Monday, December 31, 2012

Iced [Moning]

Book: Iced [Fever #6]
Author: Karen Marie Moning

From the publisher:
The year is 1 AWC—After the Wall Crash. The Fae are free and hunting us. It’s a war zone out there, and no two days are alike. I’m Dani O’Malley, the chaos-filled streets of Dublin are my home, and there’s no place I’d rather be. 
Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules—and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the rare humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities.
Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux. 
When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks—and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance.
Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin—before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

I read this book on our drive back from Thanksgiving (Miami to Houston, it was a long journey with 2 kids and the dog). First off, this is the ONLY book I have ever read in the car in my many years of reading and car travel. This was probably my most anticipated read of 2012 and I've waited a month to review it because I am so conflicted about the book. I LOVE the Fever series and I recommend it to almost all of my friends. Barrons is one of my favorite male characters of all time. However, Dani's POV sections in the Fever series were grating. Luckily, Moning did a good job making Dani's voice more tolerable this time around. She is still a very immature 14-year old though and reading this book in one or two sittings will probably result in readers becoming very annoyed with the Mega. 

What did I love about this book? We finally learn about Dancer's background and he is a great secondary character. In fact, I think he would make a great addition at my husband's engineering lab! :) Christian takes a drastic turn in this book and I'm excited to see where Moning goes with the character. There were a few sections written from his POV and I think the main point was to explain his attraction (as well as Ryodan's) to Dani and make it seem less pervy. It was explained more that they were attracted to the woman she would become. I'm okay with the explanation but I can still see why people will still view it as gross due to the age differences. One of my favorite things about the first 5 Fever books were the perfect balance between mystery, sci-fi and romance. I don't see how she will be able to incorporate any true romance involving Dani due to her age but I'll be interested to see what she has planned. I also enjoyed Ryodan and the unknown surrounding him-is he good or bad? I want to know!

What I didn't like: I couldn't get into the ice mystery, which was the core plot of the book. The inclusion of Mac's parents seemed a little ridiculous.

What I'm unsure about: Dani herself. Moning is such a skilled writer she really nails Dani as a 14-year old. However, who wants to read about 400+ pages of non-YA book from the perspective of a young, immature teenager? I'm still not sure if I like Dani or not. I'm hoping she matures a little in the next book. There were also several chapters written from the POV of Cat, who took over Rowena's position with the sidhe-seers. Her sections brought a sexual element to the book that definitely ensured it wasn't YA and they were somewhat repetitive. I may be over thinking it, but I'm thinking she could be a potential love interest for Christian (since he is a living lie detector test and she is an empath, seems like they could end up being a good match...depending on where Christian's character goes). 

I've wavered between giving this a 3 or 4, but I'm going with a 4 since I did read it in the car which is a historic moment for me. And even though I was annoyed with Dani at times and the ice mystery-I didn't put the book down. Obviously, any fan of the Fever series will need to read this one and although there are only a few mentions and sightings of Mac and Barrons, the next book promises to bring Mac and Dani together again in some form. 

Grade: 4/5

Magic Burns [Andrews]

Book: Magic Burns [Kate Daniels #2]
Author: Ilona Andrews

Review: I'm pretty sure I found my new favorite heroine and her name is Kate Daniels. She's a badass mercenary and member of the guild who solves crimes in and around Atlanta, while dealing with magic waves. In book 2 of the series, Kate agrees to retrieve maps stolen from the pack, and quickly realizes more is at stake-including a 13-year old girl's life. Throw in a Celtic god, witches, vampires and shapeshifters and this was a fun ride. We finally learn a little more about Kate's mysterious past (we know she is powerful..just how powerful is still not quite known) and Curran, the powerful pack leader starts to court Kate in his own way. I cannot wait to read the next book!! 

Well written and fun-definitely a great series for sci-fi lovers out there! If you are from Atlanta or ever lived there (I went to college there), it is cool to read about streets, buildings, etc. that are often referenced.

Reminder: this is more science fiction than paranormal romance

Grade: 4/5

Just Like Heaven [Quinn]

Book: Just Like Heaven [Smythe-Smith Quartet #1]
Author: Julia Quinn

from the publisher:
Honoria Smythe-Smith is:
 A) a really bad violinist 
B) still miffed at being nicknamed "Bug" as a child
C) not in love with her older brother's best friend
D) all of the above

Marcus Holroyd is: 

A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) not in love with his best friend's younger sister
D) all of the above

Together they: 

A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever and the world's worst musical performance
C) fall quite desperately in love
It's Julia Quinn at her best, so you know the answer is . . .
D) all of the above

It's been awhile since I read a historical romance and this was a pleasant surprise. I not only enjoyed the cheesy plot and characters, but I actually laughed out loud several times. Honoria was pretty funny and her shenanigans to try to snag a husband are things I could imagine my 21 year old self doing (if I lived in the 1800's).  

Overall, this was a super fun, light read that you can polish off in a couple of hours. A great selection for a beach vacation or rainy day read. 

Grade: 4/5

Sidney Sheldon's Angel of the Dark [Bagshawe]

Book: Sidney Sheldon's Angel of the Dark
Author: Tilly Bagshawe

Review: LAPD detective Danny McGuire's first murder case is one he cannot forget. Andrew Jakes, a wealthy old man is brutally murdered and his young, beautiful wife is found raped and badly beaten tied to his body. She donates her inheritance to a children's charity and then disappears. The case runs cold but Danny cannot forget the beautiful woman and her eyes. 10 years later, Danny is working for Interpol when Matt Daley, Andrew Jake's estranged son, shows up stating three other murders have happened with the same MO: Rich elderly man brutally murdered and found bound to his young wife. The young wife inherits a fortune, donates it all to a children's charity and disappears. 

