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Friday, April 30, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Once Upon a Starry Night

This book is a collection of stories of the various constellations whose stories are those of famous myths. Jacqueline Mitton is the physicist behind the factual information and Christina Balit is the illustrator. Each illustration features little foil stars that make up the constellation, so it's like the paintings are layered over the constellations. I always loved learning about mythology from all over the world, and this book would be a good way to bridge the gap between literature/mythology and science by building an interest in astronomy and the stars. Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Visualize Cookies. Lots and Lots of Cookies.

Yesterday, I reviewed a book that appeared (to me) to have a lot of very evident influences. This got me thinking about ingredients, which if course reminded me of my post on the recipe for a good book. That made me want to extend the food/book metaphor a little bit farther, but in order to do that, I'm going to have to ask you to contemplate these chocolate chip cookies:Done? Good. Let's proceed.

I read pretty extensively in a couple of genres, so it's only natural that after awhile, certain plot devices, storylines, surprise twists, and what have you will start to look familiar. I'm going to present my argument here that, when it comes to stories and books, familiar isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, it may not be a good thing either- read on for details.

Paranormal romance and urban fantasy books for me are like chocolate chip cookies. More than likely, they have the same essential structure and consist of similar elements (ingredients.) The ingredients (setting, characterization, magical woo woo, romance, sex, whatever) may be present in different quantities, but, if you stick to similar proportions, you'll get the same result (and the same reaction from me) every time.

That's all well and good, but it goes without saying that a truly memorable book has to deviate from the standard recipe a little and create something different. Maybe you put nuts in your chocolate chip cookies. Well, that creates something different from the same old same old, and that result is pretty savory and delicious. Or, maybe you put bleach in your chocolate chip cookies, and the results are decidedly less positive.

Let me put this another way. My favorite paranormal romance/urban fantasy books have all stayed true to their roots as members of that genre; their origins as chocolate chip cookies, so to speak. But there was some secret ingredient- great setting, exceptional worldbuilding, really excellent chemistry between the hero and heroine, snarky/hilarious narration (nuts, peanut butter, caramel, toffee, etc. etc.) that changed the recipe just enough to leave a lasting impression.

Being true to one's roots is an excellent thing to do, but it's definitely important to put your own spin on things as well. Add your nuts, your gooey candies, your secret ingredients! Crumble your cookies and embed them in other recipes (when good romance shows up in fantasy and sci-fi I pretty much squeal like a little girl)! And hey, sometimes what sounds like a really strange combination (bacon chocolate chip cookies anyone?) is in fact a really unique, fun, and tasty idea.

So is it wrong for influences or familiar devices to be incorporated into a story? No! Do I welcome and encourage writers to add unique flavor to their books? Yes! And hey, even if a book presents itself as the most perfect exemplar as a chocolate chip cookie ever to grace the planet, well, sometimes a chocolate chip cookie is delicious all on its own.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BWB Review: Hex Hall





Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Page Count: 323 pages
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Sophie is a witch, and not very good at witchery, which lands her at Hecate, a reform school for supernatural teens who lack self control. Sophie hopes that this will be a place where she can at least fit in and not maim anyone. If only things were that simple.

Oh, Hex Hall. Reading you was fun, for the most part, and that's always a good thing. You were sweet and at times so cute that I wanted to pinch your little cheeks. You incorporated some of my favorite elements; the boarding school, the quirky female narrator, the adventure, the PG but still adorable developing romance, the paranormal element. It was all there, and yet, for all that the ingredients were spot-on, the final product was missing...something.

The widespread influences on this story are pretty much immediately apparent. That wouldn't have been a bad thing, except I spent most of the book being reminded of events in other books and other series, instead of being able to focus on what was going on in this story. In many ways, I feel like Hex Hall was more of a cocktail of other stories than a unique offering in its own right.

Easily my favorite part of the story was Sophie's narrative voice. I loved the use of colloquial phrases, her unique perspective on things, and quotes like this:
There was a sensible part of me somewhere that clutched its pearls and hissed that I better not give up my V-card in a cellar, but when Archer's hands slid under my shirt and onto the skin of my back, I started thinking that a cellar was as good a place as any.
Archer, of course, is the love interest in the book, and while all the raw materials for good romantic tension were there, I felt like that facet of the book needed a little more development. Hopefully, especially in light of the BIG PLOT DEVELOPMENT at the end of the book, that'll be coming in the second book, because even at the end of the story, I wasn't sure what, besides your regular old boy likes girl, girl likes boy hormonal fireworks were attracting to these two.

Which brings me to what is probably my biggest issue with the book. I felt like, in light of how little Sophie knew about the supernatural world, the extent of her power, and the dangers facing her because of her parentage, that her survival to this point was kind of a miracle. I mean, she did have mishaps with her magic, like the dance debacle in the first chapter, but for someone who's a huge target, has unforeseen powers, and has all kinds of wacky creatures in her family tree, that stuff is pretty white bread. I also found myself feeling kind of annoyed after awhile with the fact that literally everyone else in the book knew what was going on, but Sophie didn't. My frustration was directed towards the adult characters, for the most part, because how was Sophie supposed to find out this incredibly important stuff without a) asking impertinent questions, or b) stumbling into situations that a little information would have prevented?

