Jul 30, 2012

Giveaway of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Last night I asked Twitter if there would be any interest in a giveaway of a hardcover copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The response was overwhelmingly positive. 

See, the thing is, I tried to read this book. And it just wasn't for me. The writing is absolutely GORGEOUS, but the plot (when there is one) didn't pull me in. So I DNF'd it. Now I have no desire to go back and read it, and I have this lovely copy of the book that I need to get rid of. So I thought, GIVEAWAY! 

The condition of this book is great, FYI. I hardly touched it so it is almost brand new. I'm not taking pictures because I'm lazy, but just know that this is a beautiful book. I didn't want to donate this one; I would rather someone I know get some use out of this book. I am donating boxes of books anyway. 

Here is the cover and blurb if you have not heard of this book yet (you must live under a rock):

Blurb: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

This giveaway is US/CA only. Since this is coming from my own library, I cannot afford to ship internationally. But I already have an international giveaway planned for August. Stay tuned. 

This giveaway is for a hardcover copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. You can read the synopsis and other reviews on Goodreads here. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on 8/7/12 at midnight.

One email address per household. One Twitter account per entrant. Winner has 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. I will be checking and disqualifying any entries that are trying to cheat and game the system.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jul 28, 2012

Guest Review of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: June 5th, 2012
Pages: 358
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Guest Reviewer: Heartless Lyn

Blurb: Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

Review: Leigh Bardugo’s launched into the young adult field with her first novel, Shadow and Bone.  In the debut book, we follow a young orphan girl, Alina Starkov , as she discovers her newly found talent as a Grisha: powerful people who can manipulate magical elements.  While serving in the army with her childhood friend, Mal, Alina stumbles onto her powers as the military unit attempts to cross an evil, dark encased section of land dubbed the Fold.  Alina is swiftly enfolded into another world as she is adopted into the Grisha court, where the head Grisha, the Darkling, entices her with lust and power.  Alina soon begins to understand that her true source of power depends heavily on her own merits, and as she begins to understand which are friends and which are foes, she has to learn to rely on her own merits to save the future of the land.

Shadow and Bone is a book that is hard to compare to any other book I have read in the young adult section.  Bardugo’s world building heavily borrows from Russian culture, which is reflected in the names of the characters, the clothing donned by the Grisha, and other cultural centered details of the story, including movars and samovars.  For someone who is not well versed in all things Russia, the experience was an enjoyable trip into a culture that is not widely employed in teen literature.

The romance of the book is mild enough to be safe with the YA pack, but the undertones of lust and the deliverance of some saucy tempting scenes can entice any level of reader. You're not going to want to put it down until the last page. And don't depend on just one hot lead to take your breath away. I hate to reveal any spoilers here, but the development between the male leads and Alina almost caused a heart attack.  I would HIGHLY suggest breaking out the chocolate as you delve further into the book. Without giving anything away, this is the most amazing non love triangle love triangle that I have ever read. Blossoming Alina finds herself in a sticky romantic situation during the progression of the story, and begins to learn the value of the meaning behind honest love. Respecting a person is a major ingredient required to love someone and to have their love returned. Alina is guilty of confusing lust and love, but she takes away a powerful lesson. And I can't say I blame her in the least for her own folly. I was right there with her.

The protagonist struggles with the same complex issues of self image to help the typical reader identify with the story, but Bardugo performs her magic and brings in this wonderful element: outer beauty depends on inner beauty. Yes, girls, when you feel confident in yourself, your life, and your own identity, you are going to look fabulous. I am not talking about "love yourself and you too can look like Scarlett Johansson!" magic (however, if you ever discover this, please contact me ASAP). Alina does not become the MOST BEAUTIFUL Grisha to ever exist, but when she lets go of her anger, self doubt, and self denial, she embraces an outer glamour that is her own. This healthy dose of knowledge is constantly force fed to youth, but you never realize how important self worth plays in attraction. I never understood that concept until I saw it happen for me personally. I am no raving beauty. I'm not fishing for compliments; facts are facts. I come from a long line of highly unattractive people, but I have plenty of friends and attention because I respect who I am. A pretty face only lasts so long, but a positive self identity stays for life. This merit does not simply end with physical attraction. Compassion enters into the field, and Alina witnesses that justice can be used to outshine the darkest of times. Our main character also realizes that mercy is stronger than brutality. The good old advice of "catching insects with honey instead of vinegar" provides the stage for a very moving chapter in the book.  You’re going to need to get the tissues.  You have been fairly warned.

I also cannot talk about this book without mentioning that Bardugo ventures away from the dull, formulaic plot devices and shreds everything you know as she rolls out the best plot twist on this side of contemporary fiction. Dedicated readers will understand the woe of fine tuned book instincts--you see the concealed secrets, the hidden identities, and the ploys and fabrications from a mile away--aka "my story senses are tingling". If you have read books for nearly your entire life, you get the gist. So imagine my surprise when I WAS BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER. I haven’t been this surprised in a very long time.

