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Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

31 Aug
heartless cover

Isn't this cover beautiful?

“Then the heat came.  It began the same as it had the night before, and with it came sudden remembrance of the dream she had forgotten.  The two faces–one black, one white, one ice, and one fire…Her mother’s ring on her finger tightened and her hands throbbed with burning.”

I just read a book that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone.  In fact, I was surprised that this book wasn’t swept up by the media in the way of Twilight.  Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, started slowly.  We are introduced to Princess Una, her brother Prince Felix, and the kingdom of Parumvir.  It’s fairy tale kingdom, complete with an enchanted forest, mysterious pet, and magical bazaar.  The story drifts slowly along until about the halfway point, when things just take off (on dragon wings?). 

After conducting some research, I learned that this is classified as Christian Fiction, and the author is often criticized for so many allegories (hidden meaning or moral).  Whelp, the allegory was lost on me!  I read it as a fairy tale, occasionally simplistic and a bit over the top.  Many reviewers called it Christian Fiction and mentioned allegory without ever explaining what that meant.  When I really love a book, I don’t really like reading many other reviews, because I want to feel solitary in that book’s world, so I’ve decided to stick with my conclusion that the overall themes were about love, devotion and the fact that no one is perfect.  This is hardly a hidden meaning. 

Often, all readers are looking for is a good story.  This one is a great story.  I can see why it drew some criticism, but I wish more people were aware of this “sleeper novel” and enjoyed it the way that I did, without consciousness of hidden morals.  I really did love this book (five stars!) and look forward to more Tales of Goldstone Wood.

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Summer Catch Up

23 Aug

I am very disappointed in myself for neglecting my blog.  I love writing this blog, love reading, and love sharing what I’ve read with others.  Still, life got the best of me and I just…stopped.

To kick-start my return as a blook bogger, I’ve decided to post a brief paragraph about each book I’ve read since I vanished.

Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card
E
nchantment, by Orson Scott Card

This is a very intelligent book!  I love novels that take fairy tales and adapt them (I’m very slowly writing my own version), and that is what this book does.  However, this pulls from Russian and Jewish folklore as well as the original versions of fairy tales.  I had to stop reading a few times and look up the stories that Card seems to expect me to already know.  Thank goodness for Wikipedia!  Because I wasn’t smart enough, this was a slow read.  There’s magic, romance, philosophy, history, and action.  When I got to the romance and action, I zoomed through it.  I’m very glad I read this book because it gave legitimacy to the genres that I enjoy.  It’s smart and fun, and it made me think!

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

Book Cover

Since it’s King’s newest book, I read this collection of novellas.  I’ve read all of his novels, but only randomly choose to read the short stories and novels.  I don’t really know how to describe my impression of the stories in Full Dark, No Stars.  If I said that it’s darker than his usual stuff, someone would undoubtedly point out that this is the guy who once wrote about a guy committing suicide by sticking his hand down a garbage disposal (Firestarter, I think?  I can’t get that image out of my mind!).  This is more realistically dark.  Rape, murder and relationships gone wrong are common themes.  There are still supernatural aspects, and I enjoyed the whole book.  To me, the title is very fitting and it reveals another facet of Stephen King’s world.

book coverMarry the Man Today, by Linda Needham

Of course there are romantic paperbacks on this list!  I just finished this book, and as historical romance goes, I’m usually not much of a critic.  So imagine my surprise when I realized that this book just didn’t do it for me.  The characters fell flat, the drama was always lacking something, and there didn’t seem to be any passion between heroine Elizabeth and Earl Blackstone.  There were cutesy moments but nothing much more than that.  I’ll be seeking out some new romance novels soon to make up for the disappointment!

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick

9 Jun

 

"I'd fallen apart in his arms. I'd melted like butter. Right before I told him he should go, I was pretty sure I'd made a sound that was a cross between a sigh of sheer bliss and a moan of ecstasy."

Here’s my story with this book.  I was in a car at the tail end of a long road trip.  Sitting in the passenger seat without access to a new book, I started downloading sample chapters on my Kindle app.  I read the beginnings of several books because it was free entertainment.  Then, I read the free sample of Hush, Hush and really wanted to keep going with it.  This is the first book I’ve opted to purchase and read completely on my tiny iPhone screen.  I read it in a day and a half; it was an easy and fun read.  I’m very curious about what will happen next in this series.

So I should be raving about it, right?  Well, I’m pretty torn.  I actually recently promised myself that I would be less wishy-washy in my reviews.  It’s like sometimes I’m afraid to admit if I loved a book or if I hated it.  It’s too bad, though, that I then promptly chose to read this young adult novel about teenage romance with a fallen angel.  It’s truly putting to the test my new resolve to improve my posts.

