Tuesday, July 31, 2012

There Was a Bat in My Apartment (aka Why I Can't Be Batgirl)

It's 2am. The lights are off, and I'm sleeping peacefully while Josh plays video games. I half woke up and saw the shadow of wings flapping above me. My sleepy brain thinks "Oh, a butterfly..."


We respond by screaming like little girls, then lunging for the apartment door in unison, seeking the comparative safety of the hallway. Josh is in his underwear and I'm missing my glasses. All I can see is the vague shape of a creature flapping about our living room.

We're hoping that the bat will fly into the hallway after us, so that we can duck back into the apartment and slam the door behind us. And hide until morning. But then it does come flapping into the hallway after us, and we panic and run farther from the apartment. Batty flies back into the living room.

At some point, it settles into hanging upside down from a plant hook. At this point, I get brave enough to sneak back into the living room to grab my glasses, a cell phone, and a computer.

You guys, I know that bats are next to harmless. Intellectually, I'm aware that it's a small, terrified animal that probably can't hurt me. This is approximately what it looked like--

Vespertilionidae : Myotis lucifugus - Little Brown Bat

--but my brain interpreted it as a serial killer with a chainsaw, riding a fire-breathing dragon. 

So anyway, Josh calls the property manager, and I decide to google "Bat in Apartment". Both gave variations of the same advice. Put on some gloves, catch it in a box, and take it outside. A plan that involved getting close to the bat.

It's less pants-pissingly terrifying when not in flight, so I sneak inside, open a window, and grab a garbage can and a stepping stool. But, it senses my approach and resumes its terrifying flight pattern. I retreat to the kitchen to regroup my nerves.

Watching from a distance, we can see that not just any bat flew into our apartment. No. We got the stupidest bat on the face of the planet. Countless times, it swoops toward the open window or door, only to return to our living room. Finally, by shear dumb luck, it dives out the window and our adventure is over.

It turns out Josh and I share a mutual fear of bats. Our complete and utter inability to handle this situation makes me afraid that, should we ever have children, they will be the kind of cowards that can't step on a spider for fear that it's friends will retaliate. I know I've always worried about that.

Anyway, we've concluded that Batman is probably a psychopath, because you would have to be to want to commune with these things.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Misc Monday: The Second-Chance Trope

Josh and I have been together for well over six years. A friend of his recently asked him how many times during those six years we broke up and got back together. He was shocked to hear the truth--that we've never  done that, not once. After a certain point, when it became clear that we had that special something that goes beyond puppy love, beyond attraction, and that this relationship was going to be serious, we agreed not to do the break up/make up thing. We wouldn't break up, or "take a break", unless we had exhausted all possibility of fixing our problems.

I've had friends who regularly threatened breaking up, and even followed through a few times. I watched one particular relationship go up in flames, only to be rekindled after a few days, no less than four times over the course of six months. I sense that for some people, the drama of the break up, and the grand gestures that lead to the make up, have a certain addictive quality. It's not necessarily good for the people involved in the long run, but it is addictive.

I guess this is why the second chance romance/relationship in trouble trope exists in the romance novel world. The drama and anger and passion play well in that context. There are two basic ways that these go.

1) One Or Both of Us Fucked Up. Bad.  So you cheated, or lit the house on fire, brought home an unlicensed pet dragon, or all three at the same time. Your sweetie says enough is enough, and ditches your sorry ass. Now, the way the "second-chance" half of this romance goes, is that the person who screwed up (usually the guy) has to apologize and make some grand gesture, and basically grovel to win the other person back. I've learned from talking to readers and surfing forums that a lot of women really dig the grovelling. I can understand that. Any woman who's ever been pissed off understands that.

2) Circumstances Kept Us Apart. In this case the dragon came out of freaking nowhere and took one of you away to his cave, or whatever. And you couldn't get away, because it's a freaking dragon, and you couldn't call, because caves don't have phones. And so fifteen or so years go by, and you finally sneak out while the dragon is napping, and find your sweetie. Now the two of you are faced with trying to rebuild an ancient relationship and overcome all sorts of dragon related PTSD.

I tend to buy into the latter variety of second chance romance a lot more. I can understand, and even relate to the idea of external forces keeping a couple separated. This is appealing to me, because at now time in the story do I have to question the feelings between these two people. They love each other, and as soon as they kill that damned dragon, they can be together forever. With the former scenario, I don't fully trust the happy ending because of this pessimistic part of my brain that tells me that if they broke up once, they'll probably do so again. Depending on the type and severity of the screw up, an apology doesn't necessarily fix things. Plus history is often doomed to repeat itself.

Overall, the relationship in trouble trope doesn't appeal to me, because it's usually missing the part of romance novels I enjoy the most--the meet cute. The first meeting and the process of getting to know each other and fall in love give me the warm and fuzzies. But that's just me.

So what do you guys think? Do you find second chance stories romantic, or totally unappealing? Am I a horribly unforgiving reader? Tell us about the second chance stories that you liked (or hated) in the comments.

PS--The aforementioned breakup/makeup friends finally broke up dramatically and somewhat violently, for good this time. She went on to a slightly more steady relationship (still heavy on the drama, but with fewer break ups).
PPS--I apologize for mentioning dragons so many times. I don't know why I'm fixated on them all of the sudden.

