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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: Blaze of Memory

Title: Blaze of Memory
Author: Nalini Singh
Page Count: 373 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: The Psy-Changeling series continues with the story of Katya and Dev, a Psy assassin and the head of the Shine Foundation, as they try to figure out their next move in the fight against the Psy Council and the growing unrest. Oh, and they can't keep their hands off each other!

I think I've finally figured out what it is about this series that keeps me antsy for more. The plotting of these books is incredibly tight, and each book feeds effortlessly into the next installment without underhanded pitches ("he's so dark and terrible, nobody could ever love him") or soap opera-esque story elements (like how nobody's ever really dead until they're sliced and diced and fed to the fishes.) The vivid characters and detailed relationships are just icing on the cake, and delicious icing at that.

The strong foundation of this series is what allows Blaze of Memory to work so well and to play such an important role in the series, even though its hero and heroine haven't previously held central roles. I get nervous when characters in a series are introduced just in time to have their own book, as it seems like we're kind of treading water instead of moving forward, but I'm pleased to say here that my concerns were unfounded and that the story continues to blaze along at a good pace.

Dev and Katya are a good match for each other. Both are stubborn, loyal, independent almost to a fault, and both have a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility that means they're butting heads right up until the end of the story. Even though there's really no reason at all that they should trust each other (Dev represents the Forgotten, Psy who've dropped out of the net and are now developing powers and abilities waaaay different from the traditional ones recognized by the Psy, and Katya is a killing machine, programmed to destroy Dev by the Psy Council member who tortured her,) they do, and it makes for excellent sexual and dramatic tension.

At this point, I really can't recommend this series strongly enough; there are two more full-length novels and a novella (in the Burning Up anthology) coming out later this year, and you owe it to yourself to start this series at the beginning. Inexplicably, it took me awhile to get around to reading this series, but Nalini Singh is now squarely on my auto-buy list.

Overall Grade: A+

Saturday, May 29, 2010

BWB Review: Birthmarked




Title: Birthmarked
Author: Caragh O'Brien
Page Count:
Publisher:
Genre: young adult, dystopian
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Gaia never questioned here responsibilities as a midwife, not even when she had to bring three babies every month to the Enclave within an hour of their birth. Then her parents are arrested for an unknown crime, and life as she knows it is changed forever.

Sigh. I love dystopian novels. I mean really love them. The worldbuilding is so intricate and unique, the struggles are so real, and the power of the human spirit is all over every page. I'd heard great things about this book before it was picked as a May Blog With Bite selection; pretty much across the board, the book didn't really live up to my expectations. Set phasers to stun, then, and read on.

Birthmarked took a long time to get going. I was totally okay with there being a lot of lead in because it's important for me, when I read a book, to really buy into the rules of the world in the story. This is especially true of dystopian novels; if I don't feel how monstrous the world truly is, then it's hard for me to connect to the characters and understand their plight or root for their cause.

This is pretty much what happened for me when I was reading Birthmarked. I felt like the divided society, the weird laws, the genetics, all of that, were described in an almost clinical fashion, as if by someone who was observing the society from afar or watching about it in a movie. I had an abstract idea of what people's lives were like, but no real connection to any of the characters.

The same thing extends to Gaia herself as a narrator. While one common trait of young adult dystopian novels is that the narrator is almost always wise beyond his or her years and has unusual skills or abilities, usually focused on surviving, I felt that, as informed as Gaia was sometimes, she was remarkably ignorant at others, and in ways she shouldn't have been. Gaia transformed immediately from someone who was obedient to the society in which she lived, to a rebel who was incredibly well-informed about people in power and their motives. Where did these sudden flashes of insight come from? The disjointed, sometimes lecturing narrative made it hard to really immerse myself in the story.

There were a lot of other disjointed elements that prevented me from fully enjoying the story as well. Some of this was purely a lack of relevant details. For example, for the outsiders, they were remarkably complacent in the whole infant advancement in exchange for pitiful rations. Nobody except the mothers whose babies were being taken seemed to really have an issue with this and we never really get an understanding of why. There are a few scenes where someone tries to explain why the community ended up the way it is, but they were very thinly sketched and abstract. I just didn't buy that everyone in these communities was cowed enough, or brainwashed enough, to just stand by and be like, well, that's that. Where was the history? Where was the development? We got plenty of tender vignettes of Gaia with her parents, but nothing that really explained anything.

I thought most of the secondary characters were pretty forgettable, for the most part, or were introduced only so Gaia wouldn't be talking to herself when some plot point was revealed. The setup for a sequel was apparent, so maybe the secondary characters will get more development there, but frankly I don't really want to wait- we met these people now, we should be learning something about these people now. Even the supposed bad guy, Mabrother Iris, was two-dimensional and frankly kind of reminded me of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons more than anything else.

There were some parts of this book that shone, that's for sure- I thought the bit on cooperation versus complacency was well done, and I enjoyed the evolution of the relationship between Gaia and Leon. I was left with lots of questions about the setting of the story and how the events of the book would affect the other players. I was curious about the wider world of the novel- what other communities exist, and are they all as strange as this one? The structure was here for this to be a really great story, but at the end of the day I felt like the focus was on being plausible instead of being vivid and the story as a whole suffered for it. I'm totally on board with setting up a series if the story merits it, but I personally didn't find enough in this book to make me want to read subsequent ones. Many other folks are over the moon about this title, though, so if you're into dystopian novels or want to explore a debut novel for 2010 it might be worth checking out still.

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

Friday, May 28, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Help! A Story of Friendship

This book is too cute! It's the story of a mouse who believes some unfortunate gossip about a friend, and a good lesson on why you can't believe everything you hear. The tone of the text is sassy and smart, and the illustrations, which are collographs (printed collages, according to the back cover) are detailed and lush. Good lesson, good illustrations, good book!

Funny story- I shared this book with my class of preschoolers, and I explained the moral of the story, which is that believing rumors about friends can hurt friends' feelings and that you should talk to someone if you have a problem with them, and one of the kids in my class raised his hand and said "Ms. Emily, snakes do eat mice though." Then we had to talk about the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Author Interview- Meredith Duran!

I'm so excited to have Meredith Duran, author of Wicked Becomes You, which I had the privilege of reviewing not too long ago.

What inspired you to become a writer, specifically, a writer of historical romance?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t determined to be a writer. By fourth grade, I had graduated from a series of tales about Marina the deer and Qwert the donkey to various stories about unicorns, and onward to Star Trek fan-fiction (I had a minor obsession with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ahem). From there I started writing fantasy (castles, princesses, dragons). But somewhere along the way I also decided that I was going to be an actress, and so I went out and bought the collected works of William Shakespeare. For some reason I thought that this was how actresses got their starts – by starring in Shakespeare plays. Ha!

Shakespeare proved to be my entrée into the real-life historical dramas of medieval and Tudor England. It was also the beginning of my obsession with what it might have been like to live in other times (an obsession largely inspired, I will admit, by the very cool costumes worn by the actors in the two or three Shakespeare plays I saw performed).

