Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review | Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Title: Rebel Belle
Author: Rachel Hawkins {website}
Publication Date: April 2014
Publisher: Puntam Juvenile
Series: Rebel Belle {Book 1} 
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y'all beg for more.

I didn't know what to expect of Rachel Hawkins' Rebel Belle. I loved her Hex Hall series, so I was excited to read her newest, but for some reason, I just wasn't sure. 

What a dork I was. I read Rebel Belle in one sitting on my day off and fell in love with Harper. 

At first, I didn't connect with Harper. She was too goody two-shoes, too girly, too focused on how much she loved her school and activities (that was not me in high school). Her reaction to her new powers shattered that unrelatable exterior and I fell in love with her character. Her character has an amazing journey throughout the story, growing from a girl focused on college, her multiple activites, and her gorgeous boyfriend to a girl trying to find her way in the world, pretty much on her own. 

As much as I liked the male characters in Rebel Belle, I didn't connect with David or Ryan like I did with Harper. They didn't have that same character journey (although Ryan faces some bumps and bruises in the end of the novel that intrigued me) and, although they were cute and entertaining, they didn't keep me turning the pages. It was Harper who was the wild card, the one that kept me reading.

I loved the twist on the typical YA fantasy plot. Harper takes the role of the defender, not of the country or another girl, but of a boy, something that I haven't read often in the YA canon. Harper's struggle with not only the change in her fate, but her charge, was fascinating. 

Hawkins' decision to set the novel in the South adds a whole new set of social stresses to the novel. In a modern world, the South remains loyal to traditions and history, adding a load of expectations on Harper, along with the paranormal. These additions create such an interesting world, a complex combination of Southern society and new Paladin mythology. 

Although I didn't connect with all of the characters, I loved the writing. It felt like I was actually in Harper's world, not sitting on my couch, reading. The dialogue made the characters come to life, the settings were perfectly created in my mind...perfect score on the writing for me.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

If You Liked Pride and Prejudice, Try...

Pride and Prejudice is the ultimate romance in my eyes. From the sweeping romance to the characters' own hangups standing in the way of their happy-ever-after, the quips, society's rules, and the ever-present Mrs. Bennett, Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite.

Besides, who can resist Mr. Darcy?

Sorry. I just loved this movie. Couldn't help sneaking it in! 

These are my favorite books that have the same elements of pride, prejudice, or the sweeping romance (sometimes all three!) that make me reach for my copy of P&P over and over again. 

1. Austenland by Shannon Hale | A modern day twist on the favorite romance with a heroine obsessed with Mr. Darcy and the Regency. The Austen-inspired romance makes this book a must for P&P lovers. 
2. Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway | Pride and Prejudice goes Southern in this Austen-inspired romance. The Southern society closes resembles the 1800s English world Austen's heroine lived in, creating one of the best Austen-inspired novels I've read so far.
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Another classics romance. Although Bronte's work leans a little more towards the dark side, her work tells the tale of another sweeping romance that repeatedly knocks my socks off. The master of the house falling in love with the poor governess, betraying all societal rules and regulations, reminds me so closely of Darcy and Elizabeth. 
4. Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips | No, I have not been able to get this book out of my mind. The wacky romance of Meg, the woman responsible for breaking up the wedding of the century, and Ted, the town's golden boy (and groom of said wedding) reminds me of society's restrictions and the characters' own pride in Pride and Prejudice. They slowly overcome their prejudices and open their eyes to finally see each other. 
5. One Day by David Nicholls | A sweet, poignant romance that will have you reaching for the tissues and chocolate over and over. Nicholls' sweet story stole my heart. 
6. These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman | A YA scifi/fantasy that epitomizes the hallmarks of Elizabeth and Darcy's characters. These Broken Stars uses the characters' pride and society's prejudices to up the tension between the characters. 

What books do you reach for when you're craving a little Elizabeth and Darcy romance? These are my personal favorites and I'm always looking for more to add to my collection!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review | The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Title: The Princess Bride 
Author: William Goldman
Publication Date: 1973
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it's about everything.

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite stories from childhood. The masked man, the stubborn, beautiful princess, and the crazy situations they get themselves into make this story one for the ages. However, reading the book was a completely different that I loved


1. True love. No romance is complete without it.
2. A mean, nasty bad guy who enjoys violence in the form of Prince Humperdinck (hard not to laugh when I say his name...).
3. "AS...YOU...WISH..." (come on...I know you echoed it in your mind). 
4. The depth of the secondary characters' stories, especially Inigo Montoya. I loved the background of the six-fingered man, his father, and the sword. 
5. The adventure keeps the story moving quickly.
6. I don't know about you, but I just love the scenes with the Sicilian. 
7. The way Goldman uses humor to tell the story. The occasionally slapstick comedy keeps the plot moving quickly and uses laughs and witty retorts to reinforce themes and motifs in the novel. 

In the end, there was so much more depth, background and hilarity in the novel form of this story that I quickly fell in love. I know without a doubt, this is a story I will read over and over again. 


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Summer of Sookie | Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead in the Family
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publication Date: May 2010
Publisher: Ace Books
Series: Sookie Stackhouse {Book 10}
Source & Format: Owned; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
It's all about family ...

Sookie Stackhouse is dealing with a whole host of family problems, ranging from her own kin (a non-human fairy and a telepathic second cousin) demanding a place in her life, to her lover Eric's vampire sire, an ancient being who arrives with Eric's 'brother' in tow at a most inopportune moment. And Sookie's tracking down a distant relation of her ailing neighbour (and ex), Vampire Bill Compton.

In addition to the multitude of family issues complicating her life, the werewolf pack of Shreveport has asked Sookie for a special favour, and since Sookie is an obliging young woman, she agrees. But this favour for the wolves has dire results for Sookie, who is still recovering from the trauma of her abduction during the Fairy War.



This is really bothering me. 

I debated on whether or not to even mention it, but it's bothering me so much that I think I have to.

Earlier this week, I posted a review of Steve Berry's The Romanov Prophecy. I've always had an interest in the Romanovs, reading bits and pieces when I come across them. (Yes, I promise this has to do with Sookie.) Berry's novel spelled Alexei Romanov's title as "tsarevich." (Some argue it's actually spelled this way.) In Harris' Dead in the Family, Alexei Romanov, Eric's "brother" from the blurb (yes, that's the spoiler) is spelled "tsarevitch". 

I looked everywhere. Lord Google laughed at me, Lady Yahoo thought I was well, a yahoo. I couldn't find anything in the library...

Where is her editor? 

It bothered me so much that the rest of the story pretty much disappeared, leaving "tsarevitch" blaring out at my from my Kindle until I couldn't focus on anything else. The lack of consistency and that no one thought to GOOGLE it (let alone research) before this went into publication blew my mind.

I'm not an editing whiz. I miss things. Someone caught a mistake the other day on my blog and pointed it out to me (thank goodness, because it was embarrassing). But this? The title of your character?

It's a shame, because Dead in the Family was actually quite a good story. The tensions between the vampires and the fairies are rising, as well as the wereworld/two-natured plot. I just couldn't get over the lack of editing and research. I know. I'm OCD. 

- Honestly? Not researching. The story itself was good, but the blaring editing mistakes threw me off. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review | Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen {website}
Publication Date: April 2014
Publisher: Gallery Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe & The Raven compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar's frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . 

I don't like scary stories, so I wasn't sure what to expect the first time I was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe. Without a doubt, even in our horror movie-loving society, Poe's work is terrifying. His mastering of the atmosphere, however, is what keeps me returning again and again to his work. Cullen cultivates the same sort of tense, slightly dark atmosphere in her Mrs. Poe

Cullen's writing created an atmosphere of dark corners, dimly lit nights, and shadowy figures, a world full of intrigue, mystery and secrets. Of course I gobbled it up. Even in the bright of day, scenes had this dark, fascinating edge that kept me turning pages. The use of Poe's "The Raven" as an introduction to the novel provides not only the setting - right after Poe's poem hits the height of popularity - but sets a dark, tense setting for this torrid romance. 

Frances Osgood, the protagonist and narrator of Mrs. Poe, has been in my peripheral, but I've never studied her work. She was an unknown to me, a woman trying to make her way in the world by her own mind: a feat in itself in 1840s America. She quickly became one of my favorite characters for one reason: there was always a war within herself. She battled her own demons, her struggles to maintain dignity in the face of her husband's flagrant affairs, and eventually, her attraction to a married man. I would be hard (I would argue impossible) not to identify with Frances on some level, whether it be achieving dreams, lost love or pride. 

Virginia Poe, despite her sweet demeanor in public, is a powerful presence to compete with Frances'. Virginia scared the wits out of me. She had a way about her, an eerie and disturbing manner of discerning exactly what was going on without letting on how it bothered her. Her manner and connection to Poe made me constantly relate to Poe's work I've read. After a while, chills ran up my arms every time she appeared on scene. At one moment, she was a young sick girl, lost in love for her mysterious husband. In another, she was laughing gaily in society, but glaring at Frances, making us both wonder at what she knew. Virginia, simply, was terrifying. 

I loved the romance. Oh, my heart. The tensions, the innuendos, the flirtations all built on top of each other until the affair between Frances and Poe finally burst forth. (Believe me; burst is the word.) There were so many factors against them, society was crying out in disbelief (nosy disbelief, is there is such a thing) but their passion burned through. That might be a tad melodramatic. Sorry. The romance and affair changed my entire perception of Poe; he became a human, a person, instead of a macabre writing machine. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review | The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry

Title: The Romanov Prophecy
Author: Steve Berry
Publication Date: January 2004
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Ekaterinburg, Russia: July 16, 1918. Ten months have passed since Nicholas II’s reign was cut short by revolutionaries. Tonight, the White Army advances on the town where the Tsar and his family are being held captive by the Bolsheviks. Nicholas dares to hope for salvation. Instead, the Romanovs are coldly and methodically executed.

Moscow: Present Day. Atlanta lawyer Miles Lord, fluent in Russian and well versed in the country’s history, is thrilled to be in Moscow on the eve of such a momentous event. After the fall of Communism and a succession of weak governments, the Russian people have voted to bring back the monarchy. The new tsar will be chosen from the distant relatives of Nicholas II by a specially appointed commission, and Miles’ job is to perform a background check on the Tsarist candidate favored by a powerful group of Western businessmen. But research quickly becomes the least of Miles’ concerns when he is nearly killed by gunmen on a city plaza.

Suddenly Miles is racing across continents, shadowed by nefarious henchmen. At first, his only question is why people are pursuing him. But after a strange conversation with a mysterious Russian, who steers Miles toward the writings of Rasputin, he becomes desperate to know more–most important, what really happened to the family of Russia’s last tsar?

His only companion is Akilina Petrov, a Russian circus performer sympathetic to his struggle, and his only guide is a cryptic message from Rasputin that implies that the bloody night of so long ago is not the last chapter in the Romanovs’ story . . . and that someone might even have survived the massacre. The prophecy’s implications are earth-shattering–not only for the future of the tsar and mother Russia, but also for Miles himself.

I have loved the story of the Romanovs since Disney's Anastasia came out when I was seven. It's been an on-and-off obsession, like Titanic. I found Berry's The Romanov Prophecy a few weeks ago in San Francisco and grabbed it. For the most part, I haven't connected with Berry's work, but I hoped that his take one of the most famous stories in Russian history would click,

The present day twist of the fall of communism in Russia was a little bit of an adjustment, but once the entire story unfolded, the changes fit in perfectly. The hunt for the tsar's true descendants created a tense political atmosphere that reminded me of The Bourne Ultimatium fast-paced scenes.

I loved the depth and background that went in Miles' character, but I didn't understand why he was initially hunted in the first scenes. Although Miles' role slowly came to light as the novel went on, that missing piece kept bothering me. Why him? (Please, if you've read this, let me know if I missed a part!). 

I didn't really buy the romantic interest between Akilina and Miles. Her story was fascinating, but she wasn't needed in the novel. She didn't add anything to the story or to the plot's tension. I feel like Miles would have done just as well (and possibly been more fascinating) without her character.

Historically, I enjoyed the narration of the famous story of the Romanovs. I loved reading about the motives and actions of these historical figures and the conspiracy theories, the possibility. The descriptions of these exotic places (especially Siberia) caught my attention and kept me reading when I otherwise might have put the book down. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do We Lie About Our Favorite Books?

Oh, well, hello there.

To be honest, I wasn't feeling the post I had planned to write this morning, so I turned to the world's universal inspiration machine - the Internet - for help. It didn't take long for two bookish topics to catch my eye: J.K. Rowling's response to a homophobic tweet (her answer is perfect) and this one: Huffington Post's Alexis Kleinman calls out Facebook users for trying to keep up with the Joneses in their lists of books that "changed their thinking."

I want to send Kleinman a virtual high five. 

The Facebook prompt, "books that changed the way I think," can mean books that changed how you perceive other people, emotions, your life, your job, whatever. It can also mean your favorite books, one that you read over and over again because they make you feel good. These books change your mood, your mindset and therefore, the way you think. Kleinman points out that it's okay to like the fluffy, popular books (although I'm still pretty dead set against Fifty Shades of Grey).

Kleinman's article made me start to think: do we lie about our favorite books? 

Most of my friends and coworkers know I love books. I buy purses based on how many paperback books I can fit inside. When someone asks what my favorite book is, I always feel like I have to quantify it: "Which genre?" "Poetry or prose" "YA or historical?" For the most part, there are so many books that I love that I can't pick just one...but I have no problem admitting my love for Harry Potter, the Divergent series and The Hunger Games

We need to erase this stigma that fun, fluffy books aren't "real" books. Rarely does Janet Evanovich come up on the list of "books that changed my thinking." Personally, she's on mine. Her Stephanie Plum novels, while wacky, show that it's okay to have fun in life, to not take it all so seriously. The Hunger Games, a wildly popular franchise, teaches young women it's okay to be strong, to stand up for themselves instead of being quiet, meek wallflowers. 

If you get tagged in this list, on Facebook or not, think about your answer. Don't be afraid of the fluffy.