Review: Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family by Gail Simone

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Title: Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
Author: Gail Simone, Ed Benes (Illustrations)
Genre: Graphic Novels
Series: Batgirl IV #3
Pages: 224
Expected Publication: October 29th, 2013
Source: Publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

Gail Simone continues her Batgirl run in a tale that ties into the best-selling Bat-Family event "Death of the Family." When the Joker returns, Barbara Gordon must confront her past as she deals with the crazed criminal responsible for crippling her. Plus, once the dust settles, Barbara must deal with her family demons as her psychotic brother James Jr. comes after her.
Reviewed by Danielle

Gail Simone’s has been changing what superhero comics mean. With characters who aren’t always strong or brave or composed, who deal with mental illness, insecurities, and all manner of issues we don’t generally get to see. LGB and T secondary characters. Comic books that pass the Bechdel test. I have stars in my eyes.

In the latest collection of her popular Batgirl series, (this is Batgirl IV, [fourth time the character has starred in a series of this title,] Volume 3, [third collected edition of Volume IV comics,]) Simone’s eponymous heroine crosses over with the rest of the Bat-family for the “Death of the Family” arc, as well as the continuation and conclusion of the plot that’s been slow burning over the last year, James Jr.

We start with Batgirl Annual #1, which seems out of place in continuity after Vol. 2, which left off after Night of Owls and with a cliffhanger for a new threat. Annual #1 is back in the middle of the Talon, dealing with the intersection of the female assassin from issue 9, Babs, and Catwoman. It makes the transition from Annual to issue 14 very abrupt. I will say the art for this issue is the most stunning; Admira Wijaya’s details are phenomenal.

From there, however, issues 14-16, as well as Batman 17, are extremely well integrated, flowing flawlessly. I could imagine this arc was written as a standalone graphic novel, rather than monthly serials. Batman 17 is one of the most horrifying comics I’ve read, and absolutely essential to understanding the previous three Batgirls. The full page with Joker, the cub, and the heart? Genuine nightmare fuel. It’s terrifying and psychological and really encapsulates the relationship between Bats and Jokes, while ramping up the insanity. A lot.

(But, even ending on a scary, cliffhanger-y note, we still get an adorable Bruce/Alfred scene. “Go to hell.” I love it.)

The next comic is a short from the Valentine’s special Young Romance, “Dreamer”. It’s included as a break between storylines, but they needn’t have bothered. Eight pages of Babs taking a break to mack on a normal dude, (a minor character from the Darkest Reflections storyline.) By the time we start to feel something for Ricky, (if we can, because again, eight pages and one of them is a pointless fight scene,) the comic is over. The writing doesn’t fit with the rest of the collection, the timeline is again messed about, and the art is only so-so. Young Romance was widely panned, so its inclusion in a serious trade is just confusing all around.

The second half of the book is a three-issue arc “ending” the family drama that’s been swirling since the reappearance of Barbara’s brother, James Jr. (Seriously, Barbara Sr. and James Sr. are the most uncreative parents.) If you read Vol. 2, you’re familiar with why James’ showing back up is a Very Bad Thing. If you haven’t read that particular collection, you’ll probably be able to piece it all together fairly quick.

Again, this part flows well on its own, but it shines in the context of the collected volume, as James plays a part in Death of the Family as well. There are a few points that feel rushed, (Firebug, a minor villain who hasn’t been seen in 10 years, gets a brief two issue appearance where his motives aren’t well explained. He’s just a stalling tactic. Likewise, Alysia’s reveal seems extremely out of place in the context of the conversation she and Barbara are having. I feel like they were meant to do something else, but it got cut for length,) but overall the conclusion worked for me.

Exploring ideas of posttraumatic stress, revenge, and what makes a hero, it’s a heavy collection. I loved seeing Killing Joke canonized, (recanonized? Continued canonization?) and used to restore some of Bab’s agency after she was fridged to give Jim his motivation in the classic graphic novel. The parallels drawn between her and Batman, (and her dad from Killing Joke,) and again between her and James, aren’t heavy handed, but left me thinking. If it weren’t for the romance interlude, it would be a five star collection. As it is, I heartily recommend it to anyone following the Bat-family in the New 52. I would not, however, recommend it as a starting point for new readers. You’ll need to pick up Vols. 1 or 2 for that.

Book Tour Review: Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Title: Illuminations
Author: Mary Sharratt
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 275 (hardcover edition)
Published: October 2012
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 5/5

Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some three decades later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage. 
Like Anita Diamant’s portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.

