Monthly Archives: July 2010

The July Roundup

I got back into reading in July. Hooray!

Score: 5/5 (Books I loved and will definitely read again)

Score: 4/5 (Books I liked and might read again)

Score: 3/5 (Books that are alright)

Score: 2/5 (Books I’ll probably get rid of) & Score: 1/5 (Books I actually hated, or couldn’t finish)

None, Thank Goodness!

Congratulations again to Daniela for winning a copy of a mystery book, I hope you will enjoy it.

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Fun Stats: this month I read 13 books totaling 3,881 pages. 4 of them were anthologies with 37 stories in them. 9 were library books. I gave away 1 book, and had 856 blog-views.


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Book Giveaway! (Part 2: The Winner)

I’ll also be sending you an email to get the proper information to mail your book to you.

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A Hidden Magic

Vande Velde, Vivian. A Hidden Magic (1997). 176 Pages. Magic Carpet Books. $6.95

We got a lot of new books at work, and this was one of many that I grabbed off the shelf. I expected a few laughs, and some silliness, and this book delivered. It’s certainly not deep, and it was a quick read.* It’s funny in the same way that The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is funny; an Improper Princess goes on an adventure and picks up a sidekick along the way.

Once upon a time– before kings and queens were replaced by an act of Congress and when kissing a frog still sometimes resulted in more than a case of warts– there lived a young princess named Jennifer.

Now Jennifer was not your average beautiful princess living in a magnificent palace. In fact, she was actually rather plain and shy, with the chubby, good-natured kind of face parents tend to call nice… (1)

Jennifer is your standard Improper Princess, who unfortunately falls for a very pretty Handsome Prince. Of course, he’s incredibly selfish and self-centered, and when he encounters Jennifer as she does the laundry, he doesn’t even help her carry it. (Though, because he is so handsome, Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind.)

Unfortunately, Jennifer is so besotted with the handsome prince that she doesn’t realize he’s an idiot, so when he suggests that they go into an enchanted forest, she agrees. It’s no surprise that they get lost, and is even less surprising that when they find a cottage, prince Alexander gets bespelled. (By a mirror, because he can’t help staring into it, and then tries to steal it.) Unlike Alexander, Jennifer has a bit of common sense, and goes to find some help.

The first person Jennifer comes across in her exploration of the wood is the Old Witch, who lives in a cave and talks to her magic pool. Things don’t go quite right, and everyone else Jennifer meets is just as odd as the Old Witch. Eventually, because this is fairy-tale based, prince Alexander is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In Conclusion:

A Hidden Magic is a lighthearted fantasy adventure for kids. The story is well-written, and fun. The pacing is good, and it keeps going along without being too fast. If it were targeted at an older group (than elementary school), it would be a little sparse, but for beginning readers who want chapter books and fun stories, this book is ideal. (It also manages to stay interesting for adult readers) It gets a 4/5.

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* I’m a pretty fast reader, so I finished it in a little over an hour. I think most adult readers could tear through it in 3 or less hours.

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You only have until tomorrow to enter, if you’re interested in a free book! I’ll be deciding the winner tomorrow (July 30th) at about 9pm PST, so be sure you comment by then! (I’ll even waive the haiku/limerick requirement, if you find it intimidating, or are hesitating because of that.)

Click here to go to the give-away!

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Humor

Beastly

Flinn, Alex. Beastly (2007). 336 Pages. HarperTeen. $16.99

I got Beastly from the library*, though I can’t for the life of me remember why I even thought of checking it out. It was a pretty good story, and though there were some moments which felt cheesy, I didn’t find it hard to suspend reality and get into the book.**

In an exclusive school full of the ultra-rich children of New York millionaires, Kyle Kingsbury is the top. His father (a newscaster) is one of the richest of the rich,*** he’s the most handsome boy in school, and he’s about to become Prince of the “Spring Dance,” which is not prom. I’m not sure why it’s not prom, because it should be, but whatever. Kyle is a jerk who gets away with anything because of his good looks.

