Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova

Tilt your head to the right- see the face?
It's interesting that I never saw the face on the cover of this book until I was packing it away for the move to Idaho. Whenever I thought of this book I always saw the red curtains with a piece of parchment in between- perhaps it was meant to look like that? Anyway, I found this cover more intriguing when I finally saw the face- I had actually read it and never saw that.

The Historian was one of my first vampire reads, besides the ubiquitous Twilight. I had planned to reread this when I first started book blogging back in April, but never got around to it until now. Something about it struck a note with me when I read it as a teen, and I hoped to relive that by rereading it.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…
'Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.'

In a way, this is almost a travel book- you get to see a lot of tourist destinations in Europe through the diplomat's daughter's eyes, something many books lack. The settings are what I think appealed most to me, as a native Montanan teenager with who took only brief excursions to neighboring states and constantly dreamed of other places. Although I liked it and still see the benefits of this as an adult, a lot of what bogs this book down is the constant travelling and descriptions that don't really play into the plot.

It should also be mentioned that the events of this book takes place during the Cold War Era, despite much of the research that Sophia and her father do covering the medieval period when Vlad the Impaler was alive and/or buried. There are certain times when it's pertinent to the story, but in the beginning we learn Sophia is looking back on these events after more than a few years. So, a lot of time plays into this book- due to the lives of various historians and their work overlapping.

I think what makes this book a four star read, for me, is the ending. It's rare for a reader to find such a satisfying one that gives you both a glimpse of the future and of the past. Although the journey is riveting once past a certain point, there are areas that could have been condensed or thrown out altogether. The destination is almost a bit better than the journey in this book's case- a rarity indeed.

The Historian is an immense historical conspiracy with an ending that supersedes its vast page count. Even though it lulls at points, it would prove an interesting read for anyone who'd like a historical fiction on Vlad the Impaler or Dracula. If you like vampires, historical fiction, and conspiracy theories, and don't mind a bulky book, The Historian may be your kind of read.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent, if a bit long-winded, historical fiction of Dracula.

Content: Ages 16+ for violence and bloodsucking.

Page Count: 642 pages in my weighty hardcover edition

Some of the Locations in this Book:

Happy Halloween! I hope squirrels didn't eat your jack-o-lanterns, like they did my best one:

My cute Cheshire cat Jack-o-Lantern.

My ugly squirrel-eaten Cheshire cat grin Jack-o-Lantern with no eyes or nose. See top Jack-o-Lantern.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Forever Odd (Odd Thomas #2)" by Dean Koontz

This book is the second in the Odd Thomas series- there may be unmarked spoilers in this review for Odd Thomas, the first O.T. book.

One of the things I love about Dean Koontz is that he is unafraid of incorporating disabled, obese, or just normal people you would see at the grocery store into the plots of his books. For instance, it would have been easy to make the main character, Odd, a PhD of something or another- in most people's books that adds a layer of respectability. But instead, we follow the story of a fry cook who sees the dead, who graduated high school and has no plans of college, who many people would look down on in real life. I love this- so often books are written about people whose lives I'd never even dream of, while this story follows the rather remarkable adventures of the plain and infinitely relatable Odd Thomas.

The Plot:
Odd Thomas is again alerted by a ghost that something's amiss- this time his friend's father is murdered and his friend Danny turns up missing. Danny has osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones extremely brittle and prone to breakage. Will Odd be able to find him before it's too late?

If you're an Elvis fan, it should be mentioned that he appears as an apparition/companion to Odd in both Odd Thomas and Forever Odd, adding a bit of fun to the plot. I like the way Koontz gives you tidbits of Elvis trivia as Odd tries to find a way to make him move on from our world, and also... I want Elvis's ghost as my companion in fighting evil. We'd have a blast.

I think my main complaint with this story is how it rambles- where Odd Thomas had a relatively focused plot, Forever Odd's wanders quite a bit from the essentials. Although I love the characters, because of the obscure plot it knocked off a star, and probably also because Odd was changed by the events of the previous book. But there is no lack of action, and the story rivets you despite the rambling, a feat many other books fail to accomplish

Although Forever Odd isn't as focused as its predecessor, it maintains the witty dialogue and incandescent characters you'd expect from an Odd Thomas novel. I recommend this series to anyone looking for 'odd' characters and who aren't afraid to embark on a interesting paranormal journey.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great, if a bit rambling, sequel.

Content: Ages 18+ for violence and horror elements.

Page Count: 364 pages in my mass market paperback edition

Monday, October 27, 2014

MMRM: "The Birds" and "The Oval Portrait"

#1: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
#2: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe
#3: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "The Fall of the House of Usher"

This will be the last Mini Macabre Review Monday of the season, and I think I'll be reverting back to my old schedule come November. I'm not sure that I'll do this next year for the blog, but there are certainly many more scary stories out there to review, so maybe. These two stories have nothing in common except their spookiness and aptitude for the season.

"The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier

Available to read for free, online here. (Feel free to skip the homework section)
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Great)
Content: Weird animal violence (Ages 13+).
Page Count: 11 pages in the online edition
Year Published: 1952

If you're a lover of classic films, it would be very difficult not to know about "The Birds" as Alfred Hitchcock filmed it. I never knew this was a short story first, but have fond memories of watching the movie, so much so that I nicknamed my pre-owned Dorkie after the actress who starred in it- "Tippi" Hedren.

The Plot: Nat Hocken and his family find themselves under attack by birds.

It's kind of a bizarre story when you think about it- of all the animals to fear, who would say the birds? In Montana I lived in an area where there were urban deer, and even with them I kept my distance, because they aren't the most predictable animals- if they're feeling hormonal or protective, they might charge you (and your little dog too). But birds- I've never felt the need to look out for them or walk around them because they barely pay attention to humans, except when you're handing out birdfeed.

This story has a truly vintage feel to it- Nat and his family rely on the radio for their news, compare their situation in the house to the air raids, and the mother is a rather stereotypical (of the fifties) housewife. I think Hitchcock was right to make the main character in the Birds a female instead of the more competent husband figure of Nat Hocken- it's easier to sympathize with a girl running screaming from birds then a man.

Overall, it's a great little story with an unusual monster, if a bit unbelievable. I won't be hiding from the birds anytime soon.

"The Oval Portrait" by Edgar Allan Poe

Available to read for free, online here. 
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Great)
Content: Suggested macabre-ness (Ages 13+).
Page Count: About 2 pages
Year Published: 1845

The most interesting thing about this story to me is that it may have inspired the larger story of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite books which is also macabre, but decidedly not mini. The Oval Portrait is incredibly short- you barely have to scroll to read the entire story in the online version, but it packs a bit of a punch in its ending.

The Plot: A stranger enters an abandoned chateau, only to be captivated by an incredibly lifelike oval portrait of a woman.

This is another of Poe's story-within-a-story stories (say that three times fast). It explores the villainy of obsession, perhaps the evils of art, and is also somewhat more realistic than "The Birds". With this story, there was a certain plausibility that I couldn't quite accept with "The Birds"- it sounds like something that may have happened long ago in a faraway town.

I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray better, probably due to its length- it's hard to get involved in a story that's only two pages long with a mysterious narrator who has no name and no gender.

Until Wednesday,

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SFF: The 5 Unluckiest Characters in Books

The Sunday Fun Five #13

Sunday Fun 5:
Feel free to participate by commenting below or writing a blog post: I wrote up some guidelines for blog participation here.

A Countdown of

The 5 Unluckiest Characters in Books

Note: Due to the possibility of spoilers, I won't be fully explaining and exploring my reasons as to why these are the unluckiest characters in books I've read.

From Wikipedia and the Swedish Films
5. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 
This girl was unlucky since before she was born, but she also has a knack for attracting the bad sort of attention. But with her gifts, a talent for recognizing faces and hacking, it almost makes up for her ill fortune, but she still deserves to be featured on this list.

From Wikipedia and the films
4. Frodo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo was unlucky that his uncle was a wanderer, unlucky that he came in contact with the Ring, and unlucky that he had a resistance to its charms. He volunteered for the job, but really- it should have been someone else's burden. It isn't a poor hobbit's fault this all came to be.

From the HG Wiki and the film
3. Prim Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
First off, she was chosen via lottery for The Hunger Games, then her sister took her place, leaving her to take care of their rather difficult mom. The rest I can't really say, but it's pretty darn unlucky, if you ask me.

From the Kingkiller Wiki
2. Kvothe (pronounced "quothe") from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe has been struggling for a living since his parents met their untimely end. Again, I can't tell you much more, but he seems to be a magnet for trouble, much like Lisbeth Salander.

From the tv series and this blog
1. The Starks from A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
This is cheating, because it isn't one character, but I don't care- the Starks are the unluckiest characters ever, mostly due to Mr. Martin's love of making their lives as miserable as possible. Of all of them, if I had to pick a single Stark as the unluckiest, it would have to be Sansa. What happens in the first part of the first book to her seems like good fortune, but quickly turns sour.

Do you know any other characters that have terrible luck? Which author would you never trust to make a character after you, for fear you'd end up luckless in whichever book they wrote you into?

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Practical Magic" by Alice Hoffman

This was the third book by Alice Hoffman that I read, and probably the one she's most known for. The book, in my opinion, is nothing like the movie in this case- although Alice Hoffman herself mentioned on her FB page that Practical Magic the movie won as best witch movie this Halloween. (Yes- I use Facebook to author-stalk my favorites. Sue me.)

What makes this book interesting is the fact that family history plays a part in setting the mood for the story. The Owen women are routinely blamed for everything bad that happens in the village, so much so that even when the orphaned Sally and Gillian arrive they're ostracized by association. And because of the odd things that happen to them- Sally is followed to school by her aunts' glaring (group of [black] cats) one day- the ostracism increases.

The Plot:
Sally and Gillian Owen grow up under the "care" of their eccentric aunts, but really they raise themselves. Sally is the shy responsible one who does the cooking and cleaning; Gillian the wild and reckless one, breaking hearts and skipping school. When they near adulthood, they part ways- Sally stays home with her aunts, Gillian pursues one man after another, crisscrossing the country so much that Sally has trouble keeping in touch with her. But will fate, and perhaps a bit of practical magic, bring them back together again?

Gillian was easily my least favorite character- mostly because she causes a lot of trouble in the book without thinking twice about it. Her actions were never really thought out, and as an INTJ personality type, I judge her for it. Shame on you, Gillian, for bringing trouble to Sally's door!

Sally is more my type of character- strong with moments of weakness. Her moments of weakness often lead to trouble as well, but I don't blame her for it. It's all Gillian's dang fault.

Practical Magic is a great story with characters that left me a little puzzled. Some of their mistakes were a little too convenient for the plot, but the writing is what shines through for me about any Alice Hoffman novel. If you're looking for a little witchery and mischief this Halloween, consider Practical Magic for your cauldron of thought.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great yarn with disconcerting characters.

Content: Ages 18+ for sex and cursing.

Page Count: 244 pages in my first edition

Famous Last Words:

"There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can."

Monsters Within: The worst kind- stalkerish ex-boyfriends.

P.S. I really don't like the movie, but hey- it won.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)" by Isaac Marion

I had no intention of ever reading this book, so I watched the film first. Then I purchased my Kindle, and this was one of the first Daily Deals I bought it on impulse, because I liked the film. It sat untouched until I was brave enough to pick it up- would I even like it? I have a history of not liking popular YA.

To my surprise, I really liked it- even though I knew all the plot twists and how it would likely end beforehand. It was better than the movie- and I thought the movie was pretty darn good. In my vague memory of the movie, I think it compares very well with the plot of the book- of course, if I watched it again I would probably find quite a few flaws with it.

The Plot:
R is a zombie. He eats people's brains, and through that, he relives the person's memories. He meets Julie on a raid in the city, but instead of eating her (and her brains) he chooses to shelter her from the other zombies. Will this unlikely bond last- and will Julie be able to make it back to the city?

I think the main reason I like this story is it's so different- to be able to see the world simplified through a zombie's eyes and have him crushing on (instead of crushing) a human girl is unusual. Because of the viewpoint- R doesn't have any memories and his thoughts are rather simple- there isn't any fantastic prose, but there is certainly a lot of candid truths R's world that might be true of our own world.

Whenever I review YA, I think of what my teenage self would think of this book, and in this case I probably would've loved it- I've never been particularly attracted to zombie fiction, but this one breaks the mold. However, having more experience with a wide range of books, I really like this book, but don't absolutely worship it. It should be noted that watching the movie prior to reading this may have spoiled some of the special experiences for me.

Warm Bodies is a study in what really makes us human and what truly makes us monsters. Like The Mad Scientist's Daughter, it's also a story of forbidden love, but it doesn't take the spotlight as much as the end-of-the-world adventures of humans and zombies. If you aren't one for normal zombie fare and prefer a different twist to what people assume are monsters, Warm Bodies might be your cup of coffee.

Rating: 4 Stars for an excellent zombie adventure!

Content: Ages 14+ for violence and occasional brain eating. I like my YA with a side of brains...

Page Count: 240 pages

Monday, October 20, 2014

MMRM: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Fall of the House of Usher

Mini Macabre Review Monday:
#1: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
#2: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

These stories don't have much in common this week, except that they're both set in supposedly haunted places.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving

Available to read for free, online here. (PDF version)
Rating: 3 Stars (Good)
Content: Racism, child, and animal abuse. Ages 13+
Page Count: 41 pages in the online edition
Year Published: 1819

One thing to notice about this story is that it's nothing like the tv series Sleepy Hollow or the movie version with Johnny Depp, except that the leads in all the tales share the same name- Ichabod Crane. Ichabod in this book cuts a scarecrow-esque figure, long and gangly with a nose reminiscent of Pinocchio's, who is an imaginative, if a bit cowardly schoolteacher who doesn't "spare the rod and spoil the child" with his students.

The Plot: Ichabod Crane fancies the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Sleepy Hollow, but must face many rivals for her hand.

This story is nothing like I remember- I believe I was forced to read this for grade school, and compared to the many adaptations that can be found of it, nothing really compares to it because it's rather... tame. You always hope classics will be a bit more meaty in terms of content, but with this story it's all fleshed out with few good bones to be found.

A lot of this story is description and setting up, and for that reason the ending leaves something to be desired. I remember some of the Halloween cartoons as a kid, and in some ways they proved better in terms of storyline, because of so much description clogging this story (as people were wont to compose back in 1819), the ending becomes anti-climactic. So if you're looking for action adventure Sleepy Hollow, you're better off with the films or tv show, because this is good as a classic piece of literature, but not as good as I thought it would be.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe

Available to read for free, online here.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Exceptional)
Content: Macabre creepiness. Ages 13+
Page Count: 24 pages in my edition
Year Published: 1839

The first thing to note about this short story is Poe's use of description to set the tone and mood for the story. This story, much like Rebecca, involves an old house, and in this case the house is ancient as well as dilapidated.

The Plot: A man visits the House of Usher to see his boyhood friend Roderick, who is suffering a "nervous affection".

What is neat about Poe's stories is he puts a great deal of effort towards them, and in this case he writes a story within a story, as well as a poem to ramp up the foreshadowing. Unlike The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, the narrator in this story isn't afflicted with a nervous malady, instead it's his friend Roderick. Roderick appears very ill when the narrator meets him, downright cadaverous, but in better spirits because of his friend's arrival.

This story reminds me of the classic haunted mansion stories, although in this case it isn't just the house that is haunted. Although "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" does have atmospheric descriptions of landscapes, I'd rather hear a ghost story told by Poe over Washington Irving any day.

Until Wednesday,

P.S. Did you know Poe was a critic of Irving's writing? Wikipedia holds some of the most interesting information...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Confessions: An Explanation of My Weird GR Shelves

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #11

I've wanted to share the meanings behind my Goodreads shelves for a while now, because mine break the mold as far as shelf names. And since my Confessions post was coming up next, why not incorporate it into that? Because I'm again at a loss for words this week, in terms of non-creative writing.

Note: You have to be a signed-in Goodreads user to see any of my shelves, because I don't want just anyone who's online looking at what I'm reading/up to.

2011 ‎: Books I read in 2011 (I can only remember ASoIaF series, but I definitely read more than that).
2012 ‎: Books I read in 2012
2013 ‎: Books I read in 2013
2014 ‎: Books I read in 2014
3-star-domain ‎: Books I rated 3-3.5 Stars.
4-star-domain ‎: Books I rated 4-4.5 Stars.
5-star-reads ‎: The Few. The Proud. The 5 Star Reads.
authors-i-m-obsessed-with ‎: Books by authors I adore. Slightly inspired by Kelly Osbourne, my favorite violet-haired fashionista.
cats-in-the-cradle : books about adulthood/adult problems/have mainly adult protagonists, from the Cat Steven's song "Cat's in the Cradle".
copy-for-critique : books I received for free in exchange for my humble opinion.
do-you-believe-in-magic ‎: Books that have magic/supernatural powers at play. Based on the tune: "Do You Believe in Magic" by the Lovin' Spoonful (I'm a sucker for vintage music).
dollar-dollar-bill-yall ‎: Books I bought for a dollar or less. Not counting sporadic taxes. From the rap song "Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)" by Wyclef Jean.
for-the-love-of-blog ‎: Books I read/reread, for the love of blog. This also means there is a review on my blog for the book. This shelf is also prone to go non-updated for long stretches of time. You're probably better off looking at my blog.
free-ride-into-the-sun ‎: based on the song "Get Free" by the Vines- I got these books free.
great-expectations ‎: I had/have great expectations of this book, due to it being the next in a series or by an author I adore.
here-be-androids ‎: has robots/androids that are featured strongly in the story.
here-be-beasties ‎: has beasties (animals and/or animal shifters) in the story.
here-be-dragons ‎: has dragons in the story- based on the book "Here be Dragons".
here-be-vampiers ‎: has vampires in the story. Vampier than your vampires.
here-be-werewolves ‎: has werewolves (wolf shifters) in the story
here-be-yee-has ‎: has yee-has (what my brother used to call horses) in the story. It's precious.
here-be-zombies ‎: has zombies/walking dead in the story
heroes-with-grit ‎: Heroes who have "True Grit". Yes, I stole this from a Western movie. No regrets.
heroines-with-teeth ‎: Heroines I love/who have teeth and are doers instead of passive about their fates.
herstory ‎: History/autobiographies/biographies from a female POV - her story
herstory-fiction ‎: Historical fiction with a female narrator/protagonist- her story fiction
history ‎: History/autobiographies/biographies from a male POV- his story
history-fiction ‎: Historical fiction with a male narrator/protagonist - his story fiction
i-cried : Because this book made me cry (in bad or good ways)
i-laughed ‎: Because this book made me laugh.
invisible-books ‎: Kindle or ebooks I own. I have invisible books instead of an invisible plane.
jarred ‎: For my recent TBR jar project- keeping track of those I've written down and "jarred".
kid-books ‎: Books I read as a kid/will make my kid read.
kind-of-luxe ‎: or Royal Protagonists inspired by "Royals" (Lorde) "...that kind of luxe just ain't for us."
kindle-daily-deal-addict ‎: Books I bought as Kindle Daily Deals, because I'm an addict.
mantasy : male or military fantasy, made expressly for Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans
need-to-buy ‎: Books I want physical copies of
not-my-cup-of-coffee ‎: not my cup of coffee = isn't for me, but someone else may love it
objects-of-my-obsession ‎: The Object of My Affection is a film/book, but obsession describes my fascination with these books.
on-my-shelves ‎ (429) : Books I have in physical format. Yes, I do have a large library.
once : fairy tales and fairy tale retellings or books that feel like you're reading a fairy tale.
realms-beyond ‎: Fantasy/Sci-fi: doesn't take place in our world, not based on our world.
realms-within ‎: Fantasy/Sci-fi takes place on our world (or a world very similar to ours), but with a paranormal or other twist.
revisitations ‎: I reread these books. This one is also very unreliable, because I've reread all the books I reviewed on this blog, so this should have more books.
schoolbooks ‎: Books I read for or during my brief school years, either for school or books that sat on my desk to be read during freetime.
series-devourer ‎: a shelf to track my obsession with series, what I used to gauge the amount of series vs. standalone books I have read, particularly for the post: Confessions: The Series Devourer
stubborn-love ‎: Romance, although I'm thinking of another shelf for cheesy romance or romance I didn't believe in (see wish-i-could-believe-in-you shelf below). Inspired by the Lumineers song "Stubborn Love".
teenage-dream ‎: Books I read as a teen, inspired by the Katy Perry song of the same name.
troglodyte-in-training : This book has a cave man (or men) in it. I despise cave men and rate accordingly, but some books get points in other categories like world-building or plot and rise above my cave man loathing.
the-gift-horse ‎: Books I've been given as gifts.
ugh ‎: *ugh* because Goodreads sucks and doesn't believe in democracy *ugh*
unexpected-gems ‎: Books that I didn't expect a lot from, but ended up pretty excellent.
winning-like-mr-sheen ‎: Remember the days of Charlie Sheen "Winning"? Well, this is the shelf I use for books I won on blog-based giveaways. I'm a "winner".
wish-i-could-believe-in-you : love stories I don't fall for. From La Roux's song "I'm Not Your Toy" - "...I wish I could believe in you. Yes It's all false love and affection..."
with-review ‎: books I wrote a review for that is generally longer than a sentence. However, I often forget this shelf exists, so don't rely on it.
yes ‎: Books that made me happy/I would bring to a desert island with me.
young-at-heart : based on the song, "Young at Heart" sung by Sinatra, basically YA books or anything that made me feel "young 17 Again" while reading.

I'll be updating this list sporadically as I add new shelves.

Am I the only one with weird Goodreads shelf names? Have you seen any spectacular shelf names on GR lately?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Early Critique: "Heart of a Rocky (Gardinian World #2)" by Kelsey Jordan

I received this ebook for free from Booktrope Publishing, but in no way did it affect my literary taste buds. This critique is my honest opinion.

This review is for the second book in the Gardinian World series, and may have minor spoilers for those who haven't yet read The Lycan Hunter.

The first thing to know about this book is instead of a full-length book or a single novella, this is actually two novellas with two separate storylines and couples. Generally I go for entire books instead of anything brief, but in this case I like that the stories were shorter and there were two of them to keep me entertained.

Although you could technically read this as a standalone before reading The Lycan Hunter, it's better to read them in order. Having read The Lycan Hunter prior to this, I knew all the names of the different types of shifters and was introduced to the characters that see the limelight in these novellas, and while Heart of a Rocky does include a handy glossary, the nuances of the Gardinian World itself aren't fully explained again. And also, these novellas take place after The Lycan Hunter in terms of the timeline.

The Plot (Synopsis as Seen on Goodreads):
'"The Takeover"
'Tor Omar James, King of the North African pride, needs one woman if he has any hope of keeping his sanity – Anise, his Soul’s Mate. There’s only one problem: she’s pregnant by Derrick, Tor of the United States pride. Anise is caught between the love that every Lycan covets and the motherly devotion to the son she would sacrifice so much for. Can Omar survive the takeover of the US pride and convince Anise that he is more man than lion?
'"The Defender"
'Asim Tyson, the Defender of the Hafiz, is fighting off the insanity of his longing after losing his Soul’s Mate in battle. Unfortunately, his self-centered existence results in the gross neglect of his people when they need him the most. When Harmony appears in his life, he is forced to make a choice. Should he resist the lure of Harmony’s caustic melody or embrace his weakness in order to keep her safe?'

"The Takeover" featured a character who intrigued me from The Lycan Hunter- Omar, who saw his Soul's Mate in a woman (Anise) pregnant by the leader (or Tor) of the US pride. Anise had planned on ruling through the heir she would provide for Derrick, despite him being abusive to her and a general asshat. Omar is determined to make her his, but in order to do so he has to conquer Derrick in battle, her fears that all men are like Derrick ,and stubborn assumptions that Omar will want to get rid of her son, the heir to the US pride. Their relationship is a necessity because of the Soul Seeing, but that doesn't mean there aren't many obstacles in their way.

"The Defender" was my favorite of the two, because although Tyson and Harmony hadn't seen each other (as in Soul Seeing/Soul's Mates) it was clear they belonged together because they were both survivors. Tyson had watched his Soul's Mate die in battle, and it left him almost rabid with unfulfilled longing. Harmony escaped captivity, only to cross paths with her Asim, Tyson and a complication happens that forced them to stay with each other. I can't say much more without spoiling the plot, but the ending was a bit of a kicker (as in, I hadn't predicted it).

Heart of a Rocky more than met my expectations of the series and built on the world first laid out by The Lycan Hunter. Although one of the characters was a bit too stubborn for me (Anise was probably more like me than I'd like to say), I can't help but wonder what will happen next in the Gardinian World Novels. I recommend these novellas (and novel) to anyone looking for a mythology-rich paranormal romance series.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent novella duo!

Content: Ages 18+ for violence, themes of abuse, and sex scenes.

Page Count: 198 pages (estimated by Amazon)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)" by Jeaniene Frost

This review is for the third book in the series, and may have unmarked spoilers for those who haven't yet read Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave.

I was more wary about starting this book in the Night Huntress series after my adverse reaction to the second installment, One Foot in the Grave, but given I'd bought all of the books in a mad Kindle Daily Deal clickathon, I decided to continue. At Grave's End was better than both of the previous books in my opinion, mostly because the plot didn't linger on the relationship between Cat and Bones inordinately. I realize this is a Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy hybrid, but I prefer an actual plot over unstructured romance any day.

The Plot: (Synopsis As Seen on Goodreads)
'It should be the best time of half-vampire Cat Crawfield's life. With her undead lover Bones at her side, she’s successfully protected mortals from the rogue undead. But though Cat’s worn disguise after disguise to keep her true identity a secret from the brazen bloodsuckers, her cover’s finally been blown, placing her in terrible danger.
'As if that wasn't enough, a woman from Bones’s past is determined to bury him once and for all. Caught in the crosshairs of a vengeful vamp, yet determined to help Bones stop a lethal magic from being unleashed, Cat’s about to learn the true meaning of bad blood. And the tricks she’s learned as a special agent won’t help her. She will need to fully embrace her vampire instincts in order to save herself—and Bones—from a fate worse than the grave.'

A lot happens in this book, but because I have a preference for overstuffed plots, I didn't mind. Some of Bones's promises to Don come into play, as well as a full out vampire war with some previously unseen monsters. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book, and despite knowing one of the plot points wouldn't come to fruition, This particular book is difficult to talk about, due to all those possible spoilers, so I won't say much more other than I enjoyed it.

Cat's relationships to people other than Bones are examined more closely in this book. I thought it was about time something was said about her familial relationships in particular, because of the way her family uses her ruthlessly. Not to say that this particular set is the worst family in fiction, but they certainly are the runners-up for the most difficult.

At Grave's End is a considerably better book than its predecessors. I struggled with the rating of it, but made it 3.5 due to a plot device that nearly everyone who reads this series won't believe. With that said, I think the quality of the series can only go up from here and I recommend this to UF/PNR fans who like a mishmash of monsters in their reads.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a better than the first two in the series read!

Content: Ages 18+ for the usual Night Huntress shenanigans.

Page Count: 342 pages

Monsters Within: Vamps, Ghouls, and something rather macabre that I can't name without spoiling.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Recalculating the Schedule for October

I was getting so excited about blogging that I started an extra mini review feature in addition to my regularly scheduled posts (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday). Normally I wouldn't sweat it, but with a new-to-me/old-to-everyone-else video game gobbling up my free time (all of it) I've decided to reschedule my posts: Wednesday and Friday will be full critique days for the month of October, with Sunday Fun Five/Confessions on Sunday and Mini Macabre Reviews on Monday.

Now for a perfectly random Sherlock gif to express my feelings:

Until tomorrow Wednesday,

Monday, October 13, 2014

MMRM: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

As with last week's Macabre Mini Review Monday, these two short stories also have something in common, other than their authorship. It should be quite simple to see what it is, if you read both of them.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

Available to read for free, online here.
Rating: 5 Stars (Extraordinary)
Content: Macabre Creepiness, Murder, and Anxiety Attacks (Ages 13+)
Page Count: 7 pages in my short story book (shorter online)
Year Published: 1843

If you're someone who gets spooked easily at night, perhaps by the wind or your house settling (*guilty*) then this story will creep you out. Poe is one of my favorite writers, but he's also someone who could make pretty much any story scary.

The Plot: A man plots to off his neighbor.

Anxiety plays a huge role in this story. As someone who has never suffered anxiety attacks, I could still see the reason behind the one contained in this story.

As usual, I can't say much more without spoiling, but this is a tale to read whenever you wonder, "How could someone do such a thing?"

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

Available to read for free, online here.
Rating: 4 Stars (Excellent)
Content: Mistreatment of animals, Ages 13+
Page Count: 13 pages in my short story book
Year Published: 1843

These tales are very similar, despite different beginnings. The narrator is again afflicted with anxiety, and it is the anxiety that propels the story. Wikipedia also told me that "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" are often paired together for analysis, so I chose to cover them together today.

The Plot: A normally gentle man becomes increasingly irate with the addition of a black cat to his household.

I've never had the fear of black cats, probably because I once volunteered at an animal rescue and the black cats were usually not the troublemakers (longhairs are typically moodier). There is something spooky about them, though, due to their ability to mesh with the shadows and remain unseen. I have a neighbor with two cats- one calico and one black, and the black cat is hard to spot, even when in plain sight.

As an animal lover, it's hard to relate to the proposed "animal lover" in this story, but I think the crimes have a little more to do with paranoia than anything else. This story also covers the perils and enigmas of human behavior.

Until tomorrow,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Fun Five: The 5 Stories/Books that Never Cease to Scare You

The Sunday Fun Five #12

Sunday Fun 5:
Feel free to participate by commenting below or writing a blog post: I wrote up some guidelines for blog participation here.

A Countdown of

The 5 Stories/Books that Never Cease to Scare You

I'll be honest- I'm a bit of a lightweight when it comes to horror/scary stories- I simply don't like being scared that much while reading, so most of mine aren't too scary.

5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I think this is the ultimate nightmare for any woman- to live in a place where your value is determined by your fertility, and even if you have that, you still have no rights. Although I dearly hope this would never become real, this dystopia presents a distinct possible future if we ever relied solely on religious extremism to dictate our laws.

Image From Wikipedia and the film
4. "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
The ultimate survivor story, combined with a game that may or may not be legal and a crazy host. Run, Rainsford, run!

3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The nameless second wife of Maxim de Winter is unsure what foul deed killed his first wife, and lives with a housekeeper who worships said first wife as if she's still alive. I wouldn't want to live in that house, no matter how cool it looks on this book cover!

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and its entire series) by Stieg Larsson 
I was up all night reading this, in part because the mystery was gripping, but also I was scared to death for Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael because he poked around a little to much, and Lisbeth because she's surrounded by psycho people. I can't say more without the dreaded spoilers, but this book is seriously scary.

Image From Wikipedia
1. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
This is both my favorite scary short story and the one that scares me the most. I can't tell you much without spoiling this delight (other than it's murderously good), so I'll have to review it on my Mini Macabre Review Monday soon.

Do you have a favorite scary read- or one that scared you so much you don't want to read it again? 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Poe" by J. Lincoln Fenn

I think you have to be a certain kind of reader to love this one as much as I did. A lot of people went into this book thinking, "Young Adult" but I have to disagree- my teen self would've liked it, but mainly thought it too weird and gorey. I would compare this with Odd Thomas- if you liked Odd, you'll probably enjoy meeting Dimitri.

The aspects that made this book perfect for me were the fact that Dimitri is a writer/journalist/sleuth- he has a book he's written that was a thousand pages and still going strong, he writes obituaries for the local paper, and has a droll humor/sarcastic personality. Other than the obituaries, that's pretty much me.

Also: an abandoned mansion, ghosts, and some Halloween mischief. I read this at the right time of year.

The Plot: (Synopsis As Seen on Goodreads)
'It’s Halloween, and life is grim for 23-year-old Dimitri Petrov. It’s the one-year anniversary of his parents’ deaths, he’s stuck on page one thousand of his Rasputin zombie novel, and he makes his living writing obituaries.
'But things turn from bleak to terrifying when Dimitri gets a last-minute assignment to cover a séance at the reputedly haunted Aspinwall Mansion.
'There, Dimitri meets Lisa, a punk-rock drummer he falls hard for. But just as he’s about to ask her out, he unwittingly unleashes malevolent forces, throwing him into a deadly mystery. When Dimitri wakes up, he is in the morgue—icy cold and haunted by a cryptic warning given by a tantalizing female spirit.
'As town residents begin to turn up gruesomely murdered, Dimitri must play detective in his own story and unravel the connections among his family, the Aspinwall Mansion, the female spirit, and the secrets held in a pair of crumbling antiquarian books. If he doesn't, it’s quite possible Lisa will be the next victim.'

This is one of the most quotable books I've ever read- I was highlighting a lot while reading this on my Kindle. I think, for me, some of the best quotes are general thoughts I have had myself, and the author expressed perfectly:

"I have watched enough cheesy detective television shows in my young life to know that when one is presented with an inexplicable mystery, the first order of business (after procuring good donuts and coffee--check) is to create a wall of clues with photos of suspects and article clippings, preferably in an artistic yet seemingly random fashion."

     ~Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn, page 96 Kindle edition

""There was a day when writers actually read," he grumbles. "They could quote Keats and Socrates. Now anyone with a keyboard and a fifth-grade education can call themselves a writer.""

     ~Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn, page 284 Kindle edition

Especially that last one- nowadays it seems like writers themselves read fewer and fewer books, books that could (and can) shape them into better writers. If you plan on being a professional author, it only makes sense that you should support your profession by buying and reading books.

What really made this a standout for me was a combination of things: the characters, the plot, the fast pace, and that quotable writing. Usually with books, I have a lot of things I would change about them, but this one proves itself to be my ideal as far as horror/urban fantasy/ghost stories.

Poe is simply my new favorite Halloween read. It's spooky and my kind of funny, even if I had predicted some of the plot long before Dimitri had a clue. If you want a book that is both scary and contemporary to devour before this Halloween, consider Poe for your next read.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an extraordinary seasonal read!

Content: I advise Ages 18+ for swearing, graphic violence, and overall creepiness.

Page Count: 381 pages in the paperback edition

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Cipher (The Shadow Ravens #1)" by Aileen Erin

I received this ebook for free via NetGalley, but in no way did it affect my literary taste buds. This critique is my honest opinion.

Book One of The Shadow Ravens Series

To Be Published: October 14th, 2014

If you're looking for hard sci-fi, this book probably won't be your cup of coffee. Cipher puts more emphasis on the romance side of things than its technological side- and more emphasis on genes and DNA than anything techie. For that reason, I was a bit disappointed: the cover suggested technology would be more than a little advanced. Instead, it's more ten years to the future (or at least that's how I see it) with dystopia as a side piece.

What this book offers instead is a look at relationships of the future: will we be more or less connected by technology? How will we live in the future- what will our dwellings look like? Will trust suffer in a world where identity is king?

The Plot:
Cipher (AKA Emma) is a hacker who has never been caught because of the precautions she takes with her work. Because she has a Red Helix in her DNA, she is hunted by government goons bent on killing her- Red Helixes wreak havoc on electronics and the electrical systems, and are considered largely dangerous. But when she doesn't run away after her latest hack, which caused her to fry most of the electrical systems nearby, will the mistake cost her her life?

Let me begin by saying YA isn't my favorite genre (and I had no clue when I picked this up it was YA- which the people of Goodreads currently shelve this book to be), but I can still enjoy a well-crafted story regardless of the age of protagonists. While I found the characters and storyline quite interesting, the world-building fell under my questionable category. It wasn't that the world-building wasn't there or wasn't unique in some way, it was that nothing was explained. I still have many questions left after reading this book, which normally would be a good thing. In this case, it caused major annoyance.

One thing I found very odd as a gamer myself was the gamer's lounge Cipher hangs out at, Marx's. The screen is super-big, but only up to 5 players can play on it. Five players? My brothers have both had original Xbox parties where seven of their buddies (eight total players) would play on two tiny television screens (as in, smaller than your average computer monitor tv screens) with no internet connection required. On a huge screen described in the book, I would expect up to ten players would be able to play, no problem. And it was especially weird given we now have MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) that that was the limit of players. Why wouldn't they hook up with other gamers lounges to play online with them? If you're going to game, it's the more the merrier in my humble opinion, and with technology the way it is now, things will only get more immersive in the coming years.

I also had some issues with Cipher herself- she comes across as majorly naive, despite hacking for big bucks for (most likely to be) nefarious people. In Marx's, the bartender tells her to see "Crackhead" if she wants a new processor, and Cipher thinks she says "a crackhead". If you've been online as much as I have (which isn't that much), you see a lot of people calling themselves some pretty odd names- not to mention gamers with pretty odd names/tags. Crackhead wouldn't be a stretch as far as a nickname goes.

Overall, Cipher left me with more nagging questions than answers. What are the Voids, and how did they come to be? Will the other Helix colors have more screen time in future books? Why only five players on one screen? Although I have many questions, I did like the basic story Cipher tells, and it was a very quick read. If you're a fan of Young Adult books and light sci-fi with a lot of romance, you'll probably like this book more than I do.

Note: The book I received was a review copy and this is a pre-release critique, so I have no idea what changes might take place in the published novel.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good story that left me with a few too many questions.

Content: Ages 16+ for cursing (a few f-bombs), violence, and sexual innuendo (no sex scenes).

Page Count: 210 pages (according to Amazon)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mini Macabre Review Monday: "The Lottery" and "The Most Dangerous Game"

'Tis the season for the unearthly, the undead, and the downright macabre. Not everyone can read an entire book in time for Halloween- some of us are too busy with other books, or even other things (gasp). For those poor souls, I offer these reviews: I will be writing my thoughts on some of my favorite short stories for this spooky season, either one at a time or in pairs. This feature will be called: Mini Macabre Review Monday. Be warned: many of these stories will be by my beloved Edgar Allan Poe, and are suitable for pretty much any age (as in, most of them I read in junior high). Don't be scared of the short and sweet: pull up a chair and have a seat.

This week, both stories have a similar theme and aren't by Edgar Allan Poe. I'll let you read them (I've linked to where you can find them for free online) and figure it out for yourselves. I also read both of these in school, so they're supposed to be somewhat educational.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Available to read for free, online here. (With a few spelling errors- nothing major.)
Rating: 4 Stars (Excellent)
Content: Suggested violence. I read it at 11-13 years old for school with no mental scarring.
Page Count: 7 pages in the online version
Year Published: 1948

I read this in junior high, and it brings to mind a certain very popular YA book, which I will disclose at the end in a spoiler highlight to not ruin anyone's enjoyment. This story is very short, seven pages long online, so I decided to pair it with "The Most Dangerous Game", which is longer. It is not specifically a Halloween tale (even though it mentions the holiday), but it brings to mind the old shows on tv: The Twilight Zone, so I thought this would be a good non-Edgar Allan Poe story to cover.

The Plot: The townspeople gather for their annual lottery.

There isn't much to discuss for this story without getting spoiler-y, so I'll keep it short. Every town usually has an annual parade on the Fourth of July or Christmas (in the States, at least), and this brings to mind that. Why do we have traditions, and at what cost will we keep them?

I think of my old town, Billings, where it became a custom to put a Menorah in your window during Hanukkah, even if you didn't happen to be Jewish. Why did we do it? One year, a long time ago, some racist threw stones into a person's window for them having a Menorah in their window. The next year (or maybe even that year), everyone put a Menorah in their window, so there was no way the idiot could single out anyone based on their religion. Although that is a heartwarming story, "The Lottery" is about the opposite of that- except in the fact that people band together and agree on the tradition.

*Spoiler Alert!* (Highlight to view):
This story reminds me so much of The Hunger Games because the plot is about the same. This story is more ironic as opposed to dystopian, but can have a little bit of both. People have tried to ban this story from being told in schools, but really, it never bothered me as a teen and it taught a valuable lesson: learn to question why we have traditions.

"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell

Available to read for free, online here. (Again, a few errors, but nothing to sniff at.)
Rating: 5 Stars (Extraordinary)
Content: Violence and racism. I read this as a junior high and high school student, I advise it for Ages 13+.
Page Count: Roughly 42 pages (based on an Amazon version)
Year Published: 1924

"The Most Dangerous Game" is another story that has a certain element of the deadly, and although it's much longer than "The Lottery", it's well worth your time. In "The Lottery", you don't get to know the characters as much as in this story, where the characters have more backstory and personality.

The Plot: Sanger Rainsford falls overboard near an island the sailors have a curious mislike of, after hearing gunshots and screaming in the distance. He reaches the island, but will his host be amenable?

Again, it wouldn't take much to spoil the plots of these short stories, so my reviews will be very brief.

This short story is one of those that has a bit of a cliched Russian villain that you often see in Bond films. I don't know if there were books before it with the same type of villain, but the villain was probably not used in this way.

There was foreshadowing in "The Lottery", but nothing beats the foreshadowing of "The Most Dangerous Game", if you can figure out what it is. Dun dun dun...

There is a book that I've recently read that reminded me of "The Most Dangerous Game", but it would spoil the book if I told you, so I'll have to keep it to myself.

Overall, I love the style that this is written in and love the story itself- especially the ending. Both of these are very short, spooky, and can be read in under an hour, so don't be afraid of reading them online (for free).

Until tomorrow,
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