I found very few complaints about Shadow and Bone. I believe the only offending portions were the extended and mildly tedious court life sequences (I enjoyed the scenes, but I felt that they played a bit too long for my taste).  Some people have openly attacked Alina’s character as seemingly shallow at certain points.  However, it is important to realize that Alina is a teenager herself, and in a “Mean Girls” reflection, she gets caught up in a world that she had begrudgingly admired from afar.  I doubt that if I was in her shoes, I would have behaved any differently. 

I have the sequel already staked out, and if this book is an indicator to the quality that Leigh will be delivering, I openly welcome this new author into my bookcase.

Follow Heartless Lyn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Heartless_Lyn

Follow or add Lyn on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3196419-lyn

Jul 26, 2012

Book Review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: May 10th, 2011
Pages: 247
Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy
Source: I own a copy of this book.

Blurb: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

Review:  Wyverary! Gleam! Saturday! I don't think a book's ending has ever made me smile quite like this one. But before I get to the ending, I need to talk about the rest. Listen. I am not good at raving and exclaiming about books that I love. I'm much better at reviews that have something to criticize. Writing reviews for books you love is really hard to do. So this will probably be short. But I'll try. Take a seat. Now. Heh.

So the one thing you just HAVE to know about this book is that the characters are fantastic. They are exactly the kind of characters you find in a children's fantasy novel but they are so intelligently rendered that it will make your head explode. EXPLODE. Mine did. I would love to talk to you about them, but beside the protagonist, I think they are best discovered by you reading about them on your own. September, however, is a perfectly precocious and brilliant child. Not everyone is going to like her because she is outspoken and a bit bossy but I really identified with her because this is how I was as a child. And still am. So I kind of fell in love with myself. What a narcissist I am.

When I started reading this novel, I had no idea where it was going or what  the plot was supposed to be. But that's the beauty of it. And once the book hits its stride, you will be circumnavigating fairyland right along with September. The book is so whimsical. There are shades of Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland in here. Some of it is a little weird but it's also very cute. Adorable is the perfect word for it. There are talking animals, and on a few occasions I wondered if I was smoking up the ganja. Was I really reading what I was reading? Indeed, I was.

It's an amazing book. It truly is. It needs to be read by all and if you haven't gotten to it yet, bump this up on your tbr piles immediately. The ending had me in tears. I mean...I wish I could talk about it. I am DYING to talk about it. There is no cliffhanger. The loose endings were all wrapped up. I was worried about that but the happy ending that I would normally roll my eyes at had me squeeing for joy. There is a little thing at the end that has you thinking about the sequel but it's nothing that will leave you feeling cheated. 

This is a perfect book in every way. The world-building is utterly detailed and mesmerizing. There are so many intelligent puns and I went "WOW" at this author's imagination so many times. This is the type of book that has you falling in love with reading all over again. Especially if you are feeling disillusioned. And I was. I cannot wait to read the sequel. I need to have it immediately.

I'm going to leave you with a few of my favorite lines/quotes/scenes from the book. There will be a giveaway on the blog coming for this one in August.

"My sister has no shame at all, September," Goodbye continued. "That's a very secret thing she did--right in front of you! You see, the future is a kind of stew, a soup, a vichyssoise of the present and the past. That's how you get the future: You mix up everything you did today with everything you did yesterday and all the days before and everything anyone you ever met did and anyone they ever met, too. And salt and lizard and umbrellas and typewriters and a lot of other things I'm not at liberty to tell you, because I took vows, and a witch's vows have teeth. Magic is funny like that. It's not a linear thinker. The point is if you mash it all up together and you have a big enough pot and you're very good at witchcraft, you can wind up with a cauldron full of tomorrow. That lump of greasy, slimy goop is a prophecy, and my sister cast it for you." ~page 32-33

Lye poured a bucketful of golden water over September's head. "When you are born," the golem said softly, "your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you're half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you'll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your world that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true." ~page 60 
Absolutely brilliant book. You should buy a copy. And if you do, use my link to Amazon. The Kindle edition is 6.99: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Jul 24, 2012

Book Review of The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: August 21st, 2012
Pages: 231
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Blurb: Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.

And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.

Review:  This is going to be a VERY difficult review to write. Not because I loved this book, and not because I hated this book. I just have nothing to say about this book. It was inconsequential. And I know that's the kiss of death but I don't know what else to say. It was very meh. So meh in fact, that I hardly remember it and I read it a few days ago. But I'll try to do my best. Here we go.

So our protagonist, Robie, lives on an island in the Midway Atoll but she visits her aunt in Honolulu a lot. To make a long story short, she takes a red-eye cargo plane home because she is afraid to stay alone at her aunt's condo. There is no real airport on Midway, so taking a cargo plane is quite normal. They forget to write her name on the manifest and the plane goes down. And so does Robie and the other two people on it. And that's when the story begins. Or doesn't begin. Because it was a snoozefest. 

Look, I'll admit, I haven't read many stories about survival, but even if I had, I'm pretty sure they aren't supposed to be this boring. Robie is stranded at sea. To me, reading this book felt like I was stuck in that raft with her, watching the same waves over and over again. A book about being stranded at sea was much like being stranded at sea. Tiring, dehydrating, and I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. On top of that, there were some brutal animal violence scenes. It got to the point where I had to skip sections because I couldn't handle the death. So don't read it if you can't handle that.

This book was just over 200 pages long. At the rate I read, that should have taken me a little over three hours to read. It took me 3 days. Because I kept getting distracted. But to be fair, I didn't hate it. The writing was decent. And I thought Robie's character development was pretty well done. I DO think the author does have talent and I would read another book she wrote. That's why I did not give it one star. It wasn't terrible. It was just very mediocre. I skimmed the last thirty pages because I just didn't care anymore. And yes, I know I am being generous with my stars. I just think there are better books out there to spend your time on.

Before I wrap this up, I want to talk about the sharks. Sharks are used in this book as a cheap plot device. Every time something goes wrong, a tiger shark shows up. A shark eats a seal. It eats a signaling device she needs. It eats part of a fish she needs to survive. Look, I know sharks are a reality when you are stranded at sea. But it almost felt like the shark was out to get her. And sharks don't function that way. Not to mention, I really think it got repetitive and some more originality could have been used. Come on. You're a writer. Be more creative than that. 

That's it. I'm done. Rating? 

Jul 20, 2012

Stacking the Shelves #7

Welcome to Stacking the Shelves #7!! Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga at Tynga's Reviews.

It's been a long time since I did a STS post. It's been a busy couple of months with moving and Afghanistan, so this is going to be a pretty big haul. I should probably do a vlog, but I'm really just NOT in the mood. But I am going to take a picture. And that will have to be good enough. 

There's also one other thing I want to address. And that is the drama going on in the blogosphere right now. I've addressed a lot of it on Twitter already, but I bet a lot of readers wonder why I never post about the drama on my blog. There are two reasons for that:

One, I want my blog to be a happy place. This is where I cover books I love, books I bought, give away books I love, and review books I love and didn't. I want it to be ALL about the books. I'm not the greatest at discussion posts. Now to be fair, I haven't actually tried, but I'm not sure I really want to. And that brings me to the second reason:

There are so many other blogs out there that cover the drama better than I. Cuddlebuggery, for one. There are a few more I look to for that kind of information, but the point I want to make is that I think they do it better than I ever could. Not to mention, I am better discussing the drama in 140 characters or less. I'm not saying I will NEVER cover drama that occurs, but I have to be inspired to post about it. And right now, I'm just *&@*&$ over it. I want to get back to the books. Really, I do. This shit is ridiculous. On to the books.

For Review: 

Lucid (Brightest Kind of Darkness #2) by P.T. Michelle (E-book from the author)

Why: Because I read the first book and really liked it. The author asked me if she could send me the follow-up and I agreed to review it. 

Mystic City (Mystic City #1) by Theo Lawrence (E-book from NetGalley)

Why: I've wanted to read this one for awhile. The title! The cover! The blurb! I saw it on NetGalley and just HAD to request it. 

Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch (E-book from NetGalley)

Why: Because this book sounds really weird. And unique. And I'm really into weird things these days. The blurb really intrigues me.

Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff (E-book from NetGalley)

Why: Dude! It's Stormdancer! And the author is the shit. No, seriously, he is. And the subject matter? Japanese steampunk? Two things that I adore reading about? And the hype is huge. And most people that have read this so far have loved it, including some of my most trusted blogger friends. It's a MUST read.

The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer (E-book from NetGalley)

Why: Because it sounds creepy and atmospheric and I love Italy. I have been looking for the perfect paranormal read and they have all been failing miserably. This sounds like the perfect remedy and I hope it lives up to the expectations I have for it.

Thanks to P.T. Michelle, Scholastic, Random House Children's Books, EgmontUSA, and St. Martin's Press.

Now, on to the physical books! Photo first! From top to bottom.

For Review: 

Outpost (Razorland #2) by Ann Aguirre ~Thank you to MacKids~

Why: Well, I read Enclave a long time ago, and I loved it. Unfortunately, since then, my tastes have changed a lot and I am afraid I may not be as enthusiastic about this book as I once was. I don't think I would love Enclave anymore if I re-read it. But I'm going to try my hardest. A lot of people have an issue about the way that Enclave handles rape. I can't say that I blame them. So we'll see.

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron ~Thank you to Wendy Darling~

Why: Steampunk? An asylum? The blurb is fantastic and sounds so utterly creepy. I added this one to my tbr a long time ago and thankfully Wendy picked up an extra copy at ALA and I was lucky enough that she offered to send it to me.

Alice in Zombieland (White Rabbit Chronicles #1) by Gena Showalter ~Thank you to Giselle at Xpresso Reads~

Why: Alice in Wonderland? Zombies? Though I am a little worried that one of the characters is a bad boy. But I'm still REALLY looking forward to reading this one. It's one of my most anticipated reads of 2012.

