Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Quickie Review of Saga, Volume 2, by Brian K. Vauhan

Saga, Volume 2It's probably obvious by now that I'm not as comfortable reviewing graphic novels as I am with standard novels. It's more or less an entirely different medium, and my ability to criticize it is just not very well developed. I can't, for example, effectively comment on are style or layout because my experience is simply inadequate. However, my mission on this blog is to share good stories when I find them and warn against the bad ones. This is a good story.

Saga was a weird little reading detour for me. I'm not sure why I picked it up, considering the fact that the only graphic novel series I've bothered to invest time and money in (Fables and Sandman), were ones I chose because they have legitimacy and history and dozens of great reviews to recommend them. Saga, on the other hand, is fairly new. This volume only marks issues 7-12, but every single issue is a larger than life demonstration of the upper limits of what graphic novels can do when it comes to the weird and the wonderful.

Story-wise, we are still following newborn Hazel and her family, and this volume introduces us to her paternal grandparents. What has impressed me most about the series so far is the layer of sincere emotion laying right alongside the bizarre-creepy-gross. Alana and Marco fell in love, not entirely by accident--you kind of get the sense that they really wanted to. Irrational and impulsive though they might be, they really just want to hold their family together. When that means being honest with Marco's parents, and when they seem to react badly, Marco and Alana are prepared to stand their ground.

The dialogue is the best thing about this book. It's funny without being too silly. Whenever you're in danger of taking this book too seriously, the characters are there, hanging out right on the edge of ridiculous. I particularly enjoyed meeting the author of the trashy novel that changed Alana's life. He offers this sneaky little commentary on author intention vs. reader interpretation, while never tipping us off as to what his real leanings are. This, in the same book that has robot alien sex and monster penises. It's a raunchy book, but the sex and unapologetic nudity pretty much work in context. It's not a book for children, but again, the weirdness is part of the charm.

 In any case, I fully recommend that this is not a book for everyone. It is explicit and it is violent and it is easily the strangest thing I've read this year. At the same time, if that warning doesn't put you off, I encourage you to at least give the first twelve issues of Saga a try. It's worth experiencing. 4.5 stars

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review of Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander

Moonshifted (Edie Spence, #2)It's no secret that I heartily enjoy urban fantasy, particularly the kind with kick-ass female leads and large scale monster hunts. The Edie Spence series is more of the same, except that the heroine is not particularly kick-ass at all. Edie is a nurse working third shifts at a hospital ward secretly dedicated to creatures of the night--shapeshifter, vampires, and vampire's servants. Moonshifted is the second book in the Edie Spence series.

After the events of the first book, I thought it was interesting to see that Edie is becoming even more settled into her role at the hospital, and in fact might even enjoy knowing the secrets of the supernatural world. This, despite the fact that her zombie boyfriend left her, she witnessed a brutal hit-and-run on a werewolf, and she's been asked to appear at her vampire friend's induction ceremony.

What made this book (and the first one) work for me is Edie. She's incredibly well written, and she just feels real to me. She's relatable because she's both an underdog and a bit of a screw-up, yet she's not stupid. Throughout the book, she's genuinely trying to make the best moves and work out who she can trust, but she makes mistakes and the odds are against her. In addition to the supernatural conflicts--the fight between werewolf leaders and the vampire politics, we also get a painfully realistic look at her personal life. Edie's brother is the motivating factor for her working in the supernatural ward in the first place--the powers that be keep her brother off of drugs as long as she works for them. She really and honestly loves her brother, she wants to help him, but she's also faced with the constant realization that her help can only go so far, and she can never afford to trust him completely. Plus Edie is broke, PB&J for dinner every night broke. The girl can't catch a break. My point is, there's something cathartic about seeing Edie's messed up life and her bad decisions with regard to men and her endless fight for survival as a human in a tooth and claw world. She survives on pure determination, and it's awesome.

While I obviously can't say enough about how much I like Edie, the plot of this book in itself was nothing too special. The power struggles of alphas, like we see with the werewolves, is on the point of being old hat in the urban fantasy world. Same with the vampire politics. To her credit, the author does a good job of making us question who Edie can really trust and what the smartest path for her really is. To her discredit, by the time I finished the book I was left with few truly memorable plot points to carry me forward. We'll have to see, with book three, if the originality of the plot improves.

To sum up, I've really been enjoying the fish-out-of-water nature of Edie's story, and I love her character, and for that reason I do continue to recommend this series. I expect good things from it in the future. 4 stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review of The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand

And yet more contemporary romance! Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate books are a bit like quiet, modern fairytales set in Paris, where food artists make impossibly brilliant and delicious things with chocolate. They aren't books to read if you're on a diet, because you will want chocolate, and if you're like me you will eat all of the chocolate.

Jolie is trying to talk pastry chef Gabriel Delange out of suing her father, who used an image of a lovely pastry rose on the cover of his new cook book--a rose that he has been passing off as his own work, despite the fact that it was Gabriel's personal creation. Jolie argues that he father's health is fragile and that Gabriel should not be a bully. Gabriel has a serious grudge against her father, though, and is determined not to let up. Taking advantage of the situation, Gabriel concocts a scheme that will force Jolie to work with him in writing a cookbook. After all, Gabriel has a hard time in the dating pull, and Jolie is more than a little attractive.

The second book was so magical that somehow, I expected the same sort of tone from this one. What I got instead was a more petty seeming drama and a tone of conflict similar to the first book. It works alright in it's own way, but it's just not what I prefer. I got impatient with Jolie constantly defending and protecting her father, who's deflated ego seemed to rule her life and actions. I found her very smart and enthusiastic, but her motivations were to irritating to keep her relatable.

Gabriel was charming but far more forgettable than the heroes of the previous books. I finished this book at the end of May, and already his character has faded to almost nothing. I know that he's meant as the "beast" of the piece, that he roars and throws things and traps Jolie into staying with him, because that's the only way he can hold onto a woman long enough to woo her.

As I said, this book lacked some to the enchanting qualities of the previous installment, but it's nonetheless an appetite inducing indulgence. If not perfectly memorable, it is at least perfectly readable and quite tasty. 3.5 stars.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Down London Road by Samantha Young

Marching right along with my "catch up" reviews, we have another contemporary that I read in May (lots of contemporaries coming up--hunker down, kids).

16140408I'll admit that Samantha Young's On Dublin Street series has taken me a bit by surprise. The way that the first book looked, the descriptions, and most of the reviews (both positive and negative), had me kind of convinced that it wasn't for me. And yet in the case of the first book and Down London Road, I was at least occupied if not fully entertained by the story. It's just engaging enough that it keeps you reading, though something keeps it from being elevated to my "favorite romance of all time" list.

Jo is a bartender who lives with her alcoholic mother and teenaged little brother, whom she protects at all cost. Her highest ambition in life is to marry a rich man, mostly for her brother's sake. She suffers from your text book self esteem issues--figures she pretty enough to land rich boyfriends, but not smart enough to do anything meaningful. But then along comes Cameron, and he's sexy as hell and very intriguing...but he's kind of between jobs, and ends up working at the same bar as Jo. In short, he's not at all her target guy. He's just irresistible enough to have Jo lowering, or perhaps raising her standards.

I'll say right off the bat that Jo is an annoying hypocrite at times. The book desperately wants to show us that she's not shallow, and at times I can believe that. She loves her brother, she works hard, she has all sorts of hidden talents. But when it comes to gifts and help and money, she's totally incapable of thinking logically. She's fine accepting expensive presents from the boyfriends that she dates because they're rich. She's fine with the idea of letting them support her, should one ever purpose. To her credit, she tries to put her heart into her relationships and does develop real feelings for these guys, but the term "gold digger" still applies. She's fine exchanging affection for money, but when her friends offer to help her financially, or even just to get her a better job, all of the sudden she's too proud to accept help. That's messed up. The author means us to think this of course, but I think Jo is more frustrating of a character than the author intended her to be. Like Jocelyn in the first book, Jo's emotional baggage is so obvious and so telegraphed that it actually becomes absurd. Instead of making her more three dimensional, it just serves to remind the reader that she's entirely fictional, and not very likeable to boot.

I actually did like Cameron. I felt he seemed like the typical guy, not overly perfect as men in contemporary romances can sometimes be. The moments when he was kind of a jerk to Jo? Well, I was kind of on his side, honestly. She's the kind of person that begs to be judged, and he makes up to it with hotness and a reasonable level of reliability. I like that he's unflinchingly honest, even if it means being a dick. Sometimes dicks are necessary.