Retrieved from http://academiaadventure.blogspot.com/2011/08/baby-dragon.html

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On Girl Power: A Review of The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

The Stepsister Scheme (Princess, #1)I'm a big, big fan of fairy tale retellings and sequels and so forth. So when I stumbled upon this fantasy series by Jim C. Hines I knew it was for me.

The Stepsister Scheme tells the story of what happens AFTER the so called happy ending of Cinderella's (named Danielle in this one) story. Danielle is still struggling to adapt to her new life as a princess, when her beloved husband is kidnapped and taken to Fairytown. Knowing that her stepsisters are behind his disappearance, Danielle is determined to rescue him personally. She teams up with Snow White (a sorceress) and Talia, aka Sleeping Beauty, and embarks on a journey to take back her happily ever after.

Positive Comments

Easily the most appealing aspect of this book is the girl power factor. Snow has some heavy duty magic, Talia is a fighting and weapons expert, and Danielle is no shrinking violet either. I enjoyed seeing Danielle try to come into her own, and learn not to be a helpless victim.

Hines implements plenty of whimsy, so this actually feels like a fairy story. There's sword fighting and curses, but there's also little gnomes and horses with wings. It's light and adorable, without being childish. At the same time, the tone of the story remains suspenseful, and has some grim moments as well. This isn't an easy balance to achieve, but I felt Hines pulled it off well.

Critical Comments

This is what I would call a plot driven adventure novel. The one downside is that there's a certain lack of emotional connection. Even as Danielle was searching for the love of her life, the most powerful emotion I ever felt from her was determination. When emotional moments are attempted, they fall short, in my opinion.


If you like twisted fairy tales, or fantasy in general, I would definitely recommend this own. It's light, fun, and entertaining. 4 stars.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Follow Friday 7/26/12

FF 2012 Feature & Follow #107 

Q: Summer Reading. What was your favorite book that you were REQUIRED to read when you were in school?

I'm about to let my nerd show a little here...I really liked a lot of the mandatory reading in high school. We did two Shakespeares every year--loved that. I loved Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. And The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But my favorite was The Things They Carried by Tim O'brien. It was the first (maybe only) war themed book that really gripped me both emotionally and intellectually. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Serial Murders: A Review of Haunted by Kelley Armstron

Haunted (Women of the Otherworld, #5)
It's impossible for me to talk about this book without mentioning how I felt about the previous books in the series. Bitten is my all-time favorite werewolf book, and may rank in my top ten books of all time in general. I liked Stolen just fine. Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic, on the other hand, were both insanely slow for me. I was able to get through Dime Store Magic and see the good in the story, but I really struggled with Industrial Magic. The simplest explanation I can offer is this: Paige does not work as a narrator for me. She's a nice enough character, likeable enough, but does not possess enough edge or personality to keep me engaged. Eve, on the other hand...

Eve is the narrator of Haunted, and her story was so much more compelling to me, it's hard to describe. This is the point where I have to warn you that I may spoil a few minor points from books 1-4. Click to read at your own peril.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guest Review from EggJosh: Soulless

Alrighty, so this time around, I'm talking about the manga adaptation of Soulless by Gail Carriger. I'm not a huge manga guy, but it still appealed to me on some level. So, let's get to it, and break down what did and didn't work in this book.

The Art
Being in the style of a Japanese graphic novel, I shouldn't comment on how it looks visually. Personally, I liked it. Being that the intended audience is clearly female, the art style tends to lean towards some of the "pretty boy" manga I'm at least slightly familiar with. There are plenty of effeminately drawn male characters; not typically my thing, but it fits with the paranormal romance feel of the story. The characters all looked very nice, and I liked the simplistically drawn 1-page side story at the very end as well. I feel that I have to mention the sheer amount of man-ass in this book. Since there's werewolves involved, there's plenty of male nudity, with strategically placed items to cover up dangly parts. Its accidentally kind of humorous the lengths they go to in order to cover up naughty bits.

"Yes, Basil! Nice rack!"

The Characters
The main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is a preternatural, meaning she has the unique ability of nullifying supernatural powers. She's a decent protagonist. Nothing really stands out about her. She's considered a "spinster" for being slightly too old to be single by Victorian standards, and has to try to keep up appearances while being wooed by the far more interesting Lord Conall Maccon, a werewolf who heads up a paranormal task force. Maccon and his sidekick have all the best lines, and his efforts to get Alexia are the best part of the story, compared to the murder and kidnapping plot.

The StoryAs I mentioned, the plot revolves around the appearance and murder of a rogue vampire. The story is nothing special, but the complications that arise from Alexia's efforts to "act normal" while still being a super useful, bad-ass vampire-killer are quite entertaining. There's also a humorous running gag about a hedgehog. The best part of the story is the interactions between the characters. Yes, there is plenty of action, but Maccon trying to court Alexia, as he would a female werewolf is great.

