Friday, December 31, 2010

Cover Critique: A Knight to Remember

Let me preface this post by saying that my design critiques of these covers are in no way, shape or form a reflection on the author, the content or the publisher. I know the authors have very little, if any, control over the design. These are strictly my thoughts meant simply to be humorous and not insulting.

Okay, so originally this week's cover critique was going to be a continuation of last week's where I list my next 3 favorite 2011 covers of the ones that have been released thus far. However, in my internet trawling for the next hilarious cover, I came across the above and absolutely could not wait to share it with all of you. Just when I think I've found the best of the best in ridiculous book covers, I find myself surprised by the sheer spectacularness that is A Knight to Remember. Let's discuss what we're seeing shall we?

First of all, this cover is from the 80's so while we can't hold their outfits against them, we can certainly laugh in hysterical short bursts that will no doubt result in liquid projectiles should we be consuming any beverages at the time we see this visual. Look at her! She's magnificent isn't she? You go you little saucy minx, show him those absurd shorts that no doubt reach to just below your breasts don't make you any less attractive! That's right, tease him with your impressive side boob action, show him what he'll be missing if he takes a pass on you because it looks a little like you're wearing a red diaper and your hair is inexplicable. You've clearly picked your outfit out with seduction in mind, and you've distracted him so much that you've both stopped mid-run to clutch one another in feigned sexual attraction, so carry on you enviable little siren, I shall take notes for my own future reference!

Now that we've had a good giggle over her outfit of choice, can we just talk about our romance hero for a moment? Is it me or does he strongly resemble a zombie? There's definitely something wrong with his face–he's entirely too focused on her right eye and cheek while she seems to be glorying in the fact that he's doing absolutely nothing sexually exciting other than breathing on her from a giant square head attached to a freakishly stubby little neck. He also appears to have some moss growing on his lower arm as it's covered in green furry weirdness. I would be slightly concerned if I were her, wouldn't you? The green and black shirt/short pairing (are the sleeves of his t-shirt rolled? Marvelous.) does little to reduce the Frankenstein vibe, and he appears to have her in a death grip while planning his assault on her face. Run my burgundy short-wearing unnatural blond, run! You're already dressed for it! Although if she does run, she may regret the lack of supportive sports bra situation, an oversight that will be readily apparent to her the moment she picks up speed. Bouncy, bounce, bounce they'll go. She could hurt herself.

And last, but not least, I would like someone to explain to me the pink mass at the top. What kind of freak weather phenomenon is happening here? There are no other clouds in the sky, yet a massive pink blob hovers over our incredibly lacking-in-sexual-chemistry couple. I would pass it off as a result of the sunset if an enormous moon weren't already in place, letting them bask in the glow of quite possibly the most awkward embrace I've ever witnessed. Oh, A Knight to Remember, how I love thee.

I think this is definitely one of the greatest covers I've ever seen. I will cherish it always. What do you guys think, one of the best or no?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: XVI

XVI (XVI #1)
Julia Karr
Speculative Young Adult
325 pages
Available January 6th
Received from publisher for review

This review contains NO spoilers.

There's not much time left before Nina's sixteenth birthday. The day she'll get her tattoo on her wrist. The day her innocence is up for grabs and any man who wants to sleep with her has every right to do so under the rules and regulations of the Governing Council.

Most girls look forward to their birthdays, primping and preening in anticipation of attracting the attention of men, but Nina is terrified. Quicker than she can blink though, her life is filled with much more to worry about than turning sex-teen as her family is torn apart and secrets that change everything are revealed.

Nina's always been told the same story about her father's death years before, but in the wake of this new tragedy and a chance meeting with Sal, a young boy her age, she is forced her to question everything she's been told. With the help of her friends, Nina searches for answers and struggles with feelings for Sal that petrify her. She doesn't want to be a sex-teen, but her birthday is inching ever closer, as are all the ramifications it brings.

XVI allows us a fleeting glimpse of an extremely bleak and utterly disturbing future where the innocence of young women is a commodity, and the age at which they are deemed fair sexual game is regulated by the government itself. This world is one that has experienced extraordinary achievements in science and technology, but for every step forward and every advancement their humanity seems to have retreated, leaving behind a moral and ethical degradation so appalling there don't seem to be enough words to adequately describe it. In this world, rape isn't a crime as long as the XVI brand exists on young girls' wrists, a glaring symbol that advertises them as objects, bypasses the word "no" as a valid objection, and strips them of any rights over the use of their bodies. This world is intense, unfathomable, and repulsive, eliciting an acute reaction from us as we read on in horror and have to periodically retreat to the comfort of a reality where such depravity, though it surely exists, is at least punishable by law.

Nina is not your typical sex-teen, and unlike her best friend Sandy who blithely courts disaster with every bat of her eyelashes and flick of her hair, she is understandably fearful of her sixteenth birthday and the loss of sexual safety it represents. Like her mother and grandparents, she refuses to blindly capitulate to the media frenzy professing the merits of the XVI requirement, and instead thinks, questions, and effectively mutes the sensory barrage telling her to relinquish control over the most personal of acts with little more than a blush in her cheeks and a smile on her face. She is a character who has our full support – her loyalty to friends and family is admirable, her desire for change is infectious, and her strength of will is exceptional.

Though the world is gripping in it's darkness and Nina has the makings of a strong protagonist, the romantic aspect between her and Sal is not quite as compelling as the elements surrounding it. For all the intensity of her reality and the monstrous implications of her birthday, their interactions are rather bland and simple, seeming to pale in comparison against such a powerfully atrocious backdrop. Despite her overwhelming fear of being a sex-teen, Nina is hardly reticent when confronted with brief kisses and caresses from Sal, a surprising reaction considering the context of her world. There is nothing overly distinctive about Sal aside from his knowledge of her father, and their connection is one that could exist in any young adult novel, their sweetness and innocence, while enjoyable, not quite matching the complexity and seriousness of being sixteen in this reality. Though it's a secondary element to the mystery of the main storyline and therefore perhaps not meant to be as profound, their relationship just doesn't pulse with life and exhilaration, and where it could have been a guiding beacon to help Nina navigate the claustrophobic darkness of her fear, it remains simply average – a cute teenage love scenario instead of a memorably epic romance.

Overall, this is a disturbingly fascinating first installment with a well-developed world and intriguing characters, the most noteworthy of all being our villain. He is one so vile and disgusting we find our lips curling involuntarily at the mere visual of two little letters that comprise his name: Ed. The embodiment and physical manifestation of all the cruelties and injustices of this world, he inspires a hatred to burn in us that simmers long after we've finished this story, just as our recollection of this future reality is branded in our minds as real and lasting as Nina's own XVI marker.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Always a Witch

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Carolyn MacCullough
Paranormal Young Adult
Releases August 1st, 2011

From Goodreads:

The adventures of Tam and Gabriel continue with more time travel, Talents, spy work, and of course, the evil Knights.

Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. When she discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, Tamsin is forced to follow him into the past. Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice.

I absolutely adored Once A Witch, Tamsin was a strong, snarky protagonist, the story moved forward quickly, and I was left wanting more without being frustrated by a cliffhanger ending. Though August is very far away, this one is on NetGalley at the moment, so I'm looking forward to requesting it sometime soon!

I'm also a huge fan of this cover, it's both ominous and romantic, and reminds me a little bit of the cover for Fallen thanks to her flowing dress and the darker color scheme. I'm hoping the story lives up to the beautiful imagery!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Logic of Demons

LOGIC OF DEMONS: The Quest for Nadine's Soul
H.A. Goodman
Paranormal Young Adult
262 Pages
Available Now
Received from author for review

With one little decision to stay home instead of accompanying his wife to the mall, Devin's whole life changed. One more decision made out of a need to make his wife's murderer pay changed Devin's death. Now, instead of finding himself reunited with his wife and unborn child in the afterlife, Devin is enlisted in the service of The Company, selling a Formula to innocent souls–an endeavor that results in unfathomable consequences.

All Devin wants is to be with his wife, and he's told by his demonic mentor Templeton that if he just sells the Formula to a young teenage girl named Nadine, he will be free to search for his wife in this new realm of existence.

Soon however, Devin begins to wonder about The Formula he's peddling and the effects it will have on young Nadine. Before he can even attempt the sale he finds himself face to face with an Angel, one who makes him aware of the growing unrest between Heaven and Hell and the importance Nadine has to this epic battle. Devin made several regrettable choices in life, now the question remains as to whether he has learned enough to make the right ones in death, as his fate, Nadine's fate, and all of humanity's fate could be on the line.

Conceptually fascinating, Logic of Demons examines the extreme consequences resulting from the basest human behaviors, where the survivors of horrific crimes often scoff at the lack of divine intervention on their behalf, leading them to an entitled sense of vengeful retribution that usually only ends in additional pain. From there, the way for the eclipse of rationality and the birth of moral ambiguity is paved, and the separation of right and wrong can no longer be so easily defined. This story is a telling introspection, one that forces us to confront the fact that the evilest of deeds are often cloaked in a wrongful sense of righteousness, and at times overwhelming fanaticism provides the means to justify acts of inhuman cruelty. The broad spectrum of implications addressed causes us to question the reasoning behind our own day to day actions, and whether we have ever acted impulsively, thinking our behavior was morally and ethically sound but perhaps could have been more cruel or selfish in nature than we might care to admit.

Though the questions raised by this tale are haunting and endless, main character Devin is exceedingly difficult to relate to, his misery over his wife's death earning our sympathy and understanding, but the brutality of his retaliation erects a transparent wall between us where we can both see and hear him, but he remains out of reach of our full emotional absolution and the warmth of our complete embrace. He is consumed by a blind naivete, bumbling forth with a single-minded purpose that causes him to agree to virtually anything anyone asks of him regardless of the consequence. Devin is like the lightest of feathers, haplessly blown in the direction of the prevailing wind, and whether the whispers carried on those billowing gusts are poisonous or heavenly seems to matter little to him provided they get him back to his wife. He makes himself frustratingly pliable, able to be molded into any dominant personality's shape of choice without truly questioning what effects this new form might carry with it, and we have no choice but to read on as he repeats his mistake again and again.

The story itself is difficult to manage at times, often muddied by the presence of several snippets thrusting us into the midst of Nadine's vibrant imagination as well as flashbacks to a younger Devin, and these disparate elements begin to cloud the clarity of Devin's ultimate goal. Further adding to the confusion is the contrast of a fairly simplistic writing style indicating a younger target audience with the very graphic and violent imagery of the horrors of which humanity is capable. Thus, this story seems to be in a classification limbo, lacking some of the finesse that might appeal to an older audience, but also far more brutal than one would deem appropriate for all ages.

Mr. Goodman does provide a very interesting twist at the end, one that eases some of the confusion and begins to knit the disjointed elements back together, thereby leaving us with more of a sense of understanding than we've experienced at any point previously. This story has a powerful premise and a riveting concept, his ideas unmistakably unique and his vision of the afterlife intriguing, but at times the characterization and execution can cause readers to stumble in their journey with Devin. That being said, I expect more good ideas will no doubt come from Mr. Goodman moving forward, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for his additional works.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Unearthly

UNEARTHLY (Unearthly #1)
Cynthia Hand
Paranormal Young Adult
448 pages
Harper Teen
Available January 4th
Received from publisher via NetGalley for review

Finally. Clara has a purpose. The reason she was put on earth and her destiny as an angel blood. She's supposed to save a boy from a forest fire, and with each recurrence of the vision, she gets one more little detail that will lead her to this boy and the completion of her of her preordained task.

Those few vital details lead Clara, her mother, and her brother to Jackson Hole, where a new house and a new life await, and the boy from her visions resides. His name is Christian Prescott, and Clara watches him from afar at school in the hopes of learning something that will help her better understand what she's been seeing.

The fire season in Jackson Hole is creeping ever closer, and Clara's life gets more and more complicated as she struggles with her ability to fly, juggles feelings for both Christian and surprisingly Tucker, her friend's brother, all the while learning there are aspects of being an angel blood she doesn't truly understand. While she originally thought her purpose was clear, she's quickly realizing it's not as straightforward as it once seemed, and it's leading her toward a decision she's not sure she's strong enough to make.

Unearthly is a welcome addition to the group of paranormal novels dealing with angel lore, one that beautifully blends normal with supernatural, drama with humor, and the crushing weight of duty with the intense desire to refuse dictation and shake loose the bonds of expectation. We are instantly swept up in Clara's world, her excitement and longing to fulfill her purpose creating an echoing yearning in us as we experience her visions with her, searching and waiting for any small clue that might advance her toward her goal. As we attempt to decipher the minute differences vision to vision, we find that normalcy and real life have made their way through the preternatural destiny and into prominence, leaving us with a prevalent sense of wonder as to how the two halves of Clara's life will fuse together, and what overall effect it will have on her divine purpose.

Gloriously average despite her paranormal heritage, Clara is a strong protagonist, one who strives to do everything that's asked of her but endearingly stumbles along her path to do so. Her circumstances are so very easy to relate to – the need to prove herself worthy and make her family proud, the sharp sting of rejection at the hands of a popular boy, and the dawning realization that shades of gray and vivid color are starting to replace the simplicity of the black and white of her life prior to coming to Jackson Hole. Though we may not all be close in age to Clara, she's written in such a way we find ourselves instantly transported back to a time when awkwardness and insecurity were more dominant factors in our lives, linking us to Clara on a variety of levels. Her hurt and pain are ours when she's suffering, just as our faces burn hot with anger and embarrassment one moment and our hearts flutter and palpitate in time to hers the next. Clara's reactions to different events are completely understandable, her confusion and distress with regard to the secrets her mother refuses to share are palpable, and her overwhelming sadness when the tough decisions must be made causes our breathing to quicken and our throats to constrict.

Much of the story focuses on the connection between Clara and Christian, but the way in which it's handled is a refreshing reprieve from the instant attraction of so many teenage relationships in fiction. Her interest stems from an innate curiosity of the boy whom she's supposed to save, and though she certainly isn't immune to his looks or charm, those aren't the aspects that fascinate her most. Because she's distracted by the details of her purpose, she remains oblivious to the attentions of Tucker, and their relationship is characterized by a weighted teasing and one-sided tension that makes our cheeks hurt as we smile hugely at her adorable naivete. Added to this unusual and unexpected love triangle is a story which seems fairly straightforward, but with each page comes a new piece of information that causes a subtle shift in our understanding. The dynamics of the angel blood world are fare more elaborate than either Clara or we assumed initially, and the mysteries of Clara's mom are numerous and weighty in their significance. It's an absolute pleasure to read as the tunnel-vision concerning her purpose begins to expand, growing to encompass the complications and drama that come from learning about and experiencing life.

This story is spectacularly striated, a delectable combination of layers rich in detail and saturated with mystery leaving our mouths watering for more as each new tier of sumptuous complexity is revealed. Ms. Hand is like the most gifted of sculptors, slowly and methodically creating until we see that the story is only just beginning to take shape, the multiple facets still indistinguishable at the conclusion ensuring our undivided attention moving forward as the remaining elements are shaped and carved, and the final product is unveiled.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In My Mailbox #14

In My Mailbox was created by Kristi over at The Story Siren and is a great way to see what other bloggers are reading and reviewing. I always love seeing what everyone else got for their week!

For Review:
Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Legacies (Shadow Grail #1) by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill

The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1) by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Morganville Vampires Volume 2 (Midnight Alley and Feast of Fools) by Rachel Caine
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cover Critique: 2011 Top Six Part 1

Since we're rapidly approaching 2011, I thought I'd spend this week and next week's cover critiques highlighting some of my favorite covers I've seen for books coming out next year. 2010 has had some amazing covers and I'm thrilled to see the trend of beautiful design is continuing into 2011, so below you will find the first three of my favorite covers that have been released so far.


I adore this cover. There are a plethora of young adult covers out there that focus on either a partial or full human face, and after a while all the features start to blur together until no single cover stands out for me. This face however, has a very unique addition as the eyelashes are replaced by water splashes to create a truly stunning visual effect. The cool grays evoke a sense of foreboding that compliments a title with the word "war" in it, and I love the contrast between the very dry, chapped lips and the saturated wetness of the eyelashes – almost as though the war is being visually emphasized since one part of the face is obviously in need of moisture, and the other part has an abundant supply of what is needed most.

Furthermore, I enjoy the androgynous quality to the face, it adds an anonymity to the character, as though this person is just another nameless face in the battle; one who fights but whose individual efforts won't necessarily be celebrated or even acknowledged. The dimpled chin and strong jaw suggest a male, but the full lips and wisps of blond hair floating down behind the title suggest female, making this cover all the more interesting to look at as we try to decipher everything we're seeing.


For me, the simplicity of this cover is what makes it so visually powerful. At first, we see cutely patterned teacups stacked together and think how adorable they are and how maybe we'd like to own them ourselves. Then we notice the font for the title doesn't quite fit with the adorable vibe of the striped and polka-dotted teacups and we are further put on edge by the presence of a puddle of blood and the drips running down the sides of formerly pristine china.

There are just so many questions raised by such a seemingly uncomplicated design. Whose blood is it? The whole tea party element suggests a child is either the owner of the blood or the one responsible for its presence, either option being equally disturbing, and leaves us all the more grimly fascinated by the unknown.


I'm a huge fan of illustrated covers, and the first cover in this series, Sisters Red, was one of my favorite covers of 2010. Though the purple would not have been my ideal choice, the illustrator's use of both positive and negative space is just gorgeous. In the positive space, we see the stark black branches stretching eerily across the dusky purple of an early night's sky, but then upon further inspection, a face starts to form in the negative space. The crooked branches form the eyes and mouth, while three falling leaves form nostrils, together giving the overall illusion of distinctly female features staring out at us. The crooked nature of the trees and their barrenness have a sinister quality, as though whatever presence is watching over this quaint cottage is not someone we want to meet in a dark forest. Love it!

What do you guys think? Do you have any favorites so far for 2011?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review + Giveaway: Sapphique

SAPPHIQUE (Incarceron #2)
Catherine Fisher
Young Adult
460 pages
Releases December 28, 2010
Received from publisher for review

For so long Finn dreamed of escaping the sentient prison he and his oathbrother Keiro battled on a daily basis, knowing all the while they might not ever reach what lies beyond it's ever-changing walls. With the help of Claudia, a young girl from Outside, Finn has finally gotten his taste of freedom, only it's sweetness is not quite as potent as he imagined.

Things on the Outside aren't much better than the brutal reality of Incarceron, and while Finn knew how to battle the prison, the world of politics and the social etiquette expected of him as the long lost heir to the throne is baffling. Add in the guilt of leaving Keiro behind, and his dream has turned into a nightmare.

To make matters worse, a new young man has stepped forward claiming to be the lost prince, and he has the memories Finn has long since forgotten, though visions of his former life still plague him. While Finn deals with a potential usurper, Keiro and companion Attia try to find a way out of Incarceron on their own, realizing it's watching their every move but unaware of the prison's own plans for escape. Soon the separate worlds in which Finn and Keiro reside will collide, allegiances will be severed, and nothing for either reality will ever be the same.

The sequel and conclusion to Incarceron, Sapphique continues to build on the astounding world introduced previously, a world where surety is replaced with possibility and concrete knowledge with ambiguity. We straddle two radically different environments while reading, both which should be pristine, unblemished paradises where virtue and magnanimity flourish, but have instead been infected by greed, ambition, and the desire to rule no matter how small the territory under their thumbs. In this world, complacency doesn't exist and the most basic human desire of wanting rather than needing is prominent. The want of power. The want of control. The constant, nagging want to acquire new things without heed to the consequences of such inclinations. These intriguing musings and profound questions regarding our own natures are coupled with a world of limitless creativity, a combination that holds us in a fascinated stupor we're in no hurry to shake off.

Just as with Incarceron, Sapphique is predominantly story and world-driven, the characters distanced from us and seemingly devoid of deep emotion as they've been forced to survive in separate but equally stifling worlds that have stripped them of anything other than an instinct to survive. Because of the nature of the worlds in which they live, the cold and aloof demeanor is understandable and, in Incarceron, was easily explained away in that context. However, in this second installment, the lack of an emotional connection is a more significant barrier, one we struggle to traverse but are ultimately unable to do so. Where we had a spark of life from Finn previously, one that could have guided us to the attachment for which we so desperately search in this book, it has now been thoroughly doused by the guilt of his escape and his decision to leave his friends behind with what he's quickly realizing may have been an empty promise of return. The shiny newness of the world, though it still holds us transfixed, is unable to satisfy us completely, and there is a noticeable vacancy where our welcome entanglement with Finn, Claudia and the remaining characters should be.

Additionally, where the open-ended nature of the conclusion of Incarceron wasn't bothersome since we knew a sequel was coming, the questions we are left with at the end of this story are far more troubling. Not only is the end open to interpretation, which is absolutely fine, it's crowded with blatant and perplexing enigmas in a world already blanketed in the endless blackness of possibility. Every door we walk through to search for answers transforms into a false passageway, a conjured illusion to keep us guessing, and we realize our questions in fact have no answers and no solid form to be revealed, they only change shape along with the prison itself to present us with a different facet for examination, but still one that yields no absolutes. Every character we meet is peering out at us through a mask, and beneath it is yet another mask, this one more detailed and convincing than the last as their identities, motivations, and allegiances are more difficult to decipher than ever. Though allowing us to form our own conclusions is welcome, a bit more information and just a couple of answers would have been appreciated after such an arduous journey.

The world of Incarceron and Sapphique is truly breathtaking; a marvel of imagination and creativity that seems to make the depths of our own minds shallow in comparison. Though this second and final installment is not quite as strong as its predecessor, it's still an intriguing read that raises powerful questions and delights us with fantastical elements we won't soon forget.

Rating: 3.5/5


The fabulous Sandy over at Pirate Penguin's Reads has generously donated her ARC of Sapphique and offered it as a giveaway to accompany my review, so a huge thank you to Sandy! To enter, just leave a comment with your email address so I have a way to contact you if you win. Contest will run through December 30th after which time a winner will be chosen and announced on the blog. Because I already have this ARC in hand, the contest is US only, so sorry to all my international readers, but stay tuned for my New Year's giveaway January 3-9 as it will be international! Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Supernatural Nomination

I can't tell you how excited I am to be nominated for a Reader's Choice Award in the Best New Blog category! I'm really just excited people find the blog interesting enough that they continue to visit each day or each week, so for all those wonderful people who stop by and make blogging such fun, I extend my most sincere thanks! And a special thank you to all my fellow bloggers and readers who take the time to comment on the reviews, interviews, and cover critiques I post, each one of those messages truly makes my day. Okay, enough of my blubbering, just know how much the book blogging community means to me!

If you're interested in voting or just want to find some other fabulous blogs to follow, please hop over to Natalie's site, Mindful Musings, and check out the other blogs nominated in the Best New Blog and Best Blog categories. These are just the first two categories in the Reader's Choice Awards, so stay tuned to her site for all the fun categories to come!

Thank you all again:)

Waiting on Wednesday: Chime

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Franny Billingsley
Paranormal Young Adult
March 17th, 2011

From Goodreads:

Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.

I'm always interested in stories about witches and the persecution they face, I'm not entirely sure why they fascinate me so much, but they do:) I'm also interested in Eldric and hope for an interesting and emotional relationship between the two of them, especially since Briony is carrying around so much guilt. I'm definitely looking forward to March!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Greyfriar

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading and here's how it works:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share a snippet from somewhere on that page but be careful not to include spoilers

My teaser this week is from The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith:

Wiping the excess blood from his lips with the back of his hand, Gareth strode back into the forest to his human clothes. Adele would wake soon, and then they would move on. Soon he would have to reveal himself to her, and he knew what her reaction would be.

His numb heart broke at that realization.

THE GREYFRIAR (Vampire Empire #1) from Barnes and Noble:

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once-great cities were shrouded by the gray empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.

Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to a man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1) is the first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Review: Once in Full Moon

Ellen Schreiber
Paranormal Young Adult
304 Pages
Harper Teen/Katherine Tegen Books
Releases January 1st
Received from publisher via NetGalley

Celeste has a pretty good life. She has two best friends, Abby and Ivy, and she's dating the ultra-handsome Nash which makes her the envy of almost the entire female population at school. On a dare, the girls travel across town to visit a psychic who provides both Abby and Ivy with fairly mundane and banal fortunes, but shocks everyone by telling Celeste to beware of a kiss under the full moon as it will irrevocably change her life.

Unbeknownst to her friends, Celeste is only imagining kissing one boy under the full moon, and it's not her boyfriend Nash. New student Brandon Maddox has caught her attention, holding her spellbound though a relationship with him is impossible as he's from the wrong side of Legend's Fall.

While Celeste pines for Brandon, rumors of the the infamous Legend's Fall werewolf increase exponentially as more and more wolves are spotted all over town despite typically staying away from populated areas. Disregarding the psychic's warning, Celeste gets the kiss she's been dreaming of night after night, only what follows is not the incandescent glow of true love, but rather the stuff of myths and legends.

Because there aren't too many unique paranormal entities on which to base a novel, most creatures having been written about at one point or another, it's important to find one or two elements (a new twist on the familiar mythology or incredibly engaging characters) that cause the book to shine against a dull backdrop of the same monotonous tale. Unfortunately, Once in a Full Moon fails to do anything other than strictly adhere to a common folklore, employing popular plot devices without injecting them with an added spark to cause a flush in our cheeks, an ache in our hearts, or any other physical manifestation indicative of deep involvement with characters or story. Instead, we as readers are like skipping stones, glossing quickly over a surface we've tread again and again, up in the air at intervals with nothing on which to latch to weigh us down enough that we drop from the air and plunge beneath a thoroughly exhausted superficial layer and into the wells of a gloriously expansive depth.

Legend's Fall is a town divided very definitively between the Eastside, identified by it's more suburban feel, and the Westside, a more agricultural community opposed to the ever-encroaching spans of concrete and development. This small difference causes dissent among the residents of each side, making the attraction between Celeste, an Eastsider, and Brandon, a Westsider, a type of forbidden romance. However, there is really no explanation for the rampant bias against the Westside in the high school, and though people often don't need much cause to formulate a prejudice, a more clear and profound reason for their hatred would have been welcome to help us better understand the Romeo and Juliet-esque scenario. Perhaps an old family feud, or an ugly rumor spread generation to generation, or a more extreme difference in quality of life; anything to make us suck in a breath and hold it every time Brandon and Celeste are together, inching to the very edge of our seats as we desperately hope they don't get caught. Instead, we get only the possibility of mild ridicule and a potential drop in social status, and though in high school that is often tragic, it's ultimately not enough to help us make sense of Celeste's adamant refusal to publicly acknowledge Brandon.

Celeste herself defies logical explanation at times as she possesses some rather baffling contradictory opinions. She at one point questions whether or not she can be with Brandon when it's implied he's the type of person to scare one of her friends on purpose when in the thrall of the moon, but yet she remains utterly devoted to peers who constantly ostracize him for simply living at a perceived geographical disadvantage. She defends him verbally but shuns him physically, claiming to be different from the masses but proving with every action she's just another carbon copy of the Eastsider standing next to her. Celeste glides through her life towing the popular line, blanketed in a mediocrity she refuses to shed, comfortable with friends who do only what's best for them and a boyfriend who doesn't push her to be an individual, but settles instead for a drone who spouts idealistic notions yet refuses to act on them.

This story declares itself to be one of finding true love, and though Celeste professes to have found that elusive emotion with Brandon, she's unwilling to emerge from her protective prejudicial cocoon and be the person she says she wants to be. Brandon, for his part, is oddly content being relegated to the shadows for his confounding outsider status, and the love they declare for one another is a difficult pill to swallow when neither demonstrates the courage to fight to be together. If admitting to their relationship would be on pain of death, the financial ruin of a family, or something equally daunting, then their mild displays of latent defiance and fear of discovery would be understandable, but with only the disdain of four or five teenagers as a consequence, it's shockingly difficult to empathize with their circumstances.

Overall Once in a Full Moon is a quick, easy read, one that may appeal much more to younger readers as opposed to adult fans of teen fiction, but it ultimately comes to the table with a well-used recipe devoid of any fresh ingredients.

Rating: 1.5/5

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Harlequin Cover Critique Update

On Friday I posted my cover critique of a vintage collection Harlequin cover and I asked what all of you though the plot of such a, um, special cover could possibly be. Well, I will leave you in suspense no longer as you will find the blurb below. I've also included a few more vintage covers for your viewing pleasure. You're welcome;)

VIRGIN WITH BUTTERFLIES (from Harlequin's site):

She's a smooth blonde with enough real glamour not to need makeup—especially when she's in tight white satin. She's honest and sort of naïve, but she knows how to get a man or get rid of a wolf.

She's a cigarette girl in a spot just off Chicago's loop, but she's about to start really going places. As she goes, she collects an Indian raja, an amorous sheikh and a mysterious gentleman reputed to be the Rockefeller of Burma. These gents are after something, chasing the gal around the world to get it, and it ain't hay. That's where her butterflies come in—they flutter hard, warning her when she's scared or propositioned, and they're working overtime. Effectively?—read the book and find out.

I've just made your day haven't I? I'm pretty sure I snorted several times when I read the description, it's almost as good as the cover really. Does it actually say "and it ain't hay"? Extraordinary. Poor, poor butterflies, they're going to flutter themselves into a veritable frenzy trying to warn her about these five suitors. And what happens if she gives in? Do they drop dead? Oh wait, we have to read the book to find out:)

I want to point out as well that the blurb only mentions three gentlemen, so where did she pick up our other two winged human heads? And if she knows how to get men and get rid of wolves (you go girl!), why does she have five creepy insect men hovering around her in this cover? Perhaps she needs a refresher course in insect deterrents. I'll have to lend her my bug spray so this uncomfortable situation doesn't happen again.

Since I found this cover so amusing, I thought I'd share some others from the same vintage collection. Behold!


Um, I think I'll pass, but thank you anyway. Why would anyone want to kiss their own elbow? Given that it's impossible to do so, what an exercise in futility that would be. Perhaps that's the point? Am I supposed to kiss her elbow? She doesn't appear to have overly sexy elbows, so I don't really want to do that either. And what is she holding? This cover is glorious, just glorious.


Consider yourself pardoned my dear. She seems to be having a rough night, her strap has fallen off her shoulder (tragic!) and her hem is torn and revealing her unmentionables, so we'll cut her some slack. She's also taking aim with that gun like she means business–go get 'em sweetheart, don't let anyone tear your pretty dress and walk away unscathed!

Hope you guys enjoyed these as much as I did!

Oh, and on a completely random and unrelated side note, I chose a winner last week through for the signed Shadow Hills poster giveaway and the winner was:

Melissa from I Swim for Oceans

Congrats Melissa, and a big thanks to everyone who entered!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cover Critique: The Brilliance of Harlequin Finale

Let me preface this post by saying that my design critiques of these covers are in no way, shape or form a reflection on the author, the content or the publisher. I know the authors have very little, if any, control over the design. These are strictly my thoughts stemming from my design experience.

Welcome to the last week of my brilliance of Harlequin cover critique special! Just to reiterate, I'm not trying to bash Harlequin or it's authors in any way, I just can't help but laugh uncontrollably when I see some of their covers, they are a snarky girl's dream come true! I think I've got some good ones for you today, so I hope you all enjoy.

First up: Long Summer Nights

Okay, can we discuss for a moment what is happening with his shirt? She's obviously ravenous for him and is attempting to rip it from his body, but is it me, or is there something incredibly awkward about where she has paused in her strip show? It feels a little naughty because we're getting a little boob peeking out, but it's also very conservative since both his nipples are covered as though it would be too bold to show them. You don't fool me Harlequin, I know you guys aren't shy! I've seen many a cover with a spectacular showing of man nipples, so I refuse to believe it was a concern in this cover though I don't have any other explanation for why that shirt looks as it does.

It actually almost appears as though his lightweight cotton tee has snagged on his nipple and can go no further. This raises some rather interesting questions I think. Just how big does one's nipple have to be in order for fabric to snag on it when it's being forced upward by the strength of an obviously aroused woman? More importantly, should she be concerned that perhaps size on our male friend here is a bit disproportionate and where he is larger than average in some areas, he may be lacking in others? Maybe he has huge nipples and therefore small equipment. How sad for her, that boat in the background may not end up rocking as much as she might be hoping.

And let's just ponder that little teal circle next to the title shall we? "Where you least expect IT?" What exactly does that mean? That he's well-endowed where I would least expect it, like with his obviously engorged nipples? That they're going to have "relations" where I least expect it? Judging by the boat and water in the background, I'm going to hazard a guess that that's where they're headed. Is his manhood located somewhere unusual that is going to throw me for a loop? What do you mean Harlequin Blaze! How you taunt me with your odd statements and single-word emphasis!

And now, I present to you a little vintage cover action. TA DA!

Next up: Virgin with Butterflies

Um. Someone explain this cover to me, I find I'm at a loss for words. I need a moment to collect my thoughts and recover from the shock of what I'm seeing.


Okay, I feel I've recovered enough and have just a couple of things on which I'd like to comment. First, the obvious: just what the hell is going on here? Are these potential suitors she's turned into floating heads with wings by the strength of her virtue? Can the power of her virginity cause a metamorphosis of this proportion? That would certainly be an interesting power. Why are the wings coming out their ears? I'm not the only one that thinks this is creepy right?

Second, what, exactly, does being a virgin have to do with butterflies? Does she collect butterflies as an activity that keeps her from falling prey to the sensual charms of these heads? Is sleeping with her a magical experience that when it's over, butterflies emerge from under that striped skirt to celebrate the occasion? They could be trained butterflies capable of doing all sorts of interesting aerial formations and spell words like "keep going" and "almost there" as a sort of encouragement during the act itself. A butterfly sexual cheer squad if you will.

Perhaps moths have taken up residence in her womanly parts since no one has been there to tend them properly and they've gotten old and musty? So many endless possibilities to ponder! Maybe it's some sort of transformation metaphor; just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly so the virgin gets made a woman by five insects. It's like a SyFy movie! What could we call it? Insecti-virgin? Deflowered by Butterflies?

How can the men cast a net for her (as our tagline suggests they do) if they have no arms? Riddle me that Harlequin! All they can do at the moment is flit about with smiles on their faces, inevitably contemplating exactly how they are going to de-virginize her when they lack any of the necessary parts to do so. She's certainly a little tease though isn't she? She's got that skirt up around her waist, but has those freakishly uneven in length legs crossed and squeezed shut so not even the most cunning of butterfly/human hybrids could possibly wiggle their way in even though they have to be pretty quick and agile one would think. I can just picture these funny winged heads dive-bombing her crotch at every available opportunity! Not sure what that says about me, but that's neither here nor there.

You know what would be fun? If you all attempted to guess what this book is actually about based on the title and cover. I just really want to know what kind of plotline could accompany this masterpiece, what could the blurb possibly say? Don't cheat and look it up! Maybe I'll post it tomorrow for kicks:)

I hope you've all enjoyed this series of covers, I've certainly had a blast finding them and sharing my thoughts. If any of you have answers to the questions I've posed this week, I'd love to read them in the comments:) Happy Friday!

NOTE: I just want to say that this is not the last cover critique ever, just the last in this Harlequin grouping. Fear not, the cover hilarity will continue next week!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blog Hop: December 17-19

This week's question: What do you consider most important in a story: the plot or the characters?

For me, it's always the characters. I love to love them. I love to hate them. I love to love to hate them. If I can't relate to them or get emotionally involved in their struggles, then the story just doesn't work for me. Characters are the individuals onto whom I project myself, imagining I'm there with them, and if I can't do that I have trouble following along on the journey.

Thanks so much to Crazy for Books for hosting the hop!

This week's question: What did you study in college, or are currently studying and did it lead to your current 9 to 5 or are you doing something totally different.

I graduated college with a degree in film and photography. I don't actually work in the film industry or as a photographer now, but the photography work did lead me to advertising and graphic design my senior year of college and that's what field I worked in for a couple years. Now, I run a wedding stationery design studio from home which still incorporates my graphic design and marketing background though it's not exactly 9-5!

Thanks to Parajunkee for hosting the follow!

Review: The Candidates

THE CANDIDATES (Delcroix Academy #1)
Inara Scott
Paranormal Young Adult
293 pages
Available Now

Dancia Lewis has a gift that terrifies her. If she finds herself in a stressful situation, any outcome she consciously thinks about comes to be. When a crazy man pulls a gun and waves it about a hospital waiting room, her ability comes in handy, but whenever she uses it, someone ends up hurt. No one can no what she can do, and she doesn't want anyone else to be hurt because of her.

Shortly after the hospital incident, a recruiter and a student from Delcroix Academy show up at the house where Dancia lives with her grandmother, informing her they are willing to provide her with a full scholarship to the school even though her grades aren't that high and she has few other talents outside of her gift. The recruiter insists, however, that Dancia has everything they are looking for in a Delcroix student.

So, Dancia packs up and heads to Delcroix where she's reunited with both Cam, the beautiful boy who came to help recruit her, and Jack, a strange young man she saved a few days earlier using her abilities. Jack is convinced there's more to Delcroix than they would have the students believe, and as much as Dancia wants to discount him as a conspiracy theorist, she can't deny something feels off. She begins to think Jack's on to something, and starts to hope the truth about her abilities can be found at Delcroix. What she doesn't know is the truth about her gift may be more frightening than the gift itself.

A quick, enjoyable read, The Candidates is a story where we have every intention of merely reading a couple chapters only to find ourselves chanting "just one more" over and over again until we reach the conclusion. Though it's undeniably an interesting tale, there a few elements barring it from being overly memorable. The title and prologue brace us for a tale of students with supernatural abilities, however, the paranormal aspect really doesn't come into crisp focus until almost three quarters of the way through the book. Instead, we are distracted by the social ineptitude and awkwardness of Dancia as she struggles with not only the desire to fit in, but also the instinct to survive by remaining distanced–seen but not noticed and heard but never remembered. Though her fears, affections, and interactions with the other students are entertaining, the preternatural element surrounding the idea of candidacy is almost entirely forgotten until the end, clearly preparing us for a second book but at the same time denying us some explanation and understanding in the first.

Dancia is sweet and cute, her self-inflicted social isolation and her intense fear of her own capabilities making us instantly defensive and protective of her as we hope her experiences at Delcroix will bring her a sense of belonging noticeably absent for her life thus far. Her reactions to Cam, some impressive swooning and a general inability to string together coherent sentences, are a bit dramatic at times and it would have been far more interesting to read of a teenage girl able to maintain her wits in the presence of a handsome boy. That being said, the fairly drastic extent of her reactions to him, and not to Jack who is equally attractive, suggests Cam's individual gifts as a Delcroix student are perhaps influencing her when she's in close proximity. Though merely conjecture at this point, it will certainly be intriguing to see if, as the story progresses in the next book, the utter breakdown of Dancia's independent nature around Cam is in fact the result of her youthful attraction or if there is a supernatural manipulation involved.

Though Cam is a paragon of young adult male perfection, Jack is a far more fascinating character. There is a darkness to him, the markers of a difficult life draped around him like a thick curtain through which he only allows certain people to pass. His troubled history is evidenced in his air of perceived nonchalance, his rebellion against the intangible confines of rules as well as the physical enclosures of the iron gates surrounding the school, and the preference for solitude despite having the interest and affections of those around him. Dancia's treatment of him is often frustrating given she's one of the few with access to the man beneath the defensive shields; the intensity she sees in him causing her to abandon him out of fear, only to return to him when she's in need of comfort or consolation. Despite her sporadic support and friendship, Jack's loyalty to her remains unwavering, and his refusal to accept the academy's word at face value mirrors our own suspicions as to the purpose of the candidate program. Though a life on the streets has endowed him with a skin of unparalleled thickness, we have the sense that Dancia is capable of puncturing it with relative ease, making him a superb blend of strength and vulnerability, grown man and young boy, and virtue and vice.

We are left with Dancia's autonomous nature flickering to life though she remains susceptible to Cam's impressive charms, and the secrets swirling around the academy and its students having been only fractionally illuminated. Now that the silence has been broken and the right questions are being asked, the story can truly begin and I look forward to continuing the journey in the next installment.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: A Need So Beautiful

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Suzanne Young
Paranormal Young Adult
June 21st, 2011

From Goodreads:

Charlotte’s best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she’s cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what’s really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth, who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

There have been others before who’ve felt the Need, but they’re gone—erased from the memories of everyone whose lives they had touched. It's as though they never existed. This is the fate that awaits Charlotte. But the last thing Charlotte wants to do is disappear, to be Forgotten. She wants to stay with her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend’s arms forever. She wishes she could just ignore the Need, but she can’t. And as everyone important in her life begins to slowly forget her, she has to decide if she’ll fight the Need in order to remain herself—no matter how dark the consequences.

I'm quite intrigued with this one, it sounds like a different take on an angel mythology and one that promises all sorts of complex emotional reactions, so I'm looking forward to June!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Iron Queen

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading and here's how it works:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share a snippet from somewhere on that page but be careful not to include spoilers

My teaser this week is from The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa:

"Flashes, " the oracle said, waving her hand dismissively. "The far-future is a constantly changing wave, always in motion, never certain. The story changes with every breath. Every decision we make sends it down another path. But..." She narrowed her hollow eyes at me. "There is one constant in your future, child, and that is pain. Pain and emptiness, for your friends, the ones you hold dearest to your heart, are nowhere to be seen."

THE IRON QUEEN (Iron Fey #3) from Goodreads:

My name is Meaghan Chase.

I thought it was over.That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stay by my side. Drag me into the core of a conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: The Duff

Kody Keplinger
Young Adult
277 pages
Poppy/Little, Brown
Available Now

Bianca's never really given much thought to the discrepancies between her physical appearance and those of her two best friends. It's not until popular-boy Wesley offhandedly calls her The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) that she begins to take note of her somewhat average looks. She's always known she's not supermodel beautiful, but that one little word seeps into her memory and refuses to leave.

To make matters worse, she finds herself paired with Wesley for a school assignment and is therefore unable to completely shun him for all eternity as she would have liked. Even more unfortunate is the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes their lives aren't so different, as both are filled with unaddressed family problems and persistent insecurities.

Unable to admit her feelings for, and closeted relationship with, Wesley to her best friends, Bianca finds herself increasingly isolated from the world around her, left to deal with an absentee mother and a father with a history of alcohol abuse. And to her utter shock, the only person who even remotely understands is the person she wants most to hate but is frighteningly coming to care about.

The DUFF, a story based on a fundamentally repulsive acronym, is unapologetically honest and at times so realistic it's easy to forget we're reading a piece of fiction. This is not a cute, quirky, comforting read; instead it's frustrating, irritating, and sometimes uncomfortable in it's portrayal of a teenage life, but so often that's how brutal honesty makes us feel. Life would be much easier and far more pleasant if it consisted predominantly of genial platitudes and general niceties, forgoing the difficulty and bitterness in favor of a complacent superficiality that cheats us out of emotional depth. The DUFF doesn't try to win our favor and approval by placating us with half truths coated in sugar so they're easier to swallow, presenting it's story instead without fancy trimmings and eloquent descriptions, and leaving behind a blunt, straightforward tale we appreciate all the more for it's unwavering truthfulness.

Bianca is beautifully depicted, earning our sympathy (though she certainly doesn't need it or ask for it) after her initial encounter with Wesley, but our relationship with her isn't always smooth. Her sense of humor and use of sarcasm are charming, and we can't help but respect a girl who refuses to be intimidated by a lopsided smile and a pretty face. Just when we wish for the ability to defy the laws of nature and want nothing more than to reach through the pages to leave a pulsing red welt in the shape of our hand on the masculine beauty of Wesley's face, we can sit back and smile as Bianca rises to the occasion and does it in our stead. She doesn't always make the smart decisions however, in fact she often makes questionable ones that cause us, the invested yet outside observers, to shake our heads in dismay. She is flawed, makes mistakes, and says and does things she shouldn't, but through her flaws it's so easy to see ourselves reflected back at us, knowing our choices haven't always been wise either. As a result of this revelation, we hold Bianca close to our hearts as our connection to her becomes a closed circuit through which all of our shared feelings travel back and forth between fiction and reality, character and reader, and friend and confidante.

Wesley is a character we make a valid and noble attempt to dislike, his initial hurtful assessment of Bianca's physical attractiveness spiking a bout of righteous indignation on her behalf so spectacularly intense it seems he'll never be able to survive the insufferable cold of our emotional freeze. However, soon his subtle charm begins to weave around us without our conscious recognition, intangible cords binding us to him unexpectedly until we can no longer deny his appeal, and we find ourselves desperately hoping he'll drop a fraction of the bravado and show us the decency we can sense is buried deep but is making a slow ascent to the surface. He is uncannily capable of inspiring a wealth of contradictory emotions in Bianca, making her both angry and happy, causing her to feel both ugly and beautiful, and embarrassing her while also providing her with a confidence she was lacking previously. For his part, he is both attractive and at times repugnant, a combination which makes him a fascinating character who adds a vital piece to a stunningly imperfect story.

The DUFF isn't always pretty, nor is it always fun to read. It's infuriating and difficult, but also so very satisfying in it's frankness, presenting us with a tale where characters are forced to deal with the hand they've been dealt; some utilizing the sensual heat of a physical relationship to obliterate reality, and others finding solace in the numbing warmth of a bottle, but all are struggling with relatable emotional challenges. Not everyone will love this story or it's characters, but it doesn't coddle us with a perfect male lead and a magical solution to significant problems, and we can all acknowledge life isn't always pretty or fun either. We don't always wake up excited to start the day and sometimes the problems in our lives overshadow the joys, but we can take comfort in knowing we're not alone in the journey, and sometimes we discover the support we need comes in an unexpected and not always welcome form.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In My Mailbox #13

In My Mailbox was created by Kristi over at The Story Siren and is a great way to see what other bloggers are reading and reviewing. I always love seeing what everyone else got for their week!

For review:
Wither by Lauren DeStefano


Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
Morganville Vampires Volume 1 by Rachel Caine
(includes Glass Houses and The Dead Girls' Dance)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cover Critique: The Brilliance of Harlequin Part 2

Let me preface this post by saying that my design critiques of these covers are in no way, shape or form a reflection on the author, the content or the publisher. I know the authors have very little, if any, control over the design. These are strictly my thoughts stemming from my design experience.

So, for those of you who stopped by last week, you know I'm doing a little cover critique special focusing on just some of the most fabulously hilarious Harlequin covers. I'm certainly not trying to mock Harlequin or it's authors in any way, I'm just raising some fun questions about several of their covers that give me pause and make me go "why?" So without further preamble, I give you the first of this week's covers:

Northern Escape

Okay, so this one isn't miserable, but I feel like the photographer of this image probably gave our lovely male model here directions somewhere along the lines of "look intense, sexy, and intimidating" and, sadly, it seems this gentlemen wrongly interpreted those instructions to be "do your best to come across as a complete and utter dipshit." Success! Mission accomplished my fuzzy hat and scarf-wearing friend, you have indeed managed to look as though you have a good bout of gas brewing and need to locate the nearest bathroom, the remnants of your sex appeal carried away with the wind (Ha! Wind, get it? No? Damn).

I'm not the least bit intimidated, nor do I feel the slightest urge to remove any clothing and experience the Alaskan HEAT. If it's cold enough to necessitate a hat with ear flaps and a scarf, why is he not wearing a coat or gloves? Perhaps he's only frozen from the neck up as evidenced by his completely vacant expression, and the rest of him is waiting to light these pages ablaze. And why is he squinting at me? Do I have something on my face? I'll attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but the presence of the "good riddance" sign is fortuitous, as that's what I would say if I ever saw a man wearing this outfit, with a man purse, and that look on his face.

I have to wonder too about the people that must come up with the taglines for these books – "He's heating up her holidays," really? Is it because she's laughing so hard? I always get warm when I'm convulsing with hysterical laughter, so that must be the meaning behind that phrase. You know there have to be a bunch of people sitting at a conference table just yelling things out that may or may not apply to the book:

"He'll jingle her bells!"

"He'll stuff her stocking!"

"He'll trim her bush, er, tree!"

All I can say is, sign me up for that job, as I clearly would be unbelievably gifted at it.

Next up: Private Affairs

I. Love. This. Cover. And I mean that in a it's-so-awful-it's-awesome way. Let me tell you why. First, we have the unfortunate angle of the heroine's chin in relation to the hero's nose. Her chin partially covers his nostril, and because she has a rather bulbous chin, it looks like he has some sort of bizarre growth on his face. Combine his tumor with his beady-eyed look and you have quite possibly the least attractive romance hero I've seen in a while. Why are they always squinting? Is squinting sexy and I just haven't figured that out yet? Do women often say "squint for me baby" in the bedroom as a foreplay technique? Call me weird, but that just wouldn't do it for me.

Next, I have an age-old question for you: why is there light coming out her ass? Okay, so it's not an age-old question, but it's definitely a valid one. Why would they have the headlight from the car and her butt line up? Now it appears as though, when in the throes of questionable passion, she farts magic faerie lights (which would be something to see I would think). To make things worse, her dress is actually blowing backward as though propelled by a significant gaseous force! I must commend her on her unique ability, perhaps this is a new way of attracting attention. Peacocks strut their colorful feathers, other animals have mating calls, and we women now emit light from our back doors. Marvelous. My husband will no doubt be impressed.

Furthermore, this book is titled Private Affairs. There is nothing private about having your rear-end spotlighted now is there? No. Here honey, let's take a romantic drive out to the woods (questionable) and I'll hold you at just the right angle so it looks like you can generate electricity and wind with your sweet cheeks. I'll just give you a little tickle and you'll light right up!

Harlequin Blaze, you have truly outdone yourselves on this one:) Anyone else love these covers as much as I do? Be sure and stop by next week for the Brilliance of Harlequin cover conclusion!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review + Poster Giveaway: Shadow Hills

SHADOW HILLS (Shadow Hills #1)
Anastasia Hopcus
Paranormal Young Adult
400 pages
Egmont USA
Available Now
Purchased as part of a blog tour through Teen Book Scene

Phe misses her sister Athena every moment of every day. Guilt weighs on her for not accompanying her sister to a party the night she died, if she had, perhaps her sister would still be alive. As a way to feel closer to the sister she lost, Phe enrolls at a boarding school on the East coast, one her sister felt she needed to attend to find the answers to the mysterious dreams she experienced before her passing. And so Phe leaves sunny Los Angeles and her family behind for Shadow Hills, Massachusetts.

Once at school, Phe realizes she's right where she needs to be. Places from the dreams she's been having, dreams just like Athena's, are located on and around campus, and Phe's determined to understand whatever it is the visions were trying to tell her sister and are trying to tell her now.

Even though she knew being from L.A. would make her an outsider, Phe didn't realize the full extent of her differences from the other students. They're freakishly intelligent. They can read at abnormally fast speeds. And when she's in close proximity with one student in particular, Zach, odd things always seem to happen. The town's surprisingly tragic history only adds to the number of questions piling up, and Phe soon finds herself in the middle of the unexplainable, nursing a crush on Zach and struggling to wade through the mystery the residents of Shadow Hills would kill to protect.

Much as the town after which it is named, this book is cloaked in darkness, guarded secrets permeating every aspect of the story in dense layers that allow only a few pinpricks of light representing concrete information to shine out, their luminescence guiding us through a world full of furtive glances, scientific anomalies, and increasingly unusual behavior. There's something eerie about Devenish Prep, something hidden beneath the crisp uniforms and expensive tuition, and luckily for us, we get to accompany Phe as her curiosity sometimes overwhelms her common sense and we are all delved into a situation from which there is no way to escape without being fundamentally altered by what we've learned. Questions lead not to answers, but rather to more questions, and for every step we take towards the light and knowledge, we find the darkness right on our heels, keeping parts of us constantly obscured by shadow and unsure of which direction to head to find sure footing and complete understanding.

Persephone has a good head on her shoulders – intelligent and strong in personality, and though she swoons and fawns over Zach in typical teenage-girl fashion, she isn't reduced to incoherent babbling or overwhelming silliness and angst. She is however afflicted with an extremely overdeveloped sense of inquisitiveness, often landing herself in situations that could have been easily avoided, but she has a good heart and the best of intentions, putting those for whom she cares most above her own safety. Phe is as special in Shadow Hills as Zach would be outside of it, and both bring separate but fascinating challenges to their relationship. From the brief moments of illumination we have regarding their individual histories and abilities, it's clear the attraction humming between the two of them is the easiest part of their connection, and underneath the initial doe eyes lies a set of challenges all the more daunting because we haven't the slightest idea as to the full extent of them. Phe and Zach are clearly in mile one of a marathon, finding their breath after the beginning sprint, but facing miles of pavement yet to pound.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the story is the somewhat believable explanation for the paranormal occurrences. Instead of expecting us to merely accept the existence of the supernatural, Ms. Hopcus provides a great deal of data to support the unusual nature of the people of Shadow Hills, making the events more interesting as a result of their potential plausibility. Though we are provided copious amounts of information, our actual knowledge isn't even in the realm of absolute, an array of potential outcomes laid out before us like a choose your own adventure novel, only we as readers are denied the ability to choose and remain instead only witnesses to Phe's decisions, left to follow as she dictates but partners in the journey just the same.

Shadow Hills is fairly typical with regard to the teenage relationship, but Ms. Hopcus has carved out a unique niche in the paranormal aspect of her world and filled it with tier after tier of unique possibilities supported by a solid base of main and secondary characters. Arriving at the end of this story is like being in a room with three white walls and one brightly painted – we've been given enough information to bring the story in this first installment to life, but we end up facing multiple blank canvases, our fingers just itching for access to next book and the pages that might bathe those walls of taunting potential in vibrant color.

Rating: 4/5

I have a signed Shadow Hills poster up for grabs for one lucky commenter. If you want to be entered in the giveaway, just leave an email address with your comment so I can contact you if you win. This giveaway is open to US residents only and will run through Monday, December 13th. Good luck everyone!