Monday, January 28, 2013

Misc. Monday: No, I'm Not Going to Read 50 Shades of Grey. Thanks.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Every now and then I make the mistake of trying to explain my reading/reviewing hobby to a friend or acquaintance who rarely or never reads for pleasure.

"I read romance and fantasy."

"Oh, like Fifty Shades?"

No. Not like Fifty Shades of Grey. Not at all. I read good books.

The truth is that I did skim through this infamous novel in an attempt to determine if it was worth reviewing, even just for comedic purposes, and I just couldn't work up the motivation. The writing is bad. And I don't mean so bad it's funny, I just mean bad. If there's one thing I've learned from reviewing, it's that the best seller list is a lousy indication of quality.

Now, I know there are readers out there for whom Fifty Shades of Grey is their favorite novel. Someone out there, somewhere, uses this book as the bench mark for comparing all books. I know, because this book is a best seller that has a movie deal. I don't understand why. I assume it goes back to the idea that books (and movies, and so forth), can be deeply flawed and yet still have some mysterious quality that captivates you on a deep, visceral level.

It also seems like a lot of people who have picked up Fifty Shades and loved it were experiencing erotica for the first time. I talked to one older lady that said she, "Can't believe the things people are writing these days." As though BDSM erotica is brand new. I once tracked down a copy of the third book for a wife who claimed that they had "livened things up quite a bit!" Good for you, lady. Novelty can be a powerful thing.

For me erotic romance is old news, so this doesn't impress me. It's similar to the reason Twilight itself didn't work for me--I'd been reading PNR for years by the time it came to my attention so...meh.

So that's why I won't be reviewing Fifty Shades during Romance month, despite the fact that it falls well within the genre and is very popular. Besides, what could I say about it that hasn't already been said by better reviewers than myself?

That said, if you read it and enjoyed it and having nothing but good things to say about it? That's cool. Feel free to tell us about it in the comment box. Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Follow Friday 1/24/13

Q:  What is the last book that kept you up late into the night just to finish it?

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. It was the kind of book you just have to immerse yourself in, and once you're in it you don't want to leave. It was'nt even that it was suspenseful, I just enjoy the hell out of the world Taylor built. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On The Vortex: A Review of Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's HouseOne of the things that I knew I wanted to accomplish in 2013 is to read more graphic novels. This is not only because there are so many good series out there in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but also because it's a sometimes underrated story-telling medium. Like romance novels, people seem to have a fixed stereotypical understanding of the type of person who enjoys reading graphic novels, and (like the stereotypical image of the romance reader), it's not very flattering. Consequently, I think a lot of readers tell themselves that they can't or won't like a graphic novel series, and so they never give any a try. It seems like a good year to try new things, though, doesn't it?

Sandman is a good series to kick the year off with, because I find that the story and characters are very accessible to the fantasy reader. Sandman is a dark urban fantasy-ish tale where dreams are real and nightmares have substance.

The Doll's House centers largely around Rose, who turns out to be a rare being called a Vortex--a potentially world ending destructive force in the dream world. Rose is unaware of her connection to the dream world, and instead is focused on  the turmoil of her waking life--she's just met her maternal grandmother for the first time, and now she's on a quest to find her long lost little brother. She moves into a house full of unusual residents while she conducts her search, unaware of the escaped nightmares that stalk her.

Neil Gaiman's writing is very clever in a lot of tiny ways. Never laugh-out-load funny, but worthy of a smile. The details are there to reward those who pay attention, while the larger story expands the world building. I find myself very intrigued by the endless, and what they are and who they are.

Where the book fell short for me was in terms of the explanation and logic of the central conflict...That is, what the heck is a vortex and why do I care? The reveal comes late in the story and the explanation is ill placed at the climax. I felt that I would have been more invested in what was going on with Rose in the dreaming world if I understood her significance, sometime before the resolution came about. But perhaps the novel reader in me just really likes exposition that pays off later.

