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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The End.


Picture from Jeremyville


Give the Gift of Reading, the IAD Giveaway, and the Another Faust giveaway all end today at 11:59! Get your last comments in for the month to count towards the donation to Reading at War!

Also, because it's Wednesday and because videos are cool, here's one by Playing For Change. I love this song!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Incarceron

Title: Incarceron
Author: Catherine Fisher
Page Count: 464 pages
Publisher: Dial
Genre: dystopian, sci-fi, young adult

50 words or less: Out of sight, out of mind- Incarceron is where the undesirable elements of society have been sent, and Incarceron is their keeper. Those Outside are only just finding out that instead of a paradise, Incarceron is a hell from which their is allegedly no escape. Or is there?

I am such a sucker for good, vivid, thought-provoking dystopian novels. What with my addiction to worldbuilding and my thrill in people sticking it to the man, dystopian novels really hit the spot for me, and Incarceron can join the ranks as one of my favorites.

Incarceron is simultaneously three different stories going on at the same time. To begin with, it's the story of Finn, a prisoner of Incarceron, and his desire and drive to get Outside, along with his oathbrother, a young slave, and an old man who's been his informal protector since he awoke in a cell in Incarceron. It's also the story of Claudia, the Warden's daughter, her desire to escape from an arranged marriage that will make her Queen, and her desire to reconcile her past with her present to develop some sort of a future. Finally, it's the story of the history of this realm, the almost absurd need for conformity, and plots that are afoot to overthrow the existing order and try to insert another one. These three stories bob and weave until it becomes apparent that you can't have one without the other.

The whole story of Incarceron, the living, breathing prison, is set against the backdrop of a society ravaged by war and information/technology overload. As a remedy to that, the forces that be required that everyone retreat to an Era that was supposedly simpler; the 17th century seems to be the one that the powers picked, seemingly at random. With that comes a strict adherence to Protocol, which states that everything must be from the Era- clothes, technology, education, class structure. Everything. It throws the totalitarian need for conformity that is central to a dystopian novel into an almost absurd spotlight. This particular totalitarian state succeeded not only in getting everyone to conform, it got them to conform to the requirements of a society from hundreds of years in the past!

The author uses the worldbuilding in this novel in a really unique way. She opens up rifts in the worldbuilding on purpose, to show that not everyone is content with the way the society is run, and that the government's control and implementation of Protocol is not absolute. I found myself reading along, enjoying the ride, then having my attention jerked towards some seemingly insignificant detail. A small act of rebellion. A quick mention of out-of-Era technology. An opinion or mindset that seemed out of place. Normally breaks in the worldbuilding like that drive me batty, but here they were used to make a point about the story, and quite masterfully at that.

There are plenty of questions left unanswered at the end of Incarceron, but they only served to pique my interest in reading the next book in the series, Sapphique. If I had to make a comparison, this book reminded me tremendously of the old show, The Prisoner, both for its puzzles and mysteries as well as for that eerie, creepy feeling I always got when watching it.

Overall Grade: A-

Monday, March 29, 2010

Big Doings!

Exciting news! I'm guest blogging today at A Life Bound by Books! The subject: what do I look for in a good review? This post was a ton of fun to write and I sincerely hope you head on over and check it out!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Hearts At Stake

Title: Hearts at Stake
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Page Count: 256 pages
Publisher: Walter Books for Young Readers
Genre: paranormal romance, young adult
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: In the words of the author on the series website:
Two best friends.
Seven overprotective brothers.
Hundreds of ruthless vampires.

If I had to pick one word to describe Hearts at Stake, it would be fun. Just when I think I've read everything when it comes to books featuring vampires, along comes something that puts a new twist on a well-tread concept while simultaneously setting up a really interesting series.

Solange is a female born to an extremely powerful vampire family. This means that not only is she kind of a miracle baby, but she's also a really unique person within the vampire world. On her sixteenth birthday, she'll go through the conversion; naturally, all kinds of creepy factions within the vampire world are vying for her affections, which creeps her out to no end. Two words: kitten hearts.

Lucy, on the other hand, is completely human, and is Solange's best friend. She's a constant presence at the Drake family hacienda which has brought her to the attention of Solange's older brother, Nicholas. The sparks fly between these two (but nothing above PG, rest assured) and watching them deal with their feelings for each other was one of my favorite parts of this book.

Solange is not without her own love interest, though, although hers is a little more complicated than Lucy's- Kieran, a vampire slayer who meets the Drake clan while trying to collect a bounty on Solange, grabs her attention in a big way, even though for hopefully obvious reasons, he really shouldn't.

I read Hearts at Stake in one sitting, and it was a nice wind down after a stressful week. I will say though, that this book suffers a bit from excessive infodumping- there's a lot of background information and a pretty interesting world that serves as the setting for the story, but you find out about it all at once. I think the book could have stood to be a little longer, not just because it was fun to read, but because the setting and the world needed a little more explanation.

I'm definitely interested in what happens next in this series, and I won't have to wait long, as Blood Feud will be out soon! And while nothing earth-shattering happens in this book, it's definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Overall Grade: B

This comic reminded me perfectly of the book- sweet things doing deadly battles!
nataliedee.com
nataliedee.com

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The End is Near!

This is just a friendly reminder that Give the Gift of reading ends on March 31st!  So far 208 qualifying comments have come in, making the donation to Reading at War $10.40.  There are still a few days left, and remember, The Bibliophilic Book Blog is matching our donation!

Have you entered to win my favorite PNR series yet?  The giveaway is for the seven currently-published full-length Immortals After Dark novels by Kresley Cole, it's international, and it ends March 31st.  What are you waiting for? Go enter!

If you'd rather win something else, the peerless Tina has donated a copy of Another Faust in a giveaway that is also international and ends March 31st.  All you have to do for this one is comment, which helps the cause! Enter enter enter!

Review: Embrace the Night

Title: Embrace the Night
Author: Karen Chance
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: ROC
Genre: urban fantasy

50 words or less: Despite her and other people's' best efforts, Cassie is now the Pythia, with all the responsibilities and none of the necessary training. She's got to find the Codex Merlini to keep a promise and get to her nemesis, not to mention get rid of the pesky geis. Easy enough, right?

Cassie Palmer is not having a good day. Embrace the Night takes off with a literal bang as Cassie and Pritkin, her often-reluctant partner, are trying not to get blown to smithereens in a famous cemetery in Paris. The story is just as twisty and complex as the first two books (Touch the Dark and Claimed by Shadow), and all the regular characters are here in force.

This book focuses on Cassie's efforts to recover the Codex Merlini, a magical book of spells written by Merlin himself which features, among other things, the counterspell to the geis that binds her to Mircea, a master vampire. The geis does not like to be ignored and brings the pain every time Cassie starts to do something that it doesn't like, so she needed to get the geis removed like, yesterday.

Cassie spends most of the book leapfrogging back and forth in time, trying to find the Codex, dodging murder and mayhem at every turn. And finding out how Mircea takes his wine, which will lead to you, the reader, needing a cold shower. Just saying.