Final VerdictObviously I'm not the intended audience for this book, being a heterosexual, male non-manga-fan, but it didn't bore me. I read it in one sitting, and didn't regret doing so. If you can get it from the library, or borrow it from a friend, I say go for it. 3 stars

Monday, July 23, 2012

Misc. Monday: Goosebumps

The things you read as a child have a way of sticking with you forever. The original Goosebumps series was the first set of books that I ever read entirely on my own outside of school. My older brother had a decent sized collection that he passed to me, and I promptly whined to my parents until I filled in the gaps. All told, I ended up reading the first 45 books in the series over the course of a year or so (1st-2nd grade). Of course I later reread my favorite ones. So for today's Misc. Monday, I thought I'd go through a few of them and see what memories I could kick to life.

#1, Welcome to Dead House, sparks zero literary memories (I must not have liked it), but I do have memories of watching the TV episode. Oh, that's right, there was a TV series--a cheesetastic TV series with bad effects and bad acting. I was, I don't know, seven when I saw this and it still sticks in my brain as a quintessentially bad haunted house story.

#2, Stay Out of the Basement, is about a freaking plant monster. Plants are not scary, even to a seven year old, and even back then I remember thinking this one was funny. The protagonists, Margaret and Casey, go down as the stupidest children in the world for not immediately making the connection between their missing BOTONIST father and the plant monster.

#3, Monster Blood, OH GOD, I loved this little book. It's about a boy who buys some flubber that grows and grows and starts consuming things. I'm not sure why this excited my seven-year-old brain, but it did. I remember using my allowance to buy green Gak so I could rein-act the story.

#5, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, was another one of my favorites. I remember fixating on it because it's about a boy who ends up wandering through an Egyptian tomb on his own. I also became fascinated with the intensely gross facts of how mummies were made.

#7, Night of the Living Dummy...Umm, Dummies are freaking scary, I don't care how old you are. This is the only one that I remember kind of scared me a little.

#14, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp--Again, I don't so much remember the book as the TV show. I remember that it made me suddenly aware that werewolves were cool and scary. I asked my brother about them, and like all good big brothers, he proceeded to try to terrify me by introducing me to "real" werewolf movies.

#19, Deep Trouble--I remember really liking that there was a mermaid in this. The details are fuzzy now, but I know this was a favorite because of the deep sea theme.

#21, Go Eat Worms--I remember this one because I found it gross. It didn't scare me, it just...creeped me. Worms show up in this kids food and...yeah, EWW. Years later, in college, there was a lab involving mealworms which were being held in pie plates. I had a flashback to THIS BOOK and mentally flipped out a little.

#24, The Phantom of the Auditorium--This was my introduction the The Phantom of the Opera. I read this, and then I watched the Wishbone episode about The Phantom of the Opera, and I was promptly obsessed. Of course, I didn't actually get to see a production of any kind until years later, but I owe the idea of seeing it to Goosebumps.

#34, Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes--This is the last one I can actually clearly remember reading. Gnomes are funny to me. My grandparents always had them, and I think it amused me to think of them as evil instead of adorable.

So that's my little trip down nostalgia lane for the week. Does anyone else remember these books? Do you remember finding them funny, cool, or scary?

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

RP and EggJosh Vlog Review: Batman, Dark Knight Rises

We enjoyed our movie experience and we went home and made this vlog and went to sleep. When I came to this morning and decided to see who else had reviewed the movie, I was shocked when my search results turned up news of a massacre instead. I am so deeply saddened by that. My whole heart goes out to the victims and to their families. No happy night should ever be interrupted by senseless horror like that. I'm reminded today that there is real evil in the world. I am also reminded to appreciate my loved ones, my life, and these precious nights of happiness--because you never know when it could all be taken from you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Selkies: A Review of Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler

Tempest Rising (Jane True, #1)Alright people, you're about to get the very definition of a "mixed review". This book was ADORABLE, but boring. It had these great fantasy elements, but it was boring. It had an awesome, likeable heroine that I could relate to...but it was boring. See where I'm going with this?

Tempest Rising is book one in the ongoing Jane True series, which centers around a half-human, half-selkie (named Jane, of course). This book is mostly about her finding out what she really is, and discovering the world of the supernatural. This world includes gnomes and vampires and all manner of shape-shifters (awesome, right?) Jane also has a tragic past to come to terms with, and a more recent local murder mystery to solve. Enter Ryu, the sexy investigator with fangs, who enjoys being Jane's tour guide through the supernatural world (and getting into her pants).

Positive Comments

I liked Jane. She's sort of your average twenty-something, except for this one unusual ability (swimming in a near-frozen water). She's loved and lost, and gone through periods of depression, and been institutionalized, and survived everything. She's defenseless in this book, but her strength of will makes me think that she won't be for long. 

Loved the world building. I get so excited when I find books where demon dogs mingle with gnomes and kelpies.

I liked Ryu, and many of the other characters introduced...but God, I smell a love triangle coming, and I'm worried about that. While I felt that Jane was sexually attracted to Ryu, and that she enjoyed his attention in general, I didn't get that true love vibe from them. And that's fine. But yeah, if it turns into a love triangle I might have to kick a seal. (Commenters who have read further into the series should also know that I throw sharp objects at those who spoil things for me. You've been warned.)

Critical Comments

It's boring. Yeah, I know, I was surprised too. How jaded am I that I can be bored by a book that has selkies, sex, and murder? But seriously, just trust me on this, the plot drags after a certain point. The pacing sucks big time. There isn't much to the murder investigation, and we aren't even introduced to the murderer until 3/4 of the book is over. There's a lot of Jane and Ryu having sex, Jane trying on fancy clothing, Jane thinking about things, Jane's libido talking to her...

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of talking libidos or talking hormones. Am I alone here? Do other women have horny feelings that manifest in the form of voices in their head telling them to hump things? This is a minor pet peeve, but it's one of those little details that just gets under my skin. There are other ways to let your reader know that the character is feeling...amorous.


I was so charmed by so many things about this book, that it's hard not to recommend it, even though I found a good chunk of it hard to get through. I'm tempted to say that this book just has "first book" woes, and now that the world is all set up, the next books will be better. But I don't know yet. So what I will say, is that I liked it enough to order book 2, and we'll see how it goes from there. I offer a cautious positive recommendation to the patient urban fantasy reader. 3 stars. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Misc Monday: Year-long Goal Progress Report

Setting goals for myself, as a reader and a blogger, helps me to keep track of how well I'm doing compared to how well I expected to do. The year is now more than half over, so I thought I'd take this time to let you guys know how Reading to Penguins is doing (statistically).

Reading Challenge

This is the first year that I've ever really tried to track how much I read. I vaguely thought that I usually get through two books a week, but I had no data to support that. So, at the end of 2011 I added up all of the books I had reviewed in 2011, and concluded that I read 97 books (give or take a handful). That gave me a jumping off point for setting a 2012 reading goal. First, of course I wanted to beat 97. I wanted to blow that record out of the water. I didn't just want to do 100 (to easy), but 120 seemed too hard. I settled, somewhat arbitrarily, on 112 books. How am I doing on that?

I have read 69 books this year so far! That puts me 9 books ahead of schedule, so I no longer need to maintain a break-neck pace in order to finish. I should mention that my natural reading pace is turtle-slow, so this really is an accomplishment for me.


Yes, I know this might be vain of me, but I do set pageview goals. This is the only way I have to gauge that people are finding and reading my blog, other than comments, and it's unrealistic to expect every reader to comment. My focus right now is simply to double the number of pageviews from that I got this same time last year. Since I was new to blogging, my count were low but steadily climbing. Outdoing them is easy, because I have a good number of (awesome) followers now. Doubling them is a little harder, but so far so good.

I am coming up on 30,000 total views SOON, and I'm pretty excited about that!


January: I'm totally going to post daily!

March: Okay, 6 days a week. I'm going to post at least 6 days a week.

June: Screw this, I can't even open my laptop six days a week. I'll post when I post.

All I can say is...good thing for Misc. Monday and for the few memes I participate in, because I feel like they keep the blog alive during extended gaps between reviews. I want to become more consistent with review schedules, but I just haven't worked out a good system yet. The post as I go system leaves too many weeks full of reviews while others have no reviews.


Originally, my goal was to visit and comment on anytime someone left me a comment. Reality #1 I don't always have time. Reality #2 Sometimes I visit and there's nothing to read or comment on. Like, the person reviewed book 12 of a series I don't care about, or they haven't updated since my last visit, or their blog is ALL memes. But I'm still trying, I really am. Commenting is the last thing on my blogger priority list, but that doesn't mean it's okay to ignore it.

Did you set any reading or blogging goals this year? How is it working out for you?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (6)

Stacking the Shelves is brought to us by Tynga's Reviews!

After a brief absence from StS, here are some of the books I've acquired!


Easy Cooking With 5 Ingredients(Bridal Shower Gift)

Just Mini Desserts (Bridal Shower Gift)

Betty Crocker's Cooky Book(Gift from Mom!): This one is particularly special to me, because it is the book that brought me all of my favorite cookies when I was little. My mother had (has) a copy that was so well loved, it's cover fell off and its pages are all browned around the edges. Now I have my own.


Heat Stroke (Weather Warden, Book 2) by Rachel Caine (Bought New)

Operation Shrink My TBR is going well. I haven't yet caved, but then I haven't been to the used bookstore in awhile--usually it all falls apart there. What did you add to your shelves this week?

A Review of No Good Deed by Bill Blais

No Good Deed (Kelly & Umber, #1)No Good Deed is an urban fantasy that puts a different twist on the idea of the unlikely heroine.

Kelly is a mother to twin eight-year-olds, and the wife of a man with M.S. She was just let go from her job when she unwittingly takes down a demon in a back alley. As a result, a secret organization offers her a job opportunity hunting demons full time. The job includes money and benefits that Kelly's family desperately needs, but is she right for the job?

Positive Comments

I really love this concept. Heroines who already have husbands and children, who we might typically think of as "settled down", make the most deliciously unlikely of action heroes. You really want to see Kelly become awesome, because she represents the Average Jane in all of us.

I liked the mythology behind the demons, and the fact that it wasn't presented as "All of these monsters are real, let's go kill them." It's a little more complicated than that, because even the organization that Kelly joins isn't sure what is real and what is purely myth.

Critical Comments

Kelly, Kelly...Kelly. A few things bothered me about her. Primarily, her wishy/washy attitude toward her new "job" drove me bonkers. First, she's understandably uncertain as to whether she should accept the position. I was fine with that. But then, having committed to it, I expected her to go into hard core training mode, and really give a shit about getting herself ready to battle demons. Instead she's kind of whiny about having to diet and exercise, and even just reading information on the monsters she'll be killing. This is life and death, Kelly! Take it seriously! I would think that knowing that monsters are real would outweigh the temptation  to eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream, but maybe I'm wrong.

