Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Widows: A Review of Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss

Bring Him Home
Okay, so I know you guys are used to me mixing it up a lot on this blog. I rarely do two books in a row from the same genre, let alone from the same author. Meet the exception to the rule. I read these books so that I could participate in the SBTB book club chat (the transcript of which can be found HERE, if you're curious). I won't bore you with a long review, but I want to make sure you all understand how awesome this series is and why you need to read it.

Claire is a widow. Nate was her husband's best friend, and the last man to see him alive. Since he resigned from the military, Nate has struggled with guilt over what happened during his last deployment, and as a result has withdrawn from all friends and family. But when Claire asks him to come home to sort out some legal matters, he can't say no. The experience forces him to see Claire in a new light, and the two start on the road to healing and love.

Positive Comments

Both main characters are likeable, and their relationship feels very real. The romance develops slowly, but the pace is appropriate given their history. The emotions are vivid and stunning. There are all of these wonderful moments of sorrow, horror, joy, and humor.

The book is chalk full of other great relationships--friendships, bromance, mother/son, and so forth. Bliss has a talent for making characters that act like people who you would want to be friends with.

Critical Comments

The ending is incredibly rushed. There's a "twist" that comes late in the story, and it's HUGE, and it's resolved in like ten pages when it needed a hundred. That is literally my only complaint about this book, but it's a big one.


This is my second favorite of the Karina Bliss books I've read, with Here Comes the Groom in a solid lead. I like the emotion and the sincerity. I like how Bliss handles difficult issues and still makes you feel good at the end. I highly recommend her work. 4 stars for this book.

Bring Him Home (Harlequin Superromance)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Twins: A Review of Stand in Wife by Karina Bliss

Stand-In WifeHere Comes the Groom by Karina Bliss altered, forever, my perception of category romance. I would go so far as to say it legitimized the genre in my eyes. This, the second book in that same universe, is not nearly as ground breaking for me, but it's still very good.

Viv has always been the wild, impulsive, fun twin. But now, her sister's life is in tatters and a weight of responsibility settles on her shoulders. Suddenly, the twins have swapped places, and Vivian must adjust to the life of a soccer mom with a broken marriage and a dozen important tasks to complete. Ross, her sister's brother in law, is a reluctant accomplice in the twin's deception. Ross wants nothing more than to spend as much time as possible training to return to active duty in Afghanistan. Vivian is a distraction, with her fun personality and natural sexuality. Soon the two find themselves succumbing to lust born from years of denial.

Positive Comments

I love the family dynamics. I really felt for both Viv and Merry, and I found their life experiences as identical twins to be very believable. Yes, their situation is wacky, but their emotions are honest. A broken marriage, unfulfilled desires, feelings of inadequacy, dealing with personality labels--all issues that Bliss handles gracefully.

I like Ross and Viv together. I didn't feel the connection to Ross that I did with Dan in the first book. He's not a memorable hero, but he is likeable. He's a frustrated alpha coping with huge life changes. He makes a great balance to Viv, who embraces adventure, because he's a practical man and a planner. The sexy times are room temperature rather than hot, but that's typical for the Super Romance books.

Critical Comments

Tilly, the seven year old niece, is an utterly unlikeable brat. I thought that at some point in the story she'd learn a lesson about not always getting what she wants, or about not manipulating her parents, or about ANYTHING AT ALL...but she doesn't. She's spoiled, demanding, and has not yet developed a sense of empathy (which is not unusual for a young kid). Her lack of character arch bothered me.

Charlie, Merry's husband, is a tool. I had trouble rooting for their marriage to fixed because the guy just seemed like a giant man-child to me.


I really like Karina Bliss's books in terms of their style and the emotion that she puts into them. This wasn't my favorite, but I think you should still check out her work if you are at all interested in contemporary romance. 3.5 stars.

Stand-in Wife (Harlequin Superromance)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Misc. Monday: A Time to Comment, and a Time to Shut Your Mouth


I don't think I need to tell any of you that comments are very important to bloggers. We all love getting comments, and since this is a community of sorts, most of us understand that there's a give and take when it comes to commenting. Every how-to guide on blogging ever written says that you need to go out and find forums and other blogs and comment. This serves several important functions:

1. You are helping to validate your fellow blogger's efforts by letting him/her know that you've read and appreciated the post.

2. You are contributing to a discussion, which in theory is fun and informative and helps everyone involved get to know one another. 

3. You are promoting yourself--through your name and/or through the link that leads back to your own blog. This sounds mercenary, but in all honesty, no one is ever going to know you exist unless your voice is heard, and comments are a great way to be heard.

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about commenting, and to be honest, it's still an area that I myself need to improve in. 

It's a good idea to comment when...'ve read a post, and you have something meaningful to say about it. Maybe it's to thank the blogger for raising a particular point in her review that helped you decide whether or not to read a book. Maybe it's to expand upon an idea that was brought up, or offer a different perspective on the issue. Maybe you're responding to a prompt or survey that the blogger posted. All of these situations, or any similar ones, make for good comments that will serve all of the above purposes and make everyone happy.
I read the post, but I don't really have anything to say.
This is sort of a grey area, and it happens to all of us. Not all posts merit insightful comments, but you still want to let the blogger know that you read her post. The temptation is to leave one or two sentence comment:

"Great review! This book has such a pretty cover!"

"Just stopping by to say hello! Awesome post!"

"I'm adding this one to my TBR!"

This is the equivalent of writing "Have a great summer!" in someone's high school year book. Serviceable, but void of meaning. Some bloggers are fine with receiving these kinds of comments. New bloggers, in particular, are usually happy to receive any comment at all. But others will see it a spam and treat it accordingly. Personally, I ignore less-than-meaningful comments. I might not respond, and I certainly won't visit that blogger back, but that's about it. But some people do delete one sentence comments. So basically, if you know the blogger will be fine with your comment, go right ahead. The safest thing to do, however, is to not comment at all. 

They took the words right out of my mouth!

If someone already raised the point you were about to make, don't reiterate their comment. The politest thing to do is say "I agree with so-and-so." Elaborate if you want to, but don't repeat their words.  This is for the same reason as the situation above--you don't want your comment to appear meaningless. 

I disagree with the post. Can I still comment?

Yes! Remember, this is about contributing to a discussion, and offering up a contrary point of view certainly does that. However, you should always remember to be respectful. 

1. As a general rule, always say something positive. Even if it's something like "I'm happy that you brought this topic up, here's my point of view..."
2. No name calling, ever. Nothing invalidates an argument faster than calling your opponent names.
3. Don't swear or use dirty words, unless you are certain that the blog owner is comfortable with that kind of language. Being on someone's blog is like being a guest in their house--make yourself comfortable, but not too comfortable.
4. Avoid commenting more than two or three times on a single topic, especially if you're very emotional about the topic. Along with this, try to avoid very lengthy comments. If your collective comments have a higher word count than the post itself, it's time to step back and take a deep breath. Do NOT be a troll. 
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It's also worth mentioning that, if you find yourself disagreeing with a particular blogger more often than not, it might be time to unfollow or stay away. On a personal note, I recently had to unfollow a blog that had gotten increasingly political. It wasn't that I disliked the blogger personally, but her posts made my blood boil and I felt myself itching to put my two cents in way more often than was wise. On occasions like that, it's better for everyone to shut your mouth. 
Do NOT Comment If... have not actually read the post, or you barely skimmed it.

"I visited your blog today!"

"I'm not going to read your post in case of spoilers. Have a nice day!"

I've had approximations of the above comments multiple times. They are annoying. They are shamelessly self promotional, and they leave me knowing for a fact that the commenter did not read my words. Yes, it's nice that you visited, but I feel like you only did so in order to leave your name behind. 

...your goal is to make the blogger look bad by pointing out typos or factual errors. It's much more polite to email or pm about these things. have something off topic to say to the blogger. Again, this is a time for email, not the comment box.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading Penguin Goes to the Movies: Brave

The minute I saw a preview for Brave, I knew I would love it. I was so excited to see a Scottish princess added to the Disney pantheon.

Brave is, at it's core, the story of a rebellious teenager with a free spirit at odds with her position as a princess. Marida questions her mother's plans to turn her into the perfect queen, especially when she is told that she will soon be betrothed. When she encounters a witch, Marida asks for a spell that will change her mother--and thereby change her own fate.

The most wonderful thing about this story is that it didn't feel the need to stay inside the usual Disney princess box. There's no shoe-horned in love story. In fact, it's more of a mother/daughter tale than anything else, and the relationship is so true to life and so easy to relate to. I was very, very impressed by the fact that Disney gave Marida two loving and supportive parents (though her father is a little more wacky).

If you look at Disney's other portrayals of rebellious teenagers, you'll notice that the movie usually takes the teenager's side. We all felt like Ariel's dad overreacted when he destroyed her collections. We sympathized wholeheartedly when Jasmine refused an arranged marriage and wanted some time outside the palace. And didn't Cinderella have every right to rebel? Well, this movie does something a little different. It shows both sides of the argument so that we see that neither Marida nor her mother are entirely in the wrong. Sure, I wanted Marida to be allowed her freedom and for her mother to listen to her. But I also felt the mother's pain when Marida took her defiance to a hurtful level. Teenage girls do that--I know, because I was one just a few years ago. They hurt their parents in an effort to break free, and only after the fact do they realize that loving mothers are the most valuable guide you have in your life. That is what this movie is about.

Marida is awesome, because she knows archery and horseback riding and rock climbing. In a dress. Seriously fantastic.

The movie itself is beautiful in appearance, with it's green landscapes and towering waterfalls. The music sets the tone with it's celtic melody and soft feminine voices. Of course, in true to form Disney style, they did seem to feel the need to throw every Scottish thing they could think of into this movie. Clydesdales. Names like Angus and Hamish. Stone circles. Kilts. Haggis. But it's a kid's movie, and it's all in good fun.

