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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Contest Alert! Win a Kate Spade Bag!

Aching for AlwaysFile this one under books and purses, folks! Gwyn Cready, time travel romance extraordinaire and past guest here at What Book is That?, is celebrating the release of her next novel, Aching for Always, by offering a Kate Spade bag to one lucky winner! This is the bag in question:

The contest is only open until October 4th so head on over to Gwyn Cready's website and click the button at the top for all the details!  Good luck! 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: Sureblood

Sureblood (Hqn)Title: Sureblood
Author: Susan Grant
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: HQN
Genre: sci-fi, romance
Copy for review provided by netgalley.com in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Val Blue and Dake Sureblood are leaders of rival pirate clans who scrape together an existence by stealing back precious minerals that were stolen from their lands in the first place.  Val and Dake are both victims of circumstance and their blossoming love is crushed; when new information arises, can they overcome the past to build a future together?

I have a secret love for space operas and science fiction romance- when I saw this one available on Netgalley I gobbled it up.  While I did enjoy the book well enough, I have to admit, I'd recommend this one to others as a library or Paperback Swap book.

Val Blue cannot catch a break to save her life, whether it be as a squad leader for pirates, a daughter, a clan leader, or a lover.  It seems like any time she tries to make a decision or act independently, something crops up that renders that decision either irrelevant or emotionally painful for her.  She's also got the unfortunate task of leading the densest, most easily swayed group of pirates in the history of the universe- someone could tell these folks the sky was purple and they'd believe that person regardless of any evidence that may or may not be present.  Val is boxed in at every turn, seemingly forced to do things that she doesn't want to do but can't seem to avoid.  It was frustrating to read about since we know as readers what's going on since the story is told from Dake's perspective as well as Val's.

Dake as a hero was...okay.  I feel like, at the close of the book, that we don't really know a whole lot about him except that he's a hottie, a decent person, and the father of a child with Val that he knows nothing about.  The conflict in this book was a little too soap opera-esque for me.  While I appreciated the happily ever after and the resolution to the Big Conflict, they were very clearly laid out of from the beginning of the book and I feel like that took some of the excitement out of the story.  The problem with knowing who the villains are from the get go is that nothing they do is surprising, and that was definitely an issue in this book.

The pseudo-conflict with Ayl, the womanizing creep who seems to think he and Val have a future together, was easily my least favorite part of the story.  While they had some history together, he cheated on her (not a spoiler, that's in the excerpt on the Harlequin website,) was an arrogant ass, and did everything in his power to undermine her at every turn! And yet she STILL continued to consider an alliance with him, in and out of the bedroom! I understand that Val was feeling beaten down and defeated and was looking for support anywhere she could get it but I felt like for a smart lady, she did a lot of stupid things.  I attribute this feeling as much to the lack of character development for Dake as anything else- I feel like it was unfair for Val to have to do all the bungling in this book.  So often I feel like the female characters are shortchanged when it comes to knowledge of the bigger picture- why did Dake get all the info about the big scheme to exterminate the pirates and Val had to muddle through with half-truths and deception? 

Meh. This wasn't a terrible book- I did finish it and like parts of it, and hey, space romance is a good thing in my opinion.  The level of frustration I experienced while reading was what led to my sort of lackluster final review.

Overall Grade: C

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Hard Magic

Hard Magic (Luna Books)Title: Hard Magic
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Page Count: 329 pages
Publisher: Luna
Genre: first in a series, urban fantasy
Copy for review provided by Netgalley.com in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Twenty-something Bonita Torres is done with college and trying to find her first job and the search is not going well.  When she gets a call to interview for a job she didn't apply for, she figures it can't hurt and shows up at the designated time.  Little does she know that that one choice will set a whole boodle of other events in motion quickly and dramatically.

I will say one thing here at the onset of this review: I was not aware that this was a spinoff book from another series.  In retrospect, that may serve to address some of the issues I had with this book, and reading the other, prior series may clear things up for me, or they may not.  Read and decide, folks, read and decide.

I read Hard Magic about a month ago and it's been sitting in my review queue ever since.  I find that, as I'm sitting now to write this review, I'm really hard pressed to remember much about the book except that the concept was original and the characters were fun but simultaneously bland and a little annoying. 

Let's just start at the beginning.  Bonita (Bonnie) on her own is likeable enough.  She has a unique narrative voice and her observations of the world around her are spot on, but I have to say that her life situation and her chafing against it got annoying in a big hurry.  She's supposed to be a starving college grad, but is living in a hotel compliments of her impossibly wealthy surrogate father who happens to be a Council member.  She has people shooting at her and out for her blood but a large portion of her conscious thoughts seem to revolve around whether or not the person she just met would be fun to sleep with (although these thoughts are never acted upon.)  I found that Bonnie did a lot of talking but relatively little acting in all facets of the story- she takes a lot of stands and has a lot of opinions but is never called upon to put her money where her mouth is, so to speak.  We hear all about how openminded she is and how free-spirited she is but all I read about was someone living off of Daddy's money fantasizing about her boss.  Just saying.