I received this book for Christmas and was really excited to start it. Who doesn't love a good mystery? Although I've never read Sidney Sheldon or Tilly Bagshawe (Sheldon passed away and Bagshawe wrote this based on his notes) I've heard good things. Unfortunately,   the 'mystery' was pretty clear after the second murder was described and it was really unbelievable that all of these wealthy men fell in love so fast. Not too mention the fact that these men, worth hundreds of millions of dollars each, were so in love after a few weeks (or months) they all agreed to quickie weddings without pre-nups.  The wife in each case was said to be very beautiful and enchanted men. I realize there are gorgeous women in the word but I'd love to meet the woman whose eyes are so beautiful they can enchant literally everyone they meet. The plot relating to Matt Daley, and his attraction to one of the widows, dragged on. I'll avoid spoilers, but I'm still not clear how Matt knew to find a certain person in Australia nor how he continued to travel around the world when we were constantly reminded of how broke he was. 

This one can be skipped, but I'll give both authors another chance. I usually love mysteries. 

Grade: 2/5

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Release Me [Kenner]

Book: Release Me
Author: J. Kenner
Format: ebook 
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: 1/1/2013
I received this in exchange for my honest review
He was the one man I couldn’t avoid. And the one man I couldn’t resist. 
Damien Stark could have his way with any woman. He was sexy, confident, and commanding: Anything he wanted, he got. And what he wanted was me.
Our attraction was unmistakable, almost beyond control, but as much as I ached to be his, I feared the pressures of his demands. Submitting to Damien meant I had to bare the darkest truth about my past—and risk breaking us apart.
But Damien was haunted, too. And as our passion came to obsess us both, his secrets threatened to destroy him—and us—forever.- Publisher

Review: I loved the Fifty Shades trilogy and I'm currently enjoying the Crossfire books (well, loved book one, book 2 was okay) so I was excited to read this book. Like those books, we have a young woman (Nikki) attracted to an extremely wealthy businessman (Damien) with control issues. While the premise of the book was not entirely original, Kenner succeeded in its execution by creating believable characters, sizzling sex scenes and focusing on the actual relationship between the main characters. 

Nikki is damaged and working through her own issues. In fact, I think anyone with a critical mother would relate to some of the traumatic things she experienced (a lot of it hit home for me). Damien is an Andre Agassi of sorts, a former tennis star who retired from the sport and now works in business. I liked this back story as it was more reasonable than a 20-something year old billionaire who 'worked hard and became successful in business.' Kenner knows how to write steamy scenes and these two characters had great physical chemistry. While there was a dominant/submissive vibe in the bedroom, the book focused on the actual relationship and not just the sex. 

Nikki is slowly peeled back and her issues come to light, while Damien is an enigma throughout most of the book. We are given some crumbs as to his childhood trauma relating to tennis, but any other injustices that may have occurred were not revealed. I hope that means another book is in the works? I liked that Damien had control issues in the bedroom but that did not extend to Nikki's regular life in the extreme stalker role like the other dominant male characters readers are getting used to seeing (i.e. Christian Grey). 

I will say the ending of the book seemed a little rushed and left me wanting for me. Overall, I enjoyed the book! 

Grade: 4/5

City of Glass [Clare]

Book: City of Glass [Mortal Instruments #3]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review: Desperate to save her mother, Clary has to travel to the Idris, the home of Shadowhunters. This plan is not without complications. Jace doesn't want her there, Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters and she has to enter without permission, which could lead to a punishment as severe as death. Valentine also continues to gain power and threatens Idris. Can the shadowhunters and downworlders combine forces to fight Valentine? How far will Clary go to save her mother and help protect the City of Glass?

I enjoyed the first two books of the series but this book felt a little flat for me. I didn't love it or hate it, it was really just okay. I was excited that Clare moved the action from New York City to this imaginary world and she did a very good job describing Idris. The strongest part of this was learning about the angel and demon experiments that Valentine partook in and it was very powerful when we discovered what he had hidden in his basement. Clary was more likable during that scene than almost any other part of the book. 

My biggest issue with this series is Clary herself. I just don't like her. Maybe I should have taken a break between the books (I remember getting very tired of Sookie Stackhouse as well, but that took about 6 books back to back before I needed a break) but she is extremely self involved and complains constantly. Why exactly are Simon and Jace in love with her? I really have no idea. We are told she is fiesty but she does not read that way. Many of the secondary characters come to life on the pages (Magnus and Isabelle especially) and I hope Clare can succeed in doing the same for Clary in the next few books. 

In terms of the plot, there were a few twists and turns I didn't see coming (specifically the death of a secondary character who has been in the previous books) which was a surprise. Otherwise, most of this was very predictable.  We **spoiler alert** finally learn that Jace and Clary aren't related at the end of the book (finally!). Yay! 

I was planning to give this a 4 as I was reading it, but I fell asleep so many nights trying to get through it I have to give it is a 3. An okay read, definitely a must read if you are reading the series. 

Grade: 3/5

City of Ashes [Clare]

Book: City of Ashes [Mortal Instruments #2]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review: CoA starts a few weeks after CoB. Clary's mother is still in a coma and Clary is trying to avoid her attraction to Jace (her newfound brother) by dating Simon. When young downworlder children start disappearing, Clary, Jace and crew must hunt down Valentine again to stop him.

I enjoyed this book more than CoA because it overall felt like a more original story line. I'm pretty sure my favorite character is the warlock Magnus Bane (seriously, he is awesome) and I wouldn't mind a whole series centered around him! Clare does a great job writing Jace because he is equal parts annoying and charming. He really reads like an arrogant teenager and I can see younger reader identifying with him. Unfortunately, Clary continues to grate on my nerves. I realize she was thrown into this world after living a regular human life, but she complains all the time and insists on going to battles when she is not trained and has very little skill. Speaking of her lack of skill, it is odd that none of the other hunters offer to train her. To rectify this situation, she comes into her own powers very quickly and with relative ease. I would have enjoyed more work on Clary's part to be such an asset. 

Now, let's get to the main romance in this book. There is an incest theme between Jace and Clary which will probably leave many readers feeling icky reading it. I even found myself thinking "eww" at times but there are enough hints throughout the book to indicate they are not indeed blood siblings. So I don't think we'll be dealing with incest for however long this series is planned for but hopefully Jace's true parentage is revealed sooner rather than later. That being said, I think the only book I've ever read with an incest theme was 'Middlesex' so I have to give Clare props for putting it out there, especially a YA series. Very brave! 