While reading, I debated putting together a list of all reasons that this was a knockoff of Twilight.  There are a ton of them!  Take away a vampire and put in a fallen angel and you’ve got the romance premise in Fitzpatrick’s novel.  I also kept running into situations that had me asking myself if I missed something.  The main character, Nora, often drew random conclusions that didn’t make sense.  I had to forgive a lot of issues with the plot.

There’s a lot to criticize in Hush, Hush.  Yet, I was very drawn into the story.  The bottom line is that I enjoyed the way bad boy Patch strutted his stuff and arrogantly pursued Nora.  He’s an enigma, strong and self-assured.  It’s the kind of guilty pleasure that I can read quickly and enjoy, despite the many reasons it’s just plain not good.

My decision is to give it two stars.  Readable, with many flaws.  Still, I won’t be embarrassed to admit that I’ll be reading the rest of this series in the future.  The amount of fun makes up for the issues it has!

 

The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry

3 Jun

“I turned my head toward the wall and stared at the trees.  For weeks I stared.  I stared at them as the leaves finally fell away and they revealed their lacy black branches underneath.  I looked for Jack in the web of lace.  He wasn’t there.  I looked for Lyndley, too, but she was nowhere.”

Cover for The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader begins with an introduction to Towner Whitney.  She admits right away that she’s a liar and she’s crazy.  She doesn’t seem crazy, though.  Definitely confused, and a little odd.  But Towner has been through a lot.  Her twin sister Lyndley, committed suicide fifteen years ago, and she was admitted to a mental institution shortly after the event.

Towner talks about a pillow used to make lace. It probably looked something like this. (found at http://dianelaces.wordpress.com)

When we meet Towner, she receives word that Eva, a grandmother-like great aunt, has died.  Towner has to face her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, for the first time since the tragedy.  Although she prepared for a quick trip for a funeral before returning home to San Diego, Towner faces unfinished business, mystery, and a little bit of romance.

The Whitney family is mysterious, unique, and full
fascinating characters.  The characters overall were the best part of this novel.  I loved trying to figure them out, distinguishing everyone’s quirks and their histories.  Author Brunonia Barry meticulously wrote this book interspersed with details that hint at the truth as the reader attempts to solve the multiple mysteries in Salem.

The near downfall of this novel is in the clunky way that the story changes perspective.  I have no problem with a change in point of view, and it works for the telling of this story.  I just wish it had been done more smoothly.  Towner is the narrator until about the twelfth chapter, and then it suddenly switches taking me completely by surprise.  I wish that this concept had been introduced earlier on.  It also would have helped if it at least stayed in first-person.  It felt strange to have things narrated by Towner, and then be in third-person but from someone else’s perspective.

Overall, the story was amazing!  At first, I hesitated to give it such an incredibly high recommendation.  But now, days later, I find myself desiring to read it again, looking more deeply into the lace and uncovering even more of its secrets.  As someone who seldom re-reads, I have to rate this one Five Stars!

The Darkest Night, by Gena Showalter

11 May

“Always before, Maddox had wished to fade into nothing when the fire overcame him, never to return to hell or to earth.  He’d wished to end his miserable existence and finally stop the pain.  Always before—but not tonight.  Not this time.  Tonight, pain was eclipsed by desire.”

The Darkest Night Mouthwatering cover
How can you resist this cover?

I don’t know why I haven’t read more of Gena Showalter’s novels.  I’ve read her Atlantis series and loved them.  Her book covers are mouthwatering.  There are so many Lords of the Underworld books that I wanted to be sure to start from the beginning.  So at a used bookstore recently, I bought the first two.  I just completed The Darkest Night, a truly decadent treat!

Maddox is an immortal warrior bonded with Violence and cursed to die a painful death every night.  Most of his days are spent struggling to control the violent urges, until the day Ashlyn smiled at him.  Ashlyn has her own struggles to face, so when Maddox brings much-needed peace to her life, not even the threat of Violence can sever her loyalty.  Together, Maddox and Ashlyn face the beginnings of war.  They forge an impossible passion to create their own fairytale! 

There are currently eight Lords of the Underworld novels, another on its way, and a few smaller stories in between.  This means I have a lot to read!  This book was clearly Maddox and Ashlyn’s story, but it also served to set up the series and introduce us to more than one upcoming adventure in store for us.  There are many players in the search for Pandora’s box, and I’m so glad that these heroes will all get their own love stories as the larger plot continues.

Remember how I said that the cover was mouthwatering?  Well, the passion within the novel doesn’t disappoint!  There were times when I was embarrassed to be reading this book in public.  I love how hot and sexy this book was without losing its story or ending up over the top.  I very much loved The Darkest Night, and can’t wait to continue with The Darkest Kiss!  Five Stars, easy.

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

8 May

When I found Scott Westerfeld’s novel Uglies at a used book sale, I jumped at the chance to finally start this series.  I don’t intentionally seek out Young Adult novels, but I love how engrossing they can be, and they’re often such fast reads.