The supporting characters are pretty lacking in development, too- I can't honestly remember any of their names.  There was tension between the characters and bickering and office drama but that's pretty much all there was- endless squabbles in the break room being refereed by the founders of the paranormal detective agency where they all worked and murmured speculation that they'd all be out on their ears if they didn't get a real case soon.

What salvaged this book for me, though, was the worldbuilding surrounding the idea of forensic magic, and the way magic is used in this book, both offensively and defensively.  I found the idea of investigating magical crimes with magic to be really interesting and the description of the techniques that the team developed in the lab to be really engrossing, to the point that it overshadowed the issues that I did have with this book.  Bottom line, the balance between plot and characters was a little off, the character development didn't ring true, but the backdrop for the story was so vivid that I was still reading until the end just to see how the elements would come together.

Overall Grade: B

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: The Rabbit Factory

The Rabbit FactoryTitle: The Rabbit Factory
Author: Marshall Karp
Page Count: 574 pages
Publisher: Lawson Library
Genre: comedy, murder mystery
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Publisher's Weekly nailed it: "Lomax's beloved wife has died, his doting father is trying to get him to go on dates and his wayward, gambling-addicted brother is in deep trouble. Meanwhile, Lomax is trying to solve a string of high-profile murders aimed at destroying a Disneyesque theme park, Lamaar's Familyland. First, the employee playing Rambunctious Rabbit, Familyland's signature cartoon character, is strangled in his rabbit suit, then a series of other employees and visitors to the park are killed, bringing the company to its knees. Lomax, Biggs and the FBI have their work cut out for them in a clever plot that will keep readers guessing to the very end." (okay, so that's more than 50 words. Trust me, this book is worth the extra!)

My second Alphabet Soup book (those books that never fail to hit the spot or remedy a bad day or a bad cold) is Marshall Karp's The Rabbit Factory, which introduces one of my favorite cop duos of all time, Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, homicide detectives for the LAPD.  Seriously folks, this is a book I grabbed on impulse from the library shelf back in the day and have since bought as a gift for other people and in print and Kindle formats for myself.  If I know you and I know you like reading, chances are you will be getting a copy of this book as a gift at some point.

What starts off as an ordinary day in the life of homicide detectives (that being investigating a homicide) rapidly spirals out of control when Lomax and Biggs are called to Familyland, the Mecca of the Lamar Studios empire, to investigate the murder of Eddie Elkins, the guy in the cartoon rabbit suit.  The similarities to Disneyland are immediate and deliberate and keep going throughout the book, and the jabs at that media juggernaut are just one of the elements of the story I enjoyed (but then, I was on a vacation to Disney World with my family in the 8th grade and my dad commented that it looked like all the rabbits and lizards outside the hotel were on the company payroll, so maybe that humor is genetic.)

Anyway, what starts off as one murder of a sleazy, sleazy man escalates into a total war against Lamar Studios and everyone affiliated with it, and Lomax and Biggs always seem to be one step behind the killer or killers in figuring out the master plan.  While this is going on, Lomax's gambling addict brother is in some serious doo doo, his father is trying to him up on blind dates (Lomax coming to grips with and healing from the death of his wife to cancer is a big emotional part of this story) and the body count is rising at an epic rate.  There are so many twists and turns and details in the plot that you will not want to stop reading until the absolute end.

Some folks might see the ending of the book coming a mile away; I certainly did not and once the masterminds of the murder campaign were revealed, I remember shrieking aloud OH SNAP and having the people around me give me very strange looks.  I can come back to this book again and again and the jokes are fresh and the story just as fun as it was the first time I read it.

Overall Grade: A+

Rabbit Factory, The
Deal time! Kindle fans, you can pick this book up for $5.59!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: International Kittens of Mystery

Title: The International Kittens of Mystery
Author: Chris Dolley
Page Count: 92 pages (pdf format)
Publisher: Book View Press
Genre: comedy, cat adventures
Copy for review provided by the author in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Cat pictures! Silly jokes! Adventures! Exclamation points!

This book constitutes the best-spent twenty minutes I've had in quite some time.  I think it's the kind of book that cat people will appreciate more than any other (personally I don't think LOLCats will ever stop being funny) but it's a sweet, silly book featuring lots of cute animal pictures.

Thrill as a family of cats of all shapes and sizes undertakes the most daring of training missions- climbing things (like pant legs!) Braving the yard! Climbing fences! Taking baths! Saving the world from mice disguised as squirrels!  The commentary on the photos is silly and fun, and the references to kitschy adventure heroes and James Bond-esque mishaps is well appreciated.

This is one of those books that it would be hard to dislike, as it was obviously a labor of love and was all in good fun from start to finish.  No cats were harmed in the making of the book as the photos are all of cats doing the things cats do all on their own, but apparently the human trainers were not so lucky, which is a fate that most cat owners can understand completely I'm sure.  And with a totally agreeable price tag of $2.99, this is the kind of book that would make a sweet little gift for someone who enjoys this kind of humor.