In a moment of ultimate jerkitude, Kyle asks an unpopular goth girl to go to the dance, intending to stand her up. He has a date– the hot, slutty, dumb girl– and she’s in on the joke. Of course, Kendra (the unpopular goth girl) is more than she seems. Angered by his callousness, she curses him to become a beast. Not an animal, like a lion or a bear, but a Beast. He has two years to find his true love, and get a kiss, or he will be a beast forever.

Kyle’s father is hellbent on restoring his son to his former beauty. They visit doctor after doctor, meeting anyone who has even the slightest chance of finding a cure. When that fails, Kyle’s father loses interest in his son, and sends him to a Brooklyn brownstone with Magda the maid. Kyle begins his transformation here, when he calls his father and demands a tutor, and internet access.

Time passes, and Kyle grows closer to Will– his blind tutor– and Magda (the maid). Kyle and Will create a back yard greenhouse in which they grow roses, and things seem peaceful (though hopeless) until a drug addict breaks in. Kyle scares the man senseless, and threatens to take video footage of the break-in to the police unless he hands over his daughter. A few days later, Lind(a?, y?)**** is delivered to his door.

The progression from there is not exactly surprising. Kyle grows to care for Linda, and his plans go from trying to convince her to not hate him, to genuinely wanting to make her happy. The two seem like good friends, and they have fun together being nearly-normal teenagers. It is Beauty and the Beast, so it does follow the standard path of her leaving for her father, him nearly dying because of it, and them getting a happily-ever-after, but the setting was not all that was changed, so it manages to still be a little surprising.

Stylistically, there is one thing which bothers me; the chat sessions. Interspersed throughout the transitions in the novel are support-group “chats” for transformed teens. They didn’t add anything, and were rather annoying. I don’t care about the “little mermaid” in Denmark (or Norway, or wherever she is) or the frog prince. They were an unnecessary distraction, and did not even manage to be funny. The novel would have been better without them. Despite that, or perhaps in spite of, this novel managed to be surprisingly good.

In Conclusion:

With strong writing, and excellent narrative, this story manages to survive the transplant from “Once upon a time” to 21st century New York City without falling apart. The characters are great, and getting the story from Kyle’s perspective helps make the transformation from spoiled prince to good person very interesting, and strong. The book gets a 5/5, and I’ll have to buy a copy, since I picked this up from the library.

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*I need to rant about what I found when I opened this book. There are a lot of different types of security tape for libraries. I know, I’ve put a lot of them in a lot of books. I spent a lot of time dealing with mag strips, which we installed in different spots depending upon the binding. For hard-covers, we put it in the spine. (Stretch your book out, so the gap appears between the block and the cover, we used a metal rod to put it in there.) For paperbacks, we sandwiched it between a few unimportant pages, as close to the spine as possible, so it did not interfere with reading. Well, for this particular library book, they failed miserably at that. It’s on page 1, and it’s hanging out.

** I always picture me hanging up a pair of suspenders and jumping into a book when I say “suspend reality” or “suspend disbelief.” I suppose that makes me a bit weird, but there are much worse fates, I think.

*** Are prime time news reporters really that rich?

**** She is originally introduced as Linda (when we first get her name on p. 77), but is later called Lindy (by her father, on p. 152). The two names are used interchangeably throughout, and the girl doesn’t seem to care which one she is called. This bothered me a lot, and I really could not figure out whether her name was Linda or Lindy. It’s  not like one is a reasonable nickname for the other, either.

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As I was browsing Ye Olde Internets, I found out that Beastly got produced as a movie, due Spring 2011. It looks… interesting.

This is a part of the Local Library Reading Challenge.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fairy Tales Retold, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Jane Austen’s Fight Club

It was by chance that I found this. Well, not exactly chance. It was by glancing at my boyfriend’s computer screen at the right moment that I noticed him watching this. It made me laugh, and looked like it was really fun to film.

For all of us who have ever been frustrated by Austen’s propriety. (Though I must say, with all the rigid rules, it makes it that much hotter when they finally do get together.)