I recommend this movie to all Disney fans and fantasy fans. And Highland fans. But most especially, I'd recommend it to mothers and daughters, because it's such a touching portrayal of that relationship. Happy watching, everyone!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Blog Tour Review of The Orphan, The Soulcatcher, and the Black Blizzard

The Orphan, the Soulcatcher, and the Black BlizzardI want you guys to know that I really tried to like this book. And I mean, I reached a point where I was so desperate to get into it that I backed up and reread parts a second time. And at the end of the day I came to the conclusion that it isn't a bad just isn't for me.

Our characters are Charlie, a teenage orphan with a kind heart, and Bartholomew "Buck", a being of the supernatural world. Together the two navigate the seedy neighborhoods of depression era Chicago while a mysterious otherworldly threat looms over them.

Positive Comments (aka Why I Wanted to Like This Book)

The setting. I wanted to immerse myself in a time period that I don't normally see in books, because unless you read serious literature, the 1930s are not among the more popular eras. The author does a great job of capturing the grittiness of gangs and poverty and violence.

Charlie is so likeable. He's had a rough life, and despite everything he still genuinely cares for people. He's smart, but he doesn't show it off. And Buck is equally likeable, with an even more interesting back story and character development. Even their dynamic together is great, with Buck trying to suppress his overly proper nature, and Charlie trying to protect Buck from everything.

Negative Comments

The plot and the world building just did not come together the way I wanted them to. The world building is very vague, and there's a great deal of withholding that caused me to feel lost. Again, I found it necessary to reread to make sure I wasn't missing anything, but it wasn't my fault. The world building is just genuinely sloppy. The plot moves forward quickly, but manages to ramble at the same time. I got impatient waiting to find out what everything was leading up to. And by the time the climax came around I had stopped caring.

So really, much of my objection to this book is related to personal taste. I have no patience for mystery. I like my world building to be a lot clearer. I prefer less subtle supernatural elements. I feel like this was a book with good features that didn't work together--like wearing pinstripes with polka dots. I liked the characters, but they weren't enough to bring me into the story.


I'm not going to recommend this one. Overall, I just found it boring, and while I do suspect that the problem is more with me than the book, I don't want anyone to have the same experience I did. It isn't poorly written, but I just didn't find it interesting. 2 stars.

Find your copy here: The Orphan, the Soulcatcher, and the Black Blizzard

Monday, June 18, 2012

Misc. Monday: Lather, Rinse, Repeat: A Shower Story

My bridal shower took place Saturday, and it was originally my intention to use this post to show you guys all of the cool things people gave me. With special attention to the cookbooks, because who doesn't love cookbooks? Trouble is, it's all locked in my new apartment right now--the one I haven't moved into yet. So instead I will briefly regale you with the story of how my shower was awesome, despite lots of things going horribly wrong.
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Thing #1) Nobody knew who should make the first move in actually planning this thing. Back around Christmas time, my future mother in law started grilling me about it, so I gave her my mother's number. I also gave her number to my maid of honor and all other inquiring female friends. "Go forth, and plan!" I said. "I do not want any part of planning my own shower." I said. But nothing happened. And months went by, and no one did anything, and I was so busy that I mostly didn't care if there was going to be a shower at all. But again, everyone kept asking about it, and so I finally gave in and made sure that several of us were in one room for a weekend to plan....

Thing #2) When you wait until the last minute, you're stuck with last minute dates. Our preferred venue only had two weekends left in the whole summer, one of which would definitely not work, so we were stuck with the one that only sort of worked. My maid of honor had a conference the week before, and wouldn't be back until the day of, but we'd just have to manage.

#3)...Then one bridesmaid found out she couldn't make it because of work.

#4)...Then my fmil had a gall bladder attack, and found out she needed surgery. She pushed the surgery back to a week after so that she could still make the shower, but was obviously much less able to help with set up than was originally planned.

#5)...Then, after weeks of job hunting, I finally found something, which was great. But they wanted me to start working nine hour shifts right away, cutting my free time instantly in half.

#6) So the night before, I'm trying to bake cookies and put together games last minute when I get a call from my maid of honor. Her flight got cancelled due to weather and she was stuck in Denver. No way to make it here in time. So now I'm up to my eyebrows in cookie dough and I'm worried about my best friend getting lost and/or mugged in Denver.

#7) The cookies kept melting and my back was really sore from work, and by the morning of I was unbelievably exhausted. My mother, too, was sweaty and tired and nervous about everything. And I want to say that, in my defense, I was a really good sport about everything, but there was just so much everything. I told my fiance, in a moment of frustration, that in the future I was never throwing a party, ever, unless it was after we won the lottery and hired an army of servants.

Here's what helped turn the event around for me: My last remaining adult bridesmaid instantly kicked it into high gear and started doing the work of four people to make everything work. She passed out name tags and called bingo numbers and kept track of presents. It was like the origin story of a new super hero--The Incredible Bridesmaid, with the power to organize ALL THE THINGS in ten seconds or less...

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...I'm now confident that, should my wedding be interrupted by gun wielding villains, she will be just as effective as Kate Bishop. 

Plus, there's nothing like a party to remind you that there are people who actually like you--or at least are willing to put up with you in exchange for delicious cake (there was strawberry shortcake, and it was divine). Everyone was so warm and so generous, and so while I missed everyone that couldn't be there, I couldn't really feel sorry for myself about it. I think my favorite moment was at the end, when Josh walked in with a big smile and a dozen roses. He has never failed to make me feel loved, but these little moments where he treats me like a princess are still particularly special to me.

My advice to other brides is this: 1)Be more successful at forcing other people to plan for you, because you can't do everything. 2) Expect things to go wrong, and roll with the punches. 3) Thank everyone who comes through for you when your in a pinch, and most importantly, 4) Don't forget how lucky you are that all of this is happening to you. Not everyone gets to marry their soul mate. Even if every other thing goes wrong, you'll have been extraordinarily blessed because you met him.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On Simulations: A Review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Guys, sometimes life stands up and smacks you in the face with it's craziness. June has been one of those months when I really want to read...but I can't. There simply hasn't been time. I just got a new job, had my bridal shower, and I'm in the process of moving...So I would no sooner pick up this book than be interrupted. To say I had some difficulty getting immersed is an understatement. Take my review with a grain of salt.

This is book two in a planned YA dystopian trilogy (I feel like YA dystopian trilogies should get their own category on this blog, there are so many).  It focuses on Tris, a teenage girl with a unique brain that makes her courageous, selfless, and intelligent--a combination that makes her resistant to simulations, i.e. mind control. This book deals in large part with the aftermath of the first book, with Tris and Four trying to decide who to trust and what to fight for.

Positive Comments:

I felt that Roth did a great job with Tris in terms of character development. Countless times in the book, Tris makes decisions that you could only describe as reckless. She's trying to figure out what it means to be self sacrificing, what it means to be a survivor. She struggles with her conscience after having to take a life. After all of that, I can see her growing into something awesome. I'm emotionally invested in her journey, and it's that more than the dystopian world building that makes this book worth it for me.

Four/Tobias is a big part of her emotional journey, and I find their romance...passable. I like the fact that it is still a love story and NOT a love triangle story, and I don't have to bring Tippy into this. I enjoyed the fact that Roth built up a conflict between them based purely on issues of identity and choice, and not on big misunderstandings or, God forbid, another guy.

Critical Comments:

It's long. It's hard for me to accurately describe to what degree it drags because, as I said above, life made reading this book an ongoing struggle for me. But I feel that even under the best of circumstances I would have found certain portions unnecessary or too drawn out. Again, don't let this particular complaint stop you.

Here's the thing with dystopians...with some of them, it's easy to imagine a possible future or other world where life really could be this way. Dystopians are "what if" boxes with a lot of stuff inside. But the more I think about Tris and Four's world, the less sense it makes, and the less I'm able to immerse myself in that "what if" box. It doesn't make sense to me that people would divide themselves into factions based on prominent virtues and live by them to the letter--that's like Hogwarts Houses on steroids. It would never work, not even for a short period of time. I have to really shut my brain off in order to accept the world building of this particular book, and frankly I'd rather keep my brain on.


Do I like this series? Yes. I do think you should read it, if you like dystopian YAs and if you go in knowing that the world building is flawed. And I think it's fair to say that this book was a solid addition to the series, though I wasn't thrilled with the pacing. Overall, it's a good book. 3.5 stars.

Get your copy here! Insurgent (Divergent)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Follow Friday 6/14/12

FF 2012 Feature & Follow #101 

Q: Happy Father’s Day! Who is your favorite dad character in a book and why?

Just one? I have four!

Ray Quinn from Nora Robert's Chesapeake Bay series. He won his spot by adopting and raising three teenage boys from horrible backgrounds. Kudos to all adoptive parents. (Amazon/Goodreads)

Ronnie's father from Knee Deep by Jolene Perry. He found a loving and supportive way to help his teenage daughter when she was in a really tough spot. (Amazon/Goodreads)

 Both of Lola's fathers in Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. Especially Andy, because he can make pie. But they both earn their spot for being strict but loving, and embracing Lola's uniqueness. (Amazon/Goodreads)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hounded, A Guest Review by EggJosh

Hi everybody, this is ReadingPenguin's fiance, EggJosh. I'm going to do a guest review of Hounded by Kevin Hearne as part of my community service of my own free will. Since the soon-to-be-Mrs. has read a few of my graphic novels now, I took a turn and read a book of her suggestion, which is the first in Hearne's "Iron Druid Chronicles" series. Now, as I'm sure ReadingPenguin has noted, as my primary reading sources are graphic novels, so picking up a fantasy novel isn't my usual area of expertise. However, I'm no slouch in the literary department, and I know my story structure, characterization, and all that fun stuff that comes from earning a bachelor's degree in English. So enough about me, let's talk about this book.