There comes a point where cuteness in a book has to give way to substance, and I didn't quite reach that point with Hex Hall. I'm hoping that more development happens in the next book, both in terms of plot and in character development.

Overall Grade: B-
Blog with Bite Rating: 2/4


*****
Discussion Questions: (possible spoilers ahead!)

Sophie is abandoned by her father for her supposed protection. Do you believe there is anything that justifies abandoning your child? I definitely feel like there's a lot that needs to be explained about Sophie's dad and why he made the choices he did. I get that supernatural creatures of his ilk are incredibly powerful and that that might be dangerous, even deadly, to people around him, but if that's the case, why did everyone tell Sophie she was a witch, instead of what she really was? What was the protection in her being uninformed? It seems like that was just begging for an incident to happen. And, considering how many times Sophie was humiliated by other people knowing stuff she didn't about her own life, family and heritage, it seems like all that came as a result of Sophie being alienated from her family was her not fitting into the supernatural world either.

Did Hex Hall remind you of any other series? Short answer? Yes. Harry Potter, Evernight, you name it. Some of the references were well-done, some were a little overt for my liking. I felt like this book needed a little more original content and a little less deus ex machina and themes that were already done in other books.

Normally when you think of Dark Witches and White Witches, you think good and evil. This series seemed to have a different take on that all together. It almost had an apathetic take on human life with only care taken if their secret might be revealed. Do you find this disturbing or real?Philosophically, I'm a believer that power is power, and what you do with it determines whether you're a good witch or a bad witch, so to speak. I think the doings of the dark witches at Hecate for me were more a reminder that these allegedly dangerous supernatural miscreants were still relatively unsupervised, which seemed like a pretty unwise thing to do.

Looking forward to the next book, or pass on it? Why? You know, I'll probably pick up the next book at some point, just to see how the threads of the story are resolved (or not) but I do think I'll be supporting my local library for that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: Wild Rain

Title: Wild Rain
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: paranormal romance

50 words or less: Racheal is on the run from folks who want her dead; Rio is trying to live a quiet life in the jungle as a mercenary with ethics. When their worlds collide, it turns out both have secrets that involve the other, even though they've never met.

I admit, I am kind of addicted to Christine Feehan's books. I am still a fan of her Carpathian books, and her Game books, although I haven't read the most recent one (it's on hold at the library as we speak) are good fun as well. This series is the third one of hers that I've read and enjoyed and I definitely recommend it to fans of shifter stories or paranormal romance in general.

Rachael Lospostos has had kind of a hard life to this point. Her family is in up to their eyeballs in all kinds of nefarious activities and, while that money has provided Rachael with everything money can buy, it hasn't provided safety, security, protection, or love. So, Rachael seizes on the opportunity to create a new life for herself and runs for it to the jungles of Indonesia. Her family isn't willing to let her go that easily, though, and attempts on her life are made left and right, with an attack on her boat that lands her in the water being the most dramatic one. Rachael is fleeing through the jungle when she comes upon a cabin; not knowing who lives there but figuring that they're probably better than her homicidal relations, she goes inside and hunkers down.

Turns out the cabin belongs to Rio Santana, a lone mercenary who's been cast out of his village for a crime of self-defense. Rio's also a leopard shapeshifter; the arcane laws of the leopard society are in place because so few members remain that every one of them must be protected, even at the cost of losing someone else. The sparks fly between Rio and Rachael almost right away, at least when Rio isn't trying to save Racheal from her devastating injuries. As their relationship deepens and Rachael's role in the leopard society is ultimately revealed, it becomes apparent that their connection isn't just one that spans this lifetime, but others as well.

Wild Rain is definitely the setup to a series. I know there's a short story published in an anthology somewhere, but this is definitely where the world, the rules, and many of the characters get introduced. The story is predictable, sure, but the details and interactions between the characters are definitely attention-worthy. The happily ever after, too, is sweet and worth waiting for. Rachael is definitely no wilting flower, and she's more than a match for the adversities that keep popping up throughout the story.

My one complaint about the book is that I felt that the hero and heroine were kind of robbed of their chance to develop their own relationship by the whole "we loved each other in a past life" thing. There were flashbacks to previous encounters sprinkled throughout the story, and while they were well written and all that, they took time away from the people in the present story and their feelings. I felt like the assumption was, well, we've been together before, we might as well be here now, and that didn't sit really well with me.

Besides that, though, this is a fun, light read with lots of spice that sets up the rest of the series nicely.

Overall Grade: A-

Friday, April 23, 2010

Illustrated Friday: The Super Hungry Dinosaur

This book is too cute for words and, according to the back flap, it's the debut effort by this illustrator! Leonie Lord has an excellent showing with funny, almost crayon-like illustrations that are a great companion to the story of a boy triumphing over a Super Hungry Dinosaur. It's a neat story about ultimately defeating a bully and will be a hit with preschoolers, I'm sure. Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Author Interview: Gwyn Cready!


Today I'm especially pleased to have Gwyn Cready, the author of Flirting With Forever, here for an interview!

For my review of Flirting with Forever, check here.

Otherwise, read on!