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I would like to take a moment to mention that there are only 4 days left before I mail a free book. (And as I write this, there are only 2 people to choose between.) Take a moment and enter, if you’re even vaguely interested!

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Shakespeare’s Storybook

Ryan, Patrick & Mayhew, James. Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard (2001). 80 Pages. Barefoot Books. $19.99

We all know that it’s only recently that plagiarism really became “bad,” and that playwrights and novelists borrowed liberally from folk tales, novels, and reality to create a lot of their works. I’m sure any of us who have studied any of Shakespeare’s work are aware that he did not think up everything. Rather, he took what was available and adapted it into the very special plays which we know (and mostly love) today.

What this novel does is summarize the barest details of the play, and then introduce a folktale which it was likely (or is known to have been) based off of. It’s illustrated, and explained in terms that your average elementary schooler could understand. My sister Kim said “Hey, that’s cool, I guess.”* The illustrations aren’t bad, either. (They’re really done in a very nicely stylized way.)

We’ve got several stories: “The Devil’s Bet” for The Taming of the Shrew, “The Hill of Roses” for Romeo and Juliet, “A Bargain is a Bargain” for The Merchant of Venice, “Snowdrop” for As You Like It, “Ashboy” for Hamlet, “Cap-o-Rushes” for King Lear, and “The Flower Princess” for The Winter’s Tale.

The stories are nothing special, and most of them are at least passingly familiar. Several of them are Cinderella variations (something I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading) and a few are your standard folktales. A little is said about the origins of each of them, and it is a very cute book. (One which I will be donating to the library, since I don’t need to re-read a children’s book about Shakespeare when I have my massive Norton anthology of Shakespeare anyhow.)

I could explain the contents of the folk tales, but I’ll resist the urge. I’m sure most of you know most of them anyhow. The biggest issue I had with the book was the last story (“The Flower Princess”) in which a “wisest wise woman” calls a King and a Prince “You stupid idiots!” which just doesn’t seem very wise to me. Aside from the fact that her grammar is atrocious, and her vocabulary is hardly child appropriate, there is the fact that she just called two fairly powerful men “Stupid Idiots” to their faces. Before she leads them to “a painting” of their dead loves, only to find out that it’s not a painting when they start to sing. I mean, really. They couldn’t figure out they weren’t a painting? I realize that I’m obsessing over something which by fairy tale conventions I should be willing to ignore, but I’m just not sure I can ignore this one. (And Kim, said sister agreed with me.)

The Quick Version:

If you’re looking to introduce an elementary schooler to some Shakespeare, or want a light fluffy folk-tale read with some heavier literature relationships, then this is the book for you. It’s not terrible, actually. It gets a 3.5/5 and will be donated to the library when I have the time to drop it off.

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* She’s 10 next month, so “cool, I guess” is about as enthusiastic as she gets right now. She’s in her “whatever” phase.

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Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits

McKinley, Robin & Dickinson, Peter. Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2009). 297 Pages. Penguin Young Readers. $19.99

I never really thought about the possibility that a husband & wife team could actually write together in a cohesive way. I suppose I was working under the theory that one would ride on the other’s coattails, and the book would be a failure. Clearly, that was a poor assumption, as both Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley are strong writers in their own right, and both have brought significant contributions to this anthology.

There are five stories in this volume, though there might once have been six. But that was before both Sunshine and Chalice became full-length novels, instead of  novellas or short stories, suitable for inclusion. Three stories are by Peter Dickinson; “Phoenix,” “Fireworm,” and “Salamander man.” Two are by Robin McKinley; “Hellhound” and “First flight.” I have to say that I loved every single story, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

The volume opens with “Phoenix,” which takes a while to really unravel, but as it moves along, it reveals itself nicely. In a park in England there is a small preserve- Dave’s Wood. It is here that Ellie meets a boy, one who knows far more about the animals and trees in that little patch of forest than any child has time to know. The story isn’t about Ellie, rather, it is revealed to her by the Phoenix’s companions. There’s a lot going on, and there are a few surprises (though more of the “ooh, that’s nice” than the “omg what just happened” variety.) It was well-written, and very nicely paced.

