Friday, September 30, 2011

Top Ten Kids' Series

I have always been an avid reader (except for the times before I could read, but I don't remember those, so they don't count). I spent a great deal of my childhood so immersed in other worlds that my parents had to practically shout to bring me back to this one, which I don't think they appreciated, though in my defense I could have been playing video games or setting things on fire and reading is clearly better than those things.  Anyway, I thought I'd make a list of the books that I loved most as a kid, which are coincidentally still pretty awesome today.

10.  Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game already came up in the Best Stand-Alone Books post, but it certainly deserves a mention here as well. Although I didn't technically read this one as a child (I first picked it up two years ago), it's one of those books that people read in middle school, and it's a great read at any age.

9. The Lost Years of Merlin
T.A. Barron

The Lost Years of Merlin tells the story of Merlin's childhood (apparently this is not aging-backwards Merlin). This is epic fantasy for kids, though not bad for grown-ups either. Merlin is a relatable, sympathetic character, and Barron fills his tale with myth and magic.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S. Lewis

Yes, I know, The Chronicles of Narnia technically start's with The Magician's Nephew, but what does that book have to do with anything? The Chronicles of Narnia had me poking into the backs of closets looking for transportation to another world, preferably one with talking animals. No list of great children's books would be complete without it.

7. The Dark Is Rising
Susan Cooper

Another Camelot-related tale, this time of a quest for the Holy Grail. (Hey that rhymed, and completely by accident. It was even in quasi-iambic pentameter.  I didn't know I had such amazing skills.) Although the first book isn't quite up to the standard of the rest, this is an amazing series that I've read many times.

6. Young Wizards
Diane Duane

When Nita Callahan comes across a tattered copy of So You Want to Be a Wizard in the children's section of the library and finds inside an Oath to really become a wizard, she thinks it's a joke. But when she takes the Oath (just in case), she's in for a huge surprise. Young Wizards is urban fantasy for kids, brilliant stories of life, the universe, and everything set in modern-day Manhattan.

5. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Rick Riordan

I didn't pick up this series until a few months ago, but I'm so glad I did. I've always loved mythology, and Riordan does an incredible job blending the myth and the modern, not to mention creating wonderful characters. And also brilliant chapter titles. (I particularly liked "In Which I Become Lord of the Bathroom.)

4. The Hero and the Crown
Robin McKinley

Princesses and dragons and horses, war, love, magic, uncannily intelligent hunting animals. Everything a kid needs to be happy curled up on the couch with a mug of hot cocoa on a winter day. The Hero and the Crown is one of McKinley's best novels, filled with her characteristic dryly witty tone and a strong but uncertain heroine. (And I've already said at least twice how much I love Robin McKinley.)

3. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Patricia C. Wrede

More princesses and dragons, but this time the dragons are the good guys (sort of). Dealing with Dragons makes fun of fairy tales and fairy tale princesses in this humorous and wonderful story of a princess who runs away from home to work for a dragon. Cimorene is a spectacular, clever character, and all the mock-fairy tale touches are brilliant whether you're eight or eighty.

2. Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling

You had to see this one coming. I'm not even going to bother to explain why it's on the list. Like many people my age, I grew up with Harry, going to midnight releases, lurking on fan websites, staying up all night reading. I was almost disappointed to see the series come to a close, but capitalism being what it is, I'm betting Harry Potter won't be going away for a long time.

1. A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle

If I had to pick a single book that influence me the most, it would be A Wrinkle in Time. I had to buy a new copy recently because mine literally fell apart (though to be fair, before I had it it was shared among my mom and her ten siblings. But it was still in one piece when I first got it.) It's an amazing story and probably the oldest on the list. I'm guessing it'll survive a lot longer.

Well there it is. Looking at it, this list actually explains a lot.  Compare what I read as a kid to what I read now and there's really not that much difference. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go relive my childhood.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself 
Joe Abercrombie
The First Law, Book 1

From GoodreadsLogen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he's on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian - leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. 

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.

It took me some time to really get into this book, probably because I've been reading mostly the lighter urban fantasy lately.  However, once I did it turned out to be a pretty good story.  The characters are incredibly varied, and while I'm not sure I could say I liked any of them, they were very interesting to read.  

This first book of the trilogy was more providing background than anything else.  All the main characters had to be brought together so that they could leave together, plus Abercrombie had to introduce the world and its politics.  The Blade Itself is a slightly more difficult read because of this; explanations weren't always explicit for the various countries and people described, though by about the middle of the book I had a lot of it figured out.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  As I've said before, I'd rather figure things out myself than have the author insert an awkward conversation explaining things the characters obviously already know.  I'm still a little unclear on some of the mythology, but I certainly understood enough to follow the story.

Back to my original point.  Because of the whole bringing-the-characters together thing, the book started off slowly, but it improved a great deal once the background was established.  Action-packed and harrowing, this book does an excellent job of mixing fighting with political intrigue, decadence with hardship.  The Blade Itself is far less romantic than a lot of older fantasy series (though not quite as gritty as A Song of Ice and Fire).  Overall, a decent start to what I hope will be an excellent series.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 4 cupcakes
Style: 3 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Monday, September 26, 2011

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns
Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

According to the introduction of this book, one day Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier got into an argument about whether zombies or unicorns were better.  (Holly Black was pro-unicorn and Justine Larbalestier was pro-zombie.) This debate assumed such huge proportions that they decided the only way to settle it was an anthology of stories about zombies and unicorns.  Authors such as Cassandra Clare, Meg Cabot, Carrie Ryan, and Scott Westerfeld contributed to the book, and each story was prefaced by highly entertaining commentary from Black and Larbalestier.

I'm not going to review this book because there are a lot of stories and that would be really tedious.  Instead, I've decided to weigh in on the debate.  Feel free to post your own opinions in the comments!


Are zombies or unicorns better?

Kate's answer:

Why is this even a question?  If you were stranded on a desert island, which would you rather have with you, a zombie that wants to eat your brain, or a unicorn, which could probably keep you alive when you are starving, sunburned, and possibly even stir-crazy? (Okay, the zombie could keep you from dying, but not in a way you'd want to be kept from dying, and if the only inhabitants of the island are two zombies, what are you going to eat?)

Unicorns are clearly way, way better than zombies.  Unicorns are a reminder of innocence and childhood, when all you needed to be happy was a large cardboard box and a friend (who could also be imaginary if necessary).  Unicorns are the embodiment of all that is good about people like rainbows and adorable kittens that don't have idiotic comments written on them . Zombies are a representation of the bad parts of humanity like Birthers and reality TV.

Plus zombies are just gross.  Since they're not alive, they don't have normal biological processes like, um, healing, so if they get hurt it just stays that way forever.  They are walking (read: shambling) disease carriers. Unicorns, on the other hand, cure disease, so the obvious implication is that a unicorn could cure whatever disease or evil magic thingy is making the zombies, which would (a) kill the zombie or (b) make the zombie a human again.

What word do you always hear paired with "zombie"? Apocalypse. It's always about preparing for the zombie apocalypse or surviving the zombie apocalypse or what happens after the zombie apocalypse.  You know what you never hear with "apocalypse"? Unicorn.

So, since unicorns clearly win in the all-important categories of desert island, nostalgia, one-on-one battle, and non-apocalypticism, I declare them the victors in this ages-old conflict.  Go Team Unicorn!

Source: Max the Unicorn

Friday, September 23, 2011

Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow

Working for the Devil
Lilith Saintcrow
Dante Valentine, Book 1

As one of the most powerful necromances in the world, Danny Valentine gets hired for a lot of odd jobs.  But when the demon Japhrimel brings her to a meeting with Lucifer, she's way out of her league.  Lucifer sends her to kill a demon who escaped from Hell with a certain valuable artifact, the same demon Danny once had a fateful encounter with.  Danny and Japhrimel need to hunt down the demon before he can destroy the world.

Working for the Devil is action-packed.  Danny has a sword and knows how to use it, not to mention the various weapons that came up throughout the book.  There was no point where I felt bored by this book.  I did find it a little difficult to reconcile badass, risk-taking Danny with the woman who rides hoverboards and carries a sword on public transportation.  I got the feeling Saintcrow wanted Danny to be both kickass and vulnerable but went a little too far in both directions, though it wasn't so far as to be completely absurd.

On a different note, normally I enjoy books that let you figure out the way their worlds work without three pages of awkward exposition.  Sunshine and Magic Bites are examples of books that do this really well.  I think that sort of "show, don't tell" philosophy can make stories seem more real and immediate (because no one takes the time to explain how the world works in real life).  However, in this case Saintcrow may have taken that maxim a little too much to heart.  Maybe I was supposed to read something else first, but I couldn't tell what all the different varieties of psions were supposed to do, nor figure out how their society worked beyond the obvious.  Hopefully it will become clearer in future books, because this does seem like a fascinating world.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 3 cupcakes
Style: 2 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

24 Hour Read-A-Thon!

I've just signed up for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, which as far as I can tell is just what it sounds like.  Apparently there will be prizes and blogging and discussions and maybe also some books.  It takes place October 22-23, from noon to noon GMT (that's 8 a.m. Eastern time), and you can sign up here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake

Jocelynn Drake
Dark Days, Book 1

Half a millenium ago, the naturi tried to use Mira to help them open a gate to their world so their queen could return.  The nightwalkers succeeded in stopping them then, but now they're back, and they're after Mira again.  Only with the help of the vampire hunter Danaus can Mira prevent the naturi from destroying the world as she know it, and she'll have to leave the comfort of the home she's finally managed to establish to do it.

I really did not enjoy the first half of this book.  The second half was decent, but more because I got used to the issues I had with the first half than because it was actually that much better.

The premise of the story sounds original, but replace naturi with fae and nightwalkers with vampires, and it's not particularly.  The plot was actually reasonably interesting, but my interest in it was overwhelmed by other things annoying me.

First, Mira acted very young, which would be fine if she were not supposed to be (a) a 600-year-old firestarting vampire and especially (b) the leader of nightwalkers in her domain.  I did not find the latter at all credible based on her behavior.  She was uncertain, uncontrolled, and occasionally timid, none of which are traits traditionally valued in vampire leaders.  I get that the naturi tortured her, but it was five hundred years ago.  If I'm supposed to believe she's a successful leader, she'd better act the part, and she doesn't.

Her early actions made no sense to me.  She decides to let Danaus kill however many nightwalkers in her territory without doing a single thing about it until she finally follows him, but she still doesn't kill him because, what, she's bored?  If Mira thinks some of the vamps in her domain are too weak, fine, but the hunter murdering in her territory with impunity is more a testament to her weakness than theirs.  I didn't buy Mira as powerful or a leader in the slightest.

Now that that's out of the way, it wasn't all bad.  Once they left the US, I was able to enjoy the book a little more.  There was the requisite action and intrigue and ill-advised sexual tension.  But it wasn't nearly enough to make up for the disastrous characterization.

I apologize for the rant.  If the issues I mentioned with the characters don't bother you, it's probably a decent book.  But for me, characters are crucial, and Drake's were simply not believable.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 1 cupcake
Style: 2 cupcakes
Overall: 2 cupcakes (1 for the first half, 3 for the second)

p.s. For your reference, this is what power means.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right
Darynda Jones
Charley Davidson, Book 1

Charley Davidson sees dead people.  She's been helping her dad and later her uncle solve murders since she was a kid, and now that she has her P.I. license, her help is a lot easier to explain.  But even for Charley, three dead lawyers in one far-too-early morning is a little much.

I was hesitant to pick up this book at first, because it looked kind of ditzy, but I'm glad I did.  I still think it's a little ditzy, but it was also funny, sexy, and highly entertaining.  I don't know what it is about necromancers that makes them almost universally snarky, but it seems to be a trend, and I like it.  Charley is about as comedic as they come, and although her humor comes off a little forced at times, on the whole it was fun to read.

I didn't quite understand why Charley was so attracted to Reyes, but after I moved past that little qualm, the romance in the story wasn't bad.  After a startling revelation at the end of the book, I'm excited to see what happens next.

I did kind of get a cookie-cutter feel from some of the characters.  Reyes was the only one I found really interesting.  Charley seems to have suffered a ridiculous number of near-death experiences unrelated to her work (okay, not that many, but still), but they don't seem to have affected her all that much.  I'd like to see a little more character growth in future books, which I think seems likely based on the ending of this one.

The murder-mystery aspect of the plot had enough depth to keep me interested, and other elements backed it up nicely when necessary.  The story had enough going on that I was never bored, and there was plenty of action and romance to keep anyone happy.

Characters: 2 cupcakes
Plot: 3 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Top Ten Stand-Alone Books

I love series.  (Serieses? Seri? Whatever.)  If I like something, I want more of it.  I have no problem reading a series of a dozen thousand-page books, probably because I've been reading epic fantasy for so long.  However, maybe sometimes you don't want your book to end on a cliffhanger, or you just don't have time to read 12,000 pages.  That's when you want a stand-alone novel.

I actually had more trouble with this list than I expected, probably because 97% of the books I read are part of a series.  I did kind of bend the definition of "stand-alone" to include books that could (or should--I'm looking at you, Dune) be on their own, because they have entirely self-contained plots.

In any case, allow me to present my ten favorite stand-alone books, starting with:

10. The Redemption of Althalus
David Eddings

Althalus has always been an extraordinarily lucky man.  So when his luck deserts him, he doesn't know what to do with himself.  When he finds himself at the end of the world, that's where the real journey begins.  Althalus has to save the world from an evil god and his sorcerer minion, with the help of a cat.

This book is on the list more for the entertainment value than actual quality.  If you've read one Eddings book, you've pretty much read them all, but that doesn't stop them from being fun time-wasters.  They're the candy of the epic fantasy world.  The Redemption of Althalus is light, funny, and predictable, making it an entertaining read for a lazy day.

9. The Thirteenth Tale
Diane Setterfield

Amateur biographer Margaret Lea is startled when she receives an invitation to write a biography of world-renowned author Vida Winter.  Lacking experience, Margaret plans to decline until she reads her father's collection of Winter's books.  Intrigued, she decides to take the job, where she discovers a fascinating tale of troubling, deeply-hidden secrets.

I buried my nose in The Thirteenth Tale and didn't come out until I was finished.  This enthralling story of family and secrets reeled me in and brought me to a fascinating world with just the right amount of detail.  Bring a blanket, because this book, which takes place in the middle of winter, is vivid enough to make you feel the chill.

8. American Gods
Neil Gaiman

Shadow's wife dies two days before he is released from prison.  Unsure what to do with himself, Shadow ends up following Mr. Wednesday in a journey across the US, encountering many strange people and creatures along the way to an unknown goal.

This unusual story attempts to define the spirit of America through ancient myths stranded in modern times.  Gripping and often slightly disturbing, American Gods is no comfort read.  It's the kind of book that makes you wonder whether there's a higher purpose in life and whose stories we're really living anyway.

7.  Elantris
Brandon Sanderson

Once Elantris shone, a beacon of light and hope for all its people.  They were human until they were touched by the Shaod, giving them incredible magical abilities.  But one day the magic failed without explanation and Elantris was left a ruin, those with the Shaod consigned to its walls, unable to truly live or die.  When Princess Sarene arrives in Kae, the new capital, for her wedding, she's told that her fiance is dead, but it's clear that her in-laws are hiding something.  Determined to find out what it is, she must uncover the secrets of Elantris and return the magic to her people.

If there's a crown for world-building, Brandon Sanderson deserves it.  Elantris's world is complex and unique, filled with unusual magic and intrigue.  Elantris is a wonderful tale of power, mystery, and love, with compelling characters and a brilliant plot.

6. Dune
Frank Herbert

When the Emperor transfers ownership of the desert planet Arrakis, source of the compound that allows space travel, from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Duke knows it isn't a reward.  The Harkonnens won't let their largest source of money fall into enemy hands without a fight, and when they strike back, it's with a vengeance, killing the Duke and driving his son Paul into the desert.  Paul joins the Fremen tribes in an effort to regain his seat.

One of the most well-known scifi novels ever written, Dune features a world of depth and massive power struggles.  If you haven't read it by now, you really should, as it's brilliantly written and an amazing novel.  Yes, I know it has sequels, but in my opinion, the second book was sort of weird, the third even weirder, and after that I just stopped reading.  Dune itself is by far the best, and you don't need to read the sequels to complete the story in this one.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

While searching for a topic for her next book, writer Juliet Ashton stumbles upon the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  In an exchange of letters, she hunts down the origins of this group, particularly the story of one of its founders, Elizabeth McKenna.

I've already done a review of this book, so I'll just say that I laughed, cried, and highly enjoyed myself reading this story.

4. Mercury Falls
Robert Kroese

It's a proven fact that right before the Apocalypse is the worst time to replace your linoleum.  Unfortunately for reporter Christine Temetri, no one told her the Apocalypse was coming--or rather, too many people did.  Christine has had just about enough of writing articles about groups predicting Armageddon, but never expected it to actually happen.  Accidentally thrown into the middle of the conflict between Heaven and Hell, Christine needs the help of the angel Mercury to stop the world from ending.

Mercury Falls is a wonderfully witty, tongue-in-cheek tale of a jaded reporter and a rather abysmal angel preventing the Apocalypse.  Somehow this superficially silly story manages to tackle such broad ideas as free will and the meaning of life.  The style reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams, but while Adams's wild tangents occasionally irritated me, Kroese's writing keeps to the point while still being hilariously absurd.

3. Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is part of a government-sponsored training program to mold genius children into soldiers who can defend Earth against alien invaders.  Ender's amazing skill at the Battle Games make him an immediate leader among the other children, though those on other teams hate him with a passion.  Along with his older siblings, Ender has the ability to save the world from the Buggers, but whether they can succeed in bringing about a better world is anyone's guess.

I get it, this one has sequels too.  But Ender's Game has a perfectly acceptable end that doesn't require further explanation, so I'm counting it as a stand-alone novel.  Ender's Game is one of those books you just can't put down.  Its interesting, dynamic characters, creative action, and broader conflict make it an absolutely crucial addition to any bookshelf.

2. The Lions of Al-Rassan
Guy Gavriel Kay

Once a proud empire, Al-Rassan has descended into decadence.  Meanwhile, the Jaddites of the north are gaining strength, and conflicts between the two forces increase.  Chance brings three people of different origins together: Jaddite Captain Roberto Belmonte, Asharite assassin and poet Ammar ibn Khairan, and Kindath physician Jehane bet Ishak.  Their friendships develop until war calls them to opposite sides of the battlefield.

With a world evocative of medieval Spain just before the Reconquista, Kay manages to depict the effects of civilizational conflict on individuals.  Featuring themes of love, family, war, faith, and loyalty, The Lions of al-Rassan is a spectacular novel filled with vivid imagery and characters who seem to step off the pages into your heart.

1. Sunshine
Robin McKinley

After the Voodoo Wars, human cities were left decimated and vampires controlled a fifth of the world's economy.  New Arcadia is one of the safer places to live, but when Sunshine goes out to the lake for a little peace and quiet, she's snatched by a group of vampires and chained up with another prisoner--who turns out to be a vampire himself.  Sunshine and Constantine escape the house, but the other vampires are more of a problem, forcing them to work together to save both their lives.

I am a huge fan of Robin McKinley, and Sunshine is my favorite of her books.  Sunshine is a compelling narrator, painting a bewitching world where vampires definitely don't sparkle.  I've read this book so many times it's falling apart.  It's my go-to comfort read, and I still love it every single time.  Sunshine is at times funny, scary, thrilling, sexy, sad, and mysterious.  You couldn't ask for anything more in a book.

Well, there you have it, ten (sort of) stand-alone novels that you can read without worrying about waiting years for the series to finish.  Happy reading!


Meg Cabot
Insatiable, Book 1

Meena Harper, writer for the soap opera "Insatiable," isn't exactly pleased when she gets passed over for the job of head writer.  To add insult to injury, the executives of the show have decided to jump on the vampire bandwagon.  Everyone knows vampires don't exist, and Meena is sick of hearing about them.  Not that she doesn't believe in the supernatural--Meena can tell when people are going to die.

Lucien Antonescu was content to teach history in Romania until word of human bodies found drained of blood reached him.  Now the Prince of Darkness must find the culprit before humans can discover the vampires' existence.

The plot here is nothing terribly exciting.  Meena's ability is pretty unique, as far as I know, but other than that it's mostly vampire scheming and jostling for position.  I like the addition of a vampire-hunting corps, though that wasn't really new either, and I think Cabot could have done a lot more with it.  Who know, maybe in future books...

The characters, again, weren't really terrible or great.  Meena was basically your typical heroine with a quirk.  Lucien was an acceptable vamp leader.  Alaric was interesting but I found it a little hard to believe that he liked Meena so much despite the fact that she was sleeping with the Prince of Darkness.  You'd think that would be a turnoff for someone who hates vampires as much as he does.

Despite all that, I really enjoyed this book.  It was funny and entertaining, one of those light reads that you don't really have to think or worry about.  I recommend it if you're looking for something quick, easy, and fun.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 3 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top Ten Book Couples

On a scale of action to romance, I prefer explosions to expressions of undying love.  But that doesn't mean I don't want my characters to get a little love in between their sword fights, magic duels, rescues, crime solving, evil defeating, nefarious plot uneathing, spying, and all around general world saving!  These are my favorite literary romances, beginning with:

10. Merit and Ethan Sullivan
Chicagoland Vampires, Chloe Neill

I wasn't entirely sure whether to include Merit and Ethan on this list.  Yes, I've read Hard Bitten, but I still have hope, and I love Merit and Ethan, so here they are.  Ethan is the 400-year-old Master of Cadogan House and Merit has to be the only vamp who didn't want to be one.  But somehow there some pretty electrifying sparks, and their interactions are a joy to watch.

9. Lan Mandragoran and Nynaeve al'Meara
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan

At first glance, Lan and Nynaeve are complete opposites.  He's the king of a country that no longer exists; she's the Wisdom of a tiny, unknown village.  He's always calm; her temper is a legend.  While they try to deny their feelings for each other, eventually they prove too strong for either of them to hold back.

8. Mercy Thompson and Adam Hauptman
Mercy Thompson, Patricia Briggs

I think the junk car in Mercy's yard says it all.  Adam hates how messy it looks, so every time he annoys her, she removes a wheel.  Not the kind of relationship you would expect to progress to love (unless you read a lot), but even then, Mercy's no meek puppy, and Adam will always be an Alpha.

7. Rose Hathaway and Dimitri Belikov
Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead

Source: Little Dhampirs via Dimitri and Rose
Dimitri's exasperation with his student is frequently only exceeded by her joy at pushing him.  Rose and Dimitri shouldn't be together for a lot of reasons (several of which are legal reasons), but something draws them together no matter how much they try to stay apart.  Later, Rose is willing to risk everything to save Dimitri from the Strigoi, and it's through her efforts that he's finally able to return.

6. Elena Devereaux and Raphael
Guild Hunter, Nalini Singh

Despite being at number 6, in some ways I think Raphael and Elena are the perfect couple.  Unlike in some romances (that I hate), meeting the love of their lives doesn't make either of them any less than what they are: Elena is still Hunter-born and very much a warrior, while Raphael's power and occasional cruelty don't vanish just for her.  Raphael and Elena are sexy, powerful, and share troubled pasts, but most importantly, they're willing to fight for each other till the last breath.

5. Phedre no Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil
Kushiel's Legacy, Jacqueline Carey

A courtesan and a priest.  Do I really have to explain any more?  Phedre and Joscelin are another pair of opposites who are somehow perfect for each other.  (Side note: serious NC-17 rating on these books.  Note that I pointed that out for this one in particular over the others.)

4. Tavi and Kitai
Codex Alera, Jim Butcher

Tavi is exceedingly clever and pretty witty as well, while Kitai is utterly contemptuous of all things Aleran--Tavi included.  However, when their lives become unexpectedly tangled, they learn to work together and eventually can't live without each other.

3. Mac Lane and Jericho Barrons
Fever, Karen Marie Moning

Source unknown
Words fail to describe this relationship.  Someone should duplicate their ability to have conversations with their eyes.

2. Damin Wolfblade and Adrina
Demon Child Trilogy, Jennifer Fallon

When spoiled, beautiful Princess Adrina ends up the captive of Damin Wolfblade, heir to a seriously depraved High Prince, you just know there's a disaster in the making.  They hate each other right up until they tear each other's clothes off, and even after they marry, they refuse to admit to their feelings for each other until it's thrown in their faces.

1. Kate Daniels and Curran
Kate Daniels, Ilona Andrews

Every time Kate and Curran have a conversation, it cracks me up.  Just thinking about them makes me happy.  They are hands-down my favorite fictional couple.

And for those of you who want to see more explosions of a non-"wink wink, nudge nudge" variety...

Source: Uncyclopedia

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann

On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York City caught the attention of the world.  This single event connects many lives in Let the Great World Spin, the story of various characters whose stories intertwine and then separate again.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I really enjoyed the individual stories and the different voices McCann gave his characters.  Their lives and experiences felt real and believable.  On the other hand, there wasn't really an overarching plot.  The book was more like a collection of tangentially connected short stories than a single, unified novel.  The plot lacked a goal or overall structure that a true novel needs.  I wouldn't have had a huge problem with that, even though short stories aren't really my thing, if the book didn't have the words "A Novel" in the description.  But that's only one aspect of the story.

The characters were all very different, from the Irish Corrigan brothers, one unsure of his role in life, one caught between his faith and the woman he loves, to the wealthy Claire Sonderberg, grieving a son lost in Vietnam, to the prostitute Tillie, who never wanted her daughter to follow in her footsteps.  These and others show the many faces of New York, with the story of the funambulist weaving through them all.

McCann's prose is beautiful and lyrical, words just enough to convey their meaning.  I liked his writing style very much; it took me into the characters' minds and showed me their lives. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I do recommend it.  Just don't necessarily expect it to have a point other than the ways the world is connected.

Characters: 4 cupcakes
Plot: 2 cupcakes
Style: 5 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Allie Condie
Matched, Book 1

Over the past four generations, the Society has perfected life.  They can figure out all the details of a person's future, from what career they would excel at to where they should live to whom they should marry--even when they should die.  At Cassia's Match ceremony, when the Society tells her that Xander is her ideal mate, she's thrilled.  He's been her best friend her entire life, and she never dreamed she could be so lucky.  Until another face pops up on her info chip--that of Ky Markham, Aberration.  As Cassia spends more time with Ky, wondering what could have been, she begins to realize that life in the Society isn't as idyllic as she always thought, and that maybe having someone else make all her choices for her isn't what she really wanted.

Instead of a post-Apocalyptic society like a lot of recent YA dystopian novels, Matched presented one more like The Giver, where the protagonist grows discontented with a heavily regulated "utopia."  It was certainly interesting from a philosophical standpoint, though it didn't delve as much into the issue of freedom v. security as much as it might have.  I also found it a little difficult to believe how compliant people were with the Society's rules--have you ever seen the amount of variation in appearance even in places with uniforms?  Even in the military, for example, where people sign up knowing they'll have to conform to a stringent standard of appearance, you get flashes of individuality like tattoos.  It's hard to picture so many people who didn't volunteer for such a thing follow the Society's rules so diligently.

I did like the characters reasonably well, although they sometimes seemed a bit shallow and naive.  Once again, I couldn't credit the lack of questions regarding the Society from practically everyone.  Even Cassia only starts asking questions when Ky comes up on her chip thingy.

Even so, I enjoyed Matched.  The pacing is decent, if a little slow at times, the story is interesting, and the book ends on enough of a question to make me want to keep reading. 

Characters: 3 cupcakes
Plot: 3 cupcakes
Style: 3 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Monday, September 12, 2011

Succubus Revealed

Succubus Revealed
Richelle Mead
Georgina Kincaid, Book 6

Georgina has had quite an interesting time living in Seattle--nephilim, magical drugs, pagan gods, and dream spirits, not to mention the day-to-day Heaven and Hell problems that a succubus has to deal with.  Despite all these difficulties, Georgina loves Seattle because she's with Seth.  So when a transfer order suddenly comes in from Hell, Georgina is a little upset.  Even though Las Vegas is a dream for a succubus and her visit is everything she ever wanted, something still feels off to Georgina and her friends.  Why does Hell want her out of Seattle so suddenly?

I was really excited when this book finally came from the library.  I love Richelle Mead, and I couldn't wait for the conclusion of this series.  Succubus Revealed was everything I had come to expect from Mead, with a tightly knit plot, humor, great characters, and romance.  If I had part of the mystery solved by the end of book 5, there were certainly aspects I hadn't figured out yet, and everything fit together beautifully.

Now I'm going to have to talk about things that actually happened in the book, so if you haven't read it yet, stop here!


Carter and Roman really stepped it up in this book.  I liked both of them before, of course, but in Succubus Revealed they were amazing.  I tend to forget that Carter really is an angel, since he spends so much time with Hell's minions, drinking and being sarcastic.  But this time there was no way to forget it.  When he came to the Mortensen's house to play Santa for the girls, he was so perfect I cried.  Forget happy romantic endings, I think that might have been the most touching moment in the story.  Roman's own touching moments, with the Tale of Two Cities parallels, were amazing too.  (Plus the reaction in the courtroom when he showed up was priceless.)  I think the two of them made this book, maybe more so than Georgina and Seth.

Though Georgina and Seth certainly had parts to play.  I suspected that Seth was some sort of reincarnation of Kyriakos, but I had no idea that he'd met Georgina so many more times over the years, and I was kind of surprised at his reaction when he remembered everything from the past.  Seth never seemed like the type to walk out like that, but later explanations cleared that up a little.  Unlike in Carter's and Roman's roles, not much in Georgina and Seth's relationship developments was a shock, but it was gratifying all the same. 

As I said, Richelle Mead is one of my favorite authors, mainly because she makes me want to keep reading.  Georgina demonstrates her usual scathing wit in this book, not to mention the displays of Peter's neuroticism and a bowling match that was almost too absurd.  There were still a few loose end left hanging, but I actually think that's an asset--tying everything up perfectly is always just a little too neat.  Overall, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend all of Richelle Mead's works.

Characters: 4 cupcakes
Plot: 4 cupcakes
Style: 5 cupcakes
Overall: 4 cupcakes

Friday, September 9, 2011

Banana Bread

Oh yeah I am supposed to be posting recipes too.  Well tonight you are in luck because I had bananas, and since I only eat about 1 banana a year, I was ready to make banana bread.  I would make a bad monkey.
This picture is totally appropriate.  Who wouldn't want to ride a banana? 
My banana bread recipe is another family recipe that I can say with 1000 percent certainty is the best banana bread recipe in the history of the universe.  It's also very easy to make.  You need:

2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. vegetable shortening
2 eggs
3 T. buttermilk (protip: if you don't have buttermilk, add a little bit of vinegar to whole milk and let it sit for a couple minutes)
3 mashed bananas
2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Grease a loaf pan, then mix the ingredients together in a fashion that seems appropriate to you.  (Seriously, it's not complicated.  Just make sure the batter has a mostly even consistency.)  Here are step-by-step pictures for the culinarily (that may or may not be a word) challenged among you.  They only include about 1/4 of the steps, but because I was feeling helpful, I put them in a relevant order.

Almost mashed bananas

Sugar through bananas.  It actually kind of looks like someone puked in the bowl.  They didn't though!

Batter is finished and in the pan.

Technically the batter is supposed to sit in the pan for 20 minutes, but my oven takes about that long to heat up, so set the oven to 350 degrees and wait while it heats up.  After a duration that seems like about 20 minutes to you, put the pan in the oven and then go away for 50 minutes while it cooks.  

When the timer beeps, stick a knife in the center of the banana bread.  If the knife comes out clean, it's done, and if it's not, wait a few more minutes.  Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring it to a plate or other dish.  Enjoy!

Fresh out of the oven!
I forgot that I was supposed to take a picture before I started eating it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 1

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death? -from Goodreads

I read this books for my September Dusty Bookshelf Challenge in the Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Fanatics group on Goodreads.  I had heard a lot of positive comments about the series and meant to read it for a while, but hadn't gotten around to it.  So I was pretty excited to start reading the book when September rolled around.

However, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was definitely not what I expected.  I've had a mixed experience with YA dystopian novels.  I really liked The Hunger Games and Divergent, but wasn't terribly impressed with Wither (see review).  The Forest of Hands and Teeth turned out to be another one that didn't quite grab me.  At no point in the story did I really care what happened to any of the characters.  I wasn't upset when anyone was bitten or nervous about their ability to escape from the Unconsecrated.  I suspect that if I had been, TFOHAT would have been quite enjoyable, because there was certainly plenty of action.  But as it was, I felt like I was slogging through it just for the sake of finishing (which I did, or I wouldn't be writing a review).

The concept behind TFOHAT was an interesting one.  The spread of zombie infection ends civilization as we know it and mandates the establishment of isolated villages with strict, exception-less laws.  The Sisterhood and their secrets were a particularly intriguing aspect, but one that failed to yield much fruit, unless the Sisterhood reappears in the sequels.  The entire culture of the village had the potential to present more conflict for Mary, but aside from her unhappiness at having to join the Sisterhood, I didn't really see that in the book.

Less appealing still was the romance in the book.  At first it was sort of like A Midsummer Night's Dream, except A Midsummer Night's Dream is funny and works out in the end.  The idea that, if Cass loves Harry and Travis and Mary love each other, the couples don't work out that way because Harry doesn't want them to, was just not credible to me.  Not that I was a particular fan of either couple, I just found the obstacles to Travis and Mary being together a little absurd.

The characters as a whole never really aroused my sympathies.  None of them seemed particularly dynamic or unique, and I couldn't particularly like or dislike any of them. While the best authors paint their characters in such a way that their actions in any given situation seem inevitable, given who they are, I just didn't feel that here.  The entire time Mary was determined to go on through the Forest and find the ocean, while the others wanted to turn back, I couldn't really understand their motives.  They were just never real to me.

What the book lacked that might have resolved almost all of these issues was humor.  Not that I expect every book I read to be funny, or a dystopian novel to be a barrel of laughs--far from it.  But even the most desparate situations can contain an element of humor.  It's one of humanity's best defense mechanisms, sometimes the only thing that keeps you from giving in to despair.  I wouldn't expect Mary to have a funny retort on her tongue every page, but I can't remember a single instance where I laughed reading this book.  I think the inclusion of a little bit of humor would have made a huge difference in the quality of the book and my perception of the characters.  And after all, without humor, what's the difference between us and the zombies?

Charcters: 1 cupcake
Plot: 3 cupcakes
Style: 1 cupcake
Overall: 2 cupcakes

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You Slay Me

You Slay Me
Katie MacAlister
Aisling Grey, Guardian, Book 1

For Aisling Grey's first assignment as an antiquities courier, her uncle sends her to Paris.  After she successfully navigates customs, the stalwart Rene the Taxi Driver brings her to the residence of Mme. Deauxville--where everything goes wrong.  Aisling finds Mme. Deauxville dead in what appears to be a circle for summoning demons, though everyone knows demons aren't real.  Then the mysterious Drake Vireo tells her she's supposed to be some sort of mystical Guardian.  On top of that, the Paris police suspect Aisling of committing the murder.  To clear her name, Aisling must navigate the dangerous supernatural underworld of Paris and claim her heritage as a Guardian.

You Slay Me was an enjoyable read.  It wasn't terribly original, but it was entertaining all the same.  I enjoyed Aisling's witticisms, particularly in the interactions with Jim the demon Newfie.  Aisling's romance with Drake was steamy, if a little hard to believe. Aisling's frequent vacillation over how to treat him didn't do much for the plot.  

The supernatural murder mystery novel is common because it works, and MacAlister manages it successful.  The real killer is a mystery till the end, though Aisling is a little slow to pick up some clues.  MacAlister sets the stage for an interesting series with You Slay Me, and I'll certainly read the next book.

Characters: 4 cupcakes
Plot: 3 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Wolves of Mercy Falls

The Wolves of Mercy Falls: Shiver, Linger, Forever
Maggie Stiefvater

Many stories are good.  Some are even excellent.  A few, a very few, are the kind of stories that take you outside of yourself for a while and set up residence inside your head while you're away.  Reading these, time stops and the world disappears, and when you turn the last page and close the book it's almost a surprise to find that the world is still there, still turning just the way it was before.  These are the kind of stories that make sifting through piles of average sameness worthwhile, the ones that make you laugh out loud, gasp, cry, the ones you can't read in public for the emotions that flicker across your face.  I don't know what it is that sets these stories apart from the rest; I think if anyone did, there would be a lot more spectacular tales out there.  I do know that for me, the Wolves of Mercy Falls is one of those stories.  

I was planning to make this a review of Forever, the third book in the trilogy, but this is one of those times where it's extremely difficult for me to separate books when in my head they're a single story, probably because of the whole time-stopping, climbing-into-your-brain thing.  For the same reason, I'm skipping a summary and only saying that the wolves of Mercy Falls aren't like any other werewolves you've ever seen.  Maggie Stiefvater creates a thrilling, unique world of bitten humans who change to wolves when the temperature drops (though it turns out there's a little more to it than that).  Her characters come alive in blue, green, red words on a page, each distinct and real.  Their concerns, hopes, fears, loves are more than words; they wind around you until you're caught, without regret, in the tangle of their tale.

These stories are the reason I hold back five-star (or rather, cupcake) ratings even when I think a book is really very good.  I've only read a handful of stories that startle with their shining*, but this is one of them.  This is what it means to be a five-star book.

Characters: 5 cupcakes
Plot: 5 cupcakes
Style: 5 cupcakes
Overall: 12 million cupcakes (not really.  Really it's five cupcakes.  But seriously, go out and read it.)

*It's from "To Juan at the Winter Solstice" by Robert Graves, one of the few poems I actually know.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in exchange for the power of necromancy.  Unfortunately, now he needs it back, so naturally he travels to Hell to see Satan.  Satan's not inclined to make any gifts, but he does agree to a wager: Cabal will collect one hundred souls in one year in exchange for the return of his own.  To that end, Cabal runs a carnival staffed with the dregs of Hell with his brother Horst (a vampire).  Mayhem and sarcasm abound in this novel, as the elitist Cabal interacts with and tricks his patrons.

Although it took me a while to get into this book, I quite enjoyed it by the end.  Cabal's total disregard for and frustration with everyone he interacted with was entertaining, and Howard managed to give him a certain depth even without a soul.  I was somewhat disappointed that none of the larger mysteries (read: why Cabal gave his soul to become a necromancer in the first place) were answered by the end of the novel, so I suppose I'll have to find the sequel, though that's not really something I regret.  Howard's style is somewhat reminiscent of Douglas Adams's in its absurdity, although the story is rather darker than The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  All in all, a good read.

Plot: 4 cupcakes
Characters: 4 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 4 cupcakes

The Manual of Detection

The Manual of Detection
Jedediah Berry

"Lest details be mistaken for clues, note that Mr. Charles Unwin, lifetime resident of this city, rode his bicycle to work every day."  Thus begins The Manual of Detection, the story of an accidental detective, the Agency that employs him, and criminals who are almost always more than they appear.  As Unwin sets out on a quest to find his missing detective, he finds himself hampered by both the detective's longtime nemesis Enoch Hoffman and agents of his own ever-watchful Agency.  As Unwin learns more, he discovers that there is far more happening in his city than he ever expected.

The Manual of Detection is extremely difficult to describe or categorize.  Perhaps an absurdist film noir, or a surreal mystery, but in any case, the story is unique.  It could hardly be anything else, in a world with cases like The Oldest Murdered Man, The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker, and The Man Who Stole November Twelfth.  Elements such as the Travels-No-More Carnival and the use of Dream Detection were clever and intriguing, while the absurdity of Agency policy was often brilliantly funny.  The use of dreams had a little of an Inception-esque feel, though with less action.

On that note, the story was somewhat slow-paced at times, and through the middle of the book I felt as though I was slogging through only because of those unusual elements.  By the end it picked up a little more, and I was pleased by the way the story wrapped up.  Overall, I recommend it, if only because it's so unusual.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 3 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes