Monday, December 31, 2012

RtP Top 10 Books Read in 2012!

It has been one heck of a year, ladies and gentlemen. I got finished school, moved, got married, adopted a demon posing as a cat...and I read some pretty great books too. So now, for your reading pleasure, I present the top ten books reviewed on Reading to Penguins in 2012.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, published in 2011, was reviewed in January. It's almost impossible to place genre-wise--not solidly romance or fantasy or anything else, but a little bit of all things fantastic. It tells the story of two magicians in a magical fight surrounding a circus. It's memorable for its rich imagery and setting driven story. It's a book to immerse yourself in, a book that makes you desperately crave caramel corn. If it's a bit low on the list, it's only because I felt the plot was a bit weak compared to some of the other books in our top 10.

Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins was published in 2010, and I reviewed it back in March. It's a very simple YA romance, but I find it completely charming. I like that it's a "friend's first" love story, with a build up of chemistry that I always find appealing. The characters are fun and easy to relate to. Most importantly, the setting will have you wishing for a vacation in Paris tomorrow. I put it a bit low on the list only because, having glanced through it again, I do find that it does a lot of very cliched YA things--like the instant group of perfect friends for the new girl, and the Etienne's somewhat bitchy current girlfriend.

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)So, I don't read a lot of high fantasy. I don't have a lot to compare to. But Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, published in 2012 and reviewed this August, managed to leave an impression. It's a novel about dragons, and about a heroine who must accept her own deep connection to the dragons. The setting and plot are extremely creative. I liked that the author put us right inside Seraphina's head, allowing us to see her dreams and the secret visions that she keeps hidden away. It's a fun novel, but the plot is slow and the pacing stalls out at times, much to my frustration. It's still well worth your time.

The Color of SnowThe Color of Snow by Brenda Stanley, published in 2012, found it's way onto my blog in July. Admittedly, this isn't my usual fair, and I don't know how many people it will appeal to. But I found it uniquely enjoyable. It's the story of a teenager who lived in isolation for years after her paranoid father kidnapped her from her grandparents. What stood out about this story, for me, was it's lack of a villain and it's ability to make the character sympathize, to some degree, with all of the characters. It's a serious book about love, insanity, finding your place, and learning to think for yourself. 

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in ExileI knew at the outset that Fables was going to appear on this list somewhere, but it was honestly difficult to decide which one to put and where. In the end, I decided to put Volume 1, Legends in Exile, here. First, because it introduced me to the series and got me hooked. Two, because it actually made book of the month back when I reviewed it in October. Fables is a graphic novel series in which fairy tale characters are stuck in the real world, trying to live normalish lives. Legends in Exile is actually something of a murder mystery, but the plot is less important than the introduction of the fantastic fairy tale characters--all at once familiar and totally unexpected. If you only ever read one graphic novel, it should be Fables.

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)If you asked me which book I was most surprised to be including in a top 10 list, it would be Angelfall by Susan Ee. I say that because, on the surface, it sounds derivative and amateurish. Once you delve into it, though, you find that it's better than a lot of main stream, popular urban fantasy currently on the market. It's the story of Penryn, a teenage girl who wants to protect her little sister, and her broken journey alongside the angel Raffe. It's everything a post-apocalyptic story should be--horrific, disturbing, thoughtful, and vaguely hopeful. But be warned, it ends on a cliffhanger that might make you throw your reading device at a wall.

Night SkyNight Sky by Jolene Perry is an absolutely fantastic contemporary romance. It was published in 2012, and I reviewed it in April for a blog tour, feeling mostly surprised and relieved to have really liked it. The characters and the romance feel very real, and the power of their impact lies in how serious and yet sweet it all is. Notably, it's told from the hero's perspective, and that male point of view put an entirely novel dimension to an otherwise simple story. Jameson is a typical guy in many ways, but a really nice guy all the same, and it's hard not to love him. It's hard not to love this love story.

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1)Spoiler alert, folks, Duchess War by Courtney Milan was my favorite book of December. More importantly, it was the #3 book of 2012. It's a historical romance with a remarkably smart but sadly suppressed heroine, and a hero trying to right many ancient wrongs. Milan writes the most compelling characters I've seen recently, and the plot almost doesn't matter because it's so interesting to just watch these people be. The plot, however, is engaging by itself. All around, the complete package. Go read this book. Go read it now.

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)It's surprising to tell that I had somewhat mixed feelings toward Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and yet Days of Blood and Starlight ranks at number 2 on my list of favorite books for the year. I felt deeply invested in the world while I read this book. The stakes seemed so high, and so was my level of sympathy for Karou. The world building is just so strange and unique and fantastic. The love story is compelling--you want everything to end up happy. But above all, it's a story of war at it's worst, and trying to overcome it's effects with acts of mercy and love.

And the #1 book of 2012 is...

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)
Yes, it's Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. It's a science fiction fairy tale retelling, and it is even more awesome than it sounds. It's the best possible version of Cinderella, with a charming and quirky heroine who at least gets to know her prince charming a bit. The world building knocked me on my ass, it was so interesting and so bizarre. If you haven't read this book yet, you need to read it in 2013. It's absolutely essential.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Eels: A Reveiw of Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)This was an important book. It's book number 112 in 2012 for me, the last book I needed to finish to complete my year long goal. It's less impressive in that, by the end, I had to declare it a 3 star book.

William is a shapeshifter and a loner, but he's reluctantly talked into a quest to track down Spider, a ruthlessly villainous villain. This puts him in league with Cerise, who's parents have been taken by the Spider. Before Cerise can track down her parents, she must end a family feud that's stood for three generations, and take back a house that belonged to her grandparents.