In high school, I started reading every piece of historical fiction I could get my hands on. I found myself a little disappointed by them, though. They were all about men – and high politics. Meanwhile, I wanted to read about the fun details, the tidbits that would help me when I closed my eyes and tried to imagine waking up in the past. One day, I came across a discarded copy of Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, and started flipping through it—and gasped and snatched it to my chest and ran off to some hidden corner to read it. Here was historical fiction about a woman! Better yet, here was historical fiction that was about the really fun stuff! Here was exactly what I wanted to read – and to write!

So, yeah. That’s the really long version (apologies!) of how I started writing romance.

What, for you, is the hardest part about writing a novel? The easiest? Are these aspects different from what other people who aren't writers would think?

The middle of any novel scares me silly. I’m not a plotter, although I have tried and tried to become one. This means that I rarely know where my story is going; the plot is constantly twisting around on me as I’m writing the book. This is a perfectly fine way to proceed, until around page 200. At that point, everything needs to come together in a way that cranks up the momentum and leads inexorably to the conclusion. If the plot has weaknesses, if the character development has gone even slightly awry, this is when I start to sense it most acutely – and where, if I do not address the weaknesses, I will get stuck.

This means that around page 200, I am forced to go back to the beginning and rework my way through the story. The good news is, I enjoy this part. But pushing onward once I reach page 200 again – that takes a bit of courage.

I suppose what might surprise some people is the fact that – for me – each book writes itself differently. You’d imagine that it gets easier with every story, but each of them poses different challenges (and thank goodness for that; otherwise, writing would be downright boring).

However, something you do get better at, with each book, is learning to talk back to the voice of doubt that is whispering, “This isn’t going to work. Chuck the whole thing and start from scratch. Beginnings are so much fun!”

I’ve gotten pretty good at squashing that voice. Once I finally hit page 250, it usually flows like water downhill.

For folks who are new to historical romance or who think that historical romance isn't their "thing," what books would you recommend to change their minds or to convince them to dive into the genre?

Fantastic question! If you’re coming from outside the romance genre and you appreciate literary fiction, I’d recommend Bliss, Black Silk, and Dance, by Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas. For those who like dark, emotionally intense drama, To Have and to Hold, by Patricia Gaffney, All Through the Night, by Connie Brockway, and Not Quite a Husband, by Sherry Thomas, are all keepers. For readers who like humor, I propose Loretta Chase’s Miss Wonderful and Mr. Impossible, and Julie Anne Long’s Like No Other Lover and Since the Surrender.

What historical settings or time periods would you like to see serve as settings for novels that haven't been explored yet?

Carrie Lofty has just signed with Pocket for a historical set in late nineteenth-century South Africa, and I’m incredibly excited to read it. I also wish Roman Britain got more play in historicals.

From there, my list is infinite. One of the great pleasures of a well-researched historical romance is how much you learn from it (without even trying!). In my ideal world, then, romance novelists would be writing about every time period and place under the sun.

What other projects do you have on the horizon? Can you tell us anything about them?

I’ve signed with Pocket to write three more historicals. Two-thirds dark to one-third light, I’m thinking. :)

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?

Since that doom-filled day when Ben & Jerry’s broke my heart by discontinuing Wavy Gravy ice cream, there is only one correct answer to this question: fresh, sliced strawberries from someone’s garden, arranged around a bowl of whipped cream. Make that thick, rich cream, straight from the local dairy, with just a dash of sugar.

Thank you so much, Meredith, for the interview! Can I just say, every answer to the dessert question absolutely gets my mouth watering.

photo credit: author's website

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Deadly Game

Title: Deadly Game
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 333 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Ken Norton is disfigured from being tortured; Marigold Smith is a hostage in a mad scientist's breeding program to try to find the recipe for a supersoldier. They need each other way more than either wants to admit, but is a happily ever after even possible?

This was a story that I was eagerly anticipating after meeting Ken in the previous book, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. Drama, intrigue, horror, violence, and chaos are here in spades; through it all, a shy, sweet relationship manages to push its way through the dirt and take root.

The Ken Norton we met in the last book isn't the same one that we meet here. To the rest of the world, he's a carefree, protective, funny individual who doesn't let his horrible scars bother him or keep him from living. We find out here that that's a facade; the real Ken is uber protective, scared of turning into an abusive monster like his father, dominant, bossy, and scared that nobody except his twin is ever going to be able to care about him because he's so ugly. The physical wounds and side effects from his torture are small potatoes compared to the psychological ones, and Ken isn't over his ordeal by a long shot.

It seems like fate (or at least the super-evil Dr. Whitney) is playing a cruel joke, then, when Ken's fated lady turns out to be Marigold Smith, Briony's twin sister who was kept in a laboratory while Briony was adopted out to a family. Ken promised Briony that he'd bring her sister home safely, but nobody was prepared for the horrible, truly horrible conditions that exist in the breeding facility, where Dr. Whitney has apparently decided that it's not important for the women in the facility to consent to having babies, only that the men he's using feel attracted to them; rape is not only condoned but encouraged if the woman is unwilling. Let me be clear; the book is not supporting rape or saying rape is okay- it's used as an example of how, if there was any doubt remaining over whether or not Dr. Whitney was a good guy, that doubt should be gone now. Regardless, that theme is upsetting to some people so I'm giving fair warning and a Scandalous Books designation here. In terms of the story, it becomes immediately apparent that rescuing Mari from the breeding lab isn't enough; all of the women have to be brought to safety.

Ken and Mari have a lot of issues that they have to overcome together; Mari has a traumatic past from the labs and Ken has a lot of physical issues stemming from the torture he experienced- saying these two have issues with physical intimacy would be the understatement of the year, and they have to work together to come up with a solution that works for them. Therein lies the main lesson of this book- that what goes on in the bedroom between two consenting adults is, fundamentally, not any of anyone else's business. Ken especially has a lot of trouble coming to grips with this, and it's hard for him to admit that Mari might love him just the way he is and not secretly be fantasizing about someone less scarred, with less drama, or with a gentler touch.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but I do think it plays an important role in advancing the overall story, if for no other reason than to illustrate just what the Ghostwalkers are up against in their battle to defeat Peter Whitney. At this point, frankly, I don't know how they're going to do that; the author seems to have written a truly unstoppable bad guy. While Ken and Mari didn't get a full on happily ever after with all the bells and whistles, what they got was more fitting for their characters- a commitment from both of them to the relationship and a conscious effort to leave the past behind. I cried at the end, no joke.

Like I've said before, don't start this series in the middle! Start with the beginning and let it unfold from there.

Overall Grade: A-

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Conspiracy Game

Title: Conspiracy Game
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Goodreads.com does a good job with this one- "GhostWalker Jack Norton is a genetically enhanced telepathic sniper on a mission to rescue his brother in the jungles of the Congo. Then he meets Briony, a beautiful rebel on a mission of her own-and hiding secrets that a shadowy enemy would kill to discover."

Conspiracy Game is one of my top three favorite books in this series and feels the most cohesive to me of all of them. The plotting is tight, the Info Dump is more informative than it is in other books, the characters are believable in their drama and in their emotions, and the complexity of the story takes on new dimensions in this installment. I highly recommend reading this book and then the next one, Deadly Game, one after the other, as they are about a set of twins, Jack and Ken Norton, and the books feel like one gigantic story broken into two volumes instead of two distinct stories.

