Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Vampire Hunter's Handbook by Rafael Van Helsing

First published in 2007.

Two centuries have passed since Abelard Van Helsing penned his guide to hunting demons, and the name Van Helsing has become known and feared throughout Hell. The generations of Van Helsings have beaten back the rising tide of evil, the last of Abelard's line knows nothing of his awful destiny until he comes face to face with a Royal vampire bent on his destruction.

Using the secret library at Carthage, Raphael Van Helsing learns of the strict vampire hierarchy - the lineage through which the blood of their Lord Vampyr is passed. Most frightening of all he discovers their demonic rites in the Book of Vampyr and the prophecy of a world governed by vampires who will one day summon up their dark Lord.

The Vampire Hunter's Handbook outlines in graphic detail the skills and strategies needed to dispatch all forms of this cursed breed while chronicling Raphael's personal fight with the vampire who is hell bent on exterminating
the Van Helsing line. (book back blurb)

Perhaps “cute” isn’t the word to use to describe this book considering it’s topic but it’s what keeps coming to hind. “Handy” might be another good one.

This is another one of my Barnes and Noble bargain bin finds that I saw and just had to grab. It was right before Halloween after all. It’s a Barnes and Noble novelty book published I’m guessing for the season, really written by Martin Howard and then labeled as being written by a Van Helsing. I love the camp of it all!

What I love most about it, though, is the take on vampires it has. I’m not a fan of the Nosferatu-type vampire that’s all sorts of ugly. I like me my sexy vampires with the heart of black. I believe in the whole “prey attracted to predators” thing and if a vampire looked like the dude on this cover, there’d have to be some serious mild-melding going on because that face would make a mother run away screaming.

And there is. Serious mind manipulation with these vampires. It touches on the whole vampires turning into mist and bats and such and plays it off as just really good mind games, that vampires can’t really do that but their control over you is so powerful that you’ll be convinced that’s what you saw.

These vampires are spawned from one Lord vampire created by the devil himself and there are hierarchies of vampires–from the lord to royals to nobles to vampires to slaves, the powers dwindling down the line as well at the freakish faces.

Some of the tools that the vampires use are also pretty inventive, including the neck tap. It’s a tight fine metal collar affixed around the victim’s next who's hung upside down, and it pierces his or her jugular. The piercing is attached to a small faucet that can be turned on and off at will and used as a sort of draught. Very inventive. I’d never seen anything like that before.

And while I wasn’t fond of the whole Bucky Beaver teeth that they had (the two front ones were elongated), I liked the fact that they acted as siphons and were, in fact, hollow with ports running straight into the throat via the sinus cavity. Very cool, especially the diagram.

It’s a fun book to have if you’re a vampire freak like me and the illustrations are amazing. I’d recommend buying it just for those, if nothing else. I’d really like to see this little world expanded though. It just touches on everything, including the journal that we’re supposed to be reading from. It leaves me wanting more and there wasn’t all that much to take to begin with, really. Just enough.

Learn Something New

It's always good to do that. I've just learned that shipping to Puerto Rico is considered domestic so, from here on out, any contest that I indicate is for US residents only, Puerto Rico is included. I just sent Ralfast the books he won for a whopping $3.63. How awesome is that??? Definitely wasn't expecting that.

I also learned, and this doesn't have anything to do with books, really, that I'm actually starting to like cooking, especially since I don't have much of a choice but to cook most of my food myself. The option not to like it isn't really there, is it? I have a gluten sensitivity (I don't want to say allergy since it might not be that) so I must scour labels to make sure anything I'm eating is gluten and malodextrin free. So that means I've been cooking and baking. A lot. Compared to pretty much never. And I've got bought Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies yesterday with some awesome recipes in it. I can't wait to get to those.

And just to those that might be wondering, gluten-free bread isn't all that bad. I've made most of it myself and the mixes I bought were pretty good. I was expecting the thing to taste like a brick so I guess when your expectations are that low, it doesn't take much to exceed them!

Just a little filler post for you. I think yesterday was the first day I didn't post since I started the blog. And just to let you all know, I don't intend to keep up the crazy posting schedule. For one, I don't read that fast. I'm still transferring reviews so I have a backlog and two, I just can't keep up! I consider normal posting every other day. Not too much but just enough to stay on top of things so look for the blog to settle into that routine within the next month.

I do have another review to post and I'll put that up a little later, split this post and that one out a little bit. Bye for now, all you biters!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And The Winner Is . . .


He is the winner of my first ever contest at Bites! The first five books of the Harry Potter series, UK style, are yours, dude! I'm contacting you now.

I'll definitely be having more contests in the future so be sure to stick around! You wouldn't want to miss them!

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

First published in 1955.

Narnia . . . where the woods are thick and cool, where Talking Beasts are called to life . . . a new world where the adventure begins.

Digory and Polly meet and become friends one cold, wet summer in London. Their lives burst into
adventure when Digory's Uncle Andrew, who thinks he is a magician, sends them hurtling to . . . somewhere else. They find their way to Narnia, newborn from the Lion's song, and encounter the evil sorceress Jadis before they finally return home. (book back blurb)

My aunt gave me this set of books when I was pretty young and all they did was collect dust on my bookshelves. I just never had the inclination to read them even though they were there. I wasn’t big into fantasy until very recently so that might explain why Narnia never really drew my interest.

Then, when I did get into fantasy, it became one of those series that “you just have to read” because it’s the epitome of fantasy reading and writing. Terry Pratchett was in there but he was knocked off my list pretty quickly. I just wasn’t all that impressed with his work and found his books kind of redundant. Door stoppers scare me so I’ve never touched Lord of the Rings and even now the story doesn’t interest me. I couldn’t even sit through the first movie. How am I supposed to get through those books? I wasn’t too impressed with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust but Anansi Boys made me see just why he’s a god among fantasy enthusiasts.

But who could mention fantasy without mentioning The Chrnoicles of Narnia? I found The Last Battle first, on the bargain bookshelves at Barnes and Noble and picked it up. Then someone so aptly put it, I can't rightly read the last book of the series without reading the other six. Duh. So during one of my many visits to B&N, I snagged the first in the series which I always thought to be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The emphasis is always on that book so for someone not familiar with the series, it’s the natural thought to think.

But no. So The Magician’s Nephew it was. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I’d never seen reviews of Narnia and it’s written qualities, just come across people that raved about how amazing they are and how the movie doesn’t do it justice. Ironically enough, I do own the movie thanks to my mom. I watched it only after I started reading the series.

After reading this book, I’ve realized that, after all these years, I’ve missed something great. Nephew is a book told in the voice of an old Victorian fairy tale (much more successfully done than Stardust, I think) and the development of the story is simplistic yet infinitely deep all at once. We’re not given explicit, paragraphs upon paragraphs, of detail to pound into our heads of just what it is we’re reading. Everything’s concise. The dialogue is a bit overdone but I’m chalking that one up to the obvious style the story has. For that it fits perfectly.

I'm barely at the halfway point of the Narnia series and I can already see why it’s garnered so much love over the years it’s been out. C.S. Lewis has captured a timeless piece of art in this book and I’m jonsing to read more. The Screwtape Letters has nothing on Narnia (despite the fact that they’re not even in the same realm of existence).

The characters are defined in the simplest terms and most Victorian of definitions (hats off to The Breakfast Club) and yet, as I was reading, they were nothing short of three dimensional. I could hear the Lion’s song as he was singing it and imagine perfectly the mark of dark juice around the Witch’s mouth after she ate that apple. And there was none of the flowery prose or superfluous words. How come more fantasy writers don’t attempt to take after Lewis instead of Tolkien? What is it about Tolkien that renders such imitation and what about Lewis that authors decide to just let lie?

A story without the fat but complete with all the trimmings. The only thing I was yearning for at the end was more of the series. More Narnia. Sure, the head-hopping got confusing for a couple of nanoseconds but other than that, I don’t see any room for any other kind of criticism. No wonder people are such enduring fans of these books.

I loved this book so much that I asked for the series for Christmas. And I received. I love my mom. I'm just about halfway through Prince Caspian now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Only Hours Left!

If you want to enter my Harry Potter giveaway and haven't done it yet, you only have until midnight tonight, eastern time! If you're just now stopping by and have no idea what I'm talking about, check out this post for all of the information and to make your entry. If you've already made your entry and can add a few more points to your chances, now's the time to do it.

Enter my contest! Nao. Five free Harry Potter books. What's not to love, right? So visit this post and enter by midnight eastern time tonight. Please do not post your entries on this post. I'll only be counting the ones on the original giveaway post. I'll tally up the entries tomorrow and pull a winner by a random number generator. Good luck to everyone that enters!

The CW Has Fangs

Publisher's Weekly is reporting that the CW Network (which hosts shows like Supernatural and, um, Supernatural) has picked up a pilot that's based on LJ Smith's The Vampire Diaries series. Kevin Williamson (think Dawson's Creek) will write the screenplay and be an executive producer on the series.

Now I know these are actually pretty old (in the publishing world, anyway) books that have been recently re-released (due to the Twilight insanity, I'm sure). I vaguely remember seeing these around when I was younger but I've never read them. I have heard people say pretty good things about the books but I'm not too sure about the premise myself.

Anyone that has read them, what do you think? Think this'll fly as a series?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You Like Zombies?

What about high school zombies that crash your prom? Do you really enjoy your brains that much? Wouldn't you rather donate them to a good zombie cause?

Then head on over to Amanda Ashby's blog for her zombie blog party in honor of her March 5th release of Zombie Queen of Newbury High. Life's a bitch when you get brains on your dress, I'm telling you.

So if you're up for ten days of zombie fun with not only Amanda but loads of other zombies authors, head on over to her blog for a week and a half of undead fun and mayhem! If you come out alive, be sure to read the book. I know it's on my TBR list!

Wicked - Curse by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

First published in 2003.

Holly Cathers and her twin cousins have just graduated from high school, and they're moving on toward their first semester of college. But no matter where they go, they will never be entirely free of their past. The three are descendants of a powerful coven of witches -- in constant danger from a rival clan.