So, yeah, 3 stars. It's a bit odd, because I sing the praises of Ilona Andrews often and loudly when it comes to the Kate Daniels books, and even Andrea's book, but I think it's now safe to say that I don't care for The Edge series nearly as much. What's missing here? Well, I think it's partly to do with world build and partly to do with plot. But, let's start with what I did like.

I liked William and Cerise. William has a social awkwardness and vulnerability about him that I found charming. It really fit his status as a shapeshifter who has been shunned more often than not. I also really liked Cerise--I liked her toughness and her loyalty and her way of viewing the world. The tow have excellent chemistry. I think it's safe to say that Andrews writes characters you want to embrace. Even the secondary characters are appealing.

The world building, while better than a lot of the sludge we see on the UF market now, is still not as strong as the Kate Daniels books. Perhaps it's unfair to compare the two, but that's reality. With Kate's Atlanta, I have a really clear idea about the rules and how things work, and what the organizations are and where loyalties lie. And the way magic works in that universe is so freaking clever. The Edge, on the other hand, feels a lot more vague and less inspired. I'm not that clear on who belongs where and why, and I can't say I'm motivated to figure it out. I'm not really sure, for example, if William's shapeshifting is based on magic or nature or some hybrid of the two, and I don't know why he's able to work in magic free Broken if he is indeed magical.

The plot has it's merits, and it's passably interesting on the surface, but as the story proceeds I found that many stretches were decidedly meh. Things I felt were really interesting--Cerise's grandfather and his life restoring formula, for one--got very little page time. Things I don't care about, like the family feud, went on and on. As a result, for much of the book my enjoyment level was at or just above neutral, with a few periods of outright frustration.

All told, while it's still an above average book, I must honestly admit that there are better books out there. I cautiously recommend this one, but I highly recommend the Kate Daniels books. 3 stars. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Misc. Monday: Merry...Whatever

Firstly, I hope everyone is having a good holiday season. I know I've had an extremely busy one. I work in a photo lab, and I'm pretty sure I've seen enough greeting cards to last nine life times.

Anyway, when I hand the cards or the photos over to my ever lovable customers, I find myself alternating between "Happy Holidays," and "Merry Christmas" with zero rhyme or reason. Now, I've gotten some non-responses and blank looks from "Merry Christmas!", but I've gotten outright chastised for "Happy Holidays!" As in, "It's Christmas! You're supposed to say 'Merry Christmas!'"


Now, I grew up Catholic and endured 10 very long years of Catholic school, and even now that I've moved on from that mindset, Christmas is still deeply ingrained in my soul. I still really love it, because it's by far the most cheerful and welcoming of Christian holidays. I'm no scrooge.

When I say "Happy Holidays," I'm not trying to be politically correct, or anti-Christmas, or anti-Jesus. I say it reflexively, as a sort of general salutation that encompasses Christmas and New Years and Life Day, or whatever happens to be your thing. I don't really think about it, and I don't feel I should have to. 

 Some of my coworkers talk of jobs, past and present, where they were specifically told not to say "Merry Christmas," for fear of offending non-Christian folks. Seriously?

What's the deal with this? Are people's lives really so shallow that they have to take issue with the things that random store clerks say to them? I can't honestly say I even pay attention to what people say to me.

"Happy Arbor Day!"

"Shut up, I hate trees!"

The thing is, no one that says any of these things to you wishes you harm. "Happy Holidays!" Is not equivalent to "Screw you, Christian scum!" and "Merry Christmas!" does not mean "Conform to my religion or die!" Or at least, not when I say it. I just mean have a nice day, and please leave my counter now. I'm very busy.

So Merry Whatever, everyone! Celebrate whatever you celebrate, hug your family, and don't sweat the small stuff. And, as always, happy reading!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Hot Chocolate: A Review of Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Sorcery & Cecelia (Cecilia and Kate, #1)I'm deeply surprised to report that I did not love this book. It's weird, I know, because I fully expected to. It has a lot of elements that I really like. It's a Regency era historical. It has magic. It's told in letters. There is chocolate, for heaven's sake. And yet, for me, that special happy something is just plain missing.

So, anyway, the book is told in letters sent back and forth between Kate, who is having her first season in London, and Cecelia, who is unhappy to be left behind this year. But this is no ordinary Regency England, and magic is afoot. Not long into the story, Kate is very nearly poisoned by hot chocolate from a mysterious enchanted pot.

So, as I said, all of the elements at play in this book are appealing. The heroines are both spunky and likeable. The heroes made good matches for them. The magic is interesting and not overly complicated.

And yet...I think the letter writing format through the pace off a bit. I felt like it took a long time for things to happen, and I felt several steps removed from the story because of this style of storytelling. Honestly, I usually like letters and journals and that sort of thing. But not this time. This time it felt forced and faked. The dialogue and details in particular--no one remembers conversations that they have word for word, and even few people would relay those conversations in quotations. I'm nitpicking, of course, but this is honestly the only way I have to explain why it was a bit torturous for me to finish this book.

Would I recommend it anyway? Honestly, yes, because there are a lot of good things about it, and I think that had I read it in a more patient mood I might have enjoyed it more. But I wouldn't put it at the top of your pile. 3 stars. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

On Handbills: A Review of The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1)Courtney Milan surprised me with this one. I've had several experiences with her work now, and I've always liked it. This book, though, was just a little more special.