I was also a bit bugged by Kelly's husband, Shawn, and how perfectly understanding he is of her. When she tells him, in vague terms, that she was offered this job that pays well and has instant benefits, but she doesn't know if she wants it...he's just way too quick to tell her it's okay if she stays unemployed for awhile. Really? Any real husband would be hard pressed not to say "Take the job, right now, for the love of GOD!" And he's not suspicious about why she's uncertain about it. She keeps saying "Oh, I don't know if it's for me..." And I was waiting for him to conclude that she'd gotten mixed up in a drug cartel or prostitution, because she was acting so freaking jumpy. Again, no real husband is going to be that disinterested.


Are there better UFs out there? Absolutely. But this one had some really good moments, and it kept me engaged and curious. I won't necessarily be reading the next one in the series, but I'm not totally put from it either. 3 stars.

Friday, July 13, 2012

On Godstones: A Review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns is another one of those books that just kept getting recommended to me, and I kept putting off reading it because there are too many YAs in my pile already. I finally picked it up on a whim, and now I can say: Yes, you were all right, it's not half bad at all.

Elisa is the less attractive younger princess, the underdog princess if you will, who's one shining trait is that she was gifted with the Godstone--an extremely rare mystical gift. This means that she has some big an important task to complete, though she has no idea what, and she definitely doesn't feel up to the challenge. Elisa is married off to a foreign king in secret, and shuffled off to his kingdom where supposedly she'll be safer. Instead, she is swept up in a war, made an unlikely leader, and has her faith and her abilities tested again and again.

Positive Comments

The characterization of Elisa struck more than one cord with me. He lack of self confidence and general awkwardness could have made her pathetic, but instead they make her easier to like. She's also a stress eater...not just fat, not just unfortunately pudgy by genetic design, but a character who deals with stress by stuffing herself sick. Who among us doesn't know someone with that particular problem? Yet it rarely gets written about with such honesty, unless the book is specifically about eating disorders. So bravo, Rae Carson, for giving your fantasy heroine real life flaws.

I liked the plot and all of the fantasy elements it incorporated. The magic that's used is kept simple, which is nice because it means the author didn't have to info-dump in order to keep us informed. The reality of the Godstone creates an honest purpose for our heroine, as well as a dilemma as she struggles to identify what God wants from her.

I thought that the faith element of the book was very interesting. Interesting, for example, that a heroine with clear, indisputable proof of God's existence could still go through a crisis of faith. As a whole, the book handles the question of religion simplistically, but hints at a larger scope that I would like to see more of.

Critical Comments

I was a little disappointed by how Elisa's "marriage" was handled, and the characterization of the Alejandro overall. I say "marriage" in quotes because it is absolutely just a plot device that amounts to no human connection whatsoever. They never consummate their union (I guess that doesn't matter in this culture?), they never have more than a handful of interactions, and it's all pretty meaningless. It felt like the author just really wanted her heroine to be the queen, but also to remain a virgin and available for any romantic connections she may have planned for future books. It came across to me as contrived. Furthermore, it was disappointing because I really wanted to understand Alejandro's character better, but he sort of ends up as a secondary character at best.


This is a good young adult novel for those who prefer "classic" style fantasy. The heroine is highly sympathetic, the plot is engrossing, and the end will leave you wanting more. 4 stars.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Follow Friday 7/12/12

Q: What drove you to start book blogging in the first place?

 I read a lot, and I started to really feel like I was the only one. None of my friends really read much, and while they might occasionally politely listen to me describe the latest book I'd read, it became increasingly obvious to me that they don't care. Much. So I got into book blogging as an outlet for talking about this hobby that is such a huge part of my life. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Things I Read For Love: Captain America: Winter Soldier

Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate CollectionHave I mentioned that I SUCK at reading graphic novels. It takes me hours and hours to get through books that your average reader can kill in one sitting. I'm a slow reader anyway, but graphic novels just kill me. All the pretty pictures activate some kind of latent ADD in my brain and I just space the heck out looking at them and I lose track of dialogue...So anyway, knowing how painful it is for me to read these things, you should never take a graphic novel recommendation from me lightly. I spent a lot of time with this book, and if I can still honestly type the words "I liked it," that means it's a good book.

Captain America: Winter Soldier is essentially the story of a prisoner of war. It's about how Cap's partner/sidekick, Bucky, was thought dead but was really captured by the enemy. The KGB finds him frozen, revives him, and decides to use him as a weapon against America and it's allies. They continually brainwash him and keep him on ice between missions so that he doesn't remember his previous life and loyalties...Except little things keep creeping back in, and he does start to question his orders. Then, Cap discovers the truth--that his old friend might be alive in some capacity--and he wants to save him.

Positive Comments

Captain America happens to be one of the super heroes that I really, really like, for a number of reasons. He represents, in my mind, that ridiculous overblown surge of patriotism that existed once upon a time (now seen only in brief glimpses), and to me there's a certain romance in that. I liked the movie, for example, because it had this hilariously uncomplex plot where Cap represents all that is good and American, and he fights the clearly evil Nazis and he wins. This book asks the question of how that exact character would fair in the modern world, having faced multitudes of personal tragedies. Suddenly the politics are more complex and things are less black and white. I liked the switch up.