Atticus O'Sullivan is a 2000 year old druid who lives a solitary life in Arizona, with his only companion being his Irish wolfhound, Oberon (I GET IT!). Atticus runs an occult bookshop, where he sells real magic to real magic users, and placebos to trendy college students and the like. In this world, the entire pantheon of gods are confirmed to be real beings, including the primary antagonist, Aenghus Óg, a vengeful Tuatha Dé Danann,an ancient Irish deity. Atticus had offended Aenghus centuries ago by stealing an immensely powerful sword from him. So, Atticus has lived his life constantly trying to keep out of Aenghus' radar. His luck finally runs out, and he encounters various minions, witches, hypnotized cops, and minor gods that Aenghus has sent his way. Atticus has powerful allies however, such as werewolf and vampire lawyers, other Tuatha Dé Danann, and witch-possessed barmaids.

There was much to like about this book. Primary among them is Oberon. Oberon is a dog that can only speak to Atticus mentally. His dialog is often humorous, as he not only has typical "dog thoughts", similar to Dug from Pixar's Up, but also a trace of human intelligence. Its an interesting balance. His dog behavior with human rationale works as an effective comic relief. I also liked the way in which Atticus acquires certain magical upgrades. Its reminiscent of fantasy video games, such as "The Legend of Zelda" or "World of Warcraft"; "You learned 'Cold Fire'!" *Victory Music*

I liked the idea of all the gods in the world having corporeal forms that interact with one another (including Thor who is repeatedly implied to be a huge tool). I realize this isn't a new idea, but this book did it well, and focused on a sect not often focused upon, compared to Greek, Roman, or Norse gods.

As much as I did enjoy the magic acquirement by Atticus, it was somewhat contradictory. Towards the end of the novel, Atticus explains to a prospective apprentice just how involved and time consuming it would be to master his druid magic. Shortly thereafter he uses the magic spell he was recently gifted with.  Now, one could argue that his earth based druid magic is different than the spell gifted to him from the Tuatha Dé Danann, but it still raises an eyebrow.

My biggest complaint, however, is Aenghus Óg. For a villain, I didn't find him interesting at all. Throughout almost the ENTIRE NOVEL we don't see or hear from him. We're told what a force to be reckoned with he is, and how much he hates Atticus, but its an overabundance of buildup, for very little payoff. We don't know him as a character, we don't know his personality other than power-hungry, we don't know his speech patterns or mannerisms, nothing. He's this looming ominous force, but isn't really a character. I liken him to the Galactus cloud in the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The characters spend the whole film preparing for this huge end-of-the-world threat. Plenty of action happens, sure, but then this big bad shows up, and is swiftly defeated. That's what happens in this novel, as well. I really would've appreciated if Aenghus had shown up one or two times before the end of the novel, either to issue some threats, or try to intimidate Atticus.

Overall, this novel was a fun romp through the world of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses. The lackluster final battle is disappointing, but the way several characters introduced throughout the novel finally come together in the end makes up for it. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the "gods who walk among us" stories. 3/5 Stars.

(On a personal note, for a comic recommendation in the same vein, I highly recommend J. Michael Straczynski's most recent take on Marvel comics Thor.)

 ReadingPenguin's Note: Aw, wasn't that fun? Those of you who have been with us for awhile will note that I reviewed this same book back in October, and gave it 4 stars (I'm a big softy). The one thing we both agree on is that Oberon is seriously awesome, and is yet more proof that we need a dog. And now I pass it to you guys--leave your comments and questions and we will respond and maybe even visit you. Be nice to my fiance, though. I have a standing threat to fling penguins at trolls and mean people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On The Stock Exchange: A Review of Breaking the Devil's Heart by H.A. Goodman

Breaking the Devil's HeartI love being a book reviewer. Ever since I started this whole blog project, my reading has expanded in scope and diversity, and I absolutely love that. Breaking the Devil's Heart is just one more book that I would probably never have read on my own, but I'm so glad that I did.

I guess this is technically book 2 in a series, but it stands well on it's own. The premise is that Stewart and his girlfriend, Layla, are trying to infiltrate Hell in order to stop the human suffering caused by it's residents. Stewart was once alive and human, but died tragically and became an Observer in order to embark on this Satin killing mission. The author's version of hell is a lot like Office Space, if it were horror instead of comedy. It includes neurotic businessmen, a telemarketing scheme, and a stock exchange system--all of which run on human souls as currency.

Positive Comments:

I loved the settings and the ideas. I loved Goodman's take on hell, on souls, and on evil. I liked that it wasn't as simple as "The devil makes you do bad things." It suggests that human beings have a natural capacity for evil, and that while they can be persuaded in any number of directions, they are ultimately responsible for their actions. At the same time, the demons benefit from any evil act and will buy and sell souls in the hopes of those souls doing evil. Because them peace or something. That's the point where the logic of the world building kind of breaks down, but even with that major flaw, the world building is still awesome.

