BWB Review: Touched by an Alien

Title: Touched by an Alien
Author: Gini Koch
Page Count: 389 pages
Publisher: DAW
Genre: science fiction, paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less: Who knew that stabbing a raging lunatic with a pen would turn Katherine Katt’s life upside down? Now instead of being a marketing manager, she’s a member of a secret task force charged with preventing a hostile takeover by alien parasites. Then there’s the matter of Jeff…

What a fun book! I’m a sucker for a good hybrid between science fiction and romance, and this certainly fits the bill. While certainly a bit goofy at times and definitely not for people who need their science fiction to be serious and stiff upper lip at all times, this book grabbed my attention and kept my interest until the last word.

Katherine “Kitty” Katt (yes, her parents thought that was hilarious) was just finishing up her day of jury duty when all hell broke loose in front of the court house. In the middle of what appears to be a domestic dispute that’s gone completely out of control, she’s able to kill the offender, who clearly to her is not human, and save countless people in the process. Her weapon of choice: A Mont Blanc pen. Go figure.

Immediately her life is turned upside down: she’s carted off by a small battalion of male model look-alikes, informed that she is now being recruited as an agent for an organization in charge of protecting earth from an invasion of alien parasites intent on remaking this world (and every other one for that matter) in their image, and oh yeah, now they know who she is, so they’re probably gunning for her family too.

Add to the mix one Mr. Jeff Martini, superhunk extraordinaire who’s immediately smitten with Kitty and has no problem expressing this to anyone and everyone who will listen. Kitty doesn’t mind all that much, although that gets her into a lot of trouble with Christopher, one of Jeff’s fellow aliens and agents, who seems to delight in harassing Kitty at every turn. Kitty thinks Christopher is annoying; everyone else sees his behavior and attention for what it is and tries to warn Kitty about the situation. Tension ensues in spades, especially when Kitty realizes that Jeff’s feelings are the real deal, and his skills and abilities as an empath have implications that she had never even considered.

If it sounds like I just described the plot and characters of a bunch of other different books and movies, I kind of did. Science fiction remixes ideas constantly, and this book is no exception. What makes this book unique and fun, though, is how effortlessly the hat is tipped to other works while simultaneously incorporating new elements that keep the story fresh. The secret pseudo-government agency in charge of saving the world from alien invasion is all well and good, except most of the staffers of said agency are aliens themselves. There are a ton of really strong barriers against Kitty and Jeff being able to be together, but they’re religious in nature, instead of some weird Barbarella sexually bizzarro fest.

I also enjoyed how family played such a prominent role, both for Kitty and for Jeff. All too often in paranormal romance you find that the main characters sort of exist in a vacuum when it comes to family- either everyone is long dead or missing or just uninvolved. That’s not the case here- Kitty’s family in particular is very hands-on and she finds out a lot she didn’t know about them in the process as well.

The tone of this story was flip and fun, with just enough snark to be amusing but with enough emotion to be genuine. One downside to Jeff’s incredible talents as an empath is that he does tend to launch into Mr. Sensitive territory rather easily; this makes for a tough row to hoe when it comes to sorting out whether Kitty wants to be with him or someone else. We as the reader know full well what Kitty’s feelings are, but in spite of his skills as an empath, Jeff doesn’t. This situation gets a brief mention in passing at the end of the book and I’m excited to see what happens with this in future novels. The next book comes out in December, and I’m going to have a hard time waiting. I sense an early Christmas present coming on!

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

Also, how could I possibly review this book without including my favorite Men in Black scene ever? I don’t know either. 

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. 

Illustrated Friday: Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli

Illustrated Friday is here! This week’s offering is a book that has the kids in my class absolutely mesmerized. We’ve read this book at least a dozen times, and every single person who’s come into my room in the last week or so has read it to the group.

Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks (illustrated by Sue Hendra) is a book about monsters, their distaste for vegetables, and their love of eating everything else. Trailers, wheels, construction vehicles, you name it. Too bad broccoli is on just about every page! The illustrations in this book are part of the fun- I’ve caught a bunch of my students sitting in the library retelling the story to themselves. Seriously, this was a random book off the shelf at the library and it’s ended up being one of the big hits of the year so far.

On tap for my class next week is a whole slew of versions of The Gingerbread Boy, so maybe if you’re good I’ll give you some bonus illustrated books. Happy Friday! 

Review: Midnight Awakening

Title: Midnight Awakening
Author: Lara Adrian
Page Count: 369 pages
Publisher: Dell
Genre: paranormal romance
Review copy was one I owned already

50 words or less: Tegan and Elise are both reeling from the deaths of loved ones and vengeance is all that’s pulling them through. That’s no way to live though, as they both discover as they try and fail to ignore each other and what they’re starting to mean to each other.

The Midnight Breeds series continues with Tegan and Elise’s story. I’ll say here at the onset that this is not my favorite of the series so far but it was still enjoyable.

The previous book closed with Elise’s son Camden’s death at the hands of her brother-in-law. Camden was beyond saving; Bloodlust had overtaken him and he was, for all intents and purposes, gone already. Elise didn’t blame her BIL for the death, but she did decide to go to the front lines of the war between the regular Breeds who are just minding their own business and the murderous Rogues that are running around all over the place. This is how she ends up running into Tegan again; he rescues her from a kill gone awry and nothing is the same for either of them after that.

There are a lot of false starts and “aw crap” moments in the first phases of Tegan and Elise’s relationship while they both tried to deny that they were attracted to each other. Sometimes this works for me in a PNR and sometimes it doesn’t, and I was kind of iffy about it here. I will say, though, that one refreshing thing about this book was that the heroine had been born into the paranormal world of the book and we didn’t have to go through the “this isn’t happening, your crazy, I’m going wake up any minute now, la la la can’t hear you” segment that’s standard fare for a lot of PNRs where the heroine thinks she’s fully human until something happens to change her mind.

This book also marks the start of a new story arc in the series and begins a phase where the Midnight Breeds are different from other vampire books that are out there. While there were some things in the book that weren’t quite cleared up (Chase certainly extinguished the kind of embarrassing torch he was carrying for Elise pretty quickly, for example, maybe that’s addressed in future books?) it was an enjoyable book for sure.

Overall Grade B+ 

Review: The Big Over Easy

Title: The Big Over Easy
Author: Jasper Fforde
Page Count: 383 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Fiction, for lack of a better description

50 words or less: Mary Mary is assigned to work with Jack Spratt solving crimes for the Nursery Crimes Division. She thinks it’s a crap job; he’s made it his life’s work. When the death of vagrant Humpty Dumpty falls (ha!) into their laps, neither is prepared for the wild ride that’s about to unfold.

The 2009 Fall into Reading Challenge is now in full swing, and I’m ready to cross the first book off my list! The Big Over Easy was the perfect way to get started with this challenge. It was an enjoyable read that didn’t require too much time or effort.

One key thing to know about Jasper Fforde’s books is that they’re all set in a kind of parallel reality where fictional book characters of all shapes, sizes, and characteristics are actually real people. The setting first emerged in the Thursday Next series of books (the first one is The Eyre Affair) and the device is here again in the Nursery Crimes series. This means that half the fun of the book doesn’t come from what happens to Jack Spratt and Mary Mary and all the rest of the characters, but in trying to catch the sly literary references that are liberally sprinkled throughout the entire book.

The Big Over Easy is a mystery for people who like mystery novels, but are not so attached to them that they can’t laugh at the absurdity that finds its way into the genre all too frequently. I mean, I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels, and even when I was a kid I’d marvel at how Hercule Poirot would find a piece of dog snot on the carpet or whatever and then MAGICALLY, the entire case would unravel and he would proceed to explain the whole thing to us, the audience, as we sat there in dumbfounded silence. Then again, spending some time in a world where a mystery is just a question waiting for an answer and everything has a nice, neat solution if we only look hard enough is one of the biggest appeals of detective novels, for me anyway.

There were times, I’ll admit, when The Big Over Easy was a tad too clever for its own good and sort of tripped over its own feet, so to speak, but for the most part it was funny, clever, and made me want to revisit Mr. Fforde’s other novels as soon as possible. There’s one side plot wherein Jack Spratt has to sell a painting of cow for his mother and ends up getting beans for it that really made me smile, and the way the ending ties up all the loose ends from the rest of the book was a thing of beauty, indeed.

Overall Grade: B+

Up next for me is Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and then Green by Jay Lake. I’m also good to go for the next installment of Blog With Bite and getting ready for a contest that will truly be a lot of fun. It’s hard to believe September is already pretty much a thing of the past, but it is! There’s lots of fun stuff ahead though, I’m excited already.