Monthly Archives: January 2011

Match Me If You Can

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. Match Me If You Can (2005). 383 Pages. WilliamMorrow. $24.95

Chicago Stars Series | Book Six

When I was on a family vacation, I got Natural Born Charmer, and read (and enjoyed) it. However, it was obvious that there was at least one book before it in the series, and I figured I should read it, so I got Match Me If You Can from the library. Turns out it’s the sixth book, but it’s also very capable of standing alone. There are hints of what you may have missed, but in general, while other characters make cameos, it’s not about them.

From Goodreads

Annabelle’s endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair’s a mess! But that’s going to change now that she’s taken over her late grandmother’s matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City’s hottest bachelor as her client, and she’ll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.

Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she’s entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success — the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?

Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she’d do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn’t careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

First Lines

If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python. But dirty bare feet stuck out from beneath her nana’s ancient Crown Victoria. One extremely cautious glance under the car revealed that they were attached to a homeless man known only as Mouse, who was famous in her Wicker Park neighborhood for his lack of personal hygiene and fondness for cheap wine.

Thoughts

Annabelle Granger is a charming character who you can’t help liking. She’s determined to make her match-making business “Perfect For You” work, no matter what the cost, and landing Heath Champion might cost her an awful lot. He’s a determined, demanding pig of a client who expects a ton from Annabelle because he’s an agent and he does a ton for his clients. It’s obvious to any seasoned reader what is going on between them, but it takes Heath a very long time to figure it out. (And kudos are due to Annabelle for not being a weak heroine, she sticks to her principles right up to the end.)

I enjoyed the narrative structure, and the basic mechanics of the writing, as well as the plot. I feel like I’m in a literature class when I say that, but there are some authors– now and then– whose stories I like, but whose execution could use some work. Thankfully, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is not one of those authors. I enjoyed the story and the way it was told and the words she chose to tell it.

I suppose there are other books in this series– like the five which come before it– that are probably just as enjoyable, and I may eventually get around to reading those, but for now, I’m content with this. Also, I liked the cover on this one considerably more than I like the covers on some of her other books. It’s got a nice swirly motion thing going on.

When all is said and done, it gets a 4.5 out of 5– it loses a half point for dragging the drama and cluelessness out just a little too long for my taste.

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

The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (Anthology)

Telep, Trisha (ed.) The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (2010). 592 Pages. Running Press. $13.95

Good lord that was a lot of romance. I do enjoy regency romance quite a bit; it may be my favorite historical era, and it certainly is fun. At just under 600 pages, and 23 stories, it took a while to read. It was worth it, and entertaining, to boot. My biggest complaint might be that several of the stories could have used some more space to grow; they felt rushed with the number of pages they had. Pruning the collection to 20 stories and giving the survivors the extra pages would have done wonders for several of them.

There is no good synopsis for the whole book, and indeed, several which I have found are either inaccurate or misleading, so instead I’ll say a little about each story.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, General Fiction, Historical Romance, Romance

Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker (2010). 323 Pages. Hachette Book Group. $17.99

I feel like I’ve inadvertently written an essay about this book, but if you’re interested in reading more, by all means, click through.

Synopsis

Mankind has caused the ice caps (or at least most of them) to melt and raise the water levels, in most cases, far more than was ever predicted. As a result, many cities were lost, and much technology is gone. There are two groups remaining; the rich and the poor. The rich are ultra-rich, living on clipper-ships (which are like yachts, but nicer) and controlling the fate of the poor, whether or not they are aware of it. The poor, meanwhile struggle to get by, working at whatever jobs they can find, and dreaming of a better life.

On the beaches of a greatly-expanded Gulf Coast, Nailer works as part of a scavenge crew, breaking down ancient oil tankers for scrap. Specifically, Nailer works on light-crew; the group of youths who are small enough to fit into the ducts and reclaim copper wire*. It is dangerous, dirty work with a high mortality rate, and every time Nailer crawls into the ducts, he hopes it won’t be his last. He dreams of a bit of luck, and hopes for a day when he won’t have to work on the ships to survive.

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Filed under Book Review, Realistic Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Rot & Ruin

Maberry, Jonathan. Rot & Ruin (2010). 458 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $17.99

Don’t let the cover put you off. It’s a creepy book, at times, but not as creepy as the eyeball seems to suggest.

Synopsis

Benny Imura has only vague memories of the night his parents died. What he does remember paints a bleak picture; his father was a zombie, his mother facing imminent death, and his brother was the coward who took him and ran, leaving their parents behind. Despite what everyone seems to think about Tom Imura, Benny knows the truth; his brother is a coward.

On Benny’s fifteenth birthday, he becomes an “adult,” and has six weeks to find a job, or his rations will be cut in half. With hunger looming, and the best jobs long gone, Benny turns to his brother, Tom the Bounty Hunter– zombie killer for hire– to ask for a job. He doesn’t want to join the “family business” but doesn’t see any alternatives.

What he learns about the world outside his town’s fences– the Rot & Ruin– and about his brother will change Benny’s life forever.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Horror, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Stork

Delsol, Wendy. Stork (2010). 357 Pages. Candlewick. $15.99

I was seriously impressed by this book. It manages to simultaneously be about a stereotypical fashion-obsessed California girl, a small Minnesota town, and old Icelandic mythology. Not a lot of books can pull that off, especially not debut novels. If you liked Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, I think it’s likely you’ll also like Stork.

From the Cover

Moving from LA to nowhere Minnesota, sixteen-year-old Katla Leblanc expected the local fashion scene to be frozen in time. What she didn’t expect was induction into the Icelandic Stork Society, an ancient order of women charged with a unique mystical duty. Not only is Katla the youngest member, but Hulda, the society’s omen-guided leader, immediately bestows the coveted Second Chair on her– a decision that ruffles a few feathers.

As if that weren’t enough, Katla also has to deal with her parent’s divorce and the social aftermath of a bad date with popular but creepy Wade. Katla, however, isn’t one to sit on her designer-jean-clad behind, and soon she’s assigned the fashion column for the school paper and making new friends.

Things would be looking up if it weren’t for editor in chief Jack. Even though they argue every time they meet, Katla is inexplicably drawn to him. Juggling her home life, school, and Stork duties, will Katla be able to unravel the mystery surrounding Jack? More importantly, will she find a dress in time for Homecoming?

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

Bloggiesta

I fully blame Chachic for the fact that I’m doing this. Because she posted it, I was intrigued, so I went over to the Maw Books Blog and found out that it’s basically a blogging fiesta (hence the name) where you take the time to do the things your blog needs, and so do a lot of other people. It’s like the NaNoWriMo but for bloggers who want to make their blogs pretty.

My list of projects for this weekend is:

  • Actually reviewing the last few books I’ve read. Half-Done!
  • Cleaning up my “Reviewed Books” page. Done! 1/23
  • Updating the “About Aelia” page. Done! 1/22
  • Setting up guest posts? (Anyone interested?) Decided against it
  • Misc. other things that will occur to me.
  • Mini Challenges Completed: none
  • Flashback Mini Challenges Completed: Analyze Your Blog & Anchor Text

That said, this weekend there’s an event at work (which involves a volcano!) and I’m not sure that I’ll have a ton of time, but I”m gonna do my best to do at least a few of these things.

End of Weekend Analysis

Well, I didn’t do too well with this, (bummer) though I did get to check out a lot of new blogs this weekend. That was pretty cool. There are some great people out there blogging about books. They are both inspiring and intimidating.

All told I logged about 10 hours on blog-improvements, though you won’t see some of them, since they’re on my side. (I did actually create some templates, and clean up some of the bits and pieces on my “Reviewed Books” page.)

Other cool things I found because of Bloggiesta include a Giveaway (over at Bookalicio.us), and all the Mini-Challenges. Some of them were awesomely informational. (Seriously, the Mini-Challenges rocked.)

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Zombies vs Unicorns (Anthology)

Black, Holly & Justine Larbalestier (ed) Zombies Vs Unicorns (2010). 415 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $16.99

The thing which actually made me want to read this anthology was Diana Peterfreund’s addition “The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn,” which is set in the same universe as Rampant. However, I am glad I took the time to read this, since I enjoyed almost every story in the book (at least on some level.)

The offerings are mixed, but are all labeled as either “Team Zombie” or “Team Unicorn,” with only one (I think) that has both zombies and unicorns. Additionally, the top corners of the pages are also marked by either a Zombie or Unicorn logo, making quick-scans for specific stories easy. A few of them were sweet, one or two romantic, and a couple actually bleak. I’m glad I took the time to read this, though.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

The Summoner

Green, Layton. The Summoner (2010). Digital only. GryphonWorks. $2.99*

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started poking at this book; it seemed interesting enough, but not my usual read. It’s fairly apparent from my choice of books that I like young adult and romance novels– both genres known for being rather easy reads**. But I figured “why not” and found myself quickly engaged.

Synopsis

Dominic Grey is world-worn and jaded,  stuck in a dead-end government job in Zimbabwe. When a diplomat– and friend of the Ambassador– goes missing in the middle of nowhere during a Juju ceremony, Dominic is told to investigate. He won’t be alone, however; Nya Mashumba– local government official– will be escorting him and keeping an eye on his progress, and Viktor Radek– cult expert– will be helping out.

Things aren’t as straightforward as anyone hoped, and Grey is in deeper trouble than he could have imagined. Someone has sent him a message– back off– and he needs to find out who before anyone else disappears.

First Lines

The only thing Dominic Grey knew for certain about the disappearance of William Addison was that it was the strangest case to which he had ever been assigned.

Thoughts

It’s not often that I read a book cold, without knowing anything about it. I often pick books up because I know the author, or I liked the cover/blurb or I saw a good review. I usually have some idea what I’m getting into before I decide “sure, why not?” but in this case, at least, the results weren’t bad.

I found myself pleasantly surprised, for the most part. Dominic Grey is an interesting protagonist with an imperfect past. He’s really good at a couple things, and has a few character flaws which keep him interesting. He apparently speaks three languages– which are never listed– and is very well traveled. He’s a fairly accepting character, who doesn’t make snap-judgements. On the whole, while not an every-man, he is a bit of an ideal-man.

The writing is good, if not spectacular; descriptions were vivid, and most of the dialog was relatively natural. There were moments where characters were overly-expository in their speech, but with a topic/setting most people don’t know a lot about, it’s a damned-if-you-do/don’t balancing act. I feel like for the most part it is alright, though it does get a little bogged down in the second chapter.

The plot is really what makes this book interesting; there is an evil Juju man sacrificing humans to an evil spirit, and Grey, Nya, and Viktor are entangled in the puzzle. There are parts that are surprising, and parts that are not, but on the whole it’s intriguing enough to keep you reading (and good enough that I actually enjoyed reading it; I didn’t want to put it down.) It manages to move along quickly enough that you don’t get bored, without rushing along so fast that you get lost, either. At no point did I have to go “wait, what just happened?,” which is a good sign.

With good writing, solid pacing, an interesting plot, and good characters, this book is worth reading. It gets a 3.5/5*** — I liked it, but I didn’t love it. (Though I wouldn’t have felt upset at having paid $2.99 for it, either.) If it survives and becomes a series, I’ll probably check out the next book.

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* Disclosure; I received a free copy of the book for review.

** There are always exceptions to the “easy reads,” The Hunger Games, for example, is not “easy” in any way. (But it’s well worth it.)

*** I am not the sort to read mystery/thrillers often, and I do not enjoy them as much as I enjoy sci-fi/fantasy/romance plots. I think if I were more of a mystery/thriller type this could easily have been a 4/5 or higher.

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Filed under Book Review, General Fiction, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

McBride, Lish. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (2010). 343 Pages. Henry Holt & Co. $16.99

I told myself I’d pick a schedule and stick to it for the new year; M/W/F was starting to look pretty good, and then I got absorbed in playing The Sims 3 and I forgot to review any of the mountain of library books that are sitting on my desk, or any of the books I have read from my shiny new Kindle. Whoops. So we’ll be settling into a schedule soon, but for now we’ll continue with “updating when I’ve read something and have had time to write about it.”

And, for today, that something I’ve read is Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, which sounded like the sort of book which would be romantic– the whole “hold me” bit– but wasn’t. I was ok with that, though, because I enjoyed the adventure.

Synopsis

Samhain “Sam” LaCroix has had a fairly lame life until now. He’s a college dropout working at a fast food place, mostly getting by, and sometimes wishing he’d stayed in school*.

Things get interesting for Sam when a game of Potato Hockey damages the wrong car, and he catches the attention of Douglas Montgomery, a powerful necromancer with an agenda. As it turns out, Sam is a necromancer, and Douglas doesn’t play nice with the competition.

Now, Sam has to figure out how to use his necromancy, how to save Brooke, and eventually, how to save himself before Douglas kills them all.

First Lines

I stood in front of today’s schedule still holding my skateboard, still drenched from the ride over, and still desperately wishing that I hadn’t dropped out of college. But wishing wouldn’t erase Sam from the counter slot and rewrite it under the grill slot. No matter what, my job kind of sucks, but on the grill it sucks less. On the grill, you don’t have to handle customers.

Thoughts

As I mentioned, I was expecting something a little more romantic– I love YA romance– but wasn’t disappointed by what I got. Sam is an awesome narrator who adds the charm and sarcasm which separates this story from most. The fact that Sam is an outsider to the supernatural community he discovers means that we learn about it with him. It’s also great to see his friends; they’re fiercely loyal and protective, and it helps make Sam more likable.

Surrounding Sam is an entertaining supporting cast. We’ve got Ramon, his best friend and coworker. Brooke, the adorable heartbreaker-in-training, Frank, the kid whose spirit they’d like to break, Brid the hottie werewolf, and then peripheral family members. Opposing Sam are Douglas and his minions; all dangerous types who would do a lot of harm if they could.

Aside from the bit towards the end where Sam is really fairly helpless in a cage, most of the story features him being fairly proactive about his fate. He doesn’t descend into hopelessness, and remains determined throughout. (The lack of whining was nice, I must say.)

This book is clearly setting up for a series; there are several things left just open enough to make it clear that it was at least hoped for**.

Overall, I found myself fairly impressed by Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and I was glad I’d picked it up. (And saved myself enough time that I didn’t have to put it down until I was done.) It’s pretty good for a debut novel, and manages to be a paranormal-YA without becoming anonymous within the genre(s). I’d give it a solid 4.5/5– it was nearly perfect, and I really, really liked it.

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* This could have quickly took on a PSA tone, but it didn’t, thank goodness. (In part because Sam’s a good narrator.)

** The fact that it came out in hardcover rather than going straight to paperback says that they expected it to do well and they’re likely to let it turn into a series.  (I’ll read it, if it continues.)

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This is the first book of the Local Library 2011 challenge.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Devil’s Bride

Laurens, Stephanie. Devil’s Bride (1998). 416 Pages. Avon. $7.99

Cynster Novels | Book One*

Sharing books with friends and roommates can be problematic; it seems silly to each have your own copies of all the books in a series, so while one of you may own the first volume, another may own the second. This works in practice until one of you moves out, or away. This is how I ended up getting Devil’s Bride for my shiny new kindle despite the fact that I own the rest of the series in print**.

Synopsis

Honoria Wetherby never intended to marry. “Devil” Cynster felt much the same way. When a series of unfortunate circumstances find them trapped in a woodsman’s cottage unchaperoned, Devil does the only thing he can think of to protect Honoria’s reputation; he declares their engagement.

Unfortunately for Devil, Honoria is determined to hold out, and rejects him at every turn. Unfortunately for Honoria, Devil sees her challenge as an invitation, and intends to convince her in any way he can.

First Lines***

Somersham, Cambridgeshire

August 1818

“The duchess is so very… very… well, really, most charming. So…” With an angelic smile, Mr. Postlethwaite, the vicar of Somarsham, gestured airily. “Continental, if you take my meaning.”

Standing by the vicarage gate while she waited for the gig to be brought around, Honoria Wetherby only wished she could. Wringing information from the local vicar was always one of her first actions on taking up a new position; unfortunately, while her need for information was more acute than usual, Mr. Postlethwatie’s comments were unhelpfully vague.

Thoughts

It is not often that romance novels stand up to re-reading; often, they are a nice enough story the first time, but approaching them again is considerably less enjoyable. Fortunately, Stephanie Laurens manges to write romance in such a way that it can be read more than once.

I vividly remember reading Devil’s Bride for the first time my sophomore year of college. I think I may have been avoiding The Aeneid, but I can’t be sure. I blame my roommates for getting me hooked on romance novels; the ultimate escapist books. Even when things are tense and stressful, you know the characters will end up together, and they will be happy.

There are some things which, depending upon taste, can be construed as positive or negative. For example, the precept is that the Cynster clan is full of handsome men who have an innate urge to conquer. They have money, power, and land. The latest generation, the “Bar Cynster,” have lived lives of relative ease, sleeping around, and enjoying rake-dom. But each of them has their meeting with “fate” in the form of a woman– typically “strong willed”– who makes them realize that they want to marry her. They then spend most of the book heading for that goal.

There are quite a few sex scenes, which are full of the classic cliches; he is experienced, she is innocent. He is “hard,” and she is “soft.” He is in control, and she is overwhelmed by the experiences. Generally your classic romance stuff.

Overall, it’s a fun book with a reasonable story– a murder mystery of sorts– though there’s not much mystery (I, at least, felt the villain was glaringly obvious from the beginning) there is quite a bit of fluffy, happy romance. It gets a 4/5– well worth the time to read it.

Also, check out the pretty covers. (Too bad the US editions aren’t like these.)

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* Strictly speaking, by publishing order, this is book one, and The Promise in a Kiss came out three years later. As far as interior chronology, it is preceded by a prequel which I will choose to address as book zero, because it is not necessary to read it first, as it was published later.

** On the bright side, knowing that my old roommate lacked volume two because she’d read my copy meant that choosing her Christmas present this year was very simple.

*** I often judge a book by its first lines (I’m sure my review format shows this habit). I find that you can tell a lot about an author by the way they open; do they throw you into the action, or spend time setting up the scene? Is it speech, or description, or some combination? How they set up says a lot about what you can expect later in the book. If this series hadn’t come highly recommended, I may not have read it.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Historical Romance, Mystery & Suspense, Romance