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Sunday, February 28, 2010

February in the Rear View

Today's deep philosophical musing brought to you by Toothpaste for Dinner.

And just like that, Februrary is over. Despite my having battled with a pretty epic reading slump and enough deadlines in the real world to gag a maggot, I'm still pretty pleased with how things turned out:

Reviews posted: 12 (actually on target since I shoot for three per week!)
Content posts: 2 (yay!)
Illustrated books featured: 6

Not bad! I'm also pleased to say I made some good progress on my Blog Improvement Project To-Do List:

1. Create/add slideshow of blog buttons from blogs I enjoy.

2. Write more content posts.- Getting better at this!

3. Plan and execute my fabulous project plan for March. And that's all I'm saying about that! DONE and it goes live tomorrow so stay tuned!

4. Improve commenting experience. I will do this by replying to all comments received, even if it's just to thank the person for commenting. Again, getting better at this- the next step is to get to 100% response and then comment back on people's blogs!

5. Get current and stay current with my link postings. A lot of challenges and whatnot have Mr. Linky options so I'd like to get my reviews linked in as many places as possible. DONE for the month of February!

6. Rebuild and maintain my buffer of reviews. Ideally I'd like to have 5-7 reviews written and saved to post when reading is going slower than I'd like or when life gets in the way. I'm actually working on this right now.

7. Get through my review pile. This can dovetail with goal number 6 too. Working on this one too.

Congratulations to me, if I do say so myself.

Looking forward, March is off with a bang, for any or all of the following reasons:


2. I have plans for a pretty cool giveaway in the works!

3. Tomorrow starts Vampire Week for Blog with Bite in celebration of the release of Claudia Gray's Hourglass Here are just a few things to look forward to here at What Book is That?:
-Reviews for Evernight, Stargazer, and Hourglass
-Super cool Blog with Bite Giveaway
-Sashay Down Memory Lane, Or, How I Came to Read So Much PNR
-Other cool stuff from the other creative craniums behind Blog with Bite


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: Maverick

Title: Maverick
Author: Lora Leigh
Page Count: 354 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's
Genre: Romanic Suspense
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Risa is a battered but not broken woman trying to move past a horrible ordeal. Micah is a dead man who signed away his life and freedom to be a part of a team of elite operatives. Sounds impossible, doesn't it?

One thing I'm really enjoying about this Elite Ops series is that the author is taking the chance to wrap up loose ends from other books. We first met Risa Clay in a whole different series, and when we last left off she'd been institutionalized after a brutal abduction and rape, but now she's out and the agents need her help to catch a vicious assassin who's apparently now after her.

This is a really useful book. If you need a good cry, just read a few chapters and BAM you're all set. Even if this wasn't a Lora Leigh book (which means there are more sex scenes than you can shake a stick at, no pun intended) this title would be getting a Scandalous Books designation just because of the thematic content and the issues that Risa goes through with her abusive father. Some of this stuff, I think, could definitely be triggering for some people. It does add emotional depth to the story, but there were a few sections that were decidedly hard to read. Ye be warned.

As with a lot of romantic suspense novels, the suspense plot took a definite backseat to the romance plot. I don't take umbridge at this fact, I'm just pointing it out, because you have to wonder- how many players are in this weird spy/assassin/secret government agency game that all the characters in this series are involved with? Wouldn't people start to notice after awhile if the same people kept popping up over and over again at secret arms deals and nefarious goings-on? I mean, granted, it's a fictional story, but I feel like eventually, someone somewhere would have a serious case of deja-vu, which would be bad news for uber-secret government operatives.

Anyway, as I've said in other Lora Leigh book reviews, it's probably best to start any of her series from the beginning- Wild Card is the first book in this particular one. It gets hard after awhile to keep track of who's who and what they're doing in the book, but the romance and the happily ever after make up for it most of the time. And in this case, the happily ever after was certainly worth waiting for. Cheers to moving on and getting on with your life.

Overall Grade: B

Friday, February 26, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Creature Carnival

Can I just say right now how much I love Gris Grimly's illustrations? You may remember him from my Illustrated Friday post of The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman, and I'm pleased to announce that this, an earlier book featuring poems by Marilyn Singer, is just as twisted and delicious.

The poems in this book centers around a menagerie of funky and weird creatures, from mermaids to gargoyles to dragons, and includes lots of juicy fifty-cent vocabulary words. Because of the vocabulary level and the details of the illustrations, I would say that this is a book for older kids, but I think they, especially boys, will have a fantastic time with this book. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Kiss of Moonlight

Title: Kiss of Moonlight
Author: Stephanie Julian
Page Count: 338 pages ish (ebook format)
Publisher: Ellora's Cave
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: Tamra is just looking to escape a seriously messed up past. Kyle is trying to convince himself that he likes his solitary existence. Throw in that he's a werewolf, and we're headed down a twisted path indeed.

I love a good werewolf story. I especially love one where there's good character development, an interesting cast of characters, and a premise that goes beyond "boy meets girl, OMG TEH MAKEOUTS, knocking boots, peril, knocking boots, the end." I'm pleased to say that Kiss of Moonlight succeeded on all counts.

The lead couple in the book, Kyle and Tamra, are an interesting pairing. For starters, Kyle is quite a bit older than Tamra; she's in her early twenties, he's almost forty. Kyle has a much harder time dealing with this throughout the story than Tamra does; as a matter of fact, Tamra takes most things in stride, including the fact that her love interest is a werewolf. She frets about stuff, sure, but ultimately her goal is to protect people she cares about, which is a far stretch better than just being a nutjob.

I'm getting ahead of myself here. There are things you need to know, such as the fact that Kyle is actually a member of a pack (race?) of werewolves descended from ancient Etruscans. This is important because words and concepts relevant to their society turn up throughout the book. Kyle is the king's assassin, which is, unsurprisingly, a very lonely job, and aside from his daughter Cat (yep, he has a teenage daughter) and her parents, he's got pretty much nobody to relate to.

Tamra's position isn't much better; after an act of unspeakable violence is visited upon her, all she wants is to be left alone. Literally- she's staying in a house deep in the woods and contemplating her next move when Cat, Kyle's daughter, comes across her, befriends her, and introduces her to dear old Dad. The next thing you know, the sparks are flying in a serious way.

This book totally earns its Scandalous Book designation. Kyle and Tamra pretty much can't keep their hands to themselves, which is fine by me, and I'm happy to report that the pace of the story doesn't...suffer...for that. Yay!

Anyway, my only real issue with the book was the really liberal use of the words pertaining to the Etruscan facet of the story. I didn't mind them at first, but after awhile I felt they were a little distracting.

Anyway, this was a fun, spicy read, and a good way to pass a winter afternoon. I approve!

Overall Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bonus Illustrated Books: Love is in the Air...

With February on the way out, I wanted to take a minute to spotlight a couple of cute illustrated books all about love and friendship and all that good stuff. Rob Scotton's Love, Splat was a hit with not only my preschoolers, but the other staff in my building as well. It's a cute story of first crushes, jealousy, and the importance of being yourself. And it's about splay!

Dear Bunny was a random grab at the library and is the story of unrequited love between bunny rabbits and the intervention of a mouse family to bring everyone together. Waaaay too cute for words, I'll be sharing this one with my class in the near future.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BWB Review: Firespell

Title: Firespell
Author: Chloe Neill
Page Count: 246 pages
Publisher: Signet
Genre: urban fantasy, young adult
Copy for review was purchased by me

50 words or less: Lily Parker thinks spending her last two years of high school at fancy-dancy St. Sophia's School for Girls is going to be pure boredom, start to finish. She could not possibly have been more wrong.

I've gone on record here saying how much I love Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series- the wit, the sarcasm, the characters, the unique take on a pretty well traveled narrative path. I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed Firespell as well and am excited to see how this series (the Dark Elite) plays out.

Lily is a really likeable character with an enjoyable perspective. There's no sign of any Bella Swan Syndrome here; Lily makes the best of any situation and isn't afraid to stick up for herself or for the people she cares about. Her conversations with Scout, her roommate, best friend, and partner in shenanigans, are extremely funny and well done. One facet of this book that's done really well is the way the teenagers interact with each other. Oftentimes in young adult books the dialogue and slang will seem forced or overdone; that's not the case here, which only added to my enjoyment of the story. Case and point, a segment from that most treacherous of passages, the infodump, wherein the characters are explaining the supernatural goings-on at St. Sophia's to Lily:
"Anyway," Scout said, "the power usually appears around puberty. At the beginning of the transition to adulthood."

"Boobs and earthquakes?" I asked. "That's quite a change."

"Seriously," she agreed with a nod. "It's pretty freaky. You wake up one morning and boom- you're sporting B cups and the mystical ability to manipulate matter or cast spells or battle Reapers for dominion over Chicago. Gossip Girl has nothing on us."

The power they are referring to is the cause of the conflict between the good guys and the bad guys here, and there are a pretty unique set of circumstances surrounding it that get just enough explanation to be interesting but not so much that the story gets bogged down. There's also a love interest for Lily that was just picking up steam at the end of the book, leaving plenty of unfinished business for the next installment.

Oh, and Lily has some totally kickass powers too. As Lily learns about the supernatural battles being waged in Chicago and her role in the struggle, she handles everything with remarkable aplomb. Nothing turns me off faster than pages and pages and pages of "this can't be happening!" Lily can definitely handle herself in a tough situation.

That brings me to one of the most enjoyable things about this novel. All too often, the heroine of a story is basically a null, with no personality or unique qualities that set her apart from the rest of the stable of protagonists out there. Lily isn't brooding or angsty or desperate to fit in with people who obviously could not care less about her. She's not cripplingly shy or socially inept or blindly following the crowd. Instead, Lily is her own person, knows her own mind, and wants only genuine friendship and relationships. It's definitely refreshing.

Overall Grade: A
Blog with Bite Grade: 4/4

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: When Seducing a Duke

Title: When Seducing a Duke
Author: Kathryn Smith
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon
Genre: historical romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Greydon Kane is a duke and took over supporting Rose Danvers and her mother after her father's death. Grey, a reformed and remorseful rake, thinks he'll never be able to act on the lurid thoughts he has about Rose, who's all too willing to participate. Tough cookies, right? Not hardly.

I admit it, I'm a complete sucker for a well-done, interesting, engrossing historical story. It doesn't matter whether it's a historical mystery, historical romance, or whatever; if the characters are interesting, the story is fun, and the setting is reliable and accurate to a certain degree, I'll probably enjoy the book.

When Seducing a Duke fit those criteria, certainly, and did a good job of using familiar elements of stories set in this time period, but with twists and added elements that made the story more unique. The hero and heroine were interesting and the supporting characters were fun too- makes me wonder if other installments are on the horizon. Yep, a quick jaunt to the author's website confirms that this is the first book in a series!

Greyton Kane (Grey) has been a bad, bad boy. In his more reckless days, nothing in a skirt was safe from his attention- married, single, old, young, it was all good to him. Grey didn't really care too much about his own reputation or what his actions did to other people or their feelings; he cared about himself and making himself feel good.

That all changed when he got jumped, assaulted, and scarred by someone associated with his dirty dealings with the ladies; he never knew for sure who was behind the assault but he had his suspicions. Grey completely withdrew from society and all the glitz and glamour; if his close friend who was also Rose's father hadn't died suddenly, that might have been the end of it.

Rose, on the other hand, has harbored a secret infatuation for Grey for years, and finally decides to act on it by cornering Grey at Saints Row, an exclusive club where Grey goes to get a little action on his rare ventures into the world. They end up in bed together and could have gone on like that forever, except Grey finds out and gets all weird about it.

Rose is remarkably aware of not only the birds and the bees (magazines can be quite educational) but of life in general; she realizes that she's not getting any younger and if she's going to get married and have some kind of independent life for herself, she'd better do it soon. She wants to marry Grey and Grey wants to marry her; if Grey wasn't so busy being mired in all of his hangups, he might have noticed that a little bit sooner.

Suffice it to say, they do end up married; but that's about halfway through the book and there's a ton more that happens after that. I enjoyed the shifting perspectives in the book, giving the reader an idea of what each person was thinking and what their motivations were. In addition to being a really sweet love story and a fun historical, this is also a story about getting over things, growing up, and accepting your share of responsibility for your actions.

Side note- I LOVED the idea of Voluptuous, the Cosmo-esque magazine that played such a prominent role in the story. According to the author's website, it's based on a real publication from the time!

Ultimately, the story was extremely satisfying and the happily ever after was very sweet and well done. I had a little bit of trouble accepting the kind of cavalier attitudes that the main characters had towards society and popular opinion, but it kind of made sense when you figure that they had enough money to be able to get away with quite a bit, especially at that time.

If you're looking for a fun, saucy romance that's easy and fun to read, this is a good bet.

Overall Goal: A-

Friday, February 19, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Cat and Fish

This book is too cute- it's a simple story about a cat and a fish who are best friends, and go on a variety of adventures, seeing each other's homes and friends. The text is in blocks and other forms too, so in a way the text is just as much a part of the story as the engraved illustrations. Neil Curtis is the illustrator on this book and Dr. Joan Grant is the author. This would be a fun read aloud for really young kids, as it's not too long or complicated and there's plenty to enjoy. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: Spider's Bite

Title: Spider's Bite
Author: Jennifer Estep
Page Count: 395 pages
Publisher: Pocket
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: Gin is an assassin and a powerful magic user. When a hit goes awry and she ends up the hunted instead of the hunter, she's got to wade through nine tons of crap to find out what's really going on.

Daaaaaang. It's been awhile since I read a true urban fantasy novel, and I'm glad to be back in the saddle with Spider's Bite. This was a good start to a new series and an introduction to an interesting, multifaceted, dark and gritty world.

By any measure, Gin has had a hard life. She endured the brutal murder of her family and has so far survived her career as a barbecue maven by day and an assassin by night. To top it all off, she's a Stone Elemental, which means she can take information from stone and manipulate it at will. There are other Elementals too- Air, Fire, etc.; some of them are successful at dealing with their powers, and some of them aren't.

The fictional city of Ashland reminded me a lot of Gotham City- evil and greed lurk in every corner and the streets aren't safe for law abiding citizens (although why any of them would choose to live there is beyond me.) Prostitutes walk the streets, gangsters have their fingers in every pot, and the city is run by a Fire Elemental who'll burn you to a crisp the minute you piss her off. Suffice it to say, the Ashland police force is corrupt and worse than useless. Through it all, Gin adheres to her own moral code and raises a stiff middle finger to anyone who wants to argue with her.

Gin is faced to take a walk on the legal side when she has to join forces with Donovan Caine, a (surprisingly) virtuous police detective whose partner was one of Gin's targets in the past- talk about awkward. The sparks fly between these two and although the mystery wasn't all that hard to figure out, it was interesting to watch Detective Caine try to figure out how he feels, not only towards Gin, but towards what she does for a living and how she fits into the world in general.

Other supernatural characters make an appearance here; I thought the dwarves were especially fun, and let's face it, dwarves are not beings who make it into PNR/UF books all that often.

Did I mention the book features barbecue? Because it does.

Spider's Bite is definitely a fun read; the world that's created as the setting for the book is unique and I enjoyed the fact that the author put a new spin on some pretty common paranormal elements to create something that was interesting and fun to explore. I think this series is one that will get better with each successive installment so I'm definitely interested in reading the next book when it comes out.

Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday Cha-Cha: Soul Train edition!

Happy Wednesday everyone! On Monday, BoingBoing featured this video as a "cure for a Monday:"

Fabulous! But, in case you weren't aware, Soul Train has its own YouTube channel, which features these other gems:

Not much else to say but that there's more on the channel to look at. Even though there was a holiday on Monday, this week seems as long as ever. Maybe I'll introduce a building-wide dance line!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Title: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Page Count: 449 pages
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: contemporary romance, historical romance

50 words or less: Simultaneously the story of Eloise and her quest for love and a completed doctoral dissertation and Amy and her quest to join the League of the Purple Gentian during England's struggles with Napoleon.

Le sigh. This is the first book in one of my favorite series, and each successive book is better than the last. Take equal parts contemporary romance, chick lit, and historical romance and blend seamlessly and basically you have the overall idea of this book.

The story is told in alternating sections; some take place during contemporary times and follow Eloise and her attempt to finish her dissertation; she's teetering on the brink of desperation when she gets a reprieve in the form of the family archives of the Selwick family. Conveniently, these archives contain documents that provide not only the identity of The Pink Carnation (a legendary-but-mythological English spy from the early 1800s) but also information about the lives and loves of the people close to that individual.

The other sections of the book are the events that are being described in the documents that Eloise is reading; Amy Balcourt, a respectable young lady from England, masterminds a plan to meet her hero, the English spy known as the Purple Gentian. Good gracious it's hard to write about this book without giving away the entire story. That's a true mark, for me, of a book I really enjoyed.

Anyway, the plot and dialogue here sparkle and the characters, both contemporary and historical, are intricate and well-drawn. I laughed at the historical references and Eloise's self-aware sense of humor, and the author's writing style and attention to detail piqued my interest in the historical time period in question.

One thing- this book does have a slight tendency to veer off the path of funny and light into the quagmire of silly every once in awhile. Not often, but often enough to notice. It didn't detract from my personal enjoyment of the book but I know not everyone is a fan of that element. Ye be warned.

This was the book that, when coupled with rearranging my bookshelves, busted my reading slump. Although this was a reread for me, I (gasp!) haven't read the two most recent books in this series; once I get through the four I have read already it's full speed ahead to the new ones! I highly recommend this book to any fans of historical romance or fun, smart, sassy books in general.

Overall Grade: A

Monday, February 15, 2010

Goosed: How to Get Past Your Reading Slump

I know I've mentioned it a few times, but I've been battling a HUGE reading slump lately. I was out of work for a week with an injury so I did a lot of reading then; after I went back though, nothing was holding my interest and books I thought I'd love fell flat on their proverbial faces.

I've read some posts on other blogs that indicate that other people are experiencing the same problems. Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's something else entirely, but it can be pretty distressing when one of your favorite leisure activities just isn't appealing. I think, therefore, that drastic measures may be necessary:
GOOSED! According to Urbandictionary.com, "goosed" means:
Old school definition: to pinch someone's buttocks, hopefully the opposite sex, but hey, you take what you get.
The natural result of that pinch, obviously, being a startled yelp and a jump! Startled yelps and jumps are kind of what we're going for here, so here are some ways that might goose you into picking a book you enjoy:

Revisit an Old Favorite: This one works for me when I haven't necessarily had a slump, per se, but when I've read a bunch of disappointing or just plain old bad books in a row. It's helpful to revisit what you consider to be a good book, that way the bad ones are less discouraging.

Pan the Book You're Trudging Through and Move On: Sometimes I find myself forcing myself to get through something because of outside reasons. Someone I know really recommended it, it was really highly recommended, it's a review book, it's for a book tour, etc. etc. etc. Whatever the reason, if the book isn't working out, put those reasons in the review, move the book on to someone else who might enjoy it, and read something else. It's no crime for a book to just not be your cup of tea.

Return Your Library Books: I don't know about you, but to avoid spending massive amounts of money at the bookstore, I tend to satisfying my book grabbing urges by checking out large numbers of library books at a time. It gives the luxury of being able to just grab books that sound interesting at a moment's notice, but many times I'll find that a week later or whatever, the books that were just so interesting in the stacks in the library are dull as a beige room once I get them home. Folks, that's what the library is for- just return them and give yourself permission to read something else.

Rearrange Your Bookshelves: This is what ultimately ended my late reading slump! I decided on a whim to reorganize how my books are laid out on my shelves and switched from everything organized by nonfiction and fiction and then by series or author to all the books I've already read together, all the books I've yet to read together, with the books I've already read getting the more out-of-the-way shelf space and the books I've yet to read getting pride of place. Instantly, as if by magic, I wanted to read again! I was able to pick a book without drama, start reading, and continue reading without distractions. It was pretty awesome.

What are your ways to bust a reading slump? What's worked/not worked for you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

True Confessions

Today, in honor of Valentine's Day, I have a treat for you. We all have questions in this life, but I'll be focusing on one specifically.

I confess: I read a lot of blogs. I read a lot of book blogs, cooking blogs, craft blogs, travel blogs, you name it. I'm an obsessive Google Reader checker and my number of unread posts is usually pretty high. I like to look at people's layouts, sidebars, features, whatever. I like to think I leave a decent number of comments too, although I'm always trying to leave more. For the most part, I'm a big believer in the idea that your blog is your blog and you can and should post whatever the hell you want on it; this philosophy has served me well, all things considered.

But maybe, just maybe, having me as a blog follower offends you. Maybe knowing I've read your posts makes you want to get your tongue scraped. Maybe you'd like nothing better than to see me ride off into the sunset, never to return. Well, here are some ways to ensure that such a thing comes to pass.

And so, without further ado:
Now I probably don't mean you personally, but in case I do, take heed!

You Don't Update. This one should be an easy one- why would anyone want to read stuff they've already read? New content keeps people coming back, and sadly I have a lot of good blogs that have been relegated to my bookmarks or the delete pile because the updates just....stopped.

You Update Waaaaay Too Much. I love it when you have a lot to say, really, I do. But after awhile, reading seven thousand three sentence posts makes the unsubscribe button look pretty appealing.

You Post Nothing but Memes. Everything in moderation, people. I like memes as much as the next person, but please, review something! Discuss something! ANYTHING something! Am I meme-ing right now? I think I just meme'd.

Your Font Makes My Eyes Bleed. Especially if your font is supposed to be different colors in Google reader.

I Can't Turn Off Your Music Player. Nothing makes me click the red x of doom faster than showtunes blaring and no mute button in sight.

I Need a Machete to Cut Through the Google Ads. Use ads or don't use ads, but probably putting the ads ahead of the content is not an awesome idea.

I Don't Actually Know What's On Your Blog Page, Because There Are So Many Widgets and Whatnot That It Never Loads. A little bit goes a long way. I'm just saying.

Bottom line: although different people most assuredly like different things, this is a short list of things you can do to make me break up with you. I have to say though, that most everything I read is really well done and really aesthetically pleasing, so kudos to you guys!

Happy V-Day everybody!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Giveaway Alert!

While I'm trying to wash the blechy taste of the last book out of my mouth, here's some excellent news about a book that not only doesn't suck, but is part of an excellent series and promises to be quite excellent in and of itself.

Rachel at Parajunkee's View is giving away TEN copies of the book, compliments of the publisher! You have until 2/28 to enter and there's lots of ways to get extra entries. Follow her, enter, and win!

BWB Review: The Host

Blog With Bite

Title: The Host
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Page Count: 619 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown
Genre: Science Fiction
Copy for review was borrowed from a friend

50 words or less: Somewhere out there is a parasitic race that wants to be surgically inserted into your body and take over, kicking you out in the process. For your own good.

Mother always said, never trust a book whose first chapter is titled "Insertion." I should have listened, because reading The Host, which is this month's adult title for Blog with Bite (and all you voters who picked it, I'm looking at you,) was a lot like getting a chopstick forcibly inserted into my left nostril.

It's sad to say, but this is my second Could Not Finish review. I didn't even come close to finishing this book, not by a long shot.

My issues with this book started pretty much from the first word on the first page. The premise of the book sounds pretty interesting, but is never really articulated in a way that doesn't make me want to brush my teeth. Apparently, a race of beings that have no bodies or minds (minds defined here as basically receptacles for thoughts, feelings and emotions) of their own and therefore have to take over the bodies of others, which they do with entire planets at a time. As you can imagine, this doesn't sit will with the people who are still using their minds and bodies, thank you very much, and not everyone is content to just sit back and let some alien-possessed whack job saw the top of their head off and shoot someone else into their head.

For another perspective, and admittedly this was the first thing that I thought of when I was made aware of the premise of this book, I refer you to MST3K (of course) and the introduction of, at 4:34 herein, the "zucchini throw pillows." This is what I imagine the takeover of Earth must have looked like, if Ms. Meyer's account is to be believed:

Yep, zucchini throw pillows taking over the mind, enslaving the body, and hoping to extend their self-perceived benevolent reach across the entire universe, one planet at a time. The Host is 600+ pages of this.

Apparently though, there are still a few humans running around on the planet without a cranial roommate, and they tend to get rowdy when they encountered the folks who are possessed, a fact which the occupying overlords find incredibly difficult to understand, which just made them look dim beyond belief. For intergalactic conquerors, these guys seem to not know anything at all. About anything. Ever.

The story centers around a Soul named Wanderer who's inserted into a human host named Melanie. Melanie was a human who was captured in the midst of a suicide attempt; she'd rather be dead than be a host. This stubborn tenacity carries over after Wanderer is inserted because Melanie, rather than just quietly pegging out and leaving Wanderer with the anatomical equivalent of a fully furnished apartment, sticks around and refuses to give up her mind or memories. This sounds dramatic but in reality had all the intensity of two hermit crabs fighting over the same shell.
Yep, extreme crabby action.

So Melanie and Wanderer are basically roommates, sharing a mind and a body, and nobody is happy about this arrangement. You can tell, because there's a whole lot of nattering internal dialogue between the various factions where they snipe, snarl, and blather at each other until the reader is practically cross-eyed with boredom.

Then there's the whole Jared thing. I heard lots of remarks about how romantic this book was supposed to be, and how the tension between the characters (Melanie, her still-intact human boyfriend Jared, and Wanderer) was really riveting and unique, and my response to it was completely, unreservedly, and unequivocally BLECH. What is the deal with the old guy and the (almost) criminally younger woman? Why must this element be included in anything the author writes? It wasn't attractive or interesting in the Twilight series and it isn't attractive or interesting here. All it did was provide a stupid explanation for the lack of reproduction going on among the still-intact human rebels. Gross? Yes.

At this point, I had to stop reading. Life is too short to read bad books, and while I had low expectations of this book at the onset, I tried to go into the reading of it with an open mind and with the hope that I would be pleasantly surprised. I wasn't. I can't recommend this book to anyone, not even the most diehard of Twilight fans. The friend I borrowed the book from actually loaned it to me to see if I would like it better than she did, and I can now tell her with absolute certainty that if she ever needs a good doorstop, she's all set.

Overall Grade: Could Not Finish
Blog with Bite Review: 0 out of 4 stars


Discussion Questions
1. Have you read Twilight? How did The Host compare to Meyer's YA series?
I have indeed read the entire Twilight series, and while I will be honest and say that they are not my favorite books in the entire world, they were my official introduction to the world of paranormal romance, which has become pretty much my favorite genre. I have Twilight to thank for a lot of good reading, while I have The Host to thank for a splitting headache and a sour taste in my mouth. Enough said.
2. A lot of readers have expressed dislike for the immense amount of inner dialogue in The Host. Did you feel the novel lacked action? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? YESSSSSSSSSSS. I found the pacing of this novel to be plodding and incredibly boring. I wasn't interested in what happened to any of these characters or in how any of the questions of the plot got resolved. I would, however, not stop at expressing my dislike for the immense amount of inner dialogue. I would include ALL the dialogue in the entire book in my negative assessment. I try not to do things by halves.
3. Do you feel the ending hinted at a sequel? If so, would you read The Host #2? I didn't get to the end of the book because my brain couldn't take the strain so frankly I have no idea what the ending hints or doesn't hint at. I would not, however, read The Host #2, not even if hordes of weasels were hanging from my flesh and could only be pacified by a dramatic reading from the text. Not. Even. Then.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

This was a surprise find at the library! I always loved the poem that serves as the inspiration for this book, and these illustrations match the tone of the poem beautifully. I'd never heard of the illustrator (Giselle Potter) before now but I'm certainly glad I got a chance to see her work.

This book is a cute one because the story is very simple, but with vivid imagery- it definitely makes a great bedtime story. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Darklight

Title: Darklight
Author: Lesley Livingston
Page Count: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Copy for review provided by Around the World Tours to facilitate an honest review

50 words or less: All Sonny and Kelley want is to be together, which is a lot easier than it sounds, seeing as both of them are big movers and shakers in the land of Faerie. What chance does true love have, really?

I finally read Darklight! I was beyond excited to be a part of this tour. I loved Wondrous Strange, which was initially an impulse grab at the library and then a reread for Blog with Bite, and figured I would love Darklight as well. For the most part, that's true, which is always nice!

I will say two things here at the onset: first, you need to read Wondrous Strange first to really immerse yourself in the world presented here in Darklight. Sometimes you can read a series out of order and it doesn't make a difference, but I think that reading in series order does add to the experience here. Second, it's hard to discuss these books without spoilers and I've done my best to leave them out, but just in case one snuck back in, my apologies.

The gang's all here in this second installment of the trilogy and we rejoin the story several months after the end of Wondrous Strange. Kelley is still working as an actress; Sonny is off in Faerie trying to eliminate the rest of the Wild Hunt. What they both want, though, is to be free of faerie-related entanglements and able to pursue their blossoming relationship.

Which isn't happening, at least not in this installment. Nope, in grand Shakespearean fashion, the web being woven here for Kelley and Sonny is a messy one. Both characters have to come to grips with their roles in both the faerie and human worlds and relearn the rules for each world. This sets up a lot of drama and issues that hopefully will be resolved in book the third. Fennrys, I'm warning you- move in on Kelley and I will personally kick your ass. That's all I'm saying.

Can I take a minute and pull my jaw up off the floor at the ending of this book?! Talk about a cliffhanger. The first thought in my mind, besides "NO KELLEY! BAD! BAD KELLEY!" was "when is the third book coming out?"

Which brings me to the only thing I didn't completely enjoy about the book. I felt like Kelley and Sonny really didn't get enough face time here to make me completely believe in their relationship, as crazy as that sounds. They sniped at each other and were kind of douchey at times, both in equal measure, but they were still tied closely together which was kind of odd. I realized, though, that this element shows up in Shakespeare's plays frequently, even in my favorites- it's almost like the waters are deliberately muddied in the middle to make for a clearer, more satisfying ending.

Anyway, besides that quibble, I loved the book, love this series, and sadly must wait awhile for the stunning conclusion, which (hopefully) will be a happily ever after of epic proportions.

Overall Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday Cha-Cha- Laugh it Up Edition!

Man, lots of stuff going on this week. Snow, craziness, winter, you name it. Is anyone else feeling the need for a vacation?

Well, since I don't have any of those, here are some videos that have crossed my radar lately and made me chuckle.

First up is another installment of Muppets (thanks BoingBoing,) which personally I feel is introduction enough:

Also from BoingBoing, here's a very cute video rendition of XKCD's version of the Discovery Channel commercial that aired over the holidays- "I Love the Whole World:"

Finally, I'd like to thank the folks at Smart Bitches for illuminating the kind of person I want to be in my golden years:

Jolly Wednesday everybody! Looking forward to the rest of the week, tomorrow will bring my review of Darklight (holy crap am I still reeling from the ending!) and Saturday will, if I am done reading it, bring my review of The Host. Good times and great oldies!

Also, I'm happy to say I've been featured at There's a Book! Check me out!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: Friday Night Bites

Title: Friday Night Bites
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: Merit is settling into life as a Cadogan Vampire and as Sentinel of Cadogan House. If only the rest of her life were going so smoothly...

This is the second book in the Chicagoland Vampires series and is, in every respect, just as good as the first (Some Girls Bite.)

Merit has adjusted to not only being a vampire, but a powerful one at that; she's starting to grow into her role as Sentinel (defender) of Cadogan House, and is trying to feel out how all these changes will affect her relationships, both old and new, going forward. This book is a case study in all the things I enjoy about a well done first person narrative. Merit's narrative voice is smart, observant, sassy, and self-aware; she accepts her strengths and shortcomings as they are without trying to portray herself as better or worse because of them.

Merit's personal relationships take center stage throughout the novel; her conflicting feelings for Morgan and Ethan come to a resolution(?), her friendship with Mal is tested, her distance from the other initiates to Cadogan House is called into question. Ultimately, her relationship with herself is put to the test. Merit is also forced to take a look at her family standing and her past history and realizes that not everyone thinks her becoming a vampire (unwillingly at that) is a good thing.

It is at this point that I will advise you to stop reading if you don't want spoilers for this book.

I confess myself very disappointed in Morgan, Mallory and Catcher in this book. It's a sign of the strength of the author's writing that secondary characters inspired me to this strong of a reaction; I'm disappointed in how those three acted, not in how they were portrayed in the story. Does that make sense? I hope so.

Anyway, I think Merit's friends ought to be ashamed of themselves for the way they treated her throughout this story. I got the distinct feeling that all of them had ulterior motives for their interactions with Merit and expectations that, if they were communicated at all, were kind of unreasonable.

First off, Morgan- he went from being a pretty cool guy to being kind of a douchebag. You'd think, for someone with waaaaaay more experience in House politics than Merit has, that he'd be a little more understanding about her position and the fact that hey, some things will happen that are out of her control and furthermore, some of those things will not be your business. I feel like Morgan was expecting Merit to just hand over information to him and, when she didn't, decided to play the guilt card instead of acting like a grownup. Sharing a few pizzas does not entitle you to someone's life story. Just saying.

Regarding Mallory- while it's totally understandable that friends don't always get along or see eye to eye on things, it's kind of crazy that Mallory is as meddling as she is. It didn't seem like Mallory was trying all that hard to understand Merit's position within the House and, when it became clear that she might not be number one in Merit's world anymore, said some hurtful things that frankly weren't necessary. I know, I know, sticks and stones and all that, but if someone treated me the way that Mallory treated Merit I wouldn't be in a hurry to hang out with her either.

Finally, Catcher- Some of Catcher's actions were, frankly, mindboggling. Sorry dude, but if I just had a fight with my best friend, I'm not going to want to discuss my thoughts and feelings with her boyfriend, even if he is my combat instructor. I wouldn't feel like my confidentiality would be respected, to say the least, so quit acting like I'm crazy for not confiding in you. Thanks.

Enough of that though. Finishing Friday Night Bites made me really look forward to July when book the third is released, but it also made me depressed because July is, sadly, a long time from now. In the meantime, if you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend checking it out.

Overall Grade: A

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blog Improvement Project- To-Do List

I don't know about you, but I was really pleased with the amount of blog-related work I got done during Bloggiesta back in the beginning of January. The next Bloggiesta isn't until June, but in the meantime, the Blog Improvement Project is ready and willing to help keep the momentum going. Head on over to sign up and join the fun!

With that said, the first task is to create a to-do list for blog improvements to work on. Off the top of my head, here are my goals:

1. Create/add slideshow of blog buttons from blogs I enjoy. I get so excited when I see my button on other people's blogs so this is a chance to share that feeling with other people.

2. Write more content posts. I define content posts as posts that aren't reviews or memes or news updates. I wrote a few during Bloggiesta and enjoyed it, but I've scheduled those to post now and would like to have some more in the wings.

3. Plan and execute my fabulous project plan for March. And that's all I'm saying about that!

4. Improve commenting experience. I will do this by replying to all comments received, even if it's just to thank the person for commenting.

5. Get current and stay current with my link postings. A lot of challenges and whatnot have Mr. Linky options so I'd like to get my reviews linked in as many places as possible.

6. Rebuild and maintain my buffer of reviews. Ideally I'd like to have 5-7 reviews written and saved to post when reading is going slower than I'd like or when life gets in the way.

7. Get through my review pile. This can dovetail with goal number 6 too.

Hopefully as these goals get accomplished, new ones will take their place. What are you working on, blog-wise, right now?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In My Mailbox- February 7th

In My Mailbox comes compliments of The Story Siren!

This week was all about Paperback Swap. So many good wishlist books this week!

This book was by far my biggest score this week, e.e. cummings is my favorite poet! I sense a blog feature coming on.....

What did you get this week?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Contest Alert- Win Your Choice of E-Reader!

You all know how irregularly I do this, but every once in awhile a contest comes along that is awesome enough for me to post about it. The Bibliophilic Book Blog is giving away an e-reader of your choice (Sony, Nook, Kindle, whatever) OR $150 to the bookstore of your choice. There are literally a ton of ways to get entries and the contest is open until March 1st. Personally, now that I've tried the Nook at a brick and mortar B&N I've got my heart set on one, so for all you other people out there who haven't gotten an e-reader yet, now's the chance!

Also, if you please, mention Emily @ What Book is That? as the person who referred you for extra entries for us both. Thanks!

Review: Original Sin

Title: Original Sin
Author: Allison Brennan
Page Count: 453
Publisher: Ballantine
Genre: paranormal, suspense, thriller
Copy for review provided by Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.

50 words or less: A truly psycho bitch is trying to unleash the Seven Deadly Sins for her own gain. A bunch of unlikeable people try to stop her.

Well, friends and neighbors, it's finally happened. A book has come along that was bad enough to rate among my lowest reviews, and yet, was so bad that I couldn't even finish it. This presents a dilemma for me- typically I don't write reviews of books I haven't finished, but yet I really feel compelled to write about the portion of the book that I did force myself to get through. More than likely though, you aren't here to read about my hang ups and issues, so I'll just preface this entire review by saying no, I did not finish the book, and yes, this review is based on the section of book that I did read. With that said, let's begin.

Original Sin has all the raw materials with which to build a really interesting story. Demons. Witches. Renegade priests. Blood. Guts. Gore. Really, the stage is set for an interesting, fast-paced story with good worldbuilding, complex but interesting and sympathetic characters, a multifaceted and diabolical villian; in a strange parallel universe where reading this book was an enjoyable experience, I can almost see myself standing up to shout hooray at the sheer perfection of this book. Almost.

For that to happen in this universe, though, ANY OF THOSE ELEMENTS WOULD HAVE TO BE THERE. YES, I'M SHOUTING. Original Sin is a cure for insomnia at best and a boring descent into rambling hallucinations at worst.

The story centers around Moira O'Donnell, reformed witch and "supernatural investigator", and her attempts to find and kill her mom, Fiona O'Donnell, a cheerfully unreformed witch who's also trying to claw her way to immortality through human sacrifice and black magic. Talk about Mommy issues. Moira is a tortured soul, a fact which gets brought up about every other paragraph for one reason or another. I have no issues with characters having complicated or dark back stories or issues in their past that must be overcome, but there does come a point where back story has to yield to "now story," a concept that this book never seems to grasp.

The supporting cast of characters- Anthony the dickweed demonologist, Skye the dimwitted Sheriff (sidebar: is it a requirement that female law enforcement officers in paranormal fiction aren't EVER under any circumstances allowed to ask intelligent questions? Is that written down somewhere?), Jared and Lily, the ridiculously simpleminded teenage lovebirds, a bunch of priests whose names I don't care to remember, and probably others I'm forgetting- are flat, lifeless, and boring. I found myself in turns dumbfounded by the things they'd say or
do or just disinterested in why they were even in the story to begin with.

Rafe, the (I think) hero of this story, has pretty much no character development: he busts out of the intensive care unit of a hospital and defuses a demon summoning, but after thirteen chapters all we know about him is that he survived a deadly attack on a religious community perpetrated by demons and leading to the aforementioned coma. Thirteen chapters in (how far I made it before I finally tossed this book aside in frustration) and this is all that's happened.

There might be room for some plot development or action or SOMETHING if Moira and Anthony (the dickweed demonologist) could stop info-dumping for half a second and let someone else talk for a change. There are a lot of religious themes and undertones woven throughout the story, which had the potential to be really cool, but instead felt like those required seminars and lectures in college that were always held in the smelliest rooms with the worst ventilation. If anything, they made me less interested in the story, instead of adding layers and nuance. Moira especially was in need of a serious trampling by the Shutuposaurus.
There he goes, ready to save us.

I actually had to create a grade category to account for this book. Giving a letter grade seemed kind of inappropriate, since even the worst books I've graded, I've at least finished. With this book, I didn't even get that far. Therefore, this book is getting labeled precisely as it is: Could Not Finish. I feel like that's an accurate rating, since So Unenjoyable I Wanted To Take It Out Behind The Woodshed And Shoot It is kind of long and cumbersome.

Overall Grade: Could Not Finish

Whew! That was intense, but now it's onward and upward to other (hopefully better) books. I'm a believer, though, in ending on a high note, so here's a little something to hopefully cleanse your palate.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Cool Cat

Wordless books are a ton of fun- the story has to shine through the illustrations, and if the book is well done, the possibilities for other stories to emerge are pretty much endless. Cool Cat, with Nonny Hogrogian at the helm as illustrator, is the story of a cat who decides to paint some color into a bland and boring world and recruits a bunch of other animals to help in the process, but there are a ton of other ideas that come to mind for stories to share in future readings. I mean, take the cover as an example- what is the cat holding in his paws?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Hidden Agendas

Title: Hidden Agendas
Author: Lora Leigh
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Genre: contemporary romance, romantic suspense

50 words or less: Kell Krieger is a Navy SEAL who's been assigned as a bodyguard to Emily Stanton, a Senator's daughter with whom he has History. Will they end up together or will circumstance tear them apart?

I'm a big fan of the Breeds series from Lora Leigh so I decided to branch out and read some of her other books. Hidden Agendas is part of her Tempting SEALS series, and while this book had all the spice and sizzle of her Breeds books, I just didn't connect with this book as much as I thought I would.

The main characters were likeable enough by themselves, but the minute they had to interact with each other or with anyone else they kind of turned into babbling ninnies- Emily Stanton survived a kidnapping by a vicious drug lord and has been bucking off her dad's protection ever since. She does this through a whole bunch of passive aggressive "research" endeavors for some fabled book she's supposed to be writing. All this does is get her into odd and awkward situations; she reminded me of a petulant teenager, and one who doesn't seem to realize that getting kidnapped and almost murdered isn't a standard experience at that.

Kell, on the other hand, has the required tortured past and hidden secrets which, naturally, are revealed at a really awkward time. He has strong feelings for Emily that kind of pop up out of nowhere- there's some back story between the two characters but it never felt all that convincing to me. Maybe this is because the only time Kell really gets to say anything is while he and Ms. Stanton are scorching the sheets; suffice it to say, he says a lot, but it's the same things over and over again.

The whole story about the drug lord and the mission that all the agents were supposed to be on just didn't work for me. Maybe it's because this isn't the first book in the series, I could have missed some back story that way, but I wasn't always sure what was going on, who was involved, or why we should care.

Meh. I don't know what, specifically it is about this book that made me not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Usually Lora Leigh's books bring out a torrent of emotion and are kind of like a roller coaster ride; this one just fell flat for me. Even the happily ever after didn't strike me as all that special. I'll probably read another book in the series just to give it a fair shake, but I'll go on record now to say that so far, the Breeds series has it all over this one.

Overall Grade: C

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Touch the Dark

Title: Touch the Dark
Author: Karen Chance
Page Count: 320 pages
Publisher: ROC
Genre: urban fantasy

50 words or less: Cassie Palmer is a seer who's on the run from a vampire wise guy and his assassins. When it becomes apparent that she personally is way more powerful than anyone anticipated, shit, as they say, gets real.

Did you ever read a book, enjoy reading it, enjoy meeting the characters and experiencing the story, and then at the end of it all find yourself unable to explain exactly what the book was about? That's kind of how I feel now that I've finished Touch the Dark

Touch the Dark is the first book in the Cassie Palmer series, and I'll lead off by saying that I adored Cassie as a narrator. I thought her narrative voice was smart and funny, and the explanation that's given for her understanding of the supernatural world around her is believable within the rules of the world that are established. She's not a perfect creation, for reasons that I'll get into in a minute, but she definitely got me interested in following her adventures further.

There's a lot going on the world that serves as the backdrop for this book. There's vampires, werewolves get a quick nod, ghosts, mages, faeries, you name it. Notable historical figures serve as many members of the cast of characters and are given a sort of supernatural makeover. This element of the story is probably one that would not work for everyone- personally I think it was a fun twist on a pretty well-traveled PNR/UF path (main character suddenly has a boodle of power and now everyone wants a piece of, in this case, her action) that helped to make the world of the story a little more unique.

This is a very fast-paced story too- there's a whole lot of running around, both in the literal sense of a lot of action scenes and complex fight scenes, and in the figurative sense of pole vaulting around in time, changing the past to affect the future, and so on and so forth. I freely admit, this got kind of distracting after awhile- it was hard to remember who was in the situation for what reason, why we as the audience cared that they were there, and what the events meant for the story as a whole.

I'll also come right out and say it- I didn't care for the ending. Sometimes people just need to stay dead. Just saying.

It's hard to discuss the events of this story too much, as a lot remains to be explored in the three following books in the series so far, but despite the shortcomings of this book I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series. And hey, if a goal of a first book in a series is to make you want to read the next one, then Touch the Dark certainly succeeded on that front.

Overall Grade: B
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