I'm a little hazy on the plot details since I read this in May, and my notes are sparse and I can't recall there being a plot for the most part. Much of the internal drama centers around Jo's above mentioned insecurities, which thankfully become easier to ignore as the story progresses. The external plot is that Jo's parents are awful people, but she has Cameron and the two of them can fuck like bunnies. Jo has to deal with the fact that her mother is an apparently irredeemable alcoholic and her father is absent until he's needed as the villain of the climax of the story. She deals with that by learning to lean on Cameron, have monkey sex with Cameron, and believe in herself. The usual.

Overall this book was very readable, but probably forgettable long term. I like certain aspects of the characters but got a bit frustrated that the author used all the most obvious traits and the laziest path of character development for Jo. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Return of the Penguin, and a Quick Review of A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Here I am, returning to the world of book blogging after a long 2 1/2 month absence. Wow. When I decide to take a break from reviewing, I honestly never intended to be away for even a whole month. My original justification was that I had major readers block and I just needed a breather so I could come back fresh, and I thought two weeks would do it. Life happened, as it often does. I have no justification other than the basic fact that I was doing other things. Fun things. Important things. Non-bookish things.

The first month of my absence was spent rereading Harry Potter. Because...it just felt like the time to do that. It felt like a restful thing to do. I can't really explain the comfort of wrapping myself in the warm blanket of nostalgia, but I'm sure it's something every adult is familiar with. It was also interesting to experience these books for the first time as an adult. The last time I did a reread was just before book 6 came out (with Deathly Hallows I decided to forgo rereading and just dive right in). So it had been a minimum of five years since I touched these books. Viewing Harry Potter through new eyes, I was just as enchanted as I'd ever been, though I spot more details now, and I spot more flaws now. Finishing the series was just as bittersweet this time as it was five years ago.

Anyhow, I still really wanted to keep up with my reading and pursue this years goal to read 113 books, even though I wasn't sure when/if I'd get around to reviewing them. While finishing my HP marathon, I chose to read a lot of graphic novels in order to (almost) keep up with my goal. If that sounds a bit like cheating...I don't care. If Goodreads counts them, that's good enough for me. I plan on reviewing them all in good time as well.

That brings me to my final "housekeeping" notes before I move on to my review. While RtP is back up for review purposes, I'm going to be operating at a tempered pace while I try to resume my reading/reviewing rhythm. I'm keeping all featured posts and memes (with the possible exception of quickies like Follow Friday) are under suspension until such a time as I'm caught up on plain old book reviews.

With that in mind, I'm going to start by doing a quickie review of a book that I read all the way back in May. Yeah. Obviously I'm going to be hazy on the details, but I still wanted to cover it, since Karina Bliss is one of my all-star authors.

16160119A Prior Engagement is the final book in Bliss's Special Forces series, every one of which you should really go read like right now. They are Harlequin's Super Romance line at it's best--dramatic, heart-wrenching stories that go just a shade deeper than your average category romance. In this book. For three books, Lee was thought to be dead. His SAS buddies watched him die, or so they thought. In reality, he's been in enemy hands all this time--tortured, starved, and barely holding on to his sanity. When he's finally rescued and brought back to the world of the living, it's to discover that his once girlfriend, Jules, has betrayed him. Before he left on his last mission, he asked her to marry him. She turned him down flat. Yet now she wears his ring, spends his money, and has all of his friends believing that in her goodness.

Not only did I find the conflicts in this book intriguing, but I was surprised by how not cheesy they were. Bliss handles Lee's PTSD perfectly. He tries not to wallow, he makes a conscious effort to work through his issues on his own. He has a lot to work through, and he's developed a bit of a dark side that he needs to cope with. What I liked about Jules was how reasonable the author made her position seem. When I first read the description I thought, "What a BITCH,". But once you learn the circumstances behind her lies and half-truths, they seem almost completely justifiable. She accepted Lee's ring to honor his memory and make his friends happy. She spent his money to help Lee's father fulfill some bucket-list dream vacations, and only thinks of her own desires after the fact. She tries very hard to put things right once Lee returns, so she ends up being quite a sympathetic character.

I didn't so much care for the fact that Lee fakes amnesia and tells other lies just to screw with Jules. Again, he's been through hell and has no reason to think anything of her but the worst, but I felt his way of handling everything was a bit immature.

So in the end, this wasn't the strongest or the weakest of the four book series. As usual Bliss takes a cheesy trope like the Back-From-The-Dead hero and turns it into an enjoyable story. 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Watch This! Angel (Pt. 1)

Welcome to Part One of a three part post series on Angel. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that was unique at the time and became iconic, to the point that many shows and movies have since tried to capture it's particular brand of appeal, with varying degrees of success. It seems natural that such a larger than life show would deserve a spin-off. Angel was a natural character choice for a spin-off series. His history and mythology are deep enough to be expanded upon over the course of many seasons. It's still surprising to me that the series only went on for five seasons, when it rightfully could have gone on much longer, as evidenced by it's continuation in comic form. But let's just work with the show we have, for now. This initial post will focus on the main cast of characters, with heavy bias on the ones I find the most interesting.

Angel, Out of Sunnydale

Angel himself is far more interesting in his own series than he is in Buffy. One of the problems with his existence in Buffy is the fact that he is supposed to be centuries old. Buffy, throughout his entire tenure as a main cast member, is a high school student. However wise, worldly, and jaded Angel is supposed to be, however tortured he is, we don't get to fully appreciate it because he's  in the role of high school boyfriend. And that, my friends, has an undeniable ick factor to it. Whether or not you like Buffy and Angel together, whether or not you think they're soul mates, you have to see the truth that as long as Buffy is not grown up, Angel cannot act his age. The writers have to temper his maturity so that it doesn't come across as ridiculously skivvy.

Once Angel gets to LA and starts his mission for redemption, all of the sudden you start to feel his age. He is written as a tortured, reluctant super hero. Suddenly his backstory as a vampire with a soul seems darker, and it fits with the darker tone of the entire show. We see, for example, that he isn't mindlessly good all of the time. He makes questionable choices and get's caught up in the need for revenge. In season two, he becomes so focused on taking out the bad guys of Wolfram and Hart that he completely severs himself from his friends. His mistakes are what make him engaging.

Cordelia, All Grown Up

Cordelia is our second transplanted Buffy character. She was originally a shallow, privileged, mean
spirited foil for Buffy. Gradually, however, she was given more depth. She's shown to be smarter than she let's on, and more complex than the typical cheerleader character is usually allowed to be. She dates the comically unpopular Xander, hangs out with the Scooby Gang, and survives some of the bigger battles of Sunnydale. So while you might initially think that she seems like a rather random choice for a main character in the spin-off series, it actually makes some sense. She's already well established, and at least redeemable if not likable.

One of the things I  appreciated about Cordelia's development is that she kind of continues to be a little vain and a little shallow, despite learning empathy and the need for a higher purpose. She's given the gift of visions of people who need Angel's help. The visions are painful and rob Cordelia of the possibility of a completely normal life, time and time again. As a result, she becomes less of a socialite and more of a fighter, though she has much fewer opportunities to kick ass than the boys do.

In terms of how well she functions as a romantic interest for Angel...well, that never rang true for me. While I'm not the biggest fan of the Buffy/Angel pairing, I never felt like Angel's chemistry with anyone else was really complete.

Wesley

In Buffy, Wesley was best described as Not Giles. He's there to try to replace Giles when the council determines that Giles sucks at his job. He comes across as irritating and even a bit comedic, and his character continues in this fashion throughout his initial appearances in Angel. His character development takes a series of turns, however, beginning with the episode in which he's captured and tortured by Faith. From this point on, he becomes steadily darker and more complex, making some morally questionable decisions, but always trying to fight on the side of good. Like Cordelia, I initially disliked his character, and like Cordelia I felt he remained flawed throughout the series. However, his character get's a better treatment in terms of both romance and send off. I really liked him with Fred, is what I'm saying.