This book really made me care about Bucky, if only for Cap's sake. It does a good job of convincing you that these two men were great friends, and that the loss of that friendship was devastating. With that in place, when Cap starts to realize that Bucky could be alive, but may have done some horrible things, you feel his conflicted emotions and his desire to fix everything.

Negative Comments

The art is kind of a mixed bag. There are times when the characters look too old and too rough. But I'm not expert in art, so take that with a grain of salt.

I really wanted more from the ending. I understand that this is part of a series, and not the complete story, but I was taken aback by the abrupt cut off.

The villain. God, I really can't seem to get behind comic book villains. Lukin comes across as a one dimensional guy who is already pretty evil, and then he gets kind of brainwashed into acting even less rational..yep, seen that before. And possessions and split personalities and all that crap. Bleh, boring, whatever.


So, yes, I would recommend this book. Even if you aren't too familiar with Captain America, there is enough of an intro to give context to the story, and the plot is interesting by itself. I found the entire story very engaging. 4 stars.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Misc. Monday: Super Heroes v.s. Less-Than-Super Heroes

As Josh and make our way through the Batman and Superman animated series, I'm struck by how much more I like Batman in general. It's tempting for me to say this is because Batman is so much darker and edgier, while Superman often has a campy tone. That reason is valid, but in truth my fondness for Batman has more to do with his humanity.

Batman has no super powers. He's basically an ordinary guy who trains really hard in mixed martial arts and bad assery. Sure, he's really rich and can afford all of the best gadgets, so not exactly your average Joe. But overall, his lack of supernatural/superhuman advantage keeps him more sympathetic, more likeable, and easier to relate to.

Extending this principle into my wider fictional preferences, I notice an interesting trend. I do tend, overall, to like underdogs and less-than-super heroes more than those with a ridiculous multitude of superpowers. Some of my very favorite leading men--Jamie Fraiser, of Outlander, Nora Robert's Quinn Brothers, Sam and Dean of Supernatural--are entirely human, and have to deal with whatever crazy crap is happening via wit and brute strength. I'm also deeply fond of characters with very limited powers--enough to keep them alive, not enough to make them Superman. Curran, of Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniel's books, has powers and is very strong, but in the context of that world his powers are exceptional. It's more his personality and leadership skills that make him the alpha. I enjoy the struggle, the adversity that they have to overcome to save the day, or the girl, or the orphan, or the basket of puppies that are in sudden peril.

For writers of PNR and urban fantasy, it must be tempting to gift your protagonist with whatever unreasonably fantastic super powers you can think of at the time. But if you do that, you run the risk of making him a godlike figure that no one can feel connected to. Superman is less interesting to me because he exists in a world of mere mortals, where any remotely challenging villain has to be a robot or an alien. So the general rule, for me, is this: the more powerful the hero, the more deeply twisted the world building needs to be. It's fine to have a super strong lion shapeshifter, if the world around him features magic and gods and vampires that eat people. Plop Curran in our world, and he'd still be sexy, but I wouldn't be worried or interested in what happens to him. Adversity is a vital story element.

Now I pass the ball to you guys: think of your favorite fictional heroes. How powerful are they, and how do their powers fit into the world around them? Do you find that you like the ubber-strong god types, or do you prefer them more human?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Follow Friday 7/5/12

FF 2012 Feature & Follow #104

Q: Jumping Genres: Ever pick up a book from a genre you usually don’t like and LOVE it? Tell us about it and why you picked it up in the first place.

 I don't know if this really counts, but I used to never, ever read young adult. Ever. I didn't read it when I was a teen. I picked up Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series because at the time, I really loved her adult series. It's safe to say it worked out well, because these days I read YA pretty regularly.

On Grim Reapers: A Review of First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)This book came to me with nothing but great reviews. And not just great reviews from readers, but also from writers like J.R. Ward and Kresley Cole. People genuinely love this book. Now, having finally read it, can I just say...meh?

Whatever magic everyone else feels for this book honestly eludes me, and it's hard to say how much of my reaction is due to a genuine lack of quality, and how much is due to a let down from all the build up of my expectations going into this. Because believe me, a recommendation from the great authors of paranormal romance will always stack my expectations sky high--and maybe that's a bad thing.

The story is about Charley Davidson, aka the Grim Reaper. She can see the dead and they can pass through her to the other side. In the meantime she can help them tie up loose ends and settle their affairs and what have you. Unsurprisingly, she is also a private investigator (although, to me, she seems really bad at it). So, in this book there is a big mystery surrounding three dead lawyers, a falsely accused murderer, and another unconnected falsely accused murderer who has been having dream sex with Charley and stalking her for years. No, I'm not kidding.

Positive Comments

So much potential. Seriously, so much freaking potential. You have a quirky heroine. You have a sexy, mysterious hero. Funny ghosts. The potential for heart felt stories about death and moving on. The potential for wackiness. The potential for heart stopping, unique romance.

I really liked where the book was going with Reyes. I wanted it to be just about him. Honestly, that would have put this book easily in the 4 to 5 star range for me...

Critical Comments

...but Reyes isn't really a character. Well, he is, but he isn't. He's a being. He's a mystery. Which is fine, up and to a point, but won't work for an entire book if what you intend to do is write a romance. We see Reyes and a sex symbol, a problem to be solved, a puzzle piece, but we don't get to connect with him as a person. You can't call what he has with Charley a relationship, because it's formed in this vague smoke-and-mirrors telling that leaves me feeling distanced from it. To me they seem like potential lovers, but not necessarily anything more.

This book does a lot of telling instead of showing. Charley's backstory, for example, get's told via her explaining her past to others. This was so frustrating to me. She talks about these huge events, but she's flippant about them. We don't actually get to feel her emotions in those moments that supposedly shaped her into who she is today.

I didn't feel a connection to Charley, mostly because of the above mentioned problem of too much telling, but also because the narration was trying way to freaking hard to be witty and fun. The events are described as though from a third party commentator with a penchant for sarcasm, rather than from the point of view of someone who this is actually happening to. 

We are told that Charley is smart and good at her job, but I don't see either of those things as actually being true. Mostly she relies on others to help her figure stuff out (a really fantastic PI indeed). She gets her ass kicked more often than not, and we are told repeatedly that she's always having to be rescued. And as for her role as counselor to the dead, she seems kind of whiny about it. She'll help the ghosts with their problems, but only because she's the only one who can, and her attitude about the whole thing is jaded and put-upon. All of these people literally passing through her life, and she can't muster up one emotion that strikes me as genuine (except lust for Reyes).

The plot has ADD. It is seriously all over the place. It wanted to be a mystery...but we also have to fit this romance in...wait, we have to cram some backstory in now....what about these ghosts, maybe we should give them a few subplots...and back to the mystery! I felt distanced from the story because it lacked cohesion.


I just don't know, you guys. I feel like I read a different book from everyone else, because based on the reviews I've seen and the overall ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, this book is much loved. I don't get it. 2.5 stars.

Find your copy here: First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, Book 1)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

RP Goes to the Movies: The Amazing Spider Man

I want to explain to you guys where my head was at as I sat through this movie.

There was pretty much no food in our fridge on Monday. All day long, all I ate was a small peach and a cheese sandwich. You guys, I don't do hunger. I seriously become ill, which is bad because then I can't eat. Anyway, by 6pm when my dinner break at work rolled around, I was prepared to eat the fastest available thing, which happened to be a prepared deli sandwich. I bet you can imagine where this is going.

I was fine through the rest of work, at after when we got in line for the midnight showing of The Amazing Spider-man. I was happily drinking my soda (caffeine is non-optional at these things) and munching popcorn. I was tired (a whole day of moving followed by 8 hours of work), but functional. About halfway into the movie, I started to feel nauseous on and off.

Peter Parker was being an angsty orphan teen and I was holding my aching head and cursing God.

The lizard guy was being all lizardy and I was biting my tongue to keep from yawning.

Peter was flirting clumsily with Gwen Stacie and I  started to feel like my sandwich had betrayed me.

They shared a kiss and I was pretty sure that I was going to throw up.

The one thing that you shouldn't do, if you are planning on having a mild case of food poisoning, is try to sit through an action moving with stunts that involve swinging from roof tops. And you definitely shouldn't do so in a room full of unwashed folks of dubious character, because two seats down from me there was a guy who clearly had not bathed today, and maybe took a nice long jog outside in the 90 degree weather before coming to the movies. I think he was in league with the sandwich.

I want to say this very clearly: The movie was actually pretty good. What I was able to focus on, I found appealing. And I never lost track of the story, despite being ill, which tells me that the plot flowed fairly well.

Here's What I Liked About It:

  • There's a shameful part of me that sort of enjoys teen angst (that's why I read YA), and this movie has that. The actor who plays Peter Parker pulled his character off very well. He's twitchy and awkward, but clearly smart. He has these amazing powers, but it takes time to learn to use them. He has cocky and humorous moments. He likes Gwen, but fluctuates between trying way too hard and stuttering. The contemporary YA fan in me eats that up like days old turkey on mildly stale wheat bread.
  • It's a darker, more emotionally gripping telling of the Spider-man story than the previous movies. 
  • I liked the effects (up until they made me all woozy). I like that they put the viewer in Spider-man's POV as he figures out how to swing and jump about. 
  • I found the romance passably believable. Disposable, unnecessary, but believable.
Here's What I Did Not Like:

  • The editing was a little choppy. This is one of those movies where the subplots had subplots, and in several instances it felt like the pieces were pasted together in the wrong order. Slightly.
  • The villain was dis-interesting to me. His motivation is wanting to grow back a missing limb, so he injects himself with essence of lizard and...it makes him crazy. So predictable, and so unimaginative. But hey, it's a comic book movie.
  • OMG the pseudo-science. I wish these movies would not try so hard to make the science believable. You can't. You have a giant lizard man in a lab coat. It's ridiculous. Just accept it, and don't stop to try to explain lizard biology to me.
  • I did not like that on our way home, Josh had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a bunny, causing me to finally throw up the minute I got out of the car. I hope your happy, you stupid rabbit.
  • I do not like turkey anymore.
So, in conclusion, it's a good movie that I would recommend to fans of comic book type movies. And fans of teen angst. I liked The Avengers slightly more, but that may be the turkey experience skewing my views. I definitely thought this was better than Spider-man 3. Overall, I'm glad they did a reboot. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blog Tour Review: The Color of Snow by Brenda Stanley

The Color of SnowThis is one of those times when I find myself really, really liking a book for reasons I can't entirely explain. One thing I can tell you for sure is that this is a young adult novel that takes it's audience seriously.