Overall, I enjoyed this book!

Grade: 3/5

City of Bones [Clare]

Book: City of Bones [Mortal Instruments #1]
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review:  Clary Fray, a seemingly normal teenager girl, and her friend Simon are at club when she sees three tattooed teenagers murder someone. The body disappears and she discovers they killed a demon. Clary soon learns that there is a whole Shadow World she was unaware of, filled with shadowhunters, vampires, shifters, fae and other lore creatures. Her mother is connected to this secret world and has disappeared. Clary teams up with the local shadowhunters, including Jace, a snarky teen with plenty of attitude, speed and fighting skills, to find her mother. The group soon discovers that Valentine, a shadowhunter previously thought to be dead, is alive and hunting for the Mortal Cup, an instrument that will turns humans into hunters. It turns out Clary's mother hid the cup. Can Clary, Jace and their crew find the cup before Valentine and save Clary's mom?

Clare's world is well imagined, descriptive and well written. Clary is an interesting, albeit slightly boring heroine and I felt she reads younger than 16. Good thing Clare created strong secondary characters in Clary's best friend, Simon (loyal, smart, witty) and shadowhunter (love interest with complications) Jace (appealing even though he is extremely arrogant).  Many of the plot points were predictable (such as Clary's true parentage) and readers of Harry Potter will undoubtedly see many similarities between the series. Voldemort - Valentine, Death Eaters - Circle, Voldemort wanted only pure-blooded wizards - Valentine want to get rid of all demons, HP and friends used wands to cast spells - Jace and the hunters use stele's, wand-like objects to draw runes to create magic. Regardless of the similarities, I still enjoyed the characters and think it is a good start to a new series. 

Grade: 4/5

Ten [McNeill]

Book: Ten
Author: Gretchen McNeill

Review: Ten teens are at a house party on a remote island near Seattle. Things quickly turn from fun to freaky when people start dying. Are they suicides? Accidents? Could someone be stalking the teens or is one of them responsible for the deaths? Tensions rise as a huge storm rages outside the house and they try to figure out why they are being targeted.

This is a modern, YA remake of Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Readers of this blog know I'm a HUGE Christie fan (although that book hasn't been reviewed here, I have read it and LOVE it) so I was excited to read this. McNeill did a great job creating the scene: a huge, isolated house, complete with a raging storm outside. She also did a great job dealing with modern technology-in this day of cell phones, internet, etc., I suspected it would be difficult to completely disconnect these teens but she did a good job. While most of the characters were extremely unlikable (it's bad when you think 'good riddance' when some people die) and I think it would be easy to figure out a huge part of the mystery without reading the original, overall, this was a super fun read. 

Grade: 4/5

Reflected In You [Day]

Book: Reflected in You [Crossfire #2]
Author: Sylvia Day

Review: I really enjoyed 'Bared To You' and couldn't wait for this book. I even pre-ordered it, which is something i rarely do. This book picks up the morning after 'Bared To You' ended and we continue along the ride of disfunctional couple Eva and Gideon. I was about halfway into this book when I realized...there was no real plot. It was more of the same thing as the first book-the push and pull of the main characters with a lot more sex. Don't get me wrong, it was extremely readable (I read the whole book in pretty much one sitting), but it felt more like a continuation of the first book than a stand alone book. The last third of the book did have an actual plot (and point) and we finally learned more about Gideon's past, but I finished the book feeling a little cheated. I'm looking forward to the third book and I hope Day can create an intriguing plot that grows Eva and Gideon's relationship while diving deeper into his personal demons. 

Grade: 3/5

Where We Belong [Giffin]

Book: Where We Belong
Author: Emily Giffin

Review: Marian's life is seemingly perfect. She is a 36 year old successful television producer in New York and dating the perfect man. But her perfect world is turned upside down when her biggest secret, an unplanned child she gave up for adoption 18 years ago, shows up at her door. As the perfect life Marian created starts to shatter, she gets to know her daughter, Kirby Rose and confronts her past, which she has pushed away for years. 

I'm usually a huge fan of alternate points of view, but rotating narrative between Marian and Kirby did not work here. Giffin was successful in writing Kirby as a typical teenager with angst, however I found her extremely annoying (were we all that self involved when we were 18? Yikes). I cringed whenever I came to her chapters. Marian was more tolerable but very boring. Her young love story and the pregnancy that resulted was not really that memorable. They dated a few weeks (maybe it was a month?) and Marian never even told anyone they were dating. **spoiler alert** She never even told him she was pregnant yet she has still carried a torch for him all these years? 

This book was okay. I enjoyed it but it was nothing special. The inferred relationship at the end of the book was extremely unrealistic and I'm glad it was just a suggestion and did not come to life on the pages. 

Grade: 3/5

This Is Not A Test [Summers]

Book: This Is Not A Test
Author: Courtney Summers

Review: It's the end of the world-a zombie apocalypse is here and 6 teenagers are seeking cover in their local high school, Cortege High. One bite from a zombie and you become a flesh eating shell of your former self. Almost every teen is willing to do whatever it is to survive but our protagonist, Sloane Price, was suicidal before this even happened. She watches her fellow classmates and their thirst for survival while she waits for the end of the world.

First, let me say that although there are zombies in this book, I wouldn't classify this as a zombie book. They are a catalyst to get these teens into the school. This is a book about survival (more along the lines of Lord of the Flies). It brings up a lot of good questions in terms of how far would you go if you were in this situation. Could you decide that someone needs to be sacrificed for the rest? Would you sacrifice yourself to help get others to safety? Do you think you'd be a leader or a follower? Sloane was a unique heroine in that she was not your typical 'I will do whatever it takes' characters. She had a physically abusive father and an emotionally abusive sister who abandoned her several months before the apocalypse happened.  She was very damaged and spent a good amount of the book trying to comes to terms with her sister's abandonment. She wanted to end her life but didn't want to risk anyone else's lives. Summer's was also not afraid to kill off main characters, which kept it interesting. 

This was a book club selection and we had really good discussion around it. I highly recommend this for teens as well. 

Grade: 4/5

Magic Bites [Andrews]

Book: Magic Bites [Kate Daniels #1]
Author: Ilona Andrews

Review: Kate Daniels is a mercenary living outside Atlanta. When her guardian is murdered, she seeks justice and investigates the crime. Andrew's has done a wonderful job creating an alternate world where magic and modern technology come in unpredictable waves. When magic is working, electricity does not (and vice versa). Many interesting characters are introduced and there is enough mystery involving almost all of them to keep readers guessing. I'm especially interested to learn more about our protagonist and her true heritage. What we do know so far is that she is quick witted, funny, has nerves of steel and isn't afraid to fight for things she believes in. She reminds me a little of Anita Blake. 

A great introduction to a series and I cannot wait to read the next one (already on hold at the library!). I will note that this is more 'fantasy' and while I think there is potential for a romantic sub-plot between two of the characters, this is definitely focused on the mystery/fantasy. 

Grade: 4/5

Gone Girl [Flynn]

Book: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn

Review: On the day of Nick and Amy's 5th wedding anniversary, she disappears. There appears to have been a struggle in the house and Nick is lying to the police. What follows is a detailed look into a troubled marriage and turns into a psychological thriller that is hard to put down. 

This is my first Gillian Flynn book and I LOVED it. She starts the book using alternating narratives (Nick is written present day while Amy's is a diary written from when her and Nick started dating). I'll avoid spoilers but this was an intense look at a couple that was once madly in love, how things fell apart, and the aftermath. Add in narcissistic personalities and psychopathic tendencies and we have ourselves a thriller. The first part of the book was a little slow but it builds and I eventually couldn't put it down. There were sections discussing relationships that hold a lot of truth, specifically a section about the masks we all wear when we meet people and what happens when our true selves are revealed (we all put our best self forward to an extent when we enter a relationship, don't we?). I also loved the part about 'the cool girl' because Flynn pegged it so well. There were a few things that didn't really work (I'll avoid spoilers but one of the characters befriends people at one point that is out of character) but overall, this was fabulous. I cannot wait to read more of Flynn's books!

Grade: 5/5

Biting Cold [Neill]

Book: Biting Cold [Chicagoland Vampires #6]
Author: Chloe Neill

Review: I want to love this series, I really do. It has all the ingredients for success and I keep hoping the next book will be the one that blows me away, but alas, I'm disappointed yet again. 

**this review contains spoilers**

Mallory has escaped the Order and she is on the hunt for one of the most powerful books in the world. The Order is convinced the book is in a secure location (really? after Mallory already stole it from the previous 'secure' location they just assume this next one will be beyond her powers?). Not surprisingly, Mallory and Seth find the book and it is quickly destroyed, but not before releasing Seth's evil twin (yes, an evil twin storyline!). Mallory is washing dishes at a bar (Gabriel and the shifters are watching her and decided this is the best form of punishment for her actions) and tries to repair her relationships with Merit and Catcher while Merit and Ethan try to stop the evil twin who is on a path for vengeance. Cadogan House is also under intense scrutiny by the GP and their could be grave repercussions for their perceived actions. 

Readers of this blog know I'm not a fan of Ethan so I was thrilled when Neill killed him off and introduced a new potential love interest with Jonah. Jonah (interesting! dynamic! fun!) was barely mentioned in this book which was disappointing. The lack of relationship between Merit and Ethan is also probably frustrating for those who love them together, because Neill still hasn't really allowed them to be a couple throughout this series. It's the same 'not is not a good time' line from Ethan we've been hearing for several books now. I was hoping for an intense search for Mallory but her storyline was wrapped up relatively quickly. I think the best part of these books are the banter between Merit, Catcher, Jeff and Mallory and that was lacking in this book. A lot of new supernatural creatures were introduced and I hope Neill uses them in the future. 

Once again, I WANT TO LOVE this series...maybe the next one with be a home run? I'll let you know!!

Grade: 3/5

Abide With Me [Strout]

Book: Abide With Me 
Author: Elizabeth Strout 

Review: Tyler Caskey is a pastor in a small Maine town and is grieving his wife's untimely death from cancer. He feels he has lost his calling to God and his grief is coming across as arrogance to his parishioners, and he is so wrapped up in his own troubles that he fails to notice his young daughter has stopped talking. 

I loved 'Olive Kitteridge' and couldn't want to read this book. Strout writes beautifully and as someone from the northeast, I love how she brings the seasons and landscape to life. This is well written and description, and I enjoyed different perspectives from different townfolk but overall, I finished reading and felt unsatisfied. This first third of this book was very slow and it put me to sleep every night. I had trouble sympathizing with Tyler (this was set in the late 1950's and things were different then, but how can any parent fail to realize their own child has stopped talking?) and I did not understand his relationship with his housekeeper. His wife was an interested character-she was wealthy, married Tyler on the rebound and then quickly regretted her decision) and there were hints as to things in her past that were not fleshed out. Was she abused? Was she manic depressive or just depressed that she made the choices she did? I think if the book was centered more on her, it would have been more interesting. I also found the end (I'll avoid spoilers) to be unrealistic. 

Overall-gorgeous writing but the characters fell flat. 

Grade: 3/5

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yes Chef [Samuelsson]

Book: Yes Chef
Author: Marcus Samuelsson

Review: 'Yes Chef' is a memoir by famous chef Marcus Samuelsson. It chronicles his first years in Ethiopia, his adoption into a Swedish family (along with his older sister) and his trials and tribulations to get where he is today in the culinary world.

I am not a foodie so I read this more to find out about the journey of this famous chef. While I admire Marcus Samuelsson's work ethic and determination, his ability to push everything else to the wayside to further his career, really made him come off as an ass. **spoilers** He cheats on his girlfriend, gets another woman pregnant, and then doesn't even plan to pay child support until his upstanding parents tell him they will cover it until he can afford it. He then goes back to the girlfriend, continues on with her before eventually confessing and they break up. His grandmother, the woman who inspired him to cook and his father, who was a mainstay in his life, die, and he didn't even go to their funerals because he couldn't miss work. I understand he was in the middle of getting a VISA, but I believe the state department allows travel for that. It didn't even seem like he looked into it (work above all else!). There is a another chef in the book who gives him a huge break, tons of responsibility and then dies of a heart attack. Instead of leaving it at that, he tells us the guy had a drug problem. Be it true or not, I felt that was a little tacky. Especially considering Marcus doesn't even track down his own child until she is a teenager. He makes the excuse that he was trying to 'perfect himself' but come on-that is inexcusable. It sounds like the mother of his child is a saint because she never bade him any ill will (it was a one night stand. It is referenced that he was involved a few times over the years for decisions about their daughter and I wonder why he was involved in any decision making since all he provided as a check every month??). 

I didn't hate the book, it was just frustrating to listen to the author drone on wondering if his father abandoned him and his sister...meanwhile he essentially abandoned his own child. I enjoyed learning about the food industry as it's totally new to me. I didn't realize how competitive it was and how you need to be willing to move almost anywhere in the world to train if an opportunity presents itself. Samuelsson also tackles the issue of racism within the industry, and while he was discriminated against at times, he was also given many opportunities and was able to cook his way up in various kitchens. 

He has won Top Chef Masters, cooked for the White House and is the owner of several successful restaurants. His flagship restaurant, which he spends a portion of the book discussing (including the vision, financial backing inspiration for recipes) is the Red Rooster in Harlem. I've heard great things from people who have been there, but let's be honest. It's not a place for locals to hang out like your local diner Marcus-the food is not cheap! 

Overall-this is a story of a man who put his career above all else for most of his life. He is extremely talented, focused, determined and flawed-which is what makes this an interesting story. 

Grade: 3/5

Every Day [Levithan]

Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan

Review: 'A' wakes up every day in someone else's body. It has been like this for as long as 'A' can remember (he is now 16). 'A' can access his host's memories and tries to get through the day without causing any problems. However, when 'A' is in the body of surly high school student Justin, he falls in love with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. 'A' abandons his rules and cuts school to spend the day with her at the beach. 'A' makes a decision to tell Rhiannon what he is, but will she believe him? Will they find a way to be together when he's a different person every day?

Let me first explain that 'A' does not identify himself as a he/she. I felt the voice was more masculine so I'll refer to 'A' as a he.   My heart broke thinking of 'A' as a baby and child-to never have a home, loving family and stable environment must have been confusing and challenging on so many levels. To life a live where you are everyone and yet no one-how sad. Because of this, 'A' has never been able to express his unique personality and other than a personal email he set up to keep track of all of his hosts. When he finally meets Rhiannon and falls in love pretty much instantly (it's ridiculous but he's supposed to be 16 and emotions run high at that age) he finally has a purpose in life. He keeps coming back to her day after day in different bodies and tries to develop a relationship with her. Although she eventually believes he is what he says he is, she has a hard time accepting his different forms. 'A' struggles with her wavering feelings and has a difficult time empathizing. 

This was a very interesting concept for a book and quite unique. It was definitely thought provoking and well written. I thought the book started out very strong and even though the attraction to Rhiannon was light speed, I thought her reactions to 'A' were very realistic and true. I didn't exactly care for 'A's personality (he starts behaving like a stalker, but I understand where he was coming from, this girl was the first person he ever disclosed his true self to) and it became repetitive: 'A' wakes up in a new body, finds a way to get to Rhiannon's school. Rinse, repeat. Levithan's message throughout the book is very clear: love the person inside, not outside, which I thought was great. 'A' inhabited a few gay/lesbian bodies which might turn off some readers, but I thought it was well down. About halfway through the book I was wondering-how will this end? What will happen? Well, I was disappointed in how the Rhiannon story line wrapped up and Levithan had a great opportunity to explore a subplot involving a host who knew something happened to him and he did nothing with it. 

If you are looking for something unique for book club, this book would be a good choice. 

Grade: 4/5

Obsideon Butterfly [Hamilton]

Book: Obsideon Butterfly [Anita Blake #9]
Author: Laurel K. Hamilton

Review: Anita Blake travels to New Mexico to help Edward on a puzzling case. When she arrives, she is shocked to find that Edward, a cold blooded killer, has a secret life that includes a fiance and kids. As Anita tries to reconcile Edward's home life with his secret work life, they team up with another group of killers and work with the local authorities and supernatural groups to figure out what is going on and to solve the crime.

I was on hold for this book at the library for many months and it was worth the wait. This is the best Anita book so far!! First off-I am a huge Dexter fan (both the show and books) and Edward is essentially Dexter Morgan. A sociopath killer who wants to emote and cares for his fiance as much as he is capable (imagine Dexter and Rita). Edward is also very fond of the children. Deep down-they are both good guys. I also like when Anita is out of St. Louis, it adds for a more interesting read. Most importantly-the focus on this book was solving the case and Anita being a bad ass investigator/killer, NOT her ridiculous love life featuring Jean-Claude and Richard (she was on a break with both of them in the book and they both played extremely small rolls).  

Fab read!!

Grade: 5/5

Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night [Cole]

Book: Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night [Immortals After Dark #4]
Author: Kresley Cole

Review: Werewolf Bowen is competing in the Hie, planning to win so he can bring his mate back to life (she was killed about two hundred years ago running away from him during a full moon).  He has mourned Mariah for years and has never looked twice at another, until he meets Marieka, a witch and fellow competitor. After a steamy encounter in a tomb, Bowen is convinced she has cast a spell that makes him believe she is his mate. Males are only granted one mate in a lifetime and he cannot reconcile his feelings. Meanwhile, Marieka is not sure if she did or did not cast a love spell on him. As the Hie concludes, additional adventures take place.

This was a fun read! There was real tension between the main characters (Bowe trapped Marieka at one point, while she tried to kill him) and both characters had strong personalities and were interesting. I liked the "is she really my mate or did she cast a spell on me" theme as well as Bowe's brutal honesty when asked about what he would do about Mariah (his old flame). His ability to constantly put his foot in his mouth was humorous at times. Marieka, for her part, was a 23 year old who was always worried about being second choice and I felt her reactions to situations were pretty honest and real (well-as real as a witch and werewolf could be!). Cole also included an actually evil character in this book which was a nice because it seems that she introduces a lot of new characters, and all of them are 'good.'

I really enjoyed this one, it was so much better than the previous one. I'll read a few more in the series. 

Grade: 4/5

No Rest for the Wicked [Cole]

Book: No Rest for the Wicked [Immortals After Dark #3]
Author: Kresley Cole

Review: Turned into a vampire against his will, Sebastian Wroth lives alone and hates what he has become. When Kaderin, a fey warrior tracks him down to kill him, he welcomes her sword. However, Sebastian is shocked to discover that she is his bride (eternal mate, she causes his heart to beat) while Kaderin, who has been unable to feel emotions for a thousand years, starts to "feel" again when she meets him. The last time Kaderin spared a vampires life, he murdered her two sisters. She decides not to kill him, and is dismayed when he followers her as she competes in the Hie (Amazing Race for immortals) and tries to help her secure victory. 

I had a hard time getting through this book. The Amazing Race aspect should have made it interesting but as almost every character is immortal, there was no tension or concern about people getting seriously injured. However, the primary issue is I just didn't care for either main character. Sebastian was a knight when he was a human, so he was very chivalrous. He didn't have any edge to him and was extremely boring. The most scandalous thing he did in this book was squat in Kaderin's London apartment without her knowing. Kaderin, for her part, was essentially a sociopath for 1k years. I would think feeling any sort of emotion after that long would be overwhelming, but I didn't feel that reading the pages. She was pretty much a one track mind-win the Hie and use the prize to bring her sister's back to life. 

This one can be skipped. 

Grade: 2/5 stars

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Hunger Like No Other [Cole]

Book: A Hunger Like No Other [Immortals After Dark #1]
Author: Kresley Cole

Review: Lochlain, leader of the Lykae Clan, is in an underground prison (courtesy of the vampires) when he scents his mate. He summons the energy and will to escape the prison he's been in for over 150 years to find her. When he does, he's shocked to find that she is a vampire.

Emma, part-vampire, part-Valkyrie (fae) is in Paris to find information about her vampire father. Known as 'Emma the Timid' to her coven, this is her first time traveling by herself. She is shocked when Lochlain essentially kidnaps her and demands she travel to Scotland with him. 

As Lochlain adjusts to life outside of prison, his passion for Emma overwhelms her and surprises him. Meanwhile, Emma has to reconcile her feelings for Lochlain while trying not to worry her Vaklyrie aunts (enemies of the Lykae) about her quest. As Lochlain and Emma develop a relationship, vampires are hunting for Emma, who is the last female vampire on earth.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I read a lot of fantasy/paranormal romance so the characters in this world were pretty interesting, especially Emma's Vaklyrie aunts. Even though Emma was a slightly annoying heroine (she rotated between acting timid and then powerful pretty quickly) and the plot was thin, it was a sexy read. This is the first in a series and I will definitely be reading the ones involving the Vaklyrie aunts, I think they could be fun.  

Grade: 4/5 (it's a 4 for the sheer sexiness, 3 if I was judging the story)

Haunted [Preble]

Book: Haunted [Dreaming Anastasia #2]
Author: Joy Preble

Review: After saving Anastasia, newly mortal Ethan is traveling around Europe to redefine his life. Anne is back home in Chicago trying to pretend she is a normal teenager, but it's proving challenging. Her powers are growing, she is still dreaming about the hut in the woods and she is being stalked by a mermaid.  Meanwhile, she is dating a really nice guy (Ben) who makes her feel normal, but she cannot reciprocate his feelings of true love. When the mermaid starts to take drastic measures to capture Anne's attention (like almost drowning Ben), Anne, Ben, Ethan (who comes back in town) and Tess go on an adventure back to Baba Yaga's hut. 

I enjoyed the alternate narratives between Anne, Ethan and Baba Yaga. Overall, this was a decent book but it was not as strong as it's predecessor. Anne has a much stronger personality than Ethan and he comes off as really weak (in his defense, he was also kind of weak in book one but I was hoping he'd grow more of a backbone) and she was almost shrill at times. It was frustrating that she used Ben throughout the book and refused to make a decision (even to herself) about being with Ethan. I was also mad that Anne's didn't confide in Tess after Tess continued to prove what a loyal and dedicated friend she was. While the Russian mermaid was interesting, it didn't hold the historical significance of Anastasia Romanov in the first book. There is another book in the series and I hope the Romanov theme comes back into play. 

Grade: 3/5

Dreaming Anastasia: A Novel of Love, Magic and the Power of Dreams [Preble]

Book: Dreaming Anastasia: A Novel of Love, Magic and the Power of Dreams [Dreaming Anastasia #1]
Author: Joy Preble

Review: Anastasia Romanov's family is murdered in front of her when two large hands grab  her and save her from the same fate. She finds herself in a hut in the woods, with the witch Baba Yaga, seemingly stuck in time.

Meanwhile, in present day Chicago, Anne starts to have weird dreams that she is in a hut with an old woman and talking dolls. It's not real, or is it? She soon meets Ethan, a handsome stranger who tells her an incredible story about magic, witches and destiny. It seems Anne is the only person who can free Anastasia from her fate, and Ethan has traveled around the world almost 70 years to find her. 

Great premise, well developed characters and an overall fun, fast read. I loved the three person narrative (it switches between Anne, Anastasia and Ethan) and the historical element to the book. Anne and her best friend (Tess) both read as teenagers which I enjoyed (sometimes characters in YA books seem too mature) and Ethan, while being somewhat weak in the personality department, has the potential to develop into an intriguing male lead. I think this is the first in a series and I'm excited to read the next one. 