Gunn

The first non-transplant character in Angel is also the most manufactured of the main characters. I urban character, a tough guy who has lived on the streets, maybe even been in a gang of sorts, but is still on the right side of the good/evil line." And out of that mold springs Gunn, with his tough sounding name and his tough attitude and his tough toughness. Still, it's hard to dislike the guy, who frequently serves as the team's muscle despite a lack of formal training or super powers of any kind.
can almost hear the writers cooking this guy up. "Okay, we have this urban fantasy set in Los Angeles. We need a really

Angel has a lot of other recurring characters who, depending on what season you focus on are part of the main cast. It would be impossible to fairly cover all of them. In terms of which recurring characters I liked the most...

Darla seems like a natural addition to the cast, since she's Angel's maker and a huge source of conflicted emotions for him. During one of the shows more interesting arcs, she brought back to life as a human with a soul, and she struggles with how to deal with that. Later she's given the Mystic Pregnancy treatment, and her character basically becomes a plot device. I'm mostly okay with the way the writer's handled this, however. I like that, while she's mostly a villain, we do get a sense that she has a good side, a part of her does actually love Angel, and she is capable so sacrifice.

I also really like Lindsey, both as an antagonist and reluctant ally. He's a cynical, jaded character with a murky sense of morality--basically he's the clichéd lawyer from all shows and movies. During his time at Wolfram and Hart, you kind of get the sense that he's in over his head, that he doesn't want to become entirely evil. Yet he's not above some underhandedness, and he does stay with them despite a chance to jump ships. He's the kind of character that I really enjoy, because you can see his motivations, but you're never sure how evil he actually is. And, in fact, he's probably mostly just selfish.

That's the run down of Angel's most interesting characters, or at least as much as I'm able to do in a reasonably sized post. In Part 2, I'll be discussing the world building and How Things Work in the Angel/Buffy universe. The final part of the posting series will of course be a top ten episodes list, and then we'll be moving on to other things. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review of Cut Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Cut & Run (Cut & Run #1)One of my goals for this year is to read more M/M romance, and this series was recommended to me for that reason. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I honestly did not expect to enjoy it. The premise is that our two heroes are FBI agents forced into a partnership with the goal of catching a serial killer. Romantic suspense, specifically the kind with murder mysteries, is not my usual cup of tea, but reviewing would be no fun if I never stepped out of my comfort zone.

Ty Grady is a cocky, rough-around-the-edges agent recently pulled from an undercover case that ended in disaster. Zane Garret has been playing everything carefully by the books during his stint at a desk job, and this is his first out-on-the-streets case in a long time. Ty dislikes his buttoned up, serious visage on sight. This case, however, is something of a last chance for both agents. And given the fact that the killer has already taken out two FBI agents, this case is personal.

The chemistry between Ty and Zane is absolutely explosive. Their initial dislike for one another and all of their macho posturing just helps to build up the tension that culminates into a lot of very steamy sex. More impressive, perhaps, is that they have romantic chemistry--they have the beginnings of a real emotional connection, the kind that comes with protectiveness and affection and intimacy. Just the beginnings, but it's there and its so very sweet.

I loved the character development. These are two older guys who already have a lot of history and a lot of baggage. Zane had a wife, who's death still haunts him. He's a recovering alcoholic and his addictive personality is still, and will probably always be an issue. Ty spent time in the military and has already gone several rounds with PTSD. They spend this entire book getting physically and mentally beat to hell, and by the end they start to see each other more clearly, even to the point of almost swapping roles.

The action in this book is well placed and well paced. There are just enough tense moments to keep you invested without robbing the story of it's character driven core. I'll admit freely that I did get drawn into the mystery, drawn into the case, and I wanted resolution as much as Ty and Zane did.

I kind of liked the fact that it didn't end on an HEA sort of note, or even a happy for now note. It's more of a together for now, but we've got shit to work through kind of ending. It's hopeful, but it's not sappy. It fit both of their characters and the overall tone of the story, and left me wanting the next book immediately.

It's easy to recommend this book, to romantic suspense fans and to M/M fans in general. Its a sexy, action packed book with truly excellent characters. 4 stars.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

On the surface, this seems to be your typical historical romance, with the arguably gimmicky catch of a hero who is "mad". In fact, Ian suffers from Asperger's, which can best be described as very high functioning autism. I'll be honest, that's what made me buy this book in the first place. For some reason it seems that mental disorders are fairly taboo in the romance with, with the obvious exceptions of PTSD and depression. You'll probably never find a hero or heroine with schizophrenia or bipolar or crippling OCD--hard to make those things both realistic and sexy, I guess. So yeah, even comparatively minor, increasingly common things like Asperger's are underrepresented in the romance world. How does this author pull it off? Well....

Ian seeks out Beth, a wealthy widow, because she's engaged to his rival and he wants to warn her off him. He quickly becomes obsessed with having her, and she is fascinated by him. Their growing relationship is soon threatened by a detective who hates the Mackenzie family, and is determined to pin murder on Ian.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)
There are some instances where I thought the author absolutely nailed Ian--his quirks, his personality, his intensity, and even the symptoms of his disorder make him come out of the page. He's unreasonably intelligent, but obsesses over inanimate objects (Ming bowls). He's an intense lover, but he has trouble connecting to anyone emotionally. He understands high finance without trying, but misses subtle nuance in conversation and doesn't get Beth's jokes. The author clearly has an understanding of what Ian's disorder means, and how he might reasonably be expected to adjust to the challenges of life (or not).

Here's the thing though: despite this excellent set-up, the execution is sloppy as hell. Beth and Ian connect with an ease that belies his carefully explained disorder. Ian, who is perhaps overly self aware, explains that he cannot love, he does not know how to connect with people, and so forth. But then he connects with Beth and starts to love her simply because she's there, being non-judgmental and having excellent sex with him.  For her part, Beth is just a bit too understanding for a person in a time period when no one had any understanding of Ian's disorder. She never once thinks that perhaps he's just cold, just anti-social, just doesn't like her. She shrugs it all off, and it's not long before he's confessing his love to her. The transition between point A (first meeting) and point B (we're in love!) just wasn't there for me.

As for the murder mystery, it just hampered my enjoyment all the more. I almost never get invested in murder mysteries, and this one is delivered in a sort of off-handed manner that did nothing to increase the tension.

On a positive note, I did genuinely like all the characters. Not only are Ian and Beth oddly charming, but Ian's entire family is intriguing. His brothers are a rugged alphas that don't give a fuck, and aren't too concerned with fitting into society. But they have a ton of money, and they each have their particular talents. If there's a question as to whether I'd read more of the series, the answer is yes, I believe I would.

While I wished this book had focused more on emotional development and logical transitions in a romantic relationships, and while I wholeheartedly wish the mystery had been left out altogether, I did enjoy many aspects of it. The author has a nice style, and the characters are appealingly quirky. 3.5 stars.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review of Easy by Tammara Webber

I didn't want to read this book at first. Yes, it's true that I want to try more new adult books, but the college setting makes me leery since I'm only a year removed from living in that setting. Tammara Webber managed to win me over with a truly excellent love story, much to my surprise.

The book opens with our heroine, Jacqueline, very narrowly avoiding getting raped by her ex-boyfriend's frat brother. Her rescuer, Lucas, is sexy, mysterious, and everything her ex-boyfriend was not. The attack has made Jacqueline feel like a victim, especially when her attacker starts following her and telling lies about her. With Lucas there to support her, Jacqueline finds perspective, strength, and power against helplessness.

EasyThe relationship between Jacqueline and Lucas is simply precious. I found their emails and texts really charming. Jacqueline initially comes off a bit judgmental, labeling Lucas (because he has tattoos and piercings) as a slacker and a bad boy. To her credit, though, she seemed all too willing to be proven wrong. Once she sees him in the right light, she's eager to help him slay his personal demons (and he's got some serious demons). What I enjoyed most, though, was the fact that Lucas is protective. Not just that he's protective, really, but that he wanted her to be able to defend herself, and he fully believed that she could. The care he takes in giving her the empowerment of self defense is as emotionally impactful as it is practical.

Now, perhaps the only downside to the book is the fact that it gets a bit heavy handed with its message. Not only does it preach self defense and personal safety up, down, and sideways, but it also returns time and again to rape and how rapists should be treated--it's a huge part of the plot, and it's a little bit after-school special. Even as I write this, though, I can understand that their are teenagers and young women that can never hear these messages enough--they need to hear that rape is not the fault of the victim, that rape needs to be reported, that rapists need to be apprehended. Yes, I'm quite certain there are young readers who need to marinate their brains in these thoughts until they sink in past all of the rape culture we've been stewing in. For me though, I must admit, I got sick of it.

To sum this book up, it's a lovely romance and a nice contemporary story with awesome intentions. If the messages felt a bit tiresome to me, the characters made up for it by being adorable and sexy. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watch This! Once Upon A Time, Season 2 Micro-Review

A few notes, just to keep everyone informed:

Now that I've completed my Buffy series, I am planning on moving on to Angel. Hopefully that will be a more organized and comprehensive review series, now that I'm starting to grasp how I would like to structure those posts. I need some time, of course, to rewatch most of the episodes. Tentatively, I that series will start next Wednesday.

To continue that thought, it does look as though many of the Watch This Wednesday posts for the foreseeable future will be retrospectives of older/cancelled shows or shows that have a good number of seasons out already. This is do not only to the accessibility of those shows but also to the fact that I'll have the most to say about things with hours of content. So, if there is a show, mini-series, or movie series that you would like to discus  here, please feel free to drop your suggestions in the comments.

Today, though, I'm between retrospective posts, so it seems like a good time to go over what I though of Once Upon a Time, season 2. I started off the fall TV series watching tons of shows, but sadly Once was the only one I was able to keep up with (without sacrificing reading time). If you're wondering what I thought of Grimm, Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, or Supernatural...well, so am I. Hopefully I'll find an opportunity to catch up on those shows over the summer. In the meantime?

Once, season 2....


When season 1 ended, I felt that the writer's may have made the mistake of blowing the lid off of things too dramatically and too soon, and I worried about where they would go from that point on. One of the things I enjoyed about the show was the one episode retellings of individual fairytales, and seeing how they were reflected and fit into the Storybrooke world. Now that everyone remembers who they are, things are less episodic, more connected. This type of narrative can be problematic if the writers constantly have to find a way to one up themselves, to the point where the story loses it's natural flow. This season showed a struggle to not fall into that trap, managing to be enjoyable despite some stumbles along the way.

 
Henry is more of a plot moppet than ever. Always there to whine about people who want to kill the evil queen or just let her die,. Always there to be the motivation of the other characters, and to get in harm's way when the plot demands it. Poor kid is annoying as hell, and sadly one of the downsides to the show.

Emma, on the other hand, is the show's best attribute in a lot of ways. Interesting and respectable, as much as any fish-out-of-water/savior character can be. She's not vapid, she's decently developed, and she's not solely motivated by romance. Sadly, in the current TV climate that makes her a top shelf heroine.

But this show has an ensemble cast so...what about the rest of them? Well, they're a mixed bag. Snow and Charming are somehow less interesting this season, though I'm glad we're past all of the infidelity business. They tried to give Snow this conflict where she darkened her heart by killing Cora. It's a failure, both because Cora deserved to die and because Snow is all too quick to feel bad about her actions, negating any of the interest you usually get from dealing in moral gray areas. Mr. Gold remains the most interesting cast member, both because he actually does dabble in those moral gray areas and because he's given conflicts that are actual conflicts.

I'm going to leave off with a list of my favorite episodes for the season. These are the episodes that, if/when I do a top tend list, would be contenders.

Tallahassee (Episode 6)
Child of the Moon (Episode 7)
The Outsider (Episode 11)
Manhattan (Episode 14)
The Miller's Daughter (Episode 16)
Selfless, Brave and True (Episode 18)
Second Star to the Right (Episode 21)
And Straight on to Morning (Episode 22)

Happy Watching, everyone!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review of Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione

It's fair to say that Larissa Ione has her fair share of duds, even in an otherwise lovely series. That was certainly the case here. In the interest of full disclosure, it's not like I went into this book expecting a terrific read. As a hero, Reseph failed to excited me. He spent the previous three books as the vile, villainous version of himself. We were never given enough information on good Reseph to make me feel like I wanted to see his redemption story. Nevertheless, I was willing to try.

Rogue Rider (Lords of Deliverance, #4)So, to recap, Reseph had been turned into Pestilence, and committed all sorts of crazy evil. In the last book, Pestilence was stabbed with a dagger that turned him back into Reseph. Now, Reaver (the guardian angel of the four horsemen), erased his memory and dropped him in a snow bank. Our heroine, Jillian, discovers him, takes him home to her cabin, and romance ensues. Jillain was once attacked by demons. When her neighbors start dying under very demon-like circumstances, she's determined to believe that Reseph is not to blame, despite the fact that he doesn't know who or what he is.

The first and most obvious issue with this book is pacing. We spend a lot of time with Reseph and Jillian in her cabin, just kind of waiting on something to happen. It is boring as hell. To rub salt in the wound, the payoff following all that boredom isn't particularly grand. There is just nothing within the plot that captivated any part of me.

Sadly, I was not enamored with Reseph. He has his charming moments, I'll admit. He's sweet and protective toward Jillian, and yet he appreciates her ability to take care of herself. I was regrettably distracted by the fact that he has amnesia, which of course I knew would come crashing down at some point. I was distracted by the nasty things he did while evil, however involuntary, and by whether the author was going to get around to resolving all of that angst. I wasn't crazy about the way his family handled his return, either. No one could decide whether it was okay to be pissed at him for what Pestilence did, or if all should be forgiven because it was all against his will. At the risk of getting a tiny bit spoilery, I was also really unsatisfied by the fact that he doesn't earn his redemption or return to sanity--the heroine kind of does it for him.

Jillian, who initially seemed bland and uninspired, actually turned out to be the more engaging of the two. She's survived a horrible ordeal, coped by living alone and working her ass off on her farm, and she makes huge sacrifices for what she believes is right. Her judgment in blindly trusting Reseph very questionable, but I'm willing to assume she simply has good instincts.

Whatever my expectations might have been for this book, it did not surprise me and it did not elate me. I can only hope Ione's next book will be better. 2 stars.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review of The Elite by Kiera Cass

I've talked a lot about how I'd been sort of reluctantly looking forward to this book. Reluctantly, because when I stop and analyze The Selection, it was a very flawed book. Unfortunately all of the flaws from the first book were only magnified in this book, and while it was still oddly readable, it left me with such a feeling of hollowness and frustration. I have long since accepted the fact that the premise of this series is gimmicky at best and downright stupid at worst, but that's kind of part of the charm for me. So why do I keep expecting something more from it?

The Elite (The Selection, #2)The Selection has now been narrowed down to six girls, The Elite, who are now supposed to be really working and learning what it will mean to be a princess and eventually a queen. One of the points in favor of this series is that it acknowledges that, on some level, there is more to the job than wearing a nice dress and living happily ever after. This book delves a bit into political power and duty--I'll talk more about that later. To get back to my point, the premise has now shifted focus so that America should be competing in earnest, and not just going along for the ride while getting over a bad break-up. She should be putting her head on straight and making sure her heart is in the right place before committing to marriage to a major world leader. But that's not what America does, because America is a little girl who doesn't understand anything.

I'm not even going to touch on the fact that I have a problem with the love triangle and America's inability to decide between two boys, because that subplot is stupid and overdone and pointless as hell, so it goes without saying that I hate it. What I really want to get at is the ultimate question of: Do you want the throne or not? Because regardless of your feelings about the prince, whether you love him or just like him as a friend, what's really at stake here is enough power to slowly but steadily change your country. America does not understand this concept. She grew up in one of the lower classes, but she's only just now (now, at the worst possible moment) realizing that the caste system is brutal and unfair. What? I'm sorry, how did that basic fact escape your notice when you were freezing and eating lousy food?

But, alright, she has this epiphany that her country might have an unfair caste system. Guess what, sweetie? You're in a competition that would put you in an excellent position to help people. Yeah. You could become a princess and feed the poor and shelter the homeless and sow the seeds of change to make your country better. But this fact totally escapes America because she's all caught up in the romantic drama of whether or not she likes Maxon or just likes him. Or hates him. Whatever. Then, when Maxon appears to have betrayed her, she figures she wants to leave anyway, and tries to make a totally pointless grand gesture on live television. Maxon calls her out on this, too. He tells her, and I paraphrase a bit, yes we can and should change things, but for anything to work you have to be subtle, quiet, and not dumb as a bag of hair. And she is. Dumb, that is. Or at the very least, she's so naïve and so unworldly that she has no idea what to do with herself. It's sad.

The romance? I think it may have died for me, and I have no idea whether the third book will revive it or not. I didn't get the sense that any of these characters know who they are, let alone what they want, and I was deeply discomfited by the idea that all of this is going to culminate in a marriage. None of them are marriage ready.

So, to wrap this up, this book is a mess of characters that are becoming steadily less likable. At times it felt like it was trying to say something deep or important, but it chokes because it still just wants to be a soap opera teen drama. I'll read the final installment, but without much excitement. 3 stars.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review of Something About You by Julie James

Something About You (FBI, #1)I've admitted time and again that I'm not the biggest fan of romantic suspense. My issue is that I've never been one to get deeply immersed in murder mysteries, and often a mystery is the basis of the suspense portion of romantic suspense. My decision to give this series a try despite my usual preferences was based on the fact that it kept appearing on DABWAHA year after year, making it pretty far in the running, and being praised by readers left and right.

Our heroine, Cameron, is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who, in an unfortunate coincidence, overhears the murder of a prostitute. The murder may be tied to a U.S. senator, and is certainly tied to a scandal. More importantly, the FBI agent assigned to the case is Jack Pallas, a man with whom Cameron has a bit of a history. Jack holds Cameron responsible for nearly destroying his career years ago, and having to work with her and protect her throughout this case puts him in a foul mood. Nevertheless, there is a constant burning attraction between them, and neither of them particularly wants to deny that attraction.

Right off the bat some things frustrated me about the heroine and her relationship with Jack. We are supposed to automatically believe several things about her--she's smart, she's professional, she's morally conscious, and she's not a coward. Yet, the reason that Jack is angry with her is that he believes she chose to drop the ball in a case against an organized crime syndicate, which he had spent years building undercover. In reality, it was her boss that made the call to drop the case, and she did nothing about it because she didn't want to rock the boat at work. While that's understandable on some level, it does not endear me to her. It makes her seem weak, cowardly, and subservient, that she would let such a huge case just drop and take the heat for it just because she doesn't want to lose her job. Any crime that was committed by those bad guys after that point, anyone who died or got hurt? That's kind of on her head. And let's not forget that she ends up in a better position, with all sorts of promotions and success, because she didn't "rock the boat". Perhaps that was not the outcome she intended, but it works out that way, so the whole thing was a bit self serving.

Leaving that aside, I suppose she's an okay heroine. Jack is a hot hero, very tough and very determined. The sexual tension is sizzling, and I could not deny that they fit well together in that respect. The dialogue between all of the characters is snappy and fun. When it comes to actually fighting the bad guy, neither of them is totally brainless, which made up to some extent for my earlier issue.

Plot wise, the whole thing is a bit predictable. I can't say that I was ever fully drawn into it. It's not a mystery at all, because the reader knows early on who the killer is and what his motivations are. In this case that may have been a bad call, since it diffused a lot of the tension for me before the story even really got going.

Overall, I think if you're a fan of romantic suspense this might appeal to you more than it did to me. It had it's virtues, but overall it's not going on my favorite books list. I may or may not carry on with the rest of the series. 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Watch This! Iron Man 3 Bonus Review, And a Note About Twitter

Okay, so you'll remember that I had promised a review of Iron Man 3. I figure that I better get it up today, because by next week it will be fully irrelevant. So here are my quick and dirty thoughts on the latest Marvel superhero movie.

Better than Number 2, not as good as Number 1.


The first Iron Man movie had an impact on me in that it made superhero movies seem less juvenile. I liked the Sam Raimi Spiderman films...for the most part, but if you watch them now you will undoubtedly notice that they've aged and now appear pretty cheese-filled. Iron Man, on the other hand, had this older, suave, sexy, smart hero with a cool origin story. Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast as Tony Stark. This remained true throughout the second Iron Man, and of course in The Avengers. But Iron Man 2 suffered from overstuffed syndrome, where it tried to do too much and ended up falling short of the brilliant simplicity that was the origin story. Iron Man 3 is a more successful story because it dials back a bit and just tells the story of Tony Stark having PTSD and getting overly dependent on his suits.

Tony spends a lot of time outside the suit in this movie, and that's for the best. It ends up being a more human, more character based story. He has panic attacks, he screws up his relationship, he makes colossal mistakes, and he has to kind of MacGyver his way through defeating the bad guys. It's interesting and fun as hell. I also loved that Pepper took a slightly more active role, actually becoming involved in the action portion of the plot instead of standing on the sidelines.

The movie is not without flaws, as we see the usually brilliant Tony making some enormously stupid moves. I'm not sure if that's all to do with being sleep deprived or being arrogant or what, but yeah...kind strayed into TSTL territory. The big issue that the uber-fans have, though, is the way that the villain known as The Mandarin is handled. I'm not invested enough in the Iron Man comic universe to care about that at all. If I were? Yeah, I'd probably be pissed.

So, yeah, Iron Man 3 is worth seeing unless your inner fanboy/girl will implode do to extreme deviation from comic book continuity. Or whatever.

My other note for today is that my original Twitter account is now sadly inaccessible to me.  I no longer have access to the original email that it's connected to and so, unfortunately, I can't do much to fix it and I've had to let it die. I never actually tweeted frequently, just post sharing and the like. What I really used it for was to keep up with authors and other bloggers and the obvious entertainment purposes of easy stalking. It's been hard to be without that tool, so I've started the arduous process of setting up a new account. The new username is @PenguinKumer. As before, follow me and I'll follow you. We'll all get along fantastically.

Watch This! Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Pt. 4)

I had originally intended for this to be a seven part posting series--seven parts for seven seasons. However, once I finished my marathon re-watch of the entire series, I kind of felt like it might be time to close this off and move on. And what better way to finish off the series than with a top ten list? So without further ado, my top ten favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes.


#10: The Zeppo

Season 3, Episode 13

I haven't really had a chance to mention yet that Xander is one of my favorite characters in this series--he'd rank somewhere in the top ten characters of the buffyverse. He's the heart of the group, the most normal member, the down to earth jokester that restores a measure of reality to the world. Unlike most of the cast, he has no special powers, and his feelings of inadequacy are brought up in several episodes, but never so much and so hilariously as in this one. There is a potential apocalypse on the rise, and Buffy is all caught up in that epicness, but the episode does not focus on that story arc. Instead we follow Xander as through the mishaps of encountering dead, now resurrected bullies. The bullies are trying to make a bomb to blow up the high school, and Xander is the only one available to stop them. I loved the campier tone, the shift in focus, and the respect for the little guy that this episode displayed.

#9: Hush

Season 4, Episode 10

In this episode, everyone in Sunnydale loses their voice, causing mass panic, and the mysterious
beings known as "The Gentlemen" are responsible. They use the silence to steal the hearts of their victims. This episode is unique in that it features almost no dialogue, with close to 30 minutes of relative silence. The team is forced to communicate in gestures and writing, which is hilarious. This is also one of the absolute creepiest episodes of Buffy. The silence is down right eerie. Watching it this time through, I couldn't help but sit up and pay attention.

#8: Restless

Season 4, Episode 22

Season 4 had a relatively weak over-aching big bad story, compared to the other seasons. The finale is a positive note that has almost nothing to do with that arch. Instead, it follows our main characters through a series of dreams in which they encounter the First Slayer. I liked the style of this episode, and how it felt very dreamlike and creepy. I liked that it hinted at the depth of Buffy's power and origin, and that it heavily foreshadowed things to come. Most of all I liked the glimpses into each character's psyche. We get an idea of what they must feel deep down--Xander's insecurity, Giles' fatherly concern for Buffy, Buffy's feelings of isolationism, and so forth.

#7: The Prom

Season 3, Episode 20

At first glance, this appears to be just another common high school experience amplified Buffy style,
but there's actually a lot going on in this episode emotionally. A shot early on shows Buffy's notebook, where she's written "Buffy+Angel Forever" on the cover, and that startled me into remembering that Buffy is still painfully young. She wants to have a normal youth, with normal experiences--like attending prom with her boyfriend. At the same time, Angel is realizing that there's really no place for him in Buffy's life, that he'll only end up hurting her. Despite Buffy's insistence that she doesn't mind the sacrifice, Angel makes the choice to leave. This is completely heartbreaking, and yet inarguably the right thing to do. My favorite moment, however, is when Buffy is awarded the "Class Protector" award, her classmates applauding all the good she's done. After the many episodes where we saw Buffy worry that she'd never amount to much socially, never be remembered, and that she was giving up everything to be the slayer, this moment of validation is incredibly powerful. It's a bittersweet episode, and that's why I love it.

#6: Graduation Day

Season 3, Episodes 21&22

This episode proves once again that the creators understand the significance of all of the milestones of young adulthood, and that they're very good at giving them a supernatural twist. Buffy declares her independence from the council of watchers, and leads the fight against the big bad of the season (The Mayor). All of the students fight back, and it's awesome and hopeful and empowering. I liked the callback to Xander's military training (obtained through a spell that turned him into a soldier temporarily). I also appreciated that Buffy had to appeal to The Mayor's human side, through his connection to faith, in order to defeat him. This episode is good, action-y fun.

#5: The Body

Season 5, Episode 16

This is the only episode that actually made me cry this time around. Buffy arrives home to find her
mother still and lifeless. She calls 911, she tries to revive her, in the end Joyce is just dead. Nothing supernatural is going on--it's a simple case of natural death. The entire episode is slow and somber--even the music is absent, and that silence is deafening. It captures grief and shock perfectly--with Buffy in denial and then sick with sadness. Her friend's reactions are also very well done, just as miserable and helpless. Willow loses it over not knowing what to wear when she sees Buffy, and her performance is absolutely heartbreaking. No one knows how to deal with ordinary, unexpected death, when there is no enemy to fight and no villain to blame. This is one of the saddest things I've ever watched on TV.

#4:The Becoming

Season 2, Episodes 21&22

Buffy loses her virginity and Angel loses his soul. If you know nothing else about this show, you probably know that. It's the ultimate cautionary tale of teenage sex, of boyfriends gone bad, and of what happens when a relationship can't overcome bad circumstance. You can't help but revel in the angsty goodness that is this story. But what makes this story a cut above Twilight and the like, is that Buffy has to make this impossibly hard decision to kill Angelus (evil Angel). As I've said before, Buffy is just your average teenage girl--she get's self absorbed, has brainless moments, makes mistakes---but when it counts, she's strong as hell. And not just physically strong, but emotionally strong.

#3: Normal Again

Season 6, Episode 17

I always like the stories that delve into themes of insanity and reality, and this one is no exception.
Buffy is exposed to a venom that splits her mind into two realities. In one, she's in a mental institution being treated for extreme delusions--her entire nightmarish, demon filled life is a delusion, as are her friends and her powers. Her parents are there, begging her to come back to reality and be normal again. In the other reality, she actually is living this life with demons and monsters that want to kill her friends. The magic of this episode is the fact that it's completely plausible to have a teenage girl with schizophrenia build an entire fantasy life around having superpowers and being able to safe the world. It speaks volumes that there's a part of Buffy that may want to choose the reality in which she is insane but ordinary, just for the sake of being normal.

#2: Chosen

Season 7, Episode 22

What can I say about the series finale? It's a great conclusion to an incredible story (though the story does go on in comic book form after the show ends). Buffy and the crew fight the biggest bad of all, The First, the ultimate in evil world destroying demons. They are joined by all of the potential slayers. It's a big girl power episode, with all of this young ladies getting strong and kicking ass. They suffer their share of loses, with characters dying and sacrifices being made, but in the end Buffy finds that she can smile. She's overcome all of the odds and survived the worst of the worst, and she's not alone anymore.

#1: Once More, With Feeling

Season 6, Episode 7

What can I say, I love a musical. The musical episode of Buffy is pure fun, but also strangely sincere.
Tara and Willow glow with love and magic (they are my very favorite couple in the series). Xander and Anya sing about their secret doubts for their married life. Spike sings of his unrequited love for Buffy. Giles sings of needing to let Buffy find her independence. And then, the big reveal, Buffy confesses that she had been in heaven before she was brought back to life. I love that this episode is able to poke fun at musicals, showing people singing about sidewalk sales and parking tickets, while still acknowledging the power of singing out what's in your heart.

So, that's my top ten. You guys, this was ridiculously hard to put together. There are 144 episodes of Buffy. In the process of doing this, I initially just made a list of all the episodes I found memorable or emotionally jarring, and that list included close to 40 episodes. I had to do a lot of narrowing down, and I still feel like I'm leaving out a lot of excellent stories. I'm going to finish off with a quick list of honorable mentions. If I still didn't hit your favorite episode, go ahead and talk about it in the comments. Happy Watching!

Honorable Mentions

Angel (Season 1, Episode 7)--First glimpse at Angel's backstory.
Surprise/Innocence (Season 2, Episodes 13&14)--Angel experiences perfect happiness and loses his soul.
The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)--Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale--Anya's first appearance.
Earshot (Season 3, Episode 18)--Buffy gains the ability to hear people's thoughts.
Wild at Heart (Season 4, Episode 6)--Oz learns that his control over his wolf side is slipping, and he betrays Willow.
The Replacement (Season 5, Episode 3)--We see two versions of Xander--the successful one, and the total loser.
Fool for Love (Season 5, Episode 7)--Buffy asks Spike how he killed two slayers.
The Gift (Season 5, Episode 22)--Buffy sacrifices herself so that Dawn may have a shot at a human life.
Two to Go/The Grave (Season 6, Episodes 21&22)--A grief stricken Willow turns evil and threatens to destroy the world.
Selfless (Season 7, Episode 5)--Anya's backstory.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Most Anticipated

It's time once again to update my list of anticipated books for the coming year.

July

The Darkest Craving (Lords of The Underworld, #10)The Darkest Craving by Gena Showalter--Now that I've caught up with this series, I can put the next installment on my list of books to look forward to. This book is set to feature Kane, keeper of disaster, as the hero. Apparently his love interest is half-fae, and her name is Josephina. I have absolutely no idea how this one will go, since I have no strong feelings toward Kane one way or another.

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews--My desire to read this book only grows with each passing week. The plot sounds so interesting--I absolutely cannot wait.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan--I jumped onto this series too goddamn early, and now I'm having to wait ages for volume two to come out. Still, of the very limited number of comic books I enjoy, this is at the top of the list.

Midnight Frost by Jennifer Estep--The plot of this seems to involve someone getting poisoned and a quest for an antidote. You know, this series does lack the epicness we get with most novels and yet, it is very readable.

Macrieve by Kresley Cole--All I can do is hope that this is one of the better additions to the series. I hope, and I wait.

September

Bound by Night (MoonBound Clan Vampires, #1)Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins--This book optimistically promises both a sweeping new love story and some visits from our two established couples--and I'm looking forward to both.

Destiny's Surrender by Beverley Jenkins--Not a lot of info on this one yet, just the old school style cover.

Bound by Night by Larissa Ione--A new series, with vampires. I don't know how I feel about it. After years of vampire hype, we're all a little burned out and I'm no exception. So we'll see. Beautiful cover, though.

October

Eyrie (Society of Feathers, #2)Archangel's Legion by Nalini Singh--The comes out right after my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

Eyrie by Emma Michaels--Again, I'm not sure how much I care as time wanes on. I may need to reread book one in order to remember what I liked about it or why I should look forward to this.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth--I was just waiting on this to get a title in order to put it on the list, and here it is! In some ways I've felt this series is slightly over-hyped (the fanfare over the title reveal was too much), but in other ways it has been a good trilogy so far.

December

Reaver by Larissa Ione--I had some trouble getting through her last book, so my excitement for this is somewhat tempered. On the other hand, Reaver is one of her better characters.


Up From the Grave (Night Huntress, #7) January

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan--This is another case where the wait is so long that I'm not sure it will hold my interest. This is a case of I really just want to finish this series, already, what's the hold up?

Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost--Oh boy, this cover is MEH. But, you know, it's Cat and Bones--the cover almost doesn't matter.

February

Cress by Melissa Meyer--This one is set to feature Rapunzel! So excited!

March

The King by J.R.Ward--Wrath and Beth and baby drama and a monarchy that probably needs saved. We'll see how that goes.

 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review of Tidal by Emily Snow

Lately there's a lot of chatter about "New Adult" novels, and New Adult romance in particular. The idea, I suppose, is to have a genre that bridges the gap between YA and...just plain A, with characters that are traditional college age (18-23, or so). They are still young enough to be in that very transitional period where all of the good character development that we see in YA can happen. The important difference is, in NA they can have sex. I feel like that's often the main motivation--character is 18, she can choose to have sex now without all the backlash. There's also the factor that most of these characters are now living independently from their parents in some capacity, so they have all of the new freedoms and troubles associated with that.

The reason that I'm offering up this unnecessarily long explanation of what I think New Adult is, is that this is the first review on this blog that I will actually be labeling as New Adult. That's not to say that I haven't reviewed books that authors or other readers might call NA, because I know I have. I know I've reviewed a lot of books that might technically fall in that genre by virtue of the character's age alone. This is just the first one that I feel qualifies for the label in terms of age range, content, and labels already assigned by other readers--my gut tells me this is a true NA, and so it is. This is the ceremonial induction of a new sub-genre on RtP.

And on to the review.

TidalWillow Avery is a famous young actress who's gone off the deep end a time or two, a la Lindsay Lohan. The book opens up with her just getting out of rehab and already being told by her agent that she needs to get back to work, and he has a role lined up for her as the heroine of Tidal--a remake of an old beach drama. She'll be playing a surfer, so she has to learn the basics of surfing. Enter out hero, Cooper, who at the tender age of 22 is the best surfing guru in Hawaii. Willow isn't sure how she'll stay clean, or even if she wants to, but she does know that Cooper is an excellent distraction. Cooper wants Willow from the moment he sees her, but is he willing to violate his professional rules in order to be with her?

If you're thinking that you won't like this book because the heroine sounds like an unpleasant, self absorbed, drug-using tool, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Somewhat. The author does a good job of making her sympathetic and helping us to understand how she became such a mess, without removing all of the blame from her. It's fairly clear that Willow's parents see her as a source of cash, and while they do still care about her on some human level, all of that cash definitely got in the way of the normal parenting that would have helped prevent the slide into rampant drug use. As the story goes on, we learn of Willow's depression which mostly centers around one big event in her past (you'll be able to guess it early on, but I won't spoil it anyway), this one event that made her want the numbed out state that being high brings. Again, she's partly responsible for that event, but her parents and the other people in her life are also responsible for handling it so very poorly. No one is demonized to the point of being the villain of the piece (well, maybe Willow's best friend), and so I ended up feeling my heart crack a little, if not break entirely over Willow's sadness.

Cooper is not as thoroughly developed by any stretch of the imagination. He's kind of just there as this nice guy who cares very deeply about Willow, and he wants to see her stay happy and healthy. His love helps her open up, and it helps her want to do better for herself, but it doesn't cure her. That's important, and I really liked that the author didn't make their relationship the magic solution to all of Willow's problems. One of the things I felt was a bit weak, in terms of story telling, was Cooper's relationship with his parents. I won't say too much for fear of spoilers, but again, his story is just not as well developed.

The reason that I knocked some stars off of this book is that in the end, it does treat a lot of the issues with a softer hand than I would like. It handles these really big issues competently, but somewhat predictably. It's not going to help you understand drug use or depression or family drama on a deeper level. I also felt that Willow and Cooper's relationship lacked the epicness, the really deep tug between two characters who you are convinced will end up together. They love each other, but I'm not sure I saw enough between them to call it swoon worthy.

And so there you have our first New Adult book. Do I recommend it? Yes. Don't let the heroine discourage you. This is a well developed belated coming of age story with a sweet little romance that's reasonably enjoyable. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review of The Darkest Seduction by Gena Showalter

One of the things that persuaded me to get back into this series was the fact that I knew Paris had a book. Not only do I sort of grudgingly like Paris (I'll explain the grudging part in a minute), but the set up between Paris and Sienna, which took place earlier in the series, was really excellent.

The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underworld, #9)Paris is possessed by the demon of Promiscuity, and one of the consequences of his possession is that he can only sleep with a woman one time--after which, he will fail to respond to her sexually ever again. Sienna had the distinction of being the first woman to arouse him twice, before she was abruptly killed. Now Sienna is a spirit, and is also possessed by the demon Wrath. Paris still wants her, and is willing to brave all kinds of hell to get her back.

The secret society/band of brothers trope in paranormal romance usually features some predictable cookie cutter personality types. There's always the leader/series strategy guy. There's the hacker/technology savvy genius. The legitimately crazy/genuinely scared one. The unusually normal guy who is the most in touch with the human world. The smurfette.  And then there's Captain Super Dick--the one who sleeps with approximately all of the women. I generally hate Captain Super Dick. I even had problems with Rhage from BDB, though admittedly he won me over in the end. But generally, I hate unapologetic man-sluts. I hate that their behavior is rarely seen as bad and is often actually lauded for behavior that would get a female character blacklisted.  And Paris is, of course, Captain Super Dick.

What distinguished Paris to the point where I'm kind of fond of him is the fact that he actually doesn't like the revolving door to his bedroom. Showalter describes his dilemma in such a way that I can see why that would get really depressing after a hundred years or so. She actually made me sad that he has so much sex. I don't think any author, not even Ward, has made me feel the plight of the ever-horny in quite this way. What's more is that, this dilemma makes Sienna valuable to Paris even before he really loves her, and that gives us an interesting premise to build the entire quest of this book on.

Sienna, if I'm being honest, is still a bit bland in personality. Despite Showalter's attempts to load up her back story and give her solid motivation, in the end I don't feel that I'll remember her. When I compare her to some of the other heroines in the series, who stand out both for their huge personalities and grand powers, she just falls short. No matter who's power she absorbs or how big a deal she is.

Anyway, the romance in this one is more than adequate, and I found the plot quite engaging. I would say that among the books in this series, it is far from the best, but it is certainly not the worst. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May!

And so we arrive in a brand new, shiny month. April was a truly excellent month for reading. I blew through thirteen novels, and not one of them was appallingly bad (although one was pretty boring). I have so many reviews I need to write, but first and foremost--the best book of April...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review of Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

Family ManI've been sort of subconsciously intending to  read more M/M this year, so here we go--a nice contemporary that actually sort of surprised me with some of the directions it took.

Vinnie, a forty-something accountant turned plumber from a big Italian family, has a sudden epiphany that he might be gay. In an effort to figure this out, he goes to a gay club way outside of his usual haunts--and of course, runs into a guy from his family's neighborhood. Trey is twenty-six, but old for his age, and the attraction between them is intense.

I want to say right off that the age difference is a total non-issue. Trey is, as I said, very old for his age, having endured a pretty rough home life with an alcoholic mother. Vinnie is not remotely experienced in the art of dating men, so Trey's relative sexual innocence actually suites him well. Their attraction is deep, but they put off having sex, so it's a slow burn sort of thing. I actually really enjoyed the fact that they took their time jumping into bed together, because they both wanted it to mean something. I also liked that once they do end up together, it's not quite what you would expect.

The highlight of this book for me was the way that Vinnie treats Trey. He's extremely considerate and affectionate. He takes Trey out on really excellent dates and makes sure he's comfortable with everything. When Trey's situation with his mother comes to a crisis point, Vinnie drops every selfish hang-up that he has in order to make sure that Trey has the support he needs. This book is so much sweeter than I expected.

The major hang-up I had with this book was the fact that Vinnie's transformation from "No, not gay, no way." to "I would like to marry a man." is really, really quick. His family's acceptance of him is equally very abrupt. It's as though both Vinnie and a majority of his family exist in a rainbows-and-puppies ideal universe where any reservations about sexuality are worked out in the blink of an eye. From the set-up, I expected it to be more of a journey.

I also thought the ending was a bit saccharine. It through the tone off for me a bit, because for awhile it goes to a really dark place with Trey and his mother and all of that. I thought it might just end on a hopeful note. I didn't feel like the grand public gestures were necessary in this case.

So to sum up: this book is sweet and hot (like pie), and it's totally worth reading if you like contemporary M/M. I dare say it might even make a good introduction for readers who haven't tried contemporary M/M before. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review of On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

On Dublin Street (On Dublin Street, #1)This is another one that was recommended so frequently and from so many different sources that I felt obligated to just try it, already. It's funny, though, that after all of the reviews and summaries I read, I still had an entirely incorrect idea of what this book is about. I thought it was erotica. Like, really kinky, hard core erotica. Or maybe like, 50 shades style wannabe porn. I don't know why. But it's not that. It's just romance with somewhat explicit sex scenes and that's about it.