Minnie Pursling has worked hard to establish herself as an anonymous wallflower, beneath the notice of most people. No one would guess that she possesses a uniquely organized mind, capable of the most precise of tactical thinking. Minni's hopes to marry before her scandalous past comes to light and forever ends her future prospects. When she accuses Robert, the Duke of Clermont, of writing radical handbills stirring workers to strike, she is only trying to keep suspicion from falling on herself. Instead, she captures Roberts attention, and he is all to quick to conclude that he must have her.

I liked Minnie. I was surprised to like Minnie, because she is so mousey and seems dry at first. As the story went on, though, I really enjoyed being inside such a clever mind. I enjoyed the path that her character development took. I related to her discomfort when it comes to large crowds and the comfort that she takes in being anonymous. Yet, I felt proud of her when she faced and overcame some of her fears, or found ways to cope with them. She's a layered, well written character, and even if you don't like her you have to respect her.

Robert is, again, so much more complex than he initially seems. He's presented as having a major case of rich person guilt, where we see him trying to make up for his father's actions by seeking political and legal justice for the working man. It seems self righteous first, but he goes about it intelligently and with an honest sense of idealism. More importantly, in a story such as this, is the emotional journey he goes on in order to find, feel, and accept love. He's all too used to feeling love for others, but less used to people loving him back, and so he suppresses any hopes he might have for a real connection with Minnie.  As an idealistic person, he also struggles with the difference between his fantasies and reality, which is at first disappointing but later proves to outdo his imaginings. Again, I found him very easy to relate to in this respect.

The chemistry is between our characters is warm and sweet. I also noticed that this was a very sexually intelligent book. Instead of romanticizing the love scenes, the author allows for awkwardness and mild disappointment.  And then, she has Minnie explain to  Robert what she needs, matter-of-factly and without sugar coating. How novel.  Seriously.

If I had to name a flaw...Well, I guess the degree to which I felt informed or invested in the workers strike/handbills subplot was pretty weak. That's not saying that I didn't care a little bit, but the conflict could have been something different or not present at all and I wouldn't have noticed.

Overall... God, this was such a good book. Smart, easy to read, and romantic. I could not ask for more from a historical romance. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Shiftertown: A Review of Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley

Pride Mates (Shifters Unbound, #1)Sometimes I get in the mood for a very particular kind of book, and I go to the TBR shelf, and I find that I don't have much that will hit the spot. So, when I felt I wanted a shlock filled paranormal romance with lot's of sex and maybe a lifemate type trope thrown in? I had this and Shelly Laurenston's The Mane Event, which was pretty disappointing...This one was a bit better though.

The basic plot is as follows: Shifters are considered second class citizens and are forced to live in isolated communities without reliable cable or internet access. They have to wear magic collars to stop them from becoming aggressive.When a shifter is accused of murdering his human girlfriend, Kim makes it her personal cause to clear his name--and also hopes to use the case to further her career as a lawyer. As a human, she needs special protection to enter and talk to the citizens of Shiftertown, which is where Liam comes in. When she's (predictably) threatened, Liam extends his protection to overnight stays and bed sharing. And so forth.

So, what does work in this book? Well, I really liked the world of the shifters and the rules of that world. I liked their origin story. I can see a lot of potential for this series, a lot of good stories to be told within the world. The shifters seem oppressed, but at the same time they have a lot of secrets and a lot of strength.

Indeed, this story in itself isn't bad, as we get to know the politics and variable social dynamics of the shifters. There's mystery, there's violence, and there's certainly romance. Liam is a good hero, if not great--he's a problem solver, a protector, and very predictably alpha-ish when it comes to his relationship with Kim. Kim is not all together unlikeable, either, since she genuinely just wanted to help the shifters.The relationship building is...okay. It's not magical or memorable or gripping, but it isn't overtly lacking either.

The problems within this book are really a lot of little things.

Example 1: Kim is "dating" this guy, who she really doesn't like, who constantly neglects her, out of convenience or whatever...they are still "dating" as of when she first sleeps with Liam. She only ends the pointless relationship when she knows she's got another guy in the bag. Really damaged my opinion of her as a strong, independent female lead.

Example 2: Liam has a slight temper tantrum about Kim taking birth control. At this point in the relationship development, they had just gotten together, and he instantly wants to flush her pills. Kim has a brief WTF? reaction to this, but then just lets it go.

...and so on, with many such semi-bothersome incidents interrupting what might otherwise have been an entertaining story. And that's what made this an okay book instead of a good book. 3 stars.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review of Fables Vol. 6 Homelands

Fables, Vol. 6: HomelandsReviewing these is starting to feel redundant. What else can I possibly say to recommend this series, other than that it's awesome and you should read it. Graphic novel fans should read it. Fantasy fans should read it. Fairy tale fans should read it. Even if you don't think  you like fairy tales, you should read this--you might change your mind.

But, okay, what is this particular volume about? For one thing, it includes the all to amusing story of Jack, who leaves Fabletown and travels to Hollywood to make movies about himself. It's fun, and it's hilarious. I can't even say that I care for Jack as a character, but I think part of me enjoys his schemes, and enjoys seeing him suffer.

Then, as the title suggests, we take a detour to the Homelands, where Boy Blue has traveled to take down The Adversary. Boy Blue has, in fact, become one of my favorite characters within the series. He's surprisingly bad ass. This portion of the story is great, too, in that it took a turn that I did not entirely guess at.

Ultimately, I felt this was one of the strongest (if not the strongest) volume in the series that I've read thus far. It has action, adventure, and the most when written of the Fable characters right at the center of it all. I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Misc. Monday: The Hobbit

The Lord of the Rings movies came out right when I was just discovering a fondness for fantasy books and movies. Right when I was in the midst of extreme Harry Potter fandom, and looking to branch out from those a bit. Maybe. I never actually got around to reading the entire LOTR trilogy, as I remember finding parts of it very dry. But I did embrace the movies with a the focused dedication of someone who really, really wants to have Elijah Wood's babies. I'm only kind of joking.
He's as angsty as he is beautiful...

So, yeah, while I won't lie and say that I'm a fan of the books, I have a nostalgic emotional connection to the movies that's never quite faded. And I did read and enjoy The Hobbit. When the trilogy drew to a close, I found myself crossing all my fingers and toes that Peter Jackson would go on to make The Hobbit. And he did, you guys. He did.

A couple of things are different this time around, though. For one, I'm older. I have boobs now, and I'm decidedly less inclined to the hero worship of random actors. For two, The Hobbit is and never was long enough or epic enough to require a trilogy of movies. What could possibly motivate that?
Oh that. Yeah. Sigh.

 So, yeah, along the way to realizing the dream of The Hobbit movie, it's obvious that some people, somewhere, saw big dollar signs and asked, "How can we fatten this cash cow up?" Not only does this lead to a trilogy where one, possibly two movies would have sufficed, but it also lead to the 3D gimmick, which is what I saw (husband secretly loves 3D movies). Was I pessimistic going into this movie? Oh, my, yes.
But, aside from the fact that our line had the most obnoxious movie goers ever--




--the movie itself was pretty good. Not great, not nearly as good as the LOTR trilogy, but still quite solid.

I liked the actors, and I liked the story for the most part. I didn't really notice what was missing or what was added (it's been so long since I read the book), so I'm left to just assume it was accurate. If I don't notice glaring oversights, I assume everything is okay. What I do remember about the book was that Bilbo had to prove himself useful despite being small and basically helpless in a fight, and the movie showed that very well. It showed that he's clever and musters up courage when he needs to. But aside from Bilbo, Thorin was always the most memorable character for me, and I really liked how the movie portrays him. Getting to actually see his home get destroyed lent a bit of epicness to the tale that was missing from the book.

The settings are gorgeous, as they were in the first trilogy. The sweeping landscapes draw you into the world and help you to take the story seriously. At the same time, I enjoyed the few quirky touches of humor.

The biggest downside is that this movie feels it's length. The pacing is so slow in places, and it takes a really long time to get going, and even if you are enjoying it you will become tired. While that can be said of all of the LOTR movies, I think this was the first one where I felt things could and should have bee cut to fix the problem.

Giving a recommendation to this movie may be a hollow gesture, since most people know whether or not they like Lord of the Rings by this point. If you liked the first set of movies, I don't think this will leave you disappointed. The story is not as vast or deep, but it's still a great fantasy story, and they are putting a lot of effort into telling it well. If you were not a fan of any of the pre-existing movies, I don't see this one swaying you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Very Abbreviated Review of The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston

The Mane Event (Pride, #1)My primary motivation for reading this book was that the first of the two stories is a Christmas story. And I thought, okay, I'm finally going to read a holiday book around the appropriate holiday. I get a big gold star on my forehead for that.

Sadly, neither story really rang my jingle bells, and I ended up skimming for the most part.

The first story is called Christmas Pride, and it tells the tale of Dez and Mace, long ago childhood friends who now want to mate like bunnies. Or lions. Or whatever. One of the things that was initially intriguing about the story is that we're told about these lion Prides, which are run by females. Unfortunately, said females come across as monstrous bitches, and Dez (a human and a cop), is kind of out to get them--not unjustly. Then there's Mace, who feels obligated to his Pride but refuses to be subservient to it, and as he would rather have one mate then serve as a master stud for all of the females. The whole structure, as I learned more about it, struck me as viscerally unappealing.

Another strike against it was that I didn't really care for the heroine (and yes, I know, I'm picky with heroines). She seemed crass and a bit flat in development, and I just couldn't get a handle on her. I did like the idea of Mace remembering her from high school, twenty years later, and actively seeking her out as a mate...but I guess I don't see what he sees.

On a positive note, Laurenston seems to be good at writing sexiness and sex. The men are hot, the chemistry is hot, and the sex is hot. No complaints there.

As to the second story, I skimmed to an even greater degree. While I liked the heroine more, I still didn't really care for the setting or world building. So overall, I think we have to call that a DNF.

So would I recommend this book? I don't know that I have the authority to, since I read it so very incompletely. What I will say is that, again, the sex is hot and the concepts are at least somewhat interesting, and if you're into shifter romance you could do a lot worse than that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Trial: A Review of Crimson Frost by Jennifer Estep

Crimson Frost (Mythos Academy, #4)
                                                                                           The Mythos Academy books are in many ways derivative, in many ways nothing new, and yet I really find myself drawn to them to a greater degree than any similar story in the young adult world. I think this is a credit to Estep's writing style--it doesn't feel overly polished, and yet it's clever in a subtle way.

Crimson Frost is book 4, and we find our heroine on trial for the very crimes that she tried to prevent. She's accused of being Loki's champion, and the entire school turns against her (with the exception of her very closest friends, and Logan of course). Gwen knows that there is an active plot to put Loki in power, and a real traitor in their midst, and she must stop that plot even as she fights for her personal freedom.

I like Gwen, because she's very much an average teenage girl, but she has a personality. Among YA heroines, that's a rare quality. At this point in the story, Gwen is still settling into her role as champion, and struggling to be active in that role, when she's put on trial. The trial brings to light the fact that Gwen is a quiet but stubborn disobeyer of many rules, and it becomes kind of obvious that she has some issues with authority.We also see her learn a lesson in self sacrifice and faith, which fails to be gut-wrenching only because it's so easy to guess the outcome.

Estep shows a lot of skill in crafting a cast of supporting characters that amuse and intrigue. This book gives us a peak into Logan's history, and a whole new perspective on what his skills and abilities mean. I'm eager to see where his character development will go from here, as there were certainly some game changing events for both he and Gwen. Daphne and Carson are fantastic as well. The book also provides Oliver, a Spartan who Gwen recently learned is gay, with a love interest. It's starting to feel like the Scuby Gang, but hopefully it won't become too cheesie.

Ultimately, this is a good book in a good series from a great author. Even if your a bit jaded on the "magic school" type of stories, I would still recommend trying this one. There's a lot to like. 4 stars.       

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review of The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and NocturnesThe Sandman series is probably Neil Gaiman's most talked about work, with it's dark fantasy and horror themes.

Volume One tells the tale of how Dream was captured by a mysterious cult, who meant to capture Death and gain immortality. When at last he breaks free, years after the fact, it is to discover that the tools of his trade--a helmet, an amulet, and a bag of sand, have gone missing. Weakened and vulnerable, he must get them back as soon as possible.

 The Dream/Morpheus character is only just being established in this volume, and it's quite obvious that there is more to him than this book let's you see. Equally obvious is the fact that the author had not quite settled on what tone he wanted to go for, and each chapter of the book has a very different feel to it--so it feels a bit disconnected.

Most of the book is a McGuffin Get sort of story, where Morpheus goes to various places and talks to various people in order to get his tools back. For me, the best sequence was when he traveled to hell, and we see demons of all shapes and sizes. Morpheus engages in a kind of duel of imagination with the demon who possesses his helmet, and it is as creative as it is unexpected. The weaker part of the story, for me, came in the sudden appearance of the Justice League characters. As a non-DC reader, they really don't mean much to me, and they're just kind of there. Who are they? I haven't the foggiest...

Overall, while not the strongest of stories by any means, it still stands apart from the usual comic book fair, and it's undeniably entertaining. I highly recommend it. 4 stars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Crepes: A Review of Some Like It Hot by Louisa Edwards

Some Like It Hot (Rising Star Chef, #2)If the Food Network is porn for food junkies, then Louisa Edwards books are undoubtedly their erotica. Some Like It Hot is book 2 in her Rising Star Chef series, which deals with a prestigious cooking competition which the chefs of Lunden's Tavern hope will put them back on the map.

As the second phase of the competition rolls in, Danny the pastry chef is prepared to craft the tastiest of desserts for his team. Eva Jansen, the woman responsible for running the competition, is an undeniable distraction--she's beautiful, and she makes no secret of wanting to get into Danny's pants.

My favorite aspect of this, and the first book, is the descriptions of the food. It's, like, real food, fancy food, delicious food. Stuff I'm not fussy enough to even try to make at home. Though the idea of a cake made out of crepes had me quite tempted.

Danny is an appealing hero. He's the glue that holds his family and his team together in many ways--he soothes, calms, smooths over, and doesn't permit bull shit. Early on in the story, he calls Eva out for making a plane full of people wait on her (because she's rich and important and all). From that point on, I really appreciated his very subtle penchant for fixing things.

Eva was more difficult to embrace. She's smart, motivated, and people pleasing. She's sexually aggressive, which remains a somewhat novel quality for contemporary heroines. However, her primary (non-romantic) motivation within the story is to get the Rising Star Chef competition on TV on a major network, and she's infuriatingly blinded by that goal in all to many cases. Her eventual change of heart came after I had already decided I disliked her, at least mildly, and said change did not sway me much.

I'm sure it's a quirk of my own personal tastes that I happen to be more interested in the relationship between Kane and Claire. Kane is a rockstar, and comparatively young, and on the judging panel because he's a famous foodie. Claire in middle aged, and the editor of a well respected food magazine. Such an odd couple, and yet they share a surprising amount of chemistry.

The plot is passably engaging, the secondary characters are all likable, and other than an unappealing heroine I can think of no pressing flaws. Overall, I recommend the Rising Star Chef books to contemporary romance fans, especially if they like the idea of vicariously experiencing excellent food. 3.5 stars.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

Hey, it's me! Remember me? Your friendly neighborhood reading penguin? Yeah, I'm still reading, I've just kind of let the reviews pile up in a big heap because finding time to post is a little like finding the Holy Grail these days. But oh well, here's a nice short review of a graphic novel I read recentishly.

Saga, Volume 1Saga is a science fiction tale about two lovers from opposite sides of an old and bloody war, who have a baby together. The tale of their quest for survival is delightful in it's unusual tone and slightly bizarre characters. The baby, Hazael, often jumps in with points of narration and insights into her parent's tale. I found this clever, because she anchors the story and makes everything that's going on seem vital and precious.

For the parents in question, Marko and Alana, things seem extremely tenuous and it's hard to imagine how they got to the point of having a baby at all. They are hunted from all sides. And yet, in the midst of it, the dialogue and the character's attitudes toward one another gave me the very real feeling that they are a well suited couple. They have chemistry and they have affection. Marko is now a sworn pacifist, with a vow not to draw his sword. Alana is crass and somewhat reckless, and less inclined to forgo violence in the face of danger. The combination of these two, along with a cast of wholly unexpected secondary characters, made this book a winner for me.

If I had to name a flaw, it would be that this is definitely the beginning of a much larger story, rather than a self contained episode, so your going to get roped into buying more comics to finish the story...but oh well, right? The humor, hope, and fantastical science fictiony goodness is well worth it. 4.5 stars

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy December! (Better Late Than Never)

"Were you drinking coffee in the shower?" Husband asks as I emerge, towel swaddled and hair dripping, steamy mug in hand.

"Why yes, yes I was. I'm not even slightly ashamed of it."

"You have a problem."

I guess it's apparent that I am indeed suffering from a bit of end of year exhaustion, helped along by my decision to work a bazillion hours at my job(s) as a toy elf/picture lass. I think I'm also encountering a bit of ennui when it comes to my reviews and this blog in general. Again, this is partly based in physical exhaustion, but it also has to do with a need for changes that I know I need to make. So we're in the middle of a road block of sorts where I know I need to redesign, redefine, change what isn't working, and get back to what has worked in the past--and that is what December and January are going to be all about. Just as soon as I finish my goddamned coffee.

But you aren't here for all of that! Your here to find out which book from the November line up rocked my tiny little socks. And here it is:

Monday, November 26, 2012

On Thuribles: A Review of Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)Earlier this year I read the fantastically unusual novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and while it was by no means flawless, it certainly left an impression. This book, it's sequel, has been on by To-Read list ever since.

In the aftermath of the massacre of the chimera, Karou is hiding out in a sandcastle in on the edge of the Sahara in the human world, resurrecting select soldiers at the command of Thiago, aka the White Wolf. Karou hopes these soldiers will be able to defend the last living chimera, but in reality Thiago is using them in a terror campaign against the angels. Akiva, meanwhile, is struggling with his desire for peace in a world full of murder. He offers mercy to as many chimera as possible, but many continue to die. His attempts to reach of to Karou are rejected, though she softens toward him when he returns certain key friends to her.

Positive Comments

This book was more successful than the first at making the world of Eretz seem large and vast and important, lending the story the epic feel that one wants in a fantasy. Where the first book was largely about a teenage girl who is unusual and out of place, this book is about the lives and deaths of entire peoples. The politics of the empire of angels are gritty and intriguing, as we see that Akiva comes from a warrior class of little prestige but much power.

Karou's very unusual position as a resurrectionist and perceived traitor made her journey in this book incredibly rocky and emotional. She doesn't want or feel able to lead, but throughout the book it becomes increasingly obvious that she's going to have to. I liked Karou's loyalty and her unique and artful magic.

I came to appreciate the secondary characters a lot more. Zuzana was surprisingly charming, and she and Mik were rather cute together. I really liked Ziri, and I was glad that he gets a somewhat central role.

Critical Comments

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of romance, or even the teensiest bit of relationship development between Karou and Akiva. They spend very, very little of the book in the same room, and all of it tense and uncomfortable.


I recommend this series to fantasy fans, YA or otherwise. It's so fresh and different, and it's easy to become immersed in such an intense world. 4.5 stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Fables Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons

Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean SeasonsThe Mean Seasons, which chronicles what goes on in the Fable community after the attack of the wooden soldiers, is honestly something of a downer. Well written and well told, this transitional tale still left me wanting a lot more.

The volume begins with a tale of Bigby's exploits during World War II, which involved terrorizing Nazis among other things. If I'm being truly honest it comes off as entertaining but way out of place in the rest of the story arc.

We also learn that Cinderella (Cindy) is far more than what she seems--not just a bubbly socialite, but also a crafty spy.

The meat of the story, though, is devoted to the birth and first year of Snow and Bigby's children. Because most of them don't look human, Snow is forced to move to The Farm with them, and Bigby is not allowed there. The emotional impact of the separation is keen. I really felt for Snow as she grappled with her feelings and dealing with her very unusual brood. It struck me as highly odd, however, that there was no better solution to be had than her self imposed exile to The Farm. Bigby suggest that they go elsewhere, somewhere secluded, and Snow acts as though this would be a huge betrayal of Fabletown. I just can't understand why, and consequently the whole plot felt slightly forced.

Nonetheless, it was very cool to see the cubs in all of their oddness, and to learn about Bigby's father, The North Wind. It's interesting to see what bits of his nature have been passed down to the cubs.

Overall, it's not the strongest volume of the series, with so many logistical and motivational flaws. However, it wasn't so bad that I don't still want to see more from the series. 3.5 stars. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Misc. Monday: Thanksgiving Week

Well, hello, people of the interwebs! Just dropping in to share a few updates for the week coming up.

See Any Good TV Lately?

This past week's Supernatural  had Cas in it again! Happy Dance! With Bobby gone, Cas is by far my favorite character, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of him this season!

Once Upon a Time killed off Billy/Gus the Mouse (apparently), and gave us some more backstory and development for Ruby, one of it's most interesting secondary characters. I like this version of Red Riding Hood because she's portrayed as a very typical, urban fantasy style werewolf with all of the conflicts there in--controlling the beast, finding a pack, maintaining humanity, and so forth. Very cool, indeed.

I'm glad Arrow seems to be doing well, since I really feel that TV needs a superhero or two, and why not one with a hood? My only critical comment about the overarching plot is HOW are all of these really corrupt people all in one city? I guess Sterling is to sleezy business men as Gotham is to psychopaths?

Grimm is a great show in many ways, but it annoys the piss out of my husband. He can't get over how slow the overarching plot is to progress--"I see one out of three shows, but I don't feel like I missed anything!" And he's not entirely wrong. It is first and foremost a procedural cop show with a fairytale twist, so right now it leans more toward episodic than saga style storytelling--fine for some viewers, apparently frustrating for others. What can I say? I still find the show engaging. Although I agree with hubby on his one other criticism, which is that Juliette has become horribly annoying in her obliviousness and lack of judgement. She can die any episode now, doesn't matter to me.

Beauty and the Beast is stupidly cheesie and not all that original, but still very watchable. If it were a book series, it would be paranormal romance Lora Leigh style, but without all the sex. It would be better with sex. As would so many things.

I also caught one episode of Revolution, and I liked what I saw. Problem is, I don't really have time for all of my TV and books as it is (I'm losing sleep here, people), so to fit this in something else would have to go. Anyone been keeping up with this? Want to tell me if it's worth squeezing in?

Reading Goals Are Holding Steady!


I surpassed the number of books read last year (97) and just hit 101! I'm so very proud of my extreme nerdiness! My goal for the year was 112 books, and with just over a month left I can't slow down now, but I'm confident I'll make it!

What will my goal for next year be? Perhaps 113, or something even more ambitious. Next year may be a bit easier without school or a wedding to deal with.

Some Thanksgiving Advice From Your Friendly Neighborhood Penguin


If I'm not around much this Thursday and Friday, it is of course because of the holiday. We here in the US will be celebrating our Thanksgiving diners, and then on Friday the shopping madness begins. On Friday . Friday. And that's the first point I want to make to you all, is that Black Friday should be strictly a Friday thing. Thanksgiving is for food and football and time with your family. Many retailers have gotten greedy and are starting their sales at 7 or 8 on Thursday. Nonsense.

I bring this up because right now, I have a day job (sometimes night job) at one such popular retailer. My schedule for the holiday actually worked out okay for me. But many of my coworkers were not so lucky. In the past, everyone had to work on Thanksgiving, but only 4 or 6 hour shifts. To cope with the early sales, almost everyone has to work 9+ hour shifts on Thanksgiving--sacrificing their time with their families. Do us a favor, please--vote with your pocket books, and stay home until Friday. Friday morning--go nuts, shop til you drop, we're ready for you. But please don't encourage companies to continue with these early sales--the hidden costs are paid by workers and their families.

Happy Holiday Season, Everyone!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Tarot: A Review of Poison Princess by Kresley Cole

Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles, #1)I might as well warn you right out of the gate that I didn't like this book, even though I intended to. I was so sure I'd like it that I bought my own copy without reading an excerpt or any reviews. I'm like a cautionary tale for impulse buying.

Tough to detail the plot, since all of the legitimately interesting portions are spoilers, but...Basically, an apocalypse happens, in which the sun flares and kills all plant life and vaporizes all water on the Earth's surface, and Evie is one of few survivors. She's unfortunately terrible at surviving, but is lucky to have first her mother and then Jackson to take care of her. Jackson is a Cajun juvenile delinquent, and it's an opposites attract situation with Evie having been a peppy cheerleader in her pre-dystopian life. The plot gets (comparatively) interesting when we start to learn that Evie has magic(ish) powers to do with plants--and that there are other teens out in the world with other powers.

Positive Comments

The prologue is gripping, and the final chapter is rather triumphant. I can't deny that there are a lot of great ideas in this book. I really wanted to know about the Arcana and what their purpose in the world is. I can't deny that I'm still intrigued, and that even though I really, really did not like this book, I will probably read the next one in the series. That's how interesting the fantasy elements are.

Critical Comments

Let's start with Evie. I found it very, very hard to like, relate to, or sympathize with Evie on any level. Now, it's not like I really expect to connect directly with every heroine I read about, especially in YA. But dear God, Evie is unlikeable, and more importantly she is useless. It's fine for a character to start out useless, or weak, or cowardly, as long as they show some sort of steady development over the course of the story. But Evie does not. With the exception of her breakthrough at the very, very end, she is content to rely on Jackson for survival, even when he puts her down for being dead weight. Where is her sense of pride or self respect? Where are her survival instincts? Why should I care about this girl?

The romance did not work for me, and the main reason for that is Jackson. Jackson comes from a dirt poor background where he's had to learn to fight for basic survival--and by fight, I mean beat men's faces into their skulls. He's a bad boy...okay, fine, I like bad boys. The problem is he just doesn't come across as redeemable in any capacity. He drinks heavily, puts Evie down all the time, and hits on another girl to make her jealous. If all that isn't bad enough, I'm left with the impression that his only motivation for helping Evie is to get into her pants. At one point, when she puts a stop to their physical activities, he blows up at her, basically saying "I saved your life, the least you could do is put out!" Our hero, ladies and gentlemen! So this book fails entirely as a romance, and whether the relationship stands a remote chance of being salvaged for me in future books is doubtful.

So, there isn't a single truly likeable character...maybe the plot is still good? Yes, to a point, but the pacing is way off. The first third is spent on Evie's high school drama--maintaining popularity, having a surprise birthday party, maybe losing her virginity to her perfect boy friend...none of which shows any signs of being even slightly relevant to the actual plot. A lot of this could have and should have been slashed in favor or interesting things.


Unfortunately, I can't in good conscience recommend this book. It annoyed and infuriated me on so many levels. Will I read the next book? Probably. But there's no reason that you should suffer as well. 2 stars.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review of Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers

Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden SoldiersThis volume of Fables marks a lot of changes for our fairy tale characters. We are, of course, familiar with the adversary and the fact that our characters are in exile in the mundane world because of the destruction that this mysterious enemy wrought. This, however, is the first time that we experience the adversary as an active threat in more than a flash-back capacity.

To begin with, I really enjoyed learning of Boy Blue's tragic and romantic back story. I think what makes Fables special is it's ability to take characters who most of us feel that we know, since we've heard since childhood, and cast them in an entirely different light--for better or worse. So seeing a romance for  Boy Blue and Red Riding Hood.

Snow White is continuously fantastic. She basically organizes a defense against an army that marches on Fabletown, and she does so while pregnant and piled down with worries. I'm deeply invested in he story, at this point, and I would love for her and Bigby to find some shred of happiness.

I thought the wooden soldiers, and the way that they are introduced with their connection to Pinocchio, were very clever indeed. They're very much like the Mr. Smiths of the Matrix, with their frightening one track minds and utter disposability. But more importantly, they seem to represent a larger danger that I'm sure we'll see more of in future books.

Finally, in this book we begin to see Prince Charming campaigning for mayor against King Cole. This entire subplot is pathetically hilarious, with the prince making ridiculous promises that you know will land him far in over his head. When I actually read this, the US was in the midst of our election definitely reflected reality.

My final conclusion on this book is that, it is perhaps not my favorite story arc yet, but it was still quite strong. I didn't feel that it had the emotional impact of some of the previous installments, but it had a lot of cleverness and humor that left me wanting more. 4 stars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Post: Guilded Wings by Amy Lignor Morning, people of the internet! Today we have an excerpt for Until Next Time, by Amy Lignor, as well as a guest post from the author! 


Another cold blast of air hit Anya’s body. She fell against the metal railing, waking her from her dreamlike state. Gregori, her ‘sheriff,’ had stayed by her side every moment of the last seven days, regaling her with tales of his future in the West of America. He’d spoken to her of strange heroes—distant icons who lived in a world of brilliant sun and red dust. He’d even told her of a boy called Billy the Kid, a name that made Anya shudder. She wondered how a kid, a mere child, could commit the atrocities that the dime novel had claimed. But Gregori had ignored her anxiety completely and babbled excitedly about unknown figures named Earp and Holliday—friends who’d supposedly taken on a slew of outlaws and cleaned up the territory, once again making it safe for the Americans who dwelled there.

Now, on the seventh day, Anya’s thoughts were jumbled about America. She wondered why they would write about such angry people, yet raise them up on pedestals and turn them into legends that their people would revere.

“They certainly must be a free society,” Anya mumbled. “Imagine, holding the good guys and their evil rivals in the same high esteem.”

Inside the Writer’s Studio…with Matthew!

One of my most favorite shows on television is “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” This is a show that’s presented to students of the Actor’s Studio Drama School at Pace University. I know there are a ton of interviews with celebrities but the host, James Lipton, uses a slow pace and makes these people who everyone is so bedazzled by seem like the regular, normal humans they are. At the end of the show, Lipton asks his guest ten questions that they have to answer for the audience.

I thought about what Matthew would say in a situation such as this because he likes to be talkative and outgoing; whereas Emily is more sedate and really likes to get out of a situation where the spotlight is on her just as fast as angelically possible. So, today, we’re going to sit down with Matthew and see what he has to say…

Host: Matthew, thank you for being here today.

M: You betcha! This is fun!

Host: Being a warrior must be an extremely difficult job, seeing as that you have to save everyone all the time. Don’t you ever think about having some time off?

M: Well, James… Can I call you James?

Host: Of course.

M: I actually really love the battle part of the whole thing. I mean, I’m basically the protection detail, whereas Emily really has the hardest part of the whole gig because she has to listen, interpret, find solutions - the really tough stuff. And she’ll never take a vacation, so my work never stops.

Host: You must have a great partnership. Is she at all hard to work with?

M: Well…we do have a great partnership. It’s been a long time since we first made our ‘appearance’ down here, and even though we’ve gone through some rough spots, to say the least, we’re still able to get the job done that we need to do.

Host: But…is she hard to work with?

M: James, it’s not your fault, because you really don’t know how we’re linked. But Emily can hear everything I say…and she’s really good with a sword when we head into the pit and battle things out. So, let’s just sya she’s strong, caring, has a big heart and (his voice drops down to a whisper) a big mouth when it comes to her sarcasm.

(Slap! Matthew’s head flies forward)

M: Ouch! See? I told you she could hear me. (He clears his throat.) By the way, you should know that she can open the gates of hell if she really wants to.

Host: (Perspiration breaks out on Lipton’s forehead.) Ready to move on to the questions?

M: I think it’s safer!

Host: What is your favorite word?

M: Beginning. I love the start of new things.

Host: What is your least favorite word?

M: Ending. When things are over, you always want to go back and change something you did.

Host: What turns you on?

M: (answers way too fast) Emily. (slap) OW! FINE! Umm…I love Dutch Apple Pie - that was a seriously great creation.

Host: What turns you off?

M: Being slapped in the back of the head.

Host: I bet… What sound or noise do you love?

M: It’s probably because of the job, but the acoustics are really good in Gabriel’s classroom, so when the swords clash, the sound is wicked cool.

Host: What sound or noise do you hate?

M: Crying. I wish people didn’t have to.

Host: What is your favorite curse word?

M: Ahh, James? We’re not allowed to do that. It’s against policy.

Host: Right, sorry. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

M: A Locomotive Engineer would be cool. I want to wear one of those caps and pull the cord that makes the train whistle.

Host: What profession would you not like to do?

M: Angel. Like I said…her job is tough.

Host: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

M: IF? Okay, well, Gabe and Mike are the ones we actually see when we head home, but I would like Him to hand me a piece of that Dutch Apple Pie and say: Good job! Now, get ready to do it again!
Host: Thank you for joining us today, Matthew. It was really great to meet you.

M: You bet! (Matthew looks around the room) I think Emily is your next guest so…good luck with that, James!

Host: (sighs) Yeah, thanks a lot…

Until Next Time, Everybody,

Want to read Amy's book? Here, have some links!




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