I liked Stewart and Layla. I sort of wished for more relationship building, or more character building, but then again there was nothing that made me dislike either of them or their relationship. I liked that they were smart and cunning, but firmly dedicated to achieving their ends. Stewart really believes in good, and his willingness to sacrifice all for it is what endeared him to me.

I like the sort of "twist" near the end. I can't say more, for obvious reasons.

Critical Comments:

There were definitely some leaps in logic, or a total lack of logic in some cases, that gave me pause. I like the world that Goodman has created, but it's a little hard to swallow the "how" and "why" of it all.

In the end there was a sense of uncertainty in terms of how much was actually accomplished and whether anything was really resolved. There is a lot of build up to a moment where you would expect huge changes in the world. Instead, things are fairly ambiguous. I don't care for that sort of ending, because it leaves me feeling extremely unsatisfied.


Yes, I recommend it, with a few notes of caution. If you are particular about world building and want things thoroughly explained--don't read this book. If you like nice, tidy, happy endings--don't read this book. Also, it's worth noting that this book paints religious fundamentalists in not the nicest light--it actually directly states that they cause problems in multiple passages. So if you are very deeply religious and inclined to take offense, it's best you steer clear of this one. Readers that I would recommend this to are: urban fantasy lovers, who are interested in an imaginative take on hell and human nature. 3 stars.

Buy from Amazon: Breaking The Devil's Heart: A Logic of Demons Novel

Monday, June 11, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: The Book Rating Debate

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For me, the absolute most difficult part of writing a review is assigning a star rating. Occasionally I have in mind which rating the book deserves right after I'm done reading. Usually, though, it takes writing and rereading my own review, and weighing the positives and the negatives and trying to arbitrarily assign values to them so that I can cough up that star rating. It isn't a perfect system, because emotion and gut reaction often gets in the way. Plenty of really, deeply flawed books still managed to keep me entertained and emotionally invested. An equal number of very well written books threatened to put me in a boredom coma.

This subject came up when I asked my fiance, Josh, to do a guest review on my blog of a book that I thought he would enjoy. I've read several of his books now, so it was only fair. He's had the book for a month, just finished it last night, and the review will be up on Wednesday. I told him to review in whatever format he liked, but please use my rating system, and that's what prompted this comment: "Oh, you mean the system where every book gets five stars?"

This got my blood boiling a little, because in reality I am very, very stingy with my five star ratings. The observant reader will note that there are only about twelve 5 star books mentioned on this blog, including books that I had read and rated prior to starting the blog. So twelve books over the course of two or three years of reading. Twelve books out of roughly two hundred and fifty have earned 5 stars. I don't think I'm being overly generous here. In fact, on second contemplation I worry that I'm close to crossing the line into Overly Critical Bitch territory. 

I'm a bit more free in handing out 4.5 star reviews, because those are the books that have tiny flaws, but still grabbed me by the heart and made me really feel. 5 stars demands perfection and emotional attachment--a magic alchemy that you just don't see very often. So in my mind, 5 star reviews should be rare--like blue moons or four leaf clovers. But not as rare as, say, Halley's Comet, where you'd be lucky to see it twice in a lifetime--and this is the point on which Josh and I differ.

I know every reviewer's philosophy on ratings is a little different. I've seen people who seem to read a 5 star book every week (lucky ducks) and people who read more 1 and 2 star books (curmudgeons). What's your take on this? Do you find yourself giving a lot of high ratings, or hardly any? How do you determine ratings?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reading Penguin Goes to the Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

DownloadSuch mixed feelings going into this movie...I love fairy tales, and I love when books and movies do dark twisted things with them, and it had Chris Hemsworth who is so sexy and just the right amount of talented...but it also had Kristen Stewart. To be fair, the only other thing I'd seen her do was Twilight, and I hated those movies on a level where everything in them seemed comically bad.

The truth is, this movie was really quite good. It tells the traditional Snow White story with the evil stepmother and the dwarfs and the apple--but it does so in a tone that sets it apart from other versions. First, we have the huntsman as a dominate character with a back story--who ultimately becomes a love interest. Such and awesome concept. But if you're about to write this movie off because you think it's a romance and you don't like romance, don't. More than anything else this is a fantasy, with magic that ranges from enchanting to creepy as hell.

The Good Stuff:

  • Kristen Stewart, I owe you half an apology. You were not as terrible in this as I expected. Is she a great actress? No, not by any means. She can't do quiet moments effectively and she can't sell a romance worth dung. But surprisingly, she does anger, passion, fear, and determination very well. Near the end, she gives this "stand up and fight" speech that was tremendously engrossing. I was so happy to see a movie that put a princess in battle armor.
  • Chris Hemsworth--I want to have your babies. Or the Huntsman's babies. Or possibly Thor's. I don't know. But please call me. He was perfect in this part. So surly and drunk, but also likeable and sympathetic. I thought he was a bit underused, an I would have liked to see more of him.
  • The look of the movie. I liked that it had gross moments and dirty scenes and an overall gritty atmosphere. That offset very well parts such as the fairy forest, which was beautiful. At first, I saw CGI birds and bunnies and started laughing, but as I got into the scene I found myself really taken with it--mushrooms with eyes and turtles covered in moss and pixie things everywhere. 
  • The dwarfs were awesome. Funny, gruff, and very useful. They add humor without being reduced to dumb comedy relief. 
The "Meh" Stuff:

  • Evil queens are evil. Do I care about their back stories or why they are evil? No, not really. In the context of a book, yes, but in the context of a movie where time is limited--no. I felt that too much time was given to the queen that could have been better used elsewhere. Though to her credit, she is appropriately frightening.
  • William is the most unnecessary character ever. He's Snow's childhood friend, and for awhile I worried he was there for love triangle purposes. He really isn't, thank God, but then what the hell is he doing here? No offense to the actor--I just didn't see a place for him. 
Side Note: Our audience this time contained a mother and her very small child (maybe 4 years old?). It's a PG-13 movie so...yeah. Just because it has "Snow White" in the title does not mean it's appropriate for little ones.  A while in, we heard the little girl ask her mother if they could leave, and they did, but not before the part where the evil queen eats a small bird's bloody heart. So a note of caution to parents out there: exercise some judgement with this movie.

Overall, though, I do recommend it. As fairy tale retellings go, this is great. It's deep and twisted, tells a great story, and keeps you entertained with action and emotion. Happy watching!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: Baked Goods Make The World Better

I have to apologize for the late and sparse nature of this weeks post. The world has once again raced ahead of me, and the summer is only going to get busier!

This year I'm trying to learn new baking recipes and improve old ones. This is what I made this week:

That, dear friends, is ginger pumpkin ginger bread. Pumpkin bread is more of a fall food, true, but I'm getting my practice in early.  For those who might be curious, you can find the recipe HERE. But I added icing needed something. Next time I plan on doubling the ginger and cinnamon to give it some extra kick.

I hope your week is full of all things delicious! Happy Monday! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

On Getting Shipwrecked: A Review of Castaway Dreams by Darlene Marshall

As promised, a review of a Castaway Dreams, by Darlene Marshall, a book that I read on a whim. Aren't whims fun?

The setting is the Atlantic ocean in 1817. Alexander Murray is a surgeon on a British Navy ship. When he meets fellow passenger Daphne Farnham, he quickly dismisses her as brainless and flighty. But when circumstances force him to be responsible for her, and when the two end up shipwrecked together, Alexander finds that there's more to Daphne than he ever suspected. Daphne trusts the dour doctor implicitly--until it becomes apparent to her that he is much younger and more virile than she initially thought. The attraction is mutual, and a love affair begins--but will it survive outside of their island paradise?

Positive Comments:

My goodness, this book is fun! Who doesn't occasionally think it would be nice to escape to an abandoned tropical island--especially with the right companion? Marshall does an excellent job at creating that grand adventure feel.

I liked Alexander. He's overly serious, but we are given enough background information on him to understand why. I like that he has a profession that he's fought hard for and cares about deeply. It's a nice relieve from the dukes and earls I often see in historical romance.

The banter between Alexander and Daphne is snappy and fun. It's an opposites attract kind of romance, and it works in so many ways. They have great chemistry, both sexually and in their ability to work together. I really love seeing a hero and heroine team up to achieve a goal--in this case, basic survival.

Critical Comments:

Daphne is easily my least favorite type of heroine--fairly shallow, naive, and at times just plain stupid. Unfortunately, she really is the perfect character to offset Alexander, so I can't entirely fault her. But there where some moments of "Oh my God, no one is this dumb!" accompanied by shaking of my Kindle to try to make the ignorance stop. The worst was when Alexander was trying to pretend she was his wife, for her own protection, and she couldn't figure out to play along. At that point, I was pretty sure she deserved to be eaten by cannibals.


Fans of action driven historical romance--this one is for you! The romance is hot, the writing is smart, and the plot is just plain fun. 4 stars.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (5)


Insurgent by Veronica Roth(Library)
Magic Street by Orson Scott Card (Library)

And for Zippy the Kindle, we got:

I bought Castaway Dreams, and I expect to have a review of it up by tomorrow!

Flicker was graciously given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review, which will appear at the end of this month! Isn't that a lovely cover?

So that's it for me. I'm still struggling to acquire fewer books in a week than I finish--but it's so hard! What did you add to your TBR this week?

On Castes: A Review of The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Selection
I was eager to read The Selection for a number of reasons. The first was the cover, which really rocked my socks, or would if I wore socks. The second was the premise, which I thought was a hilariously terribly premise, but I thought it might be really amusing (and I will address why momentarily). And the third was the fact that I saw it getting wildly mixed reviews. Love it, hate it, set it on fire, and everything in between. Of course I wanted to butt in with my own thoughts.