Once (Eve #2) by Anna Carey ~Thank you to Epic Reads and HarperCollins~

Why: I'm not sure. I sort of liked Eve. I didn't love it but I loved it enough to continue the series. I won't get to this one anytime soon but I am excited to see if it gets better. I hope it does.

Lost Girls by Ann Kelley ~Thank you to Giselle at Xpresso Reads~

Why: The setting is Thailand. The story is survival. Giselle liked this one and I'm hoping I will too. It's not often you find YA books set in different countries. Thailand is one of my favorite. Setting is incredibly important to me.

The Diviners (Diviners #1) by Libba Bray ~Thank you to Mickey at I'm a Book Shark~

Why: Mickey rescued a copy of this for me at ALA. This is one of my most anticipated fall reads. The blurb sounds fantastic. This book is huge guys. HUGE. It's the biggest ARC on my shelf. I love long books so I will have to clear my schedule for this one. I can't wait to read it.

Goodbye For Now by Laurie Frankel ~Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Doubleday~

Why: This book sound fantastic. Really unique. I focus a lot of my blog space on YA books but I do love to read adult fiction. It's harder for me to choose adult books because a lot of them don't interest me, but this one sounds fantastic. I started reading it and I like it so far but it hasn't really pulled me in yet. Hopefully that happens soon.

And that's it for this week. Hopefully there is something in here you haven't heard of and it interests you. Leave me a comment and I will visit your Stacking the Shelves post. Until next week, happy reading!!

Jul 19, 2012

Giveaway of Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

It's time for another 5 Star Giveaway! I'm giving away books all year that I have reviewed and given 5 star ratings. Hopefully I can do this next year too. And the year after that. Every book I award a 5 star rating to on this blog is getting a giveaway. I don't give this rating away easily, so it has to be a book that really blew me away and covered all of my writing bases. So far this year, I have given away Five Flavors of Dumb, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Shadows on the Moon, Inhale, Shadow and Bone, Girl in Translation, and now I am giving away Insignia by S.J. Kincaid! I got a copy of this book for review from Edelweiss and HarperTEEN and fell in love. It's a true dystopian with fantastic characters and a riveting story. Check the blurb below to see if it's a book you might be interested in. 

Blurb: More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

If you are interested, you can read my 5 Star review of Insignia here.

This giveaway is International. If you are in the US or Canada, I will be shipping from Amazon. If you are international, I will be shipping from The Book Depository. This giveaway is for a hardcover copy of Insignia by S.J. Kincaid. You can read the synopsis and other reviews on Goodreads here. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on 7/27/12 at midnight.

One email address per household. One Twitter account per entrant. Winner has 72 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. I will be checking and disqualifying any entries that are trying to cheat and game the system.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jul 17, 2012

Book Review of In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: August 7th, 2012
Pages: 336
Genre: Adult, Cultural Fiction, Historical
Source: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb: For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.


Writing this review is going to be difficult. Trying to be objective on this one is going to be tough. This was probably the hardest book I have EVER had to read. And I have read about some difficult subjects. But I've always held an interest in the Khmer Rouge and the history and atrocities committed. I can't say that I learned more than I didn't already know, but this book was presented as a blend of memoir and fiction, rather than reading a dry webpage or nonfiction presentation. It brought a different experience to all that I already know. Still...I cried so many times and on several occasions found myself in such a state of nausea that I almost vomited. It's the truth and I'm being honest. This was a hard f*cking book to read. It was not fun. I did not find it entertaining. And yet, it was really, REALLY good. I know many people like to read books about the tough stuff, but I've realized that there is a limit to how much I can take and I will be cognizant of that in the future. But I need to review this the best that I can. Here is what I can say:

In the Shadow of the Banyan was an extremely well-written book. It was a little dry in places which is why the book did not receive 5 stars from me. But I did really enjoy the voice of Raami and I found myself caring for her more than I do most characters. Could it have been because of her terrible circumstances? Sure. But it was also because she was just really well-developed. This girl felt utterly real. The things that happened to her and her family were absolutely heartbreaking. There are many things that make me lose faith in humanity, but none so much as the actions of the Khmer Rouge soldiers in this book.

Some of the other characters were a little flat. And I sometimes felt that I was being told a story and a sequence of events and I didn't get as involved in the side characters as I could have. That was a shame. Because as devastated as I was, it could have been even more powerful with a little tweaking. Still a fantastic book--beautiful in tone, and I have several quotes that I marked that I want to share with you.

Something jumped in front of us. A silver-tailed fish. It flashed like a knife in the air and then disappeared again beneath the surface. Papa's gaze followed the ripples shimmying in the water, and for a moment he looked as if he would jump into the pond and follow the fish. He often looked like this--like he wanted to escape but know he couldn't. "The guard didn't know better, you see. He thought he was honoring me by beating a boy--a worthless street urchin, in his eyes--who dared to curse me, defile my noble name."