Anyway, it's really, really hard, like I've said, to discuss plot elements of this series without giving a whole ton of stuff away. I will say, though, that this is the kind of series that I think you'll either love or hate. If you love it, then these are the kinds of books you can read over and over again and pick up more elements of the story every time. If you hate it, then you're left with a distinct feeling of WTF. There were times I could definitely relate to both perspectives.

I should also mention, too, that this is the part of the series where we really start to see some confusion develop between Cassie and Pritkin. Turns out Pritkin is a bad, bad boy with a lot of secrets. Cassie is definitely attracted to Pritkin, which causes problems with the geis to be sure, but she also has a strong physical attraction to Mircea, even though she knows that that kind of relationship will lead to nothing but a world of hurt.

I have book number four Curse the Dawn, on tap, and I'm definitely interested to see what happens next in this series.

Overall Grade: B+

Friday, March 26, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Smoky Night


Smoky Night is a great example of a book that is beautifully illustrated, incredibly socially significant, and needs to be used judiciously with children. Smoky Night is about what happens during a riot and a young boy's attempts to understand what's going on around him. In the chaos, the boy loses his cat; ultimately, the cat brings the boy and a neighbor together in a way they didn't expect, so something good came out of all the negativity around them.

When I started Illustrated Friday, I led off with the statement that illustrated books are not automatically books for children (just like cartoons and animated shows aren't automatically shows for children, but that's a whole other kettle of fish.) Books are a great way to communicate ideas, and this book does just that. The mixed media illustrations by David Diaz are a great match for the concepts of the book; Eve Bunting doesn't shy away from difficult issues. I can totally see this book being a great way to introduce a discussion of race and violence with older kids; it's definitely a book to preview before you share it, and that's not a bad thing at all. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: The Masque of the Black Tulip

Title: Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Page Count: 464 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: historical romance, contemporary romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: In today's world, Eloise is trying to track down some sources to finish her dissertation and figure out whether Colin likes her or not. In history, Henrietta is trying to catch a French spy and figure out whether Miles likes her or not.

Lauren Willig is one of my favorite authors and each book is a treat in and of itself. While The Masque of the Black Tulip is not my absolute favorite of the series, it's definitely enjoyable and contributes a lot of important details to the overall arc of the story.

As an aside, this is definitely a series to read in order, so if you haven't read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation yet, you definitely need to start there.

Anyway, this story continues with the alternating perspectives of Eloise, the grad student in history who's studying English spies for her dissertation, and Henrietta/Miles, the sister and best friend, respectively, of Lord Richard Selwick, recently unmasked as the master spy known as the Purple Gentian. Miles likes Henrietta and Henrietta likes Miles, but neither one wants to admit to the feelings and do anything about it. Unsurprisingly but certainly delightfully, a comedy of errors results.

To make matters worse, the Black Tulip, a horribly deadly French spy, has reappeared on the scene after a long hiatus, and has Henrietta and Miles squarely in his OR her sights. We don't get to learn the spy's identity- at least not yet.

Meanwhile, Eloise finds herself as Colin's houseguest, which is a pretty sudden upgrade from nemesis, which was Colin's first impression of her. Turns out Colin isn't quite as much of an ogre as he'd like her to believe, which causes no end of confusion for her.

Since there are several more books in the series, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the main tangles of the plot don't get resolved in this particular story; in fact, the next book picks up right where this one leaves off. All that means, as far as I'm concerned, is that you should have the next book ready to go right away, as the witty dialogue, sparkling wit, dramatic settings, and adventures large and small will make you want to pick up book three, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, right away.

Overall Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! It's a day when people all over the world are talking, blogging, writing, and creating things that epitomize the concept of Women in Technology (read more about the festivities here. Ada Lovelace is considered by many to be the first ever computer programmer, and in the spirit of her innovation, we've been charged to write about a women in science or technology whom we admire, and for my contribution, I'm writing about Temple Grandin.

For those who don't know, when I'm not bringing the snark and pizazz here at the blog, I'm a teacher of young children and children with special needs. Innovation, ideas, technology and excitement are a part of my daily life- little kids are absolutely in love with the world and are so curious about everything- what things are, how they work, what will happen if they do certain things, etc. Their joy is contagious, and they can lighten any mood almost instantaneously.

Not everyone is given the opportunity to carry that effervescence much beyond that age, though. The Internet abounds with discussions about how school and the public school system teaches students to be obedient instead of innovative and how creativity is squashed out of students at every turn, especially students who learn differently from others or whose lives have put them in a different place than what schools and teachers normally encounter. Maybe those people are right, maybe they're not- we can discuss that at another point. What I do know is, it was really easy for me to select a woman in the field of science and technology to profile for Ada Lovelace Day, because to me, Temple Grandin illustrates how someone can come through a system that isn't always designed to faciliate maximum learning and achievement and not only find a niche in which to truly thrive, but to also be an inspiration to many other people as well.

Temple Grandin was born in Boston in 1947 and received a diagnosis of autism in 1951. Although she progressed through school with neurotypical peers, she was frequently picked on and teased for exhibiting behaviors commonly implemented by people who have autism- repeating phrases and sentences over and over again, difficulty engaging with peers, and focused areas of interest.

Although Temple Grandin's name is one frequently heard among advocates for people with autism, in the special education arena, and even among movie fans (HBO just featured an autobiographical movie,) the area in which Temple Grandin originally made a splash is animal science. She's currently a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and is a designer of animal transport systems for companies all over the world. She also created a rating scale that helps to monitor animal welfare and reduce instances of inhumane treatment. Temple Grandin's work with animals led her to develop a hug box that she herself uses to get additional needed sensory input. Many people with autism exhibit sensory seeking behaviors so Temple Grandin's exploration of this area was and continues to be big news to many people.

Maybe even more important than that, though, is what Temple Grandin means to the families of children and young adults who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Autism is a hot button issue and can be devastating for a family to address- causes remain unknown, the prognosis for each individual child is dramatically different from others, and the future immediately becomes a huge, dark, mysterious, inaccessible, unpredictable THING. Will this child ever speak? Ever use the toilet? Ever read? Ever have friends? Ever go to the prom? Ever get married? Ever have a job? Ever live on their own? Some of these questions are more immediately relevant than others and, depending on the severity of each child, may or may not even be questions at all, but imagine having to address those questions with dread instead of with hope, and not having answers readily available.

Temple Grandin, as an adult who is successful in her field, who is open and honest, who speaks and engages with other people and isn't afraid to be herself, gives people hope. Children with autism are as full of potential as any other child. The truth is, we can't see the future for ANY child- we don't know what he or she will become, and that's okay! Instead, supporting children's individual growth and helping them engage in the world around them will help them far more than fretting about questions rooted long in the future. It's something we can all help out with and do better at, even in a small way in our own lives.

