Well tickle me pink

I honestly started blogging about books as a way to keep track of not only the books I read and my reviews, but of genre lists and challenges I participate in. That said, I LOVE knowing people enjoy reading my blog too, becuase frankly, not a day goes by when I'm not reading someone else's most recent post. I am seriously tickled pink (okay, probably more like a bright, happy fuchsia) when anyone comments on a post and couldn't be happier to hear your recommendations and thoughts.

So in checking my email this past week, I received some news that totally rocked my day - more like my entire week or even month for that matter. Seems I've been nominated for an award during the upcoming Book Blogger Appreciation Week for Best New Blog!! Here's their description for the category:

Best New Blog – This new blog seems to have appeared out of nowhere since September of 2008 and has jumped into the book blogging world with both feet. You love their posts and wonder how the book blogging world ever got along without them.

After reading the description online, I was more than a little pumped. Knowing the competition is super fierce to even be short-listed, I'm just more than a little pleased to have been nominated at all. So thanks again for stopping by - I'm more than a little happy you came.

Retro Fridays: Echo Company series by Ellen Emerson White

Today, being Friday, I thought I'd take the chance to participate in Angie's Retro Friday posts over at Angieville and review The Echo Company series by Ellen Emerson White writing as Zack Emerson. This series is definitely retro, written in the early '90s, but seeing as I read them for the first time this summer, I wanted to spread the love for this unbelievably unique series. Even though the books are split into four installments, they read like they should be one volume so I'm going to treat them like that here. In Welcome to Vietnam , we meet Private Michael Jennings - 18 years old and fresh off the plane for his year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. Wishing he had done anything to escape being sent there, (gone to college or even gone to Canada) Michael misses his family, good food and most of all his dog Otis. Just his luck, he is assigned to Echo Company, the ones who are currently in the middle of the jungle fighting for their lives. Never one to miss an opportunity to make a slick comeback (what's the worst they'll do? send him to Vietnam?) Michael is surly, irreverent, and more intelligent than he gives himself credit for. He is also scared silly and in way over his head - but hey, so is everyone else. Snoopy, a black kid from New Jersey, is put in charge of showing Michael the ropes which leads to some pretty humorous conversations since Snoopy is also something of a excitable puppy with a smart mouth. But all too soon, Michael and his squad are putting their life on the line while on patrol and during attacks. Holding back nothing, Michael sets down in painful detail the loss of friends and the grisly aftermath.

The sound of the explosion sent everyone diving to the ground, looking for cover. And, at first, when - stuff - rained down, Michael wasn't sure what it was. Then, he realized who is was. Who it had been.

There's no misunderstanding the horrors of war here. That said, Michael's oh so human reaction to death reminds you that he is only 18 years old. 18! Even though he's sickened, Michael responds with a ingrained sense of loyalty and compassion for the guys around him - showing his make without a second thought. Just wait, it gets better.

Hill 568 picks up after this horrific loss with the Echo Company boys getting buttered up with a steak dinner and rumors of a coming large scale offensive attack. Michael's main rule is to never volunteer for anything and this is not his idea of keeping a low profile. He's already been asked to walk point (which involves making sure nobody walks right into an attack or booby traps) for his squad and that mind numbing responsibility has left him strung too tightly as it is. Somehow they make it through, but with long-lasting consequences that aren't just physical.

Coming off that exhausting battle, the narrative switches to follow Lt. Rebecca Phillips in 'Tis the Season. Rebecca is in Vietnam for many personal reasons, one being the army paid for her nursing degree so she's agreed to spend one year as a nurse in a field hospital in Vietnam. Full of sass herself, Rebecca impulsively jumps on a medi-vac helicopter which then crashes in the jungle and kills her friends. Bad enough right? To her horror, some of the Vietnamese rebels heard the crash which leads to one unforgettable encounter with a young solider. Later, she stumbles through the jungle on a broken ankle until coming across Michael's squad - who are just as surprised to find her as she is them. Let's just say Michael is more than a little smitten with the ballsy Lieutenant.

Switching back to Michael's perspective, Stand Down is the final installment in this fantastic series. He's still a little shocked from finding the feisty Lieutenant wandering wounded in the middle of the jungle - after all he was on point and could have shot her. But when word comes that Echo Company will be on stand down (a type of break where the guys are sent to a noncombat zone), he's hoping for a chance to meet up with Rebecca and find out not only how she's doing but to see if she feels anything for him - because he's fallen pretty hard himself.

So it was more than a stretch for me to be picking up Vietnam war novels (of all things) but after stumbling upon Ellen Emerson White's The Road Home I knew I would do just about anything to pick up these first four books. Too pricey to buy (try $40 a pop), I enlisted the aid of my local librarian who happily found them on ILL and had them delivered no less than a couple of weeks later. Cheesy covers and sappy teaser lines aside, these books are solid gold. I knew I should expect some intelligent writing, but once again I was blown away with the deep emotion and sheer wit of it all. Michael's journey from fresh off the plane cherry to experienced point man in a matter of months is just plain riveting. Throw in one fiesty field nurse and you've got yourself a page-turner.

Additionally, this isn't one of those war novels that patronizes the soldiers by making them seem overly patriotic or full of political rhetoric. Michael and his squad mates are just guys, none too happy with their current situation, who are simply trying to make it out alive with at least a bit of their sanity left. Take this quote from Hill 568 which illustrates Michael's mixed feelings about what was expected of him in the army:

One thing he was learning about the Army was that you could be tired, or sick, or in pain -- and you did the job, anyway. You might gripe and groan a little - or even a lot - but you did what had to be done. If he were at home, and had blistered his hands this badly raking leaves, say, or shoveling snow, he probably would have quit, and gone inside the house to lay down. Here, he just had to grit his teeth, and get on with it.
So, he was either building character, or else he had fallen so deep into the group mentality that he was incapable of making any sort of decision for himself.

Tough call.

See? He's a smart aleck, grumpy but so dang lovable. Above all, he's bascially just a teenager who has been thrust into a situation that quickly turns him into an adult. FYI, Michael and Rebecca's story is continued in The Road Home, which naturally switches back to Rebecca's pov - just be warned - have some kleenex handy and don't get attached to many of the secodary characters. But still, pick it up. I promise you won't regret a minute spent on trying to get a hold of any of these fabulous books.

series reading order:
~ Welcome to Vietnam, Echo Company #1
~ Hill 568, Echo Company #2
~ 'Tis the Season, Echo Company #3
~ Stand Down, Echo Company #4
~ The Road Home - my review

Am I morbid?

Many of you know about my fascination with anything dystopian, end of the world or post-apocalypse in literature. Maybe I just have an unhealthy curiosity over what happens when either mass disease, natural disasters or super scary technology irrevocably changes the world. Something about people showing their true colors in times of trial and all that. Many of you have also expressed similar interest and I just knew there were others out there. So I couldn't have been more pleased to read the fabbity-fab post The Book Smugglers recently wrote outlining mucho many dystopian books as part of their YA Appreciation Month. They hit many of my favorites (how i live now for starters) and touched on many that I can't wait to try out (can anyone say Obernewtyn?). I think I've just added another 15 inches to my ever increasing TBR pile...

Twenty Boy Summer Winnah!!

Wow! I'd like to give a big thanks to all you wonderful folks who entered the Twenty Boy Summer giveaway. I loved reading all your summer memories!! And now for The Winnah:

Jeff and Jen

Please send me your address within the next five days and I'll get this awesome book shipped out right away. Congrats!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Let me preface this review by explaining a few things. The Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy (though there are five books - go figure) is one of the hubby's all time favorites. He doesn't read much fiction but will reread this series every few months and even went as Arthur Dent for Halloween a few years ago. I've never read them *gasp* but I've seen the movie - which I liked but always end up falling asleep during the last bit. He's always saying I should read them, and last week, he finally got his way. Last week being our 30 hour cross-country drive from Ohio to Utah where he persuaded me to listen to the audio book. I've decided the audio version is the only way to read this series. If you've seen the movie, the narrator also reads the books in a wonderful British accent.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Arthur Dent, human, thinks he has encountered the worst day of his life: his house is about to be destroyed to make way for a bypass. What he doesn't realize is that 1. his best friend, Ford Prefect, is actually an alien masquerading as an out of work actor and 2. Earth is about to be destroyed by a Vogon ship trying to clear a path for an intergalactic expressway. Ironic isn't it? Ford however knows of the impending destruction and helps Arthur 'hitch' a ride on this Vogon ship. What follows are their adventures encountering intergalactic presidents who steal expensive spaceships, depressed robots, and centuries old world-builders all in search of the ultimate answer (or question) to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Douglas Adam is witty in that unfailingly deadpan British way. He is also one of the most unusually creative writers I've ever come across. Not only are his characters unusual and competely real (even if they are robots) but some of the cosmic situations he describes are down right hilarious. Occasionally, he would begin to wax poetic about some scientific topic or other and I'd sort of zone out until I caught the hubby chuckling and then demand we rewind it until I got the joke too. Over all, it was decidedly different and inventive - I just might start celebrating towel day myself...

series reading order:
~ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
~ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
~ Life, the Universe and Everything
~ So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish
~ Mostly Harmless

And just for kicks, here's a picture of the hubby as the ever-confused Arthur Dent with his trusty towel - love you babe!

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Angel Gabriel has known for many years that he will be the next Archangel and that he must go to the oracle to discover who Jovah has chosen to be his Angelica or human bride. In Samaria, Archangels are a sort of divine chosen ruler over the land, changing every fifteen years. They lead Samaria in the Gloria (a sort of sung mass) each year, reminding the people of their dependence and love for Jovah. Gabriel has put off the task of finding his bride until he only has six months until his inaugural Gloria - so when he discovers his Angelica Rachel is a young woman from a family of peasant farmers he is shocked and more than a little surprised. Rachel herself has not led an easy life and is not too happy when Gabriel shows up declaring that he will be her husband. All her life her choices have been taken from her and she is not about to let Gabriel take them away from her again.

Let me start off by saying what in the heck is going on with this cover? Is Rachel cringing? Singing? Sighing? None really match her personality so I can't really figure it out. Not to mention the odd little ball - is it supposed to be the Kiss which not only allows Jovah to track you but tells you when you've found your one and only? I thought that was supposed to be embedded in your skin? Weird. Too weird. Other than the oddness of the art, I really enjoyed this unusual story of religion mixed with politics set in a brand new world. And once again Sharon Shinn does not disappoint with her wonderfully crafted characters. A competely believable hero and heroine and some nasty villains who really are a little larger than life. The narrative switches back and forth between Rachel and Gabriel, which at times seemed a bit redundant since they would cover each situation twice, but overall served to really give a good understand of each's personality. Inventive and very readable, I can't wait to pick up the rest of this fabulous series.

series reading order:
~ Archangel
~ Jovah's Angel
~ Alleluia Files
~ Angelica
~ Angel Seeker

Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge

When Pete Caldecott met the irresistible Jack Winter when she was 16 years old, she knew her life would never be the same again. Older and wiser with magic at his fingertips, Jack seemed to charge the very space his lived in. That is until Pete watched him get killed by a shadowy form he tried to summon from a graveyard. Flash forward 10 years and Pete is now a London detective with a string of cases involving missing children. After receiving a mysterious tip about their location, Pete discovers Jack strung-out on heroin with precise information about the kidnappings. Unwilling to let Jack fade back into obscurity, Pete forces him to not only sober up but to help her find the other children - although she doesn't believe in the possibility that magic is involved for a second. As the mystery begins to unfold, Pete is forced to confront her own past and the existence of sorcerers, demons and faeries.

I found this to be a fun, fast-paced ride, albeit sometimes a little dark. Pete and Jack's relationship is full of angst arising from some huge misunderstandings those ten years ago and both are sure the other is lying about something. What I liked about Pete was how loyal she can be: to the missing kids, to Jack. It really made me like her even more. My only problem was how quickly Pete went from a no-nonsense detective to fist-throwing brawler ready to defend Jack. It really didn't seem in keeping with her 'toe the line of the law' persona. Other than that, the descriptions of a magical London underworld centered in Whitechapel were more than a little fun.

Cast in Secret by Michelle Sagara

When Kaylin Neya is called to investigate the theft of a stolen box from one of the (surprisingly enough) actual mages on Elani Street, home to fakes and real mages alike, she's not overly concerned with magic being a factor in this particular case. Until she looks into a pool of water while investigating the scene of the crime and sees a battered looking young girl - who calls her name. Kaylin has more than a small soft spot for children in trouble so it's no surprise when she makes this unusual case her only priority even though she has to face many, many unpleasant facets of her past to gain the information she needs to save her. Only when she begins to dig deeper does she understand the magic at work may not just threaten the life of one child but the entire city of Elantra.

This being the third installment in Michelle Sagara's engrossing series, I feel like I've got a good handle on her characters and the world of Elantra itself. Sagara's world building is practically mind-blowing. Each of her five races are so distinct with rich, deep histories that the reader learns right along with Kaylin. Cast in Courtlight dealt primarily with the imperious and crafty Barrani and this book zeroed in on the mysterious Tha'alani - mortal creatures who have stalk-like appendages that can 'read' a person. Both were fascinating and I have a sneaking suspicion the next book will force Kaylin to learn about the Dragons...

Despite its thickness (over 500 pages!) I'm seriously appreciating Sagara's style: the slow buildup of action that really doesn't make much sense - even if it is interesting - until all the pieces of the puzzle neatly fall into place, leaving you basically stunned with the sheer intelligence of the entire setup. The easiest reads, they ain't - but well worth any effort you put into them.

series reading order:
~ Cast in Shadow - my review
~ Cast in Courtlight - my review
~ Cast in Secret
~ Cast in Fury

Twenty Boy Summer GIVEAWAY

Since I liked Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer so dang much, I'd like to give you, dear reader, a chance to ooh and aah over this wonderful book with me. That's right, I'm giving it away and I'm giving it away for free. What do you have to do to win your own brand-spanking-new copy of Twenty Boy Summer? Just answer one tiny little question for me:

What is one summer you'll never forget - was it the people, the place, the food, the books? Did you meet someone who changed the way you saw the world or simply find out something about yourself?

So comment away my friends. This happens to be my first-ever giveaway (kind of like Anna trying to ditch her own albatross) and I need you to help make it all special-like.

You have until Monday, August 17th at midnight to enter... Please be sure to leave me an email or blog address in your comment so I can let you know if you are the Winnah. This contest is open to US of A residents only (sorry internationals).

For a couple extra entries, you can become a follower (current followers, go ahead and give yourself an extra entry); or you can post it on your blog - just be sure to let me know the link; or comment on my review of Twenty Boy Summer. Just make it easy on me and let me know how many entries you have all total, mmmkay?

Good night and good luck!

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

When Vianne Rocher and her young daughter arrive in a small, insular French town dressed in red with no husband in sight to set up a chocolate shop the church curate, Francis Reynaud, immediately sees the two a threat to their wholesome values and god-fearing ways. Vianne herself has no interest in religion but she is willing to spread her 'magic' in this small town by enchanting the village children and instinctively knowing what everyone's favorite confection might be. She quickly wins friends with the old and young alike but is mistrusted by pere Reynaud and his Bible groupies. When Vianne decides to host a chocolate festival on Easter Sunday, pere Reynaud finds her audacity insulting and begins a battle with the lively chocolatier that will forever change their small town.

This rich narrative alternates between Vianne and pere Reyaund's point of view with devastating results: all beauty, goodness, and even evil is laid bare for the reader to see. Vianne is competely open concerning all things in her past - the good and bad - she is funny, loving, and so magical. I was constantly lost in her decadent descriptions of her many chocolates. It was just so sensual - but not overtly or oddly so - which became especially obvious any time it switched to Reynaud's narration. Sanctimonious, self righteous and proud, Reynaud was a perfect foil to Vianne brightness and beauty.
The movie itself stayed pretty true to the book, but I must say I actually like the movie better. When does that ever happen?? I constantly had an image of Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp as Vianne and Roux while reading this and their characterizations were perfect. Not even to mention the lovely Judi Dench as Armande - she's the only woman who could make Armande come alive like that. Although the book was magical and beautifully written I absolutely HATED the ending. The movie ended so much better. I don't want to spoil anything here: but what was Vianne thinking?!?

series reading order:
~ Chocolat
~ The Girl with No Shadow