In the morning, I found Mama outside stirring a pot of boiled lotus seeds over the cooking fire. The pot of rainwater was nearby. I walked to it, scooped some out with my hands, and drank, my parched throat remedied. She handed me a bowl of the lotus seeds. At first she was silent, wouldn't even look at me. Then, as I sat down to eat, she said, "There was a mother..." Her voice was small, like the rustle of a leaf in an immense forest. "She loved her daughter so much that she'd give the child whatever the girl desired. One night while they were playing in the garden, the little daughter saw the full moon and wanted it. The mother tried to explain that the moon belongs up there. You can't just pluck it from the sky like you would a fruit from a tree. But like any small child, the girl didn't understand the moon isn't something you possess. She cried and cried. So what could the mother do but give her daughter the moon? She brought a bucket of water, and pointing to the reflection, said, 'Here's your moon, my love.' The little girl, delighted, plunged her arms into the bucket, and for hours she played with her moon, watching it dance and swirl."

I couldn't decide which quote was my favorite, so I decided to use both. One if from Raami's father, and the other is from her mother. Both amazing characters, by the way. I chose two quotes that didn't reveal spoilers because this is one of the books where I don't want to ruin the story by giving you bits and pieces out of context. You just need to read it. This is definitely not a book that I would recommend for everyone, however. If you cannot handle depressing and horrific subjects, pass on this one.

The one point that I want to sink in is that this is a book that makes you feel. And hurt. And if you are an emotional person, it will likely make you physically ill. I don't think I could ever read it again. It hurts me to think about. How could humanity do the things that they did? It makes me hate the world, and especially humans. What an ugly, UGLY world we live in. But at the same time, I fell in love with a few of the characters. Especially Raami's father. And her uncle. And I cannot explain in words how much this book emotionally impacted me. That was the point though. If you think this is something you would like based on the writing and the synopsis, I would read it. But prepare yourself. You need kleenex, a blanket, and someone to hug; preferably a dog that's really cuddly.

To buy a copy of In the Shadow of the Banyan from Amazon.com, click here: In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel.

Watch the author discuss her book and the meaning behind it below. It's a very touching and emotional video. It's hard to watch a survivor of the Khmer Rouge talk because I cannot imagine what living through that was like. It doesn't go away just because it's over and life goes on. An experience like that changes the way you think, feel, and live. Forever. Vaddey Ratner is an inspiration to me. Unbelievable.

And you should know, even though this book is listed as fiction, it's really not. A few of the experiences have been reworked and that is the only thing that keeps it from being a memoir. So if you read it, you should know. Each one of these characters was very, very real.

There is a message of hope in this book, but to me it was overshadowed by the devastation. 

Jul 15, 2012

Book Review of Darkhouse by Karina Halle

Publisher: Metal Blonde Books
Release Date: March 10th, 2012
Pages: 346
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal
Source: I purchased a copy for my Kindle. 

Blurb: With all the vampire, werewolf and faerie books out there, it's easy to become numb to all things supernatural. The antidote?
Darkhouse introduces two real and unforgettable characters, Perry Palomino & Dex Foray, amateur ghost hunters who are "attractive, relatable and oddly heroic," "flawed but loveable," "slightly crazy," and just the most endearing pair to ever tackle the paranormal...just don't call them normal. 

Darkhouse is a thrilling and sexy new take on concepts like Supernatural and The X-Files, bringing a breath of fresh air to a genre that has been inundated with the dead.
Review: First of all, three stars is NOT a bad review. I really liked Darkhouse. But I had a couple of issues with the book. The one thing I do want to say though? You wouldn't be able to tell this is a self-published book. Is the editing perfect? No, it is not, but the errors were so far and few between that it really did not hinder my reading experience at all. And that is one thing that I run into often when reading self-published books. I didn't find that to be a problem here.

As far an content editing goes, there are a few things I would have fixed. The pacing was off a bit in the beginning. Once the book got going, it was great. But it was choking on fumes there a little in the beginning trying to get started. The were some lines of dialogue that were a little awkward and with a little rewording, could have been smoothed out. Awkward dialogue really interrupts flow for me. If I roll my eyes, that is never a good sign. And I know that I am pickier than most people, but now that I edit as a career, it's hard to not read for enjoyment the same way that I do for work. Though I try. 

I could tell you that the author used more adverbs than she should have and that there was a lot of showing v. telling, and there was in spots. But I still found this to be a really FUN reading experience. And that's what reading is about. This was just a really GOOD book. I love reading about ghosts and creepy things. I love being scared and being on the edge of my seat waiting for something to make me jump. I love atmospheric settings. And this book had all of those things. If you are a fan of Supernatural or any of the ghost hunting shows, you will probably like this book.