Jack Norton is an assassin who was physically and psychically enhanced by Dr. Peter Whitney, the arch-bad guy in this series, and who now is faced with the task of rescuing his brother from torture at the hands of rebels in the Congo when a mission goes badly awry. While he's there, he meets Briony, a performer with a family circus, and they immediately hit it off in ways that earn this book the Scandalous Books designation right out of the gate.

That appears to be the end of it, until Briony finds out she's *gasp* pregnant. What follows is the story of how their relationship evolved from one of necessity (turns out that Dr. Whitney always wanted to know what a child from these two would be like and reeeeally wants to get his hands on the baby) to one of love and commitment, when neither one of these people ever thought they'd have the opportunity for a relationship like that.

Part of the reason that this story is so well rounded is that the plot and setting are very streamlined. There aren't a ton of supporting characters, and much of the story takes place on Jack and Ken's property which is way back in the woods with nobody around. As a result, Jack and Briony get lots of time together for some really well-written dialogue, especially when they're talking about Briony's pregnancy and what they'll be like as parents (they take turns adding and crossing out material in a baby book, especially when it comes to whether or not Briony can have caffeine.) Ken gets a lot of time as a supporting character, too, and his story is set up nicely, especially when it's revealed that Briony has a twin sister. Twins everywhere!

This book also marks the point in the series where the books become much grittier and more graphic in terms of violence and thematic issues. Jack has some terrible things done to him physically while he's captured and tortured in the Congo; it's small potatoes compared to what happened to Ken while he was there but may still be upsetting to some people. Likewise, finding out more about the nature of the variety of experiments that Peter Whitney has going may be disturbing as well. Turns out that genetically and psychically enhancing soldiers was just the tip of a very diabolical iceberg.

If you're interested in this series, start at the beginning with Shadow Game, if you're into the series and have enjoyed the first three books I definitely recommend continuing with this one.

Overall Grade: A-

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bonus Features- Award Time!


I'm pleased as punch to announce that I received the Versatile Blogger Award from the always delightful Jackie B.! I'm really terrible at posting awards as I get them, but this one is fun because you get special bonus content about yours truly! Here's the lowdown on the award:
1. Thank the person who gave you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (in no particular order…)
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award.


And so, here are seven things about me:

1. I have a cat, Maddie. She's orange.

2. I make a mean buffalo chicken wing dip.

3. In two months I'll be moving from the Buffalo, NY area to Norfolk/Virginia Beach, VA to start a new job!

4. I'm secretly hoping the place I live doesn't involve carrying my three shelves full of books up a whole bunch of stairs. Good thing I love them!

5. I swear. A lot.

6. I'm super excited about living near the ocean. I talk about beach reads all the time but it'll be excellent to finally have a beach to read on!

7. I have never finished a book by Stephen King, ever, and I don't plan on it in the near future. There, I admitted it!

Now, as to who I would give this award to, I give it to: you. Everyone here. If you are reading this post, you just got an award! Go forth and share some things about yourself, and I would love to read them!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: Assassin's Honor

Title: Assassin's Honor
Author: Monica Burns
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Copy for review provided by the author in exchange for an honest review
Read the first three chapters here

50 words or less: Archaologist Emma Zale is reeling from the murder of her parents and her mentor when Ares DeLuca appears on the scene and sweeps her into a world of assassins, honor, love. betrayal, action and drama.

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning is to lay in bed and read an entire book cover to cover with no interruptions (ah, the joys of not having children.) This week's pick for the honor was Assassin's Honor and it was a fun, exciting, engrossing read- perfect for a lazy morning or a day at the beach.

Although this book marks the author's first foray into the world of paranormal romance, she jumps right in like a pro and sets up a complex, layered world that I as a reader could really sink my teeth into. There's a lot of world building and details about the Order of the Sicari, their roots in the time of the Roman Empire, their conflict with the Praetorians, the rules and codes of the Sicari community, and much more. A good part of the book is spent (as is the case in many initial novels in a series) setting up the rules of the setting for the story, but it's a unique setting and, being the sucker for world building that I am, I didn't mind that.

The hero and heroine are also unique. They have instant chemistry, sure, and their scenes together are spicy, of course, but what I really enjoyed was the depth of emotion that each one showed throughout the novel. Emma is a tough, independent woman, but when she gets upset it's because something or someone has made her feel that way and not because she needs to put on an act. Likewise, Ares is a typical alpha male, but he understands that not everyone finds those traits and behaviors appealing, and realizes that Emma has no reason to want to like, trust, or even talk to him, as he's certainly imposed tremendously on her. Oftentimes in PNR the feelings and thoughts of the characters take a distant back seat to the goings-on in the world at large, and I'm happy that each main character had a chance to really develop as an individual. I hope these two make appearances in future books.

Another interesting thing about this book- no immortals in sight! The fact that everyone in this story can die just like regular people helped to ramp up the drama during the fighting and battling, and illustrated the depth of feeling that Emma and Ares had for each other- "I don't want you to get hurt" takes on a whole different connotation when you mean that literally, instead of just figuratively because the other person can't be killed.

Maybe it's because the hero and heroine were so well-developed and felt so authentic to me, but the main thing I didn't care for about this book was the sort of two-dimensional secondary characters. Lysander and Phaedra are immediately set up as the hero and heroine of the next book (due out in September) but beyond that we don't really get to know anyone else. It felt like most of the ancillary characters were introduced because the specific scene where they appeared required it. Who is Cleo? Whatever happened with Ewan- is he a good guy or a bad guy? What about all the other Sicari that were so distrustful of Emma at first? The villians in this story felt pretty flat too. We didn't really find out for sure who was behind the murders of Emma's parents and her mentor until the end of the book, and once the mastermind was revealed, it didn't feel all that climactic- nothing was ever revealed about the guy!

I love how, even though I know a story is going to have a happily ever after, I can still be on the edge of my seat while the final plot elements are resolved. I found the happily ever after in this book to be especially satisfying considering the wringer of drama the characters had to go through to get there, and that sealed the deal for me wanting to read the next book in the series when it comes out.

Despite my reservations about the supporting cast, this was a fun read with lots of action and adventure, mystery, intrigue, and, of course, a really sweet romance.

Overall Grade: B+







Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Army of the Republic Giveaway Winner!


The entries are in, and the winner of the copy of The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen is...
Barb!


She's been emailed, thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway and be on the lookout for more giveaways soon!

Blog with Bite Assassin Week!



It's Assassin Week over at Blog with Bite! Head on over for a chance to win Assassin's Honor by Monica Burns, and for some excellent posts on assassins in film and print as well.

While I was thinking of a subject for this post, it occurred to me that I really haven't read or come across all that many books that feature assassins as prominent or main characters. I'm certainly not saying that the books don't exist, only that they haven't crossed my radar as of yet.

This seems kind of unusual, as there's no shortage of death and destruction in urban fantasy, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and many other genres. People drop like flies in these books, but it's usually because of war, pestilence, violence, insanity, or some other factor, and not because they've been dispatched by someone who was paid to kill them. One notable exception is Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep, but really that's the only assassin-themed book I can think of offhand (well, and the featured title by Monica Burns, of course- look for a review of Assassin's Honor coming tomorrow!)