Anyway, if you're a fantasy fan, you should read this series. It's very spooky, very cool, very well written. 4 stars.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Misc. Monday: Sparse Posting Now, Many Posts Later...

Once upon a time I was thinking about what sorts of different things I'd like to do in 2013. I know, of course, that I need to get back to some of the tried and true stuff like Follow Friday and, you know, actually surfing the internet beyond my own site...but I also wanted to change things up a bit. One of the things that I'd really like to do is a theme month. Or two. But let's start with the first one.

So I was sorting through my own thoughts during a particularly slow night at work, and I thought: February will be Urban Fantasy month! Yes! And I thought about all of the authors and series and books and movies I could write about, all of the things I've never gotten around to mentioning before. I made a schedule. It's a brilliant, perfect schedule written on the back of a test sheet from the photo printer.

Yeah, I'm not going to do Urban Fantasy February.

Every time I tried to open one of the books I hoped to review for that theme, my mind just kind of wandered. Turns out I'm not in the mood for urban fantasy right now. One of the things that I've learned about reviewing is that a fair review can only start with a book that I did not force upon myself. I should start every book with the mindset that it might be my next 5 star read, and if I can't do that I should set it aside. So urban fantasy month will just have to wait.

What I actually have been in the mood to read is romance, particularly contemporary romance. So February is going to be romance month here at Reading to Penguins. And if I had a lot to talk about with UF, it's got nothing on my romance itinerary. Just you wait.

Here are my goals for Romance month:

1)28 days of posting: at least one short post every day, be it book review, movie review, show review, or other commentary.

2) With the exception of a few off posts already scheduled (for blog tours and whatnot), all posts will relate back to romance as a genre or concept. Some of the things I anticipate including are:

-The formulaic nature of romance writing.

-Who reads romance novels and why.

-My top 10 favorite romance authors

-Cover Art. Oh God, the romance cover art.

-Movie reviews of some of my favorite (and least favorite) romantic movies, including some of the Nicolas Sparks movies, Disney films, Jane Austen adaptations, and possibly (if I'm feeling snarky) the Twilight series. But I make no promises there.

-Lots and lots of book reviews. Everything romantic I can squeeze in from now until the end of February.

3) Hopefully the month will end with a contest or giveaway, the particulars of which I still have to work out.

In order to make all of this happen, I have to write some posts ahead of time. Like, right now. So, while we still have a few things coming up in January (Sandman review, 1 more misc. monday, and hopefully a follow friday), I may be somewhat absent, but it's only because I'm planning for the good things to come. I hope you'll join us here in February for romance month, and as always, Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Grifters: A Review of Fate's Edge by Ilona Andrews

Fate's Edge (The Edge, #3)Ever feel like you're just reading something in order to finish the series, but you're no longer that deeply invested? I felt that way with this book. That's not to say that there aren't good things about this book, but oh gods, I had to fight myself a bit to see them.

If you aren't aware, this is actually book 3 in The Edge series. It's hero and heroine are Kaldar and Audrey, respectively. We've met Kaldar in the previous book--he's a cousin to Cerise. Audrey is a former lock pick/thief from a family of con-artists, who now desperately wants to turn straight. But she agrees to do just one last job, steals something huge, and Kaldar ends up charged to get the item back. He enlists her help, and of course, romantic things ensue. He also ends up taking George and Jack, Rose's little brother's from book one, along for the ride. And Gaston, who I honestly still can't picture. But whatever.

So, what works in this book are the elements that always work in Ilona Andrew's books. The action is tense and fun. The fantasy elements are used creatively. The characters are clever, feisty folks that have walked in a lot of morally grey areas and come out mostly good.

The dialogue and chemistry between Kaldar and Audrey is...well, it's there. It's dropped into the book like the authors thought it had to be, "We have to have a hero and a heroine, and they have to make each other's naughty bits tingle. But we can't focus on that too much because, obviously, big world threatening primary plot..." It's probably unfair for me to complain that the romance didn't work for me in a book that is obviously not a romance, and no one promised it would be (accept for Mr. Cover-Art, there's something inexplicably romance-ish about that. But honestly, that's kind of my point. Why have that subplot if you can't or won't take the time to do it justice?

