The Big Move

So this week the hubby and I are packing up and moving to sunny California (big gulp). Since I'll be sitting in a very large U-Haul with no internet access trying to entertain a toddler, I'm going to be taking a break from from this here bloggy. Never fear, in my absence I'll be leaving you in the capable hands of my good friend and fellow book-addict Holly. I first met Holly while we were both sleep-deprived art history undergrads and as often happens, we ended up losing touch until a few years ago when we found ourselves working together at the same amazing library. Holly is one fabulous reviewer (find her on Goodreads) and an all-around good person to talk books with. I know she's planned a fabulous week chock-full of marvelous bookish moments - so be sure to check back often and make her feel welcome.

See y'all next week!

Would you like some cheese with your eggnog?

So I know it's only the day after Thanksgiving, but every year I get giddy thinking about the holidays. I love Christmas - love the lights, the food, the family, the presents. But mostly I love the movies. Cheesy, heartwarming and all together so classicly perfect. I've seen more holiday themed movies over the years than I can possibly count, but there are only a few tried and true flicks I keep coming back to year after year and could probably quote beginning to end. So please go grab a glass of eggnog and get ready for my marathon list of must-see holiday movies.

White Christmas
Bing Crosby. Danny Kaye. Rosemary Clooney. And that other blonde chick with the 10 inch waist. My sister and I used to watch "Sister, Sister" over and over and over and over...

A Christmas StoryIt must be something with the narrator on this one. Jean Shepherd's enthusiastic reminiscences of his 1940s childhood Christmas are what make Ralphie such a classic.

ElfA modern classic in it's own right and possibly the best Will Farrell movie evah.
Buddy the elf, what's your favorite color?

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasMax the Faithful Dog steals the show in this short but memorable film. Who doesn't love a bad guy who discovers he actually has a heart? And it doesn't hurt that he's green.

It's a Wonderful LifeOf course it's on the list. It's on everybody's list for a reason: Jimmy Stewart.

National Lampoon's Christmas VacationWatching Clark Griswald's ineptitude makes my family feel better every year.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Good Grief. Who doesn't love Charlie Brown and his pitiful little tree?

Come on, I know you have a list of must-see holiday movies you watch every year. What's on yours?

Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs has really been feeling the love for her Mercy Thompson series lately. With Bone Crossed released in hardcover earlier this year and her very first Mercy Thompson graphic novel out as well, Mercy fans have plenty of reasons to become giddy. For myself, I'm not really a comic book person, but I am a dedicated Mercy fangirl and couldn't wait to catch a glimpse of her adventures in full-color.

Homecoming is basically an origin story for Mercy Thompson: how she meets both Adam and Stefan and how she lands the mechanic position at Zee's shop. Although it is a stand-alone story, unless you've already had the privileged of reading Mercy's other adventures, Homecoming may not feel as robust as the others. It's fun, it's fast but I did miss the trademark Mercy narration. Several little details of Mercy's life are revealed that only long-standing Mercy fans will appreciate the significance of - little things like how Mercy gets her cat.

As for the artwork itself: Beautiful and suitably shadowy yet very powerful. Though it was a little jarring to see how often Mercy herself changed. I know there were multiple artists working on this book, but since she is the title character, I would have expected a little more continuity with her character at least. But that said, her action scenes were fabulous. Consequently, I had buckets of fun matching up my mental picture of Mercy's gang with the artists' rendering. Adam and Zee were just as I pictured, but I was a little disappointed with Stefan as a '80s grunge rocker. Not really the way I pictured the mystery machine driving vampire.

On a side note, Patricia Briggs and the artists of Homecoming did choose not to shy away (at all) from the shape-shifting side of Mercy's life - which to be honest, I'm happy with because Mercy herself is never really concerned about whether she is clothed or not. But gentle readers be warned: there are several panels of Mercy naked which might be off-putting. The artwork is stylized and the important parts are usually covered, but it is all still quite clear, which may keep the book out of the hands of Mercy's younger fans.

Homecoming was a fabulous fast-paced action story and an efficient reminder of why I love the Mercy Thompson series so much. I do wish it had been longer, but I understand the format is more suited to quick action and less dialogue. Thank heavens we have Silver Borne coming in March 2010.

