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Saturday, October 31, 2009

HUGE Contest Alert!

Halloween festivities are in full effect and there is a HUGE contest going on over at Book Chick City. There are three lots of books being given away with excellent titles in each one. Head on over and enter for a chance to win. The contest ends tomorrow so skedaddle and enter!

Happy Halloween!

I love this video! See how many of the movie clips you can identify. It's fun!

A regular review and a bonus illustrated book are on tap for tomorrow, in the meantime, enjoy the Halloween revelry tonight!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Illustrated Friday: The Spider and the Fly

Tony DiTerlizzi, the illustrator of this week's Illustrated Friday pick, is indeed one of the authors of The Spiderwick Chronicles, but this book is by far my favorite.

The original poem "The Spider and the Fly," which was written in 1829 by Mary Howitt is included here in its entirety, and is basically a warning about stranger danger from start to finish. Take a gander at the first verse:
"Will you walk into my parlor?"
said the Spider to the Fly.
"Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show you when you are there."

Creepy! The illustrations are in the style of old silent films and feature insects as all the characters (logically.) The villainous spider bears a striking resemblance to Snidely Whiplash, and the delicate fly heroine has big innocent eyes and oozes silent film starlet vulnerability. The last illustration of the book is positively ghoulish, which makes this a fun pick for Halloween.

In all seriousness though, the book ends with a letter from the "Spider" which drives home the message of the book (don't be taken in by pretty words) and makes this book a multitasker in that you could definitely use it to teach or reinforce stranger safety.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Megan's Mark

Title: Megan's Mark
Author: Lora Leigh
Page Count: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was one I owned already

50 words or less: Megan Fields is trying to hide her gift as an empath. Braden Arness is a Breed, a genetically engineered soldier who survived years of torture and abuse before escaping. They meet. Sparks fly. A killer must be caught. After all that, can Megan and Braden make a life together?

Yowza. Let me start off by saying that Lora Leigh is one of those authors that you either love or hate, and it doesn't take long to decide which camp suits your taste.

The Breed series is a tricky one because there are two strains to it- one group of books that was published by Ellora's Cave and came out earlier, and this set of books, published by Berkley. I've read a lot of different reviews of the series and of individual books, and most people seem to agree that while it's not absolutely imperative to read the Ellora's Cave books first, it does help and it makes the books seem more complete.

I have to concur with that position after finishing Megan's Mark. I felt like I was able to figure out what was going on easily enough but that more information or more back story would have helped me to understand everyone's positions a little better. Be that as it may, Megan's Mark was detailed enough to stand on its own merit.

If, of course, by detailed you mean sexually explicit. There is a ton of sex in this book. A. Ton. If that is something that bothers you, cross Lora Leigh off your list of authors to explore because apparently all her books are like this. Megan and Braden cannot keep their hands off each other for more than a few pages.

At the same time as all the bumping and grinding there are serious issues afoot in the Breed community. The Breeds haven't been free from the labs where they were created all that long, and there are people in the human community who wouldn't be upset to see the Breeds off the map permanently. Their situation is perilous at best and deadly at worst, so it's surprising that life for everyone involved with these folks is incredibly uncertain. Megan has to come to grips with all of this as she's pretty much flung head first into first a working relationship with Braden, and then a romantic one.

This is not a book for the faint of heart, although honestly, you can skip all the sex and the rest of the story is still pretty good. If you like PNR and you like grown ups doing grown up things, you'll probably enjoy this book. I did, so I'll be reading the next book in the series.

Overall Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday: Darklight

Sigh, what can be said about Darklight that hasn't been said already? The sequel to the delicious Wondrous Strange is slated to come out December 22, 2009, and it just might be an early Christmas present to myself. Here's the synopsis, courtesy of goodreads.com:
Much has changed since autumn, when Kelley Winslow learned she was Faerie royalty, fell in love with changeling guard Sonny Flannery, and saved New York City from a rampaging Faerie war band. When a terrifying encounter in Central Park sends Kelley tumbling into the Otherworld, her reunion with Sonny is joyful—but cut short. For they’ve been plunged into a game of Faerie deception and wavering allegiances in which the next move could topple a kingdom...or part them forever.

The fans who flocked to Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange will fall hard for Darklight, the soaringly romantic second book in the trilogy. Breathless high stakes and vividly magical characters make this a can’t-miss fantasy for readers of Melissa Marr and Holly Black.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Werewolves

Title: Werewolves
Author: Jon Izzard
Page Count: 192 pages
Publisher: Spruce
Genre: Paranormal, nonfiction
This copy provided for review by MM Publicity

50 words or less: A companion to Vampires, this volume explores another major paranormal phenomenon- werewolves. The author tackles historical concepts of lycanthropy, werewolves in popular culture, and references to werewolves in folklore from around the world.

Just as Team Edward and Team Jacob are preparing to catfight themselves into oblivion with the impending release of the next installment of the Twilight movie, Jon Izzard scores a definite hit with this book, which traces the presence of werewolves and other shape shifters in myth and legend over the course of human history.

The references to popular culture are legion in this book and what's more, they're organized into tables and such to make it easy to find. There are lots of stills from old monster movies as well. The for further reading section is detailed as well, with annotations providing brief plot summaries of the fictional works.

The author provides just enough detail to be interesting in each of the sections of the book without bogging down the flow of the book. This book can be enjoyed either as a cover-to-cover read or as a reference for a trivia fact, illustration, or cultural reference. I found myself enjoying its versatility as I was reading it.

What sets this book apart from its vampire-studying companion volume is that Werewolves includes a bit more detail in the analysis of lycanthropy in popular culture, while Vampires included more historical data. Each book was successful because it focused on the strengths and variety of information of the particular legend it addressed; since there isn't a lot of "factual" historical information on werewolves it only makes sense that there wouldn't be all that many sections on that in here.

Ultimately, Werewolves was my favorite of the two books, but then, I prefer shapeshifter legends to vampire legends, so it's definitely an issue of personal preference. There's something here for everyone, and ultimately I think enjoying the books together is the best way to get the most out of them. The illustrations are spectacular here, too!

Overall Grade: A

Blog With Bite


Just in case you missed it, Blog with Bite is giving away FOUR COPIES of Vampires as well as four copies of the book Werewolves, which will also be reviewed here. Stop over and enter, the contest ends October 31st so there's still some time! Have fun!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bonus Feature: Intertwined discussion questions

I still have A TON of things to say about Intertwined!

#1 Do you feel the ending was cut short and needed more to be resolved before the book ended?I knew going into this book that it was the start of a series, but even with that knowledge I thought the ending was a bit...quick. It almost felt like the first and second books were once connected and then CHOP! the book was cut in half and the end of Intertwined was almost randomly determined. I felt like we established the hell out of the premise of the book but didn't really advance much beyond that point.