What about you? What assassin-themed books have you come across that you enjoyed? Nominate your title here and help my TBR pile grow larger still!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Illustrated Friday: The Ballad of the Pirate Queens

Yar! This week's illustrated offering is The Ballad of the Pirate Queens by Jane Yolen and illustrated by David Shannon (the No, David! guy!). It's the "true" story of the legend of Anne Bonney and Mary Reade, two of the most famous pirates in the world in the 1700s when they lived. The poem outlines their ultimate capture at the hands of the authorities, and there's a neat page at the end with the basis of the story outlined. With these sorts of things it's hard to know what's fact and what's fantasy, but it's a fantastic story nonetheless. Be forewarned, though, that there are some ideas that make this a book for older kids- all the pirates except the two women are hanged at the end (although that's not shown in the illustrated) and according to the poem, the two women got out of being executed because they were pregnant (which is shown in the illustration.) The moral of the story, though, is to know your audience and what they'll enjoy and what they won't. Personally, I think this book is pretty rad. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Night Game

Title: Night Game
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 469 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: paranormal romance, romantic suspense

50 words or less: Gator Fontenot is after Flame Johnson, another of Peter Whitney's experiment subjects. If you had any reservations about whether Peter is the bad guy in this series, you'll lose them here, as Peter gave Flame cancer- repeatedly. Let the battle begin!

Among the books in this series, Night Game stands out because of the sheer volume of Kleenex I go through reading it. The author grabs your emotions, throws them on the floor, stomps on them, then picks them up and jumbles them up to repeat the process, up until the last word on the last page. It's a very intense experience and right away earns this book a Scandalous Books designation- I can see Flame's battle with cancer and Gator's pursuit of her and trying to win her over being too intense or triggering for some. I was exhausted after I finished reading this book from the non-stop emotional roller coaster.

Flame (whose real name is Iris) and Gator (whose real name is Raoul) are attracted to each other pretty much from the beginning, but Flame, who's used to everyone abandoning her and who's nursing a serious grudge against Lily Whitney, doesn't want her life to be more complicated than it already is. When she and Gator are flung together by circumstance and by a mystery that needs solving, it seems like the world, yet again, is ganging up on her and dangling the things she wants so badly just out of reach.

One of the most heartbreaking things about this book is reading about how completely unworthy of friends, love and happiness Flame considers herself to be. The despair that she experiences, despite Gator's best efforts to convince her that he's in this for the long haul, is difficult and complex, and Flame certainly has issues that have to be overcome. She doesn't get a lot of support from the other Ghostwalkers, either- Flame and Lily have a history together and nobody really wants to see Flame's side, since Lily has done so much for them. It was kind of refreshing and unusual for the author to kind of knock Lily off her pedestal for awhile; even though what happened between Lily and Flame was, by and large, a misunderstanding stemming from a child's desire to keep people from suffering, it did show that Lily has, for a long time, had a tendency to think she knows what's best for everyone, which is definitely an honest assessment.

Gator is a horndog, pure and simple. From the moment he meets Flame he's thinking about how to get her into bed; naturally, he succeeds, although getting Flame to commit to a relationship or even to go on a real date is much more difficult and leaves him pretty stupefied. Ultimately, Gator has to make some choices that are difficult as well, and definitely leave him on the outs with the one woman he wants on his side no matter what; oh man, did I cry at the scene where he brings her back to the Whitney estate. This book isn't afraid to ask the question, how far would you go to ensure the safety and well-being of someone you love? What if the price is that they want nothing to do with you? Where's the line between respecting choices and independence and doing what's best for a person? Gator and Flame definitely don't have it easy when it comes to any of those issues, and whether they acted in a way that was right or proper is definitely for each reader to decide.

While there's isn't a lot of advancement in terms of the overall story here, there are some definite high points. We see another pair of characters get their happily-ever-after (so while you're sobbing into a Kleenex, just remember that things do end well,) we get another glimpse into the lives of the girls while they were being experimented on by Peter Whitney (shudder...) and you have the chance to get some really cathartic crying done if that's what you're into. I would rate this the highest of the books so far, just for the author's masterful manipulation of the reader's emotions. This is probably not a book to read at the beach, because the people on the blanket next to you will wonder what's wrong and want to talk.

Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday Cha-Cha: Tales From My Starred Folder

Wow, it's been awhile since I've done one of these! There's been lots of good information lately, though, so definitely check these things out if you haven't already!

First of all, have you entered my giveaway for a copy of The Army of the Republic? It closes tomorrow so be sure to comment for a chance to win!

Second, here's a chance to win an ereader or $100 gift card from Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog! Put Emily @ What Book is That? down as the person who referred you and we each get five extra entries!

Speaking of ereaders, Dear Jane had a very informative post to answer the question, what ereader should I buy? I'm in the market for an ereader myself and I found this post tremendously helpful.

I tweeted about this earlier, but Barnes and Noble is doing another summer reading program for kids in grades 1-6! I found out about this from Free Technology for Teachers, and if the participant reads the required number of books of his or her choice, there's a list of free books to choose from as a prize! This is definitely worth investigating if you have kids or will be responsible for kids this coming summer.

Do you read Cake Wrecks? If not, you should, as it's hilarious, and there's also a weekly feature on cakes that are delightfully un-wrecky. This past Sunday's post was all about book-related cakes. Here's my favorite:
Head on over and check out the rest of the cakes!

Finally, from the always-inspiring Craftzine.com blog, here's a really catching, informative video on what we can do about the amount of plastic that ends up as garbage:


How has your week been so far? What are you up to?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About!

It wouldn't be the blogging world without some kind of controversy afoot, and this week's flavor appears to be the showdown at the OK Corral over at Dear Author, in which a 15 year-old reviewer read, reviewed and posted about an erotica title. This situation was discussed at Babbling About Books and Read React Review, with corresponding deluges of comments from all perspectives. There seem to be three points of view on the issue. Folks in group one seem to be pretty much okay with the situation and see nothing wrong with it, and are supportive of this individual devoting time to reading and reviewing at all; Jane at Dear Author herself is in this camp. Folks in group two seem to be seriously squicked out or morally opposed to someone of this individual's age either a) reading erotica at all, or b) posting about sexual content and discussing said content with anonymous adults on the internet. Folks in group three seem to be shrugging their shoulders or not interested really in the situation at all.

I definitely recommend reading all the relevant posts on the subject in their entirety as well as the plethora of comments on each post, as it's the kind of situation that makes you question your own position and your own beliefs and figure out where you stand. My thoughts and reactions are as follows, pretty much in the order they occurred to me:

1. Regarding concerns over how the reviewer came to acquire a copy of this book- not relevant. Even though it's an erotica title, it's available now, at least in the U.S. since that's my neck of the woods, at any major bookseller, and you don't need to show ID at Barnes and Noble. The debate over where the line is between the erotic and the pornographic has raged for generations and certainly was not resolved this time around either, but the fact stands, getting a copy of the book could be done easily and legally and even if someone else had lent the reviewer a copy, they did nothing illegal and in terms of morality are accountable to their own moral code on this one.

2. Some of the comments on the various posts asked questions about the impact of the reviewer's gender (male) on the situation and asked if people on any side of the issue would feel differently if the reviewer in question were fifteen years old still but a female. I didn't happen to read any answers to those questions but I think they're fair questions. Purely as a hypothetical situation, would people feel differently if the reviewer were talking, not about sexual content, but violence? What if he were reviewing Manhunt? Would people be concerned for his welfare, or just shrug and say something pithy about society today?

3. With regards to a minor discussing sexual content with adults on the internet: I think the sword cuts both ways on this one. The simple fact is, nobody exists in an insulated environment on the internet. Not kids, not teenagers, not adults. Minors are not immune from interacting with adults and adults are not immune from interacting with minors. Some would argue that people assume that because a website or blog focuses on what they perceive to be adult issues and topics (and what that means is open to interpretation as well and always has been) that they are free to discuss those topics without reservation and that no minors are exposed to or participating in the conversation. That assumption is false, as this situation plainly shows. Basically, you yourself (or I myself) are/am responsible for what you discuss and who you discuss it with; I'm sure there are minors that follow this blog, for example, and I choose to address that by using my Scandalous Books designation and explaining why I feel the book merits that designation. Other blogs take a less regulatory approach; other blogs take more. When you veer erratically onto the information super highway, you assume responsibility for the data that enters your head. I also want to point out that nowhere in the review of Sinful did the reviewer discuss any specific sexual acts, human anatomy, quote any part of the text relating to those subjects, and if anything professed a sort of innocence to the kind of content that many romance and erotica novels contain. Are people offended because a fifteen year old is publicly admitting that he knows what sex is and how it works?

Many people said, "what John reads is between him and his parents." I know my parents didn't police what I read while growing up; I was such a voracious reader that such a task would have been pretty time-consuming. They also did not monitor every moment I spent watching television, every conversation I had with my friends, every website I ever visited, or everything I learned from every possible outlet. Instead, the focus was on teaching me a set of values that I could use as a compass to guide me in making decisions about what I believe, what I accept as truth, and where I go to get factual information versus where I go to be entertained. John, the beleaguered reviewer in question, kicked some serious ass in his responses to all the comments, positive and negative, and kept his cool even when people seemed to be going out of their way to get a reaction. Major props, major props.

4. I was kind of appalled by comments I read where people indicated that they would call child protective services or similar authorities regarding this situation. I'm really, really nervous about classifying the reading of sexual material (again, where's the line between romance and erotica and between erotica and pornography) as endangering the welfare of a child. Who wants to volunteer to police that arena? Many commenters also said that they started reading romance/erotica/Harlequin/their moms' stashes of books at a similar or younger age. I know I did as well, and maybe the difference between us old timers and the reviewer in question is the platform on which the books are discussed. I had to analyze in person with likeminded people who I actively had to seek out; in the blogging world, sometimes I seek those people out and sometimes they come to me. And hey, if we're going to jump up this reviewer's butt about daring to read erotica, albeit by mistake, before age 18, then we need to get just as uppity with every Twilight fan who swooned over Mr. Taylor before his 18th birthday too, just to name one example. Goodness, that could be a whole separate post all on its own.

This is not to say that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want and damn the consequences and the ramifications. Child protection laws exist for a reason, and a damn good one at that (I'm a mandated reporter too, you know.) There are adults who prey on children and use the internet as a vehicle by which to do that. There are teenagers who lack the maturity, common sense and life experience to keep themselves out of sticky and uncomfortable situations. Does condemning a teenager for reading an erotica novel and then having the audacity to critique the experience online prevent any of those bad things from happening? I don't think so.

Okay, those are my thoughts. You don't have to agree with me, but it definitely is something to really wrap your head around.

Image credits: here and here.

Review: Mind Game

Title: Mind Game
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 358 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: paranormal romance, romantic suspense
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: The Ghostwalkers are taking it upon themselves to track down the girls that Peter Whitney experimented on and then released out into the world. First up is Dahlia White; her powers are amazing but costly, and Nicolas Trevayne is determined to find her and keep her safe.

*Warning: May contain spoilers for the first book in the series. Ye be warned.*

Mind Game's premise was pretty thoroughly laid out in the last few chapters of the first book, Shadow Game- Peter Whitney, in his depravity, began his experiments on girls he adopted from foreign orphanages, only to abandon them when it became clear that children were too hard to mold and that adults would be better suited to the kinds of experiments he wanted to do. Lily, the heroine from the first book, is one of these orphans; consequently she feels tremendously responsible for the rest of the girls and is determined to find them and bring them into the fold.

Nicolas Trevayne (Nico) volunteers to go out and find Dahlia, since her training videos indicate that she's not only tremendously powerful, but that her abilities have a tremendous physical cost as well that could leave her vulnerable if anyone ever decided to betray her.

Just as Nico arrives at Dahlia's place (an asylum in the Louisiana bayou) it becomes apparent that someone did in fact betray her; the rest of the book is about their flight from their violent pursuers, their quest to find out who they (and the other Ghostwalkers for that matter) can trust, and, of course, to have plenty of intimate time as well.

Mind Game is more organized than Shadow Game, with more equality between the characters and more development in terms of the overall story. There's tension between the hero and heroine that's believable and interesting, and these two scorch the words right off the pages.

The formula for these novels is pretty clear at this point, although the addition of other enhanced characters (Jesse from the asylum for example) expands the possibility for future couples in future books.

Speaking of future books, one element that I hope doesn't get repeated in future books is the dreaded Info Dump. The first chapters of this book had one of, frankly, the most boring info dumps I've come across recently. I totally understand that authors do a lot of research to support the world building and make the story more believable and have more depth, but honestly I didn't need to read pages and pages about manipulating energy or gravitational fields or whatever the characters were going on and on about. I feel like there's a time and a place or background information and that the beginning of a book when you're trying to make people feel invested in the story is probably not the time to get bogged down in details.

This book gets a Scandalous Books designation as the descriptions of Dahlia's training and treatment at the hands of the scientists might be disturbing to some people, and of course, there's plenty of intimate scenes between the main characters as well (but nothing off the beaten path or exceptionally graphic if you're already familiar with the genre and the author's writing style.)

Anyway, Mind Game was a fun story with a good couple and a satisfying happily-ever-after. I definitely recommend reading the series in order, so start with Shadow Game and go from there for sure.

Overall Grade: B-

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: Shadow Game

Title: Shadow Game
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 323 pages
Publisher: Jove
Genre: Paranormal romance, romantic suspense
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Lily Whitney is a genius just like dear old dad, and doesn't think anything of helping him out with his experiment to create perfect, genetically-enhanced, supernatural soldiers. Except she never intended to fall in love with one, or to find out that her dad isn't quite the guy she thought he was.

This is the first installment in the Game series, and overall the stage is set for a pretty decent ride. I first read this series last year and am currently working my way through it for the second time. As a result, I have kind of mixed feelings, as I remember LOVING these books the first time I read them, but am now not quite as enamored with them the second time around.

The raw materials are certainly all here, though. Ryland Miller is an army captain who's in a lot of trouble. He, along with a bunch of his friends, have volunteered to be enhanced, that is, to have their psychic powers unlocked by one Dr. Peter Whitney, working in cohoots with military brass who want to see him create the ultimate supersoldier. Unsurprisingly, the experiment goes very badly, the side effects are terrible, and nobody really cares what happens to the soliders, since they're viewed as lab rats and nothing more.

This is where Lily Whitney comes in. She's caring and sympathetic and pretty and smart and all the things that good little girls are made of in paranormal romance, and it doesn't take her long to figure out that her dad's experiments are not only veering into mad science, but that the soldiers are in terrible pain. She also has an instant connection to Ryland, which is confusing and concerning to her as her life up until this point has been pretty sheltered. When she finds out that her dad is a traitor and crazy, that the men he's working with are homicidal and crazy, and that her family history is absolutely nothing like what she's been told this point, Ryland is there to help her move forward and to start forming a new life and purpose for herself.

This book suffers, as many do, from being the first book in the series. The premise of the story has to be established, and since it's a series, a whole bunch of secondary characters who will eventually have their own books have to be introduced. We have to separate the good guys from the bad guys, which isn't all that hard. All of that would be okay, except the writing style here left a little bit to be desired.

Lily is an innocent; her father made sure that she didn't really have any concept of evil or what people were capable of. This means that she has a lot of processing to do once it becomes clear that, without getting too spoilery, her dad is a boil on the bottom of science. This means that there's a lot of angst, a lot of tribulation, and we as the audience get to read about it all. Ryland is no better; we have to read over and over again how his feelings for Lily were so sudden, how he feels responsible for what's happening to his men, and how he wants to protect Lily from all of these bad things. Are these reactions logical and reasonable? Sure. Did I need to read about them over and over again? Nope.

And another thing- what's up with the heroine having to think the hero's full name a million times, all the time? "There he was. Ryland Miller." Did we somehow forget what the guy's name was? I confess this happened so many times throughout Shadow Games that I ended up inserting other names into those spots. Ridley Porkchop. Miles Squeaktoy. Percival Pectoral. I get that the stage is being set for intimacy and sexy time, but it felt to me like we were just filling up pages.

While I didn't enjoy this story quite as much as I did the first time, I will keep going with the series, as now that the world has been established and the characters have been introduced, there's room for other things to happen.

Overall Grade: C

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ridiculously Awesome Contest Alert!


Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog is at it again! She's running a giveaway where you can win an ereader or, if you don't want that, a $100 gift card! There will be additional prizes as she reaches more followers. Check out the awesome choices for the ereader prize:

Sony Pocket (color of your choice) Ebook

RCA Reader Ebook

Aluratek Libre Ebook Pro

Kobo Ereader

I'm gunning for the Kobo personally, but if you say that Emily @ What Book is That? referred you, you'll get an additional five entries!

The giveaway is open internationally and is possible because of the awesome work Monica does getting ereaders in the hands of soldiers stationed overseas (you might remember her from Give the Gift of Reading) so head on over and enter to win!

Review: Wolf at the Door

Title: Wolf at the Door
Author: Christine Warren
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's
Genre: paranormal romance

50 words or less: Sullivan Quinn, werewolf, is in town to propose the supernatural Others come out of the closet and present themselves to the world, before it happens on its own. Cassidy Poe is a Foxwoman and an anthropologist who also happens to be Quinn's mate. What happens when a wolf and a fox get together?

Wolf at the Door is the first installment in what seems to be a really fun, steamy, and interesting series. The characters are interesting, the narrative is funny, and although there's certainly nothing here that hasn't been done before, sometimes tried and true is a good thing.

Quinn comes to New York from Ireland for what amounts to a business trip in the werewolf world. The general consensus in Europe is that the Others should reveal themselves to the rest of the world as soon as possible, so they can control the way in which that information is released and be ready for the inevitable fallout. This side of the pond isn't so open to the idea, so the revelation that a group of fanatics who want to wipe out the Others are hoping to expose them first and create pandemonium isn't really sitting will with anyone. Then a high-level assistant to one of the most powerful Others in Europe is kidnapped by these fanatics, and their fear, that someone will torture enough information out of her to make this group's plan a reality, is confirmed.

While that storyline certainly is familiar, it does serve as a good backdrop to the developing relationship between Quinn and Cassidy, who he meets at a cocktail party and chases all over a rooftop. Quinn recognizes instantly that Cassidy is his mate, which is a surprise to him, since a) she's not Irish, and b) she's not a wolf, both of which he'd figured were standard issue in whoever his mate would be. That doesn't stop him from pursuing her, though, and watching these two as their relationship develops is one of the best parts of the book. I loved the snark and the sass in the dialogue and narration of the story and how these two genuinely came to care for each other by the end of the story.

This book is a great summer read- there isn't anything here that hasn't been done before in the world of PNR (or since, as the book came out in 2006,) but it's a fun book with likeable characters, adventure, and enough steamy bits to definitely make this a book for grownups, but not quite a Scandalous Book. This would be a great book to take to the beach.

Overall Grade: A-

Don't Panic! Brave New Knits

A Don't Panic designation means that, although I didn't finish a book, I think it may be appealing to another audience. Not to be confused with a Could Not Finish rating, which means my reading experience was so negative that I had to give up on the book.


Title: Brave New Knits
Author: Julie Turjoma
Publisher: Rodale Books
Genre: crafts, nonfiction, how-to
Copy for review provided via netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review

The first Don't Panic! designation goes to this title because, although the introductory pieces before each pattern were interesting and fun to read, I didn't try the patterns included in the book (I'm still waaaaaaaay too much a newbie at knitting to master them) and therefore don't really feel that I can comment on whether they are accurate or easy to use. Also, and I had a galley copy of this title so it's not the same as the finished one, the lack of illustrations of the included patterns made it hard to see if the styles for each item were things that would be of interest to me or not. Other, more experienced crafters might find the finished version of this book easier to use.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Hey, Al


Next stop on our road trip through the Caldecott Medal winners is Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski. It's a cute story about a guy who dreams and wishes for something more and, once he gets it, realizes that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. You never know how good life is until you're dropped into something completely different. I'll be honest, I'm not sure why this book won a Caldecott, but it is a nice book and one that kids will enjoy. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: Tinker

Title: Tinker
Author: Wen Spencer
Page Count: 448 pages
Publisher: Baen
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Not too far in the future, Pittsburgh is magically merged with the land of the elves, girl-genius Tinker invents cool stuff and runs a scrapyard, and Windwolf, a leader of the elves, tries to figure out how to get with Tinker. Adventure, science, and romance abound!

Tinker is one of those books that makes my heart go pitter-pat. So many genres are fused together seamlessly to create a story that's fun, adventurous, unique and exciting all at the same time.

The setting of the story is definitely unique, and the worldbuilding is top shelf. The author succeeds in packing the story with lots of detailed descriptions, right down to the physics of why things actually work or why a certain set of circumstances is plausible, without ever bogging down the pace of the story. This is no small feat; sometimes I'll read a book and feel like the underlying message is that someone did Research and is determined to use it. I never had that feeling while reading Tinker.

Tinker herself is a character you almost can't help but like. She's smart, witty, clever, loyal, but still refreshingly innocent despite having been responsible for her own well-being for quite awhile. She enjoys using her skills and talents and they've really benefited the people around her, not to mention helped her survive the kind of crazy landscape she lives in. I found myself rooting for her throughout the entire novel, first, that she find her happily ever after with Windwolf, but also that she be able to find the happiness and fulfillment that seemed to have eluded her.