I’m clearly biased to like Robin McKinley’s stories, so I doubt it’s a surprise that I loved “Hellhound.” Especially since I read her blog, and know that she refers to her own dogs as Hellhounds.*Our main character is Miri, a teenage girl who grew up helping at her family’s stable– cleaning, helping with horses, teaching riding lessons, and leading trail rides. Things begin to change when Miri graduates high school, and goes to the pound to adopt a dog. There she meets Flame, a dog she calls “hellhound” because of his solid red eyes. Some rather magical things happen, and Miri’s relationship with Flame enables her to save her brother from death.

If I had to say I had a least-favorite story in this volume, it would be “Fireworm,” which is about a rather primitive tribe and their nemesis; the fireworm. Tandin is an outcast in his tribe, because nobody knows his father, because of this, he holds no rank, and must sleep further from the fire than any other man in the tribe. Perhaps it is because he is so far from the fire that he wakes one night, to realize that the fireworm has appeared beneath their fire. He manages to save the tribe, and learns that he is to become a spirit walker– a sort of shaman. Because of insights he gains in the spirit world, he is able to help his tribe to defeat the fire worm at last. There are emotional consequences for characters, and I’m not sure I really liked the story. There were too many chances for Tandin to change course, chances which he ignored in favor of killing.

After “Fireworm” came “Salamander man” which was an interesting story. Tib has always known a life of slavery, and he has always served Aunt Ellila– a fact in which he was lucky, as the old woman actually cared for him. He helps her with her market stall, moving it, assembling it, and guarding it for her every day. Everything changes when a magician arrives, and forces Aunt Ellila to sell Tib. Desperately, the old woman gives Tib the one thing she can give; a salamander arm-band. However, despite the fact that most magicians are evil, this one is not, and has other plans for Tib. A lot of this story is told, rather than shown, but I feel like it’s solid nonetheless. The story was interesting, and I found myself caring what happened to Tib, and hoping things went well for the boy.

The volume closes with “First Flight” which is the longest of all the stories. Ern’s parents had his life planned out for him from the very beginning. His eldest brother Dag was to be a dragon rider. His second brother was a spiritspeaker, and Ern, the youngest son, was to be a wizard. In a lot of ways, this works out for everyone, the story isn’t about them chafing against their roles, rather, it is about how they embrace them. Though there is a middle brother, the story is more about Ern and Dag than the third sibling (whose name I cannot even recall). Ern has a talent for healing, though he denies it to himself constantly. He has a pet foogit (which is somewhere between a dog and a dragon) that he saved during its puppyhood. This ends up being very significant. A lot happens, and I don’t want to say too much about it because there is so very much to give away, but Ern goes to the Dragon Academy with his brother Dag, not quite knowing what he would do, but hoping to do something to help.

The Quick Version:

With five very solid stories by two very talented authors, this anthology is definitely worth reading. It is the second book in what should eventually become four elemental anthologies. Every story is a nice read, and they work well together as a set. It gets a solid 5/5.

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* They look almost exactly like I would expect Hellhounds to look, too.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Blood Bound

Briggs, Patricia. Blood Bound (2007). 292 Pages. Ace Fantasy. $7.99

Mercy Thompson: Book Two

Please be aware that it is extremely likely that there are spoilers for the first book. You have been warned. Proceed with caution.

I was so excited when I figured out there was another book in this series. I hadn’t yet figured out that most authors write whole collections of books these days, as stand-alone novels just don’t sell as well. Well, that might not be the case, but it would hardly be surprising. Anyway, this is one character I was glad to see again.

Stefan is collecting his favor, and boy is it a doozy. There’s a sorcerer-turned-vampire who’s infected with a demon, and it’s bringing unwanted attention to the supernatural world. Sure, people know about some of the fae– the cuter, weaker, and less-threatening fae, anyway– and people have learned about the werewolves, but the vampires remain a closely-guarded secret. It’s not exactly easy to both suck blood and be a good guy*.

