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A Reader of Fictions: July 2013

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review + Giveaway: Pretty When She Dies

Pretty When She Dies
Pretty When She Dies, Book 1

Author: Rhiannon Frater
Pages: 238
Publisher: Createspace
Read: July 28-29, 2013
Source: Digital copy from Xpresso Book Tours
Purchase: Amazon

Description from Goodreads:
Amaliya wakes under the forest floor, disoriented, famished and confused. She digs out of the shallow grave and realizes she is hungry...

... in a new, horrific, unimaginable way...

Sating her great hunger, she discovers that she is now a vampire, the bloodthirsty creature of legend. She has no choice but to flee from her old life and travels across Texas. Her new hunger spurs her to leave a wake of death and blood behind her as she struggles with her new nature.

All the while, her creator is watching. He is ancient, he is powerful, and what's worse is that he's a necromancer. He has the power to force the dead to do his bidding. Amaliya realizes she is but a pawn in a twisted game, and her only hope for survival is to seek out one of her own kind.

But if Amaliya finds another vampire, will it mean her salvation... or her death?

First Sentence: "When she began to stir from her deep slumber, she had no idea she was buried under several feet of moist, dark earth."

Though this is technically my second Rhiannon Frater novel, it's my first pure experience, since the first novel I read she coauthored with Kody Boye. Though The Midnight Spell was a cute, fun read, I was looking forward to the dark, creepy novels Giselle of Xpresso Reads made me so curious about when she fangirled all over them. With Pretty When She Dies, I got just what I was hoping for: a dark, sexy, creepy, comic read.

Pretty When She Dies opens with a bang as Amaliya digs herself out of her grave. Covered in dirt and weirdly hungry, she stumbles into her dorm room to take a shower. Once clean, she heads out in search of food, passing up a lone student for something more that she senses. More turns out to be a secret frat house orgy, where Amaliya proceeds to murder thirteen students, after which she has sex with her maker. Whoa, right?

Amaliya, though, isn't really like that usually. She sort of is, in that she does love sex and she's not opposed to killing as a vampire. However, she actually loathes her maker, who raped and killed her, but she didn't remember that in the haze of being newly awoken. She hardly knew who she was at that point. In case the circumstances of her transition to vampirehood were not enough of a clue, turns out that her maker, Professer Sumner, is actually one of the most powerful vampires ever and a freaking sadist. This girl has fantastic luck.

While not really breaking any new ground with vampire lore, Frater does what she does well. The vampires aren't sweet and innocent, though they can love. They murder. They're violent and powerful. Pretty When She Dies is gory and has plenty of sexual content. Actually, it's got a fairly similar vibe to True Blood, what with being set in the south (Texas, rather than Louisiana) and about intense, sexy vamps.

Of course, there's a romance, which, for me, was the weak part. It was pretty hot, actually, but the infidelity and the fact that the couple "falls in love" in less than a week is disappointing. Now, I'm going to be totally honest and say that the infidelity didn't bother me as much as it should have, because Cian's fiancée Samantha is really annoying. She's basically like Sookie, convinced she's made the vampire Bill or Eric into a sweet fluffy human, when along comes Amaliya to prove that's not true. However, Cian and Amaliya thinking they're in love so fast? Blergh. Seems like they've both lived enough to know the difference between lust and love.

The supporting cast is delightful and brings a lot of humor into Pretty When She Dies. Though I hated Samantha when she was with Cian, she starts to be hilarious when she teams up with local vampire hunter, Jeff; she makes all sorts of Buffy comparisons, which amused me greatly. Plus, I freaking adore Amaliya's cousin, Sergio, and grandmother, Innocente. As Amaliya says, "you shouldn't fuck with little Mexican grandmas," and boy is she right. Innocente is fantastic, and totally my favorite character. Not only is Amaliya a powerful female character, but Innocente is as well, and Samantha even shows some promise.

Rhiannon Frater's vampires harken back to the classic vampire lore. Dark, comic and sexy, I highly recommend Pretty When She Dies to anyone looking for a quick, fun read that's still not tired of vampire stories.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "'I think happily ever after is bullshit.'"

As part of the tour, I can ofter up ebooks of the first three books in the Pretty When She Dies series! Just fill out the Rafflecopter to enter. This giveaway is international! If you want to enter to win the grand prize giveaway with jewelry, go here.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

KC and the Sunshine Chats (5): The Evolution of Two Readers

So...it's been a while. That's totally my bad. I've been busy and sort of dropped the ball. However, as Rafiki says, "IT IS TIME."

In this installment of KC and the Sunshine Chats, Kara of Great Imaginations and I are going to take you on a little journey to the past. We’ll delve into our history as readers and how we came to be the lovely, well-read bloggers you all know and love.

CF: Reading has been a crucial part of my development from day one. My parents are huge readers themselves, and they always shared that with me. They read to me every single day for at least a half hour when I was really young. In fact, when my mom took baby me to Ohio for a month or so for my grandfather’s funeral, Dad even recorded a cassette tape of him reading some of my favorite picture books, so that I wouldn’t forget him! How cute is that?!?! How about you, Kara? Did your parents raise you to love reading?

KM: First of all, me, well-read? Bahahaha. I appreciate that sentiment but it cracked me up because I do not feel that way at all. Yes, my mom did. She used to read to me in a rocking chair from a very young age, and I believe she taught me to read when I was four. I’ve always had a love of words and reading, and I had a pretty large Golden Book collection. I remember sitting in the living room while she quizzed me over and over for spelling bees, which I did rather well in. I still remember getting eliminated over one because I spelled ‘course’ wrong. I spelled it ‘coarse’ and they wanted the other one and I did not ask for it to be used in a sentence. To this day I have not gotten over it. Can’t you tell? Ha. And maybe spelling bees aren’t exactly reading per se, but it did help develop my love of words and the way they sound. Christina, you always amaze me because of your speed of reading. I used to be a very fast reader but as I’ve aged (and began editing), my speed has slowed down A LOT. Have you always read that fast?

CF: Hmmm, I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t feel like I do read quickly. I just read at the speed I read, you know? I suspect, yes? Reading always came to me a bit more easily than average, but I got a lot of practice. When I was of reading age, my parents would still read with me, but sometimes I would read aloud to them instead (a practice that continues to this day on road trips). We would also read plays or comic strips aloud with voices. Haha. NERDY FAMILY IS NERDY. All of this reading aloud always came in really handy in English classes. I am so prepped for my dream job of audiobook narrator! I read all of The Age of Miracles aloud to my parents on a car trip from Pittsburgh to Atlanta. Woo! How about you, Kara? Read aloud much?

KM: WOW. Ummmm, no. I’m sure my mom made me do that with her, but I don’t have a memory of it, really. I had a voice recorder and I used to sing nursery rhymes out loud but that’s the only evidence I have of me doing anything out loud. That being said, I do like to read out loud to myself sometimes. I’ll be reading a book and then a certain section of it sticks out to me and I think, “This is something that has to be read out loud.” And I do. I’ve read out loud to Dan a lot too. There’s a lot of books I want him to read but he thinks he will hate them (Harry Potter--GASP), so I read sections so he can complain some more and say he won’t like it. Haha.

One thing I really do remember though is reading a lot in the summertime. Visiting the local library and literally finding it hard to pick out books as I had read most of them already. Staying indoors when everyone else was outside because I would rather be lost in a book than socializing. That part of me still hasn’t changed. And I remember my mom trying to make me go outside and telling me to put the books down, I was reading too much. I guess she thought I was missing out on life or something, but I disagree. I wish I had read more, and for a long time in my teen years and early adulthood, I lost my love for reading. Not saying it was due to her choices but it did influence me a little. I’m just glad I found my way back to books. Do you have any interesting summer memories like these?

CF: Did you ever manage to convince Dan to read them? I totally had to nag my parents like crazy to read Harry Potter, and then they tried to quit saying all the letters were boring and I was like KEEP GOING and then they were like THIS IS SO AWESOME.

Well, for the most part, my parents totally didn’t try to stop me reading. I’m always sad when I’m at a library and the parents are like “No, you can’t have that book,” because you want them to want to read. Anyway, I DO remember an instance that my parents STILL like to tease me about. We were on vacation somewhere out west and driving through the mountains. I was in the backseat all comfy and reading a good book; they told me to look at the scenery, and I was like “CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM READING?” which they did not think justified not looking at the mountains. Le sigh. Reading wasn’t really seasonal for me, though. Pretty much all times were open season on books.

KM: No, he refuses to read them. He read part of the first book and said he thought they were too childish. I tried to explain to him that they get darker and deeper but no dice. Someday I will try again but he is dead set against reading any children’s fiction. *GASP*

LOL that totally sounds like something my parents would say. When I was little, I had a tough time focusing on schoolwork, so as much as I wanted to read, it took a backseat to homework. I think I still read some, I just remember doing the most of my reading and library tripping in the summertime. I was also involved in the Girl Scouts a lot so there went some more time for reading. :D But I have a question for you. Do you remember the first book or books that really made you fall in love with reading? For me, there were a couple--Nancy Drew, most definitely, and also, The Secret Garden. There were so many though. Ramona, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Secrets of the Shopping Mall, The Witch of Blackbird Pond...what are yours?

CF: ...and this is the man who read Fifty Shades. He clearly needs to sort out his priorities.

Hmmm, not really, actually, which I think is a shame. There are some that stand out in my memory as things I read over and over, though: there was this one picture book, which I tracked down on the internet (it was NOT easy) called Enchanted Beasts that I LOVED. It had classic tales, like the lion and the unicorn, pegasus, etc. I was really into The Animorphs and long series like that for a while. Oh, and Johnny Tremain and The Witch of Blackbird Pond were HUGE favorites, even though I generally dislike that period of history. Then, in transitioning to adult books, it was all about Pride and Prejudice.

KM: You win. I am totally telling him this because I love it. Better yet, I’ll just let him read it. ROFL. And yay, we have The Witch of Blackbird Pond in common! Also, I have heard a TON about the Animorphs. So I think we are done? I loved this topic! It only took us forever to finish this post! I hope it gets some love! :D

Dear readers, where did your love of books come from? Do you have any great bookish memories with family or particular places? What books helped make you a reader?


Review + Giveaway: The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret

Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 416
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Read: July 23-28, 2013
Source: ARC from publisher at BEA

Description from Goodreads:
At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . . Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

First Sentence: "It was all because of the Berlin Wall."

To say that I was surprised by the quality and beauty of The Husband's Secret would be an understatement. In fact, I almost didn't pick Moriarty's novel up at BEA, but did so at the behest of a publicist, one whose name I wish I'd noted so that I could thank her. My hesitance to read The Husband's Secret stemmed from the cover (which bears an unfortunate resemblance to that of Black City) and the blurb (which makes the novel sound like a stereotypical novel about infidelity). If either of these reasons are holding you back, do not let them as The Husband's Secret is women's fiction at its finest.

The basic premise, the one that the blurb points to, is a sort of retelling of Pandora's box, a woman's life transfigured when she opens something she perhaps oughtn't. On a basic level, this is true. Cecilia Fitzpatrick does find a letter addressed to her to be opened on the event of her husband John-Paul's death. She calls him to ask about it, and he makes her promise not to open it. She agrees, but secrets it away curious. When John-Paul comes home early from his business trip and ventures in the middle of the night into the attic, which he avoids due to claustrophobia, to claim the letter, Cecilia pulls it from its hiding place and reads. From this moment, a certain chaos does enter the world, and lives and marriages are tested.

What the blurb only barely hints at is that this story is not just about Cecilia. Tess and Rachel are but a footnote of the blurb, but they have equal share in the story of The Husband's Secret. Though initially not tied together seemingly in any way, the lives of the three weave together inexorably as the pages pass. The story is a dark one, moving and gorgeously-written.

Though the subject matter may be a bit melodramatic, I found the story endlessly compelling and it almost made me cry, which is the equivalent of saying most readers will want to keep a box of tissues handy; I am not one who cries easily. Despite the scale of the drama within, The Husband's Secret actually feels quite down to earth, thanks to the personalities of these three women who inhabit its pages. Rachel, Tess, and Cecilia are all good women, whose lives have been thrown off kilter by personal tragedies, past or present.

Cecilia does it all. She's a brilliant wife, mother, homemaker, and brings in a hefty income doing Tupperware parties. She appears to other women, like Rachel and Tess, as one of those women who has everything together, and who has been blessed in life. Cecilia's three daughters are bright and affectionate. She and her husband love one another deeply, and have, until very recently, always had a very satisfying sex life. Opening the later, though, must change everything, one way or another. And, no, the letter's not about a secret affair.

Tess, like Cecilia, is a woman of vast achievement. She's a successful account manager for the advertising company she runs with her husband, Will, and cousin (also best friend) Felicity. Her son, Liam, is the source of some concern, as he is being bullied at school, but otherwise life is happy. One day, out of the blue, Will and Felicity sit her down to explain that they've fallen in love. Tess, questioning both of her relationships, leaves their home in Melbourne and takes Liam to Sydney, where they stay with her mother and he can attend a school his bully does not attend. In this break from her day-to-day life, Tess has space to evaluate what role Felicity has always played in her life and what she wants her life to be from here on out.

Rachel, a grandmother, has been a largely unhappy woman ever since her daughter Janie was murdered, strangled to death and left in a park, the murderer never located and brought to justice. She's always suspected Connor Whitby, but has no proof. Her one small joy in life, her grandson, will soon be wrested from her, as her son, Rob, and daughter-in-law, Lauren, are moving to New York City. With this announcement, Rachel descends even more heavily into her desire for closure in Janie's case.

All three women are likable and sympathetic, even when they make choices that aren't necessarily good ones. They face moral dilemmas with no good solution, and just try to muddle through. The Husband's Secret really considers whether choices should be made to protect the children or because they are morally right. Though I can't say that I'm necessarily in agreement with the way that each storyline wrapped up, each woman is so well-characterized that the routes they take do make sense.

Powerful, heart-wrenching literary fiction with a focus on women, The Husband's Secret is a lavish novel. Bear the warning of the Pandora comparison in mind, for the the tale is not a happy one. Liane Moriarty's writing and characterization have convinced me to add the rest of her adult novels to my to-read list. I can only hope I find them as moving and well done as this one.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote: "Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering on the edge of aggravation."

In my continuing quest to share my very favorite reads with readers across the world, I'm offering an international giveaway for a hardback of The Husband's Secret. The book will be shipped via The Book Depository, so as long as they ship to your country, you can win!
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: The Mirrored World

The Mirrored World

Author: Debra Dean
Pages: 256
Publisher: Harper
Read: July 21
Source: Finished copy from publisher via TLC Books Tours

Description from Goodreads:
The bestselling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child—a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.

Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.

First Sentence: "Yes, this was her house many years ago, when she was still Xenia."

I suspect this shall be one of those reviews that sounds like I didn't like the book, but I did for the most part, so make note of that. Debra Dean writes beautifully, and I never found my attention waning from The Mirrored World. However, the story really lacked any sort of emotional impact or connection, largely because of the over-brisk pacing and dull main character.

Let me start, however, with what kept The Mirrored World a positive read for me. For one thing, I am hugely into anything about Russia or the Soviet Union, thus my interest in Dean's novel. There's something about Russia I find so captivating, and I suspect that has to do with the wide divide between the serfs and the upper classes. The pomposity of the events and the exhibitionism of the tsars and tsarinas is astounding. Dean delves into the excesses of the reins of Elizabeth, Peter III, and Catherine the Great. Throughout are such historical goodies as a party where Elizabeth ordered everyone to crossdress or the way she married off people for her own entertainment. I was definitely in it for the historical pageantry, and that was enough to get me through.

Unfortunately, the pace moves so quickly through time that much of history is glossed over, like watching decades of Russian history pass by from a bullet train. The Mirrored World clocks in at just over 200 pages, and it could have been much longer. In those pages, Dean takes Dasha from a child to an old woman, which gives you a sense of how quickly the pace goes. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but this novel is not a humorous one and meaning was obscured in the rush to the finish.

Dasha, however, is the biggest obstacle. She has almost no personality, and is more an observer of the people around her than anything. Of course, the people around her are interesting, but I kept expecting their to be a purpose to her, for her to learn something or do something in the course of the narrative, but she only ever reflected the values of those around her, particularly Xenia, though for a while she reflects her eunuch husband, who was definitely my favorite character.

More than anything, The Mirrored World is a tale of Dasha mirroring Xenia's life. She follows the lively Xenia everywhere, going to live with Xenia and her husband after the marriage. When Xenia tells Dasha to wed Gaspari, Dasha does. As Xenia becomes a holy fool, Dasha turns more and more to charity, even with the prospect of bankrupting herself in the process, as Xenia did before her. Their dynamic baffled me, and is perhaps a bit alien to our culture.

While a prettily-written novel, The Mirrored World failed to captivate me, skimming on the surface of history, rather than really diving in to where the feelings and the meaning reside. I liked it, but couldn't help comparing it to another book I enjoyed more set in the exact same time period, The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. By no means will this experience with Debra Dean be my last, but I do hope for a bit more from The Madonnas of Leningrad.

Rating: 2.5/5

Favorite Quote: "Whatever we know as children, this is the world, eaten whole and without question."

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #24: Dune

Dune, Book 1

Author: Frank Herbert
Pages: 794
Publisher: Ace
Read: July 14-23, 2013
Source: Library
Recommended by: Rollie of Blotted Pages

Description from Goodreads:
Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

First Sentence: "In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul."

Woo, I conquered the Dunes, crossed the sands without being eaten by a worm, and inhaled the aromatic spices of Arrakis. This is a victory, even if Dune turned out not to be my sort of science fiction. I know, I know, it's a classic and I'm meant to love it, and I'm an utter disappointment to my parents, who dearly love the early Dune books. Oh well, such is life, no? I can see why Dune is so popular, but, largely, it's just not the sort of book I can love, though I'm very glad to have read it, so thank you to Robbie for getting me to do so!

Time and again, I've said that I am a character reader, and I'm sure I'll set many more times. Dune has many charms, but they are not of characterization. Most of the cast is just so focused on one thing at all times, on ruling or backstabbing or mothering or being a wife or whatever. They're largely not people of interests outside of what they need to survive. Everything is about the world building and the political landscape. This isn't a book of banter and bonding. If world building delights you even without strong characterization, by all means, come explore these sand dunes.

At times, though, Dune did flirt with being a book I could like overall. The story of Paul Atreides doing a sort of Monte Cristo and rising up for vengeance with a whole bunch of power at his back is pretty awesome. The powers exhibited by Paul and the Bene Gesserit, women trained to have crazy fighting skills and more, are fascinating. I'm also curious about Arrakis and how this planet exists. How can a planet with so little water sustain life (by drinking their bodily fluids and those of others for one thing O_O)? What precisely is the spice and how does it relate to the worms?

These elements that I liked, though, were bogged down in the political back and forth, the perspective hopping between those of the Atreides group and the antagonists. I just had no fucks to give about what the Harkonnens or the Emperor were doing. Paul so obviously has all the power in the world and has been fulfilling all of these prophecies to be the Kwisatz Haderach, whatever that really means, so it's not like he's going to be defeated. It's sort of like how Harry Potter obviously wasn't going to die in Rowling's series. It's hard to care about Paul when I know he won't be killed.

Oh, though I'm not generally a big fan of characters being that powerful and perfect, I do like the way Herbert showed the difficulties of being Paul. He clearly struggles with the apartness of being so much more than everyone around him. The fact that he receives reverence rather than friendship further alienates him from the rest of humanity. This in turn makes it more likely that he will turn corrupt or unfeeling, as was oft hinted.

What really held me back in Dune more than anything else was the writing. It's not a style I found pleasing. Herbert uses a close third person, which jumps about from character to character. On top of that, character's thoughts are in italics. For the most part, that's alright, but sometimes there were long paragraphs of fragmented thoughts separated by ellipses. Between each chapter, unmarked stretches of time pass, leaving me constantly disoriented when I pick the book back up. Little details are dealt with endlessly but the climax skips most of the fighting for more talking. So many people die in Dune, and yet there's so little actual action.

Also worthy of note is that the treatment of women in the novel made me uncomfortable, as well as the treatment of the Fremen. Women can obviously be quite strong, stronger than the men, as the Bene Gesserit show. However, that's not a feminist move if these powerful women are essentially slaved, sold out as concubines to wealthy men. Plus, there's a weird message that being a concubine is actually better than a wife that I find really puzzling.

The Fremen are the desert people of Arrakis, who know much better how to survive there, and rule the planet no matter what Duke claims to be the leader. They're way better fighters than anyone else, and they do get respect for that. Still, I find the fact that they need Paul, from outside their culture, to come in and rule them disgusting. It's like this is pro-colonization, and I am not a fan.

That all came out quite ranty, but I really don't think Dune is a terrible book. It's not a great book for me, since I'm not all that interested in political intrigue or world building for its own sake. Dune's also very much a product of it's time. Glad to have read it so I know what the fuss is about, but I shan't be continuing on, which is probably for the best since I heard the series goes bad places.

Rating: 2/5

Favorite Quote:
"There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man—with human flesh."

Up Next:
The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves, which my dear friend Blythe of Finding Bliss in Books told me to read. ARCs I have put in the list jump to the top, because it would be silly to review them post-publication just because I was waiting for random.org, no? Check back next week to see what I think of Covet!

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Audiobook Review: Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen, Book 1

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Narrator: Natalie Moore
Duration: 6 hrs, 7 mins
Publisher: Listening Library
Read: June 17-23, 2013
Source: Library

Description from Goodreads:
When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D.J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

Though I haven't had much chance to reread since I began blogging, it's one of my favorite things to do. Is there anything better than revisiting an old favorite? For me, the benefits are myriad, since I generally can't remember much after just one read of a book, so I can be surprised and delighted just like the first time, implant the book in my memory, and probably also notice awesomeness I'd missed before. Of course, in some cases, I like to reread books that I didn't enjoy before, because they can really surprise you, like Dairy Queen.

I'm fairly certain I've actually read Dairy Queen twice before, once in college and once in grad school. Though I have little memory of it, I have a distinct recollection of having checked out the paperback during a break from undergrad. I don't think I liked it much, and I've only just recalled that. Anyway, in grad school, I had to read Dairy Queen for my young adult services course. I did not care for it.

My issues with Dairy Queen were partly context and partly format. See, I came to Dairy Queen that second time with certain expectations, because we were assigned the book as part of the LGBT unit, which included one other book Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. I was pissed off at this book and at the professors for not choosing a single book with a gay or lesbian protagonist, though the protagonist in Cameron's novel thinks he might be gay. Though there are some LGBT themes in Dairy Queen, it's not an LGBT book overall, and I resented the book for that, even if it wasn't fair.

However, I also remember being unimpressed by the writing style. D.J.'s not the sort of girl to use really complex sentences or have a huge vocabulary. Simple sentences just generally do not work for me as a writing style, so I found the book frustrating. Switching to the audiobook format allowed me to really appreciate how well the writing fits the character of D.J. Natalie Moore does an amazing job bringing the character alive, and has the full on Wisconsin accent, which is incredibly entertaining.

So far as the plot goes, I really remembered nothing, except cows and football, which are certainly the most obvious points. The book being about football probably didn't help us get along any either, but Miranda Kenneally has helped me get over my distaste for anything about sports. The football in the book really isn't overwhelming, definitely taking a back seat to D.J.'s journey for self-respect and interpersonal relations.

D.J. feels dumb and overwhelmed. She flunked sophomore English, because she was so busy running the family farm after her dad injured himself using the manure spreader. D.J. is so young, but she has all of this pressure and her whole family relies on her to keep the farm going. She has to give up all of her sports to run the farm, but her brother Curtis doesn't. The whole thing feels so unfair, but D.J. is a real champ about it.

Then Brian Nelson shows up, sent by the coach of D.J.'s school's rival ream, who happens to be a family friend. The coach wants Brian to help out on the farm and stop being so stuck up, and eventually D.J. begins coaching Brian at football. They also go from hating one another to really getting along, able to talk about things that D.J.'s family never discusses. Her affinity for Brian grows into a crush and also inspires her to confront family issues, like talking to her estranged brothers, engaging with her silent younger brother, and gaining more respect from her parents.

Romance is really kept on the back burner, though it's a thread running through the book. D.J.'s desire for romance sort of comes up against her increasing desire to play football, which both isn't girly and will inevitably lead to complications with her burgeoning feelings for Brian. D.J. also has to deal with the realization that her friend Amber is a lesbian and has sort of been dating D.J., though D.J. had no idea. Up to this summer with Brian, she'd really never given romance a thought and all of this takes her time to process.

Actually, that's one of the best things about Dairy Queen. D.J. really does need time to think through things. She lacks the quick wit of a lot of heroines. Brian confronts her about always forcing him to give more in conversations by remaining silent, and she explains that she was merely trying to work out a response. D.J.'s brain works a bit differently from mine, and it's always interesting to get to be in someone else's head to gain some empathy.

The narrative of the book is purportedly an assignment D.J. turns in to overturn her failure in English, since the teacher lets her make it up. When she explained that at the end, I laughed a lot, because this poor teacher. She asks for a paper on what D.J. did over the summer or something like that, and the girl turns in, instead of ten pages or so, three hundred. Happy grading!

Many thanks to Renae of Respiring Thoughts and Wendy Darling of The Midnight Garden for convincing me that Dairy Queen deserved another shot. I'm excited to listen to the audiobooks for the next two books!

Sum It Up with a GIF:

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Shadowcry

Wintercraft, Book 1

Author: Jenna Burtenshaw
Pages: 320
Publisher: Greenwillow
Read: June 19-22, 2013
Source: Library

Description from Goodreads:
The Night of Souls—when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest—is only days away.

Albion is at war . . . and losing.

The wardens have descended, kidnapping innocent citizens for their army, but looking for one in particular.

And fifteen-year-old Kate Winters has just raised a blackbird from the dead.

As her home is torn apart by the wardens, Kate's discovery that she is one of the Skilled—the rare people who can cross the veil between life and death—makes her the most hunted person in all of Albion. Only she can unlock the secrets of Wintercraft, the ancient book of dangerous knowledge. Captured and taken to the graveyard city of Fume—with its secret tunnels and underground villages, and where her own parents met their deaths ten years ago—Kate must harness her extraordinary powers to save herself, her country, and the two men she cares for most. And she'll make a pact with a murderer to do it.

Those who wish to see the dark, be ready to pay your price.

First Sentence: "At the southern edge of a moonlit city, a woman stood over an open grave."

Jenna Burtenshaw's Shadowcry has been on my radar for quite some time, ever since a friend read it and loved it. With a review copy of book three in hand, I've embarked on the full series, always a risky venture, yet one that I can't resist. Obviously, I have will power issues. Shadowcry stands unique from the bulk of young adult fiction, but, thus far, isn't the ideal read for me personally.

As I say over and over again, what really makes me interested in a book are the characters. Whether I love them or not, I almost always need to connect to them in some way, to feel that they're in some measure real to really get involved in the book. World building and writing for their own sake get me only so far. Shadowcry definitely focuses more on those aspects than on character, so I had a lot of trouble maintaining interest, even though, objectively, I can appreciate a lot of what Burtenshaw has done here.

Shadowcry starts dramatically with Kate and her uncle Artemis preparing to flee before the Wardens, the men who killed her mother and father, arrive in town. They do not make it out of the bookshop Artemis owns in time however. Blackbirds, the precursors to the Wardens, have arrived, pecking madly and dying on the streets. The scene is eerie and horrifying.

The Wardens are looking for the Skilled, people with the ability to bridge the veil, the space between life and death. If one of these dead birds is touched by someone Skilled, the bird will return to life. In the process of rescuing Ethan, who works for Artemis, from the barrage of dying birds, Kate touches one and it comes back to life in her hands. The blackbird flaps up the chimney, alerting Silas, the head collector of the Skilled to her existence.

Kate and Ethan are on the run, pursued by Silas. They don't know who to trust, and have no idea what they can do. The concept of the Skilled is fascinating, and I like the complex nature of Silas' character. He is not entirely good or evil, and not entirely human either. Kate is a great heroine, too, full of fire and strength. She never crumples in the face of adversity, and constantly tries to rescue Ethan and Artemis. There's a definite sense in the book that the female characters are the strongest ones and that's awesome. Also, I know some folks are really sick of books dominated by romance, so, just fyi, there's absolutely no romance in Shadowcry.

Despite all that good stuff, my main reaction to Shadowcry was boredom. Since there wasn't any focus on character development really, I just wasn't all that engaged. Before I can care much about the world or the dramatic events, I need to care about the characters.

So far, the Wintercraft series has not proved the ideal read for me. I do think Shadowcry is a good book, but just not what I was hoping for or what works for me personally.

Rating: 2/5

Favorite Quote: Didn't have one

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cover Snark (64): Snark Is Thicker Than Water

Welcome to Cover Snark, where the people are snarky and the covers quiver in fear. Since I don't write many snarky book reviews here on A Reader of Fictions, Cover Snark is my outlet. If you click on the title of the book, where possible, I've linked to Goodreads. Clicking on the cover itself will show you the cover in a larger size, in most cases. Feel free to love covers I hate and vice versa. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Shiny and New:

1. Tin Star - Cecil Castellucci
Thoughts: Tin star makes me think of sherriffs, which makes me think of westerns, but this is space, so I'm thinking space cowboys? Please? I like the tagline, but I don't know why the girl's head is in space or why they chose that title font.

2. Ink Is Thicker Than Water - Amy Spalding
Thoughts: Boo. That's the coolest tattoo they could devise for this? And the heroine's the sort of person who wears collared tank tops? The yellow bar with the author's name isn't doing the book any favors either. Also, the cutting off the model's head thing is not my favorite trend.

3. When the World Was Flat (and We Were in Love) - Ingrid Jonach
Thoughts: Title = win. Cover = boring. I do like the spareness of it, but the key with a heart-shaped handle....just no.

4. Wings (Black City #3) - Elizabeth Richards
Thoughts: In Black City, all ice cubes are made of frozen butterfly. It's an acquired taste. Also, that city is very clearly blue.

5. Two (One Universe #2) - Leigh Ann Kopans
Thoughts: "You call those spirit fingers? THESE are spirit fingers."

6. See Me - Windy Higgins
Thoughts: Yes, yes, I do.

7. The Life Beyond (The Other Life #2) - Susanne Winnacker
Thoughts: That awesome moment where a blogger designs a book cover and I don't have to snark it because it's good. Well, okay, the tagline needs to go, but I love the title font, especially the color.

8. Three (Article 5 #1) - Kristen Simmons
Thoughts: Well, this one's a bit of a letdown. The first two covers are great, but I don't think they made enough use of the red. However, it is really amusing to me that it sort of looks like he's grabbing her ass, though I know it's that wall BEHIND her ass.

9. Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1) - Aimee Carter
Thoughts: I liked this so much more when I didn't know that was an eye in the background. Still, I love the colors and the chess piece in the corner.

10. Off Course (Off Series #4) - Sawyer Bennett
Thoughts: Bonus points for being white people kissing in a library. Bonus points subtracted for his tattoo, which looks like an advertisement for some sort of outdoorsy group.

11. Echoes of Melody - Komal Kant
Thoughts: That awkward moment where you wake up the morning after graduation with no clothes but your boots leads to the invention of the Umbrelladress. Development's still in progress, but Tim Gunn's going to love the resourcefulness of this creation.

12. The Nightmare Dilemma (The Arkwell Academy #2) - Mindee Arnett
Thoughts: Oooh, Arthurian legend? Yes, please. I prefer this cover to the one for The Nightmare Dilemma.

13. Swift Runs the Heart - Mary Brock Jones
Thoughts: Okay, I do not like the floating head thing at all, but, damn, her hair is gorgeous. I could never make my hair do that in a million years and it's just not fair.

14. It Was Me - Anna Cruise
Thoughts: We finally have the answer to the age-old question: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

15. Lockstep - Karl Schroeder
Thoughts: They do not look pleased about having to lockstep. Also, put that dude in a bowtie and a newsboy cap and it's Darcy!

16. The Innocent (The Protege #2) - Kailin Gow
Thoughts: Over a hundred Kailin Gow books and they still don't have the shape of an average book down yet? Fifty lashes.

17. 5 Miles - Nadege Richards
Thoughts: Honey, sit like you have a secret. Ain't nobody need to see that. Okay, maybe some people do, but I could have lived without it.

18. Reviving Izabel (In the Company of Killers #2) - J.A. Redmerski
Thoughts: This series name is worrisome. On the plus side, it looks like she has brown eyes, which doesn't happen enough on covers. In other news, why is she pulling her sweater down like that? It's totally not an off-the-shoulder.

19. Becoming Josephine - Heather Webb
Thoughts: Her hand is in a really weird position. Was that a thing in old school portraits?

20. Sandman: Overture - Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams
Thoughts: Trying to decide which is creepiest: how skinny that guy is, how his limbs curve, or just his face in general.

21. Ravaged - Jennifer Sights
Thoughts: How do you cope? Fainting, obviously. Then the menfolks come save you.

22. The Fall of the Governor (The Fall of the Governor Trilogy #3) - Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga
Thoughts: Oh no, someone's flu mask fell off! Now the swine flu will get them before the zombies. Tragic!

23. Breach Zone (Shadow Ops #3) - Myke Cole
Thoughts: If your super power was the ability to manipulate lightning but you could only do it between your two palms, that would suck. Like, what if he couldn't point it at people, and it was solely a close range weapon? Also, I've decided that his superhero name is Pikachu.

24. In Love with a Wicked Man - Liz Carlyle
Thoughts: Something tells me she can handle it. I wouldn't want to mess with her; she looks fierce.

25. Stay with Me (With Me #1) - Elyssa Patrick
Thoughts: If you're so annoying you're worried your guitar will try to run away, it's time to get some professional help.

26. The Burning Dark - Adam Christopher
Thoughts: Oooh, I like it. The soundwaves down to the author name are awesome, though I'm not sure if it's plot-relevant. Otherwise, this is pretty generic; there are a ton of those shots down a spaceship tunnel.

27. Wolf Bride (Lust in the Tudor Court #1) - Elizabeth Moss
Thoughts: No. NO. NOOO. NOOOOOOOOOO. For shame, The Sunday Times. FOR SHAME.

28. Runaway Groom - Virginia Nelson
Thoughts: Take note, grooms considering a quick getaway, always bring backup shows. For the hipster groom, Chucks are highly recommended.

29. Broken - CJ Lyons
Thoughts: *yawns The shattered heart thing has been done. Also, the blurry-looking title font upsets me.

30. Charmed I'm Sure (Pax Arcana #0.5) - Elliott James
Thoughts: Awwwww, this is so cute.. I love how they made this look like an old school leather-bound fairy tale. Winning!

31. Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls (Pax Arcana #0.6) - Elliott James
Thoughts: One of the members of TLC is giving him excellent life advice.

32. Pushing Luck (Pax Arcana #0.7) - Elliott James
Thoughts: In lieu of waterfall chasing, what can one do but gamble and get drunk? That P is a little bit hard to read, like it might be Dushing Luck, which, obviously, makes no sense but sounds like it might be dirty.

33. Panic by Lauren Oliver (March 4th 2014) HarperCollins
Thoughts: A cover with a girl's face and her hair blowing everywhere! How original! <- br="" by="" ever.="" no="" one="" said="">

34. The Problem with Promises (Mystwalker #3) - Leigh Evans
Thoughts: When I first saw this, I totally read it as The Trouble with Penises. And, yes, I realize this says more about me than the cover. Yet again, we have a girl shrugging her shirt off. Either wear the shirt or don't, ladies! Also, I think Freud would have some things to say about how her legs are spread and the dude is running between them.

35. Darkest Fear (Birthright #1) - Cate Tiernan
Thoughts: Oh look, a girl's face with her hair blowing in front of it! I've never seen anything like this before. The title font's pretty cool with those slashes, but all bonus points lost by that stupid colored eye.

36. Entwined (Darkest London #3.5) - Kristen Callihan
Thoughts: I choose to believe that this is a story about Mary Poppins.

37. Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman
Thoughts: Dude, I don't know what's happening here, but there is a pterodactyl, which is awesome. My childhood self demands immediate Dinotopia.

38. Fallout (Haan #2) - James K. Decker
Thoughts: Possibly a POC? I like how everything, including the MC has taken a beating. I do not like that they cut off the MC's face. STOP WITH THIS COVER TREND. I know we like self-insertion, but I know that's not me. I mean, come on.

39. Tomorrow (Yesterday #2) - C.K. Kelly Martin
Thoughts: Another floating head. What is the world coming to? I do like the swirly business behind the title, though. Weeeeeeeeee! That was me spinning through the swirls. Anywho, I don't these cover elements blend all that well, but I do like the colors.

40. Mad About the Boy (Bridget Jones #3) - Helen Fielding
 Thoughts: So Bridget Jones is skinny now? Or did they not cast her accurately? Not loving this title one bit or the hints at a baby. I also suspect Bridget Jones (was going to abbreviate her name to save on typing and realized that would be BJ - awkward!) would fall on her ass in those shoes.

41. NIL - Lynne Matson
Thoughts: Teen Survivor.

42. Warm Up (Vicious prequel) - V. E. Scwab
 Thoughts: Why is this series not graphic novels? Also, one shouldn't wear white pants after labor day orrrrr when one's hands are coated in red. That's going to be a bitch to clean.

Cover Battles:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter #1) - J. K. Rowling
UK Children's vs. UK Adult Original vs. UK Adult Redesign: Wow, the original adult cover was awfullll. Look, it's a rock. Old people like rocks, right? They remind them of the grave to which they are so swiftly headed. The colors in the new adult cover are a bit...brash? It just looks a bit more psychidelic than I would expect. Children's cover for the win!

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) - J. K. Rowling 
UK Children's vs. UK Adult Original vs. UK Adult Redesign: Oh dear, this new cover is worse. The pink, orange and blue combo, whyyyy? Also, the UK totally got gypped on HP covers.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3) - J. K. Rowling
UK Children's vs. UK Adult Original vs. UK Adult Redesign: Ooh, this is the best so far for both of the adult covers, but they still don't really have a Harry Potter vibe, and the kids' cover has hippogriff riding, so...yeah.

4. The Uprising (The Forsaken #2) - Lisa M. Stasse
Take 1 vs. Take 2: No! Why? It wasn't broken, so why did they try to fix it. The subtle use of color is a big part of why I love the covers for this series, but now it's punching me in the face with pink.

5. These Broken Stars (Starbound #1) - Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
US vs. Australia: Sometimes I wonder why they bother making changes to the cover. I think I like the font treatment better on the Australian cover, but I do not approve of the positioning of the series info. Also  interesting is that the Australian cover shifts the picture over slightly so we see more of the dude's shorts and less of her arm.

6. Storm Glass (Glass Trilogy #1) - Maria V. Snyder
Original vs. Redesign 1 vs. Redesign 2: Blogger is doing crazy formatting things I can't fix, but this spacing is not making Christina happy. Nor does this redesign. Can you say snoozefest? The random words in the background don't help either, or that they're apparently trying to rename the series. Sigh. I personally prefer the purple cover.

7. Sea Glass (Glass Trilogy #2) - Maria V. Snyder
Original vs. Redesign 1 vs. Redesign 2: Second verse, same as the first. Look at the cute little starfish thing. Or leaf? WHATEVER. You're all going to judge me for not being sure. Sigh.

8. Spy Glass (Glass Trilogy #3) - Maria V. Snyder
Original vs. Redesign 1 vs. Redesign 2: These formations do sort of make me want to go watch Sweet Home Alabama though. That's sort of like what happens to sand when it's hit by lightning. Also, all three of these covers make me sad, but I guess I'll go with the orange one so I can have a matching set.

9. Wait for You (Wait for You #1) - J. Lynn
Original vs. Redesign: The new cover sort of looks like a Janet Evanovich cover. This is a good redesign in that it appeals to a different market, so good job designers. However, that typo makes me want to hurl.

10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6) - J. K. Rowling
US Original vs. Redesign: Hmm, mostly I've been digging the new covers, but I think I have to go classic on this one. Dumbledore's beard goes a bit too Santa on the new one and I like the magic-doing look to the first.

11. Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl - Emily Pohl-Weary
Take 1 vs. Take 2: That's a good change. The title treatment is adorbs. Also, she looks like she's howling! Very apropos!

12. White Trash Damaged (White Trash Trilogy #1) - Teresa Mummert 
Take 1 vs. Take 2: Look, it's Sookie in a world where vampires don't exist! (Sorry, I've been watching True Blood for weeks now)

13. Brazen (Otherworld Stories #13.1) - Kelley Armstrong
Actual vs. Limited Edition: Look at the wolfy! That's totally more awesome.

14. Fiddlehead - Cherie Priest
WTF of the Week: Ooh, both awesome, but I'm going for the US cover where the heroine's going all River Tam.

1. Carousel Sun - Sharon Lee

2. Swimming Sweet Arrow - Maureen Gibbon
Thoughts: A crotch shot on a YA cover makes me really uncomfortable.

3. Enders (Starters and Enders #2) - Lissa Price
Thoughts: In the name of all that is bookish, why? I actually liked the redesign for the first book, but this one's like a demented, drugged up clown. Plus, why is the blurb as large as the author's name?

4. Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1) - Shira Anthony
Thoughts: Titty grab! How would mermen even...you know...?

5. Hedging His Bets - Celia Kyle and Mina Carter
Thoughts: Nothing says sexy like a spiny creature near your junk. SNARKLES DOES NOT APPROVE.

Outstanding Cover of the Week:
Charmed I'm Sure by Elliott James

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