Your story of how you became a writer is fantastic! What drew you into becoming a writer of time travels (and sexy, witty ones at that?) Thanks for the chance to talk today, Emily. Actually, how I became a writer of time travels is an interesting story. The first manuscript I wrote was a straight historical, set in the borderlands of Scotland and England in 1705. It took me six years to write it, and it won me a great agent. When she wasn’t able to sell it, however, she encouraged me to write a second book. I wanted to write something that would take me less than six years of research and writing, and I theorized that a contemporary wouldn’t take me as long. However, I didn’t want to lose all that wonderful research I’d done. So the idea of a time-traveling heroine from present day was born. By the way, the hero and heroine from that first manuscript actually appear as minor characters in my next book, Aching for Always. I hope they’ll get their own say someday, those two.

What, for you, is the hardest part about writing? The easiest? Are those aspects different from what other people who aren't writers would think? The hardest part for me at least is staying focused. I find I reward myself at the end of every paragraph with a quick check of Facebook or email, or offering to accompany the mail carrier down the street. Writing is a solitary business. One longs for human contact. The easiest part for me are the appearances. I love to meet readers and talk about the books.

For folks who are new to time travel stories, what other books would you recommend they try? Not just books, but books and movies. Definitely Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Definitely The Time Traveler’s Wife, if they’re up for something a little more serious. For light hearted fun, I LOVE Back to the Future, 13 Going on 30 and Groundhog Day. Hot Tub Time Machine was fun, too, in a more sophomoric way, but they paid homage to Back to the Future, which gave it a boost in my book.

If you had the chance to travel back in time, where/when would you go, and why? There’s a sentimental answer and a fun answer. The sentimental answer is that I’d go back to any day before my mother died when I was eleven. The fun answer –and I know you Outlander fans will know what I’m talking about—is that I’d go back to 1743 about a week before Claire Beauchamp lands, so that I could ace her out of Jamie’s arms.

What other projects do you have on the horizon? Can you tell us anything about them? Happy to. It’s called Aching for Always, and it’s another time travel. It’s about maps. The heroine has one. The hero wants it. She owns a failing mapmaking company in present day. He’s a dashing and determined sea captain from—ta da!--1705 who’s lived his whole life to avenge his brother’s death. They meet when she’s taking her wedding skirt to be altered. As you might imagine, there’s an immediate attraction. Aching for Always will be out in October. Interestingly, the hero and heroine of the manuscript I never sold appear as secondary characters. Someday, they’ll get to have their say.

You're trapped in a castle, and the only way out is to bribe the guards with desserts. What dessert would you use to escape? Well, the best dessert in the world is my mother-in-law’s fresh peach shortcake with whipped cream, so I guess I’d have to enlist her in the effort.

By the way, if you’d like to read about “10 Great Places to Defy Time and Space,” my recent interview in the USA Today travel section, go to http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/10great/2010-04-08-time-travel_N.htm.

*****

A big thank you to Ms. Cready for stopping by today! If you're in the mood for a fun and sassy romance with adventure and history woven in, then Flirting with Forever is an excellent bet. I'll definitely be reading Aching for Always when it comes out as well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Radiant Shadows

Title: Radiant Shadows
Author: Melissa Marr
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: young adult, urban fantasy

50 words or less: Ani is a half-human, half-Hound who needs to feed on touch and emotion to survive. Devlin is an assassin who toes a thin line between reason and war. Even though staying apart seems like the right thing to do, sometimes, love is the only solution to an impossible problem.

Ye be warned: here there may be spoilers, either for this book or for previous books in the series (more likely the latter.)

Well, hot damn. There's nothing quite as satisfying as experiencing a book that totally lived up to my expectations. I've enjoyed all of the books in this series so far, but Radiant Shadows was where the setting, characters, plots, and details really started to come together in a way that definitely stokes my interest in the next (last?) volume.

The story picks up the reins where Fragile Eternity left off- Seth made his deal with Sorcha of the High Court for Sight, in order to facilitate him competing with Keenan of the Summer Court for Aislinn's affections. Ani, Gabriel's daughter, of the Dark Court, is becoming more Houndly every day, although it's getting harder and harder for her to maintain strength since she feeds off not only touch, as all Hounds do, but emotion as well. And when your dad is the leader of the Wild Hunt and won't let you date anyone who can't best him in battle, that means you're on a pretty short leash, which irritates Ani to no end.

Devlin, who is equal parts reason and war and serves as assassin for Sorcha, never thought he'd have the opportunity to really have a life of his own, and for the most part that was true, until one fated decision years ago meant that his life was entwined with Ani's, for better or worse.

This is definitely a series to start reading from the beginning, because there are definitely important things in each book that support involvement of later installments, but this book is definitely about the ancillary characters and what their role in the ultimate resolution of the story will be. I really enjoyed that Devlin and Ani never really try to fight their attraction to each other; instead, they focus on figuring out how to overcome the crazy obstacles against them, which served to advance the plot at a good clip. It's a pretty common pitfall in books about faeries that the politics and schemes and trivial details can sometimes unite to overpower the plot and slow the pace of the story down to a crawl; I'm eternally thankful that that never happened here.

My favorite character in the book: Ani's Steed, Barry. No contest. Watching Ani come into her own as a Hound was excellent, and made the ultimate resolution of the conflicts in the story especially satisfying.

The blogosphere is chock full of positive reviews of this book, so all I'll say in closing is this. If you've given thought to reading this series, do yourself a favor and don't start here. Go back to the start of the series (Wicked Lovely) and read the series in order to get the full effect. When you get to this story, it'll be all the more enjoyable.

Overall Grade: A

Saturday, April 17, 2010

BWB Review: Dusk



Title: Dusk
Author: Lana Griffin
Page Count: 186 pages (e-book format)
Publisher: Ravenous Romance
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: Directly from the story-
There wasn't much action here in Havenshire. Nothing much to do at all. Just go down to the park at night, I thought, and try to pick up the local vampire dude, hoping he seduces me and falls madly in love with me.


I'll come right out and say it: any book that opens with characters drinking Genny by the river is going to grab my attention (Ms. Griffen and I hail from the same region, it would seem.) Dusk, while not a book that would necessarily ring everyone's bell, does bring something new to the table of vampire romance and sets the stage for the rest of the series in a pretty novel way.

For me, the jury's still out on a variety of facets of this story. I was definitely intrigued by the premise of the story- a reincarnated voodoo priestess falls for a vampire from the same family she's tangled with in the distant past, and they have to deal with issues of "bad blood" if they ever hope to be together. Seriously, these two together is like trying to cross pigs and elephants. They knock boots and seriously weird stuff starts to happen. For another visual representation:

It's surprisingly hard to dive into the nuts and bolts of this story without giving stuff away, and I think that forms the basis for my main issue with this story. The pacing never really comes together in a cohesive way, and some of the side plots were kind of distracting. Case and point:
I thought the tie-in with the bad blood was good, but after awhile I kind of felt like doing a shot every time this drug's name was mentioned in the story.

I also think, due to the short length, that there wasn't really time for me to get invested in what was happening with the characters in the story. I found Alex's voice as the narrator to be kind of bland; for someone who's just uncovered the fact that she's Marie Laveau and now can do all kinds of crazy voodoo shenanigans, she seems pretty bored. She discovers all kinds of juicy secrets about her two best friends, and seems pretty bored. She starts SLEEPING WITH A VAMPIRE and is excited for a couple of minutes, but then seems pretty bored. I admit that there were times that I wished someone else was telling the story.

Vadim (who I sincerely hope doesn't really look like the cover of this book- there, I said it) begins to really come into his own at the end of the book, but it does take awhile to get there and I found myself hitting fast forward a couple of times. Easily the creepiest, most fleshed out character (literally) was Haiman, Vadim's beyond-creepy sire, and I found the scenes with him to be the most memorable for me (and really were what formed the connection between Mr. Loaf's music video and this story in my mind as well.)

Don't let my musings thus far convince you that I didn't like the story, because that's certainly not the truth. This story takes a lot of classic elements of PNR (ancient hero, heroine who suddenly gets sucked into the supernatural world and finds out she has powers all her own, nefarious dudes who want bad things for our characters, secrets, lies, murder, mayhem) and twists them up into something entirely new. The elements of voodoo were definitely unique as well, and encompassed my favorite parts of the story. I'm also interested to hear more about what happens to Alex/Marie's friends, and where the series will go from here.

Overall Grade: B-
Blog with Bite rating: 2.75/4

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Hunting Julian

Title: Hunting Julian
Author: Jacquelyn Frank
Page Count: 354 pages
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Badass bounty hunter Asia was on a manhunt to catch Julian, the guy she thought murdered her sister. Except Julian is actually a being from another dimension who kidnapped the sister for her sexual energy and is now kidnapping Asia as well. Well, everyone makes mistakes, right?

As a huge fan of this author's Nightwalker and Shadowwalker series, I was beyond excited to discover that there was a new series coming out. I love the language use, characters, worldbuilding, and details from those books, so I figured I would get more of the same in this new series. While there are plenty of elements here that are definitely unique, overall I felt the finished product of the book lacked a little of the panache of the other two sets of novels.

First though, I will give props to this author for introducing a landscape to paranormal romance that I can safely say I've never encountered before. In this world, you have to visualize the universe as a gigantic piece of tiramisu. Earth as we know constitutes one of the layers, say, the top one, and allllll the way at the bottom is Below, where Julian is from. The beings that inhabit Below are just like regular people in every way except that they live off of energy instead of food, and can't produce the energy themselves. There are also virtually no women in this world, as they were all killed off by a plague. In order to keep Below going, Gatherers, like Julian, have to go to Earth to find women who can produce energy in enough quantities to sustain Below through either their strong emotions or their sexual energy.

Asia reacts to all this pretty much as I think any of us would, that being with a big, fat WTF. Asia is kind of a ball buster throughout the entire book, and while I certainly don't mind kickass heroines who aren't going to just accept any load of crap the hero decides to dish out, I found her to be kind of tiresome after awhile. Since the main tension of the story revolves around the developing relationship between Julian and Asia and whether or not she will accept a place in Julian's society, this puts the tone of the book in kind of a pickle. But, I'll get to that in a minute.

The description of the setting and the unique rules of the world of Below were my favorite parts of the novel by far. I was reminded of really vivid sci-fi or fantasy novels where the worldbuilding takes center stage. In that way, this book totally lived up to my expectations.