#2 Regarding Question #1, what are your thoughts on series books? For one you get more and more and more - depending on how long the series drags on - for another some series leave you with very little resolution at the end of the novels, i.e. the Merry Gentry series where only a couple of hours pass within the time span of one book. Do you find this is just an authors way of having guaranteed book sales - or do you really enjoy series and love reading about your fav characters over and over again? For me, it really depends on the series. There are some series where I can read volume after volume in a row and never get tired, even if some of the story elements tend to get recycled, and there are other series that seem to have "contractual obligation" written all over them. It really depends for me on how the series is crafted- if there are characters that I care about, plots that interest me, elements that are unique or attention-grabbing. Bottom line: some people can write serial novels and some people can't. I think a lot of my issues with Intertwined stem from the fact that I LOVE Gena Showalter's other series (Alien Huntress and Lords of the Underworld both,) and maybe had (dare I say) unfairly high expectations for this book.

#3 Which "trapped" soul was your favorite and do you see potential in the future story lines with the remaining three?Caleb was the most intriguing for me- I feel like we really didn't get to know much about him; Eve got a lot of attention because of her real identity, Julian got a lot of attention because of the whole instant zombie thing, and Elijah got a lot of attention because of the prophecies and visions, but we didn't really hear from Caleb a whole lot except for when he was sexually harassing Aden or the other souls, so it will be interesting to see what happens to him in the future.

#4 When a larger-than-life character such as Vlad Tepes aka Dracula is used as a side-plot character do you believe it gives the story a more factual base, or makes it less real? I've come across books that use historical characters as side plot characters very well- Karen Chance's Cassie Palmer series comes to mind. I like it when the characters retain their historical reputations but are worked into the story in a new way. I don't think that's necessarily what happened here- I think Vlad was used because he could inspire appropriate levels of creepiness and horror without having to go into a lot of detail to get to that point. The story isn't about Vlad though, so it didn't detract from the story.

#5 What did you think of the side plot involving Tucker and Penny? Do you think the issues from that plot were adequately resolved?I HATED THIS SUBPLOT. Why was it even in the book? It's hard to get into a lot of detail without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, Penny did not act like a best friend to Mary Ann, and Tucker did not act like a boyfriend to Mary Ann. They acted like selfish jerks. Then they had the audacity to try to blame their bad decisions on Mary Ann! Mary Ann is hurting, and the best response anyone can come up with is "everything happens for a reason and maybe Penny did you a favor in getting you to get rid of Tucker." SHUT UP. I really hope this whole debacle was just a red herring or to add flavor to the story because I don't see a particular need for more details about this in future books. Just saying.

#6 What is your best guess as to what Aden Stone's superpower is - the power he possess without his souls?I think Aden's power is is his souls, his ability to "trap" them within himself. I wonder if we're going to see a new soul take up residence in Chez Aden in the future, since it seems that he's able to attract the souls without knowing he's doing it.

Review: Intertwined

Title: Intertwined
Author: Gena Showalter
Page Count: 440 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: young adult, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: Aden is the ultimate multi-tasker- he has four souls living inside him, all with special, if inconvenient powers. Mary Ann is an anal-retentive high school student who befriends Aden while shutting up the peanut gallery in his head. Things go to hell in a hand basket. Tune in next time...

Dear Intertwined,

I just finished reading you, and I wanted to ask for clarification on a few of your points. I should start off by saying that I enjoyed you for the most part, but there are few tangles (get it? Intertwined TANGLES?!) that I wanted to ask about before I render a final opinion on you.

First of all- why was it so hard for you to pick what you were about? First you are about Aden and Mary Ann, then you are about blossoming relationships between Mary Ann and Riley/Aden and Victoria, then you are about vampire politics, then you are about they mysterious quest for Aden and Mary Ann's respective family histories, then you are about Elijah's visions, then you are about a deluge of supernatural tourists into the fair town that is the setting of our story, then you're about vampire politics and Elijah's visions again! Would it have been so hard to pick just a few of those elements and be about those? Pro tip: trying to do everything at once means that things tend to not get done well, and I'm afraid I felt a little of that going on here.

Second of all, Intertwined, why the cast of thousands in the story? You had great character development for the four main characters (well, three of them anyway- Riley didn't get squat for character development but maybe there's more to come in a future book? Either way, I'll excuse that for now...) but other people, like Dan, whoever his social worker/girlfriend was (incidentally, I did not buy that "I only flirt with her to get you guys stuff" line ONE BIT, thank you very much,) and Shannon (why was he even IN this book?) got no character development whatsoever! Maybe if we had fewer twists and turns in the plot we could have had a better inkling of what the story was actually about and who was actually important to that story.

Third, and this is just a personal pet peeve, what was up with Tucker and Penny? You took two characters I didn't like from the get go and, as if such a thing was necessary, made me dislike them even more! I don't care how sorry they are, what they did was wrong. Drunk, not drunk, thinking, not thinking, in my little corner of the universe, your actions have consequences, and you not liking those consequences doesn't make them disappear. Does everyone make mistakes? Sure. Does saying "I'm sorry" make those mistakes go away? Not hardly. Sexual irresponsibility isn't sexy, people, and I'm not sure I liked the subtle hint that forgive and forget is the best way to deal with these types of situations. It will, however, make for an excellent Blog With Bite discussion question, so I guess there's that.

I'm going to climb back down off my soapbox and wrap this letter up by saying that I genuinely feel your pain, Intertwined. I feel the suffering you underwent as the first book in this series to not only introduce all the characters (all the characters...) but also to outline all the backstory and speculate on all the themes and plot elements. I feel like the first book in a series is almost doomed to experience all this suffering because otherwise the series never goes anywhere. I do think, though, that a bit of a plot diet might have helped not only to slim you down, but also make the story a little more streamlined and the details a little more memorable. I'll leave it at that, Intertwined. You have enough things to worry about.




Wow. That was basically all I had to say after I finished Intertwined. I was so excited to read it; I love Gena Showalter's other books, but I think this particular novel made clear to me that, at least in my opinion, Gena Showalter's talents lie in her novels targeted at adults. I just couldn't get completely on board with Intertwined- I thought it was too tangled for its own good and, ultimately, introduced a lot of elements that bogged the story down instead of adding detail and nuance.

I thought the characters were very realistic and well-done, but I did have an issue with Mary Ann. Maybe it's just me, but I think that someone with a fifteen year life plan who wants to be a clinical psychologist to make her daddy happy isn't going to just accept the existence of werewolves and vampires and someone's head being a halfway house for souls. Nope, she's going to drink Thorazine out of a sippy cup and run, not walk, to the nearest inpatient clinic. For someone as tightly wound as Mary Ann, she didn't seem to have a whole lot of problems with the woo woo factor that just showed up on her door, and I found that really hard to believe.

Easily my least favorite element of the story was the side plot with Penny and Tucker. See my open letter to Intertwined above. UGH.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I appreciate that this book does not take the traditional and well-traveled path of following one couple's relationship from beginning to end over the course of the book, and then moving on to follow another couple in the next book in the series. Instead, Intertwined follows two couples simultaneously, plus a host of other plots and stories. This is an interesting approach, to be sure, but what ended up happening was a lack of movement in the plot until about three quarters of the way through the story. New characters and elements kept getting introduced and then seemingly cast aside in favor of more introductions. Then, right at the end, a whole bunch of stuff happened very quickly, and if I didn't already know that there was a second book in the works, it would have become abundantly clear to me at that point.

This isn't to say I completely hated the book; I actually enjoyed it for the most part. I will say, however, that I did feel like I needed a flow chart to keep up with everything and that a little more depth would have been appreciated, as opposed to the seemingly endless breadth that the story actually provided. I'll probably read the next book when it comes out next fall, but I'll be honest and say I'll probably get it from the library.

Overall Grade: B
Blog with Bite rating: 3

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Birthday goodies!

In honor of my birthday being today, I'm posting an In My Mailbox, which is hosted by the delightful Story Siren!

I don't know whether I'm an easy person to buy gifts for since I love and always appreciate books, or if that makes it harder because I have so many! In any case, I got some really excellent books this week as birthday gifts:

My own copy of Fire by Kristin Cashore!

The Demon's Librarian by Lilith Saintcrow!

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest!

The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven!

Savor Me Slowly by Gena Showalter!

Poison Study by Maria Snyder!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

As if my TBR pile needed to be any bigger! Still, I'm in love with all my new books. Picking what to read next is going to be tough!

A Gift! And then some....

Today is my birthday, which means I'll be taking a break from everything. Literally, my gift to myself is a day off, which is awesome. Instead of a review today, I'm posting an excerpt from my favorite book of all time, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins. Fierce Invalids is a book I recommend to everyone who asks me for a recommendation, but truly, I don't know if a specific person will like it unless I know them pretty well. It's certainly hard for me to be objective because I literally love everything about this book and wouldn't change a thing. Here's the summary from Goodreads, maybe that will help shed some light on the situation:
The fierce invalid in Tom Robbins's seventh novel is a philosophical, hedonistic U.S. operative very loosely inspired by a friend of the author. "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are enormously popular in the CIA," claims Switters. "Not with all the agents in the field, but with the good ones, the brightest and the best." Switters isn't really an invalid, but during his first mission (to set free his ornery grandma's parrot, Sailor, in the Amazon jungle), he gets zapped by a spell cast by a "misshapen shaman" of the Kandakandero tribe named End of Time. The shaman is reminiscent of Carlos Castaneda's giggly guru, but his head is pyramid-shaped. In return for a mind-bending trip into cosmic truth--"the Hallways of Always"--Switters must not let his foot touch the earth, or he'll die.

Not that a little death threat can slow him down. Switters simply hops into a wheelchair and rolls off to further footloose adventures, occasionally switching to stilts. For a Robbins hero, to be just a bit high, not earthbound, facilitates enlightenment. He bops from Peru to Seattle, where he's beguiled by the Art Girls of the Pike Place Market and his 16-year-old stepsister, and then off to Syria, where he falls in with a pack of renegade nuns bearing names like Mustang Sally and Domino Thirry. Will Switters see Domino tumble and solve the mystery of the Virgin Mary? Can the nuns convince the Pope to favor birth control--to "zonk the zygotic zillions and mitigate the multitudinous milt" and "wrest free from a woman's shoulders the boa of spermatozoa?" Can the author ever resist a shameless pun or a mutant metaphor?

The tangly plot is almost beside the point. Switters is a colorful undercover agent, and a Robbins novel is really a colorful undercover essay celebrating sex and innocence, drugs and a firm wariness of anything that tries to rewire the mind, and Broadway tunes, especially "Send in the Clowns." Some readers will be intensely offended by Switters's yen for youth and idiosyncratic views on vice. But fans will feel that extremism in the pursuit of serious fun is virtue incarnate. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates is classic Tom Robbins: all smiles, similes, and subversion.

I can't hold back any longer, here's the quote I've been promising:

Suppose the neutral angels were able to talk Yahweh and Lucifer--God and Satan, to use their popular titles--into settling out of court. What would be the terms of the compromise? Specifically, how would they divide the assets of their earthly kingdoms?

Would God be satisfied to take loaves of bread and fishes and itty-bitty thimbles of Communion wine, while allowing Satan to have the red-eye gravy, eighteen-ounce New York steaks, and buckets of chilled champagne? Would God really accept twice-a-month lovemaking for procreative purposes and give Satan the all-night, no-holds-barred, nasty "can't-get-enough-of-you" hot-as-hell fucks?

Think about it. Would Satan get New Orleans, Bangkok, and the French Riviera and God get Salt Lake City? Satan get ice hockey, God get horseshoes? God get bingo; Satan, stud poker? Satan get LSD; God, Prozac? God get Neil Simon, Satan, Oscar Wilde?

Cana nyone see Satan taking pirate radio stations and God being happy with the likes of CBS? God getting twin beds; Satan, waterbeds; God, Minnie Mouse, John Wayne, and Shirley Temple; Satan, Betty Boop, Peter Lorre, and Mae West; God, Billy Graham; Satan, the Dalai Lama? Would Satan get Harley motorcycles; God, Honda gold carts? Satan get blue jeans and fish-net stockings; God, polyester suits and pantyhose? Satan get electric guitars; God, pipe organs; Satan get Andy Warhol and James Joyce; God, Andrew Wyeth and James Michener; God, the 700 Club; Satan, the C.R.A.F.T. Club; Satan, oriental rugs; God, shag carpeting? Would God settle for cash and let Satan leave town with Mr. Plastic? Would Satan mambo and God waltz?

Would Almighty God be that dorky? Or would he see rather quickly that Satan was making off with most of the really interesting stuff? More than likely he would. More than likely, God would holler, "Whoa! Wait just a minute here, Lucifer. Ii'll take the pool halls and juke joints, YOU take the church basements and Boy Scout jamborees. You handle content for a change, pal. I'm going to take--STYLE!!

It's my birthday and YOU get a present! As for me, I'll be enjoying the rest of the day for sure.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Vampires

Title: Vampires
Author: Joules Taylor
Page Count: 192 pages
Publisher: Spruce
Genre: Paranormal, nonfiction
Copy for review provided by MM Publicity

50 words or less: an illustrated, coffee table-style book about vampires, the history of vampire legends and the roles vampires have played in popular culture.

Although there has certainly been a relatively recent surge in popularity for vampires and the paranormal genre, thanks to stuff like the Twilight juggernaut and the popularity of True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, vampires have made frequent appearances in the world of pop culture for decades at this point. Vampires is simultaneously a sort of history of that cultural presence, a narrative of the myths and legends that surround vampires, and a visual presentation of the various appearances vampires have made in print, on TV and in film.

Easily my favorite parts of this book were the beautiful illustrations and the references to books and movies. The layout of the pages is very well done and complements the text very nicely. The historical content was interesting but brief; I would have appreciated more information on those subjects but that may be because I have a personal interest in that area.

There's also a very interesting section on vampire myths from around the world, and it was neat to see how some elements of the myth we know today actually originated in other cultures. I would have been interested in hearing more about that as well; the for further reading section at the end may very well have resources for that.

I also appreciated that the author didn't wax too academic in the writing of this book. Although writing about a real subject, the author had an almost wry writing style that kept the subject matter from getting too, for lack of a better word, boring. I was reminded of a conversation I had awhile ago with a friend who was perpetually annoyed by the Twilight phenomenon:

Friend: I remember when vampires were scary and murderous!
Me: I remember when vampires were...made up!

This book would make a nice gift someone who was new to the paranormal genre or for someone who already had an appreciation for the genre but was interested in finding new books or moviews on the same subject. Although I was already familiar with a lot of the lore the book contained, reading it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Overall Grade: B+

Blog With Bite

Just in case you missed it, Blog with Bite is giving away FOUR COPIES of Vampires as well as four copies of the book Werewolves, which will also be reviewed here. Stop over and enter, the contest ends October 31st so there's still some time! Have fun!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Illustrated Friday: Old Bear

In honor of my birthday that's just two days away, I'm giving a gift to everyone else! This book was one of my absolute favorites as a child and now that I'm a grown up I like to share this book with kids whenever I have the opportunity.

Old Bear is one of those books that always makes me feel good, no matter how crappy my mood may have been before I picked it up. Old Bear, the patriarch of the family of stuffed animals, has been packed up and sent to the attic, and the other stuffed animals are going to rescue him! There's just one problem though- how are they going to get to the attic door?

The illustrations in this book are heartwarming and beautiful, and the story has just enough action and suspense to keep little kids breathless and big kids excited for the happily ever after. Jane Hissey, the author of the book, wrote some other ones featuring the same cast of characters, and they're all just as enjoyable as this one. I'm in the process of collecting them all for my own illustrated book collection, and I even have a duplicate of Old Bear that's just to take to school to read with my class, since absolutely nobody is allowed to touch my original copy from when I was little.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Fire

Title: Fire
Author: Kristin Cashore
Page Count: 461 pages
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult?
This copy of this book came from the public library.

50 words or less: Impossible. Believe the hype.

**note: I wrote this review right after I finished the book, so if there are spoilers included I apologize. You've officially been warned.***

I have been excited about Fire pretty much since I read Graceling last spring and learned about its release. I'm happy to say that Fire met and exceeded all of my expectations. It's probably one of my top ten books for the year so far, which is definitely saying something.

Describing what Fire is about is incredibly difficult, as there are so many elements, characters and themes that it's hard to figure out an order for things that makes sense for people who haven't read the book. With that said, here's what Goodreads had to say on the subject:
Fire, Graceling's prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.

Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.

Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.

Wondering what makes it a companion book/prequel? Fire takes place 30-some years before Graceling and has one cross-over character with Graceling, a small boy with strange two-colored eyes who comes from no-one-knows-where, and who has a peculiar ability that Graceling readers will find familiar and disturbing...
That description is just a drop in the bucket of what happens as Fire unfolds. The characters are lush and well-drawn, with realistic strengths and just as realistic failings, the romance blossoms at just the right pace to be intriguing without being boring, and the politics and war games held my interest from the first page to the last.

There are plenty of themes running through the book; you could approach this book from probably hundreds of different angles and take something different away from it after each encounter. Platonic love vs. romantic love, sins of the father and whether or not they truly visit upon the son, heroism, sexual responsibility, responsibility in general, pregnancy, relationships, gossip; you name it, it's in here somewhere.

My favorite incidental thing about the book was easily the descriptions of the monsters, which were like surrealistic paintings of familiar animals and things, but with very different implications for people. Monster kittens? Awesome.

I seriously cannot say enough good things about this book. If you have any interest at all in the premise or the hype surrounding the book I definitely recommend getting a copy and reading it. I actually read this one slowly because I didn't want it to end. It could have been twice as long and I think I still would have enjoyed it as much as I did in its actual form.

Overall Grade: A+

I found this widget over at The Compulsive Reader and it's easily my favorite Fire widget so far. Have fun!

Up next will be Vampires by Joules Taylor. I'm feeling the need to completely switch gears for this next book in order to keep myself balanced. After that will come Werewolves by Jon Izzard and Intertwined by Gena Showalter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday: Hunting Julian

Exciting news- Jacquelyn Frank has a new series! I'm already a huge fan of her Nightwalker and Shadowdwellers series, so I'm excited to read her new series, called The Guardians. According to Amazon, the release date is January 5, 2010, and here's the description provided there:
As a guardian for his colony, Julian Sawyer travels to Earth to bring back the Chosen - women who possess energy potent enough to help revitalize his people. The stunning, silver-clad beauty who strides into his club one night radiates a sensual magnetism unlike any he's encountered, and Julian realizes that Asia Callahan is not just Chosen, she is his kindra: his one true mate. For months, Asia has tracked the beautiful and mysterious Julian across the country, convinced that he's behind the disappearance of her sister and a dozen other women. She's prepared to believe he's a ruthless killer, but when she presents herself as bait, she discovers that the truth is far more shocking. Taken to a strange, hazardous realm she never knew existed, Asia will face the ultimate choice - between abandoning the life she's always known, and forsaking a passion as dangerous as it is powerful.

Sounds promising! According to Jacquelyn Frank's website, the second book in the series is called Stealing Kathryn, but no release date is provided for that title. Guess we'll have to wait and see!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Touch of Darkness

Title: Touch of Darkness
Author: Christina Dodd
Page Count: 400 pages
Publisher: Signet
Genre: Paranormal Romance

50 words or less: Second book in the series. Rurik is an archaeologist trying to find the second icon that will get his family out of hock with the devil. Tasya is a photographer on a quest to avenge her family. All sorts of shit goes down. Everyone lies their pants off.

I reviewed the first book in the Darkness Chosen series, Scent of Darkness, at the end of September, and put this, the second book, on hold at the library. Touch of Darkness wasn't the most fantastic book I've ever read, but it definitely didn't need a Viking funeral in the kiddie pool, which is always a good thing.

The situations is much the same for the Wilder family when we pick up their story. Rurik, after finding out his archaeological dig in Scotland is all over the news, which can alert his murderous relatives, the Varinksis, to the plan to recover the stolen icons of the Madonna and free their father Konstantine from the pact with the devil (wow that was a mouthful,) tears ass to Scotland to get the situation under control. When he arrives, he finds a former one night stand, Tasya Hunnicutt, there as a representative from the people funding the digg. He immediately begins to plan on how to pay Tasya back (read: sleep with her again) after she absconded like a thief in the night after their night together.

Needless to say, things rapidly take a turn for the crappy after Rurik and Tasya open the tomb that's the focus of the dig, and they have to run for it once it becomes clear that the Varinskis are waaaaay to close for comfort. They take off over hill and dale, end up at a convent that's a serious blast from Tasya's past, and find out that they've each been lying like crazy to the other pretty much from the first moment they met. They both have the good sense to not be crazy upset about it, though, which was nice. There's a really great fight scene at the end of the book and a cliffhanger that's pretty enjoyable and, of course, a happily ever after.

I have to say I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as the first in the series, and it definitely doesn't stand on its own within the series, so if you're interested in reading, make sure you start with Touch of Darkness. The interactions between the Wilder family members and the growing ranks of in-laws are funny and touching at the same time, and the relationship between Rurik and Tasya blossoms near the end and makes the clunkier parts in the middle worth skipping over. There were a few other story lines threaded through the book (why Rurik won't fly airplanes anymore and Tasya's mysterious heritage just to name a couple) that didn't really hold my interest, but skipping over them didn't detract from the story lines I do care about (the relationship between the lead characters, the search for the icons, the situation back at camp Wilder, etc.)

Overall Grade: B+

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: Atlantis Unleashed

Title: Atlantis Unleashed
Author: Alyssa Day
Page Count: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkeley
Genre: Paranormal Romance

50 words or less: Justice is half-Atlantean, half-Nereid, and totally pissed off after being tortured by evil Anubisa. Keely McDermott is an archaeologist who can sense the history of any object she touches. Sparks fly. Stories unfold. Will they surpass the odds and help save the day?

I'm so conflicted about how I feel about Atlantis Unleashed. I mean, it took me a really long time to read--almost a week, which is a long time for me, even when I have an extra busy schedule or other obligations. Somehow though, it didn't fail the fifty page test. The book had plot holes you could drive a truck through, but I kept reading. The book had characters I didn't really care about, but I kept reading. The characters had back stories that bored me, but I kept reading. I can't explain any of this behavior; it just happened.

Atlantis Unleashed is the third book in the Warriors of Poseidon series. The series chronicles the adventures and misadventures of the Seven; warriors charged to protect humanity from the less benevolent factions of the supernatural world. Vampires and werewolves are out in the open but would rather make meals than friends of the humans around them.

The first two books in the series were okay, nothing spectacular but not awful either. I find, though, that I'm totally ambivalent about the series after finishing book three; there was lots of bloodshed and drama and violence and all that but really it didn't feel like anything substantial happened, and three hundred pages later, we're still at the same spot in the saga that we were before.

The characters were, to me, completely annoying. Justice has undergone a terrible ordeal at the hands of vampire goddess Anubisa, sure, but the rest of the book is filled with Justice basically talking to himself; apparently having an Atlantean side and a Nereid side means that you get both of their voices squabbling like The Odd Couple inside your cranium. Access to the heroine's magic hoo-hah renders these two halves magically able to get along, an exchange which made me roll my eyes and then progress directly to counting how many pages I had left.

On the flipside, Keely was just...bland. She has this ability to read objects through touch, but seemingly only specific objects. One of my biggest complaints about the book is that she has these horribly debilitating visions that have completely isolated her and pretty much ruined her life to this point but is seemingly unaffected by ordinary objects that are all over the damn place. Can she sleep on hotel room sheets? Borrow a pen? Sit on someone else's couch? Reading and enjoying PNR requires a very healthy and well-developed ability to suspend disbelief but accepting this was asking a lot even by my standards.

Assigning a letter grade to this book is hard for many reasons. Overall I did not enjoy reading it, but I did finish it and felt that this particular installment of the story wrapped up efficiently and left enough material in reserve for book number four to pick right up without having to clarify much. On the other hand, I have read a lot of positive reviews so apparently other people liked this book specifically and this series in general. On a mysterious but necessary third hand, I've heard this series compared to tentacle hentai so I guess the moral of the story is that if it sounds interesting, get the first book out of the library and go from there. Personally I'm probably all set and will leave the rest of the series for other people to...experience.

Overall Grade: C

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bonus Illustrated Book- Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation

I found this book on the new nonfiction shelf at the library and it's the perfect example of an illustrated book that's not automatically a book for children. I'm pretty excited to see how the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are is and whether it lives up to the hype or not, so until I get around to going to the movies this book can definitely hold me over.

Gregory Maguire (of Wicked fame) takes a look at the works of Maurice Sendak and the other artists and works whose influences show up in Sendak's illustrations. There's so much information and so much thoughtful reflection in the book that the illustrations, whether they come from Maurice Sendak's books or are just doodles and things that he's put on paper over the years, kind of sneak up on you, and then BAM! there they are, in their full splendor, colorful and detailed, and, since this book just came out, complete with new book smell.

It's really, really difficult to describe the illustrations in the book, and to find any examples available online, but I did find a few:

There are pages and pages of illustrations even more vivid than that, and actually, one of the most interesting things that comes up in the book is a reference to a talk that Maurice Sendak gave at MIT in 2003, entitled "Descent into Limbo." Well, thanks to the glory of the Internet, that talk is available in its entirety online, so if you're looking for something interesting to watch on a Saturday afternoon this would be a good bet. As with all academic events, this one has a ton of blah blah at the beginning, but Mr. Sendak actually starts talking about 18 minutes in.

Friday, October 16, 2009

RANDOM MAGIC book tour schedule!

Good news! Book tour information for Sasha Soren's Random Magic is out and the tour is ready to go! Here's the whole shebang for your reading pleasure- my stop on the tour is November 15th so while there is just under a month to wait, here are some other excellent blogs, Twitter feeds, and bio pages to read in the interim.

Random Magic Tour
Oct. 17 - Nov. 25, 2009

Author site: Sasha Soren
Main blog host: The Other Shelf
Contact the tour: @RM_TheCoven

1/Oct. 15
Pre-tour prep]

2/Oct. 17
Michelle’s Book Blog
tw: (not on Twitter)

3/Oct. 18
My Fluttering Heart
tw: http://twitter.com/aimeefluttering

4/Oct. 20
Well-Read Reviews
tw: http://twitter.com/wellreadreviews

5/Oct. 22
A Passion For Books
tw: http://twitter.com/casey625

6/Oct. 24
And Anything Bookish
tw: http://twitter.com/sunxxmoon

6b/Oct. 25
The Neverending Shelf
Alt: The Other Shelf (Tour site)
tw: http://twitter.com/neshelf

7/Oct. 26
Trisha Lynn
Trisha’s Book Blog
tw: http://twitter.com/trishalynn0708

7b/Oct. 27
The Bookette
tw: (not on Twitter)

8/Oct. 28
Book Junkie
tw: (not on Twitter)

9/Oct. 29
Take Me Away
tw: https://twitter.com/JennyTakeMeAway

10/Oct. 30
Ellz Readz
tw: (not on Twitter)

11/Oct. 31 (Halloween)
A Reader’s Adventure
tw: (not on Twitter)

12/Nov. 2
Beyond Books
tw: http://twitter.com/beyondelsewhere

13/Nov. 3
The O.W.L. Blog
tw: (not on Twitter)

14/Nov. 4
Tales of Whimsy
tw: (not on Twitter)

Charity Lynn
Keep On Booking
tw: http://twitter.com/CharityGamble

15/Nov. 10
Queen of Happy Endings
tw: http://twitter.com/madscrapper

16/Nov. 11
Tina’s Book Reviews
(alt: http://blogwithbitereviews.blogspot.com/)

17/Nov. 12
The Book Owl
tw: (not on Twitter)

18/Nov. 13
Willow Raven
Red House Books
tw: (not on Twitter)

19/Nov. 15
What Book Is That?
tw: http://twitter.com/heynocupcake

20/Nov. 17
Fallling Off The Shelf
tw: (not on Twitter)

21/Nov. 18
tw: (not on Twitter)

22/Nov. 20
Wicked Good Reads
tw: (not on Twitter)

23/Nov. 21
The True Book Addict
tw: http://twitter.com/truebookaddict

24/Nov. 23
The Little Bookworm
tw: http://twitter.com/lilbookworm

Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)
Strange & Random Happenstance
tw: (not on Twitter)

25/Nov. 25
La Femme Readers
tw: http://twitter.com/lafemmereaders

And lest you get too anxious waiting for all the Random Magic fun to begin, here's the trailer for the story to hold you over:

Illustrated Friday: The Mystery of Eatum Hall

Fall is here, Halloween is coming soon, and wry tongue-in-cheek jokes and plays on words will never, ever go out of style.

The Mystery of Eatum Hall is like an Agatha Christie mystery reworked into a picture book. It features Horace and Glenda Pork-Fowler on an adventure to eat gourmet food, compliments of Dr. Hunter (a wolf, naturally,) the owner of Eatum Hall. Upon arrival they discover Dr. Hunter has left them in the care of a fully automated house for "the ultimate dining experience." Naturally, hilarity ensues, British accents are written in, and everything seems to be going swimmingly, until A SINISTER PLOT DEVELOPMENT. What will happen to Mr. and Mrs. Pork-Fowler? Will evil Dr. Hunter have his way? What ends up in the gigantic pie?

My favorite thing about these illustrations is definitely the level of detail that's included. The people behind the book, John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell, took great pains to make the manor scenes look realistic and the comic elements to be obvious enough to pick up on but not so obvious that they're not funny. Although the story is easy enough to follow, the complexity of the illustrations means that most kids would probably like it a lot more if an adult shared this story with them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Tiger Eye

Title: Tiger Eye
Author: Marjorie Liu
Page Count: 342 pages
Publisher: Love Spell
Genre: Paranormal Romance

50 words or less: Delilah is a master artist/weapon maker and a sometimes agent for Dirk & Steele, an off the map psychic detective agency. Hari is a 2000 year old shapeshifting warrior trapped in a magic box by a Magi. Adventure, and romance ensue. Can they free Hari and live happily ever after?

Tiger Eye is the first book in the Dirk & Steele series and was a really fun story start to finish. Some of the elements in the story are familiar ones, such as shapeshifting and psychic energy (Delilah, or Dela, can sense energy from metals and uses that gift to make weapons,) but they are crafted in such a way that they don't feel played out or tired. The one other book that I was reminded of while reading Tiger Eye was the first book in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series, Fantasy Lover, since that book also features an ancient hero trapped in an artifact. That's where the similarities end, however.

Hari is an interesting hero with a complex history. He's been a slave for ages and isn't trusting of Dela when they first meet. That quickly changes, however, and we soon found out that Hari's lost a lot more than his freedom in the spell that the evil Magi cast on him. His journey to fit in in the modern world is heartwarming, and his affection for Dela is genuine. The love story is only one of several interwoven plots throughout the course of the book but it's the growth of the relationship between Hari and Dela that really takes center stage. They're friends before they become anything else, which is not something you come across very often in romance novels.

Dela is an interesting heroine and one that is very self-aware and sensitive to what's going on around her. Her background with the supernatural doings at Dirk & Steele make her acceptance of Hari's....differences...a little more believable, and the other characters that comprise her group of friends are likeable and make you want to read the other books in the series. The author also does a good job of sharing Dela's inner monologue and sharing her thoughts with the reader, which is entertaining all on its own.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good paranormal romance or is interested in starting with a new series. I'm definitely planning on reading the other Dirk & Steele novels, and I have to say, if this was a debut novel, it was an excellent one.

Overall Grade: A

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday: Death's Mistress

Karen Chance is another of my auto-buy authors, and while it's true that I haven't gotten to Curse the Dawn in the Cassie Palmer series yet (don't worry, I'm hanging my head in shame) I'm definitely looking forward to the second book in her other series starring half-vampire ass-kicking lady Dorina Basarab. According to Amazon it'll be released January 5, 2010, which a quick gander at a calender reveals to me is not all that far away, so it'll definitely make an appearance as a review here sometime next year. In the meantime, here's the summary that's posted on Karen Chance's official website, where, incidentally, you can also read a sample chapter:
Dorina Basarab is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire. Subject to uncontrollable rages, most dhampirs live very short, very violent lives. So far, Dory has managed to maintain her sanity by unleashing her anger on those demons and vampires who deserve killing.

Back home in Brooklyn after the demise of her insane uncle Dracula, Dory’s hoping her life is about to calm down. But then she gets some visitors. A friend wants Dory’s help in finding a magical Fey relic, and the gorgeous vampire, Louis-Cesare, is desperate to find his former mistress Christine.

Dory and Louis-Cesare quickly discover that the same master vampire Christine is bound to is also rumored to be in possession of the relic. But when the master vampire turns up dead, they realize that there’s more at stake than a missing mistress. Someone is killing vampire Senate members, and if Dory and Louis-Cesare can’t stop the murderer, they may be next…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bonus Feature: Covet discussion questions

In case you missed it, you can read my review of Covet by J.R. Ward here.

Question #1: Did you relate to Jim at all? Did you feel like he was a good choice or worthy of this mission? I think that, within the world that J.R. Ward created for the book, Jim is a plausible choice, since he has to be a mix of good and evil so that the two sides in the cosmic flag football that's being played can attempt to win him completely to one side or the other. I find the idea of Jim as the protagonist easier to accept than the overall premise of the series, to be honest. Are we really supposed to believe that if Jim doesn't manage to convince seven people (out of the billions of people walking around on the planet) to quit being obnoxious, then the cosmos is going to kick out the proverbial plug on humanity? Come on now.

Question #2: How do you feel about the tone of the book? Did you think that there was too much slang/not enough/just enough? How did you feel about the word choice in the book- did it add to your reading of the story or take away from it? The word usage in Covet is easily my biggest complaint about the book. J.R. Ward is known for an edgier, more casual vocabulary in her books and I understand that (even appreciate that in some of her other books,) but here I found it detracted from the story and made a lot of the plot points harder to work with than they needed to be. A little flavor is nice, but after awhile I did catch myself hitting fast forward.

Question #3: When the "fantasy" of the book is based on a belief system that is regarded as truth by some religions (the angels & demons) does it help you relate better with the story, as opposed to a story about vampires and werewolves? The overall concepts behind demons and angels didn't really factor into my reading of the story one way or another, to be honest. I think my issues with the story stemmed more from my issues with the story's construction and my lack of buy-in to the conflict and the setting of the story than anything else.

Question #4: In the opening of this book we read about a football game analogy of Demons verses Angels, even though this is fiction what do you think of Demons in this case Jim the Fallen Angel being portrayed as a "Good Guy"? I hate sports metaphors as a rule and I really didn't like the one that started off Covet in any way, shape or form. Be that as it may, I don't think Jim is supposed to be a demon in the sense that the bad guys in this series are supposed to be demons. I think Jim is supposed to be an angel who's not as good as a regular angel and therefore fits the description that the bizarre game that this series is centered around calls for. In some ways, I think that's not a bad thing, since in the realm of people there isn't anyone who's truly, 100% good and everyone has their imperfections, so if the savior of humanity has to come from the ranks of humanity itself then that hero's going to have a few warts, so to speak.

Question #5: How do you feel knowing this will be a 7 book series featuring Jim and he might win all of the battles?I'm really hoping Ms. Ward mixes it up a little bit in the rest of the series and either delegates some of the world-saving to the other characters, because otherwise the series is going to read more like a TV show than a dramatic series. I mean, granted, probably the good guys are going to win and the world's going to carry on and all that jazz, but it'd be nice if it wasn't that formulaic. A little drama or suspense would be nice, certainly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: The Women of Nell Gwynne's

Title: The Women of Nell Gwynne's
Author: Kage Baker
Page Count: 120 pages
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Genre: steampunk, adventure

50 words or less: This is a novella that is apparently a loose tie-in to the Company series of books by the same author. Lady Beatrice is a fallen lady recruited to work as a spy while plying her current trade. A mystery must be solved; gadgets are introduced. Adventure and peril abound.

This book was an impulse grab at the library, the cover art is pretty fabulous so I figured I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did; the story was good for the short length and was intriguing enough to make me want to read other books by this author.

Lady Beatrice has had a tough life and there's no two ways about it, but she's calm, cool and collected so she takes care of herself. She uses whatever resources are available at the time, and that includes her own body and the desires of other people; it's all the same to her. When one of her dead father's friends finds out what's become of Lady Beatrice, he refers her to Mrs. Corvey, the clandestine proprietress of a house of ill fame. Lady Beatrice comes on board as a resident and worker at the house and the adventure takes off from there, as apparently this is no ordinary brothel, but instead is a front for gathering information from people who forget themselves and who they're talking to.

Since this was a novella, there wasn't a lot of time or space to devote to story or really deep character development, but according to the author's website more novellas featuring this cast of characters are forthcoming so apparently they're not gone forever.

One big downside to this book- because it was an independent release, the cover price is very steep indeed for the amount of story that you're getting. If it sounds interesting then definitely read it, but it might be worth seeing if the public library has it first. Just saying.

Overall, this was a quick, enjoyable story that brought my attention to an author I'd never heard of before and got me interested in reading more of her books. It wasn't the most spectacular thing I've ever read but it wasn't terrible either.

Overall Grade: B

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review: The Hollow Kingdom

Title: The Hollow Kingdom
Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Page Count: 230 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

50 words or less: Kate and Emily are orphans in Victorian England who are sent to live with distant relatives on a remote country estate. After stumbling across mysterious riders, Kate and Emily's lives take a turn for the wacky when they're carried away to live with goblins under the lake in the woods.

Someone had recommended The Hollow Kingdom to me awhile ago, and I wish I could remember who it was because I would totally thank them for cluing me in to an excellent trilogy.

The Hollow Kingdom begins in Victorian England, with Kate and Emily, two recently orphaned sisters, showing up on the doorstep of a cousin who has (reluctantly) agreed to be their guardian. They're supposed to live with two nice but terminally disconnected great-aunts and basically wait around until someone decides to marry them. While they're out exploring the woods and the nature around the house, they discover many beautiful places, all of which are described richly and elegantly in the narrative. They also discover a mysterious band of riders and a bunch of legends about goblins and about the perilous fate that awaits the virginal girls the goblins carry off to their dark, dank and dreary homeland.

That's all well and good, except the legends are anything but, and the truth is actually way more wacky than the story. The goblins are very real indeed, and led by their king, Marak, who must marry someone who's not a goblin and have a sun, so that the magic of the goblin race can continue. Marak doesn't much care how he comes by his bride, and indeed tradition has always dictated that he just cart her off, but some seriously well done plot twists ensure that Kate actually not only goes to the goblin kingdom willingly, but totally reforms everyone's opinions of what she's like once she gets there.

While Kate is more quiet and serious, Emily is bombastic and energetic- the whole situation is just a grand adventure to her, and she helps Kate to see other sides of what appear at the beginning to be pretty hopeless situations. According to Amazon, Emily is the heroine of the second book of this trilogy, called Close Kin, so hopefully we'll see more of her there.

The Hollow Kingdom reminded me very much of a sort of Bizarro-World love story. Kate and Marak are an extremely unlikely couple and at first, it doesn't seem like things are going to work out all that well, but as time passes, it becomes clear that something like love is starting to blossom. This is one of my favorite passages from the book and it kind of sums up the dynamics of Kate and Marak's relationship perfectly. It happens after Kate is shown the chronicles where the goblin kinds record the comings and goings of the lives of the goblin queens:
"Marek?" she said softly, turning toward him. He laid his cheek against her hair.
"What is it?" he asked quietly.
"Do you write about me?" she asked. He nodded. "What kinds of things do you write?"
"The same sorts of things as the other Kings," he said. "What you love about your new life, what you hate."
"What do I love?" she wondered.
"It hasn't been very long," he answered, "but I think you love coming with me to my workroom."
Kate thought about that. As the realm's greatest magician, the goblin King worked magic all the time, whether he was healing illness, supporting building projects, or making sure the correct weather occurred. Sitting on her high stool, Kate watched him preparing and mixing things, and he showed her odd bits of magic as he studied and practiced. She enjoyed the magic; it was one of the things she was starting to appreciate about her unusual husband. The workroom was like a refuge to her. It was almost the only place in the entire kingdom where no one was watching her.
"I do love the workroom," she said softly. "What do I hate about my new life?"
"Being locked in," he answered. "Being stared at, being teased."
"If you know I hate being teased," she asked, "why do you always do it?"
"Because that's one of the things about your new life that I love," he chuckled. That made her smile. "And I write about the milestones that the Kings look for their wives to pass. The first time you spoke to me--that was when you met me. The first time you called me by name--that was the day after you came here. The first time you smiled at me--that was a week after you came here, but the first time you smiled because you were really glad to see me--that was only a month ago. The first time you were happy when you woke up in the morning, full of plans you wanted to accomplish..." He fell silent.
"When was that?" Kate wanted to know.
"That one hasn't happened yet," he admitted. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Kate shifted in his arms and laid her head against his chest.
"Maybe so," she murmered, closing her eyes.

Certainly not a traditional romance, but still sweet. Things definitely blossom between Kate and Marek and, of course, there's a barrier to the happily ever after that helps everyone realize what their true feelings are.