We learn a lot more about Mercy’s past, and her powers. More of Mercy’s character gets to shine through here, and she manages to kick some ass without being the most powerful being ever. She’s got some unique talents– compliments of her Walker heritage– which enable her to help her friends when they are unable to help themselves. Native American walkers used to hunt vampires, until the vampires hunted the walkers into near extinction. (One doesn’t expect vampires to worry about committing genocide.) Mercy learns more about herself and her abilities from this vampiric entanglement than she learned growing up with werewolves.

Of course, Mercy’s love-life gets more complicated– both Samuel and Adam are vying for her affection. She’s got quite the past with Samuel, and doesn’t quite buy that he loves her for the right reasons. Adam is a pack Alpha, and comes with a lot of werewolf complications. There’s a lot more coming Mercy’s way, and despite the fact that this is largely a paranormal romance, Mercy’s love-life takes a back seat to the adventure in this novel.

The Quick Version:

Mercy remains a kick-ass heroine who has a strong voice. Her story grows more complicated as the story goes on. She kicks some ass. And characters actually seem to grow. This gets a 4/5, because I don’t generally give a damn about vampires, and this plot is not my favorite. (Though it remains pretty well written, and solid.)

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* And universes with “good vampires” are made of suck. (Pun not intended) (I’m looking at YOU, Twilight.)

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Book Giveaway!

Today, I’m giving away a book to a lucky reader. The book is a surprise. There are only a few silly rules:

1. Due to limited funds, you have to be in the U.S. or Canada.

2. To enter, post saying you’re interested. However, your post must be in Haiku or Limerick format.

3. You must use a valid email when you comment (so I can notify you if you win.)

If you’re interested in knowing what the book is, you may ask specific questions, and I’ll give you clues. However, as with the entry, you have to ask for hints in Haiku or Limerick format.

Why this silly poetry rule? Just because I can make an arbitrary rule like that.

On July 30th, I’ll pick a random comment-number and announce a winner.

The winner has been chosen!

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Moon Called

Briggs, Patricia. Moon Called (2006). 288 Pages. Ace Fantasy. $7.99

Mercy Thompson: Book One

I suppose since I just reviewed book five in this series, I should probably take some time to go back and talk about the earlier books. I keep re-reading this series, and I enjoy it every single time I do. The covers connect with each other, since they have a steady, constant artist. Despite what the cover leads you to believe, Mercy does not wear cropped belly-shirts. She’s above that.

Meet Mercedes Thompson, Volkswagen Mechanic. She’s very aware of the irony of her name, but tends to go by Mercy, so it’s not as much of a running joke as it might be. Mercy is a walker– that is, she can transform into a coyote at will. As far as she knows, she’s the only one of her kind, which leaves her knowing very little about the full extent of her abilities.

Mercy has a long back-story which is revealed very neatly as she explains herself to a new werewolf. It manages to be expository without feeling contrived, and in essence explains that Mercy was raised by the Marrok– the ruler of the werewolves. She knows more about werewolves than any other non-were, and uses this knowledge to her advantage (to both torment and survive her handsome were-neighbor Adam, among other things.)

Anyway, Mercy starts off by picking up Mac- a stray wolf- and stupidly locking herself in a garage with him and a dead body. Adam manages to save her, but things get weirder and crazier with every page until we reach an impressive climax. Of course, there’s a lot going on: Samuel (the Marrok’s son) re-enters Mercy’s life after a long absence. Stefan, the vampire, helps Mercy out. The Marrok steps in. There’s even a Witch. There is kidnapping, mystery, and suspense. By the end of the book, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next.

Mercy herself is the reason this book is so great. She has an amazing voice, and a strong personality. She kicks just a little more ass than most girls, without being over-powered and flawless. She’s one of the better heroines out there, and I look forward to her books.

The Quick Version:

I loved this book. (I love this whole series.) I feel like it’s just the right amount of ass kicking (by Mercy and her posse) and mystery. We learn about the characters, and I actually cared what happened to them. It was a well written story which kept you turning pages. It gets a 5/5.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy