Saturday, February 28, 2015

Month in Review For February

<That is one of the hilarious results of my quest to update the Confessions of a Insomniac Book Devourer post photo, where only my eyebrows are showing behind my Kindle cover (the brand spanking new one is courtesy my mother's Christmas gift).

February hasn't been the most eventful month, but I got a lot done in terms of review copies and their reviews. I also started my little seeds early this year, in hopes I'll have more blooms on my potted flowers come June. So far I've only planted assorted squash, heirloom tomatoes, crystal palace lobelia, royal carpet alyssum (Crystal Palace and Royal Carpet both are purple varieties), assorted other lobelia, and Thai basil. The squash seedlings are the ones who've taken over in the picture below:

 Total Posts: 16
  Total Critiques: 9
    Historical: 2
    Part of a Series: 6
    Steampunk: 3
    Urban Fantasy: 4

Most Popular Posts of February:
"Billy" by Albert French
SFF: The 5 Character Couples that are Matches Made in Heaven
"Breath, Eyes, Memory" by Edwidge Danticat
"Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5)" by Ilona Andrews
SFF: The 5 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You
"Written in Red (The Others #1)" by Anne Bishop

Pageviews for the Month: 700+
Comments: 9

Blog Schedule and Features: Critiques on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On Sundays, I rotate between the Sunday Fun Five, and Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer (or Not Quite a Confession).

Reading Challenges Updates:

Snowflake and Spider Silk Bingo Challenge

Applicable Books:
From January:
Song of Blood and Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope (POC main character)
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger (New to me author)
Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger (2nd book in a series)
Blameless (Parasol Protectorate #3) by Gail Carriger (female author)
From February:
Unseen (Unborn #2) by Amber Lynn Natusch (published 2015)
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop (Urban Fantasy)

I may do some rearranging later in the challenge, since that's allowed.

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Applicable Books:
Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran (India)
My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy by Grace Buchele Mineta (Tokyo, Japan)
My Japanese Husband STILL Thinks I'm Crazy by Grace Buchele Mineta (Tokyo, Japan)

Reading Stats:

This month I didn't read as many books as I'd planned to, but often I find my eyes are larger than my ability. I did polish off quite a few review copies, one of which I'm very excited to review in March. I also finished my first ever memoir of a person who was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. I have only visited the now less-booming little town, and had never known a participant of the Harlem Renaissance grew up there. I'm more interested in the town's history now than I previously was.

Books read in February: 10

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 4
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 6
Female Main Character: 6
Male Main Character: 1
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 3
 Urban Fantasy: 3
 Steampunk: 1
 Historical Fiction: 1
 Historical Romance: 2
 Historical Memoir: 1
 Comic/blog-style Memoir: 2
Published in 2015: 4
Published in 2000-2014: 5
Published in 1900-1950: 1
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 5
Traditionally Published: 5
Series Books: 7
Standalones: 3
Ebook Version: 9
Paper Version: 1
Favorite of the Month: Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
Least Favorite of the Month: Already His by Sandy Raven (but, it was free)
From the-pile: 1
From the-invisible-pile: 0
Recently acquired: 16
Added to the-invisible-pile in February: 12
Books bought: 10 (6 ebooks, 4 physical books)
Pages Read (according to Goodreads): 3413 pages

5 Stars: 0
4-4.5 Stars: 3
3-3.5 Stars: 6
2-2.5 Stars: 1

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 1
Female: 9
Diverse: 1
Not-so-Diverse: 9
Living: 9
Deceased: 1

Planning to Read in March:

I was lucky enough to acquire a digital ARC of The Secret, the third book of one of my favorite paranormal romance series, the Irin Chronicles. There are certain perks to stalking indie authors on all forms of social media, and this is one of them- I wouldn't have known Elizabeth Hunter was looking for ARC readers (who also have book blogs) had I not been diligently tracking her every move on Facebook. So, if you have a fave indie author, always make sure to 'like' their Facebook page or find another way to follow them on social media. I'm glad I did.
The Secret (Irin Chronicles #3) by Elizabeth Hunter (Expected Release: March 31st)

I also am trying to find my next epic fantasy read (I'm thinking Mirror Empire [Worldbreaker Saga #1] by Kameron Hurley), and am trying to finish Moxyland by Lauren Beukes so I have something Sci-fi to review on the blog in March other than a reread.

Upcoming Reviews:

Rebel Queen (The Last Queen of India is the UK title) by Michelle Moran
I bet you can see why I picked this one up. It also mentioned "Joan of Arc" in the blurb, so I was forced to push the request button on NetGalley. I really enjoyed it, but plan on checking up on some of historical facts (you know, through Google) before I review it. It seems like a lot of other people rated it lower than I did, and I have yet to figure out why. It may have something to do with the blurb mentioning things that only occur at the very end of the book.
Genres: Historical, Heroines I Love, Heroes I Love, Royal Protagonist, Action/Adventure

Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7) by Ilona Andrews
The last of my backlog of series reads, and the last book I rated 5 Stars in 2014. I'm so excited that the next one will come out this year (if all goes to plan) and am entirely enamored with the series.
Genres: Urban Fantasy, 5 Stars, Heroes I Love, Heroines I Love, Action/Adventure

Other than those two reviews, I'm leaving my schedule open in case I don't polish off as many books as I think I will.

                 Until tomorrow,

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Murder of Crows (The Others #2)" by Anne Bishop

This review features a book that is the second in The Others series, and may have minor spoilers for those who have not read Written in Red. My review of the first book can be found here.

Second books in a series are very 'hit-and-miss' with me. I open with this statement because at the start of reading this book, I was ready to pre-deem this a four star or above read. I was ready to be transported back to the Courtyard in the middle of a brewing war, full of action scenes and tension. Predetermining the ratings of books I've read has never been my strong suit.

With Urban Fantasy, I admit I've become a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I want my heroes and heroines put in the thick of danger, surviving only by their will to live and hopefully getting bloodied along the way (I realize I'm a bit bloodthirsty-sounding there). In this book, there is a lack of fear on my behalf for the characters. Usually I have to peek three paragraphs ahead and make sure, "He/She shuddered his last breath", is not in the text. With this book, I wasn't on edge. I wasn't afraid. Unfortunately, the suspense I was expecting wasn't there.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.
'The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside's shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.
'As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.'

Even though I wasn't afraid, the series has clearly taken a darker turn. Some of the things mentioned in the book made me more than a little nauseous, even though they weren't graphically depicted. I love when an author knows how much would be too much for the reader to handle, and Anne Bishop clearly has expertise in that area, because just when things got unpleasant the scene would end. And yes, in this case, I approve of cut-away-from-the-scene, because otherwise I would have needed a garbage can beside me as I read.

There were plenty of lighter scenes in this book, but not as many laugh-out-loud-in-the-middle-of-a-silent-waiting-room moments as Written in Red provided. Nonetheless, it was funny, just not as funny as I predicted. Meg is still adjusting to life in general and the terra indigene continue to adapt to humans they are no longer allowed to dispose of easily, which almost always results in situations that bring a grin to my face

The most egregious flaw of all, though, is in the Wolf puppy department. I can count the Wolf puppy scenes on one hand! One hand! And there were also no cutesy pawprints on the cover. Egregious, indeed.

Murder of Crows is clearly lacking in the Wolf puppy department not as exciting for me as the first book was. Ultimately, my high as heaven expectations may have contributed to the disappointment I felt in this book, but there was also a lack of my fear for the characters' fates. Although it would probably be a four star read had I not read Written in Red and been completely taken with it, I really expected more of a series that started out so beautifully for me. Murder of Crows is a great read, but not nearly the one I expected it to be.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a slightly disappointing second book.

Content: Ages 18+ for an escalation in violence, sexual content (including rape), and an increase in reader nausea picturing things going on.

Page Count: 369 pages

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6)" by Ilona Andrews

This review features a book that is the sixth in the Kate Daniels series, and may have spoilers for those who have not read the first five books of the series. My review of the first book can be found here.

Alternate Title: Magic Rises: the Panacea Panic! (at the Disco Castle)

As you may have noticed from my alternate title, the focus of this book is almost strictly on Pack business, until it isn't. The panacea, the cure to youngins and others 'going loup', is a miracle dispensed and controlled by the packs of Europe, who rarely hand it out and don't plan on sharing the recipe. Due to one of Julie's friends going loup, the Pack has run out of the miracle cure and are desperate for more, but at what cost?

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Atlanta is a city plagued by magical problems. Kate Daniels will fight to solve them—no matter the cost.
'Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.
'Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…'

Lovers of the Kate/Curran dynamic may be a bit disappointed in this book. Not that their relationship isn't awesome and banter-y any longer, because it is, but there is a certain degree of pressure and stress on it (even more so than usual). I wasn't upset with it, but there were some romance-ish tropes in the book, which aren't the focus of the story, yet may frustrate some of those who want a fairy tale romance with no clouds lingering overhead. 

There comes a stage in almost every series I read where the author(s) start introducing new characters that I couldn't care less about: once I'm hooked on the main crew, I will take no substitutes. However, Magic Rises makes me recant some of that usual intolerance of change. The new characters we meet in this book quickly become some of my favorites, which makes me wonder more about the authors who produce new characters I hate: are they slacking, or does it really take two people to make a renewing cast of awesome characters? (Ilona Andrews is the title of a husband/wife writing team, in case you didn't know).

I added roughly 25,000,000,000,000 stars because of this quote:

"I'd managed to find a hobbit in the Caucasus Mountains. I wondered what he would do if I asked him about second breakfast."

    ~Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews, page 253 Kindle edition

Magic Rises represents the one book in the Kate Daniels series where the tide turned me, the oh-so-eloquent Litha, into a rabid fangirl. Although there were parts of this book I balked at, the hobbit quote more than made up my expectations for a 5 star read and mended my crushed heart. I suggest you not read this book, unless you're willing to be a Ilona Andrews fangirl for life.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an extraordinary series continuation that made this soul a fangirl!

Content: Ages 18+ for the usual Kate Daniels content (in other words, badassery).

Page Count: 355 pages

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Confessions: What's with the Dust Jacket?

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #15

There are very few things in life as irksome as a dust jacket on a hardcover to me. Despite my overall love of hardcovers (they can take a beating and help tone my arms), the colorful dust jacket is something I never 'got' about books. Yes, it's pretty, but it's fragile and easily mucked up by life in general and/or moving 400 of your books roughly 400 miles to your new place. Beyond that, I find it almost impossible to read the hardcover with them on, especially in cases of the large books I love (A Dance With Dragons, for example). So I end up taking the dust jacket off, placing it on a high shelf where I won't accidentally put something on it, all to read a book where the cover could feasibly been laminated or printed on (as is the case with many picture or resource books).

But the resounding question with me is always 'Why'? Why do we have dust jackets when we can have easier to take care of hardcover books with them glued on? Besides advertising, do they actually serve a purpose that a laminated cover couldn't fulfill? What's up with that?

As usual when I have a question that can't be easily answered, I Googled 'dust jacket' and pulled up a page on Wikipedia (I always go to Wikipedia but never go straight there- because I'm odd and like Googling). Wikipedia claims that the dust jacket dates to the very late 1820s, but it doesn't sound quite like a dust jacket to me, as the ones they mentioned were glued on, much like some of the hardcovers in my library:

Well, my new ones are more laminated...
As I well knew, dust covers in perfect condition are sought after by collectors. What I didn't know was that those dust jackets can surpass the value of the book itself. There have even been cases of first edition books with dust jackets from later reprints 'married' together, raising the issue of authenticity.

Some of my much abused hardcovers with dust jackets, along with the only perfect dust jacket I have (lower right corner)
As it happens, I've found the original answer to my dust jacket query not from Wikipedia, but from a discussion at User Experience Stack Exchange. The dust cover was to protect the book from dust and other marring, but is now used to cheaply market to different countries that speak the same language, with remarks from critics of those countries (for example, British to Australian, same hardcover, different jacket). That makes a lot of sense to me, but I still wonder at the practicality of the dust jackets. In a way, it would make better sense to keep the jacket separate from the book, preserving the perceived 'more valuable' item.

Personally, I hope people realize that although a dust jacket is cool to look at, it isn't exactly a book. If it came down to it, I'd rather have a first edition hardcover of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien over its pristine dust jacket any day, mostly because as much as I love art, I'd rather be reading the entire book over its blurbs and praises.

Sources and Interesting Information:
Wikipedia "Dust Jacket" page
What is the point of dust covers? discussion at User Experience Stack Exchange
And an interesting Goodreads poll that asks what readers do with their dust jackets (some people apparently throw them away).

How do you feel about dust jackets? Do you read with them on or off? Would you rather have a first edition of your favorite book without a dust jacket, or the first edition dust jacket?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Billy" by Albert French

Every once in a while, you come across a book that emotionally guts you. It makes you angry, sad, and happy all at the same time, all for different reasons. When I read this book, I was angry this had actually happened. I was sad, not for the characters, but for the people behind them. I was happy- very happy that I chose to pick this up on one of my thrift store jaunts.

One of the things I love about this book is it doesn't portray just one side of the story. It would've been easier to say the white people in this tale were inhuman monsters and didn't deserve to be shown as humans: what kind of person could allow a little boy to be executed, period? Every character within this story has their place, but they all are painted with flaws and strengths.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Albert French's harrowing debut novel of 10-year-old Billy Lee Turner, convicted and executed for murdering a white girl in Baines, Mississippi, in 1937, is an unsentimental and ultimately heartrending vision of racial injustice.'

The folksy way this book is written takes some getting used to. Although I quickly adjusted, some people on Goodreads felt this book was too dramatic with it, but with this book's plot being based on a true story, I didn't feel it was too dramatic. It's kind of odd that I felt that way with Beloved, yet this book felt more real (possibly the lack of heavy magical realism).

Another standout in this book is the setting. I've never been to a small town in Mississippi circa 1937 (my time machine isn't exactly functional yet) but if I had, I believe it would be a lot like Mr. French describes. Even beyond the visual descriptions, he describes what it sounds like, smells like, to make you feel like you're there. To me, that takes a lot of talent.

Although Billy does rank as one of my favorite characters, his mother Cinder is my favorite of this book. When she is described, you can see her so clearly- her posture, her expression, everything- that she stays with you when the novel is finished.

Here's an example of that:

"Cinder pushes herself up, pushes Katey away, and throws her eyes back into the sheriff's face. Her hair hangs over her cheeks, blood seeps from her lip and nose, the skin on her cheekbone is scraped raw, but still she stares."

        ~Billy by Albert French, page 64 paperback edition

Billy is a novel you wish was entirely fictional, and had no link to real life events. I would even say it's impossible to read it cover to cover without shedding a tear. But by recounting and humanizing the people within, Mr. French has truly made a lasting impression on me. I recommend this book to everyone.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an extraordinarily powerful book about racial injustice.

Content: Ages 16+ for racism, violence, and hate crimes.

Page Count: 214 pages in my paperback edition

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Written in Red (The Others #1)" by Anne Bishop

I have a few things I must express my opinion on before I can carry on with this review:

1. This book should have had a Wolf puppy in a harness on the cover- there is absolutely no reason to not have a wolf puppy on the cover, as I would have bought this book when it was first published, had it had an adorable Wolf puppy in a harness on the cover. Like so:

2. The subtitle should include that it does, in fact, feature a harnessed Wolf puppy- just in case the harnessed wolf puppy on the cover was mistaken for a miniature schipperke kelpie cross spotting a mouse while on her walk or mini direwolf à la A Song of Ice and Fire series.

3. Cutesy pawprints are entirely optional- but strongly suggested. Just in case someone took this book cover mockup too seriously.

I don't always reassign published books cover art, but when I do, it means I liked the book enough to take time to make my fan art. And in the case of this book, I really liked it.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
'Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.'

What the author knocked out of the park: the worldbuilding, the characters, and the quotability. It isn't often you start a book where there is a section to tell you the name of certain days of the week (instead of Monday, Tuesday, etc.), along with a brief history of the world itself. The characters made you want to hunt down real life people to match with their personalities, so you could have your own mini-Courtyard/fantasy world. The quotability? Well, I highlighted the hell out of my ereader. My touchscreen is still recovering from me spouting curses as I tried to nab those difficult, between-two-page-flips quotes.

Believe it or not, I've had similar conversations before:

""Your first dog?" The clerk sounded delighted. "What breed is it?"
""He's a Wolf.""

         ~Written in Red by Anne Bishop, page 206 Kindle version.

Although Meg breaks the urban fantasy heroine mold by being not-so-brave (she squeaks and whines under pressure), she grew on me, to the point she satisfied the requirements of being a heroine I love. I was very worried about this book because it features the heroine cutting (due to her being a blood prophet)- a self-harm behavior I'd hate to see encouraged, even in a fantasy book. But the other characters don't approve of Meg's cutting, and she only cuts on purpose maybe twice in the course of the book, which the Others chew her out for (or should I say Simon?).

Written in Red is a book about a harnessed wolf puppy urban fantasy that stands out because of its exceptional world and characters. From the cover, I had expected something a little bit darker, which it kind of was, but not to the extent I restrained myself from laughing out loud in a quiet waiting room. If you're looking for an urban fantasy that only hints the faintest whiff of paranormal romance (despite having a female main character), I recommend Written in Red for you.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a urban fantasy that surprised me with its humor.

Content: Ages 16+ for cutting, violence, and angry Wolves.

Page Count: 433 pages

But really, which one would you pick: adorable harnessed Wolf puppy or Meg and menacing wolf?

Don't tell me- I don't want the cover artist to feel bad. :P

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Timeless (Parasol Protectorate #5)" by Gail Carriger

This review features a book that is the fifth (and final book) in the Parasol Protectorate series, and has (inevitable) spoilers for those who have not read the first four books in the series. My review of the first book can be found here.

This series has a lot of interesting subject matter going on- often in steampunk (and urban fantasy) the characters are either: single, in a relationship (usually monogamous), and in both cases they have relatively little responsibility (and absolutely no children that would play a part in the book's plot). Timeless proceeds in an entirely different direction by including Prudence, Alexia and Maccon's daughter, who also happens to be a problem child due to her bloodline. Although Prudence is technically Lord Akeldama's daughter via adoption, Alexia couldn't give up her rights entirely, and ended up living in one of Akeldama's closets, along with Maccon, to remain Prudence's mother. This arrangement comes to an abrupt pause when Prudence is summoned to meet Queen Matakara, who presides over a hive in Alexandria, Egypt. All of this is anathema to the usual adult paranormal book practices: where only the main character is exceedingly special.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a dampener on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.
'Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?'

As much as this series focuses on Alexia and Maccon, we get to know Ivy a little better in this book due to her traveling with them to Egypt. Ivy, known mostly for her obscure taste in hats, has children of her own to think of now, but doesn't back down from any adventure, especially one where her patroness requests her presence. She has changed little from the girl we first met in Soulless, but with her new responsibilities, will she be able to keep up with Alexia's scheming?

Some of the plot was easy to figure out, but I was nonetheless kept guessing as to how this book would end. Would there be any sudden character departures? What was up with Alexia's father? All those and more were answered, but not so summarily as to discourage spin-off series: the lastest, which features a grown up Prudence, is expected to be published March 17th, 2015.

A slightly cryptic spoiler that made me smile wider while reading this (Highlight to view):
As any good mystery fan knows, the butler did it.

Timeless is the ending I expected of this series, but was excellent all the same. There is something to be said of a series that keeps me reaching for the next book with a grin on my face, even if it doesn't breach the 4.5 Stars club. The Parasol Protectorate was a great way to start out my new year's reading, and I don't regret a moment of time I spent amongst the characters that populated its world.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a most excellent ending for the Parasol Protectorate series!

Content: Ages 18+ for the usual Parasol Protectorate shenanigans.

Page Count: 341 pages

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SFF: The 5 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You

The Sunday Fun Five #21

Sunday Fun 5:
#19: The 5 Books To Kickstart Your Reading Journey
#20: The 5 Character Couples that are Matches Made in Heaven
#21: The 5 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You
For the 1st of March: #22: The 5 Books That Remind You of Spring
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 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You

5. The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy #1) by Clare B. Dunkle
This author took all the classic YA romantic ideas and turned them on their head. The hero of this book is no handsome prince, and although the heroine is quite beautiful, she doesn't find herself drawn to this weird-looking man. What the heroine does do is try her best to avoid getting kidnapped by the hero, only to find that she will eventually come to him of her own volition.

4. Summoned (Summoned #1) by Rainy Kaye
Can one fall in love with a genie when one happens to not be his master? Will a genie allow such a thing to go on, when he knows it endangers his 'friend'? These are some of the reasons I consider this romance unconventional, beyond the fact that the farther you read into this book, the messier it gets for both parties.

3. Tithe (Modern Faerie Tales #1) by Holly Black
The entire Modern Faerie Tales series would qualify for this list, but Tithe has remained my favorite, despite Val of Valiant being relatively kick ass (and a fellow high school dropout). Kaye does a favor for someone she found on the side of the road, only to be granted a boon in return. She asks for his name, which unlocks a can of worms that turns her world upside down. Kaye is supposed to be the enemy of Roiben, but she can't help harboring feelings for him, even when he might very well be the death of her.

2. Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
This is not even supposed to be a romance, yet it lingers with the impression of one, and probably is the reason why I consider it 'unconventional'. A girl is left out for dragon's bait, but the dragon is not as he seems, and an unlikely partnership develops. This unlikely partnership isn't a romance, but somehow you feel if there were a second book, it would have bloomed into one.

1. The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
I think I bought this without realizing what part of the plot was- a human falling in love with a robot. Beyond that, it also explores the unexpected problems sentient robots could bring about: how will they be treated, and will we even accept them as sentient? Even though this could technically be a romance, it is an unconventional one with a lot of food for thought.

Notable Exceptions:
Second Nature by Alice Hoffman
This is also a highly unconventional romance, because it doesn't end up like many of them. It does, however, make you wonder what really separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Although it plays off of Beauty and the Beast, this story is much different from the classic fairy tale.

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) by Isaac Marion
So, a brain-eating zombie gradually falls in love with a human, by consuming her boyfriend's innards and reliving said boyfriend's memories. Yes, it is unconventional, but reminds me of several other love stories I've previously devoured, and therefore it didn't quite make the cut.

What are some of your favorite unconventional romances? 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

Warning: This is a non book post. Turn back immediately if you don't like my non book posts.

I realize that it's highly unusual for someone so devoutly single (i.e. me) to celebrate a holiday that is geared toward couples, but I've always felt Valentine's was more about love and goodwill than 'romance' as it is known today. Coming from the girl who watched a certain brother con his way through relationships (girls bought him candy on Valentine's Day, not the other way around) I've always been cynical about romantic entanglements and have done my best to avoid them. But my roundabout point of this relatively out-of-orbit post is this: this day can be whatever us single folks wish to make it. I have never understood why anyone would feel left out of the holiday when there is no law that states only couples can celebrate it- I've always made a Valentine's dessert (almost always cheesecake) and went about my life normally, avoiding the crowded restaurants, of course.

A cheesecake with chocolate ganache and caramel drizzle, set in a pretzel crust

This Valentine's Day, remember that it's whatever you make of it, and above all- enjoy yourself, whether alone or with others. It also doesn't hurt (anything but your diet) to make a turtle cheesecake with a pretzel crust, which I made back when I lived at my grandma's house (she actually found the recipe here).

Happy Valentine's Day for everyone!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Early Critique: "Unseen (Unborn #2)" by Amber Lynn Natusch

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.

This review features a book that is the second in the Unborn series, and may have minor spoilers for those who have not read Unborn. My review of the first book can be found here.

To Be Published: February 17th, 2015

As I had suspected, the worldbuilding of this series made more sense once the second book came into play. When we were introduced to Khara in the first book, she almost never mentioned her time down in the Underworld (Hell, essentially), and her past had large gaps where we weren't exactly sure what had happened with her (or she was very vague about it). In particular, her problems with Deimos, which had begun in the Underworld, were never fully explored, leaving the reader to wonder how exactly he tormented her.

Beyond that, we get to see a part of Khara as she was when she was 'princess' of Hell, unprotected by the constant presence of her brothers and cursed by Deimos's presence. The only hitch in this is Oz, now a Dark One, is with her, and appears to do his best to stymie any untoward advances. Still, she seems more independent (and more human) than the incredibly stiff (and sometimes completely inexplicable) Khara we saw in the first book, which is a good thing in my view.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Welcome to the Kingdom of Hades, where even its prodigal princess sleeps lightly.
'After fighting Soul Stealers in Detroit, Khara hoped to return home to find answers in her father's realm. But the land of the dead offers little information, and far too much tragedy. Now cut off from her brothers, and left only with her dark and unreliable companion Oz, Khara must navigate the centuries-old webs of deceit and betrayal, all while eluding the Underworld's most depraved inhabitant. But she soon finds an unexpected ally in her adopted sister Persephone. Together, they endeavor to right a terrible wrong. And as Khara soon discovers, there's more riding on her success than she ever thought possible.'

Oz is also undergoing a transformation of sorts. Before, he seemed like an innocuous bad boy, projecting an image of toughness while remaining as soft as goose feather inside. Now, as a Dark One, he's truly broken that impression- I was increasingly worried for Khara, because he seems like someone I wouldn't cross. As mercurial as he is now, I can't help but wonder at his motivations, which the author chooses to keep under wraps (darn it!).

I'm getting rather good at guessing endings, so this one, again, didn't come as a complete surprise, due in part to the author's foreshadowing. What did come as a surprise was the sudden influx of worldbuilding- before, I had assumed all the Greco-Roman gods would play only a side-role in the series, but it's becoming increasingly clear they are part of the main course. With the additions to the worldbuilding, I must say I'm becoming more impressed with the series than I previously was- all signs in the first book hinted it might have been a more generic urban fantasy infused with Greek mythology, but I'm now seeing some similarities to the Neil Gaiman novel, American Gods.

Unseen is just as action-packed as the first volume, and yet we are still left with unanswered questions (ironic, considering that's a factor in what made Khara go down to hell in the first place). Although some characters didn't meet my expectations of what they would do (particularly a brother whose name begins with C), I was kept in suspense of what might happen well past my bedtime. If you like series with gods among us told in the fast pace of urban fantasy, I recommend the Unborn series for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a sequel that's just as great as the first.

Content: Ages 18+ for violence, interesting sexual non-situations, and swearing.

Page Count: 288 pages

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Release Day Review: "The Eterna Files" by Leanna Renee Hieber

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.

This book had everything this bookworm could want in a read: ghosts, ritual murders, Spiritualism, Victoriana, Americana, and the pursuit of immortality. Its blurb compared it to the Dresden Files, which is a potato-chip-like addiction for me. But then I began reading it, at the speed of a half-awake snail. That's unusual for me, especially with so much going on in the book that I habitually adore. Something in me couldn't connect with the story. Or was it the characters?

The characters: there were too many. Not that someone cannot cram that many characters in a book and have people recollect every last one, but I had difficulty remembering their names and their individuality. I can only recall six who I can remember the names and individual traits of. The rest, I can barely put a number to and can't recall their names, even though they had occasional pages written from their point of view. There was only one character I felt for, and she proceeded to prove I was wrong to feel for her by being the most strange protagonist I have read about. Although the characters weren't unlikable, I felt completely uninvested in their fates, to the point I just didn't care for them.

The Plot:
The Eterna Files is a collection of people in the search for a cure to mortality- the British think the Americans are close to finding a solution to bring about this end, therefore, they try to steal the information. But, the British have homegrown ritual murders going on, and Harold Spire is there to investigate. The Americans have problems of their own, as the Eterna Files team has up and vanished. What ill fates have they met?

As I mentioned before, with all that's going on in this book, you'd think the pacing would be rather fast- but it wasn't, at least not for me. I struggled with this one so much I ended up giving up on recalling every single characters name and their occupation (something that irks my OCD to no end). I also wanted out of the haphazard plotting: where are we going with this book? Is there an overall plot or are we just doing a rat race to the finish, British vs American style?

So yes, the first half of the book wasn't my favorite by any means, but the second half was easier to follow, at some points. I noticed a lot of similarities in horror-esque themes to another series I like, Odd Thomas. But Odd Thomas is supposed to be kind of "out there" horror, while this was supposed to be the Dresden Files's Steampunk cousin, and perhaps a little less abstract than anything Mr. Koontz would pen.

The Eterna Files held so much promise, but for me, the execution was way off. It isn't often that I can't connect with a book, yet for much of this one I could have cared less if all the main characters were executed via spontaneous combustion. For those reasons, I can't recommend this one, as it was only a tolerable read for me.

Rating: 2 of 5 Stars for a read that could have been much better.

Content: Ages 16+ for ritual murder, violence, and weird imagery.

Page Count: 320 pages

Sunday, February 8, 2015

NQAC: Biweekly Update #7: The Golden Fleece

I haven't been reading much lately, as my non-blog writing has taken off... and I'm trying to devour my review copies before their publication date (which is hard when the book doesn't really grab you). I've also had trouble with Blogger, which kept giving me errors and refusing to save my half-written blog post. Luckily, I copy-and-pasted it into a safer place and was able to salvage it after rebooting ye olde desktop, but it does make me a little panicky when that sort of thing happens. I can only assume it has more to do with the increasing age of my computer than Blogger itself, as no one else appeared to have any troubles.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

I've only bought two books recently, one by one of my favorite authors, one I've heard a lot about, and one I was (surprisingly) approved for on NetGalley.

Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
I've heard a lot about this series, and when it came up as a Daily Deal, I had to nab it. Urban Fantasy is now more my 'thing' as I've found my favorite series (Kate Daniels), so I'm hoping this one won't disappoint.

Radiance (Wraith Kings #1) by Grace Draven
I'm holding off reading this until I get all my review copies in a row, but I have a feeling I'll love it (because Grace Draven is one of my favorites). The hero actually resembles one of my creations, but will probably not be anything like mine (or at least I hope so).

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran (Expected Pub. Date: March 3rd)
This historical sounds so up my alley that I had to request it, but I had feared I got rejected because I hadn't heard back from the publisher in a long time. Lo and behold, I was finally approved and am eager to dig in, as the heroine of this novel (Queen Lakshmi) is compared to Joan of Arc in the synopsis. And plus, it qualifies for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, as it's set in what is now India.

Currently Reading:

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
It isn't looking that good, folks. I'm trudging along 10% at a time (slow for me), and this isn't even a long book at 300-some pages. I hope the ending somehow makes up for all this buildup- and all these characters!

Born to Be by Taylor Gordon
I just got past the two introductions and forward, but had to stop and focus on eating up The Eterna Files, even though this is fascinating.

Finished These Books:

Trials of Artemis (The Haberdashers #1) by Sue London
Actually this was a fun little historical romance I got as a Kindle freebie- the heroine is competent (unbelievably hard to find in HR) and the hero isn't too bad either (has the nickname Lord Lucifer). What made it different was the characters are actually interesting (hard to find in non-Courtney Milan titles) and the plot, although meandering, managed to coerce a grin out of me when it ended.

In the Blogosphere:

A review of The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami at The Bookworm's Closet makes me curious to read it myself.

Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn makes me laugh writing this review: Steampunk Review: ‘Karen Memory’ by Elizabeth Bear.

Miriam of Inky Realms piques my interest in this piece of literature involving Norse mythology: Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt.

Cat of Addicted 2 Heroines discusses bookish trends she'd like to see less of in this week's Coffee Shop Talks.

In My Life:

Nothing much to note, other than the Christmas tree is finally down (sad face) and I am ever so eager for spring to come. I simply cannot wait to try out my new haircutting tool on my poor wooly Dorkie, who, at this time of the year, greatly resembles a golden fleece... when she isn't perfectly blending in to the yellow rug.

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