A little time off...

Just wanted to let all you wonderful book buddies know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth (yet). If you happen to stop by and notice not much going on around here in the next few weeks, please know that I'm only taking a little time off from this here bloggy to go in for some minor surgery. 
Hopefully I'll be back soon - healthier than ever - but until then, Happy Reading!

Bewitched & Betrayed by Lisa Shearin

Truth be told I have been in a reading slump of late. And I'll be the first to tell you that it just ain't any fun. Add to that a lot of traveling and a potential move in the works (again) and you have some seriously crazy days with not much down time for reading -- let alone any blogging. But it was like the postman just knew I needed a little pick me up when he stopped by on Monday to deliver my rescue in the form of Lisa Shearin's latest Raine Benares novel Bewitched & Betrayed. And just like that I was giddy, I was happy, the endless packing didn't look quite so daunting and I had a serious good book to settle into. No wonder I look forward to checking the mail so dang much. Much more rewarding than therapy.

Following hot on the heels of The Trouble with Demons, Raine Benares' adventures are off to a heady start in Bewitched & Betrayed. Still bonded to that soul-sucking rock otherwise known as the Saghred, Raine has watched her minimal yet respectable magical abilities skyrocket and her enemies multiply just as fast. Which is somewhat understandable after Raine was unable to prevent the souls of six evil mages - including Raine's arch-nemesis Sarad Nukpana - from escaping the Saghred and who are now running rampant on the Island of Mid. Nukpana is one serious evil dude bent on total world domination and would like nothing better than to completely skewer Raine and all those near and dear to her. And since Nukpana has made this fight personal, Raine is more than happy to make it her mission in life to track him down once and for all. After all, she's a seeker.

One of the best parts of this witty series has to be the ever intriguing cast of secondary characters. Raine's less than law-abiding, yet unfailingly loyal family makes numerous appearances to my unending delight - including everyone's favorite pirate, Raine's cousin Phelan. His snarky remarks always leave me in stitches. Though the Benares clan's interactions were comical and even a little.. *gasp* ..heartwarming, they couldn't begin to hold a candle to what we find out about commanding and by-the-book Paladin Mychael. Mr. Share-No-More-Than-Necessary finally opens up to Raine about his past and we get some very surprising insights into what I had previously seen as a pretty one-dimensional character. I don't want to spoil anything, but the man has depth. Depth and skills. Plus he's pretty cute. Pretty much the triple threat there.

Even though Raine really has no time to take a breath between one action scene and the next, her constant running stream of smart remarks keep the pace from becoming overwhelming. She's always willing to let humor diffuse the tension of any given situation and that is a fine quality indeed. And though sometimes I have sorta of scratched my head over the story arc thus far, I'm quite pleased where Lisa Shearin has taken us in Bewitched & Betrayed. Plenty of action, plenty of confident, sexy men, and buckets of Raine's irreverent sense of humor. If you haven't given this snappy series a go, I'd highly recommend picking up all four books. Believe it or not, each is better than the last.

series reading order:
~ Magic Lost, Trouble Found - my review
~ Armed & Magical - my review
~ The Trouble with Demons - my review
~ Bewitched & Betrayed

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Lurv a la Mode review
Skunk Cat Book Reviews

book source: provided by the publisher, ACE Books

Crazy for You by Jennifer Cruise

If you hadn't already noticed the lack of activity happening at this here bloggy, I've been in a bit of a reading slump. Sad, but true. I found myself picking up book after book only to set it back on the shelf, never quite in the mood for whatever the reason (although in all fairness part of the blame lies with me having just reread Ellen Emerson White's brilliant President's Daughter series - it's dang hard to follow such genius). But then I had a revelation of sorts: what I really needed was something light and fluffy with a happy little side of romance. Some snappy dialogue was in order too. Who better to deliver on all counts than the ever-fun Jennifer Cruise?

Whenever anyone has a problem or a crisis the person to go to is undoubtedly Quinn McKenzie. She's known for being cool and collected even under the most trying circumstances - Quinn is just an all around sweet, practical girl. But Quinn is bored with her practical life. She's never been one to break the rules or kick up a fuss but as soon as she lays eyes on a particularly scruffy stray dog, Quinn knows this is something she can't walk away from. Even with the constant reminders from her nice-guy boyfriend Bill that their apartment does not allow dogs, Quinn is determined to keep 'Katie' even if it means sacrificing every other part of her her calm, predictable life. But Quinn never thought one little dog could stir up so much trouble. Suddenly she's on the outs with Bill, involved in clandestine dog-napping, considering becoming a homeowner, and eyeballing her longtime best-friend Nick in a very non-friend sort of way. At least Quinn can no longer say her life is boring.