Overall Grade: A

Illustrated Friday: Watch out for Wolfgang

Here's another one that little dudes (and dudettes) everywhere will love! Watch out for Wolfgang is a robotic take on the story of the three little pigs, with Dudley the somewhat special robot ultimately being smarter than both of his flashier, sassier brothers! The illustrations are very cool too, and will easily facilitate younger readers retelling the story on their own. This is Paul Carrick's first outing as both the author and illustrator instead of just illustrating and it looks like he's off to a great start. Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Series So Far: Granite Lake Wolves

   I went back and forth between reviewing these titles separately and reviewing them together, and ultimately I decided to review them together, as the best piece of advice I can give when it comes to reading them is to buy them together and read them together, since if you're like me you'll end up buying them one after the other anyway.  All three are novellas, all three are by Vivian Arend, all three are from Samhain Publishing, and all are from my personal library.

Wolf Signs: Granite Lake Wolves, Book 1Up first is Wolf Signs, which introduces us to not only a kickass heroine in the form of Robyn Maxwell, but also to a kickass heroine who happens to be deaf.  Robyn was all excited about her trip to a remote cabin in the Yukon to rest, relax, and get away from it all when she runs into Keil, a wolf Alpha fighting for control of his pack, and his notoriously clumsy younger brother, TJ.  Keil knows two things immediately: one, that Robyn is his mate, and two, that Robyn is a wolf herself, a fact that Robyn doesn't even know.  Needless to say, that makes for some very interesting conversations between the two of them later on. The attraction between these two is immediate; the followup to that attraction definitely earns a Scandalous Books designation.  When I finished this first installment I pretty much immediately shotgunned the other two right into my Kindle.  I'd heard great things about this series on Twitter and from other bloggers and this introduction to the series did not disappoint in the slightest. Overall Grade: A

Wolf Flight: Granite Lake Wolves, Book 2Second in the series is Wolf Flight, which is the story of Tad Maxwell (Robyn's brother) and his mate, Missy Leason.  Theirs is a second-chance romance, in that Missy and Tad were attracted to each other as teenagers but never acted on it, mostly because each of them thought they had a different mate out there in the world somewhere.  It didn't help matters that Tad's shift to human/wolf combo won't be finalized until he mates with a full blooded wolf; he didn't realize that Missy fit the bill at the time, needless to say.  Missy has her own drama too; her Alpha has figured out that she's an Omega and is using whatever means necessary to keep her under his thumb.  The romance and story here aren't quite as straightforward as they are in the first book; we get a good look at how folks become wolves in this book and what the politics are surrounding that.  There were some elements in the story that didn't work for me and while this story was still very fun, it probably won't end up being my favorite of the series. Overall Grade: B

Wolf Games: Granite Lake Wolves, Book 3Third in the series is Wolf Games, starring Erik, the Beta of the Granite Lake pack, and Maggie, younger sister to Missie of Wolf Flight.  Maggie is scared out of her mind by this whole wolf shifting business, and wants nothing to do with it, Granite Lake pack, or her mate, Erik.  When she gets tapped to participate in the Wolf Games and Erik happens to be on her team, she has the perfect opportunity to learn about herself and her mate and to become comfortable with herself and her world.  Erik was so patient and a genuinely good person, even as he dealt with his own insecurities and past issues.  The two of them definitely deserved their happily ever after.  Overall Grade: A

Wolf Tracks: Granite Lake Wolves, Book 4I'm a definite fan of this series and can't wait for TJ's story to come out- it's called Wolf Tracks and is available October 26th! As an added selling point, each of the books in this series is $2.80 from Amazon, which is a total steal for stories as fun as these.  Seriously!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall Into Reading 2010 Starting Line!

All right, reading challenge, listen here. I know my progress with you historically has been practically nonexistent, but that all changes today. This fall's goals are all about balancing acts and meeting obligations and getting things done and being prepared. That's a high expectation, and as you might guess, my goals revolve around getting the titles that have been submitted to me for review read. Here's the list:

Blood, Smoke and MirrorsMaskedDark Warrior Untamed (Talion)Avim's Oath (Okal Rel Saga)Cinkarion: The Heart of Fire (Chronicles of the Karionin)Immortal Quest

Rider: Spirals of Destiny: Book 1Cinco de MayoDead Eye: Pennies for the FerrymanPaul Is UndeadOf Bees and Mist: A Novel

Last Exit In New JerseyInternational Kittens of MysteryLove Sucks!

But wait, there's more! I also want to clear my Netgalley queue:

Motor City FaeAlien RevealedMob Rules (Luna Books)MercySunrise Over TexasCrown of Crystal Flame (Tairen Soul)

Finally, I have a reviewing goal for myself as well. I want to write, schedule and maintain a two week buffer of posts. With the new job I started at the beginning of last month it's become apparent that reviewing during the week is going to be a bit of a challenge, so I'm hoping to alleviate that by scheduling posts and writing new content on the weekends!

Now it's time to talk rewards! If I accomplish all three goals to my own satisfaction, on December 20th, I'm treating myself to a Kindle book buying spree just in time for my holiday travel. It'll be like an early Christmas present!

Are you participating in Fall into Reading? If so, what are your goals? Link me to your post and I'd love to read them!
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