Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

Author: Max Brooks
Publisher: Crown
Hardcover: 342 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 

Here you are: the perfect book for Halloween! A book about a zombie plague and a subsequent war that takes out a good chunk of the population is on the top of everyone's list, right? If not, it should be, because this book is genius. It's emotional, suspenseful, and scarily realistic. If the descriptive scenes about the zombies and the plague don't get you, the fact that it's written from a journalistic point of view will. It reads like non-fiction, which adds a scary element of realism to it.

I really like what Brooks has done with this novel. First of all, it's ambitious. He has included dozens of accounts, which means dozens of main characters along with the interview himself. I'm sure there was an incredible amount of research he had to do for this novel, because the interviews are from people who are located all over the world. That's a lot of history and background to flesh out, and he succeeds in making each character individualized. Also, Brooks not only describes different countries before and during the war, he has fabricated new policies and events that take place after the zombie war, all the while taking into account the culture and country he's writing about. What did I say? Genius!

If you're a fan of zombies and horror, this is the book to pick up. It's one of the best zombie books out there, I think. Even if you're not, this novel is a prime example of excellent writing and storytelling. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Douglas Adams
Narrator: Stephen Fry
Publisher: Books on Tape
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 51 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Don't leave earth without this story of the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow. The writing of New York Times Best-selling author, Douglas Adams, has been brilliantly successful on both sides of the Atlantic in radio, television, theatre and spoken word audio. 

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I loved this book! It's hilarious -- I was laughing out loud almost through the entire thing, and I thought it showed some pretty insightful observations about life, people, and the world in general.

It starts off with Arthur, a man from Earth who is trying to save his house from being torn down to build a new bypass on the land. He's friends with Ford Prefect, a man from Betelgeuse 5 who is a researcher for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and who has been stranded on Earth for fifteen years. In the beginning of the novel, Earth is destroyed to make room for a sort of intergalactic bypass. However, Ford saves his friend Arthur, transporting them onto a nearby spaceship. Crazy adventures ensue.

At first glance, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may seem ridiculous and random for it's own sake. However, Adams has crafted a novel that speaks about how it is to live life. Sometimes, weird stuff happens and you just have to go with it. Like Arthur, we will find ourselves in strange situations, completely out of our element, and we will need to figure out a way to get through it. And maybe, just maybe, we take ourselves too seriously sometimes.

As for the narration -- well, it was narrated by Stephen Fry, so I think that's enough to tell you that it's amazing.  He brings such personality to the characters that it's hardly like reading a book at all. Rather, it's more like being a bystander in events taking place.

I highly recommend this book. It's funny, insightful, and a true classic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Audiobook Review: Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Narrator: Jenna Lamia
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 50 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
When Lissy James moves from California to Oklahoma, she finds herself in the middle of a teenage nightmare: a social scene to rival a Hollywood movie. And if understanding the hierarchy of the Goldens vs. the Nons isn’t hard enough, Lissy’s ever growing Aura Vision is getting harder and harder to hide, and if she’s not careful, she’s going to become a Non faster than you can say “freak.”
But it’s becoming clear that Emory High has a few secrets of its own. Around the halls, the term “special powers” goes way beyond one’s ability to attract the opposite sex, and there may be something more evil than the A-crowd lurking in the classrooms. Lissy can see a lot more than the average girl, but she’s about to learn the hard way that things aren’t always as they appear and you can’t always judge a girl by her lip gloss.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

The beginning is slow, but once you get into it, Golden is a novel that is hard to put down. There were revelations that actually surprised me once the mystery started to unravel. Because while this is very much your typical unpopular-girl-trying-to-navigate-her-way-through-high-school sort of book, it also has a rather intriguing mystery attached to it. I was definitely more interested in this than Lissy's analyses about how much of a freak she is, so it's a good thing that the mystery takes over in the latter half of the novel.

While it's a good story, it's apparent that the author was nineteen when she wrote this. The characters lack complexity and a lot of the conflict is superficial. I know it's probably supposed to be the point that all the "Goldens," or popular kids, at the high school are unintelligent and shallow, but I like to have a little more realism in the characters I read about. The only interesting character is Lilah, the leader of the "Goldens" because she's hard to figure out.

Even though I don't usually like music and sound effects in audiobooks, I did like the music that signaled the end of every section. It was different each time and perfectly complemented the tone of the story at the time. The integration is so well done that I hardly noticed that there was background music playing (which is a sign of a good soundtrack, in my opinion). Jenna Lamia also does a good job in portraying Lissy. I was sure she was a high school student, which turned out not to be the case.

