Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Unveiled

Courtney Milan
Historical Romance
384 pages
Available Now
Received for review thanks to Joni at Paragraph Books and Books With Bite

Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple is no longer considered a lady by her peers. Stripped of her title when she and her brothers were declared bastards as her father's first marriage came to light, she is now posing as her father's nurse in order to observe the man who's ruined her life.

Ash Turner has been seeking revenge on the Dalrymple family since Margaret's father the duke denied him any assistance when he was younger despite his desperate pleading. Now, Ash has moved into the ducal manor to set his affairs in order as he is confident Parliament will rule in his favor and give him the dukedom despite the legal protests of Margaret's older brothers. He expects his retribution to heal the wounds inflicted by the duke's negligence, but what he's not expecting is Margaret herself.

Margaret tries to hate Ash for what he's done, but she finds herself not as immune to his attentions as she wishes to be, making her duty to her family difficult to fulfill as she does not wish to betray the man she's coming to care for. She knows when her secret is revealed, Ash's affections will be withdrawn and he'll reject her for what she's done and who she is, but she's simply unable to let it stop her from experiencing the man who makes her feel important as a woman whether she's a servant or a lady.

Unveiled reveals to us a time in history when wealth and social standing were the sole defining characteristics of a person's worth, their entire being summed up in a fancy title and a series of numbers on paper. In the midst of the glittering superficiality of this world to which few of us can possibly relate, Ms. Milan creates for us two protagonists who draw us into their story with ease, and we read utterly enraptured as Ash and Margaret's conflicting goals begin to shift and alter as their relationship progresses, but the weight of society's expectations is ever present and a constant reminder of the time in which they live. We plow recklessly forward with the two of them, hearts in our throats as we are painfully aware of the pressure resulting from their respective stations and watch helplessly as it wreaks havoc on their romantic entanglement.

One of the shining strengths of this story is male lead Ash, a man who unequivocally knows what he wants, sets out to claim it, and achieves his purpose with a charm and grace expected of a gentleman of the time, but also with a lack of artifice and mock dignity so many of the social elite thoroughly embrace as they hide their selfishness and greed behind a good family name. Ash is nothing other than honest, his intentions toward Margaret sometimes slightly less than honorable as he makes his attraction abundantly clear, but his feelings never waffle and his affection never abates despite outside familial and societal influence. Though he is plagued by a need for vengeance for the suffering endured by his two younger brothers, it's always those he cares about who come first. He often hurts others in his haste to please those he loves, but it's a flaw we ultimately understand and can't entirely hold against him, especially when the men of influence around him gladly sacrifice friend, family, or foe to gain more sure footing among the privileged.

So many times in romance novels, the focus on the male and female protagonists is so singular secondary characters become merely fleeting references instead of flesh and bone individuals who earn our loyalty and affection as much as the main characters do. This is most certainly not the case in Unveiled, as the emphasis on family dynamics and the joys and pains that result from interacting with those who know us best, and therefore can hurt us most deeply, is prominent. Ash's relationship with younger brother Mark and Margaret's connection to her invalid father are as emotionally taxing as the sensual turbulence between the two of them, creating an additional level of intimate knowledge we didn't necessarily expect but are more than grateful is included. For Ash and Margaret, two people with exceptional fortitude and strength of will, family is their greatest vulnerability–the one thing that belies the impenetrable mask they present to society, and our access to both their passionate relationship with one another and their personal struggles with those who share their blood is an enchanting combination that results in a richer, deeper, and far more memorable reading experience.

Lovers of historical romance will surely delight in this story, but it's appeal will certainly extend to those who love to be swept up in strong characters and engaging stories regardless of the time period in which they are set.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In My Mailbox #19

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:
Tangled Threads (Elemental Assassin #4) by Jennifer Estep
Mieradome by Kate O'Hegarty
The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan
Seduced by Shadows (Marked Souls #1) by Jessa Slade
Forged of Shadows (Marked Souls #2) by Jessa Slade
Vowed in Shadows (Marked Souls #3) by Jessa Slade

A huge thank you to Jennifer Estep, Kate O'Hegarty, Savita Kalhan and Melissa of I Swim For Oceans, and Jessa Slade for sending me such fabulous books this week!

Review: The Vyne

Daniel Walls
Young Adult Fantasy
388 pages
Two Harbors Press
Available Now
Received via Teen Book Scene
for Review

Asher Meadows has spent the whole of his young life in one little town. Fearful and resentful of the special gifts he possesses, he dreams of leaving his lush of a father behind and finding a place to belong no matter how unlikely that dream seems.

Fate has other plans for Asher though, and as soon as young, amnesiac Scar shows up, irreversible events are set in motion that reveal Ash to be a vital part of an ancient prophecy regarding the fate of the world. As a vicious enemy begins to execute his plan for the transformation of all humanity into a drone army, Ash and company set off in search of the Hidden Ember, the first piece of the prophecy's puzzle.

En route, they run into both friend and foe, and Ash struggles with his feelings for Scar as she's a wanted fugitive and a potential thief who no one trusts save him alone. Though unsure he's ready for his destiny, Ash fights for Scar and his friends, and discovers that understanding his abilities comes a very high cost.

The Vyne is a story for those who love a journey, where each page is another step forward along a path lined with mystical abilities, ancient prophecies, and bizarre creatures with constantly shifting allegiances depending on the price for their support. It's not a quick or light read, and we are weighed down, as we so often are with fantasy novels, with an intimidating amount of information and a large cast of characters all vying for our attention. The beginning is tedious and slow, and as with a physical puzzle, Mr. Walls starts his literary puzzle in the corners, building the foundation of the story and assembling the borders that will be our guides as we work inward piece by piece until everything aligns and the larger picture is finally revealed. In this case, however, we are not dealing with either a one hundred or even five hundred piece puzzle, but rather we find ourselves attempting one with thousands of pieces, our patience tested as we struggle to figure out how everything fits together, and we often need to step back to regain focus and shore up our resolve before continuing onward.

Once the beginning third of the story is behind us, the journey begins to pick up speed as Ash and his companions finally set forth on the mission that has been so meticulously outlined for us in the previous one hundred and fifty pages. Mr. Walls's world is incredibly imaginative and deeply complex, appealing to that part of us that craves the challenge of embracing and understanding the unfamiliar while keeping the wheels in our minds constantly in motion as we try to solve the various riddles surrounding Ash's curse and the destiny hidden from him for so long.

Though the story does begin to accelerate and we are transported from one fantastical location to the next, the relationship we form with the characters is lacking in intensity. Reluctant hero Ash often shows the immaturity that accompanies his young age, whining about a destiny he wants no part of and inexplicably pining for a girl who possesses few attractive traits. His affection for Scar is instant, and for how thoroughly all the other elements are explained–at times so much so as to be detrimental to the overall story–we are given no solid reason for her appeal other than she's someone new in a town so familiar to him. Additionally, several characters with whom we are relatively acquainted are killed with little fanfare, their sacrifices glossed over quickly as the entourage of Ash and his misfits moves ever closer to their destination. This story is one where the flesh and bone are thoroughly established, but the heart is regrettably missing, a noticeable vacancy for those of us who thrive on our emotional connection to the story and live for the individuals that make our hearts beat faster as they carry the intangible weight of our feelings with them every step they take.

The Vyne will surely appeal to lovers of fantasy who expect and appreciate a taxing and arduous voyage, and who revel in the sense of accomplishment of seeing the journey through to the very end. For those like myself who love a good adventure but not necessarily at the expense of those characters who are undertaking it, this story will be a bit of a challenge to muddle through. Mr. Walls is a talented writer and storyteller, but his strength appears to lie more in the creating of the world and the outlining of a prophecy than in the forging of delicate bonds between character and reader which, for me, are the most vital part of an engaging reading experience.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cover Critique: Romance Cover Categories 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 meant simply to be humorous and not insulting.

For those of you who read last week's critique, you know I'm doing a series of critiques where I'm assigning romance covers categories based on the image. Don't ask me why because I don't have an explanation other than I thought it might be amusing. I like to think I'm providing all of you with yet another reason to go to the bookstore (as though we need one)–now you can tell friends, family, and significant others that you're doing "research". You're welcome.

Originally I was going to do three new categories but I found two more covers that suited one of last week's categories so we'll start there!

FIRST CATEGORY: The Absurdly Awkward Pose (again)

Oh For The Love of a Pirate, how I adore you! Can we just talk about the setting for this pose for a moment? I want to know which one of these two individuals decided that the best place to have their romantic tryst would be on the deadly, jagged rocks next to an ocean with swells that at any moment could overtake and drown them. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess it was her, mostly because she has a nice, cushy seat on our pirate's thigh, while he has the unfortunate task of kneeling on pointy stones while trying to support her. I'm thinking he's not altogether happy with her at the moment, and is counting the seconds until he can remove her from his leg and tend to his knees that are no doubt cut and bleeding.

She, of course, is completely oblivious to both the discomfort of her shirtless suitor and the perils of the rocks and sea, clutching him to her throat so passionately he may have to add a bruised or broken nose to the welts on his knees. I think we should make a list of all the things this pirate (though I see no evidence of him actually being a pirate, he could just be topless fellow by the water's edge) is having to endure in the name of a romance cover pose:

1. Bruised, bloody knees as a result of quite possibly the worst location to kneel ever. I just have trouble with this thought process. Here's some super sharp, very uncomfortable rocks, what shall we do while we're on them? Kneel? Brilliant!

2. It seems doubtful he can breathe adequately. Passing out from having his nose shoved in her throat, thereby blocking his airways, might actually come in handy as that way he won't have to worry about his lack of oxygen when the waves hit.

3. No shirt. It gets cold by the water people! Both of them are missing random articles of clothing - he seems to have spontaneously discarded his shirt somewhere on the hike over to the pointiest section of rocks, and she has magically lost her shoes. Spectacular. Since she has no shoes, I'm guessing he had to heft her lavender-draped behind over to their current location. This seduction is just not going his way is it?

And as a final parting note, I just want to point out that she also seems to be missing her right leg. Where has it gone? Is it back with her shoes? One would think it would be visible in the empty area between his legs or on his other side, but you'd be wrong apparently. Wrong! Maybe that's why he had to carry her? Because she couldn't hobble over the rocks on her one shoeless foot? I love shirtless pseudo-pirates and their one-legged blondes, don't you? *Dreamy sigh*

What, exactly, is going on here? It looks like our renaissance lass knows a thing or two about a striptease and is working the sensual rubbing angle to the best of her clothed ability, but there's just something strange about this pose. I can't imagine he finds supporting her by the armpits and staring at the top of her head arousing, but maybe that's his thing. They actually both seem to be asleep don't they? Oh, maybe the Crimson Lady is a narcoleptic! That would change this pose entirely wouldn't it? Now she's not sliding down his body in a seductive manner, but rather she's falling as a result of one of her spells and he's had to catch her. Except he seems to be suffering from narcolepsy too. This is not a good situation my friends. Perhaps the soft breeze blowing both of their thick manes has lulled them to sleep?

I can't imagine she's all that comfortable, it's almost like a gym exercise she's doing here with the squatting and her arms up over her head. Maybe he's her shirtless, sword-wielding trainer? This cover has a plethora of possible scenarios! Who else has a story for this pose?

SECOND CATEGORY: The Extraordinarily Fluffy and/or
Feathery Hair

Huh. Does any one have an explanation for her hair? If there is some sort of breeze (or a fan) blowing her hair in that direction, shouldn't his hair be affected as well? Instead, his dark locks are motionless while she looks like she's going to get sucked backward with great force if he lets go of her. I can't stop staring at it. It's just so orange! And there's so much of it, my eyes can't tear themselves away from all the windswept craziness.

Now, some of you may notice that this book is in the same "Notorious Gentlemen" series as last week's infamous pit-sniffer, so while I'm sure Ms. Enoch's stories are fabulous given that she's a NYT bestselling author, I have to tip my designer hat to whoever is responsible for these covers because they are ones that at first glance seem okay, but then the more you stare, the more off they become. Perhaps this gentleman is notorious for bedding woman with only the bushiest (and brightly colored) of windblown tresses, and he and his armpit-smelling friend like to compare notes on their, um, quirks. I think I would prefer a man to want me for my ridiculous hair than the fragrance of my underarms, so this guy is a giant step ahead of his friend in my book.

Next week will be my last of the cover category posts (not the last cover critique ever), and I promise to have some new and hilarious ones for you! Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Delirium

DELIRIUM (Delirium #1)
Lauren Oliver
Young Adult
440 pages
Harper Teen
Available February 1st
Received from publisher via NetGalley

I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.

Well, the government is certainly going to try. Love is a disease. Something to be feared for its ability to cause extreme emotional reactions that inhibit a productive and healthy lifestyle. Love needs to be eradicated, and so there is the cure. At eighteen, everyone is evaluated and undergoes a procedure to remove the part of the brain responsible for love, resulting in a more stable individual who will take their place in a strong and flourishing society.

Lena is counting the days until her cure. Counting the days until she'll be free of emotion and can live a normal life with the man to whom she's matched, and will no longer be haunted by memories of a mother who laughed, danced, and defied all of society by loving her husband. Just a couple more months and she'll be safe.

On the day of her evaluation, several weeks prior to her eighteenth birthday, Lena catches a brief glimpse of young boy, laughing as he's watching the chaos resulting from a demonstration by Invalids, a group of people who refuse the cure and live outside city walls in the Wilds. Not long after, Lena runs into this young boy again, Alex he says his name is, and finds herself in the position she fears most: falling in love. How quickly her life changes. Instead of welcoming the cure, it's now the thing she dreads most for it will take from her her feelings for Alex, the boy who has changed everything.

Delirium is a story that flawlessly elicits from us the very emotions denied its characters, one that forces all our feelings to the surface so our pain and fear for Lena and Alex are etched across our features as we furrow our brows, bite our lips, and fidget uncomfortably in nervous anticipation. We proudly wear these outward markers which so irrefutably illustrate the level of our entanglement in the story, and glory in our emotive displays, thankful we can express our reactions freely while the characters to whom we eventually become so thoroughly connected must suppress them as a survival mechanism. We must breathe through a rapidly escalating anger and resentment at the rules and regulations strangling Lena's world, watching as strong and intelligent characters have the cure forced upon them but go down in a blaze of emotional glory, only to rise from the ashes cold and collected – phoenixes stripped of the colorful feathers and vibrant heart that made them pulse with life.

Lena has an exceptional inner fortitude, and as much as she tries to convince herself the cure is everything she wants out of life, her independent mind refuses to be cajoled by her half-hearted beliefs, and instead thrives with a latent defiance that surfaces at the most dangerous of times. The camaraderie with Lena does not form instantaneously however, as her overwhelming fear of sharing her mother's fate combined with her refusal to acknowledge her sympathies for the resistance keep us at an unfortunate distance. Once Alex manages to shatter the illusions to which she so desperately clings, the floodgates open and we are swept away in a glorious maelstrom of pent-up frustration, anger, and the most potent of all, love. This one little word in the context of this world has more significance and power than volumes of text, and when those eight letters, three words, and one meaning finally break the society-imposed silence and slide their way past Lena's lips, we can't help but mouth them along with her: I love you.

Though the relationship between Alex and Lena is a bit slow in developing, their interactions not truly beginning until almost halfway through the book, it is certainly one worth waiting for. One that represents so much more than an idle attraction or passing fancy, and one that causes our breath hitch as we know their journey will not be one marked by simple laughter, meaningful touches, or carefree smiles; but rather will be plagued by logistical difficulties, tormented by unimaginable repercussions should they be caught, and perhaps even destroyed by the very love which provides them so much happiness. With each whispered sentiment and sidelong glance, we find ourselves hunched closer to the pages in the hope physical proximity will allow us to better catch any subtle nuance in their fragile yet exceedingly resolute connection, fully understanding we have become so desperately attached to them we cannot tear ourselves from their embrace.

The only slight imperfection in an absolutely beautiful story is the presence of several extraneous anecdotes from a past time and place that highlight an emotion similar to the one Lena is experiencing presently, perhaps meant to reinforce the strength of the current feeling, but it takes us away from events in which we very much want to stay immersed. Overall however, Delirium is a story where the encouragement of emotional vacancy has the opposite effect on us as readers, our capacity to feel strengthening with every page until we are full to bursting, and we reach an end where the only outlet for release is to let the tears flow freely down our cheeks as we praise the beauty and pain of being in love.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Ashes, Ashes

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!

Jo Treggiari
Young Adult/Dystopian
Releases June 1st from Scholastic

From Goodreads:

A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.

Epidemics, floods, droughts–for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

Um, yes please! This one just seems to have a little bit of everything in it with a survival tale, a romance, and a mystery element surrounding the main protagonist, and I definitely want to know what it is that makes Lucy so special. I will be at the bookstore in June to pick this one up!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review + Giveaway: The Iron Queen

THE IRON QUEEN (Iron Fey #3)
Julie Kagawa
Paranormal Young Adult
384 pages
Harlequin Teen
Releases TODAY!
Received from publisher

Meghan Chase's life couldn't be more different from the way it was a year ago. Then she was just an almost sixteen year-old girl wanting desperately to escape the swamp she lived in with her family and have access to the little technological comforts like a cell phone. Now, she's the daughter of a faery king, the girlfriend of an exiled faery prince, and perhaps the only one that can save Faery from the toxic expansion of the iron kingdom and its false monarch.

Not only does she have the fate of an entire realm weighing her down, but she also is struggling with the aftermath of her romantic decision to leave Faery with Prince Ash, leaving best friend Puck behind with memories of a kiss that will never be repeated.

Never one to miss out on the action though, Puck returns in grand style to help Meghan and Ash formulate a plan to destroy the false king and those who follow him. New and old friends join the fight, but with every war there are casualties, and as her friends and allies begin to fall around her, Meghan realizes the power to stop the false king lies not in the battle, but with her alone.

The Iron Queen is a story rich with eye-widening and jaw-dropping creativity, one that invites us to participate in its world as it shows us how to not simply be a stationary observer to the action, but to stretch the limits of our imaginations and fall through the pages to encounter the events from all sides and from multiple dimensions. This book seems to alter in appearance while reading, the black and white words slipping away as vibrant pictures take their place, telling their story in unparalleled detail and with undeniable skill as we watch the story unfold with rapt fascination. The fey in Ms. Kagawa's world are not merely characters, they are our own personal actors, drawing us into the action as they seem to speak only to us individually, knowing just what will elicit the greatest emotional response from us and delivering it with a flawless efficiency. The reading of this tale is more than a mere illusory journey from which we get up and walk away upon conclusion, it is an epic voyage we experience with all the senses we possess.

Meghan has come a long way since stumbling into Faery in search of her little brother. No longer content to rely on Ash or Puck for protection, she takes up arms and fights her own battles, shedding the limitations of being a half blood, shattering the illusion that a woman must always be protected from harm, and finally embracing the reality that the home she was born into may not actually be the world for which she is destined. The barrage of uncertainty previously assaulting her–questions as to whether she is more Summer or Iron fae, confusion as to her feelings for both Ash and Puck, and a helplessness with regard to saving the Nevernever–is stripped away and the Meghan we've known has been there all along makes a memorable appearance.

Ash is truly something to behold in this story, the personal glamour–his air of frigid indifference and detached calm–fading to nothingness as a result of the strength of his feelings for Meghan. We get the opportunity to see not just the resplendent prince, but also the man beneath the title long since buried in layers of ice and consumed previously by the frigid chill of a soulless Winter royal. He bares himself to our waiting gaze, exposing the man who's given his heart away once and paid dearly for the gesture, and who fears the undefinable girl currently in possession of it might also slip from his grasp. Where we cared for him before despite the frostbite we repeatedly received for our efforts, we can't help but love, appreciate, and respect the man standing before us in this tale, emotionally bare, unerringly dedicated, and poignantly sincere.

Just when we think our passionate attachment to these spectacular figments of the author's imagination can get no stronger and our relationship no deeper, Ms. Kagawa deftly plays the strings of our hearts like the finest of harps in the final pages. She skillfully conducts an emotional symphony, culminating in a single harmonious note so powerful it sends all our feelings of sorrow, joy and hope rippling through us until our entire bodies hum with the force of the reverberation, and we read the last few pages utterly spent and shaking from the aftershocks of what we've experienced. Ms. Kagawa is a master storyteller, a true visionary, and a woman to whom I will always be grateful for creating a world I enjoy so immensely.

Rating: 5/5


Thanks to the wonderful people at Big Honcho Media and Harlequin Teen,
I have a copy of The Iron Queen to give away along with a very cool coordinating t-shirt! This contest is open to US and Canadian residents only and will run through midnight EST on Tuesday, February 1st. To enter, just leave a comment on this review with a valid email address and one winner will be chosen by next week. Good luck everyone!

The Iron Fey on Facebook
The Iron Fey trailer on YouTube

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Stephanie Perkins
Young Adult
372 pages
Dutton Books/Penguin
Available Now

Most young people would be thrilled with the prospect of spending an entire school year abroad in Paris, but Anna is most certainly not one of those people at the moment. Forced to attend an American boarding school in the City of Light on the whim of her famous-author father, Anna finds herself alone in her dorm room on her first night, crying into her pillowcase.

Luckily for Anna, her next door neighbor Meredith is familiar with both the school and Paris and quickly introduces Anna to her core group of friends. Handsome, funny, and deliciously English St. Clair quickly catches her attention, and despite his commitment to longtime girlfriend Ellie, Anna can't help but find herself increasingly drawn to him.

Soon, Anna finds that not only is St. Clair handsome, but he's also very easy to talk to and seems quite interested in helping her get to know Paris. Relationship drama, family discord, and friendship turmoil find their way into Anna's everyday life, and the one person who helps her through it all and the one person she wants most remains frustratingly and heartbreakingly unavailable.

Anna and the French Kiss is one of those rare stories where we find ourselves instantly enamored, so swept up in the emotional conflict our facial muscles become sore from the constant oscillation between the dopey grin we are helpless to stifle during moments of innocent flirting, and the furrowed brow and drawn mouth that result when events don't go the way we hoped. It's a sweet, honest, and endearing tale illustrating how often we get in our own way in relationships, our ability to communicate utterly foiled by overthinking and overanalyzing every minute detail, thereby keeping us from the very thing we crave most and might actually acquire if we could overcome our paralyzing fear of rejection and find our voice. We clutch the pages with palms gone sweaty from the prevalent romantic tension, leaving behind a physical imprint on the book in reciprocation for the intangible but powerful impression it leaves on our hearts.

Anna is adorable and lovable, full of anxiety and insecurity over attending an international boarding school, but she impresses us by putting on a brave face most of the time, making friends of both the other students and us as readers very easily. Her inner monologues and quips are a constant source of humor, and we seamlessly slip into her mind and vicariously live out her story as though it were our own, sharing with her the dreamy stares in St. Clair's direction and the constant longing to be viewed as someone other than the best friend. Though Anna has intense feelings for St. Clair, she doesn't mope, pine, or lose herself completely in her infatuation, instead building a camaraderie and a touching friendship that simmers with a nail-biting amorous suspense, and overflows with a potential we want to see fulfilled with every fiber of our being.

St. Clair is undeniably worthy of Anna's attention, exuding blissfully believable levels of charm and wit, and leaving the overconfident bravado and pretty-boy swagger to less worthy and less interesting fictional leading men. He's physically attractive enough to warrant the ample amount of female attention he receives, but he's not so inhumanly beautiful that we can't conceive of his interest in Anna, and while he possesses an impressive number of positive attributes, he also makes several infuriating and hurtful decisions that bring him down off an unreachable pedestal and make him both more accessible and more intriguing for his flaws. Their courtship is almost painfully slow, but it's the type of pain that tingles with sensual restraint, and we find ourselves positively vibrating with tension as we not so patiently wait for the moment when passion will overtake propriety, and romantic satisfaction will finally replace the anticipation and anxiety coursing through our veins.

Anna and the French Kiss is a story that makes us smile and laugh, but also one that keeps our insides in knots as we walk the sometimes painful and uncomfortable path toward love. Anna welcomes us into her life with open arms, holding nothing back and allowing us to see all of her insecurities coupled with her extraordinary strengths, and we can't help but adore her for the joy she brings us as we fumble our way through the City of Light together. A heartwarming tale at it's finest, this book is one that can be read again and again as we never tire of the butterflies in our stomachs, the flush to our skin, and the catch in our breathing as we experience first love and all it entails.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In My Mailbox #18

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!

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning (from Goodreads):

In an epic battle between humans and Fae, the hunter becomes the hunted when the Sinsar Dubh turns on Mac, and begins mowing a deadly path through those she loves.

Who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Who is the woman that haunts her dreams? More importantly, who is Mac and what is the destiny she glimpses in the black and crimson designs of an ancient tarot card?

From the luxury of the Lord Master's penthouse, to the sordid depths of an Unseelie nightclub, from the erotic bed of her lover, to the terrifying bed of the Unseelie King, Mac's journey will force her to face the truth of her exile, and make a choice that will either save the world...or destroy it.

In the Arms of Stone Angels by Jordan Dane

Two years ago, Brenna did the unthinkable. She witnessed the aftermath of a murder and accused her only true friend—the first boy she ever loved—of being a killer.

Now sixteen, Brenna returns to Oklahoma only to discover that Isaac “White Bird” Henry isn’t in juvie. The half-breed outcast is in a mental hospital, frozen in time, locked in his mind at the worst moment of his life. And when Brenna touches him, she’s pulled into his hellish vision quest, seeing terrifying demons and illusions she doesn’t understand.

Feeling isolated and alone, she’s up against the whole town, targeted by bullying former classmates, a bigoted small town sheriff, and a tribe who refuses to help one of their own. But when Brenna realizes she’s as trapped by the past as White Bird is, this time she won’t turn her back on him. She’s the only one who can free them both.

Even if she has to expose her secret—a “gift” she’s kept hidden her whole life.

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis (from Goodreads):

Maddie Moore's whole life needs a makeover.

In one fell swoop, Maddie loses her boyfriend (her decision) and her job (so not her decision). But rather than drowning her sorrows in bags of potato chips, Maddie leaves L.A. to claim the inheritance left by her free-spirited mother-a ramshackle inn nestled in the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington.

Starting over won't be easy. Yet Maddie sees the potential for a new home and a new career-if only she can convince her two half-sisters to join her in the adventure. But convincing Tara and Chloe will be difficult because the inn needs a big makeover too.

The contractor Maddie hires is a tall, dark-haired hottie whose eyes-and mouth-are making it hard for her to remember that she's sworn off men. Even harder will be Maddie's struggles to overcome the past, though she's about to discover that there's no better place to call home than Lucky Harbor.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cover Critique: Romance Cover Categories Part 1

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.

This week's cover critique is going to be a little different. In my search for more deliciously ridiculous covers, I came across so many interesting romance books that I thought it might be fun to assign them categories of my own making based on the image used. My hope is that whenever you see a romance cover in the bookstore, you'll think "Hm. What category would Jenny place this in?" Or even better, perhaps you'll think of your own category and we can continue this particular cover critique segment each month or so. That would be fun, so be on the lookout people!

FIRST CATEGORY: The Absurdly Awkward Pose

Okay. I just want to start with a question. It's personal in nature, so I apologize. Has anyone ever assumed this position in the throes of passion? No? Really? You've never taken your man's puffy shirt halfway off, attempted to claw his abdomen while falling over in your billowing white dress? That's never happened? Shocking.

Why is she doing such a strange half-squat? I'm guessing she's so overwhelmed by his masculine beauty that her knees have given out and she's headed south for a meeting with the ground. She seems to be in a state of distress with her talons out and her eyes clamped shut, but he appears nice and calm, as though this is a common occurrence in his world. Maybe women with a ridiculous number of flowers in their hair (really, how many random flowers does one need in their wavy locks?) wearing diaphanous white gowns in the great outdoors always literally topple over on him, ripping his shirt from his body in the process. It could happen every day to him.

Don't worry my flower-encrusted maiden, he'll catch you. He's got a death grip on your wrist, but inexplicably doesn't have a left arm, so maybe you should be a bit worried that he's going to drop you after all. Shouldn't his other arm be around her back? Isn't that how this pose is supposed to work? Apparently that's not how this romance hero rolls. Nope, he's going to touch her in as few places as possible because, really, who cares if she's going to keel over and face plant without assistance from him. Magnificent.


This category will always feature a male model (most likely shirtless) with some sort of phallic-shaped prop to emphasize his masculinity should the naked chest and rippling muscles not be enough to prevent his manhood from being called into question. Just in case his long hair blowing smoothly in the breeze gives us pause, he's been equipped with a blade which he holds in a firm grip, a reminder of what else could potentially be that long, wide, and firmly gripped.

You're all staring at his crotch trying to determine if he could possibly match his blade in size aren't you? It's hard not to stare really, as the flesh tone of his hand against the dark pants automatically draws our eye to that general area, and then we look at his prop and find our minds down and dirty in the gutter. I love how, should we be unimpressed with the size of his blade (it's not a sword after all), he's also holding a flag with a nice, long staff. Well done photo shoot prop masters, well done. Now his goods can never be questioned. His reputation is intact and certainly precedes him, so I think it's safe to say we all expect big things from him in this book.


This is a cover that fits none of the categories I established, so it gets to be in a category all it's own–one that defies explanation and logic. Let's just think about the title in conjunction with this image shall we? "After the Kiss" it says. After the kiss what? After the kiss he'll smell her armpit? That's super sexy! Nothing like having a man take your mouth and leave you breathless, only to drop to one knee after, spin you around so your back is facing him, shove his nose right in your pit and take a deep breath. Glorious!

This cover image completely flummoxes me. I don't understand why he's so fascinated by her underarm and why it seems to be bringing him such bliss. She appears to be craning her neck to check out just what exactly is happening back there, probably wondering when she bought a deodorant that doubled as an aphrodisiac and making a note to self not to wear it again while in his presence.

I have to say if this is a habit or kink of his, he certainly will be notorious but the gentleman half of that title is pushing it a bit. I don't know any gentlemen that get to know a woman by sniffing her pits, but maybe I just don't know the right kind of men, so that's on me I guess. Poor girl. She seems like she's going to have a disappointing evening. What's next, he's going to stare longingly up her nose, lovingly counting her nose hairs? Maybe that will be the sequel, and I won't lie to you, I would be interested in seeing it:)

I'll be back next Friday with three more categories for your viewing enjoyment. Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Post and MEGA Giveaway: J.L. Bryan

Today I'm thrilled to welcome author J.L Bryan to the blog! Mr. Bryan wrote one of the most memorable and fascinating books I read last year, Jenny Pox, and I'm very excited to be a part of the blog tour to kick off his newest release, The Haunted E-Book. In addition to this guest post, Mr. Bryan is hosting an unbelievable grand prize giveaway for the tour as well as individual giveaways on each of the tour blogs. You'll find all the details for the giveaway at the end of the guest post!

By J.L. Bryan

A séance party is the perfect way to get together with friends and family, enjoy a pleasant evening with wine and hors d'oeuvres, and summon the souls of the dead for some lively conversation.

The focus of a séance is talking with departed spirits, but your guests will be the ones departing early if you haven't provided for their comfort and entertainment. The following helpful hints, compiled by the editors of that wonderful (if nonexistent) periodical Ladies’ Haunted Home Journal, will make your séance party a spectral success instead of a spooktacular failure.

Invitations: Every party begins with the invites! You can go old-school with faded parchment and fine Gothic calligraphy—maybe even a gruesome blood color!--or ghostly white text on a black background. Avoid the temptation to use cartoony ghosts, as these can be insulting to your guests from the Other Side. If you absolutely must use lace-fringed invitations, old yellow lace is preferred. The dead enjoy things that are in a state of decay, like themselves.

Decorations: White, billowy window curtains and tablecloths are preferred. You'll want something lightweight, since it's easier for the ghosts to puff them out like a cold wind to let you know they've arrived. Candles are a must! Black or white, and occasionally red, are acceptable, but avoid bright spring colors. These could remind the ghosts of the lives they've lost, and next thing you know, you've got a nasty haunting going on. Your guests will run away screaming, ruining your party.

In general, keep your lights dim. Spread around a few plastic tombstones and skulls if you like, but don't go overboard. A scowling jack-o'-lantern by the front door lends a nice ambiance—and it can do double-duty by helping guests find your home!

Music: Build your music selections around the tastes of those you're trying to contact: Beethoven if you want to attract 19th-century Viennese intellectuals, David Allen Coe if you're summoning your dead Uncle Jeeter. (Tip: Mix in a little Hall of the Mountain King, and Mozart's Confutatus, as these songs make any ghost feel right at home!)

Refreshments: No séance party would be complete without spirits, and we think nothing says “ghostly” like a fine white wine. Consider serving lady fingers and other foods named after dismembered body parts. Ghosts themselves like to taste the blood of the freshly killed, so put in a call to your local slaughterhouse and make arrangements. Don't bore the ghosts back to death with chicken or pig blood—treat them to something a little more exotic, like goat or lizard blood. This could be a little more difficult to obtain, but those big, skull-like grins on your guests' faces will be worth the extra effort!

Entertainment: The main event of your party is calling up the dead, so your choice of a medium might be the most important one you make. An old gypsy woman is the classic medium, and always in fashion, but don't be afraid to branch out. It's critical to make sure your medium does look and act the part. Interview several, and whether you go with a voodoo woman from the bayou or a long-bearded old wizard, you need a medium with personality and people skills. A brusque, rude medium, or one who's always falling into speechless drooling trances, can turn off your guests, living and otherwise, and you'll be struggling to resurrect your dying party all night long.

Speaking with the Dead: The dead will be the life of your party—if you remember to treat them just like the living, and don't make them feel inferior just because they're disembodied. Keep the conversation light and moving. Avoid touchy subjects like: how they died, whether they have unfinished business on the earthly plane, and whether they feel a need for blood vengeance against any of the living. More pleasant topics include: their favorite memories from life, who they've met and mingled with on the Other Side, and how their living descendants are doing.

Wrapping up: After the séance, be sure that all of the dead have been thoroughly banished from your home. A séance can leave undesirable hauntings that only grow worse if you don't deal with them promptly. The medium should take care of this, but if you hear a lot of bumps in the night, chains in the attic or screams in the basement in the days following your party, be sure to call a parapsychologist or the religious leader of your choice to clear out those guests who just won't leave.

If you follow these simple guidelines, your séance party is sure to be a success! However, these tips can always be improved. In the comments below, let us know what you would do to make your séance party a fun and memorable experience. Don’t forget that commenting enters you to win today’s prize of a pair of ebooks (Dark Tomorrows and The Haunted E-book), plus it enters you for The Haunted E-book Tour Grand Prizes!

J.L. Bryan studied English literature at the University of Georgia and at Oxford, with a focus on the English Renaissance and the Romantic period. He is the author of five novels and one short-story collection. His new novel is The Haunted E-book. The sequel to his novel Jenny Pox will be available by summer 2011.


As Mr. Bryan mentioned above, there are e-books of both
The Haunted E-book and Dark Tomorrows up for grabs for one lucky commenter! Be sure and include your email address in your comment along with your response to the seance party prompt so I can contact you if you win. Every person who comments on the post today will also be entered in the grand prize giveaway which includes a KINDLE! There are tons of ways to get extra entries for the grand prizes, so be sure and check out Mr. Bryan's tour launch post HERE for additional details. Contest will run through midnight EST on January 27th. Good luck everyone and thank you so much Mr. Bryan!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Archangel's Consort

Nalini Singh
Paranormal Romance
324 pages
Berkley Sensation/Penguin
Available January 25th
Received from publisher for review

Warning: Contains mild spoilers from previous books, but no spoilers from Archangel's Consort.

Elena's life has changed drastically from her life over a year ago. Then she was a hunter-born working for the Guild tracking vampires in breach of their contracts with their angel makers using her inherent gift to scent them. Now, she's an angel herself and consort to the most intimidatingly beautiful archangel she's ever seen, Raphael.

Finally returning to New York City after waking from her coma, recovering from her mortal to immortal transition, and battling another archangel who's evolved into something new entirely, Elena's ready to get back to work for the Guild despite her new angel status. Her introduction back into society isn't going to be a gradual one however.

New York City and the rest of the world are suddenly plagued by odd weather phenomenons, and the vampires normally petrified into obedience under Raphael's rule are breaking their contracts, attacking humans, and even harming themselves in inexplicable frenzies. These strange occurrences are not entirely unprecedented, but have been documented periodically as being precursors to the awakening of an ancient–an immortal so old and powerful they Sleep for millenia in an effort to maintain their sanity when such a long life usually results in madness. And this ancient is waking for one reason: she wants Raphael, her son, and she wants newly-Made Elena out of her way.

Ms. Singh's world is one of spectacular fantasy and toe-curling romance where the thoughts, feelings, and weaknesses that make us so very human are highlighted against the fascinating backdrop of the cool indifference that accompanies immortality. In this story we are given a pair of individuals separated by gender, age, and world view, but whose unexpected feelings for one another weave an unbreakable bond between them. The strength of their connection melts away their differences with a molten heat, welding their souls together as they struggle to be both teacher and student, learning from each other even when their pride would have them reject lessons from the other, and in doing so, win us over completely. The relationship between Raphael and Elena is one of the ultimate give and take between two people who are each unused to acquiescing, and watching as they take such tentative and hesitant, yet extremely passionate, steps into the unknown is a joyous experience that causes our skin to tingle as we smile at the intimacy to which we've so thankfully been granted access.

Elena is a magnificent heroine in possession of a mental and physical strength most of us will aspire to but will never attain. She has a past of darkness, bloodshed and insurmountable guilt, yet she maintains a flicker of hope that her entire family is not yet lost to her, and perhaps one day her father might not see her as an abomination but as the gift he once thought her to be. She pits the force of her personality against the icy chill of Raphael's intimidating persona with remarkable grace, standing her ground in the face of his imposing presence yet yielding when she senses his overwhelming alpha-male need to conquer has him in its iron grip. She indulges him his temporary bouts with the need to possess her, but she still manages to maintain the fierce warrior independence that attracted both Raphael and us to her initially. She is the perfect blend of formidable fighter and vulnerable woman, daughter and lover, making her a character with whom we look forward to journeying onward side by side.

Raphael is as dominant a male as they come, his centuries of life and his status as a member of the Cadre of Ten as well as the archangel of New York skyrocketing his expectation for utter obedience and subservience to unparalleled levels. He walks confidently along a lethal edge between cruelty and desire, and though we know with absolute certainty he would never physically harm Elena, his proclivity for rage against those under his rule and his demand for compliance from others always has the potential to tear their relationship apart should the darker side of his immortality overwhelm Elena's mortal heart. Though this is the third book and therefore our third exposure to the two of them, their connection still feels very new and fragile–a single gossamer thread between them vibrating dangerously with the power of their combined tempers and their mutual passion, but we have every confidence that while it may bend and stretch, it will never snap. A little of Elena's precious mortality constantly seeps into Raphael, and the fierce protectiveness and loyalty he inspires in others infects Elena as well, causing that single thread to grow into an indestructible web as we read on, one we find ourselves helpless to escape as we are immobilized by the terrifying beauty of these two immortals.

In addition to two unforgettable protagonists, Ms. Singh also as a spectacular ability to create secondary characters with scarred souls full of secrets and mysteries just waiting to be revealed, and we are ultimately as interested in their individual stories as we are Raphael and Elena's. From Illium's regal blue feathers and heartwarming friendship with Elena to Dmitri's unique ability to caress a body with intangible tendrils promising sexual decadence, we are held utterly transfixed by the brilliance of Ms. Singh's imaginings. My only wish for this story would be for a more cataclysmic reunion between Raphael and his unbelievably powerful mother, their face to face interaction lacking a little of the intensity of the buildup, but it's clear Caliane is a force to be reckoned with and we certainly have not seen the last of her–a fact that only adds to our anticipation of the next installment. For those who have yet to experience this world of archangels and mortals, drop what you're doing and find the nearest bookstore, Raphael is waiting for you.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Across the Universe

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 Across the Universe by Beth Revis:

I feel something. I feel something. Warmth in my stomach. And I hear...the hum of electricity. I realize I hear it because it is coming from the tubes down my throat.

My body slips. Just a fraction of a millimeter, but it slips.
The ice is melting.

Oh, God.


Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: The Demon Trapper's Daughter

Jana Oliver
Paranormal Young Adult
368 Pages
St. Martin's Griffin
Available February 1st
Received for review from For What It's Worth

Riley Blackthorne is a demon trapper. She's following in her father's footsteps, aspiring to be a master trapper and the only women to choose such a profession. For now, she's stuck with the lesser demons, finding herself covered in unmentionable demon fluids while videos of her botched containment attempts go viral.

When tragedy strikes, Riley becomes more determined than ever to be a master trapper, recklessly attempting to catch higher level demons to the chagrin of her father's protege, and her first crush, Beck. When it's clear she's outmatched, she's brought under the tutelage of a senior master trapper, a man who hates her and her father, and only agrees to train her so he has another person to abuse.

Though it's not the best of situations, it does allow Riley to spend more time with fellow trapper apprentice Simon, the one bright spot in a world that seems to have turned it's back on her. Things are changing in Atlanta though, and while Riley is training, it seems the demons, previously content to work alone, have begun to team up and even more surprisingly, they all seem to know Riley by name. With the demons working together and the trappers' special supplies not working as they should, things seem increasingly bleak for Riley and company, and she may soon be following far closer in her father's footsteps than she would have ever expected.

The Demon Trapper's Daughter introduces us to a world where darkness has temporarily eclipsed light, and the lethal claw-tipped fingers of Hell have crept from Lucifer's realm and made their way to big city Atlanta. With their increasing occupation of the city comes minor mischief from the lower level minions, but a bloody end awaits those who think to tangle with the upper level fiends as they maim and destroy with an evilness and disregard for life characteristic of the soulless monsters they are. The details of this nightmarish world are presented to us gradually, sparing us from being buried under the enormous weight of an extraordinary influx of information, instead giving us time to observe and question as we learn the ins and outs of demon trapping along with Riley. Though her world is grim and death manifests itself into terrifying demonic forms, Riley and Beck's faith in their cause keeps hope alive for us as readers, their strength of purpose a tiny encouraging flame in the surrounding blackness.

Despite an interesting world, Riley herself is a problematic character. While we respect her desire to be the only female demon trapper and her ability to hunt down horrifying creatures with a remarkable tenacity, her interactions with Beck make fully supporting her difficult. When tragedy befalls her, she is understandably devastated, and in her grief she becomes so self-centered she refuses to acknowledge that Beck not only shares her pain, but is experiencing the loss on a level as equally personal and crushing as her own. His rejection of her feelings for him when she was fifteen forced her to erect protective walls to safeguard her new emotional fragility, but even when it's clear Beck's protectiveness and sometimes curt reprimands stem from an inherent affection and need to protect himself from his own feelings, she reacts with utter immaturity and, at times, an unwarranted disrespect that reinforces the reality of her young years. We then can only read on with the wish that her behavior with regard to Beck could be as admirable as her dedication to her cause.

Though Riley's romantic attentions focus on Simon, Beck is the more preferable choice, his experiences as a soldier overseas and his trapping with Riley's father leaving him with significant emotional and physical scarring, and those marks buy him an infinite number of reprieves for his terse interactions with Riley as we have the opportunity to see through the facade to the troubled young man underneath. Riley, blinded by her girlish hurt at her initial dismissal those years ago, refuses to open her eyes wide enough to see how truly similar she and Beck are and how much he so clearly cares for her. Though her preference for squeaky-clean, ultra-religious Simon is understandable, we still can't help but want the chance to speak to Riley face to face and plead Beck's case on his behalf. He alone earns sole possession of our hearts–Simon remaining a bit too flat and too perfect to hold our interest, and Riley, though she certainly has the potential for us to form a cherished connection, uses her youthful selfishness to keep us at a distance.

The Demon Trapper's Daughter is full of promise, starting strong with moments of humor that offset the tragic darkness of the world, but it falters a bit in the middle as a jumble of different storylines all struggle for dominance, creating a hazy picture that prevents us from separating the main conflict from the minor ones. As a result, our focus continues to shift haphazardly as we await the details that will more clearly direct our course and help us find our way amongst the monsters. Luckily, toward the end that much needed direction makes its way to us and we find ourselves swept up in an action packed finale that leaves us eagerly anticipating the next installment. Though not without its flaws, this is an interesting story and one, now that we are properly informed, I look forward to continuing.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In My Mailbox #17

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!

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

For Review:
Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly (the above image is the original cover and title for this book, it has since been renamed as is getting a new cover design)
Entwined by Heather Dixon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blog Hop January 14-17

This week's question: Why do you read the genre you do? What draws you to it?

I read predominantly paranormal books, and I've just always been drawn to them because it's so easy for me to get swept up in something completely surreal. I love imagining things that couldn't possibly exist but secretly wondering if just maybe there are weres or vamps out there somewhere, perhaps ones that look like Bones from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. Or Jace (though not a vampire or were) from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments books. I wouldn't mind if they were real:)

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

This week's question: What makes up your non-human family?

I have two boxers named Gatsby and Griffin and they are the most ridiculous dogs imaginable. They have more energy than should be legal for any dog to have, and they like give me their patented "sad" faces because they know I'll cave and give them anything they want. I'm a giant sucker as a dog parent:)

Thanks so much to Parajunkee for hosting the hop!

On a side note:
I apologize for the lack of cover critique this week, I've been down and out with the flu the past few days and my snarkiness was not up to snuff. I promise the cover critique will be back next Friday! Have a great weekend everyone:)

Review: Vesper

VESPER (Deviants #1)
Jeff Sampson
Paranormal Young Adult
294 Pages
Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins
Available January 25th
Received via Star Book Tours for review

Emily has always been more of a reserved teenage girl, not overly popular or noticed by boys, and she's more than fine with spending the evening doing nothing but reading a good book. With the death of a fellow classmate sharing her moniker, however, Emily is divested of her boring, introverted life, and introduced to a world of danger, death, and the supernatural.

Not long after her classmate's death, Emily finds herself in short-lived but gut-wrenching pain every night around the same time. When she shakes it off, a new Emily has taken her place, one who wants to have fun, be popular, and most of all, find the source of an utterly addicting masculine scent.

Because this new Emily doesn't share her daytime counterpart's sense of self-preservation, she soon becomes the target of a serial killer who seems to be choosing teenagers at random, but as Emily comes to learn, is very precise in picking his victims. Knowing there are other people out there like her gives both versions of Emily the confidence to turn the hunter into the hunted, but when the smoke of her chase clears she finds she still has far more questions than answers.

Vesper is a story that leaves us in a state of suspended indecision, our emotions in constant flux as we mentally debate the merits and drawbacks of what we've just read. It's not a book that's easy to categorize or assign a label such as "good" or "bad", and this sense of being undefinable stems mostly from a complete and utter lack of knowledge despite having read clean through cover to cover. Mr. Sampson has written a novel with overwhelming potential and the potent promise for future substance, yet the story we are given lacks that which it promises so strongly. Reading Emily's story is like reading a three-hundred page prologue where interesting events are set in motion and we're taunted with the barest whispers of information, but just as we are getting excited to delve into the richness we know is just waiting for us to savor, we find ourselves on the final page, having been given a shell of a story and denied the filling we so crave.

Emily herself is as difficult to decipher as the story of which she is narrator. She starts out as the quiet, somewhat geeky, easy-to-overlook teenager with whom we can easily see ourselves eventually connecting, but with the fall of night she becomes a girl plagued by none of the inhibitions that hamper daytime Emily's social life. She quickly sheds the sweetness and innocence we've come to appreciate and embraces her latent "popular girl" behavior, thereby rendering her a complete stranger we're not sure we really want to know. She has few redeeming qualities while in this altered state of being, and any explanation for either this version of Emily or the full werewolf version of Emily remains a complete mystery. All we know with any amount of certainty is that sometime in the vicinity of eight o'clock in the evening Emily short circuits and transforms, maintaining an awareness of her daytime persona, but ultimately not caring what effect her shenanigans will have on her as long as she's having fun now.

A great deal of nighttime Emily's "fun" centers around the alluring draw of a certain musky scent her werewolf-self identifies as belonging to her mate. The search for a mate would have been a perfectly acceptable storyline if we were just provided a few of the why's for this particular behavior. We are given no explanation for her search, and once she finds the one she's been so inexplicably drawn to, we have no idea whether or not he is equally drawn to her, thus negating any potential for a romance that would have helped us understand this animalistic pull. While we are provided a hint as to the reason for Emily's physical changes, the lack of information regarding all other aspects of the story becomes increasingly frustrating, leaving us blinking in disbelief upon reaching the conclusion, shocked by the fact that we've read a full length novel but have learned virtually nothing about either the characters or the trials they face.

Periodically, Emily's narration is interrupted by the transcripts of an interview between her (though she's identified as Vesper 1) and an older gentleman who knows her secret, a deviation from the story that doesn't seem all that necessary until the end. Between the last page of the story itself and the final page of the transcript, a significant group of occurrences seem to have taken place, resulting in an Emily who is now far more informed and knowledgeable about her condition and what it means, yet we as readers remain outsiders–an unfortunate circumstance that cements our detachment from this story as the interest that was undeniably piqued is whispered away in a haze of confusion. Vesper is certainly full of potential, perhaps potential that will be mercifully tapped into in coming books, but it reads as a lengthy introduction to future events as opposed to a stand alone first installment.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Starstruck

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!

Cyn Balog
Paranormal Young Adult
Releases July 12th

From Goodreads:

Gwendolyn "Dough" X doesn't think she has much going for her—she carries a few extra pounds, her family struggles with their small bakery in a town full of millionaires, and the other kids at her New Jersey high school don't seem to know that she exists. Thank the stars for her longtime boyfriend, Philip P. Wishman—or "Wish." He moved away to California three years ago, when they were 13, but then professed his love for her via e-mail, and he's been her long-distance BF ever since.

At the beginning of her junior year, though, Wish e-mails that he's moving back to Jersey. Great, right? Well, except that Dough has gained about 70 pounds since the last time Wish saw her, while Wish—according to his Facebook photos—has morphed into a blonde god. Convinced that she'll be headed for Dumpsville the minute Wish lays eyes on her, Dough delays their meeting as long as she possibly can.

But when she sees Wish at school, something amazing happens. He looks at Dough like she's just as gorgeous as he is. But Wish is acting a little weird, obsessed with the sun and freaked out by rain. And the creepy new guy working at the bakery, Christian, is convinced that there's more to Wish's good looks than just healthy eating and lots of sun. He tells Dough that a mark on Wish's neck marks him as a member of the Luminati—an ancient cult of astrologers who can manipulate the stars to improve their lives. Is Wish and Dough's love meant to be—or are they star-crossed?

I just like the sound of this one, it seems like it could be a really different take on a teenage paranormal romance. I also very much want to know why rain freaks him out. Will he melt down into blonde god goo? That could put a damper on their relationship:)

Love the cover of this one as well, it's just so bright and colorful and would certainly catch my eye on the shelf.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Calling For Angels

Alex Smith
Paranormal Young Adult
The Red Telephone
Available Now
Received from publicist for review

As is par for the course, Em's life is becoming decidedly more complicated as she gets older. Her best friend Caitlyn is pulling away from her, her parents are often fighting, and her grandmother has fallen ill. On her way home from school one day, a strange woman pulls her into a van and tells her to choose a wooden figurine to determine the guardian angel she receives. Thoroughly confused and a little disturbed, Em leaves the van with the trinket in tow.

She finds herself thinking about the the little figure of a boy and innocently wishes he could be real. Moments after she makes her wish, Kai is standing before her explaining how the two of them have been divinely paired together.

Kai isn't the only new male arrival into her life however, as new student Zak seems to have taken an interest in Em much to Caitlyn and the other popular girls' dismay. Em begins to struggle with her feelings for Zak and the increasing tension in her home life, all the while trying to figure out Kai's purpose and what it means for her and those she loves.

Calling For Angels is a cute story, one that highlights universal experiences with love and loss, and one that is written with a surprising maturity given the young age of its author. Ms. Smith clearly has an extraordinary capacity for storytelling, and she exposes us to characters that have us wishing for more time with them than we are granted in this short young adult debut. Though the story and love triangle scenario are not overly unique, they are written in a way that oozes potential and promises an author who has a future in writing characters inevitably capable of complex interactions and engaging emotional conflicts.

Though this story is an intriguing start for Ms. Smith, there is a sense of incompleteness running rampant as we read. A number of events take place, yet when we reflect back upon conclusion, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what we'll be taking away with us when we close the back cover and begin something new. There are several engaging plot threads touched upon, but our exposure to them is brief and fleeting as we are quickly lead somewhere else before we feel ready to go. The fizzling friendship between Em and Caitlyn plays out superficially despite its potential to be an element that succeeds in securing our emotional attachment, relationships like it being a part of growing up that so many of us experience, yet it remains on the periphery–alluded to but not fully explored. We have a similar reaction to a storyline focusing on Em's grandmother and her illness, and just when we think this may be the reason Em is granted Kai as a guardian angel, the references to her grandmother become increasingly sparse, tucked away behind Em's blossoming relationship with Zak. We in fact never truly learn much about Kai though we often see things through his point of view, leaving our connection with him, Em, and the overall story just shy of whole.

Typically, when a book divides point of view between the two main protagonists we get a deeper, more substantial experience, one that provides us with more information than if our journey flowed through just one character alone. While Kai's perspective is interesting, it doesn't always seem necessary as he remains a complete mystery to us, and the viewpoint switches between him and Em so rapidly at times it's as though we're reading a screenplay instead of a novel. Sometimes only a sentence or two will stream from either Em or Kai before we're transferred back to the thoughts of the other, leaving the story a bit disjointed as we struggle to keep pace with our young guardian angel and his ward.

Overall, Calling For Angels is a sweet story despite it's flaws, and is one that will likely appeal to much younger readers who enjoy just a touch of romance as they imagine what it might be like to have their own angel shadow.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reading Resolutions Giveaway Winner

A huge thank you to everyone who entered my Reading Resolutions Giveaway,
I was blown away by the number of entries in just one week! Out of the 437 individual entries, picked number 384:

Becky B.

Congratulations Becky! You have an email from me waiting for you:) Thanks again everyone!

Review: The Mind Readers

Lori Brighton
Paranormal Young Adult
Available Now
Received from author for review

Cameron can read minds. She doesn't understand how or why, she just knows both she and grandmother have the same ability. People must never know about it though. They won't understand. The incident in Michigan proved that.

Cameron is going through her day to day routine, tolerating her popular but extremely shallow best friend while knowing exactly what she's thinking at all times. The murder of a classmate changes everything for Cameron though, and brings her into contact with Lewis, a handsome outsider who knows of Cameron's ability.

As she spends more time with Lewis, she realizes he shares her gift, and wants to introduce her to his mentor Aaron who he claims can help Cameron understand and focus her ability in a way her grandmother has denied her all these years. Unable to resist learning more and finding others like her, Cameron leaves her grandmother behind and enters a world far more dangerous and infinitely more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

The Mind Readers introduces us to the limitless possibilities of the human mind and all the unfathomable potential lying dormant there, just waiting to be tapped and put to uses beyond our wildest imaginings. No longer confined by the parameters of rational understanding and believability, the characters in this world find themselves capable of not only reading thoughts, but also related abilities such as telekinesis and emotional influence, making us pause to wonder if just maybe people with similar gifts might actually be among us. Though we sit in awe at Cameron's abilities, secretly pondering what we ourselves might be able to accomplish should such a gift be plausible, we are also exposed to the guilt that accompanies this exceptional power, and the burden Cameron bears knowing the thoughts, motivations, and dark secrets of everyone within a mild radius of where she's standing. We join Cameron as she ultimately must weed through the cacophony of everyone else's opinions and judgments and find not only herself, but her place in the world.

The influence of others is a constant barrage for Cameron, as her grandmother constantly attempts to stifle her gift while Lewis encourages her to not just accept her ability, but also expand it, focus it, and use it to its full potential. Despite the unavoidable influx of unwanted information from those around her, she does a beautiful job of maintaining her autonomy, managing to formulate her own thoughts and opinions through all the noise. Though she does have the frustrating tendency to run from her problems as opposed to facing them head on, this reaction is understandable given the context and the desire she must have to be alone in her own head. She maintains a wariness when presented with the opportunity to control her gift, never fully letting her guard down though it slips now and then with Lewis, almost as though our voice is one of the many she can hear as we encourage her to be vigilant with her suspicions, and we are able to smile in satisfaction when she seems to heed our warnings.

Because this story is written from Cameron's point of view, we are limited by her interpretation of the events and find ourselves as thoroughly confused at times as she is. We want so desperately to believe Aaron and Lewis have nothing but the most honorable of intentions, but a niggling sense of unease remains prevalent, prickling us in caution when they try to convince us of their story. This constant indecisiveness and suspicion on both Cameron's part, and therefore ours as well, adds realism to the events as were we in Cameron's shoes ourselves we wouldn't have the gift of any absolute truths granted to us through the benefit of another person's perspective, we'd be only left with our own instincts, questions, and observations as she is. We know no more than she does, and find ourselves lost in the churning sea of conflicting information and questionable allegiances, struggling to understand while still hesitant to fully believe what we're told.

Though the confusion does seem to be intentional, a little more information toward the end of the story would have been welcome. We are given a lot of the how's of Cameron's gift as we watch her training with Lewis and Aaron, but we are denied the most of the why's of their battle with the enemy. The end is left wide open, and if you're the type of person who wants to walk away from a story fully informed, you may be frustrated by your lack of knowledge. Overall, this is a very interesting read with strong characterization, though it's lacking just a few valuable pieces of information to help it stand alone without the need for a sequel.

Rating: 3.5/5