All of her life, Sophie has lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with her father. The story opens with the police coming into the house to arrest her father for shooting a young man, and discovering that Sophie is a long lost victim of a much publicized missing child case. From that point on, the story is divided between the story of Sophie and that of her parents, and we slowly learn the details of her life and the curse hanging over her head.

Positive Comments

With a relatively simple story structure, this book examines a multitude of complex issues. It does so subtly, with thought and respect. We are shown the story from different perspectives, with each character perceiving things differently. On one hand, Sophie's father seems abusive and insane. On the other hand, he's the hero of his own tragic love story. To one character, religion and curses are superstition, while to others they are absolute reality. Even as a reader, you find yourself questioning what is right and true, gaining clarity only as Sophie herself does.

I liked that there was no real villain. We are made to understand Sophie's father, to a point where his disturbing behavior is rendered almost logical.

The characters are written with a brutal honesty that makes them real. Oddly, Sophie is the character that I felt the least connected to, and yet even she struck me as life like. I could understand how her life so far would render her so uncertain of herself, and at times unable to cope in the larger world. It's rewarding to see her find her place.

Critical Comments

The pace is a bit slow. You'll connect the plot dots for yourself early on, but have to wait for the book to explain it all to you anyway. Personally, I found this to be a minor flaw, because I really enjoyed the deeper examination of how the story unfolded.


This is a dramatic contemporary young adult novel that would easily appeal to an adult audience as well. It's light on the romance, and at times actually a bit depressing. But if you want a serious book, and a very smart book, this one is a keeper. 4.5 stars. 

To purchase a copy, click here: The Color of Snow

Monday, July 2, 2012

Misc. Monday: Some Changes in the RtP World

That's right folks, it's finally happening: I'm moving! Josh and I are so excited to finally (after just six short years!) be moving into our very own apartment. I feel like this signals the next level of adulthood for us. No more living with our parents, or with college roommates. We finally get to share our day to day lives and annoy one another from a much shorter distance. Hoo-ray!

But what does this mean for you guys?

Unfortunately it may initially mean less frequent posts, while I try to organize and pack and move and unpack. And paint the kitchen and assemble the furniture and wait for the internet guy to come hook us up. Oh, and plan my wedding. I tried to prepare for this and have some posts set to go up in advance, so you shouldn't be greeted with total deafening silence here, but I may not be around. Just talk amongst yourselves. Possible topics of conversation may include:

The evolutionary history of flightless birds.

Who is the most attractive Hemsworth brother, and why.

Milkshakes vs. Smoothies--What is the difference, and which is better?

Why men squeeze from the middle of the toothpaste tube, even though this is obviously less efficient than squeezing from the bottom.

...When I am able to return to full scale blogging, I'm hoping to implement some small changes. I do, of course, welcome your opinions on these matters.

1) I would really like to build a Reading Penguin Recommends page. It would definitely include all of the Book of the Month winners so far, as well as other outstanding novels. I have to decide how to organize it, however, so that it will be as user friendly as possible.

2) Josh and I would like to start doing movie reviews together via video. We intended to start that project long ago, but forced separation has stalled it. I think the vlog format is more appropriate for movies, but it also takes a little more effort. Ideally, look forward to seeing that happen two or three times a month.

3) More guest reviews! I will, of course, be reviewing more of Josh's graphic novels (starting with Captain America, very soon). Once the dust settles, he will be reading American Gods. After that, I think I'll leave it up to you guys--what should we make the guy who never reads novels read? Your recommendations are welcome.

4) Conduct a survey for followers. Yeah, I meant to do this after my 1 year blogiversary, and obviously it didn't happen. I do want to get all of your opinions about how this blog can improve, but I don't want to conduct the survey until I actually have the time to implement any changes. So, keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, like I said, talk amongst yourselves. I really appreciate all of your visits and comments, and I so look forward to returning the favor!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Best Book of June/July Preview

Retrieved from: http://blisscarmannews.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/weird-wacky-8-the-firework/
There's no point lying to you guys--June was a rough month for Reading to Penguins. My personal life exploded with a series of things that NEED TO GET DONE, RIGHT NOW, OR OMG, THE WORLD MIGHT END. So books took forever to be read, there were a good number of DNFs, I haven't been visiting other blogs or commenting as often as usual, and I haven't participated in any hops or followed anyone new in weeks. But July is going to be better, right? Well...

Because I'm moving next week, and because our internet may take some time to get set up, and because my wedding is in August (AHHH!), I honestly don't know if I'll be able to do better. But I'll try. So keep visiting, keep commenting, keep being the awesome followers that you are, and just know that if I don't respond right away it's probably because I'm lost in a maze of boxes. I will reply and visit you back...eventually.

Okay, so we do have to crown the book of the month. The winner is--
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