Here's the first part of a BBC documentary on Temple Grandin, entitled "The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow." The rest of the documentary is on YouTube as well but here's a snippet to get you started:

There's a ton more I could say about Temple Grandin, about autism, and about the things that she's accomplished, but I'll let her TEDTalk do that for me:

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Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Sources:
Wikipedia Page on Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin's biological information page on her animal science site
Dr. Temple Grandin's Official Autism Website

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Speculative Reading Challenge- COMPLETED!



I'm pleased to say I finished my first reading challenge of 2010! I kind of went on a challenge-joining binge over the holidays and I'm pretty chuffed to be putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Titles are linked to reviews, so if you'd like to help out with Give the Gift of Reading, here's a ready-made list of posts, ready and waiting for your commenting pleasure! $.05 for every comment left during the month of March is going to Reading at War to buy e-readers for soldiers stationed overseas, so join the fun!

And now, without further ado, my challenge results! As a reminder, I challenged myself to read 24 speculative fiction titles- the obsessed level. If you are interested in signing up for this challenge, it's being hosted by the always delightful Book Chick City and the sign-up page is here.

1. Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh
2. Caressed By Ice by Nalini Singh
3. Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh
4. Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh
5. Soulless by Gail Carriger
6. Veracity by Laura Bynum
7. Touch the Dark by Karen Chance
8. Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill
9.Darklight by Lesley Livingston
10. Kiss of Moonlight by Stephanie Julian
11. Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep
12. Firespell by Chloe Neill
13. Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance
14. Embrace the Night by Karen Chance (review forthcoming!)
15. Evernight by Claudia Gray
16. Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey (review forthcoming!)
17. Stargazer by Claudia Gray
18. Need by Carrie Jones
19. Captivate by Carrie Jones
20. Caleb by Sarah McCarty
21. Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
22. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
23. The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore
24. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (review forthcoming!)

BWB Review: The Iron King




Title:The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Page Count: 363 pages
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Genre: fantasy, young adult, paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: All Meghan Chase wanted was a place to belong, and a little excitement. She learns quickly to be careful what she wishes for when it becomes apparent that that place is Fairyland, and excitement there comes in spades.

The Iron King was the landslide victor in the BWB polls for March, and as I was already beyond excited to read it, I had no problem with that whatsoever. Happily, it surpassed every single one of my expectations and has me really, REALLY excited for August when the next installment comes out.

Meghan Chase is about to turn sixteen and thinks that a brand new life would be the best possible birthday present. Her home and school life are dreary, she's the target of taunts and teasing from schoolmates and is pretty much ignored at home. Her only real friend is Robbie, a neighbor boy, sort of, and she's certainly the apple of her younger brother Ethan's eye too. When Ethan is abducted and a changeling is left in his place, then, it's only logical to Meghan that she should go after him, setting events in motion that she'd never anticipated.

Meghan's adventures in Fairyland are trippy, exotic, beautiful, and terrifying in turns. The author does a fantastic job of weaving together vivid descriptions, unique characters, action, romance, dialogue, and all other manner of elements into a really unique story. We hear over and over again in other novels about fairies about how they can't touch iron, but this is the first novel I've read that addresses that element in an ENTIRELY new and unique way.

Of course, there's a love interest- Ash, a prince of the Unseelie Court. We don't get to learn a whole lot about him, other than he and Puck (Robbie) don't get along at all, that he's got a sense of honor and a long memory, and that he's determined to protect Meghan, which turns out to be way easier said than done. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about their relationship.

Don't count Puck out yet though- I think Meghan's going to have to make some choices about her future in the next two books and will find that attention from guys isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

With beach and vacation season fast approaching, put this title on your list of fun, exciting books to while away an afternoon. I devoured this book in one sitting, immediately checked on the release date for the second one, and huffed indignantly when I realized it wasn't until August. Oh well, good things are worth waiting for!

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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Make it Stop! Make it Stop! (Writing Really Negative Reviews)

This is the second in a series of occasional posts about the process of writing reviews. Last time, I talked about writing really positive reviews and what issues come up when reviewing books that turned me into a babbling fangirl. This, naturally, leads to a discussion of the opposite side of the coin; reviewing books that, for all intents and purposes, made my eyes bleed.

Writing negative reviews is kind of a pink elephant in the room for a lot of people. I think as reviewers we all know that there are going to be books out there that we read and do not enjoy, but we're kind of stuck as to how to communicate that to other people. I completely admit, if a book is really hand-to-God awful, chances are I don't finish it. Depending on where I am in the book when I decide that it sucks on toast, I sometimes do push myself to finish it for the purposes of writing a review. I don't review books I haven't finished as I don't feel like it's cool to comment on something if I haven't at least finished it.

With that said, if I really disliked a book, I don't pull any punches. I share what I feel about the book in question and I don't apologize for my position. Everyone is different and everyone has their own opinions; if you don't like mine, that is totally within your rights. I don't go out of my way to be mean in my reviews but every once in awhile, something gets far enough under my skin to really incite some rioting on my part.

There are people out there who won't review books if they feel they have to write a negative review. That is certainly their prerogative and they can run their blogs/review outlets any way they want to, but personally I feel like that is doing a disservice to your blog audience and to you personally. If you invested time and/or money into acquiring and reading a book (I know most of the books I review are still books I bought at some point,) you are qualified to post whatever kind of review you deem appropriate. Bear in mind, the time you spent reading a book that wasn't, shall we say, up to par, is time that you could not spend reading a book that you did enjoy. Opportunity cost is very real.

The point of my story is this: be honest in your reviews. Be brutally honest if need be, if the situation calls for that. You don't have to be rude to individuals or call a specific person out on the carpet to get your point across that a book is terrible. You also don't have to sugar coat things; at the end of the day, I believe people value authenticity, and if your feelings are authentic they will shine through in your writing.

BWB Review: Evolve

Title: Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead
Editor: Nancy Kilpatrick
Page Count: 283 pages
Publisher: Edge Books
Genre: horror, paranormal, fantasy
Copy for review provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: 24 short stories that take vampires to new levels- sad, tragic, historic, dramatic, etc. etc. etc.

It's been awhile since I read a complete short story anthology and Evolve was a good way to get back in the saddle. The stories in this volume are definitely one-bite stories so we don't always get to know a whole lot about characters, settings, or any other story elements. Instead, you get stories that are a lot like doing shots out of unknown glasses. Some of them are fruity and fluffy and go down like candy. Others make you get your whiskey face on.

These are no tired reworkings of tired old vampire tropes. These stories take the interpretation of vampires to a whole new level, and in a lot of the tales, blood isn't the only thing getting sucked, and brooding pale people aren't the only vampires. Toxic friendships, workaholism, drugs, failed romances, you name it- anything that can suck the life out of a person is worked in here in one way or another.

There are certain stories that really stood out to me as unique from this anthology- "Chrysalis" by Ronald Hore is a glimpse of what would happen if vampires had coming of age stories, "All You Can Eat, All the Time" by Claude Lalumiere takes bodysnatching to a whole new level, and "The New Forty" by Rebecca Bradley is snarky and brooding and sweet all at the same time. "Soulfinger" by Rio Youers is a good bet too.

My biggest issue with this book is that although a wide variety of stories and writing styles are represented here, you don't ever get enough of one author or story to really hook you into wanting to know more. As a collection of creepy stories all sharing a common theme, this book succeed admirably; I don't think there was quite the same level of success for this book as a lure for new readers. But then, that may not have been the point of the book and it doesn't detract from the overall experience of the book.

Overall Grade: B+
BWB Rating: 3/4

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: Captivate

Title: Captivate
Author: Carrie Jones
Page Count: 273 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: paranormal romance, young adult
Copy for review provided by Around the World Tours in anticipation of an honest review.

50 words or less: Zara has to grow up, adjust to change, maintain relationships, and figure out her place in a conflict that gets dicier by the minute. She believes in justice and saving the world; she might get a chance to prove it.

MAY INCLUDE SPOILERS. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Captivate is the second book in this series that reads more like a continuation of Need. We pick up shortly after the end of that book here, and immediately it becomes clear that the temporary solutions to the pixie problem that were devised in the last book are not going to be effective in the long run.

Zara realizes pretty quickly that her role in the drama with the pixies, because of her connection to her biological father, is way more central than anyone would like. Everyone wants to keep her safe, but instead, the lack of information and communication keeps Zara from making the most informed decisions. Her fledgling romance with Nick is frequently challenged because of their individual feelings and prejudices; Nick's deep hatred of pixies is already a problem, especially when a viable rival for Zara's affections shows up on the scene.

Also, and this is certainly subject to change, I am team Astley. We don't get to know all that much about him in this book but there are already enough fissures in Zara and Nick's relationship to make me wonder if true love can conquer all and if Zara wouldn't be better off with someone who "got" her a little better. By all means, though, I want a match for Nick too. I can hope!

Anyway, I loved the elements of mythology that were introduced here, and some seriously creepy bad guys appear too. Where Need suffered from all the backstory that had to be introduced to get the story off the ground, Captivate is all action and drama and mystery that really left me wanting the next book to be here IMMEDIATELY. My jaw just came up off the floor from the ending a few minutes ago, and that's all I'll say about that.

I said it in my review of Need and I'll say it here as well, get these two books together and read them in order, one following the other. When the two books are read together as one long story, it's awesome! As standalone books, they suffer from the information that's present in the other volume not being there. Still, check this series out! Pixies and werewolves and kissing, oh my!

Overall Grade: by itself, B. Together with Need: A

Review: Need

Title: Need
Author: Carrie Jones
Page Count: 306 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Genre: young adult, paranormal romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Zara comes to Maine to get a fresh start. What she gets are pixies, werewolves, drama, secrets, and maybe a few friends in the mix.

Sigh. There are plenty of critics of YA novels, especially paranormal ones, that argue that the books are less-than-classy because they're so formulaic, and while I personally think that argument is a load of malarkey, there are some books out there that seem to support that position, and unfortunately Need is one of them.

Receipe for a Novel
Take one awkward teenage girl, and:
Add one dramatic relocation (from Charleston to Maine;)
Add one curious, somewhat obscure relative;
Subtract another relative (her stepdad passed away;)
Add two potential love interests;
Subtract any school or life responsibilities;
Add a dramatic supernatural reveal;
Shake well; serve cold.
For added flavor, garnish with quirky personal habits and a dash of mythology.

That, in a nutshell, is what goes on in Need. Zara herself is an interesting enough narrator and heroine for the story and her awareness of her world and her own feelings and ideas is unique. Did Amnesty International sponsor this book? I'm just asking.

Nick as a love interest is a logical choice; handsome and mysterious and emotionally unavailable. Turns out Nick is keeping secrets; his, other people's, you name it. Seriously creepy things are happening, and Zara wants to know the scoop, but the most anyone is willing to tell her is "stay inside and don't go into the woods alone," and while that's good advice, it certainly doesn't do anything to set Zara's mind at ease.

Need took a long time to get going, but once it did, it clipped along at a good pace and set up a believable world and conflict. We learn a lot about Zara and I'm definitely intrigued as to how all those mysteries and conflicts will play out in future books.

I will say this: I read Captivate right after this and it blew my socks off, as you'll see in that review. My advice is, if you're interested in reading this series, get Need and Captivate at the same time and pretend they're one long book. There's plenty of stuff in Need that's important to the overall series, so, like most oldest children in a family, it gets the burden of, and the low rating for, paving the way for everyone that comes after.

Overall Grade: By itself- C. Together with Captivate: A

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: Heat Seeker


Title: Heat Seeker
Author: Lora Leigh
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Bailey Serborne and John Vincent have to deal with their turbulent past to stop an illegal arms deal, exact revenge on the monster who killed Bailey's loved ones, and maybe, just maybe, live happily ever after.

The Elite Ops series continues with Heat Seeker, which stars Australian agent John Vincent and former CIA operative Bailey Serborne, who we met in the last book. After being put through the emotional blender with the last book, this one was a nice change, and Bailey is probably my favorite of the heroines in this series so far. She's sharp, clever, funny, and has some serious brass balls, which are all characteristics I enjoy in a heroine.

John Vincent, on the other hand, is another reborn soldier in the corps- he was an intelligence operative in Australia in his previous life and he had worked with Bailey on a case, sleeping with her in the process. Unfortunately, part of being rescued from certain doom and joining the Elite Ops means giving up all ties to your former existence and everyone thinking you died for real. Bailey was devastated; when she figures out that John Vincent is actually the love of her life that she thought was dead she's, in a word, pissed.

The interactions between these two are sharp and on-point. Bailey doesn't back down when John starts the Tarzan routine, and John doesn't back down when Bailey looks like she's going to do something unwise. Unfortunately, this story is unfolding against the suspense plot of the book, which involves a covert missile sale amongst the members of the upper crust society that Bailey's family hails from. Seriously people, there are so many secondary characters running around that I just gave up keeping them all straight. This was a problem, as it pretty much ruined the climax of the story when the secret identity of the evil guy is revealed. I couldn't remember who the person was or how he was connected to the rest of the characters. Some surprise.

Easily my favorite part of the book is at the end, when Bailey gets the upper hand on the boss man of the Elite Ops, Jordan Malone. Jordan Malone is the Jonas Wyatt of this series- gruff, bossy, annoying, and up in everyone's business. Hints were dropped at the end of the book that he'll be getting his own story at some point, and I'm definitely looking forward to that.

This book is a good way to spend a rainy afternoon, there's no real surprises or answers to world problems here but hey, it's an entertaining story.

Overall Grade: B

Friday, March 19, 2010

And They're Off! Spring Reading Thing 2010



The always cheerful Callapidder Days blog is once again hosting the Spring Reading Thing. I participated in the Fall Reading Challenge and while I didn't read all the books on my list, it was definitely a good exercise and liberated me from a bunch of books that, it became apparent, I had no interest in reading.

Here's the skinny on the whole affair, taken directly from Callapidder Days:

Essentially, Spring Reading Thing 2010 is a fun, low-pressure reading challenge open to anyone and everyone. It will take place March 20th-June 20th (which is, not-so-coincidentally, the spring of 2010).

To participate, here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a list of some books you’d like to read or finish this spring.
  • Feel free to set some additional reading goals (such as reading to your kids two hours per week, getting through your pile of magazines, etc.). This is completely optional.
  • Write a blog post including the list of books you want to read and any additional goals you’ve set, and get ready to post it on your blog on March 20th.
  • Visit my blog on March 20th to sign up. I’ll have a Mr. Linky set up that morning, so you can submit a link to your personal Spring Reading Thing post, and it will be added to the master list.
  • Read! Work on your goals throughout Spring 2010.
  • Report your results. Write another blog post in June to let everyone know how you did.
  • Have fun! Visit other participants to see what they’re reading. Write reviews if you’re so inclined. But most of all, enjoy your spring reading.
Okie dokie! Without further ado, here's my game plan for Spring Reading Thing.

My goal this time around is to use this challenge to make some headway on other challenges I've enrolled in so far. I keep a separate file where I'm tracking how I'm doing on certain challenges, and some of them are going well, while others could definitely use a little help. Therefore, my challenge is read the following:

For the Finish That Series Challenge:
Curse the Dawn by Karen Chance
Stay the Night by Lynn Viehl
The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

For the Poirot-Marple-Holmes Challenge
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

For the Dystopian Challenge
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
The Declaration by Gemma Malley
The Resistance by Gemma Malley
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I'm hoping to get through more of my titles this time so I can add new ones, but I'm thinking this is a good place to start.

If you're interested in participating, head on over to Callapidder Days and sign up! Comment here with a link to your list, I'd love to take a look!

Illustrated Friday: Diary of a Wombat

Awwwww, how cute! This book is simple, sweet, and tons of fun. Little kids will have fun making up their own stories to go with the illustrations, and grownups will have fun sharing the text with little readers. Bruce Whatley's illustrations are soft and funny and there's lots of white space that's used really efficiently as well. I found this one on a jaunt to the library and will be sharing it with my class- they love animal stories. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Another Faust INTERNATIONAL Giveaway!


I don't know if you are aware, but Tina at Tina's Book Reviews is pretty freaking awesome. In addition to being an all around cool lady, she's also generously agreed to donate a prize for a giveaway here to promote Give the Gift of Reading! Yes, a copy of Another Faust can be yours!

Read my review of this book here!

Synopsis from Goodreads: One night, in cities all across Europe, five children vanish - only to appear, years later, at an exclusive New York party with a strange and
elegant governess. Rumor and mystery follow the Faust teenagers to the city’s most prestigious high school, where they soar to suspicious heights with the help of their benefactor’s extraordinary “gifts.”

But as the students claw their way up - reading minds, erasing scenes, stopping time, stealing power, seducing with artificial beauty - the side-effects of their own addictions. And as they make further deals with the devil, they uncover secrets more shocking than their most
unforgivable sins.

At once chilling and wickedly satirical, this contemporary reimagining of the Faustian bargain is a compelling tale of ambition, consequences, and ultimate redemption.


This contest will be a little different from the IAD Giveaway- since Tina is on board with my mission to gather as much for Reading at War, all you have to do to enter is leave a comment! Remember, for every comment, $.05 will be donated to Reading at War to help send e-readers to soldiers who are serving overseas. Please make sure that your Blogger profile has a way to contact you so I can reach you if you win!

Here are the rules:
-You must be a follower to be eligible to win.
-This contest is INTERNATIONAL.
-The contest will close on March 31st at 11:59 pm.
+1 comment to enter
+1 Tweet this giveaway (leave link)

Thanks again to Tina for donating a freaking sweet prize! Comment comment comment and help the cause!

Win My Favorite PNR Series! INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY!

It's true! In celebration of Give the Gift of Reading and as a thank you to all the awesome people who've been reading and commenting, I'm giving away a BRAND NEW set of all the full-length books in the Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole! This giveaway is open worldwide, anywhere that BookDepository ships. Here's what you could win:

Yep, all seven full-length novels in the Immortals After Dark series. Here are the details:

-Like I said, this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL.
-You must be a follower to be eligible to win.
-Winner will be notified via email so make sure the address you put in the form is one you check regularly.
-Giveaway ends MARCH 31st at 11:59 pm
-There are TWO CHANCES to earn extra entries:
1. Tweet this giveaway! Hint- I have retweet buttons! Feel free to use them! Otherwise, either add @heynocupcake to your tweet or put the link to the tweet right in the form. If I can't find the tweet, I can't give you an extra entry.
2. Give the Gift of Reading! For an extra entry, find ANY REVIEW that's posted at the time of your entry. Put the title of the book you commented on and the name that shows up when you comment (or the text of your comment, if you don't think I'll be able to find your comment.) Previous comments don't count, but new ones will! Remember, $.05 for every comment is going to Reading at War, to send e-readers to soldiers serving overseas.

Here's a chance to do some good and possibly win seven excellent books at the same time!

Review: Claimed by Shadow

Title: Claimed by Shadow
Author: Karen Chance
Page Count: 374 pages
Publisher: ROC
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review was one from my personal library

50 words or less: Poor Cassie Palmer. Since finding out that she's the Pythia, the HBIC for all seers and the one responsible for making sure people don't junk up the passing of time and the course of history, life has been one crisis after another. Read on for details!

Claimed by Shadow is the second book in the Cassie Palmer series and the action picks up pretty much right where the first book left off. Cassie finds herself trying to deal with the bombshells she received in the last book (she's the Pythia, she's caught in the crossfire between the Silver Circle of mages and the Senate of vampires and nobody seems to care what she thinks about any of this), trying to deal with her feelings towards Mircea (the master vampire who put Cassie under a geis to keep her virginity intact until such time as he could relieve her of it) and Pritkin (a war mage who pisses her off and gets her motor running in turns.) She has people from the past and the present baying for her blood and unfortunately, the only way out of her troubles is through them, so there are a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of running around.

Quick note about the geis- I admit, after reading another popular series where a geis has a very prominent role (cough cough Merry Gentry cough cough) I cringed a little bit when I saw the element being incorporated here. I'm happy to say that although the geis does make Cassie's life pretty miserable and does complicate the story quite a bit, the squick factor is not there, you don't need a roster to keep track of the sexual shenanigans, and ultimately it's a magical element moreso than a sensual one.

Moving on, the cast of characters swells in this book. All of the main actors from the last book are here, as well as some neat new ones: Casanova is the manager of Dante's Casino and a (sometimes, sort of) ally of Cassie's. The Dark Fey make an appearance in all their yucky yuckiness. Mac is a semi-retired war mage and tattoo artist who specializes in magical wards and is the person that Cassie turns to when the other characters steadfastly refuse to give her any information.