Mercy Thompson novels reading order:
~ Moon Called
~ Blood Bound
~ Iron Kissed
~ Bone Crossed
~ Silver Borne (March 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings review
Grasping for the Wind review
Janicu review

book source: my local library

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

In the future, municipal Darwinism is King. After massive world-wide destruction, cities and towns have become mobile structures lumbering across continents 'eating' each other in a race to acquire more materials, fuel, and even slaves. Young Tom Natsworthy was born and bred in the traction city of London and even if he is only a third class apprentice in the Guild of Historians and an orphan, he's content to be a part of that great city - a pinnacle of progress. While on assignment, Tom can't believe his luck when he finally meets his hero, Mr. Valentine, the brave archeologist and darling of London - and his beautiful daughter Katherine. But after witnessing something he shouldn't have, he finds himself lost in the rugged Out-Country, desperate to find a way back to London and joined by the scarred Hester Shaw, a young girl bent on revenge and delightfully flawed. As Tom and Hester race across the desolate landscape after the mobile London, they face death at every turn as they stumble across pirates, slavers, and even the resistance movement, the Anti-Tractionist League.

Every so often I stumble across a little-known book that really hits a high note. I should have known Mortal Engines would have been a Sure Thing knowing it was 1. a dystopian book and 2. chock full of compelling characters, but be warned: this book will pull you in faster than you can say "anti-Tractionist League." Truly engrossing, the non-stop action of Tom and Hester's journey left me stunned. The whole idea that after massive world destruction, technology has evolved to allow entire civilizations to become mobile is fascinating. Throw in a very active resistance movement and the fact that Philip Reeve presents compelling arguments for each side without ever forcing an opinion on his readers and you've got yourself some compelling reading.

Staggering world building aside, characters are what make this book a stand-out. And I don't just mean the main characters; Mortal Engines boasts a superb supporting cast. The red-clad pilot Anna Fang: charming and kind but who would like nothing better than to see the end of mobile cities. The power hungry pirate Chrystler Peavey who only keeps Tom alive in hopes of turning his crew into 'proper gentlemen.' Not to mention Hester Shaw - whose scarred face and thirst for revenge has her wary of any overture of friendship. Be warned, as meticulous Philip Reeve is with crafting his characters, he doesn't think twice about killing them off. Several times, I would re-read passages thinking "did he really just do it again??! NOOO!!" But that's okay, I'm planning on returning to The Hungry City Chronicles just to find out what unique individual he's planning on introducing me to next.

series reading order:
~ Mortal Engines
~ Predator's Gold
~ Infernal Devices
~ A Darkling Plain

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Book Loons review
Green Man review
SF Site review review

book source: my local library

Love the Library Sale

Check out the loot I got at my library's book sale this weekend:Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund
Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund
Rites of Spring (Break) by Diana Peterfreund
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
Sons from Afar by Cynthia Voigt
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Tris's Book by Tamora Pierce

I think these'll hold me for a bit.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

All her life, Grace has lived at the edge of the forest and every year as the seasons begin to turn colder, she waits and watches for her wolves to appear. Her friends and family can't understand Grace's fascination with the wolves that almost took her life years ago, but Grace feels an unexplained connection to one wolf in particular - the one who protected her from the other wolves that awful day. Every winter, Grace waits for her wolf to return, knowing he will stay close to her throughout the winter - a bright spot in the otherwise lonely and cold season.

At the beginning of the school year, all of Mercy Falls is shocked to discover a fatal wolf attack on a local bully, Jack Culpeper. The entire community is ready to take to the woods to hunt the dangerous wolves down, but Grace can feel nothing but sympathy and worry for her wolf. Then a boy shows up on her porch, wounded, and Grace is sure she knows him and knows she will do anything in her power to keep him near.

Unlike the non-stop, hold your breath action of Ballad, Shiver is a rather quiet book. Neither Grace or Sam are alpha heroes by any means, but they both posses courage and strength in spades. Sam especially has had to grow up faster than any boy ever should but who wants nothing more than to retain his humanity. To label Shiver simply as a 'werewolf' novel would be a gross underestimation. Most definitely it is a love story about two practical, old souls who have experienced more than your average teen and who forge a connection well outside of convention.

Maggie Stiefvater's secondary characters are also a study in contrast. They aren't ever distinctly good or evil, they are just people who sometimes make good choices but who often make incredibly bad choices too. One of my favorites is the spoiled diva Isabel Culpeper who Grace wants nothing to do with but who ultimately comes to her aid when she's most needed. Additionally, there are lots other of little details that make this a good read: the temperature reading at the beginning of each chapter, the alternating point of view of Sam and Grace, and very real, very compelling nature of Sam's wolf pack. I can fully understand why Grace is jealous of Sam's idyllic upbringing - I am too.

And just because it is so beautiful, I'll leave you with the Shiver trailer, made by the lovely author herself.

series reading order:
~ Shiver
~ Linger (July 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review + interview
The Book Smugglers review
The Eclectic Book Lover review
Karin's Book Nook review
Preenting Lenore review
Shooting Stars Mag review

book source: borrowed from a friend

Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

I read Ballad last week and have tried several times since then to sit down and write a somewhat coherent review. The only problem was, every time I started writing, all that came out was: SQUEEEEEEE!! I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT!! JAMES!!! SQUEEEEE!!


So I finally feel like I'm at a place where I can talk intelligently about it (SQUEEEE!!!) and find I have to start here: Maggie Stiefvater is a master at sequels. Okay, so that's not to say she doesn't completely rock at first novels (she does) but I can't remember the last time I read such a well-crafted second book with an unforgettable character like James (SQUEEEE!!). In Lament, we got snippets of James, enough to see what a freaking cool guy he happens to be but little enough compared to the screen time he richly deserves. Thankfully, Ms. Maggie Stiefvater fully satisfies every wish for more James in this lovely, haunting book.

Following on the heels of Lament, Ballad finds James and Diedre at the music conservatory Thornking-Ash with the faerie problem still dogging their every move. James still hasn't quite gotten over his last encounter with the faeries or the fact that when he finally worked up the nerve to tell Dee that he loved her, he got no such answer in return. Ouch. Their resulting encounters are awkwardly painful meetings between to incredibly broken people dealing with extreme heartache.

James is already a bit fragile when the soul-sucking faerie Nuala stomps, swears, and generally insinuates herself into his life. Nuala is a fae muse for only the most talented artists and musicians, helping them to create beautiful pieces far beyond human capacity, only asking for something small in return: years off their life. Not about to let Nuala anywhere near his golden years, James is determined to keep his distance but the smart-mouth Nuala fits perfectly with his cocky persona and he just can't forget about her.
Nuala turned her head just enough for me to get a good whiff of her breath, all summer and promises. "I can't play anything. I can only help others. It wouldn't matter if I thought of the best song in the world -- I couldn't play it."

"You physically can't?"

She turned her face back away from me. "I just can't. Music doesn't happen for me."

Something stuck in my throat, uncomfortable. "Show me."

She slid one hand off mine, pressed a key down with her finger. I watched the key depress -- one time, two times, five times, ten times -- nothing happened. Just the small, muffled sound of the piano key being depressed. She took my hand and dragged it to the same key. Pressed my finger down, once. The piano rang out, a sullen bell that stopped as soon as she lifted my finger back up again.

She didn't say anything else. Did she have to? The memory of that single note was still singing in my head.
For someone whose entire life is music, Nuala is basically irresistible. A couple of their exchanges are some of the best I've read, even if they were just sitting around, banging about. Of course, the faerie court hasn't forgotten about Dee and James, forcing James to work every bit of magic he has to protect his life-long friend while trying to figure out how to help Nuala avoid the same fate.

Stepping into Maggie Stiefvater's world of faerie is like stepping into an alternate land where the colors are brighter, the people more compelling, and the music..? The music is achingly beautiful. Ballad is ultimately a world apart from Lament. This second book is a tighter, more coherent and more soul-wrenching book than it's predecessor. Everything about James combines for a seriously compelling character: his snarky one-liners; his oddball T-shirts; his wicked command of the BAGPIPES; his very own (very OCD) hand-writing complex?! Freaking-Fan-Tastic. If you haven't had a chance to read part of this breath-taking series, please do yourself a favor and track one down: borrow it, buy it - whatever, just get a copy and get ready to fall in love.


series reading order:
~ Lament
~ Ballad

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
The Crooked Shelf review
In Bed With Books review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Pure Imagination review

book source: my local library

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Many of you have heard me go on and on about all the truly unforgettable books that Angie from Angieville has recommended - there's quite a list at this point. Last week, she posted a blazingly hot review for a recent debut titled Girl in the Arena, and like Pavlov's dog, I immediately felt the need to pick it up. Imagine my joy when Angie herself hand-delivered said book to me on Friday (thanks Angie!). And true to form, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.

Lyn G. is the daughter of seven gladiators. Her beautiful mother, Allison, has made a career of sorts being married to Glads and lives and breathes according to the bylaws governing Glad wife and child behavior. Tommy G. is lucky husband number seven and has become more a father to Lyn and her younger brother Thad than any of her previous fathers. Tommy is also one of the best Glads in the business and now only has a few fights left before his contract is over with the Gladiator Sports Association. For his last bout, he's slated to face the rising-star Uber, a young Glad who is at the top of his game and who strangely enough, has the usually confident Tommy, Lyn, Allison and even Thad worried and obsessing over the outcome.
This is one of the first bylaws I was taught; number 96:

Never leave the stadium when your father is dying.
As a Glad daughter, Lyn feels trapped in a life she has no control over and suffocated by a mother who only wants her to make the same choices she did. But Lyn is fiercely independent and of all things a pacifist(!) and would like nothing better than to take her family away from all the violence and the prying eyes of the media. Especially her mentally handicapped brother Thad who often makes surprisingly accurate but oh so creepy predictions but who she would do anything for. Including stepping into the one place she hates more than any other - the arena - for the chance to fight for their freedom from the GSA once and for all.

Part social commentary, part dystopian fantasy Girl in the Arena portrays an America that isn't too far off by any stretch of the imagination. Chuck Palahniuk-esque fight clubs controlled by the all too powerful GSA abound and achieve higher ranking than even the NFL Over them all (and the bane of Lyn's existence) hangs the persistent, malicious media and paparazzi who make the Glad way of life impossible to escape.

Lise Haines' book is full of convoluted twists while oozing daring and character upon character that fairly leap off the pages. I do wish there had been more action scenes involving Lyn and clearer descriptions for some of the aspects of Glad culture which were a little murky but I have to look beyond them both in the face of the brilliance of Lyn's story. Against the powerful GSA and her daunting family she's honest, she's loyal and she's so freaking tough - no wonder she had Uber walking on eggshells most of the time. Parts of the action in Girl in the Arena completely broadsided me (just like it does Lyn) and all I could do was hang on, trusting Lyn to make sense of it all. I think what ultimately made me love Lyn to pieces however was her constant maneuvering of her brother, herself, her friend Mark, and even Uber in a such way to achieve some semblance of happiness for them all.

And if nothing else, please take a moment to watch this video I found over at Teens Read and Write. It's part review, part music video and wholly awesome.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Abby (the) Librarian review
Angieville review
Becky's Book Reviews
The Compulsive Reader review
Juiciliciousss Reviews

book source: borrowed from a friend

Better than the first

Lately, I've read a couple of books where the sequels have been as good, if not better, than their predecessors. I don't know why that small fact surprised me, but it did. I guess the whole "trust nothing but the original" and "ain't nothing like the real thing" sunk into my subconscious a little deeper than I had thought. Why do we, as readers (and watchers) all too often automatically judge a sequel more harshly than a first book simply because it DID NOT COME FIRST?

The assumption that a second (or third, or fourth) book in a series can never live up to the book innocently enough called Number One has to be more than just chance. I see it sort of as an insidious subliminal message: Why choose #2 or #3 when you can have #1? Silly, right? Of course I'll be the first to admit that there are massive truckloads of sequels in book and movie form that should have never, ever been written or published, but I'd like to name a few of my favorite sequels here - books that not only lived up to the awesomeness of their predecessor, but screamed by them in a flash of fantastical reading goodness.
Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater (The Gathering of Faerie #2)
Fire by Kristin Cashore (actually a prequel, but published second)
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels #3)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Narnia #2)
Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White (The President's Daughter #4)
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (Anne series #3)

And you? Do you have a favorite sequel?


finished Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

just wow

will post later when coherent thought returns

The Trouble with Demons by Lisa Shearin

Following close on the heels of Armed & Magical, The Trouble with Demons finds Raine Benares facing some problems bigger than ever. As if narrowly escaping an eleven kidnapping plot was not enough, she is one of the first to discover a plethora of multi-colored and heavily-fanged demons running around the Island of Mid. After taking care of a few of the grotesque creatures, Raine is dismayed to learn that these baddies were just the prequel of things to come. An extremely powerful (and equally idiotic) dark mage has opened a hellgate, effectually allowing an entire horde of demons free reign on Mid. *deep breath* A footnote in this charming little plot is that the Queen of Demons is intent on releasing her demonic horde and her trapped husband from inside the Saghred. Guess which seeker-bonded-to-a-rock she needs to do that little bit of mischief? Oh, that's right: Raine. Our girl does not have good luck. Raine will be the first to tell you that:
And all of my problems and predicaments were courtesy of a fist-sized, soul-sucking rock.
And she's quite right. The soul-sucking rock in question has given her an added boost to her normally respectable, but nonetheless minimal, magical abilities but even with with Saghred's help, it doesn't seem enough to accomplish the following:

1. close a hellgate
2. foil the Demon Queen
3. convince the powerful Council of Twelve that she isn't turning into a soulless dark mage that needs to be imprisoned for life (or worse)

Quite a list. Luckily she's got some good friends to back her up: Piaras, the spellsinging wonder-kid; her pirate cousin/sidekick in all things dangerous Phelan; the mysterious Guardian Mychael; and the much-appreciated dark-is-sexy Tam all make appearances as things get dicey. Add in another handful of equally compelling secondary characters and some serious bullies you love to hate, and we've got ourselves a non-stop action story with Raine's trademark smart-mouth narration.

Over the past two books, I've greatly enjoyed Lisa Shearin's back-and-forth, unpredictable love triangle between Raine, Tam, and Mychael. I did feel like the tension had come to a head in Armed & Magical and was sure Raine would be making the Big Decision in The Trouble with Demons. To my dismay, nothing of the sort happened. Not only does Raine not get any closer (whatsoever) to deciding on which hunk she's gonna go for, but all three end up more tangled magically and physically with no clear resolution in sight. I would have left this book pretty dang irritated if it hadn't been for Raine's encounter with one particular hunk the last chapter. A step in the right direction but still so far from the emotional attachment I was craving.

series reading order:
~ Magic Lost, Trouble Found - my review
~ Armed & Magical - my review
~ The Trouble with Demons
~ Bewitched and Betrayed (2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Enduring Romance review
Ink and Paper review
Lurv a la Mode review
Tempting Persephone review

book source: borrowed from a friend

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Way back in August, The Book Smugglers held their fantastic YA Appreciation month in which I furiously scribbled down book after book that I wanted to get to know better. Then they began spotlighting dystopian and post-apocalypse books over and over again and I began to feel a little faint. Literally. If you don't already know of my severe weakness for anything dystopian - I'll say it now loud and clear. I'm an unashamed addict and after reading Ana and Thea's glowing recommendations for the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody, I was sold. Bought and paid for. I then and there began plotting on how to get a hold of the series before my curiosity did me in. And let's just say, my efforts paid off in full.

Following the devastating nuclear fallout known as the Great White, wherein humans basically tried to destroy each other, only small pockets of civilizations remained on the barren and poisoned earth. Each civilization had to find a way of controlling their panicked citizens which eventually lead to the establishment of the Council of farmers, a group who by their strict governing have most people too scared to even think about stepping out of line. Since you have all that nuclear radiation floating around, human mutations have started to pop up everywhere and are not exactly popular with the Council. Any person suspected of having a mutation (real or imagined) is either put to death, or if caught in their youth, sent to a civilization shrouded in secrecy called Obernewtyn - established specifically for misfits. Elspeth Gordie just happens to be more scared of the Council than most - her mutation is one she's never even heard of and the thought of being discovered is enough to make her steer clear of potential friendships or informers. Not only does Elspeth have the 'common' problem of her dreams turning into actuality, but she can talk with animals; animals who mistrust humans in general but who also possess memories of the time before the Great White. She's also got some other serious undisclosed 'talents' that would definitely label her as Public Enemy No.1, so I see nothing wrong with being a little closed off. Unfortunately, Elspeth does find herself competely out of sorts after a not-so-chance encounter with Obernewtyn's misfit-finder resulting in her too-quick removal to that infamous settlement.

Now, Ms. Carmody could have stopped Elspeth's story right there and it would have been just dandy. But oh nos - she keeps going: firmly placing the restrained and self-contained Elspeth into a world where every person is shrouded in secrecy and around each corner is another creepy misfit that had the hairs on the back of my neck permanently standing on end. Maybe just a little out of her comfort zone, but Elspeth rises to the challenge and many fantastic cloak-and-dagger moments ensue. Add in a potential love interest and I was hooked for good. There is so much going on in the background as well - Elspeth's mental link with the moody cat Maurman (when are cats not fickle and moody?), the distrust of all technology and books - not even to mention the ever-increasing underground movement to overthrow the Council's control. All combined, it makes for some pretty compelling reading and I seriously cannot wait to return to Elspeth's world in book two, Farseekers.

series reading order:
~ Obernewtyn
~ Farseekers
~ Ashling
~ The Keeping Place
~ Wavesong
~ The Stone Key
~ The Sending (2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Fantasy Book Review
I Was a Teenage Book Geek review
Royal Reviews
SF Site review
Terra on the Bookshelf review

book source: my local library

Amazon Best Books of 2009

Amazon recently announced their Best Books of 2009 - a variety of my fav books from this year have made their various lists (Soulless) but the ones I got most excited for were in the Teen category. Several of these titles will also feature on my 'Best of' list for 2009 but after looking closer, I noticed I haven't read about half the books either. HALF! I need to do some serious reading in the next few weeks if I've missed out on that many good books.

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld - my review
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork - my review
Fire by Kristin Cashore - my review
The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book Two by Patrick Ness
Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins
If I Stay by Gayle Forman - my review

Have you read any on this list yet? Where should I start first? Feel free to comment or use the poll on the right.

See Michelle Laugh

With New Moon coming in a few weeks, I've stumbled onto quite a few humorous Twilight themed posts. The only one to have left me rolling with laughter however has to be Mandi from Smexy Books guest post over at Pure Imagination doing New Moon - The Condensed Version. It's New Moon, under a minute with assorted dolls and barbies.
In the words of my friend Ambie: "very clever, bloggy"


Also, the hubby said to me last night:

hubby: Did you know if you say 'beer can' with a British accent it sounds just like 'bacon' with a Jamaican accent?

me: 'beer can' [English accent]. 'bacon' [Jamaican accent].

me: [giggles uncontrollably]

Armed & Magical by Lisa Shearin

I'm a sucker for funny books. Any type of humorous book will do, but after stumbling upon Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found earlier this year, I knew I had found a kindred spirit in one Raine Beranes. She's an elf, a seeker (someone who can find things with magic), and comes from a long line of pirates and criminals. Just how she found herself on the opposite side of the law still baffles Raine but she's good at what she does and is happy doing it.

As a seeker, Raine has always possessed a respectable amount of magic but after finding (and bonding) with a magical stone called the Saghred a few weeks prior, she's now got more dark magic at her fingertips than she knows what to do with. Raine's new goal in life? Find a way to get rid of the stone without it killing her in the process. Hoping for an answer, she's traveled with Paladin Mychael Eiliesor to the Island of Mid (home to most mages per capita) along with Piaras, her pseudo younger brother, an aspiring young spellsinger who's hoping to get some much-needed training in Mid. Getting rid of the stone is easier said than done however, since her new found skills seem to be a red-hot beacon - attracting every crazy, power-hungry mage in existence who would like their very own catastrophe-causing stone at their beck-and-call.

If that not enough to give a girl stress: Piaras' awesome spellsinging abilities have garnered no little interest and when several other talented spellsingers go missing, Raine is determined to get her loved ones out of dodge before the sparks really fly. But the Saghred is not about to let Raine off that easy, what with the stone's power becoming harder to resist daily since the arrival of some truly nasty goblins who would like nothing better than to take back what they see is rightfully theirs. Throw in Raine's oh-so-inciting temptation to get a little closer to Tam (goblin aristocrat turned nightclub owner in possession of some seriously sexy eyes) which have begun to have incendiary results - and things just take off from there.

Stepping back into Raine's life was like taking a deep breath and then trying to run flat-out for the next 5 to 10 days. It's non-stop action, full of Raine's hilarious quips and her trademark no-nonsense approach to any situation: get in, get out, don't get killed. Simple enough. I'm still laughing over the things that come out of that girl's mouth, for example:
My family's big on denial. And if we denied something long enough, we thought it'd go away. I know that's not how it works, but we're in denial about that, too.
Blunt and upfront - my kind of girl. Also one of the most loyal characters I've ever met, Raine would go through fire (or at least a roomful of nasty goblins) for those she loves with both knives drawn and not even think twice about it. Raine does have her faults, but she's the first to admit to them and never tries to be more than she appears. Armed & Magical is an original, laugh out loud funny book and I can't wait to see where Raine will end up next. That is, as long as Tam is coming along too.

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

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Bookaholics' Review review
Angieville review
The Book Smugglers review
Dear Author review
The Toasted Scimitar review

book source: borrowed from a friend

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

Most teenagers think they are pretty special but Avery knows there's no one else just like him. And actually, he's right. Avery's got some super special and completely super secret super powers. Not only can he bench-press his mother's car (sometimes resulting in a little body damage) but Avery can actually fly - which of course he can't even tell a soul about since it would most likely result in a massive government investigation. Hey, I'd be worried about becoming a science experiment too. Feeling rather confused and alone, his parents send him to a reform school in hopes of curing his 'troublesome' behaviors, which only leads to encounters with Big Dawg the bully and the Mary Janes (watch out, those girls will cut you for a Diet Coke). Fortunately, Avery meets up with some other not-so-average kids including a genius ready to conquer the world with robots, an ultra tough (and grumpy) Catwoman, the Iceman, and Sticky Girl - who happens to also be Awfully Cute Girl. Together, these misfit teens decide to take the law into their own hands by tracking down muggers, rescuing lost boy scouts - while still making it home in time for curfew. If only they can continue to outwit the villainous Cherchette [insert evil laugh here] who wants to take control of them and use them for her own nefarious purposes. MwaaHaa!

Avery is such a likable kid with his constant sarcasm and desire to 'use his powers for good.' He's just so dang lovable as a teen trying to figure out things but once he gets matched up with the kooky Darla and her gang of merry misfits, he goes from loner to having some dang funny adventures in a hurry. Usually the hilarity is due to some unfortunate accident or other while the gang tries to help some hapless victim using one of Darla's prototype weapons. What other teenager has a boomerang that will not only disable them but cover them in sparkles?

Even if Dull Boy became somewhat predictable at times, Sarah Cross has effectively created a light and fun hero vs. villain adventure full of adventure and friendship. I quickly became attached to Avery and was totally cheering when he found some kindred spirits in Darla, Catherine, and Nicholas. Full of geektastic references (anyone else love X-Men and Batman?), Dull Boy strikes a nice balance and I happened to love it.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Karin's Book Nook review
One Librarian's Book Reviews review
Presenting Lenore review
Story Siren review
yaReviews review

book source: my local library

Lit 101: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Lit 101 is a monthly feature of See Michelle Read wherein I'll spotlight and review at least one book considered to be 'classic literature' each month. These books will be the ones everyone should probably read at least once in their lifetime and namely the ones that I've personally never gotten around to reading and wish I had.

I'm not a huge mystery reader, but when I do sit down to a who-dunnit, I like my time period to be Victorian, my heroes to be relentless, and my villains to be seemingly unstoppable (care for a Lady Julia Grey mystery anyone?). When hearing that Wilkie Collins' most popular novel The Woman in White basically pioneered this genre, I knew it was one to go to the top of my TBR list and after reading it, I can only kick myself for not coming across it's brilliance previously.
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and of what a Man's resolution can achieve.
Thus begins the narrative of Walter Hartright.

As Walter is walking home late one evening he comes across a mysterious woman, dressed head to foot in white garments, in desperate need of aid. Walter helps her willingly (ever the gentleman) even though he is plagued by strange impressions of the woman as he continues on his way as he is expected to leave the next day to for his new job as drawing master for two young ladies in the country, Miss Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Miss Marian Halcombe. Even though Laura and Marian are as close as two sisters could possibly be, they are distinctly different: Marian is dark and unattractive and very, very smart while Laura is blond, delicate and extremely beautiful. So guess which sister Walter falls in love with? Of course, he is smitten from the first with Laura but behaves like a gentleman at all times (naturally). Once Marian learns that Laura returns his affection, she feels bound to reveal that Laura has already been promised to another man, Sir Percival Gylde, upon which, Walter leaves heartbroken for an extended journey in Central America.

Enter Sir Percival: he's the man Laura's dead father wished her to marry and has been nothing but proper but is now hoping to finally set a date to their marriage. Even though Laura is still heartbroken over Walter's departure, she agrees and the couple is soon married and leaves on their honeymoon to Italy before Marian knows what to think. But when the couple returns, Marian finds Sir Percival to be very different from the man he previously appeared to be - brutish and almost cruel to Laura. Sir Percival has also returned with his good friend Count Fosco and his devoted wife, who happens to be Laura's estranged aunt. It quickly becomes obvious that Sir Percival is experiencing extreme financial difficulties and that the oddly charming yet disturbing Count Fosco has some sort of manipulative sway over the man. Together, they have planned one of the most audacious, most brilliant crimes involving Laura, Marian and even the illusive woman in white encountered by Walter so many months before. Laura and Marian quickly discover that Sir Percival and Fosco will stop at nothing to get what they want and that they have no one to trust but each other and the resourceful Walter Hartright - who is determined to see justice done.

Published in 1860, The Woman in White is said to be one of the first mystery novels ever written in the Gothic style - it's success primarily due to having a likable amateur detective as hero, Walter Hartright, matched with a highly unorthodox villain, Count Fosco. Lies, surprising secrets revealed, amnesia, intrigue, and manipulation all combine to make this an engrossing read. Written in a modified epistolary form from the perspective of multiple characters, I wasn't sure I would enjoy a novel written by several different narrators but each separate account combined to create a chilling story where the puzzle pieces slowly fall into perfect place. Each voice was distinct and unique - from Marian's forthright and intelligent account to Mr. Fairlie's openly condescending (yet often hilarious) impressions as the family invalid.

I've alluded to this already, but the best part about this novel has to be the characters - and I'm not just talking about Walter and Laura (boo! no one likes a pretty doormat!). On no, there is a full and distinct complement of secondary characters who give background, realism and strength to the story. Let's go over a few of my favorites, shall we?

1. Two words: COUNT FOSCO. Count Fosco is everything you could ever want in a villain - the man is creepy, totally smart, can be utterly charming when he needs to be. Perhaps the greatest point in his favor is that he saw past Marian's ugliness and fell in love with her for her MIND unlike everyone else who trailed after the spineless Laura. Add in that the man has confidence in spades, and you've got yourself a winner.

2. Marian Halcombe is the ugly, poor half-sister to the lovely Laura but without her, Laura would have never achieved any sort of future or happiness. With limited resources she gets the job done, understands the meaning of subtly and has the memory of an elephant.

3. Lastly, in the time-honored tradition of Victorian literature Wilkie Collins presents us with a masterpiece of an invalid in Mr. Frederick Fairlie. Acting as Laura's guardian, he's selfish, despotic and has some of the best lines in the entire novel - usually when he wants people to leave him alone and so begins to wax poetic about some random subject or other. For example, here he is trying to understand why a woman would cry when she is upset:
I distinctly object to tears. Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of view.
The Woman in White may be full of Victorian language and legal descriptions but it quietly builds into a world class thriller, which left me clutching the book, dying to find out what would happen next. Each storyline is carefully planned out with each individual thread crossing and connecting in multiple directions - it's obvious Wilkie Collins was a master craftsman in his genre. Such storytelling, with some unforgettable characters, I was totally hooked.

Yeah, but is it a classic? Yes!! I'll make room for it on the shelf for good.

What about you? Have you read it? I'd love to hear your reaction.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Books Bytes review
Jandy's Reading Room review
Musings of a Bookish Kitty review
Reading, Writing and Retirement review

December Lit 101 feature: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

book source: purchased

Happy Halloween!!

Here's hoping your Halloween was full of chocolate, wigs, and unexpected sights.

best wishes,
The King and I