When it comes to the characters and the interactions between them, though, that's kind of a different story. Not to mince words, but I thought the premise of needing to kidnap women so that they can have as much sex as they want because the energy that's produced from all that sexin' is what powers and feeds this society to be about as sexy as a rubber porkchop. Julian's position is that women in this society are revered and honored and that, as far as lives go, it's not a bad one, is kind of undermined by the fact that around every corner lurks someone who wants to see Asia take a dirt nap in a big hurry. And, when Asia doesn't take too well to not only being snatched out of her life where, although it was a lonely existance, it was one that she'd created for herself, she's accused of being selfish and mean-spirited! Sorry, but I don't see "let's have sex so we can save the lives of orphans" catching on as a pickup line any time soon.

The finale of the book, where Julian and Asia finally accept their relationship and look forward to a happy life together, was a little....bland, to be honest. I thought it was kind of rushed in order to make room for the setup for the next novel, and left open a kind of obvious plot hole: if these two screwing like rabbits produces enough energy to feed the entire colony, why do we need any more Gatherers or novels? I'm just asking.

For all that, I find myself intrigued to find out what happens next in this series. The next book, Stealing Kathryn, is out soon, and I'll probably read it, although I might opt for a copy from the library this time.

Overall Grade: B-

Week of the Young Child- Video Roundup!

Friends and neighbors! I almost completely forgot to mention that tomorrow closes out Week of the Young Child! The whole shebang is a product of the National Association for Young Children and the event is intended to draw public attention and focus to the needs of young children in home, child care, and early childhood educational settings.

This year's theme is "Early Years are Learning Years," and it got me thinking about the relationship that young children have with media and with technology. I was having a conversation about that topic earlier and it got me thinking. As much as many people seem to think that technology is a "new" thing and that young children engaging with technology is a new thing, it's really not. I started thinking about my own early relationship with technology and media, and what did I think of?

Sesame Street.

I remember watching Sesame Street when I was very little, and all these years later, I still remember my favorite segments. I remember the songs, the characters, and now that I'm an adult, I can identify the connections to culture and literacy and also the humor that was there just for the parents and families that were watching with the kids.

And of course, there are YouTube clips. As if you really thought there wouldn't be.




(I think this one might predate me but it's still awesome)



(I didn't discover this segment until I was an adult!)

(I thought this was the coolest thing ever. EVER.)





What about you? What were your childhood memories? How did those tie into reading and literacy for you?

Illustrated Friday: Flotsam


David Wiesner is one of my favorite illustrators- I've never come across a book of his that I didn't enjoy or didn't enjoy sharing with kids. This book is definitely no exception- the illustrations are vivid and the level of detail on each page is absolutely superb. There are an infinite number of stories that you could come up with from the illustrations, which means you could share this book over and over again with different results every time. The kids in my class love going over and over the illustrations, alone and with a group. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Angels' Blood

Title: Angels' Blood
Author: Nalini Singh
Page Count: 358 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Elena is a Hunter who brings wayward vampires back to their angel makers. Raphael is an archangel who needs another, crazy archangel brought to heel. Who you gonna call? ELENA! She's the best in the business but even Raphael isn't prepared for what happens between them.

Have you ever had a book on your shelf for a fairly long time, and you know it's going to be good, so that's why you take so long to get around to reading it? That's what happened to me with Angels' Blood (and is happening to me right now with Blaze of Memory from the Psy-Changeling series actually.) I knew I would love it, as I love everything, literally everything, that Nalini Singh has written so far, so I kind of put off reading it. It's like saving a tasty bottle of wine for a special occasion.

If you're a regular follower of my escapades here, or feel like clicking back to January on the nav bar, you know how much I love the Psy-Changeling series. I wasn't sure than anything would be as good as that, but Ms. Singh has outdone herself by having not one, but two awesome series! Angels' Blood is a great take on both angels and vampires and creates a world and mythology that's very unique, while introducing a power couple that definitely has staying power, in more ways than one. You probably won't be doing any dramatic readings from this book in the break room at work- there are certainly many NSFW moments- but once you pop, the fun most certainly won't stop. Prepare to be addicted!

Elena and Raphael as a couple remind me a lot of Eve and Rourke from the In Death series- Elena is a superstar at her job who's trying desperately to overcome a difficult upbringing, and Raphael is a big time hotshot who, although totally used to getting his own way when it comes to absolutely everything, is totally broadsided by Elena, her determination, and his feelings for her. Although they sort of move in the same circles, Elena and Raphael both have a lot to learn about each other, about trust, and about relationships, and watching the interplay between these two grow and develop was one of the best parts of this story.

This isn't a cuddly, kittens and puppy dogs kind of book, though. There's also a crazed, murderous archangel on the loose, and the death and destruction is splattered all over every page. The crime scene descriptions are vivid and horrifying; even if there weren't plenty of sweaty bits, this book would get a Scandalous Books designation just because some of the imagery is indeed very disturbing. The need for this killer to be caught is immediately clear; the ultimate showdown between good and evil at the end of the book was nailbiting. I don't think I blinked for the last fifty or so pages, seriously.

I really can't say enough good things about this book. If you've been tempted to read this series in the past but haven't gotten around to it, move it up your TBR pile and read it. You'll like it.

Overall Grade: A

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Readathon: The End.

The April 2010 edition of Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon has drawn to a close, and I'm really pleased with what I ended up accomplishing!

Books Read:
Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
Dusk by Lana Griffin
Hunting Julian by Jacquelyn Frank
Wolf at the Door by Christine Warren

As I had kind of suspected, I didn't end up reading for the whole 24 hours, but four finished books is definitely a good thing. Add in some cheerleading (which was a ton of fun, by the way,) chores, errands, and whatnot, and yesterday was a very satisfying day. I hope everyone else had as much fun participating as I did!

Having finished a bunch of books means that it's now time to write a bunch of reviews, so with that, I'll bid farewell to the readathon for now.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Readathon Update 3!

Book 3 is finished- stay tuned for my review of Hunting Julian, it's going to be...interesting.

Anyway, book number four is going to be Wolf at the Door by Christina Warren. I'm hoping to get more cheerleading done too. Happy readathon everyone!

Readathon Update 2

Just checking in:

Books read so far: 2
-Radiant Shadows
-Dusk

Up next: Hunting Julian by Jacquelyn Frank.

Onward!

Readathon Update 1! Hours 1-4

Just checking in, folks- the readathon is in full swing! If you're participating, how are things going?

Hours spent reading so far: 2
Books completed: 1

I'm also cheering this time, so if your blog is in the K section of the list of readers for the readathon, I'll definitely be stopping by. :D

Keep up the great work everyone!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Otis

This week's Illustrated Friday offering is a short, sweet book about a tractor named Otis and his rollicking adventures, appropriately titled Otis and written/illustrated by Loren Long. The illustrations have a lot of old-time charm- according to Amazon.com's description of the book, the illustrations are "gouache and pencil." I think the color combinations are really delightful- they remind me of a piece of pie with ice cream on top, on a red-checkered tablecloth. As spring blossoms and summer starts to become more of a reality and less of a dream, this book will probably see some heavy rotation in my classroom. Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Game Plan- 24 Hour Readathon

The next 24 Hour Readathon is almost here! I'm definitely stoked to be participating this year, both as a reader and as a cheerleader (go team Shelley!) I fully admit going into the grand event that I won't be reading for all 24 hours, but I'm definitely going to give it my best shot. This readathon is coming at a really good time for me, as I'm spectacularly behind with my reading challenges and review books! This gives me a chance to hang out and be awesome with everyone and also get myself back on track as well.

Here's the list of books I'm hoping to take on this weekend:

Dusk by Lana Griffin
The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Into the Dark by Gena Showalter

Three review copies and two challenge books! And a partridge in a pear tree.

Who else is doing the readathon this weekend? What are you planning to read?

Also, in case you need a little motivation:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Guest Post- Lisa from A Life Bound By Books!

Many, if not most time, for me at least… a book will start with its cover. When I walk into a store, or see it being recommended to me on Amazon or by a friend on Good Reads of even on another blog, it’s always the first thing that either catches my eye - or, well not. A cover can sometimes tell its own story of the characters within in the pages of the book, giving us a sneak peak to a world we are about to take a step into. The cover might be one of the first things we see, but it’s not the only thing. Authors name and title of the book can also speak volumes to me as a reader. Especially if it’s one in a series that’s my favorite or I’ve read something from the author before. However this time we're talking about covers. The thing is - whether I like a cover and you don’t or vice versa…. it’s all subjective. And since it’s a version of art, that’s not only understandable but a given.

I often talk about covers that call to me, or sometimes I even feel like they scream my name. It’s funny how a book can do that to a person. Most people who read have had this happen to them from time to time, if not often. I mean common guys! I know I’m not alone when I talk about a cover that I’m drawn to.

One book I’d like to talk about is Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, The cover is one of my favorites as is the story within its pages. It’s far from simple in its blue silhouette on a white background, making this cover hauntingly affective. The lone wolf hiding and the bold single drop of blood… the heart shaped leaves. It makes me think of many things and always leaves me wanting more. I’m amazed how a books cover art can make me feel. Sometimes after reading my feelings will change about a cover. Most often I’ll understand its cover more, rarely less. But for me that’s another thing that makes a cover great. If I feel more after reading, get more of an understanding for what the cover art is suppose to tell me as a reader, then I feel both author and artist or art department have all won. As mentioned, the cover art is the main thing we see besides an authors name and the title. It’s often what sells everyone the book. With the many new authors out there and more to come in the future were bound to pick up more books based on their covers then not. In the book blogging community there’s always word of mouth. Finding a great book isn’t far then just a couple clicks away. It’s walking into a book store or any store that sells books when the cover can be the main selling point. It’s what always makes me what to find out more. Now, I’m not one who ALWAYS judges a book by its cover. It’s just part of what gives you your first impression of what’s to come. So, making the cover not only fit the story, but call out to readers is always a double win. The amazing thing about a great cover is it’s only the wrapping for what hopes to be a equally great, if not beautiful, emotional, haunting, scary, romantic, etc, etc, etc read for each of us. The cover of a book is only the beginning of a journey for each reader. As mentioned it’s forever subjective as is what you think about the pages inside. The cover might be what we see and what sells books, however it’s far from the end of the story. It takes reading the pages behind the cover to get to the end. And with each end there’s always another book and its cover right around the corner for yet another beginning.

To find out more about Lisa, check her out at her blog, on Twitter, and on Goodreads:
A Life Bound By Books
Twitter: BoundByBooks
Goodreads

And just to whet your whistle, here's Lisa in her own words: "I love to read just about anything that looks or sounds good. Right now, I tend to lean more to Paranormal, Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy in both YA and Adult titles. I’m far from limited to those genre’s and also enjoy reading – Fantasy, Sci-fi, Fiction - including Coming of Age and teen issues, Chick-Lit, Romance, Mysteries and some Romance. I haven’t been blogging for to long now, but I have fun doing it. That’s the main part of it all right, having fun. Besides reviewing books at my blog, I take part in a couple meme’s and host contests that I hope are fun for everyone from my amazing followers – new and old, to anyone who just happens to find me along the way. So stop by and say hello!



BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Lisa's currently reading:
Morpheus Road – The Light by D.J. MacHale
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Lisa's Recently Read and Reviewed:
Sweethearts By: Sara Zarr
Shade By: Jeri Smith-Ready
Claire de Lune By: Christine Johnson
Exit Strategy By: Ryan Potter
Num8ers By: Rachel Ward
****
Awesome, awesome, awesome. If you're interested in doing a guest post here on What Book is That?, drop me a line! Email me at whatbookisthat at gmail dot com or find me on Twitter @heynocupcake.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Sisters Red

Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pearce
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown
Genre: urban fantasy, remade fairy tale
Copy for review provided by Book it Forward ARC Tours in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: After a brutal attack takes their grandmother, Scarlett and Rosie commit themselves to ridding the world of the Fenris, brutal werewolves who prey on pretty young girls. Until Silas, a fellow hunter, comes back on the scene and makes the girls wonder if life is really as good as it's going to get.

Sisters Red is a creative reimagining of the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood that weaves the elements of that story into the story of Scarlett and Rosie's quest to exterminate werewolves without losing themselves in the process. I was immediately sucked into this book from the moment I laid eyes on the Gestalt-esque cover, and was satisfied by the end of the book, for the most part.

The story revolves around the feelings and actions of the three main characters and is told, in alternating chapters, from the perspectives of Scarlett and Rosie. Scarlett is definitely the alpha female here; after saving Rosie from an attacking Fenris but losing her grandmother in the process, Scarlett feels personally responsible for the physical safety of the people she loves. Her hunting partner, Silas, felt the same way, until he went on a trip to San Francisco to deal with some family issues. He came back wondering if hunting was enough to sustain a person, or if there was more to life than just shedding blood to preserve the safety of others. He also had fallen in love with Rosie, the younger sister, who, although a hunter in her own right and more than capable of taking care of herself, was a much softer, gentler person than Scarlett. Scarlett bears the scars from her first encounter with the Fenris and the incident also cost her her eye; Scarlett's wounds are out in the open for all to see.

There's a saying that goes something like, once I save your life, I'm responsible for you forever, and that's definitely an issue in the relationships between Scarlett and Rosie and Scarlett and Silas. For all of her kick-ass abilities and passion about killing the Fenris, Scarlett is pretty clueless about people and how to maintain relationships with others. She's completely focused on exterminating the Fenris and doesn't understand if other people don't always share her devotion. There were times when I felt that Scarlett's attitude of "we can't EVER DO ANYTHING ELSE because IF WE DON'T HUNT, PEOPLE DIE" came across like kids who refuse to eat their meatloaf because people are starving in other countries- the sentiment is definitely heartfelt, but the approach is kind of futile.

Which brings me to the one thing that rubbed me the wrong way about this novel. I totally understand that Scarlett and Rosie shared a horrible ordeal that completely changed them when they were way too young to even have to know that such violence existed. I get that Scarlett saved Rosie from a horrible fate, is extremely disfigured from the ordeal, and feels a tremendous responsibility to keep that fate from falling on anyone else. I get that the Fenris are evil and unredeemable and will only keep killing and maiming if left to their own devices. Even in the face of all that, there were definitely times when Scarlett was emotionally abusive to Rosie, and to Silas, to a lesser extent. She held even the slightest show of independence against people; it was her way or the highway- if they weren't hunting werewolves, they were wasting time- half hour classes were out of the question and personally offensive to her. Boyfriends? Not a chance. The idea that, when the three of them dropped dead of exhaustion, there would be nobody to mourn the loss, never really occurred to her. Conveniently, Scarlett flipped out about the half hour personal improvement classes, but didn't seem to mind when Rosie wasn't hunting because she was cooking or cleaning or grocery shopping or doing all those other necessary tasks that she didn't personally have the time or focus to do. Scarlett was very possessive of Rosie- she wanted them to be connected forever, but only as long as Rosie did things her way. The whole "you can have a life but only if I approve of it" attitude definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I feel like if it were a male character trying to control a female character's life and choices like that, the response would be "blech," not "how sweet." Ultimately, the issue does get explained adequately in my opinion and the ending is a satisfactory resolution of that situation, but there was definitely a section where I was definitely concerned about this.

Excluding that element, Sisters Red is a great addition to paranormal YA literature and asks a lot of interesting questions about the difference between passion and obsession, the difference between living and existing, and the need that all people have to feel connected and understood. The kind of questionable relationship dynamics between the trio of main characters could definitely open the door to a good discussion of boundaries in relationships, protectiveness versus controlling behavior, and, ultimately, what to do when people just don't see things the same way. I'm definitely interested in reading more titles in this vein by this author.

Overall Grade: B+

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review: Eternal Hunter

Title: Eternal Hunter
Author: Cynthia Eden
Page Count: 338 pages
Publisher: Brava
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Jude Donovan's a bounty hunter and a shifter who never expected to fall for Erin Jerome, an ADA. When a psycho stalker puts Erin in danger and her secrets are revealed, a happily ever after seems like a big stretch indeed.

Swoooooon! Eternal Hunter is a tasty introduction to a cast of characters and a paranormal world that sucks you in from the first word. The characters are fun, the relationship is dynamic and steamy, and the mystery, while definitely the backburner element of this story, is still well done.

Jude Donovan is a bounty hunter who knows that getting involved with clients is a bad news, lose-lose situation. That was never a problem for him until he started working with Erin Jerome, an ADA. Jude figures out pretty quickly that Erin is at least part shifter, which for him only heightens her appeal; Erin has been hiding from people for so long that she's kind of dismayed that Jude figures her out so quickly, but she gets over it and quickly realizes that if she's ever going to get the crazy people in her life to back the hell off, Jude will be the one to help her.

And oh boy, are there crazy people running around. Cynthia Eden's paranormal books center around the Others, and in this world, people are not aware of all the paranormal things going on all around them. Only a few people know about the Others, and the Others want to keep it that way. This is all well and good, except it makes certain events very hard to explain; when a rogue werewolf is on the loose, killing people and offering them as sacrifices to Erin in a vain attempt to convince Erin that she's his mate, it's not like Erin can just go out and get a restraining order.

That's where Jude comes in. Jude goes all smoldering and dark and takes it upon himself to not only protect Erin from psycho killer, but to also discern his identity and eliminate him once and for all. This involves delving into Erin's past and her secrets, and his as well; through it all, they manage to not log some serious horizontal time but also to fall in love.

The secondary characters in this book are a lot of fun- Dee, the human bounty hunter in Jude's agency with a serious chip on her shoulder is up next for the series, and I'm definitely looking forward to that title too. Although this book was a fortuitous find at the library, I'm definitely thinking I'll need to get my own copy somewhere. Put Eternal Hunter on your list of books to take to the beach this summer!

Overall Grade: A

Friday, April 2, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Bats at the Library

This book is adorable! Brian Lies expertly pairs a poem about bats exploring the library with clever wordplay and beautiful illustrations with lots and lots of deails. My preschoolers love to look at the pictures and laugh at the silly things the bats are doing. I love the rollicking poetry and the verbal acrobatics throughout the text, as well as the message about how fun the library is and all the exploring there is to do there. Even if you don't have kids or access to kids, if you're a reader and a library fan, this book is worth exploring. Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Giveaway Winners- Immortals After Dark Series and Another Faust!



Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaways and helped out with Give the Gift of Reading!

Without further ado.....

The winner of Another Faust is....Shweta!

And, the winner of the first seven books in the Immortals After Dark series is....Spav!

Both winners have been emailed and have 48 hours to respond. Look out for more giveaways coming soon!

Give the Gift of Reading Finale!

Well, in my humble opinion, Give the Gift of Reading was a big success! A grand total of 230 comments were received here at What Book is That? in the month of March, leading to a donation of $11.50 to Reading at War!

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Because Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog is matching the donation, that actually means that the total donation from this endeavor is $23.00!

Thank you to everyone who commented and got involved by tweeting about and promoting this project- it would never have happened without you!

Review: Flirting with Forever

Title: Flirting with Forever
Author: Gwyn Cready
Page Count: 448 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: fantasy, time travel romance
Copy for review provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: What's better than a titillating historical story? Well, being able to see the events in real life. Too bad visiting the past has a tendency to go really wrong, as Campbell Stratford is about to learn the hard way...

True confession time: I don't normally read time travel novels. I like contemporary novels and I like historical novels, but rarely do they come together in a way that works for me. Flirting with Forever cheerfully grabbed those assumptions with a tissue and threw them in the garbage, and for that I am definitely grateful.

The writing style in this book is hilarious; there's truly no other way to describe it. I was reminded of Douglas Adams and Janet Evanovich (the first nine or so Stephanie Plum books, not the recent ones) in parts- Adams when the topic of conversation was time travel and the Guilds and Evanovich when the characters are interacting with one another. The dialogue sparkled right off the page.

Added to the mix: a cast of truly diverse characters and an unusual but entertaining setting. The art world is an excellent background for this story because enjoying art is kind of like time traveling- it launches you back (or forward) into a time, place, or environment based on imagery and ideas. Add in an actual artist from centuries ago wandering around the contemporary art world and there are plenty of opportunities for laughs and wry commentary. The plot here is full of twists and turns and machinations and plotting and scheming with the ultimate lesson being that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Just when I thought the happily-ever-after was just around the corner, someone would act in a way that had me yelling NOOOOOOOOOOOO because everything was screwed up!

The tricky thing with time travel books is that, at some point, there has to be an explanation of why things that are happening are affecting (or not affecting) the past, the future, and hell, the present. Flirting with Forever takes the Back to the Future II approach, which says that messing around with future events can impact the past, but furthermore, that the past can be controlled:


Peter and Campbell are an unlikely couple, to be sure, but I was definitely rooting for them (and for Anastasia and what'shisname, the adulterous fiance, to take long walks off short piers) and their relationship. Sweet, saucy, and very rambunctious. Good stuff all the way around.

There's a lot to love in this book, and I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to discover a new author in a genre that I haven't really explored.

Overall Grade: A

And now, because I can:
 
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