Review: Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I honestly have no idea why I am being so productive on this blog of late. I figured I'd start it full of vim and vigor, and slowly peter out. I'm impressing myself, if that's okay to say. Self-congratulation aside, my work for the day:

Title: Just Like Heaven
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: Romance novel-ish, historical fiction
Series: The Smythe-Smith Quartet #1
Published: May 2011
Pages: 374
Rating: 3.5/5

 Marcus Holroyd is the best friend of Honoria Smythe-Smith's brother, Daniel, who lives in exile out of the country. Marcus has promised to watch out for Honoria and takes his responsibility very seriously. But he has his work cut out for him when Honoria sets off for Cambridge determined to marry by the end of the season.

After reading three pretty emotionally fraught novels (Games to Play After Dark, Lock and Key, The Truth About Forever) I was in desperate need for something light, easy, fluffy, fun and cute. I saw Just Like Heaven and looked at the blurb on the back:

Honoria Smythe-Smith is:
A) a really bad violinist B) still miffed at being nicknamed "Bug" as a child C) not in love with her older brother's best friend D) all of the above
Marcus Holroyd is:
A) the Earl of Chatteris B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles C) not in love with his best friend's younger sister D) all of the above
Together they:
A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake B) survive a deadly fever and the world's worst musical performance C) fall quite desperately in love
It's Julia Quinn at her best, so you know the answer is . . .
D) all of the above

This is clearly more romance novel-ish than I usually read, but it was set in 1825 London/Cambridge and it sounded so cheekily fun, I went against my grain and decided to give it a try. Happily for me, it delivered on all counts, proving to be a charming and diverting story.

I had read one novel prior to this by the same author (The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever), which was a merely decent novel, though with lovely prose. Just Like Heaven was a huge improvement, though it did seem a tad reminiscent of the same basic plot as The Secret Diaries in the introductory chapters (young noble girl must find husband, falls in love with a family friend, mishaps and misunderstandings occur, ensue and are, eventually, overcome).

Ms. Quinn has several series and beloved characters that are referenced throughout the novel. For her more devoted readers, I am sure it is a fun insight into past storylines and cherished characters. For a two-time reader like me, all the Bridgertons, et al. mentioned made keeping all the characters and relations distinct more difficult. However, I managed to muddle through, and it was not too distracting from the main story. Cleverly, these cameos also made me curious about the other books Ms. Quinn has penned. Well done, there.
I enjoyed every single character in this book, without falling in love with any. Honoria, our female lead, is spunky, musically inept and devoted to her large, fractious family. Family has always and will always come first for her. Tellingly, when her only brother is exiled in shame to the Continent she does not give up on him, even though most of the family seems to. Honoria, as are all females of the Smythe-Smith clan, is required from early teenage years until marriage to play an instrument and perform yearly in the world's most tone deaf musicale. Thanks to this 18 year tradition, we get to meet three of Honoria's numerous female cousins: the difficult but loving Sarah on pianoforte, the talented but whiny Iris on the cello, and the too-literal Daisy also on violin. These three were hilarious and have a familial camaraderie that is believable and viciously loving. I hope that the remaining three novels in this series focus on Honoria's cousins and their lives and loves.

Marcus pulls off the brooding, reticent Earl admirably well. His hidden wit and unexpected humor were a good contrast to Honoria's more blatant sense of humor. Marcus is almost taciturn at the beginning of the novel, but he grew on me like moss. Slowly, but inexorably, I became more and more invested in this lonely, awkward Lord Chatteris. The inevitable mishap that keeps the lovers apart is mercifully short, and thankfully doesn't require either Honoria or Marcus to act out of character for it to happen. It genuinely comes across as a mishap, rather than a contrived plot point to ratchet up the tension and drama.

All in all, just what it looked to be: easy, fun, with a happyending for all. I fully intend to read the remaining three in the Smythe-Smith Quartet, and possibly even check out this author's numerous series.

Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Monday, May 30, 2011

Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: young-adult, coming-of-age
Series: N/A
Published: April 2008
Pages: 422
Rating: 4/5

Lock and Key is my first YA coming-of-age book by Sarah Dessen, an author who has been endlessly talked up to me for years. Happily all the hype I've heard was almost dead-on, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying this foray into the life of troubled teen Ruby Cooper. Very much a character-driven novel, rather than plot-orientated, I was immediately caught up in the story.
Ruby, with her troubled past and uncertain future, is not perfect. She doesn't even try to be, which is refreshing. I liked her all the more for knowing who she was and accepting herself as is. She's difficult, independent, and supremely stubborn. It was very easy, for me, to relate and identify with Ruby. She's human, and fallible. Dessen does a great job in using a truly credible voice for a teenage girl with an emotionally and physically abusive mother.
Ruby's mother, abusive and emotionally unavailable, does her best to recreate Ruby in her own image; they even share the same name. She routinely uproots her daughter, making real connections or long-lasting friendships nearly impossible. Ruby's mother, under the guise of teaching her "independence" is actually demonstrating the worst kind of neglect. She doesn't seem to truly care at all for Ruby, she just wants to make sure that Ruby has no one to count on outside of family. Interestingly, Ruby Elder never actually makes an appearance in the pages of the book. Entirely symbolic of her attitude toward her younger daughter, she is only mentioned, remembered or explained in absentia. She operates entirely off the page, abandoning Ruby long before Ruby even processes what she has done.
A plethora of background characters give the book its lightness, the fun and the humor. Ruby's elder sister Cora's husband Jamie is unreservedly chipper, optimistic and family-orientated, unlike the Cooper siblings. He inevitably brought a smile or a chuckle when I read his lines. Nate was a charming and nuanced character that had excellent chemistry with Ruby. The relationship felt natural and through its ups and downs, a very realistic portrayal of teenage romance.
I will say, however, that the storyline with Harriet/Reggie/the KeyChains left me a little cold. I was never truly invested in them, or their unrequited love. In a book where everything seemed grounded and plausible, it seemed a bit trite and forced. We already had a troubled love connection storyline, and it seemed superfluous, adding unnecessary drama and tension. But that is one minor complaint in the face of many more virtues.
Another slight problem I had was Ruby's transformation from Seriously Troubled Teen to just Regular Slightly Difficult Teen. [Small spoiler ahead] After the big reveal with Cora about their mother and her numerous deceptions to keep the sisters apart, Ruby changed so abruptly and easily, I just could not buy it.
That is not to say that I didn't love this book (I did) or that I don't plan on rereading it (I do) or recommending it (I will); just that like Ruby, it wasn't perfect. It was enjoyable, compusively readable, if not ground-breaking. I certainly liked Dessen's style from this book to encourage me to check out more of her work. 

In fact, I already added The Truth About Forever (I've even read [& LOVED] this already, review to come), and her newest, just-published novel, What Happened to Goodbye to my t-b-r monstrosity.

Review: Games to Play After Dark by Sarah Gardner Borden

Friday, May 27, 2011

Title: Games to Play After Dark
Author: Sarah Gardner Borden
Genre: Contemporary
Series: N/A
Published: May 2011
Pages: 336
Rating: 3/5

All admissions forward: I won this ARC in a giveaway.
This is a polarizing novel. I believe the reader will either love it or be entirely put-off by it. The content of the story is dark, depressing even, and the characters are more of the same. It's told in a very dry, almost apathetic voice; the prose is tight and direct. The author does a great job of reinforcing the intransigence of Kate and Colin with the style of her writing. Like the plot and the characters, there is nothing frivolous or lush about the writing. I very much liked how the story was told as opposed to the story itself.
The beginning starts off innocuous and fairly normal, but quickly escalates into a picture of a suburban nightmare. I was reminded a bit of Richard Yates' brilliant and disturbing Revolutionary Road, as both stories feature a young couple that meets, marries quickly, has two children and must deal with the disillusionment that follows the achieving "the American dream".
Kate and Colin are both selfish, difficult people. Both assume the other should make life better for them, rather than taking any imitative on their own terms to seek happiness. I have a greater antipathy towards Kate rather than her husband because she is the main character and the evolution of her nature is truly sad, and often enraging. Her attitude toward her husband and eventually her two daughters is often out-of-control and unfathomable. I never connected to Kate, even during flashbacks to a kinder, less complicated Kate. Colin is more removed/distant from the story than his wife; we never see a chapter from his point of view or get in his head like we do Kate's. In fact, he is almost a nonentity, he moves around his family like a satellite orbiting a planet for most of the novel. This is done on purpose, I feel, to give an illustration of how lonely and bereft Kate often feels with Colin as her partner.
I'm not sure if I liked this novel, whereas I loved Revolutionary Road, but it definitely managed to get inside my head and stay there. To dislike characters that intensely means that the author has at least have struck a chord within the audience, and that is a feat to be applauded. It was a brilliantly done novel, it truly showed the deterioration of a once-happy marriage and all that implies, but it was just so bleak and uncompromising I cannot see myself recommending it to a friend to read.

Review: Ethereal by Addison Moore & Cheap Ebook Finds

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Title: Ethereal
Author: Addison Moore
Genre: supernatural/paranormal fiction, young-adult
Series: Celestra series #1
Published: March 2011
Pages: 482
Rating: 2.5/5 

This was a very fun book to read. Angels/Nephilim seem to be on a new wave of literary popularity, and Ethereal does not disappoint. I was intrigued beginning from the first paragraph. As soon as Skyla begins to tell her tale, I was hooked. The prose flows very nicely, and naturally. The book certainly feels like the story of a teenage girl, rather than how an adult would assume a teenage would write or speak. Also, added bonus, real humor ("we had this whole East Side/West Side thing [...] So I was expecting musical gang fights and a lot of girls named Maria.."). I laughed throughout this book, and often. Skyla was a heroine after my own heart: snarky, willful, passionate and curious. Most of all, she came across as a very genuine, real character; one that was both easy to connect with and care about.

The first part of the novel is introductory; we meet Skyla, her mom, sister Mia, stepdad Tad, stepbrother Drake and stepsister Melissa as this Brady-ish family moves from L.A. to the dreary Paragon Island. Skyla's family serves as a backdrop for most of the story, with a lot of the early tension in the book stemming from Skyla's strained relationship with her mom over her dead father and her nonexistent relationship with her antagonistic stepdad. 

Rounding out our cast of diverse characters is Brielle, Skyla's closest thing to a female friend on Paragon, and Logan and Gage, two cousins that are gorgeous... and like Skyla, Nephilim. As Skyla adjusts to the new surroundings and finds others with similar abilities to the ones that have freaked her out her whole life, she learns of the true danger she, and all the other persecuted Celestra, face. 

It's ridiculously easy to get caught up in this book. It just flows marvelously well. I would take it out for my fifteen minute break at work, look up and realize I was going to get in trouble for missing an extra fifteen minutes. Between the engaging characters, the plot twists, and the chemistry between Skyla and the two charming boys, I devoured this novel. The ending was superbly well done, and left me with just the right mix of satisfaction and curiosity. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, Tremble, which is due out soon!
Bonus: it's only $.99 for both the Nook and the Kindle.  Go buy it, read it, love it.

Blog Watch Wednesday

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The big reveal for pottermore has come and gone, and whether you were excited or let down by J.K. Rowling's newest endeavor, there is no denying pottermore is big literary news. Over at i swim for oceans, there is a neat post on pottermore and evolving literature. It's a well-written and thoughtful post.
A blog I recently discovered (with help from the amazing Audra at Unabridged Chick) Burton Book Review is awesome. I've wasted far too much time there pondering the detailed, extensive Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt bibliography. Before Versailles is a novel I'd had my eye on for a while and this detailed review makes me all the more keen to dig in.
Supernatural Snark, a blog after my very heart/humor, made me laugh out loud with this gem of a Cover Critique. I rather enjoyed reading that earlier this week! They've also got a nice interview with Julie Kagawa up on the site.
Another book that's been garnering a lot of praise and word-of-mouth is Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. I was on the fence about reading this -- if handled wrong I would be squicked out for real -- but this review pushed me over onto the "gonna read it" side. (I'm A Book Shark)
aaaand lastly, Danielle over at My Mercurial Musings was lucky enough to attend a Les Grossman/Neil Gaiman reading in NYC. Once again, I am super jealous and charmed by the Gaiman. But who isn't? Pop on over and give her blog a look: she's just starting out and is super friendly and nice.

Review: Betrayal by Mayandree Michel

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Title: Betrayal
Genre: mythic fiction, young-adult
Series: The Descendants #1
Published: April 2011
Pages: 662
Rating: 1/5

I struggled mightily with this book. I liked the idea for the story (descendants of the Olympian Gods have a hidden, secret Empire in present day and also vampires, werewolves, etc). However, it was a good idea poorly executed in many parts of this looong book.

Coming in at 662 pages, this is far from the longest book I've read this year. However, I feel like I was counting every single one of those six hundred odd pages; it literally sapped my strength to finish this book. Why? Well, my first issue was the pacing. Incredibly, ridiculously slow and filled with little real content. The beginning suffers the most from the meandering pace, and thus made it hard for me to connect to the characters or to be invested in the outcomes for Delia, Evan, Beth, Niko and Victor.

Additionally, the writing itself seemed very awkward and stilted at times. It simply didn't flow the way a novel should; there were abrupt transitions and awkward dialogue and exposition many times in the pages. Also, THE GRAMMAR. Abysmal. Truly, truly abysmal. I am aware this is a self-published author so she may not have the same resources, but it was truly egregious. "There" for "their/they're" many, many times, "here" instead of "hear", not correctly using quotation marks, or not even using them at all, among other offenses. The amount of editing errors were very distracting from the story and also just plain aggravating after a while.

Delia is the main character of Betrayal, a descendant of Zeus and soon-to-be Empress of the gods remaining Empire. She is not original, there is very little to differentiate Cordelia from thousands of teenage protagonists in YA paranormal fiction. Delia is a distant and aloof character, both with the remaining cast and with the reader. She's hard to sympathize/empathize with, and tends to keep everyone in the book at arms length. She is more likable as the novel progresses, but continued to be a source of frustration for me. She's meekly accepting when she should be demanding and questioning. She relies on others to protect her constantly, never once taking an imitative to defend herself, and often flouts the protection that is extended to her.

 I know the author was striving to make Delia appear independent and determined, but she ends up more careless and self-centered. She has genuine chemistry with her love interest, Evander the descendant of Poseidon, and therefore, the second most powerful descendant besides herself. Evan himself and the centaur Nikolas are probably the only characters I came to care about throughout the course of the novel. However, Evan does seem a bit too perfect at times. However, that is one minor complaint in the face of all the others.
Evan's younger sister, Bethany, was one of my least favorite characters this year in any novel. She's a very unfriendly character and fails to connect with anyone in the book besides her brother and her lover. I found her actions and attitude toward her "best friend" Delia to be completely perplexing and rude. She was a veeeery grating character; demanding when she should be helping, controlling instead of supportive. She's ridiculously inconstant and secretive, only showing a softer side to her love, Niko.
Michel does have some talent and it shows occasionally. Passages in the book were exciting and hard-to-put-down. They are just sadly few and far between in the hundreds of pages. There is a sequel, Sacrifice, scheduled to come out in December and so far I'm on the fence about reading it.  This was only $.99, so I didn't expect a masterpiece but I wish it had excelled instead of merely being average.

All in all, this was a very mixed effort. I really, really wanted to love this book and in the end, all I feel is underwhelmed and relief that I managed to finish.

Review: Glimmerglass Faeriewalker Series #1

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Title: Glimmerglass
Author: Jenna Black
Genre: mythic/supernatural fiction, young-adult
Series: Faeriewalker #1
Published: May 2010
Pages: 304
Rating: 4/5

Jenna Black is a prolific author and though many of her books have been listed in my t-b-r pile for a while, this was my first chance to read one. Big picture take on it: I thought Glimmerglass was a fun, involving and an overall fresh take on the Fae. A good interesting beginning to a new young-adult paranormal series. 

Our heroine of half-human, half-Sidhe Fae proportions is Dana Hathaway, a very self-sufficient and capable sixteen year old living in the United States with her burden of a mother, Cathy. Cathy's alcoholism, and the effects on Dana's life are major issues between the two and have been for the majority of Dana's life. Dana's continuing struggles to cope with her mother's serious problem and hiding that problem from the outside world was one of the best parts of the novel; Dana seems to have real problems in a life she's legitimately not happy in, thus making her sudden escape to live with her never-before-met-Fae-father in the half-Fae town Avalon plausible, rather than just a plot device to get her on her own. 

Dana herself was a pleasure. She actually manages to keep her wits about her most of the time. She certainly doesn't ask enough questions when confronted with a clearly sketchy situations and nefarious-seeming people, but overall, she's a pretty genuinely self-aware gal. Another thing I liked was that Dana didn't meet a Fae boy and immediately "fall in love", as unfortunately happens so often in YA novels instead of, you know, actually building a relationship between two characters. When she does meet her gorgeous Fae interest, she is suspicious and keeps her distance, not buying into his "I'm mysterious and here to help you" routine. When he turns out to be kind of a major jerk, she calls him on it and rejects him vehemently, instead of making excuses or ascribing to good intentions at his heart. Or, my least favorite stupid-YA-girl cliche of all, assuming she'll figure out all this later on.
However, it was another female character, not even the genuine Dana, that was my favorite. Kimber, the brilliant younger sister of the above-mentioned Fae love interest Ethan, was just what Dana needed. She's sharp, both her brain and her tongue, but is clearly a lost soul looking for a friend, much like the loner Dana. The friendship between the Fae and the half-fae American is unforced and a high point for both the girls. Kimber has felt ostracized her whole life because of her limited magical abilities and her brothers extreme proficiencies, and Dana has never had a chance to get close enough to people to make strong, lasting friendships. Despite problems, the girls gravitate to one another and strike up a solid relationship. 

Dana's tone through the book is more wry than filled with pity-me melodrama. She accepts that she's got limited choices and makes the best deals she can in all the dangerous situations she continually falls into during her escapades. For a YA novel, it was refreshingly free of a love-triangle, though the possibility is set up for later novels. I'm not too worried over it, however, because Black seems to actually work on causing genuine tension in the mood of her novels rather than relying on romantic angst and betrayal to do it for her. 

Another thing going for this book is originality. The idea of incorporating the Fae into the story of Richard III, the Princes in the Tower, and the War of the Roses was an inspired idea. Pitting the Seelie and Unseelie courts as York and Lancaster respectively gave more depth and compelling history to the series in just one novel. The entwinment of both Avalon and England seems plausible and clever. Additionally, the monsters of the book were creative and new. Spriggans were weird and creepily malevolent, as were the pretty-disgustingly-described Water Witches haunting the Moat of Avalon. 

I found this to be a very well done faerie novel. I read the free novella set in this series a fer years before this book, Remedial Magic, and while very short it had the same light, easy feel as the first book. I have high hopes for the rest of this series.

Review: Ice Cracker II by Lindsay Buroker

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Title: Ice Cracker II
Author: Lindsay Buroker
Genre: steampunk, fantasy, novella
Series: The Emperor's Edge series #1.5
Published: December 2010
Pages: 60
Rating: 3/5

This is my first foray into the world Lindsay Buroker has fashioned for The Emperor's Edge series, and it was just as fun as another novella by the same author that I thoroughly enjoyed, Flash Gold. I'm a big fan of the way the author writes, and the stories she creates are original and a mashup of almost all my favorite genres: fantasy, steampunk, a little mystery and some well-written, hinted at chemistry rather than a full-blown romance. I randomly picked this to start before The Emperor's Edge itself because it is a very short novella, only about 60 pages, but Buroker seems to work rather well within the confines of a short story. Her writing flows well and the dialogue and interaction between the characters, is witty and one of the best aspects of the novella ("I know this is dangerous, probably more for you than me-- my poster just says wanted, yours says kill on sight..").
But don't be mistaken, there is enough happening in those tooshort sixty pages to keep the plot moving briskly. Assassins, deceptions, conspiracies abound, making this an intricate and convoluted short story. As with the other novella I've read, the pages fly by with speed and I was sucked completely into the story.
There is not very much characterization or character depth in the story, for two reasons. One, the author is using recurring characters from other works of hers in which they have more detail and personality ascribed to them. Reason two: there's only so much punch you can pack in 60 pages. With all that the novella has going on, the amount of depth created for each of the two is perfect. Amaranthe is a fun, vivacious character. Above all, she was resourceful and self-sufficient. I always enjoy reading books with strong, believable, kickass female characters and Lindsay Buroker seems to write them often and reliably. She's also smart, without being obnoxious or having it be her fatal flaw.
Sicarius was silent and intriguing as the talented and deadly assassin who is trying to outrun his dark past; clearly, I'll be focusing on him in the future books in this series I read.
My only complaint is the same as it was for Flash Gold: I simply want more. This was shorter even than that, and was over far too quickly. I know there is The Emperor's Edge and its soon-to-be-released sequel (yaaaaay!!) Dark Currents, but it's such a shame to be pulled back out of such a well-crafted world so abruptly. Not to say the resolution was not well done, because it was, it just came too fast for my preferences. I guess I'll just have to read The Emperor's Edge, then Encrypted (it's a prequel, apparently set 20-25 years before The Emperor's Edge) and wait patiently for Dark Currents
 Also,  Ice Cracker II was FREE for Nook and only $.99 for the Kindle, so really, you have absolutely nothing to lose by giving them a chance. 
And definitely, definitely check out Lindsay's full-length work, The Emperor's Edge. The price was recently dropped from $2.99 to just $.99 in both formats in anticipation of the next novel in the series' release.

Other can't-afford-to-miss deals for ebooks:

Tominda Adkins' first novel, Vessel, Book One: The Advent is only $.99 for Nooks, as well as the Kindle. Here's the blurb:  
They're divine. They're almighty. They're about six thousand years late.
They're the Vessel, five living gods born to smite an ancient anomaly of death. That's what beloved pop legend Jesse Cannon is saying anyway--after claiming to be a Vessel himself. It's enough to make his long-suffering assistant Jordan hand in her two week's notice. She might not survive one week, however, because Jesse's divine vision is no myth. Something is stalking them both, and it's not a crazed fan . . .
Book I brings the fledgling deities together (on a tricked-out tour bus, of course) for the ride of their immortal lives. There's Ghi, a sweet amnesiac who may or may not be a terrorist--or a devout lover of soap operas. Jackson, a smart-mouthed, firefighting mama's boy. Corin, a filthy rich philanthropist who cannot function without his smartphone. And Khan, a legally blind convict with a penchant for arson, nicotine, and prostitutes. Each remarkable in his own right, each born of questionably immaculate conception, and each, as far as Jordan is concerned, utterly unprepared to deliver anyone from evil. Unearthing the Vessels' calling will take them from the banks of a forgotten Nile tributary to a Toronto truck stop, from the set of Oprah to the gates of Hell and back. Along the way, they must survive not only one another, but flesh-eating tentacles, water gun assasins, prehistoric priestesses, undead groupies, powerful hangovers, cut-off jeans, and one very fed up celebrity assistant. Gird your loins: this armageddon is just getting started.
I don't know about you, but that sounds worth checking out to me!

Amaretto Flame, a paranormal young-adult novel by author Sammie Spencer is only $2.99 currently.
Blurb: When Olivia's high-priestess banishes her to a human town for a summer, Olivia is terrified. With news coming in from Eagleton through Olivia's brothers, Olivia learns that the deadly Venator are actively attacking other covens.
As Olivia struggles to fit in with her new human friends, things become more tense in Eagleton. Her high-priestess seems to be willing to do anything to keep Olivia away at a time when she could help most.
When Olivia meets Jackson Vance, a hot musician with messy hair and an eye for the ladies, things become infinitely more confusing. When Olivia is attacked in the human town, she discovers there's a bit more to Jackson's story than she thought. Uncovering the secret means possibly destroying everything Olivia has ever fought for.

Glimmerglass, the first in Jenna Black's Faeriewalker series is only $2.99! The second in the series is out and priced at a decent $9.99, so the first is really a steal! Kindle link here.
It’s all she’s ever wanted to be, but it couldn’t be further from her grasp…
Dana Hathaway doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in big trouble.  When her alcoholic mom shows up at her voice recital drunk, again, Dana decides she’s had enough and runs away to find her mysterious father in Avalon: the only place on Earth where the regular, everyday world and the captivating, magical world of Faerie intersect. But from the moment Dana sets foot in Avalon, everything goes wrong, for it turns out she isn't just an ordinary teenage girl—she's a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel between both worlds, and the only person who can bring magic into the human world and technology into Faerie.  
Soon, Dana finds herself tangled up in a cutthroat game of Fae politics. Someone's trying to kill her, and everyone seems to want something from her, from her newfound friends and family to Ethan, the hot Fae guy Dana figures she’ll never have a chance with… until she does.  Caught between two worlds, Dana isn’t sure where she’ll ever fit in and who can be trusted, not to mention if her world will ever be normal again

And if you read and liked that book, the author has a short novella out for free, set in the same universe/series as Glimmerglass. Remedial Magic is the title and it can be found here and here. There's a veery tiny synopsis out for it:
Delve deeper into the world of the fae with a Faeriewalker bonus story.
Having a prodigy for an older brother is not so fun…especially one who is magic wiz-kid. But Kimber has a plan to finally step out of his shadow.
I bought the first and downloaded the free novella because, well, it's pretty and half of them were free and I'm a magpie with serious impulse control problems.

C.C. Hunter (apparently a pseudoym), who pens the Shadow Falls series, also has a free novella out, set in the world of her full-length works. The name is Turned At Dark, (Kindle link here) and it's a paranormal/supernatural YA about a young girl named Della dealing with her cousin's death. Blurb:
Independent and strong-willed Della Tsang did not believe in ghosts, until she sees her dead cousin in a dark alley. She did not believe in vampires, until she turns into one. Should she follow her vampire cousin’s lead and walk away from everything she knows, or join Shadow Falls, a camp for special teens.
I've already downloaded this one to my lovely Nook, hoping to read it next week. The first in the series, Born at Midnight, was just released in March and is wasting away in my tbr pile. 

M.R. Mathias' The First Dragoneer is currently FREE for both the Nook and the Kindle. It's an introductory novella into Mathias' Dragoneer's Saga series. Blurb!: When two young men go on a hunt that they know will be the last hunt of their youth, they decide they want it to be an unforgettable outing. When they cross a ridge leaving the protection of their kingdom behind, they find a cavern that looks like it needs to be explored. In the cavern they find exactly what they were looking for. In this stoney hole lives something they will never forget!

Review: Maybe This Time by Jennifer Cruise

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Genre: paranormal fiction, contemporary
Series: N/A
Published: August 2010
Pages: 342
Rating: 5/5

And, last, my review (finally) of the well-done Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie:
Both surprisingly enjoyable and unsettlingly creepy, Maybe This Time is one of the most intelligently told and enjoyable ghost stories I've come across. Do keep in mind I hate being scared, so my exposure to said ghost stories is much more limited than say, my exposure to dystopia/steampunk genre or science fiction. That said, this book earned a 'bravo' from this amateur!
Set in the nineties, Andromeda "Andie" Archer does a favor for her ex-husband the enigmatic North Archer, to go to "the wilds of southern Ohio" to a haunted house and domesticate the two orphaned children living there, as well as rein in the creepy and controlling housekeeper of the North family manor. Of course there's old history ("ghosts" if you'll excuse the horrible pun) from her past relationship with North complicating an already entangled mess.

Andie is likable, capable and above all, warm. She's funny, with a dry wit and little to no tolerance for bullshit. She changes from a very independent woman who is constantly looking for something/somewhere new into a devoted and loving mother-figure for the two tormented children. She changes subtly, and her love for the kids is uncovered and believable with each turning page. She is clearly the heart of the novel, greatly affecting all those characters she comes across in positive and humorous ways.

Alice, the younger child of the pair, is the more obviously affected by the ghosts. One in particular is possessive of her and violent towards any interference any adult tries to exert upon the child. Alice was, either intentionally or unintentionally, the funniest person in the novel. She's often "outraged" in the way only a child can be when they realize they don't always get what they want. She's a very emotional and vulnerable little girl, so it makes sense that she's very attached to her brother Carter, and eventually "her" Andie. 

Carter himself is a cipher most of the novel. He's been through so much anguish and internal pain since the death of his mother, then his father, his aunt and a nanny that he has almost completely withdrawn from verbal communication with the outside besides his sister,  Alice. He's utterly devoted and protective towards her, and I was always curious to know more about the hidden undercurrents going on around him.

The pacing is wonderful and builds like a ghost story should be retold. At first there's hints and vague movements but as it get creepier and the multiple ghosts more malevolent, the pages fly by and the plot races on to a very riveting conclusion. Highly enjoyable. I've read a couple other books by Crusie (Bet Me is a particular guilty, semi-trashy pleasure) but this one takes the cake out of them all. It eclipses her previous work, especially her pure romance novels, and the addition of the supernatural elements to Crusie's writing style works magically. 

Review: China Miéville's Embassytown

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

 Title: Embassytown
Author: China Miéville
Genre: dystopian, science fiction, New Weird
Series: N/A
Published: May 2011
Pages: 352
Rating: 4/5

Right off the bat, let's get this out of the way: I won this on a giveaway. I am so glad I did, because otherwise it would have been aaaages until I managed to get around to this specific book in my tbr pile and I'd have no idea what I was missing. This is a dense, multi-layered book that is easily one of the best novels of the year. China Miéville has done an outstanding job with crafting Embassytown. This was my first Miéville and it was an amazing way to be introduced to his unique writing. 

The story is told with a distinct voice, that of Embassytown-born immerser Avice Benner Cho. She seems world-weary, almost distant in the beginning pages and chapters of retelling the extraordinary events of her life in Embassytown, on her home planet of Arieka. Cho is not exactly a likable woman; the events and culture from her life are utterly alien and she's completely blasé about everything, and this makes her hard to relate to. Though she travels to many places on far distant planets, Avice's story focuses around Embassytown and her life in it as a child and adult. As a young girl, Cho was made part of the Language of the Ariekei, an important event she doesn't understand yet but will impact her future the most.
Avice as a narrator grows and changes and becomes a much different woman from the almost beaten-down, inescapably weary woman in the opening of the book into someone completely different.
She emerges from the events in her tale as a determined, independent woman.

An Ariekei (singular form of the native sentient life found on Arieka) is a completely original, alien lifeform. China Miéville calls his writing "weird" science and it shows in the original, creative and crazy lifeforms he created. I love the sheer originality that's in every chapter of the book. The Ariekei Language is a huge and intricate part of the novel: first of all, they, as a species, cannot lie. Before humans came to their planet, they did not even conceive of the concept of a lie. The very act of speaking an untruth is exciting to the species. Their speech is also very limited in vocabulary and expressions, and thus humans like Cho become living similes, examples (we are like the girl who ate what was given to her, see the boy who swims every week) for them to facilitate more Language for the entire Ariekei population. Additionally, each Ariekei uses two mouths so to speak, the Cut mouth and the Turn mouth both speaking simultaneously expressing two separate parts of the same word of phrase. 

Humans, clearly, cannot communicate with the Ariekei on natural terms; they lack the second voice sounding with the exact same intent and focus as the first voice. Thus the Ambassdors program began. Human mutations/clones or doppelgangers were created for the express purpose of sharing a life to communicate with the Arikene populace; they are always from Embassytown itself, for it takes an intrinsic knowledge to work with the Ariekei. They are raised and trained to speak with the Ariekei population for the rest of the humans in on their planet. So when an Ambassador is sent in from the home world of Bremen instead of grown in Embassytown itself, the colony wonders what prompted this strange, unlikely occurrence and how the Ariekei will respond to their Language. Will they even be able to speak understandable Language? And when Ambassador EzRa appears and things take an unprecedented, but not necessarily unexpected, turn in human/Ariekei relations, Cho and a select group has to figure what the truth is and how to turn the tide. 

This is a good book. It was slow starting in the beginning for me because it is a personal pet peeve of mine when nothing is explained and new terms and phrases are floating in every sentence and I have no idea what anything means. However, comprehension soon dawns and with it a realization of the depth of the world Miéville has created. An alien species that thinks as well as a man, but utterly unlike one. A hostile planet with a sentient species with Language far more pure than our own. Bioengineering, where "herds of factories" produce household goods in the wild... the list goes on. It is wildly imaginative and ridiculously good. It does get bogged down in the language aspect for QUITE a while, which I suspect may bore other readers and lower its rating across the board. I do not mind; I loved this book and recommend it highly. I'll definitely be rereading this before the end of the year.
It can be found here on amazon, or here on b&n's website.  I recommend this more than anything else I have read this year. 

Short Review/ Bargains, Deals and Steals

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Title: The Lens and the Looker
Author: Lory S. Kaufman
Genre: post-dystopic, young-adult
Series: The Verona Trilogy #1
Published: March 2011
Pages: 336
Rating: 3/5

A quick, short review of a quick, short book. This was a book with a lot of promise. It's the premier novel in a series of three, with number two, The Bronze and the Brimstone being published this June. The idea of time-travel from a post-dystopian society to past medieval-era Verona in 1347 is a clever premise and works well with the three protagonists. It is a bit simple, probably aimed for kids in their early to middle teens, but enjoyable for those older than that as well, who are just looking for a light "snack" book and not a 'takes-time-and-thought-to-digest meal'-book.
A lot of thought and preparation has evidently gone into the story and the differing worlds that Kaufman has created. He writes well, blending 24th, 30th and 14th century ideas, technologies and personages into a believable, epic adventure. Engaging and easy to read, I hope that the next in the series has a little more depth will hold more details about the later technologies Kaufman has imagined, as well as the differing lifestyles from the 24th/30th century. The trials and tribulations that occur move the plot along nicely, always keeping the reader's attention focused on the pranks and exploits of our three teenage lead characters as they try to navigate this 'camp' and get back to their time-honed ways of being 'hardcases'.
The personalities of the women in the novel could have been fleshed out more. Shamira is mostly on the sidelines, helping when told what to do and rarely takes any initiative on her own. She is clever and not afraid to stand up for herself, but it is clear she is mostly a foil and friend for the other two boys. Giulietta seems a bit more believable but that is because she interacts with Hansum the most for the romantic angle of the story, and there has to conflict and interest within the storyline. Thus, Giulietta is a bit more fleshed out than the other female characters.  The Signora does not add much besides comic relief and angelic hallucinations, but she was genuinely a funny addition. I hope that the women are less background and more central to the plot of the next in the series. I'm told they are, and that makes me likely to pick up the second much sooner.
The best part? You can buy the first and the second for only $2.99 each on Nooks or Kindles. 

Other screaming Nook/Kindle deals I've come across when I was shopping for books I do not need with money I do not have:

Starfire Angels: This is FREE for Nook and Kindles. This is the first in a series by the author, Melanie Nilles. Synopsis blurb from Raea's life as a human is about to end. The crystal shard she bears is not a pretty pendant; it's part of the heart of a machine capable of destroying whole worlds. Those who desire the power have sent an agent to find her, but she's too busy evading a nosy reporter, dating a hot new foreign student, and learning what she really is. Only one person on Earth can help her, but he's not from Earth.

Dead(ish)Another free ebook, this one by Naomi Kramer. Synopsis blurb: Linda’s had a bad day. First her boyfriend killed her. Then she woke up, still on this boring plane of existence, and with an odd obsession about her missing body. Mike won’t tell her what he did with her body and she can’t find the stupid thing herself. There’s only one thing she can do - torment the bastard until he coughs up the information. Contains adult themes and frequent profanity.
Monster in the Mirror - this completely FREE short-story/ebook is not one I will be buying or reading personally. I hatehateHATE being scared, but I thought it'd be worth looking into by a fright-lover.  Info from For a limited time, includes two free additional short stories.
Could there be a hidden room somewhere in your house? And just what would you find lurking there?
Nate, his little sister, and best buddy Dan, stumble upon a hidden room during a sleep-over. What they find inside is anything but friendly. Includes two bonus short stories: Steven, Space Stowaway & Bloody Marcy."

The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish is a free, high-fantasy ebook. Here's the online blurb: Harruq and Qurrah Tun, half-blood exiles of elves and orcs, have sworn their lives to the prophet of a death god, gaining power in return for igniting war between the race of elves and man. Harruq's love of an elf may save him from his dark path, but to protect her means he must turn against his brother and fight the killing nature with which he was born.

The Demon Girl, by new author Penelope Fletcher is a supernatural young-adult novel about a powerful girl with an unknown past and future. Rae Wilder has problems. Plunged into a world of dark magic, fierce creatures and ritual sacrifice, she is charged with a guarding a magical amulet. Rae finds herself beaten up, repeatedly, and forced to make a choice: to live and die human, or embrace her birth-right and wield magics that could turn her into something wicked, a force of nature nothing can control. This ebook is only $.99 for Nooks and absolutely FREE for the Kindle. The author has another novel, Lunar Light, which is also only $.99 for my precious Nook and Kindle. This novella focuses on the myth of the wendigo and a young girl named Evangeline who must balance both sides of her nature. 

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books (The Blue, The Red, The Green, The Yellow, The Pink, The Grey, The Violet, The Crimson, The Brown, The Orange, The Olive, and The Lilac) is ONLY $.95 FOR NOOKS. I'm sorry, but that is just plain ridiculous. Twelve books of traditional fairy tales gathered from all over the world, collected into one edition for under $1. I'm a happy, happy girl. Kindle edition is slightly more expensive, coming in at $1.99. If you love fairy tales, this is definitely worth buying.

The Lunarmorte Trilogy by Samantha Young, comprised of Moon Spell, River Cast, and Blood Solstice vary from $.99 for the first, to $1.49 for the second, with the third being the most expensive at $2.99. From what I can gather online, this is a single story broken into three separate parts about a young female werewolf. 

<broken french>et, voila. Je suis fini pour auj'ourdhui.</broken french>

No Self-Control

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My elementary school (from 2000, yowzers) has an annual bookdrive and booksale. The local kids gather donations, have competitions to see which class/grade can generate the most books for the school. At the end, there's a ridiculous two day sale where paperback books of any kind, any condition are 2 for $1 or even cheaper and hardback books are a flat $2. So my insane tbr pile is now just plain ridiculous. But I just love a bargain and that all the money goes to a public school in need makes me feel all warm inside about my serious bookspree. I, of course, went both days. The first day was more of a drive-by of twenty minutes because I rescued a puppy from a local indian reservation. Today, my schedule was less tight and I tortured my poor, non-reader bf for about an hour. 

First day's haul:

So, what we have here is:

Georgette Heyer - A Blunt Instrument (this is the fourth in a series, certainly not the best place to start but I'll either accumulate the first three before I read this or just dive in with impatience...)

Candace Bushnell - Sex and the City

Neal Stephenson - Anathem

Cinda Williams Chima - The Warrior Heir 

Cornelia Funke - Inkheart
Neil Gaiman - Stardust 

Robin McKinley - Spindle's End

Paulo Coelho - The Valkyries

Margaret George - Mary, Called Magdalene 

Mandy Hubbard - Prada and Prejudice

So, total of twelve the first day for me (I bought four other books, but those went straight to my dad).

Haul #2:

Now, we've got these as well:

Marion Zimmer Bradley -The Mists of Avalon

Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin; and Alias Grace as well 

Diana Gabaldon - Outlander (she's from my hometown, d'yaknow? well, probably not since I don't advertise that sort of information on the interwebs, BUT! regardless, she is.)

Bernard Cornwell - The Last Kingdom (this was only book I bought by a completely unknown author but it's a historical fiction set in England 866 A.D. about fighting the Vikings.. how could I resist? Clearly, I couldn't. Clearly, I have no will-power.)

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Unconsoled

Umberto Eco - Baudolino

Sharon Key Penman - Cruel as the Grave (second in a series, but with the same options as the Heyer: wait and accumulate or jump in and figure it out without the previous novel[s]. I'll definitelyprobably pick option #2.)

Ally Carter - Heist Society

Review: Nyphron Rising by Michael J. Sullivan

Friday, May 13, 2011
In celebration on this joyous occasion, my review for the latest I've read this week:

Title: Nyphron Rising
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Riyria Revelations #3
Published: October 2009
Pages: 350
Rating: 4/5

 A year after defeating "Rufus' Bane" in Thrace's tiny village, Hadrian, having long been weary of his mercenary, wandering lifestyle with Royce, wants something with meaning to define his life other than thieving and spying, even if it's for the Crown and his friend Alric the King of Melengar, whose country is facing extreme external threats. Royce just wants to hang on to the life he's clawed out for himself with any means necessary- even deception from his closest and only friend. Drawn again into international conflict along with Alric's sister, the sneaky and resourceful princess Arista, Royce and Hadrian have to accomplish this one last job before potentially splitting ways. Intricate and deftly woven, this is another amazing ride with Royce, Hadrian and Arista appearing, along with the renamed Thrace as the enigmatic, near-mute Modina.
I do have to say I had a "I KNEW it moment!!" right before the end of the book, only to have my jaw drop on the VERY LAST PAGE with sheer and utter surprise and freakoutery.  A lot of theories I had planned out from this idea were dashed to pieces with a very few words. It was a masterfully, marvelously well done plot twist.
These are books that can be read separately, but I do have to say some prior knowledge of recent events and people involved are somewhat necessary to understand the full gist of the power plays, manipulations and deceptions that take place across the board. There are numerous factions at play, be it the devious Church, the Royalists, the Nationalists, the Republics, etc. and it is much easier to understand the motives behind the machinations with input from the previous novels. They are intended to be read as a series telling a larger story and that is the best way to go about them.
These characters, especially Hadrian and the surly Royce, are beloved and cherished to me now. I'm very fond of them, and the plot twists and history behind each build a better picture of each. Hadrian, a man full of promise but no outlet and tied through loyalty and affection to an eccentric friend that really only trusts him alone. Royce emerges as a man with a heart at least, but just for a select few and more admissions about his dark, troubled past behind his demeanor are divulged. Arista continues to become one of my favorite female characters in recent fantasy novels I've read. She soldiers through tough situations with aplomb and grit and when biting off more thans he can chew, she continually resolves to persevere.
A very entertaining read from start to finish. I would highly recommend this series and I hope that the concluding three books are on the same high standard as the first three. Bonus! This fantastic book was only $4.95 on my Nook. Definitely keep this book, this series in mind when out shopping for something new worth trying.

 Also, added this week because it was a SCREAMING deal on my Nook:
N.K. Jemisin's award-winning and 2011 Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel, called The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Great news is, Orbit has dropped the price from about $15 to only $2.99  for both Nook and Kindles! I've had this on my to-buy list for a long, long time. It's generated a lot of good buzz, and the sequel, The Broken Kingdoms is already out with the yet-to-be-published third (The Kingdom of Gods) concluding the Inheritance Trilogy.

Synopsis blurb from "Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle."
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