Holly learns from a vision that Jer is still alive. As leader of the coven, she resolves to rescue him despite the fact that he is a member of the Deveraux clan and therefore her enemy. But her efforts are thwarted when her aunt reveals the nature of an ancient curse visited upon all Cathers witches. It becomes clear to Holly that the death of her parents was no accident, and a similar plague is sure to fall on anyone she grows close to. As her power strengthens, ca
n Holly escape her destiny? And if her destiny includes Jer, does she want to? (

Curse is the sequel to Witch in the Wicked series and the only reason I read it was because the two books were combined in one. Eh. They’re cheaper that way, actually. And to be honest, I didn’t have a choice. It was either two or none.

Really, Curse was just more of the same of Wicked. There was magic, struggles with magic, angst and running. Not much happened in this story except we find that Nicole’s run off to Europe because she freaked out (the more interesting plot line, in my opinion) and there was a final Hollywood battle a la The Craft towards the end. And Holly drowns a cat for the sake of her powers. I guess she’s getting back to her roots.

I’ll reiterate again, this type of book isn’t my cup of tea. I’m much more inclined to read about real witchcraft than the CGI version.

I actually ended up pretty bored with the plot, mainly because of the amount of angst around everyone. Keri’s pissy with Holly because she got Jeraud killed/undead/whatever he is now. Amanda’s pissed at Holly because she wants to find this guy and doesn’t want her leaving. Tommy will do whatever Amanda does. Tante Cecile and her daughter and pretty much filling in gaps in magic and really don’t serve any other purpose, as were Dan, Kialish and Eddie and Michael is hell-bent on world domination, from beginning to end. Strong on angst, short on action.

What I would like to know is with these witches and warlocks, are the only things they can conjure against each other fireballs? There had to be, like, three times as many fireballs in this book than in the last. Is that the defense du jour because it got redundant pretty quickly. Again, more of the same.

What really irked me, when Holly was commanding the dead army, she spoke in French and the third person proceeded to say she’d never spoken French in her life. Funny considering she explained away the odd, out of body French speaking in the first book by saying she took it in high school. Inconsistencies like this bother me. So did she or didn’t she ever speak French before?

Still, I found the historical subplot much more interesting than the current time plot line. There was change, deviation. Yes, more of the same but the methods were different. The scene changed. The characters changed. There was more promise. Not just stagnant characters that just stood around taking up space while the more prominent protagonists tried to figure out what the hell to do. Now it seems like the secondary characters are being picked off, in one form or another, as the story carries on. Am I right in guessing that Holly will have to face the final battle on her own because she’s the supreme witch that’s sharing a body with someone else?

I’ll never know because I’m not going to keep reading the series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad. It’s written quite well but it just wasn’t something I could get into. Fireball magic doesn’t really hold my attention to begin with and when the story gets to a point where that’s all that there seems to be, I’m going to get bored quickly.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Locks of Love

I did something pretty drastic this past weekend and it had nothing to do with an airplane or a parachute. I cut off about 18 inches of my hair and this weekend it's going to be shipped down to Florida to be part of a wig made for disadvantaged children who lost their hair due to a medical illness or treatment.

Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization that collects hair donations from anyone willing to give them (granted they have enough in the pony tail) to make these wigs. It's not about finding a cure or paying for a treatment but giving children back their self-esteem. These are some gorgeous wigs and I'm happy to know that my hair will be part of one (hopefully the treatment process will get rid of the frizz!).

I just wanted to share this little bit with everyone. If you have long hair, boy or girl, and are looking for a change, donate the stuff you cut off. It'll go to a good cause.

I went from this--

To this--

And from the front--

I've had short hair before so it definitely wasn't much of a shock to see all that cut off but I can definitely understand the trauma for some people! In my profile picture you can see my hair straight. Not as long as this but in a different style.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out into the Real World by Maria Shriver

First published in 2000.

I wrote this book so that you might be spared. Not from having to learn the lessons I had to learn. No one can spare you that, because learning is experimental, and you have to do it yourself. As a wise person once told me: If I could spare you the pain you're experiencing, I wouldn't - because I wouldn't want to deprive you of the strength and wisdom you'll gain from having gone through it and come out on the other side.

Each and every one of you is a powerful, resilient human being capable of living the life you design for yourself. I wish all of you the faith and the courage to pinpoint your passion.
(book back blurb)

My mom gets me these impulse buy books all the time. You know the ones: you’re waiting in the check-out line at Barnes and Noble and they’re on the turnstile right next to you. They’re usually uplifting or inspirational. Sometimes they have cute pictures of animals in them or they’re filled with jokes. Well I’ve amassed a small collection of them thanks to my mom over the years and I’ve just now started reading them (bad daughter, I know). While I’m convinced my mom’s trying to tell me something with one of the religious ones she gave me (she said she had no idea), they do carry some nice, short reads. Most of them are just the types of things you read, go ‘oh, that’s nice’ and tuck away on your shelf.

This one, though, this one’s different. Same size and shape as the other impulse books but the message is much more resounding, poignant and literal, regardless of the fact it’s told by a Kennedy (for those that don't like the family). My mom bugged me for the longest time (we’re talking years here) to read this book because she thought I’d get some use out of it. And for years I just kind of brushed it aside and let it collect dust. Why read it now, you ask? Well, I cleaned off my bookshelves because I’m short on space and said ‘why not?’

What Maria states in this book was originally a commencement speech she’d given at a college. She was approached afterwards to turn it into a book and I can definitely see why. Each and every one of the points she’d made in this book (even the ones about marriage and kids, which I’m further from than anything) hit home. A lot of the lessons she’s trying to teach I’ve already learned and some I need to be reminded about again, even though I didn’t want to hear about it.

In case you’re interested, here are her ten things–

First and Foremost, Pinpoint Your Passion

No Job is Beneath You

Who You Work for and With is as Important as What You Do

Your Behavior has Consequences

Be Willing to Fail

Superwoman is Dead . . . and Superman May Be Taking Viagra

Children Do Change Your Career (Not to Mention Your Entire Life)

Marriage is a Hell of a Lot of Work

Don’t Expect Anyone Else to Support Your Financially


Really, they’re very simple points and I just don’t think I can do them justice by highlighting what I think about them. I think reading this information from a Kennedy, a woman born into privilege, who could have rightly had everything handed to her, and chose not to, makes it that much more humbling and hard hitting. The fact that a Kennedy isn’t above learning these life lessons, neither should you be.

In the same breath I wish I’d listened to my mom sooner about this book and at the same time I’m glad I didn’t. At twenty-five I’ve experienced a lot more than many people my own age and, in turn, I know many people my age and younger that are doing things (namely starting families) that I haven’t even considered yet. I do consider myself wise beyond my years (it’s the old soul thing) but I don’t know it all and I certainly haven’t experienced it all either. I don’t know if I could have appreciated this book when I first got it as I do now. I don’t know if I would have just said ‘yeah, whatever’ and tossed it aside or if I would have been as enlightened then as I am now. I guess I’ll never know.

Everyone needs a humbling and everyone still has lessons to learn. Go grab this book and read it. I’m sure you’ve learned some of these things already and have yet to experience others (like I have). And even if you know them, you might not want to admit to yourself that you should be doing them (like being willing to fail) but need a reminder that it is OK to do it (like everyone, myself included, should). This is definitely one of those impulse buys worth grabbing for.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't Forget About My Harry Potter Giveaway!

My Harry Potter giveaway ends on Wednesday, February 25th at midnight eastern time so be sure to get your entries in by then.

Just to refresh you on what I'm giving away, I have the adult UK paperback versions of the first five books of the Harry Potter series (Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix). They are used (and one my dog got a little bite-happy with one but it's not too bad) but they're in need of a Potter fanatic's loving home.

You can get a total of ten entries into my contest. See the original post for more details and pictures of the books up for grabs. All entries should be made on that post and that post only. Please don't comment on this post thinking it'll be your entry into the contest. I'll only be referring to that original one.

There are only about five days left so be sure to get your entries in!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wicked - Witch by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

First published in 2002.

Holly Cathers's world shattered when her parents are killed in a terrible accident. Wrenched from her home in San Francisci, she is sent to Seattle to live with her relatives, Aunt Marie-Claire and her twin cousins, Amanda and Nicole.

In her new home, Holly's sorrow and grief soon give way to bewilderment at the strange incidents going on around her. Such as how any wish she whispers to her cat seems to come true. Or the way a friend is injured after a freak attack from a vicious falcon. And there's the undeniable, magnetic attraction to a boy Holly barely knows.

Holly, Amanda, and Nicole are about to be launched into a dark legacy of witches, secrets, and alliances, where ancient m
agics yield dangerous results. The girls will assume their roles in an intergenerational feud beyond their wildest imagination . . . and in doing so, will attempt to fulfill their shared destiny. (book back blurb)

You know, I really don’t have any complaints about this book. It’s well-written, cohesive and the characters are relatable. I had a little trouble in the beginning trying to get used to the flipping of time periods but it’s something you get used to over the course of the book.

In terms of style, that was my biggest gripe. It’s a little much in the beginning of the book to be tossed about like that, mixed in with info-dumping in order to get the backstory of the witches and warlocks in. Considering that information was trickled throughout the book, I don’t think it was necessary to have it dumped on the reader all at once in the beginning.

And like I said, there were a lot of flashbacks. The only indication you’d get one is a triple space in the paragraphs. Jarring at first, maybe the first chapter or so but by the end of the second and into the third, I’d pretty much settled into the constant shifting and even came to like it. In all honestly, I was much more interested in the historical plot line than the current one.

What I like about it is it’s a dark book that isn’t filled with floofy Gossip Girls-type stuff. Nicole is probably the closest the book comes to that but even she levels out. It’s a little gritter than other like fantasy fare in my eyes (which are still kind of limited so take that with a grain of salt). Holly (the protagonist) loses her parents and best friend in a freak white water rafting accident. She was originally supposed to live with her dead friend’s mother but then she gets sick, hospitalized, and Holly has to stay with family in Seattle. Little does she know that her bloodline and that of her aunt’s lover have had a tendency to clash over the centuries and each want the other dead. Unfortunately only the lover, who’s an evil warlock, knows this. Until Holly and Amanda, and eventually Nicole, figure it out.

Aside from the use of the world warlock (which I can’t stand), it’s not as cheesy as it sounds. Not at all. I found it entertaining and a pretty fast read but aside from that, it really just wasn’t my thing. I kept aligning it with the likes of Charmed with all the fireballs and sisterly witchcraft and warlockiness and all of that. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of Charmed but stuff like that just isn’t my thing. And neither is this book. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just not something I’d read any more than once.

What bothered me though was really nothing to do with the story itself but the apology the authors make to the real witches that they garnered their research from. Why do they apologize? Because they found out through their research that the smoke and mirrors magic that exists in the book they wrote doesn’t actually exist (or they knew that all long and just decided to use it anyway regardless). It’s all a Hollywood manifestation that took the root of its work and twisted it to make it more interesting.

The thing is, I don’t think such showmanship is needed to make the story interesting. Why rely so heavily on people’s stereotypes of witches and magic in order to keep them entertained and interested when that’s not how it is and just as interesting of a story can be had from the real stuff? I was kind of put off by that. That the only way they could make the information they found interesting to young readers was to put glitter on it and make it shine. They obviously did their research but if they’d really done enough, they’d know that just such a story could exist without such fallacious mutations of the lore.

Hollywood witchcraft doesn’t do it for me to begin with so even without that teeny little introductory paragraph, I wouldn’t have been head over heels enthused about it anyway. But I think that little snippet pushed me over the edge because every time a piece of showboating magic came along, I couldn’t help but think ‘why? You now the truth and you know it can be scarier than these light shows. So why are you doing this?’

I don’t know. Maybe I’m a purist or fireworks just don’t impress me much. Or both. I thought it would have been a good book without the nonsensical stuff. With it in, I think it cheapened the story and could even be seen as insulting to think that this is what teens would rather read than the “real” stuff. Not all of them go ‘ooo, pretty lights!” and gawk. But despite it all, I can definitely see the appeal. If you're into Charmed or The Craft, you'll enjoy this book despite the showy magic it has. It is entertaining but th eonly reason I'll have a review for the second book in the series is because it's a two-in-one book.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Free Book Friday for Teens

In case you haven't come across this site yet, if you love free books then you'll want to bookmark it now and visit it at least once a week. But you'll probably end up going there more.

Free Book Friday is the original creation that gave away a mix of different books. But because the need and the want for teen titles was so high, the creators decided to create Free Book Friday Teens that gives away nothing but YA titles. How awesome is that? This week's giveaway are five autographed copies of Need by Carrie Jones. I've heard split reviews on this one but it's a free book, isn't it? New book giveaways are posted on Saturday mornings and winners are announced on the following Friday morning.

Jessica Brody, author of The Fidelity Files, is the founding member of Free Book Friday with contributions from Melissa de la Cruz, Ally Carter, Beckie Weinheimer, Alexa Young, Simone Elkeles and Bethany Griffin. The site features author interviews and oodles of YA book information.

So what are you waiting for? Go win free books!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dark Side of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon

First published in 2006.

Susan Michaels was once the hottest reporter on the Beltway Beat until a major scandal ruined her life and left her writing stories about alien babies and Elvis sightings. Life as she once knew it was over, or so she thinks, but then she gets a lead on a story that could salvage her extinct career. She heads to the local animal shelter, expecting a hot news tips, which she gets in the form of a major police cover-up . . . for a ring of soul-sucking vampires out to take over Seattle. So much for saving her credibility.

And if that isn't bad enough, she gets talked into adopting a cat and finds she's allergic to it. A cat that turns out to be a shapeshifter who claims to be an immortal vampire slayer on the prowl for the same corrupt cops. Her first thought: seek professional help.

But as Susan's drawn into Ravyn's dark and dangero
us world, she comes to realize that there's a lot more at stake than just her defunct career. Now it's no longer a question of bringing the truth to her readers; it's a matter of saving their very lives and souls.

Ravyn's life was shattered over four hundred years ago, when he mistakenly trusted the wrong human with the truth of his existence. He lost his family, his honor and his life. Now, in order to save the people of Seattle, he's forced to confront the nightmare all over again, and to trust another woman with the secret that could destroy him.

In the world of Dark-Hunters, life is always dangerous. But never more so than now, when a very human woman can shatter their ent
ire world with just one story. The only question is . . . will she? (book flap blurb)

That blurb is an excellent indicator of just what this book is. Dead horse flogging and all.

First and foremost, I had no idea I was picking up a paranormal romance novel when I snagged this from the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble. I had heard of the author in passing but not enough to associate her to any one genre or anything like that. I just thought the book sounded interesting and it was five bucks, hardcover, so I said what the hell.

Lo and behold, all I need is the first description of a man the MC finds attractive to tell me there’s going to be some central-plot loving going on later. And the thing is, I don’t read romances. I’m sure there are some good ones out there but aside from the fact that they normally don’t interest me, this book just solidified the notion in me that I can’t stand them.

I’m sure there are much better romances out there, much better romance writers (dear god, I hope so) with realistic plotlines but picking up something like this just makes me question why my mom loves these kinds of books. She’s a Nora Roberts addict.

I can handle the romance, I really can. I don’t mind the sex. Trust me. I really don’t mind. What I can't stand is when the author relies on every freakin’ romance cliche in the book to get her point across. Again, I don’t read romance and for me to be rolling my eyes at large chunks of this text is saying something.

I almost wanted to dig the story except, right from the get-go, I wanted to punch the MC, Susan, in the face. I couldn’t stand her. Her very existence on the page felt contrived, like the writer wrote her how she wanted her written, not how the character actually wanted to be written. I think it was pretty obvious that the author was looking for a spunky, feisty little thing that could hold her own against some nasty beasties. Yawn.

And why the hell does she give laundry lists of what people are wearing? Can she describe character no other way? And why is the first thing the MC sees in a person, any person, despite the circumstances, is their looks and how good looking they are? Why? And why is everyone so good looking? I don’t know about you but if a cat turned into a naked man in my living room, I’d be thinking ‘Kill it!’ not ‘could I tingle his dingle without him noticing?’ Realism people. Say it with me now. Realism. And I’m not talking about the cat thing.

And then there’s the insufferable name Rayvn. It’s bad enough to have a female character named Raven. How emo. I’m sure she wears way too much eyeliner to boot. But to have the male love interest and secondary main character be named Rayvn, I wanted to slit his wrists for him. Why? For the love of god, why? Rayvn? That’s like spelling vampire with a y. Just take a fork and scrape it against a plate, why don’t you?

And the song dropping. It only happened twice in the book (I'm almost positive) but when they walked through the club, Susan always noticed the song and was sure to name it in her head. I can't remember the song names but one was by Nelly and the other was by Black Eyed Peas. It held absolutely no relevance to anything and was completely random, even in passing, yet they were still there. They still baffle me.

Aside from the fact that the plot was more forced than a toddler in a beauty pageant, the sex scenes were “OMG deep” (in between sneezes, that was the depth) and that I could see the whole mate thing from the second it was mentioned somewhere in the first quarter of the book even though it didn’t happen until the second to last chapter, it was the Uber God Redundant of Redundancies that was the kicker. If I had to hear about how shunned of a reporter Susan was, how alone she was, how alone Rayvn was, any of their histories or how Susan’s heart ached, cranked, squeezed or any other number of squishies her heart could do for someone, I was going to rip my hair out. Really, where was this woman’s editor?

I would say this novel defied every rule of writing I’ve learned but saying ‘defied’ can a lot of the times mean something good came out as a result. This was not good. So I will use violate. This book violated, and violently so, every piece of education on writing I’ve received in my writing history. Every single one of them. From the redundancies to all tell, no show to cookie-cutter characters with “flaws” as thick as gossamer to the inability to tell a cohesive story without wandering back into massive info-dumping mid-plot which half the time was redundant information.

Now I know this is a book in a series. According to Amazon it’s book number 10. For the love of god there are at least nine more of these? Why isn’t the writing phenomenal at this point? Why hasn’t anyone told the author to take some writing classes and fix those fatal flaws in her work?

Really, is the sex that much of a draw that people will overlook the crap? Is the story that good? Personally Susan came way too quickly for any normal human girl and the plot needed a hell of a lot of work. It has potential but it’s buried in the mediocrity of the writing.

To be fair, I had a few eye-watering moments where the emotions between Rayvn (*yak*) and Susan came close to being real but I was so quickly wrenched from those moments by the otherwise lackluster writing that I just couldn’t stay involved. I tried but in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters. They held no interest to me.

Remind me to consider my bargain bin purchases a little more closely next time. I want to make sure I find something with substance on the next go around.

Just a side note, this is not by any means inclusive of all romance writing. Like I said, I’m sure there’s stuff a hell of a lot better out there but unfortunately it’s crap like this that gives romance a bad name, I think anyway. I have respect for writers of all genres so long as they do what they do to the best of their ability and are capable of recognizing their own faults. If this was the best of the author’s ability, maybe it would have been better kept as a midnight fantasy told amongst friends. Like Twilight.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is There Any Medium for Ratings?

John Green, of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines fame, has some interesting things to say about what books kids actually like versus what books teachers and librarians think kids like. More often than not, there's a gaping precipice between the two. When dissenters of the Newbery Award claimed that kids don't like many of the Newbery books, they didn't substantiate their claims. They brought in a couple of middle schoolers that said they wanted to read books they actually wanted to read and sort of based their argument off of that.

I don't remember doing it in high school but in the college algebra class I took, we learned the formula used for random sampling, which Green finds fault with, mainly because you're poling a small number of kids and making broad assumptions based on those results for a much greater number of kids. I can understand that, however that's the assumption going into random sampling. Those few are supposed to speak for the many. However, if what he says is correct and these numbers are from limited sources (a group of kids in Iowa or a class in New York City, for example), they're not going to accurately reflect the truer results. In order for random sampling to come close to working, you need to include those kids from Iowa, the kids from New York, and throw in some Californians, Alaskans, a few New Englanders and some southerners all into the same poll. It can work and be nominally accurate if the proper poling procedures are done.

He also points out such sites like Good Reads, where people are able to leave reviews of books and rate them how they will, as a better means of garnering opinion. Even he points out that teens aren't the only ones leaving reviews so while this method does reach a much broader audience, and thus creates more accurate results, those more accurate results are deserving of Green's asterisk or perhaps a set of quotation marks.

So how do you accurately round up the opinion of the teenage masses and only the teenage masses in order to get a better read on what they do and don't like? Traipsing around their YA book blogs is a good place to start although if you're here looking for a teen's perspective on books, you've come to the wrong place. My brain my be 16, but my driver's license says otherwise.

Or maybe creating a website strictly for teens where only teens can rank and review books? It sounds logical enough although the lengths the webmasters would have to go through in order to ensure that it's teens that are posting and not someone flubbing their age would border on ridiculous and would probably have parents crying foul. But I could see that working. Maybe the YA bloggers should come together and think of something like that, a poling, rating and review site for teens only. That way these Newbery naysayers and teachers that don't think kids like these books or those books can get a better idea of just what they're reading and not assuming they're reading something they're not. It really could be as simple as a blog with the book, star ratings and comments as the reviews. It really could work.

Something to think about there, I think.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

First published in 2005.

When Fat Charlie's dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie "Fat Charlie." Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can't shake that name, one of many embarrassing "gifts" his father bestowed - before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie's life.

Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Thing like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie's doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who's going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun . . . just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.

Because you see, Charlie's dad wasn't just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat
even Death himself.

This was definitely an interesting read and I’m glad I listened to those that recommended this book. While I may not have seen it in Stardust, I can see why people consider Gaiman a fantasy god. His writing, when he’s not trying to write in a specific style like Stardust, just takes you fluidly from one end of the story to the other. It’s not high brow literary nor is it a fantasy that takes itself way too seriously. It’s just good writing telling a story that I’ve never heard before.

I’m sure, if the story of Anansi was broken down into it’s more baser parts, there’d be your standard fantasy fare in there somewhere (know-nothing guy saves of the day of the other guy that everyone thought could do it all) but the story of Anansi, of all the animals and the transcendence from their world into ours is nothing like I’ve ever read. I believe the Anansi and other gods myths are actual myths that Gaiman expounded on but even if they weren't, the story was told so well and in such an authentic voice that they could have been. And that’s all that matters, right?

Fat Charlie is immediately relatable–slightly awkward, doesn’t think too highly of himself, has something of a go-nowhere job, less than stellar relationship with his parents. And then Spider comes into the picture, the sibling that’s so much better, and ruins everything even more for him. It certainly doesn’t help that Spider is half god, nor all the interesting that was taken out of Fat Charlie.

I don’t know about you but I wanted to punch Spider in the face when he started to move in on Rosie but during and after the shift, when you begin to see that it’s better for both Rosie and Charlie that they not be together and that Spider and Rosie really are in love, you can’t help but be endeared. And Charlie doesn’t walk away empty handed either.

I thought the role reversal, though, was the strongest part of the novel. While reading it the first time, it felt abrupt, as if I’d just turned the page and Fat Charlie was Spider and Spider was Fat Charlie. But with hindsight, the change was much more subtle.

When Spider was taken into the Bird Woman’s world, he seemed to have done a complete 180, especially when Fat Charlie came to rescue him. Their personalities just switched bodies. But closer to the end they pretty much leveled out on each other, each taking pieces of the other’s person for their own. Spider was, himself, a little more humbled and Fat Charlie walked away with more confidence and a thicker backbone. In the end Spider was never as much god as he thought and Charlie always had some of his father in him, however latent.

The only downside to this book were the numerous typos I kept coming across. At first I thought they could have been stylistic choices but then it became pretty obvious that there was some rushed copy editing involved. I don’t know if this book came down to crunch time when it was released but there were a few too many typos for comfort. It got to a point where I would get pulled out of the story because I’d hit yet another typo.

All in all, this was an excellent book. It’s surefire proof that you don’t need high fantasy to have a fantasy story and a unique view on a slightly less traveled road can make all the difference. Gaiman is not only an excellent storyteller but an excellent writer as well. I think I’m going to have to invest in a few more of his books now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Luxe Deluxe

I have to admit that when I first started hearing about these books, I couldn't help but think oh not another one. Something like Gossip Girls or one of those equally superficial series, the only difference being it was set in a time where girls wore bustles and corsets instead of slut skirts that proudly displayed their wax jobs.

And you know what? I haven't even read the series yet and I already know I'm wrong. I *heart* intuition, right?

What really has me frothing at the mouth to read these is the fact that it's set in old New York. It had me going chocolate? What? Where? My love for New York and all things New York runs so deep. I'm actually (sort of) writing my own historical fiction set in New York (further back than this, maybe closer to the Civil War) that I haven't looked at in a while but every time I do I don't think it's half bad (some of the stuff I wrote that I look back on I just want to burn, but not this) and even my writing professor saw a huge potential in that story. It just needs developing . . . and direction. No small feat but I can do it.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. When I see something set in old New York, I want to read it. Immediately. Gangs of New York is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite books (the two are pretty drastically different, Martin Scorsese pretty much just took some names from the book and created a plot, the book is more of a text book than a linear story with any kind of plot), as is Forever by Pete Hamill. It's not YA but if you love old New York, or New York in general, that's a book you want to read. Hamill is a New York nut too and it shows. New York, even in the time of these girls in the Luxe series was truly disgusting. Hamill portrays it so well you can actually taste the stench. One of the most poignant points the book made was that the MC couldn't understand how all these people could have sex because they smelled so damn bad. But when they all smelled that bad, there was no smell at all, was there? Obviously I don't do the description justice and it's definitely an opposite life from this series but it all existed on the same island. The Museum of the City of New York is a great place to start for NYC information.

So, needless to say, these books have been added to my paper TBR pile and will be read, probably with rabid fervor. And that Harper Collins website is pretty cool too. I love that video although I don't love bustles. Like my ass isn't fat enough. So what other books would you recommend that are along these lines? Spill it!

We Got More Winners

The 2008 Cybils have been announced and it's really no surprise that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won for best middle grade fantasy and science fiction book. Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games won in the same category for young adult while The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart won for best young adult fiction.

Looks like I need to get my read on so I can contribute my vote for the 2009 Cybils. Considering I'm someone that's perpetually behind in terms of anything current, I think it's time to focus. Right now I only have one book in my TBR that was released this year, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. I have horizons that need to be broadened, don't you think?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Second edition first published in 2004.

Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.

In this completely revised and updated edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you th
rough the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.

If you’re even considering the thought of editing your own work, whether it’s a full length novel, novella, short story, flash or whatever other piece of fiction you have, go out and buy this book now. Read it cover to cover. Take notes. Read it again. Do the exercises. Relate it to your own work. Read it again. And again. And again.

This book highlights what really are some of the most obvious fallacies a writer can make and it does it in the most poignant of ways. Everything they say is in the simplest terms. No bushes are being beaten and they don’t cut any writer any slack. Chances are, your manuscript has at least three of the fatal errors outlined in this book. At the very least. More likely, it has nearly all of them. I’m unashamed to say that the latter is me, to one extent or another.

Probably one of the greatest things to come out of this book is the acronym R.U.E., Resist the Urge to Explain. This carries over in multiple chapters, from reiterating explanation in dialogue to redundant points being made and back again. I found that a common theme in many of the editing points they make boils down to over-explaining. Writers want to press the point so badly, and make sure the reader understands exactly what they’re saying that that they’ll flog the dead horse explaining it. Often the author, usually subconsciously, doesn’t trust the reader to get it so important points are reiterated at the expense of the reader’s intelligence.

As I write my fanfiction (yes, I write fanfiction) I'm more conscious of writing mistakes that I knew I shouldn’t be making but it's something I need to re-reference in the book. For example, using dialogue tags such as “she said as she twirled her hair around her finger” are markedly amateurish. This is actually one of the points in the book I have the hardest time with. I get it but if the action is relevant, I don't see how it can weaken the writing. Here's a little further explanation on this from a comment I made on the original post--

. . . Chapter 11, Sophistication. According to the authors, “Both the 'as' construction and the '-ing construction' as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action (”She pulled off her gloves”) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (”Pulling off her gloves . . .”). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

The two examples they gave are, “Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him” and “As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.”

They then go on to say–”We’re not suggesting that you avoid these phrases altogether. There are going to be times when you want to write about two actions that are actually simultaneous and/or genuinely incidental–actions that deserve more than a dependent clause. And given the choice between an 'as' or '-ing' construction and a belabored, artificial alternative, you’re well advised to use the 'as' or '-ing.' But be aware that hacks have long ago run these useful constructions into the ground. Learn to spot them in your own writing and, if you see more than one or two a page, start hunting around for alternatives.”

This is the second to last chapter so most of the points made in this one and the following are more about fine-tuning the work after all the other stuff has been fleshed out. The authors are crazy adamant about eliminating hacks (I can’t count how many times they repeat the word) so any style common in hack writing, they’ve pounced on. So it’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just more of an easy, lazy way out. And I know I’m guilty a hundred times over, at least.

I still have the most trouble with that one and I'm more inclined to think they've just seen that technique used so much in writing that they want to see alternatives. Too much of anything is bad technique but I think this is the only borderline point they made.

I also see flaws in works that I read, ones that I didn’t see before, especially in web serials, because of this book. I bite my tongue, of course, because I’m not these people’s editor and it’s much more than just an improperly punctuated sentence but this book has made me so much more aware of others’ flaws as well as my own weaknesses.

For instance, I’m getting better at spotting redundant text in writing but that’s still very hard for me. My eyes see someone making a point, not beating me over the head with it. That’s another chapter I need to read again (as if I’m not going to read all of them again, right?) because I want to soak in all the information, make sure I’m getting it right and apply it to my own work. I want to recognize the redundancies, not just on a small scale but a much larger one in order to make my book better.

It comes with learning to be a better editor that the ability to look at works more for fun kind of starts to fade. It becomes harder and harder to turn that editor off and just read, especially after reading a book like this. I just have to keep telling myself to shut up and read because I like the story. But I think that’s a small price to pay in order to make my work that much better. I can chain the inner editor up when I’m not using her, even though I might be able to hear her screams but I’d rather have that than no inner editor and novels that should never see the light of day.

So if you want to edit, you want to do it well, do it right and make your manuscript as good as it can be, pick up this book. I’ve even made it super easy for you. You don’t even need to leave your seat. Just go to my Amazon widget to the right and click until you find the book and buy it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Really, there’s a reason why every writer I’ve met, both in person and over the internet, recommends this book to edit their novels. Just remember, these are not hard and fast rules. Keeping to them too strictly will just result in sterile writing and you don't want that. Listen to your own judgment and make the call based on that.

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