Grade: 4/5 

Shadow Heir [Mead]

Book: Shadow Heir [Dark Swan #4]
Author: Richelle Mead

Review: After discovering she is pregnant with twins, Kiyo tries to kill Eugenie when she refuses to abort the fetus'. She initially seeks refuge with Dorian, who offers to adopt and raise the children as his own, as well as do everything in his power to protect them. But Eugenie is frightened for their safety in the Otherworld, and hides in the human world for the remainder of her pregnancy. After her children are born, she discovers a blight in the Otherworld (imagine never ending winter) and teams up with Dorian and Kiyo to save their kingdoms. 

**spoilers** I don't even know where to start with this. This series started off great and this final book was such a mess. First of all, Eugenie decides to hide in the human world because Kiyo is trying to track her down and kill her (and the babies). Roland puts her with a (conveniently) childless couple in the south and they have no idea who Eugenie is or why she is in danger. Considering someone is trying to assassinate her (someone who spends half his time in the human world), they should have known what they were dealing with. She also didn't appear to use a fake name. I'm not a private detective but it shouldn't be too hard to locate a mid-20s woman named Eugenie who gave birth to twins. I know a lot of people had a hard time with Eugenie leaving the twins in the NICU to travel back to the Otherworld to save her kingdom, but I am fine with that particular decision. What I was disappointed in was the lack of emotion written into her final scene with the twins before she left the hospital. It fell flat.

Next up-the big bad in the final book in the series is some queen we have never heard of before. I wish Mead would have given this role to Queen Maiwenn (Kiyo's baby momma, who plays a small part in all the books but quickly changes from friend to foe when she tries to kill Eugenie and then the twins). It was disappointing another new character was introduced when Maiwenn could have been used.

Next-I'm sure most readers were thrilled, THRILLED to find out that Dorian is actually the father of the twins. For the whole series we are told how it is so difficult for the gentry to conceive. We know Dorian wants a child more than anything in the world and the guy even wants the twins not knowing they are his. He has proven over and over again what a great guy he is. Then we are dealt the ultimate betrayal. Eugenie goes back to Dorian and proclaims her love...but she DOES NOT TELL HIM HE IS THE FATHER. She also decides to leave the kids hidden in the human world (to be raised by the couple she stayed with while pregnant). Mead did include an ambivalent sentence something along the lines of Eugenie probably wouldn't be able to keep it a secret from Dorian but hello-she could have included a three paragraph epilogue or something (I read that she purposely left it open ended yet she has no plans to write a sequel or a spin off series...frustrating). 

Next-at the end of the book Maiwenn is still trying to kill the twins and Kiyo appears to still be with Maiwenn (it's not clear if they are friends or more) and they just go off to her kingdom. WHAT? I'll tell you what should have happened. Eugenie should have used the Iron Crown to strip Maiwenn of her kingdom and she should have given it to Jasmine. 

Finally-where was the editor with this book? Kiyo and Maiwenn's baby name wasn't even correct. Also-if Dorian was the twins father, it means they are 75% gentry and they would not be able to tolerate the iron in the human world. 

Very frustrating conclusion to an otherwise fun, creative series. 

Grade: 2/5

Iron Crowned [Mead]

Book: Iron Crowned [Dark Swan #3]
Author: Richelle Mead

Review: After the conclusion of Thorn Queen, war has broken out. Eugenie and Dorian, now a couple (finally!!) are fighting against Queen Katrice. With no end in sight, Eugenie learns about the Iron Crown, whose power could help bring peace. The only problem? The Iron Crown is hidden in the Otherworld and whoever finds it must pass a series of tests to possess it. The gentry have a strong aversion to iron, so Eugenie and Kiyo set off on an adventure to get the crown.

**spoiler alert** Let me say I love Eugenie and Dorian together. She is a pretty inept queen but their love scenes and his layered plotting allow me to overlook that. What I did not like about this book was how she cheated on Dorian and justified it as having 'broken up with him in her head.' I think I actually said outloud "you stupid cheater, how could you?" when this happened. I was seriously angry at Eugenie and her selfishness. Her likability really took a dive at the end of this book. She is so fickle. Yes, Dorian was a little devious but she was able to end the war, just as he predicted. I enjoyed this book but Eugenie was extremely frustrating. 

Grade: 3/5

Thorn Queen [Mead]

Book: Thorn Queen [Dark Swan #2]
Author: Richelle Mead

Review: Eugenie is now a shaman for hire in the human world and Thorn Queen in the Otherworld. Although she is a reluctant queen, her kingdom needs her help when she inadvertently turns the landscape from lush countryside to the desert. Her people don't know to cultivate the land and Eugenie has to figure out a way to help. Meanwhile, her love life is complicated. Her boyfriend Kiyo is preoccupied by his pregnant ex-girlfriend (a queen in the Otherworld) and King Dorian makes it known he would like to take his relationship with Eugenie to the next level. On top of this, young gentry girls are disappearing and Eugenie tries to figure out what happened to them. She struggles to maintain her kingdom, embrace her powers and retain her humanity.

This book wasn't as strong as Storm Born but I still enjoyed it. I was disappointed in the continued relationship between Eugenie and Kiyo. Let me rant about Kiyo for a minute. **spoiler alert** He lied to her from the beginning, claims his relationship with his ex is ancient history and they are just friends (but she is newly they were together at least a few months ago) and he expects Eugenie to just accept the ex and be friends with her. Hmm...I would be demanding more answers from him. Kiyo does not understand nor accept Eugenie's true nature and just seems like a total ass. King Dorian on the other hand...I cannot say enough good things. Yes, he has an agenda, but when Eugenie asks him, he generally tells her the truth. He accepts her for what she is and would be happy with her as a Queen or as a shaman. He just loves "her." He would even give up having kids (his lifelong dream) for her. This is really a no brainer and so frustrating to read. On the mystery front, I think Mead could have put that more front and center but I enjoyed it. 