Again, it's hard to discuss the events of the story without giving a lot of things away. The reader definitely has to be paying attention to follow the multiple story lines going on here, because information that helps to decode the plot isn't always forthcoming. Cassie herself has to basically beat information out of people pretty much constantly, which got a little tiring to read after awhile. There were, though, some new elements that were introduced that definitely caught my interest and as always, the really unique world building kept me reading even when the plot faltered a little.

Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Cha-Cha: Adventure Time edition!



It's Adventure Time! This is apparently going to be a show on Cartoon Network in some form and I think this episode is awesome all on its own. Come on, raise your hand, you did stuff like this when you were a kid.


Oh yeah! Because apparently today is a festive day (yeah yeah, I forgot St. Patrick's Day, so shoot me) here's another does of Muppets, compliments of Smart Bitches:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Shadow

Title: Shadow
Author: Jenny Moss
Page Count: 377 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Copy for review provided by Around the World Tours in anticipation of an honest review.

50 words or less: Shadow don't get no respect. She's the shadow of a queen who hates her, enamored with a knight who doesn't know she exists, and she might just be the only person who can save the world from sure destruction.

You know, I kind of feel bad for Shadow. It had the misfortune to come up in my reading queue right after Brightly Woven, which I found to be magical, beautiful, romantic delightful. Shadow is a different sort of book entirely, and while there were elements of the story that I found intriguing, I just didn't connect with this book the way I'd hoped I would.

Shadow, by all accounts, has had a really crappy life. She takes basically nonstop abuse from the people around her at the royal palace, has no friends or allies to speak of, and, when she does deign to have an opinion or an original thought, experiences such fantastic adventures as being locked in the dungeon. Shadow, needless to say, does not feel any particular loyalty to anyone or anything, least of all the queen she's supposed to protect or the country that queen represents.

Enter Sir Kenway, a terribly noble and loyal knight who doesn't like the queen all that much but has an almost fanatical devotion to her and her office. Shadow admires him from afar but gets pretty much nothing but condescension and judgment from him. This is the hero and heroine, mind you, so the fact that they seem to not get along was a barrier to me seeing the relationship develop.

Not only does Shadow have to deal with nonstop attacks on her integrity from Sir Douchebag...I mean Sir Kenway, she also has to deal with multiple jaw-dropping revelations about not only her own family, but her own past and her role in the ruling of her country going forward. Shadow's lack of enthusiasm about all of this is palpable throughout the book, and, frankly, her disinterest in the political games of the people around her is pretty understandable. I mean, she's a teenager, coming out of an abusive situation, and nobody can seem to understand why she doesn't want to MAN UP AND SAVE THESE PEOPLE. I probably would have left them to rot too if I'd been in her shoes.

There is an interesting side plot to the story involving who Shadow's mother actually is and how Shadow came to live in the royal palace, but it was lukewarm at best, as was the information about the religious facets of this nation and the role of religion in maintaining peace and prosperity in the land. The romance, when it did develop, was kind of ugly; Sir Kenway was a mean, judgmental, spiteful, bitter idiot most of the time, and the fact that he didn't really warm up to Shadow until it became apparent how important she was did not endear him to me at all. When she was a lowly servant of the queen, she was an ignoramus who should be grateful for receiving so much as a scrap from ye olde royale table; when her role as powerful woman who just might pull their collective fat out of the fire is presented, suddenly, he's all attracted to her. Not cool, Sir Kenway, not cool. I don't care how sweet your final scene is.

The most memorable thing about this book for me was the crushing sense of responsibility that seems to follow Shadow around throughout the book. She's responsible for the safety of the queen because of some dumb prophecy. She's responsible for everything that goes on around her. She's responsible on a god-and-sovereign level for the safety and well being of an entire country. All of this happened without her consent, without her knowledge, without her awareness in most cases. Shadow does the right thing, sure, but I found the ending to not be as satisfying as I'd hoped, and I feel like even after shouldering these tremendous burdens, Shadow still ends up with nothing in the end.

I've read lots of positive reviews for this book so I know there are definitely people out there who liked it and enjoyed the story and the romance and all that; I really wish I could count myself among them but sadly, I can't.

Overall Grade: D

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't Forget- Every Comment Counts!



We're about halfway done with Give the Gift of Reading, and so far What Book is That? has received 91 comments, meaning the total donation so far is $4.55. People, we can do way better than that! Remember, for every comment received here at What Book is That? in the month of March, five cents (up to $100) will be donated towards Reading at War's efforts to provide books and e-readers to soldiers stationed overseas. As a reminder, here are the guidelines:

1. Duplicate comments and spam don't count.
2. Comments must be left during the month of March, but the post on which you comment doesn't have to be from the month of March. Feel free to poke around!
3. Comments are still moderated so no nastiness or stupidity, please.
4. My replies to your comments count.
5. Meaningful comments are definitely preferred to meaningless ones.

So please, check out past posts and comment away! Remember, the total amount of money raised will be matched by Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog!

Wipe Up the Drool- Writing Extremely Positive Reviews

When I first started blogging, I decided that I wasn't going to grade the books I read and reviewed on a bell curve. I'm perfectly satisfied to give a ton of A level reviews; likewise, I'm just as happy to give a D or F review if that's what I honestly think the book deserves. If anything, my reviews tend to be pretty polarized- I either like a book or I don't, and if a book is mediocre or not grabbing my interest then I tend to put it down and, by extension, not review it.

With that said, then, one thing that I've found very hard to do is to review books that I absolutely loved. Not just really enjoyed, would recommend to others, but books that literally leave me speechless, that I immediately start planning who I will give them to as gifts. Although I enjoy a lot of books, and a wide variety of books at that, there aren't a ton of books that really stand out to me as droolworthy, utterly amazing, not a thing I would change fantastic. That's not a bad thing- I'm a firm believer that having an opinion on a book means you were paying attention while you were reading, and having a book grab me so strongly that I couldn't put it down is basically the highest praise I can give.

Maybe the difficulty comes from having to articulate what, specifically, happened or didn't happen that made a book so special. Putting excellence into words isn't necessarily an easy task, especially when you're talking about a book that not a lot of other people have read. Avoiding spoilers is such a challenge some times!

Sometimes, though, reviewing a book that it seems like everyone has read is more of a challenge. What do you say that hasn't been said already? How do you make your review stand out from the rest of the pack?

The easiest way I've found to get through the quagmire of writing cohesive but unique reviews of really excellent books is to focus on one specific element of the story that stood out. Maybe it was a story element- great settings, unique characters, or something like that. Many times for me it's really sparkling, witty dialogue- if you write good dialogue and your characters have personality, I want to read your book.

Whatever it may have been that made you a devotee of the book in question, that's the thing to share with other people. I find it's hard to give plot summaries of truly excellent books without giving the entire story away; if I try to lure people in by sharing a single facet of the book, I end up being a lot more satisfied with my final review.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BWB Review: First Drop of Crimson





Title: First Drop of Crimson
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Page Count: 371 pages
Publisher: Avon
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by this writer

50 words or less: Denise swore she'd never get involved with vampires again after a horrible situation. Spade swore he'd never get involved with humans again after a horrible situation. My, how things change...

I love, and I mean LOVE, when books live up to their hype. I haven't met anyone yet who didn't at least like Ms. Frost's Night Huntress series, and I certainly know I was excited when I heard Spade was getting his own book. After the hellacious things that happened to her in the Night Huntress books, I'd say I was pretty happy to hear that things were going to work out for Denise too.

First Drop of Crimson did not disappoint. The characters were enjoyable, the story worked at a good pace, and the romance simmered at first and came to a boil pretty quickly if I do say so myself. I think having read the rest of the Night Huntress series helped, but it wasn't absolutely necessary for enjoying this book and the spoilers that were included here were mild and didn't really give away anything you couldn't glean from the backs of the other books.

It's hard to think of things to say about this book that haven't been said in other reviews but I do want to touch on the subject of Denise. A lot of people didn't like her because she really didn't want to be a part of the supernatural world and could be a little bit whiny at times. I agree with that assessment to a certain degree, but I think Denise was an unbelievably strong character who really cared about the people close to her, even if it left her alone to deal with pretty tragic and horrible things. Sometimes I find a vulnerable character a lot more easy to believe than a kickass lady, and I think that Spade was definitely drawn to Denise's vulnerability, since he likes to take care of people too.

Spade made an excellent lead for this book too- we get to learn a little bit more about him and his history and it becomes clear that if there's a perfect match for Denise out there, he's it. He's understanding and sympathetic when needed but also tough and take-charge, and they make a pretty good team all things considered.

I thought the ending of the book was especially sweet. I like how everyone stayed true to their feelings and dealt with things in a mature way that made sense, instead of pages and pages of agonizing over decisions that are pretty much a done deal anyway. Very well done.

There are cameos in this book too! The cast of the Night Huntress books make an appearance and their roles in the story, while not central to the main event, definitely enhance the feeling of the book overall. There's a definite lesson on good and evil and how neither thing is completely absolute, especially within a certain group, that was presented very well.

Cough cough there's shower action! cough cough and that's all I'll say about that.

Anyway, this book is a great way to spend a Saturday morning or a day at the beach. If you're a Night Huntress or PNR fan in general or just want to read a good book, you won't be disappointed.

Overall Grade: A
Blog With Bite Rating: 4/4

*****
Discussion Questions

Denise and Spades chemistry sparks more than a firecracker on the 4rth of July. Did you like the chemistry between them and did you feel the development of the relationship work? I really enjoyed this facet of the story. I think both characters were authentic with their feelings, especially since each one had to kind of let go of the past in order to move forward. I think that made them ultimately coming out with their feelings for one another very sweet, and I really enjoyed that they were willing to compromise and work together to get what they needed to be happy. It's not something you see all that often in PNR and I felt it was very well done here.

Have you read the Cat & Bones series? Denise is such a different (wimpier) character than Cat... did that make a difference to you? Since I've taken up the banner of Cheerleader for Denise I'm especially eager to address this one. I have read the Cat & Bones series and I have to say there were a lot of times that I frankly did not understand or sympathize with what Cat was doing. I think Cat tended to make decisions without understanding their full ramifications and that caused a lot of heartache for herself and the people around her. I see Denise as someone who tends to think things through and doesn't want other people to get hurt, but who actually communicates what she's doing with the people around her, so when her ideas get overruled or shot down, it tends to be as the outcome of a discussion instead of a fight after the fact. So no, I don't think Denise is wimpier, I think she's less of a shoot now and ask questions later kind of person, and there's not a thing wrong with that.

LIGHTNING ROUND. Identify your top three favorite PNR series. "There are too many!" is not an answer. Neither is more than three. Name the top three. Ready.....go!
1. The Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
2. The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward
3. The Night Huntress World series by Jeaniene Frost (yes I consider this to be part of that series)

Sizzle or Fizzle? Sizzle. Definitely sizzle. Fans of Chapter 32 won't be disappointed here.

Review: Another Faust


Title: Another Faust
Authors: Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Page Count: 400 pages
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Young Adult, updated classics, cautionary tales
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Faust's deal with the devil gets a facelift and a modern perspective as five kids learn the hard way that everything you want is sometimes the worst thing for you.

Advance warning: I can't decide if this is a spoilery review or not, so I'm warning you ahead of time, it might be, depending on how much you know about the book already. Ye be warned.

One thing that often comes up in young adult fiction is what responsibility, if any, books and stories have for communicating lessons and morals to readers. Reading for a purpose is fine, of course, and using literature as a vehicle to teach a lesson is fine as well, but Another Faust is a case study in how writers can accomplish all that, write a really interesting story, and discuss topics that don't frequently see the light of day, all at the same time.

To begin with, Another Faust assumes a certain level of familiarity with the original Faust story. There are a lot of different versions out there, but the basic structure is the same: dissatisfied with his current situation, Faust makes a deal with the devil, giving up his immortal soul in exchange for knowledge. The original story has a deep underlying religious message, and while Another Faust doesn't really touch on that facet of the story all that much, the rest of the story elements ring true and are authentically integrated into the modern setting of the story.

Be forewarned, Another Faust is not a charming story of human triumph over adversity. Rather, it's the story of what happens when people decide to take the easy way out, to ignore the implications their actions have on other people, and to pursue goals, status and success regardless of the cost. The choice of setting for the contemporary retelling (a fancy dancy private school, complete with trust fund babies and crazed helicopter parents) is a fertile breeding ground for the kind of blatant, self-serving greed and corruption that carry over from the original story.

The five main characters- Victoria, Valentin, Christian, Belle, and Bice- all come from pretty tragic backgrounds. Neglected, abused, starved for affection, trapped in pathologically unhealthy relationships with the people who are supposed to take care of them, they all think that the grass is greener on the other side and that if they were only a little bit stronger, better, faster, whatever, then life would be great and nothing would ever be able to hurt them ever again. When a mysterious woman appears at the opportune time and basically offers them everything they ever wanted, it seems like a no-brainer to accept her deal and board the gravy train to happiness. Unfortunately for them, nothing worth having is ever free, and they're about to learn that lesson in a big and painful way.

The story in Another Faust, although based on a familiar tale, has more twists and turns than a hamster habitrail and just when you think you have things figured out, another layer gets added to the story and the whole scenario becomes a little more sick, a little more twisted. The characters are, for the most part, ignorant of the fact that in their quests to be the best, they're playing with snakes, and, unsurprisingly, they get bit.

My one issue with the book is this: there comes a point, even when you're driving home the lesson that evil is evil and that using evil means to accomplish your goals does not negate the fact that you chose those means, when enough is enough. About two-thirds of the way through the book I found myself hungering for the resolution to the story, instead of wanting more and more instances of Nicola the nanny's meddling or the kids falling prey to their own ambitions. The resolution, when it comes, is appropriate for the story and a fitting end to the tale. It does take awhile to get there though.

If you're looking for a young adult book that's on the dark side, with a touch of the paranormal, and featuring a lesson that's relevant for people of all ages, Another Faust might be right up your alley.

Overall Grade: B+

Friday, March 12, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Owl Moon


Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, is next on our tour of the Caldecott winners. Owl Moon is the story of a young girl and her father going owling in the woods, and the illustrations and the text work together perfectly to tell the story. Plus, it's a nice way to introduce a unit on owls. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Caleb

Title: Caleb
Author: Sarah McCarty
Page Count: 392 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Take two things that most people seem to like (cowboys and vampires) and put them together. Shake vigorously.

This was my first foray into the world of books by Sarah McCarty, and I'm sort of in the middle of the road at this point. The story was kind of lukewarm (minus,) the characters were really detailed and well done (plus,) the dialogue was almost painful to read at times, and not in an emotional way (big minus, ) but the happily ever after was genuine and sweet (plus.)

Caleb was a rancher who was turned to a vampire in the 1860s. He ended up turning his brothers as well, and they're still pissed about it all these years later, but they have to understand- if there's going to be a series, there have to be other male leads. Nobody rides for free, after all. Caleb is definitely an alpha and he considers himself responsible for everything and everyone, a trait that came up over and over again throughout the course of the book.

Allie, on the other hand, is a thoroughly modern woman- she owns a bakery, handles her own business, is frankly not convinced that she can trust anyone except herself, and thinks a push up bra may be, to steal the words of Homer Simpson, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. When Caleb turns her in a fit of bloodlust, she has a tough time accepting it, which is understandable, but beyond her being stubborn and free-spirited we don't really get to know anything else about her. She's flighty and frankly kind of a danger to herself and the people around her; Caleb is kind of a Tarzan character who prowls around waiting to rescue Allie at least a thousand times per day.

The real kicker is, Allie's pregnant. This isn't supposed to be possible, but apparently it is.

The supporting cast of this book was interesting, I guess- Caleb has brothers who are going to be the stars of upcoming books in the series, Derek the werewolf is a friend of the brothers and sort of a go-between between them and a clan of werewolves that hate the brothers' guts, for reasons that are never fully explained. There's a really creepy villain, Vincent, who thinks he's going to carry Allie off. I admit to being more interested in what happens to the D'Nally weres than anyone else in the book.

There was a lot of clunky, stilted dialogue (Caleb and Allie love to talk, among other things) and a lot of fighting and actions scenes that were supposed to raise my pulse, I guess, but ended up reminding me of the Great Pie Fight from Blazing Saddles:

I'm giving this book a Scandalous Books designation for the naughty scenes, which weren't all that awesome, but also because there are a lot of awkward themes and moments that come up frequently that can take this book from awkward to creepy in a hurry depending on your point of view.

I'm so sad- I had heard such great things about this book but can't for the life of me see any of the referenced elements. I do have other books by this author so I'm sincerely hoping that those will be better.

Overall Grade: D

Review: Forget-Her-Nots

Title: Forget-Her-Nots
Author: Amy Brecount-White
Page Count: 374 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Copy for review provided by Around the World Tours in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Just when Laurel starts to think she has a handle on awkward adolescence, high school, and the death of her mother/distance from her father, she learns about a whole other world she never knew existed.

Before I get started with the review, let's take a moment and contemplate these cupcakes:Aren't they beautiful? Indeed they are.

Why the cupcakes? I find, after finishing Forget-Her-Nots, that cupcakes are a perfect metaphor for the experience of reading this book. Forget-Her-Nots is sweet, fluffy, aesthetically pleasing, but, I suspect, will not gain its reputation based on its nutritional value.

That's not a slam- stories like this one are oftentimes just what the doctor ordered to counteract a stressful day, a huge assignment, a project that's spiraling out of control, etc. It's a definite low-stress book and one you can be comfortable giving to young readers.

Laurel is fourteen and, after giving a presentation in English class on the Victorian language of flowers, finds that she has a better grasp of the language than she'd thought- almost a magical one. Her bouquets have the tendency to make things happen, and when word gets out that she has this ability, everyone at her all-girls school wants a little help finding true love just in time for the prom.

Of course, Laurel's got love issues of her own, and is trying to not only deal with those, but also some family drama as well. She's still dealing from the unfortunate death of her mother and the emotional unavailability of her father; if only fixing those things was as easy as saying it with flowers.

To be fair, Forget-Her-Nots did have a few pacing issues, and there were times that I found myself wondering if I'd missed something in the exposition of the story, as there were things it felt like we as the audience were just supposed to know that weren't explicitly stated. These issues don't interfere with the overall experience of the book, though, which is always a good thing.

Easily my favorite part of the book was actually learning about the language of flowers- I love books that have an unusual element like this and then show it off to good effect. I recommend Forget-Her-Nots to anyone looking for a cupcake of a book.

Overall Grade: B+


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Brightly Woven

Title: Brightly Woven
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Page Count: 368 pages
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Genre: fantasy, romance, young adult
Copy for review provided by One Arc Tours in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Too hard! From Goodreads: Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.

In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet, it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry.


Sigh. I've been on the list to read Brightly Woven for this tour for a long time and am happy to say that this book was well worth the wait. The story was interesting, the romance was sweet, the setting was fun, and the experience of reading the book was like finding an opened box of Bomb Pops in the freezer on the hottest day of the summer.

Brightly Woven is simultaneously a story of magic, mayhem, political intrigue, history, religion, and two young people falling in love. Sydelle is abruptly removed from her home after a rainstorm and a wizard arrive at the same time. Her drought-ridden village is saved from the brink of one extinction and almost immediately thrust in the path of another; Sydelle is completely unwilling to go with North, the wizard, but does so anyway, and starts down the path of an adventure that she could never have conceived of otherwise.

Sydelle is a magic-worker in her own right- she's a great weaver and her skills come in very useful throughout the book. She finds herself reluctantly falling for North, especially when she finds out he's hiding some secrets of his own. It takes her a long time to warm up to him and he certainly doesn't always help his cause, but ultimately he's a very vulnerable person who's not used to people he cares about sticking around. I thought this book had a very interesting twist on the traditional "damsel in distress," as Sydelle's hero could use some serious armor polish. And possibly a bath.

The story in Brightly Woven moves at a good pace, and the twists and turns of the plot, while not exactly coming out of left field, are timed well and keep the reader interested. The ending of the book was sweet and believable, and addressed the characters' feelings in a way that felt right, but not too sweet or overdone. I think Brightly Woven would be an excellent way to introduce younger readers, especially girls, to fantasy novels without bogging them down with something boring or lame. A lot of fantasy novels could stand some paring down or streamlining; there isn't anything here that I wish were different.

Overall Grade: A
 
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