Most of all though, the thing I loved most about Darkhouse were the characters, Perry and Dex. First of all, I talk to Karina a lot on Twitter and through Facebook and I love her to death. I've gotten to know her quite a bit and she's amazing. And perhaps that is why I loved her characters so much. I can see her personality a lot in them. And since I love her, it was only natural that I would love them. Dex is a brooding smart ass and not every reader is going to love him, but I did. He's mysterious but fun. Moody but intriguing. Perry is a cynical, sarcastic, hilarious girl. I saw a lot of myself in her. Was she a bit whiny? Sure. But I totally get where she was coming from. And the two of them together are intense. You want them to get together, but most of all, I just really loved the progression of their friendship. Karina knows what she is doing with these two, and it's only the first book. Fantastic.

So now I'm going to whine a little. I was disappointed by the ending. I didn't love the way it wrapped up. I wanted more resolution with the actual storyline. I loved the way SOME loose ends were tied up, but I felt like the book was unfinished. So I kind of hope in the future, we might be coming back to this story. I really can't say much more without spoiling the book and I don't want to do that so, just read it. If you like books about ghosts, the paranormal, romantic tension, or a creepy setting, you will probably like Darkhouse. It's not perfect, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Jul 12, 2012

Book Review of Wake by Amanda Hocking

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: August 7th, 2012
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received ARC from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb: Gemma seems to have it all—she’s carefree, pretty, and falling in love with Alex, the boy next door. He’s always been just a friend, but this summer they’ve taken their relationship to the next level, and now there’s no going back. Then one night, Gemma’s ordinary life changes forever. She’s taking a late night swim under the stars when she finds Penn, Lexi and Thea partying on the cove. They invite her to join them, and the next morning she wakes up on the beach feeling groggy and sick, knowing something is different.

Suddenly Gemma is stronger, faster, and more beautiful than ever. But her new powers come with a terrifying price. And as she uncovers the truth, she’s is forced to choose between staying with those she loves—or entering a new world brimming with dark hungers and unimaginable secrets.
Review: Wake had a great story concept. It could have been an original mermaid story with a lot of depth. It was an inventive idea and I liked it. Cursed sirens needed to find a substitute girl to make their group of four again because they need to have four at all times. They pick Gemma because she is strong, beautiful, and a competitive swimmer.  Of course there is a romance in there as well. It's YA. It almost has to have a romance. Well, it doesn't, but you will be hard-pressed to NOT find a romance in a YA book these days. Unfortunately, this book was pretty lousy. I'm just not going to sugar coat this review. I don't have it in me. The story concept was a good one, but the rest of this book tanked majorly with me. I was bored to tears. 

The writing was awkward. REALLY awkward. The narration was odd. I felt almost the entire time like I was being told a story. The writing style was very detached and there was a lot of odd POV switching that left me feeling really confused. Was it deliberate or was the writing just THAT bad? The book was written in the the third person but we would enter both Gemma and her sister Harper's minds in the span of a couple paragraphs. No page break, no new chapter, just a really bizarre third person multiple POV that I still can't figure out. I think it was unintentional and I hope it will be straightened out before the final copy is released, but as a reader, you have to worry a little if the author doesn't know how to write and stay in one POV.

Most of the characters were pretty flat. I didn't mind the protagonist, Gemma, but the rest of the characters were cardboard cutouts. Her sister Harper was annoying and stifling and I wanted to throttle her throughout the entire book. Gemma was not helpless and I don't know why she never stood up to her sister. Harper was ridiculous and she continued to annoy me. I was an only child, and so I don't know what it's like to have a sister, but I can tell you that Harper's behavior would not fly with me. Ever. And then she kept calling her dad Brian, and that was really weird too. There was just a lot of weirdness in this book.

There was hardly any imagery and no sensory language. I had a hard time picturing the setting and the tone of the writing left me really bored and unconnected to the characters. In places the dialogue was very awkward, and then there was an issue of there not being ENOUGH dialogue. The author TOLD me the story throughout the entire book. And I hate that. I really, truly, hate it. 

I haven't read a single mermaid story that has worked for me yet. The highest rating I have given a mermaid book is 3 stars, and unfortunately, this book will not be getting that high of a rating. I was really disappointed with this one, and I am left wondering if I should even bother reading any more of Ms. Hocking's books. Maybe her writing style just isn't for me. I need depth in my stories. This one stayed completely on the surface. Not recommended. Yes, it really was that bad.

Jul 10, 2012

Dan's Review of Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is a book that has received a lot of attention lately, both positive and negative. I am not an avid reader of this type of fiction. If I were not married, I would have never even considered watching the Twilight movies or any other series of movies where shirtless werewolves and pale anorexic vampires battle it out for the love of an apparently irresistible and completely helpless teenage girl.  But since the book is reportedly being made into a movie; and since it is causing such a stir; and since I’m stuck in Afghanistan with sh$# else to do, I’m going to read the book and give my perspective on the story. Here we go:

My Reading of Fifty Shades of Grey:
Or, The Diary of a Mad, White Man

First, let’s summarize the story. This is the story of Anastasia Steele, a sweet innocent college girl who meets and falls in love with Christian Grey, a young “freaking hot” business mogul. She first makes contact with Christian while conducting an interview as a favor for her friend, who is the editor of the college newspaper, but is sick and apparently cannot ask anyone else on the newspaper staff to fill in. The first time she lays eyes on Christian, she is falling face first into his office. A deep relationship forms where Anna stammers and turns red while Christian stares at her and imagines all of the ways he can penetrate her sexually. He’s a controlling weirdo, but Anna decides to give up her virginity on their first real date. And boy does she! A series of sexual acts follow. A sex-capade rivaled in duration and erotic repulsiveness only by an hour-long documentary of Wildebeests mating. Oh, and I forgot to mention Christian’s sex room, which is a room filled with various sex/torture devices. This apparently does not faze virginal Anna. She agonizes over a sex contract proposed to her by Christian for chapter after chapter. Bad dialogue ensues…more disgusting sex acts…a poor attempt at character development…and then, thankfully, it is over.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, he skipped over all of the important plot points.” Not true. There are no important plot points. The story is just a shell into which the author injects sex scenes. It is porn. And if you asked me to describe the last porn I saw, I wouldn’t try to convince you that it’s a movie about the meaning of life as seen through the eyes of a group of sorority girls and a lucky pizza delivery guy. It is just a thinly veiled excuse to break into an orgy. If porn is what you’re looking for, then look no further; although, I think the sex scenes are more disturbing than erotic (more on that later). If you still think that this is a legitimate piece of literature, then you and I disagree. Here is why:

Bad Story Telling:

                For a story to work, there must be tension and a natural arc to the events. I guess that the tension of the story is supposed to lie in Anna’s indecision about what to do about Christian and his sex contract. What is missing here is a motivating factor. Anna just met Christian. Christian’s only positive qualities are that he is good looking, apparently has a magical penis, and is rich. I know that some women would gladly push down their Grandma to get to a rich guy with a magical penis but it’s not a very compelling source of tension in a story. If you like him, go for it. If not, it’s not like you’ve known the guy for very long, so walk away. Anna is a grown woman, so the moral dilemma of the contract and the social taboos of the relationship are not very interesting as a driving force behind the story. Maybe if Anna were younger and being corrupted by an older man, but she is 22; that's hardly helpless and corruptible.

I’ve seen other stories like this. Take the movie Pretty Woman. Richard Gere’s character is a rich jerk who picks up a hooker with a heart of gold. He has the ability to take her out of her dark and dangerous life. She can teach a man, who seems to be unable to feel emotions, to love. Will it work out? The audience at least half cares because the hooker is likeable, and the rich jerk becomes noble in the end, no doubt changed forever by their relationship. The characters are not static and their motivations are reasonable.

The difference in this story is that Christian has nothing significant to offer Anna that I could care about. Yes, Christian is wealthy, but Anna is not poor. She is actually better off than most 22-year-old college grads. She has a car, interviews lined up, and an apartment that is being paid for by a friend’s parents. It's not like Anna has fallen into a life of prostitution and Christian is her only way out. James references Tess of the D’Urbervilles several times in the book. I suspect this is what she tried to pattern her story after. In Tess, Alec, the unfeeling villain of the story, pursues Tess relentlessly and eventually rapes her while riding through the woods in a carriage. Tess is innocent and inexperienced like Anna. Alec relentlessly pursues Tess, who wants nothing to do with him, but needs Alec to help her desperately poor family. There is the tension. Tess cannot walk away from Alec because her family is counting on his help. Anna faces no such decision. Her only dilemma is whether or not to enter into a slightly bizarre relationship with another consenting adult. And really, who cares if she does or doesn’t?

I always say that if you are going to make a bad movie, load it up with sex and nudity. James did that. That is the last ditch effort of a writer that knows that their work is crap. Or of someone who is writing a porn.  What it is not is literature.

Reader's Tip: To stave off boredom while reading this book, I suggest playing a drinking game. Try drinking every time Anna blushes, flushes, or turns red.
Warning: Do not read more than 2 pages per session or you will surely die.

Poor Character Development  

Let’s talk about Anna first and save Christian for later. Anna is supposed to be the heart of the story. The book is written from her point of view. The problem is that I feel as if I hardly know Anna. Virtually nothing is revealed about her past other than that she lived in Georgia and her parents are separated. These are hardly significant details. What the reader is left with is a surprisingly flat protagonist. I don’t care what happens to her because I don’t know her, so when she struggles with the decision whether to sign Christian’s contract, I am unmoved. It’s like watching a news story about a murder. You may feel sorry that someone has died, but unless you knew the victim personally, you don’t care that much.  

James tries much harder to develop the character of Christian Grey. Unfortunately, the effort is obvious and the result is a mish-mash of clichés. Christian is Bruce Wayne in Batman. He lives alone in a high rise penthouse apartment in the middle of a major city, he is the super rich head of a company whose business is unclear, he has a personal servant who takes care of his personal details, he has every toy and piece of technology a man could need, he has relationship problems, he has a secret past…etc, etc, etc. All Grey is missing is the likeability factor and interesting back story.

This is a good time to talk about awkward dialogue, because Christian is at the center of most of it. Christian speaks like a character in a made-for-TV movie set in Victorian England (Or maybe like someone trying to mimic Tess of the D’Urbervilles?). And even set in that environment, the other characters would probably wonder who jammed that stick up his butt.  He is irritatingly formal even with people who are supposed to be friends. Here is a passage that takes place in Anna’s apartment on the night of her graduation from college:

“If I may,” he says amused. He holds up a bottle of champagne as he walks in. “I thought we’d celebrate your graduation. Nothing beats a good Bollinger.”
“Interesting choice of words,” I comment dryly.
He grins.
“Oh, I like your ready wit, Anastasia.”  – Chapter 15
Forget about the fact that the quote isn’t very witty. It gives you a good idea of how Christian speaks most of the time. It has everything: he calls his girlfriend Anastasia (he often calls her Miss Steele), he is using overly formal language, and he is acting very coldly considering the fact that they are supposed to be celebrating. No one talks like this today. This goes on for the entire story. But then, James will hit us with inspired dialogue like this:

“Pinch the top and roll it down. You don’t want any air in the end of that sucker,” he pants. – Chapter 15
Suddenly Christian is using slang like he’s morphed into Mr. T.  I pity the fool that leaves air in the tip of that condom. Or this:

“Oh, Anastasia, you taste mighty fine,” he breathes. “Shall I make you come?” – Chapter 18

Now Christian is Foghorn Leghorn. I am suddenly picturing him in a white suit like Colonel Sanders. This kind of inconsistency keeps readers from getting a feel for the characters and kills the flow of the story. How are women supposed to masturbate through dialogue like this?

This is what escapes me about the popularity of this book. Christian Grey is supposed to seduce the reader. Aside from the bad dialogue, Christian is a male bimbo. He is nothing more than the male equivalent of a hot blonde with fake boobs. Christian is a powerful man. He has lots of money and everyone seems to be afraid of him. Women like this the same way that men like fake boobs. It’s shallow and superficial and serves only to facilitate some fantasy rooted deep in the human brain. In reality, you wouldn’t want to know the fake-boobed blonde or Christian Grey any more than you would want to hang out with the Trix Rabbit. They are all flat and unrealistic characters. And to be honest, I am much more intrigued by the Trix Rabbit’s character. Why is he so obsessed with cereal? Don’t rabbits eat vegetables? Oh wait…who cares?

Words I don’t ever want to see in print again, thanks to this book: blaze, clambers, flushes, hitches, sex (referring to female naughty parts), etc.

Sex Scenes

I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down again and leans down and kisses me, pouring a delicious crisp, liquid into my mouth as he does. It’s white wine. It’s so unexpected, hot, though it’s chilled, and Christian’s lips are cool.
“More?” he whispers.
I nod. It tastes all the more divine because it’s been in his mouth. He leans down, and I drink another mouthful from his lips…oh my. –Chapter 12

This quote is disgusting. I know that sex is very subjective and I have witnessed friends doing body shots off of women they didn’t know in a bar, but this crosses a line. Anna is drinking wine out of Christian’s mouth like a baby bird. This is the translation of what I was thinking when I read this:

I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down. I hear a loud snorting sound as Christian hocks a giant luge and spits into the glass. He continues to spit and hock several more times, heightening my anticipation. Finally he takes a swig of the concoction and leans down to kiss me. My lips part as he pauses just above me. His body convulses and I hear a deep retching as he expels the liquid into my open mouth.
“More?” he whispers.
I nod. I mean, it can’t get any more gross than this…right?
– Me reading Chapter 12…just before I threw up in my mouth

If you enjoy people spitting in your mouth, then this is the book for you. I won’t even discuss the scene where Christian porks Anna while she is on her period. What can I say about that? Some of the sex scenes in this book didn’t cause me to say “Eww!” out loud, but most of those scenes were pretty generic and contained the normal characteristics of porn. Anna starts out a virgin. In her first sexual experience ever, she has multiple orgasms and then deep throats Christian during her first-ever blowjob. James should just write about Unicorns f#$king. It would be more believable.

My feeling is that this book is nothing more than porn, so the quality of the sex scenes decides whether this book was successful. I am well aware that I’m not female and am not the target audience for these sex scenes, but gross is gross.

There are other problems with this book. James’ writing style is tedious and wordy. She uses the same sentence structure and words over and over. The book could have been half its current length and still told the same story. There is just too much to comment on. So to sum up my feelings: I don’t get it. I don’t understand how this book has sold so well and has become accepted in mainstream society. Isn’t there better lady-porn than this? If someone tried to make a porno version of Hamlet, guys would never buy it. So, take my word for it, ladies. You don’t have to read through a bunch of crap just to get a few sex scenes. Just get porn that knows what it is and gets right to the sex. Everything else is a waste of time.

~These are the opinions of my husband and I do not necessarily share them. I do find them hilarious, however, because I hate this book with the burning passion of a thousand suns. GIFs have been chosen and added by me.~

1/5 Dragons

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