At the same time, I mentioned that I did like the characters, and I did. A lot. I like Kaldar especially. He's a scoundrel in the best possible way. He loves to steal, and get the better of people, but there's no malice in it. He's the best of both worlds in that way.

I liked the decision to include Jack and George in the story. They make interesting side-kicks. For me, they are two of the most natural and interesting characters included in the series. I sort of find myself wishing they'd just skip ahead and give them a book or two. I'd get excited for that.

As for the plot itself...I don't know, it's not poorly written, but I just don't feel that invested. The stakes weren't high enough for me. As I stated in my review of Bayou Moon, the world building is adequate, but it's never been my favorite universe to visit. I almost wanted to see something huge and terrible happen, just so that the overarching world would develop a bit.

For me, these books, this series, has just been okay. I wouldn't say that they're the worst reads you could pick out of the urban fantasy pile, but they aren't the best either. 3 stars.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Misc. Monday: The Eclectic Blog: Diversity vs. Specialty

This is how it happens: You wake up one day and say to yourself, "Self, I feel like writing about things. Things that I like. And sharing those things...on the internet! Self, I think we must start a blog!"

The first decision that you have to make is what to make your blog about--life, love, cats, pie? More importantly, how narrow will your focus be? If you call your blog All Fruit Pies, All the Time! can you still write about cream pies later, if you feel like it? What if one day you want to write about cupcakes? Can you still do that, or will you lose reader interest? Do you care about reader interest?

Range of focus might not seem that important initially, but when push comes to shove the topics you write about are a huge part of your "brand"--that is, how readers recognize and remember you. Thus, this is something every blogger needs to think on from time to time.

The Advantages of Diversity

If you decide to go with the "anything goes" route, you can expect

1)Never to run out of topics. The broader your focus, the more things there are to write about, the less likely you are to get bored or contract cases of the much dreaded writer's block. Saw something funny happen today? Blog about it! Watched a lousy movie? Blog about it! Sat on your ass and ate Doritos? Blog about it!

Eclectic blogs are good for people who have many interests, or the talent and insight to make the mundane engaging.

2)To Reach a Broader Audience. A well written, diverse blog will find more a broader and more diverse audience. You can have the reader who loves herbal teas, the reader looking for book reviews, the reader that likes funny anecdotes, and the reader who wants fashion advice--you can have all of the readers in the world, as long as you've written about something they're interested in at some point. And the good news is, they just might stay. This leads us to--

3) Crossover Appeal. The reader that came to your blog for the book reviews might stay for the cookie recipes and the stories about your pet iguana. They might find that they have other interests in common with you, or they might just like your writing. People like a little variation in their web browsing.

Advantages of The Specialty Blog

If you go for depth rather than breadth,

1) You're More Likely to Know What You're Talking About. If you focus specifically on the one thing you know and love very well, something your already an expert in, you won't have to constantly spend time on research just to write something informative. You'll be less likely to make factual mistakes.

2) You'll Reach an Audience that Shares Your Interest. When you establish yourself as someone that always blogs on a specific subject, the audience that finds you will more than likely be one that likes that topic and wants more of it. This means more engaged readers, which means more comments and followers.

Finding a Balance

Most blogs are ultimately going to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. In my case, I really want to maintain a diverse book blog with a primary focus on urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Adult UF and PNR. Surprisingly, though, it's not always easy.

One of the problems with running an "anything goes" review blog is that it's subject to my personal moods and whims. Consequently, if one month I get in a certain mood and read nothing but young adult novels, my blog starts to look remarkably like a young adult review blog. Then I get more requests for young adult reviews, and if I agree, the cycle continues. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're going to be diverse, you need to be evenly diverse all of the time. For me, that meant planning. I had to make lists, and I had to make schedules.

My advice to other bloggers is: decide what kind of blog you want to be right away, and try to stick to it. That doesn't mean you can't evolve a bit, just don't go back and forth.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Darklings: A Review of Queene of Light by Jennifer Armintrout

Queene of Light (Lightworld/Darkworld, #1)I read the majority of this book in one sitting, at a coffee house where I often pass the hours between work and go home time. That is not to say that I liked this book, or that it was a page-turner in any respect, but rather just that it was all I had at that moment and I became pretty stubborn about finishing it.

When Malachi, an angel of death, makes the mistake of touching half human, half fairy assassin Ayla, he is turned mortal. He vows revenge, but upon seeing her again finds that he loves her. Ayla breaks her vows to her people by repeatedly refusing to kill Malachi, but at the same time she remains loyal to her heritage in her heart. She goes so far as to marry the brother of the fairy Queene Mab, inadvertently putting herself in line for the throne. Her life and loyalty are threatened when her feelings toward Malachi become increasingly undeniable.

As a fantasy book, this had it's merits. Simple but fun world building, old blood feuds, political unrest. The settings are interesting, with the entire book taking place underground. Jennifer Armintrout writes a familiar kind of fairy--proud, emotionally stunted creatures who dislike humans as much as they love themselves.

As a romance, this book is barely average. Malachi and Ayla have some strong moments together, and on the surface their story and circumstances are highly romantic. The problem is that both characters are paper-thing in development, and so their romance is also on the thin side. Their love happens spontaneously and is based in very little interaction and almost no conversation between them. They have no relationship, per se.

Ayla is more or less the main character, and as I said above she's not written well. I never felt like I got to know her or understand her motivations fully. I certainly didn't feel her emotions. The author tells us her back story matter-of-factly, tells us that she would like to be an assassin but she's mostly held back, tells us that she's willing to marry Garret without explaining why...and so forth. A lot of telling, in other words, without taking the proper time to slow down and put us in the heroines mindset.

The plot itself is fairly well paced and did hold my interest. However, it's never surprising in the least. Each character's motivations are laid out rather flatly. The author has no sense of subtly or foreshadowing or tension building.

So overall, this book is finishable, but not so much so that I'd recommend it. I don't necessarily see myself going on to read the rest of the trilogy (although stranger things have happened). It isn't romantic enough to satisfy my PNR needs, and it isn't quite clever enough for my urban fantasy shelf either. 2.5 stars.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Rock Stars: A Review of What The Librarian Did by Karina Bliss

What the Librarian Did (Harlequin Superromance, #1622)I bought this book after first being introduced to Karina Bliss and her excellent writing style via a bookclub chat on Here Comes the Groom. I really wanted more of her intensely heartfelt contemporary romance, and it's a shame that I've put off reading this one for so long.

Devin has spent the last seventeen years of his live living the rock star dream--fame, fortune, unlimited sex, and lots of booze. But his health wasn't holding up so well, and he's started to feel a sense of ennui toward the lifestyle, so he quits the public life and moves to New Zealand to attend college. There he meets a delightfully buttoned-up librarian named Rachel, who has no clue who he is and doesn't really care. Still, there's an attraction between them that's unlike anything either of them is used to. But Rachel is hiding a seventeen year old secret of her own.

One of the things that Bliss is good at is taking a premise that sounds miserably cheesie and make them work, so that the reader is invested in the story and the characters. I didn't think I'd like the whole washed-up rocker plotline, but I actually found Devin very real and sympathetic. The banter between Devin and Rachel is witty and sexy, the chemistry great.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the secret adoption plot was not half as saccharine as you might think. Mark is introduced as a friend and protege for Devin. I liked that Devin took up an older brother sort of role so easily.  Mark undergoes a remarkable amount of development in a small number of pages.

My one complaint for the book is that Rachel is a bit too uptight and judgemental for my taste. Too much the cliched librarian you'd expect her to be. She converses in random factoids, forces books on people, and wears conservative clothing. Quite dull and at times annoying, though she does have some great backbone to make up for it.

Overall, if your looking for a quick contemporary with a big emotional punch, this is a good choice. 4 stars.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On Nursing: A Review of Nighshifted by Cassie Alexander

Nightshifted (Edie Spence, #1)I bought this book based on the description, and looked at reviews after the fact. They were pretty mixed, and many of them quite critical. So when I started I had some feelings of trepidation, to be sure.

Edie's brother is a drug addict, and she's sick of watching him flirt with overdose and infection. So when she's offered a mysterious nursing job on a floor called Y4, in exchange for a mysterious promise that her brother will become clean, she takes it. Y4 turns out to be where non-human patients are sent--vampires and their servants, werewolves, shapeshifters, zombies, and so forth.   When a patient dies on Edie's watch, having asked her with his last words to find Anna, she's compelled to do just that. Her actions soon put her on trial with the vampires, in a life or death struggle for survival.

The best parts of the book are, without a doubt, those that take place in the hospital. You can tell the author knows nursing, and has just added the supernatural parts in for flavor, and as a result it feels very real. I was drawn into Edie's life and her struggles to fit in and do her job.

Edie's a surprisingly novel sort of heroine. She's kind of a screw up--she makes mistakes that endanger patients and coworkers, she makes questionable personal decisions, she has random unprotected sex...But she has a good heart, too, and she means well, and she's terribly easy to relate to. At every turn, I could easily see myself making the same fatal errors.

Among the secondary characters, we meet a zombie and a shapeshifter--both potential love interests, predictably. But the zombie is really different from your typical UF hero, and I found myself very intrigued by him. He's not at all attractive, for one, with lots of scars. I hope to see more of him as the series progresses.

The biggest problem with the book is that, outside of the hospital the plot mostly drags. It is not nearly as inspired, and the mystery is not something I could force myself to care about.

Overall, this urban fantasy manages to stand out a bit because of the medical aspects and it's oddly appealing heroine. I hope for great things from this series. 4 stars.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Misc. Mondays: Goals for the Coming Year

In 2012 I just managed to meet my goal of 112 books read and reviewed by a narrow margin. Therefore I decided not to make my 2013 goal too much higher than that--just 113 books, one more than last year. It amounts to roughly one book every three days, which seems fair and realistic. I don't have college or a wedding to plan, so I actually think this year might be easier. Even with a mostly full time job and that pesky husband creature. And the cat, Sir Book-Chewer.

I thought I'd use this post to talk about the books I'm most looking forward to reading and discussing in 2013.  There is, to say the least, a great deal of them.


Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer: Considering the fact that Cinder was my very favorite book in 2012, I'm beyond eager for my copy of it's sequel. Delicious science-fictionish fairy tale goodness. 

Elusive Dawn by Gabriele Willis: This was actually published in November, but I agreed to review in in February. It's the sequel to The Summer before the Storm, a unique and memorable historical novel set primarily in pre-World War I Canada.

Purgatory Reign by L.M. Preston: This YA urban fantasy will be published in May (I believe), but I will be participating in the blog tour in February. 


Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #11)Requiem by Lauren Oliver: It's hard to describe my feelings for this trilogy so far. It's a bit of a love/hate relationship, especially with the ending of Pandemonium, but I think I'm eager to read this one all the more because of those mixed feelings.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs: It's been so long since I've read a Patricia Briggs book, I'm almost in danger of forgetting how much I love her. Mercy Thompson book 7 ought to cure that.

Lover At Last by J.R. Ward: Yeah, I'm still reading these things. I'm in it until the bitter end, God help me. Actually, Tohr's book wasn't too bad, and I'm kind of hopeful. I really like Blay and Quinn and, well, we'll see.


The Elite (The Selection, #2)The Elite by Kiera Cass: The Selection was a flawed book, but so freaking memorable. I can remember talking about it with friends, "The premise is kind of stupid, but you should totally read it." It stands out from some of it's dystopian comrades, and I appreciate that.





Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins: This will be her third contemporary romance, and after loving the first two (especially Anna) I'm beyond excited for round three.


Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss: This is actually expected to be released in May, but I'm all full on contemporary romance for that month, so I'll be reading it in June. I'm excited for this one because it's a continuation of Karina Bliss's excellent stories about soldiers and ex-soldiers finding their happy endings after their battles are over. 

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan: This will be the third book in her Sky Chasers series, which has been an at least passably interesting sci-fi story so far.


Midnight Frost (Mythos Academy, #5)Dracomachia by Rachel Hartman: The sequel to Seraphina, a beautifully crafted high fantasy story, will certainly be one that I try to review the month it's released. I'm eager to see the series pick up pace.

Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K Vauhan: I gave Volume 1 4.5 stars...I was really impressed by the characters and the very unusual world(s) of the book. So, in July, Volume 2 will be my sci-fi book for the month.

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews: Oh my goodness, I feel like I've already been waiting for Kate Book #6 forever. But come July, God willing, it will be among my urban fantasy offerings.

Midnight Frost by Jennifer Estep: I'm growing more and more affectionate toward  Estep's writing style, and since I was introduced to it via this YA urban fantasy series, I'm naturally eager to continue with it.  I'm sure it won't be the only   Estep book  I read this year.


Eyrie (Society of Feathers, #2)Eyrie by Emma Michaels: Owlet was certainly not a perfect book, as YA paranormals go, but I find that I'm intrigued enough that I'll more than likely continue with the series. More than likely.

...I'm sure I'll be adding to this this as the year progresses and I try to, you know, organize my reading. What books are you most looking forward to in 2013?

Friday, January 4, 2013

On Triangle Trade: A Review of I Kissed an Earl by Julie Anne Long

I Kissed an Earl (Pennyroyal Green, #4)The first book that I finished in 2013 has a horrible puny title, but it was a surprisingly good story.

Violet Redmond longs for novelty and excitement but is trapped in a world of glittering ballrooms and social niceties. When she overhears talk that suggests her missing brother, Lyon, may have taken up piracy, she seizes the opportunity to board a ship and seek him out. Captain Flint isn't happy to have a stowaway aboard his ship, but at the same time he's drawn in by Violet's tenacity and fierce loyalty. And so, naturally, a romance ensues despite their contrary goals.

Initially I thought Violet might make an annoying heroine, sort of flighty and clueless with her "Whoa is me, life is such a drag," attitude. And there is some of that. Be warned. There are a few select Too Stupid to Live moments where you will groan a bit. On the flipside, though, she's smarter and more adaptable than you might imagine, and her personality is surprisingly charming.

Flinn is very likeable, and a very good match for Violet. He's a man who has elevated himself from nothing to earl, and he needs this one last act to finally have the life he's always wanted. This makes his cause seem at least somewhat sympathetic to the reader, when we might otherwise be tempted to side with Violet. 

Overall I'd say that Long's books (this being my fifth one) have a strong readability. They're just easy to get through and digest, and they're very pleasant. She puts at least some effort into making each story different in tone and plot, which makes up somewhat for the lack of surprising or challenging content. Overall, I continue to recommend the Pennyroyal series both as a whole and individually. 4 stars for this book.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy January!

Oh my goodness, is it really January? Okay, well, I've got multiple wounds from cat claws and lots of chores that have been piling up since Christmas, but nevertheless, we have 10 books to read this month. Let's jump to it.

I Kissed an Earl by Julie Anne Long

Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss

Queene of Light by Jennifer Armintrout

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

Fate's Edge by Ilona Andrews

Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

Ravenous by Sharon Ashwood

Water Harvest by Eric Diehl

No Humans Involved by Kelly Armstrong

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