I would say that Golden is a good beach read. It's quick, has a decent plot, and a really good ending. Young adult paranormal fans -- this one's for you!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Out of Oz

This is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that
spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Pre-Order from the Book Depository
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publisher: William Morrow
Expected Publication Date: 1 Nov 2011
Hardcover: 384 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The marvelous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. And look who’s knocking at the door. It’s none other than Dorothy. Yes, that Dorothy.  
Amid all this chaos, Elphaba’s granddaughter, the tiny green baby born at the close of Son of a Witch, has come of age. Now, Rain will take up her broom in an Oz wracked by war.  
The stirring, long-awaited conclusion to the extraordinary bestselling series begun with Wicked, Out of Oz is a magical journey rife with revelations and reversals, reprisals and surprises — the hallmarks of the brilliant and unique imagination of Gregory Maguire.

Why Out of Oz? 
I am a fan of Gregory Maguire, and I can't wait to see how he wraps up this series. I've liked the books so far, and I'm sure this one will be awesome.

What are you waiting for this Wednesday?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: A Singular Gift by Sue Santore

Author: Sue Santore
E-book: 224 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Jean Ryan has inherited a singular gift, the gift of magic. She must quickly learn to use her magic gift before the opposing dark magic forces destroy her world. Jean and Wayne, her friend, work together to discover why her gift has attracted the attention of an evil circle of magic users and how to combat them.  
As she learns to use her magic, Jean finds revenge bites backwards, friends are not always what they seem, and that magic is not a toy. In the end she has to stand alone against an evil worse than any she has ever imagined.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Had A Singular Gift been labeled as a children's or middle-grade book rather than young adult, I probably would have given it a higher rating. The plot and characters are lacking in complexity for what I expect out of a young adult novel. I thought Jean acted significantly younger than fourteen -- even after learning her age, I found it hard to believe. However, that isn't to say that this is a bad novel. On the contrary, I thought this was a great story about growing up and taking responsibility.

This is a classic coming of age story with the good vs. evil theme thrown in for good measure. Jean has to face a lot of obstacles, including herself, to fight off the evil that is threatening her town and her friends. There is a lot to like in this story -- the friendships, the relationship between Jean and her sister, and the way magic is portrayed.

I would have liked to see more development in terms of Jean actually learning the magic. It seems she goes from being clueless to performing very difficult acts of magic fairly quickly. I wish more time were spent on her practicing, trying to do things and failing, and studying the book a little bit more.

I thought it was great how Sue Santore kept the traditional features of witches and magic, yet put her own unique spin on them. Reading about the different ways authors interpret the rules of magic and such is my favorite part of reading fantasy and paranormal. I also liked that magic could be awakened in a person with latent powers. The different sorts of powers were pretty cool, especially the part about being able to visit different places/worlds just be opening a certain door.

A Singular Gift is a story that most can appreciate, what with sibling rivalries, friendship drama, and realizations about family and parents. I would recommend it for those who have an interest in magic and witches.

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and The Diary of A Bookworm. This hop has over 400 blogs participating, so be sure to stop by this page and enter more giveaways!

Onto my giveaway. :)

The winner will choose 1 book from the following:

Title: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)  

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time.World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Title: Half-Minute Horrors
Author: Various
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

How scared can you get in only 30 seconds? Dare to find out with Half-Minute Horrors, a collection of deliciously terrifying short short tales and creepy illustrations by an exceptional selection of writers and illustrators, including bestselling talents Lemony Snicket, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, R.L.Stine, Faye Kellerman, Holly Black, Melissa Marr, Margaret Atwood, Jon Scieszka, Brett Helquist, and many more. With royalties benefiting First Book, a not-for-profit organization that brings books to children in need, this is an anthology worth devouring. So grab a flashlight, set the timer, and get ready for instant chills!

Title: The Witches
Author: Roald Dahl
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
This Roald Dahl classic tells the scary, funny and imaginative tale of a seven-year-old boy who has a run-in with some real-life witches! "In fairy tales witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs. That is why they are so hard to catch." Witches, as our hero learns, hate children. With the help of a friend and his somewhat-magical grandmother, our hero tries to expose the witches before they dispose of him.


- You must be 13 or older to enter
- You must be a follower to enter
Please leave your GFC name in the other info. box of the Rafflecopter form for your mandatory entry
- Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships

- Please use the Rafflecopter form below
- Giveaway ends at 12:01 AM EST on November 1
- Winner has 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner doesn't respond by that time, I choose another winner.

Good luck!

Audiobook Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Author: Charles Dickens
Narrator: Martin Jarvis
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 17 hours, 27 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Considered by many to be Dickens's greatest work, this is a timeless story where vindictiveness and guilt clash with love and gratitude. Enriched by a cast of unforgettable characters, from the orphan Pip to the convict Magwitch and the bitter Miss Havisham.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Of all the works I have read by Dickens so far, Great Expectations is the best, hands down. The plot is interesting -- Pip falls in love with Estella when they are very young and develops "expectations" to be a gentleman so he can be worthy of her. Later on, he gets a sponsor who pays for him to become a gentleman. It's a typical coming of age story, focusing on Pip's growth and development and his realizations about the mistakes he's made in life. What makes this novel extraordinary is the characters. Each of them is complex and multi-dimensional, with full backgrounds and oddities that make them unique. Pip's brother-in-law Joe is by far one of my favorite characters of all time. Because the characterization is incredible, I was completely involved with this story, my emotions changing along with the novel's progression.

I'm not a fan of the tacked-on ending. All the characters got what they deserved, which I appreciated, but the last chapter felt especially rushed. However, the pacing for the rest of the novel was perfect, so I would say that this is a minor complaint.

If it hadn't been for Jarvis's narration, I don't think I would have given Great Expectations five stars. Jarvis's impressions of all the characters (especially Joe) really brought this novel to life for me. The personality and emotion he put into his performance made the funny parts funnier and the sad parts sadder. It's a bit on the long side for an audiobook, but I would definitely recommend listening to this rendition of Great Expectations.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (9)

1. I'm a Book Shark
1 ebook copy of Pyxis by K.C. Neal
Open internationally
Ends October 23

2. Minding Spot
1 audiobook copy of Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
US only
Ends October 30

3. Reading Lark
8 possible books up for grabs (you can win more than one!)
Open to US and Canada. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends TODAY! Enter now! :)

4. Lost Amongst the Shelves
Your choice from the Book Depository up to $15 (2 winners)
Open to wherever the Book Depository ships. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends November 1

5. Gripped into Books
Any book of your choice up to $15
Open internationally
Ends November 14

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blog Tour: Book Review of Perfectly Crazy by Mitzi Penzes

Author: Mitzi Penzes
Publisher: New Year Publishing, LLC
Paperback: 177 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Sexy, stylish and successful, Nell always prided herself on her common sense. So why is she suddenly crazy for David, her married best friend of twenty years?  
With a single kiss, Nell's perfect Californian life turns upside down. All the safety of her well-adjusted marriage to a respected plastic surgeon and her growing fashion business pale in comparison to the passion experienced in that kiss. Can she go on as before, or will she make the biggest change of her life? Will she face disaster and tragedy, or perhaps adventure and a second chance? Or possibly all of the above?  
Find out from this fast paced book where the sceneries are changing as fast as the movies. Life is full of surprises and challenges that anyone would call perfectly crazy yet they may become reality one day. Or will they?
Overall Rating: 1/5

Perfectly Crazy would have been a good book, but unfortunately, it suffers from indulgent writing. Contrary to the summary, there is absolutely no conflict within this novel. "Nell's perfect Californian life" does not turn upside down. Instead, it continues to be perfect. Whatever she wants she gets, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles magically melt away within a couple of chapters. This also serves to make her look incredibly selfish -- she doesn't have to work for a happy ending. She already seems to have the perfect life (because there really is nothing wrong with it), and she doesn't even seem to be unhappy at the beginning. She just follows her whims and changes her life at random. There are no consequences for her actions, including leaving her sixteen-year-old daughter to fend for herself while Nell spends a couple of months in Paris. It's okay, though, because her daughter is incredibly understanding and "well-adjusted."

I found the writing to be shallow. It's a quick read because there's really no substance. The characters are all flat and one-dimensional. This book really does have some serious subject matter, but it's all brushed off, especially if actually delving into it would create any sort of problems for Nell.

Some might like this book if they don't expect to get too much out of it. I was expecting something with a lot of conflict and drama, but that just didn't happen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Author Glenn Gamble

Hi everyone! I would like you to please welcome Glenn Gamble to the blog. Glenn is an author from Chicago, Illinois and he is promoting his new book, Bon Appétit. You can check out more about him on Goodreads or Twitter

Jim Money is Unhappy
Today, I’m going to attempt to have a civil conversation with Jim Money, main character of Bon Appetit, before these rumors get out of hand.  I already have people coming up to me and asking me if I really pay Jim in sardines and crackers.  That kinda stings—my feelings are hurt.

Glenn Gamble: Jim, I’m not very pleased with you putting out the misconception that I’m not paying you enough.

Jim Money: And I’m not pleased with you paying only a portion of a royalty on a $2.99 ebook either.

Glenn: Here we go again.

Jim: And we’re going to go again until you pay me what I’m worth.

Glenn: And what’s that?

Jim: I have infinite worth, but we can start by raising the price of Bon Appetit to a more respectable dollar amount.

Glenn: That would be?

Jim: $9.99

Glenn: I’m not doing it.

Jim: See, this is what I’m talking about Glenn.  Everyone who sees my book is going to have the impression that I’m just some cheap book character, WHICH I’M NOT.

Glenn: How many times do I have to explain this?

Jim: You need to explain it with a price change.

Glenn: I can do that, but don’t you want your story read by as many people as possible.  Don’t you want them to see how big of a star you really are?  Between me and you, I think you’re pretty damn awesome with your borderline bi-polar behavior to the fight scenes.  You’re pretty fucking awesome in the entire series.

Jim: Then why are the books so cheap?

Glenn: They’re not fucking cheap.

Jim: They’re only…

Glenn: Shut the fuck up when I’m talking Jim.  Let me explain this to you.  A dollar store toy is cheap.  Those clothes at Wal*Mart that shrink as soon as you perspire are cheap.  A shitty hamburger at McDonald’s is cheap.  My book on the other hand is not fucking cheap.

Jim: Okay Glenn, geez!  You must have had a rough day at work today.

Glenn: Fuck you!

Glenn’s books are available on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook and Smashwords and most recently in the iBookstore for all you iPhone, iPad and iPod users.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Follower Love Giveaway!

I love my followers. I really do. Thank you all for stopping by so often and reading my posts, and commenting so much! You make my day every single day. So to show my appreciation for all of you, I've decided to host a giveaway. :)

The winner will choose 1 of the following books (click the links to be taken to the Goodreads pages for each of them):

Anna Dressed in Blood
Lola and the Boy Next Door
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

- You must be 13 or older to enter
- You must be a follower to enter
- Please leave your GFC name in the other info. box of the Rafflecopter form for your mandatory entry
- Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
- For 1 extra entry, you may follow me through Twitter.
- For 1 extra entry, you may like The Reader's Refuge Facebook page.
- For 1 extra entry, you may tweet about this giveaway
- Please use the Rafflecopter form below
- Giveaway ends at 12:01 AM EST on October 24
- Winner has 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. After that, I choose another winner

Good luck! :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn

Buy from The Book Depository
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 448 pages
Series Order: Book 3 (Published Order) or Book 5 (Chronological Order)
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Legend has it that the Alleluia Files contain the truth about the god of Samaria. Now, a child raised in captivity among the angels will journey the length and breadth of her world to seek the documents that will alter the face of Samaria forever.
Overall Rating: 4/5

Sharon Shinn wrote the Samaria books before angels were even a popular subject. I'm a big fan of Shinn, and after reading the first book in this series, Archangel, I fell in love with the world she has created. This is very much a science fiction series, with the inhabitants of Samaria being descendants of people from Earth who left to escape the destruction of the planet by technology. In The Alleluia Files, the people of Samaria have become much more technologically advanced -- some think this is a good thing, others think they are traveling the path that their descendants had tried to escape from.

The book starts off with Tamar, a woman who has grown up with the Jacobites, a group of people who believe that the "god" the angels sing to for help is in fact a spaceship designed to respond to aural cues (music). I loved Tamar. Strong female heroines always win me over, and this girl has some fire in her! Despite being persecuted, hunted down, and beaten down by people from all over, she refuses to give up. She doesn't even complain about her lot in life; she just accepts it and does what she can to survive. If there's anything I hate, it's a whiny character, so I fell in love with Tamar rather quickly.

As all the Samaria books, The Alleluia Files has multiple viewpoints, so we don't just get Tamar's version of events, though I consider her to be the main character. We also get Lucinda, an angel who grew up on an isolated island, and Jared, a high-ranking angel who goes against the norm. They are all wonderful characters, but I think that Tamar was my favorite, followed by Lucinda.

While it was very good, I don't think this one was as good as the first two books of the series. For some reason, the romance didn't seem quite as satisfying. Also, the plot was fairly predictable. Although, I have to admit, once the climax hit, I couldn't stop reading, even though I was pretty sure of what was going to happen. This book is exciting, humorous, suspenseful, and heartwarming. Shinn's greatest talent is getting the reader involved in her characters' lives and their stories -- by the end, I felt like I had just gone through what they had gone through, and found myself sharing their emotions. For me, that is the sign of good writing.

The Samaria books are all connected; however, they are written in a way so as to make them stand-alone. On the one hand, I hate how we don't get to see characters from previous books, but on the other hand, I really like seeing how the world changes and progresses throughout the centuries. Obviously, reading the previous books will help your understanding of the finer points of the world and its history, but it's not necessary.

I recommend this series for any science fiction or romance lover. Keep in mind that there aren't hot and heavy scenes -- it's a sweet romance -- but the characters' interactions will make your heart flutter and put a smile on your face.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (8)

1. Trisha's Book Blog
12 winners each win 1 book
US only. Must be a follower to enter
Ends in 41 days

2. Let's Evaluate (YA Book Reviews)
1 choice out of 4 highly anticipated books (Cold Kiss, After Obsession, The Mephisto Covenant, and Enthralled)
US only. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31

3. Pawing Through Books
1 choice out of 6 books (good ones for this one too!)
Open to wherever the Book Depository ships.
Ends October 31

4. Hippies, Beauty, and Books. Oh My!
1 signed ARC copy of Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
US only. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31

5. Fuzzy.Coffee.Books
2 Giveaways: 1 for a blog design by Blogovation and another for The Hollow Trilogy by Jessica Verday (with a bonus copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving)
Open internationally.
Ends October 31

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Audiobook Review: Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Matthew Skelton
Narrator: Richard Easton
Publisher: Listening Library
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 10 hours, 8 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"You've stumbled on to something much larger than you can possibly imagine."
In the dead of night, a cloaked figure drags a heavy box through snow-covered streets. The chest, covered in images of mythical beasts, can only be opened when the fangs of its serpent's-head clasp taste blood.
Centuries later, in an Oxford library, a boy touches a strange book and feels something pierce his finger. The volume is blank, wordless, but its paper has fine veins running through it and seems to quiver, as if it's alive. Words begin to appear on the page--words no one but the boy can see. 
And so unfolds a timeless secret . . . .
Overall Rating: 4/5

Endymion Spring is a cute novel with a dual-story about two boys both connected to a magical book that contains basically all the knowledge you could ever want to know.

Throughout most of the novel, I was more intrigued by the back story than I was by the present-day story with Blake and his sister Ducky. This turned itself around near the end, but I would have liked to see some more of the black magic stuff that was presented so nicely with Endymion in the past.

The climax of Endymion Spring was brilliant. It was exciting, suspenseful, and I found myself biting my nails with worry for the characters. The resolution left a lot to be desired. Everything is magically tied up into a bow too quickly for my liking. There should have been more development of the Blake's parents and his family situation for the ending to work out.

I thought Easton's narration was very good. He captured the characters' voices and did a great job in continually making the transition from Endymion's story to Blake's story, which could have been confusing in audiobook format. I'm not exactly sure how he makes it work, but he does.

Overall, I would recommend this as a good read. It's interesting, suspenseful, and what self-respecting book lover doesn't love a good book about a secret, magical book? It's enjoyable for all ages, not just young adults.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Beauty and the Werewolf

This is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that
spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Luna
Expected Publication Date: 18 October 2011
Hardcover: 384 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
The eldest daughter is often doomed in fairy tales. But Bella— Isabella Beauchamps, daughter of a wealthy merchant—vows to escape the usual pitfalls. 
Anxious to avoid the Traditional path, Bella dons a red cloak and ventures into the forbidden forest to consult with "Granny," the local wisewoman. 
But on the way home she's attacked by a wolf—who turns out to be a cursed nobleman! 
Secluded in his castle, Bella is torn between her family and this strange man who creates marvelous inventions and makes her laugh—when he isn't howling at the moon.
Breaking spells is never easy. But a determined beauty, a wizard (after all, he's only an occasional werewolf) and a little godmotherly interference might just be able to bring about a happy ending.…
Why do I want to read this?
First of all, I love Mercedes Lackey. She's one of the most talented fantasy authors out there. I've been reading her retellings of fairy tales since I was 14, and I haven't stopped since. She has a wonderful imagination and unique interpretations of the stories we all know so well. Besides, who doesn't love a good Beauty and the Beast story?

What are you waiting for this Wednesday?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Audiobook Review: Big Boned by Meg Cabot

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Meg Cabot
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Publisher: Books on Tape
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 7 hours, 58 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Life is reasonably rosy for plus-size ex-pop star turned Assistant Dormitory Director and sometime sleuth Heather Wells. Her freeloading ex-con dad is finally moving out. She still yearns for her hot landlord, Cooper Cartwright, but her relationship with "rebound beau," vigorous vegan math professor Tad Tocco, is more than satisfactory. Best of all, nobody has died lately in "Death Dorm," the aptly nicknamed student residence that Heather assistant-directs. Of course every silver lining ultimately has some black cloud attached. And when the latest murdered corpse to clutter up her jurisdiction turns out to be her exceedingly unlovable boss, Heather finds herself on the shortlist of prime suspects—along with the rabble-rousing boyfriend of her high-strung student assistant and an indecently handsome young campus minister who's been accused of taking liberties with certain girls' choir members.
With fame beckoning her back into show business (as the star of a new kids' show!) it's a really bad time to get wrapped up in another homicide. Plus Tad's been working himself up to ask her a Big Question, which Heather's not sure she has an answer for . . .

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is by far the best and funniest of the series. Within the first chapter, I was laughing hysterically, and remained amused throughout the entire novel. Heather Wells is the kind of character I relate to. She's a bit clueless sometimes, finds herself in ridiculous situations, but she's a good person and tries her best to make things right. I love her! And Cabot has a talent for making her guy characters irresistible. I want a Cooper!

The mystery was very predictable; however, the way it's executed and the confrontation between Heather and the murderer is priceless, so I was okay with it. I liked the new characters that were added into this book, and the return of old characters such as her ex-fiance Jordan and her old boss Tom. Like I said, the whole novel is hilarious. There's a good mix of humor and seriousness in here.

Justine Eyre is the perfect narrator for Big Boned. Her inflections, tone, and pacing are all spot-on and I had no trouble believing that I was actually listening to Heather Wells tell her story. Just like with reading a book, I know I'm listening to a good audiobook when I completely lose track of time. That's what happened with Big Boned. Not once was I pulled out of the story. I consider this (and the rest of the series) a definite must-read for Cabot fans and chick-lit lovers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Lord of Souls by Greg Keyes

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Author: Greg Keyes
Publisher: Del Rey
Paperback: 304 pages
Series Order: Book 2
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the empire of Tamriel is threatened by a mysterious floating city, Umbriel, whose shadow spawns a terrifying undead army.  Reeling from a devastating discovery, Prince Attrebus continues on his seemingly doomed quest to obtain a magic sword that holds the key to destroying the deadly invaders. Meanwhile, in the Imperial City, the spy Colin finds evidence of betrayal at the heart of the empire—if his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Annaïg, trapped in Umbriel itself, has become a slave to its dark lord and his insatiable hunger for souls. 

How can these three unlikely heroes save Tamriel when they cannot even save themselves?   Based on the award-winning Elder Scrolls® series, Lord of Souls is the second of two exhilarating novels that continue the story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, named 2006 Game of the Year by numerous outlets, including Spike TV, the Golden Joystick Awards, and the Associated Press.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Despite the fact that I haven't read the first book, nor have I played the game, I had no problem picking up on what was going on. It took a little bit, and I'm sure some of the finer details of the world were lost on me, but during no point in the book was I thinking, "What is going on?!" So I appreciate the fact that Greg Keyes did an awesome job in making this read like a stand-alone novel.

Besides that, it's a really interesting story. As is usual with fantasy, there are multiple viewpoints, and I enjoyed most of the characters and their personal involvement with the larger problem at hand. There was one character I didn't care for (Mazgar), just because I didn't think her story was as developed as the others'. I thought that Annaig and Glim's stories were by far the most interesting and entertaining. They had a stronger connection, and I think they were the characters that had the most to lose if things didn't turn out well.

I enjoyed the intrigues and the suspense. There were a few times that I was completely surprised by the turn of events (and a few plot twists that were predictable, but that's okay). If you're a fan of fantasy, I think you'd enjoy this story. Some have complained about it being too difficult to follow along without reading the first book, though. But it may not be a bad thing to read more of this series, since the plots and the characters are so well-constructed.

*I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for my honest review.*

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (7)

1. Endlessly Bookish
2 winners to choose 1 book out of 8 choices
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
Ends October 15

2. Book Nerd Reviews
Giving away 3 books, 1 winner for each (includes Anna Dressed in Blood, If I Stay, and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer -- all highly anticipated!)
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31

3. Pure Imagination
1 winner for Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children along with Halloween-themed swag
US only
Ends October 21

4. Inklings Read
Halloween Prize Pack Giveaway (really awesome books included!)
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
Ends October 24

5. The Flashlight Reader
1 copy of Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs with some swag thrown in
US only
Ends October 15

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog Tour: Guest Post from Crystal Connor, Author of The Darkness

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (Pic and Bio info. taken from Goodreads)

I grew up telling spooky little campfire style stories at slumber parties. We’d make a tent in the bedroom, and the only source of light would be from a flashlight that was about to die. I’d tell my tale of doom and then while everyone was jumping at the tree branch scraping against the window and I’d be sound asleep!

I served my country in the United States Navy working as a boiler technician on board the USS McKee AS-41 assigned to the 7th fleet.

While deployed at various ports-of-call throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East I began to learn about other cultures’ monsters and nightmares and I use my world travels and experiences take you to some of the exotic places that I’ve been but have altered and embellished with my twisted view of how a story should end…while at the same time taking you on a journey you might not otherwise be able to afford or brave enough to undertake.

The Darkness, is my first full-length novel, is published by Bennett and Hastings. My current projects, “…And They All Lived Happily Ever After” and “Artificial Light,” the sequel to The Darkness will be released in 2011. My short story “The Ruins” was the runner-up selection of Crypticon Seattle’s 2010 writing contest, and accepted for publication for The Static Movement Anthology "Sowing the Seeds of Horror.” My short story “The Monster” will be featured in the anthology “Strange Tales of Horror” published by NorGus Press.

Today we have an incredibly special guest on the blog, Crystal Connor, author of The Darkness. Thank you so much, Crystal, for agreeing to a guest post. :)

Hi Alyssa, thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about but after some thought I figured why not talk about how and why I started blogging.

The reason I started blogging is because I used to belong to a writing group called Author’s Anonymous. What attracted me to the group was the fact that the founder gave us all writing assignments, and we posted them to our blogs so that other we could read, critique and comment on our fellow members stories. It was an amazing group but as we, as writers, spent more and more time with our own writing goals and deadlines we just didn’t have the time to commit to our group.

I am going to share two of my “early works” that I posted while a member of Author’s Anonymous with you today. I hope you enjoy them.

Coaches instructions: If you had to describe yourself as a color, which would you choose and why?

            So I was going to skip this assignment to work on the next one (which seems so kick ass, totally fun with a ton of room to maneuver…and that's right up my alley)

This drill seemed a little challenging and I couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race and clearly that’s not what’s she’s asking, but it’s the 1st thing that came to mind and the only thing that stayed there.
Because I sooo do not want to do this assignment I’ve decided to do it twice…two different stories. If you wanna wear daisy dukes you gotta do your squats & lunges there is just no way around it.

My story Colors Part 1 follows:

“What color we’re you?”

The little girl asked me what color I was and the question caught me completely off guard and ushered in a flood of memories that I had tried for ten years to forget.

Once I was alone and had more time to think about her question I realized I could no longer remember my native planet. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to breath relatively clean air or enjoy the warmth of the sun beneath the protective barrier of an ozone layer. That was a long time ago and Earth is no longer there.

This planet was different. The landscape was harsh and colorless, the weather was openly hostile and it was as if the sun was trying to use the cleaning power of fire to rid her 5th planet of disease.

It’s surprising how quickly the human body can adapt and evolve but I guess we can thank Monarch Pharmaceuticals for that because God had nothing to do with this.

Out of the 758,459 of us who had won the lottery to escape the Garden of Eden that God had given man in the form of Planet Earth, only twenty-eight of us were still alive. In this sector there were only two of us but that wouldn’t be the count for long because Eric was dying.

This planet already had a population in the billions and the girl who asked the question was a 3rd generation native and that was why she had asked the question in the 1st place.

In just 10 years I had become known as a settler. I was an immigrant, a relic from the “old country,” with an outdated language, ancient customs, and conservative ways and I am only forty.

Thanks to Monarch Pharms, to deal with the combative environment of the brave new world, I no longer had skin but scales. I was still humanoid in form and so were the natives…sort of.

I guess you can say us settlers were like the Cardassian race from Star Trek; and like the lizards of the deserts of our old planet, our genetic manipulation allowed us to live on this one and it was our genetic manipulation that was also killing us.

You could still see that I had once been beautiful and I think that is why the youth of this planet got themselves “scaled” despite the fact that their shinny chromed skin was more than capable of dealing with the proximity of a sun that never set. Like the young of planet earth, who in emulated African body modification by stretching their ears without fully understanding the culture or significance behind the act. Some things never change.

I closed my eyes and let my memory recall the green rolling hills, red desert sands, and canyons carved from lakes, and deep blue-green seas that had once been my home. In my minds eye I saw the girl and heard her question asked and asked again…

“What color we’re you?”

I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t. Tears breached past my closed reptilian eyes and flowed down my cheeks as I cried myself to sleep. I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t…because I didn’t remember what color I had been.

            And here is my 2nd attempt. It’s not a short story it’s a poem and I was so incredibly blown away by how this piece turned and the amount of feedback that I got from it I used it as the dedication it to my mom in The Darkness

Colors Part 2:

As you know I did not want to do this drill. It’s still just as challenging as when I wrote the 1st Color and I still couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race.

Well like I promised I gave it another shot.
I am the color of the Red Sands of African a land where my roots were 1st planted.

I am the color of Oxidized Iron, from shackles that bound my predecessors in the storage hold.

I am the color of the green, brown, and white cotton fields and I am the color red from the blood that ran down the fingers that picked them.

I am the blue color of the Civil War Union uniform.

I am the white hot color of rage, I am the iridescent color of tears, I am every color on the spectrum from orange to red in outrage and am the bottomless color of black by the betrayal that the Choctaw people felt when being removed from lands that been held since antiquity.

I am the Silver-Blue color of The Rio Grande that “Los Mojado’s”, the wet ones, risked their lives to cross in order to make a better life for their heirs.

I am the color of fire that burned bras in the 60’s.

I am all the bright colors of the arrogant peacock, because I am the color of my ancestors.

Thank you again, Alyssa for inviting me to your blog!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blog Tour: Review of The Darkness by Crystal Connor

Author: Crystal Connor
Publisher: Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Series Order: Book 1
Paperback: 266 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Artemisia, a scientist who also practices alchemy, is wealthy beyond imagination. She is one of the founding members of the Skyward Group, a privately funded, secret, research facility conducting experiments that erase what tradition has established as the boundaries separating the realm of man from the realm of God. Artemisia has everything she wants - money, fame, knowledge and power - except for a child. Inanna is a powerful and dangerous witch, also wealthy beyond imagination. Her powers are greater and more deadly than any in the long tradition before her. Inanna has everything she wants - money, knowledge and God-like power - except for a child. The Child has nothing. At three months of age, he knows only what he has experienced through the bars of his locked cage. He has nothing. He doesn't have a mommy. He doesn't have a daddy. He doesn't have a name. The scientists who created him do not handle him, because they know The Child is dangerous. In The Darkness, Two women clash in a vicious battle that has been fought since the days of King Solomon - the fight over a child. One woman unleashes the nightmarish arsenal of modern science while the other dispatches the weaponries of witchcraft. And as The Child grows up, his love for one and resentment for the other will change the fate of both these women, forever.

Overall Rating: 3/5

It started off slowly, but a quarter of the way in, I was completely interested in the story. The Darkness deals with a mixture of super technology and dark witchcraft, which I found intriguing. The writing was more factual than I generally like (a lot of telling, very little showing), but I got used to it and didn't find it as annoying once I started reading more. Overall, I think this is an entertaining story that remains suspenseful until the very end.

However, the characterization wasn't enough for me. Part of this is told in first person, and with that point of view, I especially expect to have some sort of emotional connection to the main character. This didn't happen at all. I think it was because the narration was entirely factual. We don't get a lot of Artemisia's feelings, and if we do, they're rather shallow. Instead of reflection, the character only says, "I'm upset" (or whatever emotion she's supposed to be feeling) and moves on. Maybe she'll have a drink, but that's it. There aren't any deeper thoughts or tell-tale actions going on. I wanted more from her. The same thing can go for Inanna and Adam (The Child) as well, but I didn't have so much of a problem with their characters. Their stories were told in third person, and I didn't consider them the "main characters." Besides, I think their history was more fully realized than Artemisia's, which gave them more depth.

Also, all the characters are perfect. They are all beautiful, incredibly rich, successful, smart, can speak multiple languages, etc. I wanted them to have some flaws.

Despite this, I thought the story was enjoyable. I liked how the magic came from different cultures, and I especially liked the voodoo influence. The plot was suspenseful and delightfully frustrating as Adam tries to come to terms with his past. I thought the ending was rushed, but it's a perfect ending -- I would have been disappointed if it had ended any other way. If you're at all interested in dark stories or witchcraft, you should give this one a try. Like I said, the characterization had flaws, but the story is truly fantastic.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: Enslave Me Sweetly by Gena Showalter

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Author: Gena Showalter
Publisher: Downtown Press
Series Order: Book 2
Paperback: 306 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Eden Black walks among humans, protecting them from the murderous evil of other-worlders who abduct and enslave. And though she appears to be human herself, Eden is an alien, a Raka, distinguished by her golden hair and skin, and gifted with the ominous ability to kill without remorse -- and with total accuracy. That is, until the fateful night she has one shot to eliminate her target, a human slaver -- and misses.
"Failure" is not in Eden's vocabulary. Neither is "partner" -- but that's what she is forcibly assigned after recovering from her disastrous mission. A sexy, steely-nerved human agent, Lucius Adaire enjoys nothing more than sparking the fury -- and rousing the desire -- of the fiery female assassin too proud to admit defeat. Locked in an assignment they cannot afford to lose, Lucius and Eden find themselves bound in two high-stakes, heart-pounding games: the sensual web of kill or be killed, and the erotic dance of seduction.

Overall Rating: 3/5

This series is unique, entertaining, and makes for some quick reading. And really, what's not to like?

Alien assassin? Check.
Female lead who knows how to kick some butt? Check.
Steamy romance? Check.

These books contain pretty much all I ask for in a paranormal romance.

The plot was suspenseful and interesting. The story moves at a perfect pace and definitely causes the "just one more chapter" syndrome. I was sad that it Enslave Me Sweetly doesn't have a strong connection to the Awaken Me Darkly story line, but I quickly got over it once I got caught up in this story line.

One thing that could have made this book a lot better is more relationship development between Eden and Lucius. Even though it's a common theme in romance, I'm still not a fan of the "instant love" thing. Eden looks at Lucius and, even though she "hates" him, immediately wants to sleep with him. For me, her emotions and connection with him were too strong too soon. Throughout the novel, I was rolling my eyes at their banter and at Eden's internal dialogue about how hot he is. I would have liked to see a bit more character development before she became so attracted.

I did like that we got to see more of Michael's character. (He's Eden's boss and adoptive father, for those unfamiliar with the series.) The revelation of his past was predictable, but I did like how Eden reacted to it. I'm definitely looking forward to the next books in the series.