Speaking of Windwolf, he makes a really interesting hero for the story as well. He and Tinker have kind of an unusual history together, and much of what Tinker knows about him she's had to find out from other people. She knows he's a total hottie, that he's going to live forever, and that he's a powerful person in the elf world, but other than that, she's got to find out things for herself. I enjoyed reading Tinker's thoughts on her growing feelings for Windwolf, as it was refreshing to read the perspective of someone who thinks she just has a crush, and isn't a fated mate or rekindling an old love or anything like that. Tinker gets way more than she bargains for in the relationship department, but she handles it like a champ, and definitely holds her own against some pretty powerful opponents.

Beyond all that, another excellent facet of this story was the way it asked questions of the reader that inspire thought, but don't detract from the story as a whole. Questions about science, about loyalty, about politics, about race, about relationships, and about how damn tricky it would be to really be committed to someone when living forever is a fact of life are all on the table and made this story meatier and more enjoyable. There's a second book in this series called Wolf Who Rules, and I'm hoping it delivers more of the same. I'm trying to track down a copy as we speak.

Overall Grade: A

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BWB Review: Bitten





Title: Bitten
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Page Count: 436 pages
Publisher: Plume
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: As the only female werewolf ever to exist, Elena has her fair share of issues to contend with. While she's busily trying to concoct a "normal" life among humans for herself, she finds out that her past has never really left her, and maybe, just maybe, the perfect guy and life for her has been waiting the whole time. Maybe.

I had Bitten on my bookshelf for a long time; I've heard great things about this series and about this author's writing style, but just had never picked up the book before now (I have more books than I know what to do with- I'm sure someone out there can relate.) I'm glad that I finally got to it, though, as this is an engrossing book from start to finish.

Elena is someone who definitely needs someone in her corner. She thought she had that in Clay, except instead of being only the incredibly loving and devoted lover she thought he was, he was also a werewolf who, after accidentally biting Elena, turned her into one as well. This is important to the story because female werewolves before Elena were nonexistent, which means that she's gone from being her regular old self to a definite person of interest in the male-dominated world of the werewolves. Come to find out, all of Clay's friends and family were werewolves too, so not only does Elena have to deal with what she perceives as deception and betrayal on Clay's part; she has to deal with the fact that everyone around her knew the truth and didn't tell her as well. So, she does what most people would do if they were backed into a corner and felt they had nobody on their side; she ran for it.

The story picks up when all of that is old news; Elena is working at a newspaper, living with her devoted if completely uninspiring boyfriend Philip, and doing an okay job of hiding her werewolf side from the rest of the world. That all comes crashing down too, when Elena gets word from Jeremy, the Pack Alpha, that Pack members are being harmed; going back to help with the search for the killers throws her right back in the ring with Clay, and with all of their unresolved issues and feelings.

While the relationship aspect of the story definitely plays second to the overall story of the werewolves and their search for the killers and battle with outsiders, it's definitely an important facet that determines the tone of the entire book. This is the story of Elena having to figure out what her place is in the world; is she a human who has some weird habits, or is she a werewolf who happens to be able to blend successfully into the human world? Elena honestly doesn't know, and much of the book revolves around her figuring that out. Unexpectedly, this was one of my favorite aspects of the story. I liked that Elena was not willing to sell herself short or let herself be anyone's prize, even Clay's, and while it usually bugs me to no end when a character doesn't know what he or she wants, I felt that it was pretty easy to understand Elena's position.

Elena takes a lot of heat for being indecisive and, as some would perceive, shallow and weak. I think that's not the case. Even though we as readers know that Clay is crazy about her and never meant to hurt her, either emotionally or physically, the bottom line is, he did keep secrets from her (granted, because he had to,) and that hurt her recently-blossomed feelings, heart, and confidence. Add to the mix that all of her friends were in on the secret (again, because it was their secret too,) but didn't tell her and it is a pretty isolating situation. For someone who's only ever wanted to fit in somewhere, suddenly finding out you were on the outside the whole time, and now are attracting attention for all the wrong reasons, would be pretty devastating. Elena has a change of heart throughout the course of the book, and seeing her start to develop a sense of self definitely motivated me to seek out the other books in this series.

My only complaint about this book is Philip, Elena's totally human, architect boyfriend. After awhile, I just got tired of him! He was a great guy- sending the flowers, calling to check in (but mostly to say he was unavailable), and to make vague promises that he never ended up keeping. I don't think he was a bad guy, per se, I just think he was about as interesting as watching grass grow and didn't get a lot in the way of character development; he was definitely there to serve as a contrast to Clay, but the point and comparison were made early on and didn't need to be hammered home over and over again.

Besides that, you all know how much I love a good shifter story, and this is definitely a good shifter story. I'm definitely on board to read more in this series.

Overall Grade: B+
Blog with Bite rating: 3/4

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome Lauren Baratz-Logstead!

I'm pleased as punch to say that today is my stop on the blog tour for Lauren Baratz-Logstead's new book, The Education of Bet! This tour is unlike any other. It's a one question interview. One question. One answer. One book that looks like a lot of fun indeed. The official release date for this book is July 12th, but here's a little something to whet your whistle while you wait:


When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they’ve both enjoyed a privileged upbringing thus far. But not all is well in their household. Because she’s a girl, Bet’s world is contained within the walls of their grand home, her education limited to the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, and sewing. Will’s world is much larger. He is allowed—forced, in his case—to go to school. Neither is happy.
So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: They’ll switch places. She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But once Bet gets to school, she soon realizes living as a boy is going to be much more difficult than she imagined.

Sounds good to me! Now, without further ado, here's the one burning question that I asked of Lauren:

WBIT: What is one thing you've always wanted to learn how to do, but have never tried?

LBL: Ooh, I know the answer to this one! Fencing. There's some fencing in The Education of Bet. I'm absolutely fascinated with the idea of peope waving those pointy weapons at each other, whether it's the Three Musketeers or Zorro. If I did it, I wouldn't want to wear those protective costumes and masks like they do in professional fencing. I'd want to do it, like the Musketeers or Zorro, wearing a plumed hat or a flying cape. Of course, having limited athletic speed and zero grace, I'd die without any protective gear. But I'd look dashing as I went down.

Interesting! If you're as intrigued as I am, here are some ways to pre-order a copy of the book:
Amazon (where you can also tell the publisher you'd like this title to be released for Kindle if you're into that sort of thing!)
Barnes and Noble
Powell's

And, as always, head to your local independent bookseller and ask them to order the book. Consult IndieBound to find one near you!

Thank you so much to Lauren Baratz-Logstead for being here today! To find out more about this and other of her titles, please head on over to her website.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: Shoot to Thrill


Title: Shoot to Thrill
Author: Nina Bruhns
Page Count: 328 pages
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Genre: romantic suspense
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Kyle "Kick" Jackson is a covert operative whose life is pretty empty, all things considered. When he kidnaps Rainie Martin, an ER nurse, in an attempt to foil a really terrible plot, he doesn't realize he just kidnapped the love of his life.

Romantic suspense is one genre that usually leaves me wanting something more. Usually, the hero and heroine are likeable enough, the romance is reasonably satisfying, and the supporting characters are interesting, but the suspense is either completely nonexistent or so twisted that it's easier to just ignore it and focus on other stories and elements. Shoot to Thrill is a good combination of spicy romance, well-drawn characters, and a suspense plot that kept me interested up until the end.

By all accounts, Kick isn't much of a catch in the relationship department. He's recovering from a really terrible injury, drug dependency, and post traumatic stress syndrome from a mission in Afghanistan that went horribly wrong, his job as a covert operative means that he's out of the country doing terribly, horribly dangerous things in locations that are nowhere near friendly, and frankly he doesn't really have any idea how to have a relationship with someone that's not a working one. He figures he'll probably die on a mission and that not having anyone to grieve him back home is for the best.

Rainie, on the other hand, is kind of a prisoner of her own life. She's good at her job as an ER nurse but feels so drained and burdened that having relationships is kind of out of the question. She's terrified of pretty much everything- cars, strangers, you name it. She was at a speed dating event for medical personnel that Kick had crashed just to find a safe, no-strings-attached partner for one night only and ended up getting waaaaay more than she ever, under circumstances, had bargained for.

Without giving too much away, the CIA catches up with the duo and Rainie and Kick end up in Sudan, trying to defuse a terrorist plot that Rainie's best friend, Gina, may be getting sucked into. The secondary characters, both from Gina's role back home and her involvement with another operative and from Kick's fellow agents who show up at fortuitous times to keep the story rolling, are definitely interesting and form the basis for the next two books in the series.

I'm sure people who are knowledgeable about these sorts of things would have a spontaneous aneurysm about the political aspect of the story and the feasibility/plausibility of the maneuvers, but if one suspends disbelief, the story cooks along at a good pace.

What I found endearing about Kick and Rainie is that both of them are very aware of their particular flaws. As they grapple with their feelings for one another, each is honestly surprised that the other might actually care about someone as screwed up as they are. Even when Kick does the mandatory "this will never work and I have to push her away" thing, I believed that he honestly cared about Rainie and didn't want anything bad to happen to her. The happily ever after was one of the sweeter ones I've read lately, and it definitely got me pumped to read the other two books in the series.

This book gets a Scandalous Books designation for sure- the sexy bits are definitely for grownup eyes only, and we meet one character Alex, an operative who's been presumed dead but in fact is currently being held and tortured by enemies, whose ordeal may be very upsetting for some readers.

While certainly no treatise on world affairs, Shoot to Thrill is a great summer read, with lots of explosions and danger and a steamy romance that will make the hours on the beach very hot indeed.

Overall Grade: B+

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sail on, Silverbird: When You're Stuck in a Series

This week's writing prompt on Weekly Geeks has to do with reading a series, and what one should do when a book in a series, is, well, bad. This is an interesting question, since for the most part if I continue to read a series past the first or second book it's because something about that series is enjoyable to me, and, to trot out my cookie metaphor one more time, if the author doesn't really deviate from the recipe all that much, that usually doesn't bother me.

You know what though? Authors are people, and oftentimes people want to try new things and remix ideas and concepts into something different. I think it's unreasonable to expect every single book in a given series to work the same way or serve the same purpose. I think that a particular book in a series might not be as strong as the others but still be really, really important in terms of the overall development of the story. The middle books in trilogies, for example, are often overshadowed by the other books, but without what they offer the story as a whole would definitely be lacking.



But what happens when the book is an irredeemable clunker? Maybe the story is so nonsensical that you don't care what happens to the characters anymore (I abandoned the Shadow Wrangler series because of this.) Maybe one element has so dominated the rest of the story that the plot has slowed to a crawl (cough cough Anita Blake cough cough.) Maybe something happened in the story that you just find distasteful (I won't read the Feral Warriors series for this reason exactly.) If that's the case, then you know what? Life is too short to read bad books, and maybe it's time to move on and read a different series, different author, or different genre. I find that for every seris I abandon there are two or three more that I love and recommend, so I focus on those and leave the clunkers behind.

What about you? What are your favorite series books, and why? Are there any series that you won't read? What do you do about a less-than-awesome book in a favorite series?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Illustrated Friday: Tuesday


David Wiesner returns with Tuesday, another Caldecott winner! This book is an excellent one to encourage ideas and creativity- the story that's told through the illustrations is definitely out there and will get the creative juices flowing in a big way. I use this book just about every year with my preschoolers, and we work on a ton of concepts- sequencing, attention to detail, time concepts, you name it. The possibilities are endless. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

BWB Review: The Sand Dragon




Title: The Sand Dragon
Author: Michael F. Stewart
Page Count: 256 pages (pdf format)
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Copy for review provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: Shake up one mysterious skeleton, a creepy town full of creepy people, skeletons in the closet, a horrible disease, and a fight for your life, and what do you get? AAHHHHHHH RUN THEY'RE AFTER ME!!!!

Holy guacamole, people. I read The Sand Dragon last night before bed, and I think I just managed to shut my eyes about five minutes ago. This story is Scary with a capital S- it takes a little while to get going but once it does, it takes off in a big way and is riveting up until the end.

This creepy, gruesome story starts broiling away right from page one- the setting is a bleak, isolated, frigid town where all of the residents would rather be somewhere else or are slowly working themselves into early graves. There's Sandy, who works for the oil company and is a reluctant pseuo-parent to Patrick, her adult, deranged nephew. There's Alice and Jamie, an engaged couple who keep meaning to leave town and get married and do something else but never manage; all that keeps them going are Alice's faith and Jamie's hope that someday Alice will decide she wants to have sex with him. There's animosity between groups of townspeople along racial lines; there's a tension over past allegations of abuse that simmers away and is ready to boil over. There are other townsfolk who are just as creepy, and since so many of the people in the area are transient, there's no real sense of community among these people at the beginning of the story.

Thrown into the mix is Kim Axon, a paleontologist who gets called in when the oil company accidentally digs up what appears to be a fossilized skeleton. Kim's efforts to process what appears to be the biggest find of her career are sabotaged at every turn, especially when another scientist is at the scene first. Kim puts two and two together and figures out that Sebastien Bythell, the other scientist, is up to no good and has a secret agenda. That conclusion turns out to be the understatement of the millennium, but we'll get to that in a minute.

After the skeleton is exposed and the area around it is more fully explored, a bunch of mysterious events that appear to be unrelated all happen pretty much at once- there's a killing spree at the local meatpacking plant, a bunch of townspeople fall sick with a mysterious illness, and Alice and Jamie go to visit their new neighbors, whose leader happens to be the mysterious Dr. Bythell. From there, literally, all hell breaks loose, as we find out that this mysterious disease that everyone is getting is way more dangerous than anyone anticipated, and that the strangers in town are out for far more than a good time.

The creatures in this book are horrific all on their own. This story is constantly evolving, and just when I thought I had things figured out, the plot took off in a direction that I fully acknowledge I never saw coming. Several familiar threads were woven together- the band of survivors trying to outlast a nightmarish ordeal where they get picked off, one by one; the creature feature with lots of roaring and screeching and bloodthirsty violence; the crime drama, where horrific events of the past are uncovered and their implications revealed at really, really inconvenient times. Each added a layer of nuance to the story that made the overall reading experience more skin-crawlingly intense.

What impressed me most, though, were the more subtle, but still horrific elements that were infused into the story. The bullying that Patrick was subjected to at the meatpacking plant made my skin crawl; the side plot regarding Kim and the diagnosis of skin cancer that she received was bleak, since she could survive the horrors of this ordeal only to die in six months from something else. I could go on and on and on listing all the different things that worked for me about this story, but I'll leave it up to you to read the book and enjoy the creepiness for yourself.

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