Jocelyn moves to a new, fancy apartment with a new roommate, Ellie. Ellie's older brother Braden is very sexy, and kind of wants to be sex buddies with Jocelyn. Joss lost her family in a car accident when she was a kid, and her best friend died not long thereafter, leaving her psychologically damaged. Jocelyn is very, very bad at letting people in, and she has panic attacks. The book is mostly about Joss working through her issues and learning to accept the friends and love that she's found.

To this book's credit, it does try very hard to draw you in to Joss's screwed up little head, and make you understand and sympathize with her emotional issues and intimacy issues and so forth, and at times it's quite successful. If you've ever had a panic attack, you know how helpless and terrible the experience is. I could totally buy those episodes and the fact that they're triggered by being around Ellie's family. I could even buy her not wanting to let Braden in, beyond their sexual relationship.

I guess my issue with Jocelyn is that her internal demons are laid out in such an overt manner. No subtly. No surprises. Just "I have abandonment issues and panic attacks because my family died all at once and it was horrible." Real people tend to be more complicated. Real emotional baggage takes more time to unravel than that, because deep emotional scars cannot usually be traced back to one or two concrete events. The big events are part of it, yes, but there are hundreds of tiny little things that also build into the screwed up mind. Joss is written as a text book psychology patient instead of as a real person. She never surprised me. She never made me think about her, or the story, from any angle that wasn't entirely predictable. Every time I started to relate to her, she'd disappoint me with her predictable meltdowns and her inability to connect with people.

As far as the romance goes, I admit that it's well written. For the most part. Joss and Braden have great chemistry, both emotionally and sexually. Like Joss, Braden has emotional scars that he might as well where on a t-shirt.

Actually, let's all do that. Joss could have one that says "My best friend died, and I never want to make real friends again." Braden's will say, "My wife cheated on me, and now I only sleep with floozies." Maybe yours will say, "My Daddy left me and now I seek out unhealthy relationships with men." or "I was bullied as a kid, and now I'm mean to people." or "I was attacked by clowns and now I fear clowns and those bendy balloons that look like condoms and make that awful squeaky noise when the clowns make funny shapes with them."

Sorry, I kind of got off track there.

Anyway, yes, the sex is hot and there's sexy dialogue, and the hero is this super alpha/protective/scary/rich/sex god. Braden's extreme sexiness is, if I'm being honest, the best part of the book. A lot of reviews focus on his extreme sexiness, and I think that's why I had it in my head that this was going to be erotica. But it's not. But it is sexy. Braden is appealing, not only for the obvious reasons stated above, but also due to the fact that he's such a loving brother and considerate boyfriend. The fact that he stays with Joss despite all of her bullshit is ill-advised, but nice. I liked Braden quite a bit.

So, I guess to wrap this review up...It's a very readable book, although aspects of it are certainly frustrating and boring. It's a sexy contemporary romance that will appeal to readers who like New Adult (though it's not NA, strictly speaking), and erotica (though it's not that either). Worth trying, but not my favorite. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Watch This! Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Pt. 3)

When Angel left the show and went off to his own spin off, there was a kind of boyfriend vacuum around Buffy that just had to be filled. Enter Riley Finn, the very bland anti-angel college boyfriend.

I liked a lot of things about seasons four and five. I liked seeing Buffy go on to college and mature as an adult. I liked that the show allowed her to develop and gave her new, more adult challenges to cope with. I liked that the plot itself took some risks and went in very different directions, instead of sticking with the constant monster-of-the-week format. What I did not like, one little bit, was the romantic subplot of Riley Finn.

As previously stated, Riley is written to be as anti-Angel as possible--he's human, entirely good, a faithful boyfriend that offers Buffy a kind of stability that she's never had a chance at before. As the show progresses, Riley is given a bit more depth, getting in over his head in the supernatural world and ending up fairly damaged. But however tortured the writers tried to make him, he always failed to do the one very important thing (at least in my mind), which is challenge Buffy in any way.

The normal, familiar boyfriend vs. the challenging, complicated boyfriend has been done often enough that we can safely call it a cliché. If you go through the list of well known love triangles, you'll find that this conflict is often the basis of the triangle. The most familiar of all--Edward vs. Jacob, does it with the least subtly of all. Jacob is not only the best friend/old friend of the family boy, but he out right says on multiple occasions that he's Bella's only choice at a normal life--she wouldn't need to change to be with him. The easy, comparatively normal choice is almost never the one that wins out. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of a single occasion in which a heroine chose the normal, nice guy over Captain Tortured Pants. Why not? In short, because that would be boring.

Being with Riley is too easy for Buffy. He's entirely human and, until later in the story, pretty much without emotional baggage. He already knows about the supernatural world, so she doesn't have to explain her lifestyle to him, per se. She can sleep with him as much as she likes. Their relationship is completely dull. There are several episodes where you can feel the writers struggling to come up with a conflict for the two of them, and when they do it's always disappointing. Maybe Riley is insecure because Buffy is so much stronger than him? Okay, that just makes him seem like a whiney baby.

One of the things I did sort of appreciate about the Riley story arc is the fact that even the writers seemed to understand that he was only ever going to be a rebound boyfriend. They made sure that Buffy got emotionally involved, but always held something back, so you kind of knew that the relationship had an expiration date--and it could not come soon enough for me. I felt like the time spent with Riley might have been better spent with Buffy learning to be okay alone, and I could have done without the whole thing.

Lest you think that I'm hating on the "everyman" characters, I want to say that I'm all too eager for someone to subvert the cliché. I would love to see more everyday heroes presented as a viable choice for the heroine, instead of as the third wheel or the conflict that must be overcome in order to reach the real happy ending. It's worth stating, also, that I really like Xander--and he's as ordinary as they come. His lack of special powers is what lends him his charm, and I would love to see something similar in more of our male love interests.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Amy & Roger's Epic DetourWhat attracted me to Amy and Roger's Epic Detour was the fact that it's a road trip book--I can't remember ever reading a road trip book before, and there's magic in the property of novelty. I'm not sure how I would feel about this book if I were more experienced with road trip stories, and I can't judge it on those terms. What I can say, is that it was an okay YA story and a compulsively readable story.

Amy's father died in a car crash. She was the one driving, and she blames herself for his death and all of the subsequent fallout. Her mother decides that the whole family needs a fresh start, so she moves to Connecticut. Amy now has the task of getting herself, and her mom's car, from California to Connecticut. Amy isn't driving since the accident, so Roger (an distant friend of the family), agrees to drive her. At first Amy is eager to get the trip over with in as few days as possible, but as she and Roger start to talk, she thinks perhaps a small detour is in order.

When I say this was a page-turner, I don't so much mean that it was suspenseful or even particularly eventful, because it really wasn't. The pace is rather easy going, nothing much happening, just like a real road trip. But just like a real road trip, you find it necessary and pleasant to just keep going, see where the book takes you, what might happen next. The tone is completely perfect in that respect. One of the things that helped, I think, was the inclusion of pictures, receipts, and playlists throughout--it made me feel like I was part of the trip.

Amy's emotional journey is surprisingly touching and believable. Her father's death is still raw in her mind, and she's got a lot to work through. Not only can she no longer drive, but she can't bring herself to speak of her father in any capacity. Watching her work through some of her issues and start to heal was rewarding, and it kind of helped elevate the book from bland to engaging.

There were a few times when I became a bit frustrated with Amy's youth, in terms of the decisions she makes and how she handles her relationship with her mother, her brother, and getting what she wants. For example, she's too immature and inexperienced to figure out a way to communicate her needs and feelings to her mother, so instead she just dodges her calls. Yes, that's probably exactly how a seventeen year old would try to get away with taking an extended road trip, but the mere fact that she had to get away with it in the first place was a bit distracting.

The romance aspect of the book was fairly lacking. In the first place, Roger spends a good chunk of the book hung up on his very-recently-ex girlfriend. Once he does start to move past it, well, to be honest I just didn't feel a whole lot of chemistry between Amy and Roger, romantically speaking. They have friendship chemistry, which in reality can be a very good place from which to start a relationship. The problem is, they are about to be geographically separated, so for me the odds of that romantic chemistry developing, for real, seem slim. Without giving away too much about the ending, I'll just say that I found it somewhat less optimistic and satisfying than I think the author intended.

This is a great book to pass the time with. It would make an excellent beach book or long plane ride book or waiting at the DMV book. It's not a book where a lot happens or a book with any big messages, but it's very readable and mostly very happy, and so I recommend it on that score. 3.5 stars.
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