CSN Bookshelf Product review

As I mentioned a few days ago, I was asked to select an item for review from the massively huge CSN Stores catalog. After looking around at all their fun stuffs, I finally decided on a much needed bookshelf for my little boy's room. Mostly due to my inability to stop buying books, the little turkey has long since outgrown his puny little shelf so I thought this was a perfect time for an upgrade.
The exact shelf I picked out is the KidKraft Avalon 46" Bookcase in honey wood. To my surprise the shelf actually arrived yesterday - since I only ordered it last week, that was some speedy shipping.

Here's what Mr. FedEx brought:
Inside, all the individual pieces were packed tightly with just the right amount of padding so that nothing got scratched or dented during shipping.
I took all the pieces out of the box (just like Christmas morning!) and was even more impressed. Each piece of the shelf is made from solid wood and the directions were really clear and concise with plenty of pictures for non-mechanical folks like me.

My little 'helper' laying out all the pieces.
Even better, all you needed to put the shelf together was an allen wrench - which was included - so setting it up was a breeze. In fact I have no shots of me putting it together because I was finished in like 15 minutes.

And here it is all assembled. It looks exactly like I thought it would and I'm pleasantly surprised to say that it's really quite sturdy. Considering it's go into a toddler's room, that's always a good thing. 
I'm really happy with the final product. It matches my little guy's other furniture perfectly and holds tons of books - they all fit in with plenty of room to grow! I am in love.

Although watching the little man immediately run over and begin pulling out books to read may have completely melted my heart. Just a little bit.

White Cat by Holly Black

Holly Black's dark and character-driven novels are not for everyone. Although popular, I never did find myself falling in love with her modern faerie tale novels Tithe and Valiant. So I was a bit hesitant to pick up her latest book, White Cat, knowing it again featured a dark, convoluted storyline starring a family of brothers with magical abilities, known as 'curse workers,' working in a mafia-esque empire of danger and revenge.

Wait a minute.

That sounds like something I'd be all over.

Bring it on Ms. Black.

In Cassel Sharpe's alternate reality, Curse Workers have the power to alter emotions, grant you luck, break your leg, or even kill you with a single touch of their bare skin. Although 'working' was outlawed in the early 1920s, curse workers have continued to thrive outside of the law under the direction of mafia-like families of magical users. Cassel hails from a long and impressive line of curse workers and con artists. And while he's not a worker like his brothers Phillip and Barron, he can definitely claim the con artist status. But Cassel is going straight. While his mom serves time in jail, Cassel is attending an exclusive private school and trying to act normal - even if he does run a small-time betting ring to cover his daily expenses. Yet the perfect image he has so painstakingly constructed begins to crumble when Cassel begins dreaming about a white cat asking for his help and sleepwalking at school. Confused with the jumbled snatches of memory from his past and the various versions of truth his brothers offer in explanation for their increasingly odd behavior, Cassel finds himself deep in the tangled web of a mysterious conspiracy spanning years and involving every person he has ever loved.

In White Cat, nothing is as it seems: from the 'public' image Cassel creates of himself, his relationship with his brothers and mom, or to his own perception of himself and his abilities. Compelling and gritty, Cassel finds truth spilling forward at the most unexpected moments from the unlikeliest of sources. I am utterly intrigued to discover where Holly Black will take the Sharpe brothers next. All three have this unique love/hate relationship with each other, tied up in knots alongside their conflicting loyalties and hopes for the future. Not to mention their own skewed perceptions of family and loyalty. It's some truly heady stuff. Then there's Cassel's grandpa who is decidedly old school but who everyone just sees as old. But wowza, the man is a killer. Literally. Although I do wish he wouldn't spend so much time being cryptic with Cassel - his insights could have saved him buckets of time.

Although it did take me a few chapters to really warm up to Cassel, sections like this one quickly helped me to see just what a unique and intelligent guy he really is.
Mom says that because she can make people feel what she wants them to, she knows how they think. She says that if I was like her, I'd have the instinct too. Maybe being a worker tempts you to be all mystical, but I think mom knows about people because she watches faces very closely. There're these looks people get that last less than a second -- micro-expressions, they call them, fleeting clues that reveal a lot more than we wish. I think my mother sees those without even noticing. I see them too.

Like, walking back toward the coffee shop with the cat in my arms, I can tell that Sam is freaked out by the con, by his part in it, by my planning it. I can tell. No matter how much he smiles.

I'm not my mother, though. I'm no emotion worker. Knowing that he's freaked out doesn't help me. I can't make him feel any different.
How could I not fall instantly in love with Cassel's profusion of con-man lingo and his obvious removal from anything remotely resembling a 'normal' relationship. Familial or friendly. In Cassel's world, a mother wouldn't hesitate to use her ability to manipulate her children's emotions or reward her kids for successfully pulling off a con. Heart-breaking but so incredibly engrossing. In this exceptionally character-driven novel, Holly Black has crafted a world so unlike any other YA book I've come across. White Cat is dark. Gritty. Intense. Just my kind of story.

series reading order:
~ White Cat
~ Red Glove (?May 2011?)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
All Things Urban Fantasy review
Alpha Reader review
The Book Smugglers review 
The Compulsive Reader review
Dear Author review
Pure Imagination review

book source: my local library

Summer Break Reading Challenge #2: Wordle

For the second activity of the Summer Break Reading Challenge, Karin asked us to take one of our recent favorite reads and turn it into a Wordle. I practically died from an overload of awesomeness after reading Patrick Rothfuss' gorgeois fantasy debut The Name of the Wind so I knew that was the book I was going to choose if only to see how big the word 'cloak' was used. Pretty nifty.

Summer Break Reading Challenge

Since one of my main goals for this summer is to wade through the pile of books sitting unread and looking forlorn on my exploding bookshelves, I thought I'd have some fun and join in on the Summer Break Reading Challenge hosted by KarinLibrarian.

Summer Break Reading Challenge

Here are a few of the books that I've been wanting to pick up for some time or that are giving me the stink eye from my shelf. I've got until the end of August, so hopefully I can make a dent in this pile:

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
Fallen by Lauren Kate
The Hollow by Jessica Verday
That was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
Plus by Veronica Chambers
Gone, Hunger and Lies by Michael Grant
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill
Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Firespell by Chloe Neill
Geek Charming by Robin Palmer
Invisible Girl by Mary Hanlon Stone
War on the Margins by Libby Cone
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy

That's all for now, I'm sure this list will change/grow as summer progresses but here's my starting point. Now I just have to decide where to begin.

Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Deep in the magical forest known as the Mistwood lives a creature known as the Shifter. Blessed with the ability to shift into any shape she pleases, the shifter has one purpose: to serve and protect the kings of Samorna. But no one has seen the Shifter for many years until Prince Rokan dares to enter the dangerous Mistwood in search of this almost-mythical creature, hoping that she will be able to keep him safe. Feeling an inexplicable urge to follow and protect Rokan, the Shifter Isabel follows him out of the forest and into a castle shrouded in danger, lies, and half-truths. Isabel herself has no memory of her existence before the Prince found her but understands deep within herself that her one duty is to protect Rokan from the threat he refuses to explain. A little at a time, Isabel begins to regain her memories of palace life and the past; clues that do more to confuse than to help Isable unravel the secrets surrounding Prince Rokan's court. Surrounded by those she cannot trust - including the Prince himself - and beset by personal doubts, Isabel strives to protect Rokan, someone she is bound to serve yet who she is also coming to see as something more.

There are so many wonderful things I would like to say about Leah Cypess' lovely debut Mistwood. First off the cover. Holy cow it is ever gorgeous! And I'm happy to report that the insides are just as pretty. Leah Cypess has crafted a compelling world with characters who utterly refuse to be pigeon-holed into any specific category. No one is completely good or evil, trust-worthy or disloyal - all of which makes Isabel's task of uncovering those seeking to harm the Prince that much more difficult. Isabel herself is even a bit of a contradiction. Although non-human, she is continually disturbed by the all-too human emotions of fear and worry and confusion. Emotions which she keeps tightly controlled, even thought it seemed as if on every page she was this close to erupting.

Then there is the cunning and devious Clarisse, Rokan's sister, who Isabel is wary of on sight. Clarisse is a strong female with brains to spare and Isabel is right to be suspicious of her since the reader never truly understands where her sympathies lie - even at the end of the book! I have a sneaking suspicion she is one of those people who end up on the winning side of any conflict, immaterial of the side she began on. She's a puzzle and I was glued to page every time she and Isabel would spar. Like this early scene (even though Clarisse doesn't really say anything), when Clarisse pays Isabel an unexpected visit for the first time.
She turned and walked away without waiting for a response, and Isabel watched her go with narrowed eyes. She did not like that smile. It was too smug. Clarisse had come here for a specific purpose and had accomplished it.

She came, Isabel thought with a flash of clarity, to see me. To decide what she thought of me, and what she could get out of me.

It had been an attack, of sorts, and people did fight who lived in castles like these. Not with fists and feet and claws, but with words and whispers and influence. Isabel couldn't remember having been here before, but she knew. It was a fight, or rather a game, with many players and many rules and many strategies.

She smiled suddenly, feeling her blood pump through her veins. She didn't know how, and she didn't know why, but she was suddenly sure it was a game she knew how to play.
And that's just the beginning. There is absolutely nothing predictable about the stunningly mysterious Mistwood. I was right there along with Isabel as she regained her memory piece by piece, constantly plagued by a nagging sensation that something important lay yet just out of her reach. I can only hope that Ms. Cypess has plans to return to the excellent world of Mistwood and Isabel and Rokan and Clarisse, as her creative and compelling characters made quite the impression on this reader.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
The Book Smugglers review 
Chachic's Book Nook review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Steph Su Reads review
The Story Siren review

book source: review copy from the publisher

Dairy Queen to a Good Home! psst.. it's a giveaway!

Hello my pretties! So in my own obsessive-compulsive (if not highly predictable) book-buying way I've managed to obtain two copies of the ever-so funny YA novel Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. I heart this book so much and would love to pass my copy along to another reader since I now have two gracing my shelves.
Alas, this book is not exactly in perfect condition which is why I'm offering it here in the first place. It's a former library copy so it has all the expected stamps etc. and the spine has been broken (see below pic). I can't donate it to a library due to the stamps and brokenness, but I didn't want it to just disappear into the land of lost books.


I'm sure this isn't something everybody would be interested in, but if YOU would like a well-loved copy of the hilarious Dairy Queen, just leave your name in the comments (and a way to contact you) before July 1st and I'll send it off to you with lots of love. Sadly to say, this giveaway is only for US folks.

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Small town life can be peaceful, even idyllic but for Maggie Armstrong or Caleb Becker, their quaint hometown of Paradise, Illinois has come to mean nothing of the sort. Their lives were forever changed the night Caleb, drunk, got behind the wheel of a car and hit his twin sisters' best friend, Maggie, and then fled the scene of the crime. For the past year, he's grimly paid for his mistake in juvenile prison but to Maggie, Caleb's debt to her is far from paid. In the past year, she's had surgery after surgery to reconstruct her leg, leaving her with some nasty scars and an awkward limp. Once popular and athletic, Maggie is now a freak, a loner and bitter. Hoping to return to his former life after being released from jail, Caleb returns to find his family a hollow shell and his once easy friendships, forced. Neither are ready to face the reality or the consequences of that awful night one year ago but it's not easy to hide in a small town like Paradise. The past, even one as painful as Caleb and Maggie's, has a way of catching up with you.

Wow. I am fast becoming enamored with everything Simone Elkeles. After interviewing here on the bloggy last month (and loving her personality), I became curious about her other novels and decided I needed to track them down immediately. And boy, am I ever glad I found Leaving Paradise. From page one, Ms. Elkeles had me captured with descriptions of Caleb's anxiety over leaving juvie and Maggie's desperation to get out of Paradise. Leaving Paradise was again told from alternating POV chapters between Maggie and Caleb, like her Perfect Chemistry novels, which might have sealed the deal for me. This is actually one feature that I am coming to desperately love about Ms. Elkeles' books. She shifts so flawlessly back and forth between her male and female characters that it makes the novel simply fly by. Both voices fairly explode off the page in honesty and vibrancy. I'm beginning to think this technique is becoming a favorite of mine because it can subtly underscore the differences between such disparate characters like Maggie and Caleb without ever making direct comparisons. I'm all about a little subtly going a long way.

Leaving Paradise is a distinct departure from Simone Elkeles' fun and flirty Perfect Chemistry world. That's not to say that their isn't a hint of very real danger in Perfect Chemistry (there is) but Leaving Paradise was more of a emotionally taxing read. Maggie and Caleb have been dealt a pretty raw deal, which has left them extremely frustrated with their circumstances and feeling powerless to change them. Understandably, the struggles Maggie and Caleb face are some truly scary hurdles. Forgiveness. Self-acceptance. Trust. All very delicate topics that were handled with such straightforward honesty in this gut-wrenching book. And yet there were moments of humor and joy - just don't expect the entire book to be one big happily ever after. Because truthfully, the ending absolutely tore me up. I'm not kidding when I say it's one that will wring your heart a million times over and then leave you hoping, hoping for a better future for Maggie and Caleb. Because if anyone deserves it, those two do.

series reading order:
~ Leaving Paradise
~ Return to Paradise (September 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Pure Imagination review
Reviewer X review
Sophistikatied Reviews review
The YA, YA, YAs review

The Case of the Toppling Bookshelf

As a book-lover I have a problem. A BIG problem. See, I like to buy books. Lots of books. And then I'll sometimes go out and buy yet more books. Sound familiar anyone? For some reason, these books never seem to fit into the sorry excuse I currently have for a bookshelf and the result is stacks and stacks of my favorite things piled haphazardly in all directions. The insanity must stop!
So when I was recently contacted by CSN Stores about participating in a product review I, of course, agreed and immediately thought of BOOKCASES! But then I took a stroll on over to their site and discovered their millions of products available - everything, naturally, that I desperately need. Naturally. Like their new headboards for the currently-lonely mattress in the guest bedroom, or some lamps for the dining room (it has horrid lighting), or even some new bakeware that I have been salivating over for ages. Toughie. So what would you choose? Although due to the complete and utter chaos present in my current bookshelf, I'm thinking that might still be my number one pick...

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
Confession time here folks: Up until a few weeks ago, I had never read S.E. Hinton's classic coming of age novel The Outsiders. [insert chorus of gasps] And I have no idea why either, though really it's my own fault. I did see the movie years ago and remember loving it and also remember my mom telling me that the book was a million times better (of course) but for some odd twist of fate, I never settled down with The Outsiders myself. Which is a crying shame to be sure. A couple of weeks ago, I came across it at a book sale and took it for the sign it was. I decided NOW was the time I would read this slim classic. A few hours and a head full of endlessly quotable passages later, I sat there stunned and in awe. Ponyboy and Sodapop, the responsible Darry, the tragic Johnny, and on-the-edge Dally - each and every single one of them wormed themselves into my heart, determined never to let go. 

I think what wrinkles my brain the most is the fact that Ms. Hinton was only sixteen years old when The Outsiders was published. Drawing upon her own experiences between the haves and have-nots, she crafted something so honest yet harsh in its stark reality, utterly unlike any other 'teen' novel that had come before.

This sorta comes from left field, but is it just me or did anyone else find themselves flashing back to scenes from West Side Story while reading The Outsiders? Maybe because I'm such a theater nerd but over and over again, I found myself reading about the Socs and Greasers yet picturing the Jets and Sharks facing off in turf rumbles or singing about the crummy justice system in "Gee, Officer Krupke" - which was stuck in my head for days later thankyouverymuch.

So now, I'm happy to say I'm hooked on S. E. Hinton and her brand of reality. After searching around a bit I discovered she has quite a few other novels floating around, but where to go next? That Was Then, This is Now? Rumble Fish? Tex? I need direction and I'm looking to you, my dear blogging friends, for suggestions. Which S.E. Hinton book should I pick up next?


I've been extraordinarily giddy for this new season of So You Think You Can Dance to begin. I'm not really a reality TV fan, but this show has become one of my favorite things to look forward to each summer. As I watched last night's episode however, one particular performance stood head and shoulders above the crowd. If you saw it, then you know what I'm talking about:

Alex Wong.


Sonya Tayeh.


Alex is pretty much my new favorite bright and shiny thing. Sonya Tayeh's work is usually pretty hit or miss for me, but if this is the sort of purity of dance we can expect from Season 7 with the addition of the all-stars, then bring it on. I mean, come on... did you see Alex's controlled extensions?!? I'd pick up the phone for that.

*I usually only want to hear Rufus Wainwright sing this song (AND THAT'S IT), but Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah was a pleasant surprise.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

For the past few months now I've come across countless favorable reviews of N. K. Jemisin's debut fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as it made its way round the blogosphere. And while most reviewers mentioned the mountains of publicity the publisher generated by calling The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms the fantasy debut of 2010, they all seem to agree that it did in fact live up to the publishers promise. Now that didn't sell me on the book alone, but combined with the superb cover and after reading an excerpt online, I was sold and ready to weigh in on the book for myself.

While still in mourning for her murdered mother, Yeine receives an unexpected summons from the exalted city of Sky, the ruling seat for all of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, from her estranged grandfather the king. Although Yeine has never once traveled to Sky or met her powerful grandfather, upon her arrival she discovers his intention to name her as an heir to the Arameri throne. Despite the fact that Yeine is the recognized ruler of her own homeland Darr, she is only half Arameri and completely at a loss when it comes to the ruthlessness and cruelty of the high-blooded nobles. But Yeine is not the only contender for the throne: her two cousins Scimina and Relad have planned and schemed their entire lives in preparation for assuming control and will each prove to be intelligent if not, merciless adversaries as only one heir can live through the struggle to become king. Sky continues to be a city of revelations for Yeine, including her introduction to the array of complex yet deadly gods trapped into human form as punishment by the Skyfather, Bright Itempas. The mischievous, child-like Sieh, the dark and alluring Lord Nahadoth - enegmatic beings who draw Yeine nearer with their promises of understanding and affection. Scarce on knowledge and on time, Yeine flounders in a incompressible world of secrets and gods as she slowly uncovers mysteries about her family and those hidden deep within herself.

Oftentimes when a fantasy novel devotes such a large portion to explaining a new pantheon of gods an their abilities the story itself suffers. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms boasts such an impressive creation myth, complete and believable, with stories stretching back to the beginning of time. Despite this wealth of information, Yeine's story swiftly flies by as each new detail added more substance and layers to her struggles. This was partly achieved due to the unique narrative style of the book, told in first person style by Yeine. At times we meet the confused, young-Yeine who is experiencing the action first-hand, then there is the matured Yeine looking back and narrating, and other times a third Yeine who reminds herself of details or who is there to help to collect her thoughts. Sounds confusing on paper, but N. K. Jemisin merges the voices together flawlessly to create a riveting fantasy that reveals itself only by degrees. Take these first few lines of the novel for example:
I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

I must try to remember.


My people tell stories of the night I was born. They say my mother crossed her legs in the middle of labor and fought with all her strength not to release me into the world. I was born anyhow, of course; nature cannot be denied. Yet it does not surprise me that she tried.


My mother was an heiress of the Arameri. There was a ball for the lesser nobility — the sort of thing that happens once a decade as a backhanded sop to their self-esteem. My father dared ask my mother to dance; she deigned to consent. I have often wondered what he said and did that night to make her fall in love with him so powerfully, for she eventually abdicated her position to be with him. It is the stuff of great tales, yes? Very romantic. In the tales, such a couple lives happily ever after. The tales do not say what happens when the most powerful family in the world is offended in the process.


But I forget myself. Who was I, again? Ah, yes.
That's an excellent hook if I've ever read one.

Truly the most outstanding feature of Yeine's story are the characters. Yeine herself varies through a variety of emotions - despair, rage, love, fear - all very genuine in the face of such trials. Her adventures are narrated in such heart-pounding accuracy that I often felt fear, joy, or revulsion right along side Yeine. Then there are the gods, the Enefah. Their very existence and power defies everything Yeine previously knew about them while their subjection to Itempas is heart-breakingly tragic. I was utterly enamored with Sieh and his floating spheres and his youthful eagerness to help Yeine. I just want to wrap him up in my arms and keep him safe. Yet no matter how human or tragic the gods appear to Yeine, she continually faced reminders of their true god nature: powerful and decidedly not human. I'm like Yeine when it comes to the gods: I love them all - even if they scare the pants off me.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was an excellent debut, one that I'd recommend almost without reservation.

series reading order:
~ The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
~ The Broken Kingdoms (November 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Dribble of Ink review
The Book Smugglers review
Fantasy Cafe review
Janicu's Book Blog review
My Favorite Books review

See Michelle Laugh: Brian Regan

Whew. While I spend some time recovering from a 26 hour road trip spanning 3.5 days, 3 states, and a cooped up toddler all in hopes of attending the Hubby's 10 year high school reunion (joy of joys), I thought I'd share this funny. Brian Regan's 'highbrow' comedy always makes me laugh, but his latest The Epitome of Hyperbole proved to be especially worth watching. Take this section on books and movies for example. Or his bit about Reading. He's already got me giggling.

The Subtle Knife & The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman Audiobook

Who knew it, but June is actually Audiobook Month. So today, I today I thought I'd write about an audiobook I've recently listened to (and adored).
While I'm not really an audio book person (I'd much rather to physically hold a book and turn the pages one by one), I am partial to having something playing while I'm driving around or exercising since the radio usually drives me batty. As a added bonus (and to make me feel like I'm being sneaky and getting two things done at once) I try to either listen to either classics or books I've always wanted to read but never really had the enthusiasm to sit down with for any length of time. A while back I decided to listen to the final two books in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy since I never really got around to finishing the series after reading The Golden Compass almost two years ago. Mostly this decision came about after listening to Aimee of My Fluttering Heart declare her undying affection for one Will and Lyra during Literary Love
Luckily for me, I unwittingly stumbled upon what has to be the best audio book production I've ever come across when I began The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. The novels themselves are read by the author himself supported by a complete cast in what I can only describe as being brilliant. The cast preformed with such emotion and depth that I was literally adding extra time to my running route or making random trips to the store just so I could listen a little bit more. Multiple times I found myself crying (er..sobbing really) over some particularly poignant scene or gasping loudly at each new unexpected revelation. Though I didn't really love the final conclusion to the series, I have to admit that even the ending was fiercely poetic in it's star-cross'd lovers way.

And while I don't exactly hold with Philip Pullman's views on organized religion and God, Lyra and Will's adventures are nothing short of magical. The worlds they visit and the people/creatures they meet! The armored bear Iorek Byrnison, the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, the witch Serafina Pekkala, the Mulefa, the Gallivespian Chevalier Tialys...too many to count here but each one is characterized beautifully. Lyra and her adventures in The Golden Compass were enjoyable and interesting, the addition of a full cast reading turned this series into something spell-bindingly wondrous.

series reading (listening) order:
~ The Golden Compass or Northern Lights
~ The Subtle Knife
~ The Amber Spyglass

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

**Although I really try really hard to keep all reviews here spoiler-free, I just couldn't seem to do it with this book. But I have marked each potential section. If you want to read them, go ahead and highlight the text to see it, just be warned.

For as long as she can remember, Violet Ambrose has experienced what can only be called a compulsion to seek out the bodies of those that have been killed - animal or human and especially those that came to a violent end. Not only does the body 'call' to Violet through her senses (sound, color, taste, smell etc.) but she can also 'see' the traces on those that have killed. For years, Violet has spent her free time roaming through the woods near her house with best-friend Jay digging up small, broken animals to re-bury in order to bring both herself and the animals some peace. Having been best friends since elementary school, Violet and Jay have always shared everything - even her special ability - but at the outset of their Junior year, Violet suddenly finds herself experiencing some decidedly non-platonic feelings for Jay which she just can't share. Confused and unsure, Violet's primary fear is that she's going to lose her best friend until several teens begin to disappear in her small town and the police suspect that a serial killer is targeting teenage girls. With danger striking so close to home and the police floundering to uncover the culprit, Violet knows her ability may be the only only way to stop such a hardened killer once and for all.

I really wanted to like Kimberly Derting's debut novel. Truly, I did. I've heard from numerous reviewers how much they enjoyed it, but something about The Body Finder did not sit quite right with me. The concept of someone being able to hear 'echoes' from the dead and their killers is an extremely compelling idea, one with much potential. However, the idea didn't translate very well in Violet's case. Don't get me wrong: she was a very likable character although a little dense at times (but what teen isn't? I often was), but her narrative was often repetitive - such that I can only describe it as being overwritten. Especially with her constant obsessions over her relationship with Jay. And how can I describe my feelings for Jay? I thoroughly enjoyed Jay's character for the first half of the book in his supportive, teasing role but once he became Mr. Alpha Protector and Obsessor over Violet did he turn me off. ***SPOILER  His "I'll love you forever and ever and ever" routine got real old, real fast. ***END SPOILER Feel free to also add The Body Finder to the fast-growing ranks of nonexistent, oblivious parents of a single child in a YA novel. At the point when I thought Violet's parents would want to place more restrictions on her (since a SERIAL KILLER targeting TEEN GIRLS was on the loose) they basically exited stage left with nary a parting word. Boggles the mind.

Above all, one major issue I had with The Body Finder was the inclusion of periodic chapters from the viewpoint of the killer. These were odd, creepy and threw me out of the story every time one popped up. Personally, I do not want to be in the head of a psychopath. So much so that I felt that this book was trying to turn itself into a YA friendly romantic-suspense novel sans the actual sex. ***SPOILER Although the make out sessions between Jay and Violet all but got the deed done after reading such lines as: "She heard herself moan and could feel the throbbing of her own pulse flickering hotly through her veins." Very odd sentence to find in a YA book don't you think? To me, Violet's relationship with Jay can only be described as Intense. END SPOILER*** I'm not a huge fan of the romantic-suspense genre in the best of circumstances and The Body Finder didn't do much to change my opinion in that regard either.

series reading order
~ The Body Finder
~ Desires of the Dead (March 2011)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Dear Author review 
Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Presenting Lenore review
Reading Addict review

book source: my local library

My inbox overfloweth

I have this friend who really likes fantasy books - especially the Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series - I'm thinking she has good taste. But she'd never heard of the Kate Daniels books and so I have been bugging her for some time to track them down cause I know she'll just love them. I even supplied her with my copy of Magic Bleeds since it hadn't become available on her Kindle yet.

I hadn't heard anything from her for almost a week until yesterday when I got the following texts on my phone:

MARY: Finished the Kate books! I luv Kate and Curran!
ME: yay!
MARY: Curran all growly and protective is  my favorite =)
ME: i know! isn't he just yummy?!
MARY: uh huh
ME: have u read MAGIC BLEEDS yet? it is AMAZING!!! it turned me to goo
MARY: Finished this morning! I luv-luv it! Your furriness! =o) i luv when she says that. i just luv those two crazy luv birds.
ME: Of course u luved it! i'm so happy ;)
MARY: their 'intimate' moments suits their relationship. I'm glad she [Ilona Andrews] wrote it that way. cuz their relationship is so...amazingly crazy.
ME: so happy.

My work here is done.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Like many of you out there, I am a huge fan of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series - though perhaps what I should really say is that I am a huge fan of her clever thief Eugenides. Ever since Ms. Turner turned my world upside-down after reading The King of Attolia, I have been waiting none too patiently for another installment of Gen. So it should come as no surprise that I'll admit to being the teeniest bit disappointed upon learning that the bulk of A Conspiracy of Kings follows the bookish Sophos from The Thief instead of Gen. And then I gave myself a mental face-slap and got down to business after reminding myself: it's Megan Whalen Turner and I will follow that woman anywhere she leads. 

There is sooo very much that I want to say about A Conspiracy of Kings (all very good) but like Ana over The Book Smugglers said, I'm just not going to here. To do justice to these books, I'm trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible since every reader should have the opportunity to take the delicious path of discovery that Megan Whalen Turner lays out for her readers. She parcels out revelations bit by bit and it's one of the main reasons I love these books so much. So I'm going to restrain myself from going on and on about my favorite parts because I want YOU to be able to discover them for yourself. So what are you waiting for? Go read it. Now. You'll thank me later, I promise.

Sophos has never really wanted his life. Next in line to the throne of Sounis, he'd rather spend his days reading poetry than learning how to fight or the best way to converse with an ambassador. But to Sophos' credit, he's still trying to learn all that his father and uncle, the king, want - knowing even as he does so, that he's still a disappointment to them. But when his family is unexpectedly attacked by rebels - his sisters and mother gone and Sophos himself captured and brutalized and sold into slavery -  does Sophos find himself relying on his training as a fighter and a leader in order to find the strength to fight for the country he loves.

What I love most about Megan Whalen Turner's books is that she expects a lot from her readers. She expects everyone to be intelligent as Sophos, the Magus, and Gen (although no one really ever could be as smart as Gen). Consequently I find myself often rereading passages so brilliant in their subtly that are never predictable except in their ability to render me speechless. And of course, there are many references to Gen - throwing ink pots and adoring his boots - but Sophos is the real star of A Conspiracy of Kings and he lives up to his role absolutely. Sophos is so genuine and determined and I love his humor and loyalty without hesitation. 

Most likely due to his rough upbringing, Sophos is constantly plagued with feelings of self-doubt coupled with an immense sense of duty. Although he would much prefer to be left alone with his poetry and books, Sophos never ever backs down from his responsibilities to country and family. Even to the detriment of his own happiness. Take this passage on making tough decisions for example:
What would I choose if I could have anything? Well, I wouldn't be useless. I would be the statesman my father wanted and the prince my country needed. But that wasn't what I was offered. I was still the same poor excuse for a prince that I had always been. Quite likely I would fail to be of any use at all -- to my father or anyone. When the rebelling barons were put down, I would see my uncle marry and produce an heir far superior to me, and I would be despised and useless and unwelcome even in my own home. That was what I was choosing.

I wonder if people always choose what will  make them unhappy.
Sophos is sitting there, about to make what will become the most life-altering decision of his life and even though he knows it will be hard and will make him unhappy, he still CHOOSES WHAT IS HARDEST because he knows it to be the most necessary. And it's not just this once Sophos does this: he makes these hard choices again and again - knowing people may not love him for it, but knowing that it just needs to be done. A better man you could not find.

Also: The cover artwork for A Conspiracy of Kings is simply beautiful - the entire series has had superb covers actually, each one subtly foreshadowing little bits of the story perfectly. In this case, I think the man on the horse is a little too pretty to be Sophos but you have to agree that his detailed red coat is stunning and the movement of the horse and rider exquisite. Although what draws me to this cover above all is the tightly clenched fist, firmly wearing the golden lion signet ring. There is such power and determination in that single fist that captures Sophos spot-on.*

series reading order:
~ The Thief
~ The Queen of Attolia
~ The King of Attolia
~ A Conspiracy of Kings

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
The Book Smugglers review
Chachic's Book Nook review

book source: my local library

*UPDATE: Thanks to the good folks at Greenwillow, I realized that I had inadvertently posted the incorrect cover art for A Conspiracy of Kings here. Oh Nos. I've gone ahead and updated the image shown and am pleased to note that this new version is in all ways vastly superior to the one I had gotten online. Obviously. Thanks for keeping me on the strait and narrow guys!

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

If you've spent much time around this here bloggy, then there's a good chance you've heard about how crazy I am for Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels series. The constant back-and-forth between Kate and Curran never fails to entertain me and Andrew's phenomenal world-building of a magic-ravaged Atlanta (my hometown!) always keeps me intrigued. After reading what I shall hereafter refer to as The Goodness - Magic Strikes - I've been on tender-hooks waiting for the sequel ever since.
Magic Bleeds opens with what has to be the best prologue of all time - it's that good. There is positively no contest here folks. In the interest of not becoming all spoiler-y, I won't go into details, but just know that after the dust settles, we are left with one mad Kate. Mad with a capital M. And it would be safe to assume that most of that barely controlled animosity is directed firmly at His Fuzziness, The Beast Lord, Curran. Fortunately for us, Kate isn't like the rest of world when she's furious. She's a teeny bit more dangerous since she never goes anywhere without her enchanted sword, Slayer, strapped to her back. That would add a little bit of swagger to any girl's stride.

So Kate's already seeing red when the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid calls upon her to investigate a bar fight turned deadly. Upon her arrival, Kate finds not only an entire bar of spent brawlers who have no idea why they began fighting in the first place, but a man staked to a telephone pole, crawling with what appears to be a fast-multiplying, deadly disease. Kate contains the disease (barely) but then finds herself up against all sorts of obstacles upon discovering that the victim was a shapeshifter and therefore part of Curran's territory. Not someone she really wants to deal with at the moment. But as the plague-spreading culprit strikes again and again, Kate realizes she's gonna have to call in every favor and rely upon every weapon in her arsenal before this newest enemy can wreck complete destruction on the city of Atlanta. And that means working together with the Order, the Guild, the People, and most importantly the Pack to control this centuries-old evil from destroying everything Kate holds close.

I can feel myself starting to grin like a idiot right now because I've just got to say it: This. Book. Is. Awesome. And then some. Like if Awesome and Mind-Blowing went and had a love child it would be called Magic Bleeds. It's been obvious since day one that husband and wife writer duo Ilona Andrews has had a plan in store for Kate (and us), but Magic Bleeds just went and and blew all my expectations right out of the park. Weighing in as one of my top picks of 2009, Magic Strikes set the bar pretty dang high as far as impressive books go: we finally got to know Kate's Big Secret and saw some very nice relationship development between her and Curran (roar). I wasn't sure it would be possible but it's like Magic Bleeds took those eye-popping elements and then ramped up the intensity, the action, and the sizzle (whoa baby) one-hundred fold. Magic Bleeds simply delivers.

And dang it, but every time I'm enjoying watching Kate kick some serious butt, I end up forgetting just how frightfully brilliant she is. The girl is a total sword-swinging killing machine; too often taken for a simple mercenary with nothing much going on upstairs. Not so. Kate is infinitely more capable - and deadly. Sometimes it's hard to remember that not only has Kate been training as a warrior since age two (or earlier), she's also been getting a comprehensive education in mythology, history, and magic at the same time. It's not until she rattles off the minutiae of some obscure, ancient belief system at the drop of a hat to stunned audiences that I remind myself to pick my jaw up off the floor and just turn the page. She's just that good and I cannot even begin to explain how skillfully her story has been crafted. It's okay, we all want to be Kate. Go ahead and admit it. You'll feel much better after you do.

series reading order:
~ Magic Bites
~ Magic Burns - my review
~ Magic Strikes - my review
~ Magic Mourns (novella in Must Love Hellhounds anthology) - my review
~ Magic Bleeds

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
Lurv a la Mode review
Smexy Books review
That's Queen Bitch to You review

book source: purchased

Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

The past couple of weeks, I've been hearing so much about this new science-fiction book with a funny bone and a flair for romance that I decided I had to give it a go. Not only did the title, Touched by an Alien, make me giggle but the cover art is truly priceless. I figured if the book contained as much craziness as the cover suggested, I'd be in for one wild ride.

Finding herself unexpectedly free after only a half-day of jury duty, Katherine "Kitty" Katt isn't expecting much in the way of trouble. As a mid-level marketing manager, Kitty's life is comfortable and happy as long as she can do her job and come home to her fish. Though Kitty's life instantly becomes a heck of a lot more interesting after she watches what can only be described as an irate man morphing into a winged monster bent on murder and mayhem and she does what any sane girl would at such a time. Takes him down and kills him with her trusty Mont Blanc pen.

It's not until the adrenaline has worn off and a group of uber-handsome men in gray Armani enter the scene, ready to contain the 'situation,' that Kitty begins to suspect that something is amiss. Aside from the freaky corpse she's now responsible for. Led by the cocky, yet notably talented agent Jeff Martini, Kitty is pulled from the crime scene only to discover that extra-terrestrials aren't the stuff of dreams, they are a living, breathing reality, sent to help protect earthlings from a deadly parasite that turns humans into murderous monsters. And since Kitty's crime fighter instincts kicked into high gear, these Men In Gray want her for their special mankind-saving team. Kitty's none too sure about joining forces with aliens, but as the secrets slowly trickle out and the threat hits close to home, Kitty is undeniably on board. And if for one crazy time.

Although glaringly predictable at times, I was there for every bit of Gini Koch's fantasy debut Touched by an Alien. Non-stop action and constant revelations kept things constantly moving (albeit sometimes to the point of excess) but I was just too interested in what would be coming next to worry all that much. It's like the pages just kept turning themselves. And there were enough tongue-in-cheek moments from the get-go to realize that Touched by an Alien doesn't take itself too seriously. Thank goodness. Gini Koch must have understood that too often science fiction/adventure books are so full of doom and gloom that they fail to simply be fun and decided to heck with it all and made something highly entertaining for her readers. Which was an utterly brilliant move on Ms. Koch's part. My inner sci-fi reader gave a shout every time Kitty took some some big, bad alien down while my romantic side was cheering for her happily ever after. Touched by an Alien has its flaws, but I found them ever so easy to overlook, because, dang if Kitty isn't extremely likable with her eclectic music selection and willingness to get the job done.

series reading order:
~ Touched by an Alien
~ Alien Tango (December 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
ALPHA Reader review
Hanging with Bells! review
Janicu's Book Blog review
Tempting Persephone review
That's QUEEN Bitch to You review

book source: my local library

Free Novella! Winter's Passage by Julie Kagawa

After falling in love with the debut novel The Iron King by Julie Kagawa several weeks ago, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the novella Winter's Passage, set in the time period between The Iron King and The Iron Daughter which follows Meghan and Ash on their perilous journey deep into the heart of Winter. It's out now, so be sure to check it out - especially since Harlequin Teen is offering it as a free download between now and July 31st.