Grade: 4/5

Storm Born [Mead]

Book: Storm Born [Dark Swan #1]
Author: Richelle Mead

Review:  Eugenie Markham is a shaman for hire in Phoenix. She makes her living protecting humans from non-humans creatures by banishing them to the Underworld (i.e. hell) or the Otherworld (a parallel with faeries, also known as gentry). A new client claims his teenager sister (Jasmine) has been kidnapped by King Aeson and is being held captive in the Otherworld. Eugenie fears Jasmine was taken because of her fertility (gentry have a hard time conceiving) and is high risk of being raped. Eugenie's stepfather Roland (a powerful shaman) tells her not to take the case because the Otherworld is extremely dangerous, but Eugenie goes anyway. She enlists the help of the King Dorian (the Oak King, who happens to be super sexy and quick witted). Eugenie also learns ***spoiler alert** that she is the Storm King's daughter (the Storm King planned to take over the Otherworld and human world before he was killed by Roland) and there is a prophecy that his first grandson will conquer both worlds. Eugenie and Dorian team up to save Jasmine, while Eugenie tries to convince everyone she has no plans to have any children. Eugenie also meets and dates Kiyo, a kitsune (can shape shift from a human to fox) who is also able to travel between the human and Otherworld.

Readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of Richelle Mead so I was excited to start this series. Eugenie is a strong, female character with a dynamic personality and some fun cast of characters around her (I thought her roommate was hilarious). I really loved King Dorian and hope he becomes the main love interest over Kiyo. I am just not feeling Kiyo at all. BORING! I was also impressed with the Otherworld-it is very creative (imagine Game of Thrones with magic users who can shift elements, like water, wind and the earth). This was a strong book to the series and I cannot wait to read more! 

Grade: 4/5 stars

Elephants Can Remember [Christie]

Book: Elephants Can Remember [Hercule Poirot #37]
Author: Agatha Christie

Review: A seemingly happy husband and wife went out for a walk one day, never to return. Was it a suicide pact? A murder/suicide? Or did something else happen? The couple's daughter Celia (who was a child when the tragedy occurred) is now an adult and about to get married. She wants to know the truth. Hercule Poirot is on the case, while his friend and famous novelist Ariadne Oliver (also Celia's godmother) helps. Since the crime happened to long ago, they seek information from people who were alive when the deaths took place, to figure out the mystery.

I think this could have been good, as a short story. There was not enough material, plot, or interesting characters to make this an interesting read. Unfortunately, it dragged out, it was tedious, boring and quite easy to determine what happened to the couple. I have figured out a few of Christie's books but she usually throws in some great red herrings that make me question myself. This time around I kept asking myself "really? There has to be more to this?" She really seemed to broadcast the killer and motive very clearly the last few chapters. 

Grade: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reign Check [Rowen]

Book: Reign Check [Demon Princess #2]
Author: Michelle Rowen

Review: Nikki Donovan just found out she is a Demon Princess and her best friend could possibly be a demon slayer. She is looking forward going back to high school and acting like a regular human for awhile, when Rhys, the young king of faery, enrolls in her school as an 'exchange student.' He tells Nikki there is a dark prophecy about her and he is there to observe her for himself. Nikki starts to have conflicting feelings for Rhys as she spends time with him, which complicates her (forbidden) relationship with Michael. Meanwhile, she is summoned to the Otherworld to discuss the prophecy.

This book was much better than book 1 for one distinct reason: Rhys. He is the young, handsome faery king with quick wit and a snarky personality. He reminds me of Adrian (from Vampire Academy and Bloodlines fame) a little bit. He and Nikki actually made me chuckle out loud a few times and he really comes alive on the pages. Rowen has set up a love triangle now between Nikki, Michael and Rhys. I just cannot get behind Michael. Other than the fact that he protects Nikki, there is nothing to him. Zero personality. He isn't interesting. Rhys, on the other hand, is funny and charming! I cannot wait to read the next book to see how things play out **spoiler alert** considering Rhys has re-enrolled in school and may be dating Melinda now. Let the fun begin!

Grade: B

Reign or Shine [Rowen]

Book: Reign or Shine [Demon Princess #1]
Author: Michelle Rowen

Review: Life is going well for 16 year old Nikki Donovan. Although she recently moved to a new high school in Canada, she is best friends with the most popular girl in school (Melinda) and is going to the school dance with the guy of her dreams. Her life is quickly turned upside down when she finds out her deadbeat dad is actually a demon king of the Shadowlands, a world that protects humans from the Underworld. In addition to finding out out she is a demon princess, Nikki discovers her father is dying and she is developing feelings for Michael (a shadow servant) which is strictly forbidden. Add a trip to the faerie forest and a colorful cast of characters, this is a fun YA book by Rowen. 

Nikki is a fun main character and this was an enjoyable read however there were no laugh out loud moments like I had reading the 'Immortality Bites' series (I really think Sarah Dearly is funny). It was cute and I'll give the next book a try. 

Grade: C

The Gold Coast [Demille]

Book: The Gold Coast
Author: Nelson Demille

Review: John Whitman Sutter and his wife, Susan Stanhope Sutter, seem to have the perfect life in one of American's most exclusive areas, the Gold Coast (Long Island). John (a relative of Walt Whitman) is a tax attorney with offices on Wall Street and Long Island. Susan is a wealthy society wife (her parents own the 500+ room Stanhope Hall next door) and spends most of her time taking care of her horses. They have a daughter at Yale and a son away at boarding school. They epitomize the term WASP. Their lives are quickly turned upside down when American's most notorious mob boss, Frank Delarossa moves in next door. John tries to distance himself from Frank, but soon finds himself agreeing to represent Frank on a murder charge. John and Susan are soon seduced into Frank's life which has lasting consequences for all of them.

Often described as a cross between 'The Great Gatsby' and 'The Godfather,' 'The Gold Coast' is a good read. Narrated by John, I at times thought he was hilarious, annoying, rude and/or condescending. I loved the exploits he and Susan engaged in throughout much of the novel (a lot of role playing) and it was fascinating to see how Frank drew John in and then kept a hold on him. Susan, for her part, ended up being a crazy redhead just as John warned readers throughout the book. Overall, enjoyable read. 

Grade: B+