I knew I needed a little sass to shake me out of my funk and Crazy for You did the job perfectly. As a high school art teacher ready to declare her independence, Quinn is an entirely believable woman. Feeling like she's settled, Quinn begins to take charge of her life in small ways that (of course) have more far reaching effects than she ever considered possible. And in the process of making a stand for herself, she manages to inspire her mother and her best friend Darla to do the same, leading to some unforeseen consequences and multiple house guests. Jennifer Cruise also always manages to strike the perfect note with a set of truly unforgettable secondary characters: including a paranoid high school teacher, a local home-wrecker with a heart, and insecure high school teenagers. Each one adding enough humor and heart to keep the pages flipping fast. Crazy for You was entertaining. It was light. It was just what I needed to get out of my funk.

book source: my local library

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Nothing ever changes in Gatlin, South Carolina. Nothing. Ask Ethan Wate, he's lived in this small, isolated southern town his entire life and is counting down the months until he can leave. Desperately bored, Ethan has been hoping for something to shake up his small town when the undeniably realistic dreams of a dark-haired beauty in trouble begin. When Ethan unexpectedly meets the girl of his (literal) dreams, Ethan's entire world seems to shrink to the size of two people. Lena Duchannes is unlike anybody in Gatlin. Her clothes are wrong, her hair is wrong, and she just happens to be related to the towns most feared inhabitant, again, all wrong. Strange things seem to happen around Lena and with the entire town of Gatlin ready to begin a witch hunt, Ethan is the only one who wants to not only discover why but to help Lena. He alone is determined to figure out his connection to this beautiful and mysterious girl.

Beautiful Creatures is an intriguing premise: magic deeply connected to the very culture of a small, southern town - where only magic like that could survive - which only a few are aware of. It's beautifully written at times, although sometimes a bit long-winded, and very atmospheric. Notwithstanding all that extremely descriptive, lush writing, I sometimes had trouble ultimately taking that final, definitive step into actually believing Beautiful Creatures. Mainly because I would read this perfectly composed passage of heartfelt reflection and then stop and think: wait, this is a sixteen year old BOY talking here. No matter how sensitive, educated or cultured he may be, I just couldn't quite believe a teenage boy would notice every little detail - emotional and physical - in a situation. Even if that boy was someone as special as Ethan Wate. Perhaps I am prejudiced and am perpetuating a stereotype, but there it is. Frankly the novel often felt as if it was a guy's story, but one that  had then been filtered through a female lens. Which I guess in a way, it is.

But really, that is my only complaint. Like I said before, the writing was atmospheric, evocative, and just so down-right Southern. I myself was born and raised in Georgia and am one of those girls that can make biscuits in her sleep (you gotta use both butter and shortening people). My grandma and great-aunt really and truly are known as The Sisters in their small North Georgia town. Being a product of it's culture, I have a pretty good handle on the South. And Beautiful Creatures fit. The prejudices, the fierce clinging to tradition, the food (good heavens, the food!), the superstitions - all of it was authentic and made me down-right homesick. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl must have really done their homework before developing the isolated community of Gatlin because it's obvious these two women have sat down with a plate (or two) of homemade fried chicken.

series reading order:
~ Beautiful Creatures
~ Beautiful Darkness (Oct. 2010)

Because Everyone Loves a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Confessions of a Book Junkie review
Library Lounge Lizard review
My Friend Amy review
Not Enough Bookshelves review

book source: my local library

I'm a Gleek

Anyone else out there seriously anticipating the return of Glee tonight? I just don't know how I've managed to survive the last couple of months without Sue snarking about Will's hair, Rachel's perky outfits, and Puck's bad-boy smile. Can. Not. Wait.

April Cookie

There is still a little more than a month before Sarah Rees Brennan's next book The Demon's Covenant is released. *sigh* A little more than a month before we can return to Nick and Alan and Mae. *double sigh* Thank heavens she keeps posting these snippets made of win on her blog - although I really can't decide if they are helping or hurting matters...

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson,
I am now, and forever will be your devoted fan-girl. Your quirky characters and their penchant for landing into extremely hilarious 'situations' never fail to leave me with a case of the giggles. Please write more.
Thank you,
A Fan

Now that I have that out of my system...

Summer is finally over and thankfully, Scarlett's demanding boss Mrs. Amberson has moved out of the Hopewell Hotel into her own swanky NY apartment. But that doesn't necessary mean Scarlett is off the hook. No such luck. Mrs. Amberson simply can't manage anything without the talented O'Hara and has offered her an obscene amount of money to be her slave personal assistant in her newly opened talent agency, AAA (Amy Amberson Agency - not the automotive company). Thankfully the agency only has two clients: Scarlett's comedic brother Spencer who is having a bit of trouble landing any role and the newly discovered Broadway starlet and perfectionist Chelsea Biggs. Although Chelsea really should be counted as three clients as she comes along with a terrifying and controlling stage-mom and a surly brother Max who happens to attend the same school as Scarlett. But those clients are more than enough to turn Scarlett's world upside down without the added bonus of her quirky family: Lola is not acting like her normal, self-assured and elegant self, Maureen has been acting...well...nice and Scarlett is just trying to get over a certain actor who may have broken her heart. It's enough to make any teenager lose her mind.

There is nothing so fun as sitting down with a Maureen Johnson book - especially when Scarlett Martin is involved. Let me present Exhibit A:
After a few hours of fitful midmorning sleep, Scarlett made a second attack of the day and headed for the shower. It always took a moment for the Hopewell water pipes to figure out what temperature you wanted. The default setting was “death by ice or fire.” Scarlett didn’t care at the moment. She would take what came, and what came was cold. Bitter, impossible cold that almost felt good in the heat. She locked her teeth together and accepted it, letting it run down her back. As she reached for her shampoo, she got dangerously close to singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” a song she learned when Spencer was doing South Pacific in high school. She stopped herself just as she opened her mouth. New start or not, there was a line to be drawn, and that line was singing musicals to yourself as serious psychological motivation.
Her dialogue is witty, her characters are sparkling and there is constant supply of mad-cap antics that would keep even the toughest critic entertained. Maureen Johnson's previous novel, Suite Scarlett, centered around the eccentric Martin who reside in the 'vintage' NY Hopewell Hotel caught my attention and Scarlett Fever did more than enough to hold it. Scarlett is like a breath of fresh-teenage air. She's got insecurities but is a take action type of gal who is creative enough to survive any situation. And under Mrs. Amberson's employ - she's gonna need that. Once again, Scarlett et al charmed the pants off me and even though Scarlett Fever ended on a somewhat horribly unresolved, cliff-hanger ending (I'll try not to hold that against you Ms. Johnson), I for one am extremely pleased to hear that more will be coming from our charming blond hero.

series reading order:
~ Suite Scarlett
~ Scarlett Fever

Because Everyone Loves a Second Opinion:
Becky's Book Reviews
Bookish Blather review
Book Smugglers review
Bookshelves of Doom review
The Compulsive Reader review

book source: my local library

Poetry Friday: Langston Hughes & Audra McDonald

With April being National Poetry Month, I thought I'd take a few poems that have caught my eye over the years and share them with you in the next couple of weeks. Although I am not now, nor shall I ever be, what could be considered A Poet - there are many verses that seem to stick inside my brain long after I've heard them. I tend to like a wide range of poems: long epics, tragedies, and humorous lines never fail to catch my fancy but for some reason the joyful always seem to strike a chord with me. And I can't think of a more joyful or exhilarating poem than Langston Hughes "Dream Variations" - especially when preformed by the magnificent Audra McDonald.

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me

-Langston Hughes

This week's Poetry Friday is hosted by Paper Tigers.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Most of Regina Afton's high school existence has revolved around the Fearsome Fivesome, or at least catering to the capricious wishes of her so-called best friend and the groups' self-appointed leader Anna. At Anna's side and part of the It crowd, Regina is looked up to, adored, and universally feared. Which is why Regina is in serious shock and confusion mode when she walks into school on Monday to find that she has been 'frozen out' by Anna and her cronies. What begins with simple isolation extends to malicious pranks and vindictive rumors all carefully designed to turn Regina's existence into a veritable, walking nightmare. And it works. Really, really well actually. Unwilling to simply ride out the humiliation all alone, Regina finds herself turning to some of her previous victims, finding unexpected sources of comfort in those she had worked so hard to destroy herself. And as the pranks and even physical violence escalate, Regina discovers she's ready to fight back. Because she knows these girls and their torturous ways - after all, she's been doing the same things to other innocent, unwitting victims for years now.

Despite having come across countless favorable reviews of Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are in the past several months, I purposefully stayed away. Why? Well, I knew her honest and brutal narrative about the lengths girls go to make each others lives a living nightmare in high school would be just that: honest and brutal. But then Angie told me I had to read it and one incredibly tense afternoon later, here we are. And like Angie said it's an important read and one I'm glad I took a chance on. Though I don't know what aspect appalled me more: the fact that these girls could be so coolly diabolical in their revenge or the complete and utter obliviousness of every single parent, teacher or adult in the novel! I swear, every other chapter I about gave myself a heart-attack with each new humiliation or heartache Regina suffered thinking "okay, this is going to be the time SOMEONE steps in and gets this horrific situation under control." But no, each new 'prank' would inevitably come without rescue, described in Regina's unflinchingly honest voice without any softening of the blow.

Courntey Summers also must be acknowledged for her supreme crafting of Regina's unique teenage voice in particular. Boiled down, Regina has been a bully, although a popular and well-dressed one, and yet I found myself caring - deeply - about her. And that's not because she shied away from her misdeeds past and current. Oh no, it's all out there, plain as day for your viewing pleasure. Mostly I found myself drawn to Some Girls Are because of the slow unraveling and gradual exposure of Regina's fears and insecurities, revealing at heart a pretty messed-up ball of teenage insecurities that was far from stereotypical and deeply layered. And infinitely readable.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Presenting Lenore review
Steph Su Reads review
The Story Siren review
The YA YA YAs review

book source: my local library

Six Years Later

This past week has been somewhat busy - craziness about what you'd expect from the week before Easter - but for some reason it was a little more frantic than usual. Amid all this craziness, the Hubby and I were set to celebrate our sixth anniversary on Friday but for a couple of reasons, we still haven't gotten around to celebrating yet. But that's not to say he forgot. Nope, not my guy. On Friday morning, when I stumbled into the kitchen several hours after the he had already left (sometime before 5am - yikes!), I found these pretties - and a sweet note - waiting for me:
Ellen Emerson White - The President's Daughter series

I first came across these perfect books this past summer and have been sighing longingly over my own set ever since (the precious! we wants the precious!). And now I have them (the precious! we loves the precious!).

Six years later and the Hubby still knows exactly how to make me giddy. Yup. He's a keeper.

Twitter me this

As it happens, I am probably one of the only five people left on this little blue-green planet who haven't opened a Twitter account. This last week I've had *several* folks cajole me into signing up and so today I finally took the plunge and added myself to the ranks of tweeters.

My question is this: How do you use Twitter? Is it more for fun or do you use it to promote your blog? If so, how? Blog post updates? Random thoughts while reading?

It should be no surprise to say I'm not exactly sure of the best way to use this device, but I am seeing the possibilities. Follow me @SeeMichelleRead - and if you have an account, let me know, I'm still trying to figure out this whole thing but I have a sneaky suspicion it's going to add quite a bit of time to my normal internetting schedule...

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

With her Lady Julia Grey novels, Deanna Raybourn has proved herself a master at creating evocative, atmospheric settings and her decision to set her latest Gothic novel, The Dead Travel Fast, in a mysterious and darkly exotic, feudal Transylvania castle can only be labeled as perfectly brilliant.

The death of Miss Theodora LeStrange's grandfather and guardian has left her at a impasse. Never one to desire marriage and motherhood she can either move in with her sister - and her many children - or marry a man she likes but does not love. Neither option is particularly appealing to Theodora when her rescue from domesticity arrives in the form of a letter from her school-friend Cosmina, inviting her to come to Castle Dragulescu in Transylvania prior to her upcoming marriage. Convinced this is the opportunity she has been waiting for to write her long-dreamed of novel, Theodora convinces friends and family to let her travel halfway around the world to a place steeped in tradition and superstition. Upon her arrival at Castle Dragulescu, Theodora is delighted to discover more than enough inspiration for her novel - the crumbling, yet majestic castle, the superstitious villagers, howling wind and dangerous wolves, not to mention the enigmatic Count Andrei Dragulescu himself. A figure cut for the most dashing adventures surely. But when a strange, horrifying murder strikes at the castle and rumors of supernatural involvement begin to swirl round, Theodora finds her pragmatic intellectual ideals sorely tested as the chilling and diabolical sequence of events unfold.

It is with a heavy heart to say that I truly struggled with this novel - I must have picked it up only to set it down again about twenty different times in the course of a couple of weeks; each time succumbing to the temptation of other, more shiny books. And it makes it even harder to admit when I say I have truly, truly been looking forward to reading it. That's not to say I wasn't impressed with Ms. Raybourn's latest offering - oh no, I was quite enthralled in fact. Perhaps I just wasn't in the proper frame of mind for such a dramatic and chilling Gothic novel. Over the course of Theodora's narrative I seemed to come across each and every ingredient necessary in crafting a traditional Gothic tale as if I was reading with a checklist in hand: the dark, creepy castle; the mysterious and handsome feudal lord with a libertine past and hidden depths; superstitious townsfolk; the first person, diary-style narrative; the introduction of supernatural elements all combined to create a truly haunting narrative -- just not anything particularly unique. Except for the added twist of Theodora's sleuthing - very much reminiscent of Lady Julia's adventures in that just when you think you've got it all figured out, another shocking revelation comes to light. Still, Ms. Raybourn is one of those authors who I have come to trust implicitly and although I didn't *love* The Dead Travel Fast, I very much liked it. And if I say I'm seriously anticipating the next Julia and Brisbane adventure -- Dark Road to Darjeeling -- like wow and boy howdy, would you even hold that against me?

Because Everyone Loves a Second Opinion:
All About Romance reviews
Angieville review
Dear Author review
Garden in My Pocket review 
S. Krishna's Books review

book source: my local library