As a particularly and unrepentantly non-religious person, I don't get around to reading a lot of books solely about saints, Popes, nuns or other religious figures. But am I ever so glad I put that initial reaction aside and tried Mary Sharatt's utterly fascinating book about a twelfth century nun named Hildegard von Bingen. Though this may be a quieter story with a less splashy conflict than other novels, Illuminations still manages to be impossible to put down and an immersive, detailed, based-on-historical-fact chronicle. With a distinctive first-person POV and a great narrator, veteran author Mary Sharatt makes reading Hildegard's impressive story an experience.

Sharatt ably creates a vibrantly real life for this Germanic legend. I mean, somehow this is a book that remains insanely interesting for a life about a nun who was walled-in in a tiny two room space with little outside contact. For thirty-eight YEARS. Despite that large obstacle, in the early chapters, Sharratt smartly uses character and small tensions, from religious to simple distaste, to keep Hildegard's life with Jutta interesting. Part reluctant companionship, part necessity, part sympathy, part pure revulsion, the relationship between Jutta and her unwilling oblate is constantly changing -- sometimes for the better, but more often not. More of a foil for Hildegard than a true/pure antagonist, Jutta's evolution and character depth are explored rather well over the course of the novel during which she is around.

Once Hildegard is free(er) and unconstrained by harsh rules set down by the "saintly" Jutta, she really evolves into a character worthy of notice. When she begins to grow in her role as magistra/abbess to her spiritual "daughters" she emerges as a complicated but utterly authentic woman. Though she had unique ecclesiastical woes in addition to her struggles for independence and freedom, she was inherently sympathetic in her many struggles in a male-dominated field. Her story is so striking and compelling - from  being essentially sold to the church to pay for her sisters' dowries, held in a small space for years, years of hunger and deprivation, her subsequent struggle to control her life, her staunch and unflinching refusal to give in -- it sounds like fiction. But so much of the story in Illuminations is based on historical truth. I may have a bit of a history-crush on Hildegard. She lived almost a thousand years ago and the voice given to her here in Illuminations is still able to captivate.  

The comparisons between this and Diamant's classic The Red Tent seem supremely appropriate -- both of these novels feature important female religious figures but each succeeds in portraying their subject matter as wholly human despite their larger-than-life stories now. Though the narrative plays out against a lesser-known and religious background, it's the trials and relationships amongst the characters that are the highpoint of the novel. Giving more focus to lesser-known female figures is a great thing and I would love to see more about Hildegard or someone like her. 

Hildegard's strong regard for the women under her care was refreshing to read about, though predictably, not without its own set of problems and concerns.  It led her to do things she hadn't expected, it led her down dangerous and unknowable paths, but she lived a fascinating, worthy, impressive life. From her fight for freedom to her struggle to lead and help others, reading Illuminations was a one-of-a-kind experience.

Book Tour Review: Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Title: Friday's Harbor
Author: Diane Hammond
Genre: general fiction
Series: Max L. Biedelman Zoo #2
Pages: 325
Published: October 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for Review
Rating: 3.5/5

It's been three years since Hannah the elephant departed the Max L. Biedelman Zoo, and life is blissfully quiet for her friends in Bladenham. Sam has retired, Neva manages a doggie day care, Harriet Saul has been fired, and newly-minted lawyer Truman Levy has been recruited to replace her as the zoo's executive director.

Then Truman's aunt, an eccentric heiress looking for a pet project, finds just the thing: a killer whale stranded in Colombia who desperately needs a new home. With the help of marine mammal expert Gabriel Jump, she strong-arms Truman into repurposing the zoo's never-used porpoise pool for Friday's rehabilitation. Under Gabriel's watchful eye, and with a team of dedicated helpers, Friday begins to revive.

But not everyone believes that Friday should remain in captivity. And before Truman knows what to do about it, the Max L. Biedelman Zoo is under national scrutiny-- and controversy-- and Friday's fate may no longer remain in their hands.

This is not the type of book I usually read. I stay away from animal fiction because usually I am too weak to deal with their (usual) death at the end. However, this story about the rescue of a male killer whale intrigued me.  Though obviously inspired by the author's close knowledge of the life of the famous Keiko, this heartwarming story about the love between species is original and wholly readable. 

 Though Friday's Harbor is the second in a series centered around a zoo, it can be read completely as a standalone. Some characters from the first are shown in the second, but the story is fully independent of what happened in Hannah's Dream. The story of how an electic and eccentric group of people worked together to save the life of a sickened and weak 18 year old whale is by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. It's a feel-good story that manages to pull on emotions while still taking pains to show how badly off captivity can be for animals.

Viernes (later Anglicized to Friday once in America) life bares a striking resemblance to that of the world's most famous orca --- Willy from Free Willy. Though Friday is fictional, the parallels between the two are obvious. Both Keiko and Friday languished in pools too small for them for at least 16 years, Keiko in Mexico and Friday in Colombia. Both are immense media sensations and the subject for fervent debate about the merits of zoo captivity.

Most of the novel is centered around Friday and his move and eventual rehabilitation, but a significant portion of it is subtly concerned with fostering debate about animal capture and captivity. The author takes pains to show both sides of the debate and never firmly comes down on either side of the fence. It's a smart move on her part and allows readers to read Friday's story and then consider the implications of it on real life animals.

Diane Hammond's Friday's Harbor is a perfect rainy day read. It's full of quiet emotion and human-animal bonds. If you're a dog person, or a cat person, or any kind of animal-person, there will be a lot to relate to in Friday's story.

Book Tour Review: Gracianna by Trini Amador

Monday, October 28, 2013
Title: Gracianna
Author: Trini Amador
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 296 (hardcover edition)
Published: July 2013
Source: Historical Ficton Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

The gripping story of Gracianna--a French-Basque girl forced to make impossible decisions after being recruited into the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador's great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother's home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.

Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna's past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother's story.

Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s--on her way to America, she hopes--but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it--even if it means using lethal force.

As Amador tells the imagined story of how his great-grandmother risked it all, he delivers richly drawn characters and a heart-wrenching page-turner that readers won't soon forget.

Gracianna is the fictional retelling of an apparently fascinating and complex woman. Related closely to the book's proud author, Gracianna is a larger than life force and her life's ups and downs more than makes for an involving read. A well-worn and directly-told story, Gracianna is an interesting look into the full life of a family legend who lived through one of Paris's most infamous events.

The way Gracianna is written and read can feel more like a memoir or a biography than a true "fiction" novel at times. The narration can be dry or cold initially, and the characters hard to empathize with. This is the author's first novel and it reads like a debut -- a good one, but still obviously a labor of love rather than one of pure talent. Still, despite the overabundance of telling and the remoteness of the narration, Gracianna is a fast read; one that showcases multiple ways of French life in the era around WWII. The characters evolve and become more realistic and the author falls into an easy, readable style.

It helps that Trini Amador is obviously passionate about the story he is weaving here. It may be fiction, but it's easy to forget that it is based on the true events of the life of a family member. As an author, Amador manages to take huge events and boil it down for the everyperson - his story of survival in WWII is a quieter one, but still affecting. It's a pretty impersonal narrative, all things considered, especially that it pis rendered in the third person omniscient.

Through Gracianna, her eventual husband Juan, her sister Constance's trials in Auschwitz, this story of a French Basque girl striving for independence while Paris falls to the might of Germany is unforgettable. Trini Amador's and his family are right to want to spread the story of their real-life Gracianna whio was immortalized in the name of their brand of wine. Forgive the stiff beginning, and readers will be more than rewarded.

Review: The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon

Sunday, October 27, 2013
Title: The Strangled Queen
Author: Maurice Druon
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Accursed Kings/Les Rois Maudits #2

Pages: 304
Published: April 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

The King is dead. Long live the King.

With King Philip IV dead, and the Kingdom left in disarray, as the fatal curse of the Templars plagues the royal house of France.

Imprisoned in Chateau Gaillard, Marguerite of Burgundy has fallen into disgrace. Her infidelity has left her estranged husband, Louis X King of France, with neither heir nor wife.

The web of scandal, murder and intrigue that once wove itself around the Iron King continues to afflict his descendants, as the destruction of his dynasty continues at the hands of fate.

Though that  three out of five is a hard come-down from the 4.5/5 I gave the series first book, The Iron King, I still greatly relished my read of Druon's second novel. The narration can feel a bit dry and the dialogue stiff, but The Strangled Queen is a compelling story and unadorned look into the complicated existence and unlikely death of the wife of Louis X ("Louis the Quarreler"), Margaret (called Marguerite here) of Burgundy.

As I've mentioned before, fans of the popular A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones will find a lot to love in this more purely historical series. The obvious influence Druon's books had on Martin is undeniable and shows from character to plotting. Marguerite of Burgundy, the Queen who I think most inspired Martin's Cersei, takes the forefront here for the second novel. Fallen far from where she was, the shorn and imprisoned Margaret must pray and  hope for release or redemption. And when her stern father-in-law, the King, dies, her hopes rise higher than ever in her months-long incarceration.

Marguerite is a complex woman and as a character she can be very inscrutable. Her ends, means, and ways are far from what one would expect of a typical noblewoman. She's smart but selfish, cunning but cold, clever but arrogant. Her sister shares many of her traits, but comes across as far less tough-minded than her sister. As with most characters in the books, more time is spent expanding on circumstances than truly developing the cast into three dimensional beings. It's easy to sympathize with various characters, but there is an emotional disconnect when it comes to feeling true empathy for any of them.

While I do wish for more from/about the characters themselves, I greatly appreciate that Druon paints them all equally morally gray. Marguerite is a prime example of moral ambiguity this but so too is Robert of Artois, the closest thing to a main villain these two books have had. Robert is more obviously "bad", but almost all characters have both good points and bad points to round them out. The conflicts, both large and small in scale, serve to show who is on who's side, who wants what for whom and why.... at least for now. In the constantly shifting court, who was evil before could very well end up a hero the next day.

Add into the uncertain fray Margaret's own weak husband's plans, her avaricious cousin Robert of Artois's schemes, her cunning uncle Charles's designs... well, it's safe to say that court life in Louis new reign is an unpredictable one. From family to civil servants, it often seems like everyone in Druon's series is out for themselves. It's a dangerous, complex world and this is an author who excels at painting court intrigue and suspense into his narrative.

Read it for its cultural influence. Read it because it's historical fiction that makes you curious about the real events. Read it because it's short and fast. Read it because it's just good.

Review: The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

Title: The Sum of All Kisses
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: romance novelish
Series: The Smythe-Smith Quartet
Pages: 400
Published: expected October 29 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless ...

New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn's enchanting third novel in the Smythe-Smith quartet is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings in equal measures.

I don't read a lot of romance, but when I do, I go straight for a Julia Quinn novel. Preferably a Smythe-Smith novel. This light-hearted series about a sprawling clan of cousins and siblings is constantly charming, frequently funny, and always chock full of entertaining, flawed characters. A diverting read that somehow manages to make an expected end a delightfully amusing one instead, The Sum of All Kisses is a great addition to the Smythe-Smith tradition of romance. 

The way romance stories unfold usually progress along expected lines, and this is no different. And while Quinn is guilty of a tad of using certain formulas, her characters really make up for any lack. I have read my fair share of hate-to-love romances, this one was a genuine pleasure to read. Ostensibly, Sarah and Hugh are far from a perfect match, but they have chemistry and spark to burn. They are both compatible and utterly contemptible of one another at the outset, so watching their relationship evolve and mature in meaning was thoroughly rewarding.

Certain known members of Sarah's family appear -- both sets of the principles in the previous novels (Honoria and Marcus from Just Like Heaven; Daniel and Anne from A Night Like This) are present in the novel. Also returning are the comedic trio of Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances. Like before with Daniel and Anne, these girls almost stole the show from dramatic Sarah and taciturn Hugh. All the characters are witty and or charming -- and while some if does feel a bit rehearsed, the characters and their interactions ring with authenticity.

I am not without some big concerns which left me unable to rate this higher, no matter how awesome 95% of it was. So, SPOILERS!

I do have some issues with the way Sarah saves Marcus from his "unholy" agreement with his devil father, the Marquess of Ramsgate. Sure, she and Hugh had wanted to be married before the deal, but leaving her little actual choice in the matter of her own marriage was somewhat distasteful for me to read. I understand she negotiated it to terms she was, overall, comfortable with, but still. I thought that was in poor taste.

For all that I had issue with that aspect of the plot, the rest of the novel was pretty much as expected. It was still charming and fun, and a bit sexy for all that. The third in the series, with at least one more novel on the way, The Sum of All Kisses was a fun new addition. It's a fairly standard Quinn novel, but that doesn't mean it's not a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Blogger Trick or Treat with Great Imaginations!

Saturday, October 26, 2013
Today, I am lucky enough to be apart of Great Imagination's Halloween Event --- Blogger Trick or Treat! And I will let those awesome ladies lay it out for you in their own words:

For the next seven days, we will feature a link to a blog.  Each blogger will post up a discussion, or a book review, pertaining to the season.  The wonderful and giddy readers will collect candy from each blogger by reading the post. In each post, the blogger has listed their favorite candy – keep track of the name for each blog! On Halloween, we will start the giveaway (two winners of awesome book packages you absolutely want!!), and the entries will be the names of each candy!

 photo tumblr_inline_mt768qOL6S1rrkdbp_zpscbb49a57.gif

Keep an eye out for each link, and above all, stay safe and have fun! And yes, the giveaway will be International! As long as you are from a country The Book Depository ships to! 

So being scared/horror is a new ballgame for me. I spent the majority of my twenty-something years avoiding any and all kind of scary movies, books, or tv shows. As I've read more books and been forced to watch more frightening fare, I've found some fun things I'd've missed.

oooh, the undead. The alive again. The cannibalistic, mindless monsters that seem to be ever more popular in pop culture!

Books to read: 
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers (contemplative YA zombie novel)
World War Z by Max Brooks (overhyped but still worth reading)
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (funny, weird, features a zombie-human relationship)
Feed by Mira Grant (hardhitting, visceral, suspenseful zombie novel)

Avoid: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking (boring, badly written), The Infects by Sean Beaudoin (weird, and disappointing)

Shows to watch:
The Walking Dead on AMC (gore, character drama, more gore, Daryl) 
Pushing Daisies (a piemaker can touch the dead and return them to life. Not "real" zombies, but they were dead and then alive again. I'm counting it.)
Supernatural on the CW (never zombies per se, but they've dealt with all kinds of re-alive entities)

Avoid: Zombieland from Amazon (though that did NOT last very long)
Movies to view: 
Shaun of the Dead (this movie is pretty much the perfect marriage of horror and humor)
Zombieland (dry, sarcastic, awesome version of a zombie apocalypse) 
Dead Snow (pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Nazi zombie movie)

Avoid: World War Z (overhyped but admittedly still somehow watchable)

Hard enough to believe, but there are some good vampire novels/shows/movies out there. They are just really, really hard to find. 

Books to read:
The Immortal Rules/The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa (harsh, evil vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. It can get intense!)
Blood Rights by Kristen Painter (dense evil vamp-centric worldbuilding but so interesting!)

Avoid: pretty much everything else.
Shows to watch:
The Vampire Diaries on the CW (campy fun and there are a lot of pretty people to watch)
True Blood on HBO (ridiculous, and insane and yet hard to quit)
Supernatural on the Cw (Sam and Dean have taken down a LOT of vamps over the years)

Movies to view: 
The Twilight series (everyone has to at least once and make a drinking game of it!)

Avoid: so many.

Aliens/Otherwordly Beings. 
Nothing scares me more than aliens, to this stay. I don't read a lot of alien/space horror because that way lies madness.

Books to read:
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad (bit of a slow starter, but this one is pretty freaky and I didn't like reading it while I was home alone)
Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell (not so much horror as post-apocalyptic/dystopia but there are unfriendly beings from outer space)

Shows to watch:
Defiance on Syfy (I usually fall asleep before this airs, but I'm intrigued in what I have seen)
Falling Skies on TNT (I can't even make myself watch this but it comes highly recommended by the boyfriend)

Movies to view:
Alien. (Clearly) 
Altered. (An alien vs. hick movie. It is horrible and amazing.)

Other humans. 
Humans are freaky. The best kind of horror is that which seems plausible, and humans visiting horrors on one another is nothing new.

Books to read:
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman (one small town goes insane and murderous and a group of teens has to escape and/or survive)
I Hunt Killers/Game by Barry Lyga (not a typical horror, but the way Jasper was raised and the way he applies is knowledge is pretty chilling)
Unwind by Neal Shusterman (this ties back to those horrible things people to do one another that I mentioned. This book is horrific.)

Shows to watch: 
Dexter on Showtime (but only really pay attention to the first five season. Then don't bother.)
Supernatural on the CW (Dude. The Benders. That's all I have to say)

Avoid: The Dome

Anyway. In my small experience, reading/watching any one of these with peanut butter M&Ms is the best way to get into a Halloween state of mind.

Happy Halloween and good luck!

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge - Blogger Fatigue

Friday, October 25, 2013
I was late to know about this awesome challenge out together by Good Books and Good Wine, so when a friend wanted to start it late, I jumped it. There are several of us joining in - every Friday for 15 weeks, Christina of A Reader of Fictions, Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm A Book Shark and I will post our challenge answers. Stop by their blogs to see their answers!

As it is, I find this topic to be rather hilarious. I seem to be in the midst of a large slump or a big spell of blogger fatigue. This has happened to me only once before (between November and December 2012 I only posted 12 times), so I only know to do what I have before, which is...

  • Take a day off. Read what you want. Ignore deadlines. Not forever -- just for one day. Remember what it is like to just simply enjoy the act of reading.
  • Take a break. Don't think about the blog, or reviews, or ARCs for a day or two. Just hang out. Play with your pets more. Go for a hike. Veg out with some horrible show on Netflix.
  • Take a breath. Remember that is is FUN. A hobby. And if you're not having fun for a consistent period, you need to figure out why. 
  • Take a look around. Find some new blogs to follow. Or read about new books. See if there is a new meme you want to do, or a blog tour to join. Try to find something new.


  • Power through. Sometimes all of that, despite best efforts, just doesn't work. 

I've been posting less and less the last two weeks, partly due to an influx of Real Life Stuff, and partly because I've felt drained, and well, judged since the Great GR Debacle of 20 September. I wouldn't be here now if I hadn't committed to tours and review dates. 

Since GR went this new direction, I feel a bit distanced from this hobby and the community, honestly. Some left, some stayed, and... I feel judged about how I conduct my blogging. I feel like if I talk about GR, I am offending those of my friends who prefer BL now. If I go to BL completely, I feel like I am being forced into it.


Blog because you want to. And if, for sustained periods of time, you don't want to, well, think about it.

Review: True Spies by Shana Galen

Thursday, October 24, 2013
Title: True Spies 
Author: Shana Galen
Genre: Romance
Series: Lord and Lady Spy #2
Pages: 349
Published: September 3rd, 2013
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3.5/5

He's Getting Tired of Deception...
Baron Winslow Keating is honor-bound to finish one last mission as an elite spy for the Barbican group even though he just wants to go home and be with his family. But after years of secrecy and absence, his daughters hardly know him, and his wife has given up on him.

She Wants to Try a Little Intrigue...
Lady Elinor has had enough of domestic boredom. She contemplates an affair with a rakish spy, only to discover a world of intrigue and treachery that she never knew existed. Even more shocking, her neglectful husband is suddenly very attentive—quite the jealous type—and apparently there is much more to him than she ever knew.

Reviewed by Danielle

Winn, code name Baron, is getting too old for this shit. Climbing across rooftops, getting shot at, gatecrashing balls? It’s all too much. Luckily, his wife Elinor is solid, reliable, and precisely where he’s always left her. At home, waiting for him. That is, until after fourteen years of marriage, Elinor decides to stop waiting and go to the ball herself.

While at the ball, Elinor is spotted by a rival operative who quickly identifies her as Baron’s wife. This spirals us down a plotline that is ever so slightly related to the 1994 action/comedy True Lies. The wife does begin a flirtation with a man pretending to be a spy, without knowing her husband’s true profession. She is drawn into foiling a terrorist plot. Everyone is captured. There is a scene reminiscent of the famous strip tease. But the plot isn’t so much a retelling as a loose guideline.

This is a sequel to 2011’s Lord and Lady Spy, and it brings back Adrian and Sophia to team with Winn and Elinor in their continued efforts to take down Fonce, the villain from the first book. Most romance novel sequels, you can skip around the series without it effecting the plot. Not really so here. Wolf and Saint are reintroduced, but the majority of the world building is left to book one. That’s not a bad thing, but again, I recommend staying in series order.

Without world building to weigh down the plot, and a great deal less bickering and babies, I enjoyed True Spies more than the original. I found it charming and lightly humorous. There were a few scenes that stuck in my craw, mostly the sniping after the first kidnapping. It was petty and didn’t make hero or heroine look good. The action scenes weren’t overly tense or exciting either, making that first “daring” escape pretty underwhelming for all the bickering about it. And the climactic end was...a little too neat, a little farcical. It didn't particularly work for me.

I will say I enjoyed the seduction test. I thought it was the standout scene, and made excellent use of the dual points of view. Elinor’s naiveté at her effect on Winn was delightful, particularly after being able to experience that effect first hand from his POV.

Blue continues to be a standout side character. His "rendezvous" with Elinor early on was actually pretty hysterical. Likewise, Adrian and Sophia were good to see. They were deployed just the right amount in the plot so it didn't feel like they overshadowed the new couple. I could have done without the babies side plot again and the woman's intuition side plot again, though. Can't Sophia just be smart and resourceful without her magic itching nose?

To conclude, a fluffy spy romance that isn’t overly special. I liked a few scenes, thought the end was a bit soft, but in all, it was an improvement on the first and a perfectly charming way to lose a few evenings.

15 Day Blogger Challenge - Best Blog Posts

Friday, October 18, 2013

 I was late to know about this awesome challenge out together by Good Books and Good Wine, so when a friend wanted to start it late, I jumped it. There are several of us joining in - every Friday for 15 weeks, Christina of A Reader of Fictions, Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm A Book Shark and I will post our challenge answers. Stop by their blogs to see their answers!

I don't post a lot of "fun" discussions or ideas --- I mainly review, feature, and talk about what I've bought/received over the last few days. That said, there are a few reviews that I am rather proud of writing. I've said before that is painful and hard for me to read my own writing so these ones are rather special for me.

My review for Kinslayer --- aka Lotus War #2, aka One of My Favorite Books.


I am here to tell you that Kinslayer, book two in this Lotus War series, is even better. You want more death, destruction, struggle? You got it, in spades. The scale is bigger, the stakes are higher, and this is an author that can, and does, improve on his already-impressive first book. If you liked what Kristoff had to offer in Stormdancer - chainsaw katanas, a fresh and inventive take on steampunk technology, an incredibly well-drawn world, betrayals, secrets, conspiracies, rebellion, action aplenty - then you'll love what he serves up for round two. The Lotus War is a story told on a grand scale and one that doesn't shy away from making readers flinch.
While in book one we were told, "the lotus must bloom", now the rebels have modified it to the more ominous, "the lotus must burn." This is a darker book. The lines have clearly been drawn and a civil war is on the brink. Yukiko wrestles with her role, with what she has done, and with what she will do. People die. People you like will die. People you like will surprise you -- and not always in a good way. The risks that Jay Kristoff takes with his plotting and characters more than pay off. He creates suspense with ease as well a genuine fear that no one -- and nothing -- is truly safe with Shima on the brink. He writes with a clear eye for the visual and a lot of the action scenes read cinematically. The detail is dense, the worldbuilding intricate and complete, and it all serves to create an Empire that feels dangerously real and frighteningly familiar.

My review for Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey -- aka the review that was quoted in another book.


Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity.  Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs. 
The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.

My review for Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas -- aka the Glass Throne #2, aka Chaol-Time


I wasn't expecting to have such an emotional, visceral reaction to this book. I readily admit that I went into it with a lot of trepidation. Though there were things I enjoyed from Throne of Glass (Chaol, strong female characters, hints of magic, Chaol), there was a lot of room for improvement as well. Celaena herself was a bit of trope, she didn't assassinate nearly enough people to back up her incredible arrogance, the mystery tied into the plot was overt and way too obvious, and don't even get me started on the love triangle. But, here in the series' second outing, almost none of those issues reappear. Maas has grown into a much more deft and subtle author; I understand and can empathize with her characters better; Celaena's romantic life is an important facet of the story but not a main focus.

Crown of Midnight may not be technically perfect. I can see some of the technical issues others will have, but my rating is 4 stars for the writing, plot, characters and another star for how much I was engrossed and captivated by the entire novel. This book left me feeling so very many things. Vindication because I called it - a big reveal. Despair because Maas whiplashed me from joy to despair so many times in just 440 pages. Anxiety because I don't have a sequel in my hands waiting to be read. Excitement because Celaena kicks so much more ass in this installment. Hope because I refuse to give up. Envy because this book is so good and I know I will never write like this. Worry because I absolutely can't predict where the story will go from here.

My review for The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


The Golem and the Jinni is an usual, original and creative fantasy. Unlike most fantasy stories, which feature human protagonists in strange and magical worlds, Helene Wecker's debut has two strange and magical beings exploring the human world in 1900's New York. Both "Chava" - the golem - and "Ahmad" - the Jinni -  find themselves adrift and purposeless in a world they're utterly unprepared for; one full of wants and needs and pressures they are completely unfamiliar with and struggle to deal with as hiding their true nature takes its toll. Each character's experience with the human condition are unique; Chava is newmade, a person literally without a history. Ahmad, with hundreds of years of life behind him and centuries more to come, has incalculable history and experience. Chava is modest, considerate, and always aware of the damage she could wreak. Ahmad is again her opposite - utterly unconcerned with the personal impact he has on mortals that cross his path. Despite their obvious and numerous differences, the two supernatural creatures are drawn together and form a friendship that bolsters their morale.
The relationship between Ahmad and Chava is a complex, and one that evolves later in the story, though it is pivotal to both their lives and the plot that Wecker has so subtly woven around them. Though they each encounter a different spectrum of experience as they try to make their way in a large, industrial city, their respective struggles for recognition and a purpose are much the same. Forced to lie, pretend, and hide their natural impulses with nearly everyone else, in each other the golem and the Jinni find a confidant; someone who knows the truth of them and does not flinch, abuse them for power, or flee in terror. They really, truly need one another - their relationship is authentic and real, because only with the other can they truly be themselves. I really enjoyed the depth of their relationship - by no means is it an easy and perfect connection. Chava struggles with her nature and what she needs in life to feel complete, and Ahmad struggles with the limited abilities of his forced form. They bicker, fight, and argue between themselves about how to live as supernaturals in a natural world. Their experiences and struggles fully showcase how frightening it would be to find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances and to have to live without control over your destiny.
Both subtly magical, and mythical, The Golem and the Jinni excels at crafting a wide array of characters, as well as showcasing 19th century New York. The occasional flashbacks, though not as common as I'd hoped, were excellent additions to the current story and illustrated Ahmad's tumultuous past in the deserts of ancient Syria. The hints of culture and history that are integrated into the lives of the people around them (Ahmad is taken in by a Syrian metalsmith, and Chava by a Jewish Rabbi) are both woven into the story, and each culture shapes the creatures in their current life. Though the Golem and the Jinni focuses closely on the eponymous pair, the larger cast shown around them is a lively and three-dimensional bunch. I can't think of two more different cultures than Syrian and Polish Jews, but Wecker intertwines the two seamlessly.

My review for The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White -- because while the book was a disappointment, writing this review was fun.


The Accused: The Chaos of Stars' cast, writing, plotting
The Offense(s): Criminal waste of time, cover fraud, squandering a great premise, using cliches and juvenile writing
The Prosecution: Jessie, a disappointed reader
Opening Argument: Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a blurb that promises Egyptian gods, a creative new take for young adult supernatural fiction, and an interesting plot. The Chaos of Stars delivers Egyptian gods, sure -- but shallow, lifeless representations of them. Instead of a new, fresh plot, the same old tropes and themes are trotted out to the reader's exasperation. It is a boring affair - full of instalove, a cheesy romance, and lackluster execution.
Exhibit A: Isadora's lack of personality. Surliness and self-absorption do not a character make. She doesn't even qualify for antihero status. She's boring, she's immature, judgmental, and impossible to care about. If it doesn't directly concern Isadora herself, she is uninterested. It's hard to stomach such a badly-written character.
Exhibit B: The Chaos of Stars uses the same theme so many other young adult novels fall prey too - magical girl, who is beyond gorgeous (of course) must wrestle with familial expectations while trying to figure out what she wants from life. If you're going to use the Egyptian gods as your main characters, make use of them. Don't make them fade into the background until it's too late.
Exhibit C: The writing. It's juvenile. It's unpolished.  There's no subtlety, no depth or any real emotion evoked in the nearly 300 pages of the book. You can skim the last 50ish pages and miss nothing. That is not good. There should be ethos, pathos, building tension, a dramatic conflict. There is sadly none of that to be found here.
Exhibit D: The plot. Where was it for most of the book? Your guess is as good as mine and I read the damn thing. For the most part, White focuses on a romance with an impossibly gorgeous Greek boy who is more than he seems to be (think about that for more than two minutes and you will have figured out a twist.) and who is in love with Isadora because...well... who knows.
Closing Argument: I was disappointed by this book from the beginning. For so much potential, the premise is neglected and the execution is lackluster. The characters are one-dimensional AND unlikeable or wooden, and the conclusion lacks emotion.
Verdict: Do not waste your time. It's not worth it, and you're honestly not missing anything by skipping this. Don't be lured in by that cover, or the promise of something original. There's none of that to be found in The Chaos of Stars.

And, just for fun -- 

My Top Five Most Popular Posts (in terms of hits/views): 

(I do not want to speculate on what search terms lead people to this post)

(written by Danielle so therefore and obviously fantastic)

(inexplicably popular)

(again, no idea why this is so often read)

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