Uglies book cover

“But it’s a trick, Tally.  You’ve only seen pretty faces your whole life.  Your parents, your teachers, everyone over sixteen.  But you weren’t born expecting that kind of beauty in everyone, all the time.  You just got programmed into thinking anything else is ugly.”

“It’s not programming, it’s just a natural reaction.  And more important than that, it’s fair.  In the old days it was all random—some people kind of pretty, most people ugly all their lives.  Now everyone’s ugly…until they’re pretty.  No losers.”

The idea behind this novel is very interesting, and hits close to home.  On every person’s sixteenth birthday, they are given a surgery to transform from an ugly, into a pretty.  The pretties get to have big parties and don’t have a care in the world.  Children are taught from a very early age that making everyone pretty fixes the problems and inequality that the old “Rusties” faced in the past.

It took several chapters to get hooked on this story, though I’m glad I got past it.  My initial turn off came from the “preachy” feeling that I got from the narration.  There was an obvious message to readers about how we view beauty.  Also, I was more aware that the book was written for a younger audience than I was, for example, when I read The Hunger Games.

While the narration started with a very young feel, it improved exponentially as the novel moved forward.  Actually, Tally, the main character, matured throughout the novel, and her voice evolved with her.   Kudos to the author for accomplishing this so subtly.   I also loved the other characters that we met along the way.

Of course, Uglies ended with a huge cliffhanger, and I’m already desperate to read the next in the series, Pretties.  I can’t wait to learn more about this world.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a five star book, but even with its slow start, this is a highly recommended read!

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, by David Wroblewski

30 Apr
“Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive.  You swam in a river of chance and coincidence.  You clung to the happiest accident–the rest you let float by.”

Edgar Sawtelle book coverI’m embarrassed to say this book took me forever to read. I didn’t dislike it, and it was well-written. It made me sad, though. I was afraid to become too invested in the story and the characters.  Occasionally, something good would happen, and I could whizz through a few chapters.  For example, Edgar met a man named Harry.  This was by far my favorite part of the book.  Upon fearing an ending to this section, I put the book away for a few weeks before I could bring myself to keep reading.

Edgar Sawtelle is an endearing character.  He was mute from the moment he was born, for no discernible reason.  Still, he grows up happily in rural Wisconsin with his parents, his dog Almondine, and a thriving dog breeding business.  The Sawtelle Dogs are renowned for their unique abilities, with almost a mysterious quality to them throughout the novel. 

Edgar’s life takes a dramatic turn, however, when his uncle Claude returns home.  With a nod to Hamlet, Edgar’s story is somewhat creepy, adventurous, and sad.  Througout it all, the characters maintain a very human quality–Even the dogs!

This book isn’t for everyone.  I prefer a story with a bit of the supernatural, but despite that, it has a very realistic quality.  It merges topics and genres smoothly to a somewhat ambiguous result.  Although it has Oprah and Stephen King’s praise, I’m going to give it three and a half out of five stars.  Deeply appreciated, but not really the escape it’s sometimes called.  Hamlet is, after all, a tragedy. 

 

The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier

7 Mar

Yes, I am actually posting.  No, I didn’t exactly read a book.  This is the review of an audiobook I listened to this weekend, narrated by Richard Poe.

For some reason, I haven’t been in the mood to sit down and read a book.  I’ve been focused on a lot of transitions in my life, and I’ve also been writing.   This is embarrassing for me to admit, but since I don’t want to give up on the Blook Bog, I have to be honest about it.  I think this is the longest time I’ve gone without reading a book since grad school!

Anyway, I’m really glad I didn’t try to read this book.  The Brief History of the Dead has been a book that I’ve wanted to read for years now; I’m glad I can finally cross it off my list.  It took a while to get into this novel, but it did have its high points.

Imagine a book that combines The Road with The Lovely Bones.  That provides some of the framework for Brockmeier’s concept.  There are two worlds with two stories that slowly come together.  As the people of the world pass on, they find themselves in The City, a world that closely resembles the one they left behind.  Married couples are re-united and best friends can meet up in a bar to have a drink in the afterlife.  Occasionally, residents vanish and no one knows what happens to them.  They have a theory that The City holds the dead as long as they are remembered by people living on Earth.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Laura Byrd, researcher for the Coca-Cola Corporation, struggles for survival in Antarctica.  She and her two teammates lost contact with the base, and when the other two set out to find help, they never return.  Through amazing endurance, Laura journeys across the frozen land, and begins to suspect that she’s the only person left on Earth.

“How many people was any one human being likely to remember? A thousand? Maybe if you were cursed with a particularly slipshod memory. So then—ten thousand?…

He was thinking about himself, his own life, and by extension, he was thinking about Laura. She was the common element, after all, the link or what have you. After all the discussion he had heard in the city, that much was obvious.”

This book poses a lot of topics that would make a good discussion.  The author’s look at life and death is very creative.  As a story, however, it fell flat for me.  There isn’t much dialogue, but lots of long descriptions.  There is a lot of symbolism, and I won’t pretend I understood it all.  For me, the symbolism got in the way of getting to know characters and staying engaged in the story.
I found Laura’s struggle to stay alive to be the most engrossing part of the book.  She faces freezing weather, deep caverns, and plague.  I can’t imagine the loneliness she experienced!
Overall, I’m going to go with three stars in my evaluation of this book.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to have a discussion about it; there’s a lot to talk about.

A Kiss at Midnight, by Eloisa James

27 Nov

Kiss at Midnight cover

 

“The only thing completely clear about the situation is your infatuation,” Wick said.  “Let me sum it up for you: Kate, very sensibly, shows no interest in you.   Frightened by the imminent arrival of your bride, you are now running shrieking in the direction of the one woman who not only doesn’t want you, but isn’t eligible.  Really, could you be a bit more original?”

 

I was planning on reading a more sophisticated book this weekend, but sometimes you just crave something light.   So I went to my bookcase dedicated to paperbacks and picked out this little gem.

A Kiss at Midnight is Eloisa James’s version of a fairytale.  Usually, I turn to Christina Dodd (highly recommended!) for that kind of thing.  Still, this has its cute moments, including a wicked stepmother, quirky godmother, and glass slippers!

The story starts slowly, introducing Kate Daltry and Prince Gabriel.  I really liked Kate right away, but it took some time to get used to Gabriel. The circumstances bringing Kate and Gabriel together are pretty random and far-fetched.  As a connoisseur of romance novels, I’m used to accepting the implausible, but some of this plot seemed unnecessarily strange.  Still, this was a fairy tale, after all, and it was easy to root for a happily ever after.

One of the easy pitfalls for Regency romance is having too many characters.  I know it leaves the possibility open for spin off stories, but sometimes it just seems too cluttered. In this case, I could barely keep up with all the characters, and it was a bit odd how they were involved in the wrap up in the end.  The best character was definitely Henry, the industrious godmother.  Her fun personality carried this book. Add in some of the hottest…ahem…romantic scenes I’ve read in a long time, and this book was a solid three stars. Overall, this is cute and enjoyable as long as you are willing to accept some of the weird parts in the plot.

The Tairen Soul Quintet

21 Nov

I’ve been holding off on this post because I’m smack in the middle of book four in a series of five.  Still, with the release of the final, fifth book occurring this month, I had to get this out there.

For at least a year, I had a cute paperback book on my bookshelf featuring a redheaded young woman laying in the grass, surrounded by magic.  I don’t know why I didn’t look too closely, but I’m very glad that it just sat on my shelf.  Eventually, I found another book at my favorite used book sale and recognized the same style cover and the author.  Still, both books sat, waiting.

How fortuitous that I decided to read the first in the series, Lord of the Fading Lands, so close to the release date of the final book.  When I started, I had no idea that I was about to plunge into an epic.  I’m still in the middle of the fourth book, but I had to share this with you as soon as possible.

The Tairen Soul is a very special version of the Fey, with the ability to change into a large, flying cat-like creature called the Tairen.  Rainier, the last Tairen Soul in the Fading Lands, serves as king over both the Fey and the Tairen.  Rain hasn’t left the Fading Lands in thousands of years, but the mysterious deaths of his kind have caused him to leave in search of a solution.

That solution just happens to be Ellysetta, a simple, mortal girl hiding a lot of secrets.  From the moment she meets Rain, Ellie is forced to face the magic and talents that she has spent her whole life meticulously hiding.  She’s afraid to accept her powers, but with Rain, her truemate, by her side, Ellie will begin a journey to accept her destiny.

The love between Ellie and Rain is wrought with conflict.  Ellie’s soul calls Rain down from the sky, and he immediately professes his love for her as her one true soulmate.  I thought that this would take away from the drama in their relationship, but that is not at all the case.  The couple must still find their way together, in the midst of war and danger.  Ellie is especially intriguing.  Initially, her story read like a Cinderella tale where a simple young girl suddenly becomes a queen.  However, her character is always evolving and growing in depth and strength.  Ellie is no delicate princess to be swept off her feet.  She’s powerful beyond anyone’s understanding, and deeply empathetic.

Written originally as a complete novel, there are really no good endings and beginnings among all the books.  I highly suggest collecting them all, and then reading all the way through.  I hesitate a little to rate The Tairen Soul Series prematurely, especially since I find that it’s the endings that always disappoint me.  Still, I already know that the journey is well worth the read.  I rate this five out of five stars!