old Bear, one of my favorite childhood books, has been a past featured book on Illustrated Friday, and Hoot is another installment starring the same characters (all stuffed animals.) When Little Bear hears a spooky noise in the night, he wakes up all the other animals and they go on an adventure to discover its source. This book is so cute, I want to pinch its cheeks! Perfect for a preschooler or anyone who loves a cute, sweet story.

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? by Jan Brett
Jan Brett has written and illustrated a ton of beautiful books and any of them would make an excellent gift, but this one is one that doesn't get as much mention as the others. It's a beautiful rendering of a Finnish folk tale where a young boy and girl befriend a polar bear to deal with some troublesome trolls. Adorable!

A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards, illustrated by Anca Harton
I'm always game for a good illustrated book that deals with nature, science or the outdoors, and this one is a great example of all three. Beautiful watercolor illustrations and simple text explain the role fruit plays in protecting seeds and how seeds are arranged inside different fruits. There's also a nice question and answer section that provides more information on the science content in the book as well. This would be a great gift for a classroom.

Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Finally, a hilarious book about animal butts. Seriously- the story is told in the illustration, the text is entirely plays on words, and my preschoolers, especially the boys, are hooked from the first page. Tons of fun!

And now, your moment of zen courtesy of YouTube. This was one of my favorite shows growing up and the songs were the best part!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gift Extravaganza: Books for Dudes

Dudes of all ages, in fact! Guys can be difficult to buy for under the best of circumstances, but buying books can be especially tricky, especially for guys who don't read all that much. These books have all been given the guy-friendly seal of approval from guys I know and many are the first book in a series, so hopefully this will provide gift-giving inspiration for the next few holidays.

*Note: all books mentioned in this guide are books I own already.*

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
Don't let the baby carriage fool you, A Dirty Job is a wry, darkly funny book about death. Charlie is happy with his life as the owner of a secondhand store until he gets the mother of all promotions; he becomes Death. And the story just takes off from there. This is a good one to ask for for yourself, not just to get as a gift for someone else.

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Not only is this book a great adventure story, it's also illustrated! Lot of little cartoon-like illustrations are peppered throughout the book, which is long enough to really get engrossed in, and it only adds to the reading experience. This is the story of the first 13 1/2 of Captain Bluebear's 27 lives, and it's a great introduction to books by Walter Moers. When the recipient of this book finishes it, odds are they'll want to go back to the beginning and start it again. So much fun!

Tokyo Suckerpunch: A Billy Chaka Adventure
Billy Chaka is a reporter for Asian teen magazine Youth in Asia, and with that kind of wordplay the tone of the book should be pretty obvious. Billy is in Tokyo to visit a quirky filmmaker friend and cover the 19-and-Under Handicapped Martial Arts Championship. Instead his friend gets murdered, his dream girl rolls in, and things really get wacky after that. There are three other books in this series, and Tokyo Suckerpunch will definitely leave your recipient wanting more.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
I am so in love with this series! The action starts at the beginning and doesn't let up until the end, and that holds true for all three books in the series so far. Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton detective with a variety of special talents and abilities; Stephanie Edgely is 12 and becomes Mr. Pleasant's ward after being orphaned. The story is well-woven and the books are engaging and funny; older dudes and younger dudes alike will find something to enjoy here.

Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen
I loved this series growing up, and I love revisiting it now as an adult. It's the story of fighting dragons and teenage adventures, and would be a great pick for a younger guy or as I like to think of the situation, a dude in training. I've given this book as a gift before and gotten a great response.

On tap for holiday cheer today is the classing "Patrick Swayze Christmas" from MST3K's earlier years. Although Patrick Swayze is now the cooler in heaven, his movies will be hilarious and fun at the same time for years to come. The song rocks, too!

Review: Beyond the Highland Mist

Title: Beyond the Highland Mist
Author: Karen Marie Moning
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Dell
Genre: historical/time travel/paranormal romance

50 words or less: A case of mistaken identity (with faerie intervention) is played out as Hawk, a sixteenth century Scottish warrior, has to wed Adrienne de Simone. Too bad she's from the future and wants nothing to do with him.

This is the first book in KMM's Highlander series and is a fun read from start to finish (check out the bodice-ripper cover; that should tell you you're in for a good time.) Hawk is a genuinely good guy who just hasn't had a lot of experience with women telling him no; Adrienne had a really bad experience with a good looking guy and has to get over that before she can move on to someone else. Add in a dash of faerie magic and you've got all the makings of a comedy of errors with a spicy twist.

I'm a big fan of KMM's writing style and the interactions between Hawk and Adrienne feel genuine and are really fun to read. The nub of the biscuit is that while Hawk has never had a woman turn him down before, it never mattered because he didn't care about any of them. He fell ass over teacup for Adrienne and she wanted him to take a long walk off a short pier. Now of course, she's really falling for him in the midst of it all, but that's part of the fun. And when these two finally get over their hangups and decide to knock boots, the sparks fly indeed.

Beyond the Highland Mist suffers a little for having to set up the rules of the world where the story takes place; there's the supernatural element that has to be explained, all of Adrienne's issues, and Hawk's past as a player in the king's court that has to get brought up and dealt with as well. I've skimmed some of the other books in the series so I know that some of the characters, such as Adam Black and Grimm, end up getting their own books as well; seeing those two get their respective comeuppances stands to make me cackle.

This is a good introduction to a fun series. There's a little something for everyone in here- lots of romance, steamy sex scenes, a fun historical setting, and a little magic to boot. I'll definitely keep going with this series.

Overall Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lara Adrian Giveaway WINNER!

The entries are tallied, and the winner of the first six Midnight Breeds books by Lara Adrian is........

Julie G.!

Thank you to everyone who entered my first ever giveaway, there were over forty entries and lots of good suggestions for books to give as gifts. Stay tuned for a post listing people's answers, as well as more giveaways in the future!

Gift Extravaganza: Reading Nonfiction Does NOT Make You a Nerd!

Unless you want it to, of course! Obviously, the theme of today's gift guide is nonfiction! When buying fictional books for someone is a challenge, sometimes the best solution is to get them a good nonfiction book, which helps that person learn something fun and/or new! Nonfiction is also good for people who like to really digest the books they're reading since there are lots of details and works cited and other tasty things to prolong the experience. Anyway, here are some ideas for those for whom truth is the most interesting thing out there.

*Note: all books mentioned in this list are ones I own already or borrowed from the public library.*
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
The holidays are often time when people think about the less fortunate, both in their own communities and around the world, but that's the story of Dr. Farmer's life. This book is the story of Dr. Farmer's quest to provide good healthcare and better opportunities for people in Haiti, and the obstacles he and his team have overcome and continue to face in providing their services. Reading it made me want to go do something, anything, to make the world a better place. It's a good holiday read, but really the message is appropriate for any time of the year.

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman
Barbara Tuchman is one of my favorite historians and she's written on a variety of subjects. This is one of her most well-known books and although it's an older title, it reads like a novel and is an interesting take on a frequently referenced but little understood time period. If you have a history nut on your list then this would be a good bet.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
Speaking of nonfiction books that read more like novels, this one is a classic example of that. It's the true story of a society murder and has all the elements of a trashy lifetime movie: society belles, drag queens, wealth and privilege, jealousy, animosity, antiques, you name it. This book scores a point for team truth is stranger than fiction in a big way and would be an especially good gift for someone who wishes they had more time to read- they won't be able to put this one down.

Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC by Joseph McCormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch
I don't know about you, but when I think of the holidays, I think of infectious disease and epidemiology. This book is as good as any medical thriller out there and is possibly more scary than all of them combined because the guy who wrote it really did these things and these events really happened. Dr. McCormick helped to found the level 4 lab at the CDC and Dr. Fisher-Hoch is a distinguished virus hunter in her own right. Not surprisingly, these two are married; their combined story is an excellent read and a good gift for any science enthusiast.

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir
Another medieval history pick, this one focuses on one of the most controversial queens in English history. Alison Weir states her case clearly and frequently references a variety of primary sources. For me, the most interesting part of this book was the information on the daily lives of royalty at the time and the sheer number of people that were involved in keeping the royal household going. There's a lot to take away from this book for sure.

Today's shot of holiday cheer is a cleverly edited "short version" of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Enough said.

Review: Beauty's Curse

Title: Beauty's Curse
Author: Traci E. Hall
Page Count: 479 pages
Publisher: Medallion
Genre: Historical/paranormal romance, mystery
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: 1193: when Galiana stumbles upon Lord Rourke Wallis almost killing her brother, she retaliates and temporarily blinds him. When it turns out that Lord Rourke has been sent to marry her the shit, as the saying goes, hits the fan.

I featured this book for Waiting on Wednesday awhile back and was happy to find a copy at Barnes and Noble when I supposed to be looking for Christmas presents for other people. I tore through this book in a day and, when I wasn't reading it, wished I was, and yet, at the end of it all I confess myself disappointed.

The setting for the story is good; Galiana is a likeable enough heroine and her situation puts a classic twist on the standard "plain sister meets a guy who loves her sparkling personality" story element. At the beginning of the book, Galiana would pay someone to notice her sparkling personality; all any dude can seem to grasp is that Galiana is a hottie. As a result, she's really turned off by the thought of a political marriage or one arranged for her, although this is 1193 and the prospects of remaining unmarried and unscathed are not good.

Enter Lord Rourke Wallis, who was sent by Prince John to marry Galiana in order to give John better access to her family's wealth and soldiers. Lord Rourke figures he'll just marry her and dump her in a castle somewhere; he's supposed to actually marry someone else in an entirely different political ploy. Rourke is a spy and a political animal, so when Galiana beans him with a rock to save her brother he is, suffice it to say, miffed.

Thus allof Rourke's men are locked in the castle with Galiana, her hothead twin brothers, and their servants and people; the sparks fly between Galiana and Rourke, so to speak; he's been blinded by the rock and so Galiana's beauty, which was such an issue with everyone else, is not in play here. Instead, Rourke has to fall in love with her personality and character and only at the end of the book does he discover that she's a total babe.

While all that was going on, it turns out that Rourke had yet another reason to be in Galiana's neck of the woods. Somebody has stolen Merlin's Breath, a magical object that allows certain people to see who will become king of England (which those familiar with the time period will recognize as a million dollar question) and Rourke's been charged to get it back.

And you know what? If that had been all of the threads being knotted together in the book, that would have been excellent. The setting for this book is interesting enough, and watching the sparring between the hero and heroine was a good time. There's an interesting supporting cast of characters, particularly among Rourke's men, that helped fill out the story.

There was just something about the book that didn't work for me. The more I think about it, the more I think it's that the politics and shady dealings of the royal court and the implications of Rourke's political dealings kind of soured the otherwise pretty sweet love story. Galiana is something of an innocent realist; she realizes that she's probably going to get the short end of the stick but tries to make the best of it anyway. Rourke, on the other hand, is nine kinds of douchey to her throughout the entire story. One minute he's nice, the next he's accusing her of lying and insulting her character, then he's trying to sweet talk her into bed and right after that, telling her that he's marrying her because he has to and then dumping her at the first opportunity. But don't worry, because he already had sex with her, he's going to give her some land and a house somewhere so she won't starve. And hey, now that she has an estate of her own some other dude will probably want to marry her, right? Isn't he a prince?

The situation only gets worse when they arrive at the royal court. Galiana gets treated firtshand to a lot of psycho bitches talking about her husband and making fun of her situation and Rourke doesn't really do anything to make her feel better (mind you, at this point he's supposed to have developed feelings for her so that should be bothersome to him, you'd think.) Even at the end of the book, he's still laying on the classic "I want to be with you but I can't so I'm going to leave you" line. Right up until the stunning conclusion, when Merlin makes a surprise appearance and a whole lot of plot elements get explained, Rourke is trying to figure out how to extract himself from the mess he made. I don't know about you, but if a guy was basically knocking on the nunnery door to get out of his marriage to me and it took DIVINE INTERVENTION in the form of a visit from a mystical wizard to convince him that he really did love me and want to be with me, I might take a raincheck on that relationship.

Oh, and it didn't escape my notice that it took Rourke getting his sight back and realizing that Galiana is totally hot to decide he really wanted to be with her. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Coming up with a rating for this book was difficult, because even though I had a lot of problems with the book, I was RIVETED and wanted to know how it ended. I was decently satisfied with the happily ever after and I'm interested to know what happens to the other characters. That does indeed count for something, so I'll put this one at the middle of the road. It wasn't the best book I've ever read or even the best romance, but the unique elements are pretty neat.

Overall Grade: B-
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