The Premise: In a dystopian future, what was once the United States is now part of a large kingdom, with a fairly strict caste system. You are numbered One through Eight, One being royalty and Eight being homeless. The Selection is a chance for any girl in the country to marry the young prince, Maxon, thus instantly being elevated and gaining wealth for her family. Thirty five candidates are chosen. America Singer (yes, her name is stupid), doesn't want to be a chosen. She's a Five who just wants to marry her Six boyfriend and live out her life poor but rich in love. But America is chosen, and with her life changing so drastically, she decides to make the best of it--by befriending Prince Maxon and her fellow Selected.

Positive Comments:

America may have a stupid name, but she's a good character--for the most part. I felt like I could relate to her, even when I disagreed with her world view and her decisions. She's naive and optimistic in her view of love. She wants the best for her family, but she isn't blindly selfless. She genuinely seems to like herself, and maintains her sense of individuality by not allowing The Selection to totally change the way she looks.

Maxon was interesting to me in that he was obviously so sheltered, but yet had a lot of weight on his shoulders. I liked his interactions with America, especially early in the book, when it's clear that he doesn't know anything about girls, friendship, life outside the palace, or how to fall in love. They form a friendship--and Friends First is my very favorite romance trope.

The dystopian setting was, predictably, what made this story work for me. Unlike many dystopian books, the hypothetical future presented here is not so outlandishly unrealistic as to keep me totally removed from the story (*cough cough, Divergent*). Yet not so realistic that it's nightmare inducing. I liked learning about the caste system and the social and economic issues inherent in that sort of system.

Critical Comments:

"It's Hunger Games meets The Bachelor"! I can't remember where I read that, but boy is it willfully misleading. Yes, this is a dystopian book with a competition plot, but the similarities end there. If this were a book were 35 girls had to fight to the death, and the winner got the be princess--yeah, that would be spectacular. But it's a lot tamer than that. This is not, by any means, an action filled book. It's actually very slow in parts, and readers who like adventure and suspense are bound to be disappointed. 

Look, Tippy has a crown!
The competition itself holds the book back in many ways, which is where I get to my above comment: The premise is stupid. I hate The Bachelor. If you love it, more power to you. But I hate it. Love doesn't work like that. And having multiple people competing for the love of one person will always, always, keep me from getting fully invested in the relationship. This is the same reason that love triangles don't work for me, nine times out of ten. Well, this is a love triacontakaihexagon. With a love triangle on the side. Not good.

I was surprisingly okay with the plot, however, while America remained uninvested in the competition.The second that she decided she might like to win, my enjoyment of the book started to wane dramatically. I stopped trusting her feelings for Maxon and her previous boyfriend, and I sincerely started to doubt her intelligence. It's a shame, because the first 3/4 of the book were 5 star quality.


If you like futuristic dystopian novels, and you don't mind them on the slow side, this is a good pick. Bonus points if The Bachelor ranks as one of your most beloved shows. If, however, you are looking for action, adventure, and epicness in your dystopian, look elsewhere. 3.5 stars.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Best Book of May/June Preview

Well folks, the merry month of May is over, so it's time to crown the Book of the Month!

It was another close call, but in the end I have to go with Dark Frost by Jennifer Estep! In a month filled with a lot of mediocre reads, this book stood out for being far more amusing than annoying. Also it has wolves. You should check it out!

The June line up is full of awesome, guys. Here we go:

The Selection by Kiera Cass:I finished this yesterday, and my review for it should be up today or tomorrow. Probably tomorrow. I gave it 3.5 stars.

Castaway Dreams by Darlene Marshall: I'm 28% into this book. I started it because I had insomnia. But it's really good so far!

Insurgent by Veronica Roth: I just started reading this yesterday, so I'm only like 10 pages into it. At 520 pages, who knows how long it will take me.

The Last Timemaker and the Stolen Sun by S.A. Damus

Stand-in Wife by Karina Bliss

Breaking The Devil's Heart: A Logic of Demons Novel by H.A. Goodman

Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss

The Orphan, the Soulcatcher, and the Black Blizzard by Kimberlee Ann Bastian

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Flicker by Kaye Thornbrugh

I'm insanely excited to have some contemporary romance back on the list, along with all of the paranormal and YA.

Now it's your turn: what do you plan on reading this June?

Follow Friday 6/1/12

FF 2012 Feature & Follow #99

Q: You are a matchmaker — your goal, hook up two characters from two of your favorite books. Who would it be? How do you think it would go?

 I'm handicapped here because I read so many romances where characters are already paired off! But I'm just going to pretend for a second that Mercy Thomson isn't married, and pair her with Atticus Sullivan of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. They both have a talent for getting in over their heads with big time bad guys, and I think their senses of humor would compliment each other well.

 P.S.--I haven't read Tricked yet, and if you spoil it for me in the comments I will fling penguins at you. I'm serious. 


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