The Hollow Kingdom reminded me of fairy tales mixed with Harry Potter and a slight dash of creepy gothic and horror novels. It was a great combination and I'm definitely excited to read the rest of the trilogy.

Overall Grade: A

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review: Covet

Title: Covet
Author: J.R. Ward
Page Count: 474 pages
Publisher: Signet
Genre: Urban Fantasy

50 words or less: The ultimate showdown between good and evil is boiling down to one dude and his ability to sway people away from their self-destructive paths. Jim Heron is a fallen angel; Vin diPietro is a avaricious real estate mogul- can Vin be saved? More to the point, can Vin save himself?

I first heard about Covet from Amazon and have been excited about its release pretty much from day one. I confess myself a huge fan of Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series so the idea of a slightly related series set in sort of the same world was really appealing.

With that said, I have a rule when I'm reading books, a rule that I'm surely not the first person to come up with or use- the fifty page rule. This rule states that if a book isn't interesting to me or I'm not motivated to keep reading after fifty pages, I put that book aside and read something else. There's way too many books in the world to keep plugging through something that's just not ringing your proverbial bell.

I'm sad to say that that almost happened to me with Covet. Notice I said almost. The first fifty pages of the book epitomized to me the weaker points of other Ward books I've read- the overall story arc is kind of shoehorned into the prologue and expressed through a really, really drawn out sports metaphor and is then spelled out again and again thereafter. The characters are dark and dreary and in situations that seem hopeless, both to them and to the reader. The slang was so heavy and liberally used that it makes you wonder if there's a secret decoder ring out there that interprets the story. Case and point (oddly enough, this section comes from precisely page 50):
Thanks to being in the military, he'd learned that when you came to and didn't know where you were, it was better to possum it until you had some intel.

What? I'll admit, one of the things that I enjoy the most about the Black Dagger Brotherhood series was the use of language and the way the characters talk to each other and express themselves, but the same technique that worked so well in that series is almost comical here.

I was inches away from setting the book aside when, as if by magic, someone gave the plot the Heimlich and the story really took off in a big way. The premise of the book really blossomed and became actualized when Jim, the government assassing turned fallen angel, met up with Vin diPietro, the first charge in Jim's quest to win the battle for the future of humanity. The back stories of the characters, which had seemed cumbersome before, were RIVETING now, and the backstory helped to drive the plot forward and explain why certain events were happening the way they were, why other plot points were set up the way that they were.

Easily my favorite character in the book, though, is Marie-Therese/Gretchen. Marie-Therese is the epitome of a J.R. Ward heroine- she's strong in the face of overpowering obstacles, honest, trustworthy, loving, caring, but not afraid to stand up for herself. She's working hard to overcome the mistakes of her past and has the courage to make new decisions when it becomes apparent that the old ones aren't working anymore. Her backstory is heartbreaking, riveted and detailed; Ward does an excellent job of making you care about Marie-Therese and wanting her to win and have her happily ever after.

Vin diPietro is an interesting guy; he's not a real likeable guy in the beginning, but the change that overtakes him throughout the book is interesting to watch, genuine, and easy to believe. The same can be said of Jim- he's mysterious and plays by his own rules, sure, but he also has a core of integrity that despite everything stays strong.

Also, can I just say that I LOVE Devina and the role she plays in the story? I won't say what that role is because that would be a huge spoiler, but suffice it to say that J.R. Ward's descriptions of the supernatural events in Covet absolutely made my skin crawl in just the way you'd want a book like this to do that.

There were also a bunch of cameos in the book from characters from the Black Dagger Brotherhood stories, so spotting them was fun indeed. It makes me wonder if some of the Fallen Angels characters will be making crossover appearances, since apparently you can't spit in Caldwell, NY without hitting one of the players in the battle of good versus evil.

Is this a perfect book? Nope. Is this a decent start to a new series? Sure. Despite a really rocky start I enjoyed the book overall and would be interested in reading the rest of the series.

Overall Grade: B
Blog With Bite Score: 3

Friday, October 9, 2009

Illustrated Friday: The Curious Garden

This week's installment of Illustrated Friday is The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown. This is another find from the book/magazine section of the grocery store; when I first saw it, the illustrations reminded me of Little Golden Books, but without the creepiness that always seems to go with them.

The Curious Garden is the story of Liam, a boy who has the bad luck to live in a drab, dreary city. Liam doesn't mind it though, and spends his time exploring. While on one of his expeditions, he finds an abandoned and neglected garden next to abandoned and neglected railway tracks, and decides to take care of them. Thriving on attention, the garden spreads and spreads, and new gardeners come to help take care of the ever-expanding garden, until eventually the whole city is green and alive again!

According to the author's website, The Curious Garden was inspired by a real life thing! The Highline in Manhatten, an elevated railway that's been out of use since 1980, has apparently been reclaimed by Mother Nature and now there's trees, flowers, and greenery growing there. A quick trip to google yielded actual photos of the Highline, and the allusions in The Curious Garden are definitely plain to see.

I love books that present nature and the outdoors as something or someplace that's fun to explore. I also love books about gardens and gardening, and bringing people together, so The Curious Garden definitely wins on all counts.

What are your favorite books about the outdoors?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: The Winter of Her Discontent

Title: The Winter of Her Discontent
Author: Kathryn Miller Haines
Page Count: 324 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

50 words or less: It's 1943, and Rosie's still trying to make it as an actress. Jack the ex is still MIA; Al the friend is in jail for murder. She takes a role in a horkburger of a musical to try to uncover the truth and encounters meat, madness, mayhem and more.

Not too long ago I read and reviewed the first book in the Rosie Winter series, The War Against Miss Winter. As much as I enjoyed that book, I have to say that this, the second book in the series, decidedly blew even that book out of the water.

The author really hits her stride with the story here. Maybe it's because we really dive right into the thick of things here and kind of skip all the back story and establishing whatnot that has to be included in a first book, but The Winter of Her Discontent had me wishing I was able to read while I was at work so I could devour the story faster.

This book also did something that doesn't usually happen for me- it made me want to research more about the events that were described. I enjoy historical novels but my curiosity about the events and the time period is usually satisfied by the author's note or the preface or whatever the book has going on. This made me want to find out about black market meat, war profiteers, war brides, dance halls, the USO, the New York mob in the 40s, you name it. The picture of New York that was painted as the backdrop for the story made me want to find out how it compared to the reality.

On top of a really well done historical setting, the author creates a mystery that doesn't give too much away but is still laid out well enough for readers to figure out whodunnit on their own. Clues are marked clearly enough (no dog snot on the carpet here,) without the story being too simple or watered down. At the same time, enough loose ends are dangling and the teaser at the end of the story just make me excited to read the third installment in the series and hope that more are forthcoming.

Overall Grade: A

Up next is Covet by J.R. Ward, which will be featured as a part of the extravaganza over at Blog With Bite. After that, who knows? My TBR pile is so huge it's kind of ridiculous so there are definitely a lot of options.
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